Science shows that Dawkins Misrepresents Science

From here:

Controversial British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is well-known for his criticism of religion, but a new Rice University study of British scientists reveals that a majority who mentioned Dawkins’ work during research interviews reject his approach to public engagement and said his work misrepresents science and scientists because he conveys the wrong impression about what science can do and the norms that scientists observe in their work.

This is exactly right.

When it comes to the issue of God’s existence, Dawkin’s whole argument about science showing  it  very, very unlikely God exists is not only nonsense, but misrepresents what science is all about.  And there is a very simple way to show this.  How many scientific studies has Dawkins done to test whether or not God exists?  Answer – None.  The same fact exists for all the New Atheists leaders.  Why is it these men of science can’t do the science which they claim can and has been done?  Is it because they are dumb?  Lazy?  No, it is because science cannot determine whether or not God exists.  Instead of showing us the results of their experiments, which cannot be done, they try to sell their amateur philosophy, guided by their activist agenda,  as science.

Their misrepresentation of science is so bad that it can reasonably viewed as a strain of anti-science thinking.  I explained this when once analyzing the sleight of hand Sam Harris engaged in when trying to redefine science so that it served his agenda.

But instead of rehashing some of my old, unrefuted arguments, let’s simply sit back and notice

Most British scientists cited in study feel Richard Dawkins’ work misrepresents science

Since a study is science, and it’s a study that certainly passes the demands of the New Atheist’s dumbed-definition of science (science is just “reason + evidence”), science has shown that Dawkins misrepresents science.  And the New Atheist activists who want to attack this study out of some sense of loyalty to their hero?  Er, they are actually attacking science.

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76 Responses to Science shows that Dawkins Misrepresents Science

  1. Clay says:

    Verificationism/falsificationism, however, in a suitably formulated version, is alive & well in (meta)philosophy of religion. See philosopher Kai Nielsen in his 1975 paper, “Metaphysics and Verificationism Revisited” (Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, 1975). This paper is a bit hard to obtain (at least w/o paying a bit through-the-nose (as we say) for it), but I have a pdf. of it. It’d behoove you to read it. Both Sean Carroll and Sam Harris would probably concur with the salient points made by Nielsen in this paper. And see also philosopher Elliott Sober’s 1999 address (paper) to the APA, “Testability,” which may be available at his website. (Email me if you’d like the pdf of either Nielsen’s and/or Sober’s paper(s). It behoove you to read other works of Nielsen as well.)

    Best wishes. Ciao…

  2. Crude says:

    Verificationism/falsificationism, however, in a suitably formulated version, is alive & well in (meta)philosophy of religion.

    It’s quite dead, and isn’t really coming back in the forseeable future – verification as a whole is on the outs, and anyone who embraced it would also be forced to regard New Atheism itself as, by and large, in violation of it. There’s a reason it’s as obscure as it is now.

    And Sober’s paper was aimed primarily at creationism, not God’s existence or atheism. Even there, Sober’s skunked because he has to assume what he’s trying to prove – namely that evolution itself isn’t guided. For all science knows – and this goes right back to Mike’s point – every act of selection is ultimately an act of artificial selection.

    There are no tests to determine God’s existence. Science doesn’t address God’s existence or non-existence, and is incapable of doing so besides. Likewise, it can’t settle debates about metaphysics – which means, goodbye naturalism and materialism, if one relies on science alone. You can say ‘Ah, but if I embrace this particular philosophical view…’ But by the time you’re reaching for philosophy, the game is over; there’s alternative philosophies available.

  3. Dhay says:

    Crude > For all science knows – and this goes right back to Mike’s point – every act of selection is ultimately an act of artificial selection.

    Which Elliott Sober has acknowledged — much to Jerry Coyne’s disgust:

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/elliott-sober-argues-again-that-god-might-have-caused-mutations/

  4. Dhay says:

    From 1995 to his retirement in 2008 Richard Dawkins was Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science.

    > From here: …

    So it’s not just me who thinks Dawkins performed badly in his role.

  5. pennywit says:

    *Shrug* It’s worth recalling that the theory of evolution is itself neutral on the question of the divine.

  6. Dhay says:

    Sober knows that; Coyne doesn’t.

  7. TFBW says:

    Neither does Dawkins.

  8. SteveK says:

    1) If evidence from science can tell us something about God, then that knowledge would be categorized as scientific knowledge
    2) Scientific knowledge is taught to students in science classrooms
    3) Science classrooms do not teach students anything about God
    4) Conclusion: Richard Dawkins is full of $#!@, and is misrepresenting science

  9. RegualLlegna says:

    Science does not exist as a singular entity, this is the primary fail of new atheists take on science, they act butthurt that things like the theory of evolution is not used as a fact, but then it will not be a theory. You can heard they complain “Evolution is a fact” (not really).

    “Not only the theory of evolution is neutral in the question of the divine” as pennywit says, no opinions in any form of rulling, what is abstract and what is simply luck, the true reason for the status of theory is because no one can build accurate model of prediction using the theory of evolution (biological), if someone tries to do model of prediction will seem that is trying to predict the future. But most interesting complains againts the theory of evolution are that uphold theories sciences (much like particle physics, with zero real life applications developed based on theories) above application sciences (like any simple construction, doing something more than mathematics). There is to the difference in test a theory (what scientist can do with they knowledge) and prove a theory (what new atheist think science is in is core) thinking.

    I reach the point where I see activists movements that use the rthoric of new atheists as openly anti-religious = Oposition to anything religious, significant or otherwise (word that compensates all what they represents), so i call it what it is anti-religionist (no secularist, no atheists) at best a anti-theism stance without knowledge of quallity, because is obvious that atheism and anti-theism are a shield to blur the most accurate stance they hold which is anti-christian (any other religion is dismissed without significant arguments or any argument at all) and Islam is for them a code for terrorism. No matter what they say about religion, they “best” exponets talk in a way that is abvious: they never will have a real stance on something called pacifism.

  10. Allallt says:

    The actual paper doesn’t make so conclusive a read. It is about impressions, not matters of fact. And no where does it elucidate why a particular correspondent has the impression they have i.e. the data is people’s impression, but none of those impressions are justified. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B72HNgdWzh0Wc1B1YXU2LXZrXzA/view?usp=drivesdk

  11. Allallt says:

    Clay I would appreciate a copy of metaphysics and verificationism Revisited

  12. Dhay says:

    Thanks for the link, Allallt.

    In view of the relevant scientists self-selecting themselves for this study (by mentioning Richard Dawkins during their interviews), something they were only likely to do if feeling strongly for or against, and in the absence of argued reasons for their verdicts for or against, I too urge caution in drawing conclusions.

  13. FZM says:

    Verificationism/falsificationism, however, in a suitably formulated version, is alive & well in (meta)philosophy of religion. See philosopher Kai Nielsen in his 1975 paper, “Metaphysics and Verificationism Revisited” (Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, 1975).

    If atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen defended some form verificationism in relation to theistic claims in a 1975 journal article I guess the debate can be considered settled and closed and it behooves all the other philosophers of religion to pack up and go home.

  14. Michael says:

    Verificationism/falsificationism, however, in a suitably formulated version, is alive & well in (meta)philosophy of religion. See philosopher Kai Nielsen in his 1975 paper, “Metaphysics and Verificationism Revisited” (Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, 1975). This paper is a bit hard to obtain (at least w/o paying a bit through-the-nose (as we say) for it), but I have a pdf. of it. It’d behoove you to read it. Both Sean Carroll and Sam Harris would probably concur with the salient points made by Nielsen in this paper.

    Hmmm. I see. An obscure, hard to get philosophy paper from 41 years ago shows something is “alive and well.” Er, if you say so……

    The issue is not whether Sean Carroll and Sam Harris would concur with some 41 year old paper. The issue here is a current paper that finds the majority of scientists who bring up Dawkins unprompted have negative views about the way he portrays science. The bigger issue yet is the fact that Dawkins does indeed misrepresent science when he it out there selling his atheist agenda. If there is something in that obscure, old paper that shows I am wrong about this, by all means, pray tell.

  15. Allallt says:

    @Michael,
    I’ve linked to the actual article the news report you quote is relying on. Dhay and I seem to agree that you have to be much more cautious about what that report says that the media outlet you read would imply.
    The reasons are:
    (1) It’s a self-selecting group. People were not asked what they thought of Dawkins. Scientists were asked a much broader range of questions in a different study altogether, and this study looks only at people who brought up Dawkins, unprovoked.
    (2) It’s very difficult from the data provided to see the difference between people who think Dawkins misrepresents science and those who think he is not the best communicator. Those are very different charges.
    (3) No participant is asked to defend their charges with actual examples. None of them point to a particular point they think characterises this misrepresentation.

    Basically, the article is a collection of unsubstantiated opinions from people who clearly have strong enough (positive and negative) views to mention Dawkins when no one asked.

    Don’t get me wrong, this may encourage more research to see whether Dawkins’ espoused philosophy of science overlaps with anything being practised in the rest of the community. But this study doesn’t investigate that. It investigates what a group of scientists feel about Dawkins, and doesn’t focus on the idea of a misrepresentation of science (even though the title suggests it does).

    I’d appreciate it if you could read the published article and give me your thoughts.

  16. Allallt says:

    @Dhay,
    You’re welcome. Seems like a helpful source while I’ve still got access behind the pay wall.

  17. Michael says:

    I’d appreciate it if you could read the published article and give me your thoughts.

    Did you actually read my blog entry? With the possible exception of my intentionally provocative title, I’m not sure any of your points are relevant to what I actually wrote. It’s a short blog entry. Perhaps if you quoted the portions where I got it wrong……

  18. Allallt says:

    Okay:


    “Controversial British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is well-known for his criticism of religion, but a new Rice University study of British scientists reveals that a majority who mentioned Dawkins’ work during research interviews reject his approach to public engagement and said his work misrepresents science and scientists because he conveys the wrong impression about what science can do and the norms that scientists observe in their work.”

    This is exactly right.”

    Wrong. That is not the conclusion of the actual article. And even if it were, there is extremely good reason to doubt the article.

    “When it comes to the issue of God’s existence, Dawkin’s whole argument about science showing it very, very unlikely God exists is not only nonsense, but misrepresents what science is all about.”

    Wrong. Science is about building models based on data, and then comparing those models to broader sets of (relevant) data, and then deciding which model best fits the data. The conclusion of this can be whether a particular model is better or not. Theism (despite not being well defined) does offer a model, and does not do a good job of accounting for the data.

    ” How many scientific studies has Dawkins done to test whether or not God exists? Answer – None.”

    Irrelevant. That’s not how science works. Intelligent design was a theistic model, it failed when compared to evolution (a natural model). Sean Carroll does an excellent job of doing the same thing in cosmology is a debate with WLC. Theistic models don’t account for the data — that’s how you come to the conclusion theism is unlikely.

