29 COMMENTS

  1. It’s all very well trying to teach American bible thumpers, but the real problem is religious idiocy. Barack sanctioning airstrikes is no better than Netenyahwehwhatsizname bombing the crap out of Gaza. Stop supplying arms & start teaching.

  2. Idealistic and unrealistic, Paul

    In both cases you cite, the alternative is to facilitate religious murder; Hamas and ISIS are examples of Islamic jihad which we have no choice but to resist. Or, surrender which is what the word ‘Islam” means…

    Guilt belongs to those who start wars, whose dogma demands they wage war, NOT those who resist.

    • It’s unrealistic in the sense that those who find themselves in control tend to have a pathological interest in defending those who they think follow their belief.
      I know you cannot teach an extremist. We are what we are. The sooner we realize, the better it will be for everything.

  3. Moderators' message

    Please do not bring Israel/Gaza/Hamas onto this thread. That topic is already being discussed as part of the "Who is belittling what?" thread, so if anyone wishes to comment on it further, that would be the place to do it.

    Thanks.

    The mods

  4. Let’s put the cat amongst the pigeons…

    Isn’t it about time that science stood on its own feet instead of using religion-bashing as its crutch? OK – so religion is a lot of bunkum. And yes, it can be an element in all sorts of human evil. But so what? Ideally, you do not promote something you believe in by rubbishing something you do not.

    If science were lumped in with everything else as just another belief system, this letter would read like just another piece of religious propaganda. Ah – but people will say science is different. Now where have we heard that sort of talk before? Isn’t that yet again just what every bit of religious propaganda claims? Yes, science is different in that it does experiments and is used to create technology. But that technology is arguably doing more harm than all the religions of the world combined. Just look at climate change and species extinction… not to mention the threat of possible nuclear armageddon. Say what you like but those dangers are NOT caused by religion!

    So isn’t it time that we started examining science in a more questioning manner than simply promoting it by bashing religion? Isn’t that some form of weakness within the scientific outlook – that it has to justify it’s position by mocking other positions?

    • John HH Aug 12, 2014 at 2:47 am

      So isn’t it time that we started examining science in a more questioning manner

      Science is the ultimate self-questioning system. It started questioning centuries ago.

      than simply promoting it by bashing religion?

      Science only bashes religion when religious claims which are are shown to be wrong, or when a particular religion makes silly attacks on well evidenced science.

      Isn’t that some form of weakness within the scientific outlook –

      Science simply does not work like that. It impartially investigates evidence of how things work in the real world, quite independently of the claims of any particular religion.

      that it has to justify it’s position by mocking other positions?

      Persistence in asserting long refuted claims is stupidity, which deserves mockery when the advocates of the refuted claims (such as YEC promoters) are not open to evidenced reasoning.
      Science justifies its position by using supporting evidence. Mocking silliness is about discouraging stupidity. The science is supported by evidence, independent of the mockery of the assertive incompetent!

  5. Science does not mock religion. It is simply a method for following evidence and testing claims about the world. Religion is attacking science because it is not providing the answers that some religious people want. That form of thinking is very harmful. I will be happy to help promote scientific literacy in any way possible.

    • As a philosophy of knowledge (physics was once natural philosophy) science does not mock religion, but in practice, and as a force for determining how to act within this world, it does. Scientists in general, if pushed, are pretty scathing of religion. Richard Dawkins has made a bob or two out of it. For what it is worth, I’m also scathing of organised religion but I don’t think the science-hasn’t-found-god argument holds. And meanwhile science and especially technology pose some of the greatest threats to life on Earth – as mentioned above.

      • John HH Aug 13, 2014 at 10:07 am

        I’m also scathing of organised religion but I don’t think the science-hasn’t-found-god argument holds.

        Do you think the “science-hasn’t-found-leprechauns/tooth-fairies” argument holds?
        This looks like the negative proof fallacy!

