“Atheism Required for Science?”

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Jeff Laird answers this question with a nicely convenient list of scientists who didn’t think so.

Part 1

Part 2

111 Responses

  1. Jacob says:

    What or whom would enforce such a requirement anyway?

  2. Samuel Skinner says:

    Naturalism is required for science. However, naturalism leads to atheism. The only way to deal with this leads to cognitive disodence.

    Why? Because you can’t just say “God did it” in science. It is a nonanswer.

    Also, it is worth noting that although many of those people were religious it had nothing to do with their science research… except Farday. He thought the magnetic fields had to be circles because circles were divine- and he was right! About the fields, not the divinity.

  3. Jacob,

    It’s becoming a de-facto requirement that you not espouse any significant religious beliefs, lest you be branded an “irrational” or “unscientific” person. Look at what happens to people like Behe.

    Samuel,

    No, naturalism is not required for science. I can make a much more persuasive case that strict atheistic naturalism makes modern science impossible. Don’t forget that theistic assumptions formed the backbone of the scientific method.

    Having religious convictions, and a theistic outlook does not mean you answer every question with “God did it.” I don’t know how much more I could proven that than I did in those two posts. Those are just some of the men who say, “God did it…but how?”

    For you to say that their religion had nothing to do with their research is just ignorant. Boyle, Newton, and Kepler (just to name three) wrote an extensive amount about religion; they considered their faith and their research to be a single search for truth. Some of those men were led to their faith by their studies!

    I’m just sick and tired of hearing about how religion and science can’t reconcile, and how “real” science has to be atheistic. Those are opinions born out of (and supported only by) bigotry towards religion. They have no basis in reason, history, or evidence.

  4. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,

    What’s your argument that strict atheistic naturalism makes modern science impossible?

    What theistic assumptions formed the backbone of the scientific method, and by formed do you mean “once formed, but no longer do” or formed in the past and remain intact?

    What do you mean by reconciling religion and science? Do you mean that science should teach us that there is a god, or that theism should concede that it cannot provide explanatory, predictive theories on the material world that compete with science? Because these are what I see as the approximate positions of the two, and I’m not sure who you think is going to make that compromise on either side.

    Your last two sentences sound a bit extreme to me. If you want I’m sure I can think of some examples of how religion and science have found themselves at irreconcilable odds.

  5. Samuel Skinner says:

    Yeah Behe. Since he has joined the ID movement he has.. come up with buzzwords! Come on- I expect that of marketing, not scientists. I expect them to discover the thing that will be buzzworded.

    God did it… but how…



    I would cry, but I realize you are serious. Okay, here I go. If God did something, he did it by supernatural or miracle methods… in which case we can’t trace it. The only way to understand something is to follow it by nature methods. You could say “well God uses natural methods”, but that is rather stupid. I eat meat with metal utinsils- I don’t use flint tools. The idea that an all powerful creature would always choose the worst and most inefficient process is ridiculous.

    Yeah- they considered both part of their search for truth. And you know what? They were right- religion falls under science. It just happens to be false. They thought otherwise, but they didn’t have all the pieces. And they were mostly deistic.

  6. Paul says:

    For you to say that their religion had nothing to do with their research is just ignorant.

    Boyle, Newton, and Kepler (just to name three) wrote an extensive amount about religion;

    Writing about religion doesn’t mean that religion had anything to do with their research.

    they considered their faith and their research to be a single search for truth.

    This also doesn’t mean that religion had anything to do with their research. AFAIK, there is no functional theology within their science. If you think you have a candidate, replace it with any other theology and see if you can conclude that their science would have been different. If any scientist could verify these religious scientists’ conclusions without reference to religion, then religion plays no part in those scientific conclusions. Religion may play a part in that scientist’s personality and how they were led to begin their science, but scientific conclusions, nearly by definition, are independent from any one person’s personal beliefs.

    Some of those men were led to their faith by their studies!

    This also doesn’t mean that religion had anything to do with their research, it means their research had something to do with their religion.

  7. Tony,

    ” What’s your argument that strict atheistic naturalism makes modern science impossible? | What theistic assumptions formed the backbone of the scientific method…”

    These go together, so I’ll answer them together. Every fact is subject to interpretation. Some interpretations make more sense than others, and some match the evidence better than others. Those interpretations require presuppositions – they necessitate preconceptions. In theism, you have a structure which presumes that nature is arranged in a specific and orderly way, and that it is consistent. That order is presumed because of the presumptions of an orderly Creator. Without that, the whole idea of experimentation and hypothesis testing falls apart. Briefly (criminally briefly, I know, but I’m not up for dissertations tonight), an atheist has no reason to assume that anything is consistent or orderly. Even experiments and experiences that seem to suggest repeatability only speak to the experiences that specific person has had – you have nothing other than presumption on which to assume that those rules hold for everyone else.

    Theism not only includes that presumption of order, but it puts it into a context that logically expects it. In short, theism presumes that nature is orderly, on the basis of its creation. Atheism has no basis on which to pre-assume that nature is orderly. These assumptions remain intact. When scientists study far-off galaxies, they presume that the laws of physics are at least generally the same ‘out there’. They presume that physics will behave tomorrow as it does today – those are givens under theism, but uncertain guesses under ‘strict’ atheism. Also, theism provides a reason to believe that the universe is something that we can understand using reason and intellect.

    What I mean is it’s entirely false to say that science and religion cannot coexist without contradictions (“be reconciled”). Scientific evidence does given powerful suggestions of design, intent, and order. Theism is not a “form” of science, so your second idea is nonsensical. Theism is a worldview, science is a process. What you said is like asking if Democracy, Hedonism, or Existentialism can provide predictive, explainable theories that “compete” with science. Religion (particularly Christian theism) and science are not fundamentally at odds, and only the ignorant proclaim otherwise.

    If my last two sentences sound extreme, then so be it. History does not support the idea that religion must be rejected or set aside to make scientific progress. Logic and experience don’t support it, either. Those who say so aren’t basing that opinion on fact, they’re basing it on prejudice. There’s plenty of shallow rhetoric from New Atheism, but it cannot be plausibly supported that science cannot survive in a religious worldview, or vice versa.

    I could probably come up with more examples of specific religious beliefs being solidly contradicted by science than most people can – but you can’t look at history, fact, or reason and find any support for the idea that all religions and religious ideas are scientifically wrong. Not all ideas are created equal, and seeing non-truths cut down by reason is exactly what you’d expect. Debunking falsehoods doesn’t change the truth. This list of strongly religious scientists puts the lie to any suggestion that all religion falls before science.

  8. Samuel,

    “I would cry, but I realize you are serious…”

    Well, I’d laugh, but I realize you’re seriously putting those forward as arguments against the idea of God. For example, why assume that everything God does has to be with super-natural methods? That’s like criticizing an engineer for designing a tractor and then using it to plow a field. God designed the universe, doesn’t it make sense for Him to use what He designed? In particular, if He designed the universe to do certain things, doesn’t it make sense for Him to use it to DO those things? And what great insight gives you the perspective to say that God’s use of natural methods is the “worst and most inefficient process”? And who says we can’t “trace” it? SETI spends millions of dollars looking for coherent data from space. If they ever got a message-rich code as sophisticated as the DNA strand, they’d be ecstatic. When even the hardest of skeptics comment about the “appearance” of design, I think you have to be a bit more open to those ideas that your comment suggests. I think you’re buying anti-ID rhetoric a little too easily. (Oh, by the way – note that you may think metal utensils are “the best”, but other cultures disagree. The “best” method isn’t quite so easy to pin down. And, you’re still using a tool for its intended purpose – why can’t God do the same?)

    Well, if you think religion’s “false”, because they “didn’t have all of the pieces”, then I presume you don’t support evolution, abiogenesis, global warming, or the fields of history, archaeology, paleontology , and forensics. There’s more than a little “filling in the blanks” going on there.

  9. Paul,

    When you’re a scientist who believes that the universe was created by an actively-involved God, then it has everything to do with your research. Worldviews aren’t something you put on and take off like a jacket. I deliberately focused that list on men for whom religion wasn’t nominal, it was essential. I’d encourage you to find out more about Kepler’s writings, for example. He didn’t just brush science and religion together, he wove them side-by-side. Theistic reasoning makes up a notable part of his scientific work. Wikipedia is…well, wikipedia…but they include a convenient summation of Kepler’s (and many other scientists’) view:

    “…motivated by the religious conviction that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through the natural light of reason.

    I can do a “replacement” theology for you right now: anything but theism. There’s a reason that modern science didn’t originate in places dominated by spiritism, pantheism, or animism. Note that until Darwin came up with a mechanism for evolution, it was even tough to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist” as Dawkins (I think) put it. The basic concepts of science (orderly, consistent laws, repeatability, comprehensibility) are inherent to a theistic worldview. They don’t naturally flow from any other worldview. Perhaps you didn’t read some of the quotes I gave from people like Von Braun, Newton, or Pasteur. Those would begin to answer your charge that scientific conclusions have to be separate from one’s religious beliefs.

    This is fallacious: If any scientist could verify these religious scientists’ conclusions without reference to religion, then religion plays no part in those scientific conclusions.

    If any detective could verify these forensic investigators’ conclusions without reference to forensics (e.g. by finding a security camera tape), then forensics plays no part in those conclusions. Not true – in fact, there are a lot of things that science can now confirm without using the methods that were originally used; that doesn’t mean that the original methods weren’t part of mankind coming to those conclusions. It certainly would be silly to say that the original methods aren’t compatible with science.

    And, this, of course, is the real key: If a scientist could verify these non-religious scientists’ conclusions with reference to religion, then non-religion is not a necessity for those conclusions. I don’t see how you can reject this, and accept your statement. It’s also slippery to say “without reference to religion” – don’t forget, my contention is that theistic assumptions are required, not that every scientific discovery has to be accompanied by chapter and verse.

  10. Hi, Charlie. Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out more when I get some shut-eye!

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Excellent words, MM.

    Samuel,

    If God did something, he did it by supernatural or miracle methods… in which case we can’t trace it. The only way to understand something is to follow it by nature methods.

    Science does have limits, even under atheistic assumptions. There are things we can’t trace. Heisenberg showed us that. But we can know and understand things by means other than science. The limits of science are not coextensive with the limits of knowledge. In the case of God’s activity, we also have his revelation, and theological and philosophical reflection on it. We have our experiences, which include awareness of order in the universe, consciousness, conscience, free will, reason, and so on. Science can describe those things, more or less successfully, but it cannot explain all of them. In fact, some people holding to your kind of approach to knowledge think science explains them away (free will, ethics, etc.). That leads to some terrible inconsistencies, though.

    So in sum, it is not true that the only way to understand something is to follow it by nature methods.

    You could say “well God uses natural methods”, but that is rather stupid. I eat meat with metal utinsils- I don’t use flint tools. The idea that an all powerful creature would always choose the worst and most inefficient process is ridiculous.

    I think you’re equivocating on “natural” here. In “God uses natural methods,” “natural” means something like, “in accordance with the regular workings of nature, set up by God in the creation.” When you talk about flint tools, “natural” means “not synthetic, or not manufactured through some extensive series of human interventions.” There is nothing inefficient about the first, and the analogy becomes irrelevant in view of the equivocation.

    And they were mostly deistic.

    As they say in Wikipedia, “citation needed.” Or as I would say here, I simply disagree. MedicineMan has shown us otherwise on his blog posts linked in my original post above. So if you want to convince us otherwise, please show us some supporting data.

  12. Tom,

    Thanks.

    I think that even the anti-religious have to accept two ideas: First, that modern science was born out of theism. Second, that there are a wealth of examples of superb scientific minds, past and present, who hold strongly to religious beliefs.

    I also think that everyone, skeptic and believer, has to admit that we sometimes let our dogmas interfere with our reason. We don’t like having our assumptions questioned, and we get resistant when something seems to do that. In the case of atheism, consider the Big Bang theory. An eternal, un-caused universe was a fundamental concept of historical atheism – so it was atheists who resisted it, at first.

    I think a danger of the modern rhetoric is that, rather than allowing different ideas about those pre-assumptions to interact and compete, it stifles dissent. If Dawkins, Meyers, and so forth had their way, there would only be one perspective, and I think that’s antithetical to real science. Closing one’s mind to certain possibilities isn’t scientific, it’s dogmatic.

  13. Paul says:

    MM, I think you’re talking historically, and I was talking functionally or logically, in the following sense:

    For instance, Kepler’s idea,

    “…motivated by the religious conviction that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through the natural light of reason.”

    is not necessary to do science. We don’t have to assume the reason why the universe if orderly (God created it) in order to do science, we merely have to look for whatever regularities happen to occur.

    I can do a “replacement” theology for you right now: anything but theism. There’s a reason that modern science didn’t originate in places dominated by spiritism, pantheism, or animism.

    Again, you’re speaking historically, and I’m speaking about the logical requirements of science.

    Those would begin to answer your charge that scientific conclusions have to be separate from one’s religious beliefs.

    I’m talking about the content of their science. The content of science is (should) be the same no matter one’s religion. I’m talking about, to take an absurd example, whether magnetism produces X electricity if you’re a Christian or whether it produces X+Y electricity if you’re a Hindu.

    If any detective could verify these forensic investigators’ conclusions without reference to forensics (e.g. by finding a security camera tape), then forensics plays no part in those conclusions.

    Not clear if you think this is parallel to my idea. It isn’t, because I’m talking about religion in science, and your example is talking about forensics in forensics.

    Not true – in fact, there are a lot of things that science can now confirm without using the methods that were originally used; that doesn’t mean that the original methods weren’t part of mankind coming to those conclusions.

    Agreed. I’m saying it means that those original methods aren’t essential, it is mere historical circumstance that it happened that way.

    And, this, of course, is the real key: If a scientist could verify these non-religious scientists’ conclusions with reference to religion, then non-religion is not a necessity for those conclusions. I don’t see how you can reject this, and accept your statement.

    Because religion adds extra items compared to the non-religious. Here’s why: everything that a non-religious scientists has to assume in order to do science is also assumed by the religious scientist (empiricism, experimentation, etc.), it’s just that the religious scientist adds on the God stuff, which is unnecessary. QED. The empiricism, etc., though, is, by definition, necessary for science. Religion happened historically in science, but I wouldn’t call religion necessary in a logical or intellectual sense.

  14. Paul,

    We don’t have to assume the reason why the universe if orderly (God created it) in order to do science, we merely have to look for whatever regularities happen to occur.

    Even in that statement, you should be able to see the problem. There’s an assumption of regularity, intelligibility, and order in science. There is no rational reason for a person to assume such things, devoid of a theistic framework. Just because you observe it doesn’t men it will always be that way, or that it’s going to be that way anywhere else. Theism gives you the rationale to believe that; that’s why it was theism that birthed science.

    The logical requirements of science still demand those assumptions of regularity, intelligibility, and order. There is still no rational basis to believe in them outside of theism.

    I’m talking about the content of their science. The content of science is (should) be the same no matter one’s religion.

    Yes, of course. Experimentation and observations, controlled for the right variables, should produce the same results no matter who is involved. That does not mean that religious ideas or arguments are not, or cannot be, part of that reasoning.

    In the topic we’re discussing, you’re trying to erase the difference between methodology and assumptions. All science proceeds with those same assumptions, but only theism gives you a rational basis to start with them. You’re also insinuating that if a person isn’t citing the Bible in a lab report, that their religious views are irrelevant to their research. Again, there are ample examples, past and present, of people who prove that false.

    My analogy about forensics is valid. If a forensics team uses DNA and fiber analysis to bring an indictment against someone, and during the investigation, a detective finds video footage of the person committing the crime, you’d be flat-out wrong to say that forensics had nothing to do with the conviction, since the tape by itself would have been enough to convict.

    …it is mere historical circumstance that it happened that way.

    That’s a bit dismissive, in my opinion. I could apply that to any scientific discovery in history. But, whether Christians like it or not, Francis Crick is an atheist. Whether skeptics like it or not, Newton, Kepler, Pastuer, et. al. were Christians. And, like it or not, it was theistic assumptions that founded modern science. Calling that “mere historical circumstance” is like saying it was “mere circumstance” that America’s founding fathers were those particular men, and so we can be dismissive of the importance of someone like Jefferson or Madison. This is particularly when other systems didn’t come close to producing modern science, despite centuries longer to develop it.

    Because religion adds extra items compared to the non-religious.

    Again, be careful not to word-curl. And yes, theism adds “extra items” compared to other systems – hence, we have modern science instead of mysticism. That’s more or less the point of the history of modern science, that theism added the necessary components. As I’ve said, it’s glib and shallow to say that those assumptions are “unnecessary”, since you can’t get them otherwise. Yes, the non-theist can assume them – but only ad hoc, not a priori.

