Do both science and faith produce truth?

As one reader noted, any post that begins with a question is invariably answered “no.” This won’t be an exception. Science produces truth; religion doesn’t.

This video, embedded in an article by Peter Kirkwood called “Why atheists are wrong about science and religion,” comes via  It starts off by flaunting the NOMA Gambit:

Back in April this year, Melbourne hosted the second Global Atheist Convention, a follow-up to the gathering of thousands of atheists from around the globe that took place there in 2010. Both events featured the most prominent of the so-called New Atheists, Richard Dawkins.

To believe Dawkins, and many of the other speakers at the conference, you’d think there is a deep gulf between science and religion, that the two are intractably at loggerheads and have nothing useful to say to each other.

But this is at odds with what many other theologians, philosophers and scientists tell us. They say science and religion are both quests for truth dealing with different aspects of human experience. This is well summed up in Galileo’s famous statement that ‘the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go’.

Well of course some people have an investment in reconciling science and faith. Imagine if a liberal clergyman told his congregation, “Yes, our beliefs are at loggerheads with science.”  People with any education don’t want to be seen as anti-science, and so they’ll embrace any lifeline of accommodationism tossed to them.  And of course lots of theologians do see parts of science, especially physics, cosmology, and evolution, at odds with religion. Finally—and I needn’t beat that drum too much any more—religion may be a quest for the truth, but it has no way of finding the truth, or verifying what it claims to find.  Our knowledge of what God is like has not advanced one iota over the ideas of the 1500s.

And insofar as theological interpretation has changed, it’s done so not as a result of faith’s quest for truth, but of pressure from science and secular morality. Really, can any theologian, philosopher, or scientist tell me anything about God now that we didn’t know 500 years ago? Then ask a scientist what we know now about science that we didn’t know in 1500.

The article also presents a video by chris Mulherin:

Chris Mulherin, featured here on Eureka Street TV, similarly has a foot in both camps; an Anglican clergyman with a substantial academic background studying and lecturing in science and the philosophy of science.

He is now doing his doctorate on the relationship between scientific and theological ways of knowing. He argues they are different but complementary ways of understanding, and summarises the difference by saying that while science deals with mechanics, religion deals with meaning.

Mulherin claims that religion answers the “why” questions.  Well, maybe he likes the Anglican answer, but how does he know that the Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, or Scientology answers are wrong?  He also claims that science can’t test the supernatural, because our experiments assume that “God isn’t messing with the experiment.” If that were true, than how could scientists test for things like intercessory prayer, which they have done?

Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.

The dissing of New Atheism, and Richard Dawkins in particular, begins at about 5:20. Mulherin blames a lot of the rise of New Atheism on the media’s thirst for controversy, adding that New Atheism is a “religion” because “we’re on a crusade.” Is that weak analogy enough to convict us of religion? I don’t think so.  These people don’t know the difference between superstition and vigorous efforts to rid the world of superstition!

This video is a great example of how far a smart person can delude himself when it comes to religion.  Mulherin is a young Terry Eagleton, but without the book smarts.

h/t: Chris


  1. Posted August 11, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.

    Will that be any religion or all religion?

  2. B.R.
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    With faith, you can’t even know if something is the truth or not; you either blindly believe it is without question or reject it out of hand. That’s the gulf between religion and science; both claim to be all about the truth, but only one is, and it’s not the one that considers doubt (i.e.,rational thought) to be a sin.

  3. Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    The very peculiar thing about people like Mulherin is that they seem to think that Christianity encompasses religion as such. But of course it doesn’t. It is troubling to see someone like this pretending as though, if he could establish a relationship between Christianity and science — which of course he cannnot do — he would also have dealt adequately with the relationships of religion per se and science, and this is ridiculous. First of all he must show that Christianity provides knowledge that other religions fail to provide, and then he must show how that knowledge is related to science. The supposition that theology produces knowledge of the world is pretty hazardous, especially in the absence of some account of how Christianity differs in this respect from other religions, as well as how the manifold disagreements in Christian theology tend to undermine the whole enterprise of theology.

