Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Science is almost totally incompatible with religion

Despite the phlethora of grandiose attempts to find some common ground between religion and science, science is almost totally incompatible with religion, says Peter Atkins, Oxford University physical chemist.

In an article published in Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 18, Number 2, available on the internet here, Peter Atkins writes:
"Science is almost totally incompatible with religion. I say "almost," but I do not wish that weasel word to be construed as weakness. The only point of compatibility is that there are well-meaning, honest people on both sides who are genuinely and deeply concerned with discovering the truth about this wonderful world. That having been said, there is no actual compatibility between science and religion.

Science's dispassionate stare examines issues publicly, exchanges information openly, discusses awkward points objectively, and builds up a network of interdependent ideas and theories that progressively expose the complex as an outcome of the simple. Religion's inwardly directed sentimental glow reflects on issues privately, exchanges information by assurance and assertion, discusses awkward points by warfare, terror, and coercion, and builds up a network of conflicting ideas that conceal ignorance under a cloak of high-flown yet empty prose.

Science reveals where religion conceals. Where religion purports to explain, it actually resorts to tautology. To assert that "God did it" is no more than an admission of ignorance dressed deceitfully as an explanation. Science, with its publicly accessible corpus of information and its open, scrutable arguments, can lead the wondering to an understanding of the entire physical world. (Below, of course, I shall have to argue that that is the entire world.)

Science respects the power of the human intellect; religion belittles it. Science gives us the prospect of full understanding, for it continues to show that, given time, there is no aspect of the world that is closed to its scrutiny and explanation. Religion disarmingly avers that human brains are too puny to achieve full comprehension. Yet science is progressively advancing toward complete knowledge, leaving religions bobbing about in its wake. "

See the rest of this great discussion at the website of the Council for Secular Humanism.


Atkins also has a great and devastating review of the inconic "Darwin's Black Box" by Michael J. Behe at this website, which begins:
"For those who have not already encountered this book or one of its numerous reviews, let me simply say that the author sets out to argue that the organic world is so complex, particularly at the level of molecular biology and biochemistry, that Darwinian evolution cannot possibly have led to it. As evolution cannot produce irreducibly complex systems (the blood-clotting process, for instance, the biochemist’s analogue of the eye), they must be the outcome of the activities of an Intelligent Designer. In other words, the book is a tiresome reworking at the molecular level of the timeworn "design" argument."

and later says:
".....With hard work and even the possibility of progress dismissed, Dr Behe waves his magic wand, discards the scientific method, and launches into his philosopher’s stone of universal explanation: it was all designed. Presenting this silly, lazy, ignorant, and intellectually abominable view -- essentially discarding reason and invoking that first resort of the intellectually challenged (that is, God) -- he present what he thinks is the most wondrous of theories, that the only way of achieving complexity is by design. There we see Dr. Behe dangling from his petard, proclaiming his "science" of intelligent design, while not troubling to seek the regulation of that awesome monitor of scientific enterprise, peer review."
In an Aug. 23 New York Times article by Cornelia Dean with the title: Scientists Speak Up on the Mix of God and Science, examples of mainstream scientists who are devout Christians are presented.

How can we explain the phenomenon of mainstream scientists who are also devout Christians? In the body of Dean's article, we find a possible explanation:
Some scientists say simply that science and religion are two separate realms, "nonoverlapping magisteria," as the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it in his book "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine, 1999). In Dr. Gould's view, science speaks with authority in the realm of "what the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)" and religion holds sway over "questions of ultimate meaning and moral value."
The percentage of scientists who "believe in God" (whatever that means is of course not clear) varies wildly on the sample polled. Later in Dean's report we find:
According to a much-discussed survey reported in the journal Nature in 1997, 40 percent of biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in God - and not just a nonspecific transcendental presence but, as the survey put it, a God to whom one may pray "in expectation of receiving an answer." The survey, by Edward J. Larson of the University of Georgia, was intended to replicate one conducted in 1914, and the results were virtually unchanged. In both cases, participants were drawn from a directory of American scientists. Others play down those results. They note that when Dr. Larson put part of the same survey to "leading scientists" - in this case, members of the National Academy of Sciences, perhaps the nation's most eminent scientific organization - fewer than 10 percent professed belief in a personal God or human immortality.
Later, Dean reports some views on physicist and Nobel prize winner Steven Weinberg:
In any event, he added, "the experience of being a scientist makes religion seem fairly irrelevant," he said. "Most scientists I know simply don't think about it very much. They don't think about religion enough to qualify as practicing atheists." Most scientists he knows who do believe in God, he added, believe in "a God who is behind the laws of nature but who is not intervening."
And this from Richard Dawkins, Oxford Univ. biologist:
But Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary theorist at Oxford, said that even scientists who were believers did not claim evidence for that belief. "The most they will claim is that there is no evidence against," Dr. Dawkins said, "which is pathetically weak. There is no evidence against all sorts of things, but we don't waste our time believing in them."

Saturday, August 20, 2005



Don't miss the great New Republic book review by Jerry Coyne (U. Chicago Dept. of Ecology and Evolution biologist). Coyne reviews the book "Of Pandas and People", by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon. Pandas and People is the book students in Dover School District (Penna) were directed to if they desired an introduction to the ideas of Intelligent Design.

