Michael Ruse: Heaven and miracles are perfectly consistent with science

There is a group of Sophisticated Philosophers who, though a nonbelievers themselves, feel compelled to occasionally don the mantle of Sophisticated Theologian© and help the faithful find ways to comport their religion with modern science.  Two specimens are Michael Ruse and Elliott Sober. We’ve previously discussed how Sober finds God-guided mutations logically compatible with evolution, and I’ve reviewed in another place Michael Ruse’s previous attempt to comport science with Christianity: his book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (The answer, of course, is “certainly!”)

I’m not sure why atheist/agnostic philosophers want to spend their time harmonizing science with the very religious beliefs they reject.  Sober, for example, doesn’t believe in God-guided mutations, but goes around telling the faithful that God could help Darwin along by occasionally tweaking the DNA.  And Ruse is a nonbeliever as well. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t suggest the motivations for this, but none of them seem savory to me.  I could talk about “belief in belief,” or early religious belief that, once rejected, still lingers, but who knows?

So today I’ll inflict on you yet another attempt at accommodation by Michael Ruse; it comes from his latest book, Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science (Cambridge University Press, 2010). It’s a strange book: most of it is about the history of science and philosophy, with the usual potted discussions of Hume, Kant, Aristotle, Descartes, and so on, but in the end he tackles the question of whether the main tenets of Christianity can live in harmony with science. His foregone conclusion: “Certainly!”.

Ruse sees four defining characteristics of Christianity that can be examined in light of science (quoted from p. 182):

  1. There is a God who is creator, “maker of heaven and earth”.
  2. We humans have duties, moral tasks hear on earth in the execution of which we are going to be judged. Hence, God stands behind morality.
  3. Jesus Christ came to earth and suffered because we humans are special, we are worth the effort by God. . . We have souls.
  4. There is the promise of “life everlasting”. . . we can go to heaven, whatever that means.

He then spends the rest of the book showing how all of this is logically compatible with science. No, he doesn’t give any evidence—that’s not his tactic.  He wants to show that science “can’t lay a finger” on any of these claims. His thesis (p. 183) is this: “The Christian’s claims are not refuted by modern science—or indeed threatened or made less probable by modern science.”

To give an idea of how his argument works, let’s look at his discussion of the afterlife on pp. 226-227 of the book. Bear with me, even if you feel a rising nausea:

There are many more details and issues that could be raised here. We might discuss the nature of hell, or the possibility of God extending his mercy and eternal life to all humans and not to just a select few, or the prospects of salvation for children and others (including those born before Jesus or those born in lands unaware of the Christian message). But, whatever the relative importance of these and like issues, for our purposes enough of the basic Christian picture of future things and hopes has now been presented. Remember, the question is not whether we ought to accept it. Rather, the question is whether someone who accepts modern science has any good reason to reject it purely on the grounds of science. Of course the scientist might well want to deny the possibility of life after death, whether as a disembodied mind or as a resurrected body.  The question is whether one can do this on the grounds of science.  If the claim were being made that, say, somewhere else in the universe we shall find Saint Paul and Julius Caesar and Napoleon and Charles Darwin—as minds alone or with bodies also—then as a scientist one might be skeptical.  But this is not the claim.  It is rather that there is another dimension of existence where resurrected bodies exist—or minds, if that is all. It is the place of the spiritual body.  As such, I doubt that science can lay a finger on the idea. The scientist may not much care for the religious claims—the philosopher Bernard Williams (1973) once wrote an article on “the tedium of immortality”—but he or she is not able to reject them on the grounds that they go against scientific understanding.

Indeed, science can’t prove that there’s no heaven, but of course we’re not in the business of proving anything. Rather, science is in the business of concocting models that best represent the universe we see.  We can’t disprove some other plane of existence, but neither can we disprove that there are invisible unicorns that influence our destiny, or that we are merely the reincarnations of beings that existed in previous ages.

The question is not whether some logical possibility can be disproven, but this:  what grounds do we have to believe that we live on after death?  If we can’t find any, why should we believe it, much less condition our entire lives on that premise?

And on what grounds should a scientist be skeptical that his soul might commune with that of Charles Darwin (a consummation devoutly to be wished!), but yet have nothing to say about whether other resurrected bodies or minds might exist in some celestial territory?

And the idea of an afterlife does go against scientific understanding for at least one big reason: our understanding of the universe does not require—or even suggest—the existence of such a thing. One could find other reasons why the afterlife “goes against scientific understanding.”  As best we know, our personalities and our memories—everything that constitutes who we are as people, spiritual or material—reside in our bodies and brains, which vanish completely when we die.  All those memories we have are coded in our neurons, which rot away soon after death.  Further, the claims of “near death experiences,” in which people begin their trip to the celestial realm of souls but are rudely  interrupted in transit, have been debunked.  As Christopher Hitchens’s famous claim goes, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

Now Ruse would probably reply that religious claims don’t require scientific evidence—that they are based on faith, revelation, and teachings of the church.  But we have no confidence that those give us any reliable information about “realities” like heaven or an afterlife, if for no other reason than that different faiths give different answers. Many Jews don’t accept an afterlife, many Hindus believe not in a celestial realm of souls but in reincarnation, and Buddhists don’t have a heaven at all.

What about miracles?  Don’t those violate the scientific claim that there are unbroken regularities (“laws” if you will) in the physical universe? Ruse says, well, yes, miracles like the Resurrection might be straight-out violations of physical law but that “Christian miracles are not trying to do the work of science at all. They are about something entirely different, and they are simply laid across the world of science.” (p. 207).  Laid across? They either comport with what we know about science or they don’t.  There is no “laying across” science.  There may be philosophy going on here, but if so it is so subtle that I don’t understand it.

But Ruse offers another explanation of miracles—that they aren’t supernatural at all but merely natural occurrences that had a powerful effect.  He says this about the Resurrection, for instance, claiming that maybe Jesus really did rot away, and that the “miracle” was not that he was raised from the dead but that his disciples were heartened rather than downtrodden by his death, and went forth to preach the gospel—an example of what Ruse called “group psychology.”

These apologetics are at their most amusing when Ruse proffers the faithful an explanation of how Jesus’s conversion of water into wine might have not been a “real” miracle after all (pp. 205-206):

First, in the spirit of Augustine, one argues that miracles do not necessarily involve a breaking of natural law. It is more a matter of meaning than of peculiar happenings. . . When Jesus turned the water into wine and when he fed the five thousand, it is much more probable that people were really moved by his presence and preaching to do that which they would not have done otherwise. The host at the wedding had not meant to bring out his good wine, and then, shamed by Jesus, he did just that. The multitude had no intention of sharing and then, moved by Jesus, they did give to those who had little or none. In fact, a case might be made for saying that this puts Jesus into a better light than if he actually were changing water into wine and multiplying loaves and fishes. To think literally is to change Jesus into some kind of fancy caterer.

Yes, “OMG, Jesus is here! I’d better break out the Chateau Lafitte ’32!”  This is not philosophy, but the most laughable form of apologetics—theology turning scientific necessities into spiritual virtues. This resembles what theologians did when confronted with the ineluctable fact of evolution: they just claimed that it was, upon judicious reflection, better for God to have created through a “self-sustaining process” rather than ex nihilo.

I guess Ruse sees himself as a theologian as well as a philosopher, but I fail to understand why he produces this kind of intellectual pablum.  If he wishes to bring together science and faith, his avowed aim, does he really think that Christians will buy this? Does he not see that his solution waters down religion so much that it becomes a kind of spiritual homeopathy, impotent to cure the longings of the faithful?

Well, maybe lots of religious people will be relieved to know that Jesus wasn’t a fancy caterer, but I don’t believe it.

156 Comments

  1. Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Ruse is right, of course, that science cannot disprove crazy untestable hypotheses like an afterlife which takes place in an undetectable alternate realm of spacetime. But what science can do with such a claim is to place it on par with the hypothesis that, at this very moment, billions of kittehs are exploding out of my butt into this same undetectable alternate realm. Science can’t touch that claim either.

    If the claim Ruse wants to make is that religion is analogous to the belief that an impossible number of cats are flying out of my ass, I will happily agree with him.

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      James,

      Indeed, I think you’re right about where the debate stands.

      Ruse has pointed out that strictly speaking, it’s difficult to find positive scientific evidence against a lot of religious claims. This may indeed be another instance of the reviled accommodationism, and whether atheists and philosophers are right to engage in it depends on social science research and consequentialistic reasoning: What, in the end, will get people to finally accept science? And is that goal important enough to spend time defending theses like Ruse’s?

      Science has shown that religious hypotheses are unnecessary to provide a reliable picture of the world, and that there seems to be no evidence for them. So Ruse’s observation that science doesn’t directly provide evidence against them, except perhaps when conjoined with philosophy of science principles such as principles of parsimony, does seem to leave religion on an evidential par with crazy hypotheses.

      Whether there is more overall evidence for a religious hypothesis than for, e.g., your gigacat excretory hypothesis, will depend on whether you are willing to count religious experience (for example) as evidence, which is a debate that goes far beyond this post. But I think Jerry and you are right that Ruse’s observations about science alone should give very little comfort to believers.

    • Rayl
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Does Ruse believe in Santa Claus? If not, why not?

      • J.J E.
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        He doesn’t, but it would be presumptuous of scientists to claim science supports this position. Aclausists can’t put their fingers on the Santa hypothesis…

        • gbjames
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          And that is the entire Rusediculous argument.

    • Juggler_Dave
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      James, I shudder when I wonder what kind of sensations you are experiencing. Hope their claws are in.

  2. Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    I think Ruse has got something with this miracles-that-are-not-miracles, though. Jesus inspired the host to bust out with more booze. Jesus inspired those with food to feed the masses. And when he was crucified, Jesus’ life inspired his followers to pull a Weekend at Bernie’s three days after he was buried.

    https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-dYg2PuMAC7A/T9yIgTzsyRI/AAAAAAAAAYM/kbIKBcNSdpY/s640/weekend%2520at%2520christs.jpg

  3. Adam
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    If the wine can be explained naturally, then why can’t the Resurrection?

    I don’t know any “real” Christians who think that water to wine episode is disposable. They would all say that if it wasn’t miraculous, then their faith is misplaced.

