Hey, kids! A free homeschool course on accommodationism, courtesy of the Faraday Institute, Cambridge University, and the Templeton Foundation!

The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion resides at Cambridge University in England, and was set up and is sustained by generous grants from the Templeton Foundation.  I’ve posted before on the odious “Faraday Schools Project,” which comprises a series of resources designed to teach children that science and God are compatible, while also pushing not just a religious view of the universe, but a Christian one.  Well, a tweet from that project on August 12, sent to me by reader Mark, alerted me that it’s up and ready to begin the indoctrination of children:

You can see the overview of the project at the Test of Faith Homeschool Page, where, if your stomach is strong enough, you can download the course, Science and Christianity: An Introductory Course for Homeschoolers. I’d urge you to have a look at it, particularly if your children are going to experience it.  It looks as if it’s aimed at the UK and US.

I’ve read all 88 pages, and it’s palpably clear that the purpose of this course is to convince children that science is compatible with religion.  Along the way there’s some good stuff, like strong advice to conserve the environment (based on the Biblical injunction that we’re supposed to be “stewards” of the earth), and to accept evolution.  But it’s outweighed by the accommodationism, which mandates that the evolution accepted be theistic evolution (Simon Conway Morris makes an appearance here using the flawed argument of convergence to show the hand of God in evolution), that things like the “fine-tuning” of the universe give evidence for God, and that humans have a frankly dualistic free will that is somehow independent of the brain’s material structure. In those senses the course is profoundly antiscientific despite its nod to being science friendly. As we’ve learned, even in liberal Christianity one sees strong conflicts with science.

Here’s all you need to know about the contents:

And in case you think that Templeton is out of the accommodationism business, this is from the introduction:

The formal course begins with the Argument for Jesus from Hot (Haught) Beverages, which is becoming very popular, employed not just here but previously by Johns Polkinghorne and Haught. You’re supposed to fill in the blanks at the bottom (this is interactive accommodationism):

I won’t bore you with the rest of the course, for it employs all the accommodationist tropes with which we’re familar: there are “different ways of knowing,” science can be dangerous, the evils in the world weren’t caused by God, but are a byproduct of his mechanisms of natural selection, plate tetonics, etc. etc. etc.

I’ll just make one point. The course discusses the faulty tactic of using God to fill in the blanks of our scientific ignorance, decrying “God-of-the-gaps” arguments as both theologically and scientifically untenable.  Well, that’s good.  But then they go on to use a God-of-the-gap argument when it comes to the “fine-tuning” of the physical laws of the universe:


It then gives some examples of fine-tuning (I’ve shown one of four):

Now of course this is precisely the kind of God-of-the-gaps argument that the course argues against: because we don’t know why the universe appears “fine tuned,” and there may be a scientific explanation, we can’t automatically say this is proof of God.  But the Faraday folk are cleverer than this. They say that while it’s not “proof” of God, it constitutes “evidence” for God.  In that way they adhere to the God-of-the-gaps argument without appearing to:

They don’t mention, of course, that science doesn’t “prove” things, either: we adduce evidence for things, and when that evidence is strong enough, we regard something as provisionally true (evolution is a good example).

By adducing scientific evidence for God (free will and human morality are others), this booklet shows that Test of Faith, and Templeton, are not regarding science and faith as separate magisteria, but claiming that science gives evidence for faith. If we’re going to go that route, then, why not give all the evidence against God from science, like the fact that we see unjustified evils in the world (like childhood cancers), that we see rudiments of “moral” behavior in our closest relatives, and that intercessory prayer doesn’t work.  Of course this homeschool booklet doesn’t do that, for its purpose it is not to let students judge the facts for themselves. Its purpose is to strengthen students’ Christianity by showing that not only does science not conflict with it, but actually supports it.

Templeton is reprehensible, as is this homeschool course. Let us hear no more about the Templeton Foundation becoming more secular, for it’s clearly up to its same old tricks.

134 Comments

  1. Kevin Anthoney
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Surely the answer to “why is it boiling?” is “because the water’s reached its boiling point.”

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

      And, of course, psychology is not a science. You need religion to know why people drink tea, not science.

      It must be true. It is from Cambridge University.

    • Tim
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      But you see, if the enthalpy of vaporization of water were just 5% lower (and the entropy of vaporization was unchanged), the vapor pressure of water would be more than doubled at room temperature. The greenhouse effect due to water’s contribution would be greatly increased and life on earth would be miserable. Even worse, your teapot would boil at 81 ˚C instead of 100 ˚C and that would make really crappy tea. The word is truly ‘fine-tuned’! (Although it doesn’t really need to be said: Ergo Jesus, and Hallelujah too!)

      • Tim
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        I meant to say, The world is truly ‘fine-tuned’, but come to think of it, the Word is fine-tuned too.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Actually, if you think about it, “because I want some tea” is an extremely apt analogy for the way religions answer “why” questions — with ineptitude and non sequitur.

  2. Chris
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    OMG, they are actually using the Haught Tea argument!!!

    Surely this is a better one:

    How is this little girl sick?
    Because she has cancer.

    Why is this little girl sick?
    Because god wants her to die (presumably).

    In the same way, *science* asks ‘how?’ can we cure her, and *god* asks ‘why?’.

    Jesus, this is so sick. You can drive a coach and horses right through this crap and this is meant to be educational?

    • MNb
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Still can be improved.

      “How got Elisabeth locked in her basement to be raped two, three times a week for 24 years”
      “Her father forced her.”
      “Why …. ?”
      “God wanted her to experience this.”

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      Yes – while, of course, claiming that the atheists are haughty!

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Don’t you see how unfair you are being towards that poor deity? Shame on you.

      The little girls were sickened, tortured and killed so that you could grow spiritually — so that you could demonstrate your compassion in the face of someone else’s horrible adversity. You guys just don’t get it.

  3. Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    I must be an absolute idiot because I can’t figure out the answers to the blanks in chapter 1.
    What do they mean by ‘scientists’? I would have answered that Greeks were the first scientists in the Western world.
    And what are the next two blanks supposed to be?
    Science asks how and why. Religion just makes up and answer to one of the questions, it doesn’t ask anything.

    • Kevin Anthoney
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      The answer to the first blank is “burned as heretics”.

    • TJR
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

      “The first scientists in the western world were actually”

      “Sumerians”

      or

      “Greeks”

      depending on how you define the western world.

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        Or how you define “science”.

    • gbjames
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      1) “Human”
      2) “Tom”
      3) “Harry”

      Prove me wrong.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Hah, that’s exactly what I said “Greeks were the first scientists”.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      I had the same problem. I have looked at the blanks over and over again and no answer seems to come to mind.

  4. andreschuiteman
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Christians cannot prove God, but just as a scientist would, we have a “theory” (our belief in God) and we have our observation of the universe (through science), and we can see that they correspond (match up).

    This is incredibly disingenuous. Yes, Christians have a “theory”, but it is a theory that can explain everything and therefore explains nothing. A kid dies from cancer: God’s will. A kid recovers from cancer: God’s will. Prof. McGrath, come back when your theory can make a testable prediction. Until then, stop indoctrinating innocent children.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      They have a failed hypothesis, not a theory.

      • Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        YES. Thank you. And not even a real hypothesis since even that requires a certain amount of evidence.

