Falsifying the Unfalsifiable

Reading through this whole, excellent series on atheism, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. has been an extremely worthwhile experience.   As I wrote in the comments to Chris’ post (you have no idea how much I’m loving that we have a student of theology in our little crew here):

I’m reminded of the old – and classic – Simpsons episode with Stephen Jay Gould, in which the judge orders “religion to stay five hundred yards away from science,” but in which Gould acknowledges that he was unwilling to test whether the apparent bones of an angel were real or fake. I’ve long thought this was one of the most poignant Simpsons episodes; I also think it (ie, the episode as a whole) does a good job illustrating the way in which faith (which as you correctly note is synonymous in many ways with trust) should not – and cannot – attempt to masquerade as science, even as science should not – and cannot -seek to take the place of religion.

I think this old Simpsons reference gets to the crux of the problem, not only with respect to overly evangelistic atheists, but also to overly evangelical, uhh, evangelicals.  It also explains why I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in its original incarnation in the context of the Kansas Intelligent Design debate, was perfectly within the realm of legitimate dialogue…and why its occasional subsequent use as a way of mocking religion is not.

I think Chris is absolutely correct when he writes that “faith=trust,” and that “I’ve never met a human who does not trust in something or someone.”  This, to me, is the central issue – ultimately, even the most hardcore atheist must put a certain amount of blind trust in SOMETHING, even if that trust is something as fundamental to atheism as the idea that reality exists and can be understood purely through rationality.

But whereever one chooses to place their trust, the fact is that whether that trust is properly placed is more or less unfalsifiable, and not subject to scientific proof or disproof.  For the religious person, there is simply no way to prove through science that god exists or does not exist – as long as there is something in the universe that cannot rationally be explained, there is a basis for trusting in the existence of god.  For the atheist, there is likewise simply no way to prove through science that god exists or does not exist – as long as a scientific or rational explanation for anything in the universe is theoretically possible, there is a basis to trust in the ability of reason to explain everything, and no basis to trust in the existence of god.

And this is why I think Chris – and E.D. – are absolutely correct in stating that the proper response to the question of the existence of god is “Who Cares?”  The existence of god simply cannot be proven or disproven through pure reason, and neither side does themselves any favors when they insist otherwise. 

Indeed, in insisting otherwise, both sides insure the continued conflation of science and religion, and both science and religion get demeaned in the process.  For instance, when religion gets up in arms over the teaching of evolution in science class and demands that intelligent design theory be given equal time – also in science class – it must pretend to be something it is not, and was never intended to be.  Religion is not science, and in attempting to gain acceptance as a science, it allows itself to be treated on the same terms as science.  In other words, it begs to be treated as if it were falsifiable, when the entire point in faith is that it is something that is unfalsifiable.  Worse, it forces religion to get tied up in arguments that have precious little to do with the elements of faith that are so very important: things like morality, conscience, meaning, etc.  And so it loses the forest for the trees, to use a cliche. 

But similarly, science demeans itself when it used as a proof of the non-existence of god.  Science is not meant to provide unfalsifiable answers, nor is it intended to answer questions that can only admit of unfalsifiable answers.  To do so is to turn the scientific method on its head.  And in so doing, science demeans itself because it loses part of its very essence.

In this sense, the use of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the context of the evolution debate was absolutely brilliant, and well within the realm of acceptable discourse, in my view.  In that context, it existed to demonstrate the lunacy of religion attempting to masquerade as science.  But its use outside the context of refuting religious pseudo-science is in many ways problematic because scientific evidence is utterly irrelevant to the ultimate question of whether God exists. 

There is, to be blunt, no scientific way to prove or disprove the existence of God.  Both theists and atheists would serve their causes much better if they kept this in mind. 

One more thing – I completely agree with Chris that a Pastafarian theology would be a wonderful thing to behold.

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77 thoughts on “Falsifying the Unfalsifiable

  1. “There is, to be blunt, no scientific way to prove or disprove the existence of God.”

    Yes, that’s the whole point of the FSM. There’s no way to prove or disprove him, either. The whole joke is that, though you can’t disprove God, you also can’t disprove an infinite number of other creatures, so choosing to believe in just the one out of the infinity is arbitrary.

    So, what you are condescending to explain to the mockers is something that they obviously already understand. Meanwhile, you have an article on this site by Scott Payne, whose point, such as I can understand it, is that a spiritual revelation he experienced was part of his “study of reality”. Also, when we fail to accept the revelatory power of these types of visions it “limits what we stand to discover”. It’s a total appropriation of the language of science to describe religion.

    This series seems to me be an exercise in condescending to explain to atheists what they already understand and you guys don’t. That’s a pretty self-serving misreading of the Simpsons, to boot. You really think they were trying to say that scientists shouldn’t debunk religious hoaxes?

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  2. “The existence of god simply cannot be proven or disproven through pure reason…”

    And it follows that we have good reason to believe in the Christian God, with all His bells and whistles, rather than Allah or Brahma or Zeus or the FSM how?

    Throughout this entire series, you guys have acted as if belief in God is somehow separable from all the noxious social consequences of belief in God. And you’re right, but only if you accept that being unable to prove that God doesn’t exist also means you’re unable to prove that an infinite manifold of diverse Gods don’t exist, and some of those Gods are going to be okay with homosexuality or abortion or miscegenation or evolution or whatever. But we live in a place where belief in God means belief in a specific God who has marching orders for everyone who doesn’t believe in Him, and the kind of condescending apologetics you’re engaged in here completely avoid the actually important consequences of this debate.

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  3. Dave and Ryan:
    No. Neither I nor, to my knowledge, anyone else has argued that it follows that God exists because it is impossible to prove. Instead, I am merely explaining, as was Chris, I think, that the question of whether or not God exists is the wrong question to ask, and by seeking to answer it through pure reason, science reduces itself. But as importantly, religion reduces itself when it insists on getting involved in inherently scientific debates.
    As for whether my reading of that Simpsons episode is self-serving, I think that’s a pretty silly assertion since my point is that the episode’s entire argument was that 1. religion should stay away from science, and 2. it is utterly worthless to seek to disprove through science that which others take as an article of faith. In other words, it’s a pretty even-handed episode.

    As for whether this series is condescending….well, that’s your prerogative to think so, but methinks you misunderstand the entire purpose of this site.

