NOMA is Alive and Well in Ohio

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In Rocks of Ages Stephen Jay Gould famously argued for Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA), the notion that science and religion appropriately address different domains of knowledge (magisteria), and that therefore there is no necessary conflict between them so long as each sticks to its own domain. While that argument has its detractors, it was alive and well a few weeks ago in Ohio.

On November 14, with four high school science teachers I attended a panel presentation at the Center for Science and Industry in Columbus, the presentation being co-sponsored by COSI, the Ohio State University, and WOSU, the Columbus PBS station. The presentation was titled “The Intersection of Faith & Evolution: A Civil Dialogue.” The panelists were Jeff McKee, a paleontologist from Ohio State University, Patricia Princehouse, who lectures on evolutionary biology and philosophy at Case Western Reserve, David Ruppe, a pastor and scholar of religion, and Francis Collins, the Director of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian. (I mention Collins’ religious affiliation because he was the only presenter for whom it was explicitly mentioned in the introductions.)

The event was heavily over-subscribed, with the organizers having to open several satellite venues with video feeds of the live event at COSI. Having got my reservation in early, I was in the second row in front of the panel along with one of the teachers, where we had easy access to the microphone for audience questions.

The show started with a short skit that had three teen-aged kids in sleeping bags talking about the age of the stars (billions vs. thousands of years), why they’re different (physics vs. begats), and whether one of the girls could be both a pastor and a scientist. The resolution, of course, was the claim that the two aren’t antithetical. (That it was a girl who felt that quandary was a tip-off to the general theological stance of the evening.)

The format of the main event was a bit frustrating. I used the term “panel presentation” above rather than “panel discussion” purposely, since the panelists did little or no discussing among themselves. Rather, each panelist gave a roughly 8- to 10-minute summary of their view of the intersection of the title, and then the floor was opened to questions from the audience, some relayed from the remote venues.

The main point of each of the first three presenters – Collins, McKee, and Princehouse – was basically that theistic evolution was a viable option for theists, and that there is no necessary conflict between the two. Collins, the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and an evangelical Christian, made the argument common to theistic evolutionists, namely that science answers “how” questions about the world while religion answers “why” questions. Collins briefly outlined his basic position, in the process arguing firmly against intelligent design and creationism and against a literal reading of Genesis. You can hear Collins on NPR making much the same points here.

McKee is the author of several books, among them The Riddled Chain: Chance, Coincidence, and Chaos in Human Evolution. McKee briefly described some of the fossil evidence for human evolution (he was formerly at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and did some of the excavations). He correctly observed that human evolution most threatens the religious opponents of evolution, the intelligent design creationists of various stripes within the big tent of ID. If it were just whales that evolved there would be considerably less heat about it.

Princehouse (2003 winner of NCSE’s “Friend of Darwin” award) presented quotations from a number of authors – classical and modern, scientists and theologists and philosophers – describing various forms of accommodation between (mainly Christian) religious beliefs and science in general and evolution in particular. Ruppe focused mainly on the semantic confusions associated with the issue on both the science side and the religion side. I’d like to have heard more from him.

The audience’s questions tended to focus on Collins. For example, one questioner (who had read Collins’ book) correctly identified Collins’ alleged “evidence for belief” as fundamentally a God of the gaps argument. According to Collins, naturalistic science can’t account for human Moral Law (Collins’ capitalization) or the origin of the universe and its (alleged) fine-tuning, and therefore belief in a God is at least partly justified. To his credit, Collins answered that he wasn’t claiming “proofs” (his word) but rather only indications or pointers. McKee addressed the issue of randomness and contingency answering a question about his book. There were a number of other questions that my notes failed to capture.

A significant disadvantage of the format was that audience questions were disjointed, there was no follow-up, and virtually no discussion among the panelists about the questions (or answers). And, of course, it was all very civil. :)

It’s probably a little cruel, but I had the most fun watching Georgia Purdom of Answers in Genesis, who was sitting across the aisle. I’ve known her distantly for some years, since she was at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, and I was sure that the presentation would not sit happily with her literalist biblical stance (she now works full time for Answers in Genesis). At a talk she gave a couple of years ago I thought a microbiologist friend of mine was going to stroke out at Purdom’s remark that “Creationist scientists and secular scientists look at all the same evidence, but they interpret it differently because they have different presuppositions.” Sure enough, Georgia didn’t like the presentation.

There were some interesting discussions in the lobby over cookies and lemonade after the formal presentation. I spent 15 minutes in relief of Jeff McKee explaining to a philosopher why irreducible complexity was a pseudo-problem for evolution, and had fun with another philosopher over Dembski’s explanatory filter – anyone who doesn’t know what a conditional probability is or what a uniform probability density function means ought not try to defend Dembski. (I’m not sure why I ended up talking mostly with philosophers.) I also met a high school teacher who had brought 30 high school students from an International Baccalaureate program who were excited about the event and were fun to talk with.

On the drive home with the four science teachers we talked about their situation. They teach in a conservative community (there’s a district headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist church here), and every year they face students who have been thoroughly immersed in young earth creationism by their parents, pastors, and parochial or home schooling. A few years ago the local school board defeated a move to insert DI-style “critical analysis of evolution” language in the high school biology curriculum, complete with extracts from Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution trash. (To its credit, the local school board defeated that attempt well before the Ohio State Board of Education managed to do so.)

As I mentioned above, Gould’s notion of NOMA has its detractors, and I myself don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for it, but I was persuaded by my talk with those teachers that it can be helpful to them in defusing tensions about teaching evolution in their classrooms. I asked them how often they faced creationist students objecting to evolution and their answer was “Every year.” Anything one can do to help the folks out there on the front lines of public education is worth a good close look.

