Quote of the week: Jerry Coyne on the incompatibility of science and religion

4 03 2009

Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, reviews two books by theistic evolutionists in The New Republic:

It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause, Giberson and Miller pick and choose what they believe. At least the young-earth creationists are consistent, for they embrace supernatural causation across the board. With his usual flair, the physicist Richard Feynman characterized this difference: “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” With religion, there is just no way to know if you are fooling yourself. Read the rest of this entry »


The Wonderful World of Magical Thnking XXXIII

18 11 2007

The week in fundie . . .

  1. God hearts Howard’s policies: Howard. (Sydney Morning Herald)
  2. Nothing restores my faith in the intersection of faith and politics than another heartwarming story from Saudi Arabia. Last week an appeals court increased the punishment meted out to a gang-rape victim (perfectly understandable, of course: she was in a car with males who were not her relatives) to 200 lashes and six months in prison. (via Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion)
  3. And nothing restores my faith in the willingness of certain Christians to follow the example of the central figure of their religion than the openness and tolerance displayed by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, which last week expelled a congregation for welcoming gays and lesbians. Fundies. If they’re not lying for Jesus, they’re hating for him. (via Morons.org)
  4. Meanwhile in Britain, women are queuing up for a kind of cosmetic surgery known as “virginity repair” to appease their future spouses and in-laws. All in the name of Islamic fundamentalism. All taxpayer-funded. (Daily India)
  5. The response to PBS’ Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial is worth the price of admission (so to speak). (via Pharyngula)

Secular Believers:

Blatant Darwin Award

14 11 2007

Man discovered dead in girlfriend’s cat door
Wednesday Nov 14 10:00 AEDT

By ninemsn staff

A US man has been discovered dead in his girlfriend’s cat door, leaving authorities confused about his exact manner of death.

The man, Charles Tucker Junior, was using the animal entry to gain access to his girlfriend’s home on Sunday morning when he became stuck, News4Jax reported.

Officials said his girlfriend made the bizarre discovery only hours after she ordered him out of her house.

Speaking of Darwin, the PBS Nova special about the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case, “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial,” will be available for viewing online from November 16.

Worth listening to is a collection of audio clips from a range of scientists and philosophers explaining what does and does not count as science.

PBS Nova special: "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial"

12 11 2007

I can’t promise anything, but docos like these “accidentally” happen to find their way onto Google Video from time to time, and you can often find out about them at onegoodmove.

The Discovery Institute has already produced a video response, labelling PBS the “Propaganda Broadcasting System” and claiming that the documentary will not be “fair and balanced.” The DI’s video-whine also juxtaposes black-and-white images of “anti-ID propagandist Barbara Forrest” and “Darwinian Activist Eugenie Scott” with what I can only assume is supposed to be Third Reich-era German folk music. (Because supporters of science and reason are Nazis who just want to persecute Christian Fundamentalists ID advocates.)

Ah, the Discovery Institute. Long on ad hominems and plaintive whiny rhetoric. Short on research and evidence.

BTW: I found this 2003 transcript of a Science Show interview with Eugenie Scott discussing ID/creationism and “Project Steve.”

Could this be creationism’s latest gambit?

8 11 2007

The Discovery Institute has issued a press release challenging the constitutionality of the “Educator’s Briefing Packet” for the PBS NOVA doco Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.

“The NOVA/PBS teaching guide encourages the injection of religion into classroom teaching about evolution in a way that likely would violate current Supreme Court precedents about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” says Dr. John West, vice president for public policy and legal affairs with Discovery Institute.

“The teaching guide is riddled with factual errors that misrepresent both the standard definition of intelligent design and the beliefs of those scientists and scholars who support the theory,” adds West.

The Institute has sent the PBS teaching guide out to 16 attorneys and legal scholars for review and analysis of its constitutionality.

I don’t like their chances. Have a look at the packet in question: it talks about
what science is, why biological evolution counts as science and why creationism/ID does not. It also discusses why teaching creationism/ID in the science classroom has been ruled unconstitutional time and time again. And–I suspect this is the real sticking point for the fundies who are the most vocal supporters of ID–it discusses how one can accept evolution without jettisoning one’s religious beliefs.

None of this constitutes an injection of religion into the science classroom. Sorry.

BTW: How long will it be until this is blamed on us evilutionist atheists?

More Unconvincing Arguments for God: Little Johnnyism

20 10 2007

Little Johnnyism is a variant of the argument to authority with which I am sure we are all familiar. When we were kids, Little Johnny was that boy down the street that our parents were convinced we all wanted to emulate. “Little Johnny does the dishes,” “Little Johnny keeps his room clean,” “Little Johnny mows his parents’ lawn,” and so on. The idea is that since we have some attribute in common with Little Johnny—that of being little–we are more likely to be impressed by the moral examples he sets than by those of an older person.