        And meanwhile science and especially technology pose some of the greatest threats to life on Earth

        Science provides honest information on how stuff works in the real world.
        Misuses of technology are political and user issues.
        A stone axe can be used on fire-wood or for attacking a neighbour. A car can be used for transport, or for ram-raiding a bank, or running down and murdering someone by a hit-man.
        These misuses are the responsibilities of the users, not the inventors.

  6. Does anyone really need to be told that God does not exist? Science on the other hand has only begun to scratch the surface of reality. I’m not willing to place all my trust in Drs. Frankenstein and Magoo just yet.

  7. A group of French researchers made the recent discovery that the tropical regions of earth produced far more carbon dioxide than the polar regions. What a surprise!

    Therefore, when scientists tell us they find more carbon dioxide in the Antarctic and Greenland ice cores corresponding with the end of the last 4 ice ages, are they really telling us something we didn’t already know?

    Did the increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the earth’s atmosphere cause the end of the ice age or did the end of the ice age cause an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration?

    The Beryllium 10 data, which also correlates with 400,000 years of climate change, reveals something else: Our models of the sun are so poor, they have no predictive power.

    Climate change Y/N? Absolutely Yes
    Caused by man? Laughable
    Prepare for its consequences? Absolutely
    Prevent its occurrence or engineer its reversal? Laughable

    GL

    • Guy Aug 14, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      A group of French researchers made the recent discovery that the tropical regions of earth produced far more carbon dioxide than the polar regions. What a surprise!

      Perhaps I should break it to you that winds of up about 1,000 mph rapidly circulate and mix the air all over the planet, regardless of where particular emissions are sourced.

      Therefore, when scientists tell us they find more carbon dioxide in the Antarctic and Greenland ice cores corresponding with the end of the last 4 ice ages, are they really telling us something we didn’t already know?

      Perhaps you should study climate science, and learn why the cycle of ice ages happen? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles – and how the carbon-cycle works?

      Did the increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the earth’s atmosphere cause the end of the ice age or did the end of the ice age cause an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration?

      Neither! it simply added changes to the underlying cycles.

      The Beryllium 10 data, which also correlates with 400,000 years of climate change, reveals something else: Our models of the sun are so poor, they have no predictive power.

      Which cherry-picking bunch of scientific illiterates did you copy that from? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_cycles Solar cycles are of course only one of the factors working along with orbital and axial cycles, tectonic mountain building, volcanic activity, meteor impacts and atmospheric changes.

      Climate change Y/N? Absolutely Yes

      Caused by man? Laughable denial by conspiracy theorists, that billions of tons man-made of CO2 cause greenhouse gas atmospheric warming, ice-cap melting, and sea-level rises.

      Prepare for its consequences? Absolutely – It is of course too late to reverse the damage in the geological pipe-leine from past pollution, but that is no excuse for continuing to aggravate the problems.

      Prevent its occurrence or engineer its reversal? – Laughable refusal to reduce the impacts, by denialists making ridiculous claims illustrating their scientific illiteracy, lack of basic study of the subject, utter cluelessness about the costs of the damage to human infrastructure or the potential for catastrophic feedback effects, and ignorance of the simple steps which can replace obsolete polluting industries with low carbon alternatives!

      Those conspiracy theorists sitting in denial of science (of which they have minimal understanding), will make up all sorts of nonsense, to try to prop up their unwillingness to accept evidence of consequences they do not like!

  8. The process of natural selection is seductively misleading. It shoves your face in an overly mechanistic universe that leaves no means of explaining mind. A fatal mistake by my standards… by anyone’s standards. Science typically ends up starring down the neck of chaos looking for mind in noise.

    Epistemology requires a model that can incorporate explanations for mind, matter and causality.

    That forces us to consider a universe with just enough supernatural attributes to incorporate mind in its formulation… and a universe with such attributes is friendly to many religious beliefs.

    Check mate! GL

    • Guy Aug 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      The process of natural selection is seductively misleading. It shoves your face in an overly mechanistic universe that leaves no means of explaining mind.

      Nope! It clearly shows the development of the mind in the evolution of the brain – at a multitude of levels in numerous animals. – No magic required!

      A fatal mistake by my standards… by anyone’s standards.

