The philosophy wars

Book Review: Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Monthly Review Press (November 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1583671730
ISBN-13: 978-1583671733

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Scientific writers usually critique intelligent design (ID) creationism using scientific facts. And why not? After all, as the saying goes, “we have the genes and we have the fossils.” And creationist arguments often do rely on flagrant distortion of the facts.

This doesn’t get to the real emotion and ideas motivating supporters of creationism. So we sometimes need to deal with personal beliefs and feelings. The question of randomness behind evolutionary mutations. The violence and waste implied by “survival of the fittest.” And the unwarranted application of “social Darwinism” to society.

But this book takes the struggle to the most fundamental level. That of the philosophical approaches underlying science, on the one hand, and teleological explanations preferred by religion on the other. This struggle has been going on for millennia, and will no doubt continue for a long time yet.

It’s an important struggle because of the current attacks on science.  But the struggle is wider than that – it is central to the “culture wars” of today. Read the Wedge Strategy and you can see that ID is also attacking society, religion and freedom.

Scientists have usually not bothered to engage with ID philosophically. So it is refreshing to read a book which takes these design arguments head on.

Getting the definitions right

I am pleased the book stars by clarifying the meaning of terms. For too long, antiscience ideologues have got away with their naïve mechanical definitions of “materialism” and “naturalism. With the “crude proposition that all natural processes are attributable directly to matter.” The authors use the term materialism “in its classic sense, in which it is indistinguishable from naturalism. In this view, the defining trait of materialism from antiquity to the present has not been the forced adherence to a limited, metaphysical notion of “matter” as the all-encompassing reality . . . , but rather its opposition to all teleological explanations, i.e., final causes (whether God or Logos).

“In its most general sense, then, materialism claims that the origins and development of whatever exists is dependent on natural processes and ‘matter’, that is, a level of physical reality that is independent of and prior to thought. Materialism understood in this way can also be identified with the realist ontology characteristic of scientific realism.”

Long history of naturalism

The struggle against teleological explanations pre-dates Christianity. It goes back to ancient Greek science, the world outlook promoted by Epicurus. So it’s not surprising that modern-day ID theologians often attack the materialism of Epicurus. More commonly they attack the “unholy trinity” of Marx, Freud and Darwin. They rightfully recognise that these thinkers advanced naturalist, non-teleological approaches in human understanding. Marx in the study of society and economics, Freud in understanding the mind and Darwin in understanding life, the evolution of biological systems. All these thinkers helped to promote naturalist, scientific approaches at the expense of design. They helped remove teleological explanations. So they have been prime targets of the ID and other Christian apologists.

This assertion of naturalism was important to the return to science represented by the modern scientific revolution. “It was this revival of materialism, rather than the emergence of experimental methods and mathematical advances, that led to the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and ultimately the enlightenment.”

This revival exposed the sterility of the idea of nature rooted in final causes. Francis Bacon criticised this approach as “barren, and like a virgin consecrated to god produces nothing.”

Antiscience nature of idealism

Most observers recognize the antiscience nature of ID. These authors describe it as “a counter-revolution against science.”

“Intelligent design’s objective has never been to provide new scientific explanations but putting limits on science. Rather it seeks to make arguments to establish the limits of science.” The open attacks of modern ID show that “the armistice between science and religion has been broken.” Consequently many modern scientists see no room to compromise with religion. Allan Sokal wrote (in Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture): “The modern scientific world-view, if one is to be honest about it, leads naturally to atheism – or at the very least to an innocuous deism or pan-spiritualism that is incompatible with the tenets of all the traditional religions – but few scientists dare say so publicly.”

The book discusses attempts by some scientist to make room for both religion and science, describing the attempt as disingenuous. Because it is, in effect, a denial “(less they appear irreligious) [of] the ontological bases of materialism/naturalism within science.” Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-Overlapping Magisteria provides an example.

So, in practice there is still some degree of accommodation between science and religion. Believing scientists can compartmentalize their different teleological and naturalist thinking. But this is not a concession to ID. “If the issue of science versus religion allows for some degree of compromise at least at a practical level, the conflict between science and today’s intelligent design creationism is absolute, precisely because the latter seeks to account for nature supernaturally.”

Debunking theological myths

This book does a little creationist debunking. That’s good because often ID proponents get away with some of their claims just through the sheer force of repetition. A few which appealed to me:

Newton: Some religious apologists love to quote a long list of believing scientists to justify a role for religion in science. Isaac Newton is usually at the head of this list. But this is opportunist. As the authors point out “Newton tended to shy away in his physics from the kind of teleological arguments propounded with metaphysical surety by Leibniz. . . .Newton’s approach was to explain the physical world as much as possible in materialist-scientific terms. In the case of unknowns, however, Newton allowed God to stand in for an explanation, barring the discovery of material cause. His theological conceptions, insofar as they entered into his physics, were thus determined by his science rather than the other way around. Even then Newton hesitated to bring God into the picture.” “He avoided whenever possible –where scientific postulates were concerned – any explanation of natural processes as emanating from design.”

“To the extent that Newton’s physics relied on God, it was the ‘God of the gaps.’”

Newton resorted to design only as a last resort but what he actually achieved “was a vast expansion of science at the expense of design.”

Malthusianism: The authors point out that Marx was critical of Darwin’s use of Malthus in developing his theory of natural selection. He felt this gave credence to the Malthusian doctrine within the social realm “which had espoused Christian morality, natural theology, and bourgeois justification of the division of class and property.” Marx considered Malthus guilty of “clerical fanaticism.”

Today, we would accuse Malthus of “social Darwinism.”

Dedication of Das Kapital: Contrary to creationist claims Marx did not request permission to dedicate his Das Kapital to Darwin. In fact the request was from the radical science activist Aveling, partner of Marx’s daughter Eleanor, for his book “The Student’s Darwin.”

Opium of the People: Marx’s comment on religion as the “opium of the people” is often misquoted and the meaning distorted by religious apologists. In fact Marx was expressing a “real sympathy for religion ‘as the expression of real suffering’ and as a necessary solace for the oppressed. The later do not have the same access to other means of consolation, such as opium, available to the wealthy.”

Wider targets of the design argument

The authors are clear that this debate is not limited to the science or “science vs religion” arenas. The challenge of naturalism and non-teleological explanations to the established social and political order was inevitable – and so was the backlash. “Western science itself is a product in large part of a 2500-year critique of intelligent design that was tied to larger social struggles occurring over the same vast period.” And: “It is this conception of human freedom, based on material conditions and a relationship with the earth, proceeding without the aid of the gods, that constitutes the main threat to intelligent design creationism, a threat embodied in modern times by the work of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, in particular.”

I wish this short book had been expanded to include more examples of scientists and philosophers who directly and consciously challenged the design argument. Especially modern examples of those investigating science, economics, society and ethics. However, Epicurus, Marx, Freud and Darwin are the thinkers most often attacked by modern ID ideologues and religious apologists. And there is not doubt the relative briefness of this book (200 pages plus notes), and its readable style, does make it accessible.

Everyone interested in the activity of the modern ID movement, and the wider antiscience attacks of Christian apologetics, will find the book valuable.

Its message is summed up in its final sentence: “Reason, science, and human freedom only truly commence, as Epicurus recognised in antiquity, once the gods have at last been banished from the earth.”

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105 responses to “The philosophy wars

  1. Sorry–I can’t agree with the characterization of Newton. I’ve read Newton’s commentary on “Daniel and the Apocalypse.” While it is true that his physics was not teleological, that did not translate into the kind of materialism you describe here. Newton devoted years of his life to the study of the prophetic books of the Old and New Testament and his analysis of these books was “teleological” to the nth degree.

    I don’t see any conflict between Newton’s physics and his theology. He believed that God created an orderly universe and he believed that God could foretell and/or control the future. I don’t think that’s the kind of “materialism” you mean.

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  2. I missed the part where it was shown why and how all of modern science does away with teleological explanations? :)

    Good to see you using words like ‘ontology’, though Ken. You’ve bawked at them before.

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  3. Dale,

    I missed the part where it was shown why and how all of modern science does away with teleological explanations?

    I missed the part where you justify teleological explanations as worthy of consideration ;-) After all, if they can’t be shown to be worthy of consideration, then they’re just “empty” claims ;-)

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  4. Dale – where have I balked at “ontological?” Admittedly I usually attempt to use more familiar words – words that don’t mean different things to different people and therefor open the doors to all sorts of mischief. I think that is only sensible for someone who is trying to communicate.

    And I have tried to do the same here (notice “ontology” was in a quote from the book).

    Dale – where is science using “teleological explanations?” I would have thought this is a basic difference between science and nonsciense.

    Scott – I don’t see any justification for your claim that there was no “conflict between Newton’s physics and his theology.” You just seem to mix up physics and theology – these were separate parts of Newton’s life. Methodologically different.

    Surely it’s obvious that there was a conflict as his physics was taken from the real world. As the authors point out he only resorted to the god of the gaps when he was stumped. Have a look at my article Isaac Newton and intelligent design.

