God as a Superhuman: A (belated) Response to Jason Rosenhouse

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Ashernew.jpgThis is a guest post by Robert J. Asher. Asher is a paleontologist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. He is also the author of the recently-published book Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist.

In February 2012, Asher authored the essay “Why I am an Accommodationist” for Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rober[…]1298554.html).

Jason Rosenhouse wrote a reply at his EvolutionBlog in March 2012 (http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionbl[…]mmodationism). Asher’s response is below.

– Nick Matzke

God as a Superhuman: A (belated) Response to Jason Rosenhouse

Way back in February, I tried to make the case that accommodation between religious belief and a scientific worldview is a good thing. I remain convinced that in order to make a positive difference in science literacy, educators should distinguish between superstition and religion, understand that human identity can entail elements of both, and acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable. My particular focus in that essay was that believers need not attribute a human-like mode of creativity to their god. Conversely, I argued that anti-theists (by which I mean those atheists who view religion as terminally misguided) and creationists (by which I mean those who think natural mechanisms are insufficient to explain at least some aspects of biological evolution) often agree with each other in rejecting, or at least not liking, this viewpoint. Both argue (for different reasons) that a god without some human-like will to circumvent biology & physics for its own ends is too remote and/or abstract to be worth worshipping, or representative of “real” religion as practiced by millions of people today. I believe that both are wrong on this point.

Mathematician and evolution-blogger Jason Rosenhouse did not like my essay, and made some good points in rebutting it. Although I’m admittedly tardy in doing so, I’d like to discuss a couple points where I think Rosenhouse is mistaken, and argue that the premise of my February essay is still valid.

Consider the argument that anti-theists and creationists have something in common, for example when I wrote in my Huffington Post blog

For many theists, even if they would phrase it differently, “religion” requires a deity who leaves behind evidence in a similar fashion as a human being might do, like Santa Claus not finishing his cookies or a toga-clad Charlton Heston dispensing rules on stone tablets, capriciously ignoring his own natural laws. Many anti-theists agree: if God exists, “he” has to leave behind evidence in a human-like fashion. Notably, such a perspective is at the core of the so-called “intelligent design” movement, which claims to find evidence for clever intervention in biology, relegating what its adherents call “natural” and “random” to the profane.

He referred to the above paragraph as “complete caricature”, arguing that in the case of atheists,

absolutely no one is saying that God has to do anything. We simply observe that a God who works entirely through natural forces is hard to distinguish from no God at all. We ask for the evidence that God exists, and since nature fails so completely to provide that evidence we begin to suspect that maybe there is no God.

This complaint is less about the point I was making and more a result of ignoring it. He falsely attributes to me an oxymoron, as if I had said that an atheist’s god “has to do anything” since they are, after all, atheists. Rather, I was addressing his expectation about the category of evidence that he, as an atheist, thinks a deity should leave behind in order to be credible. Does being “religious” demand that you think that God works like a human with superpowers, regularly sticking his hand into nature? Many think it does, others don’t. Agreeing with the former, Rosenhouse has “asked for evidence that god exists” and found that “nature fails so completely” in providing this evidence. On the other hand, maybe God doesn’t work like a human with superpowers, in which case the existence of nature in the first place might comprise evidence.

Rosenhouse is right to point out that “no God at all” is a possibility that has to be dealt with by believers. I do so by arguing that his suspicion that “maybe there is no god” is no more justified than my suspicion that maybe God acts through nature. Furthermore, my view has the advantage that the consistency across, and existence of, natural laws follows reasonably from positing an agency behind them. While such an assertion isn’t necessary to understand the mechanism(s) by which a given natural law functions, it does lead to the expectation that such laws should not only exist, but also make sense.

Neither Rosenhouse nor I thinks that biology has been tinkered with by a human-like, grand designer. We’d also probably agree that—unlike Craig Venter’s autographed bacterium—there’s no evidence for secret messages in DNA sequences. And lest you think I’m kidding, it’s not hard to search for such things: “YHWH” himself appears in the amino acid translation of Tfp1 in Treponema pallidum as does “MALE” in the sex-linked SRY gene of a mouse. Whether the message is a King James Psalm or alleged cases of irreducible complexity, those who think that God acts like a superhuman are entirely serious about such “signatures in the cell”. But is belief in human-like, biological signatures a prerequisite for “real” religion, and why does Jason Rosenhouse, or evangelical Christians, get to decide that they are?

If we really had evidence for a human-like designer in the form of genuinely autographed DNA (so far this really is lacking, hype about ENCODE functionality notwithstanding), or remains of Miocene monumental architecture when our own habitually bipedal lineage first appeared, creationists would probably be right that something human-like is (or was) out there, paying attention to us— and anti-theists (and I) would be empirically wrong to deny it. No conspiracy is preventing anyone from finding such things, which quite simply don’t seem to exist. Rosenhouse concludes from this that “maybe there is no god”. I conclude from this that maybe there is no human-like designer. The two are not the same.

Getting back to what Rosenhouse said of my “caricature” of others’ views, my worst infraction was not about the atheists, but about Intelligent Design itself:

Asher has also badly misstated the ID position. There, too, there are no assumptions being made about what God must have done. I am not aware of any ID proponents who say that if God exists it simply must be the case that He has left behind, tangible, scientific evidence of His presence. Instead the claim is simply that, as it happens, there are, indeed, certain biological facts whose only plausible explanation involves the intentions of an intelligent designer.

This is an odd accusation, possibly based on how he sees an inductive chronology in the mind of an Intelligent-Design advocate. He seems to think observation of “certain biological facts whose only plausible explanation” leads to an “intelligent designer”, and only then does the ID advocate dutifully proceed to a conclusion about “what God must have done”. This objection reminds me a bit of Darwin’s aged mentor Adam Sedgwick, who upon reading Origin of Species complained that Darwin had “deserted … the true method of induction”, meaning that Sedgwick expected Darwin to refrain from theorizing until he had crossed some undefined Rubicon of fact-collecting. In reality, it was Sedgwick who didn’t realize that testing an already-existing theory against repeated data-collection is not only OK, but reflects the way the human mind generally works. All of us—creationists, theistic evolutionists, and anti-theists—start with some idea of how the world should operate given the presence of a god, and it’s just wrong to claim, as Rosenhouse does, that in ID

there are no assumptions being made about what God must have done. I am not aware of any ID proponents who say that if God exists it simply must be the case that He has left behind, tangible, scientific evidence of His presence.

