O’Reilly and Scarborough

| 45 Comments

Thanks to P. Z. Myers and one of my commenters for directing me to transcript of the O'Reilly segment I reported on yesterday. I have fisked the entire thing in this entry, over at EvolutionBlog. O'Reilly's insanity is so complex and multi-layered, at times it is difficult to compose a reply.

I have also prepared this entry about yet another awful segment on this subject from last Friday's Scarborough Country. Enjoy!

45 Comments

From the O’Reilly transcript

O’REILLY (overtalks all words): ‘Cause then it would be science, wouldn’t it? You know, if tomorrow the deity came down and proved himself, then it would be science, wouldn’t it, sir?

There are a couple good answers to that.

“Sure. If the deities came down and we asked them they were men or women and we pulled their pants down to show they were most likely female, that would be science. And if the deities came down with Jesus’ head on plate and started killing Christians and we wanted to figure out how to stop that from happening, that would be science. Wait … Bill … Bill! Shut up! Shut up! You shut up! You brought it up, I didn’t! You’re the one who wants this crap taught in public school science classes Bill, not me. This is critical thinking. This is what it means to have an open mind. Screw you, Bill! Go play with your goddamn falafel. You don’t have a clue.”

2) “If the deity came down Bill and told you that Mohammed was his prophet and Jesus was a fraud and 9/11 was his idea, would you throw your bible away and pick up the Koran? Wait … Bill … Bill! Shut up! Shut up! You shut up! You brought it up, I didn’t! You’re the one who wants this crap taught in public school science classes Bill, not me. This is critical thinking. This is what it means to have an open mind. Screw you, Bill! Go play with your goddamn falafel. You don’t have a clue.”

3) If any of these mysterious deities flew out of your butt I’d ask them whether they created all the life on the earth or whether life evolved, and if they said that they created all the life on earth, I’d ask them to show me how they did it. If they couldn’t show me, I’d stick with evolution. That’s how science works. Wait … Bill … Bill! Shut up! Shut up! You shut up! You brought it up, I didn’t! You’re the one who wants this crap taught in public school science classes Bill, not me. This is critical thinking. This is what it means to have an open mind. Screw you, Bill! Go play with your goddamn falafel. You don’t have a clue.”

etc., etc.

I noticed on Scarborough they make a deal about getting an atheist to defend science. We need to get more theists on the market (I know there are plenty of us) to keep this from being able to be spun the way that the DI and others (religious right) want it spun. One nice feature of the Nightline story on Dover was it was clear this was Christian vs. Christian for a large part.

Scarborough said

It not about whether you believe in creationism. It is not about whether you believe in evolution.

It is about whether you believe a federal judge should decide what we put in our textbooks in our schools.

No, Joe, the issue is plainly whether religious people are entitled to redefine science and mandate that falsehoods are taught to their children in public school when scientific fact contradicts a story in their holy book.

Sadly, some misguided self-proclaimed “liberals” are also reciting from this creationist-friendly script.

http://www.nathannewman.org/log/arc[…]002076.shtml

Randy writes

I noticed on Scarborough they make a deal about getting an atheist to defend science. We need to get more theists on the market (I know there are plenty of us) to keep this from being able to be spun the way that the DI and others (religious right) want it spun.

Another alternative is to simply say that you are religious, even evangelical, and then make the argument that the Johnsonite Christians are a radical extremists sect peddling fraud and smearing the Christian religion.

It is impossible for anyone to prove that you are not an evangelical Christian at any given moment. To the extent that they try to prove that you aren’t, that would only demonstrate in the most profound way how utterly bogus the claims of the Johnsonite Christians are.

Question: What kind of scientific theory holds that those who belong to a particular religious sect are precluded from attacking it as non-science and recognizing it as pure religious expression?

Answer: none, of course. And Jesus Christ never said that invoking God to explain everything you don’t understand was science. That was Philip Johnson, a fat ugly false prophet of the lowest order and an HIV-denying jerk, to boot.

POP.

I’m an evangelical Christian.

POP.

Now I’m not.

POP.

Now I am.

POP.

Now I’m not. See how easy that was?

Well, yeah, damn straight it’s Christian against Christian. I hope not too many Jews or Moslems get sucked into the Darby interpretation.

One of the key problems of creationism is that it is really, really bad religion – it suggests that God is somehow disconnected from nature, not responsible for what nature demonstrates – or worse, that God is nothing but a cosmic joker who created everything with the sole intent of deceiving scientists and other honest seekers.

That’s not the God most Chrsitians thought they had.

