Feb 13 2012

An Online CAM Poll

Online surveys are worthless. That is, they are worthless as a source of information about popular belief and opinions. Yet many people still find them compelling, and so they can be useful as a way of driving traffic to your website. I guess that’s why they persist.

A recent poll about teaching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in Australian universities has become a matter of unnecessary controversy. Asher Moses wrote an article complaining about the fact that the survey seems to have been “gamed”, in an article: Vote on alternative medicine falls victim to dark arts of the internet. In the article he seems to miss the two real points about the poll – surveys are not reliable, and it’s fallacious to use them as an argument from popularity anyway.  He writes:

Voting progressed steadily at first but on Tuesday votes began rising from about 125,000 to more than 877,000 by the time voting closed on Thursday. The end result was 70 per cent no, 30 per cent yes.  The number of votes in the poll was about eight times more than the number of online readers of the story, a clear indicator that the poll had been gamed.

Moses talks in the article about how easy it is to “game” an online survey, but that is not the real issue. Most surveys are probably not hacked, as indicated above it is easy to detect such manipulation. Rather, there is a problem inherent with polls and surveys.  The only reference to this issue in the article is acknowledgement that the survey was not “scientific” – but what does that mean, exactly?

A scientific survey is a method for estimating the percentage of the general population (or some identified subpopulation) that has one or more characteristics. It does not have to be an opinion, it can be something physical like: what percentage of the population has blue eyes. This is a deceptively difficult task to undertake.

First you would have to clearly define “blue eyes”. Blue can blend into green or even hazel, without a clear demarcation. Should the survey contain a box for “ambiguous”? Do you allow for people to decide for themselves and self-report whether or not they have blue eyes, or do you require a picture, or perhaps an in-person exam under controlled lighting conditions with multiple examiners having to agree on the eye color? Perhaps some people define themselves as blue-eyed because they think it’s more attractive. The point is – no matter how simple you think the question is, there are layers of complexity that will affect the outcome.

The next big problem is how you are going to select the targets of your survey in order to ensure that it is representative of the target population. Are you gong to stratify by race? Otherwise the racial mix of whatever community you look in will have a large impact on the outcome. If you are going to sample widely from many communities, then how are those people going to be selected? Will it be adequately random and sequential? You have to avoid anything that can potentially bias the results by preferentially selecting blue or not-blue eye color.

For surveys about opinions and beliefs there are more layers of complexity. Self selection, obviously, is a huge biasing factor. Any survey that allows people to choose whether or not to respond to the survey is “unscientific” and essentially worthless. Online polls are even worse because people not only can choose whether or not to respond (for example by agreeing to take part in a phone survey or by taking the time to mail back a survey), but they can also choose to seek out the survey, or can be directed there by groups with an interest in one outcome.  For example, about the CAM survey Moses reports:

In the email sent by the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia to members of its mailing list urging them to vote, the organisation’s consumer affairs director, Justin Howden, noted that the ”no” vote was streets ahead and said: ”We need to fight fire with fire.”

Urging members of one group to vote is breaking the poll. P Z Myers likes to point out this fact by “Pharyngulating” a poll – directing his readers to go to the poll and vote, massively biasing the outcome. He is clear that the point of this is not to engineer one outcome, but to demonstrate how worthless online polls are because they are so easy to bias. What you are really measuring is not public opinion but how effectively one side or the other can mobilize its online community.

A scientific survey is one in which efforts are made to contact random and representative people in a systematic way that avoids any bias. Subjects are chosen – they don’t choose themselves. Response rate is still a huge issue, because people can refuse to participate in the survey. Always look at the response rate of a survey and consider that an error bar. If only 10% of potential responders agreed to take the survey, ignore the results. As above, you can frame the issue as – what are you really measuring? Are you measuring passion for the issue? Comfortableness with the question? The anger that the issue provokes?  Willingness to be honest about the question?

The difficulty of all of these issues is made clear by political polling. Anyone who follows the news in an election year will notice that polls can be very inaccurate. Such polls are simple in the respect that they have a finite number of choices – which candidate are you voting for? This is a clearly defined question. And yet, results often do not predict voting outcomes, for all the reasons I stated above.

Opinion polls suffer from a further layer of complexity that can significantly change the outcome – how questions are framed. Are you asking responders if they agree with a position or disagree with its opposite? This can significantly affect the outcome. Are you making any assumptions about the context of the question? You can also bias survey results by assuming or even presenting facts that might make responders feel stupid, immoral, or just out of the mainstream for answering one way.