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      But, that’s just it; they don’t ever TEST any of their theories. They already assume they’re correct, which makes them pointless. L

  5. Observer
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    The frustrating thing about the fine tuning argument is that it doesn’t provide the evidence of god that its adherence claim. All it does is point out that the conditions that define our existence are conducive to our existence. Well, duh! It’s the cosmic equivalent of rafting down the Grand Canyon and exclaiming, “it’s a good thing God carved out this huge chasm, or this marvelous river couldn’t be here.”

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      Doug Adams had the best argument I’ve encountered: it’s the puddle marveling at how miraculously well-tailored the hole it finds itself in is suited to its own contours.

      b&

      • Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

        This, it appears to me, is what busts the fine-tuning argument. Is there any possible state of affairs in which the fine-tuning argument could not be offered? I don’t think so, which renders it worthless in judging our current state of affairs.

        • Tulse
          Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          Is there any possible state of affairs in which the fine-tuning argument could not be offered?

          Sure there is. Imagine, for example, if the universe were horribly inimical to life, made up of nothing but trillions upon trillions of cubic light-years of incredibly cold vacuum, sprinkled with infinitesimal lumps of blazingly hot gases, and in all that staggering vast cold with specs of searing heat, there was only the tiniest mote of matter, upon which only the thinnest of surface skin could support life. Certainly that would be an argument against the notion that the universe is “fine-tuned for life”, right?

          • Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

            Good thinking Tulsa, Very good thinking.

          • Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

            Look how special such a universe would be for that lifeform. How much finer tuned could it be, in that Goldilocks, er, sliver?

            In any case, my point was that fine tuning could be applied to anything, like the puddle, not just life. God fine-tuned all this so the puddle could exist. As soon as anything exists, it could be claimed that the universe was fine-tuned for it.

        • Gary W
          Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

          Is there any possible state of affairs in which the fine-tuning argument could not be offered?

          If we had a well-supported theory showing that the only possible values for the fundamental constants are the values we actually observe, it would be hard to argue that they’re “finely-tuned.”

    • Gary W
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      The frustrating thing about the fine tuning argument is that it doesn’t provide the evidence of god that its adherence claim. All it does is point out that the conditions that define our existence are conducive to our existence.

      I agree that the “fine-tuning argument” isn’t evidence of God, but what you state above isn’t the fine-tuning argument; it’s the Anthropic Principle.

  6. Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    There may be plenty of universes (or potential ones) that are “just right for life” — or there may be only one. But it doesn’t matter, since we, by definition, inhabit one of the habitable universes, making the argument for divine fine-tuning fall a bit flat: random chance is equally accountable. Just like the interesting philosophical question: would there be a god if humans (or other, equally sentient, cultural creatures) had not evolved? I say ‘no’, since the notion of a deity is a human construct. So, what about a universe where there is life, but no humans (or similar creatures): would it have to be fine-tuned? I think not. Fine-tuning seems a post-hoc argument, if any.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      Here’s a nice bit of argumentation and historical background on fine-tuning, via Vic Stenger. It’s a 24-page PDF. Good read. Good ammo.

      • Marcoli
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Ditto that. I have been following the fine-tuning argument for a while, and I have yet to run into a main stream physicist who argues for it. My impression is that they do not seem to need it to explain our universe. For those who are interested, Victor Stenger also has a very readable book on this: ‘The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning’. From the title you can tell where Stenger comes out on this issue.

      • MNb
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the link. Excellent article by Victor Stenger. Compare the theological garbage on the same subject and it’s easy to predict which approach will provide the best results.

    • MNb
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Fine-tuning is a travesty of
      a) the Anthropic Principle(s)
      b) causation
      by adding teleology.

    • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      Agree. But it wouldn’t matter if this were the only universe (in its narrowest sense). It is what it is. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here to contemplate it. There’s nothing special about it.

      If you feel like it’s in need of an explanation, please explain why it is that you (and any siblings you may have) exist rather than any of the many possible children your parents might have had. (That is, why is your DNA fine-tuned to produce you specifically?)

      /@

  7. Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Unless I’m mistraken, the first scientists in the Western world were Greek Pagans. You know, like Archimedes and whoever came up with the Antikythera Mechanism?

    Of course, those’re just the first well-documented ones. If you wanted to push it back to the Neandertals and before, I wouldn’t argue very hard. I mean somebody figured out that whole “fire” thing….

    My last post some days ago in that other thread addressed the “fine-tuning” nonsense. Drop a naked human anywhere more than a few feet above or below a small percentage of the surface of the Earth, and that human will die a quick and painful death. The next least-inhospitable place we know of in the Universe is the surface of Mars, which is colder than the Antarctica and has an atmosphere about as thick as the inside of a vacuum jar in a high school physics lab. The sum total of everything in the Universe is empty vacuum, with “stuff” consisting of only a minuscule fraction leftover. Of that stuff, only 5% is everyday baryonic matter; most of the rest is dark energy, with a good helping of dark matter for good measure. Of that 5% of the tiny fraction, all but a tiny fraction of a percent is bound up in stars and black holes. Of the tiny fraction of a percent of 5% of the tiny fraction, virtually all is gas giant planets. Of the tiny fraction of a percent of a tiny fraction of a percent of 5% of the tiny fraction, virtually all is the rocky material of terrestrial planets. Of that, virtually all are waaaaaay out of the inhabitable zone for that star system. Of that fraction, virtually all have other problems that preclude life from forming. Of that fraction, virtually all are not the Earth. Of the Earth, virtually all is solid rock. Of that fraction, virtually all is ocean.

    I can’t even count up how many tiny fractions of small percentage of a tiny fraction of a small percentage that is.

    And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy the sunrise….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      We could count all the human inventions from stone tools and making clothing from animal hides to spears and agriculture as stemming from the scientific impulse of humans. The curiosity to understand our environment, and the ability to experiment and discover new ways to control or manipulate that environment for our benefit seem clearly to be natural human traits.

      Oddly enough, this same desire to understand and explain nature seems to be part of what led humans to create religion. To ask where things come from seems natural enough for a species that has made its survival dependent upon being able to answer questions about its surroundings. And the early human mind was quite likely uncomfortable with the answer “nothing created everything” or the answer “I don’t know”. Then as now, the gaps were filled with the first conceptions of gods, an ignorant best guess based on human exprience at shaping and controlling things intentionally.

      Ironically we could say that the first religion was an early failed attempt at science, or to satisfy that impulse that science satisfies, i.e. to explain the natural world. That we still have absurd vestigial remains of that obsolete “science” is an accident of human cultural evolution, kind of like the appendix. Yes, religion is the inflamed appendix vexing the modern and otherwise healthy body of science.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Ayn Rand also said that religion was a primitive form of philosophy. Some scientific curiosity has been motivated by religion, but at this point I think, to use Dan Dennett’s analogy, religion is at best the “bumper crop”.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted September 3, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          I don’t understand the bumper crop remark. My understanding of the term is that it means a particularly productive agricultural yield, above the average or expected. It’s a very desirable thing, so if Dennet said that, it seems like a very poor choice of words, or else bumper crop has some other meaning I’ve never encountered.

