Karl Giberson discusses whether there’s a war between science and faith

You Miami residents may want to put this on your calendar. Karl (formerly “Uncle”) Giberson will be speaking a week from yesterday (Monday, October 28) at the University of Miami.  The topic is “Are science and Christianity at war?”, and according to some rule cited by Ben Goren, the answer must be “no,” as it indeed appears to be. Information about the location is here, and the synopsis is timely, given what we’ve been discussing.

Lecture Synopsis: Popular Culture contains a “metanarrative” about science and religion being at war. The story goes like this: Science and religion are mortal enemies and always have been. The “Church” has opposed every scientific advance and scientists have been persecuted, tortured and even executed for their discoveries. From the flat earthism of the first millennium, to the persecution of Galileo, to widespread rejection of Darwinism today we see a steady battle between the forces of superstition and enlightenment. This popular picture is wrong, however, driven more by propaganda than history.

I’m not quite clear why creationism isn’t a war between science and religion, and is driven by “propaganda”—but perhaps Karl will explain.  Readers here may want to attend his talk, report back, and perhaps ask Karl some questions.

But oy—Galileo again! If you think the “popular picture” is wrong, and he wasn’t persecuted by religious authorities for his anti-Biblical views, go read Adam Gopnik’s piece on Galileo published in last year’s New Yorker.

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  1. Posted October 22, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    So Karl is saying that “a body of knowledge that can be confirmed by experiments in reality” is the same as “pretending to know things you don’t”?

  2. Posted October 22, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I think the rule Ben cited applies only to Internet articles, not to real-word situations… 


    • Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      It generally applies to dead tree publications, as well.


  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink


  4. davidintoronto
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    To paraphrase Dr. Venkman, “Betteridge’s Law” is more a guideline than a rule. 😉

    • Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Or a statistical observation….


  5. Posted October 22, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink


  6. Posted October 22, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    For me scientific knowledge is universal with disagreement at the edges and faith is personal. There is no conflict until one believes their faith is transferable to others.

    • Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      This is not about conflicts between people. The methods themselves are in conflict. One required objective evidence, the other eschews it. As methods, science and faith are exclusive of each other.

      Of course, one individual may do both, but nit at the sane time.

      • Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        “One required…” = “one requires…”

      • Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        Also “not” for “nit”.

        (goddamn phone)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          Poor cursed phone.

        • Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

          “sane time”?

          I give up.

          • Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

            You sound like the poloceman in ’Allo ’Allo


        • Posted October 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Now you’re just nitpicking….


      • Gordon Hill
        Posted October 22, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        Agreed with this proviso: IMHO faith is individually based. The idea that faith can be given some universal cred defies reason.

  7. DrBrydon
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I think the poster would have been more effective if Megajesus and Darwin were shaking hands.

    What’s the keyhole image supposed to mean?

    • Posted October 23, 2013 at 4:13 am | Permalink

      Not sure, but the ladder leading up to it evokes an image of a very, very tiny peeping Tom.

  8. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Obviously some parts of Christianity are at war with evolution.

  9. Occam
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Adam Gopnik shouldn’t have muddied his New Yorker piece by dipping into Brecht’s Galileo play. Brecht must be read with a sharp political mind, and at several, conflicting levels at once.

    Gopnik writes:

    Martyrdom is the test of faith, but the test of truth is truth. Once the book was published, who cared what transparent lies you had to tell to save your life? The best reason we have to believe in miracles is the miracle that people are prepared to die for them. But the best reason that we have to believe in the moons of Jupiter is that no one has to be prepared to die for them in order for them to be real.

    How very lofty. And how naïve.

    Brecht was duplicitous, cowardly and often amoral, but he had understood a couple of vital basics about ideology, power and politics. Gopnik should have heeded this key dialogue:

    —THE LITTLE MONK: Mr. Galilei, I’m a priest.
    —GALILEO: You’re also a physicist. And you can see that Venus has phases. […] Sir, a cosmology in which Venus has no phases violates my esthetic sense! We can’t invent machines for pumping river water if we’re forbidden to study the greatest machine before our eyes, the mechanism of the heavenly bodies. The sum total of the angles in a triangle can’t be changed to suit the requirements of the curia. Nor can I calculate the courses of flying bodies in such a way as to account for witches riding on broomsticks.
    —THE LITTLE MONK: Don’t you think the truth will prevail, even without us, if it is the truth?
    —GALILEO: No, no, no. Truth prevails only when we make it prevail. The triumph of reason can only be the triumph of reasoning men.
    (My emphasis.)

    The conflict between science and religions is, chiefly, a power struggle: a struggle for people’s minds, for resources, for airtime. The question of who prevails in that struggle may not impinge upon the moons of Jupiter, but it makes all the difference for us humans here on Earth. Truth prevails only when we make it prevail.