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  5. If we take our langauge of “processes” in nature seriously, than we can immediately speak in teleological terms.

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  6. If we take our langauge of “processes” in nature seriously, than we can immediately speak in teleological terms.

    Not if you take the processes as they are.

    I’d say you’re wanting that processes “must” have a higher-level “purpose” and loading this onto processes, rather than simply taking them as they are.

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  7. Dale – you are going to have to be clearer about this. Explain what you mean, give examples.

    At the moment it comes across to me a simple theological fog.

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  8. My comments (as above) must be brief, I’m quickly running up against time constraints; but suffice to say that my initial comment was simply to say that advances in science do not intrude upon or do away with teleological concepts.
    For example, the teleological notion inherent to the statement “The natural processes responsible for ‘x’ are acting towards a goal (end/telos) and are in accordance with an intention.” is not, nor could it be, disposed of merely by replying “But there are processes responsible for ‘x’!!!”

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  9. No, Dale. You will have to be clearer – still fog to me.

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  10. we cannot say that a process is not toward an end simply by observing that it is a process.

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  11. …indeed the language of ‘process’ is itself loaded with end-directed-ness.

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  12. Why avoid an example, Dale?

    Do you mean something like water flowing until it finds its own level? Seems pretty trivial to justify inventing a long word like “teleological.”

    There is usually some sort of motive under all this sort of fog. Why not be open about it?

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  13. Water seeking its own level (gravitation, etc.) is a description. My question was how do natural descriptions do away with teleological explanations?
    In other words, how on earth does the observation of water seeking its own level conflict with the notion that this behaviour is in accordance with an end?

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  14. Dale,

    are acting towards a goal (end/telos) and are in accordance with an intention

    You’re adding the “intention” yourself. Just the thing I thought you were doing (“I’d say you’re wanting that processes “must” have a higher-level “purpose” and loading this onto processes, rather than simply taking them as they are.”).

    indeed the language of ‘process’ is itself loaded with end-directed-ness

    Two points:

    Firstly, whatever the language is “loaded” with isn’t relevant. People use what are in effect analogies all the time in conveying something.

    Secondly, the processes themselves don’t have the “ends” that you might load onto them, even if they help you think about them. In particular, you have to remember not to mix the processes themselves with the effect that they cause or their contribution to higher-level concepts or events. As I wrote earlier, “Not if you take the processes as they are.” You only make it “look” teleological by adding on “purpose” (“intention”, higher-level “ends”).

    (overly) Simple example: a lion catches and eats an antelope. This process isn’t “aimed at” eliminating weaker antelope, although it may have that effect. In some contexts we might discuss this as part of a process of “selection”, but the actual process itself—preying on another species—doesn’t have that “intention” or “end”.

    You can do similar thought experiments for essentially all processes. This sort of thing comes under Feynman’s famous “don’t fool yourself” point. Don’t fool yourself to thinking that there is more to a process by “adding” the effects, or concepts or events acting at other “levels” to the process. Treat the natural processes as they are and you’ll see that they are not teleological: natural processes don’t “serve a purpose” in the manner that you are wanting them to.

    Finally, I’m getting the impression that you are avoiding replying to me, but as far as I can see I have been right on the money. You’re not avoiding my points are you? (In which case, I’ll award myself a small victory ;-) Avoiding a line of argument is a tactic admission that you haven’t an answer for it, etc. etc.)

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  15. Heraclides,
    My point is that all of these natural descriptions (water seeking own level, lion eating antelope, etc. etc.) do not even begin to reduce any teleological aspects.
    You can continue to say that these teleological aspects (ends/intentions) are being ‘added’, but my point is that if one is wanting to declare teleology as being ‘done away with’, then they need to do more than merely describe a process. Teleology is a philosophical concept – negating it is a philosophical task. In other words, scientific description of phenomena is not the right tool for arguing that there is no telos to something/anything/everything.

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  16. Dale: “Teleology is a philosophical concept – negating it is a philosophical task.”

    I think this book points out this was done by the Greeks – specifically Epicurus. It was this which makes modern science possible. And the so-called scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries was really a return to a non-teleological approach, rather than the emergence of experimental methods.

    Seems to me that the “teleological approach” is very much what characterised the “dark ages” when mysticism was supported over science.

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  17. Probably better to say that this book argues that this was done by the Greeks/Epicurus.
    And I’d like to see how proper historians of science (of which neither you or I am!) would react to his treatment of the scientific revolution. This is a much bigger conversation than this comment-thread, this post, and of course even this book. Back to work for me :)

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  18. Dale – here are the qualifications of the authors:

    John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review. He is professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and author of Naked Imperialism, Ecology Against Capitalism, Marx’s Ecology, and The Vulnerable Planet;

    Brett Clark assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State University;

    Richard York is associate professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. He is co-editor of the journal Organization & Environment.

    I am interested in how the scientific revolution has been presented (and misrepresented). I think Christian apologetic philosophers have misrepresented it – for obvious reasons. And then there is the whole negelct of the Islamic medieval period. And an implication that somehow the Greeks, Chinese, Indians and Egyptians were not doing science becfause they weren’t Christian!

    Richard Carrier’s PhD thesis really went into this and he has a book out soon on it. Should be fascinating.

    In the meantime I am planning a blog article specifically on this – with a link to a very interesting interview with Carrier.

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  19. What do you mean by “reduce any teleological aspects”?? I wrote that they don’t have any teleological aspects. If they didn’t have any teleological aspects to start with they can’t reduce to any, or “produce” any either.

    Please note that I replied to your earlier posts, the ones I quoted, not your “September 9, 2009 at 12:00 pm”. This is one of the reasons why I always include quotes, to make it clear what I am replying to.

    You reference to “all of these natural descriptions” makes it clear that you think by extending on your 12pm post you are replying to what I wrote. This isn’t the case: I never replied to that and couldn’t (my post crossed). Whether you mean to or not what you are actually did was continue on your own private thread regardless of what I wrote.

    To now reply to that post:

    Firstly, you have altered what you are talking about from a process to something different, a description (e.g. My question was how do natural descriptions do away with teleological explanations? as opposed to If we take our langauge of “processes” in nature seriously, than we can immediately speak in teleological terms.). You are skipping around.

    Secondly, and I guess more importantly, you inverted what you are saying, reversing the burden of proof as it were. You started with a statement and are now “demanding” that others disprove what you want to be true, rather than demonstrate that is it true yourself. This point I was trying to make in my first post. In fact you go on to make this same general error again in this post twice:

    we cannot say that a process is not toward an end simply by observing that it is a process.

    and,

    In other words, how on earth does the observation of water seeking its own level conflict with the notion that this behaviour is in accordance with an end?

    You need to demonstrate that there is in fact a “higher objective” before you can claim that there is one, and hence try claim that that any particular example is teleological. You’re asking the people “disprove” what you need to prove true in order to have your belief hold true, rather than demonstrate the truth of your belief. yourself.

    Merely saying that there “might” by itself is really quite pointless. It is more useful is to show what can explain what is observed. In particular for this discussion, if it can be explained without “teleological” stuff, then that’s enough to explain it and there is then no need or sense in introducing additional “stuff” when the thing has already been explained satisfactorily.

    Until you can see what it is that you are “adding” to things to suit your beliefs you will continue to “fool” yourself.

    Can you see that your statements are saying “I must have this extra stuff also, so that my beliefs will be true”?

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  20. “the scientific revolution”

    This carries with it an assumption (in fact , several).
    ;-)

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  21. I’ve honestly only got time for a few more comments, and then I’ll have to bow out.

    My comment was not trying to prove a (positive) case for teleology. It was rather responding to the post, which contrasted natural explanation with teleological ones. The question of the validity of teleological explanation can be put to the side. It is perfectly reasonable to ask (as I did in my first comment) why/how natural explanations do away with (valid or invalid – whatever) teleological ones. Note: this is not trying to “add in” teleology – it is merely responding to an outlined conflict between natural explanation and teleological ones.

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  22. Still, Dale, this book is a critique of the design argument from a basic philosophical level. Something we scientists usually neglect (because after all we do have the evidence). But the ID theologians certainly argue at that philosophical level. They oppose vehemently the scientific method and philosophy – wanting to replace it with a theistic science, with teleological explanations. The wedge document is blatant example of this, but we can find explicit arguments like this all over the place.

    So, for a change we have some authors fighting back.

    I think that’s great. We should be doing it more often.

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  23. Hang on Ken,
    We really need to distinguish between a) people who may well be trying to replace science with “theistic science” and b) people who hold teleological explanations.

    Secondly, sure, this book might contain actual philosophical argument. So, then, would you care to share some tasters of these actual philosophical arguments? All you’ve quoted in your post is definition of terms and historical interpretation – not argument.

