20130102

Incompatibility between Science and Religion

Astute readers know that "The Ten Assumptions of Science" are the most reliable guides for distinguishing between determinism and indeterminism; between progressive physics and regressive physics; between logic and illogic; between sense and nonsense; and ultimately between science and religion. It is most deplorable that mainstream scientific organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are rife with accomodationists. Those are the indeterminists, such as CEO Alan I. Leshner, who stubbornly maintain that there really is no conflict between science and religion (see my letter to the Wichita Eagle on the subject). And so there isn’t—unless you study the foundational assumptions in detail, as we have.


I suppose one could excuse Leshner a bit since he is the head of a science organization whose members depend on an extremely religious Congress for sustenance. After all, it’s not wise to bite feeding hands. That would be like the NRA attacking Smith & Wesson. Aint gonna happen.

This situation has been made quite clear by Jerry Coyne, a biologist who is a professor charged with teaching evolution at the University of Chicago. Turns out that students arrive in his course with a mess of indeterministic assumptions, the most destructive being creation, the opposite of conservation (Matter and the motion of matter can be neither created nor destroyed). The roadblock here is akin to the belief in free will, which prevents progress in philosophy. Removing the roadblock takes up much valuable class time. Finally, he just wrote a book about it (Why Evolution is True).

Jerry’s plight parallels the one we face in confronting regressive physics. Many of the folks who oppose relativity and the Big Bang Theory believe that all we need to do is tweak the math a bit, and the whole fa├žade will come crashing down. Others like to point out the paradoxes and contradictions without exposing the underlying fallacious assumptions. Both approaches have been tried hundreds of times—to no avail. The main problem is the widespread acceptance of indeterminism and the ignorance that nurtures it. For instance, only 15% of those in the US believe in evolution, while up to 78 percent believe in miracles. My point is: If you can reject daily reminders of evolution and still believe in miracles, then believing in 4-D and the explosion of the universe from nothing is no big deal. Without a gross failure of religion, both relativity and the BBT are here to stay until the global depression completes its historical mission.
  
Here is an informative 1-hour lecture by Coyne entitled "The Odd Couple: Why Science and Religion Shouldn't Cohabit." We need a similar one spotlighting regressive physics.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ekc2Nn03IVM?rel=0&w=570&h=321




4 comments:

Westmiller said...

I think Coyne makes several philosophical errors and even admits that some things are not within the province of science (yet):

"By other ways of knowing, [theists] mention art, music, literature, and jurisprudence. It's a matter of debate whether those are indeed ways of knowing about the universe. We can argue about that. I haven't settled that in my own mind." - Coyne

Another segment deals with "external" meaning. He quotes and comments:

"Religions can put up with all kinds of scientific ideas as long as these ideas do not contradict the sense that the whole scheme of things is meaningful ... What they cannot abide, however, is the conviction that the universe and life are pointless." - John Haught, Deeper than Darwin

"Pointless, in the sense that there is no externally imposed purpose or point in the universe. As atheists, this is something that is manifestly true to us. We make our own meaning and purpose." - Coyne

I think this is wrong. Reality is "external" to - and the ultimate judge of - our perception of truth. We don't just make up reality, we conform to it's every "purpose and point". There is no God in reality, but there is certainly an existence quite independent of our perceptions or explanations.

To some degree, Coyne misrepresents religion:

"Science will win because it works. Science does answer questions about the universe. It doesn't tell us what the meaning of our lives is, but neither does religion. It doesn't tell us how to behave morally, but neither does religion. Those come from secular ruminations." - Coyne

Religion is all about meaning and morals. It may be wrong on most counts, but ancient fables did set the stage for the "knowledge of good and evil" and the pursuit of ethical stories.

Finally, a quibble. He claims science disproves the primitive assumption that humans came from two original sapients, Adam and Eve. While religion doesn't like the fact that those sapients evolved, it is necessarily true that human beings had to have come from at least one original mating pair. Coyne only mentions the scientific claim that a successful race of sapients requires more than two.

Glenn Borchardt said...

Another segment deals with "external" meaning. He quotes and comments:

"Religions can put up with all kinds of scientific ideas as long as these ideas do not contradict the sense that the whole scheme of things is meaningful ... What they cannot abide, however, is the conviction that the universe and life are pointless." - John Haught, Deeper than Darwin

"Pointless, in the sense that there is no externally imposed purpose or point in the universe. As atheists, this is something that is manifestly true to us. We make our own meaning and purpose." - Coyne

I think this is wrong. Reality is "external" to - and the ultimate judge of - our perception of truth. We don't just make up reality, we conform to it's every "purpose and point". There is no God in reality, but there is certainly an existence quite independent of our perceptions or explanations.

Bill, I don’t think that is what Coyne meant. He was talking about “purpose,” as generally thought by indeterminists as being “externally imposed.” Thus, the bird builds a nest for an express purpose, which has evolved throughout the ages. If it did not build the nest, its descendants would not survive. There is no god or "master bird" directing this. You are right, of course, that matter exists independently of our perceptions or anything we can say about it.

To some degree, Coyne misrepresents religion:

"Science will win because it works. Science does answer questions about the universe. It doesn't tell us what the meaning of our lives is, but neither does religion. It doesn't tell us how to behave morally, but neither does religion. Those come from secular ruminations." - Coyne

Religion is all about meaning and morals. It may be wrong on most counts, but ancient fables did set the stage for the "knowledge of good and evil" and the pursuit of ethical stories.

