Does science refute God? A debate

Last Wednesday there was an Intelligence² debate on the topic, “Does science refute God?” The video is now on YouTube (below), and features Lawrence Krauss and Michael Shermer on the ‘yes’ side versus Dinesh D’Souza and Ian Hutchinson (an MIT physicist whom we’ve encountered before) on the ‘no’ side. The moderator, who did a good job, was John Donovan of ABC News.

(BTW, I’ve since read Hutchinson’s new anti-scientism book, Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism, and, as the title suggests, it’s pretty dreadful. Dreadful for the usual reasons: Hutchinson says that many areas beyond science have an ability to produce knowledge, but gives, throughout the book, not a single example of such knowledge.)

At any rate, the two-hour debate is interesting, though, I think, not as compelling as the Intelligence² debate about religion between Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens on one hand and Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop Onaiyekan on the other, or the debate about the afterlife with Hitchens and Harris versus Rabbis David Wolpe and Bradley Artson Shavit.  Now those were debates! (Links are here and here).

Nevertheless, I think this is worth watching if you have the time, if for no other reason than to see how resistant the religious are to evidence, even though they admit the probative value of evidence.  For example, at 1:17:00 an audience member asks both sides what it would take to change their minds about God. Both Shermer and Krauss have answers (even though Shermer took the opposite stand in Mexico City, saying that the concept of God is incoherent and therefore not subject to empirical inquiry), but Davies says that nothing would change his mind and D’Souza doesn’t answer. That’s always a great question for the religious.

Oh, and I swear that at 1:14:42 it is actress Andie McDowell (who doesn’t identify herself) who asks a dumb question about how science can explain the creation of an orchid and whether they might be able to create an orchid themselves. She sits scowling petulantly as Krauss and Shermer answer. It is her, right?

Anyway, judging by the pre- and post-debate polling of the audience, the anti-accommodationism side won. Yay for us!

Screen shot 2012-12-08 at 6.38.49 PM


  1. Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the heads-up; I shall watch it post haste.

  2. Dave
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Yes, will watch and agree 100% that the Hitchens-Fry vs Catholics debate is a classic well worth the time.

  3. jose
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    How about: science doesn’t refute god, but it refutes your god.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      … and 10 000 gods or more later, the distinction is without difference.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:32 am | Permalink

        I believe (citing IIRC Arthur C Clarke), that “god” has nine billion names.
        But that incremental approach would work, as long as you could refute gods faster than human ingenuity can create them.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          I think you’re right about Arthur C Clarke. I recall that once the faithful have “named” all the nine billion names, the star start to go out, all over the sky; scary!

          • gravelinspector
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

            Futurama referenced it in one of their movies. Raised a laugh.

    • Marella
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Science refutes any god worthy of the name.

  4. Alex Shuffell
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I watched this debate live on the Fora site. It is painful to listen to D’Souza talk, he avoids all questions and just rambles and leads his arguments with quotations. Hutchinson did the same thing. They didn’t have anything original to say. When Hutchinson was trying to explain that Christianity is logical and reasonable because 15th century schools were Christian is a funny moment.

    I’m sure it is Andie Macdowell, it drove me crazy trying to remember her name.

    • Claudio
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      It is ALWAYS painful listening to D’Souza.

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        It is less painful when you realise how like Mr.Bean he is. And, like Mr.Bean, he’s not even funny in his absurdity.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 5:05 am | Permalink

        Listening to D’Souza produces a kind of rage in me that borders on homocidal, and I mean that literally. His tone and manner are so undeservedly supremely confident that it makes me wish he could be destroyed, an unpleasant feeling that the better side of me has to struggle with whenever I’m exposed to him. It’s something akin to suppressing an overwhelming urge to vomit, with a strong element of violent anger thrown into the mix.

        I think this emotional feeling is particularly amplified because of his entirely absurd political hit piece on the supposed “Kenyan Anti-colonialism” of Barack Obama that was actually published on the cover of Forbes magazine. That the lunatic Steve Forbes felt it belonged there is an embarrassment to the legacy of his more sensible father Malcolm, who I suspect would have understood the extent to which it degraded the reputation of the magazine by making it a laughing stock to all but the most gullible and foolish of people.

