A mis-misconception about evolution

I may have written about this this before, but reader Ivar just called it to my attention, so it’s worth going over again.

The “Understanding Evolution” website produced by the University of California at Berkeley is an excellent resource, and is especially good for its list of “misconceptions about evolution” page.

There are eight categories of misconceptions with answers to all of them at the links. Here, for instance, is one category for general misconceptions about evolution and science.

Misconceptions about evolution and the nature of science

Not bad, eh?

However, as organizations often do when trying to convince people that evolution is true, they have to stick their noses into theology, as Berkeley does with this question and its “correction” (my emphasis).

Misconceptions about evolution and religion

  • MISCONCEPTION: Evolution and religion are incompatible.
  • CORRECTION: Because of some individuals and groups stridently declaring their beliefs, it’s easy to get the impression that science (which includes evolution) and religion are at war; however, the idea that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. People of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. For many of these people, science and religion simply deal with different realms. Science deals with natural causes for natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world. Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days does conflict with evolutionary theory); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution. For concise statements from many religious organizations regarding evolution, see Voices for Evolution on the NCSE website. To learn more about the relationship between science and religion, visit the Understanding Science website.

Here are the four problems with this answer:

1.) Berkeley construes “compatibility” in several senses. The first is that many religious people accept evolution, and many scientists are religious. That of course shows nothing except that one can hold two mindsets in one’s head simultaneously. (One of them is an empirical way to judge truth about the universe, the other is a revelatory, scriptural, and authoritarian method of to judging truth about the universe. Is there nothing incompatible with becoming an atheist when you enter the lab (as all scientists do in their practice), accepting only empirically verifiable results, while at the same time accepting the most outlandish claims of religion, like the Resurrection, the dictation of the Qur’an to Muhammad by an angel, and the clearly bogus writing on divine Golden Plates left in the ground for Joseph Smith? That is dissonance, whether or not it causes mental conflict. Harboring these two methods (and the disparate “truths” they produce) in one’s mind simultaneously shows coexistence, not compatibility.

If your faith involves accepting truth claims about the Universe for which there is no evidence—and certainly the Abrahamic faiths do, as well as many others (e.g. Hinduism, most Buddhism, etc.)—then there is an incompatibility between science and religion.

2.) In fact, if you’re talking about evolution, most Americans see the naturalistic version, as taught in classrooms everywhere by real scientists, as incompatible with religion. Here are the latest Gallup poll results (2017) for the proportion of polled Americans who see the evolution of humans as requiring God’s intervention. These data have been taken fairly regularly over the last 36 years:

As you see, 38% of Americans reject human evolution outright, claiming that “God created man in present form.”

Another 38% of Americans believe that humans evolved but that “God guided the process.” These are theistic evolutionists who find evolution compatible with religion only insofar as the process involved guiding or tweaking by God.

Finally, just 19% of Americans—fewer than 1 in 5—think that “man developed, but God had no part in the process.” (Jebus, why do they use “man” instead of humans, and “developed” instead of “evolved”?). This means that 76% of Americans see naturalistic evolution as incompatible with religion. 

I’ve said before that I’m heartened at the rise of the naturalistic evolutionists, which has more than doubled from the 9% in 1982. Given the error bars, this is a real change and not a statistical fluke. I think it reflects the rise of secularism in the U.S. As for creationism and theistic evolution, the data bounce around but show no general trend over the past 36 years. Those percentages, I suspect, will finally begin to drop as the U.S. inevitably becomes full of “nones” and “atheists.”

3.) The last way the Berkeley site sees science and religion as compatible is through Steve Gould’s “Non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) idea,  This is taken from above:

For many of these people, science and religion simply deal with different realms. Science deals with natural causes for natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

As stated by Gould in his 1999 book Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, the magisteria become separate in this way:

“Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

This is erroneous in several ways, and Gould should have known better. As I’m in the Houston airport, I don’t have time to dilate on the errors, but you can find a decent discussion of the problems with NOMA in Faith Versus Fact (buy it, please: a small price to pay for all the free reading you get here!).

