More Evidence that New Atheists are Closed-Minded

Leaders in the New Atheist movement insist there is no God because, they claim, there is no evidence for the existence of God. They do this while posturing as if they are open-minded, being willing to become theists if only someone could show them some evidence for God’s existence. This posturing is either dishonest or delusional, as there is not one scrap of evidence to support the belief that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Jerry Coyne would change their minds because of any “evidence.” What’s more, there is evidence to contrary. For starters, they are activists who play a lead role in a social movement. Anyone with any familiarity with activism knows activists don’t change their minds; activists twist everything to fit their agenda. Also, as we have seen earlier, a survey of atheists found that New Atheists are the most narcissistic, mean, and dogmatic of all atheists. What’s more, recently Richard Dawkins admitted his dogmatism by noting that, as far as he was concerned, no data could ever count as evidence for the existence of God.

We now have some more data that converge on the same conclusion – New Atheists are closed-minded. Social scientist (and atheist) Jonathan Haidt recently did a word analysis of books by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Haidt explains:

When I was doing the research for The Righteous Mind, I read the New Atheist books carefully, and I noticed that several of them sounded angry. I also noticed that they used rhetorical structures suggesting certainty far more often than I was used to in scientific writing – words such as “always” and “never,” as well as phrases such as “there is no doubt that…” and “clearly we must…”

To check my hunch, I took the full text of the three most important New Atheist books—Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and I ran the files through a widely used text analysis program that counts words that have been shown to indicate certainty, including “always,” “never,” “certainly,” “every,” and “undeniable.” To provide a close standard of comparison, I also analyzed three recent books by other scientists who write about religion but are not considered New Atheists: Jesse Bering’s The Belief Instinct, Ara Norenzayan’s Big Gods, and my own book The Righteous Mind.

To provide an additional standard of comparison, I also analyzed books by three right wing radio and television stars whose reasoning style is not generally regarded as scientific. I analyzed Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, Sean Hannity’s Deliver Us from Evil, and Anne Coulter’s Treason. (I chose the book for each author that had received the most comments on Amazon.) As you can see in the graph, the New Atheists win the “certainty” competition. Of the 75,000 words in The End of Faith, 2.24% of them connote or are associated with certainty. (I also analyzed The Moral Landscape—it came out at 2.34%.)

Y’gotta love it. Not only do Harris and Dawkins come to us with an extreme sense of certainty, it looks like their level of certainty is even greater than that of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity! You would have a better chance of convincing Glenn Beck that President Obama was a decent president than in convincing Sam Harris God exists.

In fact, the positive “controls” that Haidt picks are actually good analogs given that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are little more than the atheistic versions of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Harris, Dawkins, Coyne and other New Atheist leaders do not come to us as scholars, scientists, and thinkers. They come to us as Beck and Hannity come to us – as activists and apologists who have something to sell. Harris, Dawkins, Beck, Coulter – they all sell an endless stream of books not simply to advance their agenda, but to make money off their agenda.

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71 Responses to More Evidence that New Atheists are Closed-Minded

  1. aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  2. “there is not one scrap of evidence to support the belief that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Jerry Coyne would change their minds because of any “evidence.””
    Of course there is. These three men are all scientists, who base their judgement and opinions on evidence. I’d guarantee that all of them can point to instances in their lives when they changed their mind due to evidence.

  3. Michael says:

    You are dishonestly quote-mining. Here is the context of my claim:

    Leaders in the New Atheist movement insist there is no God because, they claim, there is no evidence for the existence of God. They do this while posturing as if they are open-minded, being willing to become theists if only someone could show them some evidence for God’s existence. This posturing is either dishonest or delusional, as there is not one scrap of evidence to support the belief that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Jerry Coyne would change their minds because of any “evidence.”

    If you have any evidence that these New Atheists would indeed change their minds about the existence of God because of “evidence,” please provide it.

    Also, it would help if you bothered to read the blog entry instead of looking for something to quote-mine. You’ll notice I provide evidence to support my contention, even providing a link where Dawkins admits nothing can change his mind.

  4. Bilbo says:

    Interesting study by Haidt. I’m wondering what the results would be if he searched for “uncertainty words.”

  5. Dyanayas Se says:

    First provide evidence for your Gods (3500), and then we start worrying if Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris will embrace one of the 3500 Gods .

  6. Michael says:

    First, you would have to provide evidence that you can consider such evidence in a fair- and open-minded manner. Otherwise, you are demanding that I talk to a wall.

    Second, are you not capable of defending your leaders?

  7. Our leaders?
    Really?
    It’s amusing to be reminded that theists think we treat great scientists and thinkers the same way they treat their saints.
    We have not need or desire to defend our “leaders”. We’ll leave such nonsense to the theists, and defend ideas instead.

  8. Michael says:

    It’s amusing to see Gnu atheists deny they have leaders while drooling over them as “great scientists and thinkers.” 😉

  9. Where did I deny that we have leaders within the Atheist movement?
    Please stop with the straw-man arguments. They are such a tired theist cliche.

  10. NoWay says:

    Listen, this is malarky from the get go. Jonathan Haidt, who conducted the study, has had a long running feud with these guys. The other scientists take issue with Haidt getting his financing from the Templeton Group, a very wealthy religious think tank. Haidt began calling himself an ex-liberal after they gave him a million dollar grant to conduct research.

    Furthermore, Haidt’s research is always interesting but he always spins it more towards the right than he should. Here he puts an argumentative title to this article but the research doesn’t show what he says it does. This is typical. The article just shows that the people he is attacking use words showing that they are certain of their position. It’s not closed minded if you write a book debunking astrology and are certain of your position. Are people who attack holocaust deniers “closed minded” or just aware of the facts. There is no evidence for any kind of supernaturalism. This is simply the fact of the matter and Haidt is just feigning neutrality to ingratiate himself with a right wing conservative audience.

    Listen, this is malarky from the get go. Jonathan Haidt, who conducted the study, has had a long running feud with these guys. The other scientists take issue with Haidt getting his financing from the Templeton Group, a very wealthy religious think tank. Haidt began calling himself an ex-liberal after they gave him a million dollar grant to conduct research.

    Furthermore, Haidt’s research is always interesting but he always spins it more towards the right than he should. Here he puts an argumentative title to this article but the research doesn’t show what he says it does. This is typical. The article just shows that the people he is attacking use words showing that they are certain of their position. It’s not closed minded if you write a book debunking astrology and are certain of your position. Are people who attack holocaust deniers “closed minded” or just aware of the facts. There is no evidence for any kind of supernaturalism. This is simply the fact of the matter and Haidt is just feigning neutrality to ingratiate himself with a right wing conservative audience.

    All that said, his research is fascinating if you view his interpretations of the data with skepticism. 

  11. Michael says:

    Listen, this is malarky from the get go.

    Your subjective opinion is noted.

    Jonathan Haidt, who conducted the study, has had a long running feud with these guys.

    The New Atheists have long running feuds with any outspoken atheist who does not support their extreme agenda. After all, these are the fringe kooks who actually tried to keep Francis Collins from heading the NIH because they believed he would use his position at the NIH to shut off funding to neuroscience research.

    The other scientists take issue with Haidt getting his financing from the Templeton Group, a very wealthy religious think tank.

    Yes, the New Atheists work themselves into a froth when the word “Templeton” is used. If Harris is supposed to be a scientist, why doesn’t he do science?

    Furthermore, Haidt’s research is always interesting but he always spins it more towards the right than he should.

    Huh?

    Here he puts an argumentative title to this article but the research doesn’t show what he says it does. This is typical.

    Sam Harris is an advocate and not a scholar. It is not argumentative to predict that an advocate will not change his mind about the subject he passionately advocates for, especially when the advocate engages in a cheesy publicity stunt (offering $10,000 prizes).

    The article just shows that the people he is attacking use words showing that they are certain of their position.

    Like Glenn Beck.

    It’s not closed minded if you write a book debunking astrology and are certain of your position. Are people who attack holocaust deniers “closed minded” or just aware of the facts. There is no evidence for any kind of supernaturalism.

    I see. From your oh so open-minded position, theism is no different than holocaust denial? Word of advice – it’s this type of tic that gives away your closed mind.

    This is simply the fact of the matter

    In your closed-minded bubble, it is.

    and Haidt is just feigning neutrality to ingratiate himself with a right wing conservative audience.

    It’s kind of freaky to see you put this left/right spin on it. What makes you think it’s about left/right? Comparing Harris to Beck or Hannity doesn’t come across as some form of praise, y’know?

  12. Crude says:

    The most adorable part of all this is the whole ‘We don’t have leaders! STOP ATTACKING OUR LEADERS!’ aspect of it all. Though I will say that you don’t really need scientific research to prove that the Cultists of Gnu are close-minded. You just have to actually read what they write and listen to what they say – it isn’t exactly subtle.

  13. Kevin says:

    I’m confused that apparently there are people who think that Sam Harris is a great scientist and thinker. Far as I know, he’s neither. What great science has he done? Other than being dogmatically certain of his atheism, what great thinking has he done that the guy down the street hasn’t?

    Of all the atheist leaders, I find Harris to possibly be the most idiotic.

