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Category Archives: religionImage
Apparently Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig went head to head this weekend on the question of “the existence of God in light of contemporary cosmology.”
Usually I think these sort of debates are a waste of time but am keen to see the video of this one – it will be on Youtube eventually. In previous debates Craig attempts to use cosmology to “prove” the existence of his god (I use the word “use” as meaning very opportunist use of motivated reasoning). In most debates his opponents are usually not completely familiar with modern cosmology and he gets away with murder in his misrepresentation of the science.
But Sean Carroll is a different proposition. Not only is Sean a researcher and teacher in cosmology he is also an excellent communicator of science. His recent book, The Particle at the End of the Universe, won last year’s Royal Society Winton Prize for best science book (see The particle at the end of the universe’ wins Winton Prize).
Nor is he intimidated by Craig’s acknowledged debating skills. He says in a blog post before the debate:
“You can find some of WLC’s thoughts on the upcoming event at his Reasonable Faith website. One important correction I would make to what you will read there: Craig and his interlocutor Kevin Harris interpret my statement that “my goal here is not to win the debate” as a strategy to avoid dealing with WLC’s arguments, or as “a way to lower expectations.” Neither is remotely true. I want to make the case for naturalism, and to do that it’s obviously necessary to counter any objections that get raised. Moreover, I think that expectations (for me) should be set ridiculously high. The case I hope to make for naturalism will be so impressively, mind-bogglingly, breathtakingly strong that it should be nearly impossible for any reasonable person to hear it and not be immediately convinced. Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if there are any theists left in the audience once the whole thing is over.”
I think his tongue was in his cheek with the last sentence.
His suggestion for viewers:
“Feel free to organize viewing parties, celebrations, discussion groups, what have you. There should definitely be a drinking game involved (it’ll be happy hour on the West Coast, you lightweights), but I’ll leave the details to you. Suggested starting points: drink every time WLC uses a syllogism, or every time I show an equation. But be sure to have something to eat, first.”
Thanks to God and Cosmology Debate with W.L. Craig
Some readers may be familiar with the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” petition organised by the Discovery Institute. It’s a classic example of trying to decide science by petition. The petition still gets trundled out by creationists attempting to “prove’ that the acceptance of evolutionary science is weak in the scientific community – or that many “brilliant” scientists oppose Darwin’s ideas.
Six years ago I did my own brief analysis of signatories to the petition specifically to check their scientific credentials (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?). I really only looked at a sample (those with the first name Steve, and the three from New Zealand).
The other day in my surfing I came across another analysis of these signatories at Rational Wiki (see A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism). This appears to have attempted to check the credentials of everyone on the list. It is worth having a browse to get an idea of what motivates these people..
By the way, I came across a new term I have not heard before - Wingnut welfare.
It is worth doing this sort of analysis when you come across similar petitions – the are common with those wanting to deny the current scientific consensus on an issue. Petitions like this have been produced by climate change deniers and opponents of fluoridation.
I recently reported the data from our last census showing the decline of the numbers of Christians in New Zealand, and the associated increase in people declaring they have no religion (see Census 2013 – religious diversity). It’s interesting to consider the consequences if the trend continues. As the graph below shows, the”crossover point” (when the number of Christians = the number of No religion) will occur in 2016 – only 2 years away. Christianity itself will decline even further so that in about 20 years it will likely have only 20% of the census responses.
I think most people now accept that secularisation in the modern pluralist, democratic societies is a fact. (Although Christian apologist WL Craig still clutches at straws to deny this – see Philosopher reveals his predictions for the future of Christianity in America). Only the reasons for this are debated.
Of course, there is not going to be just one factor – life is never that simple. But one that interests me is changes in the way we perceive the representatives of religion. In my younger years I was quite happy to respect religious leaders – and give to religious charities. Despite my rejection of their beliefs I still held a certain amount of trust in those leaders. But not any more – and I think I am not alone in this.
Gallup recently released results of their latest poll of American’s attitudes towards professions (see Honesty and Ethics Rating of Clergy Slides to New Low). The poll asks people to rate the honesty and ethics of people in different fields. Gallup reported:
“Americans’ rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47%, the first time this rating has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67% in 1985.”