    • Sines
      Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      The quote you gave doesn’t seem to present the point you attribute to it.

      It seems to be saying that the ‘proof’ of miracles is that people believe in them strong enough to die for them. But the proof of the moons of Jupiter, is the moons of Jupiter themselves.

      “But the best reason that we have to believe in the moons of Jupiter is that no one has to be prepared to die for them in order for them to be real.”

      Notice it doesn’t say “In order for them to be believed”.

      The statement as a whole reminds me of the common response to Darwins deathbed rejection of evolution, “Even if he had, that wouldn’t disprove evolution.”

      In short, the quote supports the idea that miracles exist solely in the minds of men, whereas the moons of Jupiter are there for all to see, even if everyone were to forget they were there, it wouldn’t stop them from moving, and being visisble.

      And that is arguably what is at the heart of the entire war between science and religion. Namely, that scientific knowledge doesn’t come from some spirit giving you cliff notes, but from the ultimate arbiter of truth, reality itself.

      • Occam
        Posted October 23, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        Notice it doesn’t say “In order for them to be believed”.

        Your comment pertains to the epistemological aspect.
        Mine, as I made clear from the onset, is about the political, and specifically in relation to Gopnik quoting Brecht.
        Adam Gopnik really had no need and no business of bringing Brecht into play unless he was prepared to enter the plane that mattered most to Brecht: the political one.
        Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” is complex theatre, but also convoluted and conflicted, with a tangled history, a long gestation and a twisted translation. Present audiences are often unaware of the huge elephant in the room present at the opening 1945: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the scientist’s responsibility. So, no real need to quote from it in a piece about a new Galileo biography, to which id adds nothing, unless one is prepared to tackle it on its own terms.
        But if one does, one cannot ignore the political implications.
        We are not talking about some Platonic reality, detached from the human observer. As Popper rightly noted, science is also a social endeavour. Reality and truth may not be altered if humans are prevented from investigating it; but when censorship and indoctrination prevail, human life is always altered for the worse, often tragically, sometimes irrevocably.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    It’s like the Dark Ages (“Endarkenment”) wasn’t the exact opposite of the Enlightenment:

    “During the 17th and 18th centuries, in the Age of Enlightenment, many critical thinkers saw religion as antithetical to reason. For them the Middle Ages, or “Age of Faith”, was therefore the polar opposite of the Age of Reason.”

    I guess Giberson can go back, he wouldn’t note the difference. But humanity can’t.

  11. Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    The way I see it, science has utterly and completely and totally and absolutely demolished the entire intellectual foundation of Christianity and all other popular religions. But, like the Black Knight, the religious refuse to admit that they’ve had the rug yanked out from underneath them.

    It’s a war because they have the resources to seriously hinder the work of science and science education. Fortunately, they’re not winning that war, though it’ll only end when they wake up and come to their senses.

    And, yes. It’s a culture war, not an armed conflict. The casualties are generally not human lives, though the religious have killed more than their fair share of OB-GYN doctors and Afghani schoolgirls…as well as New York City skyscrapers. And the only casualties the religious have faced to date have been their imaginary friends and childish fantasies and their ability to stop other people from doing what they themselves want to do but wish they didn’t.



    • prochoice
      Posted October 23, 2013 at 5:21 am | Permalink


      • Larry Gay
        Posted October 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        Ben, perhaps I misremember, but I think the Black Knight had his legs yanked (yes, even cleaved) out from under him, not the rug.

        • Posted October 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          Rug, legs, arms…same diff.

          Besides, I was trying (for once) to be “family friendly” and eschew the great greasy gory guts….

          Point is, neither has a leg to stand on….


  12. eric
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    This popular picture is wrong, however, driven more by propaganda than history.

    Let me guess: Gilbertson will argue that of course Christian theology accepts that the earth is round. And of course it accepts an old earth. And of course it rejects the notion of a real worldwide flood. And of course it accepts common descent. And of course it accepts human evolution. And of course it accepts the germ theory of disease (vs. divine punishment), as well as all other natural causal explanations for phenomena that science has discovered.

    “See!” He’ll argue, “no conflict!” Such a position ignoring the vast majority of Christians whose theology does not accept all of these points. It ignores that Christian historic beliefs (shall we even delve into the social sciences? Slavery and sexism, for instance?). And perhaps most disengenously, it treats a wholesale retreat and loss of authority by one group as some form of consilience between groups. It isn’t. Science and Christianity are not at war right now the same way the north and confederacy are not at war right now: because one of them got the ever living bejeesus kicked out of them by the other, to the point where the latter groups are at best mere shadows of their former geopolitical selves.

