Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Misrepresenting Science

There are certain theists who are so beyond the reach of rational discussion or consideration that I simply dismiss them and all their rantings as being unworthy of my attention.  If their arguments are illogical and they refuse to hear anything that does not echo their own position, then there is no point in arguing with them.  In many cases, there is no point in listening to them - unless they might have some impact on the debate in the broader community of believers.  One such theist is Mikey, who blogs at Shadow To Light.  This guy is a rabid atheist-hater, makes terribly illogical arguments, and aside from searching their words for sound bites to use against them, never listens to anything they say and never makes the slightest effort to understand their position.  There's only one reason I read his articles.  He seems to have the ear of some other theists, who then spread his extremely poor thinking to a broader audience.  So from time to time, I feel that it would be appropriate to answer his ridiculous claims.

This time, Mikey is attacking Sean Carroll, the physicist who has a reputation, even among theists, as being both reasonable and philosophically oriented.  Of course, Mikey doesn't care about that.  Mikey would never actually try to understand what any atheist is saying, regardless of how reasonable it might be.  He would never address the substance of their argument.  All that interests him is making atheists out to be fools and ridiculing them.  Please don't get me wrong here.  I'm not saying that ridiculing atheists is out of bounds.  But it would be more effective if what you're ridiculing actually is in some way ridiculous.  Mikey has chosen to attack the well respected scientist Sean Carroll on the grounds that he "is misrepresenting science".  And it is Mikey's claim that is ridiculous, as we shall see.

The article that set Mikey's hair on fire is an old one (from 2009) where Carroll declares Science and Religion are Not Compatible.  But not the whole article.  It is just one paragraph that Mikey has seized upon to show how ridiculous Carroll is:
The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look. Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility. - Carroll
Focusing on the first sentence of that, Mikey notes that there are other things in the world besides religion that reach conclusions that may not be compatible with science - like politics, for example.  (Actually, Mikey seems to be upset that Carroll has singled out religion against which to vent his irrational hatred.)  So Carroll is not thinking scientifically because he focuses his argument specifically on religion.  Never mind the fact that there aren't too many things besides science and religion that make conclusions about questions like where the universe comes from.  And even if there were, Mikey suffers from the delusion that Carroll would have to address all such things, or he's just not being scientific in his approach to answering the specific question "Is religion compatible with science?".  Do you get the logic of this?  Neither do I.  By Mikey's logic, if I wanted to investigate whether my wife and I are compatible, I would also need to ask whether I am compatible with every other person on the planet.  Which really doesn't help to answer the main question at all.

Next, Mikey attacks the notion that science and religion actually reach incompatible conclusions.  He does this by enumerating several things where there is no disagreement.
It is simply not true that “in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions.”  Where are the “incompatible conclusions” with regard to action potentials?  Signal transduction?  The role of microtubules?  The genome size of Drosophila?  Checkpoints during mitosis?  Sodium transport across nephrons? - Mikey
What was that?  If there are some things about which science and religion are in agreement, then there is no incompatibility?  Surely even Mikey is not stupid enough to believe that.  And yet, this is the argument he makes.  To be fair, he does recognize that there are "particular religious beliefs" that disagree with science, but that doesn't mean they are incompatible, he says.  Those particular beliefs include things like whether there is a God, an eternal soul and free will, how the universe came to exist, and whether the laws of thermodynamics would preclude a rotting dead guy from getting up and walking.  You know, just a few minor points of disagreement.  According to Mikey, it doesn't mean they're incompatible.

And then, Mikey scores his coup de grĂ¢ce against Carroll.  It is based on the penultimate sentence of the quoted paragraph: "And science says: none of that is true."  Mikey's reasoning is that scientists are obligated to explicitly test every nut-ball claim that religionists make, or they cannot draw any scientific conclusion about those claims.
If you are going to tell me that science has reached the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus is not true, you are obligated to provide the studies that set out to test the hypothesis of Jesus’s resurrection and generated results that led to the conclusion. If you have no such studies, you have no such scientific conclusion. It would simply mean science has NOT reached any such conclusion. And it hasn’t for the simple reason that such a claim is beyond the reach of science. - Mikey
And so, Carroll is supposedly misrepresenting science with his statement "And science says: none of that is true."  But science is not obligated to answer every nut-ball claim that religionists make.  The second law of thermodynamics is a scientific law precisely because it is so well established in science, backed by plenty of data, and thoroughly tested.  One of the implications of this law is that rotting corpses don't get up and walk.  That's what science tells us, and it holds true under scientific scrutiny, no matter what claims people may make to the contrary. Carroll has not misrepresented science in any way, despite Mikey's desperate attempts to discredit him.

So we see that Mikey has made yet another feeble attempt to make an atheist sound like a fool.  He just doesn't understand that by any measure of intellect, he is so far below Sean Carroll that his task is really a huge mountain to climb, and quite likely to end badly.  And once again, he has only succeeded in making himself sound like the fool that he is.

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