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  24. I agree that one needs to analyse the detail. But at the same time I think there is a basic problem there with those who, for religious reasons, are prone to teleological explanations. I think this is why creationism/ID is really only a problem within religious groups. And significant proportions of some of these groups do reject evolutionary science (about 40% of NZs Christians, for example).

    Even when evolutionary science is accepted there can still be a submission to teleological explanations. Like seeing some “purpose” or “direction” in evolution. (Even some non-theists fall into this trap – probably species chauvinism – I imagine elephants think they are the peak or purpose of evolution too).

    Then there are wider areas where design can still have a lot of influence. An obvious example is the fine-tuning argument. This is latched on to very strongly by theists.

    And that is basically anti-science. To look for explanations outside existing objective reality instead of looking within objective reality for causes, effects and explanations.

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  25. Ken,
    I don’t see how any of that is “anti-science” (one of your favourite phrases to describe people with?).

    Btw, again, will you be quoting any of the books’ actual philosophical ‘fighting back’ arguments?

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  26. I guess you don’t recognise it as anti-science because you are interpreting science in that particular philosophical way. Wanting to squeeze in your teleological beliefs.

    And this was the point of the book, really, to show the difference between the design, teleological, approach and the anti-teleological or naturalist approach required for science to work. This was advanced by Epicurus and other ancient Greeks and Romans – and was the reason why Greeks did do actual science (something Christian apologists try to hide).

    Taking the struggle to this philosophical level demonstrates how the religious approach is incompatible with science. That’s not saying religious people can’t be scientists – far from it. But that when religious people do science they are not doing religion – they have compartmentalised their thinking.

    This was the case with Newton whose scientific work really undermined a lot of the design ideas. He only resorted to his god of the gaps as a last resort. Today religious scientists don’t even resort to that. They, like their colleagues, prefer to say “I don’t know.” More honest really. They just compartmentalise things.

    No I am not quoting from the book (it is away on my bookshelf upstairs at the moment). And we are actually having that discussion without the use of quotes.

    I had hoped that some of the essence of the message in this book would have come through in my review. After all – it is quite long for a blog review and I did quote extensively.

    However, you are welcome to make your points and we can discuss them. More useful and relevant than me quoting a book. Especially a book I had no basic disagreement with.

    “Anti-science” – I think my use here was appropriate because after all the fine tuning argument is basically a god of the gaps one – similar to Newtons god of the gaps explanation for the planetary plane in the solar system. Neither are scientific answers, and they are in effect science stoppers – providing a “Claytons” answer – the answer you have when you don’t have an answer. Something we try to avoid in science.

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  27. Ken – I feel like I repeat myself over and over again and it falls on deaf ears. I’m not trying to ‘change’ science, or ‘squeeze in’ beliefs. On this and other threads, I’ve tried to distinguish between different ways of looking at things. Science can’t comment on teleology, let alone rule-it out (or in). that’s not anti-science to say so, either.

    An anti-teleological approach won’t aid science any more than a teleological approach will hinder science. It’s extrapolations and interpretations of anti-teleology or teleology that may hinder science. I’d love to see any specific examples of how teleology hinders science in and of itself. I think you’re assuming that just because a person thinks there is a telos/goal/end to things, that they all of the sudden have to close down the lab and stop doing science – which is anything but the case. Lazy thinking or apathy is what stops science.

    By the way. A rather large distinction needs to be made between what you repeatedly call “compartmentalising” and what I’d say is rather ‘distinguishing’. ALL people have philosophical views about what ultimate reality is or is not. And NO scientist needs bring that into his/her work. The question of what ultimate reality is or is not is a philosophical question.

    We should not automatically construe “other-than”-science thought as being “anti-science” thought.

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  28. Dale – “Science can’t comment on teleology, let alone rule-it out “. I think it can, and has. As far back as Epicurus. That was the point of the book and my review. Only by ruling out (or more specifically ignoring – because there has not been any prohibition) such non-naturalist approaches has science made any real progress. Science has been able to progress because it recognised the best ways of understanding reality.

    The only way that religion coexists with science is in different mental “compartments” of the practicing religious scientist. You are right – they just don’t bring their religious ideas into their scientific work. They “distinguish” between them. Otherwise it wouldn’t be science.

    As you say – they don’t close down their labs because of those compartmentalised religious beliefs. But they would if they genuinely thought that these ideas were sufficient to explain reality. Their compartments would have broken down – and that sometimes happens.

    “I’d love to see any specific examples of how teleology hinders science in and of itself.” – I thought I had provided some – fine-tuning argument, planetary plane. One could add heliocentricism, evolution, etc., etc. And certainly 2500 years ago there was a real struggle to oppose teleological “explanation” and assert scientific naturalist approaches. Not so today – at least among the practitioners.

    Actually – I am not equating “other-than-science” with “anti-science” by any means. But this “other-than-science” becomes anti-science when it is “wedged” into science. The IDers are very active in doing this. My point is that those who have a sympathy for teleological “explanations” often provide comfort to the design advocates and/or are prone to fall into similar traps (like the fine-tuning one). Especially when they are not part of the science culture – or even feel that science has somehow cheapened reality.

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  29. I’ve got to leave this one for the moment – it’s taken too much of my day – sorry!

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  30. My comment was not trying to prove a (positive) case for teleology.

    You claim not to be, but you were asking that teleology be included and if you want to include teleological arguments to be considered, you’d have to show why they should be considered. You can’t ask that it be considered without showing why.

    It was rather responding to the post, which contrasted natural explanation with teleological ones. The question of the validity of teleological explanation can be put to the side.

    I can’t see why this let you put questioning the validity of teleological explanation aside, as that would obviously come up in comparing the two. I can see how this can be used to set up a reversal of the burden of proof, as it were.

    It is perfectly reasonable to ask (as I did in my first comment) why/how natural explanations do away with (valid or invalid – whatever) teleological ones.

    You’re effectively still trying to argue backwards! But never minding that, I actually did point you to one very straight-forward reason: “if it can be explained without “teleological” stuff, […] then no need or sense in introducing additional “stuff” when the thing has already been explained satisfactorily.”

    Teleological approaches have repeatedly over history been shown in practice to be a hindrance, blocking advances in understanding, not assisting them. That’s not surprising, as it requires that you assume things “serve a purpose” before you even start investigating. It’s easy to see how assuming things a priori is going to be a hindrance in working how things actually are, right?

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  31. Quantum mechanics is open to a “future causes the past” interpretation, which has been supported by experimental evidence. The “Time Symmetry” paper I linked to in a previous post argues that physics needs to consider each situation as bound by the future as well as the past.

    This is a form of teleology.

    It’s also an interpretation of physics.

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  32. This is a form of teleology.

    No, it’s not: the essence of teleological concepts are that they (supposedly) have “purpose”, not what causes they might have. In fact that’s the definition, e.g. teleology = explanation of phenomena by the purpose they [supposedly] serve rather than by postulated causes.

    [my addition in square brackets]

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  33. George W Bush was a great fan of Intelligent Design.

    But was he not living proof of its refutation?

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  34. Heraclides, I understand “teleology” to include any system in which the future causes the past. The “delayed choice experiment,” by this definition, is “teleological.”

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  35. Before you remind the reading public of my lack of credentials, here’s a link to a more-credentialed person on “Teleology and Time-Symmetry.”

    http://fs-morente.filos.ucm.es/docentes/suarez/papers/Price_talk.pdf

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  36. Scott – that’s a diversion and you know it. It has nothing to do with the evolution of science and the concurrent struggle against design.

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  37. Scott,

    You seem to want to redefine it to suit yourself. Fine. In that case it’s pointless “discussing” with you, as you’ll only redefine it further later. The definition I gave you is correct, the key is “purpose”. Go check any reasonable dictionary. Hell, even check wikipedia: A teleological school of thought is one that holds all things to be designed for or directed toward a final result, that there is an inherent purpose or final cause for all that exists.

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  38. A “participatory anthropic principle” produces a universe in which teleology dominates causation over vast timeframes.

    It may not be real, but it’s not unscientific.

    Ken: if the PAP is a valid scientific interpretation of QM, then it has everything in the world to do with ID.

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  39. You are clutching at straws, Scott. And it’s quite typical of dogmatic theists these days to give a “sciencey” cast to their prejudices to do this sort of thing. Dragging in quantum theory (and biased interpretations of interpretations) is a typical trick.

    The fact remains that humanity only made real progress with its understanding of reality once they (to paraphrase Epicurus) banished gods from their explanations.

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  40. You are clutching at straws, Scott.

    I’ll say.

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  41. Ken, these are deep waters. Your initial thesis was that “creationism” has been opposed to “materialism” for millenia. You cited a source that put Newton in the “materialism” camp, and I disagreed. From there we leaped into teleology, which has been out of favor since 1600 or so, but which (I argue) is not (necessarily) unscientific.

    You call this as a “sciencey” trick and a “biased” interpretation of interpretations. I’m not going to change your mind, I’m sure.