I suspect it may also help them in dealing with the parents of those children. As I wrote several years ago here on PT, the primary motivation driving the parents’ opposition to the teaching of evolution is fear for their childrens’ salvation. As I wrote then, given their worldview and assumptions that is not an irrational fear (I do not comment on the rationality of that worldview here: I take it as a given):

There is a genuine belief that accepting an evolutionary view of biological phenomena is a giant step on the road to atheism, and in learning evolutionary theory their children are in peril of losing salvation. Given the beliefs they hold, this is not a silly fear. From their perspective, atheism is a deadly threat, and evolution is a door through which that threat can enter to corrupt one’s child. No amount of scientific research, no citations of scientific studies, no detailed criticism of the Wellsian trash science offered in “teach the controversy” proposals, speaks to those fears. If one genuinely fears that learning evolution will corrupt one’s children and damn them for eternity, scientific reasoning is wholly irrelevant.

Under those circumstances, examples like Collins, a scientist, evangelical Christian and theistic evolutionist, are very valuable. They can potentially help reassure all but the most fundamentalist parents that learning about evolution does not necessarily set their children on the path to atheism and hence to Hell. Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God was very useful in the skirmish in the local district four years ago, particularly with school board members, and I anticipate that Collins’ The Language of God will be even more useful should another such skirmish arise.

RBH

237 Comments

In my Evolution Education group, I tend to suppress direct attacks on religion itself by those who support evolution because I, despite not myself beleiving in God, see the conclusion of atheism from acceptance of evolution as a non-sequitur:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_se[…]_%28logic%29

If A is true, then B is true.

B is stated to be true. Therefore, A must be true.

Evolution does not by itself prove atheism to be true.

This is a very nice report Richard. Thank you.

I think the major problems in attempting to reconcile science and religion come from people’s insistence on maintaining their preconceptions of a deity (or deities), preconceptions which come from the attempts of people thousands of years ago to make sense of the world. The mere existence of thousands of sects (many of which are dead sure they are right and everyone else is wrong) should give one reason to be cautious in assuming the various “holy books” give all the answers about deities.

If someone is inclined to look for the hand of a deity of some sort behind this universe, they should at least be open to the possibility that, based on what we know from science today, the deity (or deities) may be nothing like those ancient notions.

On the other hand, atheism is logically untenable because it assumes we know enough about the universe to rule out any gods. That’s a little too much hubris given our awareness of what we don’t know about the universe. We may not (and may never) be sufficiently evolved to recognize or understand the hand of a deity in the universe if, in fact, we really are a subset of a universe created by such a deity. We just don’t know what we will know in the future.

So I should think that some humility, curiosity, and a careful openness would be better than sectarian warfare and wars between science and religion.

However I also realize that there are many who will continue to insist that they have the Absolute Truth and will be willing to do whatever it takes to proselytize and keep their children from being exposed to “evil unbelievers”. Being nice or being tough with them makes no difference. Only secular laws and separation of church and state will keep them at bay for now.

Dale Husband:

In my Evolution Education group, I tend to suppress direct attacks on religion itself by those who support evolution because I, despite not myself beleiving in God, see the conclusion of atheism from acceptance of evolution as a non-sequitur:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_se[…]_%28logic%29

If A is true, then B is true.

B is stated to be true. Therefore, A must be true.

Evolution does not by itself prove atheism to be true.

Umm, what if both A and B are true. If B destroys evidence supporting A’s Falseness almost singlehandedly, then it is not a non sequitur.

Evolution is a very good introduction into the world of rationalism, and that is the first step on the road leading away from Nosensical Theism.

If A is true, then B is true.

B is stated to be true. Therefore, A must be true.

Not quite sure I follow the logic here.

If A implies B, the only logical contradiction occurs in the case where A is true, but B is false. It’s OK for A to be false and B to be true, or for both A and B to be True, or for both A and B to be False.

The equivalent converse of A implies B is NOTNOT(A) implies NOT(B)”, but rather, “NOT(B) implies NOT(A)”.

My favorite example: let A be “X is a communist” and B be “X is Evil.”

Supposing (supposing for the sake of argument, OK?) that A implies B, i.e. that all Communists are indeed Evil, the implication fails if there is even One good Communist.

The converse of the implication is not that all non-Communists are Good (and consider the trouble that thinking has landed our politico’s); rather, it is that if someone is Good (=NOT(Evil)), then that someone is Not a Communist. Logically speaking, and assuming the original implication was True.

The standard creationist assumption is A implies B, where A means “accepts evolution”, and B means “is an atheist.”

This is disproved by the existence of even ONE non-atheist who accepts evolution; Ken Miller; Francis Collins; Father George Coyne; etc.

The converse also fails: if one is not an atheist, then one cannot accept evolution.

Dave

NOMA is wrong at least in these 2 cases:

Morality:

- science: studies it as a natural phenomenon (evolutionary origins, cognitive processes, animal behavior, game theory ..)

- religion: morality is not a natural phenomenon, without God there would be no morality, animals have no morals etc.

Mind/Soul:

- similar conflicts, religion requires “soul” to be independent of brain (because of afterlife and free will) and exclusive for humans, specially designed not evolved

NOMA is wrong at least in these 2 cases:

Morality:

- science: studies it as a natural phenomenon (evolutionary origins, cognitive processes, animal behavior, game theory ..)

- religion: morality is not a natural phenomenon, without God there would be no morality, animals have no morals etc.

Mind/Soul:

- similar conflicts, religion requires “soul” to be independent of brain (because of afterlife and free will) and exclusive for humans, specially designed not evolved

While NOMA may fail in certain cases, it does appear to be a useful tool for teaching high-school students (based on Richard’s reported conversations with several teachers). It seems to me that, in the same way that most science is taught at the high-school level as established fact, NOMA can be used as an educational tool without requiring that unprepared immature minds delve into the finer details of the debate.

Whatever criticisms of NOMA you want to make, I agree that it serves just fine as an acceptable compromise. I’d heard the concept as a teenager; I think the idea has a fair amount of penetration in the US.

Drawing from the OP and my own experience, I think NOMA is most applicable in grade school education - which is a little below the level of mind/soul/morality debates anyway.

