New Data on the Question: “Who is For Evolution?”

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Who actually accepts or supports the theory of biological evolution? Traditionally, one gets different answers to this question from scientists and from creationists / “Intelligent Design” advocates.

Most scientists agree that it is scientists - those practicing science - who accept and support evolution. However, according to New Mexico’s chapter of IDnet, “evolutionists” are instead those who adhere to Philosophical Naturalism:

…evolutionists, because of their philosophical commitment to Naturalism, insist as a matter of dogma that the process of evolution is undirected and without purpose.

Now, two new pundits weigh in with answers to this age-old question. And the answers are in substantial agreement, despite their different sources - one is Christian pastor and parent Ray Mummert, from Dover, PA, and the other is Geoff Brumfiel, Nature’s Washington physical sciences correspondent.

Mummert’s assessment appeared on Yahoo News, and is archived here. The March 29th article, “TEACHING DARWIN SPLITS PENNSYLVANIA TOWN” by Catherine Hours, notes

With the [Dover] lawsuit pending, the council members, defended by an organization of Christian lawyers, will not talk about the case. But pastor and parent Ray Mummert, 54, explained their point. “If we continue to indoctrinate our young people with non-religious principles, we‘re headed for an internal destruction of this society,” he said. “Evolution is just a theory and there are other theories,” Mummert explained, smiling through his beard. “There is such a complexity in life, and science wants to hang its hat on a belief that life somehow started – they say there is no creator, no order … believe there is a creator,” he said. Both sides acknowledge the political context of the debate over Darwinism, and the relation to the re-election of staunchly Christian President George W. Bush. “Christians are a lot more bold under Bush‘s leadership, he speaks what a lot of us believe,” said Mummert. “We‘ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture,” he said, adding that the school board‘s declaration is just a first step. …

Brumfiel of Nature is the author of an article in today’s Nature called “Intelligent design: Who has designs on your students’ minds?”

Brumfiel writes

But despite researchers’ apparent lack of interest, or perhaps because of it, the [ID] movement is catching on among students on US university campuses. Much of the interest can be traced to US teenagers, more than three-quarters of whom believe, before they reach university, that God played some part in the origin of humans (see graphic). But others are drawn to the idea out of sheer curiosity.

This is the graphic Brumfiel cites:

Here are the key data from that the bottom panel of that graphic, which pertain to our question:

Support for Darwin Increases with Level of Education Percentage of adults who believe evolution is a scientific theory well supported by the evidence:

  • Postgraduate Education 65%
  • College graduate 52%
  • Sample Average 35%
  • Some college education 32%
  • High school or less 20%

And there you have it. Who is For evolution? To the Ramparts! To the Turrets! To the Fortified Bunkers! To Arms! No one is safe! It’s the Attack of the Intelligent and Educated!

265 Comments

Well, the obvious retort from the other side is not that they are “Intelligent and Educated” but that they are “Indoctrinated”. That’s what creationists and the DI tends to moan and gripe about.

Support for Darwin Increases with Level of Education

Ah yes. Did you know that support for Watson and Crick also increases with education level? As well as support for black people, women and gays.

How do you like those rutabegas?

But it ain’t foolproof as I learned to my dismay last year, when a fresh attorney in the big city upon hearing the word “DNA” in a conversation, unwisely blurted: “You don’t believe that stuff, do you?”

Such are the oddities one encounters in the United States when one mingles with contemporary graduates of so-called “liberal arts” colleges.

Well, GWW, having graduated from a liberal arts college that consistently competes with Caltech (and consistently beats MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, CMU, et al.) for the rank of #1 in per-biology-major yield of life science PhDs (nearly 20%), I gotta say that I have no idea which liberal arts colleges you are talking about. Not my alma mater, that’s for sure. Williams, maybe? Swarthmore? Oberlin? U. Minnesota, Morris? [;-)]

UC San Diego -> Harvard Law! ;)

I didn’t mean to dis liberal arts colleges. I loved college and grad school was fun too (for the first few years).

What’s amazing to me about those numbers in Dave’s post is not that 80% of people who stop after high school (or earlier) have no concept of geologic time scales, it’s that 35% of college postgrads are able to keep themselves deluded about basic scientific facts.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the reason for this is that, in this country, bizarre nonsensical beliefs are coddled as long as they are associated with Christianity. And I’m not talking about mystical beliefs, the stuff that many of us carry around in our hearts and souls. I’m talking about stuff that is just plain wrong.

For example, I’d bet $100 that same 35% of postgrads believes that scientific evidence supports the efficacy of distant prayer on human healing.

