Elite Scholars Don’t Have Elite Reasons For Being Non-believers

One of the favorite arguments in the atheist movement is to point to leading scientists and note that a majority of them are atheists. The argument is, of course, pathetic and not much different from trying to score some point for male superiority because the same elite scientists are mostly white males. What matters are the arguments and evidence these elite scientists can come up with. If their atheism is linked to their expertise as scientists and scholars, surely this group of people must possess the most powerful and compelling arguments against the existence of God. So I have always said we need to hear these arguments.

Luckily for us, Dr. Jonathan Pararejasingham has been compiling video of elite scientists and scholars to make the connection between atheism and science. Unfortunately for Pararejasingham, once you get past the self-identification of these scholars as non-believers, there is simply very little there to justify the belief in atheism. See for yourself. Here is the video.

What I found was 50 elite scientists expressing their personal opinions, but none had some powerful argument or evidence to justify their opinions. In fact, most did not even cite a reason for thinking atheism was true. Several claimed to have been non-religious their entire life and several more lost their faith as children or young students. Clearly, the expertise of these scholars had no role in formulating their atheism. The few that did try to justify their atheism commonly appealed to God of the Gaps arguments (there is no need for God, therefore God does not exist) and the Argument from Evil (our bad world could not have come from an All Loving, All Powerful God). In other words, it is just as I thought it would be. Yes, most elite scientists and scholars are atheists. But their reasons for being atheists and agnostics are varied and often personal. And their typical arguments are rather common and shallow – god of the gaps and the existence of evil. It would seem clear that their expertise and elite status is simply not a causal factor for them being atheists. Finally, it is also clear the militant atheism of Dawkins and Coyne are distinct minority views among these scholars.
My summary of each scholar’s point is below the fold.

101. Sir Andrew Huxley, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
*Simply declares he is an agnostic and provides no justification. I guess agnostic is supposed to be the same as atheist according to the Gnus.

102. Steve Jones, UCL Professor of Genetics
*Declares science and religion are incompatible because religion relies on faith and science relies on evidence. It is a confused argument, but even if true, it does not establish the truth of atheism. Does not draw on his expertise in genetics.

103. Yujin Nagasawa, Professor of Philosophy, Birmingham University
*Argues that is no one will sin in heaven, God should have made it such that none of us could ever have sinned on Earth. At least it’s an argument.

104. Dame Alison Richard, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology
*Simply declares she is an agnostic and provides no justification. I guess agnostic is supposed to be the same as atheist.

105. Peter Millican, Oxford Professor of Philosophy
*Cites the argument from evil. No evil should exist if God created the world. So there.

106. Gareth Stedman Jones, Cambridge Professor of History
*Says he is an “Anglican atheist,” then mentions he is an agnostic toward the end. No argument or justification.

107. Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*There is no God because there are so many different religions. Does not draw on his expertise in chemistry.

108. Michael Mann, UCLA Professor of Sociology
*Says he became an atheist at 13, so clearly his expertise had no role in the decision. Gives no argument or justification.

109. Brian Greene, Professor of Physics, Columbia University
*Claims science provides more satisfying “nuts and bolts” answers and is better than “God did it.” Invokes God of the Gaps argument.

110. CJ van Rijsbergen, Cambridge Professor of Computer Science
*Claims he is a “non-believing Christian.” He likes Christian cultures, but does not believe. No argument for atheism or unbelief.

111. Louise Antony, Professor of Philosophy, UMass
*Declares that atheists can practice perfect piety because when they do good, it is not just to please God. No argument for the truth of atheism.

112. Leonard Mlodinow, Cal Tech Professor of Physics
*Considers himself a religious agnostic who sees religion and science as separate.

113. Lisa Jardine, UCL Professor of History
*She has never been religious in her life. No argument for atheism and clearly, her expertise has played no role.

114. Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*Simply declares he does not believe in anything beyond this world. No argument for atheism and does not draw on his expertise.

115. Herbert Huppert, Cambridge Professor of Geophysics
*Declares he is Jewish, but only in cultural fashion. No argument for atheism and does not draw on his expertise.

116. Geoff Harcourt, Australian Academic Economist, Cambridge
*Says he was brought up to be agnostic. No argument for atheism and clearly, his expertise has played no role.

117. Elizabeth Loftus, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, UC Irvine
*Argues that memories can be manipulated and religious people can reinforce each other in their beliefs. No argument for the truth of atheism.

118. Paul Rabinow, Berkeley Professor of Anthropology
*Declares he is neither a theist nor a militant atheist and expresses a disinterest of getting into those arguments. No argument for the truth of atheism.

119. Sir Brian Harrison, Oxford Professor of Modern History
*Declares he has never seen any evidence for the truth of religion.

120. Lisa Randall, Harvard Professor of Physics
*Says politicians need to be better at talking about science. No argument for atheism.

121. Gabriel Horn, Cambridge Professor of Zoology
*Simply points out he has never felt religious his entire life and has had no interest in it. No argument for atheism.

122. Jonathan Parry, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology
*Was an agnostic and became a hardened atheist because of what some priests were saying. No argument for the truth of atheism.

123. Masatoshi Koshiba, Nobel Laureate in Physics
*Notes that science only deals in things that can be confirmed by observation or experiment and God does not qualify. Not an argument for the truth of atheism.

124. Frank Drake, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, UCSC
*Understanding comes through observation and “why?” questions can be answered like this. Not an argument for the truth of atheism.

125. Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA
*Simply argues that “explanation” was one of the early functions of religion. No argument for the truth of atheism.

126. Sir John E. Walker, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*Lost his faith as an undergrad student because science and his religious views were in conflict.

127. J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy, MSVU
*Argues that if God exists, there should be no atheists.

128. Horace Barlow, Visual Neuroscientist, Cambridge
*Asked if science has disproven religion and does not answer. Instead, argues that science provides some hope of solving various social problems.

129. Baroness Susan Greenfield, Oxford Professor of Neuroscience
*Argues that everything is rooted in our brain and if someone wants to argue there is more to reality than this, who is she to argue otherwise.

130. Hermann Hauser, Science Entrepreneur (Cambridge)
*Liked Dawkin’s “God Delusion” because it was liberating to admit being an atheist, but doesn’t buy into Dawkin’s argument that religion is evil and must be fought against.

131. Stephen Gudeman, Professor of Anthropology, Minnesota
*Claims he is agnostic because he just does not know how the universe began.

132. Jim Al Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Surrey
*Atheists just simply don’t get around to adding religion to their life.

133. Mark Elvin, Professor of Chinese History, ANU/Oxford
*Apparently became a non-believer at age 11.

134. Stuart Kauffman, Professor of Biochemistry and Mathematics, UVM; accommodationism
*Simply declares he does not believe in God, but adds we need to create a spiritual and value space in our society.

135. Stefan Feuchtwang, Professor of Anthropology, LSE
*Says he always been an atheist, but deeply respectful of people’s religions.

136. Ken Edwards, Cambridge Professor of Genetics
*Darwinian evolution explains life and has had no personal religious experience. God of the gaps logic.

137. Raymond Tallis, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Manchester
*Argues that God is a logical contradiction and cites argument from evil as an example. Does not draw on his expertise.

138. Geoffrey Hawthorn, Cambridge Professor of Sociology and Political Theory
*Declares he is an atheist in intellectual sense, but socially curious about religion. No argument for the truth of atheism.

139. Sir Roger Penrose, Oxford Professor of Mathematics
*Declares he is an atheist and just doesn’t believe. No argument for the truth of atheism.

140. John Dunn, Cambridge Professor of Political Theory
*Declares he is an extremely robust agnostic. No argument for the truth of atheism.

141. Nicholas Humphrey, Professor of Psychology, LSE
*God concept is not useful; God of the gaps argument.

142. Craig Venter, Synthetic Life Pioneer; admits he’s an atheist on “60 Minutes”
*Believes universe is far more wonderful than assuming God made it. Personal opinion.

143. Paul Churchland, Professor of Philosophy, UC San Diego
*Believers believe in absolute truth and thus cannot learn and this is a tragedy. No argument for the truth of atheism.

144. Christian de Duve, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
*Science and religion approach truth differently and science is moving back the frontiers of mystery – explains things without God. God of the gaps reasoning.

145. Michael Bate, Cambridge Professor of Developmental Biology
*There is a deep mystery and feels that mystery is less apparent that once it was. Doesn’t subscribe to particular religion.

146. Melvin Konner, Professor of Anthropology, Emory University
*Lost his faith in first semester philosophy course.

147. Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard Professor of Zoology and Geology
*Does not know why consciousness should be seen as some higher existence/value. It’s just aspect of life.

