Science versus religion redux

I continue to be besieged by emails and comments from readers who don’t like my view that science and religion are incompatible, a view that I published last week in a piece in The Conversation, “Yes, there is a war between science and religion.” I didn’t expect it to draw much interest, simply because Faith Versus Fact didn’t get a lot of publicity (the article is a precis of the book), but I guess people would rather read articles than books. At any rate, the piece is the most-read piece on The Conversation U.S. site this week, which is pleasing to the ego, and probably to my editor as well.  It has 69,700 views on that site, and there are 455 comments and counting.

Note that the catnip article is #3, and of course I had to go see that one! After all, all my life I’ve given catnip to my cats (they all loved it), and I wanted to find out if I was doing something wrong. It turns out that it doesn’t seem unethical, at least if you ask PETA, who are probably a bunch of potheads anyway.

I asked the nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals where they stand on this issue. Media Officer Sophia Charchuk responded:

“PETA is all for treating cat companions to reasonable amounts of high-quality catnip – and for keeping them indoors, where they’ll be safe from cars, contagious diseases, predators, and cruel humans and able to enjoy toys (including those filled with catnip) for years to come.”

However, my point here is not only about whether cats feel pleasure or pain. It’s about taking responsibility for our actions towards our pets and giving them the same moral consideration as we do to humans.

The PETA quote seems like something a doper would say: “high-quality catnip”. LOL

The argument for the unethicality of catnip seems to be this: if you wouldn’t drug your child, why would you drug your cat? But of course there’s a big difference: your child doesn’t choose to be drugged, but cats choose to go for catnip, and as far as I can see the ones who do react love the stuff. I don’t see how it’s unethical if ‘nip is given as an occasional treat.

But back to science vs. religion. I’ve looked through the comments, as well as the comments on the re-published piece on Alternet (The Conversation encourages free re-publication), where there are an additional 515 comments, and I don’t know what to think. Perhaps, like writer Nick Cohen, I shouldn’t read comments on my pieces. Even though most are critical (as I expected), and some are outrageously stupid, I’m not really bothered. But I am a bit puzzled why some people didn’t grasp the article’s main points, to wit:

  1. Religions often depend on factual assertions about the world and the Universe
  2. Those factual assertions come from faith, which is a strong degree of confidence is things supported by little or no evidence. Religions make fact claims that conflict with those of other religions, as well as with science.
  3. In contrast, science’s fact claims, which come from the “empirical approach”, can in principle be tested.
  4. Therefore, the method of adjudicating “truth” differs between science and religion.
  5. Ergo, at least in terms of how facts are adjudicated, and what claims are asserted as “true”, science and religion are incompatible. But religions are also incompatible with each other.

All this seems pretty straightforward to me. Now you can argue about the definition of “faith” or of “incompatibility,” but since I defined them at the outset, if you accept my construals then the result is pretty much QED.

And there’s reason in some comments. Reader Sastra, for example, is in there swinging away, butting heads again and again with the faithful. But there’s still stuff like this:

A genocidal war? What? And I think it’s more than a “small proportion” of people that hold beliefs that conflict with scientific evidence. As I said in the article, which apparently some commenters didn’t read,

And yet, without supporting evidence, Americans believe a number of religious claims: 74 percent of us believe in God, 68 percent in the divinity of Jesus, 68 percent in Heaven, 57 percent in the virgin birth, and 58 percent in the Devil and Hell. Why do they think these are true? Faith.

Here’s another:

I’d like to know five universally-agreed on answers to the question of “What is the purpose of life?”, or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Apparently, Renée Bagslint didn’t read the bit about the importance of secular ethics. Further, ethics is at bottom based on preference, not on objective truths about what is moral or immoral. Ethics isn’t the purview of science, but religion is far from being the best lens for viewing ethical questions.

Lots of people pointed out that science can’t answer some questions, not realizing that a). religion can’t answer them, either, b). Different religions give different answers, and c). Questions of meaning, value, and purpose aren’t the bailiwick of science. I never claimed otherwise.