And those misconceptions rot away other foundations of the faith. I am convinced that creationists who cannot tell fraud from real research, crank science from certified fact, will also be unable to distinguish when they themselves tell fabrications rather than the truth.

Christianity is based at least partly on the notion that God is the creator. Creationism says God may be creator only so long as God agrees to dance to the tune of John Nelson Darby.

I prefer a more omniscient and thinking deity.

It pains me that creationists get sanctuary in churches. Christians should stand for truth, it seems to me. Creationism is diametrically opposed to that idea, from all appearances.

Ed:

And those misconceptions rot away other foundations of the faith.

It sounds like atheistic science works on the tacit assumption that there are no gods, and that everything in the objective universe can be explained without resort to any. Contrast this with theistic science, which works on the assumption that there ARE gods, but that they don’t do anything, and so the entire objective universe can be understood and explained without them.

And so you can pick any scientific theory at all, and it’s as good an explanation as we can currently device primarily because if there are any gods, they have the good grace to stay out of the way and not diddle with the evidence. I think I can see how it might be difficult for most people to “believe in” gods who do nothing that can be observed or that matters.

Flint writes

Contrast this with theistic science, which works on the assumption that there ARE gods, but that they don’t do anything

That’s not the assumption (or at least, it need not be). The assumption is that what the Gods do (or did), we perceive as nature. When strange things happen, it’s “divine providence.” Also, just because the Gods did something billions of years ago and seem quiet since then, doesn’t mean they don’t “do anything.” What is a hundred billion years to Gods? It’s like the blink of an eye. Or it could be.

They are, after all, Gods.

I think I can see how it might be difficult for most people to “believe in” gods who do nothing that can be observed or that matters.

I don’t think anyone who believes in Gods thinks that the things they do don’t matter. Of course the actions of Gods matter (according to the believer). And our actions matter to the Gods (according to the believer). But there is nothing difficult about acknowledging that if the Gods want to reveal themselves to us only through nature, they are capable of doing so. Again, they are Gods. They can do whatever they want.

Please feel free to respond to my comment in the precise manner which the Gods permit.

On getting into the heads of the confused layman:

http://www.themovieblog.com/archive[…]he_year.html

I’m not a huge fan of Morris as a person, but his two documentaries relating to religion in this country – “Vernon, Florida” and “Gates of Heaven” – are a couple favorites of mine.

Particularly amusing is the matter of fact God-of-the-Gaps argument presented by an elderly amateur theologian: “All these people that say, ‘That just happened. That just happened.’ You know what ‘that just happened is’? ‘That just happened’ is God.”

I wonder if that guy knows that Bill Dembski completely ripped him off.

Here are some other creationist apologists playing games with our country’s discourse:

http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/TV/[…]t/index.html

Christians issue gay warning on SpongeBob video LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) – Conservative Christian groups accuse the makers of a video starring SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney and a host of other cartoon characters of promoting homosexuality to children.

The wacky square yellow SpongeBob is one of the stars of a music video due to be sent to 61,000 U.S. schools in March. The makers – the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation – say the video is designed to encourage tolerance and diversity.

But at least two Christian activist groups say the innocent cartoon characters are being exploited to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.

“A short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality,” wrote Ed Vitagliano in an article for the American Family Association.

The video is a remake of the 1979 hit song “We Are Family” using the voices and images of SpongeBob, Barney, Winnie the Pooh, Bob the Builder, the Rugrats and other TV cartoon characters. It was made by a foundation set up by songwriter Nile Rodgers after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in an effort to promote healing.

Christian groups however have taken exception to the tolerance pledge on the foundation’s Web site, which asks people to respect the sexual identity of others along with their abilities, beliefs, culture and race.

“Their inclusion of the reference to ‘sexual identity” within their ‘tolerance pledge’ is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line,” James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said in a statement released Thursday.

Where do these anti-respect anti-gay ultra-paranoid stand on evolution, I wonder? Would it be surprising to find these lunatics aligning themselves with the Discovery Institute?

Of course not.

http://www.family.org/resources/ite[…]?itemid=3043

Wackos. Loonies. They believe that cartoon sponges promote homosexuality. And they believe that evolution is part of a secular humanist conspiracy.

It’s all part of the same diaper. It’s all absolutely freakin’ nuts.

Do the majority of Americans think that Teletubbies and SpongeBob are gay? Or do the majority of Americans think that people who claim that SpongeBob is gay have a screw loose?

I am inclined to believe that the answer to the second questions is yes.

It’s time to start pointing out the irrefutably close relationships between these paranoid extremists.

Speaking of people with no grasp of what science is.…Look for the comments in this thread by “walkingtall.” He puts DaveScot to shame.