        How D’Souza qualifies as a credible facsimile of an intellectual to be invited into such a supposedly serious forum is beyond me. I suppose he is clever enough to pull off a form of Gish Galloping good enough to fool most people.

        D’Souza is proof that it is possible to be quite clever and a complete idiot at the same time.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

          “rage in me that borders on homocidal, and I mean that literally”

          When writing literally, it pays to be attentive to the letters you actually use.

          Or were you implying some things about D’Souza and yourself that weren’t relevant to the debate?

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted December 10, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

            I mean that D’Souza doesn’t just annoy me, so that I might say figuratively “I’d like to kill him”. I mean that he makes me feel so angry that the idea of literally killing him seems appealing to me.

            I wonder if I’m the only one. Lest anyone worry, this intense reaction to a public figure is not usual for me at all. Mere annoyance or dislike is usually enough.

            Based on the movie 2016, I’d say D’Souza is either perversely evil or spectacularly disingenuous. He may have felt that propaganda piece was for a good underlying cause, but judging strictly from the content he is either psychotically paranoid or else he felt that voicing his true fact based concerns about President Obama wouldn’t be as lucrative or emotionally manipulative as he consciously wanted to be. So he fictionalized while pretending to be presenting a documentary.

            Normally I’m more restrained, but D’Souza more so than most unpleasant characters doesn’t just rub me the wrong way; he ups the ante to something nearly unbearably excruciating. He’s a smug nasally whining little twerp who really deserves no respect whatsoever. I manage to restrain myself from forming a plan to hunt him down, no matter how appealing the fantasy may seem. Rationally I know this wouldn’t be worth the effort, nor justifiable based on his intellectual crimes. I’m human, but I’m no killer. I think our evolutionary past sometimes makes us feel like killers though.

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted December 10, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

              I suspect that John Scanlon is humorously drawing attention to your typo error in spelling “homicidal” ;-). Made me chuckle anyway, John.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted December 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                Oops. Duh. I thought he was on about the typical unfortunate misuse of “literally” as an exaggeration.

                Well, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that D’Souza’s extreme social conservatism was compensating for suppressed desires. 🙂

                But my passionate dislike of the man doesn’t stem from being romantically jilted or anything of that sort. I’ve never known him. And it doesn’t include any homophobia, just good old fashioned homicide, in the Biblical sense.

    • Dave
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      If it is, she’s getting younger all the time.

    • Marella
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure it’s her too.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 5:09 am | Permalink

        Yes, it must be her. I think she’s trademarked that pout. If that is anyone other than Andie MacDowell she may run the risk of being sued for infringement.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Paragraph 4 Typo?:- “…but Davies says nothing would change his mind and D’Souza doesn’t answer”
    Davies = Hutchinson

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      The site says that it is indeed actor Andie MacDowell asking the orchid question

  6. Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Do they ever get around to indicating which god(s) are in question? I’ll have to watch to find out….

    Also, it looks like all the movement came from the undecideds. One wonders how undecided they really were, and how many were strategically undecided….


    • pktom64
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Yes, someone in the audience asks that very question at some point.
      The “anti” side response is basically “The God of Christianity” (whatever that is).

    • Posted December 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Probably. Though I’d have loved to know how many religious changed their minds (if any).

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        The proportion of ‘Noes’ looks to be equal before and after, so the net change was only from undecided to ‘Yes’.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      It seems unlikely that many believers would be in the undecided category. Probably this group would be mostly the “Nones”, which can include the vaguely spiritual who reject all organized traditional religions yet still have emotional attachments to thinking of the human spirit as something magical, or non-commital agnostics who like to think that neglecting to seriously consider the available evidence makes them open minded and fair. Even some avowed atheists, knowing that logically the non-existence of God can’t be conclusively proven, might at first interpret “refuting” God in this more rigorous sense before the debate, while seeing that one side had won the debate with better arguments, switch to the ‘for’ category post-debate.

  7. thh1859
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I think it was the atheist philosopher Anthony Flew who first ‘invented’ the question “What evidence would make you give up your belief in God?” in relation to the Science v. Religion debate. However, I read that later in life he became a religious believer – or is this another example of similar untrue deathbed conversions propagated by evangelists?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      His WIKI has this:-

      “He later wrote the book There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, with contributions from Roy Abraham Varghese. This book (and Flew’s conversion itself) has been the subject of controversy, following an article in the New York Times magazine alleging that Flew had mentally declined, and that Varghese was the primary author. The matter remains contentious, with some commentators including PZ Myers and Richard Carrier supporting the allegations, and others, including Flew himself, opposing them.”