    Of course, while you are working within theology, everything seems to make perfect sense, because you are working within a known paradigm — here ignoring for the moment the many different kinds of theology that there are — but as soon as you take a step outside of theology, it becomes clear that what you are saying is discordant with what is known about the world by science, history, and other critical disciplines. One of the downfalls of Christian theology is that it cannot account adequately for the role of the Bible in producing supposed Christian knowledge of God, for the Bible is neither consistent, nor does it provide any directions for its own interpretation — which would be a losing proposition anyway, for hermeneutical rules would also have to be interpreted. However, if there was some clarity about the Bible, the origins of the works in the Bible, and their significance as a whole, theology might have at least a small foothold in a realm that could be claimed, within those limits, to pertain to knowledge; but there is no such clarity, and the misuse of critical biblical studies to provide such clarity, when it is clear that critical-historical biblical study calls the supposed divine origin of the text into inescapable question, is merely another posturing masquerading as a closer approximation to the truth.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

      Well put. I myself have not quite constructed the entire argument, but, as you say, these writers are equating “religion” and Christianity.

      What about the Aztec religion, with human sacrifice?


      Greek Gods, and Goddesses? Now recognized in Greece, once again. A legitimate “religion”.

      Some native Californians, prior to the European/American intrusion, had a fairly simple economical religion. Once a year they would hold a sort of “Align the Universe” ritual, which was a series of careful elaborate performances. If the performances were done absolutely correctly, then the year to follow would be good weather, good hunting, etc. However, even the slightest misstep meant too much snow or too much drought, animals in low supply, etc.

      You did not need prayer. You simply needed to perform the ceremony right, or blame yourself until next year!

      Sounds at least like a plausible way to view that which is mysterious, when science is absent.

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:41 am | Permalink

        If you ever want to expose the yawning gap between scientific thinking and religious, just challenge the particulars of one religion when it’s being all huggy-wuggy with another. When Christians and Jews are waxing lyrical together about “the Judeo-Christian tradition” just ask “Well, is Jesus the Messiah, or isn’t he?” and watch them close ranks against the infidel: “How dare you try to create division between us?” Talk about shoooting the messenger!

  4. Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    There’s a few Biblical passages which note that not everyone will believe Christianity. That’s true, although I doubt it was arrived at via religious means. A simple look at the world will reveal that there will always be dispute over things, no special religious powers needed.

  5. Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    JAC quote:

    Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth

    Forget about answers ~ it’s the questions in my opinion! I’m not sure how theologians even know which questions are good questions & which of the good questions are foundational. How can they formulate a question when they are often using terms that they haven’t defined?

  6. steve oberski
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.

    If you don’t believe in my religion my omni-benevolent god is going to consign you to hell to burn in eternal torture and I will have the satisfaction of watching your suffering.

    And who says ecumenicalism doesn’t work ?

  7. bernardhurley
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I don’t buy this distinction between “how” and “why” questions. If it turned out to be the case that the universe was created by some omnipoent being then what makes this an answer to a “why” question rather than a “how” question? What makes to something to do with meaning rather than mechanism?

    • musubk
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      ‘Religion answers the why questions’ is a sneaky way of saying mechanistic explanations are incomplete and teleological explanations are required. For those of us that don’t begin with the presumption that there has to be intent behind the universe, ‘how’ and ‘why’ are the same question.

      • Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        I think the “how/why” distinction is a poorly expressed form of Hume’s “is/ought” distinction.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted August 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        If any “Why…” question is a legitimate concern to a supreme deity, then all “Why…” questions become valid. It’s impossible to draw a line. The result is, an infinite information fountain that absorbs every and all processes of a supreme deity, to give answer to the infinite “Why..” flow.

        “Why does…… at this time?” << Right there, the infinite number of answers required explodes even more.

        • Posted August 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

          I’ve seen this referred to amusingly as the “rotten kid regress”.