My favorite bit was the 24 hour day…which is precisely why we have leap years. What an complete blithering idiot. Good thing he is no longer teaching high school kids.

GWW:

I don’t see how you’ve added any clarification to what I said. Sure, if we wish we can regard the objective universe as being entirely natural or entirely supernatural. In the former case, there are no gods required, and in the latter case they gods do everything but do so in such a consistent manner that any explanation of anything retains its predictive capacity forever. So the only difference here is a rather trivial matter of terminology.

What the Believers seem to want is a mixture, with some natural and some supernatural, so that there is a contrast, allowing us to distinguish between the two. What good are gods if they never get to make any choices or do anything different, in the sense that they must play within the existing set of rules and never get to break any or make any exceptions? This flavor of god we can simply factor out and never miss them.

PZ, you misunderstand. O’Snidely isn’t insane. He and others like him are quite calculated. THey are the modern-day equivalent of a carney-barker, getting the rubes to pay to get into the seats–and thereby to pay the bills. In this case, the bills are paid by the advertisers, who are paying for eyeballs. The more eyeballs O’Snidely gets in, the more money he makes.

O’Snidely is very smart–in a way.

BTW, you can fisk O’Snidely’s bs until you’re blue in the face. You do it, we read it. But you’re already preaching to the choir. We know that O’Snidely’s nothing more than a carney-barker. But apparently you don’t know that the rubes that the carney-barker is playing to don’t care what you have to say, and wouldn’t believe what you said if they heard it–which they probably won’t.

You’ve got a long row to hoe if you’re going to make any inroads with the rubes.

Do I have a suggestion for another strategy? No, not really. You might think about emigrating to a relatively educated part of the world. We have.

Keith Olbermann played the entire WAF video last nite. SpongeBob was pretty much an extra and his “boyfriend” Patrick wasn’t even shown in the video. The real pisser about this controversy for me is that our local yokel evening news daily features a segment from “Dr.” Dobson. Some goddamn news in Red State Amurrica.

Jason Rosenhouse Wrote:

At no point did Scarborough ever endorse creationism. In fact, he seemed to go to great lengths to present this as an issue of judicial activism. I take this to mean that Scarborough has little sympathy for creationism himself, but doesn’t want to incur the wrath of his mostly right-wing viewers.

I have been getting this impression from many conservative commentators. Most who know some science agree that creationism and ID are nonsense. But even they can get suckered into the “fairness” thing, especially if it helps politically. But those who know some science and closely follow the strategic efforts to promote ID/creationism (even indirectly via exploitation of students’ misconceptions) know that it is morally wrong. They also know that, as counterintuitive as it sounds, it is the “teach the controversy” activists who are the true “censors” of education.

I do agree, however, that it is a bad thing that judges need to get involved, and that it is much better solved locally. But if it helps education, I say “whatever it takes.”

So after 9/11, this liberal nonprofit group wants to put out a video encouraging people to respect and love one another, and the religious right thinks that’s terrible? Let’s remember how the religious right reacted to 9/11:

JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, yes.

JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way–all of them who have tried to secularize America–I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

Count me in with the liberals.

Flint, Theistic scientists do not think God fails to work in the world. Theistic scientists (at least most I know), believe God works through the world in natural ways that can be studied by science, altought the ultimate source of the work can not, or through actions we refer to as miracles (which may include some things we simply haven’t explained or some things that really do break “laws” of nature.) In the latter case Theistic scientists know that these things are beyond scientific study as one can not use science to prove or disprove God.

Steve:

The 24 hour day is why we have leap *seconds.* Leap years are caused by the 365 1/4 day revolution of the Earth around the Sun which is not related to the length of the day. Note that the moon, which is tide locked to the Earth has a day which is as long as its period of rotation.

Randy:

I don’t know what you mean by “the ultimate source of the work.” Does this refer to something real, or do theistic scientists posit some sort of causes behind causes, like turtles all the way down, but ultimately the bottom turtle stands on the shoulders of the god(s) of their choice? Or is it something like, science can get down to the basic constants and forces of reality, and most are content to say that’s the end of the line, but the theists go a step further and say that their god(s) are the “cause” of these fundamental things?

I’m just trying to understand the role the theistic scientist’s god(s) are assigned. Certainly no scientific theory would have to change whatsoever if the whole notion of invisible postulated “reality defining agents” were dropped. From my perspective, the theistic scientists are in a bind – they have no practical use for their gods, but are psychologically unable to abaondon them, so they are assigned the Deep And Important jobs so profound and fundamental that nobody else could care (or needs to). This makes the gods critically important and totally irrelevant at the same time.