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Flew apparently became a deist very late in life, in his 80s. There seem to be questions surrounding his “conversion,” both as to how compos his mentis was then and as to how undue was the influence being exercised upon him by Roy Abraham Varghese, the putative “co-author” of Flew’s last book.

      • thh1859
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the info.

  8. onceupona
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    If the time is right, it’s definitely NOT Andie McDowell. It’s interesting that both scientists answer (because I thought she expected the opposite) while the religious guys wouldn’t change their minds for anything. That about sums up the mind of the religious (except for those rare examples- like myself). Cheers!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      It is her asking the orchid question: see Michael Fisher’s comment above:


      he site says that it is indeed actor Andie MacDowell asking the orchid question

      • Dale
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        I think she is a well known jesus freak….I mean xtian apologist.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Noo, not MacDowell!

          Darn, some good actors are the dumb.

          • Marella
            Posted December 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

            I find its best to know as little as possible about actors if you want to enjoy their movies. You are more likely to be disappointed than satisfied, I think partly because many of them have very little education in anything except how to manipulate others’ emotions with their own. The skills necessary to be a good actor have very little to do with rationality and a lot to do with feelings and perceptions.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted December 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

              Anne Archer & John Travolta spring to mind for me. I’ve had a crush on the former since I was a lad, then I discovered the awful truth. I could add Gibson & Cruise except I don’t rate them as actors anyway.

              Like you I now studiously avoid finding out about the views, fads or foibles of any artist who moves me ~ even when they are talking about their own work ~ especially actors & musicians

            • Paulo Jabardo
              Posted December 10, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

              You are absolutely on the mark! And the same applies to directors, writers (fiction of course…), musicians, etc.

          • AK
            Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:54 am | Permalink

            What probably makes it worse is that actors like Ms McDowell are used to being courted and important, millions pay to see them. That they might simply be too ignorant to open their mouth on some topics surely needs some getting used to for real celebrity egos.

    • KP
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      As someone who had a huge crush on Andie MacDowell (<– correct spelling!) in the early 90s, I can say, with some authority and without having looked at the website (I dove into the video at the 1:14:42 mark), that it is absolutely her.


      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        I had that crush once too. Too bad we couldn’t see Bill Murray on the stage giving repeated and ever more refined versions of the answer she really wants to hear. Potentially amusing comedy ala “Groundhog Day”, which is I think a pretty damn good comedy, as comedies go.

  9. nicklarue
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a big fan of debates though I do find them interesting. What I would find interesting is if it were possible to get an audience of fully ‘undecided’ people and see what kind of result we get at the end. I find people tend to keep locked to their opinions in this kind of debate and it seems it’s usually the undecided that change the most. I could be wrong but going by the pie chart that’s what come out.

    I’ll have to download this to listen to while at work tomorrow. I’ll try not to make too many faces as I’m starting on a new project at a new desk. I hope I don’t involuntarily groan.

    I believe I saw that Stephen Fry/Christopher Hitchens debate. I’ll have to find it again as it went missing on me. I believe I had trouble not groaning during that one!

  10. Posted December 9, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    No, science does not refute God. But it does give reason for extreme skepticism.

    I’m sure that I will be on the side of Krauss and Shermer in that debate, even if my position is a tad weaker. I’m bookmarking it to watch sometime later.

    • notsont
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      You would have to define “God” before it can be refuted, if you are talking about a specific god and your evidence is “xyz” then simply refuting the validity of “xyz”, does that not refute your god?

    • BillyJoe
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Just a suggestion. Substitute “gods” for “God”, and then “faeries” for “gods”. If science can refute gods as thoroughly as it can refute faeries, there really much left to do.

      In other words, if the questions “are there faeries at the bottom of my garden” and “are there gods outside spacetime” can be shown to be meaningless, then your job is done.

      • Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        Science does not refute fairies. I doubt that you can find a peer reviewed paper that refutes fairies. Society as a whole rejects fairies as nothing more than fictions. So there is no need for science to even address the question of fairies.