          • Posted September 1, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

            This is an excellent name for it.

    • Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Here’s a “why” question …

      Why have millions of people abandoned belief in god(s) and become atheists?

      I’m sure Christianity has the answer to such an important “why” question. Anyone know what it is? Is it the work of the devil?

      • steve oberski
        Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        The devil is too busy in the Vatican to worry about a bunch of atheists:

        Chief exorcist says Devil is in Vatican

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

        If God is omnipotent then He is totally responsible for the actions of all other beings, by definition. If He chooses not to prevent the Devil or anyone else from doing evil, then it is His responsibility, his fault.

        Since He had the choice because of His omnipotence, to maximise good and minimise suffering and did not, He is anything but omnibenevolent.

        Good thing there is no reason to believe He exists. What a terrible world that would be.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted August 12, 2012 at 2:54 am | Permalink

          If God is willing to prevent evil but not able,
          then He is not omnipotent.

          If He is able but not willing,
          then He is malevolent.

          If God is both able and willing,
          then whence comes evil?

          If He is neither able nor willing,
          then why call Him God?

          Epicurus 341 – 271 BC

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

        The question I would like to know the answer to is: “why are so many apparently intelligent atheists turning to religion?”

        WTH is that about?

    • Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Well, of course religion can answer “why” questions!

      We just need science to tell us if thos answers are actually right or (more likely) not… 😉


    • Jeremy Pereira
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink

      Even if you do buy the distinction between hoes and why (I don’t either btw), religion is actually generally less successful at answering the “whys” than religionists like to make out.

      On another forum, I was involved with some other atheists and Christians in an argument about the Genesis creation story. Of course, one of the Christians came up with “Genesis is not a scientific text, it’s not about how the Universe came to exist, but why it came to exist.”

      So I asked “OK, I’ll accept that for now. What does Genesis say is the answer to the question ‘why did God create the Universe?'” There was much dissembling and evasion. Eventually one Christian ventured an answer which was along the lines that God needed somebody to worship and glorify him, but, ignoring the stupidity of that idea, it’s not in Genesis, he got it from somewhere else.

      Ask some why questions of a few religionists and you’ll find that the answers mostly boil down to “because God said so!” Why do you need a whole religion to come up with that?

      • Jeremy Pereira
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink


      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

        To me “how” is a description of the process that leads from a original situation to a resulting situation.

        “why” is a claim of the intention/motivation of the person(s) who set the process in motion.

        Many “why” questions may have legitimate answers. I suspect most do not.

  8. Rune
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Oh, bleh!

    Meaning/purpose is an emergent property of lower-order informational systems, and can only arise once you have cognitive and reasoning agents, i.e. it operates on a higher-order abstract level. This requires a whole lot of plumbing to work, i.e. materialism.

    If something (read: “God”) encoded and stored meaning somewhere in the universe or existence (it would have to be, otherwise how would we find or have access to it?), it means whoever did that was operating at one of these higher-order levels, and thus cannot be “God”, as “God” is said to operate “outside” all of this.

  9. Mark
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Regarding the “religious” nature of New Atheism, I was always struck by the difference in approach between Dawkins and — while he was still alive — Hitchens.

    Hitchens said pretty clearly he is not out to win converts and doesn’t really care whether other people believe in God or not. His objective was promoting secularism and reducing the deference typically shown toward religious figures like Mother Theresa or Billy Graham.

    Dawkins, on the other hand, seems to be more interested in creating a community of atheists with moral purpose and in winning converts.

    One way of putting this is that Hitchens is a good Jewish atheist while Dawkins is a Methodist or Anglican atheist.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      “One way of putting this..”

      …it only applies if you have some knowledge of religion. Otherwise, unhelpful.

      In my opinion, I would never use religion labels as a describer, as it adds legitimacy to types of religious thinking, as in, “..of course, we all know what a Methodist is..”

  10. Achrachno
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    “Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.”

    I’m sorry, but I have no ideas on that.

