Jul 08 2011

More on God of the Gaps

One of the things I like about blogging is that it is as much a dialogue as it is as it is a venue for one person’s opinions. Often the comments section becomes more interesting than the post itself. I also occasionally blog in response to someone else’s blog, and it is not uncommon for a blog conversation (or argument) to break out. Responding to someone else’s comments (even if they are from some random or anonymous blogger or commenter) can make a discussion more interesting.

For example, I have blogged numerous times in the past about the “god of the gaps” style of argument, and the philosophical nature of science. This has garnered the occasional response from creationists, which is always amusing. Recently a blogger named Mariano Grinbank wrote a response on examiner.com. His response is largely an exercise in naked assertion and ad hominem style arguments. Responding to my mind/brain discussion he writes:

Just how is it clearly established that the brain causes mind? It could actually be said to be much more clearly established that mind causes the brain.

It could be said – but it would be wrong. The question is disingenuous because I outline exactly how it is clearly established that the brain causes the mind, in numerous posts, including the one that Grinbank refers to (although does not link to – perhaps he was just relying on Egnor’s responses to my posts). I will outline the evidence yet again: The hypothesis that the brain causes the mind (and does not merely correlate with the mind) makes a number of specific predictions:

If the brain causes mind, then:

1- Brain states will correlate to mental and behavioral states.

2- Brain maturity will correlate with mental and emotional maturity.

3- Changing the brain’s function (with drugs, electrical or magnetic stimulation, or other methods) will change mental function.

4- Damaging the brain with damage the mind – producing specific deficits that correlate to the area of the brain damaged.

5- There will be no documentable mental phenomena in the absence of brain function.

6- When the brain dies, mental function ends.

Three through six are specific to the brain causes mind hypothesis and are not predicted by the mind causes brain hypothesis. There are now countless experiments and cases in which it is clearly demonstrated that doing something to the brain reliably results in a change of the mind. The arrow of causation is clear.

Grinbank continues:

The brain is a living physical organism. All life is based on information. The only known source of information is a mind. On the other hand, we do not know that matter causes mind, that non-living matter causes living matter, that matter causes specified and useful information, etc.

These are just assertions, not arguments. The statement “all life is based on information” is vague to the point of being useless. What does it mean to be “based” on information, and what definition of “information” is Grinbank using? I could just as easily say that all life is based on atoms – this is equally vague and pointless. He then goes on to claim that the only known source of information is a mind. This is both vague and wrong. Again – he does not define “information,” nor does he give any  indication that he knows the term needs to be defined.

His statement also begs the question – very common among the “intelligent design” style creationist arguments. Biology is also a source of information, and evolutionary theory provides a plausible and proven mechanism. Creationists want to assume their conclusion in their premise, however – if intelligence is the only source of information, then biological information must come from intelligence. But their very premise denies evolution, and therefore their logic is circular. Further, organic evolution is not the only natural (non-mind) source of “information” – nature is replete with information.

He then follows up with more naked assertions. We do know that matter causes mind, as I argued above. We do know that life comes from lifeless matter, and that the properties of matter can be a source of information.  Further, there is no need for any non-material hypothesis to explain life, mind, or information.

Next we get this tired canard:

The statement, “I am open to any hypothesis that is scientifically testable and is compatible with existing established scientific knowledge” is tricky because it can, deceptively, appear commonsensical although, it is not. Take, for example, the Big Bang theory: it is considered a scientific theory but is not testable. Also, what some mean by established scientific knowledge is that you are not allowed to upset the cart of orthodoxy (Darwinian orthodoxy, in this case).

It’s actually not that tricky – it’s a brief summary of scientific openness. Creationists try to make it seem tricky by implying a hidden agenda. First of all – there is no “orthodoxy” in science. There is knowledge that is established to such a high degree that any hypothesis that seeks to knock it down has an appropriately high burden of proof. If you are going to claim that a scientific fact is not true, then you should provide evidence that is at least as voluminous and compelling as the evidence you hope to overturn. This is just common sense.

It is common among creationists (and all deniers) to portray scientific confidence as dogma and orthodoxy. They have no choice – because they want to deny well-established science. They don’t have the evidence and logic, so they play rhetorical games.