  14. “The most adorable part of all this is the whole ‘We don’t have leaders! STOP ATTACKING OUR LEADERS!’ aspect of it all.”
    Where is your support for this?

  15. It’s true that Harris is known more as an author than as a scientist, but to suggest that he has no scientific credentials, or worse is unintelligent, only displays your own ignorance.

    “Harris completed a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at UCLA.[17][21] He used fMRI to explore whether the brain responses differ between sentences that subjects judged as true, false, or undecidable, across a wide range of categories including autobiographical, mathematical, geographical, religious, ethical, semantic, and factual statements.”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18072236

  16. Michael says:

    It’s true that Harris is known more as an author than as a scientist, but to suggest that he has no scientific credentials, or worse is unintelligent, only displays your own ignorance.

    Kevin never suggested Harris had no scientific credentials. He noted that Harris was not a “great scientist.” Since having a PhD does not make him a “great scientist,” your point is irrelevant.

    Keven neither suggested Harris was unintelligent. He noted that Harris was not a “great thinker” and found him to be the most idiotic of the New Atheist leaders.

    The evidence shows you to have a reading comprehension problem. This is either because you’re so invested in being right your brain twists things so that you can feel like you are right. Or, because you are a dishonest troll.

  17. TFBW says:

    Bruce Lindman’s conception of “defending ideas” seems to consist primarily of being snide and condescending to theists.

  18. Michael says:

    Though I will say that you don’t really need scientific research to prove that the Cultists of Gnu are close-minded. You just have to actually read what they write and listen to what they say – it isn’t exactly subtle.
    You are correct. For example, consider this assertion from Harris:

    Only then will the practice of raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu be broadly recognized as the ludicrous obscenity that it is.

    Raising your children in your faith tradition is, according to Harris, a “ludicrous obscenity.” Harris clearly has very, very strong negative emotions about this in order to choose those strong, negative words. And those strong, negative emotions close his mind.

    The atheists here have failed to do the slightest damage to my case. So here is how it stands:

    1. There is no evidence that Harris and the other New Atheists leaders are open-minded about the existence of God.

    2. There is evidence that New Atheists are closed-minded about the existence of God

    a. Christopher Silver, from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, did an analysis that found New Atheist types to score the most dogmatic of all atheists.
    b. Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist, has publicly conceded nothing can change his mind. PZ Myer has long made this claim.
    c. When you ask New Atheists what type of data would count as evidence for the existence of God, they struggle mightily and retreat into God-of-the-gaps thinking.
    d. Jonathan Haidt’s word count analysis indicates New Atheist writers use more certainty words than Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.
    e. Anyone who reads the writings of New Atheists will have no problem in finding examples of claims that exhibit remarkably high levels of certainty.

  19. Kevin says:

    Michael is correct, Bruce. I’m aware that Harris has a neuroscience degree of some sort, but last I checked, the only thing he’s used it for is to do MRI scans to try and see what happens in people’s brains regarding religious thoughts. That is hardly great science. He’s more interested in trying to disprove religion through these studies than he is actually trying to improve humanity. Of course, when you’re as dogmatic as Harris, the two are inseparable.

    Also, I don’t care if Harris has an IQ of 3463. I don’t care how “intelligent” he is, or how well spoken he is. I find him to be the utterer of absolutely ridiculous statements more often than other New Atheist leaders. The ability to write a book and get a Ph.D is not a buffer against foolishness.

  20. “Michael is correct”
    About what? My responses are to Kevin’s assertion: “I’m confused that apparently there are people who think that Sam Harris is a great scientist and thinker. What great science has he done?”

    “I’m aware that Harris has a neuroscience degree of some sort,…”
    He has a PHD in Neuro-science. Last I checked, these were not being handed out at your local community college.

    “…but last I checked, the only thing he’s used it for is to do MRI scans to try and see what happens in people’s brains regarding religious thoughts.”
    …which was a scientific experiment, performed for his Doctoral Thesis.

    “That is hardly great science”
    …it was apparently good enough to earn him a PHD in Neuroscience.

  21. Michael says:

    Bruce doesn’t get it. Earning a PhD does not make someone a great scientist. So all the PhD talk is irrelevant to Kevin’s main point. What’s worse, ever since getting his PhD, Harris seems to have lost all interest in actually doing science. Why is that?

  22. Kevin says:

    Does it take “great science” to earn a PhD, or simply “sufficient science”? If that’s the case, then the lead guitarist of Queen is a great scientist because he has a PhD in astrophysics. And as far as I know, he’s actually done more science than Harris.

    Francis Collins is a great scientist. I see no reason to think of Harris as a great scientist. Based on public information, the only things Harris is great at is dogmatic assertions that there is no God, that anyone who disagrees with him is deluded and irrational, and selling books to like-minded ideologues.

  23. Crude says:

    Kevin,

    Interesting that you bring up Francis Collins. I recall certain atheists having not much faith in Collins’ abilities as a scientist, in spite of his accomplishments. In fact, despite heading up the human genome project, they questioned his competence.

    Now here we have Harris, without anything even approaching Collins’ scientific track record. Hell, he doesn’t have anything approaching Myers’ track record from what I know – and Myers’ is pathetic.

  24. Michael says:

    The Collins example is also very useful in showing that Harris is not sincere or serious when he sells himself as follows: “And I don’t want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be.” Well, it’s be almost six years since Harris opposed his nomination to head the NIH, warning that Collins would do harm. Harris has had six years to revisit his original warning to see if he was right. Yet he has not done so. He has shown no such interest. Why could that be? Might it have something to do with not wanting to admit he was wrong?

  25. Dhay says:

    Michael > …Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Jerry Coyne…
    Bruce > …we treat great scientists and thinkers…

    Let’s have a look at Sam Harris’ two papers. His PhD paper, “Functional neuroimaging of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18072236) claims, “When one accepts a statement as true, it becomes the basis for further thought and action; rejected as false, it remains a string of words.” I think Harris and his two co-authors had to be either very hasty and careless in their choice of these words, or autistic – perhaps the statistical correlation between rejection of God and scientific ability is due not to high intelligence but is correlated with a tendency towards Aspergers – for it is trivial to find examples where “rejected as false, it remains a string of words” is obviously false: for example, a police caution, followed by, “ I suggest you brutally murdered her with an axe – did you?” is hardly a string of words, however false, and if you cannot see that, I suggest you too are autistic; Harris’ claim that one responds quite differently to true (further thought and action) and false (string of words) statements is incorrect, and the incorrectness is well exampled by those posters here who rejected Michael’s blog entry as false, who instead of treating it as a string of words have made it the basis for the further action of posting here.

    The paper itself is inaccessible to me, but fortunately Michael Shermer quotes portions from it in his “The Believing Brain”, Chapter 6, Pages 157-160. There we find that according to Harris, when presented with the statement that 1.2^57=32608.5153, one should plainly judge it to be “uncertain”; this tells us straight away that the “14 adults” who volunteered to be the test subjects were almost certainly the usual WIERD 18-22 year old (UCLA?) psychology students, because a maths, science or engineering student (or anyone regularly using a calculator) should recognise immediately that there should be a lot more decimal places, indeed they should be shooting off the page edge, so it’s obviously a false statement; and it also tells us that Harris’ own maths ability is poor. (As is Shermer’s, who repeats it uncritically.)

    That Harris’ ability with statistics is poor is confirmed by WM Briggs, a statistician, who in a series of seven long blogs starting at http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=4923 performs a very thorough demolition – despite which Briggs says there is much more that he could have criticised – of Harris’ second paper, “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief”: “I have chosen one paper which I believe is representative of the worst excesses of the field. My goal is to show you that the conclusion, as stated by the authors, and one the authors believe they have proved, is actually far from proved, is in fact scarcely more likely to be true given the experiment than it was before the experiment, and that what was actually proved was how likely scientists are to find in their data their own preconceptions.”

    In the concluding blog Briggs says, “During the course of my investigation of scientism and bad science, I have read a great many bad, poorly reasoned papers. This one might not be the worst, but it deserves a prize for mangling the largest number of things simultaneously.”

    I challenge anyone to call Sam Harris a great scientist and thinker after reading WM Briggs’ seven blogs.

  26. Dhay says:

    > Richard Dawkins admitted his dogmatism by noting that, as far as he was concerned, no data could ever count as evidence for the existence of God.

    Dawkins seems to have a resistance to changing his mind: recently, there has been a flaming controversy between Dawkins and EO Wilson over the latter’s recent book, “The Social Conquest of Earth”, which, according to http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/specials/evolution-and-the-complexity-principle/#.UwzNCY3iu9J – please read the whole article to get the full picture – criticised Dawkins’ “argument in favour of kin selection (against group selection) that only genes are “replicators” and therefore the only entities whose survival makes a long term difference.” This was Dawkins’ view in 1976, when he wrote “The Selfish Gene”, and he is plainly locked into Hamilton’s Rule today, with no “ifs” and “buts” allowed, and he goes ballistic when his narrow view is challenged. But…

    The NTW (Nowak, Tarnita and Wilson) paper referred to in the Wilson’s book and the above link “…caused a sensation. Part of this was the mathematics, which shows that Hamilton’s Rule, as generally understood, simply doesn’t work in certain cases, and that it is possible to account for the evolution of eusociality without relying on inclusive fitness at all.”