I understand that it’s hard to “let go” sometimes. I remember very well the difficult emotions that churned through me the day I discovered wrapped presents in my parents’ closet that were tagged “From Santa.” It was disturbing, to say the least.

By comparison, the transformation from the religion my parents had indoctrinated me into my present state was much more gradual (perhaps a few giant steps were made under the influence in college).

But it does surprise me that when it comes to spiritually irrelevant facts (e.g., the non-existence of telekinetic powers, ESP, communicating with the dead, creationism) that adults with a quarter century or more of education still won’t “let go.”

Typically, Mummert completely misrepresented the theory of evolution. “They [scientists] say there is no creator, no order”, according to Mummert. But of course that’s not what scientists are saying at all.

Off-topic, but in reply to Alex, I’m a current undergrad bio major at Caltech, and am pleasantly surprised to hear that we’ve got a better bio-PhD-per-bio-BS ratio than MIT, Harvard, et all. It’s especially surprising because biology is barely considered a science here; physics and chemistry are sciences, but biology is often viewed as a linear combination of stamp-collecting and pipetting.

But..ah…God teaches creation…so..if God was there over the evolutionary process..then he’s a liar, in which case he isn’t God, because God is perfect. Unless of course it was Buddah, but he can’t speak so no one knows where he stands.

Randall Wald wrote

biology is often viewed as a linear combination of stamp-collecting and pipetting

Aaahh, another entry for “1001 uses of a pipette”

Comment #27022 Posted by Mike Walker on April 28, 2005 12:16 AM

Well, the obvious retort from the other side is not that they are “Intelligent and Educated” but that they are “Indoctrinated”. That’s what creationists and the DI tends to moan and gripe about.

And we all know that, because religious indoctrination pretty much starts in the cradle and teens are very well indoctrinated indeed by the time they become teens, what is happening in higher educaiton is really DE-INDOCTRINATION. Sincerely, Paul

If creationist don’t like the whole indoctrination thing maybe they would be willing to cut a deal. If they agree to give up indoctrination as a tool for oh, say…two thousand years, science will agree too. Oh that’s right, science educates, not indoctrinates, so we don’t lose anything there. Sincerely, Paul

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Paul Flocken Wrote:

Scientists insist that evolution was undirected because there is no evidence to the contrary.

Are you sure this is what you meant to say? I think it would be more accurate to say that science has no opinion as to whether evolution was directed because the “evidence” for direction is not accessible to the scientific method. The unsupported assertions of scientists (and preachers) are irrelevant.

This is a little off topic, though it does reference a quote from the post above– I wonder what IDists take ‘philosophical naturalism’ to be. The way they use the term bears little resemblance to how it seems to be used in contermporary philosophy, where it denotes, roughly, a methodological attitude *in philosophy* which regards philosophy and science as in some sense importantly continuous– that is, philosophy is distinguished less by having a unique method than by the particular questions it addresses (not to say that philosophy is regarded as ‘a science,’ per se). Insofar as scientists might have opinions about the role of philosophy, they could be naturalists or not– but its hard to see why this would affect their views on evolution, though presumably a naturalistically inclined philosopher would be more likely to accept evolution (though neither would most non-naturalists deny it). If we read ‘philosophical naturalism’ among scientists as an opinion towards their own discipline and its methods, as a belief that, say, the methods of biological science are the best way to learn about the biological world, then it would seem that any serious biologist would have to be a naturalist in this sense.

By ‘philosophical naturalism’ do IDists/creationists just mean atheism/agnosticism (or perhaps, more reasonably, some methodological version thereof- but methodological principles in the sciences are prboably not really ‘philosophical’ in any perjorative sense)? Or some sort of materialism/physicalism (as opposed to dualism, vitalism, etc…)? Obviously, accepting evolution as a good empirical theory in biology (and hence likely to be true or close to true) doesn’t require commitment to either one (as, of course, witnessed by the existence of theistic evolutionists, which include such theological dunces as the entire Catholic Church hiearchy).

This is just one of the many ways that ID advocates reveal their ignorance not only of science, but also of some basic philosophical issues (the other which always bothers the hell out of me is the ‘evolution is not falsiable, and so not science’ argument– even if the antecedenct is true, the consquequent doeesn’t follow. Falsifiability hasn’t been regarded as a straightforwardly necessary condition for ‘sciencehood’ by hardly anyone since the 1950s when W.V.O. Quine published a blistering attack on the doctrine in his famous ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism.’ Note that the ‘good guys’ fall into a similar trap sometimes as well, by arguing using the same strategy that ID is not a science. A long history of attempts to demarcate science from ‘pseudo-science’ have, I think, at least strongly suggested that we’re better off regarding disciplines like ID and astrology as *really unsucceful sciences* rather than as simply ‘non-scientific’).