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  4. Mark, you’d probably make better sense of what is going on with such authors (and with Dave and Ryan) if you took them not to be disagreeing with you in your main claims about the relationship between science and religion, but rather to be disagreeing with the rather large number of theists who disagree with you. There are lots of people who take there to be good epistemic reasons for theism, and pointing out that science makes no particular room for a deity — that any such deity would have to operate entirely outside the bounds of our most valuable epistemic resource — is a very good argument in a debate with those sorts of persons.

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  5. James:
    Understood, and in that sense I do think that things like the FSM are pretty useful. But there are times – such as PZ Myer’s little Communion wafer stunt, for example – where it seems like the New Atheists go beyond merely defending science/reason when faith tries to go stomping on their turf and instead counterattack by getting involved in purely philosophical questions.

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  6. Mark, this:

    But similarly, science demeans itself when it used as a proof of the non-existence of god. Science is not meant to provide unfalsifiable answers, nor is it intended to answer questions that can only admit of unfalsifiable answers. To do so is to turn the scientific method on its head. And in so doing, science demeans itself because it loses part of its very essence.

    …is brilliant. Indeed, I often feel the same when religious types try to push religion overtly into legislation, that it demeans Faith. Same with science in the context you use here.

    And to the rest of you, nobody here is preaching anything other than there is no point in proving or disproving God’s existence. I don’t see any of these posts as apologetics for Christianity or the Christian God at all. Maybe I’m missing something. It’s funny though, the one thing that seems to bother people the most is proselytizing by the religious on the non-believers. This, I too feel is a problem. And yet, when atheists do it, you jump to their defense with as flimsy a rebuttal as “Well you do it too!” or “You did it first!”

    And no, I certainly don’t speak for most theists on this matter. I speak only for myself. And I disagree with other religious types as often as I do with atheists. In fact, this is really more a matter of debating against the wrong questions, not the wrong ideas.

    Believe and let believe. Or not believe.

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  7. The problem with “believe and let believe” is that beliefs have consequences. At the very least, societal belief in god has usually been a pretty bad deal for women and homosexuals. It’s frequently pretty bad for scientists as well, whether they’re modern biology teachers or Galileo.

    Furthermore, while some theologian’s deistic god may be unprovable, that’s really not what people believe. Geologic evidence really does indicate a very old planet, rather than an approximately 7000 year old planet. This doesn’t disprove all gods, but it does disprove one specific kind of god – one that lots of people really believe in – which is why some people get bent out of shape about it. And while Bob from accounting believing that the earth is 7000 years old probably doesn’t matter, it does matter if he goes to PTA meetings and convinces the school board to stop teaching that heathen evolution.

    Some beliefs have a very detrimental effect on society if they are widespread enough. That’s why you’re getting push back on this stuff. Most of the time, people who believe in crazy, detrimental stuff are kept on the sidelines of civil discourse, but in the cases of creationism and discrimination against certain minorities (and other cases not listed here), religion is allowed to provide a veneer of credibility, a large constituency and therefore political clout to what should be fringe beliefs. That’s why it matters.

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  8. Andrew,

    So what’s the point? So people believe things that have consequence. Everything has consequence. Stalin was an atheist, right? Was it his belief in power and his lack of faith in a power higher than himself that lead to his madness and murder? I don’t know. Belief or lack thereof has consequence, and to each individual or situation that changes. Who says that belief in God is any more detrimental than the loss of that belief? We are in muddy waters assigning such certainties to such unquantifiable data. I am vehemently opposed to teaching creationism in school, but far more opposed to the idea that somehow we need to snuff out that viewpoint. There is such thing as the rule of law, and our particular laws should protect us from creationism, and protect our church’s as well from the secularism of the State.

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  9. Andrew: the problem you are talking about here is not a problem that is a necessary result of a belief in God. Instead, it is a necessary result of the entanglement of church and state, an issue over which I think it’s safe to say all seven us would agree with you. Indeed, that is the specific problem to which I am alluding in this post. At most, the problems you identify are problems with specific organized religions, but they are not problems with a generalized belief in god. Wicca, for example, would not seem to fall into the traps you identify (yes, I’m aware I’m using as an example a religion that is far from widespread, but that’s not really the point). Moreover, there’s a chicken or the egg problem here: did religions create the prejudices against women and gays or did they merely enshrine pre-existing prejudices?

    In terms of the issue of the “young earth” question, I do not think it remotely disprove the existence of a particular god; instead, it refutes a literal interpretation of a particular story in a particular religious text, a story that several of its largest adherents (eg, most forms of Judaism and Catholicism, to name two) have accepted as being simply metaphorical.
    But most important in all of this, to my mind, is that atheist attempts to disprove the existence of God, much like theist attempts to prove the existence of God, are doomed to failure because they attempt to turn something that is inherently unfalsifiable into something that is falsifiable. And, as I said above, this has the effect of science demeaning itself in much the same way as religion demeans itself when it seeks to prove the existence of god in scientific terms.

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  10. Like I said, its all about respect.
    Teh believers want religion to have peer respect with Science, and that isn’t possible. So as long as teh religious try to force respect, often thru nefarious and dishonest methods, like the Discovery Institute, they will continue to accrue mockery and scorn.
    IDT is actually where quantum physics was 50 years ago.
    And now look….high schoolteachers in my state need 3 credit hours of quantum mechanics to be certified. ;)
    The solution to this problem, to accrue respect, IDT has to behave respectfully. To be a science, act like a science. Offer courses in IDT at unis, endow chairs and fellowships. Granted, IDT wont be taught as part of a science curriculum in the begining.
    Give Behe some actual fundage. Fund Hamerhoff, lol. Fund a peer reviewed journal. Fund research and grad students.
    Show me a uni that will turn down fundage in this day and age.
    Got no tools? Neither did the first quantum theorists.
    Cowboy up and build them.

    If you want to be treated with respect, behave respectfully.
    Dawkins and company are perfectly right to ridicule and mock.

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  11. Matoko: On the grounds where you advocate mocking, I largely agree with you. But the problem with things like the God Delusion, or Myers’ desecration of the Communion wafer, is that they go above and beyond defending religious encroachments on scientific turf, and go instead to attacking religion on its own turf.

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  12. I had rotini last night for dinner, which means I think I had communion in the religion of pastafarianism. Must say it was quite delicious.

    On a more serious note in response to Dave and Ryan re: social consequences of beliefs, the way it seems to me to deal with that is to cover the various manifestations of the religions themselves. From the most destructive to the most saintly. My assumption is that though many people claim at least verbally they are worshiping the same God (or image of God if you like), they are in fact not.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster assumes a certain kind of view of God, specifically the Christian God, that many Christians worship but others do not. The correlation between that Flying Jesus or Allah God as it were and the kinds of negative consequences for society you mention can be pretty high (although not necessarily either).