Really? Isn’t the whole point of the Intelligent Design movement to distinguish biological complexity as a product of “design” vs. chance or regularity, based on our experience of “design” in its human context? I’d agree that design inferences per se don’t have to be about a deity. However, such “design” has been promulgated for about three decades now by ID-advocates who have left a substantial paper trail linking them to previous iterations of creationism. When applied to the origin of life, and biological evolution thereafter, by individuals who have been eagerly attacking Darwin’s theory since the 1980s, “design” clearly does entail expectations of how the “designer” of the anti-Darwin movement operates— like a superhuman would.

In the comments following Rosenhouse’s essay, consider this response by veteran ID-critic and biologist Nick Matzke to Rosenhouse’s statement that in ID, there are “no assumptions being made about what God must have done”:

Actually, IDists do make that argument pretty regularly, in response to theistic evolutionists and deist-like arguments against an interventionist God. IDists will say something like, well, if you believe the Bible, we have an interventionist God on our hands, one who likes to work miracles, so there is no reason we shouldn’t see this in biological history.

Rosenhouse responds to Matzke as follows:

But that’s not the argument Asher put in the mouths of his hypothetical ID folks. There is a big difference between saying that if God exists then he must leave evidence behind, which was Asher’s formulation, and saying that there is no reason why we shouldn’t see evidence of God’s action in biological history, which was your formulation.

It’s revealing to deconstruct the key sentence of Rosenhouse’s response by redacting the double negative:

1) “if God exists then he must leave evidence behind” (Rosenhouse paraphrasing Asher)

2) “there is no reason why we shouldn’t see evidence of God’s action in biological history” (Matzke)

See any major differences here? Me neither. Both represent the argument that “Asher put in the mouths of his hypothetical ID folks”, i.e., that the god of Intelligent Design is indeed expected (explicitly or not) to leave behind evidence in a more or less similar fashion as a human-like intelligence would.

Rosenhouse is correct to note that creationists object to the notion of a weak Imago Dei; that is, a remote, apparently distant god, is repellent to many ID-friendly theists:

Since God is commonly said to love His creatures, we are certainly entitled to wonder why He would create through a process as cruel and savage as Darwinian natural selection. It is not plausible to suggest evolution as God’s means of creation, since the mechanics of evolution are at odds with the attributes God is believed to possess.

So Rosenhouse actually does think ID (and creationism generally) makes “assumptions about what God must have done”, but objects to my interpretation that such assumptions can be material—whereas he prefers the theological or emotional ones. Henry Morris made such objections to theistic evolution in the 1970s, and they led him to believe in a young Earth. If all suffering and death were precipitated by the Genesis fall, the argument goes, an evolutionary mechanism involving differential survival could not have pre-dated Adam & Eve by eons of geological time. Most Christians do not buy this argument, whether or not they sympathize with ID. Rosenhouse was peeved that I did not provide great detail on these theological objections in my 800-word essay, so I hereby agree that they exist (and never denied them in the first place). Rebuttals of them from a Christian perspective have been made regularly, for example by authors I cited in my February post, among others.

Rosenhouse then asked me a question:

I’d also like to know more about the agency in which Asher believes. This agency, did it create the world through an act of its will or not? If it did, then I fail to see how it is importantly different from the anthropomorphic God he criticizes. If it did not, then whatever it is, it surely is not the God who lies at the heart of the world’s religions.

I don’t know how the agency behind the laws of the universe did its creating. Obviously on that scale we’re not really close to anything remotely human-like, so probably it didn’t have a “will” like you and I have. What I do know is that we seem to be inside of its creation, the laws of which exist whether or not us humans are around to notice. But not only do we notice, we can actually understand some of them. I also know that Judeo-Christian scripture tells us to love our neighbor, not to lie, and that we can accomplish more together than on our own. Despite its human imperfections, the global infrastructure that we have to promote these ideas, including religion, is a good thing. Good writers who are science-literate (like Jason Rosenhouse) should strive to improve this infrastructure, not trash it.

Let me close with a question for you, Jason: Why did Charles Darwin include the following quote by Francis Bacon on the title pages of every edition of Origin of Species?

“To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.”

128 Comments

Well, that was a tasty waffle.

Leaving aside the frankly tedious topic that is the dead horse of ID Creationism, the last paragraph got my attention.

I don’t know how the agency behind the laws of the universe did its creating.

You don’t know how it works, but you’re obviously happy to simply assume that there is an agency.

How do you know?

Obviously on that scale we’re not really close to anything remotely human-like, so probably it didn’t have a “will” like you and I have.

And you’re obviously equally happy to assume knowledge of the agency’s characteristics - or at least knowledge of what they’re not and how they probably don’t arrive at decisions.

If you don’t know how the agency works, how do you nonetheless know what it is not and how it probably does not think?

What I do know is that we seem to be inside of its creation, the laws of which exist whether or not us humans are around to notice. But not only do we notice, we can actually understand some of them.

Another assumption - this time that we are in a “creation”. Created by an “agency”.

I agree, the laws of the universe might well exist were we to not exist or were to never have existed, but how do you know the universe is a “creation”?

That we can, in our limited way, understand some aspects of our reality does not in any way, shape or form indicate that our existence was in any way intended, that our minds were designed.

But if it does - how do you know? How do you go from “I can understand how certain things operate” to “these things were designed by an agency!”?

To recap:

You claim to know there’s an agency that created the universe - but you don’t know how it works. However, while you don’t know how it works, you also profess sufficient knowledge of its characteristics to confidently state that it’s “not really close to anything remotely human-like” and “probably didn’t have a will like you and I”. You also profess that we are inside a (or the) creation of this agency and you also imply our apprehension of the operations of this reality is wholly and solely because the agency that created it wished it so.

How do you know any of this?

What is all this jazz about accommodationists???

It’s once again trying to say “science” proves religious ideas are false.! Science proves Genesis and God, or claims of evidence for a God, are false!

It’s a false fight to say religion and science are in conflict. There is just conflict about a few conclusions in a few subjects touching on issues of ancient origins. Surely such origins is something difficult to get a hold of .

It is still all about the merits of the evidence for assertions by everybody.

On behalf of creationists and good guys everywhere just bring your best evidence and we will bring ours and let the public, who pay attention, decide what is more persuasive!

Let the truth prevail and no need for accommodationist concepts unrelated to real people or real investigation of nature.

It’s a false fight to say religion and science are in conflict.

… says Byers, who had previously said this in the same comment:

Science proves Genesis and God, or claims of evidence for a God, are false!