          I figure the very earliest religions were attempts to explain the world, and served at least some of the purpose as science does today, as a way to make sense of the environment and to aid in decision making and healing. It was of course very bad science based on wild speculation and very crude observations, so it doestnt qualify as science by our standards. But perhaps some herbal remedies would have had some real biological efficacy and have been based on some primitive semi-systematic experimental process, as was learning to create sharp arrowheads from stone. I’m just saying it came from the same motivations of curiosity, the need for security and control, and other practical needs as our science does today.

          By the time more modern religions came along, such as Judaism, Hinduism, pagan, Egyptian, and others that were followed in larger civilizations, such as nation states based on agriculture, many other cultural factors had been melded to this ‘scientific’ function, such as politics, military ‘psyops’, history, group identity, etc. It seems like the major religions before the common era were cultural kitchen sinks for any kind of authority or aspect of cultural unity. But still religion 2000 years ago even would have been considered the most authoritative source to answer questions we answer with science today, like what brings the rains, the seasons, the sunrise and sunset, what are the stars, where did we come from, where did the universe come from, etc.

          • Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            Actually the term Dennett uses is “nurse crop” – like scaffolding which helped the real ideas of value to develop but is now no longer needed.

            Reference – http://youtu.be/ADLjLcS2kJs?t=3m2s

  8. Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    I wrote some notes on my blog too if readers can’t bear to read the whole thing.

    It’s interesting to compare the supposedly deep and inscrutable faith professed by believers like Francis Spufford with the reality of indoctrination as illustrated by this course material. The apologetics are the usual bog standard and dreadful arguments that any evangelical offers – none of the thoughtful nuance that sophisticated theology claims to offer. Remember, this is produced by the Faraday Institute of Science and Religion based at Cambridge University, which provides a gloss of scientific and academic rigour which might make one think it is impartial. But, in fact, it is blatantly Christian-centric. It is pure proselytising.

    In the end, it presents a skewed view of the world to youngsters in an attempt to secure more Christians for the future. This is the ignoble truth of the science and religion initiative.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      …and the Templeton Foundation.

      • Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        There would a lot less ‘science and religion’ if it weren’t for the Templeton millions. They can do what they like with their money, of course, but it needs to be pointed out, often, how it indirectly coerces people to believe what Templeton want them to believe.

  9. Occam
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    OMG! Gimme that ole time catechism! At least it didn’t pretend to appeal to the intellect. This “Test of FAITH” stuff is so dumbed down it’s beyond belief (pun not even intended, just inevitable).

    “Completion of this course will lay a firm foundation for future intellectual pursuits and life as an informed and engaged citizen in the 21st century.”

    Er, what?

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      The usual educationally focused marketing-speak, unfortunately. Education is all about “relevance” and such these days.

      Needless to say, this course (if taken alone, with no counterbalance) doesn’t prepare one for anything except gullibility and bafflegab.

  10. MAUCH
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    The argument you call the Anthropic/Goldilocks Principle sure seems to often be heard from the average person on the street. Here is the arguement to stop any athiest in his tracks, “Despite the fact that I have no idea how the universe works it does work and therefore my ignorance proves god.” I doubt a person making a statemment of this sort will be receptive to the fact that there might be a rational fallacy somewhere in that statement.

    • lamacher
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      That’s the ‘O’Reilly Argument’ – “the tide comes in, the tide goes out … you can’t explain that, therefore God!” The intellectual content of a rock.

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I suspect that Faraday would not be very happy with this being put out under his name.

    Viking (WEIT’s publisher) should consider coming out with a counterpoint version. Something like ‘Dr. Coyne’s Antidote (to the Templeton Foundation)’.

    What age group is this thing aimed at, anyway?

    • Galactor
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      Faraday would be more than happy to be associated with this nonsense given that he was a devout Christian of some wierd sect.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        You sure? Before writing that I skimmed his Wikipedia page and didn’t see anything re. that. His father was a Glassite, whatever that is, but no mention of him in re. H Jesus.

        • Hempenstein
          Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          Oops, I take that back. He was a Sandemanian.

      • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

        Faraday as far as I can tell was indeed a Sandamanian. But he was also very private about it – likely the ultimate in cognitive dissonance. However, I do not know how much, since I do not know much about that group.

        • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

          Faraday was certainly devout, and came from a devout family, which is probably sufficient to explain his belief. As I understand it, the Sandemanians weren’t very pushy, preferring to keep themselves to themselves. The fact that they died out might tell us something about the more ‘successful’ churches. This is Geoffery Cantor’s take on Faraday and his Sandemanianism:

          In a revealing sentence in his lecture on mental education Faraday vividly portrayed the relationship between God, man and nature in the following terms: ‘for the book of nature, which we have to read, is written by the finger of God’. […] [T]he investigation of nature is like reading a book, and just as the Sandemanians sought to understand every word in the Bible without introducing distortions of human origin, so Faraday aimed to comprehend God’s other book with integrity and without giving reign to imagination or prejudice. In
          pursuing the empirical method great care had therefore to be taken to read correctly the God-made signs that are accessible to the scientist.

          In order both to curb his overactive imagination and to read God’s work correctly, Faraday nailed his flag firmly to the empiricist mast. He believed that facts, and only facts, are the basic signs of nature and the foundation on which the whole edifice of science has to be constructed. As he told the audience at his lecture on mental education, a ‘fundamental fact … never fails us, its evidence is always true’, and he portrayed science as dependent ‘upon carefully observed facts’.
          […]
          Moreover, […] his appeal to facts possessed clear psychological overtones. Thus, writing to Whewell in 1835 he admitted that ‘I feel
          that my safety consists in facts; and even these I am but too anxious [not] to pervert through the influence of preconceived notions’

          From http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michael-Faraday-Sandemanian-Scientist-Nineteenth/dp/0333588029

          So it could be that his beliefs caused him to be more empiricist than he would have been otherwise? Cantor is a bit of a ‘science and religion’ advocate, so bear that in mind, but the quotes from Faraday are interesting, I think.

  12. Neil
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Why is the kettle boiling?

    Because I want some tea.

    Why do you want some tea?

    Because I am thirsty.

    Why are you thirsty?

    Because my body is dehydrated.

    Why is your body dehydrated?

    Because I have been sweating.

    Why were you sweating?

    Because I was warm.

    Why do you sweat when you are warm?

    Take a freaking science class, why don’t you?

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      The “rotten kid regress”….

      • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        Except if you’re a scientist, like my father is, when you ask a regress of questions, he eventually told me he doesn’t know, and other people don’t either. I asked him once “what is that made of” repeatedly or something along those lines and got to quarks.

        • Posted September 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          A serious rotten kid regress responds to “I don’t know” with another “Why…?”

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Haught’s argument is largely based on Aristotle’s four modes of causality, which physicists have mostly discarded since the era of Isaac Newton.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        No, no! The physicists can’t discard it – philosophy is an essential part of science!

  13. Erp
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Strictly speaking it is based at St. Edmund’s College at Cambridge University and not within the academic departments (e.g., not within Divinity). The colleges are independent entities from the university proper and St. Edmund’s was set up as a Catholic college (though students of all faiths and none are now admitted according to wikipedia). I’m not sure how much the university is involved with the institute.

