Scientism

After reading a dire piece at the National Public Radio (NPR) website about novelist Marilynne Robinson and her continuing beef about “scientism”, I think I’ve finally figured out why atheists are constantly accused of this behavior.  When we’re said to be guilty of “scientism”, it’s not intended to mean that atheists or scientists are cold, unfeeling rationalists, blind to the beauty and wonder of this world. Nor does it mean that we employ science in every interaction we have with the world, including viewing art, being in love, and so on.  Nobody with eyes to see could support such an accusation.  Scientists are a well read group (I still maintain that we read far more novels than English professors read science books), have families and fulfilling relationships, and many of us, like Sagan and Dawkins, are outspoken about the beauty we find in our work and our world.

No, when used as a derogatory adjective, “scientism” means this:

the practice of applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith.

For religious people and accommodationists, that practice is a no-no.  That’s why the adjective is pejorative.

“Scientism”, then, is a religious code word in the same sense that “spirituality” is code for “feelings of transcendence that should be considered religious.”  Perhaps I’m belaboring the obvious.

Robinson, a superb novelist (I much enjoyed Housekeeping and Gilead, which nabbed a Pulitzer), is also religious—a Congregationalist who sometimes preaches at her church.  And she’s been on a crusade against atheism, writing and speaking about it often—and always connecting it with scientism.  Her new book, Absence of Mind (I haven’t read it) continues this critique; the Yale University Press describes it as “challeng[ing] postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science.”  Yep, that’s nasty us, asking for evidence. But what is a “postmodern” atheist?

Marcelo Gleiser’s NPR piece, engagingly titled “Can scientists overreach?” (the answer of course is “yes”), is merely regurgitation and adulation of Robinson’s views.  (Gleiser is a physics professor at Dartmouth.)

Robinson is particularly critical of fundamentalist scientism as preached by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker, among others. The reading is tough, but well worth it.

“Fundamental scientism”? Is that what characterizes “postmodern atheism”?

This, in a nutshell, is the crux of her argument: Science paints a wonderful picture of the world, but a necessarily incomplete one. To reduce everything to science and its methods impoverishes humanity. We need cultural diversity and that includes the culture of religion.

Of course I agree that we need cultural diversity, but I’m not on board with an aspect of cultural diversity that endorses lies, enables superstition, or propagandizes children.  Gleiser goes on:

What makes some scientists so sure of their science? The practice of science, after all, relies precisely on uncertainties; a theory only works until its limits are exposed. In fact, this is a good thing, since new theories sprout from the cracks of old ones.

For science to advance it needs to fail. The truths of today will not be the truths of tomorrow. So, asks Robinson, whence comes this certainty? She goes on to examine several cases, pointing out their weaknesses. Essentially, scientists shouldn’t be making sweeping generalizations based on their science alone.

Religionists’ claim that scientists are arrogant always amuses me.  Really, who are the arrogant ones?  Scientists are nearly always tentative in their conclusions. Lately I’ve been reading a bunch of papers on evolution, and was struck by how often conclusions are qualified by words like “this suggests that” or “this conclusion should be regarded as provisional”.  Many papers suggest additional lines of research that could support or falsify their conclusions. In the end, it is religious people who are the certain ones, the overbearing ones.  How often do you hear, in religious discourse, that “my conclusion that there is god should, of course, be seen as provisional, subject to refutation by findings of unjustifiable evil,” or “maybe there’s a heaven, but maybe not; I don’t have much evidence.”  If they relied at all on evidence, the faithful wouldn’t be able to say anything.

And it’s bogus to suggest that all scientific truth is ephemeral, for some truths of today will remain truths of tomorrow.  A water molecule will still have two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom; AIDS will still be caused by a virus; the Earth will still go around the Sun.  Although the concept of absolute and unchangeable truth is alien to science, we’ve found out a lot of things that are likely to remain “true” in that they’re unlikely to be overturned.   In her postmodern claim that scientific “evidence” is weak and changeable, Robinson clearly intends to denigrate science by showing that, after all, it’s not so different from religion. (Perhaps she doesn’t remember that she is religious?)  Robinson sees other similarities as well: science, like religion, can be used for bad ends:

In 2006, Robinson wrote a scathing review of Dawkins’s The God Delusion for Harper’s Magazine, “Hysterical Scientism: The Ecstasy of Richard Dawkins.”

“So bad science is still science in more or less the same sense that bad religion is still religion. That both of them can do damage on a huge scale is clear. The prestige of both is a great part of the problem, and in the modern period the credibility of anything called science is enormous. As the history of eugenics proves, science at the highest levels is no reliable corrective to the influence of cultural prejudice but is in fact profoundly vulnerable to it.” . . .

. . . I also quote her last words:

“It is diversity that makes any natural system robust, and diversity that stabilizes culture against the eccentricity and arrogance that have so often called themselves reason and science.”

According to this theory, Scandinavia should be far less “robust” than America or, indeed, Saudi Arabia.  But the opposite is true.  As Greg Paul has shown, there’s actually a negative correlation between the religiosity of a society and sociological indices of its well being.  That doesn’t prove that religion destabilizes society, but it does suggest that unstable and dysfunctional societies become religious in a defensive way—either to find succor in a celestial sky-father or as a circling of the wagons, an ingroup-outgroup stance that one assumes when feeling beleaguered.

It’s really sad that a brilliant novelist like Robinson uses her brainpower to denigrate science in a public attempt to buttress her faith. At the end, Gleiser parrot’s Robinson’s accommodationism:

Frontal attacks on religion and its practices will only produce more animosity. Fundamentalism leads to further entrenchment, not to conciliation. Perhaps a better approach is to teach science as it truly functions, constantly engaged in a two-way exchange with the culture of its time.

Perhaps a better approach is to teach religion as it truly functions, constantly engaged in lying to children and retooling its dogma as science and secular morality advance.  Why do we need conciliation?

324 Comments

  1. Tulse
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Atheists are postmodern because of their certainty?

    As someone once said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    • AT
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      good point about the word usage

      scientists at least in principle understand and support the concept of refining the definitions until essential non-ambiguity is reached given the current state of science

      with religion there cannot be anything of the kind making them talking the language that is completely different in meanings to the language used by atheists/scientists

      this is why a true “believer” cannot ever call himself “scientist” and a scientists that also calls himself a “believer” is an oxymoron

    • astrosmash
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      I think it was Sam Harris tearing Deepak a new one in a recent debate

      • Dominic
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        For postmodern read ‘Gnu’.

      • Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

        Um no. It was in “The Princess Bride” written by William Goldman 1987.

    • Ray Thaw
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:16 am | Permalink

      It was Inigo Montoya(Mandy Patinkin in the movie)in The Princess Bride…

      • Tulse
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        Yep. (I thought the reference was well-known enough, but perhaps my estimation of geekiness of this crowd is off…)

        • Ray Thaw
          Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

          You calling me a geek??

          • Tulse
            Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

            I’m more calling me a geek.

            • Posted April 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

              Well, my geekiness goes to 11. (another Reiner classic)

              • Daniel Schealler
                Posted April 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

                His geek level is over nine thousa-

                Okay, okay.

                I took it too far.

                I’m sorry.

  2. Mirik
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Well I’m a ‘scientism’ supporter. Fully. I think it’s my view of life, though obviously it can never be dogmatic, that would defeat the purpose.

    There is another Robinson writer, but this one is a scientism-espouser, namely sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson. All his books ARE about the scientific world view and how it is the best system for government and life affirmation there is. The best ‘religion’ if you like.

    Anyways, I’ve made up my mind some time ago, that scientism is something to be proud of and that it can’t possibly mean what the opposition to it says it means (dogmatic, which would be paradoxical to the whole principle of a science based world view).

    • Adam K. Fetterman
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      I’m intrigued. I’ll have to check him out. Thanks for the heads up.

    • AT
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      I am intrigued too – will check out this Robinson.

      • Mirik
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        No worries lads.

        Best books:

        Mars Trilogy
        – Red Mars
        – Blue Mars
        – Green Mars

        The Years of Rice and Salt (not sci-fi, more alternate history, but magically good)

        The Memory of Whiteness

        Galileo’s Dream

        He also wrote a trilogy called ‘Science in the Capital’, but I have not yet got round to those books. But they predicted Katrina, and revolve around Washington and the politics of climate change and environmentalism, I do believe.

        • daveau
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          I read Red Mars, but gave up on his “science” when the hanging-by-a-thread, all-or-nothing, life-saving rescue violated the simplest laws of fluid dynamics. They should have all died.

          • AT
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

            thanks daveau

            looks like i tshould not waste my time on this robinson – it is science i am interested in, not “fiction”

            • daveau
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              It was pretty good up to that point. 😉

              The spousal unit bought it for me, because of all the “true science” hype. It violated that trust. But if you didn’t have those expectations, it was compelling space opera.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              Robinson is known for his “hard” scifi, I believe. I’m not sure which rescue (out of many) would be a terrible violation of laws – all fictional stories have holes as they are written by fallible humans.

              [Now that would be an awesome computer project – a full physics simulator for stories, say adapting CGI physic engines. :-D]

              • daveau
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                SPOILER ALERT. I’m talking about the big finale, where they are stranded in their zeppelin thing (don’t remember exactly – it’s been years) and they convert one of the outboard electric motors to recharge the batteries, or they all die. Well, the zeppelin is drifting freely in the wind, so how is this same wind supposed to turn the propeller to turn the motor to recharge the batteries? Unless they throw out an anchor or something, which they did not do. I had to reread the preceding pages several times to assure myself that I didn’t miss something.

                I didn’t read the next two books either, but I know you’re not going to obtain and keep an atmosphere without a planetary magnetic field.

              • Marella
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                It could have had a magnetic field that was in the processing of flipping poles, so was temporarily absent. (just an idea :-))

              • Tristan
                Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:21 am | Permalink

                Don’t give up on it that quickly, daveau. Yes, you’re correct that if the airship is drifting freely with a steady breeze, there’s no way they could generate power. But if the wind is at all gusty, the airship’s inertia would cause it to respond slowly compared to a small propeller. So, any shift in wind speed or direction would give a small window in which some power could be generated.

              • daveau
                Posted April 12, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

                There was no such suggestion.

          • SAWells
            Posted April 13, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

            You’re assuming a condition of perfectly uniform constant wind velocity. This never happens in reality. As soon as there’s variation, the air will be moving wrt the zeppelin.

        • Andrew
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

          What do you mean he ‘predicted Katrina’? Are you saying this author has special powers?

  3. Greg Esres
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    “the practice of applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith””

    Or, how about “applying rationality and standards of evidence in any manner which undermines the legitimacy of their own subjective points of view” ?

    • Ray Thaw
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      Or, how about, “Appling rationality and standards of evidence where ever they need to be applied in order to learn something”?

  4. Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I have occasionally heard philosophers (atheist or agnostic philosophers throw around the word scientism, too. In their case it has nothing to do with religion: they use that ugly word to refer to scientists who are completely ignorant of philosophy, in particular the philosophy of science, and maintain that philosophy is a waste of time. As a scientist who also loves philosophy, I disagree that philosophy does not provide any valuable knowledge,but I also dislike the word “scientism”; I wish it was dropped from the language, it is only pejorative and it does not help to convince anyone that there are other ways to acquire knowledge other than strictly by experimental science.

    As for Robinson, I have no read her books but her arguments are very unsophisticated. If I hear from theists one more time that scientists, especially atheist scientists, are arrogant, I’m going to puke. what could be more arrogant that absolute certainty in the absence of any evidence?

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      A personal experience with God tends to make believers certain of their faith. You could call it arrogance if you like, but that implies that their certainty comes from within themselves instead of God.

      Evidence and faith are not contrary to one another. If God is real, every piece of evidence supports his existence. The difference here is that some scientists limit their questions about the evidence. While looking at the evidence, “Who is man?” is a good question, but so is, “Who is God?” Some scientists just don’t want to ask latter question. I think one of the reasons for this is that they hold to the idea “all I see is all there is.” Your own worldview has an effect on how you see the evidence.

      • daveau
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        “A personal experience with God”? Do tell? How do you know?

      • velkyn
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        “Evidence and faith are not contrary to one another.”

        they certainly are if you look at the actual defintions.

        “If God is real, every piece of evidence supports his existence.”

        And all theists of ever stripe claim this. Oooh, look at creation, *my* god did that. Funny that they have no evidence of such a thing.

        “The difference here is that some scientists limit their questions about the evidence. While looking at the evidence, “Who is man?” is a good question, but so is, “Who is God?”

        Nice assumption that the only god is the christian one. How long should we look for a god when none have shown themselves for how many years now?

        “Some scientists just don’t want to ask latter question. I think one of the reasons for this is that they hold to the idea “all I see is all there is.” Your own worldview has an effect on how you see the evidence.”

        And the usual woo of claiming that there is “somethign else” with no evidence. Again, how long have we been looking for evidence of *any* god, not just yours? The scientific method has observations, hypotheses, replication and theory. None of these have led to any god for a very long time and do not look to be doing so any time soon.

        • Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          “How long should we look for a god”

          How long will you look for proof of non-material things in the material things? As long as you limit your questions concerning the evidence, you will always be searching.

          • stvs
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

            As long as you limit your questions concerning the evidence, you will always be searching.

            This directly contradicts what you just wrote above, “every piece of evidence supports his existence”.

            You appear to not be serious. Is there evidence for god or not? You say above that there is but here that there isn’t. Which is it?

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

            How long will you look for proof of non-material things in the material things? As long as you limit your questions concerning the evidence, you will always be searching.

            That is wrong; you don’t understand how science work.

            For example, consider how we tell that there is no antigravity. This is a result by researching gravity, having found a sufficiently wide theory (general relativity), in the end establishing that no other theory remains as contender (by its embedding in standard cosmology), and predicting that there is only spacetime distortions as mechanism*. That result can be quantified to high certainty, beyond reasonable doubt.**

            In the same way there is nothing that stops us from researching nature, finding a sufficiently wide theory (materialism), establishing that no other theory remains as contender, and predicting that there is only this monism (by some measure, say energy conservation); no dualism of souls, creator agents, prayer agents (supplicator agents), et cetera.

            The trick is not to look for what may work, the trick is to look for what doesn’t work and then home in on what works (what remains). As they say, “if you can’t tell what is wrong, you can’t tell what is correct.”

            Not that we can’t tell that prayer agents don’t exist specifically, mind. Templeton has helped enormously to kill off some proposed gods. 😀

            * Equivalently, that gravitons are only “positively” charged with mass.

            ** Which means that we currently lack doubt, but that there can still be something wrong with our understanding. After ~ 100 years, the risk is minimal though.

            • Marella
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

              Prayer particle, the “prayron”, perhaps CERN should be looking for it! 😉

          • Papalinton
            Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

            Daniel
            I am gobsmacked. ‘non-material things’; has to be one of the great oxymorons yet devised.

          • Explict Atheist
            Posted April 13, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

            Daniel
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:54 am

            “How long will you look for proof of non-material things in the material things? As long as you limit your questions concerning the evidence, you will always be searching.”

            Daniel, the evidence is strong that personal religious experiences are themselves products of the religious beliefs of the person with the experience. The religious beliefs come first, then the mind of the believer interprets\experiences events in that internally derived religous context. So the religious experience is itself internally derived, its not evidence of anything independent and external to the person with the experience.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        The usual nonsense here. If you dream of god, go get a room.

      • greg byshenk
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        “If God is real, every piece of evidence supports his existence.”

        So, it follows from that, ‘if not every piece of evidence supports his existence, then god is not real’ (by MT).

        And, as it seems clear that not every piece of evidence supports the existence of god, then god is not real. Congratulations! You’ve just produced a rather silly proof for the non-reality of god (‘rather silly’ because I don’t think that many people will buy into the extremely strong premise you require).