Once again, Byers makes it crystal clear that he simply does not understand science in any useful way and barely comprehends religion.

Byers, your tenure on the Bathroom Wall is richly deserved.

Byers – what is your goal here? Your posts are barely lucid, let alone convincing. If you want to impress scientists, do something meaningful like give substantial evidence that radiometric dating is wrong.

Addressing the reasoned comment above:

mandrellian, I don’t think Asher is assuming the existence of such an agency. He has stated that he believes in one, and is defending the rationality of that belief. To do so, he must address Rosenhouse’s question: “I’d also like to know more about the agency in which Asher believes. This agency, did it create the world through an act of its will or not? If it did, then I fail to see how it is importantly different from the anthropomorphic God he criticizes.” Rosenhouse admits, arguendo, the existence of that agency, by enquiring about it. Any rejoinder to that query must define an important difference between the two, and hence must proceed from that stipulation, even though the stipulation was for the sake of argument only.

Asher is entitled to hold that belief in such a creator is rationally defensible, even if it is not demonstrable. It may not be attested by evidence acceptable to atheists, and from that atheists are equally entitled to hold that there is no such creator. What they cannot do is demonstrate that there is none, any more than Asher can demonstrate that there is such an agency.

As far as I can see, Asher is not arguing that there is, or must be, one. He is only arguing that one may hold that view and still be capable of rational thought and of science; that there is no essential incompatibility. The stated thrust of the essay is to persuade science educators to “acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable”.

I agree with this idea. Personally, while I do not believe in any such agency, I am unable to account for the existence of the Universe, and can only shrug if asked for an explanation. I don’t think it was God; I can’t prove it wasn’t. Asher thinks it was some sort of God, although he comes fairly close to deism in describing it. I can’t prove it wasn’t that, either. So long as Asher is not under the impression that he can’t prove it was, merely that the idea is rationally defensible, we can certainly get on.

Whoops! Too many negators in that last sentence. Should read: “So long as Asher is not under the impression that he can prove it was…”

Dave - great comment. I wish I was that clear!

How little evidence is little enough?

The set of empirical evidence for the existence of gods like the one Asher postulates is like intergalactic vacuum. There simply is none. Unless there is another way of knowing, there is no rational reason to accept his postulates. Rationally, the absence of evidence seems conclusive.

Is it rational to say that Harry Potter may have created the universe, simply because we cannot disprove it? Simply because there is no evidence to the contrary?

Dave:

[Asher] is only arguing that one may hold [the view that a creator exists] and still be capable of rational thought and of science

That I of course agree with - it’d be way out of line (and out of step with the facts) to assume someone’s completely incapable or rationality or science because of a creator belief.

But Asher goes a little further and admits a belief creator - an “agency” - not just that he thinks belief in a creator is defensible. Asher also ruminates on the characteristics of this purported agency; I merely ask how he arrives at his conclusions.

The stated thrust of the essay is to persuade science educators to “acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable”.

I agree and I’d like to think most science educators already know that. I’d like to think they also already know that the fact that science doesn’t “render religion untenable” doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to teach it in a science class, or include specific dogmas as “alternate” theories or to “teach both sides” as if the truth is always somewhere between two opposing arguments, or the midpoint between extremes (or that the truth is an artificial construct imposed by fiat or maintained by conspiracy). All I’d ever want from a science class is that the lessons stuck to what is scientifically demonstrable; this can be easily done without mentioning religion in either a positive or negative light.

Personally, while I do not believe in any such agency, I am unable to account for the existence of the Universe, and can only shrug if asked for an explanation. I don’t think it was God; I can’t prove it wasn’t. Asher thinks it was some sort of God, although he comes fairly close to deism in describing it. I can’t prove it wasn’t that, either. So long as Asher is not under the impression that he [can] prove it was, merely that the idea is rationally defensible, we can certainly get on.

Perfectly reasonable. And most people do indeed behave in this way - I also shrug at the existence of the Universe and don’t hold that an agency couldn’t have and didn’t do it; I just maintain there’s no reasonable evidence that indicates it did. If that ever changes, I too will change.

But we know there’s a large contingent of people who don’t intend to keep their beliefs moderate or private and quietly pass science in the night, and it is they who have always fired the first shots in Science v. Religion. It’s not the moderate believers and the educated religious scientists that I have a problem with; they aren’t the ones with an army of lobbyists and a lengthy history of trying to hobble science education in every way imaginable, from the offices of presidents and governors to the smallest school boards and PTAs.

It is in fact the creationist lobby itself, in all its various indefatigable guises, that demands the kind of unequivocal response from scientists and science advocates that invariably upset either believers or those sympathetic to belief. But that should not be a concern of science. If someone is offended when a scientist says publicly “The world is not 6000 years old”, it is not the fault of the scientist. Noone has a right to not be offended and some facts, however softly phrased, will always offend someone. I simply find the current accommodation bent of chastising atheists or scientists for being unequivocal when discussing those areas of science that certain sects feel are their own domain to be counterproductive.

phhht | November 28, 2012 10:39 PM | Reply

How little evidence is little enough?

The set of empirical evidence for the existence of gods like the one Asher postulates is like intergalactic vacuum. There simply is none. Unless there is another way of knowing, there is no rational reason to accept his postulates. Rationally, the absence of evidence seems conclusive.

Is it rational to say that Harry Potter may have created the universe, simply because we cannot disprove it? Simply because there is no evidence to the contrary?

The theist claim isn’t that Harry Potter created the universe, it is that some mind-bogglingly stupendous eternal being did it. I don’t find this idea particularly convincing. Like some have pointed out, the evidence is debatable at best. But is it wildly, clearly more rational to say that the universe just happened? If true, this would be equally mind-bogglingly stupendous, in my view.

To me, it all looks like a matter of opinion where the evidence is insufficient to reach much of a resolution, and it is likely to always remain so. So I have never seen good grounds for high confidence, strident rhetoric, invocations of scientific authority, etc., on either side. If someone really wants to insist that the scientific method be dragged into such ultimate, cosmic questions, I think that the best scientific position on the theism vs. atheism question is agnosticism.

But that should not be a concern of science. If someone is offended when a scientist says publicly “The world is not 6000 years old”, it is not the fault of the scientist. Noone has a right to not be offended and some facts, however softly phrased, will always offend someone. I simply find the current accommodation bent of chastising atheists or scientists for being unequivocal when discussing those areas of science that certain sects feel are their own domain to be counterproductive.

