Tag Archives: Science and Religion

Testing the God theory

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.

Thanks to Your Thanksgiving viewing « Why Evolution Is True.

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The limits of science and a world record

Here’s a couple of things I picked up from Jerry Coyne’s blog – whoops, website – Why evolution is true.

I have written about the “limits of science” here a few times – there are limits, of course, but not in the way some religious detractors of science claim. This cartoon illustrates what is wrong with their arguments. From The limits of science « Why Evolution Is True).


And here’s a nice video for lovers of books.

Perhaps a few local librarians could organise something like this. A bit of competition and a draw card for readers.From 2131 books go down « Why Evolution Is True.

Book Domino Chain World Record

The [in]compatibility of science and religion

There have been several books lately promoting the idea the religion and science are compatible – or at least challenging any suggestion that they might be incompatible. Of course, these were written by advocates of religion, or at least advocates of “belief in belief.”

While many of these books were critiqued in reviews there has been very little challenge presented in book length. So I was very pleased to see news that Victor Stenger has a new book, released in Apri,l called God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.

John W. Loftus at debunking Christianity has read a pre-release copy and is very impressed (see  Stenger’s New Book: God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion). He calls it a tour de force.

Loftus says (in part):

“The reader is treated to the history of the conflict between science and religion where Stenger argues there is a fundamental conflict between the two. “Science” he writes, “has earned our trust by its proven success. Religion has destroyed our trust by its repeated failures. Using the empirical method, science has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA. If science did not work, we wouldn’t do it. Relying on faith, religion has brought us inquisitions, holy wars, and intolerance. Religion does not work, but we still do it.” (p. 15)”

I have often said that religion and science are not incompatible at the individual level. After all many scientists are also religious. But their basic approach to knowledge, their epistemologies, are incompatible. So I agree with this comment by Loftus:

“Believers generally do not trust science. Stenger’s book is the antidote. Believers will see just how science works and why it is to be trusted over anything religion has ever produced. “Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible,” Stenger argues, “because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies–the separate assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world.” (p. 16)”

Loftus thinks this is Stenger’s best book yet – because it is ” written for the average intelligent reader. There isn’t a lot of technical jargon in it.” He believes it will “appeal to a broad range of readers . . . because he’s hit the nail on the head, writing about the essential problem between scientifically minded people and believers.”

Another book to look forward to.

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Does science lead to secularism?

Some writings on the science/religion relationship are important and interesting. But we have to sieve through such a lot of rubbish to find the gems. I guess its one area where most people have their own agenda and can’t keep it out of their reasoning.

Frank James’s  article “Science and Religion in the London Library Magazine is an example of the latter agenda-driven analysis. He questions the role of science in the decline of Christianity. He claims that most modern science writing assumes an anti-religious stance. And such writings assume “that science has displaced Christianity during the 20th Century and that has been achieved solely due to science providing a ‘true’, evidence-based description of the world as opposed to mythic beliefs.”

Mind you, he provides no examples or evidence for this claim, although he obviously felt obliged to throw in the usual reference to “the strident outpourings of Richard Dawkins and others.”

In other words, a classic example of straw-mannery. I certainly have never read such a bald claim in the Dawkins’ writings, or the writings of any scientist. And certainly not in the writings of scientists who have researched religion, its origins and evolution.

But perhaps the straw man is just a literary device to enable James to convey his own onions on the relationship between science and religion and the real cause of secularism.* Let’s look at his claims:

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Science, religion and respect for meaning

Religious apologists seem to be obsessed with the relationship between religion and science. Not so much for scientists who generally just want to get on with their job of understanding reality and helping humanity make use of the resulting knowledge.

But in retirement I have had more opportunity to come across the argument’s used by apologists to explain away the differences between scientific and religious knowledge, or to deny scientific knowledge. The overwhelming impression I have is one of bafflegab, mental gymnastics, strawmannery and jelly wrestling. Certainly not honesty.

One thing that gets up my nose is the lack of respect for language, for the meaning of words. Particularly important words like “truth” and “knowledge.” An example is this comment in a review of  apologist John Lennox‘s new book at Christian News (see Can Science, Creationism Coexist? One Christian Author Says Yes):

“In his recently published book, Seven Days that Divide the World, Lennox sets out to prove that Christians can believe in the theories of science and maintain the truth of Scripture.”