The main problems with NOMA are these. As many theologians have admitted, religion certainly does make factual claims about the real world; that in fact is the basis of much religious belief and morality (think of how much of Christianity depends on the reality of Jesus, his divinity, and his resurrection, and how much of Islam depends on what’s said in the Qur’an and the hadith.) Without such factual beliefs, you can hardly call yourself a Christian or a Muslim. In Faith versus Fact I document theologians’ arguments that they do indeed make factual claims about reality.

Further, the realm of “purposes, meanings, and values” does not lie solely (or even mainly) in religion. There is an entire tradition of secular and humanistic ethics, starting with the ancient Greeks and going through Spinoza, Mill, and down to Peter Singer, Anthony Grayling, and John Rawls in our day—none of whom use God in confecting their ethical philosophy. (See a list of atheist philosophers here.) Likewise, many people, including lots of believers, derive meaning and purpose (whatever those are) from their life on this planet. It’s beyond me how Gould could dissimulate in this way. He wasn’t stupid by any means, nor ignorant of philosophy. All I can surmise is that he wanted his book to endear him to America. You don’t make many friends by claiming that science and religion are in conflict. On the other hand, you make tons of friends by showing that they’re compatible and even loving friends.

NOMA is a con, pure and simple.

4.) In my view, UC Berkeley, or any science organization like the National Center for Science Education or the DoSer program of the AAAS, has no business telling religious people what is or is not compatible with their belief. That, too, is a tactic designed to spread acceptance of evolution, but such groups should keep their noses out of theology. Give people the facts, and let them decide themselves; but do not tell them what is and is not in conflict with their religion. That puts these organizations in the position of adjudicating what is and is not “real” religion, and what religions do and do not say—and that is theology. You can surely clarify what evolution means and how it works, and dispel the errors of creationism, but that’s where the job of science-education organizations should stop.

And for combatting the views above, well, there are plenty of scientist/antitheists like Richard Dawkins and me. I try not to mix messages too much: in a talk about the evidence for evolution, for instance, I try not to go after its incompatibility with religion, except to dispel creationism. The incompatibility is the subject of a different talk.

78 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. glen1davidson
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    As you see, 38% of Americans reject human evolution outright, claiming that “God created man in present form.”

    Another 38% of Americans believe that humans evolved but that “God guided the process. …”

    Finally, just 19% of Americans—fewer than 1 in 5—think that “man developed, but God had no part in the process.” (…). This means that 76% of Americans see naturalistic evolution as incompatible with religion.

    Not necessarily. They may just prefer to have God involved, either “lightly” or “heavily.” I suspect that a lot of creationists and a lot of theistic evolutionists haven’t really bothered to consider whether “naturalistic evolution” is compatible with religion at large, they just know what works with their religion, or at least what their divines say works with their religion.

    The 24% that either accept “naturalistic evolution” and the “don’t knows” aren’t evidence of people who think of religion and science being compatible, either. Many of the 19% accepting scientific evolution probably don’t think that evolution is compatible with religion.

    The poll simply isn’t about whether or not people consider evolution to be compatible with religion. If the poll were about that, you’d probably get a large range of answers, from a simple “no,” to “yes, for some,” and on to “yes, but I believe in God so I believe God had a hand in it.” I certainly couldn’t guess the numbers, although I suspect that most creationists would say that evolution isn’t compatible with Christian religion.

    Glen Davidson

  3. Sastra
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    As always, these defenses of the “compatibility” of science and religionare roughly similar to the same sort of arguments regarding the “complementary“ nature of science and pseudoscience.

    Sometimes an ancient artifact is explained through standard archaeology; sometimes it was put there by ancient astronauts. Sometimes a malady calls for the application of modern medicine; sometimes it needs a homeopathic remedy. Sometimes a run of bad luck is just a coincidence; sometimes it’s time to look for the witch that cursed you.

    Gee golly, a lot of people use both methods. To insist that there’s some basic incompatibility here ignores the way most people know where to draw the line.

    • Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Did you mean “…basic compatibility…”?

      • Sastra
        Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        No, that last paragraph is supposed to be sarcasm, spoken in the hypothetical voice of a hypothetical science/religion/pseudoscience compatibilist. There is no reasonable way to “draw a line” between empirical systems which explicitly reject each other at the most basic level.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Smh

    I mean

    Sub

  5. Merilee
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Sub

  6. Liz
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    There are a lot of light green people. I’m familiar with the grey ones and the dark green. That’s sort of scary. I don’t think I’ve talked to one of those before.