However, certain scientists are doing a bit more than just being strident about how the young-earth view is wrong. I think it would be pretty rare for “accommodationists” to criticize someone for saying unequivocally that the YEC view is wrong. What gets everyone riled up is that certain scientists are saying unequivocally that all religion is wrong, and not just wrong but evil, and applying this view to not just fundamentalists and creationists but moderates and liberals and evolutionists who happen to be religious. And some have said that successful-but-religious scientists like Francis Collins should be denied scientific jobs like the headship of the NIH. These are pretty ambitious positions to take, especially if the proper scientific position is agnosticism and therefore humility and tolerance about ultimate questions.

phhht said:

How little evidence is little enough?

The set of empirical evidence for the existence of gods like the one Asher postulates is like intergalactic vacuum. There simply is none.

We’ve been through this before. The evidence is little, but it is still there. You don’t accept it. I don’t accept it. But it still exists. It is not intergalactic vacuum. It is anecdotal, occasional, cannot be empirically demonstrated, yadayadayada, but nevertheless some evidence exists, and it can only be said not to exist by defining it out of existence.

Unless there is another way of knowing, there is no rational reason to accept his postulates. Rationally, the absence of evidence seems conclusive.

I regret to differ. Even the absence of evidence would not be conclusive. Indicative, sure. Having some persuasive value, sure. Enough to persuade me, indeed. But not conclusive. I simply do not trust my opinions so much.

Is it rational to say that Harry Potter may have created the universe, simply because we cannot disprove it? Simply because there is no evidence to the contrary?

If Harry Potter were the agency that created the Universe, then “Harry Potter” is one of the nine billion names of God; and a god by any other name, etcetera.

Nick Matzke said:

phhht | November 28, 2012 10:39 PM | Reply

How little evidence is little enough?

The set of empirical evidence for the existence of gods like the one Asher postulates is like intergalactic vacuum. There simply is none. Unless there is another way of knowing, there is no rational reason to accept his postulates. Rationally, the absence of evidence seems conclusive.

Is it rational to say that Harry Potter may have created the universe, simply because we cannot disprove it? Simply because there is no evidence to the contrary?

The theist claim isn’t that Harry Potter created the universe, it is that some mind-bogglingly stupendous eternal being did it. I don’t find this idea particularly convincing. Like some have pointed out, the evidence is debatable at best. But is it wildly, clearly more rational to say that the universe just happened? If true, this would be equally mind-bogglingly stupendous, in my view.

To me, it all looks like a matter of opinion where the evidence is insufficient to reach much of a resolution, and it is likely to always remain so. So I have never seen good grounds for high confidence, strident rhetoric, invocations of scientific authority, etc., on either side. If someone really wants to insist that the scientific method be dragged into such ultimate, cosmic questions, I think that the best scientific position on the theism vs. atheism question is agnosticism.

How little evidence is little enough?

Surely it requires some evidence to rationally believe that Harry Potter created the universe. Can’t we simply reject that postulate on the basis of absence of evidence?

You and Dave appear to argue that an absence of evidence (“the evidence is insufficient”) is not enough to rule out such postulates.

What is?

Mandrellian:

It is in fact the creationist lobby itself, in all its various indefatigable guises, that demands the kind of unequivocal response from scientists and science advocates that invariably upset either believers or those sympathetic to belief.

Why, then, make exactly that “unequivocal response”? Why do the very thing that your worst enemy most bodaciously wants you to do?

Dave Luckett said:

phhht said:

How little evidence is little enough?

The set of empirical evidence for the existence of gods like the one Asher postulates is like intergalactic vacuum. There simply is none.

The evidence is little, but it is still there. You don’t accept it. I don’t accept it. But it still exists. It is not intergalactic vacuum. It is anecdotal, occasional, cannot be empirically demonstrated, yadayadayada, but nevertheless some evidence exists, and it can only be said not to exist by defining it out of existence.

I ask for empirical evidence. There is such evidence for everything from apples to zebras, from cosmic rays to the Higgs boson. But for gods (and Harry Potter), there is none. It’s an intergalactic vacuum.

Unless there is another way of knowing, there is no rational reason to accept his postulates. Rationally, the absence of evidence seems conclusive.

I regret to differ. Even the absence of evidence would not be conclusive. Indicative, sure. Having some persuasive value, sure. Enough to persuade me, indeed. But not conclusive. I simply do not trust my opinions so much.

How little evidence is little enough? There’s no evidence for leprechauns, none for unicorns or Nordic elves. Of course they MAY exist. Can’t rule ‘em out.

Yet I do not believe that you will seriously argue for their existence.

If Harry Potter were the agency that created the Universe, then “Harry Potter” is one of the nine billion names of God; and a god by any other name, etcetera.

But there is no agency that created the universe. Or do you have evidence to the contrary?

The Universe exists. What caused that existence? There may be no cause. If so, the event of its existence would be the only causeless event. Therefore, I am unable to say there is no cause, any more than I can say what the cause is. If I cannot say either, then I cannot say that there is no agency that created the Universe. And neither can you.

This is also the difference between God and unicorns, etcetera. Unicorns can never explain anything, but if there were God, it would explain the Universe. If. It doesn’t give God a special pass into existence, but it does into consideration, in my mind, anyway.

As for empirical evidence, there is none for the tart sweetness of an apple, no matter how closely measured its fructose content, nor for the artistic satisfaction of the balanced stripes of a zebra, no matter how precisely delineated. Every attempt to relate the form or amplitude of nervous signals of every aesthetic experience whatsoever, to the reaction of the mind, fails. To reduce all things to the empirical and to demand only that is to demand a miserable impoverishment of the things themselves. Demand that, if it satisfies you. It does not satisfy me.

Ocham’s razor

Dave Luckett said:

The Universe exists. What caused that existence? There may be no cause. If so, the event of its existence would be the only causeless event. Therefore, I am unable to say there is no cause, any more than I can say what the cause is. If I cannot say either, then I cannot say that there is no agency that created the Universe. And neither can you.

All I can say is that there is no rational reason - no evidence that I know of - to suppose that some agency created the universe. In the absence of such evidence, why make that supposition? It is equivalent to the supposition that Harry Potter did it, or leprechauns, or unicorns. (And what about the “causeless event” of radioactive decay?)

This is also the difference between God and unicorns, etcetera. Unicorns can never explain anything, but if there were God, it would explain the Universe.

Hey, leprechauns explain everything just as well as gods! And they’ve got blarney stones!