    Bruce > …we treat great scientists and thinkers…

    “Readers may ask, if this is all true, why doesn’t Professor Dawkins understand this? It is relevant to remember that Professor Dawkins is the most talented populariser of evolutionary ideas of his generation, but has made little contribution to the primary scientific literature. A rich admirer endowed a chair for him at Oxford as professor for public understanding of science. When he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, it was as a “general candidate” rather than for specific contributions to research. In common with most biologists of his generation, he doesn’t have a strong mathematical background. He has outstanding literary talents, but it is understandable that a popular author might find it difficult to accept the extent to which his ideas are over-simplistic, or to follow rigorous mathematical arguments when they transcend the ideas on which he has built his reputation.”

    The http://www.thisviewoflife.com/index.php/magazine/articles/richard-dawkins-edward-o.-wilson-and-the-consensus-of-the-many website is more measured and conciliatory, but includes, “Curiously, while the many have spoken against Wilson’s outdated views about kin selection, they remain largely silent on Dawkins’ outdated views about group selection.”

    Dawkins writes the following – apparently declaring that he is prepared to accept a theory that has no direct evidence supporting it, so perhaps he is not so closed-minded after all – at the end of the penultimate chapter of his book, “The Ancestor’s Tale”:
    ‘There are many other theories” – of abiogenesis – “that I have not gone into. Maybe one day we shall reach some sort of definite consensus on the origin of life. If so, I doubt if it will be supported by direct evidence because I suspect it has all been obliterated. Rather, it will be accepted because somebody produces a theory so elegant that, as the great American physicist John Archibald Wheeler said in another context, “… we will grasp the central idea of it all as so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that we will say to each other, “Oh, how could it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind for so long!” If that isn’t how we finally realise we know the answer to the riddle of life’s origin, I don’t think we ever shall know it.’

    Has Dawkins not just ruled in as acceptable the idea that – no, not the Genesis version – that… “Goddidit”?

  27. Kevin says:

    Has Dawkins not just ruled in as acceptable the idea that – no, not the Genesis version – that… “Goddidit”?

    That’s where scientism comes in. If it isn’t a scientific hypothesis, he will exclude it from being a possibility, no matter how elegant, simple, beautiful, or compelling.

  28. Kevin says:

    I find that the more I study atheists’ writings and philosphical positions, the more I become certain that it is impossible to be an atheist – at least, one who actually thinks about that atheism – without being incredibly hypocritical and/or completely deluded. As a coherent explanation for existence and its features, theism and even deism are hands down more logical than atheism.

  29. How odd, “Shadow To Light”, that I have a half dozen comments waiting in moderation while responses are quickly posted against me.
    So much for your integrity. So much for your confidence in your beliefs….

  30. Michael says:

    LOL. I let you rant. Bye, troll.

  31. Michael says:

    Dhay,

    Those are some interesting comments. Thanks.

  32. Kevin says:

    Is it even possible to selectively have a moderation waiting tool? I ask because every one of my posts appears instantly. I also have seen no evidence that anyone on the Christian side of the debate here is afraid to confront atheists’ arguments, on this blog or elsewhere.

  33. Michael says:

    Is it even possible to selectively have a moderation waiting tool? I ask because every one of my posts appears instantly.

    Anytime a new person comments, I have to approve the first one. From then on, it’s instant. However, if I suspect someone is a troll, then I have to approve all comments.

    I also have seen no evidence that anyone on the Christian side of the debate here is afraid to confront atheists’ arguments, on this blog or elsewhere.

    Don’t fall for it – that’s how trolls taunt.

  34. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    Michael…
    “Anytime a new person comments, I have to approve the first one. From then on, it’s instant. However, if I suspect someone is a troll, then I have to approve all comments.”

    —Given your alacrity to use invective (from the OP on), one has reason to be skeptical of your judgement on such matters.

  35. Michael says:

    It’s not clear you understand what “invective” means. Perhaps you can cite an example or two from the OP.

  36. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    Michael says: “It’s not clear you understand what “invective” means. Perhaps you can cite an example or two from the OP.”

    —Ok then, let’s look at your first paragraph:

    “Leaders in the New Atheist movement insist there is no God because, they claim, there is no evidence for the existence of God.”

    —On a side note, as you stated about Dawkins:

    “as far as he was concerned, no data could ever count as evidence for the existence of God.”

    —Which would seem to contradict your previous notion. I actually take this position, but moving along…

    “They do this while posturing as if they are open-minded, being willing to become theists if only someone could show them some evidence for God’s existence.”

    —Without some direct citations, along with a explication of what you (and/or they, respectively) mean by “open-minded”, this will remain a straw man… one set up for subsequent attacks on their character:

    “This posturing is either dishonest or delusional, as there is not one scrap of evidence to support the belief that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Jerry Coyne would change their minds because of any “evidence.””

    —Dishonest, delusional posturers? Oh noes… why would we ever believe them? lol… and what’s more…

    “For starters, they are activists who play a lead role in a social movement. Anyone with any familiarity with activism knows activists don’t change their minds; activists twist everything to fit their agenda.”

    —They’s the BIAS! Ahhh… arguments from motive never get old. Note that there is another typology called “activist” that was counted as relatively non-narcissistic and ‘open’ as compared to the rest. What about them? Why aren’t the ‘New Atheists’ in this category?

    “Also, as we have seen earlier, a survey of atheists found that New Atheists are the most narcissistic, mean, and dogmatic of all atheists.”

    —Even if we were to assume the typologies set out in the study you linked (or accepted their equivalence to ‘New Atheists’, a matter the authors themselves questioned in the conclusion), the category is (banally) at best a broad description of a non-believer engaged in aggressive encounters with religious people and institutions. In other words, one seemingly tailor-made to show them to be selfish meanies, setting aside of course any notion that they might be justified in being miffed.

    “”Y’gotta love it. Not only do Harris and Dawkins come to us with an extreme sense of certainty, it looks like their level of certainty is even greater than that of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity!”

    —Setting aside the disinterestedness of Haidt’s work, what exactly are we to conclude from a mere word count? Talk about a lack of context! (well, he didn’t…)

  37. Michael says:

    Phillip wrote, “Given your alacrity to use invective (from the OP on)….”

    So I replied: “It’s not clear you understand what “invective” means. Perhaps you can cite an example or two from the OP.”
    Phillip then replies:

    —Ok then, let’s look at your first paragraph:
    “Leaders in the New Atheist movement insist there is no God because, they claim, there is no evidence for the existence of God.”

    Huh? So this is supposed to be invective? Are you serious?

  38. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    Michael says:
    “Huh? So this is supposed to be invective? Are you serious?”

    —“This posturing is either dishonest or delusional”, “activists twist everything to fit their agenda”, “New Atheists are the most narcissistic, mean, and dogmatic of all atheists”… Did you stop reading or something? All of these comments are (MWD). I’d suggest moving on and actually addressing the substance of what they claim, rather than attacking their character.

  39. Dhay says:

    This blog has been going for quite a while. If you want to go back and look, you should find today’s first paragraph fully supported by previous Shadow to Light entries.

  40. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    Dhay says:
    “This blog has been going for quite a while. If you want to go back and look, you should find today’s first paragraph fully supported by previous Shadow to Light entries.”

    —Could you be more specific? All of the posts I have seen thus far on this blog are variations of one another.

    (also, it appears that the MWD definition of ‘invective’ did not appear in my post: ‘of, relating to, or characterized by insult or abuse’, which applies to the OP… and I’m not sure why he is denying it.)

  41. Michael says:

    Phillip is able to find three examples of my “invective”:

    —”This posturing is either dishonest or delusional”, “activists twist everything to fit their agenda”, “New Atheists are the most narcissistic, mean, and dogmatic of all atheists”… Did you stop reading or something? All of these comments are (MWD). I’d suggest moving on and actually addressing the substance of what they claim, rather than attacking their character.

    The world does not revolve around your hypersensitivity, Philip. None of these quote-mines qualify as examples of “invective.”

    “This posturing is either dishonest or delusional – “ Note I said the posturing is either dishonest or delusion, not the person. If the person truly believes they are open-minded, and are not, then their posturing would be delusional. If they know they are not open-minded, yet posture as if they are, then the posturing would be dishonest. No invective.

    “activists twist everything to fit their agenda” – this is just a loose observation about activists in general – “Anyone with any familiarity with activism knows activists don’t change their minds; activists twist everything to fit their agenda. “ Are you under the impression that activists are objective about the topic that so passionately motivates them? Do you think, for example, that a lead activist from PETA is willing to change their mind about animal experimentation in science? No invective here.

    “New Atheists are the most narcissistic, mean, and dogmatic of all atheists”… – this is just a summary of Silver’s findings: “If any subset of our non-belief sample fit the “angry, argumentative, dogmatic” stereotype, it is the Anti-Theists. This group scored the highest amongst our other typologies on empirical psychometric measures of anger, autonomy, agreeableness, narcissism, and dogmatism while scoring lowest on measures of positive relations with others. “ I’m not sure how any rational, objective person could score my summarization as “invective.”