148. Arif Ahmed, Senior Lecturer Philosophy, Cambridge
*Religious belief does not have evidence.

149. Christof Koch, Caltech Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Biology
*Science throws some cold on water on the notion of free will.

150. Peter Higgs, Nobel Laureate in Physics; incompatibility of science and religion
*Admits his atheism could be more a matter of his family background than anything to do with science.

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58 Responses to Elite Scholars Don’t Have Elite Reasons For Being Non-believers

  1. Crude says:

    Very nice takedown. It’s always implied in these scientific references that the scientists are calling upon various arguments or findings from science to support their beliefs.

  2. Pingback: Elite Scholars’ Unsupported Atheism - Thinking Christian

  3. John Moore says:

    These short video clips did not intend to present well developed arguments. That doesn’t mean the scientists don’t have any.

    Jerry Coyne made a blog post on this topic very similar to yours except from the atheist point of view. I’d encourage Christians to engage more in the comments discussion over there.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/50-more-professors-that-makes-150-profess-atheism/

  4. The Janitor says:

    John Moore,

    Not presenting a well developed argument doesn’t mean you don’t have one. True. But when asked for a reason for their beliefs about something one would expect for them to at least be able to sketch out some good ones. But that’s not what we find. And it’s not just that we see a lack of good reasons, but we see positively bad reasons presented (e.g., the second man in the clip who says “because religion depends on faith”).

    So if we are to believe these atheists have good reasons, why are they presenting none at all or bad ones?

  5. The Janitor says:

    P.S. And notice that Coyne thinks Jones (the one I mention above) is the winner! Wow.

  6. Bilbo says:

    Hi John Moore,

    It’s difficult to engage in the comments section of Coyne’s blog, when was is banned from his blog, as I am.

  7. Crude says:

    Yeah, Coyne is pretty shameless about axing anyone who puts up a fight on his blog.

    Regardless, what’s being pointed out here is that when a group of scientists were rallied to explain why they are atheists, the results were pretty disappointing. I think the point that Mike is driving at here in part is that there’s often a move of ‘Look at these atheist scientists! It just shows science is incompatible with theism!’ But their scientific expertise has next to nothing to do with their atheism.

  8. TFBW says:

    John Moore said:

    These short video clips did not intend to present well developed arguments.

    Indeed. Clearly they opted for quantity over quality in this case.

  9. Michael says:

    These short video clips did not intend to present well developed arguments. That doesn’t mean the scientists don’t have any.

    Yes, but let’s not ignore what is there. Several have either always been atheists or became unbelievers as children or young students. Clearly for those people, their atheism is not the result of their scholarship. Also, many also did sketch out the outlines of their argument. It’s almost always the God of the Gaps argument or the Argument from Evil.

    Look, if these people had all these amazing arguments, don’t you think we’d be hearing those arguments from all the atheist apologists out there?

    Jerry Coyne made a blog post on this topic very similar to yours except from the atheist point of view.

    Here is one of the comments:

    This gave me an ego boost. It looks like I belong to a great group of people.

    That, in a nutshell, seems to be the argument.

  10. It can’t be gainsaid that science and religion are completely different approaches to knowledge. People in scientific disciplines probably have the sorts of personalities that predispose them to favor explanations that involve causality and randomness rather than purpose and intent. If they’re religious at all, we’d expect them to have vague deist approaches to the divine rather than a belief in an active, intervening deity.

    And as long as we’re talking about science, the burden of proof isn’t on people to come up with detailed, verifiable arguments for why they don’t believe in God. I look at it the same way as I look at the belief that thylacine wolves no longer exist: in the absence of captive specimens or confirmed sightings, I believe that they don’t exist. If there were evidence they still exist, I would change my mind.

    -EE

  11. irrationalitydestroyer says:

    It seems as if you are not giving the God of the gaps argument enough fairness. For instance, it is undeniable that Norse tribes believed that thunder was caused by Thor’s hammer, however that has been disproven by meteorology. Look, I’m a Christian, but I don’t disregard arguments from the get go. I think that the God of the gaps can be a strong argument. Sure, it can also be weak, depending on how it is formulated, but you have to admit that believers in God have to develop a strong counter-argument against it.

  12. Michael says:

    EE:

    It can’t be gainsaid that science and religion are completely different approaches to knowledge. People in scientific disciplines probably have the sorts of personalities that predispose them to favor explanations that involve causality and randomness rather than purpose and intent.

    And then there are those of us capable of a both/and approach.

    And as long as we’re talking about science, the burden of proof isn’t on people to come up with detailed, verifiable arguments for why they don’t believe in God.

    Science cannot determine whether or not God exists.

    I look at it the same way as I look at the belief that thylacine wolves no longer exist: in the absence of captive specimens or confirmed sightings, I believe that they don’t exist. If there were evidence they still exist, I would change my mind.

    I see. You will change your mind (or so you claim) if you can catch God in a cage.

  13. Michael says:

    It seems as if you are not giving the God of the gaps argument enough fairness.

    Huh? It is the same scholarly community that is highlighted in that video that rejects of the God-of-tha-gaps argument. I am just expecting intellectual consistency and intellectual honesty.

    For instance, it is undeniable that Norse tribes believed that thunder was caused by Thor’s hammer, however that has been disproven by meteorology. Look, I’m a Christian, but I don’t disregard arguments from the get go. I think that the God of the gaps can be a strong argument.

    That’s nice, but what we need is for these scholars to clarify their views about the God of the gaps argument. Is it a legitimate scientific argument/position?

    Sure, it can also be weak, depending on how it is formulated, but you have to admit that believers in God have to develop a strong counter-argument against it.

    Not sure what I am supposed to admit here.

  14. I see. You will change your mind (or so you claim) if you can catch God in a cage.

    At least scientific people are being honest about the way they relate to knowledge: through assessing facts and evidence. All I said was that you wouldn’t expect people whose passion is for the search for verifiable truth to be as receptive to explanations for natural phenomena that have to do with intent and agency. You mentioned that many of these people had no religious background; the mode of thinking that favors personal revelation just never had a place in these people’s worldview. I don’t think this says anything about the validity of belief in God one way or the other, just that people who’ve spent their lives working in an empirical discipline are prone to favoring evidence over personal experience in formulating their beliefs.

    And these scientists aren’t committing the God of the Gaps fallacy, they’re merely declaring that they don’t find the extremely common God of the Gaps argument particularly persuasive. We’ve all heard believers fetishize the unknown in terms like, “if there’s no scientific explanation for phenomenon x, then it must be the product of divine/intentional activity.” These scientists are simply saying they don’t approach the unknown like that. If they define their beliefs according to what’s verifiable and empirical, it’s no great surprise that they find no personal need for a belief in the supernatural.

  15. TFBW says:

    At least scientific people are being honest about the way they relate to knowledge: through assessing facts and evidence.

    This statement strikes me as being spectacularly wrong, but perhaps that stems from the fact that I focus all my attention on Richard Dawkins, who is not at all honest (least of all with himself) about his relationship with facts and evidence — a subject which frequently arises on this blog (see the relevant tag). I think, at the very least, that you have bought into the New Atheist propaganda regarding what they claim is their relationship with facts and evidence a little too uncritically.

  16. As I said, I don’t think the matter sheds any real light on the validity of belief in God. All I meant was that these scientists (none of whom appear to be New Atheist ideologues) are employed day in and day out with testing empirical models of reality. It just doesn’t seem surprising that so few of this self-selecting sample appear to relate to any notion of agency or intent in the universe, or have a fascination with the supernatural.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to discover that very few statisticians had lucky charms on their dashboards, either. I’m not saying this would demonstrate anything particularly persuasive about the notion of luck; it’s just that we wouldn’t expect people who spend all day calculating complex probabilties to have a fascination with the concept of luck.

  17. The Janitor says:

    Etsiteraw Etcicero,

    >>At least scientific people are being honest about the way they relate to knowledge: through assessing facts and evidence.

    Which implies that religious people are being dishonest about the way they relate to knowledge. Can you support that claim?

    >>All I said was that you wouldn’t expect people whose passion is for the search for verifiable truth to be as receptive to explanations for natural phenomena that have to do with intent and agency.

    But then you don’t know that scientists have any special passion for the search for verifiable truth. And if a person had such a passion, why would they become a scientists where one simply cannot, strictly, verify anything (at best they may falsify a theory)? And if intent and agency are real features of the universe, why wouldn’t some with a passion for truth take these features into account?