      Scientificly assessed standards??? Hardly! Ill-informed personal speculation.

      Science typically ends up starring down the neck of chaos looking for mind in noise.

      What on Earth is this nonsensical word-salad supposed to mean? Science knows where the mind is found! http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

      Epistemology requires a model that can incorporate explanations for mind, matter and causality.

      Evolutionary biology provides clear and best explanations of the development of intelligence over geological time.

      That forces us to consider a universe with just enough supernatural attributes to incorporate mind in its formulation…

      … . . .But only for gapologists who cannot understand science, or that human egos are not the centre of the universe.

      and a universe with such attributes is friendly to many religious beliefs.

      99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999%+ of the universe is not even friendly to humans, let alone the beliefs of some of their religious sects!

      Check mate! GL

      Fantasy games and confirmation biases, should not be confused with material reality!

    • Hi Guy,

      The process of natural selection is seductively misleading.

      Misleading in what sense?

      [Evolution] … leaves no means of explaining mind.

      That would seem to me to be a claim. On what do you base this claim?

      What is mind, in this claim?

      Science typically ends up starring down the neck of chaos looking for mind in noise.

      This sentence appears to say that you are anthropomorphising science and chaos (discussing them as if they’re people) and objectifying mind (treating the abstract as if it were a concrete thing – or degrading the status of mind to one simple object)?

      I hope I understood that correctly?

      I included longer descriptions for the benefit of other readers, nothing personal, you obviously know what you mean.

      Epistemology requires a model that can incorporate explanations for mind, matter and causality.

      A theory of knowledge only requires that we can justify our beliefs. If we restrict ourselves to an epistemology that only justifies a belief to ourselves, others are free to ignore our beliefs as flakey opinion.

      By it’s very nature science is justified by 1. Being based on verifiable facts. 2. Setting out new theories, supported by those facts, with the express intention that scientists as a group can judge whether there are grounds for justifying belief in the theory based on those facts. In addition, science seeks new facts and forms new theories (justified beliefs) and therefore, 3. Science is the foremost epistemological discipline because it does not say that it’s truths are irrefutable – it is the only discipline in all human endeavour that embraces the half-life of facts.

      [Comparing epistemologies] … forces us to consider a universe with just enough supernatural attributes …

      Sorry Guy but, no. Science forces us to consider any other epistemology as inferior. Science does not, indeed in some limited cases such as mind games it cannot, refute other epistemologies directly, only indirectly. Science can, however, refute other epistemologies indirectly and to a such a high degree that makes them so unlikely to be a path to justified belief that some other epistemologies are far more likely to be lies sustained by charlatans making a living out of the unwary and foolish.

      On that basis supernatural doesn’t even get a look-in.

      Science is the best epistemology because it gives us technology – physical proof that its ideas are based in reality. Science doesn’t study the supernatural because it always begins with verifiable facts. Still waiting for supernatural evidence after all these years … The half-life of facts teaches us to be cautious about declaring that science finds truths, but it is always the best approximation to truth, and sometimes – as with evolution by natural selection – it is extremely difficult to see how an alternative might be a better description of truth.

      You clearly don’t believe that mind fits into science and I’d be interested to hear why?

      Peace.

      • Permittivity multiplied by permeability (2 experimentally measured constants of the physical world) is equal to the speed of light squared. Numerical value and physical units (meter squared/second squared). As far as humans are concerned the speed of light squared can be considered a supernatural attribute of the natural world. Without the a priori existence of an underlying supernatural fabric, the process of natural selection would not be possible at all.

        My first assumption is that the very first property of matter must be tensorial memory, without which life would not be possible. This belief is supported by the discovery/existence of quark/antiquark pairs (a proof of a type of tensorial memory). If the first property of matter were not tensorial memory then all the XXX electric effects (XXX = piezo, chemical, photo, thermo, acoustic, etc) would not be possible. The universe would be dumb, deaf and blind. The supernatural fabric that allows evolution to occur via natural selection may not be intelligent but it is absolutely sensorial.