The guy below is befuddled or hasn’t read the Good Book:

 

Here’s the bit after the part I quoted (the first line). My emphases below:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

For by it the elders obtained a good report.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

As far as I can see, yes, this construes faith as a way of understanding what’s true, not just as a synonym for “love, trust, and commitment”.  But of course we’re talking about religion here, and people—even some atheists—get touchy when faith or religion is denigrated.

So it goes. Religion is the catnip of the people.

 

 

63 Comments

  1. Caldwell
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see how it’s unethical if ‘nip is given as an occasional treat.

    A friend’s cat would object, loudly, to the condition “occasional”. And then explain that he’s never missed a day of work.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    It turns out that it doesn’t seem unethical, at least if you ask PETA, who are probably a bunch of potheads anyway.

    Thanks for making me do a spit-take on that one.

  3. Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Hard to conduct a sensible debate with agents of religiosity. Thank you inter alia to Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennette, and Coyne for their tireless energy in this field. Pass me a catnip spliff!

    • Diane G
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      I could dig a coyote religion. If God is anything, he’s a trickster.

      • Diane G
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        (Obviously a reply to Caldwell at comment # 3.)

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Excellent news.

    Yes it’s prety plain and straightforward. It’s not threatening. I forgot to add even if you disagree with the point, you’d have to be impressed with the writing clarity.

    Despite the enormous and voluminous efforts of particular commenters, I can’t recall hearing (because perhaps I’m not looking hard or lazy/distracted), arguments to explain what is is about faith that’s so important, and if it is, then how do they know? Can you do what a doctor would suggest and go on a faith-free diet for a month and ask how things change? I know there’s that one preacher did that, forgot his name.

    Some thoughts :

    I think there’s deep personal problems under the surface that it is up to the victims of faith to deal with, instead of using religion to ignore them to their dying day. Science can’t reach that. All the articles like PCC(E)’s in the world can’t reach it. If they sense a problem, they could see doctors, psychiatrists sure, but how about friends, loved ones? Those cannot be purchased at a store, or part of health care. And the psychiatrist isn’t going to come to them. It’s an enormous problem, and I think the enormous volume of imprecise and admittedly erudite commentary is covering that up.

    Life should be as simple as possible but not simpler, like this long improvised comment!

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Eighty six per cent of Americans, then, have deep personal problems. Well, you may be right the ways things seem to be going at the moment.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        EVERYONE has personal problems of varying severity.

        It’s a bug not a feature.

  5. Historian
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    In recent years, my study of history has led me to put more of psychological and cultural emphases on the explanation of events as opposed to focusing exclusively on economic ones. Likewise, to understand why many people find it so difficult to break the grip of religion, despite the overwhelming evidence that its root, the belief in a supernatural entity that somehow interacts and controls the universe, is untenable, is because it provides its adherents (regardless of the variant of the religion), the psychological support to cope in what they perceive to be a threatening world. In other words, I view each religion as a cultural system that services real needs that people crave. To the extent that my hypothesis is correct, these type of people recoil at any challenge to the cultural system that has provided them with psychological sustenance. Rational arguments have a difficult time breaking through these cultural and psychological barriers. Religion is a con job that its adherents willingly fall for. I believe there are psychological studies that have demonstrated that for some people strongly held beliefs (not necessarily religious one) only grow stronger when they are confronted with contradictory evidence. Such is the case here and “why some people didn’t grasp the article’s main points.” It is simply too painful for them to do so.

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      There are many such studies. I am reading a book now “Who’s in Charge” by Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist, that examines some of the ways the brain functions to get that results.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      “I believe there are psychological studies that have demonstrated that for some people strongly held beliefs (not necessarily religious one) only grow stronger when they are confronted with contradictory evidence.”

      The seminal works in the field, I believe, would be a pair of social psychology books from the middle of the last century, True Believer and When Prophecy Fails.