    I figure I’ll just have to hang out for about six more years until quantum computing delivers enough real world results for people to ask “How does it DO that?” Then we can start to talk about the complexities (and/or symmetries) of time. At which point, I’m sure we won’t be talking to each other any more–because you will have concluded that I’m a religious troll and I will have concluded that “open parachutes” are easier to find than open minds.

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  42. So, Scott – you motive is to “change my mind”, is it?

    Now, I have changed my mind plenty of times in my life. But it usually requires evidence – especially when my current ideas are based on evidence. So, just have a look at what you pull out to justify you wish to change my mind:

    You claim that Newton was not using naturalist approaches to physics – by quoting his theological works!! Obviously not good enough. Sure – Newton was a Christian – but in doing his physics he adopted a naturalist approach (that’s why he was able to make progress) – except when he lapsed and fell back onto the god of the gaps when he was stumped – these issues were subsequently dealt with by later scientists using naturalist (not teleological) approaches.

    Your attempts save teleological explanations have resorted to wild speculations and interpretations about interpretations of quantum mechanics and cosmology. They don’t convince me at all – I have sufficient background in these subjects to recognise that your attempts are straw men.

    Now you wish to assure me that if I wait six years you will be shown correct! When you can’t even rationally explain your ideas! Come off it.

    I am quite willing to change my mind on all sorts of things, and regularly do, as the evidence comes in. But you don’t present evidence.

    Perhaps you should be assessing just how closed your own mind is.

    I am surprised that even in you own area of expertise you are not actually dealing with the real objective evidence (the NZ child discipline legislation). If you cant relate professionally there – what the hell makes you think you can be authoritative in the scientific area?

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  43. Dale said Science can’t comment on teleology, let alone rule-it out (or in). that’s not anti-science to say so, either.
    Oh yes it can – we do it all the time. No scientist would say (to use your example) that there is a ‘purpose’ underlying the level that water would reach on a site or in a container – that can be completely explained by natural phenomena. Similarly evolution does not work ‘towards’ a particular end, & in fact the evidence for that lies in all the ‘jury-rigged’ adaptations we see in living things.

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  44. Scott, I thought we’d already put to bed your misconception about the word “observation” in relation to collapsing wave functions?

    A wave function doesn’t need an intelligence to be “observing” it in order to collapse. The whole PAP is based on this misconception.

    I did a search on your blog and found that someone had already attempted to put you straight on this way back in 2005. Why are you persisting with this Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle? Do you have some evidence that I’m not aware of that would suggest that in order for a wave function to collapse it actually requires a person to be watching? If so, please share. Otherwise I’m going to have to doubt your desire for truth (or, at least, your methodology which seems to consist of grasping at anything that might lend support to your presuppositions however misconstrued).

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  45. Alison,
    My point is that natural explanations – even ‘complete’ ones (i.e. that water seeking its own level is completely explained by natural explanations), aren’t at the same explanatory level as teleological explanation.

    The rejoinder ’round this blog is usually (and predictably) “you’re trying to ‘make room’ for your god-beliefs”. Even if that is the case, the distinction still holds. The observation of “jury rigged” adaptations, however, ‘random’ they appear to be (in terms of ‘natural’ explanation), don’t at all begin to demonstrate that teleological explanation is ruled out (or in). Natural explanation is shaped/tested/etc. by natural experiment/observation/etc.
    Teleological explanation (and anti-teleological argument!) is the realm of philosophy and metaphysics.

    That is what I mean when I say that science can’t ‘comment’ on teleology.
    Now, scientifically-informed philosophising concerning teleology is another thing altogether – but it’s philosophy, not science.

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  46. It is the anti-teleological (or naturalist) philosophy which makes science possible. One can’t base science on “god did it” explanations.

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  47. Ken,
    “goddidit” or “goddidn’tdidit” are theological notions, which need not apply when one is doing science.
    Theistic philosophy or atheistic philosophy make their philosophical arguments based on what they see of science.
    I do however think that the assumption/expectation of orderliness, regularity and consistency of nature which underlies science is fairly open to philosophical interpretation in a theistically-friendly way (and no, I don’t claim that any one particular religion got science going).

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  48. My point is that natural explanations – even ‘complete’ ones (i.e. that water seeking its own level is completely explained by natural explanations), aren’t at the same explanatory level as teleological explanation.

    Firstly, clarify for us that you either mean: the water seeking a level is completely explained by non-teleological means and that the latter portion of your statement refers to other claims or the latter portion is saying that the water level example is “more completely” explained through adding teleology stuff to it.

    If it’s the latter, that’s plain silly. If you have a (full) explanation, there is no sense in “adding” anything more to it, and anything more added to it cannot make the explanation “better” or “more complete” or “have more explanatory power” as it’s already complete!

    It’d be a little like saying 1 + 1 = 2, but you want to add something to it to make it a “better” 2.

    If it’s the former, you need to justify why we should even bother consider teleological approaches. (I wrote earlier pointing reasons why you should not if want to work out how things actually work.)

    The observation of “jury rigged” adaptations, however, ‘random’ they appear to be (in terms of ‘natural’ explanation), don’t at all begin to demonstrate that teleological explanation is ruled out (or in).

    Argument by unjustified assertion and in any event avoiding that they do demonstrate quite clearly that teleological “explanation” is not needed, irrelevant and indeed would be incorrect (it’d add a “purpose” that isn’t there).

    Teleological explanation (and anti-teleological argument!) is the realm of philosophy and metaphysics.

    Special pleading, trying to offer an “exceptional case” to allow you to have your way. (But you never seem to understand why according to your replies.)

    As a practical matter, it’s already been pointed out long ago that philosophy on it’s own is limited in it’s ability to deal with the real world. That’s a done thing, as it were (I can’t see value in starting that up again). Metaphysics is very obviously even more limited to the point of being useless (it starts by excluding the real world and with it any means of showing that anything is right or wrong!)

    Ever occur to yourself that you’re just repeating yourself without actually taking on board what others have said? All this has been covered before.

    If something can be shown to act without a “purpose”, there cannot be a “teleological” “explanation” for it. Think about it: adding “purpose” would break the explanation.

    See also my post at ‘September 9, 2009 at 7:24 pm’ which I think you’ve missed.

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  49. You avoid the basic issue, Dale. The ability to do science assumes a philosophical stance – of naturalism in the sense used by these authors.

    This assumes that one does not use a god did it explanation. (otherwise it isn’t science).

    So science – as we understand it – was not possible without that naturalistic philosophical stance. Basically, I think when we are doing science we are also actually doing philosophy – whether we realise it or not.

    Newton had this stance – when he was doing physics. The stance broke down when he was stumped (and should have just said “I don’t know” as all self-respecting physicists do today, whatever their religious beliefs).

    Every scientist today, when they are doing science, takes up a non-teleological philosophical stance – whatever their religion. Otherwise they couldn’t do science which means to understand reality in terms of that reality, without resorted to outside controls.

    Now, I agree that a religion can be supportive of science by accepting the order of reality implicit in the scientific endeavor. (Some sects certainly don’t – and the ID creationists belong there). That’s up to them. But it has got nothing to do with the scientific process. Humanity doesn’t wait on one religion or another for the permission to investigate reality.

    On the other hand – I think that for a religion to really have proper credibility today it has to be accepting of scientific knowledge, at least, and hopefully respectful of scientific philosophy.

    I am getting somewhat tired of some theists (like the angry young men from Thinking Matters) claiming some sort of superiority – that we scientists should learn from them how to do science!! That attitude is just arrogant and leads to them making some very weird claims about science. (They probably also make weird claims about religion – but that’s not my problem,).

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  50. Heraclides,
    I can’t spend heaps of time on this – blogging is a worthwhile (we wouldn’t be here otherwise?) activity, but limited in usefulness.

    re: full/complete explanation and ‘adding’ to it…
    You’ll accuse me again of special pleading here (go ahead, it doesn’t bother me) :)
    There is ‘full/complete’ explanation at the natural level, and there is explanation (or lack of explanation – or [you’d say] lack of need for explanation!) at a teleological level.

    Completeness of natural explanation doesn’t prevent there being plenty of room for discussion about teleological explanation (or argument as to whether or not it is necessary, rational or whatever). But the whole point is that natural and teleological explanation are different kinds of explanation.

    To use your 1+1 analogy. We can have complete/full mathematical explanation to a given equation (1+1=2 being a simple one, and we can imagine vastly more complex ones!). But we can also make non-mathematical comments about mathematical equations (or maths in general), like saying they are “beautiful” or “applied” or whatever.

    Similarly, we can give a full/complete biological explanation for evolution of species, but we can also give a metaphysical/philosophical/ethical explanation why we think we shouldn’t eat other humans, or more than ‘x’ amount of meat, etc. Different kinds of explanations.

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  51. Ken,
    Science doesn’t need to assume a philosophically naturalist position – but merely a methodologically naturalist one.

    That’s the key distinction.

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  52. Ah – the old “methodological” diversion (or should I say mantra). And yes, I know, it’s used a lot by science people who are defending science.