        We might hope that society, as a whole, will reject gods. But we are not yet at that point, and we probably won’t get there any time soon.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          1st law of thermodynamics refutes all magic, fairies among them.

          And when applied to the 0 energy universe of Krauss no gods’ actions are allowed.

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      As Peter Beattie explains in comment #12 below (paraphrasing David Deutsch):

      A god that created the universe explains nothing, because not only is the mechanism of creation left unexplained but it also needs an even bigger explanation itself, i.e. where it came from. To test such an “explanation” would be completely useless, unless and until the explanation were to become more specific and were to refer to phenomena that it could explain better than existing theories.

      As Deutsch so aptly puts it: “God” is simply a bad explanation.

      • lamacher
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        Or,as Stendahl so succinctly put it, some 200 years ago: ‘God’s only excuse is that he doesn’t exist.’

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      That is your opinion. Obviously most people hearing the show disagreed.

      And especially the scientists.

  11. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I won’t watch (though I prefer hearing that these debates take place) as no one seems to bring up “memory” as an important issue.

    The definition of human “Consciousness” (really, we are talking about human awareness coupled with self-awareness) has “the remembered present” as a likely hypothesis to break it down into an explanation one can understand. Memory is becoming more key to explaining a material Weltanschauung about us as individuals.

    I am watching a “Great Courses” set of videos entitled “Memory and the Human Lifespan” with Professor Steve Joordens. It is very very good, maybe excellent. One point Prof Joordens talks about was the historical fact that human memory was one of those “science has no business being involved” areas, that everyone agreed was the province of “soul, etc.” right up through the 19th century, and up to the mid-20th century. Memory decay, the seven or eight types of memory (working memory, semantic memory, etc), together, they define who we are, as an individual. Instead of the silly, “What would it take?” which is an incoherent question (as in, what would it take to convince you that there are nine continents?) there should be some discussion about where your memory goes when you die. That pinprick to the balloon of religion truly pops the whole mess, with all the molecular advances in explaining memory, as well as the observed mechanisms of memory in action. The real question then, is, do you believe in the multi-thousands of scientific papers that allude to memory as a mechanical process involving multi-stage chemistry, or some alternate: an unproven, unknown “dark matter” force that is simultaneously palpable and yet “unknowable”?

  12. Peter Beattie
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    “Does science refute God“ is very simply an irrelevant question. This needs to be said more often: science empirically tests explanations for phenomena that we see in the world. But it doesn’t bother with all the bad explanations that are out there, because it is only interested in good explanations. In the words of David Deutsch: “In general, when theories are easily variable in the sense I have described, experimental testing is almost useless for correcting their errors.” (The Beginning of Infinity)

    Case in point: a god that is omnipotent is incoherent because that characteristic leads to paradoxes. A god that created the universe explains nothing, because not only is the mechanism of creation left unexplained but it also needs an even bigger explanation itself, i.e. where it came from. To test such an “explanation” would be completely useless, unless and until the explanation were to become more specific and were to refer to phenomena that it could explain better than existing theories.

    David Deutsch again:

    We do not test every testable theory, but only the few that we find are good explanations. Science would be impossible if it were not for the fact that the overwhelming majority of false theories can be rejected out of hand without any experi­ment, simply for being bad explanations.

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Great book!!!

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Science does deal with bad explanations – it despatches ’em. If science didn’t deal with bad explanations then it couldn’t sensibly produce good explanations.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Please do try to understand what Deutsch is saying—and to a lesser degree what I am saying. In focusing on empirical tests for falsifying an idea, Deutsch makes a distinction between the empirical (science) and the mental (philosophy). For some explanations, he says, you don’t even need the specialised tools of science in order to dismiss them; the general tools of philosophy will do handsomely.

        That doesn’t mean that there is a sharp dividing line. This distinction is just a conceptual tool to clarify thinking about certain problems. Under that scheme, scientists would be doing philosophical things (thinking through the consequences of certain ideas etc.) all the time. And these things are of course also integral to science. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot be helpfully distinguished.

        And also, Deutsch is talking about bad explanations, i.e. ones that are too easy to vary. He is not talking about incorrect explanations, which we can (at least sometimes) only detect after subjecting them to tests. You are conflating the two senses when you say that science couldn’t come up with progressively better explanations if it didn’t deal with bad ones. Well, it doesn’t—not with obviously bad ones, at least.