    It was on here that it was stated so perfectly and clearly. It was something about how science and religion ask the same questions but they use different methodologies to answer them. That from here is almost as important to me, adding that little bit of clarity in my own journey with asking these questions about religion and science, and arguing about how religion is wrong, as the effective field theory from Sean Carroll. So I have something from Sean Carroll and something from Jerry Coyne. Thank you.

    I had looked at both of them and thought that they were similar because they both had things that were not answered, but I didn’t think they were compatible. Religion was incorrect on so many basic things that it didn’t make any sense. It helps a lot to have that verbalized with clarity. There was a post a little while ago about the John Templeton Foundation. I have some thoughts about why they are doing that incorrectly aside from the fact that they are creationists.

    I don’t think the social part of religion was mentioned by them or here, but that seems to be important in considering how to get the religious people to think differently about their truths. I’m not sure but I also tend to think that there must be a way to study morality objectively. There’s so much to say about all of it. I love this topic.

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    UC Berkely is a state university, and is Understanding Evolution a product of UC Berkeley? So does this seem pretty close to a violation of the establishment clause?

    • Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      No. But in which direction did you think?

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        I was just mulling over the policy that agents of the state cannot be seen to endorse (or restrict) the practice of established religions. Here they are using their science credentials to say that religion is compatible with science. To their target audience (which is largely teachers and students in public schools) that is very close to saying that gods and miracles are possible.

        • Posted April 19, 2018 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

          I don’t find it close at all. It’s an anodyne platitude.

  8. Posted April 19, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I encounter a great deal of misunderstanding among a group that ostensibly accepts naturalistic evolution — SJWs. Some assertions by them have included:

    * If you haven’t identified the exact gene, you can’t tell whether a trait is genetic;

    * pleiotropy means traits can’t be heritable with any consistency in population groups;

    * Male-female behavioral differences are just social constructs: men & women are baseline identical;

    * The human mind has ‘plasticity’ thus all human behaviors are social constructs completely divorced from our evolutionary past;

    * Variances in intelligence among demographics is attributable to multi-gnerational epigenetic effects in response to pollution;

    * Founder Effect & Genetic Drift randomly jumble up genes so much that selection really can never take place;

    * Most phenotypes are neutral; most coding DNA is junk.

    SJWs tend to reject the gene as unit of selection, preferring a vague mosh-mash of the individual or group.

    The concept of standard distributions tends to elude them, falsely assuming that stating ‘Group X tends to…’ means ‘each and every member of Group X is….’

    For points of dogma, they reject ‘nature AND nurture’ etiology for either all nature (e.g., being ‘born’ gay or trans), or all nurture (e.g., sex differences, intelligence.)

    Not surprisingly, Gould is often their guiding light. For they happily set up their sociopolitical dogma as its own inviolable Magisterium, regard natural selection as ‘genetic determinism’, and reply to any critique of their fractured evolution with the scathing epithet, ‘scientism.’

    • Craw
      Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      I recall similar stuff; you have provided a nice summary here. I have had people defiantly and loudly say “punctuated equilibria” as if making an irrefutable argument.

      • Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Yes, this is nice summary by Matt of one of the new anti-science tendencies in academia. Get ready for more such post-modernist inspired “critiques” of evolutionary research. The first target (they thinking that it would be the easier one) has been evolutionary psychology.

        • Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          It’s an easy target, you got to admit.

        • Posted April 19, 2018 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

          SJWs have a pathological hatred of EP. Were human behavior evolved, and not purely social construct as they insist, it would seriously weaken the rationale for their grand social engineering schemes.

      • Posted April 19, 2018 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

        Gould built his career on strawmanning darwinism; it’s no wonder his admirers perpetuate those strawmen.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      An excellent summary of tropes among what I call the pop-Left. I have the further impression that Gould is by now a little passe among them, having peaked with his “Mismeasure of Man” (1996) which argues against the concept of general intelligence, and tends implicitly toward the blank slate concept. Moreover, in my experience many of the pop-Lefties who mention Gould haven’t actually read him, just as they incessantly cite Chomsky without reading him, etc. etc. These authorities are typically cited simply in consequence of snippets heard on NPR.