    BTW the first use of the term ‘scientist’ is according to the OED in the 1830s by some in the British Association for the Advancement of Science though it was initially not too popular. Given the time and place it is likely all of the initial self-described scientists would have been at least nominally Christian though there might have been some who were Jewish (more likely some would have been Unitarians or Quakers who many Christians don’t consider Christian).

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      It is vital to point out the *nominally*. Descartes and Galileo (and perhaps Kepler) were not, really. Newton was a heretic, Boyle was terrified that science was antireligious, and so on.

  14. lamacher
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    I think that it’s time to post a series of ‘WHY’ questians for these folks to answer:
    – why does water boil at different temperaturs under differing pressures?
    – why does a clear horizon sky look red at sunset?
    – why do some 10,000 children die each day of starvation?

    These very simple ‘WHY’ questions are easily answered by science, not so well by religion/faith, except by the non-answer ‘It’s all part of god’s plan’! It’s time to rebut the boilerplate whenever it emerges from the stagnant groundwater of mindless cant.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      If you’re trying to raise the level of understanding, it might help to first suggest that the how/why distinction is a sloppy form of Hume’s is/ought distinction, and include those as examples of the sloppyness — “why”-form questions about the way the universe is.

      YMMV.

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I gotta admit that JAC has here made the best case against accomodationism I have seen since I started following this blog in April!!

    Clearly the Templeton people don’t want to follow through on the philosophical implications of science very rigorously.

    It’s especially galling given that the folks at Templeton have not contributed to any genuine advance in human knowledge.

    It’s one thing when accomodationists have made substantial contributions to scientific knowledge (Arthur Eddington, Michael Faraday, Charles Townes [co-inventor of the laser], Francis Collins- I grudgingly list Polkinghorne as he had a role in the discovery of the quark). To these folks, you have to be gracious, allow that they have good motives, and admit they are genuinely intelligent. The worst that can be said is that they are very badly in need of a paradigm Gestalt switch, the philosophical equivalent of Thomas Kuhn’s scientific paradigm shift
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift

    Do the Templeton people think there is anything new to be discovered? It’s one thing if people are just giving up religious beliefs gradually, a bit at a time- it’s another thing to be muddying the waters for propagandist purposes. They’re trying to pull in religion on the coattails of science.

    Still Templeton is far less worrisome than the anti-science nutcases at Discovery Institute. Don Quixote is preferable to any theocrat or Inquisitor.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Do you mean to say that,

      “. . . when accomodationists have made substantial contributions to scientific knowledge . . .”

      that for that reason alone we should,

      “. . . allow that they have good motives . . .”

      regarding their accommodationism?

      If so, why?

      I can’t think of a single reason to suppose that because somebody made a contribution to humanity’s scientific knowledge that they could not also have less than intellectually honest motivations for their accommodationism, and engage in less than upstanding behavior in support of it. That seems to me to be something like a hybrid of an argument from authority and a category error.

      Now, I don’t think that because a scientist who contributed is an acccommodationist that therefore he, and or his contributions, should get no respect. I think it is best to keep such things separate. Humans are complicated enough that it is a nearly sure bet that any human you care to examine has accomplished some very grand things and some very disgusting things.

  16. Explicit Atheist
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    The Templeton argument here about carbon and the strong nuclear force is somewhat misleading, according to my (limited) understanding of this technical topic.

    It is the fine-tuned balance “between the strong nuclear force and the electromagnetic force” which “affects the way protons and neutrons can combine to make stable atomic nuclei,” making life possible, not the particular value of the strong nuclear force in isolation. So there are many possible pairs of values that result in carbon and oxygen.

    • Explicit Atheist
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Also, I should add that the “making life possible” part is also dubious. We don’t know that life is possible only in a universe with carbon and oxygen. A different periodic table of elements may also generate life.

    • Kevin Anthoney
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      They’re talking about the creation of carbon in stars, via the triple-alpha process. Fred Hoyle famously predicted there would be a resonance in the nuclear energy of carbon with just the right energy level to enable the triple alpha process. This energy level couldn’t be too low (otherwise no carbon would form) or too high (otherwise all the carbon would absorb another helium atom to form oxygen).

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Note though that it turns out atoms and their chemical properties are surprisingly robust vs parameter variations. Carbon is also a feature of the weakless universe (where the weak force is turned off).

        So this is a sleight-of-hand trick to use to imply anything on the rarity of universes, and any scientists involved should be ashamed.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          Or maybe not so surprisingly come to think of it, if anthropic theory is correct.

          Because it reversely predicts that we have a robust volume of observers over the landscape of universes.

    • Gary W
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      It is the fine-tuned balance “between the strong nuclear force and the electromagnetic force” which “affects the way protons and neutrons can combine to make stable atomic nuclei,” making life possible, not the particular value of the strong nuclear force in isolation. So there are many possible pairs of values that result in carbon and oxygen.

      But of all the possible pairs of values, what fraction are pairs that allow protons and neutrons to combine to make carbon and oxygen? If that fraction is very small, then there may be an appearance of fine-tuning.

      • Notagod
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        I saw a picture of the path of a tornado that was fine-tuned to smash the house of a christian God. Therefore, christianity is the work of a debil.

  17. Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Teabagging for Jebus just seems so wrong.

  18. Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    A friend invests with Franklin Templeton Investments Corp. and he says that when he attended a shareholders meeting, the meeting began with a prayer. I checked to see if Franklin Templeton Investments had any connection to the Templeton discussed on this website; it does:
    The company claims to be “a leader in global investing not only because we’ve followed the footsteps of Sir John Templeton, a pioneer of the concept of investing globally. . . .”

    https://www.franklintempleton.ca/ca/retail/en/jsp_cm/global_nav/company/company_main.jsp

  19. Jeff Johnson
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    That confused how/why distinction needs to be replaced with a objective/subjective distinction, or a real/imaginary distinction. Those would be the non-overlapping magisteria.

    “I want a cup of tea” is purely a subjective phenomenon, as are all religious ideas or concepts. If religion abandoned all truth claims that reach beyond the confines of the human skull, such as god, soul, heaven, hell, and miracle, they would properly fit within their native territory that does not conflict with science. Of course they need to share that territory with philosophy, art, literature, psychology, and other human intellectual pursuits.

    Certainly how/why is way off base. Why do objects fall? Because of the gravitational force. How does gravity curve space? I don’t know, but it’s definitely a scientific problem.

    The questions religion could grapple with, if it were pruned to its rightful domain of inquiry, might be: “why, if God existed, should he expect us to serve others”. There are probably many ethical or moral dilemmas that theological historians might consider from a “what if god existed” point of view. They could experiment with models for ordering communities morally and ethically under the enforcement of hypothetical gods. There is no reason of course this theoretical religion couldn’t be absorbed under philosophy, psychology, and sociology. This would reduce religion to its proper value and status, effectively the natural efficient market price, which today is artificially inflated due to institutionalized distortions in the market of ideas and knowledge.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      I think it can be more precisely translated to Hume’s Is-ought problem. What you call an objective/subjective distinction seems closest, except that when a particular arbitrary is-ought bridge is given axiomatically and precisely, it allows “objective” inferences.

      Ought questions seem to involve ordering relationships (preferences) over a set of choices, such that one is “better than” (>) another. Or worse than, or equivalent to, or just plain incomparable against — see Wikipedia’s entry on “Partially ordered set” for semantically useful abstract math.