        In other words midway between intelligent design and natural selection is sensorial design. No God required just a supernatural creative (intelligent) fabric(ator).

        GL

        • Guy Aug 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm

          As far as humans are concerned the speed of light squared can be considered a supernatural attribute of the natural world.

          This is just asserted pseudo-scientific gobble-de-gook! The speed of light is a feature of the physical universe – no supernatural magic involved.

          Without the a priori existence of an underlying supernatural fabric, the process of natural selection would not be possible at all.

          Which translated into real woo-free science says, ” Without the underlying laws of physics, chemistry would not be possible”! Not really a surprise or in any way profound!

          My first assumption is that the very first property of matter must be tensorial memory, without which life would not be possible.

          I am sure you can make up whatever fictitious assumptions you like, but they will remain irrelevant to the material universe of matter, energy, electric bonds, and the molecules of life. Diving into quantum obscurity will not make the understanding of biochemistry any clearer, or produce any evidence of supernatural activity.
          Gapology is well known on this site.
          Natural selection works at a molecular scale and above.

          The universe would be dumb, deaf and blind.

          The universe is deaf and blind! “Dumb”, would depend on if humans observing interpretable transmitted energy, counts as language.

          The supernatural fabric …. . ..

          Is wishful thinking in the minds of those who can’t grasp the real natural physical nature of science!

          All you have done is to try to pretend the underlying natural laws of physics are “supernatural”!

          This looks like simple anthropomorphism!

      • Do you remember John Wheeler? Here’s a quote from memory: In a room with a tile floor, write an equation for what you think the universe is and does. Then in another tile, write down another equation for what you think the universe is and does. Keep writing better and better equations until you’re forced to step out of the room. Then wave your magic wand and tell the equations to fly however none of your equations will put on wings and fly. Yet the universe flies! It has a life to it that no equation has.

        One of my favorite quotes.

        The value 1/c squared gives a value of 1.11265 X 10 -17 meters. The particle accelerator at CERN reaches 10 -17 meters, 10 -18 meters. At the speed of light it takes about 10 -26 seconds to travel a distance 10 -17 meters. In other words a lot is happening in 1 second at the atomic level.

        That’s the stuff where made of! To think that science can do a proper assessment of mind is a matter of faith… and I don’t have faith that science can do that.

        GL

  9. I do not contribute to popular cults. As a scientifically-minded person all this speculative stuff about atheism seems utterly daft to me, and hopelessly lacking in scholarship. I think promoting an understanding of religion and science would be a better idea. Neither seem well-understood by our host. Contributing to helping the blind lead the blind would certainly be doing no favours for science.

    • Peter Aug 18, 2014 at 6:51 am

      As a scientifically-minded person all this speculative stuff about atheism seems utterly daft to me, and hopelessly lacking in scholarship.

      Perhaps a little in depth study would give you a better understanding, and avoid this sort of Psychological projection

      I think promoting an understanding of religion and science would be a better idea.

      Many contributors here do have an in-depth understanding of these subjects – including the psychology of religious belief. There are many examples in the archives of this site.

      Neither seem well-understood by our host.

      Really? I take it you have not read his books on the subject! (Hint! – University science professors usually do understand science!)

  10. I, frankly, am not sure that anything needs to be done about these statistics. For all the claims of “reason” and “science” here, in the end the argument being made is one from authority, and, as such, is circular:

    You should believe that science is the truth.
    Why?
    Because scientists are the best possible authorities.
    Why are they the best?
    Because science is the truth and they, being scientists, they know the truth.

    Now while I respect greatly the claims of science, I am under no illusion about how little I know of anybody’s claim to be the best possible authority. Nothing in my immediate experience gives me any real basis for me to know one way or another whether the claims made about quantum mechanics are true. As the saying goes, “You couldn’t prove it by me.” I presume these claims are true but this is a far weaker position than that of believing that they are true. For one thing there is a fair amount of disagreement in details among the best authorities themselves. For another, there are clearly parts of it (such as gravity, dark energy, and dark matter) which do not yet have a consensus explanation. For a third I have no way of actually doing such science and checking whether the experimental practices used by the best authorities have repeatable results.