    It’s just not very subtle. Again it grew out of the Creationism debate, but what happens if you are religious person who doesn’t believe in Creationism nor in the form of God in which the Creationists believe Him (and it’s always a Him at this point) exists?

    Then like me you might say, who really cares. Particularly if the New Atheist position assumes that Flying Spaghetti Monster god is an appropriate parallel to the Christian-Jewish-Muslim whatever God. I can’t really have a conversation with such people because in my experience (having participated in a few of these debates) they generally can’t grasp that I’m talking about a different conception of God. Which means at some point they end up doing theology–they are deciding what God would be like if there were to be a God. They just don’t do it very well, since they haven’t studied it from within. That’s why I said it was like taking views on art from someone who says that all art is bunk. You could, but presumably some art could not be bunk in which case you would need someone who knows good art from bad art. Who knows the canons, the history, and the intentions of art. As well as various degrees of sophistication and development of art.

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  13. Who started this turf war?
    Did Dawkins go into churches and start preachin’?
    No.
    Keep religion in churches or do teh heavy lifting in unis where students have a choice.
    Dawkins is perfectly cognizant of the reasons behind forcing religion on the 7 to 13 year olds.
    He envisions it as child abuse, stunting and blinkering young minds.
    I do not think the God Delusion is over the top, and Meyers and the wafer were a reaction to a particular situ.
    OTOH Derbyshire called “Expelled” a blood libel against science.
    Like i said……get off our turf and stay in your churches and bible colleges, or make your bones in academe.
    Simple choice.

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  14. “Expelled” was an idiotic “documentary” and Derbyshire’s critique of it was spot-on. That said, most of the Christians I know (I think ALL of the Christians I know) believe in evolution and do not want to see creationism taught in school.

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  15. (I think ALL of the Christians I know) believe in evolution and do not want to see creationism taught in school.

    Soooo…..where does the Discovery Institute get their fundage?

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  16. The Discovery Institute is a fringe organization and in no way represents the vast majority of modern Christians. Once again, matoko, you paint in the broadest of strokes, eschew evidence in favor of your own bloated opinions, and fail to see the larger picture because you have such a very set vision of how you perceive things to be.

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  17. Matoko: Who started it seems to me to be an irrelevant question (as it is in most debates) since both sides will just point the finger at each other as a means of justifying their behavior. Again, both sides, by seeking to attack on the other side’s turf, just wind up demeaning themselves.

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  18. I see things clear.
    You are the delusional one Kain.
    Look at the law Jindal signed on in Louisiana.
    The only thing that law will accomplish is forcing already impoverished school districts to buy the DI’s crappy textbook.
    Every single congressman signed on that stupid bill, and Gov. Jindal did too.
    What im saying is the absolute truth.

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  19. Again, Mark, Dawkins is not trying to push his theories into churches is he?
    Is he demanding equal time after the sermon at Saddleback?
    You reinforce my stereotypes.
    Quit whining and do the heavy lifting of research and academic street cred or just STFU.

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  20. Matoko: The Discovery Institute has a budget of a whopping $4 million per year. It is also, as you implicitly acknowledge, the primary vehicle for the push to teach ID in schools. While you may think $4 million is a lot of money, the fact is that this is a relatively small budget for such a prominent organization, and it thus requires only a handful of large donors for its funding. So to say that the Discovery Institute is representative of a huge swath of Christendom outside of a handful of areas is utterly devoid of evidence.

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  21. matoko,

    thanks for proving my point. which was: there’s always a tactic theology on all sides and that you, Dawkins, whoever have to work with a certain (extremely limiting imo) conception of what faith is. so if I don’t have what you define as faith then I have no faith at all. I would say I have a different kind of faith that you either haven’t thought about or been exposed to. same with new atheists–they strike me as having no frame of reference for alternative conceptions of faith.

    then we get to where the discussion could actually go (as I said in the beginning), what we all really believe and what are the consequences of our beliefs.

    undoubtedly very silly.

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  22. E.D., Mark, full disclosure: I’m a scientist. For me, one of the big problems in this country is science denial. I suspect that’s also the case for most prominent “new atheists” or whatever we want to call them. It’s not an accident that PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are all scientists in general and biologists in particular. Science has been under attack in the US for the past eight years. Global climate change denialists have been the biggest problem especially since we had one in the White House but creationism has been a problem too, as have, to lesser extents, abstinence-only advocates, AIDS denialists and vaccine conspiracists.

    Science denial isn’t a cost-free belief. E.D. brought up Stalin in the context of his (Stalin’s) atheism, but Stalin was also a skeptic of Darwinian evolution. He called genetics “Capitalist Science”, imprisoned prominent geneticists and instituted Lysenkoism, a pseudoscience that he thought was more in line with communist ideals. His science policies caused huge famines and were probably responsible for as many, if not more, deaths than his gulags. How many people do you think will die from George W. Bush’s climate policies? Will it be more than from Stalin’s denial of genetics?

    Right here and now, in 2009 and in the US, the most consistent and prominent pushers of science denial have been conservative Christian leaders advocating for creationism. Some even work denial of climate change into their sermons.

    Who is going to push back against this? Moderate and liberal Christians could, but they mostly don’t or aren’t very loud when they do. Larger denominations are probably too worried about offending their conservative wings. Pope Benedict even recently made some rhetorical gestures in the direction of Intelligent Design, which horrified me because my family is largely Catholic. If moderate and liberal Christians can’t be bothered to push back against science denial from their co-religionists, the task is going to fall to scientists. Who are largely atheist. Who include among their rank some assholes like PZ Myers. Who are not going to respect your religion in general, and even less when you elevate science deniers to leading roles.

    I am constantly baffled when I see science deniers defended from those mean atheists. Yes, Myers and company are jerks. But science denial is dangerous. Those who advocate it deserve every bit of scorn they get.

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  23. Matoko:
    I remind you that we do have a commenting policy. As for “reinforcing your stereotypes,” I find that quite amusing as you have absolutely no idea as to any of my personal religious beliefs, so I’m not really sure what “stereotype” I could be reinforcing.

    If you don’t accept my argument that attempts to scientifically prove the non-existence of God are a detriment to science, that is your prerogative; but the fact is that I wrote this essay out of a profound respect for science and a desire to prevent it from hurting itself by getting involved in debates that it is not intended to get involved with.