Creationist contortions to deal with astronomy and biology are increasingly ridiculous. Although the position that ‘God waved his hand and just made it seem that way’ is trite, at least it is consistent. You can even reconcile it with hardline positions wrt evolution’s incompatibility with faith. I think one could be a perfectly competent scientist with such a belief system, although a person who dedicates their life to studying something they believe to be fabricated is a little weird.

Dave Thomas,

You confused “converse” with “contrapositive”. A statement and its contrapositive are logically equivalent (in classical logic).

Statement: A => B Converse: B => A (may have different truth value) Contrapositive: ~B => ~A (always matches statement) Inverse: ~A => ~B (always matches converse)

Mike Elzinga said

“On the other hand, atheism is logically untenable because it assumes we know enough about the universe to rule out any gods.”

Some Atheists may hold that position. Atheism itself merely says that theistic belief is ‘untenable’. Atheism is the default position; going into a conversation where you have never heard of such a notion as theism, you are atheistic until such time your views are swayed into accepting a theistic belief.

Oddly, if there comes a day when it is determined that ‘god(s)’ exist and they have done “this, this, and this… (like create the known universe) we will come to know it by the only means possible to us, science.

Dave

I’m with Dave here. I’d argue that the rational position is to presume, as the default, that phenomena exist only when we have evidence supporting their existence. We could, if we wanted to waste the rest of our lives, sit down and list everything we could imagine that *might* exist, but for which no evidence has ever surfaced. Even at the very edge of science (for example, string theory) proposals are made, not always testable, in an effort to explain *genuine evidence* of some sort. This position of not trying to find an “explanation” for what nobody has ever noticed is taken so much for granted it doesn’t even have a name.

Except for gods. There’s no more evidence for gods than for an indetectible star wandering around our solar system, but we posit one (or more) anyway. And so the term “atheist” denotes a very particular special case - the failure to accept that gods, alone among everything unevidenced, don’t exist. And this is NOT logically untenable or displaying excessive hubris. It’s the same damn posture we take toward *everything* that doesn’t exist as far as we now know.

The only alternative to atheism is Making Stuff Up, and THAT is logically untenable. Sorry.

Nigel D. says: “While NOMA may fail in certain cases, it does appear to be a useful tool for teaching high school students.…”

That, right there, is the issue. If infidel michael choses to let his personal religious beliefs be influenced by evolution, he is perfectly free to do so. (For the record, I’m in accord with him on that.) But, it is not necessary for students– or anyone– to use evolution as a basis for their personal religious beliefs.

The real conflict does not come from science dictating the contents of religion– but from far-right religious groups trying to dictate the contents of science.

The trouble with NOMA is that it is not about the real world. It purports to break up an unnecessary schoolyard brawl between science and religion, but doesn’t address religion as it is, only religion as some of us think it should be: a maker of statements about “values,” non-testable non-quantifiables. In reality, some believers make all sorts of fact-claims that they consider fully religious that stomp all over the “magisterium,” as Gould rather pompously termed it, of science: which is why Panda’s Thumb is necessary. Any statement that there is not “really” any conflict between religion and science implies that Creationism is not, somehow, “really” religion. That may flatter some non-Creationist religionists, but Creationism _is_ religious by any scholarly or commonsense standard. And Creationism violates NOMA. NOMA is therefore prescriptive, not descriptive, and what it prescribes is the disappearance of NOMA-violating religious statements.

Which isn’t going to happen. There’s nothing wrong with making prescriptions, but to confuse them with descriptions is almost the definition of wishful thinking. What does NOMA boil down to but the trivially true idea that things would be swell if Creationism would only go away?

Religion and science aren’t going to retire to calmly segregated non-overlapping magisteria just because it would be nicer. We should accept that things are messy and are going to stay messy. NOMA is one possible accommodation that some religious believers and nonbelievers may wish to adopt for themselves, but in doing so, to avoid delusion, they must recognize that it does not apply to some actual forms of religion. NOMA-type beliefs are not neutral or above the fray: they plump for certain types of religion, types that some agnostics, like Gould, apparently view as harmless and some believers view as safe from scientific botheration. Such beliefs may have their uses as politic fictions, like the pretense that Texas can secede whenever it likes, but that’s about it.

Sincerely,

Larry

We studied Gould’s book for one semester. The most interesting part of the book, is where Gould demands total surrender from Christians:

The first commandment for all versions of NOMA might be summarized by stating: ‘Thou shalt not mix the magisteria by claiming that God directly ordains important events in the history of nature by special interference knowable only through revelation and not accessible to science.’…

“In common parlance, we refer to such special interference as ‘miracle’ – operationally defined as a unique and temporary suspension of natural law to reorder the facts of nature by divine fiat.…

“NOMA does impose this ‘limitation’ on concepts of God . …”

Notice: Gould is laying down a total demand to abandon the historicity of any and all historical miracle claims period. That, of course, wipes out Chrstianity. No wiggle room. Finito.

So here’s my question. Did anybody bring up Gould’s surrender demand at the symposium? And if so, what were the responses given?

FL

One Brow Wrote:

Dave Thomas,

You confused “converse” with “contrapositive”.

Oops - Thanks. I probably shouldn’t have been posting that late after my bedtime.

Dave

Why should Gould’s demands be of any concern to you, FL? Didn’t you, yourself, allege that Intelligent Design, and your three-planks are/were non-religious in nature?

Or are you being inconsistent again?

I just read the review of the talk over at AIG then read Larry’s comments above - he is exactly right - NOMA is logical, rational, legal etc - but a complete failure when dealing with creationists. Creationists’ beliefs are not logical or rational. They believe that empirical scientific facts are LESS TRUE then their interpretation of the Bible. They believe that empirical data, facts learned through our senses or instruments have to be compared to the ONLY ULTIMATE TRUTH (God’s Word) before accepted as true. Man’s thoughts/ reasoning/ logic is less perfect therefore if data/observations/facts conflict with the Bible those facts are erroneous.