Comment #27044 Posted by Jim Wynne on April 28, 2005 08:40 AM

Are you sure this is what you meant to say? I think it would be more accurate to say that science has no opinion as to whether evolution was directed because the “evidence” for direction is not accessible to the scientific method. The unsupported assertions of scientists (and preachers) are irrelevant.

I would like to think that evidence is, by definition, accessible to the scientific method. Or, expressed negatively, that which is not accessible to the scientific method is not evidence, hence no contrary evidence to undirectedness. But lacking a rigorous examination of that, your formulation is the more accurate statement. Thanks. Sincerely, Paul

SeanD, You are correct about ‘philosophical naturalism’. It is one of those codewords that creationists use that are only supposed to be understood by other creationists because it has a definition only creationists apply to it.

To return to the topic I so blithely ignored, since this posting of Mr. Thomas obliquely addresses the problem of teenagers not having enough of the right tools to rigorously analyze creationist quackery, this is a good place to bring up Sir ToeJam’s attempt at an ngo. Is it a go or will it fail at conception. It is an excellant place to show our anger will drive us to act. Sincerely, Paul

Some version of E. Apeman said:

Correction, higher education has increasingly become an indoctrination process for liberalism, which has its roots in Darwinism.

Spoken like someone who has never seen a graduate school!

Conservatives dominate graduate education in the U.S., especially in business schools (where MBAs are granted, if you didn’t realize it), law schools, medical schools, and engineering. There are a handful of famous, liberal thinkers on university faculties, compared to the thousands of faculty members, most of whom are no more liberal than your grandmother (if your grandmother is liberal, perhaps you should pay more attention to her reasons).

Darwinism? In business school? In engineering? In software design and “systems analysis?” That’s rich.

Darwinism plays too small a role in biology, too small a role in medicine, and no discernible role in any other facet of higher education.

This is of course the problem with “knowledge puffs up” that supports your arrogant attitude. I’m just waiting for you guys to propose a voting system where years of education are used to weight a citizen’s vote. You “alphas” really out to read Huxley’s “Brave New World”

The liberal myth that “education” will somehow solve societies problems continues. Consider your efforts to be as successful as Moore’s propoganda piece was in preventing Bush’s re-election.

Education is much cheaper than ignorance. Moore was right, of course. Too bad his delivery cemented so many otherwise good Americans into thinking that Bush had told the truth about Iraq. Of course, most Americans supported Lyndon Johnson and the escalation of the Vietnam war, at first. God help us that Iraq doesn’t take a similar course from here on in!

Knowledge is the glory of God, American theologians used to say. If there is a god, that’s certainly true (I’m a believer). So when the IDolators rail against education, it is one more means by which we can discern their Pharisaic philosophy and departure from the path of righteousness, American patriotism, and the common sense which once was prized by common folk who aspire for their own children to get educations better than their own.

Contrarianism is entertaining when backed by thought, but simple dissention otherwise, a sowing of strife for no yield.

evolving-apeman, I notice you did not disagree with my assertian that religious indoctrination begins in the cradle. In my bookstore, there are religious picture board books(that means no words, apeman) specifically for the one to three age range. And they are quite doctrinaire on creationist subjects. Is it right or wrong to expose(far to weak a word in my opinion) children to such brainwashing before they are barely capable of thinking, let alone critical thinking. Setting aside a name for it, what goes on in the universities of this country at least has adults as the object. They are quite capable of deciding for themselves if the education is worth it. insincerely,

Off-topic, but in reply to Alex, I’m a current undergrad bio major at Caltech, and am pleasantly surprised to hear that we’ve got a better bio-PhD-per-bio-BS ratio than MIT, Harvard, et all. It’s especially surprising because biology is barely considered a science here; physics and chemistry are sciences, but biology is often viewed as a linear combination of stamp-collecting and pipetting.

Among geneticists, CalTech has a very nice reputation as the 2nd home of Drosophila genetics (after Morgan’s lab moved from Columbia). While modern genetics got its start in NYC, it really took hold in Pasadena. One of the most important figures of the Modern Synthesis, Th. Dobzhansky, got his start at CalTech (before, ironically, moving to New York), and you could very well argue that CalTech was one of most important institutions in giving rise to modern evolutionary theory.