For example, surveys about belief in evolution are notoriously easy to bias depending on how the question is framed. If responders are made to feel that by stating they accept evolution they are rejecting God or religion, they are much less likely to do so.

In this CAM survey the question was: “‘Should universities teach alternative medicine?” This sounds simple, but those taking the survey may make many assumptions. What exactly is meant by “alternative medicine?” And teach it how? – Teach about alternative medicine, or promote alternative medicine as legitimate? The survey, of course, was attached to an article, so the content of the article can provide context and hugely bias the survey.

Conclusion

Scientific surveys are very tricky and their results should be viewed with extreme caution and a savvy eye. Surveys that are not scientific are worthless as a source of information. They persist because they are a gimmick for driving traffic to an article or website. Worse – they can be easily biased and then used inappropriately as if they actually represent public opinion. The online skeptical community has actually been effective in “breaking” such polls, not to use the results but to keep them from being used.

Legitimate surveys can be useful measures of public opinion, but in this and many similar cases proponents try to use them in order to make an argument from popularity. Moses throughout his article assumes that the popularity of CAM is an important issue. However, it is entirely irrelevant to the specific issue at hand – how should universities approach the topic of so-called CAM?

I have written several articles about this topic in which I make the point that universities should be thought leaders, helping to define and defend rigorous standards of intellectualism and scholarship. They should not be taking opinion polls and then following the current intellectual fad. Even if the vast majority of the public wanted CAM it would be appropriate for a university or medical school to take the unpopular position that CAM is a false category built largely on bad science, distorting the evidence, and even trying deliberately to water down the standards of science and evidence in medicine.

Thought leaders sometimes have to take unpopular positions. In fact, the issue about teaching CAM in universities is about defending science standards in the face of popular nonsense. It’s an oxymoron to argue that universities should or should not do so because of popular opinion.

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64 responses so far

64 Responses to “An Online CAM Poll”

  1. sonicon 13 Feb 2012 at 9:13 am

    On line polls amount to a non-random sample of an unknown population.
    Can’t be used to generalize to anything.

  2. ConspicuousCarlon 13 Feb 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Surveys are one of the primary challenges of market research. If you imagine an ideal setting for conducting a survey, it would be something like a large corporation with a large research budget trying to find out if one of their own proposed products is going to sell well or if it would be a disastrous waste of money. Even when all of the resources and financial motivations are in favor of a well-designed survey, producing accurate data is recognized in the business world as a constant challenge. You don’t know if your sample really is random, you don’t know if respondents are interpreting your question the way you intend them to, and you don’t know if they are trying to be “helpful” with their answers. A voluntary-response survey conducted by a third party and promoted via rumor is worth nothing.

    # sonic on 13 Feb 2012 at 9:13 am
    On line polls amount to a non-random sample of an unknown population.

    Indeed. It is the burden of the person who conducts a poll, presenting a numerator of some number of people who answered in the pollster’s favor, to convince me that the denominator is not the entire population of Earth. Simply listing the number of volunteers who offered a competing answer is not enough.

  3. BobbyGon 13 Feb 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Some years ago I once watched with “amusement” an ongoing newsletter article commentary debate among ASQ Health Care Division members (of which I have long been one) wherein they ruminated at length over the proper flavor of regression analysis to apply to some Likert Scale “patient satisfaction” surveys across time. Had to love all the tabulations of 1-to-5 results carried out to 4 decimal places, and the trend lines and p- and r-values.

    It’s at once funny and very not so.

  4. BillyJoe7on 13 Feb 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Steven Novella,

    “P Z Myers likes to point out this fact by “Pharyngulating” a poll – directing his readers to go to the poll and vote, massively biasing the outcome. He is clear that the point of this is not to engineer one outcome, but to demonstrate how worthless online polls

    I think you’ve been pharyngulated.
    If that is his only intent, then why not pharyngulate all polls? In fact, he pharyngulates only those polls that he has an interest in the outcome being opposite to what the pollsters seems to intend. For example a question about CAM next to an article supportive of CAM or on a CAM supportive website will trend positive until it is pharyngulated after which is becomes, for the pollsters, embarrassingly negative.
    He also targets polls on religion and homosexuality.
    My speculation about the reason is that, if those for whom the poll is intended see that their view is in the minority, it might just cause them to rethink their view. At the very least it would tend to take the wind out of their sails.

  5. cwfongon 13 Feb 2012 at 4:51 pm

    So that if your views are in the minority, they are most likely wrong?

