Eugenie Scott and Chris Mooney dissemble about accommodationism

I am so tired of people making the same old arguments about why science and faith are compatible, not bothering to listen to the other side.  Over at The Intersection, Chris Mooney is using authority arguments to support his case for compatibility, posting a video of Eugenie Scott (director of the National Center for Science Education) and titling his post “Eugenie Scott Powerfully Makes the Case for Science-Religion Compatibility.”

Here’s the video:

And here is what Mooney says about it:

Her view is pretty much exactly the same as ours. And I am still mystified as to how this can be so controversial–and still wholly convinced that it is the commonsense approach that will ultimately win out in the end.

I guess I’ll have to tell Chris (and Eugenie) once again why it is controversial, since he’s been told before but it doesn’t seem to have registered.

First of all, nobody doubts that science and religion are compatible in the trivial sense that someone can be a scientist and be religious at the same time.  That only shows one’s ability to hold two dissimilar approaches to the world simultaneously in one’s own mind.   As I’ve said umpteen times before, you could say that being a Christian is compatible with being a murderer because a lot of murderers are Christians.   Yet Mooney, and Scott, make this argument, and Mooney touts it as “powerful.”

It isn’t. This is not what we mean when we say science and faith are incompatible.  Got it, folks??  Let’s not hear the “there-are-religious-scientists” argument any more.  It’s trivial, and insulting to anyone who can think. (See here for Clay Shirkey’s refutation of what he calls “The Doctrine of Joint Belief.”)

Scott says, “I don’t have to address this as a philosophical question; I can address it as an empirical question.”  Well, it is both an empirical and philosophical question.

Here is the philosophical part:  is a way of finding out things based on reason and evidence compatible with a way of finding out things based on revelation and dogma?

Here is the empirical part:  are the assertions of faith in conflict, or potential conflict, with the assertions of science?

If the answer to the empirical part was “no, no conflict” then the philosophical part would show compatibility:  faith and science would be equally good — and reliable– ways to find out stuff.

But in fact the answer to the empirical part is “yes” — virtually every faith, with the possible exception of Buddhism and deism, makes fact claims about the universe. And there is no evidence for any of these assertions.  Indeed, many of them have proven to be false.

Scott seems to recognize part of this: she talks about the Grand Canyon, and says that the evidence that it was formed in a single alluvial event is nil: it is “not bloody likely” that the Canyon occurred during a single episode of flooding.  She goes on to say that the claim of an instantaneous, canyon-forming event  “is a fact claim. You can examine that scientifically  . . ”  She rejects it, as she should, because she says, it “can’t happen, given what we know about modern geology. So we can reject that statement.”

Indeed.  Well, here are two more things that can’t happen, given what we know about modern biology: a human female can’t give birth to offspring unless she is inseminated, and people who are dead for three days don’t come back to life.   Do Scott and Mooney not recognize that the foundational claims of the Abrahamic religions are truth claims? And that for many, many believers, the truth of these claims is a bedrock for belief?  This is, of course, why so many Americans reject evolution: it is in absolute and irreconcilable conflict with the “truth” of Genesis and the view that we were the special objects of God’s creation.  There is nothing that better demonstrates the incompatibility between science and faith than the rejection of the scientific truth of evolution by people who have a revelatory “truth” about where we came from.  Is that too hard to grasp? And saying that “well, people shouldn’t accept what it says in Genesis” doesn’t solve the problem, for that’s just telling people that they should have a kind of religion that they don’t have. Try telling a devout Muslim that it is impossible for Mohamed and his horse Barack (yes, that was his name) to have been bodily sucked up into the stratosphere, and that this was merely a metaphor.

The final misconception, which I’ve also discussed at length, is this, asserted by Scott in the video:

“Science can’t test statements having to do with God. . .  Science can weigh and accept or reject fact claims made by religion. . . The basic idea of whether the supernatural exists or not is not something science can measure.”

Wrong. Of course science can test statements having to do with God.  It can test statements deriving from what people claim about their god.  Here is one:  God answers prayers. (Many people think this is true, of course.)  Tests of intercessory prayer have shown that it doesn’t work.  End of story.  Here’s another empirical claim: God is omnipotent and benevolent.  It’s falsified: God fails to prevent natural events, like tsunamis and earthquakes, that take the lives of innocent people.  (Theologians, of course, don’t adhere to the same standards of evidence as do scientists, and so don’t see this as a falsification of an ominipotent and benevolent God. They are wrong.)

And there are empirical observations of the supernatural that could convince scientists that there is a God.  I discuss several of these in an article in The New Republic.  One of them is the appearance and documentation of a 900-foot-tall Jesus, as was supposedly seen by Oral Roberts. There are many others.

So here is what, I think, many of us see as the fundamental incompatibility between science and faith:

Science uses logic, reason and evidence to find things out.  Religion uses dogma and revelation.  These are fundamentally different ways of arriving at “truth.” Indeed, religions can’t arrive at truths at all, because the truth claims of different religions are in irresolvable conflict with one another, and there is no way of knowing which of these are wrong and which (if any) are right.  In contrast, science has built-in ways of determining if it is wrong.  When making a truth claim, scientists can answer the question, “How would I know if I were wrong?”  The faithful have no such way to test their “truth” claims.

Can we talk about this kind of incompatibility, please?

81 Comments

  1. Posted July 11, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    And furthermore – if science can’t test or measure statements about the supernatural, then no one can. I think that formula is very often deployed to suggest (without stating, because of course it isn’t true) that some other ‘way of knowing’ can test or measure statements about the supernatural. But what would those be? Nothing. They would be nothing. There isn’t some other way of knowing that can test or measure things. There’s only one. If the supernatural is out of reach of science then it’s out of reach of human beings and we can’t know anything about it – so we shouldn’t make factual claims about it. We shouldn’t pretend we can know something about it. We shouldn’t suggest that other people can know something about it. It’s a black box – or else it isn’t. It’s not a black box for empiricists but a transparent one for others.

  2. Peter Beattie
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    [X-posted from Mooney's blog, since apparently he's more likely to notive things on other people's blogs.]

    I think what this boils down to is something Sean Carroll recently addressed over at his blog, Cosmic Variance. As I also said over there, philosophy teaches you how to think well. And as per Carl Sagan, that’s actually the better part of science. So yes, philosophy in that sense of course makes you a better scientist. But there’s more.

    One of the first things that philosophy teaches you is to properly define your terms. In this whole compatibility debate, no one who argues for such compatibility has actually taken the trouble to define what they mean by that. Hence Chris can say,

    And I am still mystified as to how this can be so controversial

    Easy, Chris: Because you never say what you mean by the term. (Not to my knowledge, that is; if you did, I’d be glad to see that mistake corrected.) That’s why different people will associate different concepts with the term and, naturally, disagree about it furiously. PZ, among others, has shown that the trivial empirical fact of coexistence in a mind is not what we should mean by ‘compatibility’. In contrast, what we should (and actually do) mean by it is that two things are contradictory, that they come to substantially different conclusions. Genie actually uses that very same concept when she talks about “evidence that is simply incompatible with [an] idea”.