    • Sines
      Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Religion is compatible with science only in the sense that when science tells it to update it’s views, religion responds “How far?”

      Religion can bring nothing to science and when it contradicts religion, the best it can do is update. Maybe they wouldn’t be in conflict if religion didn’t go around making claims it couldn’t back up in the first place.

      But ultimately, it’s their epistomologies that are in conflict. To paraphrase a fundamentalist saying “Religion is getting your knowledge from men. Science is getting your religion from reality. Why would you trust the words of men over the words of existence?”

      For religion, truth is based on what people tell you. In science, it’s in what reality says. And reality is, by it’s very definition, the ultimate arbiter of truth. Any religion that treated reality as their source of truth would be pantheists.

      So, show me that pantheism is the dominant religious view, and I’ll agree that religion and science aren’t in conflict.

      • Posted October 23, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        And when the metaquestion comes up, i.e, “Please update your epistemology and metaphysics!”, then it is ignored at best!

    • Larry Gay
      Posted October 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      His name is Gibberish, not Gilbertson.

  13. Diane G.
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink


  14. Matt G
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Shame on me for being superficial, but is there some rule that ALL of the male accommodationists must wear mustaches? Seriously, there’s Francis Collins, Paul Davies, Eric Hedin, and I’m sure others here can name more.

    • Posted October 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Ken Miller has one, too (and a beard). So does Josh Rosenau and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Also Paul Davies and George Church. It’s starting to look like a pattern. . . .

      Now look at the non-accommodationists: me, Pinker, Dawkins, Harris, Michael Shermer. We have no facial hair. Dennett and Victor Stenger do. Someone should do a chi-square test.

      • Posted October 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        <ahem />

        I’ve got a mustache.

        And, for all his faults, PZ is no accommodationist and I don’t think he even owns a razor. And most of the televangelists are clean-shaven….


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          Yous might be outliers. I agree with the chi-square test!

          • Posted October 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

            But is chi-square enough? We might need to go with psi-cube….


            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

              Stop, you’re giving me flashbacks from my tests about what tests to use. 🙂

              • Posted October 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

                When in doubt, I find a litmus test generally works pretty well. And it’s easy to do if you’ve got some red cabbage or some blackberries or any of a number of other types of produce at hand — which everybody always should, really….


      • Sines
        Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        Dennet has a Darwin beard, so it doesn’t count.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted October 22, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink


  15. scottoest
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I feel like sometimes people like Giberson, intentionally or unintentionally, confuse “at war” with always literally meaning “in bloody conflict”. In some cases, this is absolutely true, but confining it to this one definition lets them point to things like religious scientists, and say “see? not at war!”. Science and Religion are “at war”, in the sense that they aren’t intellectually compatible with each other, and there’s absolutely no counterargument to that.

    If the Catholic church came out tomorrow and embraced the Big Bang, evolution, and every other major scientific theory, it wouldn’t be a sign that religion and science were any more compatible with each other – it would just be an example of religious dogma capitulating to science.

    The ability for clergymen to twist, warp, regard, and disregard scripture to make it fit the nooks and crannys around our scientific worldview isn’t a sign of religion’s deep compatibility – it’s a sign of how intellectually vapid it is to begin with. It becomes a rhetorical game, played by church officials and religious scholars, to jam the ridiculous in with the credible.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Well put!

    • Notagod
      Posted October 23, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Well put too!

  16. Richard Olson
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Religion is at war with reality. It is not possible to accurately calculate the total casualties resulting from this unnecessary, mindless, tragically wasteful conflict, nor have any confidence the war is even survivable. The margin for ecological behavior error impact, in terms of sustaining life on this planet, is shrinking rapidly. There is little if any room for honest mistakes in environmental mitigation calculations, let alone bone-headed obstreporous insistence on asinine blind faith belief notions.

    • prochoice
      Posted October 23, 2013 at 5:25 am | Permalink


  17. MNb
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    How convenient to omit another fact: six years after the trial Galilei published another book defending the heliocentric theory: Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche, intorno a due nuove scienze. Of course Galilei was arrested, heavily tortured and burnded for disobeying the outcome of the 1632 trial.
    Or not.

    • Posted October 23, 2013 at 4:30 am | Permalink

      How convenient to omit another fact… that the writ of the Inquisition effectively prevented attempts at publication of the work in France, Germany and Poland. It was eventually published in Holland, far from the odious Inquisitor thugs.

      Your point, again?

    • Posted October 23, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink

      You also seem to imply that he wasn’t indeed already under arrest. Care to elaborate?

  18. Dominic
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Adam Gopnik is good – & an amusing speaker (he has done stuff on Radio 4 for the BBC)…

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