      Of course, the later parts of your proposal involves the standard economic oversimplification of utility involving a linear ordering, rather than potentially some non-linear flavor of poset.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        As I understand Hume’s law, which is admittedly barely, the statement is that you can’t use reason to infer what ought to be from what is.

        But if we consider god, even if Christians tried to infer that god ought to be from a set of accepted premises, it still wouldn’t amount to an argument that god ‘is’.

        Don’t Christians actually reverse this by inferring ‘is’ from an ‘ought’ when they claim god exists? And if so they are making a worse error than is covered by Hume’s law.

        I think the only valid claims religion could make would be those with no direct ontological consequences. For example religion can’t say what exists (without conflicting with science), but Buddhist meditation can have measurable impact on the brain. So to could some Christian beliefs for purely psychological reasons. Some forms of prayer might have benefits to the state of the brain just as meditation, as long as we understand it merely as an exercise in visualization, and not an actual appeal to a magical deity.

        The religious confuse their ‘special way of knowing’, and the “truths” in scripture and ‘unknowable mystery’, with actual ontological or metaphysical objects. All they really have are artifacts of human culture, subjective emotional experiences and mental ideas that may very well in some biochemical way uplift and inspire them to action or inner peace or some kind of ordered and disciplined patterns and habits of living. I think science needs to concede just this to religion, but absolutely refute the claims of miracles, god, creation stories, and the afterlife.

        This is the divide between religion and science, and it’s not clear to me (yet) that Hume’s distinction totally covers it. But I think there is value in clearly defining it. It’s not enough, because of those small exceptions I mentioned, to simply say there is nothing at all valid in religion.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        I suppose maybe you were implying that religion is entirely confined to normative statements but cannot make descriptive statements. This would cover its ‘truths’, which we could then subject to rational scrutiny without accepting the usual religious claims of absolute authority. Surely the tower of Babyl has instructive value about hubris. Many (or some at least) bible tales could be regarded in the same way Aesops fables are.

        But religion does have something more, which are the emotional and mental states associated with song, prayer, community bonds, etc. These things are experiential and subjective and probably have some biochemical basis. And it seems like pure belief (even if it is false) intensifies some of the joy and elation people feel, as a stimulative drug might intensify it. We know for example that belief can strongly change the intensity of a fear reaction, regardless of the actual presence or absence of a threat. This is why, evidently, belief is such a powerfully manipulative tool for religious leaders.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          This suggests a clinical description for religious sufferers as “belief addicts”, not very different in kind from adrenaline junkies.

        • Posted September 14, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          Actually, not quite what I was getting at. Religions tend to make both is-claims and ought-claims. (It tends to do the former badly). The how/why assertion seems to express the notion that science is limited to is-claims, thus leaving ought-claims the “rightful” sole territory of religion.

          I’d agree with the first half; science is limited to is questions. It’s the second part I’d disagree with. Because unfortunately for religion, engineering is also in the “ought” business. If you want a bridge to stay up, you ought to build it one way; if you want it to fall down, you ought to build it another.

          In fact if you are willing to go so far as to consider that thinking in formally logical, mathematical, scientific modes is an example of “altered states of consciousness”; consider “mundane” to refer to “folk science” conceptions of the universe; and are willing to refer to the universe of space-time as it actually is (IE, the idealized limit condition of what scientific methods attempt to approach via models) by the referent of “spiritual reality°“….

          The consequent is that math-and-science based engineering are an example of what Dale Cannon refers to in his “Six Ways of Being Religious” as the Way of Shamanic Mediation:

          [T]he way of shamanic mediation consists into entry into altered states of consciousness in which persons become mediators or channels for the intervention of spiritual reality°, in the expectation that “supernatural” (transmundane) resources of imagination, power, and guidance will be released for solving or dealing with otherwise intractable problems of life.

          The resulting math-and-science based engineering seems a lot more reliably effective at delivering results than most traditional religions’ forms of Shamanic Mediation, such as “laying on hands” by revival tent evangelists.

          (I’ll also note that emotional states are often associated with “ought”; see, for example, Thomas Jefferson’s (mawkish) essay “The Head and the Heart”. The is-ought distinction seems a better way of taking the how/why question away from the religious, as long as you’re willing to risk having to let engineers play with philosophy. Many sensible people have aversions to that….)

  20. DrDroid
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    The most alarming thing is that Cambridge University allows its name to be associated with this kind of garbage. Why don’t Cambridge alumni protest?

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I protest very strongly.

      • DrDroid
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        If you are a Cambridge alumnus, organize a protest (email, etc),

  21. Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Shame on Cambridge University. See what a few dollars or pounds can do. Cambridge is lending credibility to christianism.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      As it has since its founding almost 800 years ago. It was very well known for its theological school all those years ago. It always amuses me how Oxford and Cambridge have this mix of traditions in science and ancient superstition. 400 years of science hadn’t purged the ghosts from their halls.

  22. Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Wanting some tea does not make water boil.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      +1

  23. Brygida Berse
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Regarding professor McGrath’s statement, it is comforting to know that Auschwitz, childhood polio and malaria are exactly “what Christians would say the world ought to be like”. 

  24. Billn
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    With the changes that are being made to the UK education system whole new opportunities are opening for this form of propaganda.

    Anti-science fundamentalists will be able to organise their own schools and ensure their children are not exposed to any rational challenge to religious indoctrination.

    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      In the US, Missouri just passed a state constitutional amendment giving students the right to opt out of any teaching assignment or presentation that violates their religious beliefs.

  25. Explicit Atheist
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Thank you. It does appear that Stenger may be an outlier in arguing against fine-tuning and that the consensus is that fine-tuning is true. The consensus also appears to be that we can no more cite the fact of fine- tuning as evidence for a multiverse than we can cite it as evidence for a god, fine- tuning stands by itself as an unexplained mystery.

    But unlike god, my understanding is that we do have indirect evidence for a multiverse as an implication of inflation and quantum mechanics (quantum mechanics appears to imply that there is a sense in which everything that could happen does happen) and also string theory, although the status of string theory remains unsettled. When theories are scientific, then it’s legitimate science to work out and discuss all their consequences even if they involve unobservable entities. Because Einstein’s theory of general relativity has successfully predicted many things that we can observe, we also take seriously its predictions for things we cannot observe, e.g., what happens inside black holes. Unlike the multiverse, we have no such support at all for the god hypothesis.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      I don’t know what the consensus is. But it is a fact that even its critics now say that the anthropic eternal inflation landscape is dominating the publications on string theory of theoretical physics as an explanation for fundamental physics. (See the paper that the post links to.)

      And it is predictive, i.e. testable, on delivering the cosmological constant, which no other theory can do. On the other hand the critics can say on other parameters:

      “Indeed, with the exception of the c.c., we have plausible symmetry arguments that explain all of the apparent fine tuning in the supersymmetric standard model11. In many cases there is no agreed upon explanation, only because so many different models can be built which explain the tunings. By contrast, in the absence of new principles, landscape models require fine tuning of many orders of magnitude, in many different parameters, in order to explain the data of our world.”

      Note that the fine tuning spoken of here is not the religious one of a seemingly “tight” (and then in their mind improbable) fit to observations, but the very need for adjusting parameters to fit observations.