In addition Some of these people sincerely believe that secular laws do not apply to them when there is a conflict between “Man’s law” and “God’s LAW”- that is why they see no problem with trying to inject religion into the classroom - they think it is their duty to do so- in order to save souls as they were commanded to do by their faith- ultimately these people cannot be convinced to stop their illegal actions - they must be forced to stop. (This extremist belief system also creates situations that charlatans and crooks can take advantage of- Dr Dino et al)

Almost ironically, Larry Gilman and FL are raising exactly the same complaint about NOMA that was raised by Richard Dawkins. Creationism IS a religious doctrine, and it DOES make specific assertions flatly refuted by any possible rational understanding of reality. Period. There is no ambiguity. When religious doctrine comes straight out and says there’s an elephant in the room, and no conceivable detection techniques can notice any trace of one, there’s no easy reconciliation.

Now, as I understand it, the closest we can come (and FL’s question seems to have been indeed raised and answered) is that most religions have creation tales, all of them fanciful and imaginative, all written for similar reasons (to place ourselves on the desired pedestal, to assuage natural curiosity, as implications of other aspects of a faith-system, etc.) One can (and most people do) understand these tales in their mythic contexts, much as we understand the purpose and nature of the Paul Bunyan tales. Nobody ever intended that these fables be read as literal natural history!

So Gould (and Gilman) are correct that anyone who perversely chooses to take as literal history the most obvious, flagrant and arrant fiction, deserves all the cognitavie dissonance they get. For the literalist, there really is an elephant in the room, and those blithely walking right through it are the irrational ones, not themselves!

NOMA is a special case of the compromise struck way back in old England and the Netherlands, when people decided to separate religion from the rest of life–so that they could get on with the rest of life. This type of separation is also more or less the civil religion of the USA, where theism is more or less the default position (despite the fact that it’s the other way around empirically), but civil society is not supposed to be governed by religion.

What is more, “naturalism” itself exists primarily to suggest that there very well could be something beyond actual evidence, even though we have no reason to think so at all. “Naturalism” is supposed to tell theists that they can believe in the “supernatural” (the lack of anything but convention to tell us what the “supernatural” is tells us the ‘real value’ of that term), while they ought to follow science otherwise. This works for many theists.

The problem now is that such a naked fiction as “naturalism” is, can be used by the mendacious IDists to pretend that we’re deliberately ignoring other “possibilities”. Sorry, the supernatural “possibilities” aren’t really possibilities (not epistemologically, certainly, and “ontology” is largely meaningless), and allowing that they ‘may be’ was the compromise that our sort made with relatively reasonable theists. I bring this up because it points out both the fact that NOMA has been useful in getting people to accept science (true for many many theists), and it has led to some theists taking all of the slack given them only to try to hang us with the fictions granted to them.

On the whole, though, I think we’re stuck with NOMA for quite some time, like it or not. This is mainly because it accords so well with the fictions surrounding separation of church and state as it arose, wherein pious lip service to an increasingly-meaningless theism was poured on, while theisms’ ill effects on cosmopolitan society were disposed of by getting theism out of most of society. Many people need it as a crutch, too, for they cannot leave religion behind, while they desire the benefits of secular science and of secular society.

One simply should not forget that the attacks on “naturalism” and “materialism”–both of which essentially mean nothing, while empirical evidence means everything–are also predicated on NOMA and its fictions that the “supernatural” might mean something. It’s a two-edged sword, then, and we should tolerate it only so long as it helps people to deal with science and society.

If it comes to pass that at some time NOMA is used primarily to cut against science, as the IDiots attempt to do, then it ought to be abandoned.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

I thought this was a potentially revealing part of an interview with Taner Edis, a secular scientist from Turkey:

By “the liberal option,” do you mean reading sacred texts as metaphor rather than literal truth? For instance, liberal Christians don’t take the creation stories in Genesis as scientific fact. They read these stories more as poetry. Are you saying that option, for the most part, doesn’t exist for Muslims because the Quran is seen as a text that’s been handed down from God?

It would be an overstatement to say that option does not exist, but it has a much weaker social position. Let me give an example. Here in the United States, the mainstream scientific community has a big problem with creationist movements and intelligent design. As scientists, one of our closest allies in trying to combat creationism is the liberal religious community. It’s much more effective to send somebody to a school board meeting who’s not a scientist but actually a priest or rabbi or minister in a more liberal denomination and to explain that they don’t see a conflict between teaching evolution and religion. But in the Muslim world, this is much more difficult because the public affinity toward creationism is much stronger. Darwinian thinking really hasn’t penetrated the popular discourse. Plus, it’s very hard for scientists who work in Muslim countries to find liberal religious figures who would go out there and publicly say Darwinian evolution is not a problem for Islam.

[emphasis added]

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/[…]ndex_np.html

I know that this is just some guy’s opinion, but I suspect that he has insight into the situation that very few of us have. And it seems to be a reasonable statement, given the fact that, however bad creationism is in the US, it is much worse in the Muslim world (yes, direction of causality is an issue, so the matter not altogether clear). He could be wrong, yet I think that his opinion is worth considering in any event.

I do think that many of us here would have trouble pushing NOMA (even if we might tolerate it well enough), just because it raises many factual questions.

Glen D

So we have “god of the gaps” and now you are promoting that we need a soft landing pad for those that are completely and (obviously) insanely confused about reality. I am beginning to appreciate Dawkin’s notion that these parents are abusing their children. We are allowing people who are clearly irrational to be responsible to children?

You suggest that we offer a nice little soft pillow of transitional irrationality? This smacks of the treatment to calm the insane in an institution.

This does not seem to me to be the right solution.

Personally, I think Gould’s NOMA was ill-conceived since science truly does have much to say about religious notions like gods and prayer, while, as the DI(Discovery Institute or Dembski’s Imagination) well-demonstrates, religions often view themselves as qualified to assign their own truth values to scientific claims based on the religion’s doctrine while, like Dembski and company, they disregard or intentionally misrepresent the science.