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  24. Andrew:
    I understand you concern. Hell, I share it. But I think that when science gets involved in the types of issues I identify here, it helps to contribute (inadvertently) to the strengthening of those who seek to undermine legitimate science.
    You note that many theists of less literalist varieties do not get sufficiently involved in these issues; is it possible that part of the explanation for this is a feeling that the forces with which they mostly agree seem bent on promoting the denial of the very basis for their faith in addition to promoting science?
    And then there is the other issue, which is true of political questions more generally: political debates are dominated by those who have the greatest perceived interest in those debates, in this case scientists and Biblical literalists.

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  25. Does anyone really believe that an atheist is going to win over a theist? I certainly don’t. One may grow tired of the logical gymnastics required to maintain a traditional American theism and start the slide but it’s not going to happen because of an atheist.

    What is effective is to make sure that there is a political social price for introducing debate founded on an exclusive/exceptionalist view of ones own religion. Western tradition has a long history of regligious wars and abuse. Society has an interest in keeping religion outside of the primary political debate. If one is foolish enough to drag one’s faith into a political debate, don’t blame others when the object of your devotion is politicised and trashed.

    The best answer is for the religious to self-police and make sure that any religious argument in the public sphere maintains a level of civility that you would like shown to your beliefs. A bit of the golden rule. When folk like Pat Robertson are allowed to be public leaders of religion then there can be no reasonable complaint when the same level of discourse is redirected toward religion itself.

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  26. A reason that both Dawkins and I lose out tempers in this debate is the profound dishonesty and/or self delusion practiced by the superstitionalists.
    This law was passed with overwhelming support in both houses and signed by Bobby Jindal who should certainly know better.
    And funded by the DI who stands to benefit from crappy textbook sales.
    How are we to respect you when you don’t respect yourselves?
    Either you are liars or mortally stupid.

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  27. Matoko:
    Who do you mean “you”? Stop trying to attribute beliefs that we’ve never claimed to hold. Again, you have no idea what my personal religious beliefs are, and it is getting really frustrating to have you continue to assume that you do.

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  28. Chris i am a practicing Sufi and my religion is personal and private.
    I find the lot of you chrisianist triumphalist proselytizers prancing and braying in the public square profoundly disgusting.
    But then, as my shayyk has said, Man cannot acquire what he cannot use.

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  29. Answer my question Mark.
    When have we seen Dawkins lobbying for equal time to expound on his theories after the sermon at Saddleback?
    Behave in a manner worthy of respect and we shall respect you.
    Otherwise, not so much.

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  30. matako:

    We have a commenting policy which you would do well to adhere to.

    This is a blog that accepts all viewpoints and we’re not against passionate debate, but you’re entering territories that cross the bounds of civil debate. Your opinions are welcome, but your outlandish accusations and personal attacks are not. Think of this as your one and only warning to stick to our policy.

    Thanks.

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  31. Great, now the hosts are breaking Godwin’s law. Good work.

    Andrew, look, for every analogy or tale of the evil’s of religion, someone can find a counter. Same with science. Science also lead to the bombing of Japan at the end of WWII. Science is an empty vessel, and can be a dangerous weapon without some sense of morality to guide it. Religion can also be twisted to justify horrible things.

    And this is the point. Religion, science, all of these aspects of what it means to be human…they mean nothing until humans guide them forward. They have power to do great good or great evil.

    And by the way, that wasn’t really breaking Godwin’s Law. I wasn’t using a Nazi analogy. I was pointing to an example of science being used to do harm. I wasn’t likening someone to Nazi’s–certainly not evolutionists. I am an evolutionist.

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  32. E.D., you’re arguing against a point I’m not making. My point is that fake science and science denial are always bad and are a big problem in modern society. At worst, they’re destructive and evil, at best, they’re wasteful of limited resources like time and money. And the further point is that the biggest promoters of fake science and science denial have been religious leaders.

    What you’re arguing is that science isn’t always good. I’ve never argued explicitly that science is always good, and you’re presuming it into my argument. It does not follow from the arguments that I have made.

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  33. Andrew: I don’t know if you saw my last response to you above. But I think I understand where you’re coming from, and fundamentally I tend to agree with it.
    There is something in your points that is particularly important, though, and which maybe can help you understand my point in this post a bit better.

    You talk, correctly, about the problems of “fake science,” and argue, also probably correctly, that religion has been the most frequent (though by no means exclusive) purveyor of such.

    To me, though, the issue of “fake science” is the exact same issue of “falsifying the unfalsifiable,” just stated in a different manner. The manner in which you use the term “fake science” seems to be that “fake science” occurs when science or, more often, pseudo-science, is used as a moral justification for a particular activity or system of belief.

    This, in my mind, exactly identifies the same problem I’m trying to identify in this post; the difference in this case, at least in my view, seems to be that many (though by no means all) of those who are using science as a moral justification for their belief system are themselves scientists. In its own way, as Chris points out, atheism is itself a form of faith, and scientific attempts to justify atheism run into the exact same problems as scientific (or pseudo-scientific) attempts to justify any other form of faith.

    So, yes, the abuse or denial of science has long been primarily the domain of theism (of course, the world has long been primarily the domain of theism, but that’s a different issue altogether). But that fact, as you clearly acknowledge, does not mean that science cannot be used equally improperly to justify atheism.

    All that said, as between atheist misuse of science and theist misuse of science, I have little doubt that the latter is by far the greatest threat, at least in the United States….and it’s not even close. But in many ways, that is why I wrote this post – it angers me that atheist misuse of science only adds fuel to the fire that seeks to justify theist misuse of science. It is thus counterproductive to what you and I both seem to agree is the real, important cause for concern.

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  34. okfine.
    ;)
    Can’t take the truthsay, can you?
    It is painful for me to read your labored devious apologia anyway.
    Like being forced to watch ugly naked people.

    adieu

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  35. Mark:
    I think that if you ask an atheist scientist whether science disproves god, you’ll get a quick “No, it does not” in a large majority of cases, from Richard Dawkins* to the lowliest grad student (like me). Most scientists know what the limits of science are, and god’s existence is not a testable hypothesis. We may be able to test the age of the earth and show that the world is sphere-shaped rather than flat – which contradict some creation myths – but we can’t disprove god any more than we can disprove the existence of the flying spaghetti monster.

    Which is to say, I think your claims of atheist science misuse of science are overblown. I’ve heard some people claim that science disproves god, but they were mostly 16-20 year olds who clearly hadn’t thought hard about much of anything, much less the philosophy of science.