The comment about the big bang theory is both a non sequitur and factually incorrect. Let’s say he substituted string theory for the big bang (and let’s set aside the controversy over whether or not string theory is testable and assume for the sake of argument that it isn’t). In order for string theory to qualify as a true scientific theory it has to be testable in some way. Until that time it may be elegant math, but it’s not science. This doesn’t make it wrong, however, unless it also conflicts with established science, which it doesn’t. String theory is more of a proto-scientific hypothesis, and researchers are trying to figure out a way to test it (Michio Kaku claims it is testable, but that’s another post).

String theory actually proves my point – the fact that it is not clearly testable calls into question its status as a true scientific theory.

The big bang theory, on the other hand, is testable, and has been tested numerous times. Grinbank needs to familiarize himself with the cosmic microwave background radiation and the expansion of the universe for starters.

His refutation of the god of the gaps criticism is as follows:

A “god of the gaps” argument—or, as it is put in common parlance, God’did’it—does not seek to fill gaps nor does it insert a final and untestable answer into a current gap in our scientific knowledge.
Does it insert a final and untestable answer into a current gap in our scientific knowledge to claim, as many do, that matter’did’it, chance’did’it, time’did’it, nothing’did’it, it’just’happened’did’it, coincidence’did’it, etc.?

The first sentence is, again, just an assertion. First – a god of the gaps argument by definition seeks to fill a gap in current knowledge with a final untestable answer. That’s the definition of the phrase. What he really means is that creationism is not a god of the gaps argument. I have already argued (I think convincingly) that it is. That a god created everything (regardless of how you think the creation unfolded) is inherently untestable – because there are no constraints on god. No matter what you find in nature you can simply declare (as creationists commonly do) that god simply chose to create life to look like that.

If Grinbank is going to claim that creation is not untestable – then please outline an observation or experiment that can prove creation wrong.

His attempts to equate “god-did-it” with “chance-did-it” etc is a false analogy. The various aspects of evolutionary theory are testable. They make predictions that can potentially falsify evolutionary theory. If he is talking about questions that are currently unanswered by science – science does not fill in those gaps with anything. We simply say – we don’t know. And then we try to figure our a way to fill in those gaps with scientific knowledge  – testable hypotheses. We further acknowledge that some gaps will remain forever empty, because science has its limits.

He finishes:

To appeal to God is not to stop the scientific process, which was intelligently designed in order to explore God’s creation, rather, it is a reference to that which philosophy and science infer from creation: that there is a personal cause.

This is a non sequitur – it does not address the claim that an appeal to god is a science stopper. Once you conclude that god created life, why explore naturalistic mechanisms? If god created the universe, why explore cosmological theories of the origin of the universe, like the big bang theory? Inferring a “personal cause” is a separate issue. Also, what does he mean by “creation?” Is he assuming creationism, or does he simply mean the natural world?

In any case – nothing of the sort can be inferred by science or philosophy from nature. What philosophers have come to understand is that the only method of understanding the natural world is through methodological naturalism. What is inferred from science and philosophy is that every material effect has a material cause, and these causes reliably follow natural laws. We can study nature to derive these laws, develop a model of how the universe works and the history of what has happened so far, and predict what is likely to happen in the future. We don’t need to appeal to magic, no matter how cleverly disguised the appeal is.

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515 responses so far

515 Responses to “More on God of the Gaps”

  1. nybgruson 08 Jul 2011 at 8:50 am

    I’m kind of glad that I will be out of town for a short weekend getaway and won’t feel compelled to comment much on this post. It is an excellent one, Dr. Novella – succinct, accurate, and summing things up nicely. But I envision another 400+ comment thread with the usual suspects trolling their way through it.

    I will say though, thanks for giving a post that offers a sum up and some links to what I have been referencing in my own comments on the “Brain Like” Computing post.

    Of course, denialists will still do what they do best – I just always like to see how they manage to keep doing it.

  2. locutusbrgon 08 Jul 2011 at 11:09 am

    Steve
    I do not how you do not wear down having to constantly deal with the same facile arguments time and time again.
    No way to test the big bang. He has not given the slightest attempt at understanding or learning anything.

  3. mufion 08 Jul 2011 at 11:32 am

    What philosophers have come to understand is that the only method of understanding the natural world is through methodological naturalism.

    Well, not all philosophers fit that description (e.g. Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga comes to mind), but I take your point (say, as a generalization).