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      That’s a common problem with accommodationism. The version of Christianity that comes out of it isn’t palatable to Christians anyway, so at best it’s ineffective at its supposed goal; at worst, it’s seen (correctly) as insultingly condescending.

      • Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        I have heard liberal Christians claim that the loaves and fishes weren’t miraculous but inspired sharing, and the resurrection wasn’t literal but a metaphor for the hope that Jesus’ death gave the disciples. (Another word for that is denial.)

        Haven’t heard the Scroogy-wedding-host’s-heart-softened-at-Cana story before though. Wouldn’t the host be the bride’s or groom’s father, and if he holds back on the wine at their wedding, when’s he saving it for?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

          He’s saving it for the “my daughter is finally out of the house” party.

  4. Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    If I were teaching an intro biology class (unlikely, since I am not a biologist), I would probably try to assure religious students that they could learn the material and get good grades without compromising their religious beliefs. Perhaps I would also tell them that what they would learn might cause them to question some of their beliefs.

    Isn’t Ruse just doing something like that – reassuring religious folk that they can study science without compromising their religious beliefs?

    There might be good reasons to criticize Ruse, but this particular one doesn’t seem worth the blog space.

    • lamacher
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      That’s right: teach kids gobble-de-gook, what possible harm can that do?

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      If I were teaching a science class in a public school, I wouldn’t even hint at the “R” word. And, if a student were to press the issue, my response would be something along the lines of, “This is a science class that deals strictly with well-evidenced and well-reasoned ideas that have survived the gauntlet of the peer review process. What you’re talking about does not fit that description. If you disagree, please bring me a copy of Nature or a journal of comparable stature and relevance which explicitly reaffirms your religion’s Credo. If you wish to discuss this topic further, you’ll have to do so outside of class and with somebody other than me. If you have a ‘spiritual advisor’ or the equivalent, he or she may be able to provide you with answers more to your liking.”

      And if this was in a private institution without a policy requiring that religion be protected? I’d tell the student to grow up, that Santa isn’t real and there aren’t any monsters under the bed, and can we please get back to the subject at hand? If not, the student is welcome to go straight to the administrative office and see about getting a refund.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        I teach in a private university, and my usual answer if students bring up the evolution vs. faith question is Ben’s last one: I say they should consult their religious counselor to see how one can accommodate evolution with their faith. I don’t like to get into theology with students, though if they press me I will tell them what I think.

        • Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          As if they wouldn’t already know! Which of your students aren’t aware of this bl– website?

          /@

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

            Actually, probably not many. I never mention it in class. But I don’t know for sure.

            • Dawn Oz
              Posted June 17, 2012 at 12:03 am | Permalink

              I admire your discipline in sticking to the facts. I’m amazed it doesn’t come up more often.

              Thanks again for reading this tripe and giving us the digested version.

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      Ben and Jerry have it right. (Oh whoops that was unintentional… Really!) Science class is not the place to discuss science/religion compatibility, as it is a primarily philosophical question (and one that comes with heavy baggage, at that).

      • Daryl
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        What delicious irony. When I see Mr. Sweet say Ben and Jerry, I scream!

        – Apologies to anyone who just had the misfortune of reading this *walks away in shame*

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        I can agree with the conclusion but not the premise. It is a rather well founded observation that science and religion differ in most things, from way of making claims to the claims themselves.

        The theological remains is equivalent to a gods-of-the-gaps claim. And even that is incompatible with science in most cases, as if there is a generic law covering the remaining likelihood it is both “beyond reasonable doubt” insignificant and not a generic problem. (Say, miracles that would break conservation of energy.)

        With the latter claim I mean that science itself can’t extinguish excemptions as it support them. For example, there is a minute likelihood that the coffee cup on my table will suddenly jump into the air as enough of its molecules moves in the same direction. The average waiting time is much longer than the age of the universe, but in principle it _could_ happen.

        Likewise, quantum fluctuations can instantiate systems of any size, given enough time, even new universes. (This is an actual problem in some theories of universes, starting with those that needs observers such as anthropic selection theories – so called Boltzmann’s Brains.)

        I think it behooves us to point out that gods-of-the-gaps claims are silly, defensive and strawman. But science class is (usually) not the place to do that.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

          Exemption.

    • articulett
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      What if their religious belief is that they’ll be tortured for all eternity by a “loving god” unless they believe a particular creation story?

      What if their religious beliefs involve belief in demon possession and the idea that witches could be real?

      How can science be a “candle in the dark” if it has to pretend that such religious magical beliefs are more respectable than other myths/superstitions?

      We need to give students the tools they need to reason their way out of their superstitions; we don’t need to be encouraging the notion that god-related superstitions are immune from scientific scrutiny.

  5. Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    A small undecided minority may buy into Ruse’s ideas but true believers and non believers will laugh. Ruse’s ideas may offer a compromise to a few cowards who cannot make up their minds. Oh yes, he is the biggest coward of all.

  6. Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Claims without evidence are simple lies. Claims without any chance of evidence are pernicious lies. Simple.

  7. Peter Beattie
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    » Jerry:
    There may be philosophy going on here

    Nah, it’s just bullshit. Seriously, Ruse’s mind contortionism is a joke.

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      There’s a difference?

      b&

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

        I do appreciate the joke, but please tell me if this is helpful at all. If so, then yes, there is a difference. :)

  8. Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Actually, the Christian spirit realm shamelessly and radically violates the law of conservation. All those spirits interacting with the world are doing so without expending worldly energy. They’re perpetual motion machines, each and every one of them.

    That extends to the after-death as well, of course. The only way for the essence of your mind to make it to Heaven would be for Jesus to transcribe your brain somehow, which would require a non-trivial amount of energy. At a very rough guess, well north of a killowatt-hour, I should think.

    The absolute best Ruse could possibly hope for is that we’re in some sort of a Matrix-style simulation and that all the Christian nonsense is Jesus tweawking the source code. I’ll even grant him that it’s provable that there’s no logical way to disprove such an hypothesis, and for strikingly similar reasons as why the Halting Problem is insolvable. But the problem for Christians if such is true is that Jesus could well be, himself, but a subroutine on the Invisible Pink Unicorn’s pocket calculator and he’d be as clueless about the fact as we are.

    Then, of course, there’s the inconvenient fact that Christianity is one of the most obviously made-up religions in all of human history….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      “Christianity is one of the most obviously made-up religions in all of human history….”
      Factual niggle – more obviously than Scientology or Mormonism, when we know who made them up?

      • Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        I did write, “one of,” didn’t I?

        Yes, Scientology is perhaps the best-documented example of a made-up religion, and the Morons are especially obviously Moronic. But the very first Christian apologists, no less a personage than Saint Justin Martyr himself, dedicated his life to detailing all the ways that Christianity was just like all the other popular Pagan religions of the day…it’s kinda hard to beat that, and as such constitutes much better documentation than we have for Judaism, Buddhism, Paganism, and the like.

        Cheers,

        b&

  9. gbjames
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    It is only 9AM here in Milwaukee. After reading this I need a drink. Will someone please turn my coffee into Johnny Walker Black for me?

    • Achrachno
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Done! But I imagine you’re about ready for lunch now.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        Thank you! Oddly, the flavor didn’t change, but the beverage was black after the miracle of transubstantiation!

        • Achrachno
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          I’m a rather low-grade deity. Sorry.

          • gbjames
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

            That’s OK. I’m a rather low grade acolyte.

  10. Frank
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Argument of this sort is so contrived and transparently silly, one cannot help but wonder about Ruse’s true motivations – and if he himself is fully conscious of them. Pop psychology is a dubious excercise, but I wonder if, deep down in his non-existent soul, Ruse wants to suck on the pacifier of immortality. How else can a serious person say that Christian miracles are not trying to do the “work of science” (who ever said they were?) or that miracles are “laid across” science? If he doesn’t want to believe in immortality and souls for himself, perhaps he has noted how the new atheists have generation so much disdain among both believers and accomodationists, and he wants to be the popular guy at the prom.

    I was never quite sure about the Tom Hanks line that there is no crying in baseball, but I guess we’ll now have to remember the Coynian maxim that ‘There is no “laying across” science’.

  11. Peter Beattie
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    If only Ruse would be so honest and say: if your claim is that Darwin and Caesar are hanging out somewhere in the universe, then science can debunk that; but if you posit a completely imaginary ‘plane of being’, however, then science cannot lay a finger on that because it is entirely imaginary. I’m sure we could all get behind that.

    This is of course equivalent to saying: in order to dismiss your claims, I do not even need to get out my science, because general critical rationalism will do just fine. To consider it a defence of an idea that it is so imaginary that science can’t touch it is the intellectal equivalent of being inanely proud of your fashionable red rubber nose and oversize shoes.

  12. Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I think the most disturbing thing about his writing is that, under the surface, he seems fully aware that there are many *rational* argument to reject the idea of god, but he insists only on assessing *empirical* arguments that could disprove the idea, as if that’s ever been a valid way of maintaining belief.

    I just don’t understand why anyone would write this nonsense given a lack of belief.

  13. newenglandbob
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    His [Ruse] foregone conclusion: “Certainly!”.
    </
    I think you need to change this to "Sointenly!" because it appears he wrote this stuff with the collaboration of the Three Stooges. It gives as many laughs as any of their movies.

    • steve oberski
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      I’ll have you know that the Stooges (there were more than 3 of them over the years) were comedic geniuses and consummate professionals and I take issue with the sullying of their memory by associating them with hacks like Ruse.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        I never confused the Stooges with comic geniuses. Still, I agree with your point.

        • steve oberski
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

          I resemble that remark !

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    You can fit a square peg into a round hole, but it usually ends up damaging the peg.

    http://www.teawith.me.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/square-peg-round-hole.jpg

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Very late followup post.

      What bothers me is Ruse’s enthusiastic claim that religion and science are completely compatible which seems slightly insincere.

      IMO, if Christianity and science both make compromises, you have a tenuous compatibility. Christianity must give up Biblical literalism. Science must give up attempts to find evolutionary/naturalistic explanations for the emergence of morality, altruism, etc. Give up some turf, and you have a bridge between religion and science but a rickety one.