As for empirical evidence, there is none for the tart sweetness of an apple, no matter how closely measured its fructose content, nor for the artistic satisfaction of the balanced stripes of a zebra, no matter how precisely delineated. Every attempt to relate the form or amplitude of nervous signals of every aesthetic experience whatsoever, to the reaction of the mind, fails. To reduce all things to the empirical and to demand only that is to demand a miserable impoverishment of the things themselves. Demand that, if it satisfies you. It does not satisfy me.

Do you propose some alternative to empirical evidence? Do you have some philosophical or epistomological substitute for objective, testable evidence?

Neither do I.

Dave Luckett said:

Mandrellian:

It is in fact the creationist lobby itself, in all its various indefatigable guises, that demands the kind of unequivocal response from scientists and science advocates that invariably upset either believers or those sympathetic to belief.

Why, then, make exactly that “unequivocal response”? Why do the very thing that your worst enemy most bodaciously wants you to do?

I should’ve been more clear: it is the actions of creationists that demand an unequivocal response, not the creationists themselves (although I’m sure we’re all familiar with creationists literally demanding to debate certain scientists). Their insistence on scriptural literalism despite both lack of evidence for it and evidence that contradicts it, as well as their simultaneous ignorance of science and cherry-picking of any scientifdic data that appears to support their position, requires - demands - a clear and unambiguous response from those concerned with understanding reality as it is, as opposed to how some might wish it to be.

If creationists didn’t have influential lobby groups and pseudo-scientific institutes and didn’t attempt to inject creationism into science classes all over the place, this conversation would be different. But they have and they do all of those things and they do it in the public domain, in flagrant violation of the law and in flagrant disregard for truth. If creationists didn’t publicly and petulantly demand a place at the table that they have not earned and do not deserve, I’m almost certain no scientist or atheist would spend very much time publicly dressing them down, or even just soberly presenting the facts as they stand.

Occam’s razor is a method of deciding which hypothesis - ie, causal explanation - should be tentatively accepted. I never heard that it is an absolute rule. Further, any hypothesis is an explanation of a cause, and Occam’s razor says nothing about the acceptance of no cause at all. While I can conceive of the Universe having no cause, I am not prepared to call that preferable.

Mandrellian, your original form of words was also correct: the creationists who crew the propaganda mills and the political lobbies desire above all things for scientists, or for anyone on the rational side, to assert that science is incompatible with religion, or with belief in God. They know that nothing else can so effectively help them. They most urgently want scientists to say something, anything, that can be so construed. They’ll trumpet it to the skies, as we have seen right here.

Saying such a thing, or anything that sounds like it, aids them immeasurably. I say again, it may be an honest expression of reasoned opinion, and there may indeed be warrant for saying it. But if you’re trying to drain the swamp, tootling on an alligator call appears to me to be something of a luxury.

Nick Matzke said:

But that should not be a concern of science. If someone is offended when a scientist says publicly “The world is not 6000 years old”, it is not the fault of the scientist. Noone has a right to not be offended and some facts, however softly phrased, will always offend someone. I simply find the current accommodation bent of chastising atheists or scientists for being unequivocal when discussing those areas of science that certain sects feel are their own domain to be counterproductive.

However, certain scientists are doing a bit more than just being strident about how the young-earth view is wrong. I think it would be pretty rare for “accommodationists” to criticize someone for saying unequivocally that the YEC view is wrong. What gets everyone riled up is that certain scientists are saying unequivocally that all religion is wrong, and not just wrong but evil, and applying this view to not just fundamentalists and creationists but moderates and liberals and evolutionists who happen to be religious. And some have said that successful-but-religious scientists like Francis Collins should be denied scientific jobs like the headship of the NIH. These are pretty ambitious positions to take, especially if the proper scientific position is agnosticism and therefore humility and tolerance about ultimate questions.

I’ll certainly grant that some scientists go much further than I might in their positions (but I’m not in their position, so I can’t know that for sure). But think about some of the most well-known advocates of science: Sir David Attenborough, Brian Cox, Bill Nye, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman - for every alleged “militant” (a word pummelled into meaninglessness) like Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers or even Jason Rosenhouse there’s somebody of that ilk ready to explain facts without being even remotely insulting (even though Mr Nye’s recent public, unequivocal rejection of creationism earned him nearly as much hatred as anything Dawkins ever wrote - proving my point that it doesn’t matter how nice a guy you are, some people will react to facts with blinding hatred).

I share the opinion of some “militants” that many, if not most religions (especially the Big Three, which are the ones I’m most familiar with) are divisive myths which are at odds with more than one aspect of reality, but I’m not of the opinion that religious scientists should be denied important positions because of their faith (even though an evangelical Christian by definition holds beliefs that undeniably conflict with science - and I frankly don’t want to place too much stock in relying on a person’s cognitive dissonance to guide them or their organisation through a potential scientific/theological crisis).

Having said that, I did go on to say in that comment that scientists did not start this “culture war”, as it’s been described. I don’t think it’s ever been the intent of science to debunk and dethrone religion; contradicting certain cherished “truths” has just been a natural byproduct of learning more about the universe. It’s always been an option for the various faiths and sects to accept the results of scientific investigation; obviously quite a few don’t, won’t or even can’t. What I’m getting at is that some of the faithful simply couldn’t accept certain facts and immediately upon learning about them set about demonising anyone who discovered or accepted them; some sects go so far as to deny the facts outright and even concoct conspiracy theories to explain their wide acceptance. From Copernicus to Galileo to Darwin to Scopes to the present, religion has consistently declared war on facts and reality. If “humility and tolerance about ultimate questions” is supposed to be paramount, I suggest those who castigate scientists for their “stridency” (another term overused to the point of meaninglessness, frankly) spend a little more time exhorting those who started this war to display some of their own.

If creationists were just happy to be creationists, that would be fine. But many aren’t and they want to impose their “science”, their dogma and their general foolishness onto everyone else. This requires a response. Frankly I think it’s petty in the extreme to concentrate on a small number of scientists who’ve simply had it up to the forehead with creationist machinations - from plain old YEC fundamentalism to ID’s pseudo-scientific lawyering - and want to let faith have it with both barrels. But if faith is worth anything it should be able to take care of itself against a few “strident” scientists; it doesn’t need scientists and non-believers fighting its battles for it.

Dave Luckett said:

Occam’s razor is a method of deciding which hypothesis - ie, causal explanation - should be tentatively accepted. I never heard that it is an absolute rule. Further, any hypothesis is an explanation of a cause, and Occam’s razor says nothing about the acceptance of no cause at all. While I can conceive of the Universe having no cause, I am not prepared to call that preferable.