The graph below demonstrates this decline of trust in clergy.
Again, the decline in rating of the honest and ethics of religious clergy will probably have multiple causes. Sex abuse in the church will be a significant cause. As will attempts to promote outdated and inhumane attitudes on moral issues.
For me another strong cause of declining trust is the way that prominent Christian leaders and their news media will flagrantly misrepresent science – particularly evolutionary science . I agree, those specific leaders might not be representative of all Christians (who is), but these other Chrsitians seem unwilling to criticise them.
How can one maintain trust in people who knowingly misrepresent well established scientific facts and ideas? And how can one maintain trust in their associates who remain silent about that misrepresentation?
Statistics New Zealand has released preliminary figures for religious affiliation from the 2013 census.
The raw figures show for the major affiliations (Christian and No religion) the following:
It is interesting to compare the last census figures with those for the previous four.
As we can see, the godless trend has continued unabated.
One thing for sure – Christians can no longer claim to make up the majority of the country’s population.
*Double Dipping arises from people putting down more than one answer to the question. Eg – “Born again” and “Assembly of God.” It most probably occurs for the Christian, rather than No religious group. If this is the case we should adjust the Christian total to 1,879,671 - 101,733 = 1,777,938.
This would cut Christians as a proportion of the total population to 41.9%.
The No religion is accordingly 37.7%.
The other major religions have Hindu – 2.1%, Buddhist – 1.4% and Islam – 1.1%.
For more detail see 2013 Census where tables of data can be downloaded.
I enjoyed this video.
It is a full lecture but well worth watching – especially if you are interested in the science-religion debates.
Sean Carroll presents these cosmological arguments well – and his analysis is far more up to date – and “with it” than those theologians who venture into the area. Just compare this with the rubbish W. L. Craig comes out with.
This lecture really puts the theological argument that God is a “better explanation” of life than the multiverse into perspective.
Credit: Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.
I am spending some time dealing with family business so I am reposting some of my past book reviews over the next few days. These could be useful with Christmas coming up. Victor Stenger has a very useful series of books on the relationship between science and religion. He is a very clear writer, combining a knowledge of the philosophy and history of science with stories from his own research experience in particle physics. This is, I think, his second to last book – I have yet to put up my review of his latest – God and the Atom.
Book Review: God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion by Victor Stenger. Price: US13.46; NZ$22.60 Paperback: 408 pages Publisher: Prometheus Books; Original edition (April 24, 2012) Language: English ISBN-10: 1616145994 ISBN-13: 978-1616145996 Victor Stenger wrote recently: “A majority of scientists at all levels do not believe in any god. Yet most are unwilling to challenge the religious beliefs of others.” That’s also my impression. The situation reminds me of our Prime Minister John Key’s reactions to many apparently important questions – “I’m relaxed about that”; “I’m comfortable with the situation” – even when we all know he should be taking problems more seriously.
Apathy of scientists
There really does seem to be a bit of confabulation going on here. Stenger describes what he calls “The party line among scientists- believers and non-believers alike -:”
“science and religion are what Stephen Jay Gould called “non-overlapping magisteria”. In 1998 the US National Academy of Sciences issued a statement asserting “Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”Yet according to a survey the same year, 93 per cent of the members of the academy do not believe in a personal god.”
As if this apathy were not bad enough it is accompanied by religious interest in co-opting science. Dan Barker, in his Forward to this book, describes the situation as “theistic mosquitoes buzzing around pretending to understand the science (and only managing to misrepresent it).” A personal experience recently bought this home to me. I did an internet search attempting to locate a specific quote of Galileo’s referring to the importance of deriving scientific ideas from the real world. Almost all the links returned were from theological writings, websites or blogs. I also notice that many theologians and philosophers of religion actively write and comment of scientific philosophy and history. Of course it’s good the theologically inclined take an interest in important fields outside their own. Even comment on them. But the inevitable ideological bias in such writings produces many anti-science ideas and ideologically motivated interpretations of history and philosophy. The apathy of scientists towards these issues means such ideas are not often challenged and sometimes squirm their way into academic writings on science method, philosophy and history. Stenger’s “God and the Folly of Faith” directly challenges many of those ideas. As Barker says Stenger “swats away the theistic mosquitoes”. His “unflinching and uncompromising attitude” and his scientific and philosophical background makes him ideal for the job. And, as the many readers of a long series of books* on science and pseudo science know, Victor Stenger’s writing style means the issues are communicated clearly and understandably.