    But it is a cop out. As Sokal said in the quote above:
    “The modern scientific world-view, if one is to be honest about it, leads naturally to atheism – or at the very least to an innocuous deism or pan-spiritualism that is incompatible with the tenets of all the traditional religions – but few scientists dare say so publicly.””

    Whatever scientists say, or indeed sincerely believe, there is an implicit philosophical position in the activity of science. There has to be to do science – to look for explanations within reality itself.

    Practically everyone has the ability to compartmentalise beliefs, philosophies and activities. And many scientists do that. A scientist can hold religious beliefs in one compartment but implicit philosophical attitudes in another (which she uses in her day job).

    In essence – I strongly believe that science does assume a philosophical stance – while scientists themselves may not (at least consciously).

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  53. Not surprisingly, I disagree.
    Just what the heck is “the modern scientific world-view” (emphasis on world view) anyway?

    To limit oneself to look for natural explanations doesn’t at all commit one to naturalism in the philosophical sense.

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  54. I guess we will continue to disagree. Not surprising.

    Interesting you use the word “limit.” I would have thought this inappropriate – our society and history surely shows that science is the result of freedom rather than limitation. As Epicurus said freedom from the gods – the teleoloigcal explanations which prefvent humanity from investigating and understanding reality.

    To me – the permission to investigate things and look for explanations within reality, rather than blindly accepting an imposed orthodoxy, an “explanation” base don the gods, is surely liberating.

    If you want to understand Allan Sokal’s terms – the quote is from Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture. I have yet to read it myself but I have read other stuff of his and find it refreshing.

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  55. But of course, I didn’t mean ‘limit’ in that sense.

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  56. Ken
    You’re making several mistakes.
    – reducing faith in God to some kind of proto science
    – demanding that scientists bow to the imposed orthodoxy of your “modern scientific world-view”
    – mixing philosophy of science with philosophy of life

    Naturally, scientific observations proceed in a reductive, controlled environment. But life is not so prophylactic!

    Atheist claims that ‘science disproves God’ are not helping promote science but are standing on their own metaphysical soapbox without realizing it.

    “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
    -Daniel Dennett

    “Even in its most primitive forms [matter] is impregnated with a purposive energy that constantly evolves toward ever-greater complexity. Matter is not static; it is in constant evolution … into deepening consciousness and increasing complexity. In humankind consciousness, more or less, becomes conscious of itself; we not only know, but know that we know. Theology is ultimately our attempt to articulate spiritual experience and express it in cultural terms … we experience a lurking transcendent presence, particularly in the natural material world”
    – Paul Collins

    I have written a fair bit on this topic too..

    http://ropata.wordpress.com/2008/02/22/theodicy-and-a-science-faith-synthesis/

    http://ropata.wordpress.com/2006/11/24/pop-goes-the-fulminating-atheist-bubble/

    http://ropata.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/nietzsche-is-dead/

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  57. Dale,

    There is clearly no point in “discussing” this with you, as you don’t take on board what people have said. You merely keep repeating yourself and side-stepping.

    Yes, you are special pleading: I’m not “accusing” you of it, you are doing it.

    There is ‘full/complete’ explanation at the natural level, and there is explanation (or lack of explanation – or [you’d say] lack of need for explanation!) at a teleological level.

    Completely ignored what I wrote. If it’s complete, it’s complete. There is no “extra level” of “stuff” to add to it. And if you do add “purpose” to it, it’ll break the explanation, so you cannot add any teleological stuff. That’s not optional by any sleigh of hand or word games you want to play.

    Completeness of natural explanation doesn’t prevent there being plenty of room for discussion about teleological explanation

    Completely ignored what I wrote and completely avoiding the meaning of the analogy I gave (you replaced with your own chosen meaning, not mine).

    BTW, your examples are inaccurate: to add something “teleological”, you’d have to add “purpose” somewhere.

    Etc, etc. Obviously a waste of time. I hope realise that you’re wasting your life trying to satisfy yourself that something might be true in the vein hope it’ll justify your beliefs, rather than be honest and just admit that your beliefs are just want to be true and you have no means of ever showing if they are true. That would at least be honest. All this stuff you’re giving here is all very dishonest, really.

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  58. ropata,

    You might want to look at your own mistakes before accusing others of mistakes.

    reducing faith in God to some kind of proto science I don’t see that Ken has done this.

    demanding that scientists bow to the imposed orthodoxy of your “modern scientific world-view” Again, I don’t see that Ken has done this; he has pointed out a view shared by many other scientists. He certainly isn’t “demanding” that others agree with him. (He wouldn’t anyway as he knows that’d never get far in science.)

    mixing philosophy of science with philosophy of life Special pleading is always a mistake: you’re trying to make your “philosophy” special and “different”.

    You seems to confuse philosophy with theology at points, e.g. while Dennett certainly backs philosophy (he is a philosopher, after all, so he would), he isn’t backing theology. In fact in the very same book your quote is from he disabuses “philosophical theology” quite emphatically. The objection to philosophy by people who understand the issue, isn’t to philosophy in itself, but how it is (mis)used by those with agendas (e.g. those wanting to “prove” their religious beliefs).

    (Collin’s words don’t really say anything, it’s just nice-sounding rhetoric, so there isn’t much to say about them!)

    Yet another mistake is to assert that “Naturally, scientific observations proceed in a reductive, controlled environment. “ Yeah, right ;-) Ever tried doing actual work on actual real-world data? Didn’t think so…

    Point made? ;-)

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  59. Heraclides,
    All right, my first 2 bullet points were hastily written at work, based on a skim of this thread. Now I’ve had time to read it properly… but the 3rd bullet point is still a kicker. You wrote:
    Special pleading is always a mistake: you’re trying to make your “philosophy” special and “different”.

    How is it special pleading? Ken wrote in the main article:
    So, in practice there is still some degree of accommodation between science and religion. Believing scientists can compartmentalize their different teleological and naturalist thinking. (although it seemed to make him queasy!)

    Yet another mistake is to assert that “Naturally, scientific observations proceed in a reductive, controlled environment. “ Yeah, right ;-) Ever tried doing actual work on actual real-world data? Didn’t think so…
    This actually reinforces my point (and yes i do live in the messiness of everyday life)… reality is is bigger, more mysterious, and more wonderful than a reductive, mechanistic, skeptical mind cares to admit.

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  60. Similarly, we can give a full/complete biological explanation for evolution of species, but we can also give a metaphysical/philosophical/ethical explanation why we think we shouldn’t eat other humans, or more than ‘x’ amount of meat, etc. Different kinds of explanations.
    Different subjects as well – logical fallacy of false analogy ;-)

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  61. alison,
    I cheerfully agree that indeed biology and ethics are different subjects; and I didn’t intend to frame the analogy that way. But still there are different ways of considering (for example) a cow. One way seeks to explain the cow’s physical nature (biology), whilst other ways seek to explain the cow’s worth/value or proper use (ethics/metaphysics/philosophy/tradition/etc.).

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  62. ropata,

    You asked: How is it special pleading? I told you; read what I wrote.

    This actually reinforces my point (and yes i do live in the messiness of everyday life)… reality is is bigger, more mysterious, and more wonderful than a reductive, mechanistic, skeptical mind cares to admit.

    Sorry, but I laughed out loud at this. No it doesn’t, you’ve got your argument backwards. I pointed out that reality is (to be brief) “messy” as every scientist knows and works with, which was the opposite of what you earlier claimed. You are now trying to say that “it”s messy”, but skeptic don’t think so, but I just pointed that they do!! This doesn’t support you at all. What it does show is that you’re trying ever so hard to make straw men to “attack” that your logic is all upside-down and backwards.

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  63. But still there are different ways of considering …

    Still desperately trying to find a way of “adding” your metaphysical “philosophy”, so that you can then justify your religion. It’s all a bit sad.

    Why don’t you just say “I want to load what I see in the world with my own value judgements to justify my religion”. It may not be comfortable for you, but at least it’s honest.

    BTW you haven’t shown that these two things are linked or related in your example, you’ve just given another example of unrelated things, essentially repeating your error in a different form. I said earlier that I’m not convinced you actually take on board what others say. You just seem to “make noises” that you hope sound good to others to (in your eyes) placate other’s arguments, then just go on saying what you want to say without actually taking on board what they’ve said.

    Ethics/metaphysics/”philosophy” doesn’t “link” or “add to” the physical description of a cow; they are loaded on top of it, to satisfy an human want, one that was set earlier. (I’ll read the ‘philosophy’ in this context to mean theology as otherwise it won’t fit.)

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  64. Ropata – I can’t actually understand what the problem is. It seems that you are attacking straw men, rather than engaging either with the message of this book or my comments in the review.

    You seem to have it in for science, somehow. Science occurs in the real messy world – only sometimes can this be “in a reductive, controlled environment.” Either you don’t understand science or want to unfairly demean it.