      • Posted April 19, 2018 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        I see Mismeasure of Man referred to all the time, and the SJWs are flabbergasted and incredulous when I inform them that Gould fudged his data in it.

  9. glen1davidson
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    The one thing that Berkeley should probably be telling people is that evolutionary theory is essentially indifferent to religion. It doesn’t exist in order to oppose religious teachings, it doesn’t have any business keeping religious people out of science if they do sound science, but it also has no problem with its findings being incompatible with anybody’s religion (NOMA can suck it).

    Science just finds out what’s real in the “natural world.” It’s up to religion to decide whether or not it will be compatible with science.

    Glen Davidson

  10. Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    There is no compatibility. Either you need good reason for believing things or you don’t. If you don’t, you will end up believing things that aren’t true and acting on those beliefs to everyone’s detriment. It’s really just that simple.

    • Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Coyne’s comments are quite clear and to the point. For my friends I put the argument this way, with regard to the main central point of whether a creator exists or life arose from naturalistic phenomena:

      1.A creator designed and implemented life, the earth and the cosmos.

      or

      2.Life, the earth and the cosmos arose from
      naturalistic phenomena, which can be explained by physics, chemistry and biology.

      Only one of these can be correct. Number 1 is asserted by religious believers. Number 2 is asserted by nonbelievers.

      You can’t have both. Religion and science are fundamentally incompatible.

      • David Evans
        Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        That division is too stark. It is quite possible to believe that the existence and order of the universe require a creator, without believing that the creator is needed as an explanation for the formation of the Earth or the evolution of life.

        • Curt Nelson
          Posted April 19, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t that moving the goalpost? Religion asserts the existence of specific things – a God that made the world a certain way and who performs miracles, answers prayers, hosts followers in heaven… You can’t just say, forget about that, that existence itself is evidence for God. All that sophisticated religious stuff is what’s at issue here.

          • CJColucci
            Posted April 20, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

            Some religions assert some specific things. It is not up to us to tell the religious what their religion says, or should say. If they want to water their religions down — as we see it — in the face of scientific evidence, we might be entitled to a chuckle or two among ourselves, but unless we want to reiterate tiresomely that we don’t think they should have a religion at all, there’s nothing else for us to say about it.

            • GBJames
              Posted April 20, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

              All religions assert specific things. There’s nothing wrong with challenging the assertions.

            • Kevin Lawson
              Posted May 18, 2018 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

              Religions are problematic because they are anti-science, anti-critical thinking skills, anti-common sense. They espouse a terrible epistemological methodology that is harmful to human progress and results in things like Trump-thought. Attacking religions and their specific assertions is a sacred duty and the best way to honor Atheist Unit #1.

              • Posted May 24, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                I think the most obvious difference between science and the monotheists regards birth and death. The science is that is only happens once, the JCI (the monotheistic faiths) believe that it happens twice. And, the second time around is forever, with Dad.

  11. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I recently talked to a religious person who also did not believe in evolution. However with further questioning it was clear the person knew so little, even about the basics of evolution and could not understand the concept of “theory” as a scientific meaning it just seemed useless to continue.

    • Liz
      Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      No, don’t give up.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Not sure about that. I have faced the same thing. I tried for a long time to ‘turn’ them. No go. Not a dent.

    • Historian
      Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      For some people the tenets of religion are the psychological core of their beings. They would psychologically disintegrate if doubt should creep in. Delusion rather than reality is what keeps them functioning. I have encountered such people. There is nothing you can do to get them to question their beliefs. I do not have a problem if these people keep their delusions to themselves. When they enter the political arena and try to foist them on me is when I have a big problem with them, such as when they try to get creationism taught in public schools. Whatever you may say about Trump, he was masterful in exploiting these delusions. The fact that so many of the deeply religious have stuck with Trump is a testament to the hold of religious fantasies on their minds.

      • Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Yep. An olde USEnet wag by the name of Glenn Morton, a recovered Christian, called this phenomenon “Morton’s Demon”. This demon was something like Maxwell’s Demon where you could get segregation of two gasses in a container if a demon was present that kept the molecules of one gas apart from the others.

        Morton said that when he was a Christian a demon prevented facts and reason penetrating his mind. This demon was kept in place in order to preserve the delusion of religion. Good for Mr. Morton that he escaped from the delusion and evicted that demon.