  6. cwfongon 14 Feb 2012 at 12:02 am

    Nice article here on the value of online surveys:

    The value of online surveys
    Document Information:
    Title: The value of online surveys
    Author(s): Joel R. Evans, (Zarb School of Business, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA), Anil Mathur, (Zarb School of Business, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA)
    Citation: Joel R. Evans, Anil Mathur, (2005) “The value of online surveys”, Internet Research, Vol. 15 Iss: 2, pp.195 – 219
    Keywords: Internet, Research, Research methods, Surveys
    Article type: General review
    DOI: 10.1108/10662240510590360 (Permanent URL)
    Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited
    Abstract:
    Purpose – To provide a thorough analysis of the role of the internet in survey research and to discuss the implications of online surveys becoming such a major force in research.

    Design/methodology/approach – The paper is divided into four major sections: an analysis of the strengths and potential weaknesses of online surveys; a comparison of online surveys with other survey formats; a discussion on the best uses for online surveys and how their potential weaknesses may be moderated; and an overview of the online survey services being offered by the world’s largest research firms.

    Findings – If conducted properly, online surveys have significant advantages over other formats. However, it is imperative that the potential weaknesses of online surveys be mitigated and that online surveys only be used when appropriate. Outsourcing of online survey functions is growing in popularity.

    Practical implications – The paper provides a very useful source of information and impartial advice for any professional who is considering the use of online surveys.

    Originality/value – The paper synthesizes the vast literature related to online surveys, presents original material related to survey methodology, and offers a number of recommendations.

  7. neilgrahamon 14 Feb 2012 at 12:35 am

    An excellent article. In particular I was struck by the example that concluded, “If responders are made to feel that by stating they accept evolution they are rejecting God or religion, they are much less likely to do so.”

    Those most known for promoting the truth of evolution are also known for vigorously denouncing religion. It would seem that a more positive attitude towards evolution could be developed if the message was divorced from questions about religion and atheism. The fact that education about evolution in the public sphere is being delivered mostly by those known for their anti-theist beliefs, it seems, lessens its effectiveness. In a sense the medium (often a committed atheist) for many has become the message.

    Perhaps communication about CAM may be open to similar distortion. The fact that polls are taken at all is a mark of communication failure. Offered alternatives provide refuge for rebels wishing to subvert those who come across as “knowing all of the answers”, and thus give them an opportunity to preserve a sense of individual autonomy.

    The increasing specialisation of knowledge has resulted in experts within universities make decisions outside of their discipline and so it is not surprising that “bad science” is introduced in the name of alternative medicine. How many scientists will forcefully declare opinions about, say, religion without ever becoming theologically literate?

  8. neilgrahamon 14 Feb 2012 at 12:35 am

    An excellent article. In particular I was struck by the example that concluded, “If responders are made to feel that by stating they accept evolution they are rejecting God or religion, they are much less likely to do so.”

    Those most known for promoting the truth of evolution are also known for vigorously denouncing religion. It would seem that a more positive attitude towards evolution could be developed if the message was divorced from questions about religion and atheism. The fact that education about evolution in the public sphere is being delivered mostly by those known for their anti-theist beliefs, it seems, lessens its effectiveness. In a sense the medium (often a committed atheist) for many has become the message.

    Perhaps communication about CAM may be open to similar distortion. The fact that polls are taken at all is a mark of communication failure. Offered alternatives provide refuge for rebels wishing to subvert those who come across as “knowing all of the answers”, and thus give them an opportunity to preserve a sense of individual autonomy.

    The increasing specialisation of knowledge has resulted in experts within universities make decisions outside of their discipline and so it is not surprising that “bad science” is introduced in the name of alternative medicine. How many scientists will forcefully declare opinions about, say, religion without ever becoming theologically literate?

  9. BillyJoe7on 14 Feb 2012 at 5:12 am

    neilgraham,

    Perhaps those most known for promoting the truth of evolution are those who know most about evolution and consequently have realised that religion is incompatible with it. Having realised that evolution also provides the gounding for ethics, there is nothing left for religion to do. And that is only a small step from realising that religion is actually harmful and that, therefore, it should be vigourously denunciated.

    The question is: should they sacrifice the truth on the alter of religious sensitivities.

    The other question is: how do you know that sacrificing the truth on the alter of religious sensitivities will actually promote evolution amongst the religious. There is, in fact, a very real possibility that what is now called “accommodationism” is actually counterproductive to acceptance of evolution.

    You might care to to follow the history of the BioLogos foundation to get a perpective on this.

  10. BillyJoe7on 14 Feb 2012 at 5:21 am

    ….I missed this bit;

    “How many scientists will forcefully declare opinions about, say, religion without ever becoming theologically literate?”