    She even elaborates on that and says that certain things “can’t happen given what we know about modern geology”. That, of course, applies equally to other “fact claims”, like Moses and the parting of the sea, the virgin birth, turning water into wine, transsubstantiation, Jesus’s resurrection, and other reincarnations. Sorry, can’t happen given what we know about modern science.

    Even the claim that intercessory prayer works is plainly a fact claim, as e.g. Jerry Coyne has noted. Of course science would be able to ascertain whether, after a suitable prayer session, there are any statistically significant deviations in how the world works from the way it normally does, when there is (supposedly) no divine intervention. Which pretty ruthlessly undercuts Genie’s argument about how “science can’t test statements having to do with God.” If these statements are connected to a fact claim, science obviously can.

    The only avenue open to one who would propose the existence of a god then is to say that it is completely out of this world. In Richard Dawkins’s phrase, this “epistomological safe zone” is supposed to shield that god from the prying inquisitions of science. Genie says, “Now you’ve stepped outside of science. Science can’t say that’s wrong.” Actually, what you’ve done is you have stepped outside of rational discourse, eschewing even the theoretical possibility of being wrong. Statements, however, that cannot even be wrong are not just deeply unphilosophical. In the words of the most influential philosophers of science of the last century, Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, such statements are intellectually dishonest.

    [I am] still wholly convinced that it is the commonsense approach that will ultimately win out in the end.

    Speaking of Popper and Lakatos, you should probably be aware that the whole point of rational discourse, especially in a scientific context, is not to try to remain convinced but to try and test your ideas, to specify conditions under which you would be led to change your mind. I have yet to see you do that.

    All in all, this whole compatibility/accomodationism debate has uncovered, more than anything, a deep philosophical illiteracy. Someone should go and write a book about that.

    • Posted July 11, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      I made a note of that post yesterday, Peter, and saved some excerpts from it. It’s great stuff. If only Mooney would have the sense to take it in, instead of stonewalling everybody who fails to agree with every word he says.

      • Posted July 11, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

        I’m curious how you would answer:

        Do you exist now? (I’m guessing you answer “yes,” although you might want to qualify it somehow, wondering if this is a trick question.)

        Did you exist before you were born? (I’m guessing you answer “no,” although one could say you existed in the form of your ancestors’ DNA or such, but that’s not the kind of existence I’m asking about.)

        Let’s say you did, or could find a way to, answer “yes” and “no,” respectively.

        Then you would seem to agree that one could enter into existence from non-existence, in a way explainable by modern science.

        So, can one confidently claim that there is no possibility of (somehow) leaving this existence, or returning from non-existence, and entering another? I’m not asking if modern science can explain that yet. I think we would all agree that modern science cannot yet many things.

        Is it not possible to have a strong “belief” in science but still hold out as entirely possible things that seem unexplainable (at least for now) by science?

        In my life, I have held various degrees of faith (Christian), agnosticism, and atheism (not in that order). Today I really struggle to understand the basis for atheism. To stubbornly hold to “pure” atheism seems to me the same as holding to “pure” religious fundamentalism. Just a different choice in belief. I find it easier to accept a position, even if very different from my own, that at least holds out the possibility that one could be wrong, that one does not know the absolute and final answer on the deepest questions ever held by the human race.

        Thanks for taking the time to read this (sorry it was a bit long). Would be cool to hear your thoughts.

      • H.H.
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Kelly Carter, you’re struggling to understand atheism because you don’t seem to have a very good understanding of what it actually entails. Typically, atheists do not make the claim that god(s) does not exist. Rather, they make the much more reasonable claim that the evidence does not support the claim that god does exist. Atheism is merely the recognition that the evidence for theism fails to persuade. So atheism is the default position–the null hypothesis–and always subject to revision if new and better evidence for theism is presented.

      • jfatz
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        @ Kelly

        Really the only tenet of “pure” atheism is, “where is the evidence?”

        If you don’t have any evidence–any objective basis of comparison–what makes any particular claim different from any other? What makes a claim made thousands of years ago and believed by billions of people OBJECTIVELY different than one made up off the top of my head?

        If you start thinking along the lines of “well, Claim A doesn’t violate factual observation, but Claim B does…” then you’ve come to the OTHER major point… Apparently the only useful qualifiers are those bounded in evidence.

        “Where is the evidence?”

        That’s it.

      • timotaos
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        H.H.,

        You manage to sidestep Carter’s challenge entirely. The interesting example of the question “Did you exist before you were born?” seems an attempt to identify the fact that category distinctions (such as birth and death) serve different functions in scientific and religious discourse. From the perspective of genetic identity, our own individual births and deaths are largely arbitrary, regardless of the fact that such arbitrariness is capable of producing higher-level order in an evolutionary sense.

        Religious dialogue is predicated, in part, on the possibility that the individual’s life and death (as well as a rich set of other elements – ethics, sociability, law and morality to name what are, in my view, the most significant enterprises religion seeks to address) are of the utmost significance. Carter seems to point to life and death as the sorts of things that we have warrant to contemplate religiously as well as scientifically. I agree wholeheartedly.

        Let me provide an analogy. Tonality in music cannot be said to “exist” in any strict empirical sense. Of course specific tones correspond to specific frequencies of vibration in a medium, but the grammar of tonality (such as there being only twelve tones in an octave in Western music) cannot be said to exist independent of the individual perceiver, a cultural history, etc. To say that the responsible scientific position on tonality (the “null hypothesis”, as if that were itself not an oxymoron) lies in assuming that all tonal grammars are arbitrary rather than assuming the validity of a particular tonal grammar for the sake of discussing and appreciating music would seem an absurdity.

        The concept of God is incredibly rich, and religious philosophers and theologians (as Scott rightly acknowledges) spend their lives attempting to appreciate, explain, and even challenge the meaning and significance of this concept. I would submit that these enterprises are not in vain, or undertaken in bad faith, or inherently corrosive of other intellectual enterprises. To claim that, on the basis of scientific rigor, a responsible intellectual ought not entertain the concept of God due to a lack of evidence would be no different from saying that a musician has no special warrant to create within a given tonal idiom. It’s not as if this is false! The question of evidential warrant is simply moot, as the value of the musical creation (or, by extension, the religious discourse) supersedes empirical concerns. That old chestnut of philosophy – that there is no special derivation to be made between “is” and “ought”, captures the disciplinary difference nicely.

        To anticipate … I strongly agree with the claim that a strictly empirical approach to understanding the natural world is in fact intellectually incompatible, at least at the level of truth claims, with religious thinking. My only point is it may be equally incompatible with ethics, law, sociability, morality, aesthetics, and any number of other human enterprises which are, at a minimum, intellectually interesting, and at maximum, valuable.

        I respect intellectually the choice to take atheism as a “null hypothesis” as much as I would respect atonality to be a valid aesthetic “null hypothesis”. But what captures my intellectual energy is the meaning of God, and my modest iTunes library, from the perspective of tonality, doesn’t go an inch beyond Bach.

      • Posted July 12, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        @Kelly,

        I think you’re confused. ‘Non-existence’ isn’t some realm of existence one goes into and out of, any more than ‘never’ is a time that things happen or ‘nowhere’ is a place you can visit.