These people use the word “truth,” or very often “Truth,” to describe a collection of bronze age myths, parables and mysticism!  As for science – well that’s only “theory” – and you know what meaning they usually give to that word. No, not the scientific understanding of theory as “a set of facts, propositions, or principles analysed in their relation to one another and used, especially in science, to explain phenomena.” No, more the vague popular use of “theory” as “an idea of or belief about something arrived at through speculation or conjecture.”

This always strikes me as the height of arrogance – an arrogance that often leads to problems. One has only to think of Galileo’s treatment because his persecuters thought he was daring to question the “Truth” of scripture.

Not that scientists usually use the word “truth”, and especially not “Truth” to describe scientific knowledge. We are well aware of the provisional, but progressive, nature of scientific knowledge. Always amenable to improvement and change as it is checked against reality.

Scientific knowledge is relative  – not absolute, not “Truth”, but it’s the best we have. If science cannot give us specific knowledge about reality one can be sure no other method can.

That’s the other thing that get’s up my nose. The arrogance of some apologists who will seriously suggest they have higher standards. Because while scientific knowledge is amenable to change and improvement religious knowledge is not. It is the “Truth.”

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Christianity gave birth to science – a myth?

Ibn al-Haytham - a pioneer of the scientific method

This theological myth seems to surface in any debate about the relationship between religion and science. It is the claim that Christianity gave birth to science. That modern science was not possible anywhere but in the European Christian culture.

The myth is actively promoted by some Christian scholars – theologians and philosophers of religion. And sometimes it even appears that less critical non-religious philosophers who are largely ignorant of the history of science accept the myth.

Perhaps we should expect a bit of Christian chauvinism. After all, nationalists claim all sorts of things originated in their own country (People of my generation may remember when the Russians were claiming all sorts of technologies were invented by their countrymen – I fondly remember their claim for lampposts!). And Christian chauvinism is alive and well in areas like human rights and morality.

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Myths within a myth

Yes – this is going to be about religion – a common source of myths. Specifically the “conflict paradigm,” “conflict hypothesis” or “conflict myth.” Really the myth that there is such a “paradigm”, “hypothesis” or “myth” claiming  religion is and always has been at odds with science.” If you see what I mean. Think of Russian Matryoshka wooden dolls.

This is a story put about by Christian apologists (“militant Christians”) who would have us believe that there is no conflict between science and religion. That actually Christianity is the mother of science. And any conflicts that do occur are really the work of atheists, or “atheist scientists.” These atheists are the ones putting about a false myth.

I want to unpack the myth advanced by these militants.

Of course there are conflicts between religion and science – inevitable when the epistemology is so different. Whereas religious knowledge is based on revelation and authority, science is based on evidence, reason and testing against reality. But this is a principled difference – it’s not the same as claiming religion is and always has been at odds with science.”

Religious and non-religious scientists work alongside each other with no ideological conflict. And “atheist scientists” are hardly to blame for the very public attacks on science by creationists and intelligent design proponents.

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Sam Harris on The Daily Show

Sam Harris’s book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values is now out. I have been offered a review copy but have yet to see it.

Here is a clip of Jon Stewart and Sam Harris talking about the book on the Daily Show last night.

Sam says some interesting things.

I am sure many will find faults with his book but he has certainly started a much needed discussion on the possibility of an objective basis for morality.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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The “supernatural” and dogmatism in science

Another post repeated from 18 months ago:

Do scientists ever concern themselves over terms like ‘materialist,’ ‘natural,’ or ‘supernatural’? I don’t think so – at least those scientists working at the coal face. I have never heard any scientist posing the question – “is this phenomenon ‘natural’ or ’supernatural’?” before investigating something.

Yet today science is attacked by some people for limiting itself to only ‘natural’ phenomena. Intelligent design (ID) proponents (and they aren’t the only ones) rail against the ‘materialism’ of science. They demand that science should be changed to include ‘supernatural’ explanations.

These are attempts to introduce dogma into science.

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“Historical science”

Matthew_Shultz_webHere’s another faulty argument from The ghetto of apologetics “science”. A trick that creationists use to discredit scientific findings and justify by default their own “supernatural” explanations. This is their mechanical classification of science into “historical science” and “experimental science.” The creationist NZ blog True Paradigm was promoting this recently (see Types of science).

The usual philosophical “authority” used for this classification is Stephen Meyers, Executive Officer and co-founder of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for science and Culture. The intelligent design think tank and poliitcal promoter. He outlined it in his 1990 Ph D thesis “Of clues and causes: a methodological interpretation of origin of life studies.”

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