      The EI answer is that the Standard Model for particles, and a presumed supersymmetric set of particles at higher energies, “freezes” out as universes transits toward the dominating vacuum. So you have a huge sets of parameters and their outcome that are only coincidental, such as the ability of carbon to bridge a nucleosynthesis gap.

      Carbon is a feature of many universes including the so called “weakless” one. (I.e. you can turn the weak force off, and still have a livable universe akin to ours.)

      • Explicit Atheist
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        It is interesting that he asserts that there are many “symmetry models” that explain fine-tuning. It sounds like there may be a conflict here between EI models that explain the c.c. value and the symmetry models that explain fine-tuning of all the other parameter values?

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          Well, Banks’ interpretation is that it is so.

          I believe the EI model is that these are independent structures, so the cc (and a few other parameters plus the cosmological arrow of time) comes out of EI while particles simply freeze out when the energy gets low enough and can contain many symmetries or a few.

          If that model is true, the symmetry models are in dire straits. The LHC results push the simplest supersymmetry models into a 1 % or worse finetuning, the very finetuning they are supposed to solve. While the EI has much less skew against the expected.

          The one thing these models have in common is that they need supersymmetric particles to be shored up by string theory. And it would help cosmology too, giving dark matter candidates. So that may be a crux.

          If the EI models are correct, they work like our universe. The largest part (the dominant vacuum) is completely devoid of life, and the livable places we find is a tiny sprinkle on that.

          Yet, because we live, we can expect a robust set of those places. Quite the contrary to religious descriptions in all details.

      • MNb
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        “the consensus is that fine-tuning is true”
        As far as I know this isn’t the case – only that the constants of physics are what they are.

        “Note that the fine tuning spoken of here”
        This is why I separate fine-tuning from the Anthropic Principle. Basically fine-tuning is the AP plus teleology added –> god.
        But it looks like I am going to lose the battle and everybody will confuse f-t with AP the next several decades. Still I maintain that an atheist using f-t when meaning AT is one step nearer to become an accommodist.

    • Gary W
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      It does appear that Stenger may be an outlier in arguing against fine-tuning and that the consensus is that fine-tuning is true.

      I’m not sure there’s a consensus, but from what I’ve read the prevailing view among scientists who have studied the issue is that there really is an *appearance* of fine-tuning, but that this could be explained through some kind of multiverse hypothesis.

      Stenger argues that some of the claims of apparent fine-tuning don’t really hold up to scrutiny. I’m not sure how widely his conclusions on this point are accepted by other scientists. But even Stenger seems to agree that a multiverse, or some other explanation that goes beyond current scientific knowledge, is required to account for certain types of apparent “fine-tuning.”

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Poor Faraday, to be related to an effort of fractal errors, errors on all scales!

    How is it boiling? […] Why is it boiling?

    It is boiling because the water is heated, and it it is boiled to be ingested because most animals consume water instead of producing it metabolically. If we consumed other liquids, or didn’t sometimes preferred a tea infusion due to having taste receptors, it wouldn’t be boiling.

    It is all science. Was that so hard?

    The conflict we hear about in media was mainly stirred up by Victorian scientists who wanted to get rid of the clergy who were involved in science.

    Hooray for Old Atheism! … um, what?

    Besides the historical problem, this strikes me as conspirationism!? If so, it is the lowest grounds that Sophisticated Theology™ has been reduced to hug.

    The Anthropic Principle

    Once again and with force: what Polkinghorne is describing is *not* anthropic theory!

    It is the completely reverse, where instead of a large posterior likelihood for an outcome, he argues for a low a priori probability. That is the hallmark of The Religious Anthropic Argument™, aka Finetuning.

    For example, Weinberg’s original anthropic theory arrives at a cosmological constant (cc) that can vary over 3-4 orders of magnitude (oom), and the test is that our own cc lies within the 3 sigma distribution that constrains. And not inconsequently here, the distribution means there is in this theory an infinite number of worlds where we *expect* to high sigma finding the cc within the range.

    3-4 oom is not a sensitive finetuning, since we can still use technology or theories that result in just a 1-2 oom span.

    And as Explicit Atheist already mentioned, we don’t look at these values in isolation. In reality many of them will describe volumes in a phase or parameter space, ellipsoids where we want to study the ratio to find out the major axes. To look at just one parameter is to say that the habitable zone (HZ) is ~ 0.8 – 1.6 au because that is the HZ for the Sun, while we know of a wide variety of HZ zones.

    An introductory course presumed to describe science should not have that material there, because it is completely erroneous after the deceptive introduction. It is outrageous!

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      The conflict we hear about in media was mainly stirred up by Victorian scientists who wanted to get rid of the clergy who were involved in science.

      I guess we can interpret this argument to mean that their whole project is based on defending their jobs and their turf, rather than having anything to do with what is true or real. This is an appeal for sympathy based on the implicit presumption that clergy has a good reason to exist without being questioned or challenged.

      We’ve come a long way since the Victorian era: today we understand way more about nature, and we want to eliminate ALL need of the clergy, whether they are involved in science or not. The accommodationists and other apologists have an even longer row to hoe today than they did back then. It’s cheering to think how much ground they have lost in the last 150 years.

  27. Rose Heirloom
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    OK, OK, this is Sick. Question: What can I do about it? or We? Yes, i, each of us who find this sort of thing [vomitous], may individually denounce it. And that act has merit: we find purchase on our Soap Box, and Stand Up for a Point Of View. But, this act is Largely One For The Ether. It does NOTHING to address, proactively, The consequences of this sort of Teaching, Learning, Belief System, Bias. So WHAT can i do? Any Suggestions? Just Thinkin’ Out Loud…

    {Postus Scriptuseforeum: Dear Sir, Your response to my last note Made My Day…you made me smile, more than once. That is Power; You put good out there, into the world, and i tasted of it. Thank You.}

    • MNb
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      Me being a Dutchman living in Suriname know what I’m going to do: having an eagle eye for self deluded people who want to introduce stuff like this in the educational systems of my two countries. Be sure I will be vocal.
      As for Suriname I will probably make a coalition with muslims and hindu’s, who won’t appreciate this stuff either. The country being divided as it is will probably not allow it.

      • Rose Heirloom
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        What’s the Quote? Good People & Evil? You’ve a Plan, a Stance, and a road paved with more than just “Good Intentions”… I salute you. Rock on. And do check back in with any successes or successes waiting to happen… dying to know how a plan of action plays out. Goodonya’, Mate.

  28. Posted September 3, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    “How” and “why” aren’t necessarily different questions. “Whys” can be answered or rephrased in terms of “how.” There is no real difference between the answers given to each question in the tea example.

    “Because I want tea” is just as materialistic and scientifically tractable an answer as “the element heats the water.” The simple appearance of the words “I want” doesn’t undo this. The biology of thirst, caffeine addiction and flavor preference can be explained. “Because I want tea” only seems like a subjective, magic answer because Haught et al. aren’t digging deep enough.

    Fricking language.

    • Rose Heirloom
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      In 1931 Wittgenstein described his task thus:

      “Language sets everyone the same traps; it is an immense network of easily accessible wrong turnings. And so we watch one man after another walking down the same paths and we know in advance where he will branch off, where walk straight on without noticing the side turning, etc. etc. What I have to do then is erect signposts at all the junctions where there are wrong turnings so as to help people past the danger points.”