    And while methodological naturalism is logically compatible with theism (not to mention other “supernatural” metaphysical doctrines), I can attest from my own experience that the synergy between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism is not lost on many theists.

    Indeed, discomfort with that synergy might even be the main driver of the creationist movement (i.e. if science doesn’t support your worldview, then redefine “science” until it does).

  4. uncle_steveon 08 Jul 2011 at 11:44 am

    Great post. A large part of the problem is that creationists and God-of-the-gapsists seem to not understand what it means for an idea to be “testable”. Or maybe they do understand but they think it is unimportant. Whatever it is, this just demonstrates that they have little understanding of how science operates.

    Another reason virtually all creationists will continue to laugh at the evidence presented for evolution and the Big Bang is because many of them believe in conspiracy theories about the scientific establishment. You know, the idea that evolution was invented to destroy Christianity, which is why the marxist, atheistic scientists do all they can to get everyone to accept it. Perhaps this is what you meant by God-of-the-gaps believers seeing a “hidden agenda” in scientific “orthodoxy”.

    Which leads me to the question: Is it better to counter creationism/God-of-the-gaps with scientific evidence(along with trying to get creationists to understand what it means for a theory to be testable), or should we work harder at disproving the insane, nonsensical conspiracy theories?

    Which approach is better?

  5. Jeremiahon 08 Jul 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Deniers should include those who refer to the scientific advocates of adaptive mutation as akin to creationists since they have been successfully testing the hypothesis that life engineers its own selective and evolvement processes.

  6. Steven Novellaon 08 Jul 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I don’t think anyone conflates garden variety creationism with adaptive mutation. At the same time, I am not convinced by what is presented as evidence for adaptive mutation. It remains, in my opinion, an unnecessary hypothesis.

  7. Jeremiahon 08 Jul 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Well, that’s a step up from untenable in any case.

  8. Enzoon 08 Jul 2011 at 2:49 pm

    What do you suppose is the correlation between god-of-the-gapists and a general lack of curiosity?

    As an example, I remember listening to a Science Friday discussion about the origin of the universe. A caller questioned “Why are we really studying this? Didn’t god create the universe, and isn’t that enough? Do we really need to solve the mystery?”

    I was particularly struck by that attitude. Even if a god figure created everything, I think scientists are just naturally curious. They want to solve the mystery, even just for the take of the task. It seems the god of the gaps argument is just a way for people who are not very curious to perceive a complete, comfortable picture for themselves — a way to avoid facing the immensity of complexity. Of course, there are always those that try to force-fit their arguments into a scientific framework.

  9. robmon 08 Jul 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I kind of suspect Grinbank just wanted to rant and link to his own site ironically called truefreethinker. He has 2 references to Egnor’s blog, 4 references to his own blog, and 0 references to Steve’s blog.

    Based on the length of this blog post I am surprised at how short Grinbank’s article was. He says that scientists need a lesson in the history of science, yet doesn’t give an example to prove his point or even clarify what his point was.

    @uncle_steve

    I think discussing evidence in a way that builds the case for scientific theory (aka reflects the thought processes scientists used to develop and test the theory) in itself is a good anti-conspiracy argument. Context is important for presenting scientific evidence, since most exposure to science people receive is isolated factoids with no explanation. Other than that I think pointing out the absurdity of the proposed conspiracy is a good way to go. Of course all that is exactly what a member of the conspiracy would do!

    @Enzo

    I think people often compartmentalize what they think and believe. Curiosity is fine, just don’t touch my sacred cow! I think most people fall into this category. That said some people just aren’t curious either as a natural part of their personality, or because they feel their belief system is all explanatory.

  10. Mlemaon 08 Jul 2011 at 4:20 pm

    The attitude of “Do we really need to solve the mystery?” seems inexplicable to me, and probably everyone here. Honestly, I’ve never even heard that before! Theist or atheist, no one can help wanting to try to figure out what the heck happened, is happening, is going to happen…right? Wow. i can’t believe that at my age I’m just being introduced to that attitude. But it explains so much. Maybe that is indeed what the people who believe God made Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden really feel – a sort of indifference that allows them to accept nonsense explanations of things. If so, then how DO we reach the people uncle_steve asks about in his post above? I was going to suggest: don’t make science a choice between theism and atheism. But if it’s really the investigative nature of science itself that people are against (not the atheism they see attached to it) then: what to do? How do you stimulate a mind to open and be curious?