      • Sshort
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        The True Believer is a devastatingly concise book. A game changer, especially if found early in one’s intellectual career.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      “I believe there are psychological studies that have demonstrated that for some people strongly held beliefs (not necessarily religious one) only grow stronger when they are confronted with contradictory evidence.”

      The seminal works in the field, I believe, would be a pair of social psychology books from the middle of the last century, True Believer and When Prophecy Fails.

  6. grasshopper
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Religion is the catnip of the people

    Full Marx for the misquote.

  7. Christopher
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure PETA would approve of the organic, homegrown ‘nip I grow in my garden. My cat seems to like it, fresh, zero-carbon footprint, and available whenever my kitteh needs to take the edge off. But of course, he only uses for “medicinal” reasons.

    I don’t have anything to add about religion. I can’t understand why it still exists anyway. I like to say I wear Suspenders of Disbelief while living in the Bible Belt of the Midwest.

    • Diane G
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      ” I like to say I wear Suspenders of Disbelief while living in the Bible Belt of the Midwest.”

      That so deserves repeating! 😀

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        In the UK “suspenders” are called “braces” – suspenders over here [or “susies”] go with a “suspender belt” & are for keeping stockings up. Thus my picture of Christopher in suspenders is a little different from yours Diane! [see pic] 🙂

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          Liza Minnelli wore it better in Caberet. 🙂

          • Christopher
            Posted December 23, 2018 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, I can’t compete with that!

  8. Serendipitydawg
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    The comment from Renée Bagslint was where I logged in and started typing a response. Sadly, I just couldn’t be bothered… there was no way Renée or I would change our minds and I have limited time on this planet (and no time in an afterlife, though no doubt Renée would disagree on that).

    I suppose it is one’s motives that determine the ethics of supplying catnip. I don’t want our two trawling the streets touting strangers, or, worse, mugging the cats down the street for theirs.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      “… there was no way Renée or I would change our minds and I have limited time on this planet …”

      The band The Left Banke had some advice on that. 🙂

      • Serendipitydawg
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        My word, that took me back 😀

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Probable top 5 rock/pop melody of all time.

        I too felt that it would just be a waste of time to respond to all the silly responses Dr. Coyne’s article generated. On the other hand, I feel a little guilty about leaving the playing field to the god-botherers.

  9. GBJames
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I hope that was organic non-GMO catnip you gave the cats.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and don’t forget the gluten=0.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 24, 2018 at 2:28 am | Permalink

        Does the gluten have a double-bonded oxygen atom then?

        (Sorry, [/geek overdrive mode] )

        cr

        • rickflick
          Posted December 24, 2018 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          Good catch. The extra oxygen is said to allow guilt free binging on a bong at higher altitude.
          😎

  10. Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Miss a generation of childhood indoctrination and religion would be gone. An embarrassing memory only.

    rz

  11. Mark R.
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ll just quote Bertrand Russell and leave it at that.

    People will tell us that without the consolations of religion they would be intolerably unhappy. So far as this is true, it is a coward’s argument. Nobody but a coward would consciously choose to live in a fool’s paradise. When a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he is not thought the better of for shutting his eyes to the evidence. And I cannot see why ignoring evidence should be contemptible in one case and admirable in the other.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    So it goes. Religion is the catnip of the people.

    Nice Kurt & Karl mash-up as your envoi. 🙂

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Catnip is far better for your cat than religion. Besides, as I understand religion they wouldn’t let my cat in.

    Why not ask these fire breathing theist to answer this question. I think it is very important in understanding their issue.

    When did you come by your faith, your religion. My guess is that by a large majority it is what they were raised in or as. Mom and dad had them down at the Sunday school and church for instruction well before they entered school. This is called indoctrination and it works quite well. The Catholics are masters at this work. Just look at the results – with all the corruption and immoral behavior within this church the faithful continue to defend it completely. How would they who act this way give any real thought to the compatibility of religion and science?