    I wouldn’t call religion necessary in a logical or intellectual sense

    “Religion” as in some particular denomination (watch the word curling) isn’t necessary. Theistic assumptions are.

  15. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,

    This just in. The sun climbs in the east in the morning. It sets in the West in the evening.

    If you think man needed to consult a deity on that and thousands of other regularities then you might want to step outside.

    Your tenet — that a belief in theism is a necessary precursor to realizing that there is a sense of order in the world, is bizarre. If that is truly your tested contention then you cannot be argued with.

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    I’ve been installing insulation and paneling in my garage today. In a way I wish I had time to look up the sources on this, and in another way it’s been refreshing to do something different.

    Anyway, this belief is not so bizarre as you suppose. It was put forth by Robert Oppenheimer and Alfred North Whitehead a long time ago. More recent scholarly proponents of the view include Stanley Jaki and Rodney Stark.

    I hope that gets you past the “bizarre” thought for a while. I’ll try to find more on this later.

  17. econ grad says:

    Theism does provide something atheism lacks.

    Theism provides an a priori belief nature will be orderly and rational.

    When we test something we assume we’re dealing with reality. It doesn’t disappear when we turn away. At the root of reality is not a set of contradictions. The Universe is orderly and that extends to anything we can know about it. This is the basis for physical laws.

    Atheism can’t justify that assumption a priori. Theism can. Theism has a guardrail against solipsism and irrationality that atheism lacks.

    This isn’t to say atheism is inferior to theism. It is just to say that the belief the Universe is intentional carries with it a belief in an orderly, consistent, Universe where physical laws make sense.

  18. Tony Hoffman says:

    Econ Grad,

    It reads to me that you are declaring that atheism cannot justify (?) physical laws. I don’t know what you mean by justify. What does belief in a god have to do with physical laws as defined by science? (They are not defined by theism, I think you’ll agree.) How does belief in a God protect one from solipsism? If one can rationalize that the only existence one can be sure of is one’s own, how does belief in a deity change this presumption? If I can only be sure of my own existence, why does a deity get a free pass from a solipsistic perspective?

    What version of Theism are you talking about? Couldn’t belief in an arbitrary deity make me think that the universe is arbitrary? If one believes in the version where God controls the world and can sometimes perform miracles, which by their definition defy physical laws, shouldn’t this undermine my “belief in an orderly, consistent, Universe where physical laws make sense.”

    Tom,

    Just because someone else, even a very smart person, comes up with an idea doesn’t make it persuasive.

  19. Paul says:

    There’s an assumption of regularity, intelligibility, and order in science.

    No, those are conclusions derived from evidence, not assumptions. Science doesn’t start with regularity, it finds it where it exists (and doesn’t where it doesn’t exist, such as readioactive decay). And those conclusions are not more absolute than the evidence allows. I assume you’re talking about regularity, etc., in the (observable) universe.

    Just because you observe it doesn’t men it will always be that way, or that it’s going to be that way anywhere else.

    Science does not require this.

    All science proceeds with those same assumptions, but only theism gives you a rational basis to start with them.
    .

    You don’t need a rationale for them. Just assume them, try it, and if it produces useful results, then use them. Science doesn’t have to be metaphysically grounded, it just has to work.

    In the topic we’re discussing, you’re trying to erase the difference between methodology and assumptions.

    Good distinction, our disagreement is about assumptions.

    That’s a bit dismissive, in my opinion.

    Yeah, sorry for the tone.

    I could apply that to any scientific discovery in history.

    My point exactly.

    But, whether Christians like it or not, Francis Crick is an atheist. Whether skeptics like it or not, Newton, Kepler, Pastuer, et. al. were Christians.

    Which is why you don’t need religion for the methodology of science, scientists practice it with or without religion.

    And, like it or not, it was theistic assumptions that founded modern science. Calling that “mere historical circumstance” is like saying it was “mere circumstance” that America’s founding fathers were those particular men, and so we can be dismissive of the importance of someone like Jefferson or Madison.

    What I mean is that while theist assumptions may have been at the founding of science (I’m taking your word for it), that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are crucial to it now. That’s what I meant by historical circumstance. Give credit to Newton and Jefferson, respectively, but science and democracy don’t currently depend on them. Something can grow bigger than its origins.

  20. Samuel Skinner says:

    Hey, my comment didn’t appear up. Did you delete it or did it not get through?

  21. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,

    What I mean is that while theist assumptions may have been at the founding of science (I’m taking your word for it), that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are crucial to it now.

    Rodney Stark made just this point if Victory Of Reason:

    On the one hand, a strong case can be made that although Christianity was necessary for the rise of science, by now science has become so well-institutionalized that it no longer requires a Christian warrant. The same may be true for belief in progress. The conviction that we can deeply penetrate nature’s secrets and achieve advanced technology may no longer need to be based on faith, since all one really needs to do now is look around.
    On the other hand, if Christianity is now irrelevant to modernization, why is it still spreading so rapidly? The fact is that Christianity is becoming globalized far more rapidly than is democracy, capitalism, or modernity.

    There are many reasons people embrace Christianity, including its capacity to sustain a deeply emotional and existentially satisfying faith. But another significant factor is its appeal to reason and the fact that it is so inseparably linked to the rise of Western Civilization.

    Consider this recent statement by one of China’s leading scholars:

    But in the past twenty years , we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.

    234-235
    John Lennox, God’s Undertaker:

    So, is naturalism actually demanded by science? Or is it just conceivable that naturalism is a philosophy that is brought to science, more than something that is entailed by science?
    9

    As I have argued elsewhere (having stolen the argument from someone – Lennox, most likely (that’s why I’m back in his book right now)), it is more accurate to say that science is methodological theism rather than methodological naturalism. One must presume cause and effect, regularity and order, rationality and logic, in order to do science. He is then relying upon the metaphysics of theism (Christianity, most accurately) when doing science whether he so justifies it or not.
    Here’s an allusion to it:

    We need to consider that being a theist is not only not a hindrance to good science, but it may be a necessary condition for certain discoveries being possible at all.

    John Lennox, a mathematician from Cardiff at the conference, made a very paradoxical, but I think prescient, remark. He suggested that, just as it is possible to be an ontological theist but a methodological naturalist, so is it possible to be an ontological naturalist and a methodological theist. John and I agree that much of current biology (in so far as functional and teleological claims are still current) is in fact methodologically theistic. As the theistic paradigm develops, there is every reason to hope that it will be joined by scientists who are personally agnostic but who recognize good and successful science when they see it.

    Indeed, historians of science like Duhem and Whitehead have argued that the development of modern physical theory in the 14th through 18th centuries would have been impossible without the Christ-engendered conviction that the physical universe might prove to be intelligible to us.

    http://www.origins.org/articles/koons_progressdebate.html

    Oh, here’s my comment on this from before:
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2008/01/the-nas-on-science-evolution-and-creationism/#comment-739

    …science done on atheistic presuppositions will lead to the same results as science done on theistic presuppositions. For example, when trying to find out how an organism functions, it matters little whether one assumes that it is actually designed, or only apparently designed. Here the assumption of either ‘methodological naturalism’ (sometimes called ‘methodological atheism’) or what we might term ‘methodological theism’ will lead to essentially the same results. This is so for the very simple reason that the organism in question is being treated methodologically as if it had been designed in both cases.

    36

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Samuel,

    Your comment got caught in the spam filter because of profanity. If not for the personal insult it was attached to, I would have just edited it out, and released the comment.

    I have your comment saved and I could email it back to you if you wish. Let me know. But first please read the discussion policies, and let me know if you want to continue your part in the discussion under those guidelines.

    I’ll be at the computer only intermittently today, so I can’t promise how quickly I’ll return an email, but I’ll do it when I can if you request.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    A couple of sources I was able to find quickly on the web. I would really rather refer you to Rodney Stark’s books, but I want to make this easier than that. (If you have time to get to the library and look him up, though, begin with “Victory of Reason,” then “For the Glory of God.”)

    PDF (see part IV): http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/philosophy/faculty/koons/science.pdf

    http://www.asa3.org/aSA/PSCF/1994/PSCF6-94Davis.html

    That’s a start, anyway.

  24. Paul says:

    One must presume cause and effect, regularity and order, rationality and logic, in order to do science.

    I don’t think science *presumes* cause/effect and regularity and order. These things sometimes *result* from doing science, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes science finds no effect from a supposed cause, and sometimes science can’t find a cause when an effect happens. Science allows for the possibility of finding cause and effect, and regularity and order, but it doesn’t presume them.

    If theism adopts rationality and logic, it doesn’t mean that any use of rationality and logic must be theistic or owes theism any debt.

  25. econ grad says:

    Mr. Hoffman, I see I was a bit unclear.

    An atheist can certainly accept the presence of physical laws. They cannot justify them as anything more than patterns that repeat faithfully. Not as actual intentional laws that constrain reality.

    Belief in God (and thank you for capitalizing that proper noun) in our modern world is specifically linked to several monotheistic faiths. Each of these faiths hold that God created an orderly, consistent Universe. So I’ll deal with the situation we face as opposed to hypotheticals.

    Atheist assumptions of reason, consistency and existence in reality are based off a class of experiences. Theists share the same experiences. In addition theists tend to have spiritual experiences that under gird their belief in God. These spiritual experiences form a guardrail as the predominant monotheistic faiths all attest to the orderly, logical, and true existence of the physical world.

    An atheist has his experiences about the physical world to justify his presuppositions about the physical world. This is a weak form of logical support. The theist (in his mind anyway) has something distinct from physical reality which attests to the orderly, consistent, real existence of it.

    None of this is to say theism is superior to atheism. It’s simply that the theist has much more to lose by an escape from reason into solipsism or irrationality.

  26. Paul,

    This is absolutely false:

    Science doesn’t start with regularity…

    The entire concept of modern science is that of observation, hypothesis, and experimentation. Unless you assume that things will behave the same under the same conditions, then scientific experimentation is worthless. The very act of conducting an experiment to confirm (or refute) a hypothesis assumes that there is a regularity of effects when the causes are identical.

    Science does not require [consistency of order]…

    One of the attributes of “real” science I hear touted so often is predictive ability. Unless you assume that physical laws will act tomorrow as they do today, and/or that physical laws will behave the same in Italy as they do in America as they do in Saturn’s rings, then the word “predictive” becomes nonsensical. Science cannot be separated from the presumption of order and consistency in the underlying laws. Those presumptions are totally random, completely arbitrary in any view other than theism.

    Again, in regards to “Religion”, don’t word curl (Tom, sorry for the out-link, but that term is defined here.

    I am not saying that some particular denominational approach has to be taken. I am saying that the fundamental, basic concepts of theism (an involved, intelligent, orderly Creator) are inseparable from science. This is why theism, of various stripes, birthed and nurtured science. It is also why Theists can continue to pursue their fields without running into fundamental contradictions; also, in fact, why so many have been led to theism as a result of their work.

    Don’t take my word for it that science was born out of theism. Take the word of historians. Even Richard Dawkins, so far as I recall, has grudgingly said that the origin of science from Christian theism can’t be denied.

    Something can grow bigger than its origins.

    Yes, but if it strays away from the fundamentals, then it’s not the same thing any more. If you start including glass and concrete in your stew, then you’ve rejected some of the basics of cooking (ingredients must be edible). If you start rejecting theistic principles (the universe is orderly, intelligible, and regular according to some kind of organized system) then you’re not participating in “science” anymore.

    Science cannot “outgrow” it’s foundations any more than a house can.

  27. Tony,

    Thanks for the update! Now that we’ve established your grasp of “observation”, answer me this: why should you or I assume that the sun will do the same tomorrow? I presume that you have observed objects falling towards earth – why would you assume that they will continue to do so tomorrow? Or that objects would fall on a planet like Pluto?

    The whole idea of “regularity” can be dismissed (lacking theism) as purely incidental. A “mere historical circumstance”, as Paul put it. So what if it happened twenty trillion times the same way? Who says that’s not just a cosmic coincidence?

    Unless you assume that natural laws are laws, and that the universe has properties consistently applied, then you’re left with nothing remotely “scientific”.

    The only system that allows you to make those necessary assumptions or repeatability – “regularities”, as you called them – with any sort of certainty is theism. Anything else is ad hoc, and subject to logical denial.

    I’m arguing that everyone has assumptions – everyone. No one is immune from preconceptions. Modern science is not possible unless we presume order, intelligibility, and repeatability. You cannot prove that universe is orderly without assuming it in the first place. Anyone can assume this – but only a theistic worldview guarantees it. If you reject theism, then you reject the basis for believing those fundamentals. You’re free, from a logical and rational standpoint, to tumble off into solipsism.

    But thanks for the tip – I’ll head outside, confident that I can use reason to make sense of an orderly physical world. You can stay in and wonder why you should even believe that there’s any such thing as natural laws in the first place.

  28. Paul says:

    Unless you assume that things will behave the same under the same conditions, then scientific experimentation is worthless.

    You don’t assume that they will, you predict that they will based on past experience.

    Science cannot be separated from the presumption of order and consistency in the underlying laws.

    It’s not necessary for science to presume order. Science only has to *conclude* empricially that order exists (temporarily, because the future can change) when everytime we run experiment A we get result B. That’s not an assumption, it’s a conclusion based on emprical evidence.

    Science cannot “outgrow” it’s foundations any more than a house can.

    There’s plenty of analogies to go around, though (but an analogy isn’t proof, for you nor for me). A fetus is dependent on the mother for its survival, but after birth does not (eventually) need a mother to survive. So what may have been crucial at a birth can fade away later on (in this case, in terms of physical survival).

  29. Paul says:

    So what if it happened twenty trillion times the same way? Who says that’s not just a cosmic coincidence?

    Exactly. So depending on a scientific law is merely prudent. I’ll take that twenty trillion to one bet every time.

    You cannot prove that universe is orderly without assuming it in the first place.

    I think you mean “without hypothesizing it.”

  30. Samuel Skinner says:

    Hmm- I don’t think what I used was a swear word. Anyway, I’ll just point out the gist of my responce. You have declared that science requires theism. However that isn’t true- lets look at the examples.

    Stonehedge.
    The first computer (ancient Greece)
    The Incans road network, city building, “writing”, etc.
    China. They made a ton of discoveries.
    India.
    New Guinea.

    Now, you can say what they did wasn’t science, but that is nonsense. Stonehedge is tied to the seasons and astronomical phenomena- it encompasses engineering, astronomy and the like. AND its builders were animists.

    China wasn’t theist and made many profound discoveries- gunpowder, printing press, swords, steel, stirrup, etc.

    New Guinea came up with agriculture independantly.

    The Greeks are the Ur example- aside from all the neat stuff they made, they also were responsible for the world’s FIRST COMPUTER!
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/11/061129-ancient-greece.html

    You get the idea. None of these groups were monotheists with a creator that guarenteed order. The idea evolved from the realization the universe has order and people’s inability to come up with a better answer.

    As for Europe getting ahead first, read Guns, Germs and Steel.

  31. Tony Hoffman says:

    MedicineMan,

    You wrote:

    answer me this: why should you or I assume that the sun will do the same [ rise / set] tomorrow? I presume that you have observed objects falling towards earth – why would you assume that they will continue to do so tomorrow?

    I think you are confusing metaphysical questions with scientific ones. It sounds to me that you are declaring that objects fall on earth because a creator has mandated that they do so. I say objects fall on earth because that’s what objects do. You are failing to convince me that this is a “preconception” on my part. My understanding of physical laws is an understanding. Some physical laws run contrary to my preconceptions — it would appear to me that the sun is revolving around the earth, for instance. I have learned otherwise. In other words, my understanding of many of the laws of science is exactly the opposite of what you say — the reality runs counter to my preconceptions, or modifies my preconceptions.

    MedicineMan, I mostly don’t have time to debate with you right now — I’ll try and pick up on it later. Also, I want to apologize for phrasing my questions to you in a way that leads to jousting and escalation.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    Tom, Just because someone else, even a very smart person, comes up with an idea doesn’t make it persuasive.

    True. But you had called it “bizarre.” I think that if a very smart person puts forth a theory, we ought to at least be cautious about labeling it bizarre. That’s all.

    Paul and Tony

    No, those are conclusions derived from evidence, not assumptions. Science doesn’t start with regularity, it finds it where it exists (and doesn’t where it doesn’t exist, such as readioactive decay).

    I think you are confusing metaphysical questions with scientific ones. It sounds to me that you are declaring that objects fall on earth because a creator has mandated that they do so. I say objects fall on earth because that’s what objects do. You are failing to convince me that this is a “preconception” on my part.

    Those are two passages of several here that I think are good jumping-off points for a crucial distinction to be made. I’m not the first to say it in this thread, but I’ll say it again anyway and hope it becomes more clear.