  11. Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    The video is mostly the usual nonsense that theologians repeat ad nauseam.

    On the “truth” question in the thread title, it is really quite impossible to answer without an agreed definition of “truth.” Philosophers and theologians write volumes about truth but, with all that writing, manage to thoroughly obfuscate what it is. Yet philosophers wonder why scientists diss their discipline.

    Science and mathematics do an end run around this cloud of obfuscation, by adequately defining a limited version of truth that works for their own needs. The philosophers question even that (as in Quine’s paper “Truth by convention”).

  12. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Mulherin claims that religion answers the “why” questions

    I find that religion doesn’t answer the “why” questions that is religions provide various answers but none of them are explanations.

    Any answer that boils down to ‘God did it’ is not a final answer – because then you ask ‘How did God do it?’ [crickets].

  13. Chris
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I guess if we atheists are all part of a religion then we have access to this ‘other way of knowing’ too. That other way of knowing tells me that there is no god – which dovetails beautifully with the lack of scientific evidence for god.

    • MNb
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      +1. I am going to steal this from you.

  14. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    The ultimate distillation of the religious side of the comparison of religion and science is this:

    “I believe I can live eternally, deserve to live eternally, and I will fight any argument that ultimately states that when my human body ceases to be alive, that all my thoughts, desires, and memories, all my plans for an eternity shared by friends, family, and famous people, are entirely fictional. I cling to that fiction in the face of any, all contrary arguments, no matter what evidence. I cling, because I am desperately afraid.”

  15. Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Many people do not believe?

  16. Posted August 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    “And of course lots of theologians do see parts of science, especially physics, cosmology, and evolution, at odds with religion.”

    FIFY, Jerry!


    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Fixed! Thanks!

  17. Harbo
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Science asymptotes truth, religion isn’t even on the same plane.

  18. Cornelius
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    “Really, can any theologian, philosopher, or scientist tell me anything about God now that we didn’t know 500 years ago? Then ask a scientist what we know now about science that we didn’t know in 1500”.

    Brilliant! ’nuff said.

  19. Ougaseon
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Let us suppose for the sake of argument that Mulherin really does convincingly show that religion answers ‘why’ questions or questions of meaning. Let us also suppose, that he shows that it is the Christian understanding of God that best explains the ‘meaning’ in the universe.

    What I have never understood about this line of reasoning, is that the ‘why’ questions do not stop with ‘God did it’ even if you can show that is true! Why this God and not some other God? Why only one God and not many gods? Why is did he command these moral scriptures and not other ones? Is there an even higher meaning that God has?

    Need some books on Metatheology!

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      There are books on meta-theology. They’re called “psychology of religion” and “sociology of religion”.

  20. MadScientist
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    “… do see parts of science, especially physics, cosmology, and evolution, at odds with science”

    Should that be ‘at odds with religion’?

  21. MNb
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    “But this is at odds with what many other theologians, philosophers and scientists tell us.”
    Exactly which scientists? No answer? Then it’s a strong indication that the author is just propagating his own personal ideas.
    Btw the only basic problem with NOMA is that believers keep on trying to harness science for the carriage of their personal belief system. Basically that’s why science and religion remain on loggerheads – people like Mulherin applying teleology to science.
    OK – I’d be curious to learn which answer Mulherin, in his quest for truth, gives to this question:
    “Why could Joseph Fritzl rape his daughter Elizabeth two, three times a week for more than 20 years?”
    I request the answer to contain words like “meaning” and “purpose”; possibly also “comfort” (for Elisabeth).
    Note: the first one to ask this question was Dostojevsky in The Brothers Karamazov.

    “how could scientists test for things like intercessory prayer”
    Prayer obviously is not a supernatural phenomenon. Doesn’t apply.

  22. andreschuiteman
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    But this is at odds with what many other theologians, philosophers and scientists tell us. They say science and religion are both quests for truth dealing with different aspects of human experience.