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

          The Holocaust couldn’t have been caused or approved by a loving God, and doesn’t attest to his existence. Therefore God is not real.

          • stvs
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

            The Holocaust could have been caused or approved by a Nazi-loving God, or at least a God that loves to hate Jews. This is none other than the Christian God, according to early Church Fathers:

            The Jewish people … failed to accept the yoke of Christ … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. This is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: “But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.” —Chrysostom

            • Dominic
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              Ah, but then god/ess punished the Nazis by having the allies defeat them. It is just endlessly silly to play those games – things have many causes and many results but all are emergent properties of the universe & have no external goddy cause.

          • Andrew
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

            My understanding is that some fundamentalist Jews (such as Teitelbaum) think that the Holocaust was proof that their god existed. They think their god punished the Jews because Zionism was a secular movement and because Zionists were trying to establish the State of Israel before the Messiah.

        • Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          I don’t believe there can be 100% proof of God available for human empirical observation. For me to say that the evidence supports God’s existence, is to say that, given the evidence, God’s existence is more probable than not. For me to affirm this with 100% certainty using human observation alone, is to reason beyond my capability, it’s not possible.

          Fortunately, God is reasonable beyond materialism, but this does require the scientist to ask the question, “Who is God?”

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

            Okay, it’s time to put up or shut up. My policy has been to require those who make a strong claim that God exists to produce evidence to that effect. I haven’t applied that to you, but now it’s time.

            What, exactly, do you consider the evidence for God as opposed to evidence pointing to no God. That is, how would the world be different if there were no God.

            If you can’t give tangible evidence, you’ll have to leave.

            • Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

              I think this is odd of you to require of me since you and others on this website have already stated that there can be no evidence in this universe that would ever convince you that God exists. If God appeared juggling mountains as you drove by on the interstate, you would inclined to disbelieve your senses or attribute the anomaly to an alien race playing a trick on you with higher technology.

              Are you willing to accept probabilities instead of proofs? I can provide the former. If you want proof, I’m not your man.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                I have NEVER said that there is no evidence that would convince me that God exists; in fact, I have said precisely the opposite, and described some of it.

                And I did not use the word “proof” in my post.

              • stvs
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

                You’re wrong, and don’t read very carefully.

                You obviously don’t have any evidence—just saying that you have probabilities doesn’t mean that you actually do. And yes—it should go without saying—probability counts as evidence, if you, you know, can actually back up your claim.

                Let’s try it once more: is there evidence or not?

              • Adam K. Fetterman
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

                Scientists look at probabilities. I can’t wait to hear the evidence that shows that the null probability is < .05

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

                Just in case you don’t put up the evidence – could you at least formulate the god hypothesis?

              • Tim Harris
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                I think that what Daniel is really saying is that if first of all you make the leap into believing in God then (for you) the whole world attests to His existence. So, his ‘evidence’ is apparent only to the believer. The unbeliever simply cannot see it.

              • Papalinton
                Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

                Daniel
                “If God appeared juggling mountains as you drove by on the interstate ….”

                Make him do it, Daniel. I will convert.

          • stvs
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

            given the evidence, God’s existence is more probable than not

            You haven’t identified any evidence, and in fact say that there is no evidence your post above: As long as you limit your questions concerning the evidence …. Which is it? Is there evidence or not?

          • greg byshenk
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

            I’m dubious about a lot of “100% proof” of empirical matters, also. But I was just working from -your- premise, which had nothing to do with probability.

            You can ask the question, “who is God?” but you are most likely to get an answer something like the answer to “who is Frodo?”

      • Kevin
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        Daniel:
        Let’s be clear…there is no such thing as a “personal experience with god”.

        What you are claiming is, in fact, a “personal experience with your own head.”

        Two pieces of evidence:
        1. Research has shown that religious people assign to god their own beliefs on various ethical/moral problems. Are you pro-choice? Then god agrees with you. Anti-abortion? Same thing. And on and on. Every position YOU hold, you believe that your god holds also. A REAL god with whom you had a REAL personal experience would not contradict itself from one person to another.

        2. If you had a “personal experience with god” then there would only be ONE god that people had a “personal experience” with. Instead, people of all faiths claim such experiences. Hare Krishna, $cientology, Mormonism — every crackpot cult claims that their followers have “personal experiences with god”.

        It’s utter nonsense. If there is only one god, then every “personal” experience would be of the SAME god.

        Unless, of course, you’re a polytheist — in which case you could probably have a personal experience with Krishna and Vishnu and Ganesh. But how would you know which one is talking to you?

        And finally, if you’re hearing god talk to you, please seek psychiatric attention. The voices in your head can be quelled with appropriate medication.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        You do realize that humans can be wrong about purely internal “experiences,” right?

        • Dominic
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          Of course he doesn’t Ophelia! – it has to be true because he BELIEVES it to be true. New England Bob below is right – Daniel is a waste of typing time.

      • Rieux
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Daniel:

        A personal experience with God tends to make believers certain of their faith. You could call it arrogance if you like, but that implies that their certainty comes from within themselves instead of God.

        As to the second sentence: yes, it does; and yes, it does.

        • Sastra
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

          I disagree, in part; I think it is arrogant to be certain that you’ve had a ‘personal experience with God’ even if you really have had a personal experience with God.

          Why? Because you’re not writing a story about how “one day, Person X had a personal experience with God” or “once there was a man who heard God and believed God was who He said He was.” You are not a character in a story book, Daniel, reading along with an omniscient author, or writing the story yourself.

          You don’t get to take yourself out of the possibility of error.

          Whether being absolutely certain that you’ve experienced God — and that some other explanation for your experience isn’t correct instead — isn’t a humble little virtue depending on whether you’re right or not. It’s arrogant either way.

          • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            If person A and person B meet, then person A must also hold some other explanation for the experience of that meeting or else person A is arrogant?

            • Sastra
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

              If person A and person B meet, then, from person A’s perspective, they must be able to entertain the possibility that they did not meet person B, but someone or some thing else.

              Keep in mind that your example isn’t a fair example unless there is some sort of ambiguity in the meeting. After all, you (presumably) did not meet God just like you meet a physical person.

              Which of course prompts the question: what was the experience — specifically.

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

                How does A doubt that he/she didn’t meet B unless he had some idea of who exactly B was? It seems to me that person A, and indeed all of us, must trust our senses at some point in order to say with certainty that we have met one another.

              • Sastra
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                If A doesn’t have a firm idea of who B is, it’s even more reasonable to doubt they met B. You seem to be implying that A is justified in being certain that they met B if person B is, in some sense, created by A. I don’t think that’s going to help you here.

                Our senses are usually accepted as reliable unless we’ve been given reason to doubt — emphasis on the word usually.

                My earlier point was that the only way you can be 100% certain you’ve encountered “God” is if you, yourself, are infallible. You don’t get to borrow infallibility from God, nor do you get to give yourself background information. God can’t “give you” certainty like some sort of gift: you’re still human, you’re still fallible, and you’re still coming to a conclusion in difficult, unusual circumstances. You’re interpreting.

                It’s skipping over that part which is arrogant. Suddenly, you being wrong = God being wrong.

                Tell me — does a “personal experience with God” even involve your ordinary senses of touch, sight, hearing, etc.? If not, then the problem isn’t with the reliability of the senses anyway. You’re in an area outside of ordinary experience. That requires more caution, more uncertainty, more reserve — not less.

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

                Daniel
                You didn’t address Sastra’s second paragraph.

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

                (in the comment to which you replied, not the new one immediately above.)

              • Daniel Schealler
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

                Daniel:

                “How does A doubt that he/she didn’t meet B unless he had some idea of who exactly B was?”

                If no-one else could see or hear my new friend, I would start to suspect that the friend was imaginary and that I was hallucinating.

                “It seems to me that person A, and indeed all of us, must trust our senses at some point in order to say with certainty that we have met one another.”

                Indeed.

                The point to invest trust into our physical senses is when they are successfully verified by others.

      • Dave J L
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        ‘Evidence and faith are not contrary to one another.’

        If the words are to mean anything, yes they are. The latter is called into play in the absence of the former; the presence of the former proportionally diminishes the need for the latter.

        ‘“Who is man?” is a good question, but so is, “Who is God?” Some scientists just don’t want to ask latter question.’

        Is ‘Who is God?’ a good question? I’m not sure it makes any sense – scientists don’t so much not want to ask the latter question as not see it as a question at all; at least ‘Who is man?’, oddly phrased though it is, has an object of investigation which we have reason to believe exists to start with.

        ‘…they hold to the idea “all I see is all there is.”’

        Taking ‘see’ to mean more broadly ‘be able to know about/have evidence of’, this doesn’t seem like a bad way of looking at things to me. I can posit that there is something ‘beyond’, but it’s a philosophical abstract about which nothing much can be said (including by the religious) until it intervenes in the world, at which point it becomes an object of investigation: the fact that such claimed interventions have not stood up to much rational scrutiny suggests their origins are terrestrial, and supernatural claims remain extremely tendentious.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        “If God is real, every piece of evidence supports his existence.”

        Pretty big “if” there, especially since all the evidence converges on the conclusion that God is imaginary.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        Evidence and faith are not contrary to one another.

        By definition they are mutually incompatible! Faith is belief in the absence of evidence, or worse – belief in the face of contrary evidence.

        While looking at the evidence, “Who is man?” is a good question, but so is, “Who is God?”

        I know humans exist. The reason we don’t ask the latter question is because it presupposes the existence of that which has not been established to exist. It’s a terrible question, and we are right not to consider it.

        I think one of the reasons for this is that they hold to the idea “all I see is all there is.” Your own worldview has an effect on how you see the evidence.

        Exactly! The problem is, you assume that all worldviews are equal. They are certainly not. Requiring evidence and testable hypotheses is far better than looking at a piece of evidence and in an ad hoc manner ascribing it to some supernatural being without any ability to test this hypothesis. May as well chalk it up to “mashed potatoes” as to any god. At least we know mashed potatoes exists.

        As one commenter has already noted, how do you know your personal experiences had anything to do with any god? Why not Satan? Or, as Scrooge said, why not “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato”? Why on earth should anyone else even consider your subjective experience as evidence at all? (Hint: we shouldn’t.)

      • Hempenstein
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        “A personal experience with God…”

        Am interpretation frequently stemming from lack of oxygen to the brain.

      • AT
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        the question “Who is God?” is the type of question that someone who has materialistic worldview should not even bother to ask

        this is a perfect example of the question for which underlying substance cannot be defined

        just because people evolved to ask questions does not mean that all questions they ask make sense

        • GraemeL
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          I don’t necessarily agree. The blatant anthropomorphisation means that the question, quite literally, answers itself.

      • shmuel
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        I also do not think that “all I see is all there is”. I am open to other approaches.

        Please offer other ones, and explain how can identify good results from bad results using those methods. If you say “I feel god”, is good data, what makes the hindu “I feel many gods” bad data?

        How do you decide whether the god you feel is Jesus, Jehowav, or perhaps you actually feel Richard Dawkins, without being aware of it?

      • shmuel
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        Alright, I am asking “Who is God”?

        What is your answer?
        And what is your method?

        An omniscient, omnipotent, omniloving creature?

        Do you really experience ALL that? Do you have a personal experience of his omnipotence? Can you describe it please?

        What is your personal experience of his omniscience?

        Do you experience them all at once? Or separately?

        Do you believe that some people are crazy, and think they feel god, while they don’t? I am not saying that about you, just acknowledge they exist.

        How do you determine which is a true believer, and who is crazy?

        Do you acknowledge you might have illusions of god? How do you differentiate the illusions of god between REAL feeling of god?

        I am not saying science is the only method. There can be myriad others. I don’t limit existence. But if someone tells he has another method, however different from science it is, I want to know he is not making up bullshit. Otherwise, any CLAIM to a different method would suffice.

        So if you really had a different method, you could

        Answer if feeling of “god” is qualatative or quantative?

        How can it be measured?

        How can one be sure he feels “god” and not an impostor angel?

        How can one tell liars, who lie and don’t really feel god from true believers?

        How to differentiate from the third-person view? How to differentiate from the first-person view?

        How can one tell make-belief in god from real belief in god?

        How do you know you feel only ONE god? Maybe there are four gods, everyone of them omni-omni-omni. On sundays, you feel the first, mondays the second, thursday the third, and the rest of the week – the fourth.

        If you don’t supply the method, you cannot be taken seriously.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        As if there are no atheists who have had a personal experience with God. As if no atheists have asked “Who is God?”

      • Dominic
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Silly wordgames.

        • Wowbagger
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          That pretty much covers the entirety of theology, religious philosophy and apologetics, doesn’t it? All they do is exploit the fact that words have flexible meanings, and try to cram whichever god(s) they happen to believe in underneath the bits that bend.

      • moseszd
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        You know, it’s funny, but so many of these ‘personal experiences’ of God are not the Christian god. And of those that are, so many of them conflict in such fundamental ways that one cannot honestly reconcile those differences.

        At least if you wish to posit a sane or rational God. Versus one who would be clinically insane, mendacious and revolting.

      • Ray Thaw
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

        Try Leslie Stephen, An Agnostic’s Apology…in The Portable Atheist. An in depth discussion on your point.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      they use that ugly word to refer to scientists who are completely ignorant of philosophy, in particular the philosophy of science, and maintain that philosophy is a waste of time.

      I think they are afraid. There is nothing that stops science methods to be used to understand how science works, as any other empirical process. That would eventually resolve in that philosophy as applied to science is shown as a waste of time.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:19 am | Permalink

      I disagree that philosophy does not provide any valuable knowledge

      I would be interested to hear your best example, please.

      • moseszd
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        As would I.

  5. Sajanas
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    A great analysis… no one who is religious ever presents their faith with much uncertainty, since they always know that their God is Good, and that He is doing stuff in the Best of All Possible Ways.

    If religious people gave the same error bars for their rational as scientists did, no one would sign up. And I think that it dishonest to say that the Gnu’s pressing for evidence (or at least beliefs that make some sort of rational sense) will necessarily cause animosity and hatred. From what I’ve observed, the real result is that even the most sickly loyal can realize that their clergy have been lying to them, either by omission, or directly to their faces. Religions seem lack either the means or the desire to alter their core beliefs about the world, and I don’t think its necessarily hostile to point out that they don’t necessarily believe things that have any basis in the real world. Especially when religious rules from thousands of years ago still motivate people to beat gays to death, or murder people for injuring a piece of paper.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:23 am | Permalink

      Or even worse: criminally mutilate millions of newborns’ genitalia every year.
      In a hospital near you…

  6. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    The problem with faith worshipers like Gleiser and Robinson is that they have become blind to reason and have developed the arrogant and annoying habit of redefining words to suit their purposes. They also use the tactic of transferring their bad habits and actions onto others so they can accuse them. These tactics are also prevalent of the right wing in the US.

  7. Adam K. Fetterman
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    “Religionists’ claim that scientists are arrogant always amuses me.”

    I am actually doing some work in this area with a colleague of mine and we are finding some interesting results (a mixture of self-report and social cognitive paradigms). Hopefully, it will be published within the next year.

    Till then, I wrote a brief piece for the blog I write for. I am employed by a publisher and therefore have certain constraints to follow (what I can cite, etc). http://tinyurl.com/6bpdy6k

    • Adam K. Fetterman
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      FYI, we are not taking the TMT route in our research.

  8. Egbert
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Damn anti-scientismists and their materialistic reductionist and nihilistic arguments!

  9. Kevin
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    So, here’s the thing. I’m and atheist. I don’t believe in Robinson’s god or anyone else’s.