Flint Wrote:

What the Believers seem to want is a mixture, with some natural and some supernatural, so that there is a contrast, allowing us to distinguish between the two.

I hope that by “Believers” you meant “Creationists.” This is not the view of most theistic evolutionists, as I have come to understand it. It certainly is not this believer’s view. The idea that we could “distinguish between the two” implies that supernatural events are empirically detectable. By definition, anything “supernatural” is beyond the scope of science.

Flint

I don’t see how you’ve added any clarification to what I said.

I re-read your earlier post and mine and I think you are probably right about that for the most part. My apologies.

‘In the latter case Theistic scientists know that these things are beyond scientific study as one can not use science to prove or disprove God’

which God?

Something that doesn’t exist can’t be disproven. It just doesn’t exist.

Even if by chance the entire structure of nature as we know it is turned upside down and we prove God exists, then everyone can argue over whether it’s Zeus, Big pink turtles, and all the gods of other religions.

The entire question becomes rather pointless.

‘By definition, anything “supernatural” is beyond the scope of science.’

Why?

Why can’t science study the supernatural?

If a man flies through the air an ascends somewhere he is in the natural world, he is bending it’s laws, we can figure out how.

To me that statement is a cop-out. First it asumes the supernatural exists–and there is no evidence whatsoever that this is even remotely correct. So even talking about the supernatural is very similiar to discussing Santa Claus and has the same level of creditability.

Second it assumes that if such events happened we would be precluded somehow from studying them, why?

Supernatural is beyond science because supernatural assumes that there is no way to measure the phenomenon.

It’s not science’s problem, really, to say science doesn’t deal with the supernatural. It’s the problem of religion that insists something must be accounted for that can’t be accounted for.

It’s not that science fears God will appear in the equation. It’s that so far God hasn’t made that appearance, and creationists especially are afraid God never will – and so they demand that others simply not look.

This is why creationism is, to me, bad religion. One of the lessons of Christianity is to confront difficulties, to search out answers. Creationism inherently demands that difficulties be ignored and answers not be sought.

The creationists seem to say, ‘Seek and ye shall be labeled an atheist, knock and the timid will hope the door won’t be opened. Ask and the creationists will try to cut off your funding, and the legislative lobbyists will come tumbling out of Seattle to demand that your science be declared non grata

The video is a remake of the 1979 hit song “We Are Family” using the voices and images of SpongeBob, Barney, Winnie the Pooh, Bob the Builder, the Rugrats and other TV cartoon characters. It was made by a foundation set up by songwriter Nile Rodgers after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in an effort to promote healing.

Christian groups however have taken exception to the tolerance pledge on the foundation’s Web site, which asks people to respect the sexual identity of others along with their abilities, beliefs, culture and race.

There you have it, then. Those who oppose this cartoon are “viewing with Osama.”

If these “Christian” groups really prefer to support Osama’s actions, they should just endorse the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Oh, that’s right – they already did.

This is why creationism is, to me, bad religion. One of the lessons of Christianity is to confront difficulties, to search out answers. Creationism inherently demands that difficulties be ignored and answers not be sought.

Which circles back to the question I asked you originally. I thought it was science that confronted difficulties and sought answers. I still can’t find any functional role for the theistic scientist’s god to play here.

Saying “The creationists are dumb because they don’t realize that if God actually DID anything, He wouldn’t be God anymore” really does beg this question. What good is a god that does NOT do anything?

Uber Wrote:

Why can’t science study the supernatural?

What would evidence of supernatural activity look like, from a scientific perspective? Since supernatural events are, by definition, beyond the “laws of nature” that restrict our sensing abilities, they cannot be consistently or reliably measured. Since we can’t measure supernatural events, they are beyond the scope of science.

Uber Wrote:

To me that statement is a cop-out. First it asumes the supernatural exists—and there is no evidence whatsoever that this is even remotely correct. So even talking about the supernatural is very similiar to discussing Santa Claus and has the same level of creditability.

How is my statement about science a cop-out? Science doesn’t assume the existence of the supernatural. It just says that if the supernatural does exist, science can’t study it. You seem to be suggesting that science has disproved the existence of the supernatural. How is that possible, given that science cannot even study the supernatural?

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I once watched O’Reilly religiously. I also watched Scarborough. But, I can no longer stomach their insanity and stupidity; not to mention their incessant appeal to the worst elements of society. The only reason Scarborough Country is on is because MSNBC was losing out to all the right-wing crackpots over on FoxNews. At least MSNBC had the good sense to put Scarborough on after the kids are asleep.