Mandrellian, your original form of words was also correct: the creationists who crew the propaganda mills and the political lobbies desire above all things for scientists, or for anyone on the rational side, to assert that science is incompatible with religion, or with belief in God. They know that nothing else can so effectively help them. They most urgently want scientists to say something, anything, that can be so construed. They’ll trumpet it to the skies, as we have seen right here.

Saying such a thing, or anything that sounds like it, aids them immeasurably. I say again, it may be an honest expression of reasoned opinion, and there may indeed be warrant for saying it. But if you’re trying to drain the swamp, tootling on an alligator call appears to me to be something of a luxury.

My question is: are creationists actually being helped when a scientist responds unequivocally or without much regard to “tone”? It sounds like the “You’re pushing people away from science with your “stridency” charge as popularised by people like Chris Mooney and not substantiated by anyone. Creationists themselves say that religion and science are incompatible (Byers said it in as many words in this very thread!); they don’t need scientists to say so any more than they need scientists to agree with them on anything else.

Regardless, creationists are so willing, ready and able to twist anything a scientist says and regurgitate their mined quotes to their flock that they hardly require scientists to say anything at all anyway. They often don’t even wait for a direct response either; they’ve a history of taking scientific papers, books or articles that are completely unsupportive of creationism (but that don’t even mention it) and mining the hell out of them in order to present the appearance of support to their flocks (the much-loathed “2nd Law of Thermodynamics” argument is still very popular amongst the ignoramus and the charlatan, depsite numerous unequivocal debunkings). It behooves scientists to be as clear as possible to both avoid quotemining and to be unambiguous when it comes to laypeople and interested fence-sitters. If some get snarky about it, well, that’s unfortunately what happens. But if you’re going to abandon a fight or even join the other side because of some strong words, maybe your integrity isn’t much to write home about and maybe your former allies are better off without you.

I also find it quite condescending to assume that someone - believer or not - is going to abandon science because of some choice words from a scientist. It really isn’t giving much credit to that person to assume they’ll be “driven away” by a few sharp words. I fail to see the benefit in coddling people as a first solution; I’d rather give someone the benefit of the doubt and assume they can parse content and tone.

I think we need everyone in this fight that we didn’t start - firebrands and accommodators, the slow burn and the short fuse. First because the more voices the better, second because not everyone responds the same way - very few people are going to stop paying attention and join the sodding creationists just because Dawkins said something mean about Catholicism. But they may well listen to NdG Tyson or Bill Nye instead because, let’s face it, those guys are awesome at what they do. Others might find NDG or Bill way too soft and instead be drawn to a firebrand like Dawkins or Coyne, because those guys are also awesome at what they do; they just do it differently.

My main objection here is to the rather common stance that the firebrand approach should be diluted or even eliminated in favour of accommodation. That’s like loading just one barrel of your shotgun and I’ll have none of it. That approach hasn’t worked for any successful civil struggle and I fail to see how it would aid in fighting the insidious rot that is creationism, whatever name it goes by. It needs unequivocal, unambiguous opposition and solid refutation any time it pops its head over the parapet.

Mandrellian, it is not strong words, sharp words, passion or unequivocation that I object to. It is specifically the straightforward assertion, made by Coyne and others, that science is incompatible with all religion and all theism. Not just with Biblical literalism, creationism, or the assertion of agency, purpose or divine cause to the physical Universe, but with all belief in God.

The creationist blat mill is not staffed by political dunces. They might be scientifically clueless, and they’re certainly dishonest, usually on more than one level - but they know one thing for sure: if science can be made out to be in conflict with religion, science will be damaged by the conflict. They want that conflict. They’re doing everything in their considerable power to promote it.

I ask again: why would you do the very thing your worst enemies most desperately want you to do?

Dave Luckett said:

Occam’s razor is a method of deciding which hypothesis - ie, causal explanation - should be tentatively accepted. I never heard that it is an absolute rule. Further, any hypothesis is an explanation of a cause, and Occam’s razor says nothing about the acceptance of no cause at all. While I can conceive of the Universe having no cause, I am not prepared to call that preferable.

Occam’s razor is a simple explanation of the concept of parsimony. Any scientist who ignores it without a valid reason is no longer doing science.

If you say that (1+1=2) and I say that (1+1=8), should we compromrise and say that (1+1=5)?

Perhaps, then, we are not doing science, but find ourselves in some other field, one where simple arithmetic does not yield obvious and absolute answers.

I remain convinced that in order to make a positive difference in science literacy, educators should distinguish between superstition and religion, understand that human identity can entail elements of both, and acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable. My particular focus in that essay was that believers need not attribute a human-like mode of creativity to their god.

Okay, I accept that its theoretically possible for there to be a nonsuperstitious religion which does not attribute any human-like qualities to any deity (if such a religion even has a deity). I also accept that atheists and nonbelievers should ‘accommodate’ such believers by not aggressively attacking their beliefs in the public square, if for no other reason than that these hypothetical people will likely be secularists, i.e. people who support sound science education and separation of church and state.

My first and most important question to Prof. Asher would be: okay, should we accommodate the superstitious beliefs of religious folk who do, in fact, attribute human-like qualities to their deity?

Because in my mind, the ~1% of the population which is deist or buddist is not the issue. Nor do atheists really have a problem with them. Its the 50% of the population that believes Jesus Christ rose from the dead, actively loves us, and demonstrates that love via intervention in our worldly lives that is the issue.

Rosenhouse is right to point out that “no God at all” is a possibility that has to be dealt with by believers. I do so by arguing that his suspicion that “maybe there is no god” is no more justified than my suspicion that maybe God acts through nature.

False equivalence. We have an observation (the universe exists) for which we don’t yet have a complete explanation, but that does not stop us from assessing whether some hypotheses are better than others. The loving, sentient, miracle-working, appearing-in-the-first-century-AD-as-a-carpenter’s-son hypothesis is certainly not as good as a deist hypothesis, which itself is not as good as the unthinking-law-as-causa-causans hypothesis. The carpenter’s son hypthesis requires miracles inconsistent with our other observations and adds a lot of seemingly arbitrary traits which are simply unnecessary for a causa causans to have. Even the deist hypothesis adds one trait (sentience) that appears arbitrary and unnecessary.

Furthermore, my view has the advantage that the consistency across, and existence of, natural laws follows reasonably from positing an agency behind them.

AFAIK, we have never discovered any sentient agent working behind or sustaining any natural law. Not once, in all the natural laws we’ve observed. So I would ask Prof. Asher - what observation is the God hypothesis consistent with?