    • Blue
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      +1

      first: END / ELIMINATE childhood inculcatioan.

      Blue

      • Blue
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

        Mr Christopher Hitchens when he shook my hand,
        ” Religious education is … … child abuse. ”
        ~~~ 31 October y2007

        Blue

        • rickflick
          Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

          Unfortunately it’s in the constitution:
          “You can do whatever you want with your own kid.”

  14. eric
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Congrats on the big number of views! Even if people don’t agree with or understand your position, at least it’s getting out there and read.

    Re: catnip. Cats develop fast. They hit puberty at about 6 months and are fully mature (i.e. brain development finished) by 1 year. So unless you’re giving catnip to a small kitten, the ethical analogy is giving a drug to your grown, adult child. And if you want to pass the bong to your 30-year-old, hey, that’s fine with me.

  15. Posted December 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    “War” is perhaps strong. But certainly incompatible. Many, perhaps most, religious claims can be shown wrong by science. Indeed, science claims can be shown wrong by science. But no science claims can be shown wrong by religion. With science you can be shown wrong and error is removed. With religion you cannot be shown wrong (except by science) so error is propagated.

  16. Jim Nickelson
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    “…but cats choose to go for catnip…”

    Doesn’t that depend if the cat is a determinist or not?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Determinism holds even for contra-causal cats. 🙂

  17. FB
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    When an earthquake or tsunami kill thousands, some Christians will say that it was a punishment(or a test) from God, and other Christians will say that it was caused by the Devil. Faith can’t even tell the divine from the demonic?

    • Posted December 23, 2018 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      What baffles me is when the survivors of a disaster that kills thousands thank God for saving them. If God could save them, he could have saved the others. Apparently, people believe in a God who is capricious and decides who lives or dies on a whim.

      No, thank you. I can live without that.

  18. Posted December 23, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    “Not correct if you consider the ethical, moral, or spiritual universe, etc.”

    IMHO this one of the main reasons science and religion are incompatible. Religious believers deny themselves access to the truth about these things because they believe the illusion that there are such things as objective ethical and moral truths, and the further illusion that a spiritual universe exists. However, insight into the reasons these illusions exist is essential if we are to avoid the dangers they pose. The fact that they are potentially extremely dangerous illusions is amply documented in human history. The millions of lives lost in religious wars over the centuries is just one example.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      What they are really considering is not the respective universes, but their ethical, moral and spiritual neighborhoods. It is all very parochial, and not universal at all. They latch onto local truths, and refuse to let go of them, or to step outside of their neighborhood and have a look at the rest of the world.

      It has been pointed out by others, that if humanity ends and then in 10 million years a new intelligent life form emerges, they would discover the same laws of physics that we have, but would invent entirely new religions.

  19. CAS
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    If there were no conflict we would expect the victory of faith over fact to have little effect on life. Faith dominates in almost all Muslim majority countries and the results are a disaster. Occasionalism (important in Islam) which denies the connections between cause and effect predicted by science has been particularly destructive.

  20. rickflick
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    As I commented at theconversation.com, these guys are working overtime at misconstrual. Most of their objections have already been answered in Jerry’s piece. Frustrating.

  21. Curle
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Is critique distinguishable in any important way from religion? If proponents of a particular critique, say a critique of power (as defined by a favored academic clique), imagine that by proclaiming, through criticism of a particular scientific claim or promising scientific development, that it is presumed unreliable because it has undesirable moral consequences or because it has yet accounted for all possible confounding variables, and that criticism is promoted as authoritative across numerous media platforms and by numerous academic agents, at what point should that critique be properly viewed not simply a critique but a claim to religious authority for a contrary unscientific viewpoint (e.g., the absolute material equality between sexes and historically separated people)?

    Seems to me the more important battle between religion and science is one that mostly doesn’t involve the adherents of an ancient text religion but instead of the type promoted by media platforms and academic agents, albeit agents of non-science fields mostly.