    We are the products of centuries of intellectual tradition that includes the Greeks, the Christians, the scientists. And much, much more, obviously. For us, there is regularity in nature, there is comprehensibility, there is purpose, there is good reason to believe in the value of studying nature, even in trying to harness nature to improve things. It is as water to a fish; we cannot imagine any other way of viewing reality. And so we do not see that this came from somewhere.

    The best way to see that it did is by comparing our intellectual tradition to that of other cultures. The Buddhists and Hindus historically saw no value in nature; it was Maya, illusion, and endless inmperturbable cycle, or it was something to be accepted as it is without attempts to master it. The Greeks came out all over the place, but recall that Aristotle was no friend to the experimental method; and that Heraclitus said you never step in the same river twice, which is an approach not conducive to studying regularities in nature.

    I could go on. The point is this: we may think it is bizarre to have any other basic conception of the world at all; and within our cultural framework, it is. But again: our cultural framework came from somewhere. The fact that other cultures have had other viewpoints shows that is a contingent thing.

    What was the contingency that led to our seeing the world as we do? Looking backward, we see that the one culture that developed science is also the one culture that accepted the seven points of belief Rob Koons outlined in his paper that I linked to above. I hope he won’t mind if I quote him here. (He’s a college friend of mine, by the way, married to a friend of mine from high school. But he’s a good thinker in spite of my assocation with him–Oxford Ph.D, or D.Phil, or whatever it is, and tenured at University of Texas.)

    (I’m not going to take time to clean the footnotes out of the text here.

    .1. The belief in the intelligibility and mathematical exactitude of the universe, as the artifact of a perfect Mind, working with suitable material that it has created ex nihilo, and the closely connected Hebraic conception of God as a law-giver. The idea of a law of nature was first explicitly formulated in the fourth century by Basil of Caesarea in his Hexaemeron (Six Days), applying the Biblical model of God as lawgiver to the Greek picture of an ordered cosmos.

    2. A belief in the fitness of the human mind, created in the image of God, to the task of scientific investigation, conceived of as a vocation given byGod.29 29 Kepler: I give you thanks, Creator and God, that you have given me this joy i creation, and I rejoice in the work of your hands. See I now have completed the work to 22

    3. The need for observation and experiment to discover how in fact God has exercised his sovereign freedom and absolute omnipotence in crafting and legislating for the creation, a freedom incompatible with the complete determination of the divine will by a priori constraints. Recall Duhems view o the significance of Tempiers condemnation of Aristotelian physics for neglectin this very thing. In addition, Duhem argues that the omnipotence of God led to medieval speculation about the possible existence of many worlds like the earth, leading the way for the Copernican and Galilean revolutions.

    4. The conception of nature as a divine Book, parallel to the Bible. The two-book model was a favorite theme of Galileo, Kepler, Bacon and others. Historians have discovered fruitful interaction between scientific theorizing and the development of biblical hermeneutics in the late Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation and Counter-Reformation.30

    5. The disenchantment of the world by theism, clearing away the potentially discordant divinities and semi-divinities of polytheism and animism. This abolished the ontological gap between the heavens and the earth (Aristotles sub lunar and super-lunar realms), making possible Newtons unification of th explanation of motion.

    6. The linear view of time, beginning with creation and passing through the unique, unrepeatable events of the divine comedy, in place of the otherwise ubiquito which I was called. In it I have used all the talents you have lent to my spirit. Quoted i Kaiser, Creation and the History of Science, 127. 30 See Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., 1998), and Kenneth J. Howell, God’s conception of a cyclical Great Year. This enabled Christian theists to conceive of the possibility of unprecedented progress in scientific knowledge and technical efficacy, in contrast to the endemic resignation and pessimism of antiquity.

    7. The elevation of the dignity of matter and of manual work, a consequence of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation, especially given Jesus occupation as carpenter. Modern science was possible only when investigators became willing to dirty their hands in workshops and laboratories, and only when they began to see all material things, which have been created by God, as good in themselves.

  33. Paul,

    You don’t assume that they will, you predict that they will based on past experience.

    Unless you assume that things are repeatable, then past experiences are meaningless. That’s part of the point of the arguments Tom just posted. Theism gives a reason to believe that things are orderly and uniform. Spiritism, animism, atheism, etc. don’t give you that – the spirits or demigods (or the purposeless, random universe) could do things differently tomorrow than they(it) did yesterday.

    It’s not necessary for science to presume order.

    Then what, in heaven’s name, does science presume? No, really, read that blockquote out loud and think about it. What else could science presume – chaos? Science HAS to assume order, but only theism gives a reason to assume it in the first place. Empirical observations are only useful if you assume that each observation has some kind of rational connection to other observations. The whole idea that experiment A would result in B every time isn’t supportable without theism – see Tom’s citations above.

    I suppose to answer your fetus example, I’d say it works. However, the mother’s womb imparted things into the fetus, like a heart and lungs, without which the child can’t survive – no matter how old they get. Theism imparted things “into” science, like presumption of order, that can’t be jettisoned without “killing” science. Also, I’d say that each scientific investigation has to start with the same presumptions, just like each new child has to begin with the same essential organs. If you want those essentials (rational presumptions), you need that womb (theism).

    Exactly. So depending on a scientific law is merely prudent. I’ll take that twenty trillion to one bet every time.

    Again, “probability” itself implies order. “Prudent” implies rationality. If you choose to adopt a scientific mindset, you’re adopting assumptions that are only supportable through the foundations of theism, not any other worldview.

    You cannot prove that [the] universe is orderly without assuming it in the first place. | I think you mean “without hypothesizing it.”

    No, I mean without assuming it. How do you test a hypothesis without assuming an orderly system in which that hypothesis is testable? How do you test the idea that the universe is orderly without utilizing that order to do so?

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    More on why that assumption is not a conclusion: See what Quine and Duhem had to say about what you can really prove without some assumptions.

  35. Tony,

    I think you are confusing metaphysical questions with scientific ones.

    No, not at all. I’m talking about the assumptions that must precede science – those will always be ‘metaphysical’ questions. If anything, you’re confusing the two by acting as though those assumptions don’t need to be made at all.

    I say that gravity functions (hence objects fall) precisely because a Creator has created gravity, and all the other forces it interacts with, to function in an orderly way. I would have no basis to assume that it does (function orderly) outside of that.

    You are failing to convince me that this is a “preconception” on my part.

    Describe how you would demonstrate “order” without assuming it in the first place. You won’t be able to, and that’s why non-theistic cultures went thousands of years without developing modern science.

    Some physical laws run contrary to my preconceptions — it would appear to me that the sun is revolving around the earth, for instance. I have learned otherwise.

    Now you’re confusing “preconceptions” with “perspective”. Reality may differ from your perspective-biased opinion, of course. It may also run counter to your pre-conceptions, but there is a difference between the two. A “rising sun” is a perspective. An orderly universe is a preconception.

    Science doesn’t have a pre-conception that gravity does what it does – it has tested laws that indicate what it will or will not do. Those were formed only AFTER mankind made the assumption that the motion of objects was not arbitrary, and could be understood in some regular, orderly, consistent fashion.

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    MM,

    I would have no basis to assume that it does (function orderly) outside of that.

    Point of clarification: One might assume the orderly function of gravity without being a theist. That’s an obvious fact, because millions of people fit that description.

    What theism supplies is:

    1. A basis for that assumption: that the universe is orderly.
    2. A reason for deep confidence that human minds are equipped to study the order of the universe.
    3. By virtue of 1 and 2, motivation and grounds for studying gravity in depth; not just taking it as a given of daily life but exploring it fully.

    I don’t want people to get locked in “you don’t have to be a theist to assume gravity is orderly.” You don’t. But in order to get to deep explanations for why that assumption makes sense, theism provides better answers than other worldviews. In fact, the only other strongly competing candidates for an explanation would be:

    a) It just happened that way, or
    b) It just happened that way in the one universe (out of infinite numbers of universes) that we live in.

    So you have theism, or luck, or faith in the unobservable multiverse.

  37. Tom,

    Yes, I agree, that needs clarification. My statement was meant to imply that there’s no rational basis (lacking that assumption of order that only theism really provides) to assume that gravity acts the same on planet XYZ in galaxy ABC as it does here. I also was including the idea of experience only being rationally predictive after you assume that underlying order. Obviously, anyone can note the apparent regularity of gravity, but only theism gives a suitable basis to believe that those observations are meaningful. Your phrasing is less subject to being misunderstood!

    Thanks for linking to the posts, by the way. It’s always good to get a response!

  38. SteveK says:

    All of this points back to The Logos that we discussed before. Reality is not the result of randomness.

  39. Charlie says:

    Hi Steve,
    When we last discussed it we were talking about the coincidence of how a non-euclidean geometry invented merely as an abstract exercise happened to end up describing reality.
    The same is true of Max Plancks’s quantum math.

    Planck viewed his quanta as mere mathematical devices, something he invoked in “an act of desperation” to explain why heated, glowing objects emit the frequencies of energy that they do (an exasperating puzzle known as the black body radiation problem). He did not seriously entertain the possibility that they corresponded to physical entities. It was just that if you treated light and other electromagnetic energy as traveling quanta, the equations all came out right.

    The Mind And The Brain,/i>, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D.
    Once again, abstract mathematical ideas which work out on paper also happen to work out in the physical realm. Mind-products equal reality because reality equals a mind product.

  40. Samuel Skinner says:

    What happened to the second comment? That WASN”T obsence!

    Anyway it was an example of people who weren’t theists and did use science. I hope this gets through.

    Coolest example was the Greek computer, although Stonehedge also fits in well.

    You seem to still be on the topic of “universality”- physical laws are the same through out the universe, as well as the idea of order. As those examples show, Christianity isn’t necesary for science to exist because these people were practicing science. Now, you might claim theism… except the Greek Gods were NOT the sort that lend themselves to the idea of stability. In fact Roman philosophers started schetching out deism overlying the pantheon because the Gods were so unsatisfactory in that regard.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    Samuel, I’ve just been through all the comment moderation lists and the spam filter–I can’t find another comment you wrote. I don’t know what would have happened to it. I’m sorry about that.

  42. Tony Hoffman says:

    MedicineMan and Tom,

    I don’t see a distinction in your attribution of Theism as the preconception necessary for science to a more abstract notion like that of Einstein — the perception of order exists whether or not one attributes it to a creator or the simple fact of the existence of our universe. Order obviously exists on our world (gravity), and one can reasonably hypothesize that gravity exists elsewhere. Scientists hypothesize and go from there.

    I have trouble with granting the West’s religious underpinnings as the reason that West was the first to develop the scientific method. Not only are there numerous examples in the past, and today, of Christian theists opposing the findings of religion, but the relationship is much more complex than I believe you gentlemen are limning. (Charlie attributes this comment to an unnamed Chinese scholar: “But in the past twenty years , we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.” I don’t have time to go into why this is not a good piece of evidence for the necessity of theism before developing science, but suffice to say that’s a pretty broad brush.)

    I am a historian by schooling, and there is a consensus among historians that the West’s de facto separation of Church and State as a result of the Holy Roman Empire was crucial in the West’s development of its other institutions; by separating religious affairs from political ones (Rome held spiritual control, political control moved over Germany and France and back again for centuries) Western culture was more likely to develop institutions that were not tied in and restricted by religious considerations. This would certainly apply to science. Compare the strength of our non-religious institutions to those in the Islamic World and virtually every other culture where the spiritual and political remain married and there is good reason to find this argument persuasive.

  43. SteveK says:

    Tony

    Order obviously exists on our world (gravity), and one can reasonably hypothesize that gravity exists elsewhere. Scientists hypothesize and go from there.

    Back up a few steps and you’ll see what MM is getting at. We can hypothesize because we can reason. So, rationality explains the orderly nature of the hypothesis. What does the orderly nature of rationality require? Logic. In my opinion this is the key to what MM is saying. What does the non-theist have in his “toolkit” to explain knowledge of an orderly universe? They only have logic. Not experience, not statistics, not hypothesis, not empiricism, not randomness – but logic of the mind. Knowledge of the consistent order of nature flows from logic of The Mind. But this is theism.

  44. Tony Hoffman says:

    SteveK,

    You appear to making a extension of a solipsistic argument — that nature is ordered because of the logic of the mind. How can you prove which precedes the other?

    I would contend that the human mind is ordered (as are all living things) because there is order in the universe. The fact of my existence proves that the universe is ordered — whence come I if that were not the case?

    Atheists must hold to a preconception that the universe is ordered. To hold otherwise would be contrary to the fact of their existence. But assuming order in the universe is not the same thing as having a preconception of a divine creator. Thus I believe that a theistic preconception is superfluous to science.

  45. SteveK says:

    Tony

    You appear to making a extension of a solipsistic argument — that nature is ordered because of the logic of the mind.

    Not saying that. I’m saying knowledge of order is contingent on logic. Is logic (and knowledge) contingent on the physical alone, be it orderly or not? I don’t think so.

    Searle’s Chinese Room argument says that knowledge (understanding) of physical order can’t come from physical order alone. Order can’t understand on it’s own without a “rule book” that transcends the physical order. If the physical order created the rule book then the physical order can alter it just as easily. The rule book created by the physical order in the Chinese Room may be different than the rule book created by the physical order somewhere else. This means logic – and from that, knowledge gained from science – can change like the tides, so to speak. In some distant place the Earth is objectively known (not assumed) to be flat because the physical order altered the rule book.

    If logic is contingent then multiple objective realities are…well…a reality. This destroys the logic you assumed to conclude that. It’s a self-defeating argument.

    I haven’t proven anything here, but I have shown you the end result of your thinking.

  46. Paul says:

    Unless you assume that things are repeatable, then past experiences are meaningless.

    They may not provide proof, but they aren’t meaningless. They provide a basis for predicting, not proving, that cause A will produce effect B as it has in the past. We can move forward and use the results of science on a predictive basis (DL, where are you?), not as absolute proofs or absolute laws.

    More later.

  47. Tony Hoffman says:

    SteveK,

    First off thanks for the reference to the Chinese Room argument — I didn’t know about that one and I’m finding it fascinating.

    I am not uncomfortable with logic deriving from the order or our world as it presently exists. This may not seem adequately foundational to some but it does not disconcert me. And that’s ultimately my point. It may not be the preconception that we wish for, but it is the only preconception we can prove that we have. And I still believe it is entirely adequate as a basis for science.

  48. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,
    Said order would have existed in all times on the earth and in all places, accessible to all cultures, correct?

  49. Tony Hoffman says:

    Charlie,

    Not sure what you’re asking me. Do you mean am I making assumptions that the physical laws of our universe have been constant since the dawn of time? Or that have physical laws in ancient Egypt were they same as they are in the U.S. today?

    I guess that in both cases I would say that yes, I am making those assumptions. I realize that these are assumptions, but I believe that these assumptions also present some degree of testability.

    Your question does feel a little like a trap to me, though. So, um, I await your second question with some trepidation…

  50. SteveK says:

    Tony,

    I am not uncomfortable with logic deriving from the order or our world as it presently exists.

    Then you are comfortable with multiple objective realities, which is relativistic (non-objective) reality.

    It may not be the preconception that we wish for, but it is the only preconception we can prove that we have. And I still believe it is entirely adequate as a basis for science.

    You disprove the adequacy by proving it is adequate, as per my above statement. In this part of the universe, science finds the Earth is a solid sphere yet somewhere else, science finds that same Earth is a donut-shaped, flat disc. Your system doesn’t give you any tools to argue against either one because logic is contingent on physical reality, and so both are true. Gone is the consistency of nature that science demands. I can imagine that somewhere science has proven that E=cm^2.

  51. Paul says:

    Again, “probability” itself implies order. “Prudent” implies rationality. If you choose to adopt a scientific mindset, you’re adopting assumptions that are only supportable through the foundations of theism, not any other worldview.

    The order you speak of within probability is not assumed, it is an empirical observation. At any time, the odds may surprise me, water may not boil when I turn the heat on underneath it on the stove (in fact, quantum physics predicts a very, very small chance of this happening, as I recall), but I’ve found that it’s worked very well in the past, and while there’s no guarantees, it’s a highly functional system until it’s not. Which is why science is always ready to overturn its conclusions given sufficient evidence.

    Rationality must be assumed, but are you claiming that theism is the only basis for assuming rationality? If so, can you lay out that case in summary for me?

  52. Tony Hoffman says:

    Steve,

    You wrote:

    Then you are comfortable with multiple objective realities, which is relativistic (non-objective) reality.

    This does not necessarily follow from what I said. I said that I am comfortable with logic deriving from the order of our world as it presently exists. I don’t know if another world exists, and if it did it doesn’t matter to me.

    Then you go on to say:

    You disprove the adequacy by proving it is adequate, as per my above statement.

    I actually have no idea what you mean by this statement. If you want to persuade me that my position is untenable could you please rephrase your assertion above for me?