      Then you still have the sticky problem of methodological differences between religion and science (not to mention theology being a Tower of Babel with no clear methodology).

      I think that Eugenie Scott (on the atheist side) and Francis Collins (on the Christian side) are both entirely sincere in their accomodationist stance, but Ruse somehow seems especially disengenuous.

  15. Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Why are we ridiculing the parts where Ruse offers naturalistic explanations for the miracle claims in the Bible? Isn’t that precisely the road down which we want people to go?

    • Juggler_Dave
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Two reasons for me: 1, this isn’t what people actually believe who believe in the bible and they are very unlikely to buy Ruse’s explanations. 2, if Ruse isn’t a believer, then why the effort to harmonize Christianity with reality? 3, (3, there are 3 reasons) no, I don’t particularly want people to seek naturalistic explanations – I want them to compare the tawdry miracles (like water into wine) with miracle claims of other religions and draw a conclusion about their own religion similar to the conclusion they’ve already drawn about other religions.

      • Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        And what conclusion is that that you want them to draw? Isn’t it that there’s a more likely explanation for what seemed to be a miracle?

        • Juggler_Dave
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          The conclusion? That it’s all made up. Elephant-headed gods, horses flying up to heaven, evil galactic overlords, talking donkeys, petty gods cursing fig trees – all made up.

          • Posted June 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            Yes!

            /@

            • Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

              Hey, watch it. I have an actual video of an evil galactic overlord cursing a fig tree!

              • Juggler_Dave
                Posted June 17, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

                Was it riding a talking donkey?

        • Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          You seem to be suggesting that the Bible is a reliable record of actual historical events. On what evidence do you base this batshit insane notion?

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      But he doesn’t – he offers unlikely explanations up to and including conspiracy theories. (People moved to give away food after speeches.) That isn’t what empirical science does.

      The naturalistic explanation is that this religious text, as all others, is completely made up. There is nothing in it which correlates with physics, biology, medicine, anthropology or even historical data. (Except, I believe, one judean king that is actually supported in other historical texts, as well as some of the cities like Jerusalem.)

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      When discussing a book that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; that continues with a talking plant that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and ends with a bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy that involves a guy fondling a living dead man’s innards, is it more appropriate to give rational naturalistic explanations for how all that might have really seemed to have happen, or to tell the dumb fool who buys into that idiocy to grow up already?

      Cheers,

      b&

  16. Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Ruse is completely off his chump! What’s the matter with this guy?! Is he so concerned about the status of religion that he’s prepared to utter platitudes in defence of it? Of course, there’s no reason there could be no heaven, just as there might well have been — so far as logic is concerned — a tooth fairy. But this is platitudinous, petulant stuff, and Ruse should be ashamed to resort to such nonsense.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      He only does it to annoy
      Because he knows it teases…

    • Achrachno
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      “Ruse is completely off his chump! ”

      I don’t know what that means, but it sounds right. Sadly.

  17. MAUCH
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Ruse seems to think that if you play nice with a mere mortal such as myself and give us our innocuous little faith and we will leave science alone. Don’t count on it. It’s so much easier for us to go with faith in miracles than to have to figure out the real world. Then we take this same reliance on delusion and use it to formulate national policy to gut science and do god knows what else.

  18. Daryl
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Doen’t people like Ruse realise that in coming up with naturalistic ad hoc explanations for Jesus’ miracles, they’re actually disproving the bible? I dunno. Someone should lend him a copy of David Friedrich Strauss’s ‘Life of Jesus Critically Examined.’ Granted, it’s a hefty read, but it skewered this kind of thinking the best part of 200 years ago.

    • Achrachno
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Yes, 1835. Thanks. I’d forgotten he was so early. All I ever read of his was “The Old Faith and the New” from 1873, so I had him stored in a late 19th century cubby in my brain.

    • Frank
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      It WAS early, and we should remember that the first major translation of this work by Strauss into English was completed by the incomparable (and skeptic) George Eliot – it was her first literary work before she published any of the great novels.

  19. Egbert
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Ruse is a philistine. It’s probably not worth much more analysis beyond that.

    • lamacher
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Don’t denigrate the Philistines! In reality, they were far more civilized and cultured than were the hebrew rabble that periodically came down from the hills to steal cattle and crops.

  20. Mark Joseph
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    As many have pointed out, there is no need to disprove something that’s not logically impossible, but for which there is no evidence (and indeed, as bestss posted, no chance of evidence); it’s enough to compare it to the Invisible Pink Unicorn. So Dr. Coyne states that “Indeed, science can’t prove that there’s no heaven.” True ‘nuf; the proper approach is John Lennon’s: “Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try.”

  21. Achrachno
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Ruse is an unfortunate case. 30 years ago one of his books was the first I ever read on the creation/evolution debates, and I liked it very much. Probably still would, except I loaned it to someone and never got it back.

    But, c. 15 years ago when I was debating believers on Christian message boards (yes, I’m an ex-troll, but a polite one)Christians began quoting Ruse in defense of their positions. Big sigh. He’s not improved much since then, has he? I wonder what happened? Or, did I just not notice the accommodationism way back when?

    • Achrachno
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      And that book of his I liked was “Darwinism defended, a guide to the evolution controversies”, 1982. I guess I should find a copy and read it again to see if Ruse changed or if I did.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        I’ve read some of his earlier stuff. As far as I can tell, he changed about the time he also started trying to be reasonable to the pomos, oddly. (I.e., around the middle 1990s.) Or perhaps, not so oddly …

  22. Tim
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    There’s just one thing we need to get straight, is it “Sophisticated Theologian©” or is it “Sophisticated Theologian®”?

    • Tim
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      ..or is it “Sophisticated Theologian™” – not being federally registered and all.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        I prefer Theological Mumbo-jum … I mean, Theological Madne …

        Sigh! Let me try again:

        Theological Methodology™.

        … which unfortunately fragments my hard drive into giggles.

        • Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

          You can abbreviate that to TM™.

          And it’s TMs all the way up.

  23. Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Ruse has now entered the zone of chrono synclastic infundibullshit.

  24. Tim
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    It is very difficult to understand Ruse’s motivations in writing this tripe since it is so easy to parody:

    Of course the scientist might well want to deny the possibility of life after deathmy little pony, whether as a disembodied mind or as a resurrected body. The question is whether one can do this on the grounds of science. If the claim were being made that, say, somewhere else in the universe we shall find Saint Paul and Julius Caesar and Napoleon and Charles DarwinHarry Potter and Nick Carroway and Homer Simpson and Nick Fury—as minds alone or with bodies also—then as a scientist one might be skeptical. But this is not the claim. It is rather that there is another dimension of existence where resurrected bodies exist—or mindsreanimated heads, if that is all. It is the place of the spiritual body. As such, I doubt that science can lay a finger on the idea.

    Is it not obvious that to say, in the sense Ruse is saying it, that such things can not be “disproven” is to say that any silly thing is “possible”.

    • Tim
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      dang, the strikethroughs didn’t work

    • Tim
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Of course the scientist might well want to deny the possibility of life after deathmy little pony, whether as a disembodied mind or as a resurrected body. The question is whether one can do this on the grounds of science. If the claim were being made that, say, somewhere else in the universe we shall find Saint Paul and Julius Caesar and Napoleon and Charles DarwinHarry Potter and Nick Carroway and Homer Simpson and Nick Fury—as minds alone or with bodies also—then as a scientist one might be skeptical. But this is not the claim. It is rather that there is another dimension of existence where resurrected bodies exist—or mindsreanimated heads exist, if that is all. It is the place of the spiritual body. As such, I doubt that science can lay a finger on the idea.

  25. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure why atheist/agnostic philosophers want to spend their time harmonizing science with the very religious beliefs they reject. Sober, for example, doesn’t believe in God-guided mutations, but goes around telling the faithful that God could help Darwin along by occasionally tweaking the DNA. And Ruse is a nonbeliever as well. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t suggest the motivations for this, but none of them seem savory to me.

    Sober and Ruse are mere politicians: mirrors that reflect, and more importantly, collect from their audiences. These men (and certainly their publishers) probably feel that scientists like you, Professor Coyne, and Professor Dawkins, have cornered the market on telling the truth, and therefore the only real bookselling money to be made is by adopting the contrarian/accommodationist stance. They are essentially snake-oil salesmen.

    Unfortunately, while the cash registers continue to ring at bookstores, the profitable accommodationism of religion continues to poison our world and cause tremendous suffering. Good job, Sober and Ruse!

  26. Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    What a waste of words! The only question I’d like to ask him is: Why do you do this?

  27. Myron
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    “The question is not whether some logical possibility can be disproven, but this:  what grounds do we have to believe that we live on after death?  If we can’t find any, why should we believe it, much less condition our entire lives on that premise?” – J. Coyne

    The first question is the one posed by the critical conceptual analyst: Do supernaturalistic concepts such as “soul”, “afterlife”, “heaven”, “hell” make logico-rational sense? Are they coherent, intelligible?
    For if they are not, they do not represent real possibilities; and then the existence of the corresponding supernatural things or events can be ruled out a priori.
    For example, the concept of a spiritual body is incoherent, since bodies are material by definition. A spatially extended ghost isn’t a pure spirit in the philosophical sense but an exotic material being.

  28. ManOutOfTime
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Further evidence that accommodationism involves making one or the other – science and religion – into something it is not. The clever Ruse manages to make both into something they are not! This genre has such an air of desperation: intelligent minds using pretzel logic to salvage tribal wisdom in the face of what they know to be really true – science and observable reality.

    I suspect there is a high rate of de-conversion of individuals who think through their accommodations to the level Ruse has – but a much lower rate among those who make any kind of living from their faitheist spoutings.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 17, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      “It is very hard to make a man understand something when his paycheck depends upon him not understanding it.” (I’ve forgotten the source for this quote)

  29. Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    If we were going to believe in anything that cannot be “logically” disproved by current scientific evidence, then I propose we believe in the Universe-constructing inter-dimensional aliens who project themselves as mice in our world, as revealed by the Prophet Douglas of London.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    “The Christian’s claims are not refuted by modern science—or indeed threatened or made less probable by modern science.”

    This is pure, unadultered madness!