    Put another way, if various non-scientific academic fields promote moral claims but possess only the authority of anecdote, story-telling and trend-setting privileges, and further possess pretensions to validate or invalidate empirical claims, at what point should these critiques or Equality Apologetics be lumped in with religion given that their form of analysis is effectively the same as that of religion? And further, at what point should they be categorized with religion in the pedagogical taxonomy of the university? Federal loans are not supposed to finance religion if memory serves me.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 23, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Bloody hell that was a mouthful! 🙂
      In essence are you saying Gender Studies [& similar] should be treated as religions?

      Or did you have particular targets in mind? If so please name them. Ta.

      • Curle
        Posted December 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        No. That’s it.

        Should they? Am I missing something?

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 23, 2018 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          You are missing nothing. I couldn’t match your reply accurately to my questions though. Not sure what you’re saying “No” to.

          To clarify: Can you supply an example of one of the “non-scientific academic fields [that] promote moral claims” so that I can think about what you are saying/suggesting?

          • Curle
            Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            History. I believe a great percent of history, academic and otherwise, is simply coalitional face saving, exoneration and moral boot-strapping. As AJP Taylor said in ’62 about the origins of WWII, and I paraphrase, the winners got together, determined who they needed to do business with in the future (German people, Soviets), whom on their own side needed reputational protection (FDR, the British, the French, The Bolsheviks/Soviets) and assigned blame at the narrowest or most abstract point, Hitler and ‘hate’. He then proceeds to itemize the pre-war sins of the non-German Great Powers. At that point in time he became persona non-grata.

            The kind of history he identifies has more to do with moral story telling than creating a realistic version of the past. To the extent my local flagship state university still holds seminars on ‘hate’ and WWII, I assume this moralizing as academic practice has not ceased.

          • Curle
            Posted December 24, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

            Addendum: History wasn’t the best example. Any of the ‘studies’ exercises,regardless of department, that establish material equality of either historically separated peoples or sexes as either 1) an assertion of fact; or 2) an implicit or explicit assertion of moral necessity. Critique is the device used to make such implicit assertions. The most common is the assertion that historic events caused X, Y or Z such as lower group average performance in academia, higher crime rates,lower average savings, etc. Such exercises never seek to prove the assertions through elimination of confounding variables (or even recognizing confounding variables), a balanced reading of the history supplying the moral urgency or empirical means except in the most superficial, inconclusive or temporary of ways (IAT test). And even when some device, like the IAT, is given only very limited or preliminary scope of applicability much less reliability by its authors there is an entire army of promoters, speakers, trainers, etc., who operate in complete disregard for the qualifications and contingencies articulated by the authors selling utterly spurious renderings of the preliminary or contingent findings to wide audiences of the young and credulous not to mention old and credulous.

            Many of these serial exaggerators are employed by the universities themselves and other public institutions and they are never admonished by the universities. In what field of business, outside of Wall Street, can you engage in such outrageous recklessness without professional sanction from your own? The universities have made it clear they care more about their moral standing among a small elite than their professional standing among the general population.

            • Posted December 24, 2018 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

              tl;dr

              • Diane G
                Posted December 25, 2018 at 12:05 am | Permalink

                Well, why even bother to post that, then? Sometimes I too don’t have the time or patience to read a certain post, but I do appreciate that the writer has put a lot of thought into it; it’s alright to just skip the posts you don’t feel like reading, you know.

                In this case I found Curle’s post most thought provoking, and I couldn’t agree more with his/her last paragraph.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 23, 2018 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

          These fields may have characteristics in common with religions, but I don’t think they would meet the criteria for a “religion” under the case law interpreting the Establishment or Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.

          Moreover, the First Amendment applies only to government operated schools; it does not apply to schools that merely receive some form of federal subsidy — much less to schools whose only form of government subsidy is that its students receive private, but federally guaranteed, loans — by dint of such federal assistance alone.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

          Well, those academics are not talking about deities or supernatural stuff, which I think most people would say is a part of religion.