  53. SteveK says:

    Tony,

    Me: You disprove the adequacy by proving it is adequate, as per my above statement.
    You: I actually have no idea what you mean by this statement.

    It’s a bit like saying “Objective truth is in the eye of the beholder”. If assumed (or proven) to be true, then it follows that it can also be false at the same time.

    I don’t know if another world exists, and if it did it doesn’t matter to me.

    It matters to the extent that you think observations prove that the universe is orderly. Just like with my statement above, if you assume (or prove) logic is contingent on physical order then simultaneous observations can prove the universe is disordered at the same time.

    To paraphrase what Tom said on this subject before: I’ll be willing to grant that I’m wrong, if you’ll grant that somewhere it means I’m right. 😉

  54. Tom Gilson says:

    Still learning new things about this system–I’ve just found Samuel Skinner’s missing second comment, now reintroduced into the discussion. Better late than never, I hope.

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    am a historian by schooling, and there is a consensus among historians that the West’s de facto separation of Church and State as a result of the Holy Roman Empire was crucial in the West’s development of its other institutions; by separating religious affairs from political ones (Rome held spiritual control, political control moved over Germany and France and back again for centuries) Western culture was more likely to develop institutions that were not tied in and restricted by religious considerations. This would certainly apply to science.

    True enough. This also explains, according to Rodney Stark, why religion itself has thrived so much more in the U.S. than in Europe. Religion has never thrived when tied to power structures, and the same vice-versa. They do not belong together in that way.

    But that’s about power structures, not about cultural mindsets, which is the topic here. It was not Christianity’s governmental ties but its intellectual effects that had the result of which we have been speaking.

    You appear to making a extension of a solipsistic argument — that nature is ordered because of the logic of the mind. How can you prove which precedes the other?

    Did you mean to say solipsistic or something else? Solipsism is the idea or theory that nothing exists except for me, and that everything I experience is the product of my own imagination. Maybe you meant something else.

  56. Oh, goodness. So much to respond to, and my one-year-old isn’t in the mood for discussions of solipsism and epistemic cognitive existential…a propo…umm…stuff. I kid, of course, but I’ll just let most of the above stand as stated.

    The distinction between denomination and generality has to be emphasized, as well as the difference between “rational” presumptions and “irrational” presumptions. No one (so far as I’ve seen) is suggesting that only one particular sect is capable of science – that would be somewhat antithetical to the whole point I made in the original two articles. My point in posting that list was to put an absolute dagger in the absurd claim that persons with religious beliefs cannot be “scientific”, or that religion is inherently opposed to science.

    What I’ve tried to do is expand this by reminding everyone that the assumptions of order and so forth are absolutely required. Those assumptions can be made by anyone, certainly. However, there is a fixed, foundational basis for those assumptions in theism that is not present in other worldviews. This is why theism birthed modern science, and other systems did not.

    I’m seeing some awfully fluid definitions of “science” here, so we need to note an important difference between “discovery” and “modern science”. The structured methodologies of “modern science” flow naturally from that orderly theistic perspective. They come only haltingly, and inconsistently, from anything else.

    I’m a degreed mechanical engineer who quit grad school 6 credits short of an MSME to get married. I know full well the difference between “engineering” and “theory”. Ancient accomplishments are notable, but the ones I saw above aren’t examples of ‘modern science’. We’re not talking about rudimentary or isolated successes, nor are we talking about the ability to stack rocks so that they line up with stars. We’re talking about forming a methodological basis by which the fundamental laws of the universe can be understood.

    That is modern science, and the reason non-theistic cultures didn’t develop it is because those very assumptions of order and repeatability do not come naturally to such worldviews.

    Paul,

    Quantum theory has a lot more to do with ‘uncertainty’ in the sense of measurement and observation that it does with actual ‘randomness’ in the sense that any old thing can happen. No matter how you slice it, there are rules, laws, and principles in the universe. …So far as I know.

    Consider that you’d never seen dice before. If you saw a pair of dice rolled 500 times, and every roll resulted in a snake-eyes, would you consider that predictive of what would happen on roll 501? Sure! But only until someone told you that there was no particular reason that the dice had to fall that way, it was just the way it happened to happen. Starting without the presumption of order puts you exactly there – in a place where even the most “obvious” observations of regularity cannot be logically defended as anything other than “historical circumstance.” Unless we assume that “God does not play dice with the universe”, we can’t really be sure our observations are going to be meaningful.

    Theism is the only stable basis for those assumptions of order and regularity. Spiritism, animism – and, logically, strict atheism – give reasons to believe that the “spirits” or “chaos” will do what they want when they want, with no purpose or order. Theism anchors a belief that there are “physical laws“, not just spirit-whims. Of course, you can choose to assume order, but you’re doing so ad hoc unless you’re approaching it theistically (sp?).

    Gotta run. cxnbsb vvkl,jjjujsxxsxz (that’s my son’s two cents, and if that doesn’t convince you, nothing will… 🙂 )

  57. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    You wrote:

    Me: You appear to making a extension of a solipsistic argument — that nature is ordered because of the logic of the mind. How can you prove which precedes the other?
    You:Did you mean to say solipsistic or something else? Solipsism is the idea or theory that nothing exists except for me, and that everything I experience is the product of my own imagination. Maybe you meant something else.

    Thanks for not giving me the Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not thing it means what you think it means.” reference. I actually do know what solipsistic means — I was saying that SteveK’s argument was similar to a solipsistic one in that he contended that the only order one one could experience was the product of one’s imagination. I just thought that while the argument might be interesting it was, like a solipsism, impossible to disprove but not necessarily true.

    I may still be misusing the word, of course, but I think that’s still a correct usage. One of the many benefits of coming here, by the way, is that I get to re-look up all those words I only ever half-knew, like syllogism, hermeneutic, etc.

  58. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    You wrote:

    Religion has never thrived when tied to power structures, and the same vice-versa.

    I don’t believe that’s a conventional reading of history. The Christian Religion did not flourish until it was adopted by the Roman plutocrats, and suffered repression when a new despot was not a Christian. Islam expanded like wildfire precisely because it was tied to a powerful, violent, and expansionary political force — the early caliphs — and then waxed and waned depending on the energy and efficacy of various strongmen. Early Christian expansion in the new world arrived largely in the form of Spanish steel, swords, and horses. Etc.

    My point in bringing up the separation of church and state is that state encompasses all of the other institutions, not just government. Law, education, science, etc. have all benefitted in the West from having been largely separated from religious control. That is why, today, we don’t stone people who commit adultery, why we teach our children things other than straight memorization of religious texts, and why we learn about things based on empirical evidence. I believe that separation from religious control, which tends to be reactionary and backward looking, is a principal reason that we have such great institutions in the West.

  59. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,

    You wrote:

    My point in posting that list was to put an absolute dagger in the absurd claim that persons with religious beliefs cannot be “scientific”, or that religion is inherently opposed to science.

    I just wanted to say how nice it is to read something that you wrote and be able to say that I completely agree. I was beginning to fear that we might never have that.

  60. Tony / Tom,

    I don’t fully agree with Tom’s assessment about the “thriving” of religion, but because I think “religion” should be replaced by “Christianity”. Islam has actually never spread well through anything less than naked force, but Christianity has always grown strongest under persecution. Modern China vs. England is a relevant, and current, example. Where it’s persecuted, it’s exploding. Where it’s technically a state religion, it’s all but dead.

    I don’t want to spiral off into an argument about what constitutes a “real” Christian or not, but the truths of the Gospel have historically been most faithfully and sincerely spread during times when those espousing those beliefs are under persecution. Nominal “Christendom” flourishes when the government tries to take it up as a rallying cry, mascot, or tool. Real Christian belief and practice does not fare well when it’s leashed to some other controlling entity.

    Tom’s more important point is the one at the core of this discussion – that it was only in a generally theistic culture that modern science was able to develop.

    I was beginning to fear that we might never have that.

    Tony, you brought up “The Princess Bride”. Just when Inigo seems done for, he pulls through. Just when Wesley seems done for, he finds some strength. Reasonable people who sincerely want to untangle the truth will always find places where they can agree, no matter how apart their ideas may seem!

  61. Paul says:

    MM,

    Quantum theory has a lot more to do with ‘uncertainty’ …So far as I know.

    That’s not inconsistent with what I wrote about quantum theory. I don’t have a chapter and verse to refer you to, I’ll try to find a reference if I can.

    Regarding the dice you were rolling: your example does not refute the idea that, given repeated similar effects from the same cause, one is prudent to bet on a similar result even it can be overturned on the very next occasion. The word prudent is crucial: it doesn’t speak to a proof that the expected effect will follow the same cause, it merely says that one is rational to predict that it will, even if a paticular case doesn’t follow one’s prediction.

    Theism is the only stable basis for those assumptions of order and regularity.

    I ask you to unpack what you mean by “stable.” My point is that a non-theistic basis still makes science *useful.* Nothing more, nothing less.

  62. Charlie says:

    Good discussion.
    Medicine Man, you’ve said everything I would have wanted to (self-flattery, of course). Except I’m not good with Princess Bride references.
    Christianity has indeed flourished under persecution and was much healthier prior to being taken up as a tool of the government. The American founders knew this and the evidence is in the denominational strength of early America. But as you say, we digress..
    I think your dagger in the heart of the religion vs. science canard is now well-established. That has been a recurring theme of this blog’s for some time.
    Whenever it comes up the discussion goes in the same direction –
    A: the founders of science were Christian
    B: well, that’s a coincidence of history
    A: it is actually more likely a prerequisite
    B: but the Chinese had some technologies and the Greeks were pretty clever .
    A: technologies and discoveries are not science
    etc.

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks for answering my question even though you thought I might be trying to lay a trap. Very refreshing.
    There was no trap intended. I thought my question highlighted nicely the irony hiding in your comments.
    You’ve said that Christianity and its world view were not necessary conditions for the birth of science.
    You said that we can observe the orderliness of nature and derive our logical ideas and, I presume, the grounding for scientific investigation from this observation. You said others might not find this grounding satisfying but that you thought it was sufficient.
    But you admit that all cultures and all epochs have had access to this orderliness.
    But it still remains that only Christendom birthed science.
    Therefore, our observations of the (apparent) orderliness are not sufficient, either as logical grounds or as an historical case, to justify the development of science.
    Something else other than observation was obviously needed.

  63. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,
    Anyone can use science now. Not everyone can justify it. Using it as justified by Christianity without acknowledging it only hides the problem. As Einstein said, the greatest miracle of the universe is that we can understand it. As philosophers of science often ask, why are the laws as they are? why is there something instead of nothing? why are our brains so adapted as to be able to comprehend truths about the universe?
    Christianity has the answer and had it before several centuries of scientific success allowed for claims of its bootstrapping.

  64. Tony Hoffman says:

    Charlie,

    You wrote:

    Whenever it comes up the discussion goes in the same direction –
    A: the founders of science were Christian
    B: well, that’s a coincidence of history
    A: it is actually more likely a prerequisite
    B: but the Chinese had some technologies and the Greeks were pretty clever .
    A: technologies and discoveries are not science

    I would say that the founders of science were largely Christian because they were from the West. Your asserting that Christianity is a prerequisite is a little like saying that rabbits run quickly because they have fur; you have not demonstrated causality.

    The West had many many advantages that other civilizations did not have around the time of the founding of science. How do you respond to my contention that the separation of religious affairs from politics and the other great institutions may have been a significant factor? How do you credit Christian religion when the church tried to suppress the fact of heliocentrism, teaches as fact events that violate physical laws or the laws of nature, and whose chief defining principle, faith, runs contrary to the tenets and practice of science?

    Science is more than a little hard to define. (I like a paraphrase of Robert Frost, which would define science by saying that “Science is what scientists do.”) Although I’m not sure how I feel about classifying the technological achievements of earlier cultures, many of those examples do demonstrate an awareness of order in nature, experiment, repeatability and prediction. Are those of you asserting that theism is a prerequisite to science allowing that all of the cultures that achieved something akin to science were theists, or that none of these achievements were scientific?

  65. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,
    But other furred animals don’t run necessarily run fast. Just like other smart cultures who could observe the order around them and could reason never developed science.

    you have not demonstrated causality.

    Historians have done a pretty good job of this. Tom and MM have as well. It seems you don’t like the demonstration.
    Christianity teaches that a rational mind and a rational principle undergird the universe: “In the beginning was the Word…In the beginning God said…”
    It teaches that man has in common rationality with this Creator: “Let us make man in our own image…”
    It teaches that nature is valuable and would be worthy of study: “It was very good”. And that God can be known through His works and by appeal to nature. Christianity tells us to test all things and to hold that which is true. It teaches the importance of freedom and the individual and believes in progress.
    Other religions and thought systems don’t teach these things and do not believe in progress. Some teach that we are just living in endless cycles and that their is no line through history and that we are just going to hit the end and start over again. Others claim that there is nothing more to learn than what is already in their books. Others think that we are completely at the whim of gods who are not bound by truthfulness and reason. Others that only the past is of any significance.

    The West had many many advantages that other civilizations did not have around the time of the founding of science.

    Two problems here. There is nothing magical about the time of the founding of science. Other cultures have had huge advantages at other times and have had access to the observation of the order of nature and had rational minds and yet did not birth science.
    The advantages the west had were, in large part, due to Christianity. One of those advantages was the fact that Europe no longer lived under the despotic rule of Rome. There is little incentive for a man whose work is not his own and whose life is controlled by other men to advance our knowledge and to improve the lot only of those above him. There is such an advantage when you are free and you live under the first worldview that respects the man and his individual worth.

    How do you respond to my contention that the separation of religious affairs from politics and the other great institutions may have been a significant factor?

    With credulity. Schools, literacy and the universities were associated with the Church, were connected to the Church, were built and run by the Church, were the duty of the Church, etc.
    If there was a separation of the Church from politics it is also hard to separate that fact from the fact of what Church we are talking about. There are other religions that you simply cannot separate from their politics.

    How do you credit Christian religion when the church tried to suppress the fact of heliocentrism, teaches as fact events that violate physical laws or the laws of nature, and whose chief defining principle, faith, runs contrary to the tenets and practice of science?

    Because these are largely myths and canards. The Church does have a nasty and deserved black eye on the Galileo affair (but you’re an historian, you know how its been mythologized and that the case has very little to do with the Church vs. heliocentrism) but it also has a history of supporting and encouraging others who pursued this line of thought. Other Churchmen who advanced the idea were not condemned. In a letter to another heliocentrist who quoted Copernicus, Cardinal Bellarmine wrote this:
    “Whenever a true demonstration would be produced that the sun stands at the center of the world then at that time it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in interpreting Scriptures which seem to be contrary”.
    Galileo was not willing to await such a demonstration and was criticizing the Church’s interpretation as it stood at that time.
    As Berinski notes in <i.The Devil’s Delusion,

    “This is so very reasonable as to place in doubt the very idea of clerical intolerance. Bellarmine is arguing, after all, only that in matters of astronomy, judgment might be suspended and not that inquiry must be stopped.
    “But suppose, the cardinal continues, … in fact, that a demonstration-not a conjecture, not an assumption, not one of these … amusing suppositions … were made available that the sun is in fact</i immovable….If it came to that …-if the sun really does stand still- it would be better to say that we do not understand Holy Scripture than to say that what has been demonstrated is false.

    215-17 (italics liberally applied by me where Berlinski forgot them)

    Also:

    Furthermore, Galileo enjoyed a great deal of support from religious intellectuals – at least at the start. The astronomers of the powerful Jesuit educational institution, the Collegio Romano, initially endorsed his astronomical work and feted him for it. However he was vigorously opposed by secular philosophers, who were enraged at his criticism of Aristotle.

    For in his famous Letter To The Grand Dutchess Christina1615 he claims that it was the academic professors who were so opposed to him that they were trying to influence the church authorities to speak out against him. The issue at stake for the professors was clear: Galileo’s scientific arguments were threatening to the all-pervading Aristotelianism of the academy.

    God’s Undertaker, John Lennox.
    On the other hand, the Galileo affair is a great example of why the Church was necessary for the foundation of science. Not only does it seem to have been the funding body and the home of the scientists, but all of the players in the case used and quoted the Bible as their justification for the pursuit of the knowledge found in God’s other great book – nature. There was a great debate, of which Pascal also figured, among believers on both sides of this issue. Men of faith were on both sides arguing and, because the question mattered and the stakes were actually significant, evidence was required in order to establish a position. This is another reason Christianity was necessary to birth the scientific method – we can actually be right or wrong on these matters, and since our position actually counts for something, we’d better be able to demonstrate its validity. Observation>hypothesis>test>revise …

    As for laws, the Bible does not teach anything about violating physical laws and faith does not run counter to science. It certainly doesn’t allow that natural regularities can violate natural laws.
    This point about faith is flawed in so many different ways that I’m not going to attack it at the moment other than to point out that it contradicts the definition of faith and ignores the necessary component of faith in all of our knowledge and assertions. This is the exact point Tom and MM were making; if faith did run counter to science then men of faith would not have done and invented science; they did and do.