    As Coyne says, other religions threatens and makes any particular religion less likely anything else alike. Of course the independent alternative to specific religious core ideas that science represents threatens religion by making it less likely.

    And I am pretty sure Sober would tell Ruse that if he asks him. Obviously Ruse has no official inkling about what probability theory says on probabilities.

    Also, it isn’t only scientists, skeptics and – yes – atheists that says this, the religious mostly agree as we know from statistics. Now I don’t mean to say that observing that people feel incompatibility means that there is an incompatibility, exactly as accommodationists say that observing a few religious scientists means there is a compatibility. I mean to say that if so many feel threatened, they should have good reasons for that.

    And they do, as opposed to Ruse and accommodationism they see that science contradict christian beliefs. Creation of universe and planets, creation of man, existence of souls, source of morality, existence of a human pair bottleneck, existence of global flooding, existence of zombies – all rejected.

  31. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    If we are dissing religion, in the context I had a pile of bricks hit my face from cultural differences today.

    A US military stray hidden here for nearly 30 years has put out an interview to give his version of the story. He describes how he found out that there were no european pacifist churches as a history of membership in such a community was part of his motivation and he wanted to rejoin. Because “all” european churches are pacifist.

    I never thought it through, that there could be an environment that let US churces more or less openly support war. Overwhelmingly, democracies are opposed to war, which is a main reason why the rate of war has gone down. But US is truly a dysfunctional society. Silly me!

  32. Jeremy Nel
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Remember, the question is not whether we ought to accept it. Rather, the question is whether someone who accepts modern science has any good reason to reject it purely on the grounds of science.

    You know, the thing is, Ruse’s article is atrocious philosophy, not just atrocious science. Just take the quote above – if science (broadly construed) can’t give you reasons to reject a hypothesis that can’t otherwise be proved wrong on pure logical grounds, what the hell can??

    Why do you ever reject such hypotheses then? I suspect if Ruse answered this question, he would realise that everything else he says here unravels suddenly.

    • Jeremy Nel
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I suppose, like so many people before him, Ruse is simply falling over himself trying to hastily retreat to some philosophical foundation – no matter how bizarre – on which to base religion. It is a measure of how stupid religion is, that the only safe haven philosophers can find for it is a fictional world in which hypotheses are somehow immune to scientific scrutiny, no matter how absurd.

      We win.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Maybe this comment helps clarify matters somewhat.

  33. articulett
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Demon-guided mutations are equally compatible with evolution.

  34. RFW
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    How can anybody who writes such bilge face themselves in the mirror in the morning? Or sleep at night?

    Have theologians and philosophers no shame whatsoever?

  35. Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Meh. The Celestial Teapot lives on.

  36. Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Nearly forty years ago, in assembly at secondary school, one of our teachers gave us this interpretation of the feeding of the five thousand. I thought it was a pretty feeble “miracle” even then…

    /@

  37. Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    JC sez:”Does he not see that his solution waters down religion so much that it becomes a kind of spiritual homeopathy, impotent to cure the longings of the faithful?” Well, yes and no. Spiritual homeopathy DOES cure the longings of many; I know a fair number of them – who of course are not fundies, and who rarely if ever bother with church or synagogue, but love “belief in belief.” I don’t see any point in challenging or arguing with them – they’re good folks, and we get along just fine. They have no problem with modern science. Let them be, and may their tribe increase. It’s the serious true believers that are the problem.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Believers in homeopathy have no problem with modern science? You kidding me? Belief in sympathetic magic is compatible with a scientific understanding of how to cure illness?

      Surely, you jest.

      • Achrachno
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        He means diluted religion, perhaps to the point where there’s none of the original poison left.

  38. Jose
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I have to admit it’s the first time I hear the “omg it’s jesus” theory of miracles. As far as I know catholicism considers them real, literal. The church has also accepted a few miraculous cures in Lourdes. Does the book say anything about those or about Jesus curing leprosy and blindness and resurrecting Lazarus?

  39. Jose
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a difficult task for Ruse: develop a way to distinguish real miracles from just weird phenomena. Concretely, a way to determine that fossils were not put there by Satan. They might. Why not? How do you know fossils are strictly natural?

    A second task: find a way to reject spiritism and new age crystals that can’t be applied equally well to the catholic doctrine including miracles. I don’t see differences between a psychic saying grandma is listening and a priest saying God is listening, but maybe I should. How?

  40. stevenjohnson
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Ruse’s problem (or his ruse) is citing “modern science.” Modern science is a creature that doesn’t prove anything and isn’t interested in proving anything. It resolutely insists that everything is completely provisional, to the point it rejects the concept of natural law. Modern scientists can only shamefacedly put in scare quotes when they’re trying to surreptitiously call upon the concept as a refutation of the doctrine of miracles!

    Of course, Ruse’s ruse fails if you think science has actually proved that natural law forbid miracles and material effects from supernatural agencies. I don’t understand how you say “modern science” proves nothing yet is somehow relevant to the rejection of religious claims, nor do I see how you can really justify abusing someone for conclusions from your own principles.

    To rephrase at more length: What modern science apparently wants is to “explain” nature without using such dubious ideas as natural law. It’s not really clear what constitutes a scientific “explanation” in this case. More to the point, it is also not clear how scientific “explanations” of the “modern science” sort are ever relevant to anyone not applying for a grant. When Ruse notes that “modern science” hasn’t anything relevant to say against religion, he’s simply stating a truism.

    The old, exploded notions of science as knowledge hold that natural laws we have discovered forbid any realm for “God,” or for that matter, reincarnation and karma. (There was never any reason to give Buddhists a free ride!) The demand that there should be reason to believe in God or karma or Providence or whatever was rooted in the belief that science had proved enough about nature to rule out such beliefs.

    As Ruse knows, and everybody else should too, the principle that we should only accept beliefs for reason is first of all a philosophical one. Philosophy is not constrained by notions of truth as a justified belief corresponding to reality (even the philosophies that accept there is such a thing as “reality.”) Those who do believe this however have never to my knowledge ever offered any justification for insisting that others accept this philosophical principle.

    And, practically speaking, there is the important truth that none of us (I hope) have actually spent their time independently searching out justification for all their beliefs. We necessarily accept things on authority. Since “modern science” doesn’t prove things, it does not impugn religious authority on principle. Indeed, given that most natural scientists seem to explicitly reject cause and effect and other scientific concepts as applicable to society, why not rule them out as inapplicable to religion?
    As is, “modern science” doesn’t have an answer.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      I am uncertain if you are trolling or just strawmanning.

      - “Natural law” is prescience, at the time theology, philosophy and science were married.
      - So is “prove”.
      - “Cause and effect” is philosophy, relativity made it clear that causality is the physical equivalent.

      The thread makes it interesting to make a comprehensible response though.

      1. Since science is an empirical method, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: it works. You don’t make assumptions or speculations, but propose conditions that are tested for not being wrong later.

      2. Most everyone agrees that testing is essential. If you can’t tell what is wrong, you can’t propose to tell what is right.

      3. Facts are not just so philosophical/theological truths (meaning there is no common Truth).

      But facts can be absolute observations that are tested against a common agreeable standard “beyond reasonable doubt”. There is no quick and dirty common definition, but observiing a process like standard cosmology makes facts out of processes for most.

      4. Hypotheses are, in statistics, the least testable proposition predicting an observation, again tested to a standard. Usually a less strict test standard as they can incorporate many individual observations. Again no quick and dirty common definition.

      5. Theories can then be seen as interrelated sets of hypotheses, that may make contact with other theories. They incorporate the observations that they predict, which includes the necessary conditions. This goes to test #1 above.

      6. Competing theories battle out on the market of ideas. Usually the most predictive wins, as it will be the most useful. Such a theory contains and predict many facts, it can be seen as a “superfact”.

      If they are roughly equally predictive, they can be compared by beauty measures such as parsimony. Parsimony helps usefulness, diminishes rates of errors, decreases number of reversals (change of theory).

      7. Eliminating erraneous theories can observably, by some not yet understood process, converge towards a persistent Fact. As cosmologist Sean Carroll notes, it is an observation that The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood.

      “But I do know how close we are to having a comprehensive theory of the basic laws underlying the phenomena we encounter in our everyday lives — without benefit of fancy telescopes or particle accelerators or what have you. Namely, we already have it! That seems to be worth celebrating, or at least remarking upon, but you don’t hear it mentioned very much.

      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.”

      It may simple be that a finite observable universe admits only a finite set of theories, physics has finite resources to be observable. As we correspondingly have finite resources to research physics, and it seems they for some reason suffice in a generic case, lucky us.

      Disclaimer: No beliefs were hurt, or even used, in making the above pithy, but testable, theory on “Science of Science”. Beliefs exist, but only in the mind of the believer. And that is a well known fact, or I would argue, nowadays a Fact.

      So yea, science has had an answer since several hundred years and that turned historically out to be: “junk the philosophy and theology that tend to confuse, it is enough and better to use empirical methods as that is self-consistent and successful”.

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted June 17, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        As against most notions of science currently held, Ruse is quite correct: That kind of science cannot refute religious beliefs. Further, it is not at all obvious how the modern notion of science validates the insistence that religion can justify itself only by the evidence that science accepts. I think Ruse is wrong because science has in fact showed the world is not compatible with supernatural notions. The notion that this is somehow trolling is quite bizarre, actually.

        The terms “natural law” and “prove” and “cause and effect” are natural language. If for some unknown reason you are empowered to forbid the use of natural language, I will happily translate my natural language into your characterstica universalis as soon as I find the dictionary.

        1. The claim that science’s empirical method “works” hides tacit assumptions, even if we overlook the fact that in practice science makes assumptions and speculations. What this overlooks is that the religious also assert that their religion “works.”

        I say this claim is false, because the supernatural effects required by their religious beliefs are ruled out by our knowledge of how the universe works. By my lights, this mean that their religion does not “work,” whatever personal pragmatic benefit they perceive.

        The thing is, by what seems to be your lights, you insist that religion must fit my definition of “works,” which includes compatibility with what we loosely call the laws of nature, including causality. The problem of course is that there is no reason for any religious person to accept that there is there beliefs must be compatible with the observed consistencies (or whatever you insist on calling natural law) because you don’t seem to accept that there is such a thing!