Clearly, if there exists some god which alters the natural course of events in response to prayers, as the religious claim, the effects of those alterations must be measurable; otherwise, the prayer is doing nothing. Answered prayer, then, is a claim testable through standard scientific techniques. So, some religious claims definitely overlap with science, meaning Gould’s NOMA, while it may balm the psychological sore spots of the religious, does not accurately reflect the relationship between science and religion.

There may well be NOMA in the realms of human experience, but the mutually exclusive inhabitants on the opposite sides of the divide are not religion and science. The dichotomy might be better characterized as reality/non-reality.

Science seeks to keep itself in the reality camp by using the natural world as its standard and freely making adjustments to its ideas as better approximations of what is the true state of that natural world come along.

Religion, by contrast, starts with some body of ideas arrived at through tradition, authority or revelation, and they seek to defend those ideas by selecting from either side of the reality/non-reality divide anything that supports their position. From the reality side they might choose humanitarian aid as evidence that their doctrines make them more moral, loving or compassionate. From the non-reality side they might embrace the solipsistic notion of “chosen people.” What’s more, the religionist’s ignorance of reality is all too often claimed as belonging to the unreal, as can be seen when real-world coincidences or medical misdiagnoses are held up as otherworldly miracles. Since, for their purposes, they don’t need to discipline themselves to stay anywhere near reality, they lack any sort of objective standard that would make them appear rational, logically consistent, or even coherent.

We all, non-religious and religious alike, live in the one and only reality there is. Sure we each have distinct life circumstances resulting from the influences of our cultures, education, knowledge, and experiences, but beyond that subjective self, lie as set of commonalities shared by all. This shared reality has paradoxes, questions, conundrums, puzzles, riddles, enigmas and mysteries enough to last anyone a lifetime, and we are each free to explore them through whatever means we have at our disposals. Science chooses both its course of inquiry as well as its set of allowable explanations from reality, whereas religion is a complete catch-as-catch-can fabric having bits of reality interwoven with the entirely imaginary. With reality as its foundation, science regularly produces reliable results useful for all mankind, while religions, having no such solid footing, make only unsupported claims which they further claim will benefit only their own adherents.

If Gould’s notion of NOMA is the permission slip signature granting science students access to the magnificent ideas embodying evolution, then I’d have to acquiesce to its use, but while it may function as an implement of conciliation for those warring over evolution, it does not represent the actual state of the science-religion relationship.

Try thinking of NOMA as an “ought”, not an “is”.

Glen Davidson said: “…however bad creationism is in the US, it is much worse in the Muslim world…”

If a teacher in Sudan can get 40 lashes (the possibility of execution was mentioned) for letting her elementary school class name a teddy bear “Mohammed,” imagine what might happen to anybody denying creationism. As a matter of fact, the Christian Reconstructionists and Theocratic Dominionists want the same thing here.

Richard B. Hoppe said: “Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God was very useful in the skirmish in the local district four years ago, particularly with school board members, and I anticipate that Collins’ The Language of God will be even more useful should another such skirmish arise.”

these books do not contain sound logical reasoning. they make the same exact errors of reasoning that IDers and creationists make, they just apply them to different premises. IDers claim biochemistry is too complex to have evolved, so there must be a creator. francis collins claims that morality could not have evolved, so there must be a creator. is this really what we want to use to teach people?

these kinds of books are just band-aids, rather than fixing the actual problem. 50 or 100 years down the line, religious people may accept evolution because of them, but then they will be demanding that their “alternative theories” on the origins of morality be taught alongside the scientific explanations that are sure to come.

if you want to fix the problem, you should stop offering these short-term compromises and attack the source of the problem - faith itself.

FL:

We studied Gould’s book for one semester. The most interesting part of the book, is where Gould demands total surrender from Christians:

The first commandment for all versions of NOMA might be summarized by stating: ‘Thou shalt not mix the magisteria by claiming that God directly ordains important events in the history of nature by special interference knowable only through revelation and not accessible to science.’…

“In common parlance, we refer to such special interference as ‘miracle’ – operationally defined as a unique and temporary suspension of natural law to reorder the facts of nature by divine fiat.…

“NOMA does impose this ‘limitation’ on concepts of God . …”

Notice: Gould is laying down a total demand to abandon the historicity of any and all historical miracle claims period. That, of course, wipes out Chrstianity. No wiggle room. Finito.

So here’s my question. Did anybody bring up Gould’s surrender demand at the symposium? And if so, what were the responses given?

FL

Gould is saying that science and religion do not mix. If you find that offensive, please don’t bother to discuss science at all, and continue to live in the fantasy world depicted in the Bible which is flat, stationary, and only 6000 years old. And please go live in a cave, away from all civilization.

Dale, FL raises a valid point. christians cannot promote NOMA while simultaneously maintain that 2000 years ago a man literally rose from the dead and will welcome you into heaven when you die if only you accept this as historical fact. taking the gospel stories as literal truth is just as absurd as taking genesis as literal truth, and it is just as encroaching upon the domain of science if you want to stick to NOMA. under NOMA, only science can evaluate the events of history, including events in galilee 2000 years ago.

Let’s try it this way. Given the following demand from Gould and NOMA:

The first commandment for all versions of NOMA might be summarized by stating: ‘Thou shalt not mix the magisteria by claiming that God directly ordains important events in the history of nature by special interference knowable only through revelation and not accessible to science.’…

“In common parlance, we refer to such special interference as ‘miracle’ – operationally defined as a unique and temporary suspension of natural law to reorder the facts of nature by divine fiat….

“NOMA does impose this ‘limitation’ on concepts of God ….”

Here are two plain and simple questions.

(1) Did the panelists discuss this at the symposium itself?

(2) For Stanton: do you agree or disagree that this NOMA demand effectively calls for abandoning belief in the historicity of all Biblical miracle claims, thus eliminating Christianity?