    *I’ve only read one of Dawkins’ books, “Unweaving the Rainbow”, and it was a long time ago. However, I believe he explicitly states in this book that science can’t prove the absence of god, the best it can do is make him unnecessary.

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  36. I want to second Andrew’s point that few if any serious atheists claim that God is disproven, they merely claim that you can’t provide any evidence that he exists, and from that conclude that there is no reason to believe in Him. There is a difference between “I am certain this does not exist” and “I am certain that I have no reason to think this exists”.

    That’s the whole point of Russell’s teapot–not that you’re certain it isn’t there, but that you have no reason to think it’s there.

    That distinction kind of undermines the point some of you have been making in the threads–especially the “faith=trust” business. Human beings cannot know with certainty the true state of the world. But I think we can know how reasonable it is to believe something given what we’ve observed, given the hypotheses that are available to us at the time. We must always assume something–but we can compare two hypotheses and judge which assumes less.

    There are replies to this point of view. For example, what do they really mean by “reason to believe”? Or how can they go from themselves having no reason to believe to being certain that nobody has a reason to believe? But those seem like the start of a very different argument than the one some of you have been having here.

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  37. re: Andrew and Consumatopia’s last posts — Here, here! I still have yet to see who it is that is supposed to be the dogmatic science-proves-atheism proponent that is the alleged target of this discussion, though I am (for the reasons Andrew notes) very dubious that it could be Dawkins. I also think, for similar reasons, that it cannot be P. Z. Meyers.

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  38. the proper response to the question of the existence of god is “Who Cares?”

    Some folks care enough to publish a 5 part blog series devoted to the question.

    “Who cares?” Isn’t that the last step the theist takes before coming over to the bright side? When religious beliefs no longer support the origins of the physical world, when morality and a meaningful life can be explained and enhanced with an understanding of brain chemistry and the survival instinct, then the supernatural delusion can be left behind. Religion has shown us, albeit imperfectly, how it is possible to coexist without murder and mayhem, to recognize and support the dignity of each life despite our selfish selves. Dawkins, et al., are merely saying the Emperor has no clothes or more precisely, there is no emperor. Its difficult for those who cling to a god, for financial or emotional reasons, to hear those words. Who cares?, its a start.

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  39. clamflats:

    Some folks care enough to publish a 5 part blog series devoted to the question.

    If you think that’s what this series has been about then you haven’t read very closely.

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  40. E.D.

    I get it, the series is about the discussion of the discussion on theism and respect. (I linked to your blog through Andrew Sullivan or maybe it was another link through an AS link). I enjoyed the series, and comments, a lot.
    I’ll admit to some snarkiness, but I snark because I love. Really, I have religious friends, mostly Christian (actually Episcopal, but thats almost like Christian) or new agey folks who believe in Higher Conciousness and Eternal Love Forces. And we get along fine, discussing religion, sprituality, and morality. But I am honest with them – I don’t respect their beliefs – I do respect their right to those beliefs. There’s no way around it. But maybe the extrodinary nature of theism demands that a special kind of respect be shown – although theists of various persuasions show precious little of that ecumenically.

    The extraodinary claims of theism are just too phenomenal to be treated as a “Who Cares?”. That, to me, is an admission of “I can’t align modern science and my religious beliefs”. It’s probably not possible for the atheist to say that in a manner that comes off as respectful.

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  41. But whereever one chooses to place their trust, the fact is that whether that trust is properly placed is more or less unfalsifiable, and not subject to scientific proof or disproof. For the religious person, there is simply no way to prove through science that god exists or does not exist – as long as there is something in the universe that cannot rationally be explained, there is a basis for trusting in the existence of god. For the atheist, there is likewise simply no way to prove through science that god exists or does not exist – as long as a scientific or rational explanation for anything in the universe is theoretically possible, there is a basis to trust in the ability of reason to explain everything, and no basis to trust in the existence of god.

    That’s all well and good as long as you are just talking about some non-materialistic “God” residing “out there” somewhere – but that is not religion as practiced.

    Let me ask a blunt question. Do you believe that 2,000 years ago a Jewish girl in the middle east gave birth even she had never engaged in sexual intercourse? A large majority of my countrymen do – even though such an event was not recorded at the time and contradicts everything we know about human pregnancy.

    You know the people on CNN chanting “death to America”? Take those people, turn the clock back 2,000 years, and then you have the “witnesses” that you are depending on. You take the word of those people over the stark facts of biology?

    Religion is about a lot more than whether you can disprove the concept of a philosopher’s God….

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  42. Atheists, (literalist) believers, and agnostics
    all succumb to the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.
    The fallacy brings forth an imaginary playing field,
    where the atheists and believers take opposite sides
    and the agnostics refuse to decide where to stand.

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  43. E.D. Kain says, “most of the Christians I know (I think ALL of the Christians I know) believe in evolution and do not want to see creationism taught in school.”

    This hasn’t been my experience. Most self-proclaimed Christians I know — especially the ones actively involved in their churches — deny evolution. Gallup tends to reinforce my experience, with 44% of Americans believing that “God created man in his present form.”

    Kain, perhaps you mean something different than I do when you say you believe in evolution. So let’s get more specific. Do you and your Christian friends believe in the common ancestry of all life? Do you believe, for instance, that humans share a common ancestor with the apes?

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  44. But similarly, science demeans itself when it used as a proof of the non-existence of god. Science is not meant to provide unfalsifiable answers, nor is it intended to answer questions that can only admit of unfalsifiable answers. To do so is to turn the scientific method on its head. And in so doing, science demeans itself because it loses part of its very essence.

    I’ve read quite a few books of those pesky annoying atheists. Even the loudest of the bunch will not claim that they can falsify the existence of god. They only try to give an answer to the question as to what one should do with unfalsifiable claims: assign them a very low probability. That’s simple and that’s a quite reasonable thing to do. Not science or the scientific method, just plain rationality. I don’t really see the connection to science.

    (Ignoring for a moment the mere existence of any god or gods or anything supernatural, there are quite a few statements that any religion makes that are perfectly falsifiable and thus accessible to science. Neurologists writing about free will or the mind are fair game.)

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  45. For a peaceful society it would probably be best to assume that the existence of God can be neither proven nor disproven. But from a purely intellectual point of view it seems to me that it should be possible to evaluate a God that has any interactions with this world. Deistic gods may be unperceivable, but most people do not believe in deistic gods. If God influences this universe in any way, that should leave a trace by which we could track Him (like you can track elementary particles by the silver grains they generate in aphotographic emulsion).