    It is not necessary to be theologically literate to forcefully declare an opinion about religion.
    If gods do not exist, as the scientific evidence from cosmology to particle physics to anthropology clearly leads us to believe to be the case, what is the point in being conversant with the theological literature? Do we need to study the homoeopathetic pharmacopeeia to forcefully declare an opinion about homeopathy?

  11. tmac57on 14 Feb 2012 at 10:50 am

    neilgraham-

    How many scientists will forcefully declare opinions about, say, religion without ever becoming theologically literate?

    I recently had a proponent of astrology make that exact same argument.Needless to say,I am not now going to spend the next 10 years of my life steeping myself in the nuances of Babylonian astrology and Hellenistic astrology,or the differences between western,Hindu,or Chinese astrology.
    The bottom line is that there is no plausibility for it,and the testable claims that it can make are shown to be false,so why invest your time in it?

  12. cwfongon 14 Feb 2012 at 12:33 pm

    BioLogos was founded in 2007 by Dr. Francis Collins—a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes.

    Formerly an atheist, Collins became a Christian in his 20s after realizing his perspective did not provide answers to profound questions about the meaning of life and was inconsistent with observations about the nature of the universe and humankind.

    So what do we learn from following their history except that there are intelligent people in religion as well as out. And that the religious can evolve, and perhaps know more about the evolutionary function in life and in the universe as well than do the lesser educated atheists who’ve never understood its depths.

  13. sonicon 14 Feb 2012 at 2:20 pm

    ConspicuousCarl-
    In the case of an on-line poll– shouldn’t the denominator be (number of positive responses) times (number of people on earth)?
    After all, we have to account for the fact all the responses could be by one person… ;-)

    BTW- aren’t on-line polls ‘for entertainment purposes only’?

  14. BillyJoe7on 14 Feb 2012 at 3:27 pm

    cwfong:

    “BioLogos was founded in 2007 by Dr. Francis Collins—a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes.”

    He is a good scientist.

    “Formerly an atheist, Collins became a Christian in his 20s after realizing his perspective did not provide answers to profound questions about the meaning of life and was inconsistent with observations about the nature of the universe and humankind.”

    In other words, he panicked.
    I went the other way. I was a devout catholic destined to fullfil my father’s wishes and enter the priesthood. I panicked (at the implications of eternity) and became a atheist.

    “So what do we learn from following their history except that there are intelligent people in religion as well as out.”

    I cannot but agree.
    …except for the cognitive dissonance of course.

    “And that the religious can evolve, and perhaps know more about the evolutionary function in life and in the universe as well than do the lesser educated atheists who’ve never understood its depths.”

    I doubt that is possible while remaining cognitively dissonant.
    In any case, I was talking about BioLogos, not its co-founder. BioLogos has been attempting to find a accommodation between religion and science (evolution). It has been an abject failure from both sides of the fence. The reason is that the two cannot be accommodated. They are not non-overlapping magisteria.

  15. BillyJoe7on 14 Feb 2012 at 3:28 pm

    tmac,

    I beat you by about five hours ;)

  16. neilgrahamon 14 Feb 2012 at 5:01 pm

    BillyJoe7 and tmac57:

    If Dr Novella’s statement, “If responders are made to feel that by stating they accept evolution they are rejecting God or religion, they are much less likely to do so” is to be taken at face value, then rationally it makes common sense to divorce the two in the public mind – that is, if the object is to promote evolution. I would describe myself as being neither religious nor non-religious so I have no axe to grind either way.

  17. cwfongon 14 Feb 2012 at 5:20 pm

    So you panicked, and assume belief changes are likely reactions fueled by panic?
    Cognitive dissonance involves the holding of two different beliefs, especially with those who can’t reconcile the apparent differences as part of a larger whole. Even though I don’t agree with Collins, I also find him to be one of the least cognitive dissonant around. (Behe, on the other hand is an example of one of the most.)
    So if you’re under the impression that the intellectual span of differences between your rudimentary views on evolution and Collins’ views are overridden or negated by the dissonance of his, I’m not surprised. What else could your clearly demonstrated ignorance accommodate without dissonance.

    You’re content with the assumption that religion and the science of evolution cannot be ‘accommodated.’
    So again you’ve shown no understanding that religion does not need a particular, or any, God to be effective. Marry that to your understanding that without life, the universe is otherwise dead, and you’ve sealed off your brain to anything that would otherwise seem to bring you more panic. Except that everything you argue appears to be an effort to stave off that very panic – to stop any chance of knowing that dealing with your ignorance is your biggest problem.
    While those like Collins have dealt with ignorance as the blessing that fuels their curiosity.