    Did you stop reading or something?

    Nope. There was no invective in the OP. That you personally think there was indicates you are very thin-skinned when it comes to the New Atheist leaders and don’t like to see them criticized.

    All of these comments are (MWD).

    Only in your brain. I suspect any comment that is critical of the New Atheists will be perceived as insulting or abusive.

    I’d suggest moving on and actually addressing the substance of what they claim, rather than attacking their character.

    Er, I did. There is no character attack here. Harris is the one who made the state of his mind the subject of inquiry as a function of him taunting the world to change his mind while offering a $10,000 prize. Apparently, you believe everyone is supposed to accept that publicity stunt at face value. Haidt, drawing from the science of psychology, notes it is very unlikely that Harris will change his mind. I drew attention to Haidt’s response and added my own comments. Is there supposed to be a list of “approved” topics for my blog?

  42. Edward says:

    Sheesh. I’d better stop being such an activist against Santa Claus. Studies of my literature invariably prove a sense of certainty against his existence. I guess that makes me close-minded. And yes — you’re smart enough all to realize that I’m alluding a comparison of Santa Claus to your adult versions of him (Jesus, etc). Why? Because the same conclusions on activism and certainty hold true for both.

    BTW, I’m agnostic. I do enjoy watching both sides of the aisle feign certainty. But please leave science out of it. Religious people playing with science is like watching a bull in a china shop. You break everything and don’t even realize you’re doing it in the process. Bulls do not belong in the shop. Science and religion dogma do not mix whatsoever. Science demands NO faith. It’s experimentation and support. Period. No empirical evidence. No support.

  43. TFBW says:

    Um… what? You’re not making a lot of sense there, Edward. If there’s some sort of close parallel between Jesus and Santa Claus, then I take it you’re agnostic about Santa Claus as well? If you are, then that’s pretty funny. If not, then obviously there’s some rather important difference between the two that you’ve neglected to mention.

    As for your comments about science… they’re kind of bull-in-a-china-shop-like themselves. Try taking that line of commentary at a (secular) course on the Philosophy of Science, and see how impressed your professor is. Where did you acquire your current views on the subject, if I may ask?

  44. Kevin says:

    Religious people playing with science is like watching a bull in a china shop.

    Francis Collins, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Faraday, Mendel, Planck, Bacon, Newton, Bayes, William of Ockham, Pasteur, and many many other “religious people playing with science” would probably find your message here to be the pinnacle of idiocy, and I would wholeheartedly agree. Unless, of course, you’re saying you know more about science and its implications than these guys? Do tell.

  45. Edward says:

    Kevin, your point is well-taken. I should’ve said that religious people who can’t separate religion from science are like bulls in china shops. The people you mentioned were able to separate personal belief from a pursuit of knowledge using some sort of empirical inquiry and pursuit. Primarily, the point is that religious thinking and scientific thinking are inapposite. Religious thinking requires personal acceptance of seeming truth without empirical support. (If you required empirical support, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be science.)

  46. Edward says:

    TFBW, a person believes in Santa Claus because he or she is told about Santa Claus and other people act in a way to promote the belief. A person believes in Jesus because he or she is told about Jesus and other people act in a way to promote the belief. There is fundamentally no difference between a child’s belief in Santa Claus and an adult’s belief in Jesus. Jesus is the adult version of Santa Claus.

    And yes, you are correct. Being an agnostic means I cannot be absolutely certain that Santa Claus doesn’t exit. Just like I can’t be absolutely certain that a divine exists. But agnosticism, like theism and atheism, is a belief system. My belief is that humans are incapable of making extremely definitive statements like “God exists” or “God doesn’t exist”. We are just too simple to have the answer to these things.

    Belief though is separate from science. Science is a process of identifying truth by question and then verification. Belief is a process of making a guess about truth and sticking with that guess.

    From a scientific perspective, the vast majority of empirical evidence does not support the existence of a Santa Claus. Similarly, it does not support the existence of the Christian god. In fact, when studying human nature and the origins of Christian texts, the evidence overwhelmingly stacks against the Christian god’s existence. That doesn’t mean Santa Clause or god doesn’t exist. It simply means that using an objective process it appears they don’t. But science is about working toward truth. It doesn’t say it has the truth. So again, they may still exist.

    (And as far as Philosophy of Science professors … they wouldn’t agree with me at all. There are many scientists who act more like activists than scientists. There are also philosophers who think they are scientists, when they are no better than priests espousing views on religious dogma. Interestingly, philosophy and science are polar opposites. Saying that someone is a philosopher of science is no different than saying that someone is a theologian of science. It simply doesn’t go together.)

    I came to my views from being observant of others, educating myself on a vast majority of topics, including religion, being a scientist myself, and being honest with my own limits as a human being.

  47. Kevin says:

    Kevin, your point is well-taken.

    My point was actually rather rude-sounding. That’s what I get for making a post after being awake for 27 hours. I apologize.

    Belief though is separate from science. Science is a process of identifying truth by question and then verification. Belief is a process of making a guess about truth and sticking with that guess.

    From a strictly scientific or empirical standpoint, I view God (or a creator deity-figure in general) as the best explanation from an interpretive perspective. The existence of the universe in of itself is not necessarily proof of a god. Nor is the existence and complexity of DNA, or human intelligence and morality, or almost universal belief in gods or afterlife among all cultures, or a host of other individual scientific facts that in of themselves may have perfectly acceptable natural explanations that might justify giving the matter no further thought. But, from a broad perspective, for me it requires a bit of suspension of disbelief to accept that all of these countless facts just happen to be the case through a random process of organization of matter and energy, that themselves just happened to exist for some reason. Trying to accept philosophical naturalism would be akin to me trying to force myself to believe that Clinton was telling the truth about Monica. I can’t do it.

    And that’s just from an observation of strictly empirical and verifiable facts. Sure, my interpretation isn’t itself empirical. But it is the best explanation I have. When you also factor in personal things in my life related to my belief in God and Christ – which of course are not empirical, but nevertheless powerful to me – then I really have no reason to abandon Christianity. And that’s the difference between God and Santa Claus. No one examines evidence and becomes a Santa believer. Many of the greatest thinkers of humanity did not apply their focus defending Santa. Santa has zero explanatory power, because although certain things are attributed to him in his legends (if that’s the right word), there is obviously a far better explanation for the things the story gives him credit for. Not so for God. There is a huge difference between the two.

  48. Edward says:

    Kevin, all that is why religion is a perfectly acceptable belief. You can accept your observations and limits on suspending disbelief as an assertion of truth. In other words, all that is enough for you to say “God exists”. But despite the nature of the evidence, you don’t use science to test your theory. You accept God’s existence with certainty.

    And as for the Santa Claus, God distinction, unfortunately, you and I disagree. A child examines the evidence of presents and half-eaten cookies and milk, cheerful songs about this amazing person, and adults talking about Santa Claus, etc, with great care. In fact, they examine it with the same care as evidence of an ancient, mystical book, happy song’s about an invisible father-figure always watching and helping them, adults centering their lives around this, adults answering questions with “because of God”, etc. When children grow up, the only difference between Santa Claus and God is the assertion by those who told them Santa Claus exists admitting to their deceit and acknowledging that as far as they know Santa doesn’t exist.

    Please understand that I know this analogy doesn’t sit well with theists. I get the whole “well as an agnostic, do you really believe that unicorns can exist, or spider-man, or tooth-fairy?” These types of questions don’t sit well with me either. But I can acknowledge that my agnostic belief COMPELS me to accept that as humans we honestly can’t say for sure. Scientifically, I can say the empirical evidence points toward their nonexistence. But my belief prevents me from adding that final line of certainty.

    In the same way, I hope that theists can acknowledge the basis for their belief and its uncanny correlations to similar myths and legends. It’s okay, I guess I’m saying, to say … I believe in God. I don’t believe in Santa Claus. Why? Because God makes more sense to me.

    But if you get into the realm of science, you won’t find comfort to differentiate why one is more likely or compelling than the other. Scientifically, they both appear very far from the truth. (That’s not a statement of what the truth is … just what the apparent truth is based on scientific processes. Just as unicorns, tooth-fairies, and spider-man may, despite all the evidence to the contrary, nevertheless exist, so too may Santa Claus and God.)

  49. Michael says:

    Edward: Scientifically, I can say the empirical evidence points toward their nonexistence.

    So, “scientifically,” what data would point toward God’s existence?

    But if you get into the realm of science, you won’t find comfort to differentiate why one is more likely or compelling than the other. Scientifically, they both appear very far from the truth.

    I’m not sure why you keep dragging science into this, given that science cannot determine whether or not God exists.

  50. Billy Squibs says:

    “I should’ve said that religious people who can’t separate religion from science are like bulls in china shops.”

    No, I don’t think you should have said that either, Edward. You seem to have a talent for packing evidence free assertions into your comments. Have you noticed that? (Please be aware that merely repeating yourself doesn’t qualify as evidence.)