The stats on education level and acceptance of evolution don’t surprise me in the least. Of all college graduates, a non-trivial portion are graduates of fundamentalist colleges where evolution is often taught as the standard doctrine of atheists and agnotics. Of the rest I suspect that fewer than a third have studied any biology in college, much less a second year course on evolution or, god forbid, a course on the relationship between science and religion. After all look at the bozo in the Whitehouse. He went to Yale, earned gentleman C’s, never took a course in biology, and yet has the gall to say in his ignorance that “the jury’s still out on evolution.”

The results also are consistent with an anecdotal observation of mine. I volunteer five to six hours a week at a local Planned Parenthood clinic escorting patients through screaming and physically obstructionist pickets. My fellow escorts and I all have at least four years of college. Through talking with the few pickets who are civil, I’ve learned that at best one in five is a college graduate and many of the rest high school dropouts. But that doesn’t stop them from screaming that abortion causes breast cancer, is more risky than a full term pregnancy, that Planned Parenthood spreads diseases, that PP is a money machine, and other factually incorrect nonsense. The escorts uniformly accept evolution; I’ve never asked the pickets about evolution, but I expect most reject it. I suspect that statistically education is a key distinction in differentiating those on the two sides of both issues.

Of course, the folks at the DI have the “education” but they’re the statistical anomalies found in any large population. Education isn’t all one needs. One also needs some common sense and dose of wisdom.

Keanus

“What’s amazing to me about those numbers in Dave’s post is not that 80% of people who stop after high school (or earlier) have no concept of geologic time scales, it’s that 35% of college postgrads are able to keep themselves deluded about basic scientific facts.”

So lets say someone’s got a Masters in Elizabethean Poetry… That somehow should make this individual aware? Or they’re a lawyer? Nothing personal, but a Lawyer is a guy with a bachelors degree that went to a difficult trade school.

Or what about me? I’m an accountant with a graduate degree in accounting. And while I know more about US Taxation than probably 99.999% of all Americans, my formal schooling in Biology stopped as a college sophmore, when I took Oceonography 101 taught from a biological perspective instead of a geological perspective. My last broad spectrum biology class was in high school, where I discovered in the sex ed unit I knew more about women’s bodies than most HS girls. (Nothing like Gray’s Anatomy, first read as a 3rd grader when Dad was in Medical School.)

Everything I’ve learned since is either from my wife (PhD) who is a research biologist at a top university; or attributable to my natural, and rare, desire to learn and grow in my understanding of the “universe as it is, not what someone wishes it to be” as a human.

About levels of education: It’s an interesting statistic, but one that seems hard to make sense of. Many students, myself included, make it through undergrad. without even taking a biology course (I was a philosophy major, and my two science core-requirements were met by chemistry and physics). And I would guess that the percentage of graduate students studying discinplines other than biology is rather high.

Concerning religion and Darwinian evolution: There is no empirical evidence that I know of for the intervention of an intelligence, either in mutation or environment; neither is there empirical evidence against such intervention. What would count as evidence either way? It seems to me that the question of intervention, for or against, is beyond the scope of science.

Evolving Ape-man Wrote:

Higher education has increasingly become an indoctrination process for liberalism, which has its roots in Darwinism.

No, it doesn’t. Liberalism as a political philosophy emerged in the late 1700s; the term liberalism was in use by the early 1800s. And Darwin published the Origin in 1859. You are emitting impossible nonsense, as usual.

ID proponents like Johnson and others have done a great disservice to science and faith by their consistent conflation of methodological and philosophical naturalism. Perhaps the end justifies the means ??? but such a conflation is easily exposed and shows the underlying religious foundation of Intelligent Design.

Evolving Ape Wrote:

This is of course the problem with “knowledge puffs up” that supports your arrogant attitude.

Is the Apeman actually advocating ignorance as a tool to fight arrogance? If so.…then he has this exactly backwards.….the most arrogant and opinionated people that I have ever met have been the ones with the least education.

It has also been my observation that people [even intelligent and well educated] tend to have the strongest opinions on the subjects in which they possess the least knowledge.

PvM Wrote:

ID proponents like Johnson and others have done a great disservice to science and faith by their consistent conflation of methodological and philosophical naturalism.

As I’ve discovered in the recent thread on this topic, there is a tremendous amount of confusion concerning “methodological naturalism.” It seems to me that science is not methodologically naturalistic; indeed, it is not naturalistic at all.

The phrase “methodological naturalism” suggests a methodological commitment to a position that can only be characterized philosophically. Science, I’m told, makes no such commitments and does not engage in philosophy.

Rather, the results of science have found nothing but natural causes. Perhaps this could be called a de facto naturalism, but even that would be incorrect because the conclusion is not in any way supportive of naturalism, i.e., every scientist is (or should be) open to the idea that tomorrow they will have evidence of miracles left and right, but until they do, they correctly adopt a show-me-the-money attitude.