      • darrelle
        Posted April 20, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        “I do not have a problem if these people keep their delusions to themselves.”

        When I was younger I used to think just that, quite literally as in “as long as you aren’t out preaching in the streets and or proselytizing.” I never really thought about what you bring up in the next sentence.

        In more recent years I’ve come to think, as you, that keeping your delusions out of politics, public institutions, etc., is obviously the biggest problem. I’ve gone further, gotten meaner as it were. Since it seems very evident to me that what people think and believe affects their behavior, contrary to apologists such as Reza Aslan, I don’t see any way at all that believers can prevent their behavior in the political arena, or any arena, from being affected by their religious beliefs.

        So basically I’m no longer fine with people’s religious delusions under any circumstances. There is no way for them to keep them to themselves. I do still believe that it is best to allow freedom of religion in our societies. Better than the alternative. But I am not OK with believer’s religious beliefs, or any category of delusional beliefs.

  12. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    A widespread misconception about evolution among the educated public is that adaptation is a process.

    • Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Could you expand on this? What do mean when you say they think it a “process”? I don’t believe I’ve encountered this (not disputing your claim – there are universes of human behavior I am completely unfamiliar with).

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted April 19, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        My sense is that many people think of natural selection as a continuous process of adaptation, thinking that there’s a verb adapt, or that gene frequencies in a population change in response to changes in the environment.

        • GBJames
          Posted April 19, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          Yes. Natural selection is a process. Adaptation is the consequence of processes of evolution.

          • Posted April 19, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            Thanks both, I see what you mean and I recognize it now.

            Just a note though- there is a more prosaic meaning for adaptation that may account for the common belief that it is a process. In October when its 50 degrees (F!) and raining, I’m freezing but by January when it’s 35 degrees and raining I am not; I adapted. When I moved from the Right coast and the social norms of the NYC area (fugeddaboudit) to the Left coast and the social norms of Seattle (meh); I adapted. Those are the words we use.

            I think conflation of terms like this is where at least some of the confusion comes from about adaptation with those who have not studied evolution. In some ways it’s like the every-day meaning of the word “theory” and its scientific meaning.

            • GBJames
              Posted April 19, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              Context matters!

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted April 19, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          Another one is thinking that it is somehow an active process, in the short term, as in organisms strive to adapt. Of course in the short term natural selection is essentially a filtering process. I don’t mind the word ‘process’, I guess.

  13. Posted April 19, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I am apparently blessed with so few religious people around me that when I read “Misconceptions about evolution”, I thought it was about natural selection always benefiting the species and other similar popular ideas.

  14. nicky
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I always felt that Steve Gould’s NOMA was a kind of a gambit. As if he feared that if religion (faith) were opposed to fact, the facts would lose, and therefore he devised NOMA. He tried to appease opposition to science -evolution in particular, at least, that is how I read him. A kind of political ploy to avoid the annihilation of science in the US. ‘I give you your religion, but you leave our science alone’ type of strategy. The ‘Maus’ reaction (I strongly doubt he believed in NOMA himself).
    Indeed, I think the NOMA concept is mistaken, I think the approaches of Jerry (Faith v Fact), Dawkins (The God Delusion) or the Hitch (God is not Great), the frontal attack, is much more effective, especially in the long run, because it makes so much more sense.

  15. mirandaga
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Once again my Jesuit training prompts me to make certain distinctions relevant to the question of the compatibility of religion and science. The distinctions, in brief, are between faith, experiential evidence, and scientific evidence.

    Faith is belief in something based on authority, whether revelation or indoctrination. The main tenets of religion—e.g., the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist—fall into this category. In that sense, faith is totally “subjective”; there is no external object of phenomenon that triggers or supports the belief. No one has witnessed the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    Experiential evidence is belief in something based on one’s experience. We use it every day, since it forms the basis of our impressions and judgments about people, art, and the world in general. While there is a subjective element in this form of belief it is not “just subjective.” It requires an external object or phenomenon about which the subjective judgment is made—a work of art, another person, or the natural world. A belief in God based solely on experiential evidence can be confirmed by others with similar experience, but it is not amenable to consensus. This does not mean, however, that it is strictly “incompatible” with science since there’s always the possibility that it could be confirmed by the accepted methods of science. To deny that possibility a priori is—well, unscientific.