    Or those like this guy: http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0.html

  18. BillyJoe7on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:30 am

    cfwong,

    Give me a break. I was fifteen when I lost the faith through a panic about the implications about eternity. It was many years before science, scepticism and irreligion entered my life. What happened at fifteen merely paved the way to the realisation that rationality/logic/science is the only avenue towards truth.

  19. BillyJoe7on 15 Feb 2012 at 4:31 am

    “Or those like this guy: http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0.html

    You have GOT to be joking!

  20. BillyJoe7on 15 Feb 2012 at 5:01 am

    neilgraham,

    “If Dr Novella’s statement, “If responders are made to feel that by stating they accept evolution they are rejecting God or religion, they are much less likely to do so” is to be taken at face value, then rationally it makes common sense to divorce the two in the public mind – that is, if the object is to promote evolution.”

    There is a big difference between the short term influence of a poll on the public acceptance of evolution and the long range influence of accommadationism of religion on the public acceptance of evolution.
    There is no evidence that accommodationism helps the public acceptance of evolution in the long run. Conversely, there is fairly good evidence that religion is the main stumbling block for the public acceptance of evolution. For example there are not many creationists or theistic evolutionists who are not religious.
    The implication here is that religion should be enthusiastically debunked, not naively accommodated. Religion is not our friend, it is our enemy.

    But the bottom line is the truth.
    You cannot pretend that evolution has no implication for religion.
    An example for Christianity: Genetic studies show that the human population never dropped below about 10,000; and that the last common male ancestor and last common female ancestor were not contemporaneous. That is a direct contradiction of Adam and Eve, and therefore original sin and therefore redemption through Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. That pretty well sounds the death nell for Christianity.

  21. neilgrahamon 15 Feb 2012 at 7:05 am

    BillyJoe7

    You have a set mind that seems will not be influenced by anything I say – or anyone who might disagree with you. You have made a lot of definite statements that remind me of those of some fundamentalist preacher or an untrained kindergarten teacher. I know some people who, unlike me, call themselves religious and not only have a fervent belief in evolution they teach it! They may be wrong about religion and so might you, I don’t know and, frankly I don’t care. I come from a country where people, including some of my close relatives, have killed and been killed after identifying as being from one religious denomination or another. They too were as certain of the “truth” as you seem to be.

  22. ccbowerson 15 Feb 2012 at 10:06 am

    “There is no evidence that accommodationism helps the public acceptance of evolution in the long run…The implication here is that religion should be enthusiastically debunked, not naively accommodated. Religion is not our friend, it is our enemy.”

    I’m not sure how you conclude that because you see no direct evidence that “accommodationism” will work in the long term (not sure what evidence one would need), that you conclude extreme antagonism is the answer (where is your evidence of that?).

    The more I’ve heard about this “argument” about the spectrum of approaches to religion is that there is no one single answer. A multifaceted approach appears to be a fine way of handling such broad social issues, and different people will have different approaches. Some approaches will work better in certain situations and other approaches will work better in other situations. I see no reason for skeptics as a whole to pick one approach and deem it better (and through confirmation bias try to come up with evidence for that approach). Lets look at each situation individually and comment on its own merits. We have sufficient diversity of people within the skeptical movement to allow for a wide range of approaches

  23. BillyJoe7on 15 Feb 2012 at 2:13 pm

    neilgraham,

    I have a view on this that I have expressed clearly. You think accommodationism is the way to go and I merely expressed the view that that may not actually be the case. It seems to me that, rather than explore this issue, you prefer to resort to ad hominem. There’s not much I can do about that if that’s the way you want to respond.
    If you really think accommodationism works I would invite you to look at BioLogos. That was set up by Francis Collins to provide an avenue whereby accommodation could be achieved between religion and evolution. What has happened is that the opposing camps have become more and more polarised. Having realised the futility of the endeavour, the evolutionists are leaving and the articles are sounding increasingly like Christian apologetics.
    I believe that if you look at all the evidence, not just from evolution but also from cosmology, particle physics, anthropology, and pretty well the whole field of science, the overwhelming evidence is that religion has no truth value.
    And it is always religion that stands in the way of the acceptance of evolution. Evolution is accepted in the non-religious countries of Europe but rejected in America because of religious belief. Accommodationism feeds right into the stradegy of the religious which is to keep their religion which means rejection of evolution except for a watered down version which is completely unacceptable to science.