Ken Shackleton Wrote:

Is the Apeman actually advocating ignorance as a tool to fight arrogance?

Not surprising; he is highly qualified in the use of it, and it seems to be the only tool he has.

Nobody has pointed out the obvious problem with assuming that increased education leads to belief in evolution. Since people with advanced degrees are likely to be more intelligent than others, the statistical correlation between education and evolution may simply reflect the tendency of intelligent people to understand and support evolution.

Finley:

I agree, these terms are tossed around without much attachment to anything. Science presumes (pending evidence to the contrary) that natural, observable effects have natural, observable causes. This is indeed a presumption, a meta-working hypothesis. I would contend that if science were to encounter an effect that did NOT have a natural or observable cause, then science would either guess wrong, or permanently remain in “We don’t know” limbo.

The creationist claim is that science is constructed in such a way as to define the supernatural as impossible and nonexistent, but this is misleading. Better to say that science consists of applying a well-understood method, and the method is incapable of detecting or evaluating unnatural mechanisms if indeed any exist. So the show-me-the-money approach truly does constrain what is recognizable as money. Faith is not money. “The results of science have found nothing but natural causes” because the scientific method is only capable of looking for natural causes. Other causes, if any, lie outside the scope of science.

Flint,

I think your interpretation is too strong. Let’s take a straight-forward example: if tomorrow I encounter a burning-bush in my back-yard, and it starts talking to me, and I invite, friends, neighbors, reporters and scientists over to take a look, and they all verify my findings, and despite years of analysis no natural cause can be found, and…, eventually don’t we have to chalk that one up to a miracle. Must we throw up our hands and leave the matter in “we don’t know” limbo?

qetzal,

I do believe that “effective” prayer (if it exists) is non-natural. Your second question, however, requires some stage-setting. Let me play devil’s advocate and consider your example from the other side.

Suppose we conduct a study as you suggest, and it turns out that the “targets” of the directed prayers benefit in the relevant respect while the others do not (ceteris paribus, of course).

What can science infer from this? That the cause of the effect is non-natural? On what basis? There’s nothing particularly supernatural about saying prayers. Neither is there anything supernatural about, e.g., people becoming healthy. Where, then, is the evidence?

Even if it could be established that the correlation of prayer and health (assuming there is one) is not accidental, say by repeating the experiment with the same result, it would not follow that the correlation represented a super-natural connexion. There could be a natural explanation that is presently unknown.

Returning to my side of the discussion, strong methodological naturalism seizes on this last sentence and demands that science hold out for a natural explanation. Thus, come what may, supernatural causes are excluded a priori. I take this to be the position of A. Nominee and Flint.

It follows that evidence for the supernatural is by definition impossible. Nothing whatever would count as evidence for a miracle. Thus, the requests for evidence - “Show me a miracle” - are empty because nothing could possibly qualify.

Not comfortable with this dogmatic stance, various particpants in this thread have tried to deconstruct ‘God’, ‘supernatural’, ‘natural’, etc. without realizing that their proposed definitions make the same commitment as the simple admission of strong methodological naturalism.

A. Nominee,

That God exists is evident through religious experience. It is an experience that I share with the vast majority of men, past and present. It is not a sensory experience, and so its justification does not depend on the senses.

Let me ask you this: Do you only believe something if it can be verified by the senses?

Mr. Finley:

I’m sorry, sir, but the very existence of atheism means that god(s) are not self-evident. What’s evident is that many people make up the most diverse definitions for one or more entities they call “gods”, but they are unable to come up with anything resembling a unanimous decision. Whether anything or anyone exists that corresponds to any one of those (mutually exclusive, in most cases) descriptions remains to be seen.

Tell me, sir: what distinguishes your claims from those of any snake-oil salesman if your experience is “not sensory” (and I will add non-rational as well, which is a necessary corollary of your words)?

If nothing can be used to distinguish objectively between a “true” supernatural cause and a “false” supernatural cause, how can we (scientists and non scientists alike) “know” anything about it?

In other words: unless you are able to share your experience with me, it remains outside of the realm of knowledge, let alone science.

A. Nominee,

Answer my question and I’ll answer yours.

…unless you are able to share your experience with me, it remains outside of the realm of knowledge, let alone science.

I share my experience with quite a few people. I’m a Christian, and at last count, there are a couple billion of us. Are you asking to go to church with me? If not, I’m not sure what you’re after.

Not comfortable with this dogmatic stance, various particpants in this thread have tried to deconstruct ‘God’, ‘supernatural’, ‘natural’, etc. without realizing that their proposed definitions make the same commitment as the simple admission of strong methodological naturalism.