    You have mentioned faith a number of times – always with a disparaging twist. What exactly do you understand the word faith to mean when discussed in the context of Christianity? I ask because it seems clear from a statement like “If you required empirical support, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be science” that most of the posters at this site would have a very different view.

    While you are mulling that one over I’ve completed a handy compendium of your major assertions so far.

    * Jesus = adult version of Santa (No evidence offered)
    * “[…] humans are incapable of making extremely definitive statements like “God exists” or “God doesn’t exist”. We are just too simple to have the answer to these things.”(Yet here you are giving us a definitive epistemological statement. Go figure! No evidence offered.)
    * Conflict thesis (No evidence offered.)
    * Science is awesome and religious people should stay away (No evidence offered.)
    * “Oh wait, I was tired when I made that statement. What I should have said was, ‘religious people who can’t separate religion from science are like bulls in china shops’. That’s better, isn’t it?”. (No evidence offered.)
    * Science and philosophy are polar opposites (No evidence offered.)
    * Philosophy of science = Theology of science (Whatever that is) No evidence offered.))
    * Religious faith “requires personal acceptance of seeming truth without empirical support” (No evidence offered.)

    Given the paucity of any supporting evidence for your assertions, I’m going to take a guess and suggest that despite all your self-education on a “vast majority of topics” you actually have very little understanding about areas like history, theology or philosophy. Yet here you are lecturing us all about the limits of knowledge, the nature of science and of faith and of philosophy and other things besides.

    Again, Edward, please note that you have failed to offer *ANY* supporting evidence for even one of your assertions.

  51. TFBW says:

    @Edward:

    There is fundamentally no difference between a child’s belief in Santa Claus and an adult’s belief in Jesus.

    An interesting assertion, given that there are many obvious differences, in my view. For example, I can point out that your assertion appears to be untrue, because some adults have rather well developed powers of analysis, relative to children, and have written extensive arguments in support of a historical Jesus. How would you go about supporting your assertion with evidence?

    Being an agnostic means I cannot be absolutely certain that Santa Claus doesn’t exit.

    Well, here we have evidence of a difference in understanding of the term “agnostic”. I understand agnosticism as pertaining to a professed lack of knowledge, not a professed lack of certainty. I understand knowledge to be, as a first approximation, a justified, true belief, whereas certainty is a degree of belief (the maximum one). Certainty and knowledge are thus orthogonal: knowledge does not follow from certainty, nor is it prevented by a lack of it, and vice versa.

    In other words, being a theist does not necessarily mean that one is absolutely certain that God exists. Nor does being an atheist imply certainty about His non-existence. Some are certain, some aren’t. Similarly, being an agnostic about Santa Claus means that you profess not to know whether he exists or not. You could still believe — with certainty, even — that he does not, should you wish to do so, but it would lack the justification necessary to elevate it to “knowledge”.

    Science is a process of identifying truth by question and then verification. Belief is a process of making a guess about truth and sticking with that guess.

    Science is a process of verification? Interesting. I disagree, but I’ll take that as representative of science as practised by you.

    As for belief, again, we have a difference in our understanding of terminology. I understand “belief” to be a disposition towards a proposition: whether one holds it to be true or false, and with what degree of certainty. For example, I believe that Canberra is the capital of Australia. This isn’t a guess: it’s based on information from relevant authorities (Australian school teachers), and backed up by direct observation (the federal parliament building is in Canberra). I think that these supporting facts justify my belief that Canberra is the capital of Australia, so I not only believe, but also claim to know such — with certainty, even.

    From a scientific perspective, the vast majority of empirical evidence does not support the existence of a Santa Claus. Similarly, it does not support the existence of the Christian god.

    A lack of scientific support sounds like a lack of science. Given your verificationist approach to science, don’t you need to positively verify that God exists or that God does not exist before making a scientific claim? It sounds like it should be similar to mathematics, where a proof or disproof of a theorem must be offered. The lack of a proof is by no means sufficient for a mathematician to accept that a theorem is false.

    But science is about working toward truth. It doesn’t say it has the truth.

    But earlier you described it as “a process of identifying truth,” and it seems like you expect us to accept the proclamations of science (or, more correctly, of scientists) as though they were truth. How much room for justifiable doubt does this caveat actually offer? Any at all?

    Interestingly, philosophy and science are polar opposites. Saying that someone is a philosopher of science is no different than saying that someone is a theologian of science. It simply doesn’t go together.

    That demonstrates a misunderstanding (a common one, alas) of what the philosophy of science is. The philosophy of science studies the relationship between the process of science, and the knowledge-claims (if that is what they are) produced by it. It’s like a special branch of epistemology. Epistemology studies the nature and limits of human knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that all of knowledge falls under the banner of epistemology. On the contrary, only knowledge about knowledge falls under that banner. Similarly, the philosophy of science is not science, it is about science. One can be a philosopher of science in exactly the same way that one can be a historian of science.

    The great irony of the situation is that those who deny the legitimacy of the philosophy of science have a tendency to then go and make philosophical statements about science (e.g., “science is a process of identifying truth by question and then verification”) without the benefit of knowing the arguments that have already been presented on the subject. That is, those who deny the philosophy of science tend to reinvent it badly.

    Have you considered that you might be doing that?

  52. Edward says:

    Whoa. I’m only human here. There are simply too much in the replies for me to address at this moment. I will address them tomorrow. (Except for Billy Squibs’. Michael’s and TFBW’s comments deserve responses. Billy, most of what you said is addressed by my comments. Your response shows a huge lack of comprehension and reflection. Please reread my comments and understand them. Upon reflection you’ll find that your rant was uncalled for. I’ll be happy to go toe-to-toe with you once you put more effort in your reading.)

    Michael and TFBW, I’ll have my responses tomorrow. (And sheesh TFBW, you’re thorough. I’ll respond to yours in parts so that I can reflect on everything you brought up! I enjoy a good debate — so the “sheesh” is a complement.)

  53. Edward says:

    @TFBW:

    An interesting assertion, given that there are many obvious differences, in my view. For example, I can point out that your assertion appears to be untrue, because some adults have rather well developed powers of analysis, relative to children, and have written extensive arguments in support of a historical Jesus. How would you go about supporting your assertion with evidence?

    I’d posit the differences are obvious for you because you cannot be objective based on your beliefs. Not only are you in the very construct you are trying to analyze, but also the result of the analysis plays a vital role in who you are as a person. In other words, were you to accept that there are no fundamental differences, it would make your belief no different than a child’s belief in Santa Claus. That would harm your person as an intellectual. We are all wrought with cognitive biases. I’m not signaling this out as a special case. But we confirm certain things as obvious to make our lives easier — and that is especially the case with parts of us that we hold dear.

    As a corollary to that, many adults with well-developed powers of analysis relative to children fall prey to their biases. It’s human nature — and in fact, it’s one of the reasons I hold agnosticism as my belief system.

    As for testing, brain scans of children and adults when it comes to belief would be an easy test. If children believing in Santa Claus and thinking about Santa Claus light up the same areas of the brain as an adult believing in and thinking about Jesus, then that would be empirical evidence to support my assertion. After all, if the same areas of the brain light up, then one can use that evidence to support an hypothesis of fundamental neurological similarity between the two beliefs. This would be a great objective test since it would remove the additional layers of rationalization that come with adulthood. In fact, research does seem to support that belief of both are simply housed in the same “fact” centers of the brain. In other words, just as we’d accept the capital of a country to be located in a certain place, so too are children and adult religious people maintaining the existence of things like Santa Claus and Jesus in the “fact” centers of the brain. (see, for example, this peer-reviewed research.

    One could also evaluate the child’s perception of Jesus with Santa Claus. The child is taught both. Then test children who are raised in non-religious households to determine whether, once they are told the truth about Santa Claus, if their views on Jesus change. Without additional support from adults surrounding them on the existence of Jesus, if I’m correct, the children would simply apply the same rational to Jesus that they would at that point apply to Santa Claus.

    I think we can all agree that religion is taught. That is to say, if a child is not told about Jesus or Santa Claus for that matter, he or she will not just spontaneously know about either. This is logical confirmation, if nothing else, of the testing approach necessary to support my assertions.

  54. Edward says:

    @TFBW

    Well, here we have evidence of a difference in understanding of the term “agnostic”. I understand agnosticism as pertaining to a professed lack of knowledge, not a professed lack of certainty. I understand knowledge to be, as a first approximation, a justified, true belief, whereas certainty is a degree of belief (the maximum one). Certainty and knowledge are thus orthogonal: knowledge does not follow from certainty, nor is it prevented by a lack of it, and vice versa.

    In other words, being a theist does not necessarily mean that one is absolutely certain that God exists. Nor does being an atheist imply certainty about His non-existence. Some are certain, some aren’t. Similarly, being an agnostic about Santa Claus means that you profess not to know whether he exists or not. You could still believe — with certainty, even — that he does not, should you wish to do so, but it would lack the justification necessary to elevate it to “knowledge”.

    Science is a process of verification? Interesting. I disagree, but I’ll take that as representative of science as practised by you.