    The statistics quoted above reflect, in a hazier and more rough and ready way, what I have just outlined: we presume science is correct, but argument from authority is simply not strong enough to commit to believing it unless we have the opportunity to test it ourselves. Now, of course, there are other arguments from authority which are not worth the presumption (we all know them) but we should put them to one side for the moment or we will not understand the results above: “not too confident” or “not at all confident” is not at all the same thing as disbelief or as positive belief in the opposite point of view.

    The claims for the age of the universe, and the process of speciation through natural selection can be taken on presumption, but not, in the absence of more direct participation in the science, taken on the basis of belief. The uncertainty of the surveyed public is perfectly consistent with this.

  11. The claims for the age of the universe, and the process of speciation through natural selection can be taken on presumption, but not, in the absence of more direct participation in the science, taken on the basis of belief. The uncertainty of the surveyed public is perfectly consistent with this.

    You forget to mention probabilities. There are no facts, just probabilities. When science comes to a position on something, then a probability is inherent in the research. Some topics within the scientific domain have such high probability, that they are considered facts. Some highly probable. We don’t have a good theory about what caused the big bang, but we are getting closer with some good contenders. Still not very high probability though. But when you get to things like evolution by natural selection, your own DNA (And all the other myriad testable / repeatable evidence) makes evolution a day to day fact. That so many Americans don’t believe this is a scary statistic, because it reflects on the GNI (Gross National Intellect) of America. Ditto the age of the universe. Another “fact” with very, very high probabiliity.

    So if you are hinting, as I suspect you are, that god did, then you need to test the probability of god existing in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, and thus a miniscule probability, compared to the scientific probabilities. It’s not even a contest.

  12. No, I’m not in the least hinting that God did it, or anybody else. What I am suggesting is that I am not privy to the information that leads scientists to give the universe an age, or the arguments for or against any age. I presume the consensus is correct, but I do not “believe” it, because I have no direct knowledge of it. And I think I’m quite justified in not believing it, if only for the reason that the consensus of Science often changes quite radically.

  13. And I think I’m quite justified in not believing it, if only for the reason that the consensus of Science often changes quite radically.

    Each of us must make a value judgement on what we read about scientific discoveries. I read widely from a number of scientific sources. I watch high integrity documentaries like “Your Inner Fish” which everyone should watch. I am currently reading Jim Al Khalill’s great book, Quantum, trying to understand (and mostly failing) quantum theory. I am also a card carrying skeptic, which means my opinion follows the prevailing evidence and my opinion changes as the evidence changes. So my “belief” (Actually an assessment of probabilities) is conditional on the survival of the evidence to scrutiny and future scientific examination, which is of course, the scientific method. So when you say you are “Justified in not believing” you need to show evidence that supplants the prevailing consensus. So if you question the current consensus on the age of the universe, I would be interested in the science that leads you to hold that position. Ditto on evolution.

    I concur that “the consensus of Science often changes quite radically.” That is the scientific method in action. That is Ockham’s Razor laying waste to overturned science. This is a good thing. Great thing actually. Science is capable of constant renewal, unlike religion. I see this as a positive for science. So don’t fear change in scientific consensus, its just the tried and tested methodology raising the probabilities of any answer.

    • I am not in anyway fearful of science. In fact, I’m not actually talking about science. I’m talking about the criteria for “Belief” as an attitude toward anything. A physicist justifiably believes in the results of physics because they can do physics, so they have first hand experience. A layerson is not justified in believing in the results for the reverse of the same reasons, they have no direct experience. The most a layperson can justifiably do is presume its truth. This does not mean that such a layperson is inherently uninformed about science, or that they’re unintelligent about it. It merely means that they should have a higher standard of “reason” to believe in anything than what is essentially an argument from authority, whether it is made in the name of religious belief or scientific belief. Scientists may be correct in their conclusions, they may know better than I do, but I have no rational basis for asserting that I know that they know better than I do.