    And where did I talk about science disproving god?? You miss the whole point of the book. This was that for science to actually occur there had to be a philosophical break with design (with teleology or the gods which has no real explanatory power) and humanity had to look for its understanding of reality within reality itself. This is the “naturalist” approach which has been so successful. You and I benefit from this scientific philosophy.

    And, no, science was not “a gift of Christianity” that you suggest in one of your articles. This book and my review point this out. The scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th century was a return to the scientific philosophy of the early Greeks.

    If we are going to make claims like this maybe the dark ages preceding the scientific revolution was the real gift of Christianity? Or perhaps, as Richard carrier suggests, Christianity was just the beneficiary of that period of anti-scientific mysticism, rather than the cause.

    But Christianity certainly wasn’t the origins of science.

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  65. Attilla the Hun and Genghis Khan had more to do with the Dark Ages. Who transmitted the ancient manuscripts, and sponsored the medieval scholars, laying the foundation for the scientific revolution? – the Church.

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  66. Ropata – that is just Christian chauvinism. How could the Christian church have provided the basis for something that preceded it?

    Epicurus and the ancient Greeks? Before Christ?

    Have we got to somehow forget all this science, Archimedes, Pythagoras, etc., etc., because the Church says so?

    And we owe a great debt to the medieval Islamists for preserving and translating the Greeks.

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  67. Also, I hold no grudge against science; I majored in it.

    where did I talk about science disproving god??
    See the cartoon attached to your article.

    I find this quote by atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel to be refereshingly honest and self-aware:

    I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is not a God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. …My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.

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  68. ropata,

    I think you’d find the sponsorship of both the arts and science through that period had at least as much to do with the royal courts and wealthy individuals, as the church (and possibly more so). It’s a bit of a stereotype that all “research” was done in monasteries and it’s often over-played, as you are. It also “forgets” what went on before the churches existed as Ken pointed out.

    What would be refreshing honest would be for people to face up to things that they want to be true but have no means of proving and simply say that they are things that they want to be true, but have no means of proving.

    Incidentally, that’s one reason why many scientists say that they can’t formally disprove gods exist, even if they might like to. But remember: these same people point out that there is no proof that gods exist, either. They’re being honest.

    Many of these people, myself included, would point out that you can formally show that the existence of gods is exceptionally unlikely to the point that it’s not realistic to consider that gods could exist, given that simpler and more obvious solutions exist to the various things that people offer as examples of evidence their particular god(s) exist.

    Of course that’s not new. It’s exactly the same reason why you would “rule out” the Norse gods, for example. You can’t make an exception for the Christian god, the same logic applies as you’d apply to the Norse gods (or whatever other gods you’d choose).

    BTW, your quote is neither here nor there in terms of favouring one “side or other”. It’d equally honest for me to say that “I see good arguments that show that the existence of gods is exceptionally unlikely to the point that it’s not realistic to consider that they do”, if that’s what I’ve found.

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  69. I still don’t see it. That cartoon was a takeoff of the Templeton foundation and how it is used to try to harmonise religion into science. It says nothing about science disproving religion – rather criticising Jesus and Mo for doing the opposite, surely.

    Thomas Nagel might appeal to you – because of your beliefs. But don’t go away thinking it represents me at all. I find it rather weak on the part of theists to go in for this sort of quote mining. I realise that there are apologetics sites which go out of their way to provide out-of-context quotes – and some of them consider this “research.” But I have much more respect for people who can discuss these issues properly without resorting to quotes of this sort.

    And really – how the hell does this quote relate to the book or the review?

    My comment about your apparent disapproval of science as based on your characterisation of it as: “scientific observations proceed in a reductive, controlled environment. But life is not so prophylactic! “ Quite different to my experience.

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  70. Ken,
    Ancient Greece, Islam, China, India all made contributions to human advancement, but the scientific revolution of circa the sixteenth century occurred in a Christian culture… it’s not chauvinism to state the obvious. It’s an annoying trend in popular culture to deprecate the achievements of Christian Europe and overstate the contributions of others (Islam particularly).

    Heraclides,
    What would be refreshing honest would be for people to face up to things that they want to be true but have no means of proving and simply say [so..]
    Well nobody here is trying to prove God, however you seem to be making metaphysical statements on behalf of pure empiricism.. such as:
    Treat the natural processes as they are and you’ll see that they are not teleological: natural processes don’t “serve a purpose” in the manner that you are wanting them to.

    This is imposing a philosophical framework. Sure science claims to measure things “as they are” but in fact it is simply an artefact of the human mind (as Kant argued in his “Critique of Pure Reason“).

    Also, you seem partial to a bit of quote mining too.. when I said “science proceeds in a reductive, controlled environment” you immediately jumped to all sorts of conclusions, none of which were correct. Surely a controlled environment is how researchers prefer things.. and the scientific method necessarily requires some kind of coherent procedure in order to form hypotheses.
    (Unless extrapolating from a sample size of 1 is your normal approach?! :D )

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  71. More strawmen, but now trying to put other meanings onto others’ words. You point at wanting honesty, but move on to this… you’re hardly leading by example in my book.

    but the scientific revolution of circa the sixteenth century occurred in a Christian culture

    So? This doesn’t say that only it occurred just because of Christian activities. I referred to this earlier.

    Well nobody here is trying to prove G-d, however you seem to be making metaphysical statements on behalf of pure empiricism.

    My statements were neither “metaphysical” nor “imposing a philosophical framework”. Try not framing others with things that they are not doing.

    Also, you seem partial to a bit of quote mining too.. when I said “science proceeds in a reductive, controlled environment” you immediately jumped to all sorts of conclusions, none of which were correct.

    Framing me again. Read my reply, please. I did not quote mine you. The sentence I quoted was complete, accurate and stood on its own without needing further context. Nor did I “jump to conclusions”. My reply didn’t even state a conclusion to start with. It hinted that you were missing something, letting you fill in the hint yourself.

    Incidentally you’ve misquoted yourself. You originally wrote scientific observations proceed in a reductive, controlled environment”, now you say, incorrectly, that you wrote: science proceeds in a reductive, controlled environment” (my emphasis, pointing to what has changed). Before you protest, please note you placed quote marks around your misquote, i.e. stating that this was a literal reading of your previous words. The two are saying different things: science refers to the whole enterprise, scientific observations refer one thing used in examining a subject matter.

    To clarify for you (as you seem confused), not all subject matters can be examined in a “reductive, controlled environment”, but this does not mean that they cannot be examined in a scientific manner.

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  72. One more, for fun (and take it in good humour, please):

    It’s an annoying trend in Christian culture to overinflate the achievements of Christian Europe (or just Christians in general) and understate or ignore the contributions of others (Islam particularly).

    Point is: even if you’re right, this goes both ways. (Hence my earlier answer regards sponsorship.)

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  73. Ropata said reality is is bigger, more mysterious, and more wonderful than a reductive, mechanistic, skeptical mind cares to admit. & later that science/scientific method is reductive. I’d like to point out that many scientists are not reductionists in the way that seems to be implied here – modern work in genetics, for example, shows how flawed the reductionist approach is when it comes to understanding how things work, & the same is true for ecology (& much else besides). Nor are skeptics by defintion reductionist in our approach to the world. (& understanding how a rainbow is formed doesn’t lessen our enjoyment and appreciation of its beauty ;-))

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  74. Metaphysics, by any other name would smell as sweet? More confusion, than explanation?

    http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/

    Terminal shrinkage may be deserved, though we are too polite to say so.

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  75. Yes – I enjoyed the article. Was thinking of doing a post on it.

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  76. I enjoyed this discussion too :) Thanks for the clarification alison.

    Heraclides, I do interpret / distil people’s comments with my own perspective, but it’s not an attempt to reframe the argument … merely a statement of my personal thoughts.

    Another quote I find problematic:
    “Reason, science, and human freedom only truly commence, as Epicurus recognised in antiquity, once the gods have at last been banished from the earth.”

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  77. Ropata – I think you have to read that sentence as somewhat metaphorical or poetic.

    To me it means that we need to base our reason, science and political concepts on realism. On the real world. Basing our understanding on “super-naturalist,” non-“naturalistic” explanations has traditionally prevented reason and science – and been used to justify non-democratic concepts.

    I don’t read this as literally “banning” belief in gods (after all, didn’t Epicurus still believe in gods?). Rather to stop using them as explanations.

    In effect the more advanced societies in today’s world have, to some extent, reached this situation. Basing their societies on freedom, reason, science and technology – but in no way outlawing personal religious beliefs. More accommodating them. (Or is it that the more liberal forms of religion have accommodated science, reason and freedom?)

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  78. ropata,

    You literally reframed others’ words, ironically including your own, so there is little point in trying to make out that you didn’t. You certainly did not “distil” my words: you recast them entirely.

    You are most welcome to present your own views, but it is very (intellectually) dishonest to reframe others’ words and I will object if you reframe mine and I think “fair enough”, too.

    You may well be blinded by a need or want to recast others’ words, in which case you would do well to see what it is that you are doing and try avoid it.