I’m a little curious — why the heck are you bringing up “god” and “religion” in the first place? Don’t all those IDers keep telling us that ID is about SCIENCE and has NOTHING to do with religion or god – nothing AT ALL???????

Or are IDers just lying to us when they claim that?

Tireless Blowhard,

This is a courtesy, one you don’t deserve and one that won’t be repeated. I have no plans of engaging you in substative discussion because I do not believe you are capable of it. So unless you just like asking questions that I am not going to answer, direct your efforts elswhere.

Mr. Finley:

Are you asking to go to church with me? If not, I’m not sure what you’re after.

Well, let me explain. In the real world out here, if I want people to assent to a claim I make, I must be able to share with them my experience, i.e. to show them something (some sensory experience, possibly supplemented by a certain quantity of reasoning). If I tell anyone “there is this thing I know, but I cannot explain what it is, cannot show anything for it, cannot justify it rationally. I just know it is like I say! trust me!”, people will look to me quite strangely and say “yeah, whatever!”

I’ve been asking you to “show your hand” since the beginning of this discussion, and you have done everything but showing your hand. What is this “supernatural” you speak about? The will of God? Then what is this “God” you speak of as if everybody knew what it is and could reliably identify traces of its action?

I’m a Christian, and at last count, there are a couple billion of us.

No, you are mistaken, sir. There’s a couple billion people who share a name but practically nothing else, and even those who have devoted a lot of thought to this question cannot tell us how to reliably identify this supposed entity. Under that label you find people who idolize a book to the point of believing in things like the Noachian flood and the literal six-day creation of the universe, and at the same time people who are practically indistinguishable from Spinozan Deists. If that is “sharing”, I don’t know what isn’t!

Do you really need me to detail, once again, the age-old pattern of “supernatural acts of God” being finally understood by rational thought? At which point, after discarding “all natural explanation”, should we have accepted the “evident” existence of Thor as the cause of lightning? Or the “evident” rage of Neptune as the reason for tsunamis?

Sorry, but our senses and reason have been shown to be valid tools for expanding our knowledge. Your “religious experience” has not, as far as I know. If you have different data, please present them.

SeanD Wrote:

This is a little off topic, though it does reference a quote from the post above— I wonder what IDists take ‘philosophical naturalism’ to be.

That’s easy. ‘Philosophical naturalism’ is actually having evidence to support your claims.

A. Nominee Wrote:

…if I want people to assent to a claim I make, I must be able to share with them my experience, i.e. to show them something (some sensory experience, possibly supplemented by a certain quantity of reasoning).

I’ll ask again: Do you only believe something if it can be verified by the senses?

“There could be a natural explanation that is presently unknown.

Returning to my side of the discussion, strong methodological naturalism seizes on this last sentence and demands that science hold out for a natural explanation.”

You said it yourself. There COULD be a natural explanation. Science demands explanations that can be tested, simply because that is the way to further science.

say we did find that someone who prays for something so very improbable gets their prayer answered. try something extreme, like person (A) in England prays for person (B) in Utah to have quintuplets. Person (B) had had a sonigram in their 1st trimester indicating only single fetus, but ends up giving birth to quintuplets.

say we are able to repeat this several times as an experiment.

OK, so now we have an observation that cannot be explained by our current knowledge of biology, that is repeatable.

now then, let’s assume we decide to accept that the cause is “supernatural” in origin.

of what value would our new hypothesis have? How would we test it? how could we make significant predictions based on it?

Can you see how this would not further our knowledge any further if we decide on a supernatural cause?

THIS is why science looks first to naturalistic explanations, not because there is any a-priori exclusion of the supernatural, but simply because it is not worthwhile to pursue it in any scientific sense.

it is not trying to reject “religion”, it merely sees it as a non-utilitarian starting point for investigation.

looking into the past, of what value was it to have accepted the theory of disease as that of supernatural origin for so many centuries? Was it not much more productive once people started attempting naturalistic investigation of such matters?

It is YOURSELF who is in danger of making this purely a dichotomy between naturalists and non. What value do you see in making this dichotomy, except to support an untenable philosophical position?

I can only assume two answers to that question:

1. you are in genuine confusion yourself, and are legitimately attempting to resolve personal conflict by discussing the issues here (repeatedly, i might add).

~or~

2. you are simply an intelligent troll, who attempts to deflect the topic on just about every thread you post in.

is there a 3rd alternative i am missing?