    As for belief, again, we have a difference in our understanding of terminology. I understand “belief” to be a disposition towards a proposition: whether one holds it to be true or false, and with what degree of certainty. For example, I believe that Canberra is the capital of Australia. This isn’t a guess: it’s based on information from relevant authorities (Australian school teachers), and backed up by direct observation (the federal parliament building is in Canberra). I think that these supporting facts justify my belief that Canberra is the capital of Australia, so I not only believe, but also claim to know such — with certainty, even.

    You make a good point regarding the capital of Australia. However, I’d say that you are representing a belief in as close to a verifiable fact as we can get. I think a better term than belief may be faith. I say that because belief is a common term meant to capture a large gradient of verifiable data. The less the verifiable information, the greater it is more taken on faith and the less it is taken on fact. (Fact here represents a near-certainty, not an absolute certainty.)

    Your direct observation of the capital of Australia (tangent: I’d love to visit it one day!) is as close to a fact as you can get. If you were to consider it on faith after all that, the questions lend more toward metaphysical philosophy than questions of religion.

    That brings me to your differentiation between knowledge and certainty. I disagree with your differentiation. Certainty, at least in human terms, follows from knowledge. Whether that knowledge is of an absolute truth is beyond human tests. So we must stick to knowledge in the form that we obtain it. That is to say, when we “know” something, we really consume it. We can decide based on other things we know whether to judge the knowledge as part or whole; but in the end, our certainty about the knowledge is 100%. We gauge the extent of the knowledge, not our belief in it. If the extent is very little, then were we to pretend it amounts to greater than what we know, we are asserting faith. If the extent of the knowledge is small, and we recognize that extent and stick within it, then we are asserting knowledge.

    For example, if my grandmother tells me that they found oil on her property, and there is no oil-well or anything suggesting that oil is on her property, the only knowledge I gained is that I just learned that my grandmother thinks or at least is willing to say that they found oil on her property. That knowledge is as absolute as I can get. Now, if I were to assert or even think that because of what my grandmother said there actually is oil on her property, I would be making that statement on faith. After all, I don’t see or know of anything confirming what she said. I’m simply accepting that there’s no reason for her to lie to me as enough to extend my knowledge prematurely. If I were to tell someone that my grandmother thinks there’s oil on the property or at least is willing to say that there’s oil on her property, then I’m asserting knowledge with 100% certainty. No faith.

    Bringing this back to religion, theists take the knowledge they gain from books, observations, and authority figures to extend it to a great deal of knowledge (and certainty) about a divine. Atheists do the same thing. In both cases, it’s not knowledge they are presenting. It’s faith. Agnostics do the same thing.

    It’s for that reason that I separate out faith and science. Science is the knowledge process. It’s the “is my grandmother correct by verifying through other means she is correct”. It doesn’t mix with faith.

    And frankly, I get upset at scientists who’ve confused the two. A scientist can assert more faith than knowledge if he uses words like “believe” instead of “supports”. Or “fact” instead of “weight of evidence”.

  55. Billy Squibs says:

    OK, Edward, for the sake of argument let me grant that I have demonstrated a “huge lack of comprehension and reflection” on your carefully considered and strongly evidenced claims . The next step for you is to clear up my confusion and to show me exactly where in your comments you have provided such evidence. So the floor is yours.

  56. Edward says:

    @Michael:

    Edward: Scientifically, I can say the empirical evidence points toward their nonexistence.

    So, “scientifically,” what data would point toward God’s existence?

    Science again is the knowledge process. So first, there needs to be a testable hypothesis. You’re asking “What data would point toward God’s existence?” Since it doesn’t assert anything, it is not a hypothesis. Let’s turn it into one. “There is data that points to God’s existence”. The null hypothesis is that “There is no data that points to God’s existence”. The null hypothesis is actually what is tested in a scientific inquiry.

    So now we point to what can test that null hypothesis. Any evidence that supports the null hypothesis makes the hypothesis less probable. Note that science does not give you a definitive answer — it either supports or does not support the question. That’s how it builds knowledge.

    The first question is are we talking about the Christian God or any God? Because you capitalized God, I’m taking you to mean the God of the Bible.

    As such, evidence of the Bible’s human origin, cultural evidence of the times and people who wrote and compiled (along with discarding and reworking) the Bible, knowledge of human nature and its need to explain, manipulate, and have a purpose, contradictory evidence supporting the age of the universe, evolution, other religions, contradictions within the Bible, etc …. all of this can support the null hypothesis. It doesn’t prove there is no data that points to God’s existence. It simply supports that null hypothesis. That’s what science does — supports or does not support assertions. Since all of what I mentioned (to name a few) can act to support the null hypothesis, that makes the hypothesis less likely. That means, assuming areas I mentioned do in fact support the null hypothesis, that it is unlikely there is data to support God’s existence.

    But if you get into the realm of science, you won’t find comfort to differentiate why one is more likely or compelling than the other. Scientifically, they both appear very far from the truth.

    I’m not sure why you keep dragging science into this, given that science cannot determine whether or not God exists.

    You are correct. Science can only convey knowledge. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. Like I mentioned in my previous comment, if you choose to extend that knowledge to a leap that God exists, then you do so on faith, not knowledge. Similarly, if someone chooses to relay the evidence making God’s existence unlikely, then that person does so by simply asserting knowledge. Now, if that person extends that knowledge to say that God does not exist, then he too is making that statement on faith, not knowledge.

    But I bring up science because this whole article attempts to correlate use of certainty with close-mindedness. That simply is not the case if the knowledge related is simply research. Again, as I said in another comment, what we know, we are 100% certain about. It’s how much we extend that knowledge beyond what we know that is the problem.

    In other words, don’t blame the scientist for spreading knowledge of his tests and being certain about the knowledge he’s relating from that test. Do your own research to determine if his research is correct. Don’t extend your knowledge beyond what you actually know without learning more (doing science). Doing so is asserting faith. It is not asserting knowledge.

    (BUT AS A LAST NOTE AGAIN, the atheist who confuses all his scientific knowledge with a statement of absolute knowledge of God’s existence is no better than a theist using his Bible and making a statement of absolute knowledge of God’s existence. Both are asserting faith, not knowledge.)

  57. Edward says:

    @Billy Squibs:

    OK, Edward, for the sake of argument let me grant that I have demonstrated a “huge lack of comprehension and reflection” on your carefully considered and strongly evidenced claims . The next step for you is to clear up my confusion and to show me exactly where in your comments you have provided such evidence. So the floor is yours.

    That’s not how conversation works. If you weren’t willing to put in the time to read my stuff, I’m not going to put in the time to basically rewrite all that I’ve said already to get you to read what you should’ve read in the first place.

    (You assert that “Jesus = Santa Clause (no evidence)” … yet you can VERY EASILY FIND why I’m making those statements through lengthy discussions on my part. If you disagree with me, do like Michael and TFBW and present questions or contrary assertions or understand. Don’t just say the adult equivalent of “na-na na-na boo-boo, I don’t agree with you and I win” by simply taking short, out-of-context snippets and adding “no evidence” to them.)

  58. Michael says:

    The null hypothesis is that “There is no data that points to God’s existence”. The null hypothesis is actually what is tested in a scientific inquiry.

    In that case, the null hypothesis is vacuous and untestable. For if you cannot say what data would point to God’s existence, how can you test if data does not point to God’s existence? You would have to know what would count to know if something does not count.


    As for testing, brain scans of children and adults when it comes to belief would be an easy test. If children believing in Santa Claus and thinking about Santa Claus light up the same areas of the brain as an adult believing in and thinking about Jesus, then that would be empirical evidence to support my assertion.

    Wrong. You need some controls, Edward. How about having the kids also think about George Washington?

    As for your Santa analogy, it overlooks a fundamental difference. Santa, if he existed, would just be one more thing in nature. He would be just another part of nature. God, if he exists, is not a thing in nature or just another part of nature.
    Think of the movie, “The Matrix.” Kids in the Matrix believe Santa is in the Matrix with them, as he would be just another part of the Matrix. But when you believe in God, you believe there is more to reality than the Matrix.

  59. Edward says:

    In that case, the null hypothesis is vacuous and untestable. For if you cannot say what data would point to God’s existence, how can you test if data does not point to God’s existence? You would have to know what would count to know if something does not count.

    I’m not sure I follow, or maybe there is a misunderstanding. One can go with the hypothesis that “there is no data to point to God’s existence.” (Which is actually more along the lines of what I’d expect an atheist to hypothesize.) In that case, the null hypothesis would be “there IS data to point to God’s existence.”

    But in each case, you’re hitting on the fact that these are not well-formed scientific inquiry. That something is testable is a hallmark of science. After all, how can one expect to expand knowledge if he cannot test whether what he’s assuming is more likely true or more likely false? (This of course is one of the biggest flaws in religion-based faith. How do you test whether there’s any truth in the religious dogma beyond what is told to you in books and by authority figures?)

    Wrong. You need some controls, Edward. How about having the kids also think about George Washington?

    Oh, absolutely. In fact, the link I cited did just that. The research seems to suggest that Santa Claus, God, and even George Washington all fit within the “fact” area of the brain. And to do a good study, you would need a control to not only include children of non-religious families but also religious ones. The general idea is to discover if religious people extend knowledge beyond what they know more than non-religious people. In other words, the hypothesis would center around the question if those with faith maintain a child-like mentality of making exaggerated assumptions and classifying them as fact in the same way other people classify the capital of Australia or George Washington.