    Are those of you asserting that theism is a prerequisite to science allowing that all of the cultures that achieved something akin to science were theists, or that none of these achievements were scientific?

    The assertion has been two-fold.
    1) Neither faith, religion nor, especially, Christianity, run counter to or impede scientific thought and progress.
    2) Modern science, the systematic study of nature, arose only in one place and in one time – that is, in the milieu and providence of Christendom.

  66. I would say that the founders of science were largely Christian because they were from the West.

    None of which changes that fact that they were Christians. And, one would have to respond immediately by saying that “The West” was what it was because of its Christian roots. Everyone wants to talk about how the West was dominated by Christendom when they bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition, but not so much when it’s the birth of modern science.

    There were certainly other factors, but those factors (other than theism) were found in many cultures before. Rome had law, order, sanitation, and prosperity, but they didn’t develop modern science. Greece had philosophy, democracy, and art – but not modern science. When the culture is non-theistic, there is a constant negative pressure away from those assumptions of order and consistency. Modern science can exist in such an environment, but it’s almost impossible for it to germinate. In a theistic culture, those presumptions of underlying order, intelligibility, and consistency are constantly reinforced. Someone brought up a child growing beyond the need for its mother. A child who’s been born can survive outside of the womb, just as modern science can survive in a non-theistic framework. But the child cannot be conceived outside of that womb, and history shows that modern science couldn’t be birthed without theism.

    Charlie is also right to point out that, if anyone wants to mention the de-facto separation of church and state in those days, they’ll have to readily acknowledge the intimate relationship between the church and the institutions of higher learning.

    My twelve-month-old son knows nothing about the inner workings of a light switch. He only knows that when he flips it, lights change, he gets the giggles, and Mommy gets a headache. He can do all sorts of useful things with that knowledge, but he’s not being scientific until he assumes that there’s some orderly reason behind why the switch does what it does, and looks for it.

    Consider this also: There is a fundamental presumption in some Arabic cultures that women are inferior. Now, some women might rise above this, and some men might accept them, but this is constantly being resisted by the culture. It’s extremely difficult for that kind of thing to catch on, so long as that cultural assumption about female inferiority persists. Now, consider theism. It’s not that a pantheist, polytheist, atheist, or animist is incapable of comprehending order, consistency, and so forth in nature – but their own worldview provides a lot of gravity away from those assumptions. Theism does exactly the opposite; it draws a person towards those assumptions. This is at the heart of why theism gave birth to modern science, rather than anything else.

    And please, please, please remember that we can find plenty of examples of atheists irrationally opposing intellectual progress on the basis of pseudo-doctrinal reasoning. Why did they resist the Big Bang? Atheism would prefer an eternal universe. And, we are not crediting “Christian” religion for founding science, per se. We are crediting theism. This is an examination of the foundations, not the gargoyles on the towers.

    You’re also making a categorical mistake when you claim “faith” is inherently opposed to science. I wrote those articles specifically to prove that such a statement is not supportable by history or logic. Frankly, it’s foolish. Like it or not, even the most experienced and brilliant minds have to admit to a limit of their knowledge. There are some things that we do not know for sure, and cannot prove absolutely, but for which we find sufficient reasons and evidence to believe them – that’s “faith”. Only the dead exercise zero faith.

    You’re right that “science” can be a slippery term. For the purposes of this discussion, we are (or at least I am) using “science” or “modern science” to mean the methodology of observation, experimentation, and hypothesis intended to demonstrate and define the fundamental principles of the natural universe. What other cultures did was impressive, but it’s not necessarily scientific in that sense. There is a big difference between noting which crops grow well in wet or dry soil, stacking stones to line up with stars, and developing something like Newton’s laws. That’s why I made the reference to engineering vs. theory. Under the definition we’re discussing, engineering isn’t strictly “science”, though it may be “scientific” in a general sense.

    I think you made a critical distinction without even realizing it, here, emphasis mine:

    …all of the cultures that achieved something akin to science…

    That’s the point of the point, so to speak. Lacking the assumptions that only theism truly gives you, what you have is scientific-ish, but not truly scientific, as per the definition I’m using. So, no, those cultures were not “scientific”. The reason that human knowledge exploded after modern science came on the scene is precisely for that reason.

  67. Tony Hoffman says:

    Charlie,

    You wrote:

    Historians have done a pretty good job of this [demonstrating that the Christianity of the West is the cause of the scientific method]. Tom and MM have as well. It seems you don’t like the demonstration.

    Charlie, this post is getting pretty long but I don’t remember any references to historical arguments for the above. Saying that because the West developed science, and the West was Christian, it must have been Christianity that was the difference is not a demonstration. It is an argument.

    No one wants to seem to touch the fact that science is itself an anti-theistic endeavor — that by turning into the self and out into the natural world men like Descartes and Bacon and then Newton, etc. were doing something fundamentally different than Christians in prior centuries — they consulted their senses, not sacred documents, to find truths.

    I think the best case you can make for the contributions of Christianity to science is that Christianity ended up being less restrictive than other forms of religion (whose adherents also had less ready access to the tools and technologies found in the West around the time of the birth of science, btw). But this is a little like saying Communism spawned the Revolution of 1989 because only Communism gave birth to Glasnost.

  68. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,

    Saying that because the West developed science, and the West was Christian, it must have been Christianity that was the difference is not a demonstration. It is an argument.

    Demonstrations can be by way of argument.
    Here’s another. I hope this one hasn’t already been linked .
    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/history/world/wh0109.html

    No one wants to seem to touch the fact that science is itself an anti-theistic endeavor — that by turning into the self and out into the natural world men like Descartes and Bacon and then Newton, etc. were doing something fundamentally different than Christians in prior centuries — they consulted their senses, not sacred documents, to find truths.

    No they weren’t. Christianity in prior centuries very much embraced looking out into the natural world. That’s why slaves were freed, technologies advanced, hospitals and universities created, etc..

    But this is a little like saying Communism spawned the Revolution of 1989 because only Communism gave birth to Glasnost.

    It’s not like saying that at all. We’ve given the arguments and theologians right back to the Church fathers, including Augustine, have emphasized the primacy of observation and reason in natural philosophy (science).
    Of course the Church is not interested first and foremost with how the world works, but that’s like saying that Ben and Jerry’s is antithetical to bicycle-riding because they make ice cream. The world is the very good Creation of a rational God, in Whose image we have been created, and which we are commanded to caretake and have dominion over. This secondary feature of theology can only be undertaken when one understands the world itself. And Christianity, in not deifying that very world, has, in itself, the permissions and command to subject it to inspection.

  69. Tony,

    This…

    Saying that because the West developed science, and the West was Christian, it must have been Christianity that was the difference is not a demonstration. It is an argument.

    …is in no way the argument that we’re making, and that should be fairly plain to see. In it’s simplest form, we are saying that the assumptions required for modern science come most naturally from theism, and that history demonstrates this – in that even advanced non-theistic cultures did not develop the methodology we are referring to. We are also refuting the notion (which you are starting to slide back into) that there is something inherently anti-scientific in religion.

    When you say this:

    …science is itself an anti-theistic endeavor…

    Then you’re either greatly missing the point of everything we’ve just said, or you need to start refuting all of the facts we’ve given contrary to that assessment.

    You also seem to miss the fact the Christianity in particular places special importance on the evidential nature of legitimate belief (reference Psalm 19:1, Romans ch. 1 and Acts 17:11 for three fast examples).

    That said, I have to disagree with Charlie here:

    …the Church is not interested first and foremost with how the world works…

    I’d say that the Bible is not primarily occupied with natural science, and that Christianity is first and foremost about redemption, not research. However, the primary interest of Christianity is very much how the world works – as it pertains to the moral, spiritual, and eternal needs of mankind. The Bible doesn’t get overly specific on topics that are not spiritually critical (like the age of the earth), but that doesn’t mean that our faith isn’t concerned with truth in all of its many meanings.

  70. Tom Gilson says:

    Medicine Man,

    I don’t fully agree with Tom’s assessment about the “thriving” of religion, but because I think “religion” should be replaced by “Christianity”. Islam has actually never spread well through anything less than naked force, but Christianity has always grown strongest under persecution.

    Thank you for that most important clarification and correction.

  71. Tony Hoffman says:

    MedicineMan and Charlie,

    I’m sorry that it appears to you that I’m being purposely obtuse. I think that part of the reason is that the arguments that you make or hear from others do not convince me although you may find them persuasive. When an argument does not convince me it seems unwieldy or impolite to address it every time, so my constant rephrasing, I think, is my way of asking you to re-address the parts of your arguments that I find unpersuasive. Also, I am thinking as we go, and things occur to me that I wish I had mentioned earlier. Rather than let the opportunity pass, I throw them out there, hoping for your replies.

    A word about our discussions, and the format; I am a skeptic. I don’t really expect any of us to sway the other. What I am trying to do is understand the depths of your thinking, learn from what you know, and also to inform you of what I am thinking, what I know, and what others like myself hold to be true. I don’t think it is stupid to be a theist. I hope that you all don’t think it is stupid to be a skeptic.

    Medicine Man,

    You quoted me saying:

    Me: …science is itself an anti-theistic endeavor…

    You: Then you’re either greatly missing the point of everything we’ve just said, or you need to start refuting all of the facts we’ve given contrary to that assessment.

    One of the facts I keep hearing over and over is this:

    You: We are saying that the assumptions required for modern science come most naturally from theism, and that history demonstrates this – in that even advanced non-theistic cultures did not develop the methodology we are referring to.

    This and arguments like it are ad hoc. Also, I actually can’t think of an advanced culture that has not been theistic. Also, if theism is necessary, how do you explain all of the theistic cultures of the past that did not come up with the methodology you are referring to? This is simply not an argument, at least not a supported one.

    Secondly, there is this problem: theism holds that there is a creator, that the creator is omnipotent, and that the creator imputes purpose to his creation.

    Both of the second holdings of theism above are contrary to the development of science.

    If the creator is omnipotent, he can change the laws of nature whenever he likes. (It’s been said many times here that only a theist can see order in nature; to me, a theist must accept that the laws of nature are subject to change because the omnipotent creator can, and usually has, changed them whenever he wants.) This is the opposite of order.

    Holding that all natural phenomena have purpose is anti-scientific. It’s typical for theist cultures to believe something like that it rains because the creator wants the crops to grow. A scientist holds that it rains because warm air, holding water, is cooled and the air condenses. Looking for purpose, instead of mechanical functions without purpose that adhere to natural laws, inhibits scientific understanding.

    Listen, I’m not trashing the intellectual contributions of the Christian Church, of scientists who were believers, and certainly not the brave people (whatever their affiliations and beliefs) who stepped out of darkness and dared to imagine that natural laws, not an omnipotent creator, governed the natural world. But allowing that theism is to credit for the birth of science is just too strained a misreading of history for me to bear.

  72. Tom Gilson says:

    No one wants to seem to touch the fact that science is itself an anti-theistic endeavor — that by turning into the self and out into the natural world men like Descartes and Bacon and then Newton, etc. were doing something fundamentally different than Christians in prior centuries — they consulted their senses, not sacred documents, to find truths.

    No, no, no, I say again no!

    The Bible itself encourages men and women to look to the physical world to discover truths about reality! You make it look like some bifurcation! How can you blame this on the Bible when it was Aristotle who eschewed experimentation? I’ll say it again: Christianity (and to a nearly equal extent, Judaism) honors physical creation above nearly all other systems of thought, up until materialism came along and completely upstaged anything other than physical creation. The Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Muslims–all of these found ways to make physical reality something lesser than whatever they conceived to be “real” reality.

    Christianity says in effect that God has revealed himself in two books: the book of Scripture, and the book of nature. Christianity says that Christ was resurrected in a real physical body and remains incarnate in a body. It says that the fact of his resurrection was tested by persons using their five senses. It says that the eternal state is not some spiritual, vaporous “heaven,” but a recreated heavens and recreated earth where the resurrected will live in real (though perfected) physical bodies. Judaism and Christianity say that when God finished the various stages of creation, he said it was good.

    And this dichotomy of sense vs. scripture simply does not exist in fact, theology, or history. Where on earth did you come up with it from?

  73. Tom Gilson says:

    Both of the second holdings of theism above are contrary to the development of science.

    If the creator is omnipotent, he can change the laws of nature whenever he likes. (It’s been said many times here that only a theist can see order in nature; to me, a theist must accept that the laws of nature are subject to change because the omnipotent creator can, and usually has, changed them whenever he wants.) This is the opposite of order.

    This is a nice example of the Wrong God Fallacy. I don’t believe in that God either.

    God’s general will to order in nature is a fact of the Christian God, which is the God I hope we are trying to discuss here. It’s the only God in which I have any interest.

    The God of the Bible is revealed as a God of rationality and of order. An erratic god such as you suppose is the antithesis of theological reality. Yes, God does miracles from time to time, but even Christianity has a strong stake in God’s general consistent handling of nature. Consider three reasons to start with:

    1. Communication. If God wishes to communicate a signal, it must be stronger than the surrounding noise. If all of nature were chaotic, no message of God could come through. We would know nothing of God. It’s likely we would know nothing at all, in fact.

    2. Human responsibility. God made humans in his image, with genuine free will and genuine responsibility for our actions. If our actions had no predictable results–if nature did not answer us in ways we could expect–we could never be responsible for anything we do in the world.

    3. Miracles. This is related to (1). If God desired to do a miracle in a chaotic world, what could that possibly be? Miracles are not miracles unless they are exceptional events. The doctrine that God does miracles from time to time does not contradict the general orderliness of nature, it requires it!

    I hope you do not think you can refute a Christian doctrine by referencing a non-Christian one.

    Holding that all natural phenomena have purpose is anti-scientific. It’s typical for theist cultures to believe something like that it rains because the creator wants the crops to grow. A scientist holds that it rains because warm air, holding water, is cooled and the air condenses. Looking for purpose, instead of mechanical functions without purpose that adhere to natural laws, inhibits scientific understanding./blockquote>
    Could you show me the sociological study for this sociological assertion, “It’s typical for theist cultures to believe something like that it rains because the creator wants the crops to grow”? I want proper controls, showing that this is more typical of theists than for, say, animists, pantheists, Platonists, etc.; and that theists have been typically characterized by this throughout time and geography.

    Oh, and can you show me that theists deny the scientific explanation? Can you show me that theists as a rule have stopped up their interest in nature by saying “God wants it this way”?

    I doubt you can show us any of that.

  74. Charlie says:

    Hi Medicine Man,
    Excellent correction:

    I’d say that the Bible is not primarily occupied with natural science, and that Christianity is first and foremost about redemption, not research. However, the primary interest of Christianity is very much how the world works – as it pertains to the moral, spiritual, and eternal needs of mankind. The Bible doesn’t get overly specific on topics that are not spiritually critical (like the age of the earth), but that doesn’t mean that our faith isn’t concerned with truth in all of its many meanings.

    I do agree about truth in all its meanings. That must be a prerequisite for all discussion and all endeavours – that they reflect the truth and are, in and of themselves, truthful.
    ===
    Hi Tony,
    I don’t think you are obtuse – either on purpose or not.
    I hope the nature of my replies hasn’t given that impression.

    Secondly, there is this problem: theism holds that there is a creator, that the creator is omnipotent, and that the creator imputes purpose to his creation.
    Both of the second holdings of theism above are contrary to the development of science.

    This seems entirely backward to me. The fact that Creation has a purpose is exactly the reason why we ought to investigate it and why it is amenable to such investigation. This purpose, as opposed to chaotic, capricious chance, is the exact reason we are saying that the search for order is justified.

    If the creator is omnipotent, he can change the laws of nature whenever he likes

    Not if He’s truthful – and He is. He cannot lie and He is unchanging.
    http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2561
    If He can change His natural laws then He can change His moral law, too; this would include altering responsibility for actions. But that is not the case, as He has told us that we can, for all time, expect the law to hold.
    To forgive us without sending His Son and allowing for our Atonement would have violated His law of justice. If God was going to change His laws He likely would have started with this one.

    (It’s been said many times here that only a theist can see order in nature;

    Has it? I doubt it’s been said once. A theist expects the order, can justify it and has a ground for his faith in it. An atheist might observe order, or treat order as an axiom, but for a Christian it is a theorem.
    http://www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/4622/
    (Moreland quote, same reference).

    to me, a theist must accept that the laws of nature are subject to change because the omnipotent creator can, and usually has, changed them whenever he wants.) This is the opposite of order.