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  46. Yes, I wish the ‘theists’ would have the courage and simple honesty to come out and say what, precisely, they believe in, instead of indulging in the studied evasiveness they seem to find so congenial, although it is understandable, of course, why they should want to proceed in this way, and why they refuse to grapple seriously with the arguments advanced by such as Boyet and Dennett, taking refuge in the mantra that such arguments ‘upset’ religious people, create problems, and therefore shouldn’t be made. Come on; grow up; be honest and responsible, and say exactly what you believe in. What standing has the Nicene Creed with you? Or is that yet another something that shouldn’t be taken literally? It is foolish and dishonest to pretend that the serious arguments of such as as Boyet, Dennett, Dawkins and Myers can be put in a balance with the pitiful attempts of the Creationists.

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  47. Ah, the old trick of purposely confusing “God” with “gods”, and then drawing false conclusions like: “There is, to be blunt, no scientific way to prove or disprove the existence of God”.

    With “.. gods” , that’s true. Even Dawkins would agree with you.

    Change that to almost any particular “God” that actual non-scientists believe in, and it becomes quite scientific. E.g., all evidence is firmly against the world being created as is described in Christianity (pictures from space show that it doesn’t actually have four corners, for one thing).

    And, after all, that’s the point of the FSM.

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  48. Cello–

    Kain, perhaps you mean something different than I do when you say you believe in evolution. So let’s get more specific. Do you and your Christian friends believe in the common ancestry of all life? Do you believe, for instance, that humans share a common ancestor with the apes?

    Is there some other kind of evolution that I haven’t heard of that I could possibly be confusing this with? If my memory serves, evolution was “discovered” by a Christian, Charles Darwin, was rather more fleshed out when notes of a certain German Monk (Mendel) helped explain how it worked, and has been pursued and honed by Christians and non-Christians alike ever since.

    And yes, apes are common ancestors, and so is primordial sludge. See, it’s quite frankly compatible in every manner with religion. Science, to my mind, explains the function of the universe, but not the why, nor the origins. It’s like looking at the engine of a car, studying the manuals, learning all about how it works etc. and then saying that because we know all of that there can be no engineer that designed it. Or contra that, it’s like saying “There was an engineer, and that’s all there ever was! The car was not built, it simply came into being when the engineer decided it should!”

    And no, I also don’t support the ID folks. They’d demean the beauty of natural selection by infusing it with the very human notion of intelligent design. Quite frankly, I think the method God has chosen (random selection, survival of the fittest, all that…) is far more clever than the shallow claims of the ID purveyors.

    And yes, even my ultra-conservative Catholic grandmother believes this. But I know many Christians don’t, and it’s a shame…

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  49. I find it amusing that in one breath E.D. Kain talks about the very ‘human’ notion of intelligent design, and in the next is attributing to God such human attributes and actions as cleverness and choosing in a clever way… Why is it clever of God to choose such a method? Could Mr Kain explain why, since this is what he definitely says he thinks? Is he not pretending not to have his ID cake, but eating it all the same? Ultimately, he is claiming precisely what the ID people claim, that the universe was created by an intelligent designer, but, according to Mr Kain, it is one who works in mysterious but clever ways, and not in any shallow way – like creating the universe by divine fiat, say. It also seems odd to set a clever ‘method’ against a shallow ‘claim’, but perhaps that is due to writing too fast and unthinkingly.

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  50. E.D.,

    I’m new to the site, and I don’t know much about your religious views personally. However, you seem like a “liberal” Christian based on your smack down of ID and other nonsense.

    I was wondering if you could please answer my question above. Do you beleive in the virgin birth? Or was Jesus an regular bloke like you and me who may have had some excellent (human) ideas?

    (Mark, please feel free to chime in too.)

    In response to the objection that the answer is irrelevant – think about the effect your answer might have on America’s mideast policy….

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  51. Tim —

    I’m sure you think your little riposte is very clever, too, but let me tear it apart for you.

    First off, the reason intelligent design is a “human” notion is that somehow they think that God must work in human ways to create existence as we know it, not for a moment stopping and thinking that perhaps God works in ways infinitely more complex than we can even imagine.

    Second, I did not, in fact, state that God was “clever” in the human sense. I said I thought it much more clever to devise a system such as evolution by which to implement the universe. And, as we can agree that this is how the universe (or at least the biological universe) functions, through evolution, I’d say we can agree that if there is a God, such method is much more ingenious than a constant “intelligent design” by which the steady and ubiquitous hand of the creator is kept always at work, which is what the ID folks believe. They propose that evolution does not in fact work by random selection or any of that, but rather through a guidance system.

    So how is that I’m saying exactly what the ID people say? For one, I don’t believe for a second that God or any intelligent or creation story should be taught in schools. I think only the science should be taught in schools. Creation etc. etc. is a subject for Sunday school or theology seminars.

    So I have to write off your comment as a quibble over semantics. I stated that an action was “clever” and you immediately suppose that I am anthropomorphizing God. I believe in creation through evolution, and you reveal that you have no sense of the distinction between that concept and the concept of Intelligent Design.

    Quibble away, quibble away…

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  52. Chris Bell–

    Indeed, I would consider myself in terms of religious views a “liberal” Christian, though I think Christianity itself is best viewed as a sort of “liberal” and liberating religion. It can most certainly be used as a far more destructive thing, of course.

    Regarding the virgin birth–well, religion requires leaps of faith, no? Such is the nature of the beast, as it were. So yes, I do believe in the virgin birth, though who honestly knows? It’s possible that God worked in some other manner. It’s possible she was impregnated in some other fashion and that somehow the soul of Jesus was simply infused into the child of Jesus. Anything’s possible.

    Regarding our mideast policies, I fail to see the connection. Our mideast policies are wrong-headed for any innumerable reasons, but the virgin birth should certainly not factor into our foreign affairs. A study of history, especially that region’s history should suffice to dissuade us from further military foibles in that arena.

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  53. Mr Kain,
    It is not a quibble over semantics at all, and you of course know it. Please don’t fob people off with this sort of evasivesness and disingenuousness. Please explain why is it more ‘clever’ to devise a system such as evolution, as opposed to constantly being involved in creation? Because the work-load is less? Because it helps to keep God mysterious and the nature of things more obscure? Why does God want to work in mysterious ways? Why should he work in such ways? And from whose point of view is devising a system like evolution more clever? It is you who are making this claim, and attributing the cleverness to the method and not the agent is precisely the kind of quibbling you affect to dislike in the writing of other people. Why ‘can we agree’ that ‘if there is God’, this method is ‘more ingenious’? You are combining two arbitrary and wholly unfounded assertions here, one about how ‘we’ think, the other being your undefended and indefensible claim about the relative ingenuity of two methods, in the hope that the ‘we can agree’ can somehow render the latter assertion acceptable.