(If your answer is “yes I agree it does”, then your previous question about “why I care” is answered.)

FL :)

perspective: vast majority of Americans are not the extrmist wacky “christians” that are pushing creationism - for them NOMA works just fine.

Side note for Snex: I believe you have characterized NOMA’s position WRT Christianity, perfectly and succinctly.

Sincere Thanks. FL

Your last comments sound exactly like the ranting that comes from fundamentalist pulpits about how the world is going to hell because everyone has turned their back on their sectarian god.

You sound exactly like an asshole.

Al,

A very good summation, but the one glaring omission is any hint of a demarcation between rational theism and irrational fundamentalism. At what point and by what measure does a theistic “world view” become fundamentalist?

Yes, Mike, fundamentalist atheists are just the same kind of caricature as fundamentalist religionists.

And it’s not surprising that Mr. Elzinga’s foul and dishonest attack on non-believers gets support from the likes of Mr. Moritz.

Both positions are being caricatured here by the other side. Mike has explicitly said he’s not talking about “culture warriors” who militate for including any favored doctrine in public school curricula.

Likewise, Mike, I don’t see how this:

Your last comments sound exactly like the ranting that comes from fundamentalist pulpits about how the world is going to hell because everyone has turned their back on their sectarian god. The only difference is that you replaced the sectarian god with your own “god”.

is constructive. Is that really the only difference?

Personally, I am more interested in this:

Most people live in a world with an entire spectrum of ideas, each full of subtleties and nuances and contradictions. Much of it works. You should find out why.

and this:

The ideas behind evolution should at least give you a hint that such a spectrum would exist and that many of the ideas within that spectrum are viable. The ones that work survive.

Particularly, the idea that religious faith “works.” Well, how does it work, and, more importantly, on whose behalf is this work done? To simply say that it’s self-evident that religiosity benefits the individual in all cases is to put up a screen around the contradictions being discussed and making them off-limits to inquiry. “My [irrational, contradictory] ideas work for me. Enough said.”

Well, for many of us, it’s not enough. You seem content to deride “fundamentalist atheists” for smug certainty and elitist attitudes, but you miss some legitimate concerns. What about the idea, put forward, notably, by Sam Harris, that moderate religionists act as cover and tacit support for the excesses committed in the name of faith? That just this kind of screen of “respect for different ideas” acts as a barrier to anyone who is actually interested in the questions of yours I quoted above. Indeed we should seek to know how these ideas “work,” and who or what for. However, in seeking, we may overturn some apple carts, and not all of them will be those of the culture warriors.

Bill Gascoyne:

Al,

A very good summation,

Thanks.

but the one glaring omission is any hint of a demarcation between rational theism and irrational fundamentalism. At what point and by what measure does a theistic “world view” become fundamentalist?

Once it negates established scientific theory (not the same as debatable scientific hypothesis, of course), and once it denies others the right to think differently.

The caricature exists that believers have always had to “give in” to the victorious marching on of science. For a rational believer, however, there cannot be a contradiction between science and faith, because everything, also the regularity of the natural world that science studies, comes from God.

By the way, it is not just believers who have had to reconcile their world view with science. History shows that findings of science have confounded atheists too, in particular the Big Bang. Atheists used to believe that the universe simply was, and that it was eternal. The evidence for a Big Bang confounded this world view dramatically, and lead to such questionable, and now refuted, reactions as the steady-state model by Fred Hoyle.

The Big Bang concept also vindicated the theistic notion that time had a beginning (stated already in the 5th century by St. Augustine). Also in the current standard Big Bang cosmology time still did have a beginning. Modifying proposals (incorporating quantum cosmology) that try to avoid this are neither unequivocally successful nor universally accepted (unlike Big Bang cosmology from 10E-43 seconds after the event onwards).

Of course, in the meantime, a few decades later, atheists have become comfortable with the Big Bang model, and believe to even have found a way of getting around the idea of a creation event associated with it. The science associated with this is debatable though, and observational evidence is lacking (an elegant mathematical model alone is not observation). Much of the scientific modeling associated with this is based on string theory, which has come under a lot of fire lately, and for good reasons (I recommend the outstanding book “The Trouble with Physics” by insider Lee Smolin for a critical perspective).

but the one glaring omission is any hint of a demarcation between rational theism and irrational fundamentalism. At what point and by what measure does a theistic “world view” become fundamentalist?

Once it negates established scientific theory (not the same as debatable scientific hypothesis, of course)…

This doesn’t save belief in the Resurrection, unfortunately, since it “negates” the established scientific theory that the dead don’t walk. If you think it doesn’t, define “negate” for me.

This doesn’t save belief in the Resurrection, unfortunately, since it “negates” the established scientific theory that the dead don’t walk. If you think it doesn’t, define “negate” for me.

Yeah, I was wondering about this too. Al seems to be saying you’re still rational if you only believe in miracles that don’t happen near, e.g., a video camera.

GuyeFaux:

but the one glaring omission is any hint of a demarcation between rational theism and irrational fundamentalism. At what point and by what measure does a theistic “world view” become fundamentalist?

Once it negates established scientific theory (not the same as debatable scientific hypothesis, of course)…

This doesn’t save belief in the Resurrection, unfortunately, since it “negates” the established scientific theory that the dead don’t walk. If you think it doesn’t, define “negate” for me.

I had given the answer already above, in # 136710:

“Science can only show that miracles do not occur on a regular basis (something which most rational theists have no problem with), but it cannot show that miracles never occur.”

Miracles fall outside the realm of science, since they are unique, and one of the cornerstones of the scientific method is repeatability of observation and/or experiment. Certainly, science will have been useful in many cases to show that an alleged miracle in fact did not occur, since the event in question could be demonstrated to actually fall within the limits of the repeatable, i.e. the normal.