    You’d have to read the Bible and know God to see that this is not true.
    God is a God of order:
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1COR%2014:33

    ‘But some will object, “If we allowed appealing to God anytime we don’t understand something, then science itself would be impossible, for science proceeds on the assumption of natural causality.” This argument is a red herring. It is true that science is not compatible with just any form of theism, particularly a theism that holds to a capricious god who intervenes so often that the contrast between primary and secondary causality is unintelligible. But Christian theism holds that secondary causality is God’s usual mode and primary causality is infrequent, comparatively speaking. That is why Christianity, far from hindering the development of science, actually provided the womb for its birth and development.’ [Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation, Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 226, 1989.]

    Holding that all natural phenomena have purpose is anti-scientific. It’s typical for theist cultures to believe something like that it rains because the creator wants the crops to grow. A scientist holds that it rains because warm air, holding water, is cooled and the air condenses. Looking for purpose, instead of mechanical functions without purpose that adhere to natural laws, inhibits scientific understanding.

    God invented the water cycle for a purpose but allows it to rain on the righteous as well as the unrighteous. Both of these are Biblically attested to.

    Listen, I’m not trashing the intellectual contributions of the Christian Church, of scientists who were believers, and certainly not the brave people (whatever their affiliations and beliefs) who stepped out of darkness and dared to imagine that natural laws, not an omnipotent creator, governed the natural world.

    False dichotomy. It is not darkness but light to acknowledge the Creator of everything and there is no “daring to imagine” natural law when this is exactly what Christianity has taught from the beginning and science has been enlisted as “theology’s handmaiden” since the beginning of Christianity.
    http://www.robibrad.demon.co.uk/Chapter7.htm

    But allowing that theism is to credit for the birth of science is just too strained a misreading of history for me to bear.

    But other historians can somehow bear it.
    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/a/science_origin.html
    http://www.bede.org.uk/sciencehistory.htm

  75. Charlie says:

    Hi Tom,
    Either I just lost a comment or it is in moderation for my ridiculous links.
    If you get a chance …. ?

  76. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    You wrote:

    And this dichotomy of sense vs. scripture simply does not exist in fact, theology, or history. Where on earth did you come up with it from?

    From the bible and its scholars and history. Heliocentrism is the most commonly used example, but I agree that the history is more complicated than that of straight church suppression.

    Tom, Augustine wrote:

    With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.

    Here we have probably the most influential mind in the forming of the Christian Church openly discussing the dichotomy. It exists.

  77. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom, MedicineMan, Charlie,

    Lot to go through here, both in your entries and re-reading some of my own. One thing I want to make clear is that I thought we were speaking broadly of theism as a necessary pre-cursor to science. My references to theism should have meant the broadest sense of that word, and I was not specifically speaking of Christianity unless I got sidetracked.

  78. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,

    It does not surprise me that some historians (one a Jesuit priest — what a surprise!) would contend that Christian religion propelled science forward. But even the web page for the link that you sent me says this:

    …the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers to progress, especially those impeding science.

    And that is my point — the conventional, overwhelming breadth of historians attest to this. I’m not making an argument ad populum here and I love historical revision — but I won’t allow it that I’m not speaking from a consensus of historians, if that’s what you’re getting at here.

  79. Tony,

    I’m sorry that it appears to you that I’m being purposely obtuse….I hope that you all don’t think it is stupid to be a skeptic.

    Not at all, in either case. There are rational arguments for both sides of these issues; I have infinite patience and respect for a person who follows reason where it leads, but little to none for those who close their eyes and stamp their feet at it. You and I have both run into such types, and I think we can agree there’s no point in interacting with them. Frankly, anyone who wants to understand the other side better is already a step ahead of the numbskull who just wants to be right.

    This and arguments like it are ad hoc.

    No, they aren’t ad hoc because we’re not making a special exemption or exception in applying them.

    I actually can’t think of an advanced culture that has not been theistic.

    There are five fundamental views of the supernatural: atheism (no supernatural at all), deism (a non-involved deity), theism (an involved deity), polytheism (multiple involved deities), and pantheism (everything is deity). Those actually make a circle, since pantheism is functionally more like atheism than polytheism. Greece, Rome, Egypt, Babylon, etc. were polytheistic, not theistic. India is/was polytheistic with an emphasis on the “poly”. The difference is important, because polytheism allows for the possibility that the different Gods/spirits might oppose each other, disrupting each other’s individual “laws”. Theism assumes only one physical law-giver, which lends itself to the idea that those laws are constant.

    Also, if theism is necessary, how do you explain all of the theistic cultures of the past that did not come up with the methodology you are referring to?

    First, because most of history’s advanced cultures weren’t strictly theistic (see above). And also, because I’m not saying that the methodology of modern science is something that must arise in a theistic culture, only that it’s exponentially easier for it to arise under those conditions. It’s analogous to women and fertility. A 55-year-old woman could plausibly conceive a child. However, the likelihood of this is very low compared to a 21-year-old woman. That being said, there is no reason to say that just because a woman is in her early twenties, she must become pregnant. Non-theism is like the older woman. It’s not completely impossible for modern science to start there, but it’s very difficult. As we said before, there is something akin to science – a sort of methodological miscarriage, so to speak – in non-theistic accomplishments of the past. Theism is the younger woman. The conception of modern science is very easy, and very natural, in those conditions.

    I hope you can see how the difference between theism and polytheism deflects your criticism about God changing his mind. That’s not only not a part of the Christian concept of God, but it’s not really a part of Theism. Omnipotence does not imply capriciousness (or whimsy, however you want to put it). In fact, the combination of omnipotence, omniscience, and timelessness makes it more reasonable to believe in a God who does not change than a God who does.

    Holding that all natural phenomena have purpose is anti-scientific.

    Technically, it’s got nothing to do with science. That’s a metaphysical question for all intents and purposes. That doesn’t help naturalism, though, because the statement “all natural phenomena have no purpose” is just as non-scientific.

    …who stepped out of darkness and dared to imagine that natural laws, not an omnipotent creator, governed the natural world.

    The men who founded modern science actually believed that natural laws from an omnipotent creator govern the “natural” world.

  80. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,

    Just read your explanations of monotheism versus polytheism. That does make more sense to me — thanks.

    Also, I meant ad hoc (that saying that “the assumptions required for modern science come most naturally from theism”) not in that it was constructed later, but there’s no underlying logical framework. I believe that’s also a definition for an ad hoc argument.

  81. Tony,

    Read Augustine’s quote more carefully. It reinforces our point, it doesn’t refute it. He’s saying that just because the Bible doesn’t explicitly describe how gravity works doesn’t mean that the Bible denies that it exists. He’s clearly stating that those things which scriptures don’t expound on are all the more open for investigation. Further, he’s saying that apparent contradictions between the scriptures and reality are misunderstandings of the scriptures. There is no dichotomy presented here – in fact, he’s denying that there is one!

    Galileo put it quite well in the quotes I attributed to him in the original articles:

    “It is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth — whenever its true meaning is understood,”

    “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

    If Tom will forgive the outlink, read this and pay special attention to Galileo’s own words.

    I’ll continue to contend that the reason Galileo come up so often is because there are so very few instances of Christendom really interfering with science. Draper and White aren’t historical consensus, and historians both before and after them have very different conclusions about the relationship between faith and progress.

  82. Tony,

    The logical framework is that presented above, but here’s a summation:

    1) The assumptions required for modern science are shared only with theism (as compared to the other four possibilities). That is, those presumptions of order are an inherent part of theism, and not an inherent part of the other four. Therefore, modern science is most compatible, on a fundamental level, with a theistic view. That’s a logical framework.

    2) History provides a contextual framework. Non-theistic cultures did not develop modern science, and in fact opposed some of the important qualities of it. Aristotle was a perfect example – a brilliant mind living in an advanced and intellectually free society, but his presuppositions led him to believe that experimentation was useless.

    This may come after chronologically, but the argument is not being made explicitly for this discussion, so it’s not ad hoc. Theoretically speaking, I could apply this same logic to a transplanted society of ancient humans on planet XYZ, and expect the same results – that modern science would originate from that theistic perspective more readily and more probably than from any other view.

  83. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,

    Tom said that there is no evidence of sense versus scripture. Augustine admits that readers can find variance between what they read in Christian books and the perception of their rational faculties. That fact that he addresses it admits that it (the dichotomy that Tom denies) can exist. Of course Augustine resolves it. But that was not the issue. Tom said it doesn’t and has never existed. Augustine says it can exist and how to resolve it. Either Tom or Augustine are wrong about it.

  84. Tony,

    I think Tom meant “sense” as in “reason”, or “sensibility”, but either way he’s right. Don’t forget that Augustine said right away that such a discrepancy was caused first by a lack of understanding of the scriptures. What he, and Tom, and I are saying is that carefully considered scripture is never at odds with carefully considered reality. What Augustine is saying is that those who misunderstand the scriptures may perceive a conflict between them (scriptures) and rational faculties. Those who aren’t misunderstanding see no such problem.

    I could just as easily say that there is a dichotomy between “sense” and science, using your contention. The sun plainly rises in the east, and sets in the west, while the earth stands still. But science texts say this not the case. What happened? I’m misunderstanding the texts, and, on a more technical level, misinterpreting what I see. This dichotomy is dependent on my errors, not on reality. In fact, there is no conflict between my observations and scientific truth, and once I have enough understanding, then this becomes plain.

  85. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,

    Tom wrote:

    And this dichotomy of sense vs. scripture simply does not exist in fact, theology, or history. Where on earth did you come up with it from?

    Augustine addresses the dichotomy, meaning it exists as an issue in theology and history. Tom has used the argument before that although there is no philosophical link from Darwin to Hitler, there is a historical one. I think he’ll grant me that there is indeed a historical link (and theological one as well) for the dichotomy of sense vs. scripture.

    The simple fact is this: Augustine would not address the potential for a dichotomy of sense vs. scripture if such an argument did not exist. By offering an argument for resolving it he admits the argument exists. Tom is saying the argument has never existed.

  86. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,

    Here we have probably the most influential mind in the forming of the Christian Church openly discussing the dichotomy. It exists.

    That’s not a dichotomy. A dichotomy requires mutual exclusivity. Augustine is merely admitting the two can be talking about two different things and noting that Christianity does not rely upon nor dictate particular scientific theories or positions on our observations.

    It does not surprise me that some historians (one a Jesuit priest — what a surprise!) would contend that Christian religion propelled science forward.

    Not committing the genetic fallacy here, I hope? Ever notice how many of those claiming that the church actively suppresses science are atheists?
    It’s been a bit of an industry for the New Atheists.

    You say to Medicine Man:

    Also, if theism is necessary, how do you explain all of the theistic cultures of the past that did not come up with the methodology you are referring to?
    MM:First, because most of history’s advanced cultures weren’t strictly theistic (see above). And also, because I’m not saying that the methodology of modern science is something that must arise in a theistic culture, only that it’s exponentially easier for it to arise under those conditions.

    He didn’t say theism was a sufficient cause.
    On the other hand, you implied that observational skills and access to the apparently obvious orderliness of nature were a sufficient cause. And yet you’ve not addressed the fact that no society with such skills and access to the order of nature ever realized modern science, save for one. You’ve inverted the argument which is more damning against your own case.

    As I read on I see Medicine Man has dealt with most of your objections well, so I will erase much of this …

    Except I note you are still referring to a dichotomy which does not exist:

    That fact that he addresses it admits that it (the dichotomy that Tom denies) can exist.

    Eating ice cream and riding bikes does not represent a dichotomy, and neither does studying the Bible/studying nature, or believing in God/believing in observations and hypotheses. Augustine’s quote shows exactly why there is no conflict and why theology poses no barrier to the study of nature. A theologian himself may not be encouraged here to pursue science (a hand is not a foot and everyone has their own task) but he clearly shows us that that the theologian is not to stand in the natural philosopher’s way.

  87. Tony,

    Augustine addresses the perception of a dichotomy, and then explains why none such exists. This is why Tom was so incredulous at the suggestion that Christian theology or scripture somehow create one. We are saying that there is no dichotomy, just a perception of one – just as there is no dichotomy between what the sun does and what science says it does, just a perception of one. In both cases, greater understanding reveals the dichotomy to be nonexistent.

    I don’t think you’d accept the statement that God must exist because there are arguments about Him. Neither, therefore, can we say that a dichotomy of reason vs scripture exists on the basis of their being arguments about it.

  88. Charlie says:

    I see more comments have appeared during my composition.
    Tony, you are almost making a valid point on Augustine. Indeed, he is showing that a conflict existed (not that a dichotomy did) between some theologians and their perception of what non-Christians claimed about the physical world.
    He notes that Christians can look like fools, and he admonishes them not to, when they are making claims about physical reality based upon their faulty or incomplete reading of the Bible. And what he is saying, and, according to you, “Here we have probably the most influential mind in the forming of the Christian Church “, is that Christians ought not try to impose a Biblical reading on nature and that theologians have no reason or excuse to oppose science.
    You’ve made a great case here for why the rest of your case fails. Theism does not logically or of necessity oppose natural observation/theory, and one of the most influential men in the Church’s history said so; and elaborated as to why, very early on.
    Then we have the historical case that demonstrates that, following his lead, the Church not only was very rarely in opposition to science, but, in fact was a great sponsor of it and was instrumental in the shaping of the society which fully-birthed it.

    In short – faith is not an impediment to science and atheism is not required, as per the OP.

  89. Tony Hoffman says:

    Charlie,

    Thank you for conceding my point on the theology and historical validity of a dichotomy.

    You wrote:

    In short – faith is not an impediment to science and atheism is not required, as per the OP.

    I agree completely. My only contention is (remains) form subsequent comments that asserted theism is required as a precursor to the scientific revolution. I say that not only is this unprovable, but that because the scientific method is inherently non-theistic (natural events occur without reference to purpose) the scientific revolution could probably have only occurred by separating itself from theism.

    The Christian religion did more to help develop the scientific method than it did to impede it. That is a fair summation of what I think now as a result of this discussion, and I don’t know if that’s where I was when this topic began. So, at least for me, this was productive.

    (Charlie, I don’t agree with most of the things in your last post, but I’d be repeating myself to go over them. If this galls you, let me know and I’ll go over it.)

  90. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thank you for conceding my point on the theology and historical validity of a dichotomy.

    I am editing this response to indicate that you have, perhaps unintentionally, misrepresented what I said.
    There is and was no dichotomy. There was, obviously, a history of at least some Christians making themselves and the Faith look foolish by pronouncing on things about which they had no knowledge.
    A trap we all must avoid.

  91. Tony,

    …because the scientific method is inherently non-theistic (natural events occur without reference to purpose) the scientific revolution could probably have only occurred by separating itself from theism.

    Now I do have to wonder if you’re simply misunderstanding or being deliberately mulish.

    We’ve answered the charge that theism contradicts the scientific method by demonstrating the opposite – that modern science relies on many unprovable assumptions that are natural only to a theistic worldview. We’ve answered the charge that theism somehow implies a God who incessantly tinkers with reality. And, yet again, by referencing titans of science who saw absolutely no distinction between the “truth” of their faith and the “truth” of their science.

    The scientific revolution didn’t happen by distancing itself from theism, it happened through an embracing of it. Putting absolute ‘faith’ in the ideas of intelligibility, order, repeatability, and so forth were absolutely required for modern science. Logically, we can’t say that theism was necessary – just like I can’t say that a 60-year-old woman can’t conceive. What I can say, and history shows, is that theism makes modern science exponentially more likely to arise than any other view – just like a 21-year-old woman is exponentially more likely to conceive than the geriatric.

    “Purpose” is not a prerequisite for modern scientific methodology, but order, repeatability, and consistency are. Those come most naturally from theism.

    If you’re going to insist that theism opposes science, and that the scientific method is inherently opposed to it, you’ll have to do a much better job of showing why and how. We’ve given some fundamental reasons why this is not the case. If all you have is “I don’t believe it”, then there isn’t much else I know to say. Frankly, you seem to be moving backwards on that point – going from an acknowledgment of compatibility to an assertion of contradiction.

  92. Charlie says:

    The Christian religion did more to help develop the scientific method than it did to impede it. That is a fair summation of what I think now as a result of this discussion, and I don’t know if that’s where I was when this topic began. So, at least for me, this was productive.

    Excellent.

    But doesn’t this seem a little contradictory?

    I say that not only is this unprovable, but that because the scientific method is inherently non-theistic (natural events occur without reference to purpose) the scientific revolution could probably have only occurred by separating itself from theism.

    Did you read this link?http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/a/science_origin.html
    (sorry, I am not having any success embedding links…)
    As Socrates, the stoics and Aristotle were likely the cause of the miscarriage in Greece, the Christian Church’s position, and official pronouncements, facilitated science’s healthy birth.