  24. BillyJoe7on 15 Feb 2012 at 2:31 pm

    ccbowers,

    Science is a search for truth. Although consensus is a part of science, accommodationism is not. Why treat evolution any different from any other field of science. Find the facts, put them out there, and promote them.
    If religion has an different view to the facts as derived through the scientific method, the idea is not to accommodate those views but to argue against them.
    I’m not saying you should not try diplomacy, just don’t be accommodating.
    The facts are the facts and if they don’t fit in with somone’s pet beliefs so much the worse for those pet beliefs. Diplomacy might work for some, but history demonstrate that mostly people need to be wrenched out of their unsubstantiated belief systems.

  25. ccbowerson 15 Feb 2012 at 2:42 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    I never said science should be compromised in any way… in fact there should no compromise of science based upon religious considerations, but you appeared to be speaking more broadly in your above comments. I was reacting to the broader implications of your comments

  26. cwfongon 15 Feb 2012 at 2:48 pm

    “Find the facts, put them out there, and promote them.”

    Who is it then that’s best allowed to find them, and who is it that can best attest to their present and future breadth and accuracy? Certainly not your average ignoramus, yes?

  27. BillyJoe7on 15 Feb 2012 at 3:10 pm

    ccbowers,

    Fair enough. I just think that, as with the abolition of slavery in America, there needs to be a push and a shove to throw off the influence of religion. Gentle diplomacy is not going to cut it, certainly not on its own.

  28. cwfongon 15 Feb 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Now he sees some analogy between the rights of atheists and slaves. Or is it between the rights to free the believers from self slavery, and the rights of non-self slaved slaves to free themselves? Christ only knows.

  29. neilgrahamon 15 Feb 2012 at 5:44 pm

    BillyJoe7:
    I am sorry you have taken my few words as an attack on you personally, I do not know you and so I only have what you have written on this blog to go on. Permit me to clarify my position.
    I resist being put into an “ism” I have never even heard of and being told that in some way I support it (if that is not ad hominem, I don’t know what is). I have never even mentioned Christianity in any of my posts.
    I have done enough of some of the sciences you mention to know that “religion” is never even mentioned in course work never mind the necessity to refute it. I have studied enough philosophy to raise my eyebrows whenever the word “truth” is uttered. (For the record, I am with Jean-François Lyotard in that I express incredulity towards all meta-narrative.)
    I have seen enough of my friends and relatives suffer because of their adherence to some “truth” or other. Like you they have given exquisite and apparently unassailable reasons for their positions. As Dostoyevsky (in the Brothers Karamazov) describes, the Grand Inquisitor was able to provide just such a rationale. One only needs to look at the reasons given for America and her allies invading Iraq to recognize the subjective and shifting nature of “truth”.
    If, as you seem to indicate, the scientific study of evolution inexorably will lead to atheism (I do doubt that it will), why not allow its promulgation free of any direct association with an anti-theist stance?

  30. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2012 at 4:50 am

    neilgraham,

    I think “You have made a lot of definite statements that remind me of those of some fundamentalist preacher or an untrained kindergarten teacher” might qualify as an ad hominem.
    And me characterising you as an accommodationists is not an ad hominem, it is an accurate characterisation of your view regardless of the fact that you have never heard of the term.

    And when you say that religion is not even mentioned in your science course, what does that tell you? Maybe that science has no need for religion? That’s the point isn’t it. No field of science has any need for gods or religions. If gods are hypotheses they are failed hypotheses. So, to sneak religion and God into science, as accommodationism does, is frankly hypocritical, if not outright dishonest.

    Finally, an extreme view is not wrong just because it is an extreme view. Evolution itself was once an extreme view, and it still is for some. It’s not a matter of whether or not it is an extreme view, it’s a matter of where the evidence leads. Religion has already reached its conclusions and looks to science for corroborating evidence. Accommodationists have merely been sucked into their agenda.

  31. neilgrahamon 16 Feb 2012 at 6:54 am

    BillyJoe7:

    Thank you for your response. I am not an apologist for religion regardless of your “characterisation”. I would not dream of “sneaking god into science”, in fact I wish to take science away from all talk of religion or lack of religion. You are right, it is my view also that ‘science’ does not need ‘religion’, however one may define those terms.

    You call me a name “accommodationist” and then proceed to say “accomodationists” wish to sneak god and religion into science – exactly the position I have specifically rejected – and then to cap it all off you imply that I am a hypocrite and dishonest. I never made any mention at all of “an extreme view” so I am afraid I have no idea of what you are talking about in your final paragraph.

    Enough! I too can be offended.