Mr. Finley:

Once again, you play fast and loose with definitions. I use my senses, augmented and boosted by my reason, and the senses and reason of the rest of humanity, in order to expand my knowledge. When I don’t “know” something, I may make an educated guess; usually, I refrain from making uneducated guesses in fields where I am completely out of my depth. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable position; actually, it’s far more honest than “I don’t know - but I believe, so I don’t need to know!”

Now, what about you answering one of my questions to you, sir?

Let me restate them, for your convenience:

1) Do you have a positive definition of “supernatural causation” that would enable someone else (e.g., me) to reliably determine whether some phenomenon is indeed “supernaturally caused” without having to examine and discard a potentially infinite number of natural causes?

2) Do you have a reliable test for “supernatural claims” that would enable someone else (e.g., me) to reliably decide which are right (if any) and which are mere human invention, delusion, hallucination, etc.?

3) At which point would we have been wise to stop investigating tsunamis, finally admitting that they were the fruit of Neptune’s rage?

4) If question no. 3 appears to beg the question, how is that not the case for your own original contention that science should be able to draw a line and finally surrender to “it’s the will of God”?

About prayer:

What science might do, if experimental data began to indicate that praying alters probabilities, is investigate further. For instance:

a) would praying to a specific deity be more/less efficient in obtaining the desired result?

b) would praying in a specific language be more/less efficient?

c) would ritualized prayers (standardized texts) be more/less efficient than “free-form” prayer?

d) would burning incense, chanting “hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare”, shaving one’s head, castrating the people doing the prayers, sacrificing one’s firstborn, burning animal carcasses, injecting psychotropic drugs, or other rituals, enhance our chances? (No disrespect meant: all these have been claimed as necessary or at least useful additions to prayer by very sincere religious people).

Somehow, I think many religious people might be a little worried by such a research program; however, I might be mistaken.

Finley:

I’ll ask again: Do you only believe something if it can be verified by the senses?

Perhaps this is a trick question. I have worked with people who genuinely sincerely hear voices in the walls. The voices tell them to do things. Now, what exactly is the mechanism here? No instrumentation yet devised can find those voices anywhere outside the brain of the hearer. Yet these people are ‘sensing’ the voices in some way. I raise this question because your ‘religious experience’ seems no different in kind or cause from their voices.

Your way of knowing things is almost surely not supernatural; it’s a fairly normal quirk of the human brain. As Aureola Nominee points out, billions of people might share what you call a religious experience, but certainly do not share the content of that experience. As John Lennon wrote: “What do you see when you turn out the lights? I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine.”

I think we could legitimately go a step further here. The practice of science recognizes the profound fallibility of human investigators. We hear voices, we see what we expect to see, we construct experiments with the intended results built in (without even realizing it), we take sides and adopt bias, and it comes quite naturally for us to construct the evidence as required by foregone conclusions. Recognizing this problem is the first step to countering it, but countering it is not easy. So we have peer review, we have replication of results, we have double-blind experiments, we deliberately encourage conflicting viewpoints, out of which are constructed useful methodologies. In other words, we do everything possible in science to neutralize the subjective.

Religion, quite the contrary, glories in the subjective. Even wallows in it. Even in near-legend, the prophets worked to induce unnatural mental states – they took drugs, they fasted, they caused themselves intense pain, they tried for sensory deprivation, etc. And yes, these are another avenue to knowledge entirely. The search for truth and the search for meaning often lead in entirely different directions.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the real source of your rather desperate need to rationalize the supernatural into existence were located within your brain by neuroscience, perhaps even within your own lifetime. In the meantime, I submit that the supernatural is something that ‘exists’ alongside your entirely-internal religious experience. The human brain is prone to misfire on a fairly regular basis. Religious experience may well be what such misfirings SEEM like to the brain suffering them.

“I’ll ask again: Do you only believe something if it can be verified by the senses?”

I would add on to AN’s answer and say:

it doesn’t matter. what matters to science is only things that can be tested, verified by theory if not purely by sensory testing. It’s simply not a matter of belief, but rather of utility.

you keep seeming to confuse science with religion. the two simply are NOT one and the same.

science does not attempt to be an all-encompasing investigation of “TRUTH”, but rather a great way to investigate those things that we can measure, or predict based on measurable observation. It has no value as a method to investigate things that do not have “naturalistic” explanations, for the reasons i have explained above.

We only rely on using science to explain the testable, and simply answer “unknown” (at least for now) to the rest. The problem throughout history, is that people are never satisfied with that answer, so must come up with other ways that make them feel comfortable with that “unknown” portion.

I am quite satisfied that current scientific methodology is adequate to deal with the currently testable; it has shown a tremendous track record. It is when I see the methods created to deal with the unknown portion, attempting to interfere with perfectly good methods of dealing with the testable, that i begin to denigrate.