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      And more to the point, fricking psychoneural dualism. Your wants are in your nervous system, and are just as material as the tea or the water, etc.

  29. Posted September 3, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Christians cannot prove God, but just as a scientist would, we have a “theory” (our belief in God) and we have our observation of the universe (through science), and we can see that they correspond (match up). Thus, as in a good detective story, the theory is a good fit for the evidence. We will never prove God’s existence — that would eliminate the need for our faith — but we can provide some good evidence, such as the Anthropic Principle.

    The part they forgot to leave out is that the god hypothesis is worthless because it can account for every observation imaginable. That is the very definition of a failed theory.

    This quote isn’t entirely worthless though. It’s a good example of using science as attire.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Pretty much like multiverse theories, then…

  30. Posted September 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Professor McGrath reveals his hand. Pointing out that observation is consistent with “Christian theory” only reveals the fact that religion’s predictions are so vague as to be rendered meaningless. (Shameless plug: I’ve gone into a little more depth on this point in my blog)

  31. MNb
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Nice. We Dutch use for “proof” and “evidence” exactly the same word: “bewijs”. Accommodists who want to use this course will have to use “aanwijzing”, which translates as “indication” and thus is much, much weaker.
    McGrath’ trick won’t work.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Nice catch, it is the same in swedish. This is one of those times we can see the German roots I guess: “bewijs” – bevis, both for “proof” and “evidence”; “aanwijzing” – anvisning.

  32. jose
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    People make tea, therefore God made the universe.

    Um…

  33. MadScientist
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Ooh, ooh – I can fill in the blanks!

    The first scientists in the Western world were actually ALIVE.

    In the same way, a KID asks ‘how?’ and a KID asks ‘why?’

    Now let’s all be nice and lie for Jesus.

  34. Janice Godfrey
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Great. I already feel like I need announce I’m an atheist before I say I am homeschooling my child lest my hyper academic (all good ,that) neighbors think i am trying to shield my child from science. As if I could. I swear his first full sentence was “how do you know that?”. The world needs fewer homeschool options like that and more Joy Hakim.

  35. MNb
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    What I’d like to ask McGrath (and a few others) is this.
    Now if we assume that the Universe is fine-tuned for human intelligence, how come that very same human intelligence isn’t fine-tuned for understanding the Universe?
    Original sin, huh? That patch christians always need when they don’t know an answer?

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.” Wigner

  36. logicophilosophicus
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Re the fine-tuning argument, the problem with the athropic principle as answer is that we do exist. It’s easier to make this point if we consider why anything exists at all: the answer, “Because any universe where we exist to ask that question has to exist”, is clearly wrong. Our existence doesn’t explain why anything exists, even though it depends on such things.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Meant to give this key link:

      http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/04/roger_penrose_on_cosmic_finetu033691.html

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      There is no empirical problem with anthropic theory in that sense. It is just an application of taking a subset (of habitable) universes out of a larger set. “Because any fitness allowing species to exist to produce fit descendants” is a legitimate observation on selection processes. Anthropic theory is a process of selection.

      Penrose has his own ideas about cosmology, but I don’t think his more speculative ideas has much success. The landscape on the other hand has been very fruitful on a theoretic level.

      As for Penrose’s argument on initial entropy, there is always the option that a sufficiently large volume of low entropy can fluctuate into being. That in turn gives a problem with so called Boltzmann Brains (BBs). It is far more likely that smaller observers briefly fluctuate into existence and dominates anthropic statistics. This problem has been put to rest by recent work by people like Susskind.

      Moreover, while BBs is no longer a problem, the very notion that eternal inflation on the landscape needs an initial low entropy has become irrelevant. The true problem of the landscape is the measurement problem: how to do statistics. Now several of the leading individuals have honed in on a solution that admits a simple global picture. And in that picture, low initial entropy is no longer a factor.

      “If we do take the global view [so we have a cosmological arrow of time] … transients will have died away. Probabilities are then governed by the universal asymptotic behavior and not the initial color [i.e. vacuum] – or entropy – of the root. If this is right, there is no advantage to a low entropy starting point. Whatever the initial state, as long as it leads to eternal inflation the existence of a time-arrow is guaranteed by the fractal-flow attractor.” [“Fractal flows and Time’s Arrow, Susskind”, arxiv 2012; it also describes how the BB problem now has a solution with these techniques.]

      **********

      As for our existence and what it explains, it is correct that the religious idea of a miracle (low prior probability resulting in low posterior likelihood) doesn’t work. Anthropic theory rests on the observation that it isn’t a miracle that a lottery has a winner (low prior probability for a specific winner but high posterior likelihood for a winner).

      But to imply that it doesn’t work because it is circular – having winners means we can think of making lotteries – is a misunderstanding of empiricism. A theory and its predictions and testing _is_ circular on the basis of observation, or the method wouldn’t work. FWIW new observations, or new theory, breaks circularity after it is achieved.

      • MNb
        Posted September 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        Maybe I’m wrong, as it’s somewhat over my head, but this

        “Whatever the initial state”

        combined with quantum fluctuation seems to cover it all, at least to me. My bias was that a multiverse meant that a large amount of universes existed parallel to each other. But why should that be the case? If quantum fluctuation happened once it might have happened more often. Some might result in a universe that doesn’t lead to intelligence life capable of understanding at least to some extent that universe. Some will.
        Including the one we happen to live in.
        That would be a great middle finger to fine tuning.
        Are there any empirical data or theoretical contradictions that refutes this?

        • logicophilosophicus
          Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

          See below – even an empty universe with laws allowing fluctuation requires explanation.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

        @ TLOM

        The problem is not just why we “won a lottery”, nor even just why the lottery exists. See below.

        My apologies for not making it clear that I posted the Penrose link not to endorse his attack on the fine-tuning problem (which I find interesting), but to highlight the extent of the problem. 10^10^123 is a big number. Some multiverse theories cite 10^500, i.e. 10^10^22… which is hopelessly minute in comparison.

    • Gary W
      Posted September 3, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      Re the fine-tuning argument, the problem with the athropic principle as answer is that we do exist. It’s easier to make this point if we consider why anything exists at all: the answer, “Because any universe where we exist to ask that question has to exist”, is clearly wrong. Our existence doesn’t explain why anything exists, even though it depends on such things.

      Right. The AP explains why the universe we find ourselves in is habitable (if it weren’t habitable, we wouldn’t be around to observe it). But the AP does not explain why the universe is habitable in the first place. For that, you need another explanation, such as a multiverse hypothesis, or God.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        That’s absolutely correct, I think, but I would phrase it more strongly in two senses:

        a) The existence of anything at all (even, for example, an empty universe with physical laws permitting creation-via-quantum-fluctuation etc) is even more in need of explanation;

        b) The Multiverse and a conscious creator are likely the only alternatives, wrt the fine-tuning of this universe, but they share a serious problem – (a) above.