    You give a good attempt at pretending to making a mundane observation–I’ll give you that. But the facade isn’t too hard to see through. You’re actually sneaking in a lot of assumptions that attempt to knock scientists up a notch on the epistemological scale while knocking down theists.

    >>the mode of thinking that favors personal revelation just never had a place in these people’s worldview.

    How is personal revelation essentially different than testimony? Clearly scientists are just as inclined towards “the mode of thinking” that favors testimony as a theist. If they weren’t they couldn’t be scientists or anything else.

    >>people who’ve spent their lives working in an empirical discipline are prone to favoring evidence over personal experience in formulating their beliefs.

    Personal experience can be a form of empirical evidence. And personal experience is definitely a form of evidence. So your statement here is just nonsensical. You’re loading your terms with a lot of hidden baggage.

    >>And these scientists aren’t committing the God of the Gaps fallacy, they’re merely declaring that they don’t find the extremely common God of the Gaps argument particularly persuasive.

    What God of the Gaps argument do you have in mind?

    >>We’ve all heard believers fetishize the unknown in terms like, “if there’s no scientific explanation for phenomenon x, then it must be the product of divine/intentional activity.”

    Yes, we’ve all heard atheists caricatures of common arguments, which are not in fact GoG, in those terms. But I’ve never actually heard a theist argue in that manner. It seems to be more a fiction floating around in the minds of atheists than anything actually used in argument.

    >>If they define their beliefs according to what’s verifiable and empirical, it’s no great surprise that they find no personal need for a belief in the supernatural.

    Except we’ve all known since Kuhn that that’s not how scientists or anyone else forms their beliefs.

  18. The Janitor says:

    irrationalitydestroyer,

    >>It seems as if you are not giving the God of the gaps argument enough fairness. For instance, it is undeniable that Norse tribes believed that thunder was caused by Thor’s hammer, however that has been disproven by meteorology.

    I’m going to call you “ID” for short if that’s okay with you?

    So, ID, granting that there is evidence that Norse tribes thought thunder was caused by Thor’s hammer, where is the evidence that Norse tribes reasoned “We don’t know what causes thunder, therefore it must be Thor’s hammer.” Surely you can see how the fact that it was believed Thor’s hammer was the cause of the thunder does not entail that Norse tribes arrived at that conclusion by way of a GoG argument.

  19. You give a good attempt at pretending to making a mundane observation–I’ll give you that. But the facade isn’t too hard to see through. You’re actually sneaking in a lot of assumptions that attempt to knock scientists up a notch on the epistemological scale while knocking down theists.

    I was doing no such thing. I never knocked theists or the notion of belief in God. Anyone with the ability to read can see quite plainly that I denied that this exercise demonstrated anything about the validity of belief in God. I was simply making the observation that this is a self-selecting sample: in general, people who have dedicated their lives to strict, systematic, empirical inquiry of the natural world probably have personalities or backgrounds that haven’t fostered in them a fascination with the supernatural.

    That’s all I was saying. Okay?

  20. Which implies that religious people are being dishonest about the way they relate to knowledge.

    Didn’t say it, didn’t imply it, didn’t mean it. I just meant that many of the scientists quoted above were forthright in saying that they formed their beliefs because of ‘observation’ and ‘evidence,’ and that hasn’t led them to religion. I didn’t say that was the right way to formulate beliefs, I didn’t defend scientism, I just pointed out that these people are not surprisingly focused on empirical methods of inquiry.

  21. The original Mr. X says:

    Just found this article linked to on Ed Feser’s blog. It certainly sheds some interesting light on the whole “science is the paradigm of rationality!” attitude expressed in the video:

    http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21588057-scientists-think-science-self-correcting-alarming-degree-it-not-trouble

  22. The Janitor says:

    EE,

    >>I was doing no such thing. I never knocked theists or the notion of belief in God. Anyone with the ability to read can see quite plainly that I denied that this exercise demonstrated anything about the validity of belief in God.

    On the contrary, EE, it’s because I do have reading skills that I can see through the game:

    That you don’t think it demonstrates anything about the validity of belief in God does not entail that you did not “knock theists” in the way I describe. For instance, suppose I say something like this “Sure, you may believe there is a teacup floating in space just like some people believe in Santa Clause. But it’s no surprise that people who try to form beliefs by evidence don’t believe in teacups floating in space or Santa Clause. Of course it may be that there is a teacup floating in space.”

    To pretend like that is a neutral statement about the nature of teacup belief or that it doesn’t weigh in on where the rational person should be inclined is disingenuous. Now when you specify a passion for verifiable truth and evidence as disinclining scientists to be theists and then you typify religious thinking in GoG terms, it doesn’t take much reading skill to see where you tip your hand.

    >>Didn’t say it, didn’t imply it, didn’t mean it.

    Anyone familiar with American English will recognize the form of “Well at least…” as indicating that what follows is meant to be a contrast. Maybe you aren’t familiar with American English. Okay, if you’re not, but now you know that starting a sentence with “At least…” usually indicates that a contrast is to follow. So when you enter a discussion about religion vs. science and you say something like “At least scientists are honest…” you indicate that you’re drawing a contrast between the way scientists are and the way religious people are.

    Now suppose that you’re correct that scientists are inclined to follow empirical evidence and, therefore, don’t believe in God. The question still remains: is that a good reason to reject god-belief? Not necessarily. For instance, my wife says “Honey, we are out of peanut butter.” And because I’m so mathematically inclined I say “Sorry, dear, but I see no mathematical proof that we are out of peanut butter.” Is that a rational way for me to operate? No. On the contrary it’s irrational to think mathematics is the best way to go about answering the question of whether or not we are out of peanut butter. Likewise, if a scientist says he believes God does not exist because he hasn’t seen a scientifically testable proof of God the scientist is only showing his naivety. So maybe if your explanation is correct then the best explanation to draw is that most scientists are naively and irrationally inclined to think science is the best way to answer such questions.

  23. Janitor,

    What I meant by pointing out the scientists’ “honesty” is that most of them fully admitted they formulate their beliefs on the basis of empirical observation. Since our webmaster here even said that Science cannot determine whether or not God exists, why should we expect people working their entire careers in the scientific professions to encounter “evidence of God” through this mode of research?

    If you’re bound and determined to uncover anti-theistic bias in what I’ve said, there’s probably not much I can say to deter you. But I’ll reiterate that this was not my intention. I’ve made it clear a few times that I don’t find the “scientists are all atheists” trope very meaningful, and I didn’t expect that my skepticism towards the video would elicit such misunderstanding.

    -EE

  24. The Janitor says:

    EE,

    First, by choosing your words as you have you’ve managed to start reframing the issue in a way I never intended. You talk about me trying to “uncover” an “anti-theistic bias.” But did I ever call you an “anti-theist” or accuse you of having an “anti-theistic” bias? No, I said you’re “sneaking in a lot of assumptions that attempt to knock scientists up a notch on the epistemological scale while knocking down theists.” In other words, you’re devaluing religious knowledge while elevating scientific knowledge. A theist (like John Shelby Spong) could be guilty of such a thing. That doesn’t make him an anti-theist. Coincidentally I wonder if you would even say my evaluation is wrong: do you think science and its field of inquiry is evidence based whereas religion is not?

    Second, you conflate two issues. One was my understanding of your phrase “At least…” and the other is your framing of the issue in terms of evidence and verification vs. GoG. Even if I misunderstood your “At least…” remark (which I’m willing to grant if you say so), that doesn’t overturn what I pointed out regarding you’re framing of the issue.

    Third, you ask “why should we expect people working their entire careers in the scientific professions to encounter “evidence of God” through this mode of research?” Well we would no more expect them to be atheists than we would expect them to be theists! I mean by that logic I should expect plumbers to be atheists since they spend their entire careers in the plumbing profession?

  25. Michael says:

    All I said was that you wouldn’t expect people whose passion is for the search for verifiable truth to be as receptive to explanations for natural phenomena that have to do with intent and agency. You mentioned that many of these people had no religious background; the mode of thinking that favors personal revelation just never had a place in these people’s worldview. I don’t think this says anything about the validity of belief in God one way or the other, just that people who’ve spent their lives working in an empirical discipline are prone to favoring evidence over personal experience in formulating their beliefs.

    There is probably some truth to this, but let’s remember these scholars are human beings, not Vulcans. So, there is probably more to it than that. Nevertheless, you are correct on the main point in noting the video, along with all the various opinions cited in it, say nothing about the validity of belief in God one way or the other. Unfortunately, given all the cheering from the atheist community, I’m not sure many of them realize that.