BTW, did anyone see O’Reilly get his @ss reamed by Al Franken about a year ago? O’Reilly revealed his true nature. He is a big bully on the outside, but a big baby on the inside. When he was in a format that did not lend itself to talking over people, he resorted to name-calling and whining. Yes, the man is a dolt to be sure. But, when you can control your guests and be meaner and talk louder then them, it doesn’t matter how dumb you are.

Flint

I still can’t find any functional role for the theistic scientist’s god to play here.

C’mon Flint. Use your imagination. And re-read my post which you claimed didn’t add anything.

Here’s more hints for you: are deities allowed to take naps between major earth-shattering miracles? can deities have responsibility for abstract concepts that aren’t amenable to scientific dissection? is listening to prayer a role that a deity might play?

Yawn. This is boring.

Another right-winger of note in the news:

CNN reports that Bob Jones is handing over the reins of his obnoxious university to his thoroughly indoctrinated offspring:

http://www.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/0[…]p/index.html

In 2000, George W. Bush was criticized for speaking at the university while campaigning because the school banned interracial dating. That policy has since been dropped.

.…

Jones also referred to Catholicism and Mormonism as cults in a campus magazine in 2000. Jones has not backed away from his opposition to those religions.

“It is a surprise to me that anybody would think that there was something untoward about Christian institution being opposed to a false religious system,” Jones said Thursday.

What are the odds that this racist bigot of a preacher is a peddler of creationism as science?

100%.

http://www.hometrainingtools.com/ca[…]-curriculum/

GWW:

Here’s more hints for you: are deities allowed to take naps between major earth-shattering miracles?

Ah, I failed to notice the fine distinction between doing nothing and “taking a nap”. Thanks for deploying your extraordinary sensibilities.

can deities have responsibility for abstract concepts that aren’t amenable to scientific dissection?

This is why I emphasized theistic scientists and not just believers in general.

is listening to prayer a role that a deity might play?

How much science revolves around prayer? Do theistic scientists pray for enlightenment and then attribute the results of their experiments to those prayers? I really don’t know. I personally find it a stretch to believe prayers are listened to if they are not answered – and an even greater stretch when the Believer prays for A, gets Z (utterly unrelated) and says “God found a better answer than mine.” This “explains” the efficacy of prayer exactly the way ID explains reality – one size fits all.

So I’m hoping that a theistic scientist can give his viewpoint.

Yawn. This is boring.

Amen, brother. Now toddle off.

Flint

Ah, I failed to notice the fine distinction between doing nothing and “taking a nap”. Thanks for deploying your extraordinary sensibilities.

It’s not a fine distinction. Along with my earlier response, it’s a fair response to the question you posed.

A theistic scientist’s deity created the universe and the natural laws which govern it, the deity intervenes from time to time in human affairs in ways that are believed evident (e.g., messiah deployment) and in ways that are not evident (divine providence). And he listens to prayers. And maybe he answers them sometime. And he judges us when he dies. And he’s going to come back someday and everything is going to be oh so wonderful when that happens.

What’s not functional about any of those roles?

I still can’t find any functional role for the theistic scientist’s god to play here.

Please define “functional role.”

And for what it’s worth, I was a theistic scientist at one point so you can take my statements to the bank.

O’Reilly was entertainingly moronic as always. The real problem with this segment was that Michael Grant was clearly not experienced at talking to moronic christians, and did a bad job of pointing out the errors O’Reilly was committing in simple terms. Yes Grant was intellectually superior by a hilarious margin, but he didn’t provide the humiliating butt-whipping which could have made this segment so entertaining, so don’t complain as if O’Reilly is responsible for the segment being irritating. People who take on these debates need less expertise in biology and more time spent in christian chat rooms arguing with the determined clueless.

An effective pro-science spokesman??

http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/01/17/cn[…]n/index.html

You can bet that he’s no fan of Phil Johnson’s.

Let’s start working on the Dream Team.

Flint Wrote:

So I’m hoping that a theistic scientist can give his viewpoint.

I’m not a scientist, but I teach science. That sort of counts, right? Perhaps I can help by sharing my viewpoint.

***Disclaimer: The following is not a “thinly veiled” attempt to proselytize, simply an explanation of my personal viewpoint.

Flint Wrote:

What good is a god that does NOT do anything?

There’s one thing that Creationists and non-theists tend to agree on: If God’s actions are not empirically detectable, then God must not be real.

In my view, a God that does nothing IS unacceptable. But must we assume that God can only interact with the Universe in ways that are amenable to scientific analysis? Why are so many people unwilling to accept the notion that God might work in “mysterious ways.”