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  54. E.D.,

    Thanks for the straight-forward answer.

    Here’s another fact that most Christians will admit. If they weren’t raised in a Christian household (or converted by Christian friends) they wouldn’t be Christian. If you were raised Hindu, Muslim, or Jewish – you would probably find the virgin birth implausible at best.

    Yet, knowing that the virgin birth violates everything we know about modern biology, knowing that if you were raised in a different culture you would change your mind, you still assert that this event happened.

    Do you not see the problem here?

    This is not a discussion about a hypothetical god-like entity. This is a discussion about real events that happened here on earth. On this point, you are willing to throw overboard everthing your reason and experience tells you because your faith requires it.

    I used to (try to) do the same thing. Do you feel slightly squeamish about admitting to the virgin birth? That’s your conscience telling you that you know it sounds ridiculous. But the conflict between faith and reason requires a choice – and faith is hard to let go.

    All the Mormons and Muslims in the world could use the same response you use – “religion requires leaps of faith, no?” – but that would never be convincing to you if a friend was trying to explain the virgin births of Zoroaster, Karna, or Mars.

    I know it’s incredibly unsettling, but try to consider the idea that this event is a myth. In the same way that thousands of people “saw” Mohammed ride a winged horse to heaven; in the same way that the Angel Moroni spoke to Joseph Smith – religious myths can take hold and spread so easily. It’s human nature. The stories of the Christian Bible are myths, just like the ones you read in Greek Mythology. They are often based on real events (the Fall of Troy) but they are myths just the same.

    At the end of the day, you’re response is probably, “I choose to beleive this even though it is implausible, even though someone else could never convince me of a different belief by using the same resoning.” And that is why religion is a bad thing. That is why the atheists write their books.

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  55. Tim,

    Fine, it’s arbitrary. I’m not sure what your point is. I personally find the notion of teaching religion instead of science in a classroom semi-diabolical. However, I find no incompatibility between God and evolution, nor do I think the workings of the two need be in the form of intelligent design, which is shallow in that it accepts God’s hand in creation, pretends to accept God’s hand in evolution, and then rather sneakily denies all the basic mechanisms of evolution. I see the natural world and believe that there is the hand of God in it, but not in some humanly constructed way, but in the way it actually is. Evolution is evolution. Biology is biology. That all of it comes from God does not diminish the actuality of its workings. And there’s the difference between me and the ID crowd. Call it what you will, I really couldn’t care less.

    Chris–you’re preaching a fairly standard atheistic evangelism here. Yes, of course it’s all very implausible. Then again, so are any countless number of things in this world. This world is implausible. Civilization as we know it is implausible. A virgin getting pregnant is, too, but if you accept that there are acts of God, that God does work in people or events, etc. etc. than it is not really important whether it is implausible. Which is essentially what you already knew I’d say. Then you write:

    And that is why religion is a bad thing. That is why the atheists write their books.

    Which is where you lose me. That’s why religion is a bad thing? Because it eschews reason for other things? Because it makes little sense to try to convert others to your own implausible faith/myth?

    Listen, there is more to all of it than this. There is more to it than a virgin birth or the resurrection or any of that very un-scientific, unlikely stuff. But as I’ve said, I’m not the missionary type. I believe quite simply in the personal practice of whatever faith you choose, or lack thereof. I don’t believe in hell or damnation. I don’t believe in eternal exclusivity. I have no reason, nor do I see any reason to seek out converts to what is quite plainly my own personal belief.

    But in a brief way, there is in my view of the world, something else that exists beyond the rational, reasonable, plausible, straightforward, scientific, plotted out universe. There is some implausible other. Perhaps it is just my mind playing tricks on me. Perhaps it is just the conditioning of the ages. I’m not sure. And quite frankly, I don’t care. I’ve been down the road of the atheists, and sat on the fence with the agnostics. I’ve studied Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, the Sufi poets; I’ve read the atheists and the conversion stories; I’ve pondered plenty. I’ve dropped acid and smoked pot and done a few other things I’d have been better off without. I’ve been around this block and that block and done my research.

    And in the end, well, I go the way that gives me peace and contentment. There’s really no debating this issue, in any case. In the end we all make that choice, whether it leads us down the same path or not. We gravitate toward what’s calling us, however implausible our own will’o’the’wisps may be….

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  56. E.D.,

    It’s more than just “implausible,” it actively contradicts much of what we know about how the world works. Sure, the existence of the Universe at all is a surprising fact that needs an explanation – but “believing” in the Universe is very different from believing in a miracle. Working civilization is implausible, but it doesn’t violate modern biology. Ask yourself why you don’t believe that Mohammed rode a flying horse and then turn that same laser on yourself.

    There’s a big difference between something that you believe/accept without being able to fully explain and something that you believe despite the evidence against it.

    You argue that this is your personal belief – in other words, what do I care if you believe something ridiculous if it doesn’t affect anything? I don’t think religious beliefs can be walled off that easily. Are you telling me that (1) God Himself begat a child on this Earth, (2) we have a book that records the teachings of this child, and (3) this affects you in no way. Really? It seems to me that at the least this book would deserve to be studied and revered above all other books. (Even though it is an iron-age work of largely nonsense.)

    I’ve concluded that Christianity is built on myths, just like Hinduism, Islam, paganism, etc. Imagine the world from my eyes – the terrible effect that this has on the world. These myths affect my country’s education system (evolution), public health (abstinence-only), foreign policy…etc…etc. You’re telling me that I shouldn’t try to convince other people to change their minds? Good lord, why not!? If my country was pursuing a bad tax policy, you would never tell me not to try and change minds. Yet you’ve called me a “preacher” and an “evangelist” for having a discussion. I’m not trying to “convert” anyone; I’m just trying to convince you.

    Google “Africa and witches” and you will see that there have been numerous murders in Africa over the past year over allegations of witchcraft. These people really believe in sorcery and are willing to kill over it. I think this is wrong, and I expect you do too. But would you ever tell me not to try and convince these people not to believe in witchcraft? Would you call me an “evangelical” for trying?

    Maybe I’ll have a low success rate, but I would sure want to try. Turning back to atheism, whole countries have largely abandoned their religiousness, and I reject your argument that silence is the best approach.