        Yes, a religious person’s view of the universe is incoherent. I say that in light of the evidence garnered by science this is a plain absurdity, that there is an internal coherence or intelligibility manifested in universal patterns of causality etc. But you don’t believe this, so it is not at all clear why any religious person should believe they must meet a standard of justification as “working” that requires the acceptance of this. I believe most religious people no more worry about causality or coherence or intelligibility in their view of the natural world than modern scientists worry about such things in their views on society etc. Not only do I think you haven’t made an argument as to why they should, you have explicitly insisted that such notions are not science, not knowledge.

        For the sake of consistency, the other points are briefly addressed.

        2. Strawman. Indeed, my point is that testing includes the compability with natural law (a term used for brevity.)

        3. Strictly speaking, a lot of this is gibberish. But the notion of “beyond reasonable doubt” once again tacitly assumes the religious are required to meet your notions of “reasonable” even though you have not provided a justification for this insistence.

        4. Science is not about predictions, it makes use of them.

        5. Theories are scientific explanations, which for one thing means they rule out supernatural phenomena. Predictions are only a single means of confirming theories, not the essence of science.

        6. Markets are not magic. If the market determines scientific truth, the notorious imperfection of markets in practice seriously undermines the credibility. May I suggest that the principle of parsimony is better expressed as, instead of an esthetic principle, the necessity for the theory to fit into a coherent, explicable, causal model of the universe. Except of course if the concept of natural law is rejected, all you have left for parsimony is esthetic preference.

        7. I wrote “Of course, Ruse’s ruse fails if you think science has actually proved that natural law forbid miracles and material effects from supernatural agencies.” Perhaps I should have been more personal: I think science has proved what we could in natural language call natural law forbids the supernatural. What I don’t understand is why anyone who doesn’t think this still thinks that Ruse or anyone else is required to produce scientific evidence, especially since science doesn’t prove anything anyhow.

        As for junking philosophy, it seems to me that philosophical notions of “proof” as being logical a prior arguments being the only acceptable notion of proof is itself a major tenet of philosophy. One, which in my view, is responsible for enormous confusion. I don’t there is any logical a prior proof for anything, not even for your existence.

  41. Jonathan Houser
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I think this post is an example of the dreaded “scientism”; the reasoning that the answer must be science or bust. Ruse’s point isn’t to say that the religious have a valid argument, or that there is good reason to believe that God is the great moralizer, but to point out that the scientific method doesn’t give you the conclusion that he isn’t.

    Richard Dawkins once said of Daniel Dennett that whenever he (Dawkins) would come up with a new argument he would run it by Dennett to see if it was logically sound, and a good and consistent argument. In this case if Dennet would disagree it didn’t mean Dawkins was incorrect about Evolution or religious reasoning, merely that the argument used to get to that conclusion wasn’t necessarily a sound one. He would run it by Dennet because that was Dennett’s job. That’s what philosophers do. Ruse the wicked “accommodationist” is doing the same.

    What he’s saying is that arguments against the christian god require that you leave the realm of science and enter the realm of philosophy. You cannot scientifically judge whether or not “god is good” is a valid or even sensical statement on purely scientific grounds any more than you can say “For Whom the bell tolls” is a good book on purely scientific grounds.

    I don’t think scientists realize how often they engage in philosophy and call it science because they scorn or look down on philosophy. Saying that the christian god is dispelled by our observations of nature is to use the “argument from natural evil” and is an active engagement in *gasp* theology. To say that there is equal reason to believe in heaven as there is to believe in invisible unicorns is to engage in epistemological philosophy. And that is ok. That isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It is a necessary thing. Science may give us evidence and observations, but you have to engage in philosophy and even the dreaded theology when arguing against religion. That isn’t a command, that’s an observation, because it is what we have been doing all along.

    It isn’t Ruse’s or any philosopher’s job to prop up bad arguments just because the argument agrees with his ideology. He isn’t a traitor for pointing out that you can’t find god with a microscope, and that saying science disproves god is an illogical statement. If it is illogical, it is illogical. This routing out of “accommodationists” as if they are heretics to the atheist cause isn’t healthy, and doesn’t do us any favors.

    • Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      You cannot scientifically judge whether or not “god is good” is a valid or even sensical statement on purely scientific grounds[....]

      Eh, this is bullshit.

      First, of course, is the problem that you’re presupposing a conclusion. All but the most deistic of gods have long since been scientifically ruled out, and Hawking is doing quite the number of that class, as well. So, the two-word version of the claim, “God is,” is already scientifically disproven right off the bat.

      Next, even if we grant for the sake of argument that already-dispensed-with underlying premise, Epicurus scientifically did away with the three-word claim centuries before the invention of Christianity. The existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of a powerful entity that wishes to do away with evil. We have overwhelming evidence that evil exists; therefore, there are no good gods.

      This routing out of “accommodationists” as if they are heretics to the atheist cause isn’t healthy, and doesn’t do us any favors.

      The accommodationists are simultaneously lying to everybody, pandering to religionists, and enabling the perpetuation of religion in all its child-raping horror. They talk purdy, but they’re friends to nobody but their own sociopathic power trips.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Jonathan Houser
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        You seem to espouse the same kind of misunderstanding of scientism that is running rampant. I do not think there are good arguments for god, I am an atheist and I feel I am an atheist for good reason. My point isn’t that the christians make a good argument, or that their arguments can’t be beaten, my point is that in order to beat them you have to (and we already do) go outside the purview of science and engage in philosophy and even the horrible sophistry of theology.

        We criticize the faithful for broadening the definition of “faith” to such an extent that it encapsulates all of knowledge and thereby becomes meaningless. We can do the same for science. If science is simply a catch all term that means “anything reasonable and rational” then it becomes a meaningless term. Science is a very specific tool. When a mechanic fixes a car, he may be engaging in the methodology of science. But when we argue that there is equal reason to believe in heaven and an invisible unicorn on pluto, we are using the tools of philosophy not science.

        The argument that you made above isn’t a scientific argument, it is a philosophical argument. And that is ok. That is not something to freak out about that I called it something other than science. Saying that “it is obvious evil exists” is not a scientific statement unless you broaden the definition of science to the extent that it becomes meaningless.

        The fact that you called bullshit is the very problem of scientism. I didn’t disagree with atheist philosophy, I did not imply that theism or deism is in any way true or even probable, I didn’t even claim that christians scored a couple of points. I am an atheist, I’m not even a dirty heretic accommodationist. All I did was say that one must rely on something other than science to defeat religious claims and instantly the response is “bullshit, science can do it” followed by a distinctly non scientific argument. And that latter part is ok. The point is that we use non scientific arguments all the time, and we do it for the very reason that there are claims that science cannot falsify and thus we rely on philosophy to reason on the claim instead. Science may give those philosophical arguments ammo, but we are still using philosophical and even theological (dirty as a word as it may be) arguments to combat the unreasonable claims of the religious. So no, not “bullshit.”

        • Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          <sigh />

          If you think science can’t disprove gods, then at least tell me whether or not you think that science has disproven the Luminiferous Aether?

          If not, your notion of science has been so addled by philosophy that it’s pointless attempting to converse with you. If so, then would you be so kind as to name just one god that is more scientifically plausible than the Aether?

          As to your crack about evil, I can only conclude that either you think the word, “evil,” has no meaning whatsoever in which case, again, it’s impossible to communicate with you; or you think evil doesn’t exist, which puts you on a par with the worst of the Calvinists.

          …and people wonder why “philosophy” is such a dirty word….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Jonathan Houser
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

            I don’t understand why this is so repugnant of a concept. You can’t even seem to argue with what I am saying, but rather address a prejudiced caricature of what you assume I must mean because that’s what the “other side” always means when they say this sort of thing.

            I didn’t say science can’t disprove gods. I said there are certain questions that in order to argue for or against, you automatically leave the purview of science and engage in something other than science.

            If I make specific claims about a god that is taking specific actions in our natural world, then obviously science can be and has been used to show that those gods aren’t real. The problem is there are millions of gods that all go under the same moniker. Some say the christian god acts on the basis of prayer. Science shows that god doesn’t exist. But somebody else will use that exact same name, but have a different concept of god that obviously would never do that because blah blah blah.

            Under certain circumstances there are going to arise arguments that cannot be validated using science alone. Saying “God is the great moralizer that gives an objective moral system to the universe.” That is not a scientific question. Science may provide a degree of ammo to an argument being made, but you are not going to get by that argument without at least dipping your foot into the philosophical pool.

            And if some person invokes “god” but removes all the sciencey aspects of god intervening in our universe, but keeps all of the vague gooey aspects of a god that is practically deistic but still claim that it is the christian god (as is the practice of a great number of theologians and liberal religious people) you are going to have to engage in a philosophical rather than scientific argument.

            What astounds me is that you and many other atheists already do this, but will wretch at being told that you are already doing this. As if the only thing that you will accept is science. To even discuss what the meaning of “evil” is is a philosophical discussion. There is no scientific definition of “evil.” Which means in order to talk to me about whether or not it is right to say “evil obviously exists” would require that you engage in philosophy. That dirty dirty thing.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

              “Saying “God is the great moralizer that gives an objective moral system to the universe.” That is not a scientific question”

              But the question begged by that one, whether God exists at all, is a scientific question. You can posit all kinds of properties from God, but until you actually have empirical evidence that he exists, then those questions are irrelevant.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                ^for not from

        • Peter Beattie
          Posted June 17, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

          » Jonathan Houser:
          All I did was say that one must rely on something other than science to defeat religious claims and instantly the response is “bullshit, science can do it” followed by a distinctly non scientific argument.

          I think this is the core of your argument, and you have something of a point—but still miss a larger one. The discussion rests on an appreciation of what we take the problem to be that our definition of ‘science’ is supposed to help solve. Let me explain.

          I would propose to use the term to distinguish approaches that can lead to objective knowledge of experiential phenomena (science) from those that can’t (not science). Then there is another term, ‘philosophy’, which I’d propose to use to distinguish between approaches that can lead to objective knowledge about imaginary things that we have not (yet) experienced (e.g. the structure of an argument, the explanatory power of an idea). Science, in that sense, is a specialized branch of philosophy that uses or invents whatever experiment or method it needs to test its (very strictly speaking: philosophical) theories against experiential evidence. Mathematics is a similar case of a specialized branch of philosophy, as it deals with imaginary things that are idealizations of experiential phenomena, e.g. circles and numbers.