    But religion is not a quest for truth. It claims that it already knows the truth. That’s the difference with science.

    • Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:21 am | Permalink

      Yes, indeed. The seekers of truth are the Flawed Souls who have not yet grasped the ineffable.

  23. Posted August 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.

    Q: “How can we keep millions of people in fear yet still hold out hope for their eternal salvation, and be sure that the flock do not despair so much that they can continue to earn money to contribute to the collection plates?”

    A: “Build a fairy-tale that allows a group of people to feel special. Use these stories to make people suspicious of the Other outsiders, distrust external information and feel guilty about their natural base sexual desires. Assuage their ‘guilt’ once per week so they have a dependency on the church to feel ‘saved’.”

    Was that the sort of question and answer you were looking for?

    • beyondbelief007
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink


  24. MAUCH
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Am I supposed to take comfort in the fact that religion asks the “why” questions. Those “why” questions like why should I hate homosexuals and why should I fly this plane into that building. Perhaps we would have been better off with a little empirical reasoning.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Organised religion has a habit of telling you what the ‘why’ questions are, so the ‘answers’ are ready to hand. Ask any questions that are off-message and you’ll be told that your belief is not strong enough.

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        It’s a lot like the FAQs on company websites, isn’t it? They tend to be random pluckings from the manual turned into questions nobody is actually asking, whereas the questions one is really asking are nowhere to be found.

  25. stevenjohnson
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Massimo Piglucci just issued a “manifesto” on his Rationally Speaking blog criticizing Coyne, Dawkins et al. by carefully omitting their names as good examples of leaders, while solemnly proclaiming part of the problem was bad examples from leaders, or maybe it was examples from bad leaders. It’s also a little unclear exactly what the problem was supposed to be, irrationality, scientism, anti-intellectualism, or all of them at once. Perhaps he was trying to insinuate they’re all the same thing? At any rate, somehow these problems are to be cured by good manners (as perceived by Massimo Piglucci.)

    Which means of course that the above post is entirely wrong because it scientistically criticizes religion instead of criticizing it philosophically!

  26. papalinton
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Mulherrin’s rationale is jejune. Is it only me that deduces from his presentations and articles that Mulherrin didn’t do science so much for the science [although he undoubtedly has interest in it] per se but rather as a sort of insurance, or enhanced credibility to peddle religiosity? The manner and substance of his perspective seems predicated on a heavy reliance on credentialism to trot out the ‘trooths’ of christian mythicism, masked if you will, in the Harry Potter-esque cloak of invisibility of science.

    I simply don’t buy it.
    I also note his doctorate will be from the MCD University of Divinity [MCD stands for Melbourne Divinity College]. Why not from Uni Melbourne, where he completed all his Science stuff. That would at least have demonstrated the link between his previous undergraduate and Master’s degrees with his impending PhD.

    That in itself, seems to highlight the disjunction between theology and science.

  27. Vaal
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Well Jerry nails this to the wall as usual.

    Gawd it was aggravating listening to the pablum coming out of chris Mulherin in that video.

    One expects from a presentation titled WHY Atheists Are Wrong About Science And Religion to actually see a “WHY” – that is, an argument for why they are wrong.

    I kept waiting and waiting for this argument but all I got was chris Mulherin repeating over and over the mere assertion “they are wrong…they just are…other people think so too…so have other people in history…they are just wrong…”

    No argument whatsoever. He seems completely oblivious to the actual argument raised by atheists (“new” and old) – that is the philosophical incompatibility both with believing the Bible to be representative of a Divine Being (in any bloody way!) and in holding science in esteem. It’s the special pleading that the Christian uses to do this – the sudden indefensible exception he makes to justify a belief in his religion in the face of acknowledging the virtue of skepticism and the scientific approach elsewhere.

    I wish sooo much Jerry could just suddenly appear, walking into this video, to ask his question “Ok, tell me something new that religion has told us about God that we know to be true?”