BTW, are you sure the notion that the dead don’t walk is a scientific theory? I rather would have thought it was a commonsense notion, not found worthy of serious scientific investigation. It would be interesting to know if there are actual scientific studies that have addressed this question, and if there has been an explicit formulation of the associated scientific theory (hehe).

“could be demonstrated to actually fall within the limits of the repeatable”

should have read:

“could be demonstrated to actually fall within the limits of the previously as repeatable established phenomena”

al, i fail to see how your position maintains the “truth” of the resurrection but does not do the same for the noahchian flood. the lack of evidence for the flood can simply be explained by appealing to a miracle. same for any alleged evidence for evolution or any other scientific theory youd care to name that one can arbitrarily declare wrong by faith.

Your last comments sound exactly like the ranting that comes from fundamentalist pulpits

scary that you appear to think so.

you obviously need to take a break from thinking about these issues; it appears to strain you too much.

maybe when you can think outside of your labels and generalizations, you can actually hold an intelligent discussion on the issue at hand.

till then…

I don’t expect advocating reason and rationality will result in a purely rational “Vulcan” society anymore than I think advocating truthfulness and justice will result in a purely honest and just society.

moreover, Mike seems to forget that Vulcan society merely repressed EMOTION. they still had their irrational religions, too.

not that even Vulcan society as envisioned by Roddenberry made any sense, since emotion itself can be utilized in a quite rational fashion, and also can be a rational response to a given stimulus.

shorter:

“Vulcan society” is an asinine argument to bring up in favor of or to detract from just about any point imaginable.

As soon as I saw that, I should have just not even bothered to respond further.

However, now that I’m “in”:

There is quite a big difference between the spectrum of religious views of various individuals existing in relative peace and the political activities and “Wedge strategies” being used by culture warriors in their attempts to impose their sectarian view on others.

not with regards to the level of rationality, no. In fact, one could easily argue that from a purely rational standpoint, the lies and spin of the DI are an entirely rational endeavor. If someone is suffering from delusions, it’s perfection rational and expected they would try to defend their current mental state from attack. that DOES NOT mean that the underlying mental state is itself, rational.

this is the simple point Mike seemingly refuses to understand or acknowledge.

bottom line, when Mike says this:

You took the bait.

He’s projecting.

In fact it was HE who “took the bait”, and the false argument he swallowed was the “fair and balanced” one.

an argument most americans seem to be raised on from birth, and appears responsible for much of the maintenance of serious woo round these parts.

The problems arise when you confuse philosophy with science, and science with philosophy, which fundamentalist atheists routinely do.

bullshit.

that you project how you interweave your philosophical underpinnings with your own versions of “science” have nothing to do with how the rest of us deal with the issue.

YOU are a great representation of why NOMA doesn’t work other than as a artificial crutch.

I still have to see scientific proof for either atheism or theism.

that you think the two are equivalent wrt to the level of “proof” required indicates exactly that you too, just like Mike, have fallen for the “fair and balanced” meme.

here’s a clue:

wtf would an atheist have to PROVE?

it’s bullshit, and if you could even think about it for just ONE second, you’d see why.

but no, your theism requires your addled brain to come to its defense in the form of denial, so you are then unable to see the non-equivalence of saying atheism requires scientific proof.

it’s fucking ridiculous.

that anyone here thinks your arguments are good in summary or detail is regrettable, but the level of intellect on PT seems to have fallen a great deal in recent years.

I had given the answer already above, in # 136710:

“Science can only show that miracles do not occur on a regular basis (something which most rational theists have no problem with), but it cannot show that miracles never occur.”

Agree with snex here: seems like science is unable to rule out any purportedly historical event using this standard.

So this is nonsense:

Certainly, science will have been useful in many cases to show that an alleged miracle in fact did not occur, since the event in question could be demonstrated to actually fall within the limits of the repeatable, i.e. the normal.

Answer me this: what standard will you use to “show that an alleged miracle in fact did not occur” — say, if I allege that yesterday I talked to my toaster and it talked back and claimed to be my dead cat from three years ago — that would leave the Resurrection intact?

that anyone here thinks your arguments are good in summary or detail is regrettable, but the level of intellect on PT seems to have fallen a great deal in recent years.

I think you’d find that level to have fallen anytime we begin to wander away from a strict requirement for purely scientific methodology. Why not grant that for some people, being irrational serves a useful purpose? Yes, yes, we all understand that claims of gods are positive claims requiring positive evidence, and the request that such evidence be supplied before the claim is accepted is a nonreligious and entirely rational request. But please make an effort to understand that to someone who takes for granted without evidence (and therefore without possibility of being swayed by evidence), the skeptic asking for evidence is going to LOOK like another True Believer.

The notion of “scientific proof” of a simple request for evidence sounds nonsensical, but faith must be defended *somehow*, right?

It is a pity that Pandas thumb submissions result in some less than civil comments. The panelists at the event described by Dick Hopppe, in the original thread, were very “civil” in their dialogues. I was among them, so I can say that with a level of confidence. I just wish that contributors to Panda’s Thumb, and contributors to the DI Blog, could also maintain civility.

best, Jeff

Flint:

But please make an effort to understand that to someone who takes for granted without evidence (and therefore without possibility of being swayed by evidence)…

THIS is the attitude we “militant atheists” are trying to deal with. you keep howling about evolution and cosmology and other sciences, but until you get people to accept that evidence matters, your efforts will be fruitless. dont you see that once people respect scientific inquiry itself, including its rigorous standards for evidence, that issues about evolution will completely disappear on their own?

Ichthyic:

I don’t expect advocating reason and rationality will result in a purely rational “Vulcan” society anymore than I think advocating truthfulness and justice will result in a purely honest and just society.

moreover, Mike seems to forget that Vulcan society merely repressed EMOTION. they still had their irrational religions, too.

not that even Vulcan society as envisioned by Roddenberry made any sense, since emotion itself can be utilized in a quite rational fashion, and also can be a rational response to a given stimulus.