      • abrotherhoodofman
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        But it doesn’t bother with all the bad explanations that are out there…

        I think Peter’s word “all” is critical here.

        Deutsch’s (and hence Peter’s) point is more subtle, however. Deutsch is not a fan of strict empiricism, and claims that creativity, imagination, and conjecture are fundamental keys to scientific discovery. A good explanation is one that is “hard to vary” — not necessarily simply because it is empirically testable. I’ll include the portion from Chapter I of The Beginning of Infinity immediately preceding the portion Peter quoted, where Deutsch is discussing the myth of the Greek goddess Persephone, and how it was formerly used to explain the change of seasons:

        That is what makes good explanations essential to science: it is only when a theory is a good explanation — hard to vary — that it even matters whether it is testable. Bad explanations are equally useless whether they are testable or not.

        Most accounts of the differences between myth and science make too much of the issue of testability — as if the ancient Greeks’ great mistake was that they did not send expeditions to the southern hemisphere to obdserve the seasons. But in fact they could never have guessed that such an expedition might provide evidence about seasons unless they had already guessed that seasons would be out of phase in the two hemispheres — and if that guess was hard to vary, which it could have been only if it had been part of a good explanation. If their guess was easy to vary, they might as just as well have saved themselves the boat fare, stayed at home, and tested the easily testable theory that winter can be staved off by yodelling.

        So long as they had no better explanation than the Persephone myth, there should have been no need for testing. Had they been seeking good explanations, they would immediately have tried to improve upon the myth, without testing it. That is what we do today. We do not test every testable theory, but only the few that we find are good explanations.

      • Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Yes, bad explanations may not be worth testing experimentally (even if they are falsifiable, which many aren’t), but is is still science that provides the basis for rejecting bad explanations without testing.


        • Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          Pace the last two long comments which I didn’t see before I commented, I think my point stands. The exercise of rejecting bad explanations – even if one can characterise it a “philosophical” step rather than an empirical step – is still part of the practice of scientists and of of the arsenal of science.


        • Peter Beattie
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink


          The point I was making was that the above conceptual distinction might help clarify a certain question, i.e. “What factual evidence would convince you that there is a god?”

          In distinguishing two different phases in a scientific investigation—one philosophical, to ensure that a proposed theory actually addresses a problem, is logically coherent, and contains a good explanation; and one empirical, to collect the necessary factual evidence to decide which theory to favour—you underline rather important aspects of the pursuit of knowledge in general. If an idea fails any of the three criteria of phase 1, it would be useless to subject it to phase 2 tests.

          Phase 1 is, of course, an integral part of science, as nobody denies; but it is still a general methodology that is concerned with the problem of how to think well, i.e. philosophy. Phase 2 employs the specialised tools of whatever discipline we are talking about to obtain empirical evidence in order to test candidate theories. Although phase 1 is part of a scientist’s daily routine, it is in phase 2 that their specific expertise lies that primarily distinguishes the practice from other intellectual pursuits.

          All that is not to say that we can only obtain objective knowledge (i.e. interpersonally critically tested conjectural knowledge) through science in the strict sense (phases 1 and 2). We can also know that a certain theory is incapable of leading to the growth of knowledge if it fails the (philosophical, in the strict sense) criteria of phase 1. Those ideas can then still live on in what I call the world of fiction, where they may inspire, comfort, entertain, etc.—which are also important human pursuits. But they don’t lead to knowledge as we should understand it in order to have fruitful discussions (i.e. in the sense of objective knowledge spelt out above).

          • Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink

            Hmm… I’m not sure that phase 1 is (only) philosophical in a strict sense.

            “To ensure that a proposed theory [sic] actually addresses a problem” surely requires holding the hypothesis up against existing observations; i.e., we have a phenomenon that requires explanation.

            And a “good explanation” must be one that doesn’t involve mechanisms or agents that are ruled out by existing observations.

            Empiricism seems important, here, too.


    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      “easily variable”.

      When they are corrected (changed) they are a different theory. But yes, some ideas are too loose to be constrained in the first place.

      But this isn’t one of these. Magic relies on breaking the 1st law of thermodynamics locally. It is enough to show that enough systems obey it. (You need examples, since it is a global result despite its relation to local symmetries, re Nöether.)