    As for your Santa analogy, it overlooks a fundamental difference. Santa, if he existed, would just be one more thing in nature. He would be just another part of nature. God, if he exists, is not a thing in nature or just another part of nature.
    Think of the movie, “The Matrix.” Kids in the Matrix believe Santa is in the Matrix with them, as he would be just another part of the Matrix. But when you believe in God, you believe there is more to reality than the Matrix.

    I’m not sure I’m understanding you here. Your faith allows you to extend your knowledge far beyond human-written books, tales from authority figures, and emotional connections to observations you may have had to support the existence of something beyond our existence. At the same time, your faith does not allow you to extend your knowledge to a Santa Claus that also exists beyond our existence? I recognize doing so might conflict with what I deduce to be your first statement of faith; however, as I mentioned before, just as an agnostic has to acknowledge his faith leads him to say “I cannot know all, and thus yes, even fanciful mythical creatures might exist”, a theist should be able to acknowledge that the very parts of him allowing him to assert faith in the existence of a god also provides him with the facilities to assert faith in the existence of Santa Claus and a whole host of other mythical creatures.

    (Similarly, I would expect an atheist’s faith in the nonexistence of that which seems preposterous to assert faith in the nonexistence of Zeus and Thor.)

  60. Crude says:

    One can go with the hypothesis that “there is no data to point to God’s existence.” (Which is actually more along the lines of what I’d expect an atheist to hypothesize.) In that case, the null hypothesis would be “there IS data to point to God’s existence.”

    As far as science itself goes, the actual state of the situation seems to be “there is no data to point to God’s existence or non-existence”. The question is completely incapable of being decided on by science in either direction. Instead it’s off to metaphysics, philosophy, and other modes of inquiry.

    This of course is one of the biggest flaws in religion-based faith. How do you test whether there’s any truth in the religious dogma beyond what is told to you in books and by authority figures?)

    Same way you test whether there’s any truth in this or that philosophy or general assertion – you investigate, you determine what evidence would be appropriate (which always goes beyond scientific evidence), you examine the arguments, you take account of your starting assumptions (which there are always necessarily some of), etc.

    The research seems to suggest that Santa Claus, God, and even George Washington all fit within the “fact” area of the brain.

    You realize that this is some kind of complete and utter mangling of neuroscience, right? We’re not talking about science with assertions like these, but a cartoon version of it.

    In fact, the entire bit about turning to “neuroscience!” to determine what you could probably more accurately investigate by a simple survey is a great example of how people mangle science.

    Your faith allows you to extend your knowledge far beyond human-written books, tales from authority figures, and emotional connections to observations you may have had to support the existence of something beyond our existence.

    Whose ‘faith’ is ‘extending their knowledge’? It sounds more like your faith in imaginary science here, about people you haven’t even met, is allowing you to declare as ‘knowledge’ speculations pulled out of thin air.

    Worse, you’re assuming that theists go ‘I can believe in whatever, because faith!’ But the theists regularly refer to arguments, evidence and more to warrant their faith – and they often admit that they can, in fact, be wrong about everything. If ‘faith’ here simply means ‘believing you’re right even when it’s possible you’re wrong’, then everyone has faith – from atheists to, yes, even agnostics.

  61. Billy Squibs says:

    Edward, I’ll ask you again to show me the evidence you have presented. I’ve reread your comments (though not the very latest ones) and I find nothing there apart from assertion.

    This is the charge I am making against your comments here. I sincerely do not see you offering anything other than your opinion for some pretty weighty claims. If I am wrong then I would like you to show me where I am wrong.

    If you have posted evidence for any of the multitude of assertions you have made then coping and pasting relevant quotes should be a simple matter. Indeed, providing a sprinkling of such quotes should take you less time to gather and post then it took you to write your last reply to me.

    As you are actively engaged in the Santa Claus argument, perhaps you could instead show me where you offered supporting evidence for the flowing claims:

    1) “Religious thinking requires personal acceptance of seeming truth without empirical support”
    2) “Philosophy and science are polar opposites”
    3) You overall justification for the conflict thesis

    Additionally, perhaps you could explain what you understand the word “faith” to mean.

  62. Billy Squibs says:

    I have one additional comment to add, Edward. In reference for my repeated (and unanswered) claims for you to show me the evidence you supplied you have suggested that this is “not how conversation works[…]”. However, earlier you said that I have “demonstrated a huge lack of comprehension […]”. Take the charitable reading and go with your initial claim that I am suffering from a huge lack of comprehension rather than being deliberately obtuse or plain old lazy.

    Is the point of a conversation to aid your counterpart’s comprehension? Well, I’m your counterpart in this conversation. You are the one trying to get your point across, whereas I’m the one apparently unable to understand you. I’m not asking you to rewrite your comments. I’m asking your to point me towards the supporting evidence that you have already provided for your various claims. If you did not provide any evidence then that demonstrates my point. If you did provide supporting evidence then help me out and show me.

  63. Michael says:

    I’m not sure I follow, or maybe there is a misunderstanding. One can go with the hypothesis that “there is no data to point to God’s existence.” (Which is actually more along the lines of what I’d expect an atheist to hypothesize.) In that case, the null hypothesis would be “there IS data to point to God’s existence.”

    This is all meaningless unless people can agree on what would count as data to support God’s existence.

    But in each case, you’re hitting on the fact that these are not well-formed scientific inquiry. That something is testable is a hallmark of science.

    As I said, science cannot determine whether or not God exists. Science simply cannot process the problem. You are the one who keeps dragging science into this.

    The general idea is to discover if religious people extend knowledge beyond what they know more than non-religious people. In other words, the hypothesis would center around the question if those with faith maintain a child-like mentality of making exaggerated assumptions and classifying them as fact in the same way other people classify the capital of Australia or George Washington.

    How would you define a “non-religious” person?

    I’m not sure I’m understanding you here. Your faith allows you to extend your knowledge far beyond human-written books, tales from authority figures, and emotional connections to observations you may have had to support the existence of something beyond our existence.

    I said nothing about extending knowledge. I simply showed how your Santa/God analogy is a false analogy – a common logical fallacy.

  64. TFBW says:

    @Edward

    I’d posit the differences are obvious for you because you cannot be objective based on your beliefs.

    So, you posit that I’m incapable of approaching the question rationally? Well, that pretty much settles that, doesn’t it? I’d attempt to refute that with an argument, but you could just as easily dismiss that response with a similar wave of the hand, so I won’t waste the effort.

    After all, if the same areas of the brain light up, then one can use that evidence to support an hypothesis of fundamental neurological similarity between the two beliefs.

    Oh, you were talking about neurological similarity, were you? Sorry. I thought you were talking about similarity of epistemic qualities — asserting that belief in Santa is naive and childlike, and belief in Jesus is similar. If you want to assert that belief in Santa is neurologically similar to belief in Jesus, and you think that Harris and Kaplan’s research supports that position, then I’m not going to contradict you, because I really don’t see that it matters.

    The original context in which you made your remarks about similarity, however, was as follows.

    TFBW, a person believes in Santa Claus because he or she is told about Santa Claus and other people act in a way to promote the belief. A person believes in Jesus because he or she is told about Jesus and other people act in a way to promote the belief. There is fundamentally no difference between a child’s belief in Santa Claus and an adult’s belief in Jesus. Jesus is the adult version of Santa Claus.

    To me, this looks very much like you are talking about the rational basis for belief in Jesus being akin to that of Santa Claus. What makes you think that the research you cited bears any relevance to this question? In fact, you say the following about that research.

    The research seems to suggest that Santa Claus, God, and even George Washington all fit within the “fact” area of the brain.

    So, to be clear, the data with which you are supporting your argument would also support the claim that there is no fundamental difference between belief in Santa and belief in George Washington.

    Colour me confused.

    I’m afraid I didn’t really understand what point you were trying to make with your discussion about the nature of knowledge. I get the idea that you’re using “faith” as a code-word for “unjustified belief”, and that only science can properly justify a belief such that it becomes knowledge. Is that more or less right?

    I have one question on the subject for you: when you say, “Science is the knowledge process,” do you mean that only science can produce knowledge, or rather that anything which produces knowledge is science? Or perhaps something else entirely?

    The null hypothesis is actually what is tested in a scientific inquiry.

    The concept of a “null hypothesis” is a twentieth century invention, so there’s a great deal of science that’s been conducted without it. It’s also specific to statistical analysis, so it’s not clear how any of Newton’s physics (for example) could have been derived through a process involving a null hypothesis.

    Your description of science does not seem to match reality.

  65. Dhay says:

    Edward > Interestingly, philosophy and science are polar opposites. Saying that someone is a philosopher of science is no different than saying that someone is a theologian of science. It simply doesn’t go together.

    Anyone who thinks this is badly in need of a paradigm shift. The most famous philosopher of science that I know of, who was enormously influential through his book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, was Thomas Kuhn, who was a quantum physicist; have you not heard of Kuhn, despite being a scientist yourself? Philosophy and science simply do go together, as Kuhn amply demonstrates.