  32. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2012 at 3:23 pm

    neilgraham,

    Okay, it’s my fault.
    But I did not actually call you a hypocrit and dishonest.

    There are actually two types of accommodationists.
    There are those whose basic interest is religion and who see science as being compatible with religion. Within that group there are those who want to sneak religion into evolution and those who believe that religion and science are separate magisteria
    Then there are those whose basic interest is science but who see religion as being compatible with science. Within that group there are those who believe science and religion are separate magisteria, and those who pretend there is no conflict in order to get religious people to accept evolution.

    The first and fourth groups are basically being dishonest.
    I think you are in the third group.

    My position is that the idea that religion and science are separate magisteria is unsustainable.

  33. cwfongon 16 Feb 2012 at 4:25 pm

    “My position is that the idea that religion and science are separate magisteria is unsustainable.”

    You mean they are the same magisteria?

  34. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2012 at 10:24 pm

    …overlapping ;)

  35. cwfongon 16 Feb 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Overlapping magisteria are separate and unsustainable? How does that or that wording make sense.
    Unsustainable because they overlap and are therefor not separate? That makes no sense either.
    Religion and science are unsustainable because they overlap? Meaning they’d be sustainable otherwise?
    Religion and science, either separate or overlapping, are mutually unsustainable? No logic there unless all religion is simply wrong, period.
    You just have no idea of what you’re talking about, do you.

  36. BillyJoe7on 17 Feb 2012 at 4:31 am

    Parse my actual sentence:

    “My position is that the idea that religion and science are separate magisteria is unsustainable”

    It makes complete sense.

  37. cwfongon 17 Feb 2012 at 11:31 am

    Can I quote you on that?

  38. BillyJoe7on 17 Feb 2012 at 3:00 pm

    You can quote any number of people on that.
    It’s not exactly a new idea.

  39. cwfongon 17 Feb 2012 at 3:21 pm

    If there’s one other person outside of an institution who wrote that sentence, they should not have been set free.

  40. BillyJoe7on 18 Feb 2012 at 6:04 am

    You apparently think that NOMA has not been refuted.
    In fact it was not even a starter.

  41. cwfongon 18 Feb 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Your sentence makes no linguistic sense. Obviously you were trying to make some comment about NOMA but the meaning was not available in your translation.

  42. ccbowerson 18 Feb 2012 at 3:05 pm

    “Your sentence makes no linguistic sense.”

    I think BJ is using the words “that religion and science are separate magisteria” as an adjective clause modifying the noun “idea,” and that he is saying that idea is unsustainable.

  43. cwfongon 18 Feb 2012 at 4:52 pm

    But then that would mean he thinks they aren’t separate, or are somehow the same. And that makes no sense as a statement of fact. There is scientific philosophy based on physically testable hypotheses and religious philosophy based on largely untestable speculation and hope. And these philosophies overlap, yet not in most cases with any factual or logical consistency. Some of the marriages are sustainable, scientifically, and some are not. Just as some of the science that denies the usefulness and logic of religion per se is not.

  44. neilgrahamon 18 Feb 2012 at 8:03 pm

    cwfong:

    Have you not realised that when you are responding to BillyJoe7 you are really taking part in an experiment involving a new program? It is a Turing test. Admittedly it requires a lot more work but it is really quite obvious that the posts could not possibly be the product of a life formed by 3.5 billion years of evolution.

  45. cwfongon 18 Feb 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Good point.

  46. BillyJoe7on 19 Feb 2012 at 6:42 am

    ccbowers: “I think BJ is using the words “that religion and science are separate magisteria” as an adjective clause modifying the noun “idea,” and that he is saying that idea is unsustainable.’

    Thank you.

    cwfong,
    See, it wasn’t so hard was it?
    But you do insist on tying yourself in knots.

    neilgraham,
    Get a life. I answered you decently. Now you are just pissanting around with our resident crank.
    Congratulations.

  47. cwfongon 19 Feb 2012 at 12:19 pm

    You’re right, Neil, the machine just proved itself defective.

  48. cwfongon 19 Feb 2012 at 12:35 pm

    “The idea (noun) that religion and science are separate magisteria (adjective clause) is unsustainable.”

    Conclusion: They are thus not separate magisteria.

    The machine is not concerned with meaning.

  49. BillyJoe7on 19 Feb 2012 at 3:36 pm

    “Conclusion: They are thus not separate magisteria.”

    Did you get a Eureka moment? :D

  50. cwfongon 19 Feb 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Science and religion are the same thing. There is only one magisteria among them. Who knew.
    (Or should that be what knew?)