Flint Wrote:

What good are gods if they never get to make any choices or do anything different, in the sense that they must play within the existing set of rules and never get to break any or make any exceptions? This flavor of god we can simply factor out and never miss them.

I can’t speak for all of us, but many theistic evolutionists see the lack of empirical detectability as a “gift” of freedom. The fact that we can’t detect God scientifically allows for free will (or, at least what appears to be free will). In other words, it takes faith to believe. Faith in God is ultimately a choice, not a conclusion.

Flint Wrote:

I can see how it might be difficult for most people to “believe in” gods who do nothing that can be observed or that matters.

I disagree with the implication that if something cannot be observed, it doesn’t matter. Personally, I believe that God works primarily through the actions of human beings. Believers frequently feel compelled to act with compassion and benevolence toward others out of service to God. (Of course I know that atrocious injustices have also been committed in the name of God, but maybe that’s the price paid for the “gift” of free will.)

Will we ever be able to scientifically describe how God “changes the hearts” of believers? Of course not. That doesn’t mean it cannot happen. God’s capacity to affect our Universe through the actions of human believers should not be disregarded.

Well, that’s my personal view. Take it with a grain of salt. I just feel that it’s necessary to defend it, because this debate about ID is often framed as “science vs. religion” when it really isn’t. Unfortunately, the viewpoint of theistic evolution often gets attacked from both sides.

Science seeks to explain how the natural world is ordered.

Religion seeks to explain why the natural world is ordered.

The distinction between natural and supernatural is best contained within the context of the following quote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” –Arthur C. Clarke

The distinction between natural and supernatural is best contained within the context of the following quote:

Clarke’s aphorism has an implication apparently a bit too subtle for you to see: Once the technology is understood, it is no longer magic. And so you are saying that your failure to understand something makes it supernatural. This would explain most if not all of the claims you have made here. I seriously doubt if Clarke would defend preserving ignorance so that the supernatural won’t just fade away. But such preservation is clearly quite urgent in the minds of those who need the supernatural. Clarke has always favored evidence and rationality over teleological rationalizations.

I’m just trying to understand the role the theistic scientist’s god(s) are assigned. Certainly no scientific theory would have to change whatsoever if the whole notion of invisible postulated “reality defining agents” were dropped. From my perspective, the theistic scientists are in a bind — they have no practical use for their gods, but are psychologically unable to abandon them, so they are assigned the Deep And Important jobs so profound and fundamental that nobody else could care (or needs to).

It’s these kind of comments that give scientists a bad name. Apparently a scientist (ex. Kenneth Miller) is not quite pure enough because he has some sort of psychological condition that keeps him believing in a God. Religious people who understand the proper boundaries/domains of religion and science should be welcome in the battle against fundamentalists; not denigrated by ideological purists who are not content with any scientist embracing something on faith.

Flint Wrote:

they have no practical use for their gods, but are psychologically unable to abandon them,

Your whole line of reasoning is predicated on the view that God is a construct used to explain things, particularly phenomena. Certainly there are believers who make these types of arguments. But this narrowly utilitarian view doesn’t do justice to the variety and richness of religious beliefs and practice. There are a couple of concepts that you have to take seriously (not necessarily believe, in the way that religious believers do, but take seriously as an intellectual matter) if you want to gain any insight into religious belief. The first is that human spirituality is an intrinsic part of human nature - it’s not just a manifestation of other desires, like fear of being alone or helpless, or the desire to control or manipulate people. The second is that believers truly do believe that what they believe is the truth (or the Truth) - again, they aren’t just making up stories in an attempt to explain things they can’t otherwise explain. This is as true of scientists as of any other believer.

It’s very difficult to explain religious belief to someone who instinctively frames the issue as a competition between two methods for explaining phenomena, since they tend to rule out in advance most of the reasons people believe as irrelevant or not a valid basis for belief (For example, when a believer says that they believe that Jesus Christ is their savior because He changed their life, the skeptic dismisses this as an emotional crutch or somesuch. But to the believer, this belief is a more solid aspect of reality than anything else. It’s not something empirical, and it’s difficult if not impossible to explain to someone else who hasn’t had the experience, but that doesn’t make it any less real.)

My only suggestion is for you to read “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, and/or “The Faith of a Physicist” by John Polkinghorn, if you have not already done so. The latter book explicitly looks at the issue you are raising - how does an empirical scientist defend belief in God?

To turn the question back on you, I’m curious how you “explain” events like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide? (I’ll leave it to you to use whatever sense of “explain” seems natural and take it from there. I’m genuinely curious how people who don’t believe in God address such issues, and it also addresses the point that one of the arguments for the existence of God is the inadequacy of alternative explanations.)