    And these scientists aren’t committing the God of the Gaps fallacy, they’re merely declaring that they don’t find the extremely common God of the Gaps argument particularly persuasive. We’ve all heard believers fetishize the unknown in terms like, “if there’s no scientific explanation for phenomenon x, then it must be the product of divine/intentional activity.” These scientists are simply saying they don’t approach the unknown like that. If they define their beliefs according to what’s verifiable and empirical, it’s no great surprise that they find no personal need for a belief in the supernatural.

    No, it looks like some of those scholars/scientists have built their atheism on the the God of the Gaps fallacy. Look, it is rather meaningless to declare “there is no evidence for God” unless the scholar/scientist can explain what such evidence might look like. So if we were to ask some of these scholars/scientists what would count as evidence for God, how would they answer? I think you would find those that bothered to try to answer the question would cite a Gap as such evidence.

  26. Look, it is rather meaningless to declare “there is no evidence for God” unless the scholar/scientist can explain what such evidence might look like.

    You yourself asserted upthread that “Science cannot determine whether or not God exists.” These people work in disciplines where they claim they see no evidence of intent or agency in the workings of Nature or history, so the symbol of God doesn’t resonate with them. They appear to be more fascinated with the wonders of our universe than the notion of the supernatural.

    The way they described their beliefs in the video didn’t seem to me to be any more vague, personal, or emotional than they way believers describe theirs.

  27. Crude says:

    I don’t think this says anything about the validity of belief in God one way or the other, just that people who’ve spent their lives working in an empirical discipline are prone to favoring evidence over personal experience in formulating their beliefs.

    This is nonsense, and it suggests that the only thing theists have is ‘personal experience’ as opposed to ‘evidence’ – which is radically far from the case. Theists have and had a variety of evidence to call on, ranging from empirical considerations, to purely philosophical arguments, and with quite a range of arguments in between.

    Part of the point that Mike was making in giving his commentary on this video was that you had this range of experts being presented as atheists. A good share of them were apparently agnostics, rather than atheists – and for the overwhelming majority of them, their field of expertise was literally irrelevant to their view. It may as well have been “A collection of 50 short order cooks, Encyclopedia salesmen and widget manufacturers weigh in on the thought of God’s existence.”

    The way they described their beliefs in the video didn’t seem to me to be any more vague, personal, or emotional than they way believers describe theirs.

    That’s one of the points here, Etsiteraw. Their jobs, training and expertise simply weren’t doing any heavy lifting. This isn’t even about ‘evidence’ – hardly any of them had any evidence for atheism or against God’s existence to speak of. It’s just a group of people who were either agnostic or atheist.

    Now, you can speculate that it’s because scientists deal with such and such matters, and God is in a different set, ergo it makes sense that they wouldn’t believe or… etc. Or, you can speculate that there’s a genetic reason at work, or a cultural reason at work, or social reasons at work, etc. About the only thing you can’t say is ‘well their scientific knowledge and expertise was leading them to their conclusion’, because – and the video ended up demonstrating this – that was pretty damn irrelevant to their arriving at their views.

    And as long as we’re talking about science, the burden of proof isn’t on people to come up with detailed, verifiable arguments for why they don’t believe in God.

    Actually, whoever makes the claim has a burden.

    A person who is just standing around, lacking belief in God, has no burden of proof. A person who says ‘There is no God’ has a burden. The person who says ‘It’s very unlikely that there is a God’ has a burden.

  28. Justin says:

    EE,

    The point was to counter the already fallacious argument that typically boils down to, “See all those smart people? They don’t believe in God, ergo God does not exist.”

  29. cl says:

    One of the favorite arguments in the atheist movement is to point to leading scientists and note that a majority of them are atheists. The argument is, of course, pathetic and not much different from trying to score some point for male superiority because the same elite scientists are mostly white males.

    Yeah, I find that one especially pathetic. It’s funny. Just mention that virtually ALL the founders of science were believers, and your average gnu will discount that ’til the cows come home. Then they’ll pull the same exact card and try to play it!

    John Moore,

    Jerry Coyne made a blog post on this topic very similar to yours except from the atheist point of view. I’d encourage Christians to engage more in the comments discussion over there.

    Why waste the time? When you show Coyne wrong he just censors you.

    EE,

    And these scientists aren’t committing the God of the Gaps fallacy, they’re merely declaring that they don’t find the extremely common God of the Gaps argument particularly persuasive.

    Well, they’re not necessarily COMMITTING it, but, by the very nature of their requests for things like verifiable miracles, they are WELCOMING it — and that shows how bad most scientists are at logic and/or philosophy.

  30. Michael says:

    You yourself asserted upthread that “Science cannot determine whether or not God exists.”

    That is why we need to understand their “no evidence” claims in light of this fact about science. If they are just expressing their own personal opinion and telling us something about themselves (like their favorite form of music), fine. If they expect us to interpret such claims as if they are telling us something about the world, they need to explain what could count as evidence. If they are incapable of explaining what evidence for God’s existence might look like, their “no evidence” claims are empty rhetoric.

    These people work in disciplines where they claim they see no evidence of intent or agency in the workings of Nature or history, so the symbol of God doesn’t resonate with them.

    So if we were to ask some of these scholars/scientists what would count as evidence for God, how would they answer? I think you would find those that bothered to try to answer the question would cite a Gap as such evidence. Their atheism is built on the God of the Gaps fallacy.

    The way they described their beliefs in the video didn’t seem to me to be any more vague, personal, or emotional than they way believers describe theirs.

    Never said it was. The way they describe their beliefs is just as vague, personal, or emotional than they way believers describe theirs.

  31. If they expect us to interpret such claims as if they are telling us something about the world, they need to explain what could count as evidence. If they are incapable of explaining what evidence for God’s existence might look like, their “no evidence” claims are empty rhetoric.

    Their assumption may be that the concept of God is supposed to be about something that can be said to exist in the same way as thylacine wolves can be said to exist. In the absence of a captive specimen or a confirmed sighting, people have every right to say thylacine wolves don’t exist. In the absence of evidence of intent or agency in the mechanistic regularity of the universe, aren’t we allowed to say that the concept of God-as-powerful-being isn’t very meaningful to people working in the natural sciences? I’m not saying that that’s the only conclusion that the mechanistic regularity of the universe could lead people to, but it’s at least coherent.

    I’m not convinced that the concept of God is supposed to have any sort of empirical significance. But the fact that it symbolizes intent or agency in the workings of the universe would suggest that studying the workings of the universe should lead people predisposed to such belief to recognize God in the exact same phenomena that would lead people predisposed to nonbelief to claim they see no evidence of God.

  32. Crude says:

    Their assumption may be that the concept of God is supposed to be about something that can be said to exist in the same way as thylacine wolves can be said to exist. In the absence of a captive specimen or a confirmed sighting, people have every right to say thylacine wolves don’t exist.

    It’s not really that simple. We’d have to establish what would or wouldn’t count as a confirmed sighting, how we’d even be able to tell a ‘captive specimen’ if we had one, whether or not we should expect confirmed sightings given what a thylacine wolf is even if said wolf existed, etc. In other words, ‘the same way as thylacine wolves can be said to exist’ involves a whole lot of assumptions and knowledge that automatically make it a poor comparison with God/gods/etc.

    There has been no laboratory demonstration of, say… complex organs evolving in the lab. So no ‘captive specimens’ (video recording of such) or ‘confirmed sightings’. Do people therefore have every right to say that such evolution never took place?

    In the absence of evidence of intent or agency in the mechanistic regularity of the universe, aren’t we allowed to say that the concept of God-as-powerful-being isn’t very meaningful to people working in the natural sciences?

    The question isn’t whether ‘the concept of God-as-powerful-being’ is meaningful in the natural sciences, as if an icthyologist should be citing God in their research, especially given the limitations and scope of scientific research. It’s completely consistent for the theistic icthyologist to say ‘No, the concept of God doesn’t do much work in my field’. Now, if you ask whether God’s existence is made less likely by the study of science, then we’re going to have to ask what evidence of intent or agency we should expect to find if God/gods/etc did exist.

    If a scientist says that science shows that God doesn’t exist, it’s entirely reasonable for me to ask for the peer-reviewed research and experiment demonstrating this. It’s also reasonable for me to ask what qualifies as ‘evidence’ in his view, and why. And if he can’t furnish these things, or furnishes terrible examples, it’s reasonable to conclude that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  33. In other words, ‘the same way as thylacine wolves can be said to exist’ involves a whole lot of assumptions and knowledge that automatically make it a poor comparison with God/gods/etc.