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  57. Mark’s argument has the ring of blaming the victim. For decades, the religious right has been trying to secure political power to limit scientific research, limit scientific education, and limit the influence of scientific knowledge on public policy. And under the administration of George W. Bush, the religious right largely succeeded in those goals.

    For decades, the response of the scientific community to the religious right has been led by polite spokesmen like Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, who made courteous, reasoned, respectful arguments. And the religious right just gained more power.

    Now we have angrier scientists, like Dawkins, who are willing to fight the religious right more directly. And Mark thinks this is science demeaning itself.

    The Religion vs. Science war isn’t a philosophical argument; it’s a political battle over who controls the power of government and has access to public funds. It is the religious right who started the battle, and now they’re finally feeling some backlash from the people they have victimized.

    By directing his “please, be reasonable” argument strictly toward the pro-science, pro-reason side of this political debate, Mark is asking the party that has suffered the most and has the least political influence to unilaterally disarm. The religious right, practically by definition, is not going to be swayed by rational argument.

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  58. I’m somewhat hesitant to get back into this debate (even though I wrote the post), because it seems to be getting back into the typical cycle of arguments that I was trying to avoid.

    But I think there’s an important problem to identify here, which seems to be typical of these cyclical arguments. That is that on the one hand, ED is talking about religion when it is held as a purely personal belief, while on the other hand, Chris seems to be talking about religion when it is applied by the religious person towards others (whether or not the ‘others’ are also members of that person’s religion). The fact is, I don’t think anyone would disagree that the maintenance of religious views as a purely personal affair is at the very least harmless (and I would probably argue that it is actively healthy). I also don’t think anyone here would disagree that the attempt to force one’s own religion on another (to sometimes include persons who are nominally of the same faith) is actively harmful. The trouble is, ultimately, where to draw the line where church, science, and state must be separated. My post was an attempt to draw such a line, although it’s certainly possible it didn’t do a good job of doing so.

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  59. Jerry: If you think I am directing the “please, be reasonable” directive solely at angry atheists, then I think you misread the post. While they may be the primary focus of this post, that is because atheism is the focus of this particular dialogue.
    As for the issue of rational argument vs. angry argument, I simply disagree. In my view, angry arguments are far less likely to persuade those who disagree with you than rational arguments, although they may be more likely to mobilize those who are predisposed to support you. But that is a subject for another day.

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  60. Mark,

    I think we agree to a large extent. I don’t really have a problem with ED’s beliefs if they don’t affect me. I certainly agree that illiberalism and dogmatism is a MUCH bigger problem – and atheism is no vaccine against those vices. I would never try to “force” someone to change their belief, although I am often accused of doing so (or being “rude”) just by making an argument.

    On the other hand, would you be so quick to take this position if we were talking about witchcraft? Or paganism? Or a living Elvis? Would you have said, “The fact is, I don’t think anyone would disagree that the maintenance of [belief in Zeus] as a purely personal affair is at the very least harmless …” Errr, maybe so – but wouldn’t you worry about the person? Wouldn’t you question their ability to (1) believe in Zeus, and (2) be normal in all other respects. Would you hesitate before letting this person babysit for you?

    Sam Harris argues that religious moderates act as a shield for fundamentalists because moderates defend “belief” in a harmless context and then are unable to fully denounce fundamentalists. I’m not sure that I buy Sam’s argument, but I do view religion as a hole in the dyke. Maybe it’s harmless, maybe it will never get any bigger, but I still find it troublesome and would prefer to see it patched. When ED fully admits that he believs things even though the evidence is against him, it just seems like trouble brewing…. If you can throw logic away in Case A, why not in Case B?

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  61. Chris, these are all red herrings. You leave out the historical, the human, the fact that the belief in God is not the same sort of belief that a belief in a living Elvis is. Look, science can explain a great deal. Reason can explain a great deal. But when we leave ourselves at the mercy of our own isolated reason, and throw all semblance of tradition or history, or culture to the wind on the basis that they are rooted in things that cannot be explained, we also cast off something inextricably human in the nature of belief, or in our search for the divine, the sacred, whichever. This is not the same as belief in the FSM. Once upon a time, people did believe in Zeus, it’s true. And in that historical context, that belief had a great deal of societal value. If someone were to believe in Zeus now it would seem funny because it would deny the historical ties, the deep-rooted cultural ties, and so forth that separates the Christian (or Muslim etc.) God from those ancient gods. This is the problem with modern druids as well. There is actually very little historical data, and absolutely no generational traditions tied to druidism, only the invented druidism of the 19th century which guesses at the original rites and practices.

    Of course, that’s fine with me. Again, faith is faith, no matter how silly it might seem to some. Part of faith is the practice of it, and no matter how implausible one may view God, the traditions, the practices, the prayers associated with celebrating whichever tradition are real, tangible things. They give people sustenance for that other implausible thing: the soul.

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  62. I think in this case the angrier argument is the more rational one. Here we have people arguing that they should have the political power to severely affect other people’s lives — and in the case of religious resistance to AIDS education and condom use, the power to actually condemn people to death — solely on the basis of unreasoning, unquestioning faith. What rational response is there to such a power grab, other than “Sod off, you fools”?

    The problem is not religious values in themselves. The problem is that religious people want to have an exclusive political power that never has to justify itself to rational inquiry. Stem-cell research, the teaching of evolution, disease prevention, etc., have all been restricted by a faction whose sole justification is “We have Faith, therefore our moral judgment is superior to anyone else’s.” What rational discussion is possible with such people?

    I’m not sure where you draw the line between church, science and state, because churches always tend toward fundamentalism and totalitarianism. (If you think I’m exaggerating, I ask you to look at the attendance of fundamentalist churches versus liberal ones.) Religion is, in its essence, an elaborate argument from authority. Of course it always comes into conflict with the rational discourse of science, and indeed, the rational discourse of democratic politics.

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  63. Chris:
    Fair points. I think part of the issue here is that when one publicizes their religious beliefs (or non-beliefs, as the case may be), they open those beliefs up to evaluation and thus to evaluation of their own capacity for thinking. Beyond that, your points deserve a lengthier more detailed response. Unfortunately, the real world beckons so I don’t have time right now to put that response together, which means that response is going to have to join the queue of other items that the real world is currently delaying me from discussing.

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  64. Oy vey. People who hop evasively between the literal and the metaphorical without even realising what they are doing. In at least one great religion self-awareness is a great virtue, but certainly not here, on this blog, where the thought is like an English pudding: sickly and soggy.

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