    “Most British scientists cited in study feel Richard Dawkins’ work misrepresents science”
    That cannot fairly be concluded from the actual study, for the reasons I listed previously.

    “Since a study is science”
    False.

    “science has shown that Dawkins misrepresents science”
    False. All this does is explore the unfounded opinions of a self-selecting group. Opinions are not facts. (And the thing is, you know this; if I did a study asking scientists whether they believe in a God and the majority said no and no one was asked to defend their view, you’d dismiss that study out of hand.)

    “And the New Atheist activists who want to attack this study out of some sense of loyalty to their hero? Er, they are actually attacking science.”
    False. There are very good reasons to doubt every element of that study:
    The data was not collected for purpose.
    It’s a self-selected group.
    On that basis alone, you can’t conclude a majority of scientists would agree with this sample. (Moreover, you can’t conclude a majority of UK scientists would agree — as it’s a UK only sample of scientists.)

    And to expand from unfounded personal opinions to matters of fact is not a defensible move.

    Are you going to read the actual article? Or do you not care about what the actual study has done so long as you can make your own personal point?

  19. Michael says:

    Are you going to read the actual article? Or do you not care about what the actual study has done so long as you can make your own personal point?

    I posted this blog entry in hope of drawing out the type of defense you just posted. Thank you. I am go to so enjoy responding as soon as I have some real time.

  20. Allallt says:

    I’ll take that as confirmation of the latter.

  21. Allallt says:

    On the off-chance that you do write that article, I’m about to post on the same issue. Hope you enjoy it.

  22. Doug says:

    @Allallt,
    The original article (the one you linked to — thanks! — and are asking people to read) says:

    the majority of them (38 scientists) disagree with how he fills his role as a celebrity scientist. …The overarching assertion of his critics is that Dawkins misrepresents science and scientists.

    The phys.org article (linked in the O/P by Michael) says:

    …a majority who mentioned Dawkins’ work during research interviews reject his approach to public engagement and said his work misrepresents science and scientists

    And now you tell us (in response to Michael’s “This is exactly right”.)

    Wrong. That is not the conclusion of the actual article.

    Sorry, mate, you’ve lost it. How in the world can you possibly justify such an egregious falsehood? I’m looking forward to the entertainment value of your attempts!😀

  23. Allallt says:

    @Doug
    You’re welcome. Now, I find your compression of those two quotes to be a little disingenuous. The article does, in fact, say “Among the 48 UK scientists who talk about Dawkins, the majority of them (38 scientists) disagree with how he fills his role as a celebrity scientist”. I don’t disagree with that at all. But the role of a celebrity scientist is not well defined enough to make it identical to ‘representing science’.
    That particular paragraph (pg 7 – for those looking for it) then goes on to give the breakdown of the data for the people who feel Dawkins in not fulfilling that role properly. Again, a role that is not identical to ‘representing science’ and because the interview questions were not designed for this study, no participant can be said to have known that assumption or link was going to be made.
    The last sentence of that same paragraph is “The overarching assertion of his critics is that Dawkins misrepresents science and scientists” (as you quoted).
    But, in context, the conflation of the two is not defensible. (And I think the article is largely at fault here.)
    Not only that, but “his critics” are the 38 people who disagree with his presentation of science, not the 48 who were asked. The “overarching assertion” is a subset of the critics, as we see in the next paragraph.

    The very next paragraph begins by referring to a “cluster of scientists in this group”. No number is given for this cluster. However, we can infer the cluster is smaller than the group. The paragraph goes on to elucidate one particular example. So, we know the cluster is somewhere between 1 and 37 (inclusive).
    That’s not entirely fair, the next paragraph quotes a graduate (one of those excellent representatives of the scientific community) who think Dawkins “may” be saying science can do more than it can. I do wonder whether than uncertain answer was ranked as supporting Dawkins misrepresenting science or not… the methodology doesn’t tell us, and neither do the numbers. I do worry that their second best example of this “overarching assertion” was an uncertain graduate. (Not even a graduate student. It makes me want to cough the words “funded by the Templeton Foundation”. But that’s not the point.)
    More importantly, page 7 of 13 is not whether the conclusion and discussion sections are. They start on page 10.

    In summary:
    The bit you quote isn’t a conclusion. And it doesn’t say what you imply i.e. that 38 of those asked say Dawkins misrepresents science.

  24. FZM says:

    That’s not how science works. Intelligent design was a theistic model, it failed when compared to evolution (a natural model). Sean Carroll does an excellent job of doing the same thing in cosmology is a debate with WLC. Theistic models don’t account for the data — that’s how you come to the conclusion theism is unlikely.

    I remember reading about the Carroll-Craig debate. From what I recall Carroll seemed to adopt a strong scientistic position (which I think was just asserted without argument) to the effect that the only kind of data that is allowed to be acknowledged is that which physics can deal with and provide models for and the only questions worth asking are the ones these physical models can provide answers for. In the light of stipulations like these it’s going to be pretty likely that any none physics model will fail to provide as good an explanation for the ‘data’, or the questions that might be asked of the data, as physics will.

    Whether arguments for God will be scientifically testable (if science is defined in non-trivial or non-ambiguous terms) relates to how much content they draw from the findings of the natural sciences. Some, like Intelligent Design make a lot of natural scientific claims, others have more metaphysical and philosophical content.

  25. FZM says:

    I was also thinking; if Dawkins presented his God Delusion book as scientific (in the way that Physics, Biology, Chemistry etc. are) or used his reputation as a scientist in other fields to lend it scientific credibility that would be a good argument that he was misrepresenting at least the natural sciences.

  26. Allallt says:

    @Doug
    Two be clear, there are a number of problems with the article. What it actually claims to have discovered is but one of them. The article doesn’t even claim to have discovered anything as concrete as the journalism implies.
    On top of that, there are a handful of design flaws.
    On top of that there is the ontological issue of dealing with undefended opinions, not matters of philosophical fact.
    On top of that, there is a lack of nuance, although ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ might be as unrepresentative of science as his Tweet about the clock/bomb boy was.
    On top of that, the topic is just too broad. We don’t know how many people have dealt directly with Dawkins compared to people who get all their Dawkins News from places like this — We’ve no idea if this is about Straw-Dawkins. (Which is why the fact we’re dealing with undefended opinion matters.)
    On top of that, there are some strange uses of participants sounding uncertain being grouped into a particular camp.
    A lot of this can be explained by the Templeton Foundation funding.

    For my comment to you, I dealt only with the topic of what the article claims to have discovered. Indeed, it does not conclude what your ellipses’d quote from page 7 implies. Even the quote from Phys.org is wrong. It is not true that a majority of participants think he engages wrong and is wrong about science. We simply have no idea what the size of that overlap would be. Those who think he’s a bad communicator might not be able of those who think he’s wrong about science. There might only be two groups: one group who thinks Dawkins very eloquently describes absolute bullshit, and another group who thinks he stumbles clumsily and over aggressively around exactly the point. There may be no overlap (“… and…”) in the participants at all.
    But there’s a lot more to be discussed.

    @Michael
    Please take note of the comment to Doug, because it speaks to a larger point: being critical of a single study is not attacking science. Being critical is very much a key element of science. Being an honest and sincere critic is very much to be a steward to the scientific process.

  27. Allallt says:

    @FZM
    The debate is here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKDCZHimElQ) if you want to make your own judgements.
    For my 2 cents on the topic, the ‘scientism’ charge is so often a cop-out. Someone like Craig frames his argument as being a scientific one, making scientific and natural claims (like intelligent design does), and then when a scientist comes along and blows that argument apart (by which I mean, no one else has a better rebuttal) someone accuses the scientist of scientism. But, in this case, it is Craig who frames the topic in scientific terms.
    I also think it is extraordinarily difficult to separate the claims that are strictly philosophical from the ones that explicitly encroach on natural claims. I find the ‘nonoverlapping magisteria’ very difficult to envisage; where is the strictly non-natural claim of a God that doesn’t encroach on natural claims at all?

    As to whether promoting The God Delusion on the back of scientific credentials is a misrepresentation of science… that might be a really interesting discussion. But it’s not that discussion the article or this post makes. It’s also not the argument that Dawkins misrepresents science in general, but that particular action does. Still, could be interesting.

  28. Doug says:

    @Allallt,

    it doesn’t say what you imply i.e. that 38 of those asked say Dawkins misrepresents science.

    Let’s compare this nonsense to what the article actually says (and I quote, again):

    the majority of them (38 scientists) disagree with how he fills his role as a celebrity scientist

    Now, are you really suggesting that “filling a role as a celebrity scientist” is not strongly associated with the expression two sentences beyond, viz.

    Dawkins misrepresents science and scientists

    ?

    If you are, then you are unable to think clearly. I take back what I said about being entertained. Your attempt can only be described as pathetic.

  29. Allallt says:

    @Doug
    First of all, lets look at the points you appear to concede:
    Your points and quotes are not taken from the conclusion section, thus are not necessarily a conclusion of the article.
    I’m saying those two things (a celebrity scientist and a representative of science) are not identical. That doesn’t seem to be a point you’re willing to challenge, so I’ll consider that point conceded.

    What you’re now arguing is that the ‘role of a celebrity scientist’ is close enough to the ‘responsibility to represent science accurately’ that there is no practical difference to consider. And yet, I outlined in my previous comment to you a situation where there may be absolutely no overlap between those who believe Dawkins (a celebrity scientist) fulfils the responsibility of clear communication of science (one of the responsibilities of a celebrity scientist, I would argue) but fails to actually represent it accurately, and those who believe he’s an awful communicator who does represent science accurately.
    I’m not saying that definitely is the situation, but it illustrates the problem with the assumption that you are making.
    Further, it’s not merely an academic point. In fact, it is exactly the view Niel deGrasse Tyson expressed to Dawkins. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_2xGIwQfik). To be precise, Tyson argues that Dawkins is representing the science well, but is too aggressive to be an effective communication.

    Which comes to the point: getting science right is only 1 responsibility of the celebrity scientist, I would argue. Another responsibility completely is to be persuasive. Especially in the context that the article refers to: that they “wield powerful influence over public dialogue related to issues at the intersection of science and society”. Not to be too snippy about this, but that is in paragraph 1.
    Yes, the sentence continues “… and the representation of science in the public sphere”, but the “… and…” there is the point: it isn’t a single character trait.

    And so you don’t get to make assumptions about which element of being a celebrity scientist these participants think Dawkins has failed on. Especially when the second sample they go to to support the idea of it being a problem with the representation of science is some uncertain graduate.

    To be clear, I’m being nice here! Until Dawkins became the professor of the public understanding of science, there is precisely no reason he couldn’t be a polemic author and write only about evolution working on the genes and gradual, not stepped, evolution. And until Dawkins had that title, there was no authority dictating what responsibilities he had once he became a celebrity. That is why I made it clear in my first comment to you that the article makes no distinction between all these details. Not for the reader, and nothing in the methodology suggests they did it for the participants either.

    Now, the opening of section 2 (pg 2 and 3) gives us more context under which the role of celebrity scientists can be defined:
    “An individual’s knowledge of science rarely shapes attitudes toward or support for science (Bauer et al., 2007). Instead, affective factors, such as whether science communicators are perceived as sharing one’s values (Kahan et al., 2011), views about science in society (Brossard and Nisbet, 2007), or whether communicators are seen as fair (McComas and Besley, 2011), heavily shape public perceptions of science.”
    It is not difficult from that quote to suggest that part of the role of celebrity scientist has precisely nothing to do with it’s accurate representation, but shaping one’s attitudes to science. This is more than just adding more criteria to “accurate representation of science” in the list of the responsibilities of the celebrity scientist; this would almost entirely remove that responsibility altogether.

    So, I’m sorry if you don’t see this, but the “responsibility of a celebrity scientist” is intrinsically nothing; there is no authority to dictate these responsibilities. But it is also assumed to be and discussed in this article as much more complex and greater than (if not, in some sense) independent from the idea of giving a accurate representation of science.

    And, with that in mind, if you think the article conflates one with the other, then you made up your mind before you read any of it.

  30. Kevin says:

    “Wrong. Science is about building models based on data, and then comparing those models to broader sets of (relevant) data, and then deciding which model best fits the data. The conclusion of this can be whether a particular model is better or not. Theism (despite not being well defined) does offer a model, and does not do a good job of accounting for the data.”

    This is incorrect. Theism does not “offer a model”, it offers an explanation as to why reality is the way it is, as often discovered or described by science. This is why science is a horrible tool to use against God-belief – it’s like using a Camby to argue against the existence of Toyota.

    As such, the statement “Theistic models don’t account for the data — that’s how you come to the conclusion theism is unlikely.” is equally false. It is atheistic models that cannot account for the data – they can only describe the data. That’s why atheism does not even rate my consideration as a possibility, as it has zero explanatory power.

  31. Kevin says:

    I love autocorrect. Should be Camry, not “Camby”.

  32. Allallt says:

    @Kevin
    There is no difference between a model and an explanation in this context.
    There are no ‘atheist’ models. I have not used the word atheist on this thread until this comment (except for quoting someone else).
    Genesis gives a model for the origin of biological diversity. Evolution also gives a model for the same thing. They are in conflict. One accounts for the data better than the other.
    Genesis also gives a model for cosmology — but it’s too poorly defined to specifically account for anything. There are dozens of naturalist models in cosmology and they do account for the data specifically.

    So, which point, exactly, did you think was wrong?
    (You can see my comment to FZM. There’s a link there to Sean Carroll’s explanation of this argument.)

  33. Kevin says:

    “There are no ‘atheist’ models. I have not used the word atheist on this thread until this comment (except for quoting someone else).”

    Any model which attempts to explain why the universe is the way it is without a deity is atheistic. For example, failed attempts to use a hypothetical multiverse to do away with the need for a god is an atheistic explanation. And I have never encountered such an explanation that competes with God.

    “Genesis gives a model for the origin of biological diversity. Evolution also gives a model for the same thing. They are in conflict. One accounts for the data better than the other.”

    The young earth interpretation of Genesis indeed conflicts with the theory of evolution. But not everyone is a YEC, and the statement “God designed and created the universe and is the reason reality has the features it does” does not in any way conflict with the theory of evolution, and is in fact superior to every explanation I’ve heard that attempts to leave a creator out of the picture.

    My point is that “God is the reason evolution exists” is not in conflict with the theory of evolution. “God created the universe” does not conflict with any cosmological model. Acting like they are competing models, instead of one being a set of facts and another being an explanation for those facts, is taking the discussion down a dead end path. There is nothing in science to date that threatens the idea of God or makes a creator irrelevant.

  34. Michael says:

    I’m going to focus on the core material and not the side-issues.
    I quoted the physics.org article:

    Controversial British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is well-known for his criticism of religion, but a new Rice University study of British scientists reveals that a majority who mentioned Dawkins’ work during research interviews reject his approach to public engagement and said his work misrepresents science and scientists because he conveys the wrong impression about what science can do and the norms that scientists observe in their work.”

    And added, “This is exactly right.”

    Allallt replied:

    Wrong. That is not the conclusion of the actual article. And even if it were, there is extremely good reason to doubt the article.

    Neither me nor the writer of this piece mentioned anything about “conclusions.” Reread it. But all of this is irrelevant and I don’t want to get side-tracked. When I wrote, “this is exactly right,” I was not commenting on physics.org’s ability to correctly interpret the paper or the authors’ ability to interpret their own data. I was speaking to the exact claim, ” his work misrepresents science and scientists because he conveys the wrong impression about what science can do and the norms that scientists observe in their work.” Yep, that is exactly right.

    Which is why I followed with:

    “When it comes to the issue of God’s existence, Dawkins’ whole argument about science showing it very, very unlikely God exists is not only nonsense, but misrepresents what science is all about.”

    Allallt replied:

    Wrong. Science is about building models based on data, and then comparing those models to broader sets of (relevant) data, and then deciding which model best fits the data. The conclusion of this can be whether a particular model is better or not.

    No, this is wrong. What is being offered up is simply another version of the New Atheist definition of science. While this definition captures one aspect of science, it omits the crucial, central feature of science (more on that below). As such, the definition is misguided and fatally flawed.

    Defining science so that it is simply about using data to compare models and then “deciding” which model “best” fits the data misrepresents science as something that ultimately ends as a fancy, subjective judgment call. Science is about “deciding” which model “best” fits the data, eh?. Then who “decides?” How do we know what is the “best” fit? Who decides which model is “better?” and how do you know it’s “better?” This NA definition drags science back into the quicksand of subjectivity.

    If all we have is the use of data to compare models and then “decisions” about which model “best” fits the data, then what we have is much better described as philosophy. In fact, the definition would also nicely apply to apologetics if you think about it. But why stop there? It is also nicely fits what happens when someone is engaged in confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is all about building models based on data, and then comparing those models to broader sets of (relevant) data, and then deciding which model best fits the data. After all, people engaged in confirmation are convinced this is exactly what they are doing. And the definition would even apply to any conspiracy theory, where the conspiracy theorist, having gathered a mountain of data, is quite convinced his/her theory/model “best fits the data.”

    There is no need to consider the flawed and misleading NA definition of science given we have a much better one that can be found in the 1st chapter of any introductory science textbook used at just about any university. Put simply, science is a method. And we call this method the scientific method. To do science, you must do the method. And this method entails three key components – observation, hypothesis, experiment. Observations are integrated to generate a hypothesis. Yet the hypothesis must be testable. It must make predictions that are entailed by the logic of the hypothesis. And then it must be tested by the experiment. The experiment is the central feature of science. For the experiment is the way in which objective reality “speaks” to us through the results. The data/results generated by the experiment represent the feedback from the world which allow us to gauge how well our hypothesis mapped to reality. Science is not about people deciding which model best fits their perceptions of the world. It is about using experiments to obtain information from the world to give us feedback about how well the hypothesis maps to reality.

    I simply cannot overstate the crucial and central importance of the experiment. Consider, for the example, the basic format of any scientific paper – Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion. The Introduction is where the author sets the stage and lays out the hypothesis by building on previous observations and data. The rest of the paper is all about the experiment. The Methods section outlines how the experiments were conducted, the Results outline what was found by the experiment, and the Discussion interprets the experimental results using the very context that was laid out in the Introduction.

    The NA definition of science would have us cut out the Methods, Results, and Discussion section and leave us with a half-written Introduction section. For the whole idea of trying to decide which model best fits the data is nothing more than coming up with a hypothesis that hasn’t even reached the stage of being testable. It’s just not science.

    As further evidence that the NA definition of science does drag us into the quicksand of subjectivity, consider the Allallt’s next assertion:

    Theism (despite not being well defined) does offer a model, and does not do a good job of accounting for the data.

    This is subjectivity-squared. First, it’s news to me that Theism does offer a model. I’ve been a theist for some time and I could not tell you what Allallt has in mind. I’ve read hundreds of scientific papers in my day and never once came across any “Theistic Model.” Where is it? What is it? This “Theistic model” seems to be something that exists in his mind. Second, as for the Theistic model not doing a “good job” of accounting for the data, I’m shocked. I hear there will be many Democrats voting for Clinton on Tuesday while there will also be many Catholics attending Mass on Sunday. Of course Allallt, an atheist and fan of Dawkins/Harris, thinks the “Theistic model” does not do a “good job.” This is what happens when you strip away the experiments from science and insist we only need to make “best fit” decisions about data and “models” – the determination of the “best fit” will depend on what tribe the person comes from.

    Now I have read enough of Dawkins, Coyne, and Harris to guess what this “Theistic model” is supposed to be – a) the world should contain no suffering and evil and b) the world should be filled with sensational, completely unexplainable, Gaps. If that’s the model, why not call it by its proper name? The Straw Man Model. The fact that atheists perceive the Straw Man Model to be the Theistic Model simply underscores how deeply subjective the NA approach to “science” is.

    Finally, I asked: ” How many scientific studies has Dawkins done to test whether or not God exists? Answer – None.”

    Allallt replied:

    Irrelevant. That’s not how science works.

    Huh? Experimental results, published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, are not irrelevant. Just the opposite. Any truth claim that represents itself as science must be linked to experimental results, published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Only a pseudoscientist would disagree.

    That Dawkins failed to conduct one single experiment or publish one single study to test the existence of God tells us that his “science has shown God’s existence to be very, very unlikely” claims are not rooted in science or the scientific method. Instead, they are rooted in rhetorical posturing, which makes sense given that Dawkins’ claims about God cannot be separated from his activist agenda. What’s dangerous about Dawkins’ misrepresentation of science is how it gets people like Allallt to buy into this notion that the scientific method is superfluous in science and can be replaced by nothing more than personal opinion rooted in giving something much thought – choosing models that look like the “best” fit.

    If the question of God’s existence was indeed something that science can address, there would be hundreds and hundreds of research papers where theists and non-theists would be hashing out this issue. That’s how science is done. But the whole issue of God’s existence is not part of the scientific literature. Nor is it taught in any scientific textbook. There is a reason for this and it is the same reason Dawkins (and Coyne, and Pinker, and Myers, and Harris, etc.) have all failed to conduct one single experiment to test the existence of God despite having the obvious strong motivation to do so. It can’t be done.

    If any New Atheist wants to go down in history, then simply come up with hypothesis that tests the existence of God, conduct the experiments, and then publish the results. Let me help. What you need to do is come up with a hypothesis that follows this form: If God exists, Y should exist. The trick is that Y must be shown to be entailed by the existence of God (which is why the silly demands for Gaps or a world with no suffering/evil all fail). What’s more, you’ll want to make sure that Y can only exist if God exists (which is why you can’t argue, in science, that if God exists, people who believe in God should exist). So instead of offering up armchair philosophy and trying to convince people your impressions and perceptions are science, I would encourage you to get out of the chair, go into a lab, lift a pinky, and do the experiment.

  35. TFBW says:

    Thanks, Michael, for salvaging a comment thread which was becoming outstandingly tedious. I disagree that we can classify Dawkins as a Gap-theory advocate, however. Dawkins has passed the point where he’s willing to consider any data as evidence for the existence of God, because he has a prior philosophical commitment that “natural” explanations are (firmly, universally) better than “supernatural” ones. To be a Gap-theorist, you have to be willing to admit that certain phenomena would be better explained by a supernatural God than any natural cause. As such, Dawkins is possibly a little less “scientific” on this front than even you suggest: he rejects the existence of the supernatural a priori; he claims that if a “god” exists at all, it must be the product of a Darwinian process. This is not science; it’s naive philosophy: start by asserting a premise, and show that it excludes the possibility of God — end of argument.

    As a Feyerabend enthusiast, I would challenge your “scientific method” claims, but I don’t think this is the time and place to do it. If Allallt wants to challenge you on the nature of science, let him do it on his own terms. Feyerabend isn’t going to help his case.

  36. Kevin says:

    “Thanks, Michael, for salvaging a comment thread which was becoming outstandingly tedious.”

    A bit harsh, but okay.

  37. TFBW says:

    It was becoming dominated by pet talking-points, rather than the original topic.

  38. FZM says:

    Allallt,

    For my 2 cents on the topic, the ‘scientism’ charge is so often a cop-out. Someone like Craig frames his argument as being a scientific one, making scientific and natural claims (like intelligent design does), and then when a scientist comes along and blows that argument apart (by which I mean, no one else has a better rebuttal) someone accuses the scientist of scientism. But, in this case, it is Craig who frames the topic in scientific terms.

    In this case I was using the term with a fairly specific meaning, i.e. the claim that the natural sciences, specifically physics, is our only source of knowledge of reality. With Physics being defined in a specific enough way that it isn’t just taken to mean something like ‘all the methods required to gain complete knowledge of reality’ but more like whatever knowledge is derived from empirical observation, quantification, mathematical modelling and prediction.

    I’ll have to read the text of the debate again when I have some time but I remember getting the impression that Carroll was setting out an argument based on the idea that only what was quantifiable, could be mathematically modelled and was susceptible to precise empirical prediction could count as data that it was necessary to take account of in the first place, and that the only questions for which ‘real’ answers can be found are those that can be answered by mathematical models based on quantifiable empirical observation/prediction. Then, not presenting any justification or explanation as to why this must be so, just asserting it.

    I also think it is extraordinarily difficult to separate the claims that are strictly philosophical from the ones that explicitly encroach on natural claims. I find the ‘nonoverlapping magisteria’ very difficult to envisage; where is the strictly non-natural claim of a God that doesn’t encroach on natural claims at all?

    Well, in as much as talking about things like ‘natural claims’ ‘nature’ etc. is likely to have philosophical content (it may be unavoidable). But, the level of Physics, Biology and Chemistry specific content in claims about ‘nature’ can vary a lot; metaphysics and philosophy tending to deal in the more general and less specific, or, say, where it isn’t clear what empirical testing, experimentation and/or mathematical modelling has to contribute to settling a question.

    I don’t find it difficult to imagine claims about God that have no particular relationship to the specifics of academic Chemistry, Biology or Physics research and in which the detail of these disciplines isn’t all that relevant. I think Aquinas’ Five Ways are one well known example, there are Platonic arguments for God’s existence which are also of this kind, the infamous Ontological Argument is as well and so on.

  39. Allallt says:

    It’s fun to watch someone hang themselves with their own argument. Let’s look at how you managed to do that:

    When I wrote, “this is exactly right,” I was not commenting on physics.org’s ability to correctly interpret the paper or the authors’ ability to interpret their own data. I was speaking to the exact claim, ” his work misrepresents science and scientists because he conveys the wrong impression about what science can do and the norms that scientists observe in their work.” Yep, that is exactly right.

    I see. Good of you provide a source, but the source is completely incidental. You don’t actually care about the data being discussed. Good to admit; I’m glad it’s out there.

    With regard to the idea of scientific models being compared to assess their ability to account for data, you make a number of very telling mistakes:

    Defining science so that it is simply about using data to compare models and then “deciding” which model “best” fits the data misrepresents science as something that ultimately ends as a fancy, subjective judgment call. Science is about “deciding” which model “best” fits the data, eh?. Then who “decides?” How do we know what is the “best” fit? Who decides which model is “better?” and how do you know it’s “better?” This NA definition drags science back into the quicksand of subjectivity.

    If you don’t think objective calls can be made about a model’s ability to account for data, and the amount of the relevant data that it account for, then you’ll never be able to do science. Rejecting null hypothesis depends on your ability to notice the model doesn’t account for data. Building hypotheses depends on your ability to build models.

    the definition would also nicely apply to apologetics if you think about it. But why stop there? It is also nicely fits what happens when someone is engaged in confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is all about building models based on data, and then comparing those models to broader sets of (relevant) data, and then deciding which model best fits the data. After all, people engaged in confirmation are convinced this is exactly what they are doing. And the definition would even apply to any conspiracy theory, where the conspiracy theorist, having gathered a mountain of data, is quite convinced his/her theory/model “best fits the data.”

    Hilarious. Some how you think the process of seeing whether a model accounts for data includes a step for selecting the data you want and ignoring what you don’t want. It’s almost as if you’re more used to building a model and then — like the Texas sharpshooter — proclaiming only the data you do account for is relevant or true. That’s a completely backwards representation of what I said. You might not realise it, but your audience isn’t going to fall for a strawman that blatant.

    There is no need to consider the flawed and misleading NA definition of science given we have a much better one that can be found in the 1st chapter of any introductory science textbook used at just about any university.

    That’s just not true. I just went to my university and the first science book I picked up was called “Solid state physics: an introduction” by Philip Hoffman. No definition of science.
    I did you a favour and went over to the philosophy section and picked up the first philosophy of science text book I could find. It was called “Philosophy of science A-Z”. Don’t get me wrong, I found hypothetico deduction in there. It certainly wasn’t the 1st chapter. And it wasn’t the only approach to science. There were a lot of other methods in there. I then picked up “Evidence, Explanation, and Realism” by Peter Achinstein, and there was no simple method explain in chapter 1 there, either. 3 strikes, you’re out.

    this method entails three key components – observation, hypothesis, experiment. Observations are integrated to generate a hypothesis. Yet the hypothesis must be testable. It must make predictions that are entailed by the logic of the hypothesis. And then it must be tested by the experiment. The experiment is the central feature of science.

    Nothing here is any contradiction to what I said. Hypotheses and models are basically the same thing. Observations are what hypotheses and models are built on. Experiments are how we collect the relevant data. Your definition is narrower than the one I presented, but in that, it downplays entire disciplines. Theoretical physics is a discipline devoted entirely to the models, and those models are passed on to experimental physicists for the experiments. Neither one completes the narrower definition of science, but they do the broader one. And they’re housed in the science faculties.

    I simply cannot overstate the crucial and central importance of the experiment. Consider, for the example, the basic format of any scientific paper – Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion. The Introduction is where the author sets the stage and lays out the hypothesis by building on previous observations and data. The rest of the paper is all about the experiment. The Methods section outlines how the experiments were conducted, the Results outline what was found by the experiment, and the Discussion interprets the experimental results using the very context that was laid out in the Introduction.

    It’s fun that you would assume to lecture me on that. I’m doing an MSc. I know this. I’m writing a dissertation myself. You apparently don’t know the content of university text books. (I think you might have meant secondary school text books — but then I’d have just pointed out how naive you are for thinking secondary school textbooks really hit the nuanced nail on the head.)

    The NA definition of science would have us cut out the Methods, Results, and Discussion section and leave us with a half-written Introduction section.

    From my definition of science, how did you conclude that we wouldn’t be generating data? By what contortion of logic do you assume there would be no experiments? Was it because I didn’t explicitly say so? Are you too eager to show off your intellectual might to take a moment to notice what is unavoidably entailed? In showing off how clever you are, did you forget to think?
    You lecture me like I just said experiment has nothing to do with science. But I didn’t. Experiments are a part of comparing models because — and I don’t know if I mentioned this or not — you need data.
    I don’t actually want to lecture you on this, but as you claimed in the initial post that you were discussing science but claimed in your last comment to me that you don’t care about the actual data, I do have to wonder whether you care about reality, or whether you’re just interested in how you can contort whatever you have to fit your pre-existing model. That’s anti-science.

    As further evidence that the NA definition of science does drag us into the quicksand of subjectivity, consider the Allallt’s next assertion:
    Theism (despite not being well defined) does offer a model, and does not do a good job of accounting for the data.
    This is subjectivity-squared. First, it’s news to me that Theism does offer a model. I’ve been a theist for some time and I could not tell you what Allallt has in mind.

    Well, it’s not that difficult to look up. The teleological argument is a theistic model attempting to account for the data. Intelligent design is a theistic model trying to account for the data. Some versions of the Cosmological Argument are theistic models trying to account for the data. The WLC/Carroll debate has Carroll pull hypotheses out of these models and compare them to the data. You should try watching it. You know, so that you can develop a richer understanding of what you insist on making pronouncements on.

    I’ve read hundreds of scientific papers in my day and never once came across any “Theistic Model.” Where is it? What is it?

    Good to know that you won’t ever be claiming belief in God is scientific, then.

    This “Theistic model” seems to be something that exists in his mind. Second, as for the Theistic model not doing a “good job” of accounting for the data, I’m shocked. I hear there will be many Democrats voting for Clinton on Tuesday while there will also be many Catholics attending Mass on Sunday. Of course Allallt, an atheist and fan of Dawkins/Harris, thinks the “Theistic model” does not do a “good job.” This is what happens when you strip away the experiments from science and insist we only need to make “best fit” decisions about data and “models” – the determination of the “best fit” will depend on what tribe the person comes from.

    You have a model. That model makes predictions. Those predictions double as hypotheses. Those hypotheses can either be explored through experiment, else compared to data we already have.
    Thinking you can’t compare hypotheses to data we already have would be very limiting. Secondary data is used frequently in many sciences. There’s a term for you to Google, in case you’re finding this difficult: “secondary data”. Go on, have a look. It seems like your mind will be blown.

    Now I have read enough of Dawkins, Coyne, and Harris to guess what this “Theistic model” is supposed to be – a) the world should contain no suffering and evil and b) the world should be filled with sensational, completely unexplainable, Gaps. If that’s the model, why not call it by its proper name? The Straw Man Model.

    The last paragraph said you haven’t heard of it. Now you’re saying you have and you don’t agree with it. Well, you’ll be happy to know that I don’t care what Coyne, Dawkins and Harris wrote (and I care less about your interpretation).
    More interestingly, you allude to a good point. See, before a model can lead to specific hypotheses, such a model has to be well defined. It can’t be full of ambiguity and room for excuses. When the data doesn’t fit the model, you have to be willing to throw out the model. Theists don’t like doing this (from my experience). Theists like keeping everything vague, with competing hypotheses, like a perfect God and a Fall. I couldn’t invent data that couldn’t be explained with post hoc reasoning and reliance on theism… but that flexibility is an error in a scientific model, not a strength.
    Popper describes falsification as requiring restrictive hypotheses.
    No one has ever given me a null hypothesis for theism.

    The Straw Man Model. The fact that atheists perceive the Straw Man Model to be the Theistic Model simply underscores how deeply subjective the NA approach to “science” is.

    You really are projecting at a phenomenal rate here.

    Finally, I asked: ” How many scientific studies has Dawkins done to test whether or not God exists? Answer – None.”
    Allallt replied:
    Irrelevant. That’s not how science works.
    Huh? Experimental results, published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, are not irrelevant.

    We haven’t seen the centre of the sun, and yet we know it’s temperature. We haven’t been there, yet we know how far away it is. We knew the atmospheric composition of planets before we got to them. We know how long Pluto takes to orbit the sun, even though we haven’t known about it for as long as it takes.
    Evolution means intelligent design isn’t true. At the time, intelligent design was an inherent and essential part of Christianity. A rational person would have thrown out the whole model. But they don’t, not with religion. They take the hit and adapt their model, while continuing to reject the naturalist one that continually gains traction. The age of the universe takes a hit, intelligent design takes a hit, the early universe takes a hit, the Flood takes a hit, the exodus is Exodus takes a hit. And somehow the model this is all borne from just flexes and claims to have always been this shape with no humility.
    This is what coherence in science is about. If an element of a coherent model is wrong, the whole lot goes.

    That Dawkins failed to conduct one single experiment or publish one single study to test the existence of God tells us that his “science has shown God’s existence to be very, very unlikely” claims are not rooted in science or the scientific method. Instead, they are rooted in rhetorical posturing, which makes sense given that Dawkins’ claims about God cannot be separated from his activist agenda.

    When I released my grasp of my pen in my dining room at midday today, it fell to the floor. That is not just a record of history, that has predictive power. Results from scientific experiments have reach. I don’t assume gravity only affects pens, or only works at midday or only works in my dining room. There’s a level of induction that goes on. That’s not superfluous to science, that’s necessary to science. Without induction, each experiment would be nothing more than a heavily recorded moment in the past. We need to create explanatory models from amounts of data to make predictions (that we can then test and compare — creating yet more data).
    Naturalism is a genre of model. And it gains support from every experiment that happens. Everything we know from science falls within naturalism. (This is not an assumption of naturalism. This is to say naturalism is empirically supported and provides preditive models.) That excludes other models.
    Now, there are a few steps in there that you may argue aren’t scientific. There’s induction, obviously. But to say that induction isn’t a part of science would reveal your eagerness to win a debate over having an honest discussion. You might argue that naturalism isn’t complete, and so there is space for other hypotheses. But, that doesn’t actually affect Dawkins’ point. Saying there is space (but not evidence) is to say it’s very very unlikely. Unless you want to reject the idea of needing evidence to make the claim. Which, again, would say more about you than about science.

    What’s dangerous about Dawkins’ misrepresentation of science is how it gets people like Allallt to buy into this notion that the scientific method is superfluous in science and can be replaced by nothing more than personal opinion rooted in giving something much thought – choosing models that look like the “best” fit.

    I think I’ve explained how that doesn’t represent me at all. I look forward to what Dawkins has said on the same issue. It certainly isn’t covered in the initial post or comments to me.

    If the question of God’s existence was indeed something that science can address, there would be hundreds and hundreds of research papers where theists and non-theists would be hashing out this issue. That’s how science is done.

    That’s not true. The Stork Hypothesis of human reproduction doesn’t have papers dedicated to it. A 6,000 year old Earth doesn’t have papers dedicated to it. Creationism doesn’t have papers dedicated to it. Some ideas are empirically testable, but the model is so wildly inferior to the current model in accounting for the data that. You can rationally discard models that don’t account for relevant secondary data. And that is still science.

    But the whole issue of God’s existence is not part of the scientific literature. Nor is it taught in any scientific textbook. There is a reason for this and it is the same reason Dawkins (and Coyne, and Pinker, and Myers, and Harris, etc.) have all failed to conduct one single experiment to test the existence of God despite having the obvious strong motivation to do so. It can’t be done.

    There are a lot of models that don’t make into textbooks. The theory that continents ploughed through oceanic crust (a precursor to tectonic theory) isn’t in textbook. The model of disease that thought it was spread by smell isn’t in text books. In fact, the ‘Smell Theory of Disease’ was never falsified! This is important to note… it simply failed a comparison to Germ Theory of Disease. I want you to think about the significance of that fact.
    The theory that continental crusts ploughed through oceanic crust was also not experimentally falsified. The value of the model was assessed using maths, and the energy required (mathematically, not empirically) meant the model wasn’t really considered. Consider, also, the significance of that.
    Science simply operates more broadly than you posit, and more broadly than you require it to, to make your point.

    If any New Atheist wants to go down in history, then simply come up with hypothesis that tests the existence of God, conduct the experiments, and then publish the results. Let me help. What you need to do is come up with a hypothesis that follows this form: If God exists, Y should exist. The trick is that Y must be shown to be entailed by the existence of God

    This is why being a poorly defined model excludes it. The Problem of Suffering (in both its forms) is fatal to the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God. But, posit a Fall that somehow diminishes God’s omnipotence (but only in this discussion, and never anywhere else — and ignoring that the Fall itself falsifies the God as presented) and suddenly suffering is allowed. You come up with the a model of God that is specific and I can come up with a hypothesis. And when God fails the test, everyone (yourself included!) will deny the model initially offered. (But it will be my fault, somehow.)

  40. Allallt says:

    @FZM
    I do look forward to your take on the debate if you decide to go back to it. I think it’s worth pointing out that the topic is “God and Cosmology: the existence of God in light of contemporary cosmology”, and so the topic is kind of inherently an empirical one… and that Craig never tried to argue that it isn’t.
    The topic is also confined away from platonic arguments and Aquinas and versions of the Ontological argument.

  41. Kevin says:

    “Good to know that you won’t ever be claiming belief in God is scientific, then.”

    Belief in God does not have to be scientific in order to be correct, since theism and science are not competing models beyond certain claims from certain sects of certain religions. I know many things to be true that have nothing to do with science.

    And this is why the scientists who criticized Dawkins are correct. It is a misrepresentation of science (and theism, for that matter) to attempt to assert that the two are inherently at odds – they are very clearly not, beyond the very specific claims I noted earlier. Science is very useful in many aspects of life, but there are many areas that it is simply not equipped to do anything but offer peripheral information that may or may not be of any use. To continue asserting that theism is inherently a competing model with science is to pretend to know what one does not know.

  42. Allallt says:

    @Kevin
    That’s fine. If you don’t want to claim God has something to do with cosmogony, cosmology, biology or chemistry then whatever.
    But the book does make claims like this. It’s all over Genesis. The very claim of a first man, etc.

  43. Michael says:

    It’s fun to watch someone hang themselves with their own argument. Let’s look at how you managed to do that:

    I will do my best to ignore all the little attacks and digs and get to the core issues.

    If you don’t think objective calls can be made about a model’s ability to account for data, and the amount of the relevant data that it account for, then you’ll never be able to do science. Rejecting null hypothesis depends on your ability to notice the model doesn’t account for data. Building hypotheses depends on your ability to build models.

    If you think you can make objective calls about a model’s ability to account for data, and the amount of the relevant data that it account for, without rooting this approach in the experimental approach, then you’ll end up spinning your wheels on cargo-cult science.

    Hilarious. Some how you think the process of seeing whether a model accounts for data includes a step for selecting the data you want and ignoring what you don’t want.

    You miss the point through your laughter. I’m highlighting the simple fact that, without carefully designed experiments, there is nothing solid to prevent a step for selecting the data you want and ignoring what you don’t want. And there is nothing in your vague, watered-down definition that indicates the necessary role of doing experiments in science.

    It’s almost as if you’re more used to building a model and then — like the Texas sharpshooter — proclaiming only the data you do account for is relevant or true.

    No, I’m used to watching New Atheists adopt this very approach. So I am not surprised to see you define science in such a way that would help mask the confirmation bias, allowing it to look like science.

    That’s just not true. I just went to my university and the first science book I picked up was called “Solid state physics: an introduction” by Philip Hoffman. No definition of science.I did you a favour and went over to the philosophy section and picked up the first philosophy of science text book I could find. It was called “Philosophy of science A-Z”. Don’t get me wrong, I found hypothetico deduction in there. It certainly wasn’t the 1st chapter. And it wasn’t the only approach to science. There were a lot of other methods in there. I then picked up “Evidence, Explanation, and Realism” by Peter Achinstein, and there was no simple method explain in chapter 1 there, either. 3 strikes, you’re out.

    Are you kidding me? I wasn’t talking about philosophy books and Solid States Physics usually requires some introductory physics courses as prereqs. I’m talking about introductory science textbooks in 100 level courses that first year students take. Do you typically try to score debate points on such matters of trivia? If you need to, go find a book to win your point. But it help the discussion more if you focused on the core point. Do you think the scientific method is necessary for doing science?

    I wrote: this method entails three key components – observation, hypothesis, experiment. Observations are integrated to generate a hypothesis. Yet the hypothesis must be testable. It must make predictions that are entailed by the logic of the hypothesis. And then it must be tested by the experiment. The experiment is the central feature of science.

    Allallt replied:
    Nothing here is any contradiction to what I said.

    I never said there was a contradiction. I noted that you are pushing a definition that doesn’t include the scientific method as a necessary component of science. A definition that nicely applies to areas outside science, like pseudoscience and apologetics.

    Hypotheses and models are basically the same thing. Observations are what hypotheses and models are built on.

    And as far as your definition goes, that’s sufficient. Choose the best hypothesis that best explains the data we can see.

    Experiments are how we collect the relevant data.

    Almost. The more accurate description is this: experiments are how we test hypotheses to see how well they fit empirical reality.

    Your definition is narrower than the one I presented, but in that, it downplays entire disciplines.

    The narrower definition only happens to be the definition that is responsible for the successful track record of science. The history of science shows plenty of examples where false beliefs were thought to be true because they were not rooted in experimental reality. Things such as proteins as genetic material or proteins as the catalysts that formed peptide bonds in the ribosome. Data fit the model. Only thing missing was the experimental demonstration.

    It’s fun that you would assume to lecture me on that. I’m doing an MSc. I know this. I’m writing a dissertation myself.

    Did you do any experiments that can help us determine whether or not God exists? It would be nice to finally meet such a person.

    You apparently don’t know the content of university text books. (I think you might have meant secondary school text books — but then I’d have just pointed out how naive you are for thinking secondary school textbooks really hit the nuanced nail on the head.)

    You apparently didn’t know I was talking about scientific research papers.

    From my definition of science, how did you conclude that we wouldn’t be generating data? By what contortion of logic do you assume there would be no experiments? Was it because I didn’t explicitly say so?

    Your definition of science has no need for the experiment. It can remain completely intact without a single experiment being done. Now that I have highlighted that fact, you are trying to backpedal. But I’m not sure you have succeeded. You seem to treat the experiment as a shiny bell. It’s nice if we have them, because they can be included in your model comparisons, but if not, you seem to think the model comparisons alone are sufficient for science.

    You lecture me like I just said experiment has nothing to do with science. But I didn’t. Experiments are a part of comparing models because — and I don’t know if I mentioned this or not — you need data.

    If all you need are data, you can get that through the observation stage. What makes the data of the experiment significant is how well they are tied to a testable hypothesis.

    Well, it’s not that difficult to look up. The teleological argument is a theistic model attempting to account for the data. Intelligent design is a theistic model trying to account for the data.

    Huh? So by “Theistic model,” you simply mean a belief that some theist has or came up with. None of this tests whether or not God exists. Are you trying to argue that because science has not detected Purpose (how would it do that?) and determined that evolution occurs, God does not exist? The scientific ability to detect and measure Purpose and the non-existence of evolution is not entailed by the existence of God.

    Good to know that you won’t ever be claiming belief in God is scientific, then.

    I don’t. You are the one trying to dress up your metaphysical views and opinions as science. Not me.

    More interestingly, you allude to a good point. See, before a model can lead to specific hypotheses, such a model has to be well defined. It can’t be full of ambiguity and room for excuses. When the data doesn’t fit the model, you have to be willing to throw out the model. Theists don’t like doing this (from my experience).

    It would help if you could point out the data that supposedly cannot fit in my “theistic model.”

    Theists like keeping everything vague,

    Thus says the man championing the vague, watered-down definition of science.

    with competing hypotheses, like a perfect God and a Fall. I couldn’t invent data that couldn’t be explained with post hoc reasoning and reliance on theism… but that flexibility is an error in a scientific model, not a strength.
    Popper describes falsification as requiring restrictive hypotheses.
    No one has ever given me a null hypothesis for theism.

    Are you starting to figure out that science cannot determine whether or not God exists?

    Evolution means intelligent design isn’t true. At the time, intelligent design was an inherent and essential part of Christianity. A rational person would have thrown out the whole model. But they don’t, not with religion.

    I see. So the “rational person” is supposed to conclude the existence of God is linked to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and thus evolution disproves the existence of God?

    This is what coherence in science is about. If an element of a coherent model is wrong, the whole lot goes.

    Yet the notion that God’s existence must be linked to the non-existence of evolution is not coherent.

    Naturalism is a genre of model. And it gains support from every experiment that happens. Everything we know from science falls within naturalism. (This is not an assumption of naturalism. This is to say naturalism is empirically supported and provides preditive models.) That excludes other models.

    Thar she blows! The success of naturalism is only significant from a metaphysical perspective IF we embrace the logic of the God of the Gaps approach. Otherwise, the success of naturalism is metaphysically meaningless. But does the existence of God entail that Gaps should stump science with “every experiment that happens?” And should the God of the Gaps approach be incorporated into science and a legitimate scientific form of inquiry? Just think. We could compare “models” with the “data” by including all the “gaps.” Me? I think we should just stick to the scientific method.

    This is why being a poorly defined model excludes it.

    Yes, the question of God’s existence is excluded from science. Make up your mind.

    The Problem of Suffering (in both its forms) is fatal to the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God.

    In your opinion. And only if you rely on Teletubbie logic. I’m still waiting for someone to tell my how they know an omnipotent and benevolent God would create Teletubbies instead of humans. Until that happens, the Problem of Suffering is just an emotional opinion. It has nothing to do with science.

    But, posit a Fall that somehow diminishes God’s omnipotence (but only in this discussion, and never anywhere else — and ignoring that the Fall itself falsifies the God as presented) and suddenly suffering is allowed.

    I know. We should all be Teletubbies, right? Why is this thinking supposed to be considered science?

    You come up with the a model of God that is specific and I can come up with a hypothesis. And when God fails the test, everyone (yourself included!) will deny the model initially offered. (But it will be my fault, somehow.)

    LOL. I’m the one who maintains, and has always maintained, that science cannot determine whether or not God exists. You are the one who insists otherwise and postures as if science has determined it very, very, unlikely God exists. You can’t show me where and how science has done this. Instead you offer up a long-winded word salad that omits any data and experiments. So when I offer you advice as to how you can actually support your position, which amounts to “do the science,” somehow it’s become my responsibility to come up with some testable, scientific hypothesis. Go figure.

    Look, your desire to prop up your atheistic metaphysics by throwing together words to make it look like science is behind it all is doing damage to science. You’ve not only downplayed and dismissed the crucial, central role of the experimental approach and confused the existence of God with a literal interpretation of Genesis, but you have opened the door to the God of the Gaps approach with the chest-thumping about naturalism. Look, there is nothing wrong with philosophy. So instead of trying to dress up your philosophy in a white lab coat and protective eye goggles, why not just leave science alone?

  44. Michael says:

    Allallt,

    Since you seem agitated about the study (to the point of accusing me of “not caring about data” because I did not immediately reply), I put off a chore to read the paper and reply to you.

    I’ve linked to the actual article the news report you quote is relying on. Dhay and I seem to agree that you have to be much more cautious about what that report says that the media outlet you read would imply.

    One should be cautious with any study. It is, after all, only one study.

    The reasons are:

    (1) It’s a self-selecting group. People were not asked what they thought of Dawkins. Scientists were asked a much broader range of questions in a different study altogether, and this study looks only at people who brought up Dawkins, unprovoked.

    I’m not very familiar with social science, but I doubt this is some type of major problem in the field. It would seem to me the advantage to this approach is that by considering only the unsolicited opinions, you are more likely to get opinions that are more informed than by simply checking off a box on some survey. Keep in mind that outside of the UK, most scientists don’t give Dawkins’ much thought (as the paper discovered). Or, it could be something that just emerged unforeseen. Given enough people brought up Dawkins unprompted, they decided to take a closer look.

    (2) It’s very difficult from the data provided to see the difference between people who think Dawkins misrepresents science and those who think he is not the best communicator. Those are very different charges.

    So you are trying to suggest that the scientists agree with him about his “Science points us to Atheism” message, but it’s just Dawkins’ hasn’t been able to communicate that message?

    The paper clearly argues these scientists viewed Dawkins as misrepresenting science in two fundamental ways:

    1. Thus, some scientists—independent of their religious views—do not view Dawkins as a good representative of the scientific community because they believe he conveys the wrong impression about the borders of scientific inquiry.

    2. The notion that Dawkins is a “fundamental atheist” reflects a second and more prevalent assertion that Dawkins publicly conveys an inaccurate impression of scientists…… The critique is that the vigor and tone of Dawkins’ commentary on religion come off as “a polemic,” and as a result, scientists are portrayed very visibly as biased or as having agendas that are not objective.

    Nothing surprising here. Scientific organizations (like the NAS and AAAS) have issued public statements making point #1. for some time now. As for #2, it sounds like the complaint Peter Higgs has about Dawkins:

    “Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.”
    He agreed with some of Dawkins’ thoughts on the unfortunate consequences that have resulted from religious belief, but he was unhappy with the evolutionary biologist’s approach to dealing with believers and said he agreed with those who found Dawkins’ approach “embarrassing”.

    I chose to focus on #1 for this blog entry because a) it is more interesting and b) most of us know, thanks to the data, that Dawkins is a closed-minded extremist on the issue of religion.

    (3) No participant is asked to defend their charges with actual examples. None of them point to a particular point they think characterises this misrepresentation.

    I doubt the purpose of the interview was to have them defend their views. The researchers were simply trying to detect their perceptions.

    Basically, the article is a collection of unsubstantiated opinions from people who clearly have strong enough (positive and negative) views to mention Dawkins when no one asked.

    The goal of the larger study was to understand how scientists think about science and religion. This paper reports on a subset that brought up Dawkins without prompting. Most of them had a negative view of his approach. Whether you think their views are valid and substantiated is not relevant here.

    Look, the real problem with the paper, IMO, is that it doesn’t include the interesting data:

    We conducted a line-by-line open coding of the selected quotes (Strauss and Corbin, 1990) and initially categorized respondents’ narratives according to supportive or critical views of Dawkins. We then categorized each narrative according to the rationale underlying a given scientists’ support or critique of Dawkins’ engagement with the public. Subsequent analysis examined possible difference in perspective according to gender, discipline, and religious identities, with only religious identity factoring prominently into how proponents of Dawkins view the role of the celebrity scientist in public debates related to conflict between science and social values.

    Would have liked to the see the scores formatted into a table or figure.

    Now, off to do that chore.

  45. FZM says:

    Allallt,

    I do look forward to your take on the debate if you decide to go back to it. I think it’s worth pointing out that the topic is “God and Cosmology: the existence of God in light of contemporary cosmology”, and so the topic is kind of inherently an empirical one… and that Craig never tried to argue that it isn’t.

    I have been having a look at the text of the debate that is available on Craig’s website. It might take me a while to read through it all and think about it though. I did notice that Craig seems to be arguing that contemporary cosmology can provide some scientific support to back up the Kalam argument he likes. Carroll seems to spend time addressing this view, but there are some parts where it looks like he goes beyond this and starts to argue against the premises of the Kalam argument itself with discussion of the nature of causation and our knowledge of it. I think that is the kind of area in which he gets more metaphysical.

    Something stood out to me in one of the responses you wrote to Michael:

    Evolution means intelligent design isn’t true. At the time, intelligent design was an inherent and essential part of Christianity.

    Maybe it was an ‘essential part’ of Christianity in Western Europe (especially the Protestant parts?) in the 18th and early to mid 19th century when William Paley was coming up with his watchmaker argument, but at other periods and in other places? As far as I know the idea of the special creation of individual species was strongly influenced by the arguments Aristotle puts forward in favour of it in his biological work.

    On a related issue, the idea that a literalist reading of the Genesis creation account is essential to or inherent to Christianity, this is a problem in light of the fact that from the 2nd-5th centuries AD various important Church Fathers managed to question the appropriateness of literal readings of the Creation account in Genesis and suggested alternatives.

  46. Michael says:

    I wrote:

    If the question of God’s existence was indeed something that science can address, there would be hundreds and hundreds of research papers where theists and non-theists would be hashing out this issue. That’s how science is done.

    Allallt replies:

    That’s not true. The Stork Hypothesis of human reproduction doesn’t have papers dedicated to it. A 6,000 year old Earth doesn’t have papers dedicated to it. Creationism doesn’t have papers dedicated to it. Some ideas are empirically testable, but the model is so wildly inferior to the current model in accounting for the data that. You can rationally discard models that don’t account for relevant secondary data. And that is still science.

    “The Stork Hypothesis” was never considered a scientific hypothesis. What’s next? Is Allallt going to start promoting atheism by positioning himself against the mighty “Santa Hypothesis.” This example highlights yet another problem with Allallt’s approach. He takes beliefs which were never intended as hypotheses/models, or never really qualified as hypothesis/model, and simply declares them to be models. Yet more misrepresentation (it’s much like the way Peter Boghossian simply declares that faith is supposed to be a branch of philosophy – epistemology) for apologetic reasons.

    In science, a hypothesis/model is more than some belief. Hypotheses/models are carefully constructed through the use of logic and consideration of the data. Then they are formulated as testable explanations for the precise purpose of being tested. From the scientific viewpoint, there was never such a thing as The Stork Hypothesis. That’s why you won’t be able to trace the origin of this “hypothesis” back to a scientist or lab.

    So let’s return to my point. According to Allallt/Dawkins, there is such a thing as the God Hypothesis in science. Given the fact that there are thousands of scientists who believe in God, you would think that at least somewhere in the scientific literature, this “God Hypothesis” would be outlined and explored. Maybe even a subset of journals devoted to the research that is being carried out on this controversial subject. The reason no such papers and journals exist is because there is no “God Hypothesis” in science. The existence of God is a subject that falls outside the domain of science.

    If Allallt and Dawkins want to make a philosophical argument that the evidence science has uncovered about the world shows us that God is very, very, very unlikely to exist, go for it. There is nothing wrong with using the facts that science has uncovered to make claims about our reality.

    The problem lies in how Allallt/Dawkins want to masquerade their philosophy as science. They want the public to believe that science itself has tested the existence of God because they recognize the authoritative role of science in our culture. Of course, none of the New Atheist scientists have ever lifted a pinky to actually test the existence of God and none of them can tell you where and how science has tested the existence of God. Instead, they point to evidence for evolution as if that is supposed to be relevant or point to the missing Gaps (thereby endorsing God of the Gaps logic) or appeal to the Argument from Evil (as if that is part of science).

    When you get apologists, activists, and culture warriors trying to sell their apologetics, activism, and agendas as science, science is damaged. Not only does it make it easier for other apologists, activists, and culture warriors to sell their apologetics, activism, and agendas as science, more and more people in the general public begin to view science as not being all that different from apologetics, activism, and someone’s agenda.

  47. Doug says:

    @Michael,

    more and more people in the general public begin to view science as not being all that different from apologetics, activism, and someone’s agenda.

    This prediction is in keeping with my observation as… a science fair judge. The first time I performed that task, I was impressed by the students understanding of science. If I asked a question that they didn’t know the answer to (and that will always happen with a good science fair judge), they would simply say, “I don’t know.” Lately, more and more of the students think (like Allallt, apparently) that part of the “game” of science is to attempt to BS your way through ignorance. Not at all a healthy tendency. And almost certainly indicative of the misrepresentation of science in the media.

  48. FZM says:

    In your opinion. And only if you rely on Teletubbie logic. I’m still waiting for someone to tell my how they know an omnipotent and benevolent God would create Teletubbies instead of humans.

    I suspect it could be argued that even the existence of a Teletubbie type world without suffering would provide no support for the existence of the God of traditional Christian Theism, because while free of suffering it’s easy to argue that such a world would not in fact be infinitely perfect or infinite in goodness. So that kind of world that wasn’t infinitely good or perfect, you could always make an argument that it was better explained by a naturalistic multiverse/brute fact type model.

  49. FZM says:

    Not only does it make it easier for other apologists, activists, and culture warriors to sell their apologetics, activism, and agendas as science, more and more people in the general public begin to view science as not being all that different from apologetics, activism, and someone’s agenda.

    There’s a national holiday in Russia and Belarus this weekend to commemorate the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power in 1917. I think that was a major victory for hard left political activism presenting itself as science and justifying its monopoly of power in all spheres of life on this basis. The temptation to see science in this way is obviously not new.

  50. Allallt says:

    To the core of the issue: “The problem lies in how Allallt/Dawkins want to masquerade their philosophy as science.”

    How very self-defeating. If Michael doesn’t think there is a philosophical discussion to be had about the limitations or the power of science, why is he engaging in this philosophical discussion about the limitations or power of science?

    Michael has an incredibly limited view of science. It’s the kind of view that does away with theoretical physics and hypothetical biology as scientific disciplines. And he doesn’t seem to think that limited view he has is up for discussion. How very naive.

    Michael is right in saying that a philosophical discussion is being had here. What he seems to miss is that this discussion is about what an accurate representation of science would look like. Graduates of science degrees and professors have very different views. My climatology lecturer has a different view to GIS and ‘Big Data’ lecturer. And there are entire books dedicated to the philosophy of science simply because the concept is so much larger than Michael is letting on.

    And maybe this is where Michael wants to take the conversation (or maybe it isn’t): perhaps he wants to argue that Dawkins doesn’t represent the breadth and pluralism of valid, working and published philosophies that underpin how science works and how to go about establishing the reach of scientific data into broader topics. But from what I can see, Michael actually just wants to argue Dawkins’ particular presentation of science is invalid and wrong. And yet it seems to be shared by Krauss, Carroll, Hawking, Harris, Alex Rosenburg and Garret Hardin.

    Occam’s razor (expressed here in terms relating to the discussion: if you don’t need something to explain the data, don’t include that thing in your model of reality) is even more extreme again that the view Dawkins expresses, but it can hardly be said to be entirely outside the generally operated and accepted philosophy of science.

    It seem the issue here is that Michael wants the limitations of science to be defined by a textbook he saw when he was 16 years old. I don’t know if that was 5 years ago or 50 years ago, and I’m not going to exclaim that this is an outdated notion. Instead, it’s over simplified and — would you believe it — not representative of how science happens. Michael seems to be expressing a wildly naive view that what he considers the ‘essential’ character of science is also the complete character of science.

  51. Doug says:

    @Allallt,
    You clearly don’t have the intelligence to distinguish between the two propositions:

    The problem lies in how Allallt/Dawkins want to masquerade their philosophy as science.

    and

    [there is no] philosophical discussion to be had about the limitations or the power of science

    How about working on that?

  52. Allallt says:

    @Doug
    It’s time consuming, but try reading the whole conversation again. Particularly that last comment from me.
    I’ll summarise the key points for you:
    (1) There is a broad conversation to be had about the philosophy of science.
    (2) Dawkins’ view falls well within that breadth of conversation.
    (3) There may be an argument that Dawkins doesn’t represent the entire breadth of such a discussion. But his actual view is not outside it.
    (4) Michael’s view is far too narrow. He apparently confuses what he deems the essential characteristics of science with its entire breadth.

    Nothing there isn’t supported by the conversation we’re having.

    So while I’m working on my intelligence, why don’t you work on your reading comprehension.

  53. Doug says:

    @Allallt,
    These are the “key points” only in your fevered brain. Try re-reading the whole conversation again. But instead of exercising your prodigious confirmation bias, attempt to actually understand what other people are saying.

  54. Doug says:

    @Allallt,
    Here’s the thing. You unfailingly manage to misrepresent what others write. If the misrepresentations are minor (and you don’t present them with absurd confidence), we can work with that and perhaps explain the misunderstanding. But lately, you don’t seem to even attempt to try to understand what others write. And eventually, rather than even care about what you are writing, you drive people to wonder whether your apparent lack of comprehension is due to stupidity or malice.

  55. Allallt says:

    @Doug.
    Where have I misrepresented or misunderstood the argument?

  56. Michael says:

    To the core of the issue: “The problem lies in how Allallt/Dawkins want to masquerade their philosophy as science.”

    How very self-defeating. If Michael doesn’t think there is a philosophical discussion to be had about the limitations or the power of science, why is he engaging in this philosophical discussion about the limitations or power of science?

    I never said I didn’t think there is a philosophical discussion to be had. I pointed out that Allallt/Dawkins want to masquerade their philosophy as science. Here’s the problem – I recognize we are having a philosophical discussion about science. But according to Allallt’s watered down definition of science, we’re doing science by having our philosophical discussion.

  57. TFBW says:

    @Allallt:
    Dawkins doesn’t “discuss” philosophy of science. He makes assertions which fall under that topic, but he treats them as non-negotiable facts, not philosophical posits. Scientism isn’t known for its flexibility in that regard. The problem that the other cited scientists have with Dawkins is, in a nutshell, that he presents his anti-religious polemic as being grounded in scientifically-established fact. This misrepresents most scientists, who are not anti-religious, and don’t see science as having necessarily anti-religious implications. It also misrepresents science, because scientism is an extremist fringe within the philosophy of science, but he presents it as though there are no alternatives.

  58. Allallt says:

    @Michael
    Simply not true. I have not implied this conversation is us doing science.

    @TFBW
    Have you got a few quotes from Dawkins to show that he “presents [science] as though there are no alternatives”?

  59. FZM says:

    TFBW,

    Dawkins doesn’t “discuss” philosophy of science. He makes assertions which fall under that topic, but he treats them as non-negotiable facts, not philosophical posits.

    This is a personal impression because I haven’t read any Dawkins for years, but I also never remember him addressing any philosophy of science issues as if discussion of them had real importance or were worth looking at in any depth.

    I do seem to remember that somewhere in the God Delusion he suggests that if there isn’t a scientific explanation for something, there is no explanation at all available.

    Scientism isn’t known for its flexibility in that regard.

    Scientism can be pretty flexible if the advocate of science is defining it in very broad terms (e.g. like vague ‘reason + evidence’ definitions), but at the cost of making it trivial. More strictly defined scientism (e.g. Alex Rosenberg’s view, where Physics is our only real source of knowledge of reality and we are close to having a completed Physics) on the other hand is more inflexible.