      Of course, in a sensible society it would be enough to know that the universe is 0 energy. But magic is somewhat loose and can be claimed to be injected everywhere, hence we need to test local systems too.

  13. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I was very impressed with Michael Shermer in this event. I’m a big fan of Lawrence Krauss, too, but I think Shermer should get the Most Valuable Player award for his excellent explanation of how (and why) humans assign agency to natural incidents like the wind rustling through the grass. I bet he was responsible for most of the change in voter responses — there were numerous young people in the audience who I’d surmise were very impressed with his persuasive argument.

    Shermer’s point was reinforced to me just a few nights ago, as I was watching a nature show on TV (narrated by David Attenborough) about marine life near underwater volcanic vents. Out of the corner of my left eye, something appeared to slither off of the arm of the adjacent couch. It was just an afghan my mother had knitted for me, but its abrupt motion and sound actually startled me for a moment.

    No, I wasn’t drinking. 😉

  14. BillyJoe
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    The question should be “Does science refute gods”. There is always a Christian bias in these questions, as if the Christian god is the only one worth considering.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink


  15. Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    While I enjoyed the debate, I was annoyed by the fact that Hutchinson was constantly having to go back several hundred years in history for support for his side. When he needed specific examples, he either brought up religious scientists and the changes in philosophy during the enlightenment hundreds of years ago.

    I think the title of the debate implied ‘Does CURRENT science refute god’, and Hutchinson deliberately seemed to avoid current science and had to get support from the science of Darwin’s time and earlier.

    • Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      I’m surprized Shermer or Krauss didn’t call him on that.

  16. Posted December 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    You cannot expect an honest answer to the question if science refutes god from a theologian, obviously. Much more interesting is what a religious or accommodationist scientist is thinking. In my experience, it always boils down to special pleading, to lack of intellectual consistency: Science no go here. Why not? Because scientism that’s why.

    Science refutes god to the same degree as it refutes special creation, the Loch Ness Monster or phlogiston. If a Pigliucci or a Scott wants to say the latter three are clearly disproved but the first isn’t, they are trying to eat their cake and have it too.

  17. MadScientist
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I was laughing at Hutchinson – on the one hand he says that religion *does* know some things which are beyond science and then he immediately takes the sledgehammer of science and smashes his feet of clay.

  18. AbnormalWrench
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I am always confused in these debates what is “natural” and what is “supernatural”. Supernatural seems to be defined by religious people to be that which justifies miracles, but also falls within a deterministic reality, and I don’t see how those two things can coincide. If all of nature is defined by gods will (whatever that is) yet natural law is only the perceived determinism which ultimately is false, then this seems to not not only be having your cake and eating it too, more importantly, it is defining “natural” as materialistic when it is convenient, and labeling “natural” supernatural when it is convenient.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      It’s natural to have supernatural beliefs, and unnatural to reject them, of course. 🙂

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        But even that which is unnatural to the human is ultimately entirely natural. Hehe.

  19. mandrellian
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I think the pie graphs are a great illustration of why so many atheists and scientists don’t wish to accommodate or placate and aren’t concerned with offending certain types of religious believer. Starting from a fairly even spilt, the “fors” went from just over a third to a full half of the voting populace, presumably taking a nice chunk from the “undecideds” while the “againsts” gained only 4% (and I have a feeling any movement from the “fors” to the “againsts” would have been insignificant and possibly due to dehydration).

    While it would of course be premature of me to extrapolate this result onto the accommodation question in general, this kind of result is precisely what so many scientists are aiming for and why they don’t wish to coddle faith: offending the devout is a lesser concern to appealing to and educating the undecided or uninformed.

  20. Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Another question to ask religous people is:

    If, hypothetically, you could choose between worshiping God or having eternal life, but you could not choose both, which would you choose?

    Good luck if you can get a straight answer.

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I bet 99% would say “Worship God” because He’s listening, you know. Can’t act selfish in front of the Man Upstairs.

      Plus, HE PROMISED! God would never lie.


      (Oddly enough, as I was typing this reply, a young woman in the coffee shop I’m sitting in just smiled and handed me a business card bearing the words:

      God Bless You – for making a difference in this world.

      Prayer is the Greatest Gift we can give anyone.

      • Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        Cross out “gift“, write in “false hope“, and hand it back to her…


  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Reality wins!