Dave Luckett said: As far as I can see, Asher is not arguing that there is, or must be, one. He is only arguing that one may hold that view and still be capable of rational thought and of science; that there is no essential incompatibility.

Sure, but this is simply talking past Jason’s point, not addressing it. Jason points out that the actual beliefs of many real believers includes miracles, other supernatural events, and a rejection of empirical evidence. Upwards of 40% of Americans surveyed regularly say they believe the earth was created in the recent past, pretty much as it exists today. This is not some recent historical blip which can be blamed on a counter-movement to obnoxious gnu atheism, its been true for decades.

Responding to this point by saying “religion doesn’t have to include any of that; in principle, you can have religion without all that stuff” is completely inadequate.

The stated thrust of the essay is to persuade science educators to “acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable”.

I agree with this idea.

Science does not render some types of religion, in principle untenable. But those types of scientifically-tenable religions are not the type held by most religious people. You cannot simply sweep that 40% of Gallup respondents under the rug. When Asher tries that, he comes off looking somewhat like an ivory tower intellectual - more concered about what fits in the category of hypothetical religion rather than the common forms of real religion as its practiced by real people.

Nick Matzke said: What gets everyone riled up is that certain scientists are saying unequivocally that all religion is wrong, and not just wrong but evil, and applying this view to not just fundamentalists and creationists but moderates and liberals and evolutionists who happen to be religious.

I think that’s such an overbroad characterization that it misleads more than it helps, and I don’t even agree with the guys you’re criticizing (in full; I do agree in part).

Folks like PZ, Harris, etc. say that religious thinking as a methodology has deep flaws that often lead to terrible results. Because of that, we should eliminate the methodology from use. They also point out that the presence of religious-method-users that are nice people and religions that do not lead to terrible results provides no valid counter-argument to the point that as a method, religion is a bad system.

An analogy: let’s say I decide to invest my money based on drawing numbers from a hat. One of your pet hobbies is concerning yourself with how people invest. So you say to me: eric, that is a terrible methodology that will generally lead to bad results, and you should abandon it. I reply: but Nick, last week I made money doing it. My cousins Alice and Bob also reported that they use it and, so far, its working for them. What is your response? Probably something like this: one or a few instances of success does not obviate the serious and fatal methodological problems in the pull-numbers-from-a-hat investment strategy. Well, the gnus argument about religion is pretty much the same. The existence of harmless religion or believers Alice and Bob does not obviate the fatal methodological problems associated with basing beliefs on revelation, authority, or some internal desire/feeling. Religion as a system of belief should be abandoned just as random choice should be abandoned as a system of investment.

And some have said that successful-but-religious scientists like Francis Collins should be denied scientific jobs like the headship of the NIH. These are pretty ambitious positions to take, especially if the proper scientific position is agnosticism and therefore humility and tolerance about ultimate questions.

Here I agree with you; such recommendations are wrong-headed. I think this because I think the empirical evidence indicates that human beings are very capable at ‘switching hats’ without much leakage (of one role into another). Whether we want it to be true or not, empirically it seems that it IS true that the vast majority of humans have the capability to go 80+ years acting on one set of premises on Sunday and a contradictory set on Monday mornings, without much leakage and without any psychological implosion. There is no empirical justification for the generalization that religious people can’t be good, impartial scientists or administrators, and a sh*t-ton of living, breathing counterexamples that they can. Obviously, there will be individual cases where the empirical evidence indicates that certain individuals cannot accomplish both (cough Behe cough Dembski cough), but in my mind there is not much question that the generalization is unwarranted. The mere presence of religious belief is a very bad proxy measure of competence in science, government, business, or most other human activities.

SWT said:I think some of you seriously misread Larry_Gilman. You appear to have kinda sorta read his initial post, jumped right by what he actually wrote (skipping the work of actually trying to understand what he meant*), and assumed that he was yet another fundamentalist;

Huh? Phhhht was posting quotes and responding to them right from the beginning. My first response didn’t, but I thought I did a pretty good job in my last post of explaining exactly what parts of Larry’s argument I was using to reach my conclusion (that Larry is arguing for inscrutability). I admit I got a bit snarky. He did not follow up the inscrutable thing with evangelism, which a fundamentalist would likely do. So for that, I’ll apologize.

Based on what he’s actually posted so far (you know, the “evidence”), Larry_Gilman may well be closer to Dave Luckett than to our resident fundamentalists;

I argue fairly robustly with Dave, too. But as much as I disagree with Dave’s position, his arguments are very clear and he answers critiques directly. No ignoring another person’s critcisim and certainly no flouncing away.

But okay, I’m willing to be schooled. If you think I did not read Larry’s post for meaning, how do YOU interpret this, if not an argument for some form of inscrutability:

God, if “real”, may exist in a mode only analogically related to that of all other “reality” and may act in ways only analogically related to all modes of action we know or can imagine.

eric said:

SWT said:I think some of you seriously misread Larry_Gilman. You appear to have kinda sorta read his initial post, jumped right by what he actually wrote (skipping the work of actually trying to understand what he meant*), and assumed that he was yet another fundamentalist;

Huh? Phhhht was posting quotes and responding to them right from the beginning.

phhht’s comments also supposed that Gilman was a theist – “Why conclude [gods] are real?” Rather, Gilman started with a conditional (IF God exists, God is transcendent), and his first post suggests that he’s an old-school agnostic.

My first response didn’t, but I thought I did a pretty good job in my last post of explaining exactly what parts of Larry’s argument I was using to reach my conclusion (that Larry is arguing for inscrutability).

You’ve spent a lot of space making that point, and I don’t disagree. Gilman says “transcendent,” you say “inscrutable,” so you agree within the margin of nuance.

I admit I got a bit snarky. He did not follow up the inscrutable thing with evangelism, which a fundamentalist would likely do. So for that, I’ll apologize.

Very honorable, and I respect you for offing that apology.

I have to ask, though: why did you go straight to fundamentalism/evangelism? What in his post led you there?

Based on what he’s actually posted so far (you know, the “evidence”), Larry_Gilman may well be closer to Dave Luckett than to our resident fundamentalists;

I argue fairly robustly with Dave, too. But as much as I disagree with Dave’s position, his arguments are very clear and he answers critiques directly. No ignoring another person’s critcisim and certainly no flouncing away.

Dave is an outstanding writer; Gilman’s writing here is not nearly so clear as Dave’s, but I think he might have had some interesting ideas. It’s a shame he was so thin-skinned.