      • Karmakshanti Aug 20, 2014 at 8:24 am

        The most a layperson can justifiably do is presume its truth.

        Presumption is a very poor basis for building reliable knowledge.

        This does not mean that such a layperson is inherently uninformed about science, or that they’re unintelligent about it. It merely means that they should have a higher standard of “reason” to believe in anything than what is essentially an argument from authority, whether it is made in the name of religious belief or scientific belief.

        The argument of researched evidence-based expert authority, is based on the honesty and integrity of the sources. It works in the real world or is rejected by science. Scientists and scientific journals are very mindful of their reputations, so fellow experts will criticise and review published works, tearing apart any dishonest or flawed methods. Reputable scientists accept this as away of weeding out errors, up-dating theories, and establishing facts.
        By comparison, religions usually go into assertive defensive mode, and doggedly defend their ancient flawed dogmas.

        Scientists may be correct in their conclusions, they may know better than I do, but I have no rational basis for asserting that I know that they know better than I do.

        You need to learn to recognise the work from reputable journals. Scientific knowledge (which makes the technological world work), is based on the honesty, integrity, and competence, of those providing the information. This is vastly more reliable than anything “some preacher made-up” or copied from repeatedly (mis?)translated and “reinterpreted” bronze-age writings.

        • I’m perfectly aware of all of these. They’re fine evidence for the scientific specialist to believe in their conclusions, but not for the layperson to so believe them. Once again, I’m not talking about science nor am I talking about religion. I’m talking about reasoning: an argument from authority is equally invalid no matter who the authority is. It is still invalid even if the authority appealed to is speaking the truth. The argument you make in the end has this form:

          You should believe in “reputable journals”.
          Why?
          Because they are “reputable”. (Most, if not all, of the fancy ethics based language you use says no more than reputable = reputable)
          How do I know they are reputable?
          Because the scientific authorities publish in them.
          Why should I believe them?
          Because they write reputably in reputable journals.

          Once again circular reasoning. I would not impeach this site’s understanding of “science” nor of “progress” (technology in your terms), but I do impeach it’s claim to “reason”. When you actually analyse its reasoning it will not stand the test of circularity any more than Martin Luther’s would: “Because Dr. Martin Luther would have it so.”

          • I would suggest that information in the journals is “reputable” through been tested by the scientific method and have either been or will be tested by independant peir review. I don’t believe that this is circular reasoning at all. However, if I understand what you are asserting correctly, you are suggesting that unless a person has specific knowledge in any particular subject, it would be quite reasonable for them to be skeptical about literally everything they’re not an expert in, which would include any subject or evidence to do with science or religion. I believe in healthy skepticism but how do you manage to get out of bed in the morning? At some stage as a layperson myself, I have to trust that for e.g. a doctor would be able to help me with a physical illness based on his knowledge (which I trust had been tested) and experience more than a priest would who would presumably “pray for me”. This stance is purely based on the fact that I’d have more confidence in methods that had been tested over time than wishfull thinking. Within reason, you have to trust sometimes. I trust science and by extention scientific journals because they are testable. I am also willing to change my mind based on new discoveries or evidence. Journals can be updated. I don’t trust religion because no matter what assertions are made, there is no testable evidence.
            I realise that I’m repeating the testable theme but that’s the point I’m trying to make!

  14. @JohnHH August 12

    >. But that technology is arguably doing more harm than all the religions of the world combined. Just look at climate change and species extinction… not to mention the threat of possible nuclear armageddon. Say what you like but those dangers are NOT caused by religion!

    Technology in itself is usually not capable of doing anything much. Technology in the hands of a fanatic motivated by the rightness of his/her convictions and religious fervour is capable of untold damage. Technology used with no thought to the future sustainability of the planet should not have to shoulder the blame for its applications.
    I think you need to do more reading on the havoc caused by religious differences before making blanket statements about the harm done. I’d recommend ‘Demon Haunted World’ by Carl Sagan as a start. Regular perusal of a good newspaper would keep you up to speed on the current death toll that can be attributed to religious differences.

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