    If it just hit the heads of all people at all times…

  22. Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    It is hard to believe that even privately D’Souza believes in god. What i don’t get is how the christian god, who is abhorrent and incoherent can be said to not be refuted by science. The bible itself disproves this god. How could a loving god be also murderous?

  23. Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Did anyone catch that ridiculous statement at around 58:40 that d’Souza made about the on-stage stomping of a cat as opposed to a dog?


    I hate listening to d’Souza. He’s a dumb as a mud rock. I can’t understand why he’s not universally seen as anything more than a dufas con.

    • starskeptic
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Nothing disgusting about it – he just extended his example to reflect the popularity of cats…

  24. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Just a note ~ Krauss I think refers to Haldane in the questions section of the video. Quote:-

    As a very famous biologist said “when I go into the laboratory I become an atheist because when I twiddle the knobs in my experiment I don’t believe there’s some angel effecting the results of the experiment…”

    J.B.S. Haldane:-

    “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course… I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world”

  25. Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    “Anyway, judging by the pre- and post-debate polling of the audience, the anti-accommodationism side won. Yay for us!”

    Unfortunately it’s not going to change anything. The religionists and accommodationists will carry on regardless.

    • Scott Woody
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      It gets worse.

      The reliance on pre/post polling to determine the “winning” side of IQ2 debates is well known and thus subject to manipulation by audience participants. For instance, had I been in attendance, I’d have entered the auditorium fully in favor, a priori, of the affirmative side of the proposition up for discussion. However, knowing that the outcome of the debate would be determined by the percentage change in respondent’s views pre vs post debate, it would have been very tempting to enter a contrary vote at the outset in order to increase the odds that “my” side would emerge the victor.

      The same strategy could have been employed by folks who entered (and likely remain) convinced of the “anti” side of the question but that’s less likely, in my view, because let’s face it– they typically aren’t very good at using math, reason, or any other tools useful for critical thinking to direct their actions.

  26. kwkslvr
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Not being on an intellectual par with the other commenters, all I have to say is this: Why should science be expected to refute god/gods/goddesses/deities of whatever kind any more than science should be expected to refute Little Red Riding Hood or Pippi Longstocking?
    Seems to me that the point is moot.

    • kwkslvr
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      Whoops, poor phrasing and grammar. Should be “Seems to me the point is moot.” Better now?

    • starskeptic
      Posted December 9, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      The question sounds like something D’Souza would suggest as a debate topic – Lawrence Krauss, in his opening statement, even acknowledged that the answer was no, science cannot refute god. Why Hutchinson and D’Souza didn’t just declare victory and go home is beyond me. I’m surprised Shermer and Krauss even agreed to a debate this badly framed.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:41 am | Permalink

        I think you misremembered what Krauss said. Krauss certainly does think science has refuted gods. I think you misremembered the part where he explained the difference between refute and disprove. He said gods cannot be disproved but they can be refuted. And his whole argument was about the refutation of gods.

        • starskeptic
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          You’re absolutely right…

  27. Randy
    Posted December 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    I found it astonishing that Hutchinson and d’Souza seemed to be at odds with each other about the ability of science to address the God question and Krause and Shermer never called them on it. Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t Hutchinson argue that science is incompetent to address the question of God’s existence; that science can’t address this question? Did Dsouza not in his remarks actually say the opposite of this when he stated that science points to God and then made the fine-tuning argument. They were on the same side of the debate but this struck me as a fundamental disagreement between them that went unaddressed in the debate.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:32 am | Permalink

      Why would you expect d’Souza and Hutchinson to agree on everything. Do you think Krauss agrees with everything Shermer says? I think you are being a little unreasonable here.

      • Randy
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        I don’t expect them to agree on everything. I didn’t say this or even imply it. But I do find it rather curious that they disagree on a point that I think was so fundamental to the debate topic. I was also puzzled that Krause and Shermer did not take the opportunity to point out this disagreement and turn it to their advantage or criticize it, though they did win the debate. You are free to think my comments were unreasonable. The assertion alone does not establish that they were.