        Ask your question about a chair. At one point, we can all agree, no chairs existed. Then someone invented one, and they did. Did the chair come from some magical realm of non-existence, which science can’t (yet) explain? Of course not, chairs exist when matter is arranged in a certain way, and until the first chair, matter just hadn’t been arranged that way. End of story.

      • Peter
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        @Kelly,

        To elaborate on part of the point that Michael Johnson is making about chairs:

        The “possibility of (somehow) leaving this existence, or returning from non-existence, and entering another”
        does not follow from the fact
        “that one could enter into existence from non-existence, in a way explainable by modern science.”

        In one sense, you’re talking about biological and psychological development. Pregnant mom eats food, food is metabolized, organized into proteins, embryo grows into fetus grows into baby grows into adult, as we learn through experience and become who we are now. We exist as a particular organization of matter–not even the same matter from day to day, just similar matter in more or less the same organization. Then we die. Our matter is no longer organized as a living, thinking human.

        And that process inspires you to think that maybe, what, that there are other planes of existence, and that the instant of death on this plane necessarily coincides with an instant of birth, or materialization, on another plane? And that what happens to come to be on the other plane corresponds in some way to the person who just died on this plane?

        The process by which any individual comes into existence is extremely contingent and vastly unlikely, depending first on billions of years of evolution culminating in a particular species, then the particular parents contributing the particular mix of DNA at the particular time in and place in history, and then living the particular life you end up living. That it might just happen spontaneously in some other plane in response to our death here, without any known or even hypothetical mechanism, let alone any reason (besides wishful thinking) to believe that it might even happen at all, seems absurd to me.

        You’re reasoning seems completely backward to me. The (admittedly limited, sketchy, and incomplete) knowledge of how we come to exist in the first place does not make it seem plausible that we might be be reborn in any sense after death. It only serves to show just how incredibly unlikely it would be.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 11, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      To me it never seemed like a “commonsense approach” – it is touted as such but it is no less than science bowing down to its master religion, and we can see quite clearly how that “commonsense approach” worked in the past 2600 years. Accommodationists want science to accept religion as its master, to accept the defacto relationship of a past era. It is as absurd as those fools who romanticize and pine for the “good old days” of the medieval ages.

      • Posted July 13, 2009 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        Michael Johnson and Peter have beaten me to it, but I’d like to add one more thing.

        Kelly Carter asks “Do you exist?” but appears not to refer to existence in the same way that I, as a materialist, do. IOW, it seems that he is talking about some kind of “you” that exists separate from the atoms of the physical body. Otherwise, the question of something (“you”) beginning to exist where nothing existed before is just silly.

        To clarify, I exist now in the form of a collection of atoms which, for the time being, exhibits consciousness. The same atoms existed previously, but were not configured in that way. Some time in the future, those atoms will no longer have that configuration, and I will no longer exist. (We could confound the issue by considering that the atoms of which I am composed today are not the same atoms of which I was composed last year, but that’s getting ridiculous)

        If one assumes that there is some kind of immaterial soul that is the “real” you, then the question of its coming into or going out of existence is mysterious. But if no such thing exists, there is no mystery.

  3. Posted July 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    In answer to “How would I know if I were wrong?”

    Simple test, not easily replicated (nor are the results easily reportted:)

    Die. If you have chosen the wrong religion or not properly followed its rules; you go to Hell. If you were fortunate enough to choose the correct one, you go to Heaven for a mind-numbingly boring eternity.

    If, as atheists we believe, we are correct about no afterlife, well then that it’s it. Isn’t it?

    That’s about the best test I can come up with, and I intend to delay implementation as long as possible.

    • Posted July 11, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Yeah that test is such a good test except the trouble is we never get to say ‘Ha, see? We were right!’ Oh crap it’s so frustrating…

      hahaha

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        “Yeah that test is such a good test except the trouble is we never get to say ‘Ha, see? We were right!’ Oh crap it’s so frustrating…

        hahaha”

        I am glad I am not the only person who feels like that!

      • Posted July 13, 2009 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        Yeah, that’s the trouble with materialism. You don’t get to say “See, I was right, I really don’t exist anymore.”

        There is also no “Oh shit!” moment for smug assholes like Jerry Falwell, whose smirk always said “I’m going to heaven and you’re not” as far as I was concerned.

      • Sam C
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 4:30 am | Permalink

        Um, isn’t the whole point of “Pascal’s Wager”? In effect, it says that as an atheist, you can’t win the life after death argument, so it makes sense to go for the religious argument.

        It is so difficult to prove a negative.

  4. Posted July 11, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Robert Pennock has a fair bit to answer for in this debate. It’s a simplification of his position, but I think a reasonably fair one, to state it like this:

    1. Claims about entirely inscrutable, or mysterious, or whimsical beings that are not directly detectable with the senses or with scientific instruments, and have no definable known limits to their powers, cannot be tested by any empirical means.

    2. The supernatural is defined as the domain of inscrutable, or mysterious, or whimsical beings that are not directly detectable with the senses or with scientific instruments, and have no definable limits to their powers, cannot be tested by any empirical means.

    3. Therefore, the supernatural cannot be tested by any empirical means.

    Further, Pennock holds that science is restricted to empirical means of testing claims. Therefore, science cannot investigate the “supernatural”.

    As a corollary, if someone offers us claims about a being, such as a ghost, that can suspend natural laws and create what appear to be causal anomalies, it is not thereby necessarily supernatural. If it is claimed to have psychological dispositions or other characteristics that make its effects on perceivable things fairly predictable, and if claims are made about its actual powers, to such an extent that these claims are open to investigation by empirical means, then we will no longer count it as “supernatural”.

    If you make all these stipulations, perhaps it’s true that science cannot investigate “the supernatural”. There’s a very thin sense in which this might be acceptable. But to call this “compatibility” is not helpful. You can’t say that science and the supernatural are compatible in this sense and then think you’ve demonstrated that the epistemic content of actual, real-world religions are plausible.

    Notwithstanding Pennock, science (and humanistic disciplines such as history) have the resources to investigate various claims about what is considered “supernatural” in everyday parlance (claims involving ghosts, gods, etc.). The ones that can be investigated have, historically, not been plausibly confirmed and have often been falsified. Those which can’t be investigated at all (because they are “supernatural” in Pennock’s narrow sense) are rendered arbitrary, in the sense that there is no evidentiary basis for them.

    I.e., if you happen to find yourself believing in such claims (perhaps as a result of their familiarity and psychologically attractiveness through socialisation), no one can disprove them by empirical means. But, they can observe that your claim is not believable to them – you are making the claim with no evidence acceptable to a person who does not believe the claim already.

    As a result, all claims are either open in principle to empirical investigation (and the ones involving gods, ghosts, and so on, have a bad track record) or are placed in a position where they are unbelievable to any rational person who encounters them for the first time as an adult. Actually, it’s not entirely black and white – some claims may be very difficult to investigate because, for example, the god or ghost concerned is somewhat erratic, though not totally inscrutable. But the more a claim about ghosts and gods is open to scrutiny that might produce actual reasons to believe it the more likely it is to be simply falsified.

    Overall, it is disingenuous to call this a picture of “compatibility”. It is a picture better described as incompatibility between science (and, indeed, the humanities) and claims about ghosts, gods, etc.

    Pennock, Mooney, etc., can on claiming that there is a sense in which science and “the supernatural” are logically compatible. This sense includes the (true) claim that deism cannot be refuted. But science and the supernatural are not compatible in any way that leaves us without epistemic resources for criticising the world’s actual religions or those who pander to them.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 11, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      What is outrageously absurd of course is the claim that something which does not manifest at all and is veiled from science in fact exists and affects our daily lives and can be ‘known’ if not understood.

      Then of course there are the numerous claims from the bible but I see the bible as pretty crappy literature. I certainly wouldn’t ask anyone to read the bible to improve their writing skills.

      Having been to a catlick school I had been forced to read books about the lives of saints; the books are full of claims which can only be attributed to narcissistic people with delusions of grandeur – if the claims were made by the saints themselves (which is claimed in many places). If not claimed by the saints then surely the claims are by delusional people who wish to elevate these alleged saints? If more recent texts such as books about the lives of saints are so full of such bunk, why should we believe the bible is any better?

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted July 11, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Russell, thanks for stopping by. I’d love to get your opinion on one additional thought.

      To say that the supernatural falls outside the purview of science in my view is to make an unwarranted a priori assumption about the existence of the supernatural. The possible number of such assumptions is infinite, so that the probability of it even having any meaning at all is essentially zero. Given that, would you agree that such an assumption, as well as the accompanying discussion about it, is not even philosophy?

      • Posted July 14, 2009 at 3:42 am | Permalink

        I agree with at least the spirit of your comments. We can make up all kinds of stuff that meets a definition of the supernatural that puts it beyond any testability. But I can see no reason for anyone to accept any propositions that are about the “supernatural” in such a purified sense. Yes, I guess it looks as if all such propositions should be ascribed a probability of zero.

    • Posted July 11, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

      Russell Blackford is quite right here about the studiability (sorry– not sure if that’s a word, but you know what I mean) of “supernatural” phenomena. See my earlier post on the subject here at WEIT at: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/can-the-supernatural-be-studied-kiri-kin-thas-first-law-of-metaphysics/

      • Diego
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        I like “tractability” for describing if study into a particular research question is feasible or not.

    • RichardW
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      Russell, I think you concede too much. The category of supernatural claims (in the sense you attribute to Pennock) is not just “thin”. It’s empty. As soon as you say enough about an entity to make a meaningful claim about it, it is no longer “entirely inscrutable”. “God did it” is meaningless unless something is said about the nature of “God”. (I note that you dropped the word “entirely” between your first and second premise. I assume this was an unfortunate oversight.)

      • Posted July 14, 2009 at 3:29 am | Permalink

        Actually, quite a bit of my cutting and pasting went wrong. Sorry, I was under a bit of time pressure and some of the wording got stuffed up. I hope the overall meaning was clear. Guess I’ll try again, maybe on my own blog, when I get a bit of clear time for it.

      • Posted July 14, 2009 at 3:38 am | Permalink

        Let me add, though, that of course you can thin out the epistemic content of a religion until it makes few or no claims that are contrary to the scientific picture of the world. I don’t think anyone is denying this. But it turns out that the more “thick” content religion has (the kind of content that has some prospect of being testable) the more it conflicts with what we know from science.

        It didn’t have to be like this. It’s easy to imagine a world in which (a) religion has a lot of “thick” epistemic content AND SCIENCE KEEPS CONFIRMING IT. E.g. it might have turned out that theories based on Noah’s flood explain the formation of the Grand Canyon, features of the fossil record, etc.

        We do not live in that world. That’s what Mooney et al don’t seem to understand.

  5. Posted July 11, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    If you don’t mean that science & religion are incompatible in the “trivial” but relevant sense… and what you mean is that they are incompatible in the “trivial” sense that they are “dissimilar approaches”… which has nothing to do with what we mean when we say they are compatible – why not just drop the compatibility terminology altogether.

    If you think that dissimilarity of approach is very important then why not say “I think that science and faith are very dissimilar and that’s important”. Or, better yet, “I think everyone should use the scientific approach and never the religious approach, and that’s very important”.

    What’s the goal? To chide people for holding differing views about religion from you, to advance science, or to advance atheism?

    If it’s the first, keep it up.

    If it’s the second – quit getting distracted about trivial differences.

    If its the third, fine – but please make clear that you are talking about philosophical differences instead of scientific ones.

    • Posted July 11, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      And, of course, we’ll say that science and religion are dissimilar and it doesn’t matter to science.

      If you leave out “compatibility”, and choose more precise language. I think at the end of the day it will be some relatively abstruse philosophical differences that separate us.

      For me, by the way, advancement of science is paramount. Advancement of atheism is a nice, but separate, sideline… and I’m happy to refrain from advancing it in many life situations where being pleasant outweighs being evangelical.

      And I’m not that much into chiding people for thinking differently than I do.

      • Posted July 11, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        “And I’m not that much into chiding people for thinking differently than I do.”

        Sure you are, you’re doing it now.

        No you’re not. But then neither are people who make other arguments.

        I’m not that much into these endlessly recycled claims about chiding, forcing, intruding, peering into, invading yak yak yak that refer to merely arguing. It’s a bullying move, even when phrased with affected languor.

      • Posted July 11, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        Sorry… I sure didn’t mean to bully you. I credit Dr. Coyne for actually arguing a reasonable percentage of the time, though he isn’t wholly innocent. But a whole lot of what is out there… to call it arguing would be to accuse folks of having only the poorest, most juvenile, and unreflective of arguments.

  6. newenglandbob
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    It is such a pleasure to read these posts and comments from Coyne, Myers, Benson, Beattie, Blackford, Carroll, Laden, et al.

    I compare these as Post Docs Vs. High School freshmen (Mooney, et al.).

  7. David Ratnasabapathy
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Fact claims in Buddhism:
    *when the Buddha was born, he walked seven steps and flowers bloomed in his path
    *the Buddha could teleport
    *the Buddha could read minds
    *when a person dies they are reincarnated in another body
    *your current life is the consequence of your actions in a past life. e.g. an animal today used to be a bad human in their previous life.
    *gods both good and bad exist and can be placated by chanting/breaking coconuts

    • Posted July 11, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Many Buddhist traditions eschew literal belief in any of these aphorisms. Some are downright atheistic. Buddhism is much more intellectually diverse than the Western religions.

      Nevertheless, these claims are all unfalsifiable either in practice or in principle.

      • David Ratnasabapathy
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        What I described above is standard teaching in schools in Sri Lanka. Saying that other Buddhist traditions eschew these claims is missing the point. These are fact claims in Buddhism!

        Certainly, the stories of the miracles associated with Prince Siddhartha’s birth are unfalsifiable; but the claim that reincarnation happens, that its effect is determined by ones’ current life, the existence of gods and the claim that they can be placated are falsifiable?

        The breaking coconuts ceremony, intended to bring woe on an enemy surely has observable results as its goal.

      • Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        but the claim that reincarnation happens, that its effect is determined by ones’ current life, the existence of gods and the claim that they can be placated are falsifiable?

        Perhaps placation is, in principle, falsifiable – though I’m not sure that anyone is willing to run the experiment in practice, with a non-coconut control group and all other circumstances identical. And, of course, if the claim is further qualified – for instance, if the gods are incensed by such presumptuousness as to attempt falsification of the coconut ritual, then it would be a waste of time.

        I’m interested in knowing how you could falsify any of the rest, even in principle.

      • David Ratnasabapathy
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 3:59 am | Permalink

        Jerry Coyne wrote:

        Here is the empirical part: are the assertions of faith in conflict, or potential conflict, with the assertions of science?

        He then answered his question:

        …“yes” — virtually every faith, with the possible exception of Buddhism and deism, makes fact claims about the universe. And there is no evidence for any of these assertions.…[emphasis mine]

        Coyne was right to be doubtful about Buddhism’s credentials. Buddhism makes factual claims about the universe: claims which are in conflict with science, and for which there is no evidence. Do you disagree?

        1. Are you claiming that the factual claims of Buddhism listed above are not in conflict with scientific assertions?
        2. Do you feel that there is compelling evidence supporting those claims?

        The non-falsifiability of some of those claims is bad. It means we can’t tell if they’re true: which is another way of saying they’re probably false.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        1.) Bearing in mind that when you say “factual claims of Buddhism”, you are not using very careful language. It is similar to saying “the pro-ife positions of Democrats”… yes there are large cadres of southern Democrats who are pro-life as part of their overall political view. But, no that doesn’t make “pro-life” a property of “Democrat”. The claims you listed are similar in that they are not claims “of” Buddhism. They are claims of some Buddhist sects. And to finally answer the question, I do not believe such claims are usually or always framed in a way under which you could say they are “in conflict” with scientific assertions about natural law. Some of them certainly could be. The best analogy is a generic miracle. If a miracle is framed as “within earth’s gravity, and with no natural force operating on it, a basketball left the ground and rose to the top of the empire state building because of the way nature works” – then that is in conflict with scientific assertions of natural law. If it is framed as “despite natural law, a supervening and transcendent force not subject to natural law caused the rise of the basketball”, then that is not in conflict with scientific assertions of natural law. It appreciates the scientific understanding that the ball will stay on the ground until a force acts up on it, but says that something greater than natural law was involved in lifting it.
        2)No, of course I don’t. My meta-physics doesn’t accommodate the supernatural, and therefore I have a very high standard of evidence for such claims. But now, we’re just talking about me & my philosophy. We left the subject of science already.

      • David Ratnasabapathy
        Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        The claims you listed are similar in that they are not claims “of” Buddhism. They are claims of some Buddhist sects.

        If they are the claims of some Buddhist sects, aren’t they therefore fact claims in Buddhism?

        The analogy with the Democratic Party is false. There is only one Democratic Party, with only one recognized governing body authorized to speak on its behalf. This is not the case with Buddhism which, as you pointed out, is split into numerous sects — like all religions.

        A better analogy would be Christianity. The physical resurrection of Jesus is a fact claim in Christianity, yes? Yet it is the claim of only some Christian sects.

      • Posted July 16, 2009 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        To go with Christianity, then I would pick a less universal claim to compare the non-universal claims you make for Buddhism. Infant baptism is a rite for many Christians, but is not a rite “of Christianity” in any sense that would apply in a general critique of Christianity.

        My larger point is that Buddhism isn’t committed to any of the claims you mentioned. In that sense, they are not claims “of Buddhism”. They are claims of “some Buddhist sects”.

  8. Posted July 11, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    When we talk about faith are we talking about faith or a faith; that is, a religion. I have faith in science and in how it works. Scientists do make errors, but given the opportunity to correct those errors they will. Thus faith and science are compatible.

    Religion is another matter. Each faith has its own way of seeing the world, and each faith is set up to present its way of seeing the world as the right way. They rely on authority, and that authority is not to be questioned. Each religion sees its authority as coming from some expert who cannot be wrong, and who is not to be questioned. You must have faith that what those authorities say is true. As opposed to science, where one places one’s faith in the process and its results, regardless of the failings of the practitioners.

    To boil this down to the essentials…

    I believe in God.

    I have faith in science.

    I do not have any faith in religion, for I have seen how the various religions get things wrong, and how religions are set up to bar correction of those errors.

    In the eyes of some this last makes me an atheist, because I do not believe in their God. Of course I don’t, for their God does not fit the observable world. The world we can see contradicts their God and their world view, and I find it more profitable to have faith in what can be and has been observed than in what somebody says their God did.

    The universe is understandable. This understanding can be taught. It can be improved. This understanding is imperfect and can never be perfected because we are imperfect and can never be perfected. I have faith in this because I find it fits in with what we have observed about our universe and ourselves. I could be wrong, but as far as I can tell we are imperfect creatures living in an imperfect universe, and so long as we live in an imperfect universe we will never be perfectable.

  9. Hempenstein
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Another sort of accommodationism was widely promoted a century ago, summarized by a well-known minstrel song with a chorus that went something like this:

    Children keep in the middle of the road,
    Children keep in the middle of the road,
    Don’tcha lookin to the left,
    Don’tcha lookin to the right,
    Jes keep in the middle of the road.

    I think we’ve reached the point that most, on first hearing that one now, will the sentiment appalling. Why is it so hard for the current accommodationism to be seen in the same light?

  10. 386sx
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    So Santa Claus is compatible with science? Is that about right? Santa and pink unicorn faeries? And bigfoot? So long as they go “outside of science”, then they’re in the clear? The beliefs about UFO’s that make scientific claims are not compatible with science, but the beliefs about UFO’s that go outside of science, way out there in loopy la-la land, are indeed compatible with science? Okay, I guess I can live with that. (Yawn.)

  11. bad Jim
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    About 68% of Americans, according to the 2007 Pew survey, think the supernatural has practical importance in their lives. They believe in angels, demons and miracles. They expect results from prayers.

    There is a minority of Christians who share a more ecumenical or philosophical approach to the ineffable with the average Jew, Hindu or Buddhist, and it’s possible that they outnumber us godless heathens. Most of my life I’ve been playing nice, witholding judgement without concealing my general opinion. Maybe now it’s time to call a spade a fucking shovel.

  12. Posted July 12, 2009 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    When talking about ‘science’ in this debate I think most of us non-accomodationists actually mean ‘the scientific method’.
    If I try to define it in its most basic terms I tend to get something like:

    “The scientific method is what we use to determine whether a particular idea about the world is wrong”.

    Under that definition I doubt there is any way theistic religion can remain compatible with science.

  13. Cunctator
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    For the sake of clarifying what ‘religion’ might possibly mean, I would encourage everyone to consider the possibility that it is NOT what it is generally thought it is. I would like to address you all to a series of posts i recently wrote, precisely about this: http://hypertiling.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/understanding-religion-a-primer-on-critical-studies-part-1/.

    • Posted July 12, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      But if religion is generally thought to be X, then (being a social phenomenon) in that sense it is X.

      • Cunctator
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        But for whom? Whois ‘generally’?

      • Posted July 12, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        You tell me, it’s your choice of word.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 12, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        I am with you on that one Ophelia. Cunctator’s analysis may be nice for scholars but “what it is generally thought it is” is the proper definition for these type of discussions. We certainly do not want to be like “deep theologists” who are only understood by an infinitesimal percentage of people.

      • Cunctator
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        Sorry but I think we are confusing issues here. I am not saying that the science vs religion thing is about nothing. I am saying that its about a very specific and culturally located debate. This would be fine: the problem is, as i say in my final post, that both christianity and science tend to see this struggle as universal, as including all human beings, as being the Good Fight. What I meant by ‘generally’ is ‘by both the layperson AND the educated people writing books&blogs’ both classes (very) often fail to see that this universal phenomenon of ‘religion’ they seem to attack/defend is actually not universal at all.

    • Posted July 12, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Well yeah, Bob. And with anything as socially constructed as religion, it just doesn’t make sense to say it’s really X which is quite different from what it’s generally thought to be.

      One can always say ‘it makes more sense to think of religion as X’ – that’s much more defensible.

  14. Pierce R. Butler
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    … Mohamed and his horse Barack (yes, that was his name) …

    I’m having a lot of difficulty finding more about this on the web. Almost everything Google finds which supports that claim comes from thoroughly non-credible sources such as FreeRepublic comments.

    Here’s one version, with a different spelling:

    He flew on the magical Winged-Horse of Fire which he called Burak, which literally means White Horse but seen as “Thunder-Lightning”.

    Problem is, most descriptions of the president’s name have it as meaning “blessed” (or “Benedict”), just as with, say, former Israeli PM Ehud Barak.

    • J.J. E.
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Not too hard to find. You just gotta realize that (for English pronunciation) /k/ = [q|ck|k] depending on which Romanization is in use. Same reason Koran can also be Qur’an, or whatever. In this case, the Romanization is “Buraq”. I have no idea if this is the same as Obama’s name, but there are superficial phonetic similarities at the very least.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buraq

      • Sven
        Posted July 14, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        That’s not a satisfactory explanation. Sure, “q”, “k” and “ck” are interchangeable, but “u” and “a” are not. You can’t get from “Buraq” to “Barack” by any standard ambiguities in transliteration from Arabic. Again, this is emphatically not the same as the “u” in “Qur’an” and the “o” in “Koran”. Arabic has no two vowels corresponding to “o” and “u”, respectively, so those are often switched in transliteration (e.g., Osama vs. Usama). There is often a similar “a” vs. “e” ambiguity (“al-” vs. “el-”). But there is no reason for an “a” vs. “u” ambiguity and it is not common.

        It may be true that “Buraq” is linguistically related to “Barack” (and its Hebrew equivalent “Baruch”), but that is not at all clear from the assertions I’ve seen.

  15. Peter Beattie
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    And there’s even more dissembling from Chris in the comments to his latest post about his book. I’m beginning to wonder …

    • Posted July 12, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Oh, gawd – and he has the gall to say this -

      “What I strenuously avoid is biased, unproductive, or hectoring discussion, and people who don’t seem open minded.”

      So that’s you, Jerry Coyne, PZ, Matt Penfold, me, and a whole raft of other people. We’re all biased, unproductive, hectoring, and closed-minded.

      Godalmighty.

      • AdamK
        Posted July 13, 2009 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        Apparently the appearance of open-mindedness is the be-all and end-all of civilized discourse, with reason at a distant second or third place.

        This non-scientist journalist is engaged and interested in rhetoric, while his interlocutors are concerned with science and scholarship. The twain are not meeting, as far as I can tell.

  16. Jason
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    One thing I’m always curious about is what arguments Chris or Eugenie would give if asked to justify the fact that they are atheists in private (publicly, I expect they would skirt the question).

    Presumably, they wouldn’t just say, “I don’t feel any personal connection with God, so for me, God doesn’t exist”. My guess is that they would try to give objective arguments which would probably sound something like the kinds of arguments given above (i.e. that religious claims are either inconsistent with what we know about the world or superfluous jargon which don’t add to our understanding of the world).

    This makes me think that the real disagreement must be a semantic one. Scott and Mooney look at a philosopher like Alvin Plantinga and say, “Here is an erudite, literate person who wrote a book-length treatment arguing why an omnipotent and benevolent God is consistent with the existence of evil. We disagree with him because his model lacks parsimony and appears to lead to other conclusions that we reject, but these are philosophical and not scientific disagreements.”

    But the fact that someone can make *wrong* philosophical arguments about a subject doesn’t mean it’s not properly a scientific question.
    The rest of us would make the same criticisms but say we are doing science – i.e. we are considering Plantinga’s model against competing ones, and ask which makes sense of the world we observe in the most parsimonious way.

    I think Mooney and Scott are uncomfortable calling this sort of reasoning science because it lacks the usual trappings: where are the mathematical models, the statistical testing, the controlled experiments?

    I think the fault here lies with the Theologians. If they propose a well-specified quantitative model of what they have in mind, the rest of us wouldn’t hesitate to evaluate it. But until then the fact that their hypotheses don’t conform to this standard doesn’t mean that they’re not doing science, it just means they’re doing science badly.

  17. Pierce R. Butler
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but since Semitic languages seem to have a problematic relationship with vowels, especially in written forms (often depicting them with nothing more than dots), Romanization yields very inconsistent results.

    A detailed explication of “Barack” (with no mention of any horses) can be found at Juan Cole’s blog.

    • Pierce R. Butler
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Oops – comment # 17 was intended as a reply to J.J. E. @ # 14.

    • J.J.E.
      Posted July 12, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      I agree. But even if the connection isn’t cut and dried, at the very least, the implicit allusion to BHO would be a good-faith error rather than the uncritical acceptance of hearsay promulgated by freepers.

      Actually, I wonder if this was ever addressed at Language Log?

  18. MJP
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got an analogy for those who think science and religion are “compatible.”

    Your friend Bob asks you for a ride to work. After a few minutes of talking, Bob suddenly changes the subject. “You know, I have the magical power to teleport,” he says. Surely you would think “WTF?” Not only is the claim of teleportation absurd in itself; it’s contradicted by the fact that Bob needed to ask for a car ride. But Bob assures you that both teleportation and cars are “different ways of transportation,” teleportationists are perfectly capable of riding in cars just as he is doing now, and that “cars can’t get everywhere” so he needs teleportation to get where cars can’t get him. All of these arguments would completely miss the point that if Bob could reliably teleport, he wouldn’t need to set foot in a car ever again.

    Religion claims that we can teleport towards knowledge. Science claims we have to work for it. When religious people practice science or even rely on it secondhand, they implicitly admit that they don’t take religious claims seriously.

    • Stan Pak
      Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Thanks for posting this. It is very neat analogy and can be very useful in any discussions on this subject.