    Alison, I agree. (It’s what I was referring to in writing not all subject matters can be examined in a “reductive, controlled environment”, but this does not mean that they cannot be examined in a scientific manner.) Good thinking to add the missing point about appreciating beauty, etc., doesn’t “go away” with a reductionist” approach to understanding how things work.

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  79. Ken,

    I share the same reading of Epicurus’ words as with his “banished” being figurative carrying the meaning in the context of “from all arguments”, “from all explanations”.

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  80. Wow, I’m recasting, reframing, dishonest, and blind! I didn’t realize I was so devious! (meanwhile, I note that you’re happily recasting the words of Epicurus..) :P

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  81. ropata,

    You are increasingly coming across as a j–k who likes to accuse people of things that they haven’t done. Why don’t you go and check the real meaning of Epicurus’ words for yourself?

    My understanding is that Epicurus believed that the gods lived lives completely independent from men and the godsd had nothing to do with the “affairs of man”. He also believed that the world was entirely derived from atoms, i.e. no “input” from gods. (The atoms referred to are, of curse, the ancient Greek sort, not the modern concept with the same name.) He also considered that people that sought to “explain” natural things using “gods” were corrupted by their superstitions. Basically, he considered that the gods of his day didn’t exist “on earth”, nor had anything to do with the earth and people on earth and when people “brought them to earth” in their arguments and beliefs, nonsense resulted, hence his wish to “banish them from earth”. It’s not literal, but in terms of people’s arguments and beliefs.

    So, no I am not recasting his words. (My guess is that you are blindly repeating what others have told you, instead of checking the facts for yourself. And again I would suggest you test your want to recast, “correct”, etc., others’ words without checking the facts.)

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  82. Heraclides,
    I have been attempting to elaborate & build my thinking in this discussion.. just as you have elaborated on the Epicurus quote. It’s just a blog thread so not all of my comments come with extensive reasearch!

    Science has given much to humanity, but I also think disciples of science should be aware of its limitations, philosophy and assumptions. Some disciplines are very empirical, others (eg. psychology) can benefit from ideas beyond the material, Epicurean view.

    By and large I agree with the main article and comments.. people should work out social issues democratically, this process should naturally be informed by their values, and spiritual perspectives should not be excluded.

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  83. have been attempting to elaborate & build my thinking in this discussion.. just as you have elaborated on the Epicurus quote. So, it appears you “decided” what Epicurus meant without bothering to check what he meant, even after others suggested otherwise. But, whatever.

    You try to close by only asking for caution to be applied to science, “forgetting” that it equally applies to philosophy, if not more so as in many ways philosophy is considerably more limited than science. It’s a key reason people moved on from using just philosophy on it’s own in trying to work out how things are…

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  84. Ropata – you claim “Some disciplines are very empirical, others (eg. psychology) can benefit from ideas beyond the material, Epicurean view.”

    Now that seems to me to show a rejection of the point of the book. That the scientific revolution is really based on a return to “materialism/naturalism.” Now, I make it very clear that I don’t use those words in the naive, narrow and mechanical way that many opponents of science do (see my article).

    Freud is identified by the design propoentns as an enemy precisely because he did this in the stiudy of the mind.

    To suggest that psychology could “benefit from ideas beyond the material, Epicurean view” seems to me to be advocating a return to pre-scientific ideas of psychology.

    Where the hell would that get us? What the hell, precisely, do you mean by these “ideas.”

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  85. Perhaps the theory of some disciplines can be developed in complete abstractions but in practice humans are subjective creatures. Not everybody discounts the possibility of miracles, or reduces spirituality to chemicals in the brain.

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  86. Surely the concept of humans as subjective creatures comes out of investigating humans as really existing beings. That is adopting a scientific (naturalist) approach.

    Miracles? What the hell are they? Surely if we have an unexplained phenomenon, we have an unexplained phenomenon – and that’s how we should describe it. “Don’t know” is a good answer in science. We usually then add: “Lets find out.”

    Attribution of a miracle label, to me, is very arrogant. It’s saying: “You don’t know but I do. And its magic, so you just can’t explain it, can you!!”

    Just look at the “miracles” of the past – so many of them are just natural to us today.

    Now when it comes to things like “spirituality” – if we are going to understand it this will surely be by investigating the brain/body/environment. What else is there? Just not investigate, call it magical and arrogantly dictate that you have an “explanation?” Humans have got past that, surely?

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  87. Humans really exist. Our perceptions really exist. Our perceptions point to a spiritual realm. That’s how we measure it – by subjective experience — not with physics theorems (sorry Scott!).

    The Bible explains who God is and how this spiritual stuff works. It’s not a monolithic system dictated from outer space, but some insights compiled over millennia. It is not arrogant to place one’s trust in the God of the Bible, nor to make exclusive truth claims. It is basic logic.

    I think the Christian faith is a reasonable interpolation from diverse evidence, not a leap in the dark. I don’t say I have all the truth, but I believe I have glimpsed it.

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  88. Humans really exist.

    Demonstrable.

    Our perceptions really exist.

    Really need to accurately define ‘perceptions’ first, but it’s going to be moot anyway at the next point, so let’s not worry about it.

    Our perceptions point to a spiritual realm.

    A flat-out assertion that doesn’t follow from the previous points or has any sound evidence supporting it. In years of religious people claiming this is true, I’ve never once seen any evidence that would support this that could stand up to the slightest examination.

    The Bible explains

    “Someone says” (someone as in the men who wrote the bible), does not demonstrate something is true, it is the evidence, if any, presented that does (or doesn’t. Again, In years of religious people claiming this is true, I’ve never once seen any evidence that would support “that G-d exists” that could stand up to the slightest examination.

    It is not arrogant to […] make exclusive truth claims.

    It’s arrogant for anyone to, on any subject. I would recommend you think about that.

    It is basic logic.

    Nope. There is no logic in what you’re presenting. Only wishful thinking.

    I gather from the latter link that you were so taken back by a simple “I don’t know”, that you “had” to write an extended piece hopeful of “defending” your belief! Bizarre. Anyway… All the claims (not evidence, you don’t present any) you present have at best a lack of evidence supporting them (leaving the claim moot) and in most cases strong evidence against them (refuting the claim). To understand this you would need to honestly read the evidence against them. Trouble is, I can’t see you seriously trying to.

    The main “defence” your “evidence” has, isn’t the points (they’re easy to defeat), but that it’s a written Gish Gallop, where you throw up so many claims in short sentences as flat assertions with no backing (i.e. you present no actual evidence, just claims), then ask others to refute (falsely shifting the burden of proof) of what you haven’t even established to start with. Of course, refuting these would take many pages, which is beyond most people’s time: there lies the real “defence”.

    Instead, try looking for the answers yourself, e.g. one starting point might be: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/index.html

    Good luck, but I’d like to see you make an honest effort of considering all the evidence, rather than just what supports the beliefs you want to hold. Man enough to try? ;-)

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  89. Thanks Heraclides, but I don’t feel a need to construct a perfect systematic theology or to answer your “manly” challenge.

    I’ve never once seen any evidence
    There is a universe of evidence, but deciding to accept it is a personal choice. If you didn’t find my points convincing, David Robertson lists another 10 ; the Catholic Encyclopedia is pretty comprehensive too.

    My experiences of God are sacred and beautiful. I’m interested in understanding and harmonizing the things I have learned. It would be arrogant for me to dismiss the life-changing blessings of Christ in my life. Should the mind always rule the heart?

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  90. BTW Are you trying to send me on a Gish Gallop across T.O ? Sorry that approach does not apply. I am already a fan of Talk.Origins, and I’m quite familiar with their index to creationist claims. Did you know that one or two of the academic contributors to that site are Christians also? The site is specifically aimed at those who hold to a peculiar interpretation of Genesis and have been brainwashed by AiG or the like.

    It’s arrogant for anyone to [make exclusive truth claims], on any subject.
    There is no logic in what you’re presenting. Only wishful thinking.
    Well, your selective quoting cast an unintended slant to my actual comment, but never mind. My point was that for A to be true then “not A” must be false (i.e. basic logic).

    I essentially said “I think A, I believe A, I trust in A, but I don’t have all the truth” and you STILL say that’s arrogant? Is any statement (claim) of belief arrogant?

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  91. ropata,
    Heraclides will not allow himself to consider that any statements any theist ever says to ever make any sense. I have little time for blogging now a days, and even less time for engagement like that.

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  92. My experiences of God are sacred and beautiful. I’m interested in understanding and harmonizing the things I have learned. It would be arrogant for me to dismiss the life-changing blessings of Christ in my life. Should the mind always rule the heart?

    My experiences of The Flying Spaghetti Monster are sacred and beautiful. I’m interested in understanding and harmonizing the things I have learned. It would be arrogant for me to dismiss the life-changing blessings of His Noodliness in my life. Should the mind always rule the heart?

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  93. Ropata – “Our perceptions point to a spiritual realm. That’s how we measure it – by subjective experience — not with physics theorems (sorry Scott!).”