Bill, religion has no more to do with morals than any other generalization about how to survive in society. Ethics is simply a map showing us what goes and what doesn’t go. It is true, of course, that religion has had much to say about what that map should consist of, but so have all the other parts of society. Without religion, we would still have morals—perhaps without the despicable edicts involving stoning, torture, and capital punishment. The “meaning of life” is determined by each person who lives it, and varies from one moment to the next. There is no grand “meaning” to which we must adhere.

Finally, a quibble. He claims science disproves the primitive assumption that humans came from two original sapients, Adam and Eve. While religion doesn't like the fact that those sapients evolved, it is necessarily true that human beings had to have come from at least one original mating pair. Coyne only mentions the scientific claim that a successful race of sapients requires more than two.

Bill, religion doesn’t have only an Adam and Eve. It has many stories involving cosmogony and human origins. Being social animals, humans must have evolved from other social animals, with no single mating pair being especially important. Even though DNA might be traced to a single pair, it would neither be surprising nor salvation for Christianity.

Westmiller said...

Glenn wrote:
"... religion has no more to do with morals than any other generalization ..."

Religion asserts morals, contrary to Coyne. I didn't say they were better than any other guide to human behavior, only that the primitive stories of early humans had moral lessons. Elderly Stone Age humans told fables to their children, usually with the moral point that elders should be respected and obeyed.

"... There is no grand 'meaning' to which we must adhere."

All humans are ultimately subject to the absolute dictates of reality. We evolved because we adapted to - or modified - our environment (eveything "external" to our own existence). That was only possible because we learned to understand nature and create a niche conducive to our own survival and happiness. That is the 'meaning' of life, contrary to religious assertions that those things aren't important to our "eternal survival" and the "pleasure of God's grace."

I was objecting to Coyne's assertion that there is no 'meaning' beyond inchoate human sentiments of the moment. We may feel that it would be great to jump off high cliffs, but reality dictates that the landing will not be pleasant.

"... religion doesn’t have only an Adam and Eve ..."

All of them have some story of human origins, almost always a single mating pair. There's lots of scientific evidence suggesting that their story might be true. Coyne asserts that it is false, without explanation.

"[DNA evidence of a single mating pair] would neither be surprising nor salvation for Christianity."

Agreed. That's why I think Coyne's point is invalid. Science doesn't disprove "Adam and Eve", only that the cause of them coming into existence is rationally explained by evolution, whereas a Creator God is just an excuse for ignorance of the natural cause and effect. In ancient fables, "God" is just a convenient substitute for "I don't know" ... and I don't care to find out.

Glenn Borchardt said...

Not being able to distinguish between what is science and what is religion is part of the determinism-indeterminism philosophical struggle.

Here are some interesting comments by Harry Ricker, who is a devout member of the Natural Philosophy Alliance (NPA), which welcomes all comers. Like many in the NPA, Harry is religious, but knowledgeable about relativity. He is notorious for his 2nd Law—“that discussions about Special Relativity naturally and quickly degrade into disorder and nonsense”—although he is clueless about why it is so successful. The group on relativity, of which I am now a bystander, unfortunately also includes young-Earth creationists and even geocentricists. I gave up after chastisement for setting them straight on the impossibility of using carbon for dating dinosaur bones! These folks were vexed by Tyson’s COSMOS, not because it included the usual immaterialistic nonsense, but because it lacked something else: “Without a spiritual philosophy or religious background behind the questions and informing the answers, you get the materialistic mish mash of the Cosmos TV show.” (Email from Harry Ricker on 20140416).

Harry really got going with this wonderfully written piece on how made-up stuff nevertheless can produce desirable results. Just replace the word “science” with the word “religion”:

“I would like to illustrate how mainstream thinking works by a story. Last Tuesday I went to a lecture titled Godzilla On My Mind by an academic. He presented his theory as to why Godzilla had four toes to begin with, then had three toes, and then latter had four toes. Now please remember this is a theory about a fictional creature created by a movie studio. His theory was that the Japanese word for number four sounds like the word for death, and so the number four is a death number. So Godzilla being a creature of death and destruction had to have four toes, to make him frightening. Later the movie studios presented Godzilla as a nice guy hero and so they used only three toes since that is a number not identified with death as the number four is. Then later they wanted to make Godzilla more of a evil creature and so they went back to four toes, which signified death. The point of this is that it is a really nice theory that makes sense but there is not one shred of any factual evidence to support this claim. The presenter said so. But it is a nice and pleasing story and so will probably become accepted as true despite the fact that there is no evidence as to the truth of it.

My point is that science is very much like this. Scientists make up stories called worldviews with no real evidence behind them and then try to justify the really nice stories that they make up. These stories are believed because in a certain sense they are appealing and make sense. But they in no way have to be established as actually true. As long as they sound good and are nice stories that satisfy a yearning to provide an explanation for something that cannot be otherwise explained then they are accepted as truth on very insubstantial evidence. Once these stories get the label as scientifically true they are very difficult to get rid of because they make a nice story that just might possibility be correct but most likely is totally false. But don't expect them to admit that they are just a fairy tale, because science is supposed to be about truth and admitting that they made a mistake is not part of what they do.

So most mainstream science is like the Godzilla story regarding the reason his number of toes have changed. They are just stories, probably not true, but we keep them around because they are, just pleasingly nice stories that foolish people are deceived into believing are true.” (Email from Harry Ricker on 20140613).

See why PSI adheres to "The Ten Assumptions of Science" for distinguishing science from religion?

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