    The fact that there are assumptions involved doesn’t make it a poor comparison. The problem is that God has become defined in a way that’s so vague and subjective that it’s empirically useless, and we’re using that vagueness to mock people who think knowledge in some way derives from observation.

    At least in Psalms, God is described thus: He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. The notion of such an active God is anachronistic, perhaps, but the modern concept of God is still a symbol of the agency or intent in the universe. It’s what gives people hope that we don’t suffer in vain, that there’s meaning and purpose to life, and that there’s hope in the face of an indifferent universe.
    But is that what we see when we observe the workings of viral pathology? Can scientists who study the typhoon in the Philippines be excused for doubting that a loving, active God is bringing such suffering from His storehouses? Maybe it’s not ignorance, but rather compassion, that’s keeping people from believing that God exists.

  34. Crude says:

    The fact that there are assumptions involved doesn’t make it a poor comparison.

    It does when the assumptions run roughshod over the claims about what kind of evidence we should expect to see given God’s existence.

    The problem is that God has become defined in a way that’s so vague and subjective that it’s empirically useless, and we’re using that vagueness to mock people who think knowledge in some way derives from observation.

    “So vague and subjective”? Says who? There may be multiple definitions of God/god(s), but not all of them are vague and subjective – and their being well-defined doesn’t automatically make scientific experiment at all an appropriate measure by which to judge or evaluate the claims.

    What’s being mocked here is the idea that people are using their scientific expertise to reasonably weigh in on the question of God’s existence. They are not. They are, as you said, giving reasons that are very comparable to the bottom of the rung of theistic believers. Which is fine, but it rather shows that their expertise isn’t doing any work here.

    At least in Psalms, God is described thus: He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. The notion of such an active God is anachronistic, perhaps, but the modern concept of God is still a symbol of the agency or intent in the universe.

    Yep. Now all you need is a scientific way to evaluate those claims – at least if you want to make the claim that the scientists have good, scientific reasons for their views on the subject. If you agree that they don’t – that their expertise is largely irrelevant, and their reasons for not believing are ultimately non-scientific, maybe even hardly reflected upon – then hey, we’re done.

    But is that what we see when we observe the workings of viral pathology? Can scientists who study the typhoon in the Philippines be excused for doubting that a loving, active God is bringing such suffering from His storehouses? Maybe it’s not ignorance, but rather compassion, that’s keeping people from believing that God exists.

    You talk about ‘scientists who study the typhoon in the Philippines’, as if the only people who can conclude that there are harmful, painful events in the world are scientists. No, ‘scientists who study’ is utterly superfluous there – their knowledge means nothing, just as it does with viral pathology.

    Worse, you’re trying to imagine up an argument that maybe will kinda-sorta justify the scientists’ views. But that hasn’t been the issue – the issue has been their scientific knowledge. It turns out it’s quite irrelevant. More than that, your defense amounts to ‘Maybe they deny God exists because if God exists, given all these bad things, it’s kind of a scary idea’. That’s not compassion. It’s intellectual cowardice, of a variety that runs absolutely contrary to science. You may as well say, ‘Maybe people are compassionate in their rejecting scientific conclusions they dislike, if those conclusions depress them.’

  35. There may be multiple definitions of God/god(s), but not all of them are vague and subjective – and their being well-defined doesn’t automatically make scientific experiment at all an appropriate measure by which to judge or evaluate the claims.

    Okay. But you’re not demonstrating that the concept of God is a meaningful one, you’re basically arguing that there are so many conceivable definitions of God that we can’t be sure which ones are being discussed. That’s fine, but it’s sort of like saying that someone can’t call himself a vegetarian unless he can name or describe every conceivable species of animal he wouldn’t eat.

    Now all you need is a scientific way to evaluate those claims – at least if you want to make the claim that the scientists have good, scientific reasons for their views on the subject.

    Well, we shouldn’t expect rigid scientific folks to have any concept of truth-with-a-capital-T. They create testable models of reality, and the models that work for them —intellectually and emotionally— don’t include the supernatural. That might be scientism, but that’s just the point: they relate to knowledge through testing, and they try to limit the amount of speculation and superfluous forces at work in their models. I don’t know why I’m supposed to be so surprised that the models that don’t include God or the supernatural make sense to them.

    No, ‘scientists who study’ is utterly superfluous there – their knowledge means nothing, just as it does with viral pathology.

    Their knowledge at least tells them that inanimate forces can create great suffering, for no better reason than atmospheric pressure on the one hand and the logistics of infection on the other. I wouldn’t think such people would be prone to attributing intent or agency to any natural phenomenon. Again, the model works for them in making sense of the world.

    It’s intellectual cowardice, of a variety that runs absolutely contrary to science. You may as well say, ‘Maybe people are compassionate in their rejecting scientific conclusions they dislike, if those conclusions depress them.’

    Just the opposite: it seems like these people are accepting the scientific conclusion that says that ascribing divine intent to natural phenomena is just part of our wishful thinking. The notion that the same Nature in which we find pretty sunsets creates such death and destruction for no good reason might be a horrifying conclusion. But we don’t ennoble the suffering of the innocent by saying that it’s part of a divine plan, we trivialize it.

  36. Michael says:

    Their assumption may be that the concept of God is supposed to be about something that can be said to exist in the same way as thylacine wolves can be said to exist.

    Maybe. But if so, why make that assumption? Is God, if he exists, supposed to be another physical creature?

    In the absence of a captive specimen or a confirmed sighting, people have every right to say thylacine wolves don’t exist.

    Are you saying these scholars do not think God exists because they don’t have God in a cage? That’s sillythink. I suppose that is possible. After all, people who build on the God of the Gaps fallacy tend to argue against straw men positions.

    In the absence of evidence of intent or agency in the mechanistic regularity of the universe, aren’t we allowed to say that the concept of God-as-powerful-being isn’t very meaningful to people working in the natural sciences?

    Of course you are allowed to say this. It’s just that is appears “evidence of intent or agency” is nothing more than “A BIG Gap” for such people. Or am I not allowed to notice this and point this out?

    I’m not saying that that’s the only conclusion that the mechanistic regularity of the universe could lead people to, but it’s at least coherent.

    It’s not very coherent to argue that if God exists, we should be able to trap him in a cage or find some SuperGap that could never, ever, ever possibly be explained by science.

  37. Michael says:

    The problem is that God has become defined in a way that’s so vague and subjective that it’s empirically useless,

    In other words, if God exists, he needs to behave as a mechanistic regularity OR create a whole bunch of Gaps to frustrate scientists.

    and we’re using that vagueness to mock people who think knowledge in some way derives from observation.

    Sneaky atheist. Notice how EE tries to smear us by accusing us of mocking people.

    EE, just because I am not at all impressed by your God of the Gaps logic does not mean I am mocking anyone. And I notice that EE has moved on from defending the God of the Gaps approach to proposing the Argument from Evil. Is he oblivious to the way he confirms my initial blog entry?

  38. Is God, if he exists, supposed to be another physical creature?

    That’s just it, the concept doesn’t appear to be one that’s coherent and meaningful to these people. You’re not showing them a thylacine wolf (or anything equally incontrovertible or persuasive), but you’re expecting them to justify their belief that thylacine wolves don’t exist. If the definition of thylacine wolves keeps changing, can we really keep dogging these scientists for our inability to convince them the wolves exist?

    I am not at all impressed by your God of the Gaps logic

    And as I mentioned before, this is just a way to make it seem like the burden is on the scientists to justify their nonbelief in a concept we can’t coherently define. Their models make sense of reality for them even if they don’t include entities we think they should.

    I notice that EE has moved on from defending the God of the Gaps approach to proposing the Argument from Evil.

    Well, that’s just another concept of God that doesn’t make sense to them. If we’re defining God as a being that loves and intercedes for His creations, the fact that natural disasters and inanimate forces cause untold suffering to the innocent is justification enough to make that definition meaningless. The model that takes intent and agency out of natural phenomena is more consistent and coherent.

  39. The original Mr. X says:

    EE:

    Just because people use only the scientific method in their professional work, it doesn’t follow that it’s reasonable for them to use only the scientific method, full stop. Otherwise you’d have to say that no scientist should accept, e.g., Pythagoras’ theorem, on the grounds that it doesn’t make testable predictions about reality.

    ” If we’re defining God as a being that loves and intercedes for His creations, the fact that natural disasters and inanimate forces cause untold suffering to the innocent is justification enough to make that definition meaningless.”

    Erm, no it isn’t. It might be justification enough to reject the existence of a being so defined, but it does nothing to accept the meaningfulness of the definition.

  40. The original Mr. X says:

    Michael:

    “or find some SuperGap that could never, ever, ever possibly be explained by science.”