    That might satisfy you – and that’s OK. But it’s completely unconvincing to me.

    What I am saying is that it is pointless to make such assertions to me unless you can back them up in depth. I my life I have hear many, many claims based on personal perceptions. Very often when tested precisely these perceptions prove to be nothing more than illusions – attempts to justify preconceived beliefs. I have seen that again in again with claims made for products in agriculture, cosmetics, etc.

    I am perfectly OK with you having a belief or a delusion. With you feeling that your “experiences of God are sacred and beautiful.”

    But if you are wanting to use this subjective experience to engage with me in a discussion about science or philosophy you need to deal with specifics. otherwise there is no point in the discussion, is there?

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  94. Dale,

    Don’t put words in my mouth, you are incorrect. What I do is respond to what is written. If what is written makes no sense or is incorrect, I’m inclined to point it out. If what is written is fine or correct, there isn’t any need for me to comment.

    If creationists are so bothered by my replies, they should take a look at what they wrote that I replied to.

    You are attacking me, rather than my reply.

    ropata,

    Thanks Heraclides, but I don’t feel a need to construct a perfect systematic theology or to answer your “manly” challenge.

    If you are unwilling to examine the truth of your own claims, then you cannot claim them to be true ;-)

    Well, your selective quoting cast an unintended slant to my actual comment, but never mind.

    No, it doesn’t. Please stop your feeble attempts to accuse me of misquoting you. I removed an unrelated subclause. Go on, look at it. Your sentence makes two claims, only one of which I wanted to refer to. You could literally break that sentence into two and carry the exact same meaning.

    I essentially said “I think A, I believe A, I trust in A, but I don’t have all the truth” and you STILL say that’s arrogant? Is any statement (claim) of belief arrogant?

    This is not what you wrote earlier to which I replied; making out that this is what I replied to this is (mis)framing my reply. I replied to point out that it is arrogant for anyone to make exclusive truth claims. Ironically your statement immediately above could be read as agreeing with me, which contradicts your earlier claim that it is not arrogant. Which do you want?

    To be clear: note I did not reply a claim of belief I replied to “making exclusive truth claims”, a very different thing.

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  95. “The more I examine the universe, and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the Universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”
    — Freeman Dyson

    “A bottom-up approach to cosmology either requires one to postulate an initial state of the Universe that is carefully fine-tuned — as if prescribed by an outside agency — or it requires one to invoke the notion of eternal inflation, a mighty speculative notion to the generation of many different Universes, which prevents one from predicting what a typical observer would see.”
    — Stephen Hawking

    “Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”
    — Paul Tillich, “Saturday Evening Post”

    “God gave us a curiosity to understand his creation. I don’t think we need to worry that we will move into an exploration that will embarrass him.”
    — Francis Collins

    Faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation. True, at times the questions they raise may seem difficult or even painful. However, we can take heart in knowing that God is not threatened by science; rather, science can lead us to a better understanding of Him.

    Ultimately, science is not the only source of truth, and scientific truth does not conflict with the understanding of the world that religion provides.

    God exists. The picture of reality given us by science in no way diminishes his glory.

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  96. Don’t expect any engagement in detail with those links, ropata – just easy, casual, simple dismissiveness. I’ve even been told on this blog (a commenter, not Ken) that Francis Collins is not a ‘real’ scientist.

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  97. God exists.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists.
    (yawn)

    Provide some evidence or get in the sack.

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  98. ropata:

    Quotes in themselves often mean little. You could reply to each in turn “so?” as none of these really substantiate anything. It’s the evidence backing any claim that makes it worth noting or not.

    I may sound very earnest, but “asking questions” will get you nowhere if you don’t try answer them! Answering them involving examining evidence for and against the possible answers. You seem quite unprepared to do that, so you’re never going to know…

    (The Hawking quote isn’t in the same context as the other quotes by the way, it’s not a reference to their needing to be a “G-d” or not.)

    G-d exists.

    Without evidence, it’s either an empty claim or a belief (something you would like to be true, which may or may not be). Without being able to present evidence for the claim, you can’t make the claim as an assertion, as you have. It’d be more correct (and honest) to write, I would like to belief that G-d exists. (It would be more honest still to also append ‘but I have no evidence to back this, and I acknowledge that.’)

    Regards the first link, there are many sources explaining the fallacies in the biologos arguments. Rather repeat them, I’d point out that again you are not trying to look at both sides of an argument, only what backs the belief you wish to hold. I’m out of time to try track the links for you, but really it’s your homework, not mine (you’re the one making the claim after all) and they shouldn’t be hard to find as Collins’ biologos website is something of a “hot” topic.

    Regards the second link, The arguments raised again are arguments that have to refuted again and again. Ken has discussed the fine-tuning argument on this blog, even and the “well-ordered” thing is nonsense. Again, try look at both sides. You can’t claim to know you are right by selectively picking what suits you.

    The “glory” one is interesting in that it’s easy to show this is a human trait that has nothing to do with religion, but that religions have cleverly used for thousands of years. Man has always been impressed by scale. Stand on a tall cliff or look up at a high mountain: anyone, regardless of “faith” or not, are impressed. I could go on, but the follow-on is pretty obvious. (The “G-d’s answer” aspect of the article in the link is bunk as it’s “inserted” with no reasoning for it being their other than the wishes of the religious person who wrote it.)

    Dale,

    Stop trying to put words in my mouth, please. It seems that’s all you are able to do. I strikes me that it probably means you are unable to interact with the points I’ve raised and are resorting to playing me, not the things I say. Why don’t you go read what I’ve written. They do actually address what ropata is writing.

    If you have nothing to contribute, then contribute nothing perhaps? I at least am contributing something, which a heck of a lot more than nothing!

    It is a fact that Collin is an administrator, go check it for yourself. From what I’ve read he left research science at a relatively young age to take up an administrative position and hasn’t been a research scientist for a very long time. That in itself doesn’t say anything about his views, but it does seem to be correct. It’s not an uncommon thing for post-graduates to find after some time that they are not really suited to research science and to move to administration. Sometimes this can reflect a lack of job opportunities, esp. in the USA where the tenure system is very important for university research or teaching careers. It also can reflect a lack of skill or motivation or inclination.

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  99. Cedric – liked your reference to the sack.

    I must put up some of those videos in a post – they are great.

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  100. Ropata – quote mining is a pretty low form of “discussion.” Completely the opposite to scientific rumination and speculation. It’s the prime method used by creationists and apologists – and anyone who wants to select or twist evidence to “prove” a preconceived position.

    Really, it might give you some satisfaction but it doesn’t advance your arguments (or even present thenm) – quite the opposite. My reaction to quote mining is that the person actually has a very weak position and refuses to engage with real discussion. I suspect that might be a common reaction – so why bother?

    Dale – I don’t know what your problem is. You are, of course, wrong. Most scientifically inclined people here seem to delight in engaging with details and facts. But quote mining doesn’t come in that category.

    If someone want’s to discuss fine tuning, great – present their own position. I can engage with that. But its not worth engaging with a link or quote.

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  101. The discussion here might interest some: http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2009/09/ways_of_knowing.php

    In particular, it distinguishes a “way of learning” from a “way of knowing.”

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  102. I provided quotes to show that however much some people dislike it, the idea of purpose to our existence is entirely reasonable, there is empirical evidence to support that thesis, and some eminent academics attest to the same. I’m not trying to offer conclusive proof, just some evidence.

    Human perceptions of purpose, fine-tuning, beauty, transcendence are intrinsic to our fascination with science. You can’t separate our perceptions from “ultimate” reality.

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  103. The problem with quotes, though, Ropata is that they don’t show anything. They don’t provide any argument to me that “purpose to our existence is entirely reasonable.” partly because I am well aware that quotes out of context don’t necessarily represent what an individual thinks or is arguing. Also because I am well aware that there is a rich variation in human attitudes and thinking on such matters.

    I prefer to deal with the issues myself (which may, of course, involve reading such authors in detail).

    I can’t, and won’t engage with mined quotes. But I am always eager to discuss such issues if people can present their own arguments and reasoning. For example I have written a few articles on fine tuning – e.g. Fiddling with “fine-tuning”, Fine tuning of the universe? and Fine tuning argument.

    I have read Lee Smolin’s “The Life of the Cosmos” (and his more recent “The trouble with Physics”) that you link to. I enjoy his writing and found his evolutionary model for explaining the values of physical constants interesting – especially as he is able to drag in some empirical data to support it.

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  104. @ Ropata: Well, those quotes aren’t ‘evidence’ of purpose – they are statements by people who appear to take the view that there is purpose – not the same thing. Since the Hawking quote offers only an apparent dichotomy, it doesn’t tell us which side of that particular fence he comes down on, & so is even less ‘evidence’.

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  105. ropata,

    I’m with Ken and Alison on this as I was saying “none of these really substantiate anything”, even if it was a little buried in the text of what I wrote! :-)

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