I take a bit of objection to that. I have Asperger’s syndrome and I know that similarity of some cases with “Mr. Spock” was remarked upon. Perhaps a society with AS prevalent WOULD look a bit like Roddenberry’s Vulcan.

“the only way NOMA works is if religion is a separate but valid “way of knowing.” If it isn’t, then there are not separate magisteria”

of course this brings up the question of if religion is VALID (and this question seems to have used up most of the thread) I think the focus is misplaced

I DON’T CARE about the validity or religion/religious clams, I don’t care if they are TRUE or not, AS LONG as they stay seperate from science. If religious claims “stay in thy kiddy pool” so that the adults can “swim laps” in the adult pool (get science done, run business that needs to be done in a secular society, run public schools) w/o interference - I would be satisfied

I am ok w/ accepting NOMA as a “fence” or “barrier” between science and religion - with the hope that good fences can make good neighbors (or at least tolerable neighbors)

Religion isn’t a “way of knowing”.

Organized religion is often a way of getting people to think they know things that can’t be checked.

Henry

Organized religion is often a way of getting people to think they know things that can’t be checked.

Or maybe, a way to provide satisfying answers to questions too ill-formed (or semantically vacuous) to provide scientific answers. “Am I saved” is a question very crucial to a great many people, yet no coherent meaning can be assigned to this question. “Will I get into heaven” is another. Religion tends to provide answers to questions based on incoherent presumptions.

Yet is “knowing” you are “saved” or that you will “enter heaven” not knowledge in any sense? Granted, they can’t be checked or verified, but whoever “knows” these things, really doesn’t care about scientific rigor. They care about God’s Will. Telling them that such notions have no anchor in reality won’t bother them, because THEY “know” better. Religious knowledge and scientific knowledge have little overlap.

Flint: Yet is “knowing” you are “saved” or that you will “enter heaven” not knowledge in any sense? Granted, they can’t be checked or verified, but whoever “knows” these things, really doesn’t care about scientific rigor. They care about God’s Will. Telling them that such notions have no anchor in reality won’t bother them, because THEY “know” better.

The delusion these people hold that they “know” something absurd, illogical, contrary to all reasonable probability and devoid of evidence, is exactly what makes them so dangerous, Flint. When a person’s firmly held beliefs have “no anchor in reality,” then they have no anchor in reality. Losing all sight of reality is what allows people to ignore global warming, deny evolution, or fly planes into buildings. It’s all connected. They’re all symptoms of the destructive ability of faith to uproot people from reality to and set them adrift in a sea of irrationality.

Now, certainly in such an environment, not everyone’s delusion will skew in the same direction. People’s personal ideas of god tend to resemble their own personalities quite closely. A kind person’s god will be the epitome of kindness, an intelligent person’s god will be logical and truthful, and a bigot’s god will be a vindictive and judgmental god. Some people see this variety as proof that religion is a neutral phenomenon, since religious people retain a wide spectrum of beliefs and ethics. In cannot be universally condemned as bad, they say. Except this is what they miss: religious faith uproots people from reality. It is inherently irrational by definition. Faith can be used to justify any behavior whatsoever. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and once it manifests itself it cannot be managed. Faith makes people impervious to rational argumentation. They can’t be reasoned with, as certain posters’ hysterical reactions to having their dogma questioned demonstrates.

So the message should be loud and clear: religious faith is not “knowledge” in any sense of the word. The correction needs to start there, since everything which follows from the assumption that faith is a valid form of knowledge is wrong.

jasonmitchell: I DON’T CARE about the validity or religion/religious clams, I don’t care if they are TRUE or not, AS LONG as they stay seperate from science. If religious claims “stay in thy kiddy pool” so that the adults can “swim laps” in the adult pool (get science done, run business that needs to be done in a secular society, run public schools) w/o interference - I would be satisfied

It will never happen. So long as we allow religion to claim it is an equally valid way of knowing, it’s proponents will advocate it to the exclusion of empirically based science. After all, they “know” the only real truth is their religion and the material world is an illusion. There is never going to be a compromise between these two competing epistemologies that both sides can live with. NOMA doesn’t work.

H. Humbert:

Flint: Yet is “knowing” you are “saved” or that you will “enter heaven” not knowledge in any sense? Granted, they can’t be checked or verified, but whoever “knows” these things, really doesn’t care about scientific rigor. They care about God’s Will. Telling them that such notions have no anchor in reality won’t bother them, because THEY “know” better.

The delusion these people hold that they “know” something absurd, illogical, contrary to all reasonable probability and devoid of evidence, is exactly what makes them so dangerous, Flint. When a person’s firmly held beliefs have “no anchor in reality,” then they have no anchor in reality. Losing all sight of reality is what allows people to ignore global warming, deny evolution, or fly planes into buildings. It’s all connected. They’re all symptoms of the destructive ability of faith to uproot people from reality to and set them adrift in a sea of irrationality.

Now, certainly in such an environment, not everyone’s delusion will skew in the same direction. People’s personal ideas of god tend to resemble their own personalities quite closely. A kind person’s god will be the epitome of kindness, an intelligent person’s god will be logical and truthful, and a bigot’s god will be a vindictive and judgmental god. Some people see this variety as proof that religion is a neutral phenomenon, since religious people retain a wide spectrum of beliefs and ethics. In cannot be universally condemned as bad, they say. Except this is what they miss: religious faith uproots people from reality. It is inherently irrational by definition. Faith can be used to justify any behavior whatsoever. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and once it manifests itself it cannot be managed. Faith makes people impervious to rational argumentation. They can’t be reasoned with, as certain posters’ hysterical reactions to having their dogma questioned demonstrates.

So the message should be loud and clear: religious faith is not “knowledge” in any sense of the word. The correction needs to start there, since everything which follows from the assumption that faith is a valid form of knowledge is wrong.

Sounds like an exact rehash of our friend Dawkins.

I think this discussion has run its course.

RBH

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on November 26, 2007 10:31 PM.

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