    The beginning of science as a fully fledged enterprise took place in relation to two important definitions of the Magisterium of the Church. The first was the definition at the Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1215, that the universe was created out of nothing at the beginning of time. The second magisterial statement was at the local level, enunciated by Bishop Stephen Tempier of Paris who, on March 7, 1277, condemned 219 Aristotelian propositions, so outlawing the deterministic and necessitarian views of creation.

    These statements of the teaching authority of the Church expressed an atmosphere in which faith in God had penetrated the medieval culture and given rise to philosophical consequences. The cosmos was seen as contingent in its existence and thus dependent on a divine choice which called it into being; the universe is also contingent in its nature and so God was free to create this particular form of world among an infinity of other possibilities. Thus the cosmos cannot be a necessary form of existence; and so it has to be approached by a posteriori investigation. The universe is also rational and so a coherent discourse can be made about it. Indeed the contingency and rationality of the cosmos are like two pillars supporting the Christian vision of the cosmos.

    The rise of science needed the broad and persistent sharing by the whole population, that is, the entire culture, of a very specific body of doctrines relating the universe to a universal and absolute intelligibility embodied in the tenet about a personal God, the Creator of all. Therefore it was not chance that the first physicist was John Buridan, professor at the Sorbonne around the year 1330, just after the time of the two above-mentioned statements of the Church’s teaching office.

    Jaki clearly affirms that in Christianity, a slide into pantheism was prevented because the doctrine of the creation was bolstered up by faith in the Incarnation. Pantheism is invariably present when the eternal and cyclic view of the cosmos prevails. The uniqueness of the Incarnation and Redemption dashed to pieces any possibility of the eternal and cyclic view; for if the world were cyclic, the once-and-for-all coming of Christ would be undermined. The uniqueness of Christ secures a linear view of history and makes Christianity more than just one among many historical factors influencing the world.

  93. Tony Hoffman says:

    MedicineMan and Charlie,

    I am saying that science is non-theistic because it doesn’t account for purpose. This is not the same thing as saying that science contradicts theism or that it’s incompatible with it.

    I admit that the relationship between science and religion is both rich and complex. I largely like the practice of religion the way that you both and Tom define it. I do, however, have experience with fundamentalists whose practice of their monotheism is anti-scientific, so I believe that the smiley happy, arm in arm picture that I’d like to see between religions and science is not, at least in my contemporary experience, always the case. It depends on how you define religion. As you gentlemen define it I have few ultimate quibbles.

    I have some other thoughts / questions / trial balloons — I’ll try and post them later, but cannot do so now.

    Thanks.

  94. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks for that clarification.
    I bet if you thought about the atheists, pantheists, wicca, etc., that you know, you would say the same thing. Distrust of science or reliance on things other than science are not trademarks of nor restricted to the practice of theistic beliefs.
    I think the practice and acceptance of most people’s philosophies, even that of scientists, in a day to day life is anti-scientific.
    Many an honest scientist will tell you that his atheism or naturalism is an a priori position and is not a scientific position. Many people will cite statistics or history in support of their beliefs without having done any investigation of these and this is, of course, also unscientific if not downright anti-scientific. Some will refer to popular-level perspectives fed through unreliable, unscientific sources. Even Dawkins admits to an anti-scientific view of his own free will and Dennett of his consciousness. Since science can’t tell us about many aspects, very important aspects, of life we have other sources and avenues for our information.

    By the way, thanks for the discussion.

    Medicine Man, thanks for all of the great information and support.

  95. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony, you wrote,

    I do, however, have experience with fundamentalists whose practice of their monotheism is anti-scientific, so I believe that the smiley happy, arm in arm picture that I’d like to see between religions and science is not, at least in my contemporary experience, always the case. It depends on how you define religion. As you gentlemen define it I have few ultimate quibbles.

    I don’t see that kind of fundamentalism often, but when I do, I have the same strong sense of disagreement with it that I think you have. I appreciate your words of encouragement on our approach. Thanks.

    We also have always to bear in mind that nature and religion, rightly understood and interpreted, cannot produce contradictory facts; but that coming to complete and accurate interpretations is a process that continues, not an accomplished fact. Along the way there will be apparent and real contradictions based on the current state of knowledge that have to be resolved.

  96. Tony Hoffman says:

    MedicineMan,

    I have a question for you about theism being the basis for science, and, ti seems, strict atheism providing no foundation for practicing science.

    You wrote:

    Briefly (criminally briefly, I know, but I’m not up for dissertations tonight), an atheist has no reason to assume that anything is consistent or orderly. Even experiments and experiences that seem to suggest repeatability only speak to the experiences that specific person has had – you have nothing other than presumption on which to assume that those rules hold for everyone else.

    Theism not only includes that presumption of order, but it puts it into a context that logically expects it. In short, theism presumes that nature is orderly, on the basis of its creation. Atheism has no basis on which to pre-assume that nature is orderly.

    I think that from the link you provided me this argument is made in greater detail by Jaki — do you have a link that more fully explains this argument?

    My problem is that it doesn’t seem untenable to me for an atheist to hold (conditionally) that he exists, that the universe exists, that others exist, and the universe is orderly. I just don’t understand how the theists presumption of order that derives from creation is somehow stronger than an atheist’s conditional presumption of order from prior experience.

    As well, what fundamentally differentiates the presumption of order from a theist and an atheist? They both experience it. Both presume it exists outside themselves, but I don’t see a substantial difference between an atheist presuming a world where order exists, and a theist presuming a world where order exists as created by God.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding it, but it seems that this argument holds that atheism and science are incompatible (not that religion and science are, as is so often suggested.) This would seem to run counter to the fact that so many atheists practice science, so I think I’m just misunderstanding the argument.

  97. SteveK says:

    My understanding of the difference is that the presumption by atheists is not expected, but inferred through experience. Whereas theists expected it, and then confirmed it through experience.

    Do I have that correct, MM?

  98. (Tom, I know this is a skosh long, but Tony’s looking for a more extensive answer and I happen to have a moment to scratch one up..hope this is OK – Jeff/MM)

    Tony,

    I’m not sure which link you mean. Charlie might have given a link that led to this, but I freely admit that I didn’t have the chance to read all of the resources provided during this. If you let me know which link, I’ll check it out and respond.

    The theme of what we’re talking about is compatibility. Modern science requires certain assumptions that are fundamental to theism. Certain ideas that are destructive to science are also excluded by theism. For example, solipsism is a belief consistent with atheism, but not with theism. This is why I related the conception of science in a “womb” of theism to the development of an infant in the “womb” of a fertile mother. Non-theism could theoretically produce modern science, but it has a lot to overcome.

    The distinction is not necessarily in what a person must believe, but what they may not. Chesterton put it very well:

    “The tragedy of disbelieving in God is not that a person ends up believing in nothing, alas it is much worse, that person may end up believing in anything.” –G.K. Chesterton

    Part of theism’s strong support of modern science, especially its development, is in its affirmations. It positively states that we really do exist, the universe exists objectively apart from our perceptions, and that universe is orderly, intelligible, and fundamentally consistent. The other part of its strength is in its denials. A theist, remaining true to theism, cannot lapse into solipsism. He cannot accept physical relativism. His view does not allow him to consider that the universe is anything other than orderly, intelligible, and fundamentally consistent. “econ grad” previously referred to this as a “guardrail”, which is an apt metaphor.

    Non-theistic systems lack that “guardrail”. So, many ideas that are poisonous to modern science are compatible with non-theistic worldviews. Consider the ancient Greeks’ attitude towards experimentation as a perfect, if extreme, example. An atheist can be a solipsist, even though he has to set that assumption aside to pursue science. This is also the reason that theists see far less contradiction between the way objective science describes the universe and the what their theistic view expects. Non-theistic worldviews are at much greater risk of having to choose between their worldview and their work.

    From a Christian perspective, this makes perfect sense. After all, one would expect theistic assumptions to not only be the most useful, but also the most accurate, if in fact the Christian God is real. From that standpoint, we would naturally say that any search for truth has to start with truthful assumptions – like theism.

    The theist’s presumption of order and intelligibility is stronger than the atheist’s for exactly those reasons. For a theist to deny those would be to shed his most foundational beliefs. The atheist, on the other hand, is perfectly able to “fall off the wagon” without having to let go of his most foundational beliefs. From that standpoint, the theist anchors the fundamental assumptions that make science work in something outside of himself, and therefore they are not subject to change on the basis of his interpretations. One can argue about whether or not this is purely dogmatic, but you can’t argue that to throw out any of those scientific assumptions renders the whole methodology moot – so it’s a titanic strength of theism that those assumptions are absolutely non-negotiable. The non-theist has an “out” that allows his personal interpretations to override those fundamental assumptions.

    After the fact, there isn’t much difference between the atheist and the theist in their ability to work with the idea of order. Think of it like the old arcade game PacMan. There were some people who designed it, and then played it. Others just played it. Both can make use of the game, now that it’s working. Once it’s set up, all you need is one hand and some quarters. But to start it, to design it, to set it up, you need something more than that. The designers had convincing reasons to believe that moving the control stick would move PacMan beforehand. The non-designers could only truly assume so post hoc.

    Tom (I think) also made a good point about cultural assumptions. In some ways, this helps to support the notion that theism was absolutely required (not just far more preferable) to develop modern science. In the year 2008, we are living in a culture that takes all of these assumptions for granted. They may be inherently theistic, but nowadays they are also cultural, in a sense that is shared almost world-wide. We find the idea of an orderly universe obvious, just like the idea of a spherical earth, and a “stationary” sun. It’s hard to imagine any other view existing, but there was a time when most people thought the sun moved around earth, that earth was flat – and that the universe wasn’t uniform, intelligible, and orderly.

    Strictly speaking (getting way way waaay back to the top), if a person was to really dig deep into their beliefs, and start from their out-workings before they approached science, atheism would have some major problems. There are just some things about modern science that are compatible with – but not natural to – the atheistic worldview. There are a lot of non-science-friendly ideas that the atheist could swallow.

    This gets tricky, because atheism is a very slippery worldview, almost by definition. Theism has itself padlocked to certain ideas (repeated above ad nauseum). Atheism sometimes acts like a supernatural vacuum cleaner, sucking in anything and everything, so long as it doesn’t include deity, but regardless of it’s validity. So, the New Atheism may consider the rational, orderly nature of the universe to be overtly self-evident, but strictly speaking, that’s an adopted view for atheism, not an inherent one.

    SteveK is more or less on the right track, but with a minor addition. Theists infer order presumptively, and confirm it experientially. Atheists infer order on the basis of experience, and then treat it as an assumption. However, rationally speaking, one must presume order to make any inferences at all. The very act of assuming that past experiences have meaning for future experiences is a presumption of order – one that atheists have more reasons to discount (prior to experiences) than to adopt.

    I think you can see some of this still playing out. Postmodernism is a great example. It’s inherently atheistic – the idea that there is no absolute truth is about as anti-theistic as it gets. And what’s the biggest problem with postmodernism? Answer: its very tenuous, and frequently non-existent connection to reality. The idea that 2+2 might not equal 4 everywhere isn’t just illogical, but anyone who genuinely applies such a belief couldn’t get anywhere in modern science (or anywhere other than philosophy, for that matter). They’d have to jettison that belief in absolute relativism at some point in the laboratory. So, even in a post-scientific age, we can see evidence and examples of how non-theistic worldviews are fully capable of tumbling away from the ideas that make modern science possible.

  99. Tony Hoffman says:

    MedicineMan,

    Thanks for your involved response to my question.

    I admit that this discussion has made me aware of newer, more nuanced historical interpretations of the relationship between religion and science than I was previously aware of (the Jaki interpretation), and I have enjoyed learning about it.

    I’ve had to take some days off from this discussion (busier at work, plus I came to the realization that the discussion itself was like some sort of addictive habit).

    I think the component of your argument that I still struggle with is your suggestion that a theist’s preconceptions are superior to an atheist’s when conducting science.

    While I now agree that monotheism and many actors in the Christian Church contributed significantly to the formation of the scientific method, this is different than saying a practicing scientist today is best served by following a religious path to science. Chiefly, I don’t see why personal belief in monotheism is preferable to holding the same preconceptions – orderliness, progression, etc. – minus the personal belief.

    As I see it, here are some of the problems with monotheistic preconceptions brought into science:

    – Resistance to explanations
    – Talent diminution
    – Lost productivity

    Resistance to explanations is, I think, self-explanatory. Evolution, for instance, is resisted by a large percentage of the population on the grounds that it runs counter to their religious convictions. Christian Scientists who hold the same convictions must reconcile their religious tenets with their scientific knowledge. One who does not hold religious convictions has one less paradigm that resists supplanting from an explanation of scientific evidence.

    Talent diminution is a less recognized problem. I think most people admit that the study of many sciences (cosmology, evolution, etc.) are corrosive to religious beliefs. I think a lot of smart people who hold religious convictions are afraid of losing their beliefs, and they opt out science as a career choice. This is hard to prove but to me it seems obvious.

    Lastly, productivity can be lost when one holds that the explanatory power of religion supersedes that of naturalism. Newton spent years working on the Bible Code. Men like Behe divert their attention and that of others towards explanations that explain less than the theory they seek to underdetermine.

    These all appear to me to be today’s real costs of bringing religious convictions into the practice of science. I’m sure you have objections and arguments for each of them, and I’d be curious to hear them.

    Thanks.

  100. Tom Gilson says:

    Cosmology is most decidedly not corrosive to religious beliefs, Tony. Evolution (as generally practiced and presented, as a purely naturalistic phenomenon) is, and in that field I think there is talent diminution. To blame religion for this is rather disingenuous, however, when (for example) the number one science blogger/evolutionist on the web recommends pounding religion into the dust with steel toed boots. Theists may self-select out of studying biology, but theism is not to blame.

  101. Charlie says:

    Paradigms based upon world views and not science often create resistance. This is not particular to a single religious belief or the inclusion of a God in your belief – it can be just as manifest in a belief that excludes God. This was seen in the resistance to the Big Bang. 
    It can also be seen in the Galileo case where his greatest opponents were scientists protecting a scientific paradigm – mythologizing aside.
    I just read Schwartz’s <i>The Brain And The Mind</i> and the resistance to ideas such as plasticity of the brain, for instance, abound. They were based upon the old paradigm of immutability and the world view of materialism. And the resistance stood in the way of publishing, grants discoveries, treatments, etc. for years/decades. We have had scientists on the forum tell us many times that peer-review is used as a weapon to protect paradigms and that science, overall, is resistant to new ideas and is protectionistic.
     
    It is a man of pure straw being fought to claim that a belief in monotheism introduces any unique degree of lost productivity or resistance to explanation – humanity does that just fine on its own.
     
    Then we have to return to the historical question and the logical question as addressed throughout this thread, which give lie to the claim.

  102. Tony,

    I’m glad that you’re taking (I think) a cautiously open-minded approach to this. If you’d been willing to just flip over on everything right away, I’d be questioning how seriously you understood either side. In my experience, the most productive conversations are those where one feels that they’ve been offered something worthwhile to digest.

    I think the component of your argument that I still struggle with is your suggestion that a theist’s preconceptions are superior to an atheist’s when conducting science.

    I might be able to relieve some of that by making a small correction:

    a theist’s Theism’s preconceptions are superior to an atheist’sAtheism’s when conducting science.

    There’s a subtle, but important difference there. Anyone can make the right presumptions, but those presumptions will have different levels of support from each individual’s worldview. This is like saying that both an American and a Saudi Arabian can make the same assumptions about the equality of women. This is very true, but one of them comes from a culture that makes those assumptions much harder to justify. A Saudi who thinks that women are equal to men is contradicting his culture to some extent. Theists (the persons) are no more or less capable of right assumptions than atheists (the people), but Theism (the worldview) is a much more fertile womb for modern science than Atheism (the worldview).

    And, of course, once the system (modern science) is up and running, anyone can utilize it, since what used to be assumptions start to become self-verifying.

    Chiefly, I don’t see why personal belief in monotheism is preferable to holding the same preconceptions – orderliness, progression, etc. – minus the personal belief.

    I understand where you’re coming from; and, to a large extent, I actually agree with you. In a broad sense, science is spiritually neutral. It is specifically intended to focus on the natural, which limits its scope but evens out a lot of bumps. From the strictest possible view, it’s not superior in any way (once you’ve bought into the presumptions of order, and so forth). As long as you work within those boundaries, you’re fine.

    Part of the problem that I’m seeing, Tom’s seeing, and so many others are talking about is this: personal beliefs are being inserted, by atheists. They’re attempting to squash any mention of God, any reference to belief, and any suggestion of deity in the population of scientists. Rather than simply sticking to evidence, hypothesis, and testing, they’re trying to suggest that those who don’t espouse an atheistic view are inherently incompetent for work in scientific fields.