Conflict – myths and reality
I have often commented that the “warfare model” of science and religion is a myth. That science and religion are not always and everywhere inevitably in conflict. This is the model that some of the theologically inclined attribute to anyone who sees any conflict between science and region. Such an extreme claim is obviously mythical – after all there are many scientists who are also religious. However, scientific and religious epistemology, “ways of knowing” are completely different. This leads to inevitable conflicts when the areas of interest of science and religion overlap. And they do – consider the debates over evolution, consciousness, life after death, and morality. The warfare model is often blamed on two books written in the 19th century: John William Draper’s History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science and Andrew Dickson White’s History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Stenger puts Whites book into context:
“His book was largely in reaction to attacks from the religious community for his refusal to impose religious tests on students and faculty” at Cornell University. “nevertheless, White’s efforts at Cornell helped lead to the conversion of the great private universities in America and Europe from the church-centered institutions they were originally to the secular ones they are today.”
”Modern historical scholars, some with ideological motives of their own” have been sharply critical of Draper’s and White’s books – but in the process have ignored, even covered up, the real ongoing conflict between science and religion. Stenger is quite clear – this epistemological conflict does sometime lead to real conflict and difficulties in acceptance of science. For example:
“many religious people will say they believe in evolution, but evolution guided by God. Darwinian evolution by natural selection, as the overwhelming majority of biologists now view it, is unguided.”
To introduce divine guidance into evolutionary science is to throw away a central part of that science.
This epistemological difference also shines through in the different approaches to reasoning. Stenger is adamant that:
“the conflict between science and religion should not be regarded as a conflict between reason and unreason” – as some people present it. “The distinction between theology and science is in the objects on which to apply reason. Nothing can be learned from reason alone. A logical argument contains no information not already embedded in its premises.Reason and logic must be supplement by additional hypotheses about the nature of reality and the sources of our knowledge about that reality. In the case of science. that source is solely observation. In the case of theology, that source is primarily faith, with some observation thrown in as long as it does not conflict with faith. Theology is faith-plus-reason, with some observation allowed. Science is observation-plus-reason, with no faith allowed.”
Faith-plus-reason quickly deteriorates to rationalisation supporting preconceived beliefs. There is no mechanism to keep one honest.
Some of the theistically inclined have a habit of claiming their religion (or their god) is responsible for so may things. From the “big bang” to human ethics. From human reason to social laws. And – something that gets up my nose – for modern science. Inevitably this creates conflict. An example are the snearing predictions of the content of “God and the Folly of Faith” made by critics at The Quodlibeta Forum. These included the forum’s administrator James Hannam – Catholic apologist and author of God’s Philosophers and The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution). Their predictions were wrong – because they relied on their own mythology about science, the history of science and atheism. Their active promotion of the myth of the conflict myth. By this I mean the habit of some students of history to vilify anyone who disagrees with their ideology-based histories as promoters of the “conflict thesis” – the idea that science and religion are always and inevitably in conflict. Of course the real world is not like that. Religion and science may be epistemologically exclusive but they are not always and inevitably in conflict. Nor is an author who writes about the history of science and religion guilty of promoting the “conflict thesis” because they are a scientist (rather than historian) or not a card-carrying religious apologist. Stenger is actually relatively balanced in his treatment of the relationship between science and religion throughout history.Where Stenger and Hannan deal with similar issues their factual history is basically the same. Mind you, interpretations of facts can differ – and ideology plays a role here. Hannam, for example, interprets the 1277 condemnations (a list of “errors,” issued by Bishop Tempier of Paris, which would lead to excommunication for anyone teaching or listening to them) as a good thing:
“placing limits around as subject is not the same as being against it.” The condemnations “protected natural philosophers from those who wanted to see their activities further curtailed . . philosophy was safe to develop in peace and without fear.” (from “God’s Philosophers”).