    Yet, I didn’t arrive at that conclusion via “scientism”. I arrived at it inductively at the age of 8, sitting in Sunday School class listening to the nice lady tell us the story of the BIG flood, the ark, and all the animals. I thought to myself “that couldn’t have happened,” and the rest, as they say, is history.

    My love of science came later, part-and-parcel of my love of books, learning, and the space program (back in the 1960s).

    My investigation of the truth claims of religion came even later. Frankly, the two subjects were separate “magisteria” (oh brother, that word) in my mind.

    It’s only recently that the two have come together in any appreciable way.

    To me, the academic discipline that MOST disproves religion (in particular the Abrahamic religions) is not science — it’s history. Science certainly goes along for the ride and provides a wealth of supporting material, but the plain flimsy lies of religion about its own history is the clearest evidence that it’s just made-up mythology.

    (Where’s Ben Goren when you need him?)

    I should be accused not of scientism, but of historism. And of having a flash of insight that — frankly — every 8-year-old should have.

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      To me, the academic discipline that MOST disproves religion (in particular the Abrahamic religions) is not science — it’s history.

      As much as you can separate history from science, I wholeheartedly agree. It’s pretty much conclusive in its disproof of them.

    • astrokid.nj
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      I arrived at atheism (of the Hindu religion) through the same process.. the practices/tales are just baloney. And later on when I studied astronomy/evolution, its becomes so much more obvious. And later on when I started reading up History (of various cultures), it once again reveals the baloney of individual religions.
      Which brings me to this..

      Jennifer Michael Hecht: The Triumph of Poetic Atheism
      Why oh Why does she (writer of what I think is a brilliant book.. Doubt: A history) accuse the recent atheists of dogma and being reductionist..? (right at the start, and later on in the QA session around 29 min mark)

      • Kevin
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        I’m very glad to know that the process can be true for non-Abrahamic religions.

        I would have been very much surprised if it were otherwise; but I confess to a relative lack of knowledge about the claims of historicity of the texts of other religions than Judeo-Christian-Islamic ones.

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      grmnf snhuuub lmmmmnah

      Zombie invasions! Angry talking giant fruit trees fondling snake intestines! Crackers transmogrifying into hemoglobin goblins!

      Erm…sorry. Where am I? And why does the ice cream truck sound like my phone? What time is…?

      Oh, shit — gotta run! No talk to time! Shoes, shoes, shoes, shoes…UNDERWEAR!

      b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        That’s what happens when you make science your mistress. Decent clothing becomes optional.

        … except boots, apparently.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

        Ben, you forgot: GOATS ON FIRE!

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      “Scientism” and “historism” certainly were my friends – but I think simple realism affected me just as much, if not more, in my journey away from theism. My discovery that Santa (spoiler alert!) was a hoax (I warned you!) at age 6 made me think about every other miraculous story I was told for the rest of my life.

      [Religiopologists often scoff at the Santa analogy, I know, but when you look past the surface absurdity, the claims are just as extraordinary as the ones made about Jesus and the evidence is just as convincing. Hell, as a bonus, the hairy bugger even pretends to omniscience & promises amazing treats for good behaviour!

      And so does Santa.

      boom tish!]

    • moseszd
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      I came to atheism pretty much the same way. Not the same exact way, rather a different fundamental belief and interpretation of a religious text was shown, by the overwhelming evidence, to be total BS.

      Though, frankly, I thought the Noah story was pretty much BS as well…

  10. daveau
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    “So bad science is still science in more or less the same sense that bad religion is still religion.”

    Except that all religion is bad religion in more or less the same sense as bad science. You can’t just make shit up and pass it off as true.

    • Adam K. Fetterman
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Also, science is self-correcting. When bad science slips through, it eventually gets called out and rejected (e.g., vaccination=autism).

      When someone makes up a new theology story (e.g., mormonism, scientology, any religion), it gets turned into a whole new religion and soon accepted as an acceptable way to view the world

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        That’s a very important point to make and one frequently missed by self-proclaimed opponents of “scientism” – whenever someone attempts a scientific hoax, it’s scientists who do the detective work and the debunking. Whenever a theory is incomplete, it’s scientists who do the brainwork to repudiate, invalidate or update the theory!

        When was the last time a sodding theologian uncovered a Piltdown or a cold fusion? When was the last time a Kalam cosmologist like WL Craig actually increased or enhanced anyone’s understanding of space time – including their own?

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:28 am | Permalink

          Well, I realised something profound about “time” after listening to an interminably tedious Gish-fest’o’lies by WLC.
          I realised that I was wasting it.

  11. Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    But what is a “postmodern” atheist?

    An even Gnuer one?

    Robinson clearly intends to denigrate science by showing that, after all, it’s not so different from religion.

    The annoying thing of this is that Robinson is accusing us of being like her, and that is a bad thing? Talk about lack of self-awareness.

    Science’s great strength is that it is provisional, and subject to revision if found to need correcting. For the average faithist this is its worst feature. Think of it as competing for a market demographic of people that are fearful of the future and of deathnot being alive any more. This demographic is conservative (ie: No changes. Ever.) and wants certainty.

    Science comes along with lots of addendums, disclaimers and other notes* Conservatives have nothing to hang their hat on with that. It frightens them.

    Look at what religion offers you: Absolute Certainty. Yep, believe in this vehicle and you will go straight to heaven. Would we lie to you? Would we make up stories to coddle you into feeling all snug and warm like being wrapped up in a security blanket? Faith – it keeps the nasty changes away. Comes with Tradition, Always Has, Always Will (™). As a bonus to all this certainty you get part of the superior in-group that lets you feel smug that you have the biggest, most powerful being in the universe to back you up personally. Feeling better already?

    * conditions apply, may be subject to change etc etc.

  12. gustavo
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    As brazilian twists my heart to read about Gleiser views. Our country have enough religion related problems and his position doesn’t help at all. Shame on him.

    Seems to me that is a tactical position to dismiss both sides and call yourself a moderate person, if it worked for Rees, why not for Gleiser?

    Your contribution as skeptic and atheist bring way too much to the table, as we have seen across the ages religious apologists are running out of ideas or simply dismiss well established theories to undereducated crowds.

    Thank you Gleiser! Being an outspoken atheist in brazil is almost considered an offense already and you are not helping at all.

  13. velkyn
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I desperately wish that hypocrites like Ms. Robinson and her ilk would go live in the mud brick houses of their “faithful” ancestors and die of diarrhea if science is such a burden on them. They can turn in their computers, their typewriters, their refrigerators, their cars, etc and go back to living in a world that doesn’t have science but only their faith and superstition.

    But of course, they won’t. They are just more cherry-picking, willfully ignorant theists who want to feel like special snowflakes of a god that loves them and only them and *gasp* agrees wtih them too!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’d like to pose a challenge to people like Robinson who claim that both faith and science are equally important in our world: would you prefer to live in a world in which science had never existed, or in which religion never existed?

      That would straighten them up quickly.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        It would not work, and they would still think it is a wonderful idea because:
        a) no clever-clogs would be around to point out how silly their beliefs are;
        b) their all powerful sky-daddy would look after them anyway;
        c) In their privileged fantasy world, they are in the on-top in-crowd, and would have no problems at all; and
        d) Part of the science convention is to allow scientific discoveries to be made public as they are owned by all of humanity (damn these Scientism Ethics)

        You see, smart people like you and others (sometimes me too) are the enablers that make a modern technological society exist that allows these faithful hangers on live in relative ease and comfort in which they can perpetuate their accomodationalism. It only takes a small percentage of smart people who understand how things work to make a world where the rest of the faithful can be smug. Perhaps if the real people who did things pulled a “Going Galt” on them it would wake them up, but I don’t want to live in that world either.

        We are going to have to have another way. Bribe with cookies? Or maybe we need Scientism Security Blankets in which they can wrap themselves while we tell them “It’s OK. Science may not know all the answers, but it did provide you with the polyester-cotton blend blanket. See, it’s not so bad, is it?”

        • gillt
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          b) their all powerful sky-daddy would look after them anyway

          Then they’re ignorance of history would be exposed. Hyper-religious 14th century Europe, to pick just one example, was not a prosperous and peaceful time for the majority of Christians and Jews, which is to say the majority of the population.

          • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps they could see what it’s like in a modern theocracy before cranking up their time machines. I hear Saudi Arabia is a theocrat’s wet dream. I know it’s Islamic, but who’s to say a Christian theocracy would be greatly different? Torture, slavery, public executions, criminalisation of homosexuality, misogyny & brutal punishment of criminals was very popular in decent, Christian Europe before people started to find it all a bit tasteful in the 19th century. Hell, some enlightened “Christian nations” still happily endorse torture and capital punishment and are quite happy to pander to other antiquated notions like denial of a woman’s choice to reproduce and the continuing subjugation of gays.

            • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

              That should have said “DIStasteful”!

              Proofreading FTW.

            • Diane G.
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

              Hell, some enlightened “Christian nations” still happily endorse torture and capital punishment and are quite happy to pander to other antiquated notions like denial of a woman’s choice to reproduce and the continuing subjugation of gays.

              Must be a real benighted backwater, eh?

              ;- )

      • Adam K. Fetterman
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        They would probably argue something along the lines of “if it wasn’t for -insert god of choice- there would be no technology/science.” Anything to take away the dissonance.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

          “if it wasn’t for…”

          …the serpent?

      • GraemeL
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        To quote Tim Minchin in Storm: “So I resist the urge to ask Storm
        Whether knowledge is so loose-weave
        Of a morning
        When deciding whether to leave
        Her apartment by the front door
        Or a window on the second floor.”

  14. Cafeeine
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I think you’re giving them too much credit. “Scientism” is whatever has even a tenuous relation to science, that contradicts their opinion. It has nothing to do with a formal definition. Its something sciencey, that is also an -ism, which can join the company of other evil -isms like socialism, communism, nazism etc. The point isn’t deriving meaning, but evoking (or expressing) an emotional response, which given the accusations of post-modernism is a very ironic statement.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      Yes, I do believe that you have nailed it.
      They use/abuse the term in the same blasé insouciant manner as Sarah Palin employs any word.

    • Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Agree. These people aren’t interested in what things actually mean. They are all about appeals to emotion. That’s pretty much what all religious argument boils down to.

  15. chris
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    “For science to advance it needs to fail. The truths of today will not be the truths of tomorrow. So, asks Robinson, whence comes this certainty?”

    Does this imply that the religious “truths” of today are the same as they were 2000 years ago? Are they the same ast the will be tomorrow?

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Ah, you see, that’s where you reveal your ignorance of theology. It’s the study of how to rationalise the unending changes of the meaning of the unchanging eternal words of God.

      🙂

  16. Jason Jenkins
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Dear Ms. Robinson,

    cas·u·ist·ry
       kæʒuəstri [kazh-oo-uh-stree]
    –noun

    1.
    specious, deceptive, or oversubtle reasoning, especially in questions of morality; fallacious or dishonest application of general principles; sophistry.

    Regards,
    Science

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Thank you for the noun.

      Regards.

  17. Tulse
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Does this imply that the religious “truths” of today are the same as they were 2000 years ago?

    Of course they are — just ask the Mormons and Scientologists.

  18. Roi des Faux
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    “That doesn’t prove that religion destabilizes society, but it does suggest that unstable and dysfunctional societies become religious in a defensive way—either to find succor in a celestial sky-father or as a circling of the wagons, an ingroup-outgroup stance that one assumes when feeling beleaguered.”

    There you go again with your arrogant fundamentalist postmodern certainty.

  19. Gerard
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    This is just more evidence that we are winning, “postmodern” atheist??,the Robibson argument amounts to only more belligerent name calling.

  20. 386sx
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Essentially, scientists shouldn’t be making sweeping generalizations based on their science alone.

    Oh okay. Uhhh, by the way, got any good reasons for why anybody shouldn’t think religion is a bunch if made up stuff?

    Hate to bother ya or nothin…

    Ya I know it can get annoying sometimes…

    Lol…

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      GOD, you’re such STRIDENT, SCREAMING FUNDMILITATHEIST! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

        Or stop thinking of the children, if you are a catholic clergyman.

  21. Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    According to this theory, Scandinavia should be far less “robust” than America or, indeed, Saudi Arabia. But the opposite is true. As Greg Paul has shown, there’s actually a negative correlation between the religiosity of a society and sociological indices of its well being. That doesn’t prove that religion destabilizes society, but it does suggest that unstable and dysfunctional societies become religious in a defensive way—either to find succor in a celestial sky-father or as a circling of the wagons, an ingroup-outgroup stance that one assumes when feeling beleaguered.

    As religious societies is pretty much the baseline, I would rather say that economic inequality is the main factor in dysfunctional societies. Whether lack of religion leads to equality or if equality leads to lack of religion I’m not sure. Scandinavia has always been relatively equal compared to mainland Europe. I’m not a historian, so I don’t know enough to compare the fall into irreligiousity and the development of the modern welfare state (“fall” since scandinavian atheism is mostly the apathetic kind).

    If anyone got good thoughts I’d be interested to know (yes, I’m one of these horrible young gnus with no sense of history at all. ).

    • Adam K. Fetterman
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      I was going to bring a up a similar point. It would seem that with all the research about income gaps and well-being, that the canyon between the rich and the poor leads those that are left wanting, to some anxiety/uncertainty reducing entity (here religion). Of course, this is correlational, but more experimental, or at least longitudinal, research of this ilk seems to be underway.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      If by “relatively equal” you mean “piss poor”. 😉 I _think_ the history went something like “1. strong monarch to break free from Denmark, throws out catholicism to get enough money in the taking. 2. weak monarchs fumbles wars, nation becomes poor. 3. wealth established together with social concerns, protestantism takes a licking.”

      Then again you have more influences, even key personalities like Hedenius.

  22. Kevin
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    You know, the entire argument that “one can’t really know anything…” is straight from the mid-1700s.

    David Hume, to be exact.

    Except Hume came to the opposite conclusion. Even though the only way we know the world is through our fragile and pitifully inadequate senses, Hume said we are better served acting as if the information they provide us is correct. Lest we try to walk through a wall thinking it’s illusory and end up damaging our nose.

    And then there is the “scientific uncertainty = religious certainty” nonsense.

    Just because scientists argue about kin selection, that doesn’t mean that the entire evolutionary process is up for grabs. Nor does it mean that you can then express total certainty that Jesus loves you.

    When did I learn about the “false dichotomy” fallacy? Years and years ago.

    Seems that it’s not been adequately taught.

    • Tulse
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      The facts of science may be uncertain, but the basic methodology of science is solid (indeed, it is how we know when
      we have the wrong facts).

      By contrast, theology has no certainty in either realm.

  23. Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    One thing that’s especially annoying about this is that Robinson is getting so much attention (it’s been going on for months) for such a banal “idea.”

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Really? An idea that was expressed (as a hypothetical) and dismissed by David Hume before the American Revolutionary War?

      Honestly, if there was one tiny little bit of “there” there in modern apologetics/accommodationism that wasn’t a tedious recapitulation of ideas already discussed 2000 years ago by Lucretius, I might be inclined to agree with Rosenau.

      But so far, all I see are the same Five Easy Pieces, recast and rewritten over and over and over again.

    • Saikat Biswas
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Precisely. Why would it be otherwise in a culture that celebrates vacuous nonsense over substance and precision?

    • Nathan Bupp
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s not a “banal” idea. And it’s hardly new: similar criticisms leveled against viewing the *functional* phenomenon of religion through a scientistic or exclusively cognitivist lens have been articulated brilliantly by many secular thinkers through the years, namely, Clifford Geertz, John Herman Randall, George Santayana, John Dewey, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Wittgenstein, Joseph Campbell, Sidney Hook, Paul Kurtz, and Michael Shermer; and this is just a partial, representative list.