    Scientific evidence is belief based on the methods of science. Its greatest strength lies in its being replicable: anyone using the same methods should arrive at the same conclusion. Although there is always a subject and object involved in scientific evidence, it is “objective” in the sense that the judgment of the subject or agent is always subordinated to the replicable results of the method. Hence the possibility of consensus.

    I propose that when we discuss a belief in God as opposed to a belief in religion we not lump experiential evidence in with faith. They are entirely different beasts.

    • Posted April 19, 2018 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      The problem with “experiential evidence” is that the bar is too low. People are not skeptical enough about their own experiences.

      • mirandaga
        Posted April 20, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        “People are not skeptical enough about their own experiences.”

        Skeptical enough for what, or for whom? The degree of skepticism or certainty about belief in God based on one’s experiences varies widely from person to person and experience to experience. My point is that, whatever the degree of skepticism, a belief in God based on experiential evidence is different in kind from one based on faith. Lumping the two together only muddies the water.

        • GBJames
          Posted April 20, 2018 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          How exactly does someone acquire experiential evidence for something that does not exist?

          • BethClarkson
            Posted April 20, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

            By experiencing something interpreted as existing. Other explanations for the experience may exist but that doesn’t negate the experience. Tor example, there is plenty of experiential evidence for ghosts.

            • GBJames
              Posted April 20, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

              You confuse experience of something real with experience of an hallucination. The latter is not an experience of something. There’s no there there.

              Hallucinations of ghosts does not constitute evidence for ghosts.

              • mirandaga
                Posted April 20, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                On the contrary, Beth is exactly right. If there is experiential evidence of something, we can’t know whether it’s an “hallcination” or “not real” until we’ve examined that evidence (and not, like you, apply an a priori bias). If, having examined the evidence by the methods currently available to science, we find none, the most we can say is “there is no scientific evidence” or “the only evidence is experiential.” We are not justified in saying “There is no evidence,” since there clearly is, as Beth says, “plenty of evidence.” That’s my point.

              • GBJames
                Posted April 20, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

                I’m sure you’ll accept my experiential evidence for invisible unicorn herds living in my basement.

          • mirandaga
            Posted April 20, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

            “I’m sure you’ll accept my experiential evidence for invisible unicorn herds living in my basement.”

            I wouldn’t accept it, but I wouldn’t reject it outright without investigating. I might begin by asking you what you consider a “herd” and how big your basement is.

            Once again, however, I’m not making a case for the reliability of experiential evidence. I’m simply making a distinction between it and “faith claims,” about which we are justified in saying “there is no evidence, either scientific or experiential.” Atheists tend to reduce any belief in God to a “faith claim,” and that simply isn’t the case.

            • GBJames
              Posted April 20, 2018 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

              I’ll agree that they aren’t always faith claims. Sometimes there are simple lies.

            • Posted April 21, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

              But accepting something as true if you have no reliable evidence is faith. You’re making a distinction without a difference. It doesn’t matter if the theist says “but I do have evidence”; if that evidence isn’t good (say, “feeling the witness of the spirit”) then the theist is operating on faith. You can’t say “there’s a continuum of evidence, some is strong, some is weak; my internal experience may not be strong evidence, but at least it makes it on the continuum, so you have to distinguish it from, and take it more seriously than, faith”. If we could say that then anything would have to be taken more seriously than faith: “I believe in the FSM because I saw a commercial for pasta last night. Hey, I know it’s not good evidence, but you can’t say I believe in the FSM based on faith, because I’m calling that commercial evidence.”

              Evidence that is that poor is not actually evidence.

              • mirandaga
                Posted April 21, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

                “You can’t say ‘there’s a continuum of evidence, some is strong, some is weak.'”

                I’m not saying that. You’re the one who’s equating experiential evidence with weak evidence. In point of fact, some is strong and some is weak; some is reliable and some isn’t.

                The same is true of scientific evidence, by the way. Hence the distinction between a “cause” and an “association,” and the ubiquitous “more research is required.” It would be utter nonsense to say that more research is required into the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (that Mary was born without Original Sin), because those are faith claims, which by definition have no evidence. But this would not true of further research into the existence of ghosts, since that is a claim based on a large body of experiential evidence.