          However you can still treat them the same way you treat religion.

  22. Posted December 23, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    “PETA is all for … keeping [cats] indoors, where they’ll be safe from cars, contagious diseases, predators, and cruel humans and able to enjoy toys (including those filled with catnip) for years to come.”

    And I’m all for keeping cats out of PETA shelters, where 85% of animals are euthanized within a few days.

    • Derec Avery
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      “And I’m all for keeping cats out of PETA shelters, where 85% of animals are euthanized within a few days.”

      And I’m for keeping _any_ animals out of PETA shelters (which they actually don’t have but that’s another discussion) because it’s been documented that PETA doesn’t even wait “a few days” before slaughtering the pets and animals they claim to rescue.

  23. Roo
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I think the difficulty in asking “Are science and religion compatible” is that people mean so many things by “religion”.

    – If one thinks of religion as “X,Y, and Z ancient scriptures are literally true then I would, for the sake of honestly, have to say I think much of that is BS if anyone pressed me on the issue. Thankfully, in the West, people tend not to ask, and so ‘religious’ people walk around with very different sentiments on that one. I believe even some of the most admired religious figures, such as Bishop Tutu (if I’m recalling correctly,) have said many parts of the Bible are symbolic and not literal, and yet they fall into the category of “Christians” as much as young Earth Creationists.

    – If one thinks of religion as a verbalized version of a general ‘formula’ for laws and standards in developing societies, I think there may well be truth in that (and, again, I think it may well involve the ever-controversial Group Selection). On that front, there are many similarities between various religious standards on societal structures. Identical, no, but striking similar, yes. And I do not think we should rule out the idea that religion is essentially genetic, when it seems to show genetic trends. Females more than males. Neurotypical people more than those on the autistic spectrum. Neurotypical people with stronger Theory of Mind skills than those with less developed TOM. Etc. I may be mistaken in saying this, but it seems to me that, if there wasn’t a genetic component, we wouldn’t expect to see predictable trends of this sort, it would be a pell-mell mix depending on upbringing.

    – If one thinks of religion as a series of hypotheses, then heck yeah, sign me up, I’m on board! And I think it’s fair to say that some of these hypotheses have actually panned out in some way shape or form – i.e., the idea that “meditation is beneficial”. I admire the Dalai Lama’s attitude when he says that if religion and science conflict, we should go with science. This, to me, shows an inquisitive mind and, probably, a certain confidence that various claims *will hold up to scrutiny.

  24. Lee
    Posted December 23, 2018 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Prof. Coyne as always for the thoughtful and thought-provoking articles and commentary. Only one thing I would argue: At bottom, I regard ethics as based in empirical reality, in particular the fact that sentient beings have a welfare and care for their own welfare, and that it would be inconsistent to assert that one being’s welfare matters while another’s does not, or (as Kant put it) to treat one being’s welfare as as an end in itself and others’ as means to ends. It seems to me that this, not simple preference, is the basis for moral philosophy.

  25. Posted December 23, 2018 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    I read the article and I thought it was very good. I was brought up as a Christian but began a new journey in December 2016. I guess I more or less climbed out of the bottle and out of the funnel and peered into the Universe. I have done a lot of reading and have watched many documentaries. I watched a documentary about the Sumerian’s (that is unfortunately now deleted from YouTube). I was a little upset to know how Christians have been deceived in so many ways for so long. I can say the earlier writers had no evidence in the beginning and lived by faith and hope. But, then when evidence was found (first Sumerian tablets in the 1800’s) then translated, religion still holds true to their old beliefs. Christians and people of other religions, tend to stay in their circle and read only what is acceptable to their faith so many have no idea what discoveries have been made. That’s pretty sad because the Universe and life in the Spirit are ​so much, much more than religion. The younger generation is relying more on fact and scientists asking “who are we” are getting their answers from what the Universe is providing. What an amazing new journey.


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