The review by Coyne has the title: "The Faith That Dare Not Speak its Name: The case against intelligent design," and appears in the August 22 & 29 issue the The New Republic.

Some other good (and shorter!) book reviews related to attacks on the paradigm of Darwinian and neo-darwinian explanations can be found on Coyne's faculty web page in pdf form.


Another (earlier) great discussion of the oxymoron called Intelligent Design is by H. Allen Orr in the New Yorker magazine, titled "Master Planned: Why Intelligent Design Isn't".

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Not Physics, Not Poetry, The Blind Leading the Blind

My Aunt Mary passed on a link to a website called New Dawn Magazine, containing an article called: The Out-of-Body Experience as Dimensional Translocation. New Dawn Magazine advertises itself as: A Journal of Alternative News and Information - For a New Consciousness, a New Humanity, a New Era!

The author, JIM DEKORNE, concludes after a very long trip:

"When we read the monotonously repetitive data on UFO abductions – how abductees are routinely transported through solid walls, beamed into spaceships, communicate telepathically with aliens, etc., we have to ponder what kinds of dimensional interfaces must be involved. Almost all serious researchers are now in substantial agreement that the UFO phenomenon is transdimensional in nature, though how higher-dimensional entities can “physically” introject themselves into three dimensional space remains maddeningly unresolved."

"...Everything we have examined so far suggests that these intruders from a fourth-spatial-dimension constitute the “angels, devils, fairies and elves” who’ve been interfacing with humankind since the dawn of time. The fact that they accommodate themselves to prevailing cultural illusions tells us immediately that (just like us), they are Ideas (spirits, points-of-view) evolving on some frequency within the Objective Psyche. They and we may even be co-creations – when fairies fade from credence in spacetime, the ideas they represent morph into space aliens to keep pace with current belief systems. Who creates whom?"

My Aunt Mary wanted my take on this stuff, so the following was my reply:

Hi Mary,

The physics of this speculation is not accurate.


author: Koan: Where do these photons (after their exhausting one-hundred million year journey through interstellar space) go upon entering your own personal black holes (eye-pupils)? The radiation from an entire galaxy registers on your brain, is interpreted by your mind, and then what? And then where? Surely those photons can’t just “wink out” after going to all that trouble to get here! Can they?

The radiation impinging on a telescope or eyeball from a distant object involves the conversion of the energy of the photon into the energy of chemical reactions which are used by the telescope detector or your eyeball to process the image. The photon is destroyed in the process, which happens all the time with no problem.

author: " Look at it another way: Imagine a point existing in some kind of pre-spatial “void” – the Tao, perhaps (whatever that is). Mathematically, a point has zero dimensions, but it exists anyway because consciousness defines it that way. A zero-dimensional point existing in “non-space” probably comes as close to “nothing” as we can imagine, but quantum cosmologists say that our universe was created out of just such a “singularity.” They also tell us that nothing can take place without an observer:

The "big bang" was a moment when matter and energy were in a highly compressed state (not infinite density) everywhere, not just at one "point".
The rest of this speculation is a good example of someone with not much academic training in physics making huge extrapolations based on a poor understanding of that physics.

Huge claims are worthless unless the proposer of the ideas shows how the ideas can be falsified by doing an experiment. If no experiment or observation can (in principle) prove the idea wrong, then it is not science but poetry.

In this case it is not poetry, it is the blind leading the blind.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

President Bush on Intelligent Design

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 2, 2005; 2:15 PM

Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "President Bush waded into the debate over evolution and 'intelligent design' Monday, saying schools should teach both theories on the creation and complexity of life. . .

"Scientists concede that evolution doesn't answer every question about the creation of life, but most consider intelligent design an attempt to inject religion into science courses.

"Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over 'creationism,' a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.

"On Monday the president said he favors the same approach for intelligent design 'so people can understand what the debate is about.' "

Hutcheson writes that Bush "didn't seem eager to talk about the topic."

Here, in fact, is the entire exchange, prompted by Hutcheson's question:

"Q I wanted to ask you about the -- what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design. What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools?

"THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as my governor . . . Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.

"Q Both sides should be properly taught?

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes, people -- so people can understand what the debate is about.

"Q So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution?

"THE PRESIDENT: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting -- you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

This from a President who has largely ignored the advice of numerous panels of expert scientists trying to advise him on many problems.

Notice how the President's final reply completely sidesteps the question posed. Why does President Bush think that "intelligent design" should be treated on a par with the deep insights of evolutionary biology??

Isn't Yale University embarassed by their former student??

Clifford Johnson comments:

"I agree with the President that people should be exposed to different ideas. That does not include teaching them religious ideas under the guise of teaching them science. That does not include teaching science as if it was as much of a “he said, she said” enterprise as polititcs (or, currently, journalism). That this topic has taken up so much of the energy about science education in our country recently can’t help but affect the scientific literacy of the next generation of Americans and does a huge disservice to the goal of educating the next generation of scientists. I’m not surprised by the President’s comments, but I’m extremely dissappointed.

Update: Chris Mooney makes the excellent point that Bush is directly contradicting his (physicist) science advisor, John Marberger, who told a told a group of reporters earlier in the year that 'Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory.' ”