    BTW, on that note, this video is so ripe for photoshoping. Just as chris Mulherin is taking shots at Dawkins some old guy wanders in behind him and sits down. Someone with the skills could easily photo/roto-shop Dawkins head on to that guy, and maybe add him giving the finger in the background.

    Internet, you have your orders!


  28. RF
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    adding that New Atheism is a “religion” because “we’re on a crusade.”
    I think you should have punctuated it as adding that New Atheism is a “religion” because we’re “on a crusade.”

    And is his first name supposed to not be capitalized? I thought it was a typo, but Vaal did it too.

    • Vaal
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      I copy/pasted Mulherin’s name from Jerry’s post (easier than typing it out myself).


  29. beyondbelief007
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Science and religion do not produce “truths.”. They both serve as methods for justifying one’s chosen actions.

    Religious justifications for action include fear of death, threats of pain, loyalty to tribe, obedience to authority (temporal and supernatural), promises of future rewards for current actions.

    Basing one’s decisions to act on scientific methods, replicated results, inductive reasoning, probability, natural observations, etc. is simply an individual’s choice of what (s)he trusts more.

    So faith and science are NOT different ways of knowing… They are different ways of gambling on outcomes in life.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Science and religion do not produce “truths.”.

      Well, technically, neither “produces truth.” Science produces *knowledge*, which I would define here as justified true belief. Religion does not.

      They both serve as methods for justifying one’s chosen actions.

      Both may sometimes be used for that end, but I think the idea that the primary value or purpose of science is to “justify one’s chosen actions” is absurd.

      • beyondbelief007
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        I agree. Asserting that the PRIMARY purpose of science is to justify one’s chosen actions would be absurd. Thankfully I didn’t make that claim. 🙂

        Why do you do what you do, in any given situation? Upon what will you base your decision to act or not act?

        Very likely you (and I) would be able to rattle off a list of reasons for a given action and all of them would hinge on acceptance of the causal connections established by scientific observation. We “justify” our future gambles on past observations, which we deem reliable. It’s what you call “knowledge.” We believe knowledge can justify action, and we make choices based on evidence that we believe indicates future likelihoods. The scientific method and all of its testable, reliable knowledge provides sound justification for taking action.

        I agree with you.

        I disagree with people who say religion is “another way of knowing.” It is not. It is another way of justifying one’s actions. It is not equivalent in any way to science other than in this small way.

        Both ARE methods for justifying one’s actions. Science provides the better method.

  30. RF
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Ancient religions gave us substantial astronomical knowledge. Does being inspired to do science by religion count?

  31. jeffery
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    You start with the title, “Do both science and faith produce truth?”, yet you immediately focus on “religion”: I believe that this gives religion too much attention as it is but one of many forms of “magical thinking”, in the same genre as map-dowsing, lucky rabbits’ feet, and astrology. One might more correctly say that there are only two kinds of thinking: scientific thinking, and “non-scientific” thinking, a label which any rational, intelligent person would understand covers ALL beliefs or systems of belief that cannot be proven by evidence. (“non-falsifiable” theories fall into this, too). “Faith” is an inferior form of belief, having no evidence to back it up, and therefore can never hope to produce (except perhaps by accident) superior results as to our apprehension of reality than that of fact-based, scientific method.
    Creationists like to say, “Evolution is only a theory” and in doing so they demonstrate their ignorance of just what a theory IS, and how it is developed (not to mention the fact that they conveniently fail to notice that what they believe is just a “theory”, too- a particularly bad one). They also conveniently ignore that part of the scientific method which demands repeatable results; one could take all of the information we have acquired so far about evolution, run it to its conclusion, and come up with the same results, over and over again. Although we can never be absolutely sure that some freak occurrence in nature might render say, the second law of thermodynamics (“law” is just a term of convenience for a theory that has stood up to every challenge against it), temporarily “wrong”, the sheer number of times the law has been proven right allows us to make accurate decisions based on it (I believe the sun’s going to come up in the East tomorrow morning, although it’s possible that it won’t). Apply this reasoning to Christianity’s “experiment” , though, and you get this: “How many times was the Messiah born to a virgin?”- “Well, once.” “How many times did this messiah rise from the dead?” Well, once, again.” To base one’s life on events which supposedly have only happened once in the last 2,000 years (and contradict all scientific knowledge as to how our world works in the bargain)is a pretty “unscientific” action. If, however, a guy or two were born of virgins every year and had the habit of performing miracles and rising from the dead, I might be tempted to check out this “magical thinking” myself, although at that point, it would no longer be in that realm!
    One of non-scientific thinking’s most insidious attributes is the notion that “faith” without evidence, or especially in the face of evidence to the contrary, is somehow an “admirable” trait, rendering the believer part of a superior, exclusive “club”. It is simply the mark of an ignorant mind.