          Now, in the case of someone positing, say, a ‘different plane of being’ that is outside of time and space (i.e. outside of reality, i.e. imaginary), then that is something that doesn’t (as you rightly point out) even rise to the level of specialized treatment that we call science. But strictly speaking, it doesn’t even rise to the level of philosophy either, since things that are purely imaginary and have no possible connection to reality cannot even be talked about in terms of objective knowledge. They may even be self-contradictory—as many of them actually are. But I can use philosophy to make that judgement.

          Finally, to say that this has nothing to do with science is only true in a sense that is irrelevant in this case. Because what the discussion is about is whether e.g. a ‘different plane of being’ can be talked about in terms of objective knowledge or in terms of fiction. And of course, talking about fiction can be immense fun. But it is different from reality. And being able to make that distinction is vitally important. Thus, to say that ‘you cannot use science to prove me wrong’, and then have what is simply the more general discipline of philosophy tell you that we don’t even need the specialized tool of science to conclude that you are talking about fiction, is, on that analysis, pretty embarrassing.

    • Tim
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      And here I presumed that it was a philosophers job to be a competent philosopher, to consider matters that aren’t just silly. To the extent that what Ruse says is valid it is utterly trivial. Ruse says that “…rather that there is another dimension of existence where resurrected bodies exist—or minds, if that is all. It is the place of the spiritual body. As such, I doubt that science can lay a finger on the idea.” Well, no shit! Since the “dimension of existence” of which Ruse speaks has no influence on the dimension in which real people actually exist, it follows that science has nothing to say about it. But in such a “dimension of existence” anything goes – because we can make up any goddamned thing we want to about such a place. I can’t believe any competent philosopher would waste time on such bullshit.

      • Jonathan Houser
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

        So would you say that it is the job of a scientist to be a good scientist and not waste time researching trivial things?

        Ok, so let’s say he is simply stating the obvious. Then that would imply you agree with his statements that there are religious arguments that science doesn’t touch. Then what is the problem with the article? What I see is a guy that is an atheist saying atheist things such as miracles don’t really happen but were just normal occurrences blown out of proportion with literary flair, and science doesn’t have anything to say about an after life, but he still doesn’t believe in such things because there is no good reason to believe in those things. He is saying 100% what everybody here already thinks, but the article is being ripped apart like it is saying the exact opposite.

        He did not say there is good reason to believe in religious beliefs. He did not defend faith as being a reliable way of knowing. It would seem that the arguments presented against him are actually being presented against what a religious person would think if they were espousing these views.

        • gbjames
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

          Assuming for the moment that you are right, this could only indicate that Ruse needs desperately to hone his writing skills.

          • Jonathan Houser
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

            To a great extent I can agree with this. I don’t know how rigorous he is in his academic philosophy but in his philosophy written to a lay audience he does a very bad job of making a coherent and logically consistent arguement. Just from Jerry’s quote he used above

            “The Christian’s claims are not refuted by modern science—or indeed threatened or made less probable by modern science.”

            My first question, and really the question of any academic philosophers would be “what do you mean by ‘christian’?”

            Certainly some christian’s gods are invalidated by science. If a christian’s version of god requires that he specially creates life 6,000 years ago and there were dinosaurs on a big boat and all the languages are the result of the tower of babel, then that christian’s god is definitely made significantly less probable by science.

            If it is somebody like George Coyne (whom Richard Dawkins did a great interview with), then their wierd gooey deistic christian god with vague lovey qualities added, then science isn’t going to be a useful avenue to dispute religion with him.

            That lone single distinction would make that whole sentence waaay less offensive intellectually. But as written I suppose there is a good reason for a knee jerk reaction.

        • Tim
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

          Oh, come on! What world do you live in? What religious proselytizer claims that his religion has no overlap with the world you live in? What Ruse is offering is cover for religious arguments that science can “lay a finger on”, because religion as it is actually practiced has nothing to do with the trivial niceties Ruse is going on about – and I think that both you and Ruse know it. Religious adherents where I live (planet Earth) haven’t the slightest interest the sterile point to which Ruse has taken this trivial argument. They do have an interest in pretending their nonsense is defensible, and I see no reason to provide them even the crumbs Ruse offers them.

          The question that Coyne asks reasserts itself: Why? Why make this vacuous argument?

          • Jonathan Houser
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

            I would like to note that once again I am being inaccurately portrayed as a caricatures of a stereo type espousing views that I do not hold. I did not say that religion doesn’t overlap, or that religious people’s views don’t overlap with the natural world. The assumption here is clearly “He is saying something that isn’t the party line? He must be one of THOSE people that thinks this sort of thing.” Obviously religion overlaps into the real world, and often the religious make scientific arguments.

            Why make the argument, you ask? So maybe atheists will stop incorrectly asserting that science disproves all possible notions of god, and instead recognize that one must step outside of the boundaries of science and begin arguing on philosophical grounds to kick the ass of the god concept.

            Science may work wonders for showing the gross inadequacies of biblical literalism in all it’s different shades, but to go after to fluffy deistic “sophisticated” religion as espoused by liberal christians and theologians, you have to go outside of science and engage in reason. That is an important lesson as many educated christians are leaving behind the kind of god that has naturalistic effects on our universe and instead is purely a deistic god with a few vaguely defined human qualities and maybe something about Jesus.

            You can’t invoke the evidence for evolution when they agree that evolution totally is true, and you can’t invoke cosmology when they are totally with you that the big bang was naturalistic.

            Watch Richard Dawkin’s interview with George Coyne and think to yourself how you would show him his views are wrong SCIENTIFICALLY, not philosophically, not engaging in epistemological arguments about what is logical to assume we know and how we know it, but using SCIENCE. Using Astronomy and biology, and cosmology show him that what he asserts is true about christianity is in fact nonsense. Because whatever argument you make. He’s just going to agree with you. He agrees with science. What now?

            That is an important lesson. And a good one. I think our human tendencies make us slow to change and learn because we instantly label people who don’t tow the party line as being heretical rather than examining to see if there is anything to be learned by what is being said. And noting that “learning” is different than “Being 100% supportive of everything this person has ever said or done or stands for or might stand for.”

            • Michael Fugate
              Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

              Jonathan, you are boring us to death. The triviality of showing something is logically possible renders Ruse irrelevant. Who cares, unless he can show that it is even the least bit probable?

              • Posted June 17, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                JH is not boring me to death so don’t presume to speak for “us”, and his points show that he can read and think. Frankly, it disappoints me that so many of you have misinterpreted what JH is saying.

                One of the most important things about doing science well is being observant, and some of you are not very observant. Try relaxing a bit and read what JH actually says.

              • Michael Fugate
                Posted June 17, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

                Which is?

            • abrotherhoodofman
              Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

              Why make the argument, you ask? So maybe atheists will stop incorrectly asserting that science disproves all possible notions of god, and instead recognize that one must step outside of the boundaries of science and begin arguing on philosophical grounds to kick the ass of the god concept.

              One cannot “step outside” the boundaries of science. These words you’re using are merely sound waves emanating from your mouth. Surely you aren’t suggesting that apes vocalizing grunted sound waves can somehow “step outside” the material world.

              Keep grunting philosophically as long as you want about this sound wave called “god”. We’ll need some real evidence at some point.

              • Posted June 17, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

                Wow, did you ever miss JH’s points.

              • Michael Fugate
                Posted June 17, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                wholetruth, since you seem to specialize in one sentence replies, perhaps you can tell us in one sentence what point was missed. JH is very long-winded – is it that all religions are possibly true and also possibly false? Hardly much comfort to the adherents of any one religion.

              • Jonathan Houser
                Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

                @ Michael Fugate

                How you can be smart enough to find this site and be a regular reader but still possess reading comprehension so poor that the point you distilled out of everything I wrote was “All religions may be true or false” is truly awe inspiring. That is not even close to anything I was saying. I see no point in attempting to re-iterate for you.

                @ aBrotherhoodofman

                You demonstrate a good reason why it’s important to understand at least a bit of the philosophical method in addition to the scientific method. In your post you claim we cannot step outside of science because we are material beings. That is flawed in that you are equating science (the method) with the material world (the thing the method studies). Those are two wildly different things.

                When I say we step outside the boundaries of science, I do not mean we leave the material world and travel to the some supernatural realm when we discuss the logical qualities of said supernatural realm. Rather we use something other than the methodology of science to prod to see if the supernatural realm makes any sense and if there is any good reason to suppose the existence of that realm.

              • Michael Fugate
                Posted June 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

                Houser,
                What did you say? So much verbiage, so little information. I must have missed your point because you are so bad at making one and neither you nor your buddy wholetruth can write a simple statement outlining a point. You had one didn’t you?

                Accommodationists say that religion is concerned with the unknowable, philosophy is concerned with the possibly knowable and science with the probably knowable. First few if any religious people buy the first, claiming religion is knowable through revelation, transcendence, design, etc. Only nonreligious people would buy the accommodationist argument – go to church some Sunday (right you’re against scientism – are you against observation too?). You keep wanting to divide the world up into religion, philosophy and science when it is not that simple. If religion were truly unknowable, then it is by definition made up, how could it not be?

                You must not read this site very often, if you think you are saying something meaningful.

            • stevehayes13
              Posted June 17, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

              Watch the unedited tapes of the Coyne Dawkins interview – Coyne himself shows exactly why his Catholic beliefs should not be taken seriously. He admits that he believes in Christianity because he was brought up in it and he admits that he does not believe most of its nonsense and he admits that the nonsense he does believe is out of obedience. Coyne is a cultural Christian, just like Spong and so many others.

              • Jonathan Houser
                Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                cultural he may be, but he still says he believes it. The point is that there are a number of educated christians that will agree with anything scientific that you say to them, and that making the point that science renders their god redundant isn’t going to dissuade them. At that point the conversation is going to enter philosophical territory whether we want it to or not.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

          “Then that would imply you agree with his statements that there are religious arguments that science doesn’t touch.”

          Because he left off the part about those arguments being absolutely irrelevant.