Holocaust? Genocide? Group A doesn’t like Group B, and kills them. How does a “believer” explain them?

If you want a detailed version of what was behind the Holocaust, for example, I suggest hitting your local library.

C.S. Lewis popularly defended a moral argument for God. John Polkinghorn is best known for his defense of a fine-tuning argument.

Both apologetics end up placing God in an explanatory role.

I actually don’t disagree that evidential explanation of phenomena isn’t the only way personal religious belief is approached, but you’ve picked two bad examples to make your point there.

Mike S. said:

Your whole line of reasoning is predicated on the view that God is a construct used to explain things, particularly phenomena. Certainly there are believers who make these types of arguments. But this narrowly utilitarian view doesn’t do justice to the variety and richness of religious beliefs and practice.

It might be true that Christians don’t necessarily view their beliefs as being useful for explanator power of human observations, but then if there are no direct observations of what the believer believes in and there are no indirect observations for it to explain, then isn’t the belief simply arbitrary?

Example: I could say that I believe in invisible, miniature flying unicorns. But why would I believe that? There’s no reason to.

There are a couple of concepts that you have to take seriously (not necessarily believe, in the way that religious believers do, but take seriously as an intellectual matter) if you want to gain any insight into religious belief. The first is that human spirituality is an intrinsic part of human nature - it’s not just a manifestation of other desires, like fear of being alone or helpless, or the desire to control or manipulate people.

Quite the contrary, I’ve found that “spirituality” is explanable in terms of ordinary biology and psychology.

The believers I’ve known almost all believe because they were raised in that belief (i.e., they “learned” it at a young age.) Ever wonder why kids from the ME don’t believe in Jesus…? Why don’t most Americans believe in Allah or Mohammed? I’d suggest that if a child were raised in total absence of religious belief or talk about religions, there’s a good chance they’d make up their own to explain things they didn’t understand.

There is also a tendency for humans to need to believe in something that is extraordinary. That’s why there’s people who believe in UFO’s, Elvis, psychics, and Jesus. There is also a very real need of humans to feel like their lives have meaning, especially given that we spend a lot of time being bored and uncomfortable and being subject to the threat of instantaneous death at any moment. People need some kind of comfort. They also need to feel like there’s justice of some sort; there has to be some explanation why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. They usually explain this by saying, “God works in mysterious ways” or “It’s part of God’s plan” or something.

So I don’t really think that there is anything extraordinary about “belief” or “faith”, any more than there is something extraordinary about people who believe that they can talk to their dead relatives through that pinhead on tv.

The second is that believers truly do believe that what they believe is the truth (or the Truth) - again, they aren’t just making up stories in an attempt to explain things they can’t otherwise explain. This is as true of scientists as of any other believer.

Well, they may truly believe it, but they ARE just making it up (or parroting what someone else just made up.) As stated above, there’s no reason to believe in god. None. Zero. Zilch.

Other than: Being raised (indoctrinated) in that belief at a young age, needing to believe in something extraordinary, etc. In other words, psychology.

It’s very difficult to explain religious belief to someone who instinctively frames the issue as a competition between two methods for explaining phenomena, since they tend to rule out in advance most of the reasons people believe as irrelevant or not a valid basis for belief (For example, when a believer says that they believe that Jesus Christ is their savior because He changed their life, the skeptic dismisses this as an emotional crutch or somesuch. But to the believer, this belief is a more solid aspect of reality than anything else. It’s not something empirical, and it’s difficult if not impossible to explain to someone else who hasn’t had the experience, but that doesn’t make it any less real.)

No one here can prove that Jesus Christ _didn’t_ change yours or someone else’s life.

The point is that there is no logical bridge between these two things: My outlook, behavior, etc. changed; Jesus Christ’s spirit was the reason.

You can’t get from one to the other. In fact, it is much more likely that the person in question changed due to other humans’ teaching and due to their own psychology and, ultimately, the psysiology of their brain.

Now, that argument has nothing to do with “ultimate reality”. No one knows what ultimate reality is, and we never will. In fact, even after you die, you won’t know. If you go to heaven, how will you know you aren’t dreaming…? Do you see my point? Arguing that because you had some great life-changing experience, thus, it was the work of god is a non-sequiter. It’s superstitious. If I were in a car wreck, I could just as legitimately argue that Jesus caused me to have a wreck.

My only suggestion is for you to read “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, and/or “The Faith of a Physicist” by John Polkinghorn, if you have not already done so. The latter book explicitly looks at the issue you are raising - how does an empirical scientist defend belief in God?