  32. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    To be only a hair more generous, I think religion occasionally produces truths about morality and human nature, but does so through naturalistic means and sometimes by cribbing from non-religious sources.

    Medieval philosophy had some interesting things to say about love- much of it more influenced by Plato than the Bible. St. Augustine had a reasonable “just war” theory- generally taken from Cicero. 20th century theologian Reinhold Neibuhr (popular with some atheists) claimed his view of good and evil was based on the Christian doctrine of original sin- to me it smacks more of ideas prevalent in Greek tragedy.

    Apophatic theology (more focused on what God is not than what God is- always appealing to the “ineffable”) originated as a sincere attempt to account for certain ecstatic experiences, but now seems to act more as a strategy for immunizing religion from criticism (especially in the hands of Karen Armstrong).

  33. Talib Alttaawiil
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    is anyone else tired as i am of religious people who (a) claim religion is just as valid as science, & (b) deride ‘scientism’ as ‘just another religion’ whose adherents are ‘on a crusade’ blah blah blah?

    when the religious really want to hurt our feelings, they accuse us of…being religious.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 2:30 am | Permalink

      Yes, that really annoys me too. I find it ironical that the religious know just how insulting that implication can be.

      I’m always impressed that we don’t sink to the same level – I’ve never seen an atheist accuse religion of being ‘scientific’. 😉

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:36 am | Permalink


    • beyondbelief007
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I believe this tactic is an act of desperation… There is some small, unconscious sense of self awareness on their part that they are in a sinking ship. Unable to leap to a stable position, they seek to take everyone down in their leaky boat.

      It’s a bit of “Oh yeah… you’re just as bad as we are!” logic. You have phrased it perfectly in your last sentence.

  34. Carmichael
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    “Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.”

    How about “Has God buried inscribed gold plates in up-state New York?” They didn’t have the answer to that one that 500 years ago, did they smarty pants?
    True, it may not have been answered to everyone’s satisfaction, but if Mitt Romney’s convinced, that’s good enough for me. The guy’s never wrong!

  35. Posted August 12, 2012 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    I gave up on Mulherin at the fourth word:

    “Like all lasting marriages, faith and the natural sciences….”

    In what possible sense are they married?

  36. Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    ***Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.***

    Easy: all religions *know* that all the others are wrong. Everybody is happy with this answer: the believers are happy to hear that all other religions are wrong, and the atheists are happy to see that all religions at least agree with them that all other religions are wrong, ultimately leaving not a single religion that is “right” except where “other religions are wrong” is concerned.

    I think that is very satisfactory.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Technically, Hinduism and Buddhism think there is a lot of valuable truth in other religions. Mainly various sects of classical Christianity believe most of the others are wrong

      • Posted August 12, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        In some ways, most religions think there is a lot of valuable truth in other religions. You could even claim that with respect to science.

        That was not my point. Christians will claim that only the followers of their particular flavour will be “saved” and that all others are on the wrong path. So do Muslims, so do Jews.

        Buddhism is strange, because it does not have a god or gods, and therefore does not really seem to qualify as a religion, but there are sects that do have something relatively similar to gods.