Apologists use Little Johnnyism when they rattle off names of celebrated ex-atheists who have found Jesus and/or God–e.g. Lee Strobel or Anthony Flew—reasoning that, since all atheists obviously think alike, they are equally likely to be impressed by such conversion stories. Some apologists, like Kirk Cameron, will even cite (or, as I suspect, manufacture) their own atheist pre-history and subsequent conversion tale—call it “Little Kirkism”—and then claim to know what all atheists think (and presume to tell atheists what atheists think).

My correspondent Trey himself uses Little Johnnyism when he rattles off a list of scientists—I mean, atheists are bound to be impressed by scientists, right?–who have made affirmative pronouncements on the existence of God/the supernatural.

Robert Jastrow, an astrophysicist, says this in talking about the Big Bang theory and its implications, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.” In another interview he says, “Astronomers no find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover…That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.” Arthur Eddington, a contemporary of Albert Einstein, said, “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.”

Sorry, Trey, but this proves nothing—other than the fact that even scientists are as prone to the argument from ignorance fallacy as the rest of us. And how does Jastrow know that the Big Bang was an act of creation? He doesn’t provide any evidence to support his claim—he simply asserts it. Creation implies a Creator. Add begging the question to that list of logical fallacies to which scientists might also be prone—particularly when they are speaking on matters that lie outside the purview of science, such as the supernatural. (Incidentally, it turns out that Jastrow also speculated that “the Big Bang may have been one of a series of cosmic explosions that alternate with cosmic collapses.” Ah, the pitfalls of quote-mining!) Trey goes on:

What they are talking about observing is that the universe and cosmos have a definite beginning. The Law of Causality tells us that everything that had a beginning has a cause. The cosmos have a beginning; therefore, it must have a cause. That cause must be eternal, timeless, infinitely powerful, etc. to have done this, which are characteristics remarkably like theistic God.

Firstly, while the Big Bang theory may suggest that the universe had a beginning, the cosmos is a different matter—google “multiverse theory.” Secondly, how does Trey know that whatever caused the cosmos did not itself have a beginning? How does he know that whatever caused whatever caused the cosmos did not itself have a beginning? And so on. Trey offers more scientists offering arguments from ignorance/incredulity:

Astrophysicist Hugh Ross took into account all the constants that are necessary to sustain life as it does not on earth, 122 in all, and what we know of the number of planets in existence, 10^22, and found that probability to be 1 IN 10^138. There are an estimated 10^70 atoms in the universe, so that number is absurdly high. Given that the universe is not eternal and did have a beginning, there is zero chance that natural nomena could explain existence. Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias said, “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly-improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan.” To which you say and many atheists would say, “Nu-uh, that event happened. Shutup, science!” and I and my theists buddies would say, “Good work science. Seems reasonable to me.” However, the fact that that event cannot be recreated means that we will never know exhaustively what happened. This means that, regardless of how much support we get, there will be a need for some amount of faith in any conclusions.

Astrophysicist Hugh Ross–note the Little Johnnyist marker– is an old earth creationist, and a detailed critique of his ideas on fine-tuning can be found here (see also this post by P Z Myers), but he’s basically making a “God of the Gaps” argument (“I can’t explain it, therefore goddidit”), as is the Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias. Nothing to see here, people. Of course in science we will never know exhaustively what happened with regard to past events such as the origin of the Earth, the solar system, or the Universe—the best we can do is arrive at sound models based upon the evidence we have. Isn’t that better than simply throwing our hands in the air and proclaiming “we don’t know . . . therefore goddidit”?

The Wonderful World of Magical Thinking XXVII

5 10 2007

The week in fundie . . .

  1. Texas law, with the Orwellian title “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act,” allows evangelical students to proselytise to captive audiences at public school assemblies. (Alternet)
  2. Fundies–of both the Protestant and Catholic varieties–call for the shutting down of a San Francisco gay and lesbian festival and for the boycott of sponsor Miller’s. (As one liberal pastor observes, a conservative Christian boycott of alcohol–isn’t that a little like Hindus boycotting beef?) (The Bay Area Reporter)
  3. Archbishop declares he would refuse communion to Rudy Giuliani. (via Morons.org)
  4. The Red Mass: where Catholic archbishops have the annual opportunity to instruct the members of the US Supreme Court on how to vote on constitutional matters. (via TheocracyWatch)
  5. God-fearing evangelical Christians–default moral exemplars to us all–gay-bash an Indian man to death in Sacramento. Apparently “God has ‘made an injection’ of high numbers of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally liberal West Coast cities,” according to the host of a Russian-language anti-gay radio show in Sacramento. “‘In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin,'” he said. The murderers belong to a Latvian Pentecostal church linked to anti-gay activist Scott Lively, who in the 90s wrote a book comparing gay rights activists to Nazis. (Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion)
  6. William Dembski: evil atheist materialist scientists unfairly try to rationalise away the existence of angels (which Dembski insists are as real as rocks and plants and animals) with reason and science and whatnot. Evil atheist materialist scientists!

Religion as Child Abuse