My experience suggests the answer is: “Poorly”.

To turn the question back on you, I’m curious how you “explain” events like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide? (I’ll leave it to you to use whatever sense of “explain” seems natural and take it from there. I’m genuinely curious how people who don’t believe in God address such issues, and it also addresses the point that one of the arguments for the existence of God is the inadequacy of alternative explanations.)

I don’t understand this at all. What type of explanation are you looking for? What part? The psychology involved? The history? The events are quite well explained already.

E Wrote:

C.S. Lewis popularly defended a moral argument for God. John Polkinghorn is best known for his defense of a fine-tuning argument.

Both apologetics end up placing God in an explanatory role.

I actually don’t disagree that evidential explanation of phenomena isn’t the only way personal religious belief is approached, but you’ve picked two bad examples to make your point there.

Both Lewis and Polkinghorne have written many books, essays, etc. - reducing their writings to “defender of a moral argument for God” and “defense of a fine-tuning argument” is a bit of a caricature, I think. I suppose we could discuss the nuances of what is meant by ‘placing God in an explanatory role’. In one sense, any apologetic ‘explains’ God in reference to some phenomena. (Or in reference to rational arguments.) I think the question hinges on what kind of explanations one is talking about. Flint’s version is essentially a mechanistic explanation. In “Faith of a Physicist”, Polkinghorne doesn’t give a mechanistic account for his beliefs - he goes over the Nicene Creed and describes how each idea contained therein can be defended on rational and/or empirical grounds. The point is, his belief is not a “psychological crutch” - it’s a reasonable belief given the available evidence.

Ruthless’s entire post is an example of how it’s virtually impossible to discuss religion and science when the issues are framed in a particular way. For example,

Quite the contrary, I’ve found that “spirituality” is explanable in terms of ordinary biology and psychology.

Let’s say that I grant your premise - why do you draw the conclusion that the biological and psychological explanations rule out other explanations? It’s basically a reverse God-of -the-gaps argument: If I can explain something in naturalistic terms, then it follows that spiritual explanations (i.e. God) are superfluous, unneccessary, or incorrect. Why should this be so?

And,

There is also a very real need of humans to feel like their lives have meaning…

You’re simply begging the question - we agree that humans have a deep-seated desire for their lives to have meaning. This frequently involves the requirement that there be something beyond this life or this earth. Why is that? You have some evolutionary explanation. I have a theological or spiritual explanation. Discovering plausible evidence for the former doesn’t rule out the latter.

In fact, it is much more likely that the person in question changed due to other humans’ teaching and due to their own psychology and, ultimately, the psysiology of their brain.

1) How do you calculate the relative ‘likelihoods’? 2) Again, why is this explanation incompatible with God evoking the change?

No one knows what ultimate reality is, and we never will. In fact, even after you die, you won’t know. If you go to heaven, how will you know you aren’t dreaming … ? Do you see my point?

David Hume, call your office…

Either you accept that the world, including human beings and their spiritual nature, is real, or you don’t. Nobody lives their life as a pure skeptic.

I don’t understand this at all. What type of explanation are you looking for?

This gets back to the question of meaning, and of the human condition. The fact that you think the Holocaust is explained in any meaningful way by simply reciting the historical or psychological conditions pertaining to it reveals a vast gulf between your outlook and mine. I’m not really sure how to bridge that gap.

But where have the atheists been? Perhaps my op-ed reading is too selective, but I have missed Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Daniel Dennett’s op-eds on how the extinction of 100,000-odd lives by a tidal wave offers us no cause for reflection on the human situation at all, being merely a random physical event of the kind to be expected in a random physical world.

link

Born naked and defenseless, we have to trust that our parents will take care of us since without that practical providence we’d simply die. We have to believe that the mysterious and sometimes unpleasant things inflicted on us by Mom and Dad—dental appointments, spelling, veggies—are for our own good as, for the most part, they are. Although it is exeedingly unlikely that the human race as a whole has parents—even the various metaphysical versions of God don’t promise that kind of individual love to individuals—we go on acting as if there were a big Father or Mother looking out for us. Well, whatever helps.

Of course one could claim that the “sentiment of absolute dependence” is more than a consequence of the reproductive biology of warm blooded vertebrates and somehow conveys information about something more ultimate. Like many other theological ideas, however, such an extrapolation is, philosophcially speaking, a bare possibility like the equally implausible notion defended by Leibniz that this is he best of all possible worlds. Apolegetics can represent these ideas as coherent, but the arguments are only cogent if you already believe and don’t need arguments anyhow.

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This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on January 20, 2005 2:44 PM.

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