    Science is a process of identifying truth by question and then verification.

    This is where philosophers of science become very useful: Karl Popper, arguably the second most famous philosopher of science, attacked the verificationist philosophy of science promoted by the Vienna Circle; “according to Popper, real scientists (as opposed to, say, psychoanalysts) were distinguished by the fact that they tried to refute rather than confirm their theories”; you might or might not hold the same views as the Vienna Circle, but if you haven’t thought the issues through properly, the chances are that you do, and that Popper attacked your views also.

    But Kuhn (and Feyerabend, Lakatos and others) then attacked Popper (though emphatically not in support of verificationism): eg “Kuhn’s version suggested that the last thing normal scientists seek to do is to refute the theories embedded in their paradigm!”.

    And Smolin’s “The Trouble With Physics, Chapter 17 “What is Science?”(and also a bit of ch. 18) discusses philosophy of science intelligently, as an important issue. There, Smolin states that “Feyerabend attacked the whole idea that [adopting a] method is the key to scientific progress, by showing that at critical junctures scientists will make progress by breaking the rules”, and that science “would grind to a halt were the “method’s” rules always followed. There’s a lot more, including, “…we are masters at drawing conclusions from incomplete information” (his italics), and “We never have enough information to completely justify” – or verify, Edward – “the conclusions we draw.”

    Looks like the philosophy of science is relevant, and worth studying and learning from: philosophy and science simply do go together.

  66. Dhay says:

    Edward, thanks for the link to Sam Harris’ full “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief” paper, at the PLOSone site at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007272, which you refer to in support of your claim that belief in Santa Claus and belief in Jesus are – as far as the brain is concerned – the same. I agree that the research paper does say this. But if from this you infer that because belief in Jesus is indistinguishable (in a fMRI scan) from belief in Santa Claus, the implication is that both are equally false, you are wrong.

    First, a brief digression: the deliberate experimental design, very strictly followed, was to get strongly contrasting test subjects, half of whom were maximally strong Christians, and half of whom were maximally strong atheists – so the question arises whether the results can be generalised to people in general, or apply just to people at the extremes of religious fundamentalism and New Atheism, extremes who this ‘Shadow To Light’ blog has often argued are very similar to each other, but dissimilar to the general population. That is, perhaps the brain scans show us no more than that religious fundamentalists and New Atheist extremists are psychologically very similar to each other.

    And Table 6, tells us the test subjects averaged age 21 or 22, averaged about 15 years of education, and (according to the Weschler Classification table at http://faculty.pepperdine.edu/shimels/Courses/Files/Wechsler%20Class.pdf) averaged “superior” intelligence ie in the top 9% in the population: these are almost certainly mainly university students (and the cynic in me says these will be the usual psychology course students); they will also almost certainly be the usual WIERD test subjects, whose level of resemblance to people in the world as a whole is uncertain. So how far these results can be generalised to the whole population, or to eg an aged Namibian agrarian peasant woman, is questionable.

    But let’s get back on track by, for the sake of progressing discussion, assuming the experimental design is good enough, and does relate to you and I; let’s take a look at the questions asked, at http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchSingleRepresentation.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0007272.s001 : in each set of four the first was designed to get 50% “that is true” responses (from Christians), the second to also get 50% “that is true” responses (from atheists), and the third to get 100% “that is true” responses. What the experiment demonstrated was that: –

    “Our study was designed to produce high concordance on nonreligious stimuli (e.g., “Eagles really exist”) and high discordance on religious stimuli (e.g., “Angels really exist”). The fact that we found essentially the same signal maps for belief minus disbelief in both groups, on both categories of content, argues strongly for the content-independence of belief and disbelief as cognitive processes.

    – That is, whoever gave a “that is true” response, and whatever they gave a “that is true” response to, the fMRI scan showed the same neurological pattern for all “that is true” responses.

    The experiment shows that belief in Santa is not only indistinguishable neurologically from belief in Jesus, but also indistinguishable neurologically from eg belief that (Q4) People often talk to each other on the telephone, (Q9) It is important to teach children to read and write, (Q10) The airplane [sic] is a human invention, and, (Q43) The ruins of ancient Rome are older than most buildings in America.

    I have no doubt that the same responses (and neurological responses) would have been given had Harris substituted 2+2=4, e=mc^2, or [insert most certainly true facts or impeccable science here], and that belief in Santa, Jesus and [insert most certainly true facts or impeccable science here] are indistinguishable neurologically. Neurologically, belief in Santa cannot be distinguished from belief in the best science; also the converse, that belief in the most certainly true facts and the very best science cannot be distinguished neurologically from belief in Santa.

    Are you sure this paper supports your case.

  67. Dhay says:

    Dhay > [Richard] Dawkins writes the following – apparently declaring that he is prepared to accept a theory that has no direct evidence supporting it … – at the end of the penultimate chapter of his book, “The Ancestor’s Tale”:

    ‘There are many other theories” – of abiogenesis – “that I have not gone into. Maybe one day we shall reach some sort of definite consensus on the origin of life. If so, I doubt if it will be supported by direct evidence because I suspect it has all been obliterated. Rather, it will be accepted because somebody produces a theory so elegant that, as the great American physicist John Archibald Wheeler said in another context, “… we will grasp the central idea of it all as so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that we will say to each other, “Oh, how could it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind for so long!” If that isn’t how we finally realise we know the answer to the riddle of life’s origin, I don’t think we ever shall know it.’

    In July 2014, Scientific American interviewed the very eminent Physicist, George Ellis, and one question and answer was:

    Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?

    Ellis: Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did. And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

    Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. …

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/physicist-george-ellis-knocks-physicists-for-knocking-philosophy-falsification-free-will/

    Dawkins’ idea of a theory, the central idea of which is so elegant, so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that we will say to each other, “Oh, how could it have been otherwise! …” despite lack of evidence, which idea’s elegance, beauty, simplicity and perceived compulsion make it obviously true – that seductive idea is one which Ellis thinks Krauss has erroneously fallen for.

    Krauss fell for such an idea in his field of cosmology, with his elegant, beautiful, simple and so compelling idea of a universe originating from the “nothing” of quantum fluctuations of a vacuum.

    And Dawkins has declared that in principle he is willing to fall for such an idea in the field of abiogenesis, if only he can find a similarly elegant, beautiful, simple and so compelling idea to fall for.

  68. Dhay says:

    By strange coincidence, ‘Whiskeybucks’ has just (July 2015 — https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/modern-day-atheism-is-theology/#comment-9053) linked to a NYT article by George Ellis and Joseph Silk entitled, “A Crisis at the Edge of Physics”:

    They criticized a newfound willingness among some scientists to explicitly set aside the need for experimental confirmation of today’s most ambitious cosmic theories – so long as those theories are “sufficiently elegant and explanatory.”

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinion/a-crisis-at-the-edge-of-physics.html?referrer=

    It goes on at length, but comes down to (eg) supersymmetry, string theory and multiverses being ideas which are elegant, beautiful, simple and so compelling. But the article stresses that these are held on to by their proponents despite a lack of sufficient evidence.

    This reminds me that Jerry Coyne (amongst others) keeps repeating that faith is belief without sufficient evidence.

  69. Dhay says:

    Edward > The research seems to suggest that Santa Claus, God, and even George Washington all fit within the “fact” area of the brain.

    Just to clarify that although Sam Harris’ “The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief” research and paper confirmed that at the level of the brain “belief is belief is belief”, ie belief in any proposition looks identical to belief by the same person in any other proposition, and looks identical to belief by any other person in any other proposition, so Edward is correct in claiming the the brain looks identical when believing in Santa Claus, God or George Washington.

    Although the Experimental Design section gives examples of what would count as a typical set of four statements to answer ‘true’ or ‘false’ to, grouped as Christian-true, atheist-true, all-agree-true and all-agree-false, and although Santa appears twice in the four, the accompanying text makes explicit that the expected response to Santa Claus is a myth” was “Both groups true”, and to “Santa Claus really exists” was “Both groups false”.

    None of the actual experimental statements involved Santa Claus or George Washington, and there’s no mention or experimental conclusion that there is a “fact” area in the brain.

    Don’t you just love it when someone quotes the alleged conclusions of the scientific literature, but hasn’t actually read and understood it.

  70. Edward says:

    Dhay, you’re correct that there’s no mention of a fact area of the brain. I depended too much on quotations to emphasize how broadly I used the term. My intent was to capture all the various areas of the brain that together make us think something is a fact.

    I also want to point out that my comment wasn’t that the research delineated Santa Claus versus George Washington. In fact I used the phrase “seems to suggest” purposefully. I was making an observation that the study could support such a statement. It would obviously entail much younger participants who still believe in Santa Claus.

    Finally, I did comprehend the study. Part of the discussion in fact states, “And whatever larger role our regions of interest play in human cognition and behavior, they appear to respond similarly to putative statements of fact, irrespective of content, in the brains of both religious believers and nonbelievers.” This conclusion is well drawn from the evidence. It also supports the contentions I’ve made based on it.

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