    And of course, if you point to any such Super Gap, the scientist will just reply “Don’t be silly! Just because we haven’t found an answer yet, doesn’t mean we won’t. I suppose you still think that Thor’s hammer causes lightning, har har.”

  41. It might be justification enough to reject the existence of a being so defined, but it does nothing to accept the meaningfulness of the definition.

    Okay. I’m just pointing out that the loving-God concept doesn’t jibe with the existence of meaningless suffering as well as the no-loving-God concept. So we either redefine God yet again, and expect people to play the next round of the endless shell game, or we accept that some people make sense of the world without recourse to any notions of the supernatural, the divine, or mysterious agency and intent.

  42. TFBW says:

    I think EE does a pretty good job of making scientism sound reasonable. As such, I feel the need to draw attention to some of the flaws in the reasoning. I’ll focus on the more recent posts.

    Before doing so, however, there’s an important distinction between science and scientism to which I would like to draw attention. Good science comes up with practical analysis that can distinguish between competing models of material behaviour. Usually, the analysis involves a physical experiment, but thought experiment has its place as well. The key is that model A implies X, and model B implies Y, so an outcome of X favours model A over model B. Scientism, on the other hand, is the unwarranted assumption that any question which is not amenable to such an approach is somehow meaningless, and, by corollary, if something can not be shown to exist by such methods, then it does not exist, or might as well not exist for all the difference it makes.

    The key to this discussion is that science has no accepted means of determining the existence of God, or the supernatural more generally. Without such a mechanism, science is necessarily mute on the subject of God’s existence. Scientism, on the other hand, is an epistemic position which holds that science is omnicompetent. It therefore points to this very lack of information as evidence of absence, or practical irrelevance, depending on the person making the argument (and possibly what they had for breakfast).

    Now, to analysis.

    In the absence of evidence of intent or agency in the mechanistic regularity of the universe, aren’t we allowed to say that the concept of God-as-powerful-being isn’t very meaningful to people working in the natural sciences?

    Absence of evidence, or absence of agreement as to what would constitute evidence? In order to have a legitimate absence of evidence, we must first agree on what such evidence would look like. In practice, however, we have no such agreement. As such, there is no demonstrable absence of evidence — only an absence of clue. Only the mentality of scientism construes such an absence of criteria as evidence of absence.

    The problem is that God has become defined in a way that’s so vague and subjective that it’s empirically useless, and we’re using that vagueness to mock people who think knowledge in some way derives from observation.

    If it happens to be true that some reasonable (rather than straw-man) definition of God is “empirically useless”, then it demonstrates that science is simply not competent to answer the question of his existence. This should come as a surprise to nobody, except the adherents of scientism, who have an a priori belief that science is omnicompetent, and so any question beyond the scope of science is either meaningless or fatuous.

    That’s fine, but it’s sort of like saying that someone can’t call himself a vegetarian unless he can name or describe every conceivable species of animal he wouldn’t eat.

    I submit that it’s like saying that someone can’t call himself a vegetarian unless he can distinguish between “vegetable” and “not vegetable”, or whatever other particular distinction it is that he makes. Clearly, some sort of distinction is necessary. A scientistic materialist, in contrast to a vegetarian, has no means to detect the existence of anything that is not material. Again, the lack of a means to discern the existence of something is taken as evidence against the existence of that thing, or justification for a “lack of belief” in it (indistinguishable from the presence of unbelief).

    That might be scientism, but that’s just the point: they relate to knowledge through testing, and they try to limit the amount of speculation and superfluous forces at work in their models.

    They then add the unwarranted assumption (when it suits them) that questions are meaningless or fatuous if no such testing is possible. If they were simply epistemically committed to the idea of testing, then the absence of a test would lead to a profession of ignorance, not an asymmetric “lack of belief” in the existence of God, unmatched by a corresponding “lack of belief” in his non-existence.

    Their knowledge at least tells them that inanimate forces can create great suffering…

    Their personal, subjective experience — not science — tells them that suffering is possible. No experiment ever demonstrated the existence of suffering without first presuming that it exists and produces certain physical effects, or accepting someone’s testimony that they were experiencing it. Are you willing to apply the same standards of evidence to the existence of God? If not, are you prepared to embrace an explicit double standard?

  43. TFBW,

    The difference between what I’m saying and what you think I’m saying is that you’re playing the God-is-God-ain’t game, and I’m not. I don’t think the existence of God is a relevant question. I already mentioned that I don’t think the concept of God is anything more than a symbolic representation of some ineffable agency or intent in the universe, and trying to argue that a symbol doesn’t exist is pretty futile.

    I’ve never thought people’s belief or nonbelief in God is based on rational arguments or logical syllogisms. There are a lot of questions about agency, ritual, culture, and psychology that are a lot more important when we talk about the provenance of people’s beliefs. Whether it’s believers or nonbelievers doing the justifying, it’s odd to expect that people who don’t share the beliefs would find them justified.

    But people who make their living in scientific research, it seems, are less religious than the general population, and I have no reason to be surprised that the concept of agency and intent in the workings of the world doesn’t resonate with them. It appears that, emotionally and intellectually, they see no reason to ascribe divine intent to natural phenomena, moral principles, or anything else in their lives.

    And you’re right that this may constitute an invalid assumption of scientism on their part, but so be it. They judge reality according to models that work for them, ones that reflect what we know about the universe and make sense of things in a coherent, meaningful way. People who criticize them for not being more receptive to speculation, paradox, or explanations that deal with what’s not known about our universe, probably are barking up the wrong tree.

  44. The original Mr. X says:

    “Their knowledge at least tells them that inanimate forces can create great suffering”

    And why do you think that being a scientist is necessary to know that? In Europe, at least, occasionalism has never really been a big theological theory. Pretty much any educated person post-Aristotle would probably find the quoted statement completely unsurprising.

    “I already mentioned that I don’t think the concept of God is anything more than a symbolic representation of some ineffable agency or intent in the universe,”

    Well, most people do think the concept of God refers to something more concrete than that.

    “They judge reality according to models that work for them, ones that reflect what we know about the universe and make sense of things in a coherent, meaningful way. People who criticize them for not being more receptive to speculation, paradox, or explanations that deal with what’s not known about our universe, probably are barking up the wrong tree.”

    That’s all very well, but it kind of ruins the whole “X% of famous scientists are atheists, therefore no God” arguments that get thrown up fairly regularly. If a scientist’s atheism is a personal aesthetic preference, or a habit which they’ve (illegitimately) carried over from their working life, there’s no reason why the rest of us should pay any attention to them. In which case, who cares how many scientists disbelieve in God? Essentially, your way of defending the argument ends up making the argument irrelevant.

    (And incidentally, I’m not sure where you get the idea that religious beliefs deal with “speculation, paradox, or explanations that deal with what’s not known about our universe”, and scientific believes — presumably — don’t. Thomas Aquinas, for example, wasn’t particularly given to wild flights of speculative fantasy; and some of the wackier theories espoused by quantum physicists are as speculative and paradoxical as any religious doctrine.)

  45. The original Mr. X says:

    Oh, and one more thing–

    “They judge reality according to models that work for them,”

    You seem here to be espousing an essentially pragmatist view of belief — “If it works for you, go for it, never mind if it’s objectively true”. In which case, given that religious practice is positively correlated with various aspects of well-being, surely everybody should be heading off to their nearest church ASAP?

  46. You seem here to be espousing an essentially pragmatist view of belief — “If it works for you, go for it, never mind if it’s objectively true”.

    That’s not really what I meant. What I was trying to say is that the worldviews these scientists have seem to provide everything without recourse to the supernatural or the divine: they make sense of the world and the workings of nature, they provide an ethical framework for behavior, and they promote a sense of awe and wonder about reality.

    And as far as their beliefs being objectively true, these folks probably would say they understand truth as tentative and provisional. Which is another way they would have a difficult time relating to the absolute.

  47. Crude says:

    But you’re not demonstrating that the concept of God is a meaningful one, you’re basically arguing that there are so many conceivable definitions of God that we can’t be sure which ones are being discussed.

    No – ‘meaningful concepts of God’ are beyond easy to provide:

    The Prime Mover (see Aquinas, Aristotle.)
    The creator(s) of our known universe.
    Beings of extraordinary power, far beyond human power (see the greek pantheon).
    An omnipotent, omniscient being.
    An omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being.

    Etc. Yet /none/ of these concepts were so much as scratched by scientific expertise in the video. The most apt criticism was, say… ‘problem of evil’ concerns. But ‘problem of evil’ is a philosophical criticism.