  42. corio37
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    To summarise:

    Ruse & Co point out: Vacuous possibilities are possibilities.

    Coyne & Co point out: Vacuous possibilities are vacuous.

    And Ruse’s claim about miracles is precisely the kind of thing that the phrase ‘fractal wrongness’ was coined to describe.

  43. andreschuiteman
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    (A) Christian believe crazy, unevidenced things, (B) but science can’t disprove them, (C) therefore they don’t have to feel bad about it. That appears to be the gist of Ruse’s argument. Christians would agree with (B) and (C), most atheists with (A) and (B), but only silly accommodationists can possibly agree with (A), (B) and (C).

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

      Christians

  44. Peter Beattie
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    I think this is essential to the whole debate, so forgive me for re-posting it in a somewhat more prominent place:

    » Jonathan Houser:
    All I did was say that one must rely on something other than science to defeat religious claims and instantly the response is “bullshit, science can do it” followed by a distinctly non scientific argument.

    I think this is the core of your argument, and you have something of a point—but still miss a larger one. The discussion rests on an appreciation of what we take the problem to be that our definition of ‘science’ is supposed to help solve. Let me explain.

    I would propose to use the term to distinguish approaches that can lead to objective knowledge of experiential phenomena (science) from those that can’t (not science). Then there is another term, ‘philosophy’, which I’d propose to use to distinguish between approaches that can lead to objective knowledge about imaginary things that we have not (yet) experienced (e.g. the structure of an argument, the explanatory power of an idea). Science, in that sense, is a specialized branch of philosophy that uses or invents whatever experiment or method it needs to test its (very strictly speaking: philosophical) theories against experiential evidence. Mathematics is a similar case of a specialized branch of philosophy, as it deals with imaginary things that are idealizations of experiential phenomena, e.g. circles and numbers.

    Now, in the case of someone positing, say, a ‘different plane of being’ that is outside of time and space (i.e. outside of reality, i.e. imaginary), then that is something that doesn’t (as you rightly point out) even rise to the level of specialized treatment that we call science. But strictly speaking, it doesn’t even rise to the level of philosophy either, since things that are purely imaginary and have no possible connection to reality cannot even be talked about in terms of objective knowledge. They may even be self-contradictory—as many of them actually are. But I can use philosophy to make that judgement.

    Finally, to say that this has nothing to do with science is only true in a sense that is irrelevant in this case. Because what the discussion is about is whether e.g. a ‘different plane of being’ can be talked about in terms of objective knowledge or in terms of fiction. And of course, talking about fiction can be immense fun. But it is different from reality. And being able to make that distinction is vitally important. Thus, to say that ‘you cannot use science to prove me wrong’, and then have what is simply the more general discipline of philosophy tell you that we don’t even need the specialized tool of science to conclude that you are talking about fiction, is, on that analysis, pretty embarrassing.

    • Posted June 17, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      What is “more prominent” about this point in the thread versus your identical comments up-thread?

    • Jonathan Houser
      Posted June 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      I agree with the points that you’re making. I think one distinction that needs to be made though is while everybody here readily recognizes other planes of reality or the afterlife or heaven or whatever as being fictitious, there are billions of people who disagree. And in order to show them that they are fictitious we engage in philosophical arguments about what it is reasonable to believe in, and whether or not there is any reasonable basis for assuming the existence of these other planes of existence.

      My point is that when we engage in that kind of discussion we leave science at the door because it has no place or use in the discussion. Which you agree with. What seems obvious and common sense to us is not in fact obvious to everyone else because of numerous cultural biases, emotional beliefs, and psychological phenomenon.

      If we are to reason those beliefs away though and move the culture at large towards a more rational viewpoint, we have to engage in what is fundamentally a philosophical conversation rather than a scientific one. How do we know what we know, and why is it reasonable to assume that what we know is accurate? What is a means of reasoning on our experience in the universe that leads us to accurate knowledge? How to we adduce whether or not something is real or imaginary or fictitious?

      And whenever a religious person throws something out there like “God is the embodiment of love” the rational response may be “whoa, you jumped the gun there, let us first discuss whether or not it is reasonable to suppose that this being exists before we start attributing qualities to it,” we are more likely to take the bait and start arguing on whether or not the reality of the world is logically consistent with that statement. Which is a philosophical and even theological argument. And that is ok. That is even a valid avenue to convince somebody that god isn’t real. When I became an atheist it was that kind of argument that convinced me. It wasn’t “well god is redundant. Show me evidence of god.” It was “well reality kind of shows that god would be a dick if he existed.”

      Science is certainly a powerful contributor to the big argument the world is having right now on the existence of supernatural agents. But it isn’t the only tool, and it does have its limits. It behooves us to know when to engage in a scientific argument and when to invoke philosophy.

      AND NO saying that science has a place and a time because it has limits is not setting fire to the sacred cow of science. And yes, philosophy is a useful tool. Remember one of the four horsemen is a philosopher and Richard Dawkins has utmost respect for his abilities for a reason.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        Dennett, like many contemporary philosophers (including me – an amateur philosopher who still keeps up with some of the literature) refuses to draw a neat line between science and philosophy …

      • Michael Fugate
        Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        Houser – And that’s your big point? Wow, that’s never been said before – thanks for enlightening us. And you called me stupid….

        • Posted June 21, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          He never called you stupid. He actually called you smart enough to use this site, but with poor reading comprehension. Your last post does nothing to dispel this impression.

          • Michael Fugate
            Posted June 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

            Your opinion is so special – thanks for sharing. Your post offers nothing – just like Houser’s and wholetruth’s. Why is it that the critics have nothing to offer?

            • Posted June 22, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

              Houser’s point is quite simple, which is why the venom it has drawn is surprising to me. There are at least two types of Gods. One type has empirical effects in the universe. This is the type that can be rejected through science.

              The second type of God does not have empirical effects in the universe. For instance, the God who only watches us, then judges our character after we die and transports our personality lock, stock, and barrel to heaven or hell.

              In order to reject this second type of God, it is necessary to employ philosophy rather than science, since science restricts itself to studying that which has empirical effects. Hence, the statement “evolution disproves the existence of God” is incorrect, in that it can only disproves the first type of God and not the second.

              • Posted June 23, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

                According to all we know and understand of physics, even simple observation requires an exchange of energy and thus would constitute observable interaction. This is especially so for “transporting our personalities,” as we know full well that those’re encoded wholly within our brains and would require tremendous amounts of energy to throughly read and copy.

                There’s also the logical problem…because our personalities are entirely physical phenomenon and entirely subject to physical manipulation, which personality would this god of yours be copying? The dementia-riddled psychopath dying of Alzheimer’s, or the sweet little old lady who occupied that body ten years before, or the manipulative conniving bitch of thirty years before that, or the drooling baby of another thirty years back still?

                You could posit that the universe as we observe it is a Matrix-style simulation and that your god is making a digital copy of our files at some point, and you would be correct in claiming that we would have no way, even theoretically, from absolutely dismissing that possibility. However, it is equally and obviously true that, in that case, it’s not us we’re talking about as surviving death, but rather carbon copies of us. And any sick fuck that would make copies of us to play with after our deaths is even more insane than the worst of the worst imaginable zombie necrophiliacs.

                So, I suppose you could say that you can use philosophy to reject your second god. Or, you could simply go with, “Stop worrying about the monsters under your bed and grow up already.” Personally, I think that’s not only significantly more effective, it also has the benefit of being both more concise and a better summation of the situation.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted June 23, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

                Ben: “Stop worrying about the monsters under your bed and grow up already” is in fact a pretty deep philosophical position that leads directly to a scientific view of the world.

                It sounds like we agree! To rephrase your argument: there is no reason to suppose that there is an extra-universe transfer of energy without any observable effects in our universe. Parsimony and Occam’s Razor then allows us to reject them out of hand. But ultimately, acceptance of the parsimony principle rest on philosophical grounds. [To clarify further: within the universe of observation and hypothesis Occam's Razor can be tested within science, but when it comes to ruling out things like the goatee parallel universe, then you have a philosophical issue.]

                Science is a wonderful thing! Science uses logical thought, but every logical thought that one has is not science.

              • Posted June 23, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

                But ultimately, acceptance of the parsimony principle rest on philosophical grounds.

                Bullshit.

                Acceptance of parsimony is entirely empirical. In all of our experience, the simplest explanation that fits all observations has proven to be the most useful. In other words, it is an observed fact that simplicity is more effective than complexity.

                If it were otherwise — if it were the complex explanations that worked best — then Occam would have been a fool and either ridiculed or never noticed in the first place.

                And that’s the whole point of the problem with philosophy. All y’all philosophers can come up with as many hypotheticals as you like, but they’re meaningless masturbation until put to real-world tests and the results empirically observed.

                And, you know what? Scientists who’re up to their necks already in the tests and observations have generally proven themselves to have a far superior track record of coming up with hypotheticals that eventually bear fruit. After all, it was scientists, not philosophers, that figured out the origin and likely destiny of the observable universe, the equivalency of matter and energy, the composition of matter and the nature of light, the principles that govern the motions of the planets, and all the other Big Problems™ that the original philosophers either struggled with or didn’t even had a clue existed.

                Science wins because it works; in terms of actual productivity, philosophy is no better than religion.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted June 23, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                If I am understanding your argument of “Bullshit” correctly, it seems that you feel that science stands alone, that it does not need any philosophical foundations.

                Science should use parsimonious explanations; parsimony can be be tested scientifically; therefore parsimony is true. This seems to me a classic circular argument. The only way out (for me) is to look at a philosophy of science that asks the questions: why parsimony? why falsifiability? why do we use the scientific method? Using methods of science to address these questions can only lead to circularity.

                You seem to be using the term “science” to include not only the methods and practice of science, but also to include the philosophy of science itself. In which we are really only in disagreement on terminology.

              • Posted June 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                If I am understanding your argument of “Bullshit” correctly, it seems that you feel that science stands alone, that it does not need any philosophical foundations.

                YES! Absolutely correct. Philosophy is as antithetical to science as religion, and for exactly the same reason.