  11. ccbowerson 08 Jul 2011 at 4:31 pm

    “What do you suppose is the correlation between god-of-the-gapists and a general lack of curiosity?”

    I think you are referring to a specific type of incuriousness. The ones you describe is an incuriousity driven by cognitive dissonance due to an attachment to a particular ideology. If contradictory evidence is brought up in these cases, the person prefers not to see the evidence, and may take argument personally. Its a bit like the person who sticks their fingers in their ears, and yells “la la la la” to avoid feeling uncomfortable about an idea.

    This is harder to deal with and takes more time to counter than a incuriousity driven by simple ignorance or mild apathy, as these are often more passive processes.

  12. robmon 08 Jul 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Mlema,

    Atheism vs Theism isn’t part of science atheism is a strawman attached to whatever scientific conclusions people don’t like. This allows denialists of just about every flavor (evolution, physical basis for the mind, big bang etc.) to claim their fighting the good fight against atheism rather than have to answer tough questions about evidence.

  13. Mlemaon 08 Jul 2011 at 5:11 pm

    robm – God is non-scientific. How can scientists legitimately make God a scientific interest? (except perhaps through psychology). Scientists are supposed to investigate the nature of what IS. And yet, all over the web we see avowed atheists claiming science as their exclusive purview because anybody who believes in God must be anti-science. After all, science has proven that God doesn’t exist, right? This is why people who can’t sort out what science says to them end up thinking that science is anti-God. Science belongs to everyone. Are we going to go backwards in our human rights and deny theists their right to engage fully in scientific endeavors? Like: you must denounce your faith if you want to work in this lab?

    I think most theists would say that the “god-of the gaps” is NOT God. I really think most sensible people don’t use God to explain away what science doesn’t know yet. That is so simplistic. I think most people know enough about history to see that what we didn’t know “back then” was not “god did it”, so why would what we don’t know now be “god did it”? I give people more credit than that (although as i admitted above, I never knew that people could be so indifferent to the mysteries of existence)

    So i guess that is the one thing in Dr. Novella’s article that i would take issue with, based on it’s faulty logic. That is: “the claim that an appeal to god is a science stopper. Once you conclude that god created life, why explore naturalistic mechanisms?” There is no necessary connection between believing in God and not exploring naturalistic mechanisms.

  14. SARAon 08 Jul 2011 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve often wondered why theists try to prove their beliefs. Belief is based on faith. Its not supposed to need proof. (or so I’ve been repeatedly told.)
    So, why do they jump into the arena, where they are out classed in logic, evidence and training?
    In my opinion, its a need to support their own fear of the fallibility of their belief. They aren’t arguing with us. They are arguing with themselves.
    That’s just an opinion based on my rather unscientific observation. If only theist could recognize the difference between an opinion and evidence based conclusions.

  15. Mlemaon 08 Jul 2011 at 5:36 pm

    SARA-why does Dr. Novella post articles in argument with theists trying to prove their beliefs, instead of simply pointing out as you do, that there’s a difference between an opinion and evidence-based conclusions?

  16. Mlemaon 08 Jul 2011 at 5:42 pm

    people are prone to argue about their beliefs

  17. rabravon 08 Jul 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I came across a sudoku-style pictorial representation of the God-of-The-gaps proposition. I don’t know whether the link will make it past the moderator and be displayed in the comment.

    link to imgur image below:
    http://i.imgur.com/H2CgD.png

  18. robmon 08 Jul 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Mlema,

    I completely agree that god and a multitude of other things are not questions or subjects that have complete and satisfactory answers in science. That’s why I said “Atheism vs Theism isn’t part of science”, as for people on the internet, well that’s just the internet, people of all stripes, ideologies and beliefs make malicious statements and bad arguments toward just about anybody else.

    This is why people who can’t sort out what science says to them end up thinking that science is anti-God.

    Here I disagree, the science vs. religion happens whenever science produces inconvenient answers. To use two cliches Galileo was persecuted for his inquiry into the nature of the solar system, but today is held up as someone who believed in the compatibility of science and religion. Some people do have a problem with where this inquiry leads because it contradicts their dogma, pure and simple.