                So it does make a difference, one that seems to me important.

              • Posted April 21, 2018 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

                Could you give an example of strong “experiential evidence” for the existence of god, or even just a god?

              • mirandaga
                Posted April 22, 2018 at 2:03 am | Permalink

                “Could you give an example of strong ‘experiential evidence’ for the existence of god?”

                Now, that’s a damn good question. Unfortunately, I can’t. Picking raspberries comes to mind—I’ve never understood how anyone can pick raspberries and not believe in God—but that’s hardly satisfactory. The nature of experiential evidence is that it has to be experienced. In that respect, experiences of God are no different from other human experiences, like falling in love or becoming a parent—or what you might call “just having an emotion.”

                The best I can do is recommend reading William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience: “No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain experience, in what the quality or worth of it consists.” About “religious” experiences specifically (and James, incidentally, had no interest in theology or the organizational aspects of religion), he says: “Something in you absolutely knows that the result of the experience must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.”

                The accumulative experience of humankind (as opposed to one person’s experience of invisible unicorns living in his basement) may be the strongest experiential evidence for the existence of God, but even that, in comparison to actually having the experience, is like my describing to you the music of Mozart compared to your listening to it.

                So, again, the short answer to your question is “No.”

              • GBJames
                Posted April 22, 2018 at 8:41 am | Permalink

                “In that respect, experiences of God are no different from other human experiences”

                More than that, given the sacred berries, these “experiences of God” are identical to other human experiences.

                Therein lies the uselessness of calling these experiences “evidence of god”. There’s absolutely no value in such a notion, except to somehow legitimize the whole religious enterprise.

    • Posted April 19, 2018 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention their experiences may not actually be evidence for their claim. A “burning in the bosom” as some theists put it, is only evidence that you’re having an emotion. And nothing else.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I agree wholeheartedly with
    “Further, the realm of “purposes, meanings, and values” does not lie solely (or even mainly) in religion. There is an entire tradition of secular and humanistic ethics, starting with the ancient Greeks and going through Spinoza, Mill, and down to Peter Singer, Anthony Grayling, and John Rawls in our day—none of whom use God in confecting their ethical philosophy.”
    especially as regards the unworkability of Gould’s NOMA.

    However, several ancient Greeks were what is sometimes called “philosophical theists” using God in their philosophy, and even John Stuart Mill conceded ground to theism (a bit late in his career) in his “Three Lectures on Religion”.
    You can describe Aristotle as a secular philosopher but not as as an atheist philosopher. The primary atheist philosopher of ancient Greece is Epicurus. The first major atheist of modern times is Matthias Knutzen (1646–1674)

    But none of these Greek theists conceived God as a lawgiver a la the Moses story, nor as a punisher of those who disobeyed him.
    Many of them might be persuaded of the modern sensibility (also my own) that the falsity of the Abrahamic religions is chiefly testified by the strong archeological evidence that the Exodus did not happen, and the wildly homicidal character of the Old Testament God (at least when he is addressed as Yahweh- perhaps not when addressed as Elohim). The OT God is as crazy as Jack the Ripper.

    It is hard to identify this with Aristotle’s deity which has been described as follows:
    “Aristotle conceived of God as outside of the world, as the final cause of all motion in Nature, as Prime Mover and Unmoved Mover of the universe. He was the crowning objective of all dynamic development in the cosmos from matter to form and from potentiality to actuality. He stood outside the Great Chain of Being yet was the source of all motion and development. Aristotle did not attribute mercy, love, sympathy and providence to God, but rather eternal self-contemplation.”

    Since modern science no longer accepts the general Aristotelian notion of causality, this may now be what LaPlace called an unnecessary hypothesis.

  17. mirandaga
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Since you seem to be well acquainted with Aristotle, I’m sure you know that he posits four kinds of causes:

    The material cause: “that out of which,” e.g., the bronze of a statue.

    The formal cause: “the form,” “the account of what-it-is-to-be,” e.g., the shape of a statue.

    The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest,” e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.

    The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done,” e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.

    Am I correct that when you say that “modern science no longer accepts the general Aristotelian notion of causality” you mean the “final cause”—i.e., teleology? Even on that score, however, while genetic drift doesn’t have a purpose, the process of natural selection is sometimes said to have a purpose of selecting mutations that best provide characteristics that facilitate reproduction. No?