So should you. so should anybody who agrees that the scientific method has value.

Tireless Blowhard,

This is a courtesy, one you don’t deserve and one that won’t be repeated. I have no plans of engaging you in substative discussion because I do not believe you are capable of it. So unless you just like asking questions that I am not going to answer, direct your efforts elswhere.

Ooops, you mis-spelled “questions that I cannot answer”.

How about if someone ELSE asks you, Mikey. Will you answer THEN?

“I have no plans of engaging you in substative discussion because I do not believe you are capable of it. So unless you just like asking questions that I am not going to answer, direct your efforts elswhere.”

cf. Ralph Kramden: “You think I won’t tell ya, you think I won’t tell ya? Is that what you think that I won’t tell ya?!”… “Just for that, I WON’T tell ya!”

C’mon, Mr. Finley. You’re dancing pretty hard, but you’re not that good a dancer.

First, you wrote:

I do believe that “effective” prayer (if it exists) is non-natural.

So you agreed with my first question. Then, you wrote:

Suppose we conduct a study as you suggest, and it turns out that the “targets” of the directed prayers benefit in the relevant respect while the others do not (ceteris paribus, of course).

From this, I infer that you agree that science can conduct valid tests on prayer.

But then you argue that it doesn’t really count, because there’s no proof the cause is non-natural. You already agreed that prayer itself is not natural, so I assume you’re postulating some other phenomenon that behaves just like effective prayer, but is entirely natural.

Then you state:

various particpants in this thread have tried to deconstruct ‘God’, ‘supernatural’, ‘natural’, etc. without realizing that their proposed definitions make the same commitment as the simple admission of strong methodological naturalism.

Don’t you see? It’s you that’s defining supernatural as anything beyond the study of science.

You accuse science of a commitment to “strong methodological naturalism” as if science chooses to ignore the supernatural. In reality, the way you define the supernatural places it outside of science. I don’t have any problem with that, but it would be better if you recognized and acknowledged it.

Sir Toejam made an excellent point:

[Science is] not a matter of belief, but rather of utility.

That sums up what I said before. Anything that can in some way be predicted, tested, observed, verified, can approached scientifically. Whether that includes the “supernatural” as you see it dependes on how you define supernatural.

I apologize for answering him before you had an opportunity to do so, Qetzal. I’m just not the patient sort.

cheers

steve

Why should I worship such a being?

Bro, you can always fake it. I’d hate to see you turned into a li’l crystal.

Salvador Cordova

Intelligent design may not be ready for prime time in the high schools, but it is ready for prime time in a religion classes where controversial subjects are ripe for exploration.

HAHAHHAHAHAHHHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHHA!!!!!!!!

Hilarious.

I guess it depends on what you mean by “discussion.”

You’d make a great revolutionary Salvador in a country where a bunch of extremist freaks were trying to establish a theocracy. You know, like the Iranian mullahs when they overthrew the Shah. You’d fit in perfectly, absolutely perfectly.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 20, column 2, byte 986 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

now that you mention it, it IS rather odd. I’m sure they have legions of scycophants, don’t they?

but then, i guess sheep like being led, that’s why they let these doofuses do the talking for them.

My own emphasis, in this debate, has consistently been on communication.

These guys can’t define what they are talking about (indeed they insist it can’t really be communicated), can’t offer any method for letting anyone - not already convinced - realize whether their claims are founded (indeed they insist that “faith cannot be put to the test”)…

and this is somehow science’s fault?

Get your own act straight, guys. Do you really want science to examine religious claims? Offer science one small scrap of actual evidence, one teeny tiny testable claim, and see what happens!

Here’s an extreme thought experiment for you, Mr. Finley:

Imagine we study prayer and it turns out that it works… when spoken in Japanese by martial art practitioners who address our collective ancestors! Then what, Mr. Finley?

Be careful what you wish for.

ah, i remember the flak that occured after it was shown by three different dating methods that the shroud of turin was not 2000 years old.

I’d like finley to explain the social reaction that occured because of that little bit of scientific analysis of a supposedly miraculous bit of evidence.

don’t bother trying to counter the dating method, it’s not important for this question.

ask yourself why there was such a backlash afterwards, and then please try to explain it to us.

Well folks. it’s been a very educational thread! And well behaved, for the most part. I’m disemvoweling one comment that got a little too personal.

As promised, however, it’s time to bring down the curtain.

Not to fear - there are other threads, new topics.

Till next time, Dave

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dave Thomas published on April 27, 2005 5:46 PM.

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