    The scientists simply had no scientific reasoning to offer.

    That’s fine, but it’s sort of like saying that someone can’t call himself a vegetarian unless he can name or describe every conceivable species of animal he wouldn’t eat.

    No, it’s like saying that someone who says ‘I have scientific evidence that X doesn’t exist’ needs to have a reasonable definition of ‘X’ in mind before they can even talk about evidence. But in this case, actually providing the relevant definitions of ‘X’ would go a long way towards completely undermining the talk of ‘scientific evidence X doesn’t exist’ to begin with.

    Well, we shouldn’t expect rigid scientific folks

    Where do you justify this assumption that these are ‘rigid scientific folks’? They’re scientists. It’s a job they’re trained for. They are not, to quote Vox Day, golems powered by the spirit of the scientific method.

    Also, the idea that scientists, as a rule, try to radically limit the amount of ‘speculation’ they embrace is itself ridiculously suspect. You just have to say ‘string theory’ to demonstrate otherwise.

    They create testable models of reality, and the models that work for them —intellectually and emotionally— don’t include the supernatural. That might be scientism, but that’s just the point: they relate to knowledge through testing, and they try to limit the amount of speculation and superfluous forces at work in their models.

    Who here is saying that they should be including ‘the supernatural’ in their models? And what IS ‘supernatural’ anyway? No one has been taking these scientists to task for failing to include references to God or the supernatural – whatever that is – in the latest paper about crystal formation.

    What’s been pointed out is that, insofar as their thoughts on God are concerned, their scientific knowledge was – by the content of the video itself – almost completely irrelevant. The ‘scientific reasoning’ provided to demonstrate God’s non-existence was almost completely absent. Insofar as any of them said ‘God doesn’t exist’, but had zero scientific evidence to back up their claim, they were not demonstrating some rigid adherence to the scientific method. They were abandoning it entirely.

    Their knowledge at least tells them that inanimate forces can create great suffering, for no better reason than atmospheric pressure on the one hand and the logistics of infection on the other.

    Nope. Their knowledge tells them that such and such forces X create suffering. ‘No better reason’? They have no idea. That’s right back to being able to test for and know about the existence, intent, and actions of God or gods – and that’s precisely what they lack.

    Now, you can prove me wrong here: provide the peer-reviewed scientific research into the existence of God. Show me the great ‘design detector’ the biologist uses to determine whether or not such and such a structure is designed – because last I checked, the only game in town on that front were the guys saying Intelligent Design is science.

    Just the opposite: it seems like these people are accepting the scientific conclusion that says that ascribing divine intent to natural phenomena is just part of our wishful thinking.

    Wonderful claim, and it’s exactly what I was hoping for you to come right out and say. So do me the favor: justify the claim with science. You say there’s no divine intent in any natural phenomena? Then I want to see the scientific research, the experiments, the peer reviewed paper exploring this exact question. Provide me a paper where Victor Stenger takes out his God-detection device and, upon scanning a field, finds 0 theons present – as we all know that God leaves trace amounts of theons behind whenever He interacts with something.

    Now, one of two things are going to happen here. One, you’re going to have no paper to give me, at which point we’re going to see that the only ‘wishful thinking’ on display here is yours. Or, you’ll give me a paper, and we’re going to see exactly how good of a job it did in trying to detect the actions and intent of an omnipotent, omniscient deity, among other things.

    Let’s dance.

  48. Crude says:

    What I was trying to say is that the worldviews these scientists have seem to provide everything without recourse to the supernatural or the divine: they make sense of the world and the workings of nature, they provide an ethical framework for behavior, and they promote a sense of awe and wonder about reality.

    ‘Ethical framework for behavior’ is a laugh, except insofar as anyone can come up with a completely arbitrary list of rules and use it as a framework. Likewise, ‘sense of awe and wonder’. You’re really citing subjective excitement as a justification for a given belief? Because if so, you’ve justified quite a lot – especially since theists can take everything science actually offers, and yet still believe in God.

    Finally, ‘without recourse to the supernatural’? Again, that word needs to be defined. But considering that naturalists have a nasty tendency to ultimately say that some things either ‘just exist brutely, period, no explanation’ or even ‘they started to exist brutely, with no cause or explanation’, all this tells me is that some scientists believe in a particular variety of magic that works for them.

  49. You say there’s no divine intent in any natural phenomena? Then I want to see the scientific research, the experiments, the peer reviewed paper exploring this exact question.

    Like I’ve said plenty of times here, the prudent belief concerning thylacine wolves is that they don’t exist. The lack of evidence for their existence is justification enough for the belief.

    If you believe that there’s divine intent in the weather or diseases, well now, that’s just swell. But you can’t seriously expect me to believe that this belief is somehow less speculative or wishful than the belief that the weather and diseases have completely material, physical causes.

    Please.

  50. Crude says:

    Like I’ve said plenty of times here, the prudent belief concerning thylacine wolves is that they don’t exist. The lack of evidence for their existence is justification enough for the belief.

    So I take it no research paper will be forthcoming, because you haven’t a single one to call upon? Okay, concession noted.

    The thylacine wolf is concluded to not exist based on a number of arguments and evidence that go far beyond ‘lack of evidence for their existence’.

    * We have defined what a thylacine wolf is, and it is a physical creature of likeness X, ancestry Y, etc.

    * We know, in part based on the above, what environments a thylacine wolf must therefore be found in – we know where to go to look. ‘Not underwater.’ ‘Not on the surface of mars.’ Etc. Including, ‘It’s an entity within what we regard as our visible universe.’

    * The thylacine wolf is just some animal. It is not more powerful than, more intelligent than, a human. There’s nothing about it that makes it particularly opaque to human investigation. It leaves behind tracks, droppings, etc.

    God or gods – in just about any of the definitions I’ve provided (some of which can collapse in on each other, some of which cannot) – differ from the thylacine wolf in just about every relevant way. This, even with very certain, concrete definitions provided for them. Now, that doesn’t mean that evidence for God can’t or doesn’t exist – there’s plenty of evidence, arguments, etc. The evidence is simply not scientific, because the question itself simply isn’t open to scientific investigation in any meaningful way.

    So the prudent option, as far as science goes, is not ‘to conclude that God doesn’t exist’. It’s to have no view at all. “Science doesn’t deal with that question”, period, end of story. Reason about it in another field of knowledge.

    If you believe that there’s divine intent in the weather or diseases, well now, that’s just swell. But you can’t seriously expect me to believe that this belief is somehow less speculative or wishful than the belief that the weather and diseases have completely material, physical causes.

    No, I don’t expect you to, but that has more to do with the poor reasoning you’ve been displaying in this discussion. My belief about the ‘divine intent’ in weather or diseases, etc – whatever it may be – does not spring from pure scientific speculation because /science is completely powerless to investigate the question in a relevant way./ Which is exactly why, when I ask you to provide me for the peer-reviewed research into the existence or activity of God, you have nothing. You don’t even have, as you can for the thylacine wolf, research illustrating what evidence we should expect to find if such a wolf were suspected to live in a given area. In fact, the absolute closest you would come to having something would require regarding something like ‘Intelligent Design’ as science – and by all means, walk that road if you want to.

    So to turn it around – you can’t seriously expect me to believe that science shows that God/god(s) do not exist or are unlikely to exist, going into the question with not only a complete lack of research or experiment, but a lack of understanding what scientific evidence we should even expect to find given God’s existence, and more. Why in the world should I accept that all things have ‘completely material, physical causes’ when you have absolutely no idea how to evaluate – as far as science goes – non-material, non-physical causes in the relevant sense? This before mentioning that establishing ‘material’ and ‘physical’ is itself beyond science – for all we know, idealism is true. Science is metaphysically neutral on that front as well.

  51. Now, that doesn’t mean that evidence for God can’t or doesn’t exist – there’s plenty of evidence, arguments, etc. The evidence is simply not scientific, because the question itself simply isn’t open to scientific investigation in any meaningful way.

    Which has always seemed like more of a rhetorical survival mechanism that religion has developed rather than a meaningful statement.

    you can’t seriously expect me to believe that science shows that God/god(s) do not exist or are unlikely to exist,

    But I never said it did. I’ve said plenty of times that God is a symbol that stands for the supposed agency and intent in the universe. Mr X and I both seem to agree that typhoons and epidemics are natural phenomena with material causes, and modern humans don’t ascribe intent or agency to natural phenomena. Scientists study the creative and destructive power of inanimate forces all day long; why should the symbol of God resonate in their imaginations?