    I don’t mean to challenge your assertion; I’m not a scientist and don’t know enough about evolution to do so. But I’ve read Aristotle (in the original Greek–God help me!) and am curious as to how he fares with “modern science.”

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 19, 2018 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      (I didn’t immediately recognize your comment as a reply to my own.)

      Aristotle also believes in fixed species and a world of fixed boundaries, and believes that what is unchanging is superior to what is changing. In Aristotle, the universe works like a feudal political system.

      As one website puts it, in Aristotle you have
      Aristotle: ” Only changes from one fixed form to another can be understood. Development applies only to individuals within a species, not to species themselves. Potentiality means not possibility of novelty; but predictable movement toward pre-existing ends.”
      but in modern science you have
      Modern Science: ” Change and development is not confined to fixed results. Potentiality has many directions, is wide open. Conditions are plastic, rather than restricted. Novelty is possible. Importance of conditions in relation to results, means in relation to ends.”
      Likewise in Aristotle you have
      Aristotle: “The defining characteristic of a thing is its nature, that is, what about it does not change.”
      but in science today you have
      Modern Science: “The defining characteristic of a thing is its function, its organic relation and interrelation. A thing is described in terms of a dynamic and changing correlation, rather than a static and unchanging essence.”

      Teleology in Aristotle has to do with rest and permanence.
      The whole effort of Teilhard de Chardin to reconcile evolution and theism is based on speculating about a new form of teleology which rests on non-Aristotelian foundations.

    • Posted April 19, 2018 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      “Natural selection” does not actively select. Things that work succeed; things that don’t fail. There is no teleology in that. Heavy rocks will make it to the bottom of a hill; small rocks will succumb to the force of friction. This does not mean a heavy rock’s purpose is to roll all the way down a hill.

  18. grasshopper
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Part of science involves collecting data about phenomenoma. These data are observations.
    If the ground is dry when we go to sleep, and wet when we arise, we make the observation that it rained at some time during the night. We don’t have to see the rain falling. Anti-science folk like to confuse the difference between “observe” and “observation”, like using that devastating argument “were you there?”.

  19. Wonder
    Posted April 19, 2018 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Could we just agree to have separation of science and religion and we had with church and state?

    • Posted April 20, 2018 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      That always ends in religion reaching their grubby little fingers into science and muddying the waters.

  20. mirandaga
    Posted April 20, 2018 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    “Things that work succeed; things that don’t fail. There is no teleology in that.”

    No teleology perhaps, but a good deal of redundancy.

    • Posted April 20, 2018 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      “Tautological” is probably the word you want.

      Just because natural selection is fundamentally a simple concept doesn’t mean anything. So what if it’s simple? That’s just the way it is. I refer you again to my rock analogy.

  21. ethologist
    Posted April 20, 2018 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    As I read the Berkeley site, the authors are giving themselves an out. They are not saying that THEY think that science is compatible with religious teachings. They are saying that “People of many different faiths…see no contradiction” and that “…many religious people…feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith.” So in the narrow sense that there exist religious people who are ok with evolution, and scientists who are ok with religion, then the site can get away with saying that “Evolution and religion are compatible.” But I agree that this is misleading because it is easy to read this statement as saying that religious TEACHINGS are compatible with what we know about biological evolution.

  22. Posted April 20, 2018 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  23. Posted April 23, 2018 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Science says that life comes and goes. Creatures are born and creatures die, but that is not what the religious believe. They believe that humans are special and don’t die like other creatures. This is the delusion of those full of faith, and not only do they believe they will be resurrected in the fullness of mortal form and fitness, but will exist in heaven for eternity. Is it possible to be more delusional than that?

  24. Kevin Lawson
    Posted April 23, 2018 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    “Let’s not fight about it, we’re both pretty, each in our own way.” Bullshit. If you really understand religion and science, you see that they ARE fighting over the same territory. You have to pick one or the other, or succumb to intellectual dishonesty. Unfortunately, both scientists and theists point people in a cowardly direction of non-confrontation.

  25. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 23, 2018 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I just realized

    The title of this post is not “misconception” but “mis-misconception”.

    Carry on.


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