    I think most theists would say that the “god-of the gaps” is NOT God. I really think most sensible people don’t use God to explain away what science doesn’t know yet. That is so simplistic.

    Theists or other believers with an agenda use god of the gaps arguments all the time. I don’t believe they are believers because of the gap, but they it for rhetorical purposes. You are right that it is simplistic, but it is used so often. God of the gaps is a science stopper or at least a science slower because it substitutes metaphysical explanations for naturalistic ones, and diverts certain lines of inquiry about the nature of the universe life and the mind.

    why does Dr. Novella post articles in argument with theists trying to prove their beliefs, instead of simply pointing out as you do, that there’s a difference between an opinion and evidence-based conclusions?

    I suspect it is because the people who Dr. Novella takes issue with try to cast evidence based conclusions as mere opinions, then try to argue their opinions as fact. Beyond that just about every science denier basically wants to change the rules of science to allow their beliefs to get a pass, be allowed as a “scientific” interpretation of the evidence, while remaining beyond falsification. Grinbank’s article is an attempt at the latter, and he also tries a pseudoscientific attempt at a proof that the mind is not the brain. If people kept a separation between opinion and evidence based conclusions there would be no problem.

  19. nybgruson 08 Jul 2011 at 6:22 pm

    @mlema:

    And yet, all over the web we see avowed atheists claiming science as their exclusive purview because anybody who believes in God must be anti-science. After all, science has proven that God doesn’t exist, right? This is why people who can’t sort out what science says to them end up thinking that science is anti-God. Science belongs to everyone. Are we going to go backwards in our human rights and deny theists their right to engage fully in scientific endeavors? Like: you must denounce your faith if you want to work in this lab?

    No atheist claims science as their sole purview. However, many (myself included), recognize that a theist can only do good science as long as his/her field of research is not contradictory to their dogma. That is just a simple fact. It is also a very personal one. There are over 38,000 sects of Christianity – so one type of Christian may well be able to do evolutionary research while another cannot (just look at the DiscoTute doing “research” in evolutionary theory). The problem is, we often don’t know exactly what part of the dogma a theist sticks to. And stick to it tight enough and you get another Kurt Wise. Give me a specific theist and I may be able to make a judgement as to how good his/her science may be. But if you give me a pool of atheists and a pool of theists, I can tell you that, on average, the atheists doing science will come up with better results because, on average, they won’t have dogma to keep them from (consciously or not) tainting the work that they do.

    So no one is denying theists access to science. We are just (rightfully so) saying that many times theists warp science to their dogma and that, on average, we can’t really tell when a given theist will do so.

    Science has no proven God doesn’t exist – it cannot prove a negative. However, science has shown us that nothing has yet required God and that many, many questions which once had “god” as an answer have been explained with natural means. In other words – there is no reason to need to invoke a god. Parsimony demands that we then eschew god from explanations and can safely relegate his existence to unlikely enough to be a rounding error. The real issue is that no one has actually proven god to exist. And until they do, he doesn’t.

    I think most theists would say that the “god-of the gaps” is NOT God. I really think most sensible people don’t use God to explain away what science doesn’t know yet. That is so simplistic.

    Then you simply aren’t educated enough on the topic, I’m afraid. Most people DO use goddidit as an answer. Look at Ansers in Genesis, the Discovery Institute, the Creation Museum, the Ark encounter, the governor of Texas praying for rain, etc etc. Need I point out Bill O’ Reilly and his “The tides go in, the tides go out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that!” He loudly and proudly uses god of the gaps to prove the existence of his deity.

    Do ALL theists do so? No, of course not. But a majority do, a fair number simply accept it and move on, and the rest just don’t care enough.

    The one thing a theist will NEVER do is explain, carefully and cogently, why they don’t believe in Allah, or Vishnu, or Thor, or Zeus. When they do, then they will understand why atheists don’t believe in their god either.

    SARA-why does Dr. Novella post articles in argument with theists trying to prove their beliefs, instead of simply pointing out as you do, that there’s a difference between an opinion and evidence-based conclusions?

    Because if theists just kept their beliefs to themselves and that was that, none of us would care. Dr. Novella included. But the problem is theists are making laws based in their faith which affect non-theists. They are denying equality to groups because of their faith. They are actively subverting education because of their faith. They claim we are trying to “shove atheism down their throats” and “why don’t atheists just shut up.” The reason is because THEY are shoving their faith down my throat – and they are WRONG. A difference in opinion is one thing, but making a LAW and teaching that opinion as fact is a whole different kettle of fish.