  51. neilgrahamon 19 Feb 2012 at 5:21 pm

    BillyJoe7 (AKA The girls at St Dominique’s Kindergarten Computing Class):

    Please adjust your computer program ‘pissant’ is not a verb.

  52. tmac57on 19 Feb 2012 at 7:37 pm

    neilgraham- Grammaring is not and endearing quality. ;)

  53. neilgrahamon 19 Feb 2012 at 8:34 pm

    # tmac57:

    I will so inform the children at St Dominique’s Kindergarten who are working on BillyJoe 8. Samantha, a great believer in punctuated equilibria, is hoping that version 8 will be a great improvement on the previous 7. Belinda wanted to called the new version ‘SillyJoe’ but she was counselled that such levity could be condemned as being an ad machina attack. After 57 versions you seem to be a cautionary tale that might serve to dampen Samantha’s expectations.

  54. cwfongon 19 Feb 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Ad machina and deus ex machina overlap is unsustainable.

  55. BillyJoe7on 19 Feb 2012 at 10:31 pm

    neilgraham,

    I see you have become cwfong’s virtual sock puppet.
    If the sock fits….ram it in I guess.
    Also your sexism is noted.
    Good one son.
    And you’ve never heard of a neologism?
    Hmmm…

    cwfong,

    Please catch up…
    Check out the “overlapping” clarification from a couple of days ago.
    Seems you’ve got a short memory to go along with your comprehensive failure at comprehension.
    And you look silly with that sock on your fist.
    I mean, how will you pick your nose now.
    Oh, I see, your pal neil….

  56. cwfongon 19 Feb 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Overlapping doesn’t doesn’t negate separation, does it? If so, we wouldn’t call it overlapping, would we?
    And if we had a right to do so, then we wouldn’t call it unsustainable.
    So you’ve gotten just about everything wrong and can neither see it, understand it, or admit it. Apparently you just say things because they sound like there’s some meaning there, even if you can’t understood the science or the philosophy. And how could you, if you’ve failed in your studies of the subjects, and now just parrot something incorrectly that you’ve read.
    And when you run out of rational and explanatory responses, you resort to your usual crude form of backwoods insults.

  57. neilgrahamon 20 Feb 2012 at 12:48 am

    Children at St Dominique’s Kindergarten:

    I will not comment further until you have a new version up and running. I don’t want to discourage you but I am afraid you are a long way from constructing a machine that will pass the Turing test. Still, from such a low base improvement is inevitable.

  58. BillyJoe7on 20 Feb 2012 at 4:36 am

    “Overlapping doesn’t doesn’t negate separation, does it?”

    Hence the clarification a few days ago.
    Please catch up.

    And…doesn’t doesn’t negate? :D

  59. cwfongon 20 Feb 2012 at 12:53 pm

    The only clarification you could make would be to admit your ignorance. Most of the educated and honest among us have learned from our mistakes. You learn only to lie and strenuously deny you’ve made them.
    Clarify this again for us, because we must have missed it: How does their overlapping negate the contention that science and religion are separate magisteria?
    No-one but you seems to have ever made that claim. Are you some sort of natural born logician, who doesn’t need a scientific education to spot such grievous errors by the otherwise worldly acclaimed practitioners of the art of reason? (The contention that you must be a faultily constructed machine is intriguing, but here’s your chance to put that idea to its rest.)

  60. BillyJoe7on 20 Feb 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I’ll just stick with my original statement:

    “My position is that the idea that religion and science are separate (non-overlapping) magisteria is unsustainable”

    (And please do not speak for others on this blog and presume that their opinions all align with yours.)

  61. cwfongon 20 Feb 2012 at 3:58 pm

    As expected, you’re unable to defend a statement that you didn’t understand from the outset.

    And as predicted, you have responded by dishonestly re-writing your originally quoted statement, adding “non-overlapping” and in the process making it, if possible, even dumber.

    And I expect that I can speak for at least one other here that agrees with me. Not that this should be a popularity contest, but I guess that’s the best you can hope for – to have someone come forward to do your thinking for you. But if and when they do, will you understand it?

  62. BillyJoe7on 20 Feb 2012 at 10:16 pm

    The statement is straight forward self-explanatory.
    Period.

  63. cwfongon 20 Feb 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Except that the magisteria are, of course, both separate and overlapping, and both conditions will be sustainable or unsustainable depending on the particulars of the science or the philosophy involved. There isn’t just one particular science or religion involved in the plural concept of magisteria.

  64. BillyJoe7on 21 Feb 2012 at 4:27 am

    I will give you deism then. ;)

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