        For me the multiverse suffers from another problem – that it not only permits any universe, it insists on them all having equal reality. That this is objectionable is an aesthetic judgment on my part, for many reasons. For example, Jeffrey Dahmer might argue that although his actions were terrible, they had to happen in some (probably infinite) number of universes: “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it.” The multiverse is an even more terrible place than the Judaeo-Christian universe: (analogues of) all the people you have ever known, loved or admired is both perpetrator and victim of the most horrific acts you can envision. I find both world views unsatisfactory, so the quest continues.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        [Whoops – are, not is, perp…]

  37. jeffery
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    This has been coming for a long time: a “re-trenchment” into home schooling, where the brainwashing of the next generation can be fully controlled; I view much of this “home schooling because they don’t like our religion in the public schools” in the same way I view the difference between evolutionary theory and accomodationism: a nice try, but it just doesn’t work. The worst aspect is that of a generation being reared that has had little training in critical thinking, a veritable “time-bomb”.

  38. andreschuiteman
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    The existence of anything at all (even, for example, an empty universe with physical laws permitting creation-via-quantum-fluctuation etc) is even more in need of explanation;

    Any explanation would have to be in terms of something that exists, right? But then, how could there possibly be an explanation for the existence of ‘anything at all’ that doesn’t presuppose the existence of something? You’re asking for the impossible if you ask me.

    For me the multiverse suffers from another problem – that it not only permits any universe, it insists on them all having equal reality.

    Is that a required or inevitable property of the multiverse? Borges’s Library of Babel (a library containing every possible book of a given size) comes to mind. There are two ways to create such a library: to systematically generate each book one by one, or to use a truly random process, where at every moment every letter is equally likely to be printed next. Because the number of possible books is finite, given enough time, both methods will eventually create the Library of Babel. Is the multiverse, as you suggest, like the Library of Babel, in that every possible universe must exist? I don’t see why that should be the case, because unlike books, each universe can perhaps be infinite in size (like a book with infinitely many pages, as in another Borges story) or possess an infinite number of possible states (like having an alphabet with infinitely many symbols). Therefore, the set of potential universes could be vastly larger than the set of actual universes (perhaps even uncountably infinite versus countably infinite). And therefore it is unlikely that there is another universe in which Jeffrey Dahmer escapes from prison and becomes president of the United States, or in which the Pope is called Richard Dawkins.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      This was in reply to logicophilosphicus, September 4, 2012 at 3:17 am.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Good points.

      Excuse me for teasing you first: I can’t resist unintentional meanings, found poems, etc. So I’ve added this to my collection:

      “You’re asking for the impossible if you ask me.”

      Anyway, you are right. There has to be something existing all along. (M Theorists might disagree, but even accepting their “destruction” of time and therefore, in a sense, causality at the point of origin, it’s still unclear why the universe should exist in any form.) So the big question – the quest – is to determine what it was. Some possibilities are less acceptable than others.

      Your idea of building a universe one “letter” at a time doesn’t work here (though I think the real universe probably is digital, and your approach is important in such a case). The multiverse referred to here is Everett’s “Many Worlds”, where at every instant (or every “measurement” at least)the universe divides into as many possibilities as quantum theory allows. The universes don’t get built sequentially: entire extra universes (sharing the same history as the pre-instant universe) just pop into existence.

  39. andreschuiteman
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    “You’re asking for the impossible if you ask me.”

    That was intentional. Are you now going to delete it from your collection? 🙂

    Okay, so we were talking about different kinds of multiverses. I find it hard to wrap my mind around Everett’s version (which seems wrong to me but is accepted by many physicists, therefore I’m probably misunderstanding something).

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Delete it? No – move it from Unintentional to Witty. (Is it a quote? It’s good.)

      Re Everett/MW, you can get a free download. This is from a posting I made in another discussion, which includes the title and a couple of useful page references:

      “Everett titled his 139 page paper “The Many-worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”. On page 98 he explains why: the act of measurement/observation (the observer can be inanimate in MWIQM) splits the observer into a presumably infinite number of elements each of which perceives its own element of the superposition, and such observer elements are forever separated. Each perceives a different world. On page 116 you will find that Everett justified his interpretation *precisely* because it avoided the objectionable distinction between conscious observers and inanimate measurers.”

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        No, it wasn\’t a quote, thanks.

        If the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct then it is a far greater threat to religion than the Theory of Evolution, because it implies that (almost) every choice that can be made is actually, inevitably made in some universe.

        Suppose that Adam and Eve really lived. In half of the vast number of universes that exist right now Adam would have refused to bite in the forbidden fruit. In the other half he would not have. So in half of the universes there would be no original sin and presumably no Christianity. Now, is it fair to send people to hell just because they happened to live in the wrong universe?

        • logicophilosophicus
          Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:56 am | Permalink

          I suppose. In reality with a Multiverse a conscious creator would be redundant, and vice versa.

  40. brian smith
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    This course plumbs new depths in the miseducation of children. It is actually WORSE than the Bob Jones University sponsored text, Physics for Christian Schools. I would not have thought that possible!

    In some ways the Bob Jones text is even weirder as it valiantly clings to the absurd Young Earth Creationist view. Even so, it does actually contain a little bit of Newtonian mechanics, Maxwell’s treatment of electromagnetism, and some introduction to special relativity.

    The problems sets in it are terrible but there is some chance that an unfortunate kid handed the Bob Jones text might garner some minimal technical knowledge of how the world actually works. The theological claptrap that is added as metaphysical baggage might get shed later as the kid escapes the educational ghetto provided by his/her guardian.

    This Templeton-inspired effort seems to contain nothing but what Dan Dennett has called “deepities”: metaphysical quibbles masquerading as substantive responses to sometimes ill-posed questions. How any child suffering through this rubbish could even begin to answer questions on AP Physics, Chemistry or Biology is beyond me.

    This is child abuse.

    Note: I haven’t got the supporting DVD wsince I refuse to put money into this crap and so maybe there is some actual misshapen version of Newtonian mechanics, etc. but I’m not hopeful. Also, since I refuse to contribute to this nonsense, I was careful to buy the Bob Jones text secondhand at a book sale — 50 cents and overpriced except as an example of the effects of abnormal psychology.r

  41. Leigh Jackson
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Alister McGrath and John Polkinghorne are putting their names to a tract which says that science has good evidence of the existence of God but no evidence whatsoever for the existence of the multiverse. In so doing they disqualify themselves as serious scientific authorities.

    The fact that such shameful untruths should be foisted onto children reveals a distinct lack of religious faith. Worse still, it is clear evidence of the deliberate corruption of children’s minds.

    The very evidence which the tract claims as good evidence for the existence of God can be viewed according to one version of the Anthropic Principle, as possible evidence for the existence of the multiverse; as well as a possible explanation for why science has so far been unable to explain the observed values of the various anthropic coincidences.

    For good measure, instead of providing correct explanations of the several versions of the anthropic principle, it is falsely identified with the Goldilocks Principle. The latter principle is usually applied to the position of the earth which occupies the right narrow zone in the solar system for life to be possible. It’s no accident that we are here rather than on Venus or Jupiter; so no big deal.

    Blatant religious propaganda masquerading as science. The U.K. has its very own Discovery Institute.

  42. twentynine
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    So every time I have a boiling kettle at home, it’s because I want tea…. and everytime I want tea, there will be a boiling kettle… Got it.

    I want a submarine!

    …huh… it did not work, why? WHY!?!? WHYYYYYY!??!?!


%d bloggers like this: