Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sitting On Both Sides of the Fence

Christians are all over the map when it comes to their feelings about science.  They don't want to be seen as science deniers, but many of them are uncomfortable with the idea that science doesn't support theistic beliefs.  Some openly express their contempt for science.  These people are not representative of the majority of Christians.  Others say they have no problem whatsoever with science, and even proudly claim credit on behalf of religion for the early development of science.  But ask them what they think of scientists, their view is decidedly less friendly.  They often point out that science is incapable of detecting or determining the existence of God, so a broader view is needed, and that's why scientism is fundamentally wrong, in their view.  Science alone can't be used confirm theistic beliefs, so it must be lacking the epistemological power needed by theists to feel justified in believing despite the lack of empirical evidence.  Still others dishonestly pervert the practice of science to promote their religion.  Probably the best examples of this are "creation science" and "intelligent design", where theists employ methods and language that sound "sciency", but don't follow scientific method, and then dishonestly claim that science leads to the inescapable conclusion that God (or some other powerful agent) is responsible for making the living things we observe in our world.

To their credit, many religionists reject creation science and other similar endeavors because they recognize them for what they are: pseudo-science.  They don't follow proper scientific method, but they cherry-pick empirical data that can be used to build a case for the conclusion they are trying to reach - the only conclusion they would ever accept, no matter how much evidence they have to ignore in order to avoid any results that might deviate from their goal.  And they scrupulously avoid making testable predictions, because they know just as well as the rest of us where that would likely lead.  I applaud those theists who have the sense to reject this kind of false science.

Still, the majority religious believers want to seem reasonable, and they maintain that there is no real conflict between science and religion, but they have differing ideas about what the relationship is.  There is the "non-overlapping magisteria" perspective that says science and religion are completely separate areas of inquiry, and science can't possibly answer questions about God or morality, or anything else that is religious in nature.  Others seem to think that the scientific community (which is comprised largely of atheists) deliberately limits the scope of their investigations to natural (ie physical) phenomena for ideological reasons, and thus reject with prejudice any findings that would support religious beliefs.  In other words, it's not science that's bad, but the people who practice it.

Religionists of the latter group - those who feel that scientists deliberately exclude religious conclusions, whose members include people like Victor Reppert - tend to be ignorant of how science really works.  They often cite methodological naturalism as proof of their mistaken belief.  But methodological naturalism is not an ideological agenda.  It is a methodology by which science must necessarily proceed.  It is nothing more than the assumption that physical things behave in accordance with physical laws, and that provides the basis formulating testable hypotheses and achieving repeatable results in experimentation.  Without that assumption, science would be impossible.  And the assumption is fully justified by observation.  There are no verified cases of any observed physical phenomena that are an exception to the rule.  This has nothing to do with ideology.  It's just how science works, solidly based on observation and induction.  If it should ever turn out that something does not behave in a manner consistent with physical laws, then we must re-think the very basis of science.  The first rule of science is that all evidence must be taken into account.  As it turns out, there has never been a need to re-examine the assumption of naturalism for the purposes scientific methodology.  But if religionists can ever come up with a bona-fide case of supernatural phenomena, then it may be worthwhile listening to their complaints.

Many religious believers are happy to include themselves in the former group - those who feel that reality is broader than the physical world, and science just doesn't have the ability to investigate the non-physical aspect of it because science is (rightly) limited to the physical world, but there are other ways of discovering that broader reality.  In their view, scientists (and other atheists) take an ignorant stance on what reality consists of, and how it can be known.  This stance is called scientism, and it limits one's perspective to a subset the real world.  (The religionist, of course, claims to suffer from no such limitation.)  Such is the case with Bob Prokop, for example, who follows the teachings of the Catholic Church, which holds that science must be fully compatible with theistic beliefs (if done properly), but can't provide all the answers the theist needs.  This might not be an altogether unreasonable view, except for the fact that when science really does conflict with their religious dogma (as is the case with scientific vs. religious theories of mind), they deny the existing body of evidence, and cling to the notion that science simply hasn't yet arrived at the truth (and perhaps never will).