        I don’t know enough about Hinduism to be sure there, but it would seem that given the enormous number of gods, it would not be too big of an issue to accept other gods from the outside. However, I am unaware that they actually did that.

        On the other hand, there are a lot of conflicts between Buddhists and Hindus, so they may not be all that accepting after all.

        To me, religions are comparable to what we call “races”. While they are very easy to distinguish from one another when one does not know much about them, their differences seem to become more and more trivial the more one learns about them.

        My question would then be: is there a religion (or more than one) that has officially accepted another religion as equally true and valid as itself?

        I don’t know any, but my own ignorance can obviously not be an argument that there is or isn’t such a religion.

  37. Posted August 12, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Mulherin claims that religion answers the “why” questions.

    The claim is of course correct, but for completeness we should add that the answers are invariably wrong.

  38. andreschuiteman
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    In terms of cartography, religion claims to provide a map of Cloud cuckoo land, based on unverifiable rumours and private revelations, while science maps the real world using mathematics and physics, based on actual, repeatable measurements. Why should one attach any value to the map of religion? One already has to live in Cloud cuckoo land to be able to do so.

  39. Dan Harkins
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Great post! I think NOMA, thanks to Gould and perpetuated most notably by anti-ID crusader Kenneth Miller, actually enables and empowers fundamentalists.

    The film we are doing is aimed at moderates, to cut that lifeline of accommodation you wrote about. I hope you can check us out and spread the word.

    Thanks! D Harkins

  40. Kevin
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Science produces truth

    No. It was already there.

  41. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Clearly, Mulherin has trained himself to never, ever us the word evidence in these discussions, as that might give the listener pause. Scientific argument slips by much more easily.

    • Vaal
      Posted August 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      Excellent observation!


  42. raven
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.

    Religion has discovered ways of making huge amounts of money without working too hard.

    Pat Robertson is rumored to be a billionaire.

    The Crouches of TBN have 13 mansions, several private jets, and spent $100,000 on a doghouse.

    Megachurch pastors get paid very will and are frequently fabuously wealthy.

    The truth is, you can lie a lot and make lots of money that way using religion.

  43. Posted August 12, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    The essence and requirement of religion-magical thinking-ideology-etc is
    – mind over matter.

    My wishes make it true , ie. my private, personal feelings, beliefs, claims, etc rule reality – radical solipsism.

    It is the worst kind of lie but also the most intractable for the human mind.

  44. Mary - Canada
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Seems typical (and very infantile) for most religious defenders to feel the need to whip out their moral index fingers and pretentiously wag it at anyone that challenges their superstitious beliefs. I guess that is all they can do since there is nothing to add to their counter-arguments.

  45. Posted August 12, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    “Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—”

    Q: Why is there so much pointless struggle and killing in the world, based on nothing more than baseless assertions using lack of evidence as a selling point? Why the hell were my Sunday mornings throughout my childhood spent alternating between standing, sitting and kneeling, while bored completely the FUCK out of my skull… and why has our family been divided between those that are actually curious about the real world, and those retreating into meaningless and boring ritual and dogma?

    A: religion

    I rest my case.

    PS – or… perhaps I don’t, as I guess I haven’t answered those questions to EVERYONE’s satisfaction.

  46. Posted August 13, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    “Alot of people are idiots.” Religion shows that to be True.

  47. Fatima
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    “Come on, readers, give me one example of a question that religion has answered to everyone’s satisfaction—one example of a “truth” found in religion’s quest for truth.’

    How about us? Do you even know how we,humans, were brought to life? We are the result of precise parameters coming together. Here in an extract from his book Francis Collins writes,

    “Altogether, there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory is unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have. This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity. The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal. And yet those are exactly the parameters that we observe.”

    Collins writes of the hard to believe possibility of the universe to “just come to being”. A scientist himself, he explains how a creator behind this can be the only plausible explanation. (There are of course other theories, but this is the most plausible one.)

    Science has boundaries. It cannot answer all questions. However, it is possible for science and belief to co-exist.

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