  28. Ichthyic
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    Anyway, judging by the pre- and post-debate polling of the audience, the anti-accommodationism side won. Yay for us!

    huh. more like “irrelevant for everyone”

    reality doesn’t submit to debate.

    what’s more, this is an old hat. the only question worth asking is WHICH GOD DO YOU MEAN? because any time you specify the god that is the basis for any major religion, and then define it, nobody can provide any evidence for its existence.

    it’s always been this way. in the Abrahamic traditions, God was defined in the OT, redefined in the New, redefined again in the Qur’an, redefined agaiin… with each and every new one of the 40 THOUSAND sects of xianity extant.

    this is a never ending game of chasing goalposts. It fails to amuse any more.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:27 am | Permalink

      Yes, this is only question that needs to be asked in these debates: define your god. The answer to that question contains the seeds of its own destruction. Omniscient? Omnipotent? Omnibenevolent? No, no, and no. The only possible exception is the deistic god in which no one really has a vested interest and which falls to Ockham’s razor.

  29. Douglas Anderson
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I will definitely watch it later, though Stephen Fry’s debate, in my book, is probably never going to be beaten. On the other side I did once get into a theological debate and resorted to using the Null Hypothesis (in a metaphorical sense) to prove that God doesn’t exist. It was rather interesting ‘cos they kept pointing out that I could not prove God doesn’t exist, so turning the argument about them them somewhat flabbergasted, however, they returned with their usual mantra.

    If it is Andy McDowell as you think, then she must have read just remembered a passage from Sherlock Holmes: ““What a lovely thing a rose is! …. “There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
    from ‘The Naval Treaty’

  30. articulett
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Science has demonstrated that the Judeo-Christian god is identical to Zeus and Xenu in every measurable way.

  31. Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Is it true what Krauss says at 51:58?

    He says that the laws of physics are deterministic, but our *observations* aren’t. He says that if you start with certain initial conditions, the evolution of a system is determined unambiguously, with no uncertainty, and it is only our *measurements* that have uncertainty.

    Is that true? I’ve never heard it put that way before. If it is true, I’m wondering how we know that the universe is deterministic.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Well, someone more expert in physics than myself will have to answer this definitively.

      Without listening to what Krauss said, but going only by what you wrote here, this sounds kind of like the insistence on ‘realism’ that was contained in the Einstein, Rosen, and Podolsky objection way back in 1935. This sounds essentially like the hidden variables hypothesis, which has been theoretically answered by Bell’s theorem, and seems pretty thoroughly confirmed experimentally.

      I’m sure a real physicist can further enlighten us here. What you describe as Krauss’ words are what seems intuitively reasonable to me, yet it seems that quantum theory is weirder than that, based on current understanding.

      I’m still unclear on how it is supposedly possible for entangled particles to affect one another instantaneously at a distance yet supposedly not actually transmit information at speeds greater than the speed of light.

  32. Paul S
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Before watching the debate I would have definitely said yes, but after watching I have to change that to a qualified yes. To the question of “Does science refute god” I would say it can and does as soon as god gets defined. Apparently the best strategy for those who want a god is to keep it undefined.

  33. Posted December 13, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I also thought the Hitchens/Fry debate was good, especially the sour look on Anne Widdecombe’s face when a huge % of the audience were persuaded that Catholicism was not a force for good.

  34. BornRight
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Time and again I hear theists claiming that the universe is fine-tuned for life. Unfortunately, those who argue for Science don’t offer the best arguments.
    If the universe was fine-tuned & optimized for life, our own solar system should be teeming with complex life forms. Yet only earth has complex beings. Our best hope outside of earth is for finding microbial life on mars or primitive creatures in europa’s oceans. If the universe was conditioned for life, why are there so many useless planets & moons that aren’t suitable for life?!

    Even on earth, life struggled to take hold. Initial conditions were hellish with a toxic atmosphere & searing temperatures. For the first billion years the earth was sterile. And for the next 2 billion years there were only single-celled microbes. Complex animals didn’t start appearing until about 500-600 million years ago, i.e 4 billion years after the earth formed! Life on Earth also have had to put up with severe mass extinctions, asteroid impacts, volcanic eruptions, global ice ages and such calamities. Is this what you consider being fine-tuned for life?!

    Also, humans arose only in the very recent past. If the universe was optimized for humans, they should have risen very early in its history.

    Scientists should stress these points in debates rather than relying on the probability of a multiverse. Our knowledge about the hostility of the universe is far more solid than our knowledge about multiverses.

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