      What’s really banal is the Gnu’s apparent complete lack of familiarity with this extensive literature or understanding of the powerful ideas presented within it. Yet, you all seem to think yourself eminently qualified as ideological atheists to make bold, global pronouncements about religion and religious experience on the basis of rejecting supernaturalism and the God of theism via the use of evidentialism or decrying the horrific and despicable deeds done in the name of fanaticism. Well, these are things I reject and decry as well — as did all of the authors I just mentioned. Yet, you haven’t exhausted or explained away the complex role of religion (taken broadly) in culture or personal human experience because of some higher score on the evidentiary ledger sheet.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

        You lost your case for me at “Paul Kurtz, and Michael Shermer”.
        Its all in the ‘knees’, you see.
        One: a weak-kneed accomodationist, the other: a knee-jerk contrarian.

  24. Josh Slocum
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  25. NoAstronomer
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    “Religionists’ claim that scientists are arrogant always amuses me. Really, who are the arrogant ones?”

    Marcelo Gleiser?

  26. Dave J L
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    ‘So bad science is still science in more or less the same sense that bad religion is still religion. That both of them can do damage on a huge scale is clear.’

    But that’s just yet another example of religious false equivalence; the two things aren’t the same in the relevant respect. Science is a methodology for finding out objective information about the world; how that information is used and developed into ideas about ethics, behaviour etc is a separate thing. Religion on the other hand starts with ideas about ethics and behaviour – it’s reasonable to blame religion for certain acts but it’s literally illogical to do the same for science.

  27. Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I’m from Brazil. This Marcelo Gleiser is our self-proclaimed Carl Sagan… and that makes me want to puke.

  28. Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    What on earth is “postmodern atheism”?

    I bet it doesn’t have an objective hermeneutics…

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Postmodern atheism is what you get when postmodernists are criticizing atheism.
      See also “projection”.

      • Rieux
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Yeah, that’s pretty much the size of it. But man, the irony!

      • Dominic
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        It is ‘Gnudism’.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

          The Em-postmodernists Gnu Clothes?

          • Dominic
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            Very good!

        • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

          So we are all Gnudists now? 😉

          We can use phrases like, “A whole bunch of Gnudists piled onto Daniel in the thread”?

  29. jay
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    There are areas where science (actually individual scientists) overreach, but much of that has little to do with religion.

    Science can inform most any subject, but not necessarily define it..

    An example is the implications in the title of Sam Harris work that would imply that all in our psychological sense of morality can be boiled down to scientific analysis. But as the various streetcar tests are performed we learn that people’s internal gut moral feelings are not logically consistent (this should not be a surprise, behaviors are a result of evolutionary selection processes and there is no reason to expect them to be fully consistent with anything.) People have different values too on personal freedom, risk, group cohesion and there is no absolute ‘right’; yet each different set of values will generate a somewhat different moral code. Religion is not even in this discussion. It brings nothing to the table.

    Another example was an article I read some years ago discussing the relative influence of scientists in cold war era US government. The unspoken perspective was that often scientists were not in control of policy. But while scientists are in a position to inform policy (discussions about weapons strength, technologies, etc), that does not automatically qualify scientists to determine policy: when to bluff, when to negotiate, when to appease. These are not scientific questions, indeed they might be better answered by a poker player than a scientist.

    • David
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      The title of which work by Harris?

      • Kevin
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        I assume he means Harris’ newest:

        The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

        • David
          Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:41 am | Permalink

          Thats what I thought, but I couldn’t see how the title does what he says.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, that is what I think on Harris too.

      Then you get the problem that moral is what you do, more than what you think you should do, even if there may be some overlap. People seem to get hung up on that sometimes. (For myself, I rather call the later ethics.)

      Also I’m reminded on the recent discussion of Harris. On his claim on rationality someone noted to the effect that there isn’t any consistency if he can’t define and measure “well-being”. He ends up with haphazard moralities.

      I though that was a good argument then, but ironically moral reactions _are_ haphazard. It’s just that any thorough mapping between ethics (say, of well being) and morality is futile.

      • David
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        Harris points out that everything starts with basic axioms. There is nothing in science that you can’t logically argue down to absurdity.

        I believe he said something like “eventually you hit the philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question”

        Also he points out quite accurately that “well being” is as well defined as health, and yet nobody argues we should not pursue health.

        Call it ethics, morals, or just the right thing to do I see no reason why science cant make suggestions on what course of actions is best.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      An example is the implications in the title of Sam Harris work

      I hope that you have read more than the title before passing judgement.

  30. Dominic
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    “To reduce everything to science and its methods impoverishes humanity.”

    It is religion & religiosity that impoverishes – ignore science because you feel uncomfortable with it. You lose.

  31. Insightful Ape
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Every time I see a thread has grown inordinately fast I know I should be looking for Dan the troll’s droppings. And sure enough, there they are.
    Now only if his god would take a page from this and not be so psychotically erratic…

  32. Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    In addition to being full of it, Robinson almost always comes across as seethingly angry, strident, arrogant, and absolutely certain that she is right. Hmm. Pot, meet kettle.

    And this English professor actually prefers (in general) science books to novels. Sitting through endless grad school seminars on applying postmodern and poststructural, etc., interpretations to works of literature can knock the love of fiction right out of you, I tell you what.

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      +5

    • stvs
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      postmodern and poststructural, etc., interpretations to works of literature can knock the love of fiction right out of you

      Political science^H^H^H^H English

    • Posted April 12, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      OT, but this professional musician shares your disenchantment wrt things musical. It has unfortunately become de rigeur to describe, explain, and in general talk about music only in terms of silly extramusical sky-hooks: narrative, paradigm, all sorts of dubious psychology. No one wants (or perhaps is able) to think about the objective implications of things like the overtone series. REAL musical issues.

      /rant

  33. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I wish I had a “Daniel filter” so I would not have to see the foolishness he spews. Too many people give this troll attention. That is all he seeks.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      He’s just a fun little chew toy.

      Sport argumentation; it’s a hobby.

    • Dominic
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      You are right.

      For those awaiting his probabilities – you may wait a while!

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      But then I’d have to change my name!

      Ah well.

      Perhaps that would be a small price to pay.

  34. Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    The dwellers in the Iron Cage are bound to think scientism a religious plot

    http://darwiniana.com/2011/04/11/scientism-defined/

    • David
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      So can you supply a definition of scientism? because that link was not it.

      Honestly I would like to know what the definition of the word is, whenever i read blogs or books and I come across words I don’t know the meaning to I look it up. For scientism I seem to get mutually exclusive definitions whenever i look.

      • gillt
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Oversimplified, but I think it’s the charge of making an ideology out of empiricism. The great sin for those leveling the criticism is when one filters human experience through science alone.

        • David
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Could you perhaps give an example of someone doing that? (making an ideology of empiricism)

          I’m not trying to be obtuse here. I just think that even the most religious instinctively use a combination of empiricism and rationalism when filtering experience. How can one do otherwise?

          • gillt
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

            I think it’s a bogus charge so how can I give an example? You’ll have to ask the people use the term in their criticism.

            • David
              Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

              Sorry, I wasn’t accusing you I have read your other posts so I know you think its bogus. I just find it very hard to read things where I don’t know the definition of the words. to me the word scientism sounds like an ism I would like to join, but then so did scientology until I learned what it was.

  35. gillt
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    In her postmodern claim that scientific “evidence” is weak and changeable, Robinson clearly intends to denigrate science by showing that, after all, it’s not so different from religion. (Perhaps she doesn’t remember that she is religious?)

    The postmodern tactic, I think, is to level the playing fields by insisting science is just another social construct with no more authority or objectivity than any other belief system. In the meantime life expectancy keeps increasing, as does our knowledge of the universe.

    What makes some scientists so sure of their science? The practice of science, after all, relies precisely on uncertainties; a theory only works until its limits are exposed. In fact, this is a good thing, since new theories sprout from the cracks of old ones.

    I love it when a non-scientist explains things for us, how good little scientists ought to think about their work, their profession, its limitations what we can and cannot conclude. It’s pure hubris.

    • Tulse
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      The postmodern tactic, I think, is to level the playing fields by insisting science is just another social construct with no more authority or objectivity than any other belief system.

      …which makes it an absurd philosophical stance for the religious to take, since their belief is precisely that they do have Truth-with-a-capital-T.

      • gillt
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        Liberal Christians do seem to want it both ways. I think they’d like to be seen as reasonable, as distancing themselves from fundamentalist absolutes when taking this stance.

        In that regard the post-modern approach certainly should be seen as a reactionary–and ill-conceived– response to flagging religious authority in the open marketplace of ideas. Once science is portrayed as just another construct, never-mind its measurable differences, then it becomes a subjective opinion that my belief system is just as good if not better than yours, or, as Robinson does, an excuse to mouth the uncritical upholding of diversity as a universal societal good.

        • Tulse
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          it becomes a subjective opinion that my belief system is just as good if not better than yours

          And what that does is then completely undercut the notion that morality is absolute and grounded in God, which wipes out one of the most common arguments for such a being’s existence (or, perhaps more accurately, its desirability).

          • gillt
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

            The benefit of belief is that you get to make it up as you go.

  36. Posted April 11, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    1. If God does not exist, there is no moral law of human nature.
    2. The moral law of human nature exists.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    Let me define the moral law of human nature. This moral law of human nature I’m talking about is not simply an observation of human behavior. A difference exists between “human nature” and the “moral law of human nature.” Human nature is our behavior that we observe in each other, whether the actions are well-meaning or destructive. The moral law of human nature is superimposed upon us. It is over and above our actions and informs us whether these actions are right or wrong.

    What good reason do I have for thinking that this law is imposed upon us? All men appeal to this law whether they believe in a real right and wrong or not. C. S. Lewis says, “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong- in other words, if there is no [Moral] Law of [Human] Nature-what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?”

    If there is no Moral law of human nature, in other words, if there is only subjective morality, we have no good reason for imposing our own subjective morality on other people when we tell them that this is what they “ought” to do? What’s interesting is that the other person does not deny this “thing that he ought to do”, but tries to negotiate with the accuser. We also expect that the other person knows what he ought to have done. If there is no superimposed moral law of human nature, humanity sure does act like there is one.

    Humanity itself is the evidence. You may think that others should be honest, and say this is something you think they ought to do. Yet, if there is only subjective morality, what good reason do you have for imposing your morality on others? They may indeed feel that dishonesty is the way to go and feel that their moral system is just as good as yours. If you start to evaluate their morality, the goal is still to tell them what they “ought” to do. If opposing subjective moral systems meet, they should only be respectful of one another because there is no real basis of evaluation. You can say one is more beneficial than the other, but you can’t call them wrong. That would be imposing your morality on them.

    The only way that we can legitimately evaluate other moral systems is to appeal to the moral law of human nature; otherwise we cannot rightfully do so.

    This moral law of human nature is not derived from instinct, neither is it derived from empirical observation of conscious creatures.

    Morality is not merely instinct. Humanity suppresses instincts and encourages others in certain situations because of a sense of right and wrong. But the sense of right and wrong cannot itself be an instinct any more than the keys of a piano can play themselves. Morality is the piano player.

    Observing the behavior of a conscious creature like a mammalian mother to nurture her young is not itself a foundation for morality. Just because a behavior happens in nature is not a reason to call it right or wrong. Some animals eat their young. We don’t call that good. It seems we have a preconceived notion of right and wrong before we evaluate another animals behavior or even our own behavior. This is the moral law of human nature.

    Neither is this the product a biological imperative. Actions meant toward survival and perpetuation of the species can be beneficial to us, but that still does not necessitate calling these actions right or wrong, only beneficial to our wellbeing. We can observe that humans are surprisingly similar. A very high percentage of humans don’t want to be killed, and recognize that killing someone else both prevents someone else from having what they want and also makes it more likely that someone will kill them in return. But this still does not make it right or wrong, only beneficial to our existence. To say that because it is good for our existence is a reason to call it a moral imperative, is like saying that because the chess move contributed to winning the game, the player had a moral duty to make that move. It doesn’t follow logically.

    We can only conclude that man seeks morality because it is in his nature to do so whether he is Atheist or Christian. This is God’s stamp upon man. If there is no God who made this law of human nature, then I see no reason Atheists should bother themselves arguing a non-existent moral code. It is evidence for God’s existence that we all think morality is very important no matter what we believe. We are either to conclude that humanity is delusional for appealing this non-existent moral law of human nature, or conclude that we are, in fact, sane and find that this law does point to the existence of God.

    I, for one, conclude that we are sane to follow this moral law of human nature and find it more probable that God exists given this evidence.

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Oh for Pete’s sake. CS Lewis?

      If this is the best you can do, you’ve got nothing to contribute here. This is little boy Sunday School-level silliness. Why aren’t you embarrassed?

      • Dominic
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Right! Danny boy said above to Jerry –
        “Are you willing to accept probabilities instead of proofs? I can provide the former.” Have seen none here!

    • Tulse
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Yet, if there is only subjective morality, what good reason do you have for imposing your morality on others?

      Exactly. I was discussing this with my eight wives and twenty concubines just the other day, after we had stoned our child to death for speaking disrespectfully. “Those idiots,” I said, “who are so ‘liberal’ about morality — don’t they understand it is objectively Right that we should commit genocide against the Canaanites, and to put to the sword all those of our enemies?” Of course, one of my wives reminded me that it was objectively Wrong to kill all our enemies — the virgin girls we were supposed to enslave and rape, instead.

      How anyone can not see the objective, eternal truth of such morality, a morality derived from God Himself, is beyond me.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      So wrong in so many ways. Morality is derived from evolution so that society can exist. It evolves. There is so much gobbled-gook nonsense in your pathetic attempt based around words with no meaning.

      • Dominic
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes – he must be a creationist.
        “If there is no God who made this law of human nature, then I see no reason Atheists should bother themselves arguing a non-existent moral code.”
        I don’t, I am a nihilist, therefore there is no god!
        Ta-dah!
        🙂
        Ah – I love christians but I couldn’t eat a whole one.

    • David
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Wow, thats really silly and completely ignores the reality of our current world.

    • daveau
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      1. If God does not exist, there is no moral law of human nature.

      If you start with a false premise, you can reach any conclusion you desire.

    • Moewicus
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      “We have to assume this entity is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know, because after all, the only other thing we know is matter and you can hardly imagine a bit of matter giving instructions.”

      — C.S. Lewis

      😀 is my only comment.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        So, according to Lewis, brains have nothing to do with minds. Genius!

    • H.H.
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Humans feel empathy, therefore magic sky daddy.

      Do you have any idea how illogical and silly of an argument this is? Obviously not. It’s the most tenuous of inferences, weakly argued and devoid of any mention alternative, superior explanations. It’s the sort of rubbish that can only appeal to someone who can’t honestly face the alternative. You’re clutching at straws. Can you honestly not see your desperate rationalizations for what they really are?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Hang on a second.

      You ran into a problem with assertion #1 “If God does not exist, there is no moral law of human nature.”

      How do you know this?
      This is a conclusion, not a basic premise.
      You don’t get to make assertions like this with no evidence at all and then add a Q.E.D. on the end.

      1. If unicorns do not exist, then their can be no happiness in the world
      2. I am happy.
      3. Therefore, unicorns.

      • David
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        I like that. Its clear concise and perfectly apt.

      • Daniel Schealler
        Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        Yes. It’s the faith-heads’ favorite fallacy: petitio principii.

        Daniel – you first need to demonstrate, irrefutably, that a notion of right and wrong is in fact dependent on a god. More than that, you need to show it’s dependent on your god specifically. Good luck w that.

        None of us argue that there is no right and wrong (straw man – another fallacy. I do wonder how these folks function day to day. They so obviously have huge problems thinking correctly about things.).

      • Sigmund
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Sorry Grania, just checked the bible – it’s got unicorns.

        • Grania Spingies
          Posted April 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          What are you apologising for? Just more proof of my belief.
          So there.

          On a more serious note, I apologise for writing ‘their’ instead of ‘there’. Almost unforgivable.

          • Daniel Schealler
            Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            Indeed.

            Misuse of grammar is the other unforgivable sin.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      BZZZZT. Wrong.

      Really, the moral argument for god is the best you’ve got?

      Immanuel Kant died in 1804. (Note to others: Kant, not Craig, is the originator of this argument. Craig has never originated any argument that he uses, but liberally plagiarizes from others.)

      Here’s the thing: Kant’s ideas were refuted by Plato, who died about 2200 years earlier. I suggest you look up the Euthyphro Dilemma. To summarize (from argumentsforatheism.com)

      The protagonist, Socrates, asks whether the gods command what is good or moral because it is intrinsically good, or whether the good is considered good merely because the gods command it. If the first option is true, then the idea of what is good is completely independent of the gods; if the second option is true, the idea of what is good becomes totally arbitrary, and the gods could theoretically choose to designate anything (torture, for an extreme example) as good. Thus, the gods cannot be the source of morality without morality becoming something arbitrary, and for the gods to be considered as good, the idea of goodness needs to be independent of them.

      So, not only is the moral argument for god incorrect, it was wrong before it got started.

      Chew toy or not, you’re going to have to bring something more than an argument that was dead in the water 2200 years before it was proposed.

      • jay
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        The Bible tries to play it both ways, but particularly it plays the second fork. Slavery, murder, torture, rape are all good when Yahweh decides they are.

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Daniel, I’m afraid you’re overlooking one powerfully obvious and trivially simple fact.

      A society in which people went on murderous raping rampages at the drop of a hat would rip itself apart in no time at all.

      Given two societies, one which is crippled by the disease of slavery and the other which is not, the society which puts the larger percentage of its members to more productive use (the one which disavows slavery and lets people decide their own fate based on their personal ambition and ability) will prosper and out-compete the one which inflicts such terrible wounds upon itself.

      From those two examples, it should be obvious that morality is simply an emergent property that evolves naturally from a collective assembly of individuals. The more moral the average member of a society and the more moral the society as a whole, the better its chances of surviving (or even establishing itself in the first place).

      And, since individuals who are members of successful societies are more likely to prosper than individuals who aren’t, there is powerful selective reproductive pressure going on as well.

      Far from pointing to the existence of a sociopathic Mediterranean Bronze-age war god or his syncretic sun god son, morality is powerful evidence of the success of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection to explain all facets of life, behavioral as well as biochemical.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        The industries built in early America were made prosperous and rich by the hard work of slaves. It is arguable that some settlements would not have grown as fast as they did if they had no slaves. I would say that a big part of the culture’s affluence is a direct contribution of the slave.

        Now, I do condemn slavery, but I also acknowledge the prosperity that came out of that practice. I think there are many examples in History of societies emerging into success with immoral practices.

        What’s beneficial to one person or society is not the same to another. Ask 100 people what is beneficial to them, and you will probably get 100 different answers. We can certainly observe each society’s moral systems and their outcomes and correct ours accordingly. But, how do you jump from observing outcomes to saying “this is what we ought to do?” Just because you have observed the practices and outcomes of a society, does not make a moral duty for all people at all times.

        • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

          That a small number of plantation owners profited handsomely at the expense of vast numbers of slaves is not the question. The question is, was the slave-owning society more or less successful than comparable free societies? And history has most emphatically proven the point, over and over and over and over again, that free societies are wildly more successful than slave societies.

          As an exercise, you should plot the per-capita GDP of modern countries against the size of their slave populations. Do the same for any other metric you care for. The message is clear: if your goal is to maximize your own wealth, you want a society with a well-paid voluntary workforce, not a slave population or even an underpaid workforce held captive through economic means rather than outright bondage.

          And it makes sense, too. Imagine how much wealthier the South would have been had its black population been free to become doctors and engineers rather than forced into menial labor and kept from the halls of academe. The cotton gin would have been invented much sooner, as would have been other labor-saving devices. Those sorts of things act as force multipliers that power further advances.

          Care to try again?

          Cheers,

          b&

    • john
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      you are making a false either/or argument

      argument from ignorance- because YOU can’t think of any type of morality that doesn’t depend on an invisible then there must not be- You need to read Neuroethics by P. Churchland. or the Moral Landscape by Harris –

      “We can only conclude that man seeks morality because it is in his nature to do so whether he is Atheist or Christian”

      YOU can only conclude that because you’re not educated

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      There is one thing I know for sure about Dan the condescending troll:
      he is long winded.
      More or less like his psycho god

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        That you think I am in some small part like the God I believe in, I am flattered.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          Now he thinks he is god-like. A legend in his own mind, albeit, a defective one.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Oh no. Thank YOU, for providing the strongest line of evidence I’ve ever seen, for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
          RAmen

          • Moewicus
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            1. If there were no Flying Spaghetti Monster, there would be no pasta in the world.
            2. There is pasta in the world.
            3. Therefore the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists.

            To those who say pasta is made independently of the FSM (may his noodliness abide forever), this just reflects the fact that the FSM (mhnaf) is the source of all pasta and not of any particular pasta.

            • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

              I’ll have you know I’m simmering some tomato sauce on the stove as I type, and soon I’ll be cooking up some pasta and an Italian sausage for dinner.

              Sacrelicious!

              b&

        • Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          That you can take comparison to a psychopath as flattery is revealing. You don’t get to change the meanings of words to suit you – oh, right, of course you do. You’re a religious apologist. If you couldn’t arbitrarily assign whatever meaning you think supported your point, you’d be … well, smart, less obtuse and able to see the gaping holes in your above longwinded screed.

          You were not, it appears, being compared to the “god you believe in”, you were being compared to the mad, insecure, jealous, ethnic-cleansing tyrant who repeatedly advocated – or personally carried out – genocide as punishment for being born in the wrong city.

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Why is it that the only moral framework the religious are prepared to accept is that of a moral tyrant?

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      What fucking arrogance – what breathtaking inanity.

      People behave themselves, therefore God? That argument’s older – and frailer – than Methuselah. Utter gradeschool tripe. In fact, in gradeschool I already thought this was ridiculous; the fact that seeming adults can still cling to this is a starm reminder of the intellectual stagnancy of religion and the rigidity it encourages.

      Is it not enough to behave oneself for the sake of living in a safe and secure society; for the simple fact that we are able to empathise and say “No, I would not want that done to me”? Are you so insecure and immature in your reasoning that you require a celestial carrot & stick in order to not go out and rape your neighbours or steal from strangers? Are you so terrified of others not being bound by your top-down moral impositions that you must nonetheless drag us under that umbrella – asserting that we’re bound by your dogma whether we agree with it or not?

      And people call atheists arrogant. And then they wonder why we get pissed off! I dare anyone to read the above ignorant foolishness and replace ‘atheist’ with ‘negro’ or ‘Jew’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘homosexual’ and not fucking get pissed off.

    • moseszd
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Can you do something besides plagiarize things that are wrong?

      I would say this, it would be nice if you could actually demonstrate that there is a “moral law of human nature.” Because I have yet to see one, especially one coming from this “god” fellow you prattle on about…

      For example, adultery is punishable by death according to the Law he gave Moses. It is in the Law of Moses which Fictional Jesus did endorse (the Law of Moses). The whole ‘he who is without sin’ story was added to the bible much later. It was not part of the gospels so you don’t get to grab that exception.

      Is this a moral act? Killing someone because they committed adultery? We don’t seem to think so, especially in light of the statistics that say 75% of all men and 50% of all women will conduct adultery at least once in their lives.

      Rather, we say it’s damn immoral to kill people for adultery. And that if you kill your spouse for adultery, you will spend quite some time in jail for it. You will possibly be put to death by the State.

      Clearly, humans are more moral than God and answer to a morality higher than the one he presents.

      Blasphemy is punishable by death. There are 38,000 variants of the Christian faith. It goes without saying that many doctrines of one faith sub-set are blasphemous to another. Why aren’t you busy killing everyone who doesn’t agree with you? Especially, as anyone familiar with the bible understands, Jesus did not set aside the Law of Moses.

      Further, you may not weasel out with Jesus was the fulfillment and end of Mosaic law. He did not fulfill the prophecies of the messiah. Israel was destroyed, not freed and he did not reign as King. Further, since Joseph wasn’t his father, he was not descended from the House of David, no matter which of the two conflicting genealogies you use.

      So, who is more moral? Mankind, at least its civilized parts, where we might give someone ‘looks’ for blasphemy, rather than kill them, because we consider life more important than heresy and blasphemy? Or God who is more than willing to kill over a slight?

      If a woman is raped in town, why is she guilty of adultery? Why is she not-guilty if the same rape happened in a field? How is one presupposed to be adultery and the other rape?

      Is it moral to take a wife by kidnapping and raping her? I certainly don’t think so, yet God did command that…

      How about genocide? Wouldn’t it have been easier to give all those people the urge to move to some other location? Instead of killing them, man, woman and child (except the virgins to be raped as spoils of war) and even killing the livestock?

      How moral is that? Seems damn immoral to me. Seems fucking downright evil.

  37. H.H.
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    The conclusions of science are tentative. The methodology is not. Faith fails as a way of knowing. Even if there is a god, faith is an intellectually bankrupt epistemology.

    All of this has been said before, of course. But the all of the critics of new atheism seem to be incapable of understanding even these basic points. They are no less delusional and unserious about matters of truth as the most fanatical zealot. Reality seems beyond their comprehension.

  38. Moewicus
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Accusing atheists of scientism is really a poor rearguard defense of faith, a lowering of the bar for one side and a raising for the other. People like this guy
    http://biologos.org/blog/engaging-todays-militant-atheist-arguments-part-1/
    use it to simply leave the door open on one side and close off critical examination on the other. Note how the author does this as he argues that history provides “Real Knowledge™” while dismissing scientific inquiry into the question of god’s existence, apparently forgetting that what knowledge we think we can get from history is dependent upon the accumulation of well established facts–the existence of humans, the fact that humans act and have motivations–and that those historical accounts which contradict science (you can’t get to the Moon on a chair, the Mythbusters proved it!) must be seen as fiction and legend.

    (Note: I can’t see the page at the above link right now. Maybe biologos blocked me for making a less than perfectly polite comment, or their servers are just down right now. Apologies if the link’s broken.

  39. Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    If that’s scientism, sign me up. I’m all for philosophy, and for areas of the human experience to be dominated by art and desire. So I don’t think that all truths are scientific. But damned if I’ll stand by and let faith claims go unexamined, so scientism it is!

  40. SAWells
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    “Science doesn’t lead to reliable conclusions”, the postmodernist typed on their computer and posted to the internet.

    Sometimes the medium really is the message.

    • Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      No here’s how that works: science does lead to reliable Stuff, it just doesn’t lead to reliable conclusions. Simple.

      (You and I might think that the reliable Stuff depends on the reliable conclusions, but that’s because we’re scientisticist.)

  41. john
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Scientism is the idea that natural science is the most authoritative worldview or aspect of human education, and that it is superior to all other interpretations of life.

    I believe in scientism. I don’t find it pejorative even if it is meant that way.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      +2. In the sense that the first is what I have come to understand it as, and that the second has been my reaction as well.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        So the correct response is “Yeah. And…?” to the charge of being a Scientismist.

        • Daniel Schealler
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          Anyone remember the whole ‘mine detector that is just an expensive dowsing rod’ thing a while back?

          I always thought that such a device was actually incredibly useful for police and security officials. Just point your magic wand at someone you’d like to search and – *poof* – their right to not be searched without fair cause sublimates away like dry ice under a blowtorch.

          I’ve long suspected that the accusation of ‘scientism’ works the same way.

          It’s just a last-ditch excuse to dismiss a scientific objection when no valid counter-argument is available.

          If there are any examples of alternative usage of the term, I’m not aware of them.

  42. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    we’ve found out a lot of things that are likely to remain “true” in that they’re unlikely to be overturned.

    Indeed, this is where I start to mention that The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood. (As you may know.)

    “A hundred years ago it would have been easy to ask a basic question to which physics couldn’t provide a satisfying answer. “What keeps this table from collapsing?” “Why are there different elements?” “What kind of signal travels from the brain to your muscles?” But now we understand all that stuff. (Again, not the detailed way in which everything plays out, but the underlying principles.) Fifty years ago we more or less had it figured out, depending on how picky you want to be about the nuclear forces. But there’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.

    You might question the “once and for all” part of that formulation, but it’s solid. Of course revolutions can always happen, but there’s every reason to believe that our current understanding is complete within the everyday realm.”

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      …and whatever happens to advance our knowledge beyond “once and for all”, it certainly won’t overturn what we do know within the confines of the models we currently use to define the world.

      Newton’s laws still work, even though Einstein’s theory works better in a different world (model).

      And whatever else that happens to advance our knowledge, it will without question not involve invisible sky fairies and their invisible friends.

      Frankly, I see theism like a boxer who’s taken one too many punches, but is still standing, flailing away in the desperate hope of a knock-out.

      Time for the referee to step in and stop the fight. Except in this case, there’s no referee. Pathetic, really.

  43. Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Question, what would you call people who:
    (1) accept standard scientific theory without doubt and don’t acknowledge controversy there in?
    (2) don’t acknowledge the politics behind science?
    (3) don’t acknowledge the corrupt studies of even papers that support orthodox science?
    (4) don’t acknowledge that some of the pet theories of today may be trashed tomorrow?

    I think “scientism” is a good word for these naive stances. Do you have a better?

    • H.H.
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Naive.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        “Naive” is not good enough, I fear.

        For just as we expect religious people to freely call other religious folks “fundamentalists”, “anti-science” and such. To further dialogue, it may behoove us to give a name to those who embrace science naively. “Scientism” seems to fit the bill. So rather than deny it, why not try to make the definition clear and spell out that we admit that the word “science” is used to bad ends often.

        Unless someone has a better suggestions or states why this is a bad strategy.

        • gillt
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

          Do you have someone in mind who “fits the bill,” Sabio Lantz?

          • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

            OK, I will scroll for a few.
            Remembering that the post is talking about the use of the term “scientism”:

            Or, how about “applying rationality and standards of evidence in any manner which undermines the legitimacy of their own subjective points of view” ?
            –Greg Esres

            Isn’t one use of scientism criticism of strong positivism where subjective states are totally discarded? Subjective data is incredibly valuable. This has nothing to do with faith per se, though it is part of their domain.

            That pretty much covers the entirety of theology, religious philosophy and apologetics, doesn’t it? All they do is exploit the fact that words have flexible meanings, and try to cram whichever god(s) they happen to believe in underneath the bits that bend.
            — Wowbagger

            The problem with faith worshipers like Gleiser and Robinson is that they have become blind to reason and have developed the arrogant and annoying habit of redefining words to suit their purposes. They also use the tactic of transferring their bad habits and actions onto others so they can accuse them. These tactics are also prevalent of the right wing in the US.
            — NewEnglandBob

            Also, science is self-correcting. When bad science slips through, it eventually gets called out and rejected (e.g., vaccination=autism).
            — Fetterman

            Sort of defending science instead of admitting the peversions of blindness that can lead to decades of a tightly held view which is not ‘self-correcting’.

            I desperately wish that hypocrites like Ms. Robinson and her ilk would go live in the mud brick houses of their “faithful” ancestors and die of diarrhea if science is such a burden on them.

            Essentially, scientists shouldn’t be making sweeping generalizations based on their science alone.

            Oh okay. Uhhh, by the way, got any good reasons for why anybody shouldn’t think religion is a bunch if made up stuff?
            –386sx

            Anyway, you get the idea.
            But I think you are right. Many people here have offered very thoughtful responses. The careless ones are few and they even have some good points. I perhaps overgeneralized as I scanned the discussion.

            • David
              Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

              Can you give an example of where “scientism” occurred in the broader scientific community?

              I think there already is a word for bad science practices pseudoscience.

              • Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

                Actually, much of what passes as science will be later overthrown. We have seen that time and time again. It is the natural course of good scientific method.

            • moseszd
              Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

              I’m smelling a denialist. Could be AIDS. Could be global warming. Could be vaccinations.

              Can’t be sure of anything but the smell.

              • Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

                When someone doubts sacred language, the heretic hunters grab their weapons. “Either you are totally with us, or against us”, eh?

              • Michael Kingsford Gray
                Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

                I smell sock-puppet.

              • Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:45 am | Permalink

                Ah, a new pejorative — they just keep coming. Michael, may I ask why I smell like a “sockpuppet”?

        • Posted April 12, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

          There certainly are people who hold naive conceptions is science. So what? Robinson is not employing the term in this narrow way. She is trying to dismiss the entire notion that science provides answers where religion doesn’t and that many answers achieved scientifically positively discredit religion. And she is trying to do this with a facile and artificial attempt to negatively characterize scientific thinkers in general with the term “scientism.”

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Unscientific.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        “Unscientific” is still not grabbing responsibility. I think this defensive posturing slows down dialogue. The religious folks do the same.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          Ask a shallow question and you’ll get a flippant answer. If you can point to people here who actually don’t believe or acknowledge that politics and money can influence scientific research, that cultural mores of the time guide our inquiries, or anything like that, then we’ll have something to talk about.

          But I don’t see those people here. And that’s not really the complaint of the “scientism” accusers. Their actual claim is that the scientific method (even accounting for the flaws, biases, and corruptibility of humans and their interests) can’t produce anything more reliably factual than religious intuition.

          That’s radical, that’s ridiculous, and that’s wrong.

          • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

            Agree that a common use of “scientism” by religious folks is the ridiculous position you state. Thus, to further dialogue [though that does not seem the goal of some people here], keeping the word, admitting science misuses and then asking that their version be kept different from a more robust version may be helpful.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

              [though that does not seem the goal of some people here],

              You have no basis for that, and it’s unnecessarily provocative. Many people here are sick and tired of having the religious bombard them with this disingenuous excuse, and we feel understandably defensive when it gets lobbed at us yet again (disingenuously, remember).

              Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the criticism – “You’re all scientistic! You can’t admit where science is wrong!” – is genuine. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you have to suss out whether people here are honest or merely tribalistic. You seem to be giving automatic credence to the disingenuous critics, while giving us none of the benefit of the doubt.

              That’s bound to raise reasonable objections.

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, I didn’t really follow that Josh.

                You took a criticism of “Some” and defensively turned it into an “ALL!”

                I agree that defensiveness is understandable because of much of the awful things propagated by religion — I get that.

                But is the point beating our tribal war drums or actually trying to build communication and make progress?

                I guess both rolls are valuable, but I think treating this term differently may be more productive in this case.

            • Josh Slocum
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

              You took a criticism of “Some” and defensively turned it into an “ALL!”

              No, I didn’t. I said I don’t see those people here at all. If you do, point them out. We have to give some deference, of course, to the fact that you may not be a regular reader here (you’re not a regular commenter, so far as I know), so we’re probably reading comments differently.

              But is the point beating our tribal war drums or actually trying to build communication and make progress?

              Again, unnecessary and too hastily judgmental. Who’s “beating tribal war drums?” Why do you immediately, without question, characterize the objections from commenters here as merely tribalistic? Why don’t you even pause to inquire whether they might be valid objections that derive from something a little more informed than mere tribalism?

              Do you see why that could piss someone off?

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, you are probably right.

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

                Can we discuss my point now?

              • Josh Slocum
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                Can we discuss my point now?

                Which is?

                There’s nothing to discuss if you’ve automatically assumed the objections here are tribalistic rather than the result of having thought about the issues.

                If you’re going to argue that people should be aware of the historic/economic/political/epistemological contingencies that guide scientific work, I doubt you’ll find many opponents (I’m still curious why you seem to have assumed that you will).

                If you do, then I join you in saying they’re misguided.

                Anything else?

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                I feel that sometimes, instead of arguing terms, if we admit our common ideas (this misuses of science, the temporariness of theories, the overthrowing of standard notions and such), may facilitate dialogue rather than just arguing terms. It think Wiki offers explanations of uses of this term that would allow more dialogue rather than just defending it or attacking it.

              • Josh Slocum
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                You’re the only one who seems to think we need to “facilitate dialogue.” I’m not unclear about the various definitions of “scientism.” I get it.

                I’m asking you why you think it’s a valid accusation against people here. I’m asking you why your default position seems to be that, yes, people here are guilty of it.

                If you want to “facilitate dialogue,” you could start by offering an answer (and please, don’t even do the “you’re so defensive” thing).

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

                I think we are done Josh. Thank you for the dialogue.

        • Daniel Schealler
          Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t grabbing responsibility?

          H-uh?

          In what sense?

          If someone is attempting to adorn an argument with the prestige of science only to make the kind of errors you’ve listed, dismissing them on grounds of being unscientific is holding them responsible for those errors.

          Additionally, your 4 errors are all genuine examples of unscientific thinking.

          1) Science should embrace doubt and reject absolute certainties.
          2) Science should seek to minimize bias, and acknowledge such bias as cannot be eliminated.
          3) Science should be a self-correcting process that weeds out bad research.
          4) Science should acknowledge that all theories are incomplete, with a potential (however remote) of being overturned completely if a large enough body of falsifying evidence should ever be established.

          I may be confused as to what you’re on about.

          I always thought that whatever else ‘scientisim’ means, one consistent usage is to imply that a commitment to science has been taken too far.

          Using the term ‘scientisim’ to represent something that actually violates basic scientific principals is a new one.

          • Daniel Schealler
            Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

            I just realized that 1) and 4) are actually restatements of the same problem.

          • Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

            I think the 2nd pejorative use of scientism listed in Wiki gives some of the nuance I am getting at. Or am I mistaken?

            (Wiki)

            • Daniel Schealler
              Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

              I couldn’t follow the link in your post. You meant Wikipedia, right?

              2. To refer to “the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry,” with a concomitant “elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience.” It thus expresses a position critical of (at least the more extreme expressions of) positivism.

              Is this what you were getting at?

              Methinks that at least one of us is a bit confused. I really can’t see how that statement from Wikipedia matches up against your 4 example errors.

              Regarding that second perjorative sense, I find I have a (limited) agreement. To my (limited) understanding, science can fairly be regarded as the wing of philosophy that deals with the natural world. The original term for ‘science’ was ‘natural philosophy’ after all.

              I think it should be obvious from this that any philosopher who deals in subjects that relate to the natural world should at the least be familiar and appraised about modern science that relates to their discipline.

              But if there is a sub-division of philosophy that is not connected to the natural world in any way? Well, yes. Applying science there would be a mistake, in my view.

              However, the values of science – objectivity, intellectual honesty, openness to criticism, minimization and elimination of bias, willingness to change one’s mind and opinions if circumstances call for it – these are values that are applicable to any intellectual pursuit.

              I would suggest that the values of science are the values that should be applied to intellectual pursuits.

              And I don’t think that suggestion warrants a pejorative. ^_^

              • Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                I think that wiki is stating that one use of “scientism” as a pejorative of those who misuse science in the name of science.

                Again, I may be mistaken.

                I usually disagree with most of the ways religious folks use the word and try to see if we can first agree with all the ways “science” has been misused. It has proved a useful strategy.

              • Daniel Schealler
                Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                Then I suppose at least one of us is mistaken. ^_^

                Okay.

                Let’s accept a definition of ‘scientism’ as ‘a pejorative of those who misuse science in the name of science’.

                Even if we accept this, I still think your previous 4 points are mistaken.

                If we’re going to establish a case where ‘science’ has been misused, we must first establish that the thing that was (allegedly) misused was in fact science.

                Your earlier four errors are examples of unscientific thinking.

                So even if we accept this revised definition, they’re still not examples of scientism.

              • Posted April 12, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

                The conversation is purely argumentative now and not looking for understanding.

                You said:

                If we’re going to establish a case where ‘science’ has been misused, we must first establish that the thing that was (allegedly) misused was in fact science.

                I hear religious folks argue against anti-religion atheists saying similar:
                “What you criticize isn’t real religion”.

                No matter, I think my point is clear enough — agree or not.

              • Daniel Schealler
                Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

                “The conversation is purely argumentative now and not looking for understanding.”

                Perhaps that’s true.

                And perhaps my response to this, coming soon, isn’t worthy. It’s the retort of the schoolground, after all.

                But in all fairness, Sabio…

                You started it.

                You asked a simple question, and I gave my answer (it was ‘unscientific’).

                You then dismissed this answer on flimsy grounds.

                I’ve since then been defending that answer.

                But perhaps more to the point: What makes you think that an argument cannot serve as a tool to help build understanding?

                “I hear religious folks argue against anti-religion atheists saying similar:
                ‘What you criticize isn’t real religion'”

                Ah yes – the No True Scotsman. Common defense.

                However, I’m not committing the No True Scotsman here.

                I’m using common and standard principles of what does or does not qualify as scientific thinking.

                And I haven’t claimed anywhere that it is impossible for science to be misused in the name of science.

                All I’ve claimed is that your original examples fail to demonstrate this.

                Again: I’ve been defending and justifying my answer to your initial question.

                “No matter, I think my point is clear enough — agree or not.”

                Actually, no. It isn’t.

                You had 4 examples of error that you think qualify as scientism – but you asked for alternative labels that would fit.

                I suggested ‘unscientific’ – and have been defending that label against what I view as your unjustified dismissal.

                Every attempt you have made to dismiss this suggestion has been (in my view) countered.

                So at this point?

                No.

                I don’t know what your point is.

                I’m highly confused, in fact.

                I’m starting to suspect your original post to which I replied was entirely disingenuous.

                Did you actually want an answer to that question in the first place?

                If not, what did you want?

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Well, that’s a nice definition you’ve built … but that’s not the working definition of either “strong” or “weak” scientism.

      So, unless it’s just a semantic argument you’re after, I think a different term is in order.

      BTW: I don’t think such a person exists. So, you may have built a very nice straw scientismist.

      For example, your straw scientismist would be compelled to believe in cold fusion, to disagree that HIV causes AIDS, but to agree that vaccines cause autism.

      There are many things I would call such a person, but a scientist or a scientismist would not be one of them.

      • Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t say “scientist”. I agree with you on some of that.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted April 11, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      Sabio, what do you call people who make all kinds of vague, sweeping accusations against scientists, without ever getting into the specifics?
      Who point to a few bad apples, without ever mentioing that it was other scientists who exposed them?
      Who call basic scientific facts “pet theories”, without acknowledging the tremendous predictive power of the said concepts?
      Who point to the “controversy” surrounding scientific ideas, but failing to notice that 100% of “dissent” comes from OUTSIDE the scientific community?
      Who use neologisms like “scientism” to ridicule empiricism, while using a tool, called the Internet, invented based on the same “scientistic” methods, to push this propaganda?
      I don’t know about you, but I call them hypocrites.

      • Posted April 12, 2011 at 2:41 am | Permalink

        “Scientist” is not a sacred word for me. Neither is “Doctor” or a bunch of other sanctimonious titles. But I believe very strongly that doing science is a fantastic pursuit – albeit difficult. Seeing through our pet theories, our politics, our biases and the momentum of mistakes is very difficult. Our brains fight us left and right in acknowledging our errors.
        You are very wrong when you feel that dissent comes 100% from “OUTSIDE”.

        But I am sure you are right that I am a “hypocrite”.

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted April 12, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink

          Of course there is dissent among the scientific community. But use of the word “controversy” among the public is not limited to where it comes from the scientific community itself, such as the exact nature of the dark matter or the cladistics of testudines. Rather, it covers areas such as evolutionary biology, climate science, and neuroscience, where the overwhelming consensus is “challenged” by a Michael Behe or Simon Conway Morris. As you pointed out, scientists are only human, and they are entitled to have their own quislings.
          On the other hand if you are condemning “scientism”, you will have more credibility if you stop using the Internet.
          PS So titles “scientist”, “doctor” and other sanctimonious words are not sacred to you? I understand. Sour grapes.

        • Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink

          Dear “Insightful” Ape,

          (1) You’d be wrong about “Sour Grapes”, btw.

          (2)I don’t understand this sentence of yours:
          “On the other hand if you are condemning “scientism”, you will have more credibility if you stop using the Internet.”
          Since I am stating that we need to be leery of those who try to push their agenda with the cloak of “Science”, I must therefore be doubting science itself and since science is responsible for the internet I shouldn’t use it?
          If so, your replies are laden with misunderstandings.

          • Insightful Ape
            Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

            Dear Sabio,
            Since you are attacking those presumbly pushing their agenda with the cloak of science without identifying them, may I presume that includes the sactimonious “engineers” using “pet theories” to make it safer for you to drive, such that you won’t need to trust your life to the sanctimonious “surgeons”?
            That would be awful, just like the sanctimonious scientists who created the Internet, such that you could war on those who dare give themselves those sanctimonious titles. Because you see, when you keep attacking sanctimonious scientists but name no names, it actually does include all of the above. And when you keep using their work, it makes you a hypocrite. Which you don’t like to be called because the truth hurts.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      One only has to look at Sabio’s blog to realise he is a pretentious wanker.

      • moseszd
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        He comes off like a denialist.

      • Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:35 am | Permalink

        I’d love to know your operational definition of “wanker” and then see how you find my blog qualifying me as a wanker. It may be a fun exercise.

        Now, mind you, this is not to pretend that I am not a confused and inconsistent person.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      You’re talking about science as a sociological institution. Everyone else is talking about science as a process. If you were talking about science as a process, you’d realize that (1) and (4) are not in the least problematic. The vast majority — quite likely all — of those accused of scientism not only readily acknowledge that scientific theories are tentative, but are quick to point out that this is the exact feature that make science the best — really the only — way of knowing anything at all.

      In fact, it’s this very tentativeness of scientific theories that answers (2) and (3). Whatever problems are caused by the corruption or inefficiencies in the current, contingent incarnation of science as a sociological phenomenon, they will only ever be done by someone in the future rigorously adhering to the scientific method — engaging in science as progress.

      The whole argument is about “ways of knowing.” Science-as-culture is obviously not a way of knowing, it’s a culture. Science as body-of-knowledge IS a way of knowing, but not a good one since, as you point out, current theories are tentative and may be overthrown by further evidence. We’re talking about the part of science that IS a way of knowing, i.e. the process. None of your objections have any bearing on this, and in fact are answered by it.

      • Dan L.
        Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        Second paragraph should say:

        “…will only ever be undone…”

        and “…engaging in science as process…”

      • Posted April 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        Hello Dan L.
        I think you distinction between science as a process and as a social institution is useful but in someways artificial because they are very difficult to tease apart.

        The aspirations of the method/process are highly valuable and should be pursued, but we need to humbly recognize how much of normal human confused motivation clouds even the supposedly purest of methods.

        As a way of knowing it is thus also clouded. But I do not despair, for it is a damn good fuzzy way to know.

        Thanks for your thoughts.

  44. Daniel Schealler
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Quote:
    How often do you hear, in religious discourse, that “my conclusion that there is god should, of course, be seen as provisional, subject to refutation by findings of unjustifiable evil,” or “maybe there’s a heaven, but maybe not; I don’t have much evidence.”

    Reminds me of a very common tactic of Ray Comfort.

    Ray: The problem with atheism is that it’s a religion.
    Atheist: Uh… How, exactly?
    R: You’re claiming absolute certainty that God does not exist – that’s just like faith.
    A: Actually no. I haven’t claimed absolute certainty on anything. I specifically claim to not be absolutely certain of anything.
    R: Right. But Christians are certain.
    A: Hang on…

  45. starskeptic
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Sorry if someone has already touched on this; I like JC’s take on this but I have understood ‘scientism’ as the inability to relate to things you can’t put a number on – or using numbers as a crutch. The late author Neil Postman’s take on it was expressed in the anecdote about one of his students looking at the high temperature on a thermometer and remarking “oh, that’s why it’s so hot” – as if the numbers on the gadget caused his experience.

  46. Ken Nardone
    Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Marilynne’s “Absence Of Mind” theory omits facts that religion is completely man-made and based on wishfull thinking. Cultural diversity can be established through reason and logic; we just need to put an end to silly supersticions and mythological dogma.

  47. Ray
    Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Believers refer to rational thought as scientism because they they think that rational people believe in science. They cannot imagine that some people are unable to believe, but rely on rationality instead.

  48. Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    “When we’re said to be guilty of “scientism”, it’s not intended to mean that atheists or scientists are cold, unfeeling rationalists, blind to the beauty and wonder of this world. Nor does it mean that we employ science in every interaction we have with the world, including viewing art, being in love, and so on.”

    There’s also a legitimate degree to which many people really do think atheists are cold and passionless.

    • Doug Kirk
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      This.

      I think most people who use “scientism” are trying to assign atheists that tired old viewpoint that life is hopeless and joyless because we’re atheists. It’s just cloaked in a different word.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      That seems to be a novel use of the word legitimate. In this context it would normally mean valid, but since there are not any grounds for thinking that atheists are any less lacking in passion, or are any colder, than religious believers then it must in this context mean invalid.

      • Posted April 12, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        I think Todd’s using “legitimate” to mean that while some may use “scientism” in Jerry’s sense, there are in fact those who use “scientism” to mean just what Jerry says it doesn’t.

        See the comment from Cafeeine about halfway up the thread.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        To be strictly fair, there might be some minor grounds for this observation based on my observed positive correlation between high-functioning autism (Asperger’s) & atheism, and popular comparisons of those with HF Asperger’s & robotic or synthetic emotions.
        The character Sheldon in Big Bang theory comes to mind.
        No-one with HF Asperger’s that I have met is a theist of any stripe. (Including me.)
        It might be good if I could instigate a formal study on this.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 12, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I think the use of the term “scientism” both is and isn’t intended to be used in those two senses. They mean it when you’re not looking, and they don’t mean it when you are. Theists attempt to sneak these two implications in under cover of “you can’t apply science to God” (you can’t apply rationality to faith.)

      What they mean to say is that approaching faith claims scientifically (with caution, reason, and objectivity) is just like being cold and unfeeling, or applying scientific standards to aesthetics. In fact, those who do that first one will then do the second and third — and vice versa. It’s all connected!

      Unless, of course, you challenge them on this with some facts. Then, all they meant was that applying reason to faith is similar to applying reason to art, or hating art, or something like that. No connection.

      Till you leave the room. Then it turns out they are connected.

  49. kpm
    Posted April 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to be a scientist… Unfortunately, I never moved beyond my under graduate science degree, no masters or phd… BUT alas… I can now claim to be a SCIENTISMIST! Hurrah!

  50. Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I am a critic of this crowd: my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, was one of the first to appear (and is still regarded as one of the best by some.)

    Coyne fundamentally misunderstands Christianity. (I won’t generalize about “religion” for the moment.) This is clear from the start, here:

    “The practice of applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith . . . For religious people and accommodationists, that practice is a no-no.”

    This is one of the most absurd, but popular, canards about Christianity on the market. If atheists would ever think to apply “rationality and standards of evidence” to this caricature, they would be forced to discard it immediately, since Christianity has almost ALWAYS emphasized the need for reason and for evidence, and to evaluate faith by those things. (There’s a chapter in my book on this subject — it may take a entire volume, though, to dissabue many modern atheists of this “blind faith” meme, so deep has it sunk into their otherwise apparently fairly thick skulls.

    • Posted April 12, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      As an ex-Christian like many here, no, Jerry Coyne does not misunderstand Christianity. You are flat out wrong. Also, if you have any evidence, why are you hiding it? Let us have it!

      • Daniel Schealler
        Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

        Silly, closed minded atheist!

        You’re not listening.

        He has plenty of evidence!

        He just told you.

        You’ll just have to buy his book to find out.

        [/sarcasam]

        David, it’s not a caricature.

        The (alleged) absence of evidence for religion is my pet topic. It’s to the point that my friends and I have struck a bargain. I’m not allowed to raise the issue anymore unless someone else does – but if someone else tables it, I’m allowed to go nuts. That was the compromise, and it has served us well. ^_^

        So over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this subject with *many* believers.

        In each and every single case the believer in question has fallen back on a position that isn’t evidence.

        The scope is huge, and the responses given are too many and varied to list in their entirety.

        But none of them – ever – have qualified as actual evidence.

        Nada. Nil. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. None. Niente.

        Fuck-all.

        That’s why atheists refer to the evidence for religion with words like ‘dearth’. As far as we can tell – and we have looked – there isn’t anything.

        That’s not to say that believers don’t have a basis for their beliefs that they think are evidence-based. Because they do.

        “The world would be too grim without God and an afterlife – so it must be true.”

        “If a painting has a painter, creation must have a creation. It stands to reason.”

        “Thousands of highly intelligent individuals throughout all of history were religious believers – they can’t all have been wrong.”

        “See this (vaguely worded) prophecy here, in this part of the Bible? Now see this (vaguely worded) part in the same book where that prophecy was (allegedly) fulfilled. How do you explain that if God is a myth! And there’s thousands of fulfilled prophecies just like that one!”

        And so on and so forth.

        But most common of all?

        “I have evidence, but I’m only going to refer to it and not show it to you. Then I’m going to deride and dismiss you for not knowing what that evidence that I refuse to show you actually is.”

        Quit yanking us around.

        Put up or shut up.

        • Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          See, I would buy his book and look over all his “evidence”, but the trouble is that I have so many Gnu Atheist books lined up to read, and they just keep coming and coming, that I might never have room for Mr. Marshall’s. 😉

          [Also, I was speaking of myself as an ex-Christian, not Jerry Coyne. I could have worded that better up above!]

        • David Marshall
          Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          Daniel: I have no idea whether you would recognize evidence if you saw it, or not — I suspect not, based on your surly attitude. Also based on the fact that you misread Coyne’s comment, and my claim:

          “‘The practice of applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith.'”

          “For religious people and accommodationists, that practice is a no-no.”

          So the claim isn’t that there is no evidence for “religion,” it is applying “rationality and standards of evidence” is FORBIDDEN by “religion,” presumably including Christianity.

          Do you understand the difference between these two claims?

          Of course it is not easy to convince an atheist that there is evidence for God. Most are bitter, suspicious, and dismissive — especially on a site like this one. But even the most hard-bitten atheist on the planet ought, one would think, to yield before the overwhelming historical evidence that the normative and most common Christian attitude is that supporting one’s position with facts and logic is not usually a “no-no,” but a “yes-yes.”

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:07 am | Permalink

            Thanks for the slur on the personality of atheists. By the way, “most” of us are not bitter, suspicious, and dismissive.

            Now, since I require this of all religious people who claim that there is evidence for God on this site, I require it from you. If you wish to keep commenting here (without flogging your book), please give us a list of what you consider the ten best pieces of real evidence for God’s existence. Don’t write an essay; a simple list will do.

            • David Marshall
              Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

              Jerry (?): LOL. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Now I think I understand why everyone else here appears to be a member of the choir.

              Why ten? Wouldn’t one disprove your point?

              I don’t at all mind giving such a list: I’ve volunteered it, before. Each item on my list, though, would take a book or several books to defend, and yes, I’m probably familiar with the first 50 objections that will be raised against each. So if I give you a list, is that the end of it? Or does one need to discuss and defend each item (in the face, perhaps, of mockery, more than arguments) ad infinitum?

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:40 am | Permalink

                Never mind. Your “member of the choir” slur about my readers shows you up as a troll, and I don’t want you writing books on my site to defend your list, which you’ll undoubtedly do.

          • Havok
            Posted April 13, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

            David Marshall: But even the most hard-bitten atheist on the planet ought, one would think, to yield before the overwhelming historical evidence that the normative and most common Christian attitude is that supporting one’s position with facts and logic is not usually a “no-no,” but a “yes-yes.”
            Perhaps your “overwhelming historical evidence” isn’t so overwhelming.
            It’s easy to claim your position is supported by facts and logic, it’s another to demonstrate that is the case, which is what others on here have requested.
            As for supporting ones position by facts and logic being some kind of default position for Christians – the founding documents don’t mention such a standard, and from what I’ve encountered of Christian apologetics in general, it’s not something which is taken very seriously today either.

          • Doug Kirk
            Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

            Daniel: I have no idea whether you would recognize evidence if you saw it, or not

            Then it’s not evidence. Glad that’s all sorted out.

            • Daniel Schealler
              Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

              WordPress needs a ‘like’ button.

              • Michael Kingsford Gray
                Posted April 14, 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink

                It would be doing double-time for your incisive responses to the lying god-bot-troll who has come here to shift his remaindered book.

          • Daniel Schealler
            Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

            You just derided and dismissed me for being surly and (implied) closed-minded to the evidence. You then used that as an excuse not to provide any evidence.

            Did you read this at all:
            “I have evidence, but I’m only going to refer to it and not show it to you. Then I’m going to deride and dismiss you for not knowing what that evidence that I refuse to show you actually is.”

            Your reply to Jerry below is telling:

            “Why ten? Wouldn’t one disprove your point?”

            First of all – if there really is so much evidence available, ten should be easy. If you could just glibly rattle off ten solid examples of evidence, that would be a good method to establish your claims.

            That you refuse to do so should be telling to you.

            But more to the point: You say one should be enough. But you do not even supply one!

            Again, you deride and dismiss us for our unfamiliarity with this wonderful evidence to which you refer, but refuse to display.

            Ah well David.

            At least you’re consistent.

            • Michael Kingsford Gray
              Posted April 14, 2011 at 3:50 am | Permalink

              David is clearly both a totally transparent liar, amateur troll, fibber-extraordinare and a pathetic fraud, (assuming that he charges money for his risible tome).
              You won’t get anywhere by requesting his best evidence, as his cupboard is bare.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted April 14, 2011 at 3:57 am | Permalink

                A polite request to lay off the name-calling, even if you really don’t like the person you’re talking about.

                Thanks.

              • Michael Kingsford Gray
                Posted April 14, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

                Message received.

          • Daniel Schealler
            Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            Daniel: I have no idea whether you would recognize evidence if you saw it, or not…

            One way to find out.

            Try me.

    • Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      Another thing, it isn’t clear that you are actually a Christian, at least not a mainstream Christian. From your website, it appears that you like to mush some facets of Christianity other religions into some sort of hybrid. I’m not sure that qualifies you as someone to be telling others that they don’t understand Christianity. It is more than likely that you are coming from a different point of view than the typical Christian.

      Also, you are way too late in preaching the Gospel to the Chinese. The Messiah already came to China and ruffled the Empire’s feathers. Hong Xiuquan, the second Son of God (and brother of Jesus), seized control of large portions of China to establish the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace which lasted for more than a decade.

    • Russ
      Posted April 15, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      @David Marshall
      You said,Coyne fundamentally misunderstands Christianity. (I won’t generalize about “religion” for the moment.) This is clear from the start, here:

      “The practice of applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith . . . For religious people and accommodationists, that practice is a no-no.”

      This is one of the most absurd, but popular, canards about Christianity on the market.

      Pointing out that among the religious applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith is a no-no is not a canard. It is, in fact, well-grounded, well-established and soundly evidence-based. If Christians, for example, applied reason in the context of suitable standards of evidence there would be one Christianity, not a myriad of theologically distinct Christianities. There would be uniformity of belief across the Christianities.

      As it stands, there is no point of theology common to all the Christianities, not even the existence of a god. This immense conceptual diversity suggests that Christian theologists have no shared respect for reason and they have no shared standard for evidence. It’s obvious that for the conundrums faced by Christian theologists there are no established tools, processes and approaches whereby they can resolve them. It’s also obvious that Christian theologists can’t use their gods or their Bibles as reliable standards since gods and Bibles tell different Christian theologists different theology things.

      Since it is clearly acceptable among Christian theologists for two of them to start with exactly the same premises and end up with contradictory conclusions, both of which are to be taken as true and, thus, binding on affected believers, it’s clear that their claiming to apply reason, rationality and standards of evidence to their faith is simply not true. More than that, since each of those Christian theologists knows that nothing requires them to end up with the same result, the claim of using reason and evidentiary standards is a lie, so their Christian theologies are nothing more than their own personal make-believes.

  51. David Marshall
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Aratina: Thanks for being so open-minded. I expect nothing less from atheists, anymore, unfortunately — though I do run into occasional exceptions, thank God.

    I just told you I wrote a chapter rebutting Coyne’s claim. Now of course you’re under no obligation to read that chapter, or assume that I’m right. But it is remarkable to me, that you (and so many other alleged skeptics) would offer such a knee-jerk reaction, without considering the evidence.

    Yes, since you’ve looked at my website, you can find evidence against Coyne’s claim there, too. There’s an anthology called “Faith and Reason,” which gives quotes from key Christian thinkers from the past 2000 years on this very subject.

    If anyone can read those quotes, and still claim with a straight face that the normative Christian positive has been that it is a “no-no” to support faith with evidence, expect that person to tell you next about the invisible pet dragon in his garage.

    Thank you for telling me about Hong Xiuquan. I wrote one of my MA papers on him, 14 years ago. Better late than never.

    But no, I am recognized as an orthodox, middle-of-the-road Christian in all quarters. I’ve spoken in more than a hundred evangelical churches around the world, and never been chased off the stage for heresy. I’ve published in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox magazines, and my books generously “blurbed” by Christians within many traditions. Maybe you’re not quite as familiar with the tradition you reject so vociferously as you suppose, if you don’t even recognize my mainstream views as Christian.

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Credentials, credentials, credentials.

      I just don’t care about your credentials.

      You’re only as good as your arguments and your evidence.

      Care to provide either?

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        For the former: Yes.
        The Latter: No way José!!
        Not in a bazillion years.

    • Posted April 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      Does this look like a typical Christian idea to you: “Jesus is the Tao that Confucius and Lao Zi were looking for…”? Deep. Really deep. Where is your evidence for this? Seems to me like you made it up.

      Now, about your “Faith and Reason” article, you define faith as “believing something to be the case based on rational evidence, and then acting on that belief.” Don’t you see the enormous problem with that definition? You have just equated “faith” with “reasonable action”. You desperately need an independent dictionary for this one.

      Furthermore, you assert that:

      …faith and reason are like two chopsticks, with which the human mind feeds itself on the truth. Faith must be tested by reason. But reason relies on four levels of faith for all the facts that it holds dear: faith in the mind, the senses, other people, and (the question at issue between theists and atheists) God.

      Under your definition of “faith”, this should be rewritten as: “reason and reasonable action are like two chopsticks [side note: you can’t very well have just one, now can you?]…”

      So, all you have done is redefined faith into an action performed based on reason, which is not at all what most people mean when they use the word “faith”. Making your own personal dictionary is fun, I know, but don’t expect everyone else to understand you.

    • Posted April 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      I’m browsing through your “evidence” in the form of quotes and summaries from theologians and am finding it to be quite a laugh. Nobody can agree on anything; there isn’t even consensus among their own ideas in some cases (and you haven’t given us any way to determine which way each person’s thinking developed)!

      Some people strongly denounce reason. Some say you must gain faith through revelation. Some people play the close-minded card where one must believe first for understanding to follow. One guy (Aquinas) goes something like “optics work, God made optics, therefore the Bible is true” and also that “humans are dumb so belief is hard”, and then you mark half of one of his sentences red (agree) and the other half green (disagree).

      You mark some people as agreeing that faith relies on evidence who do no such thing. You leave out the “proofs” that the thinkers are referring to (how kind of you).

      OK, that’s enough. I think this is great, colorful evidence of muddled thinking but not much else.

      • Daniel Schealler
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I don’t want to be so crass as to provide Succor to The Enemy or anything like that.

        However:

        David says in one of his articles that Augustine is one of the most eminent Christian thinkers outside of the bible.

        I nearly agree. Personally, I would leave out the final clause: Augustine is one of the most eminent Christian thinkers. As an unbeliever I’m free to evaluate the Gospels, Paul and Christ as critically as I please. And I’d place Augustine above the lot.

        That’s not to say that I agree with everything Augustine had to say. To the contrary. There’s much that I disagree with in his musings, usually strongly.

        But he’s a thinker that’s worth knowing more about, even if that’s only so that we can know our own position better for having developed a rejection of his ideas.

        Augustine is worth taking seriously in a way that (to me) is unique amongst the Christian thinkers (of which I am aware).

  52. David Marshall
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Jerry: You accused religious people of being “overbearing” and demanding blind faith in your OP. In response, I introduced myself, especially my expertise in the issue you introduced, and explained why I think your “blind faith” claim is wrong — admittedly, with a little attitude, to match what looked like the general tone in your forum.

    In response, strangers replied to me in the same or a more contemptuous tone.

    Are those the rules here, Dr. Coyne? You and those who agree with you, may use any tone of contempt you choose towards Christians? But Christians may not reply in similiar tones, or will be banned?

    I don’t prefer that kind of conversation — I’ve discussed serious issues with serious atheists for years in friendly humor. But if I say something contemptuous about atheists, it wouldn’t be fair to complain when they reply in the same tone.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      It is all about “tone” with you delusional trolls.
      Not “facts”. Oh no! That is beyond your ken.
      You have been challenged to proffer facts, yet you staunchly refuse to do so.
      How’s about this: give us your BEST supporting fact for your theism?
      Or, barring that insurmountable obstacle, tell us what you believe, and why.

      • David Marshall
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        Michael: Don’t be obtuse. My initial post was substance: I was told I’d be banned for tone, though, so of course that’s what I addressed.

        Feel free to address the substance of my first tone, and the scholarship behind it, if you like — that’d be a nice break.

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted April 15, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

          I politely repeat my request:
          Please give me/us your BEST supporting fact for your theism.

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted April 15, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

            He just gave a link to another paper that has NO evidence. In other words, David’s got nothing. He won’t be allowed to post here again until he puts the goods on this site.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Your problem, David, is that you came here hocking a book full of the same old bullshit. We’ve heard “no true Scotsman” before. Play another one. We’ve also seen plenty of tone trolls. We’ve seen hundreds of hacks like you with trite little books to sell each presenting themselves as THE authoritative voice of modern Christianity.

      David, atheists know as well as anyone that Christianity is approximately 2000 years old and is incredibly diverse. That’s even ignoring the ancient “heresies” that were in Roman times much more popular than the core set of philosophies that would become the doctrine of the RCC.

      There’s too much Christianity for anyone to understand it entirely. What Prof. Coyne knows about Christianity is what he’s learned by living in a predominately Christian society for as long as he has. You can dismiss his and other posters’ first-hand knowledge of Christianity (remember, many of these people are formerly devout Christians themselves), but it makes you look rather arrogant and a little bit ridiculous.

      So to be clear, no one is engaging with you because you’re not saying anything new, interesting, or substantial and you come across as a posturing, pretentious nitwit hocking a book.

      If you had made your first post by arguing for the validity the following statement:

      “…Christianity has almost ALWAYS emphasized the need for reason and for evidence, and to evaluate faith by those things.”

      rather than insisting that we have to go buy your book to find out THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTIANITY you’d probably be taken somewhat more seriously. As it is, you’re just a troll with royalties.

      • Dan L.
        Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        I like the “…almost ALWAYS…” construction by the way. You need to learn some CSS so you can make the “almost” less prominent and the “always” more so. If you can’t make an argument, you can at least LOOK like you’re making an argument, right?

      • David Marshall
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Brilliant, Dan.

        Do you really think I care if you buy that book? It’s an old book, and I don’t make a dime from sales — nor do I expect anyone as committed as you to gain much by reading it, if you do.

        I introduced myself, and my relevent expertise, that’s all.

        If you read my later posts, you’ll find that I also referenced a freely available, that shows what I said originally was entirely correct — Coyne’s claim is simply nonsense, leading Christians for two millennia have said that “applying rationality and standards of evidence” is exactly what Christian faith is SUPPOSED to do. There’s a lot of meat there, if you care to chew it.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Where’s this evidence of yours?

      Stop complaining about the tone people address you in (after your opening volley of disdain, you expected welcoming hugs?) and get to the Good News already.

      • David Marshall
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        Grania: See “Faith and Reason,” here:

        http://christthetao.homestead.com/articles.html

        This article includes quotes by leading Christian thinkers for the past 2000 years on precisely this issue. In the context of my claim, that constitutes solid evidence.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted April 14, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, but give a list of some evidence here (five will do); don’t make us read long articles on your own website.

          We’re waiting. . .

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Oh noes!

      Some people on the internet were a bit snippy with you?

      Well boo-fucking-hoo.

      Exactly how thin-skinned are you, anyway?

      Are you really so desperate to dismiss our simple and straighforward requests to demonstrate your evidence that you have to resort to the ‘you-hurt-my-precious-feelings’ card?

      And then you wonder why people don’t regard you with privilege, respect, and a general stroking of the ego?

      Color me surprised.

      • David Marshall
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        Dan: Heh. Good one.

        “Some people on the internet were a bit snippy with you? Well boo-fucking-hoo. Exactly how thin-skinned are you, anyway? . . . And then you wonder why people don’t regard you with privilege, respect, and a general stroking of the ego?”

        The English language is a hard thing to master, I recognize . . .

        Do try to read the exchange, though. I started off with substance. So far, in exchange, I’ve BOTH been threatened with expulsion for hard language, AND been accused of being thin-skinned for responding by pointing out the obvious fact that most of the hard language was directed at me.

        That’s the limits of the importance of your choice of language to me. I’ve been sworn at by more hard-assed atheists than you — I mentioned it only because someone else raised the issue.

        This, apparently, is what one gets in lieu of a rebuttal here. Oh, well, at least it’s amusing.

        • Daniel Schealler
          Posted April 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          As regards to tone:

          My position on tone is a (perhaps) peculiar one.

          I resent being treated with the kiddie gloves. I take it as a form of condescension to have someone go soft on me, and endeavor not to do similarly to others.

          And yes: I am assertive, direct, critical. I adopt the ethos and pathos of the anti-authority: Unearned respect is an oxymoron, and arguments should be judged for themselves, not the standing or emotional wellbeing of their authors. I care nothing for your credentials or your emotions. Give me the argument!

          And yes, I am rude – if by ‘rudeness’ we mean merely the expressive vocabulary of the expletives: fuck, damn, shit, cunt, motherfucker, and so on. They’re just so satisfying, and communicative in a way that other words are not.

          But in my defense (if such is necessary):

          1) I dish out nothing I am not prepared to take myself
          2) I am as quick to apology and friendship as I am to insult and enmity
          3) I try at all times to be clear and state my case in full

          There is more friendliness beneath my words than may at first appear to be the case. I have these exact same arguments over beer, coffee and chips with my closest friends – and in stronger and more offensive tones, to boot.

          Perhaps that is of little consolation to some… But still, it doesn’t hurt to keep that in mind, methinks.

          You started off with a claim:

          “Christianity has almost ALWAYS emphasized the need for reason and for evidence, and to evaluate faith by those things.”

          But you didn’t back up that claim with any form of example or demonstration: We have a different understanding of the term ‘substance’, it seems.

          I had to head over to your website to have a look for something more substantial. “Faith and Reason” looked like a promising title, so in I dove.

          http://christthetao.homestead.com/articles/FaithandReason.pdf

          I assume that the article I have linked to is representative of the arguments that you are referring to but refusing to make explicitly here. If that assumption turns out to be wrong – well, dismiss my objections and receive my defense: As you refused to make your argument explicitly, I had to go elsewhere to try and wring it out of you. Blood from a stone, and all that.

          Anyway.

          In the article to which I linked, you’ve provided many examples of religious thinkers who have all claimed that faith and reason are mutually supportive.

          That in itself is unsurprising to me. In my experience, most of the believers I have spoken with claim to have a reasonable basis for their faith.

          However, I’ve found that when it comes down to brass tacks, none of them actually have evidence to rest their views upon. This isn’t to suggest that the believers are unintelligent or foolish or unaware. To the contrary – the more intelligent the believer, the more elaborate and sophisticated is their rhetorical footwork as they dance around on the quicksand of evidence-based reason, avoiding it’s sucking grasp at all costs.

          The ‘evidence’ that believers actually give is always terrible. Consider again my examples above.

          So yes. You’ve claimed that Christianity has ALWAYS been concerned with reason and evidence. And I believe your sincerity in that claim.

          You have (elsewhere) provided a long list of other prominent Christian thinkers who have made the same claim. I accept that these Christian thinkers exist, and have also made these claims. I accept their sincerity as well.

          So again – I accept that Christian thinkers have for many hundreds of years claimed that their faith is the foundation of, and supported by, reason and evidence.

          But I do not accept that those claims have been demonstrated to be true. Just because people say their beliefs are based on reason and evidence, doesn’t mean that they actually are.

          For the life of me, I couldn’t find anything in that article to pin down as actual evidence. Lots of the usual theological handwaving, such as Augustine’s Five ‘Proofs’ for (I do appreciate that you used scare quotes for the word ‘proofs’ in the original text).

          But nothing concrete -> You’ll note that this has been my objection to your claim all along.

          Now in all fairness – perhaps I missed something. It’s a longish article, and I could easily have missed a sentence or two.

          If so – what, then, did I miss?

  53. Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I know this comment will get buried way beyond where anyone will read it, but I think it’s an important point and I can’t help but make it.

    Science develops naturalistic models to describe phenomena. These models themselves are provisional and imperfect, and will probably be improved or thrown out at some point. But the naturalism at the core of the process is rock-solid. The assumption, belief, framework, world-view, time-tested fact, call it what you will, the idea that we CAN develop naturalistic models to describe ANY observable phenomenon, THAT is what scientists (and other naturalists, and atheists) are confident about, and it is THAT confidence that religious people find irritating (despite how they are just as confident that some things CAN’T be described by naturalistic models, and history does not favor that belief).

    So it’s not whether scientists and atheists are confident/not-confident about our naturalistic models. Everyone knows we’re not. It’s about whether scientists and atheists are confident in naturalism as an approach that can explain everything. This, we ARE confident in (and history supports our confidence), to the vexation of believers / supernaturalists.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re right about this being what theists find irritating — or more likely “smug” or “arrogant” — about the gnu position, and there’s a way in which I strongly agree with it, but there’s a way in which I disagree with it too.

      The problem is the distinction between “naturalistic” and…well, anything else. Suppose ghosts are real, and people do actually see them from time to time. Well, the ghost must be influencing some part of the brain, probably mediated by the emission of photons. But if the ghost is emitting photons, there must be some how of the matter, there is a way that the ghosts are emitting photons.

      I’m not dogmatically opposed to supposedly “supernatural” concepts like ghosts or souls or what not. But if we are going to posit such entities, there must be A) some real-world phenomenon we’re trying to explain by doing so and B) some way of investigating the “how” so that we can find out how to fit this “supernatural” phenomenon into our “naturalistic” framework.

      But this isn’t any different from doing science normally. It’s just normal, naturalistic theorizing hopefully tested through some rigorously empirical research program.

      Another way to put it is that our actual naturalistic explanations are actually metaphysically stranger and less intuitive than our “supernatural” explanations (which tend to be all too intuitive). Quantum entanglement is WEIRD, man! The stuff that turned out to be real is even crazier and harder to believe than the stuff that didn’t turn out to be real.

      The natural is more mysterious than the purportedly supernatural, and at this point in history, that’s part of what makes it so plausible. Ghosts, demons, and disembodied wills with master plans all sound like things that were made up by human minds. Quantum electrodynamics and general relativity, on the other hand, are almost pathologically counterintuitive. Who would — or even could — make such things up?

      I think a big part of the problem is a lot of theists read “naturalistic” and think “like a wind-up toy” when really naturalistic explanations are no longer strictly mechanistic and are usually actually much weirder than the so-called supernatural ones.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted April 14, 2011 at 4:04 am | Permalink

        Any phenomenon that somehow interacts with thought, either must do so through the known forces:
        * electroweak
        * strong nuclear
        * gravitation
        or act via an as yet unknown force.

        Both scenarios are entirely naturalistic.
        The “mechanistic” explanations that were held so fond of pre-20th century folk are simply a subset of the above forces, vis: electromagnetic.

      • Posted April 14, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        I agree that the natural vs supernatural distinction, when scrutinized with some philosophical rigor, isn’t as substantial as I would like it to be. If it can be observed, then indeed it is somehow “natural”!

        I guess I can be a little more precise:

        Some people believe that all observed phenomena can be modeled as bunches of effects of causal mechanisms, while other people believe that some phenomena somehow by their very nature cannot be understood in such a mechanical way. The first group believes that all phenomena are understandable, the second group believes that some phenomena are not.

        Bottom line: Can some of the phenomena in our world (the creation of the universe, the rise of complex life, the nature of our consciousness and intuitions and desires and emotions and suffering and happiness) simply not be modeled as mechanical causal mechanisms, as quasi-deterministic interactions between dumb parts that behave as per strict rules? Some people (who I think can be called “supernaturalists”, it’s close enough) believe that Yes, some things CANNOT be modeled as causal systems. And these people believe that it’s arrogant of us to believe otherwise (even though, as I keep saying, history is on our side).

        So “naturalism” kind of addresses this divide, “mechanism” does too, and “scientism” does too. Yes, the words are imprecise, but the divide in belief is there, and it’s worth thinking about and seeing for what it is.

        • articulett
          Posted April 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          To me “scientism” is a word used by believers in the supernatural who don’t like their particular supernatural beliefs treated the way they, themselves, treat supernatural beliefs they don’t share.

          Religionists are all for scientists debunking gypsy curses, but not the 3-in-1 Jesus-god they imagine themselves saved for believing in. They may be behind the debunking of reincarnation– but not be in favor of scientists debunking their brands of heaven and hell.

          I note that the accusations of scientism are usually made by those who want their “woo” treated as “true” –and not like all that other “woo” they don’t buy into.

  54. Posted June 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I think you have taken Marilynne Robinson’s book “Absence of Mind” as an attack on science. It is not.
    It is a piece of literary criticism, and the object of enquiry is the genre of writing that she calls “parascience”: popular science writers (many of whom are scientists) writing about aspects of human nature and society.

    Dr Robinson brings her “expertise” as a writer to bear on writing that has it’s effect not as science but as literature (of a kind).
    You say “scientists are nearly always tentative in their conclusions”. When it comes to human nature, the mind, value, etc., there are clearly a prominent few who are not, and their pronouncements are influential not because they are intellectually sound, but by virtue of their authors’ standing as scientists such that the pronouncements can be passed off as scientific.


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