  19. Posted July 13, 2009 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    “One thing I’m always curious about is what arguments Chris or Eugenie would give if asked to justify the fact that they are atheists in private (publicly, I expect they would skirt the question).”
    I had a friend who was going through film school and who used to have a part time job in a TV production company. The job consisted of training politicians for media interviews whereby they would learn to studiously avoid the question being asked and simply provide the interviewer with the message they, the politician wanted to put across – no matter what the topic or question at hand happened to be.
    This was in the 1980s and I can only imagine it’s got more intensive since then. This type of approach to awkward question has become so all pervasive that it is what we have come to automatically expect of politicians in an interview situation. Those UK based readers will probably recall one famous instance when the BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman took this approach head on with the conservative politician Michael Howard.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwlsd8RAoqI&feature=fvst It’s that exact interview that is brought to mind by Chris Mooney’s ‘political’ approach to direct questions. In the interview Paxman took the approach of simply repeating the same question over and over again to bring out the point that Howard was avoiding the point at hand.
    It’s probably the best way to approach Mooney on the current matter. Don’t give him multiple questions to run around, just give him one single question and ask it repeatedly until he is forced to answer or is forced to admit he is refusing to answer it.

  20. Peter Beattie
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Good news. Chris and Sheril have found two more reviews of their book to claim that those Big Bad Atheists are wrong in dismissing UA as entirely wanting in the solutions department. Bad news for the dissembling duo: The reviews say more or less the opposite of what C&S claim they say.

  21. Posted July 13, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I agree that finding scientists who are religious doesn’t prove the two are compatible. But I also think the philosophical part of this goes beyond what you describe: “is a way of finding out things based on reason and evidence compatible with a way of finding out things based on revelation and dogma?”

    As we’ve discussed offline, the question in my mind is how we decide which system of thought to use for different questions. Science has relatively little to do with how I think about art, ethics, literature, love, or even politics. The typical standards of judgment in those arenas would never be acceptable in a scientific field. Yet purely empirical evaluation would not get you far in understanding any of these subjects.

    So to me, the first philosophical question is whether religion is more like a scientific field or one of these wooly subjects. Only rarely have I seen defenders or critics of religion tackle this question in a serious way.

    • Posted July 13, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Jeremy, you’re absolutely right from where I stand. The real debate should be whether religion provides a better way of finding the truth than “secular human inquiry” where the latter includes the sciences (and the special sciences: poli sci, economics, etc.), secular ethics, secular literary theory, secular aesthetics, etc.

      But it doesn’t seem too crude a simplification to talk about religion vs. science. Why should we think revealed religion and dogma will help us find ethical truths better than the method of differences and reflective equilibrium in contemporary secular ethical philosophy? It’s always on the one hand revealed religion and dogma and on the other rational human inquiry. What reason have we to think reason won’t be better every time?

      What Jerry has repeatedly asked for is one reason (just one!) to think that dogma is or could be reliable. I think he’d accept one that showed dogma could help us in ethics, but so far no-one’s produced such a reason.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        I could be wrong, but I don’t think most people view religion as “a way of finding the truth.” (see my comment below.) As Stephen Colbert would say, religion feels right to them. And while that’s a maddening idea for someone who rejects religion on factual grounds, it’s extremely difficult to shake.

        So again, the task for Jerry and others isn’t just to make an empirical case but to explain why this is a scientific question rather than a personal one, like whether someone prefers Mozart or Marvin Gaye.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Jeremy,

      So could you tell me what questions are supposed to be answered by using the “religion system of thought?” Surely ethical questions are answered better by reason and logic than by dogma. I can’t believe that you don’t see, as well, that most going religions are based on FACT claims, and if those claims are wrong (e.g. Jesus was not the son of God, or was resurrected), people would abandon their faith. Many have said this, including the great theologians.

      Dawkins has said that the question of God’s existence is an empirical claim. Do you deny that? The only empirical claim about God that is beyond science is one of a God who does not affect the universe, that is, deism. If you claim that God does affect the universe, as theists do, and does stuff like cures diseases, answers prayers, etc., then that claim becomes an empirical (and therefore scientific) claim.

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        I don’t think dogma is a good guide for ethics, but I’m also not convinced that reason and logic are great replacements. Reason can’t teach you to empathize with someone who’s suffering. Yet I’d say empathy is a crucial part of ethics.

        My point is not that religion should guide ethics. It’s that religion is like ethics, in that it’s not necessarily shaped by reason and logic.

        I agree that saying God exists is an empirical claim, but I don’t think it’s like most empirical claims in science. If deism – which you agree is beyond science – makes someone feel better about the world, I’m not sure how you empirically talk them out of it.

    • astrounit
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Jeremy: “the question in my mind is how we decide which system of thought to use for different questions.”

      Are you serious?

      You seriously believe that “different questions” necessarily require “different systems of thought”?

      Are you sure that a single rational system of thought can’t be sufficient to address rational and irrational questions alike?

      What other “system of thought” which does not utilize reason and logic do you propose? What other “system” CAN you propose?

      Let us know which systems of thought you employ for particular questions that CANNOT be answered by a logical reasoning supported by empirical evidence. I want to know.

      And be sure to let us know how you determine when to employ one or another of those systems of thought, say, when you decide to use a system that employs logical reasoning versus when you don’t.

      Most importantly, let us know by what criteria you ask questions.

      Be specific! I’m as excited as can be! I’m biting my fingernails over this incipient revelation!

      • Posted July 15, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        How do you decide that a Degas painting is lovely, but a Precious Moments figurine is schlocky? Empirical evidence? Logical reasoning?

        Do logic and reason have anything to do with who you love, or your favorite novel?

        To say that logic plays little role in these fields doesn’t mean they are without standards. I could write a devastating, systematic critique of schlocky figurines, but it wouldn’t compel agreement the way a good paper in Science does.

        I suspect that for many if not most people, religion is like one of these examples. It’s far more like falling in love than solving a logic problem. And when was the last time you were able to rationally convince someone that they shouldn’t have fallen in love?

        That’s not to say you shouldn’t criticize religious beliefs. But the assumption that it’s a straightforward empirical question misses something crucial.

    • astrounit
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Jeremy: “the question in my mind is how we decide which system of thought to use for different questions.”

      Are you serious?

      You seriously believe that “different questions” necessarily require “different systems of thought”?

      Are you sure that a single rational system of thought isn’t sufficient to address rational and irrational questions alike?

      That a single rational system, of thought can’t pose good questions that may be answerable?

      Or do you simply insist bad (unanswerable) questions constitute a legitimate means to knowledge which require another system of thought apart from that of rationality?

      What other “system of thought” which does not utilize reason and logic do you propose? What other “system” CAN you propose?

      Let us know which systems of thought you employ for particular questions that CANNOT be answered by a logical reasoning supported by empirical evidence. I want to know.

      And be sure to let us know how you determine when to employ one or another of those systems of thought, say, when you decide to use a system that employs logical reasoning versus when you don’t.

      Most importantly, let us know by what criteria you ask questions.

      Be specific! I’m as excited as can be! I’m biting my fingernails over this incipient revelation!

      Is that “serious” enough for you?

  22. Peter Beattie
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Mooneybaum’s “rebuttal” of PZ’s review of their book is up. Well, part one, that is. It’s more of the same, I’m afraid, but I hadn’t noticed the bad writing before. More on that in my comment.

  23. bsk
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Very well put.

  24. Peter Beattie
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Excuse me for continuing to use this post to draw attention to more bumbling from Chris Mooney — if you’d rather not see your blog thus abused, Jerry, just let me know. :)

    This time, he praises a review as “great” and “thoughtful” that makes similar points to PZ and Ophelia. The review essentially asks some of the same questions as Ophelia posted on her site. Three guesses as to whether Chris answered or even acknowledged them.