    If everyone had faith in God, and everyone gave Him due credit, I’d be ecstatic. Since I know that can’t and won’t happen, the best I can really ask for is that people don’t impose an orthodoxy of opinion in areas where it shouldn’t be. Savvy atheists should feel the same way. If their tactics work, they’ll be defenseless if the tables get turned in fifty years and only professing Muslims are treated with respect by the academia.

    All of the problems you mentioned can be caused in ways closely related to some person or persons’ theistic beliefs. They can also be caused just as readily by any other kind of beliefs. It was atheists who resisted Big Bang theory – for decades – because it upset their anti-religious convictions. Everyone has a paradigm that they operate under, and no one is immune from resisting something that they think threatens it. Atheists don’t lack that paradigm, they simply have a different one.

    Tom made a good point about diminishing talent. If Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and PZ Meyers had been able to apply their religious litmus test, they’d have excluded Newton, Kepler, Lister, Pasteur, Maxwell, and many others from participation. Talent is certainly being lost, because what young person wants to enter a field where their cherished values are openly mocked and insulted? Is the next Galileo giving up physics because he got tired of hearing his blowhard professor berating creationists? Did we lose my generation’s Pasteur to law school because he was sick of defending his belief in ID?

    Lister is a particularly important example. He had trouble finding a university that would accept him because of his association with Quakers. He went on to found the entire practice of hospital sterilization. How many lives did he save that would have been lost waiting for someone else to do the work he did, if he’d been excluded on the basis of his faith?

    As far as lost productivity goes, this is a parallel to the amoralist’s objection raised against religion: “you’re giving up too much”. I could just as easily argue that the non-believer has a better chance of losing productivity to promiscuity (leading to STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and so forth), drunkenness, and depression. All subject to debate, all open to argument, of course – but there are as many ways, if not more ways, for the non-believer to damage his scientific productivity as a result of his worldview as for the believer.

    Also, productivity has been lost by those taking the attitude that naturalism has superior explanatory power to theism – such as in the Big Bang resistors, or in cases where naturalism is by definition powerless. Dawkins is a great example. He’s never really been a biologist; read comments from his college companions, and they’ll say that his true talent is rhetoric. He’s written one book about biology, and about fifteen dozen on religion. If he’d just shut up about religion, he’d be considerably more productive in biology, and we might actually have more intelligent, rational people pursuing the field. There are places where naturalism has little to no explanatory power, and part of the problem with the New Atheists is the insistence that only naturalistic explanations are possible.

    There are far too many examples of brilliant scientists who don’t think that their faith has been eroded to agree with this in any sense:

    I think most people admit that the study of many sciences (cosmology, evolution, etc.) are corrosive to religious beliefs.

    Besides, who cares if a taxi cab driver thinks that molecular biology contradicts the Bible? The man who led the Human Genome Project (Francis Collins) says it has strengthened his faith. Who cares if a college history professor thinks that the Big Bang makes God unnecessary? “Most people” are not my concern. “People who know” are – and those who know don’t agree with that assessment.

    These all appear to me to be today’s real costs of bringing religious convictions into the practice of science.

    Looking at that literally, I can say that I completely agree that there are costs, but not that anti-religion is any better. Modern science is supposed to be concerned with the natural, and confined within a certain methodology. It is purposefully limited in that sense. Its scope certainly does intersect that of religion, but they are not the same thing. Atheists who bring their religious convictions into dominance over science are just as damaging as theists who do the same. For that reason, the scientific community should be less worried about the religious implications of their work, and the religious beliefs of their co-workers, and more worried about following scientific methodology.

  103. Charlie says:

    Hi Medicine Man,
    Thanks for keeping an eye on this thread.
     
    Tom,
    I know it’s dangerous to tinker, but any chance of showing more “recent comments”?

  104. Tom Gilson says:

    I aim to please 🙂 .

    You can also use the Comments RSS for updates (Comments RSS).

    Please note that the html blockquote tag doesn’t work in the comment window anymore. The quote icon does that job instead now. If you want to write in html, there’s an icon in the comments window that will take you to an html editing screen.

  105. Tony Hoffman says:


    Tom (and Charlie),
     
    Tom, you wrote:

    Cosmology is most decidedly not corrosive to religious beliefs, Tony.

    Maybe not to your religious beliefs, Tom, but Cosmology, Astronomy, Linguistics, and I’m sure a bunch more I can’t think of are corrosive to the religious beliefs of fundamentalists. Sorry to lump them in with you but monotheism is a big umbrella and, well, there they are. 
     
    Tom, I do see your point that it’s disingenuous of me to blame those who hold religious beliefs for their not entering to study, say, Evolution. I meant it only in terms of self-selection; in other words, I was speaking of people who hold religious convictions and who opt out of study because they fear what study of Evolution or Astronomy might do to their (fundamentalist) convictions. I’m not blaming religious for this, per se; I’m stating it as a fact that religious preconceptions can result in talent diminution. Maybe this is not a serious problem, but it occurs to me that it could be.
     
    I am not a student of Dawkins’ atheist comments, books, etc., but I don’t think that any serious participant in the discussion is suggesting a purge or even a litmus test for the sciences based on review of an individual’s religious convictions. (Charlie, you are right in that the historical record points to religious adherents also conducting good science; atheists in science can’t be unaware of that.)
     
    Where I think a straw dog argument is being made is painting a picture where Dawkins and others like him are suggesting that religious beliefs are de facto incompatible with science; I think that the position is that there are some religious beliefs that are incompatible with some scientific study. The question should be then, is it unreasonable to ask a student who wishes to study, say, Molecular Biology, to express an open-minded willingness to accept the tenets of Evolution in the practice of that science? (Like I said, I’m not a student of Meyers, Dawkins, et al.’s atheist positions; if they hold positions stronger than this please enlighten me.)
     
    Here’s an example (since you brought up Lister, MM): say you were the head of a leading edge surgical school. A talented surgeon applies, but this surgeon does not accept the practice of antiseptics (on religious principles) while performing his surgeries. Now, who is being disingenuous in the reasons for the talented surgeon not being accepted – the surgeon who claims he was excluded because of his religious beliefs, or the head of the school?
     
    MedicineMan,
    You wrote:

    Dawkins is a great example. He’s never really been a biologist; read comments from his college companions, and they’ll say that his true talent is rhetoric. He’s written one book about biology, and about fifteen dozen on religion. If he’d just shut up about religion, he’d be considerably more productive in biology, and we might actually have more intelligent, rational people pursuing the field.

     
    I read the Selfish Gene when I was in Middle School back the very late 1970’s. I read The Blind Watchmaker in the mid 1990’s. I am reading The Extended Phenotype now (it’s a tougher read). I can tell you that each of these books are about biology. Your next sentence makes it clear that you exaggerate for effect, but the following sentence implies that Dawkins has not been good for science. I care about science largely because of the man’s books, and it becomes clearer with each passing year that Dawkin’s books have had a lasting impact on intellectuals from a wide range of fields. I do wonder about the wisdom of his antagonistic atheist positions, and wish that he and others would keep their personal convictions more private. But I think that the man has clearly been a boon for science.
     
    Two last things: I accept that scientists are people, and that people tend to resist ideas that would produce a revolution in the mind. Kuhn et al. have covered this well. So I do think that those who practice in a scientific field are, by definition, resistant to ideas that would produce Kuhn’s paradigm shifts. The fact that scientists resist paradigm shifts is as old as science itself, so pointing out that scientist opposed the Big Bang is not the same thing as pointing out that scientists opposed the Big Bang because they were anti-religious. (Most) Scientists always resist paradigm shifts. It’s happened in the past, and it will surely happen in the future.
     
    And I want to mention: there’s an assumption here that I haven’t protested, that atheism is just another form of religion. I want to think about this some more, but I have to say that this presumption (conclusion?) doesn’t seem correct to me.
     
     

  106. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,
    Agreeing with much of what you are saying let me hit upon only a few of your points to Medicine Man.
    <blockquote>The fact that scientists resist paradigm shifts is as old as science itself, </blockquote>So there is no reason to blame religious beliefs for any resistance they may cause, as resistance is inherent.
    <blockquote>so pointing out that scientist opposed the Big Bang is not the same thing as pointing out that scientists opposed the Big Bang because they were anti-religious. </blockquote>It shows that religion is not a necessary cause of resistance. On the other hand, the scientists most opposed to the Big Bang did so because of their philosophical world views. They stated over and over again how the idea was repugnant because it opened an avenue for belief in God.
    <blockquote>(Most) Scientists always resist paradigm shifts. It’s happened in the past, and it will surely happen in the future.</blockquote>Independently of their belief in God.

    As I said in response to your worry that belief in monotheism caused resistance to explanations:
    <blockquote>It is a man of pure straw being fought to claim that a belief in monotheism introduces any unique degree of lost productivity or resistance to explanation – humanity does that just fine on its own.</blockquote>

    So it appears we agree?

  107. Tony Hoffman says:

    Charlie,
     
    I wouldn’t equate resistance to a paradigm shift because of entrenched scientific knowledge the same thing as resistance to a scientific idea because of religious convictions; the first is resistance to a competing theory where both are based on empirical knowledge, the second is resistance to a theory of empirical knowledge versus personal convictions. In the first case hindsight usually resolves which paradigm serves as a better explanation; that is how science is supposed to work, I think. In the second case there really is no resolution. So I would distinguish the two, although I don’t think that “blaming” religion is really what I was going for. I’m must trying to say that inasmuch as personal religious convictions result in resistance to scientific explanations, those religious convictions are not preferable to atheism. 
     
    I would agree that resisting the Big Bang Theory for the reasons you mention (“…because it opened an avenue for belief in God.”) is the same as resisting an idea based on religious convictions. I would call that version of atheism a religious conviction, and in that case I think it’s not really atheism. 
     
    I don’t know if that means we agree any more or less. But it was nice to hear, at least for a moment, that not every argument I’ve made so far sits on the computer screen with all the charms of a dead mouse.

  108. Tony,

    Maybe not to your religious beliefs, Tom, but Cosmology, Astronomy, Linguistics, and I’m sure a bunch more I can’t think of are corrosive to the religious beliefs of fundamentalists.

    In this, you are absolutely right – though I’d change “corrosive to the religious…” into “corrosive to some of the religious beliefs of some fundamentalists”. I know critics think it’s a dodge to mention that not all religious believers are in doctrinal lockstep, but it’s a fact nonetheless. As we were saying before, good science tells us many truthful things about the real world. Not all religious beliefs are equally valid, equally true, or equally supported by nature. There is nothing surprising about this to me, or to other Christian Rationalists. I see Galileo’s position as a perfect summary of this position:

    “In religion Galileo considered himself a good Roman Catholic, to whom “the Holy Scriptures cannot err” whenever their true meaning is understood. But he maintained that the Bible cannot and should not always be interpreted literally, and he asserted that when Scripture seems to contradict the conclusions reached by scientific investigation of the universe, “it becomes the office of wise expounders to labor till they find how to make those passages of Holy Writ concordant with these conclusions.” -Douglas, Comfort & Mitchell

    In other words, I believe that God is not a “trickster”, who makes things appear to be totally different than they are to fool or deceive us. I say all this only to emphasize that, while science is most certainly “corrosive” to some religious beliefs, it is not inherently corrosive to all religious beliefs. The overt evidence of a non-eternal universe was a crushing blow to atheism, but it also upsets the apple carts of Hinduism and Buddhism.
    There are some who choose not to pursue certain fields because they don’t want their convictions challenged. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but it’s safe to say that there are plenty of worldview-related reasons why a certain person might not pursue certain fields. I actually would consider this a serious problem! It’s problematic when an important field is dominated by a worldview that isn’t necessary, and which chokes out other views. I’m as concerned about religion being used as a pandering tool by elected officials as I am science being used as an anti-religion tool by talking heads.
    Dawkins and his clan come awfully close to calling for exactly that kind of “litmus” test. When you don’t just equate child molestation and religious upbringing, but actually say that religion is worse, you’re drawing a pretty clear line in the sand. When Dawkins remarks at his puzzlement that John Polkinghorne is both a good scientist, and yet religious, he’s making a clear implication.
    The ID debate is a great example. ID proponents who are actual scientists generally agree with the consensus about the age of the universe, the basics of evolution, and so forth. They simply don’t agree with all of the anti-theistic assumptions that those facts are interpreted through. The result? They’re being labeled as hacks, junk scientists, and frauds.
    Your example about Lister is relevant, but it’s actually not quite what I’m talking about. My problem is with those who extend their atheistic assumptions into some kind of requirement (which we’ve pretty well established is counterproductive). There is a difference between religious convictions that actually undermine one’s science and convictions that do not. Dawkins, Meyers, et al, do not distinguish between the two.
    If the student in your example accepted everything about sterilization, but then added, “I think God wants me to keep a clean surgical environment out of respect for the patient, who is created in His image. I also think that the whole reason germs exist is because of the fallen nature of this universe. Let’s scrub up and get to it!” Dawkins would cast doubt on whether or not he’s really science-minded. If a young biologist accepts all of the facts (not extrapolations) about sterilization (or evolution), why should he be laughed at for suggesting a different interpretation? So, when you say…

    is it unreasonable to ask a student who wishes to study, say, Molecular Biology, to express an open-minded willingness to accept the tenets of Evolution in the practice of that science?

    …my response is: not at all. In counterpoint, I’d say it’s not unreasonable for scientists to express an open-minded willingness to accept that their assumptions, and interpretations, may be wrong. That ages-old resistance to paradigm change in science is becoming very metaphysically-charged in areas like biology, to the detriment of science.
    Dawkins is ostensibly a biologist – but even his books on biology are really anti-religious arguments using lots of biological arguments. Let’s face it, he’s not being hailed for making major strides in our understanding of biology, he’s getting headlines for being a professional atheist. The title of “The Blind Watchmaker” is in response to Paley’s analogy that finding a watch in an empty field would immediately invoke assumptions about a designer. Dawkins is really just trying to make the argument that biology shows more evidence of non-design than design. There’s some biology in there, but it’s foundationally a book about metaphysics.
    I don’t worry about him keeping his opinions private – that’s exactly what atheistic secularism wants. That turns into freedom “from” religion, not freedom “of” religion, and that’s no different that socially-enforced atheism. Let him talk. Sooner or later, he’s going to talk himself into a hole that he won’t be able to dig out of.
    If Dawkins had spent less time lambasting religion and more time focusing on science, I’d agree that he’s been good for the field. Plenty of atheists have been. But the vitriol – let’s call it for what it really is, bigotry – towards religion has taken focus off of what science really is and really does, and created a divide that isn’t doing any researcher any favors.
    Technically, atheism isn’t a form of “religion”, when you define “religion” as an ordered system of tenets and dogmas. But it’s not the nebulous, “just a lack of belief” that is preached so often. Everyone has a worldview – everyone! Atheists have beliefs, because everyone must have beliefs. Saying otherwise is like saying, “I have no opinion about anything, and I don’t differentiate between any ideas at all. I do not and cannot know anything at all.” Atheists have un-provable assumptions, presumptions, prejudices, and preferences just like anyone else.
    As a side note, some commentators are beginning to notice how New Atheism is becoming more and more like a traditional “religion”. They have meetings of like-minded people, they have dogmas that divide “our side” from “their side”, they’re accumulating “sacred texts”, and so forth. They even have Sunday school… 🙂
    Point is, anti-religion is not uniquely different from religion, when you get down to brass tacks. It’s not a question of how ordered you system is, only that you have to have some system.

  109. Tony Hoffman says:

    Medicine Man,
     
    You wrote:
     
    <blockquote>There is a difference between religious convictions that actually undermine one’s science and convictions that do not. Dawkins, Meyers, et al, do not distinguish between the two.</blockquote>

    I completely agree. To the extent that what you say is true about Meyers and Dawkins (like I said, don’t know their positions well) inability to distinguish between the two I am also in complete agreement; I don’t see how any reasonable person could not be.

    For the record, I don’t think Dawkins considers himself, or is considered to be, a great biologist. I think he’s considered to be a great writer of science. There are few such people, and I think that ability (to make otherwise dry and inscrutable scientific concepts accessible and interesting to non-professionals like myself) is how he has garnered a podium from which to speak.

    MM and Charlie — I don’t want to get too high on this or anything, but it appears that we have much more common ground on this topic than first appeared. I sometimes wonder how odd it is that, coming from two contrary perspectives, we not only find ourselves in basic agreement but, I imagine, even more so than with many of those whom we share more fundamental perspectives.

    As always, I appreciate your involvement on this topic and taking the time to explain to me what you know.

  110. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks much for your participation and your last comment.
    I have always found that if you talk with reasonable people long enough you will find that there is far more agreement than disagreement. It often comes down something so small as a perceived emphasis of one aspect of a definition.
     
    In our case, however, – and check out how high I can get (on my horse)- please consider why you’ve changed your position to whatever extent that you have.
    I think a lot of our disagreement stems from untested presuppositions.