SWT said: I have to ask, though: why did you go straight to fundamentalism/evangelism? What in his post led you there?

Primarily the third paragraph of his original post (starting “If there is a transcendent God…”). Not only does it make a snarky comment about ‘some atheists,’ but it uses a lot of postmodernist-like language to make an argument that is regularly (ab)used by theists - that God is unscrutable.

Dave is an outstanding writer; Gilman’s writing here is not nearly so clear as Dave’s, but I think he might have had some interesting ideas.

I’ve heard the substance of his position repeated many times before, against both Rosenhouse and Coyne. R or C point out that the world we observe is inconsistent with a broad but extremely common concept of God. Someone comes along and objects that hypothetico-God may not have the traits R&C assume, that it is impossible to rule out God in principle since we cannot know or qualify God’s traits at all, or that R and C have not yet met some formal, deductive level of disproof.

That’s goalpost shifting. If R or gives a credible argument that some common and socially imprtant concepts of god are irrational to believe in, you cannot refute that by pointing out ‘you haven’t shown all possible god-concepts are irrational.’ And you cannot refute it by demanding a level of formal disproof that nobody ever demands for other hypothesized but unevidenced entities. The first is shifting the goalposts and the second is rank exceptionalism.

eric said:

SWT said: I have to ask, though: why did you go straight to fundamentalism/evangelism? What in his post led you there?

Primarily the third paragraph of his original post (starting “If there is a transcendent God…”). Not only does it make a snarky comment about ‘some atheists,’ but it uses a lot of postmodernist-like language to make an argument that is regularly (ab)used by theists - that God is unscrutable.

Interesting. What you read as snarky I read as qualification, a recognition that there is diversity of thought and approach among atheists. Nothing he wrote led me to think that he was a fundamentalist.

Regarding your other points, it’s hard to say exactly where he was going; you might well be right.

I didn’t and don’t thing Larry_Gilman is a Christian fundamentalist.

I DO think he is an accommodationist, and one with no new arguments.

SWT said: Regarding your other points, it’s hard to say exactly where he was going; you might well be right.

Think of it this way: in science, we can only test the hypotheses put before us (actually not even those; just a subset of them limited by resource constraints). And we come to belief decisions based on how those limited tests turn out. We don’t reserve judgement on some subject until we have tested “all possible” hypotheses about it, because we can’t test “all possible” hypotheses. That would be an incredibly silly and insincere demand to make. Its a stupid criteria for belief or skepticism.

So, when an accommodationist comes along and points out that theodicy or the lack of any observable divine action does not rule out all possible Gods, what’s the appropriate response? Answer: that’s a silly criteria. Its an irrational and unreasonable bar for skepticism. You can’t insist that a person test all possible god-hypotheses before coming to a skepticism about gods, because that is both practically and hypothetically impossible to do.

If religious and theological belief-propositions were treated the way we treat any other subject, then it would be enough to know that the well-defined theistic hypotheses that humans actually hold have consistently failed testing. For any subject other than god, that is sufficient for skepticism and disbelief. It should be enough to say: if there are some other, poorly defined or noninterventionist deistic hypotheses waiting in the wings, well, we can get to them in due time, but the existence of such hypotheses, “on deck” for testing, does not stop us from reaching a fairly skeptical belief conclusion about gods right now.

I’m appalled that such an accomplished paleontologist like Robert Asher is speaking nonsense. This doesn’t augur well at all for the promotion of science amongst the general public. He’s asking why Darwin mentioned God in his book. Who doesn’t know that that was out of pressure from the theistic environment he lived in? He even delayed publishing the book for many years out of fear of the consequences. This is no secret.

Asher further asks why God can’t act through natural means. Dr. Asher, a God capable of producing this complex universe and setting universal laws is expected to create whatever he wants instantaneously. It doesn’t make any sense to think that God would wait for billions of years after creating the universe for kickstarting life on a remote planet in an ordinary galaxy. This ordinary earth is the ONLY place we know of that has life. Why are there so many “useless” planets if they can’t harbor life? For what purpose were they created? Coming to our planet, the earth was sterile for the first billion years after its formation. There were only microbes for the next 2 billion years. Complex animals didn’t appear until about 500-600 million years ago. i.e 4 billion years after the earth initially formed! And humans didn’t appear until the very very recent past. Along the way there were several mass extinctions that wiped out 99% of all species.

This is not what one would realistically expect of a supernatural power. Of course you can twist any scenario to fit your believes, but it makes no sense whatsoever to conclude that an all-conquering God will act in such a contorted and meaningless way, if he wanted to do what he did. It makes way more sense to conclude that all this happened entirely by natural means and by chance. That’s why all this took such a long time and a long winding path with several obstacles.

Dr. Asher, as a scientist you should demand evidence rather than blindly believing in the supernatural that defies common sense and logic. After all that’s what you do in your daily research. You don’t conclude that mammals evolved from reptiles until and unless you can find evidence for it. If there’s a supernatural being who created him? Where did he come from? How on earth did he manage to create this vast universe? What materials did he use? How does he exist?

You must ask yourself these questions and set out to seek answers before concluding God exists. That’s what scientists do. I’m ashamed of having you in the scientific community.

Dear Masked Panda,

I noticed your post a couple days ago; here’s a brief response. You attribute to me a lot of claims that I’ve never made; you take a variety of theistic and/or nominally Judeo-Christian views, attribute them all to me and say how ashamed they make you feel.

Not much I can do about that, other than hope you’re feeling better and recommend that you have another look at my post—hey you could even read my book. One point I’ve made repeatedly is that “natural” and “random” don’t equate to “absence of god”. Jason (and many others) raised the legitimate point that adding a “god” into the mix isn’t terribly parsimonious, and if one’s goal is to understand mechanism for a natural phenomenon, he’s right; it’s not. However a parsimonious explanation is recognized as such depending on the question to be explained. At some point the question becomes (at least for me) “why do things make sense in the first place?” or relatedly “why are there natural laws”? Nothing as an explanation for something is not parsimonious. “Evidence” as a rubicon for Truth is fine as far as it goes, but at some point I (and maybe you too) want to know about more abstract things— metaphysics for example. As far as I can tell our human scientific enterprise doesn’t go that far, but philosophy and (gasp) theology do. This is not to denigrate science, but to recognize it’s scope. Along these lines I’d recommend a short little book by Peter Medawar: http://www.amazon.com/The-Limits-Sc[…]p/0195052129

Robert Asher

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on November 28, 2012 6:12 PM.

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