  25. Leigh Jackson
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    By way of a postscript and for the record go hereto see the full interview with Eugenie Scott.

    After Mooney’s excerpt Scott is pushed to say more on the philosophical question of the compatibility of science and religion. After some meandering she admits that some Christian theology is incompatible with science but adds that a lot of theologians say that God doesn’t interfere a lot with the world so science can pretty much do its own thing. She doesn’t say whether she personally believes science and Christian religion to be compatible.

    Whilst you’re there, check out the Richard Dawkins spoof. :))

  26. Leigh Jackson
    Posted July 18, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    E. Scott by culture (professional anthropologist) and temperament is accepting of diverse human beliefs. She is aware as an atheist that she is an historical anomaly; few people over the last 50,000 years or so have not believed in the supernatural. Belief in the supernatural is natural – the human psyche appears to be tailor made for such belief. St. Augustine said of God, “Thou madest us for thyself and our hearts be restless until they repose in Thee”. Our brains have generally thought along these lines because we never had science available to help draw back the veil of ignorance concealing nature’s mystery from us. Even with science to help our understanding of nature the meaning of life has to be supplied from elsewhere.

    I respect Scott a great deal. Coming from where she is coming from and having the job she has at the NCSE her decision to accommodate liberal theology makes great sense.

    When pushed for the second time to respond to the philosophical question of compatibility she ends up repeating the same answer – there are those who don’t see a problem between Christian faith and evolution.

    She is desperate to combat the evolution = atheism equation, whether it be effectively true or not. On anthropological grounds her political judgement makes sense. However, in practice all I see happening is liberal theology being given comfort by the scientific establishment with precious little benefit in the frontline trenches. The liberal theology message is an elitist message. It’s no more comprehensible or acceptable amongst believers in general than evolution is.

  27. Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    The more I listen to accomodationists like Mooney, Nisbet, Scott etc. the more I come to realize that I’d be perfectly happy to watch their watered-down version of “science” – the kind that is perfectly compatible with holding unshakable beliefs for bad reasons, and needs to be communicated by appealing to something other than your honestly held reasons – wither and die. After all, they have already stripped it of everything that made it worth promoting in the first place.

    To me the very core of science is critical thinking as well as intellectual honesty, and the core of critical thinking is simply insisting on good rather than bad reasons for believing. In order to believe in God religious people have no choice but to rely on bad reasons (dogma, tradition, authority, revelation etc.) because no other reasons are available (and no amount of special pleading is ever going to turn the cosmological or teleological argument – or any of the other familiar arguments – into good reasons for believing in God). The day that “science” no longer required us to prefer good reasons to bad reasons was the day that science died. When the accomodationists make the argument that portraying science and religion as incompatible is going to turn the people away from science, what they are in effect saying is this:

    “If you force people to either follow the good reasons or the bad reasons, they will go with the bad reasons”

    If there is no conflict between this mindset and what the accomodationists are advocating, they are free to call what they’re advocating “critical thinking”, but let’s not pretend we are still talking about the same thing.

  28. astrounit
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Watching and listening to Scott confidently espousing her views (as she reiterates, several times, as “obvious”) directly in the face of evidence to the contrary which she herself supplies is so maddeningly aggravating that, I am sorry to report, it evoked an even higher level of contempt than that which I typically reserve for the most vehemously religious blowhards.

    It is clear that my long-held observation that academic training in espousery is no guarantee for cleaving to truthful estimation: the friggin’ question IS: is it science or is it not?

    It is really that simple. Scott and many of her like-minded sort are a disaster. For every single one of them, there are at least a hundred who do NOT have the benefit of any academic degrees who can see right through their charmingly academic schmarn. (And it’s high time that the more elitist academic contingent who DO know better embrace that gigantic non-academic asset in the population).

    Scott: “Science can’t say, ‘That’s wrong’ – because science can’t test statements having to do with God”. And the only statements we can test are those having to do with the natural world. So if you stepped completely outside of that and bring God as an explanitor, you know, you’ve gone outside of science”

    On a roll, she immediately seeks to defuse the evident incongruities in that statement, and with a raised inflection to deflect attention from those glaringly obvious problems, she continues,

    “So science can weigh and accept or reject fact claims made by science…excuse me, science can accept or reject fact claims made by religion, but the basic idea that a supernatural exists, which is foundational to the religions we are familiar with, and I would argue as an anthropologist foundation to the idea of religion, inter…uh, across the planet…travel[ing] religions as well…that basic idea of ‘does a supernatural exist or not’ is not something that science can measure”.

    Besides the pratfall, what the flying heck is that crap supposed to mean? Does she even know? What has she just said? That,

    1. Science is not allowed to refute any statements that are untestable??? Really??? Is she serious???

    2. That there IS a box that exists that putatively contains the natural world within it and outside of which the natural world has no legitimate place (because it is by definition “supernatural”) and which science therefore cannot address???

    3. That if one brings the idea of “God” into the picture as an “explanitor”, it can be accomodated as long as one accepts that there is a supernatural arena that exists outside of the application of science???

    4. That because many cultures believe in a supernatural realm (and because Scott is an anthropologist much attuned to this popular notion) it automatically validates the question of whether or not it exists???

    5. That BECAUSE science cannot measure the truthfulness of that notion or any other claim not rooted in natural reality, it MUST mean that such non-natural realms IN FACT DO EXIST which are beyond the capacity of science to attend???

    This woman is stark staring nuts. Worse, she voices her opinions as if she confidently speaks from the pulpit of academic authority, NOT from any scientific motivation. It is an astonishingly disgusting display of pseudoscience dressed in the garb of academic authority Dispicable. People like her and Mooney and Kirshenbaum are the exponents of the worst and most insidious kind.

  29. MikebForJesus
    Posted October 14, 2009 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps I’ve overlooked something, but the article author seems to discount that some theists consider evolution true and that God created the universe by initiating the big bang, with the capacity to develop to its current state, including life.

    But I personally am YEC and a big fan of science, but can differentiate between operational and historical science, the latter of which is not nearly as subject to the scientific method as the former.


7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Coyne, in the middle of the Mooney/accommodationist debate: Science uses logic, reason and evidence to find things out.  [...]

  2. [...] the accommodationism battle continues Well, here are two more things that can’t happen, given what we know about modern biology: a [...]

  3. [...] Coyne wrote Eugenie Scott and Chris Mooney dissemble about accommodationism at his blog Why Evolution is True. This is a quote from it: Well, here are two more things that [...]

  4. [...] Eugenie Scott and Chris Mooney dissemble about accommodationism [...]

  5. [...] video of Eugenie Scott talking about science-religion compatibility. Merely for posting this video, Coyne accused Chris of “dissembling” and “using authority arguments.” Scott was also accused of [...]

  6. [...] I, and others have addressed the idea of science and the supernatural many times before (see here, here, and here), dispelling the soothing idea that “science has nothing to say about the [...]

  7. [...] atheists that show how much they talk right past Christians and their Bibles.  Jerry Coyne, from Why Evolution Is True, makes this statement:”here are two more things that can’t happen, given what we know about [...]

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