In contrast Stenger mentions that interpretation (a speculation of Pierre Duheim) but points out that in contrast the historian David Lindberg described the condemnations as “a ringing declaration of the subordination of philosophy to theology.” (28 – p 75) In fact , I think Stenger is so balanced that he has conceded too much in at least one case - his treatment of the history of the Galileo affair. He says that “Galileo brought much of his trouble on himself:”
“Galileo used a foolish character, foolishly named Simplicio, to express some arguments that had been advanced by Pope Urban VIII, a long-time friend and supporter of Galileo. The pope must have said, “We are not pleased.”” “Although the Inquisition had worked out what we today call a “plea agreement” that would have left Galileo with little more than a slap on the wrist, the Pope intervened in his case, and in 1633 Galileo was tried by the Inquisition, found guilty, and sentenced to house arrest.
It’s true that much of Galileo’s behaviour must have been provocative, but any balanced consideration should also include the pressure on Pope Urban to make an example of Galileo – hence his intervention. These included personal opposition within the Vatican as well as the reformation and the religious wars. As for the Simplico issue – this does not appear to have been an issue until after the trial. Historian Maurice Finnachiro (who specialises in the Galileo affair and the subsequent history of its reporting) writes in Retrying Galileo, 1633-1992:
” this accusation is not mentioned in any documents prior to December 1635; . . . Thus, it seems more accurate to regard the Simplicio-as-Urban allegation as a new slander against Galileo”
An eternal battle?
Reading the history of science one becomes aware of an ongoing battle between ideas driven by evidence and reason, and those driven by faith, even when reason is used. And if we look around today at the debates over consciousness, evolution, climate change, etc., we see that the battle continues. It didn’t stop with Galileo and the blossoming of the modern scientific revolution. The science-religion conflict is not just a matter of history. On his final page Stenger concludes:
“Religious faith would not be such a negative force in society if it were just about religion. However, the magical thinking that becomes deeply ingrained whenever faith rules over facts warps all areas of life. It produces a frame of mind in which concepts are formulated with deep passion but without the slightest attention paid to the evidence that bears on the concept. Nowhere is this more evident than in America today, where the large majority of the public hold onto a whole set of beliefs despite a total lack of evidence to support these beliefs and, indeed, strong evidence that denies them.”
But what about the future? As he points out:
“Science is not going to change its commitment to the truth. We can only hope religion will change its commitment to nonsense.”
And Stenger makes an appeal to “scientists and all thinking people:”
“The eradication of foolish faith from the face of this planet.”
He doesn’t think this will be achieved “in the lifetime of the youngest amongst us.” But it is required for the survival of humanity. Somewhat pessimistic! Personally I think that a certain amount of wishful thinking, faith and irrationalism is probably inherent to being human. It is certainly expected from human diversity. Perhaps this issue is not the final eradication of “foolish faith” but its minimisation and/or neutralisation with its accommodation by the rest of humanity.
If these subjects interest you this book is a “must read.” This is just the last of a series of Stenger’s books on science and its relationship with religion and pseudoscience.* For those interested in a scientific viewpoint on these subjects these books are a valuable resource. They deal with issues such as quantum theory and it misuse and cosmological issues like fine-tuning arguments, the “big bang” and the origin of the universe, the eternal universe and the multiverse. To some extent he briefly repeats some of the content of his earlier books here – useful for those not wishing to read further. And arguably this current book is his best yet. But, for more detail I also recommend his other books.
* Victor Stenger’s books on science, religion and pseudo-science
- God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist
- The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us - see my review Fine-tuning fallacies
- The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason - see my review Defending science and reason
- The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From?
- Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe
- Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness – see my review Quantum Gods
- Timeless Reality : Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes
- Unconscious Quantum
- Not by Design: The Origin of the Universe
A short answer to a question often asked of atheists and other non-believers. Professor Jim Al Khalili points out that those people asking the question have got it the wrong way around