    Allallt,

    Have you got a few quotes from Dawkins to show that he “presents [science] as though there are no alternatives”?

    I’d be interested in any quotes from Dawkins where he discusses philosophy of science and ‘demarcation’ issues and considers more than one viewpoint as possible, to see what he has to say on the subject.

    I never recall Dawkins addressing the issue that ‘Science’ talk can be (were, and are being wherever there were/are Communist governments) used to leverage political and social authoritarianism if definitional and philosophy of science issues aren’t given enough attention.

  60. TFBW says:

    @Allallt: sure. The classic example of Dawkins teaching scientism as matter-of-fact comes from his 1991 “Waking Up In the Universe” Royal Institution Christmas Lecture for Children, early on in which he says:

    So where does life come from? What is it — why are we here? What are we for? What is the meaning of life? There’s a conventional wisdom which says that science has nothing to say about such questions. Well, all I can say is that if science has nothing to say, it’s certain that no other discipline can say anything at all.

    In “Good and Bad Reasons for Believing” (ch.7 of A Devil’s Chaplain), he denounces a bunch of not-science things as bad reasons for believing, including “authority”, but grants “scientific authority” a bit of a free pass, because it’s still got science behind the authority. So, no authority but scientific authority.

    In The God Delusion, Chapter 2, Dawkins presumes that the question of God’s existence is answerable (in principle) by science: “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.” Note that all it takes for a question to be within the realms of science (according to Dawkins) is for it to be a question of fact about the universe. A bit further on in the same chapter, he extends this to cover a broader range of factual questions.

    Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question with a definite answer in principle: yes or no. Did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Did he himself come alive again, three days after being crucified? There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover it in practice, and it is a strictly scientific answer.

    So science is the ultimate arbiter of historical facts, as far as he’s concerned. Note that this should be taken in conjunction with his “Good and Bad Reasons for Believing” text, which denigrates “tradition” as a source of information — which includes any written historical testimony, given the way in which he defines it. I’m not sure if anyone has called him on this rather outlandish claim yet.

    There’s plenty more where that came from, but those are the most directly relevant samples in my estimation. I hope it’s sufficient. I won’t bother with examples where he trash-talks theology or philosophy, specifically, unless you really want them. Do you have any counter-examples in which Dawkins suggests that something other than science might be the best tool for answering any sort of question?

  61. Allallt says:

    @TFBW (Do you initials stand for something?)
    “More generally it is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science’s turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.”
    Richard Dawkins, “When Religion Steps on Science’s Turf”, Free Inquiry (1998)

    Dawkins seems to put a flag down here about the difference between science and non-science: if a claim entails the existence of something, then it is a scientific question.

    I’m not sure I agree, and I think it would be an interesting discussion to see if he thinks there is a difference between that which is real and that which exists.
    And that would get us into the Harris ‘Can Science Determine Human Values?’ area.

  62. TFBW says:

    Was that quote supposed to be an example of Dawkins allowing that something other than science is valid for answering some category of questions? Because it doesn’t show that — it’s just another assertion that nothing but science can answer questions of existence. Throw it on the pile.

  63. Allallt says:

    @TFBW
    Dawkins seems to say that morals and values are not a part of ‘science’s turf’.
    Morals and values, even if ‘true’ and real, don’t have their most meaningful discussion in science. Dawkins seems to concede that here.

    To assert that which exists constitutes all that is true (a claim I think you have to imply to make your last comment) is something I think would need to be defended.

  64. TFBW says:

    You’re reading too much into both Dawkins and me. Dawkins concedes nothing of the sort you suggest, and I assert nothing of the sort you suggest. “Existence is the sole turf of science” does not imply that anything else is not the sole turf of science. On the contrary, Dawkins seems to think that we can be good without religion, so what makes you think he concedes moral or value-based truths to religion (or to anything other than science for that matter)? You’re assuming that on the basis of something he hasn’t said in the quote you gave. Either that, or you’re making a formal logical error — taking “all X is Y”, and deriving “there exists some not-X which is not-Y”.

  65. FZM says:

    I’m not sure I agree, and I think it would be an interesting discussion to see if he thinks there is a difference between that which is real and that which exists.

    Thinking about it, it would seem quite weird to think that moral truths, true value judgements, conceptual truths etc. are possible and can be part of reality, yet at the same time can’t exist. Dawkins might think something like that, I don’t know.

    Maybe if it was framed as a question about whether there are truths that constitute part of reality but which can’t be (or don’t need to be) observed/proven empirically, that could be interesting too.

  66. Allallt says:

    I’ll Tweet him and see if he answers.

  67. TFBW says:

    Dawkins has never had a particularly clear theory of morality, but it’s as anti-theistic as everything else he promotes. See some of my past musings on the subject (with references) here.

  68. FZM says:

    TFBW,

    Dawkins has never had a particularly clear theory of morality, but it’s as anti-theistic as everything else he promotes.

    That’s an interesting discussion of some of Dawkins’ views of morality. I think it’s possible that going into the question of morality in any depth would have got in the way of his tub thumping anti-theistic polemic and undermined his immediate popular appeal. It might have produced some hostages to fortune too due to the diversity of ideas of morality in the field of moral philosophy.

    The same might be said about his views on the nature and limits of Science, if he went into any depth here he would start to encounter more complicated questions and debates and again, would undermine his populist appeal and message.

  69. FZM says:

    I was wondering, related to the above, if during a debate or Q&A anyone has ever asked Dawkins questions like:

    What is Science? What is Morality? What is Religion?

  70. TFBW says:

    Not that I know of. I expect he’d have some fairly simplistic answers to the first and last of those questions — something along the lines of “the study of reality”, and “a meme”, respectively. To be clear, I base that latter supposition on The Selfish Gene, in which he coined the term “meme”. The middle question — well, that might be interesting, although I suspect it would probably come down to some sort of folk-pragmatism along the lines of “that which encourages flourishing is moral”, or “that which is most beneficial to most people is moral.” They’re the kinds of answers which raise more questions, of course.

  71. FZM says:

    You are probably right. Defining Science along the lines of ‘pursuit of the best understanding and most complete knowledge of reality possible’, without adding anything more specific, would probably suit Dawkins’ polemical purposes. Likewise appealing to memetics (up to a point, I never understood how, in memetics, pretty much everything in culture and thought doesn’t count as some sort of meme). I can see how you could make an argument that because of his anti-theistic and anti-religious commitments Dawkins was likely to present flawed or partial views of science, ignoring the fields of study and questions that would get in the way of promoting his views on a popular level.

  72. TFBW says:

    I never understood how, in memetics, pretty much everything in culture and thought doesn’t count as some sort of meme.

    No kidding. A “meme” is just “an idea” when it comes down to it. Science and reason could be considered memes, strictly speaking. It just so happens that “meme” conveys the concept of a meritless idea, while bypassing the whole messy business of actually demonstrating that the particular idea is meritless. One simply pronounces, “oh, that’s just a meme,” with a wave of the hand, and presto! — the idea has been demonstrated to be without merit. As far as I can tell, the purpose of “meme” as a term was to be exactly this kind of propaganda tool, so that religion could be dismissed as “just a meme.” Read the relevant section of The Selfish Gene forewarned with this information if you doubt me.

    In an ironic twist, I saw a not-especially-noteworthy article today about Dawkins making a public appearance in Vancouver, in which it is mentioned that Dawkins took aim at “Islamophobia” as being, “a made-up word to describe this privileged position Islam has in our society.” He makes it sound like made-up words are a bad thing, doesn’t he?

    I also note from the same article that he’s still claiming that “evidence” would change his mind about the existence of God, despite the fact that there’s no conceivable miracle big enough to actually count as evidence for him — a fact to which he also alludes in the same presentation. It’s a little depressing that these glaring inconsistencies aren’t more obvious to people.

  73. FZM says:

    He makes it sound like made-up words are a bad thing, doesn’t he?

    I guess it’s just the ones he didn’t make up himself, or that he doesn’t like for some reason that are bad and irrational .

    I also note from the same article that he’s still claiming that “evidence” would change his mind about the existence of God, despite the fact that there’s no conceivable miracle big enough to actually count as evidence for him — a fact to which he also alludes in the same presentation. It’s a little depressing that these glaring inconsistencies aren’t more obvious to people.

    Either his position is basically inconsistent or self contradictory, or it ends up being something like ‘because God hasn’t revealed himself to me in a way that I can neither doubt nor deny (and every other living human at the same time?), the probability that God exists is vanishingly small’. In both cases it’s interesting that more people don’t notice what he really seems to be saying.

    Reading through that article in the Vancouver Courier I noticed that this might be relevant to his ideas about the nature of Science:

    Science depends on peer review, repetition of experiments honed over centuries to guard against self-deception, double-blind controlled trials and so forth. Faith consists of believing in something unprovable.

    It looks like Dawkins initially starts from the position that what he asserts is mostly (wholly?) backed up by Science of the kind described above. But, the idea that anything that cannot be proved by repetition of experiments honed over centuries to guard against self deception, double blind controlled trials etc. is unprovable doesn’t seem to be an idea that can be proved or tested by repetition of experiments honed over centuries… etc.

    Nor does the idea that religious belief is just belief in unprovable things seem to be something demonstrated by repetition of experiments honed over the centuries to guard against self deception, double blind trials… etc.

    More inconsistency?

  74. TFBW says:

    The most fundamental inconsistency of scientism is that science is never used to validate it. All the other inconsistencies tend to be secondary effects of that. You can see that Dawkins also takes an extremely rosy view of science’s ability to get things right — a kind of optimism which tends to defeat all of the self-correcting mechanisms science has at its disposal, leading to cargo cult science, as Feynman put it. You actually need to be a bit sceptical of science to ensure that you catch and correct errors, so scientism begets poor science. Dawkins isn’t the sort to express such scepticism, particularly if the science in question is helping to validate his atheism (the reason he’s such a Darwin fanboy). Speaking of Darwin, did he ever perform experiments, let alone double-blind controlled trials? Would Darwin actually count as a scientist, given Dawkins’ claims about science?

  75. Michael says:

    Michael has an incredibly limited view of science…..It seem the issue here is that Michael wants the limitations of science to be defined by a textbook he saw when he was 16 years old. I don’t know if that was 5 years ago or 50 years ago, and I’m not going to exclaim that this is an outdated notion. Instead, it’s over simplified and — would you believe it — not representative of how science happens. Michael seems to be expressing a wildly naive view that what he considers the ‘essential’ character of science is also the complete character of science.

    Hmmm. Yet my incredibly limited, wildly naive view of science, something I saw in a textbook when I was 16, just happens to be the very view that was used in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District:

    After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. … It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (page 64)

    So you, along with Dawkins, Coyne, Krauss, Carroll, Hawking, Harris, Alex Rosenburg and Garret Hardin are saying this decision was based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of science.

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