                Science should use parsimonious explanations; parsimony can be be tested scientifically; therefore parsimony is true. This seems to me a classic circular argument. The only way out (for me) is to look at a philosophy of science that asks the questions: why parsimony? why falsifiability? why do we use the scientific method? Using methods of science to address these questions can only lead to circularity.

                No, no, no, no, a thousand times, no!

                Science is the empirical testing of rational observation. We use it because it works. Nothing else works nearly as well, especially including philosophical religious navel-gazing.

                As for parsimony…we could logically go for the simplest explanation, the most complex, or one targeted for somewhere in the middle. We’ve tried all of those; religion generally picks the most complex, and philosophers aren’t all that far behind, but we’ll charitably put them somewhere in the middle. Which one works the best?

                If you have something that you philosophically think might work better, then give it a try. If it actually does work better, and you can prove that it really does work better with real-world results that the peer review community can replicate and agree with…well, then, congratulations! You’re doing science.

                And, who knows? Maybe one of these days a philosopher actually will pull something useful out of his ass, something on a par with atomic theory or the Big Bang or Evolution or the Calculus. I’d put it right about at the level of probability that a theologian will pull an actual god out of his ass, but one never knows what the future may hold….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                Philosophy is as antithetical to science as religion, and for exactly the same reason.

                Au contraire, mon ami. Science can very fruitfully be seen as a subset, or more precisely: a specialisation of philosophy, as I try to explain here. The mental masturbation you see so many self-identified and even academic philosophers engage in is absolutely deplorable but not characteristic of a helpful conception of the discipline as I see it. (Actually, if you accept for the moment my definition, or demarcation, you can see what is wrong with much of what passes for philosophy these days: it is talk about pure fiction, unconnected to anything that critical reason might act upon. In that sense, much of what calls itself philosophy is indistinguishable from religion. But don’t think there aren’t those of us who are pushing back against this devaluing of the discipline.)

              • Posted June 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                Ben: well, at least now I understand your visceral dislike of philosophy. You have taken the reasoning aspects of philosophy, and relabeled them “science.” Since all that is left is similar in form to religion, it is no wonder that you despise it so.

                This makes me curious: Do you consider philosophy of science a discipline? If not, what would you call Popper, Kuhn, Descartes, Hume? If you do not consider philosophy of science a discipline, then why do you think we approach science the way that we do in our modern era? Our approach to science has changed over the centuries. Do you truly believe that the thoughts of these great philosophers did not impact the way science is conducted today?

                Being self-consistent (as the scientific enterprise is) is important. Just being self-consistent is not enough to show that your structure is the best way to approach things.

              • Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

                Science can very fruitfully be seen as a subset, or more precisely: a specialisation of philosophy, as I try to explain here.

                Only in the sense that a theologian would similarly claim that philosophy is a subset of theology, I’m afraid.

                If you do not consider philosophy of science a discipline, then why do you think we approach science the way that we do in our modern era?

                Haven’t I made that clear?

                The modern approach works better than previous ones and produces more results that are more reliable.

                There’s no philosophy going on, only typical scientific iterative analysis. The same methods that led to Newton’s refinement of planetary motion that replaced epicycles with mechanics, and that later led Einstein to replace mechanics with relativity, has been applied to the scientific method itself. That’s why today we have peer reviewed journals when Newton didn’t.

                Why is this so hard for you to understand?

                There’s no navel-gazing going on — or, at least, none of any significance. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. You can philosophize all you want about how you think science should or shouldn’t be done, but that’s all so much meaningless bullshit unless and until you put it to the test. If your new methods work better and you can prove that fact to the peer review community, then you’ve scientifically demonstrated a new improvement to the scientific method. If all you do is bloviate about which theosophilogicalal principles scientismists should cherish most, you might as well fart in the wind for all the good you’re doing.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                Me: Science can very fruitfully be seen as a subset, or more precisely: a specialisation of philosophy, as I try to explain here.

                Ben Goren: Only in the sense that a theologian would similarly claim that philosophy is a subset of theology, I’m afraid.

                Ben, did you even read what I wrote in that comment? I said that standard religious claims, like that of ‘another plane of being’, didn’t even qualify as philosophy “since things that are purely imaginary and have no possible connection to reality cannot even be talked about in terms of objective knowledge”. How do you suppose that can support a claim of philosophy being a subset of theology?

              • Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                Ben, did you even read what I wrote in that comment?

                Yes. Did you read mine?

                Theologians claim that all wisdom is the search to understand the revealed glory of their gods, and that philosophy and science are but tools to help interpret said glory.

                Philosophers claim that all science is is a tool to help philosophers buttress their arguments.

                Same shit, different paddle.

                Science is applied empiricism. If it works and you can prove it, that’s science. Lather, rinse, repeat.

                Philosophy is yet another of those unnecessary complications that adds nothing but distraction, ultimately hindering the production of successful results.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted June 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                » Ben Goren:
                Yes. Did you read mine?

                Yeah, that’s a clever comeback, I suppose – except that your reply didn’t reflect anything I wrote.

                Philosophers claim that all science is is a tool to help philosophers buttress their arguments.

                Precisely nobody claims that. There is one group who think philosophy is distinct from science, and there’s another who think that science is a specialised branch of philosophy that deals with sufficiently distinguishable problems, albeit using essentially the same methodology. And none of that bears resemblance to your description, I’m afraid.

  45. stevehayes13
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    The universe is filled with many marvellous mysteries. Not content with all these riches, it seems some human beings are determined to add to the quota. I am thinking specifically of those people who profess to be atheists, but devote a significant and substantial amount of their time and effort to attacking critics of religion. I have in mind such people as the ‘professional philosopher’ Michael Ruse. According to Ruse, the ‘New Atheists are a bloody disaster’. This is a strange judgement from someone who is a self professed atheist, who is a scholar, someone who claims to think evidence and reason are the path to knowledge.

    Given how much time Professor Ruse devotes to criticising the critics of religion, one might think it would be easy to identify his objections. However, that is not so. Plough as you might through his vociferous criticism, you will be hard pushed to find any specific evidenced critique. Rather, what you will find is a liberal sprinkling of pejorative, special pleading, non sequiturs and completely unsubstantiated assertions.

    Ruse does not like the so called New Atheists. That much is obvious. He claims that their scholarship fails to meet the standards of Philosophy and Theology. This assertion is ludicrous. And the professor must know it. First, the atheistic critics of religion are not purporting to be writing either Philosophy or Theology. Thus, the test is absurd. He might as well criticise James Joyce’s Ulysses for not being very good History: it would make about as much sense. Second, the judgement is utterly disingenuous: for the Theology produced by the god believers that Ruse is defending is very poor scholarship indeed. And the professor knows this. He knows that the religious apologetics criticised by the so called New Atheists is not a strawman. Yet, like some apologist, he apparently does not care.

    Taking a different tack, the professor likes to claim that the ‘New Atheists’ are politically naive. However, this judgement is equally ludicrous. The notion that criticising the falsehoods, misrepresentations and downright lies of the religious is likely to promote and strengthen such religious ideas is beyond credulity. If Ruse really did think like this, he would be condemning any criticism of false beliefs. He would have advised Ronald Reagan that his criticism of Communism was the height of folly. But of course the professor did no such thing: for he full well knows that bad and false ideas are best addressed by criticism, not accommodation.

    But where he goes really bonkers is when it comes to the religious fruitcakes wanting creationism in the science classroom. On this issue, Ruse asserts that ‘New Atheist’ criticism of religion will force the courts to ban the teaching of the theory of evolution from Biology. This is beyond ludicrous; it is just plain madness. So, how does the professor reach this judgement? Well, he seems to have been listening to the creationists. I say this because his ‘argument’ so perfectly mirrors theirs. He says that the First Amendment prohibits the teaching of religion and if ‘god did it’ cannot be taught then obviously ‘god did not do it’ cannot be taught. For someone who prides himself on being a professional scholar, this is embarrassing. Biology, the theory of evolution, does not say anything about any god, and no one, old or new atheist, ever said otherwise. But it would not matter whether anyone did: for the theory of evolution is simply a part of science – that is the reason it belongs in the science curriculum; nothing to do with anyone’s ideas about supernatural, non-existent entities.

    People like Professor Ruse constantly attack the so called New Atheists. But their criticisms are invariably devoid evidence and sense. They rely exclusively on the methods of argument so beloved by apologists of every hue: rhetoric, logical fallacies and misrepresentations. Evidence and reason are apparent only by their absence. Why do Ruse and his fellow travellers adopt the worst practices of the religious apologists to attack the critics of religion? It is a mystery, concealed within a self righteous enigma.

  46. Dominic
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    The idea of a soul is the most ridiculous wishful thinking EVER!

  47. Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    To Michael Fugate,

    JH’s response to you is right on the button. Seriously, you don’t have a clue.

    To Brotherhoodofman,

    Do you get it now?

    And to Michael Fugate again,

    You said: “You must not read this site very often, if you think you are saying something meaningful.”

    What exactly is that supposed to mean? That only sycophantic agreement with everything Jerry says, or with the typical party line here, is “meaningful”?

    JH isn’t promoting religion and he isn’t bashing science, but it looks as though you and some others think that’s what he’s doing. Those of you who have misinterpreted what he said ought to try to understand his points, instead of making erroneous assumptions.

    • Michael Fugate
      Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Shrug, restating the obvious like Houser does repeatedly doesn’t mean much. Of course your only contribution to the conversation is to agree with him and you call me a toady? Are you his mom in disguise?

      You can’t articulate anything about his points can you? Do you even know what they are? I have yet to see any evidence of it from your replies. You might start with a simple list – it helps to organize your thoughts. There have been plenty of discussions here about philosophy and I have never disparaged it. I have criticized Ruse on his attacks of new atheists because he just repeats over and over – don’t understand theology, don’t understand philosophy, don’t understand history, etc. Deep stuff.

      But when it comes to history Ruse comes up short. The Royal Society was founded in the 1640s – the new science – and the standard hypothesis for explaining organismal diversity – drumroll please – creation – for a good 150 years. Ruse keeps telling us that creation is religion not science, but is it?

      Ruse keeps telling us that theology is some watered-down deistic mumbo-jumbo, but is it?
      Religion is a way of knowing, but nobody knows the methodology – you would think a philosopher might be interested in that, wouldn’t you?


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