    Why in the world should I accept that all things have ‘completely material, physical causes’

    Once again, I never said all things do. But it’s not like you’ve established that certain phenomena have non-material, non-physical causes, you’re just accusing me of ridiculous presumption for recognizing the material, physical causes of typhoons and epidemics.

  52. Crude says:

    Which has always seemed like more of a rhetorical survival mechanism that religion has developed rather than a meaningful statement.

    What does ‘religion’ have to do with this? The question of God exists apart from any particular religion. What’s more, these definitions were in force far, far in advance of the rise of science. ‘Creator of the universe’, ‘Prime Mover’, etc were the views of God around hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

    They are entirely meaningful statements, and nothing you’ve said here has shown otherwise. All you’ve said at this point is, perhaps bitterly – okay, science is useless when it comes to that question, but /darn it that’s not fair/. But those are the terms upon which you have to operate, like it or not. You don’t get to smuggle in your preferred view by default, or pull up a strawman to criticize and have that be just as good as criticizing the actual relevant idea(s).

    But I never said it did. I’ve said plenty of times that God is a symbol that stands for the supposed agency and intent in the universe.

    God is not a ‘symbol’. Now, God may or may not exercise some agency or intent within the universe. Maybe He only does it sometimes. Maybe He never stops doing it. Maybe there are five gods, maybe three, maybe one God and twenty gods, etc.

    Where does the science start, EE?

    Mr X and I both seem to agree that typhoons and epidemics are natural phenomena with material causes, and modern humans don’t ascribe intent or agency to natural phenomena.

    Wonderful. What scientific reasoning is at work with the conclusions? What experiments were performed, what research was done? After all, ‘there were natural phenomena and material causes involved’ does not mean ‘and therefore there was no agency or intention’. The two can be true simultaneously, unless you’re making exclusive claims. (‘Nothing but these and those causes, period.’) At which point, I’m right back to asking my question.

    Once again, I never said all things do. But it’s not like you’ve established that certain phenomena have non-material, non-physical causes, you’re just accusing me of ridiculous presumption for recognizing the material, physical causes

    You said earlier:

    that this belief is somehow less speculative or wishful than the belief that the weather and diseases have completely material, physical causes.

    First off, I already made the point about science’s relation to metaphysics, such as idealism. Idealism may be false, but science definitely isn’t showing as much. But more than that: the problem here isn’t (caveat aside) that you recognize ‘material, physical causes’. Go only that far and you haven’t said anything I’ll bother to dispute, precisely because causes X and Y being at work doesn’t mean that cause Z is or is not at work, necessarily. But you said *completely* material, physical. No intention at work, period. No agency at work, period. And as I keep saying, fine – then please show me the scientific research, the experiments, on that question. I’ve already asked it, and we both know the answer: you don’t have any. You thought you could excuse yourself from having to have any by the tasmanian devil example, but that fails completely.

    So why in the world should I accept your view that !X is the truth, or very likely to be true, based on scientific considerations – when said scientific considerations have no idea what scientific evidence for X would even look like, how to scientifically test for X or !X, etc? Why should I ditch the far more prudent conclusion that science – given its inability to even identify what would count as evidence for or against X, given its inability to explore the question in any meaningful way – is simply and completely silent on the question, and that it’s best answered elsewhere? Why must I take your leap of faith, and abuse and misrepresent scientific reasoning in the process?

  53. But you said *completely* material, physical. No intention at work, period. No agency at work, period. And as I keep saying, fine – then please show me the scientific research, the experiments, on that question.

    This is absurd. Like a conspiracy theorist asking for evidence that super-secret invisible explosives weren’t used at the Twin Towers on 9/11, you expect me to present peer-reviewed scientific research that proves the absence of a mechanism you’ve merely asserted I’m being ridiculously presumptuous in denying is present in typhoons and disease.

    I’m done with this now.

  54. Crude says:

    This is absurd. Like a conspiracy theorist asking for evidence that super-secret invisible explosives weren’t used at the Twin Towers on 9/11, you expect me to present peer-reviewed scientific research that proves the absence of a mechanism you’ve merely asserted

    I haven’t asserted a ‘mechanism’. In fact, I haven’t asserted much of anything, scientifically – one of my points is that the topic under discussion is not open to scientific investigation. *You* have asserted that various things have ‘completely material, physical causes’, and I have asked for your science, your research, your peer reviewed evidence – which is exactly the standard you walked in here pretending to adhere to. You’re unable to provide any. I’m not maintaining ‘science shows God exists!’ or ‘science shows X was caused by God!’ You’ve made your claim. Support it.

    If I tell a conspiracy theorist ‘John Wilkes Booth had a motive for killing Lincoln’, I don’t get to wriggle out of supporting my claim because ‘lol conspiracy theorist’ or the like. I make a claim – it’s time for me to support it. If I say that I have *scientific evidence* that John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln, then I damn well better provide it. You don’t get to make claims, and then not support them, or complain that supporting them is too hard so you shouldn’t be made to do so, etc.

    Stop abusing science, stop misrepresenting science and scientific knowledge. And if science’s inability to meaningfully rule on various questions makes life a bit more uncertain, then really – get used to it. Science isn’t here to fill you with awe or give you confidence in every belief you wish to cling to.

  55. cl says:

    Alright I can’t resist:

    EE,

    Like I’ve said plenty of times here, the prudent belief concerning thylacine wolves is that they don’t exist. The lack of evidence for their existence is justification enough for the belief.

    Uh, no. As Crude said, the comparison fails in every respect. The correct response in the science and God thing is,

    “Science doesn’t deal with that question”, period, end of story.

    And EE, returning to the snippet of yours I cited, have you ever considered how epistemically unreliable your position is? Not even on the God thing, but just phenomena in general. Take asteroids for example. Can you see the irony of two guys standing in the bottom of Crater Lake, with one guy saying, “There’s no evidence for these huge flying space rocks of yours, that’s preposterous?”

    Also, EE, taking it back to something you said earlier:

    But people who make their living in scientific research, it seems, are less religious than the general population, and I have no reason to be surprised that the concept of agency and intent in the workings of the world doesn’t resonate with them. It appears that, emotionally and intellectually, they see no reason to ascribe divine intent to natural phenomena, moral principles, or anything else in their lives.

    You need to amend that to, “People who make their living in scientific research TODAY,” because the plain fact is that the people who founded the disciplines that today’s scientists follow — they were all theists my friend, and most of them straight up Bible believing in some sort. So my point is that your point is no point at all: sure, scientists today are mostly atheist, but SO WHAT? What do you gain by citing that?

  56. We’ve all heard believers fetishize the unknown in terms like, “if there’s no scientific explanation for phenomenon x, then it must be the product of divine/intentional activity.”

    This comment is from awhile back, but you know what? I have NEVER heard anybody ever make this argument. Not once. And I went to Catholic High School. Honestly, I’m starting to think this is a bullshit excuse. Nobody actually says this, or the people who DO say this need to be actively looked for so people can make an example of them, because they’re not the common occurrence that people (atheists) would like us to believe.

    We need to start calling people out on this bullshit. No, you’re not pushing back against a certain brand of theist when you speak out against this, you’re pushing back against a ridiculous straw man, and my guess is that the reason is that as a kid you were probably too lazy (or dumb) to figure out why theists REALLY believe in God.

  57. Michael says:

    And as I mentioned before, this is just a way to make it seem like the burden is on the scientists to justify their nonbelief in a concept we can’t coherently define.

    Oh, please. You are trapped inside your own rhetorical bubble. I am simply pointing out the empirical fact that when these scientists/scholars actually try to explain what they mean by “no evidence for God,” it is that there are no Gaps that science can never, ever possibly explain. That is God of the Gaps thinking.

    Look, if they do not want to justify their “no evidence” claims, fine. No one said they had to. We can simply note that Dr. Jones says there is no evidence for God and does not give us any reason to think his opinion is true. Dr. Jones has told us something about himself, not reality. And everyone is entitled to their opinions and perceptions, after all.

    But if Dr. Jones does try to justify his “no evidence” claim, and does so using God of the Gaps reasoning, I will also notice that. And I am not impressed by it.

  58. Michael says:

    Crude wrote, “Now, that doesn’t mean that evidence for God can’t or doesn’t exist – there’s plenty of evidence, arguments, etc. The evidence is simply not scientific, because the question itself simply isn’t open to scientific investigation in any meaningful way.”

    EE replied, “Which has always seemed like more of a rhetorical survival mechanism that religion has developed rather than a meaningful statement.”

    Huh? So after agreeing earlier (above) that science cannot determine whether or not God exists, EE now implies God’s existence should be open to scientific investigation.

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