Then there are the the ones who straddle the fence between these two groups.  You hear them arguing on one occasion against science and scientism as a means of understanding reality, and embracing the methods of science on another.  These people seem to be confused about their attitude toward science.  They may claim that God can't be detected empirically, and is beyond the scope of scientific investigation.  But at the same time, they jump at any opportunity they see to use junk science if they think it will help to justify their religious beliefs.  Joe Hinman is in this category.

Joe's understanding of science is abysmal.  I don't think he even understands what empirical evidence is.  According to Joe, you can't empirically detect direct evidence God, but you can empirically detect the "co-determinate or God correlate".  This "co-determinate" is an indirect empirical indicator of God that provides not scientific proof, but "warrant for belief".  He doesn't seem to be aware that there is nothing that distinguishes his "co-determinate" from any other empirical evidence.  There are many things in science that are postulated because of indirect empirical evidence.  We don't use the term "co-determinate" in science.  Whatever is empirically detectable should be regarded as scientifically valid evidence.  And "warrant for belief" really means nothing more than scientific belief based on empirical evidence.  There is no special category of empirical knowledge that falls outside the purview of mainstream science, as Joe seems to think.  So when Joe says that he has empirically-based warrant for belief, he's is making a scientific claim, whether he thinks so or not.

Joe apparently wants to pretend that his supposed empirical evidence (some 200 scientific studies, as outlined in his book, The Trace of God) is not the the same as ordinary scientific evidence because the scientific community doesn't recognize it as evidence for God.  He doesn't seem to understand that it's not because of the indirect nature of the evidence that science doesn't infer God from it, but rather it's because the evidence Joe cites (which mainly shows a correlation between spiritual attitudes and well-being) doesn't really justify the conclusion that God is the cause of this correlation at all.  Think about it.  If Joe's evidence really showed what he thinks it does, he would be single-handedly responsible for unearthing empirical evidence for God that should, at the very least, merit an article in Scientific American.  And theists everywhere would seize upon it as the thing they've been searching for all this time.  But that's obviously not the case.  Joe is simply unable to view this evidence objectively and postulate a more realistic cause for the correlation.  I don't think his intent is dishonest, but it is just another case of pseudo-science.

Joe needs to get off the fence.  Either he accepts science or he doesn't.  He can't have it both ways.  If he wants to claim he has empirical evidence and scientific studies on his side, he needs to learn how science works.  One key aspect of science is that you you have to take all the evidence into account - not just the bits that suit your purpose.  And you need to consider alternative hypotheses to find the one that best fits the entirety of the observed evidence - not simply reject everything but the religious hypothesis.  This is called abductive reasonong.  Finally, Joe needs to understand that he isn't a genius who has managed (with his liberal arts education) to discover empirical evidence for God that has somehow eluded every scientist in the world because of their bias against religious conclusions.  Accepting science means accepting its methodology - not pretending that you know better than the rest of the scientific community when you clearly don't.  Or by rejecting science, you can pander to the religious community and tell them whatever they want to hear, without regard to scientific realities.  And if you want to be honest, you must admit that science is not on your side.  One way or the other.  It can't be both.


  1. Dude, you are full of it. When you say that he either accepts science or not, you want him to accept your science (physicalism). That's the only science that exists in your eyes.

    1. Dude, you are wrong. I specifically said he needed to accept proper scientific method. I said nothing at all about physicalism.

    2. To you, proper scientific method is physicalism.

    3. I discussed method in the article. Did you read it? Do you understand what I am saying? Is there a rational thought rattling around in that religion-addled brain of yours, or do you just believe whatever people like Pogge tell you?

    4. I know that you mentioned method. And, I see right through this article of yours. He isn't accepting materialism, so you accuse him of being against science.

    5. What is it that makes you so sure of this? Obviously, it isn't what I said. So do you have any evidence, or is this just another unjustified belief you cling to?