    (I am of course referencing stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, and creationism being taught in school. Just a small sampling).

    It isn’t so much that atheists are trying to prove that god DOESN’T exist. It is that theists are trying to use science to prove god DOES exist and to force that on the population at large.

  20. nybgruson 08 Jul 2011 at 6:24 pm

    yeah, and what robm said too. Spot on mate. I am headed off for a B&B on the coast under a lighthouse for the weekend, so I leave this thread in your very capable hands. :-)

  21. robmon 08 Jul 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks nybgrus!

    Just to nitpick so it’s not taken out of context but theists don’t have to keep their beliefs to themselves, they must recognize their beliefs are beliefs.

    It’s OK to say:

    looking at the (insert quality of nature) I believe I am seeing the work of (insert object of belief)

    as opposed to:

    the (insert quality) is scientific evidence of (object of belief). Take that atheist/materialist/reductionist scientists. Tremble at this one piece of evidence that throws your theory into crisis!

    The former is personal belief, which is a subject of debate, the latter is a scientific claim that requires evidence, and is pretty damn annoying. ;)

  22. nybgruson 08 Jul 2011 at 6:40 pm

    @robm:

    Very true and correct. The distinction is important and I did not adequately make it. I did not intend to mean that theists should be completely silent, but that they mustn’t conflate belief/opinion with science/fact.

  23. robmon 08 Jul 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Have a great vacation!

  24. Mlemaon 08 Jul 2011 at 6:54 pm

    nygbrus’ statements give credence to what i say about scientists and atheism

  25. robmon 08 Jul 2011 at 7:00 pm

    which part(s)?

  26. mufion 08 Jul 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Are all supernatural claims beyond scientific evaluation? See here for a response.

  27. SARAon 08 Jul 2011 at 9:37 pm

    @ Mlema
    Steve discusses and debates evidence and logic based thought. Therefore he is willing and very able to respond to theists who make incredible statements claiming to basing their statements on evidence or logic, rather than simple faith. That’s his mileu.

    Grinbank stepped into his mileu by trying to provide an evidence based conclusion for his faith.

    As @nybgrus points out – if you try to make your faith part of the publicly accepted knowledge, you open yourself up to the debate. Especially if you do it with a weak argument.

  28. Danon 08 Jul 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Mlema,

    You wrote “I think most theists would say that the “god-of the gaps” is NOT God. I really think most sensible people don’t use God to explain away what science doesn’t know yet. That is so simplistic.”

    I wish that were true, but the vast majority of theists who claim to be experts on science or philosophy use god-of-the-gaps arguments. Proponent young earth creationists like Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, and Duane Gish use those arguments all the time, as do old earthers like Hugh Ross. Intelligent design is fundamentally a god-of-the-gaps theory, just read Dembski, D’Souza, Behe, Johnson, etc to see what I mean.

    Francis Collins is probably the foremost scientist in America, and he uses gaps in our scientific understanding of physics, cosmology, and moral evolution as evidence that God exists (see his book ‘The Language of God’), as do theistic evolutionists like the people at BioLogos. John Polkinghorne, a priest and physicist, uses god-of-the-gaps arguments, as do respected Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, and Richard Swinburne.

    Anytime a Christian uses the fine-tuning argument or the argument from design they are using a god-of-the-gaps argument. Both of those arguments are incredibly popular in religious circles, so I believe you are wrong that “most theists” don’t think that way. 100% of the theist I have read books by or went to church with use god-of-the-gaps arguments.

  29. titmouseon 08 Jul 2011 at 10:27 pm

    But if you give me a pool of atheists and a pool of theists, I can tell you that, on average, the atheists doing science will come up with better results because, on average, they won’t have dogma to keep them from (consciously or not) tainting the work that they do.

    There are a fair number of Satanists, Scientologists, and New Agers who self-describe as atheists.

    Also, Lysenko.

  30. Mlemaon 08 Jul 2011 at 10:31 pm

    nygbrus says:
    “But if you give me a pool of atheists and a pool of theists, I can tell you that, on average, the atheists doing science will come up with better results because, on average, they won’t have dogma to keep them from (consciously or not) tainting the work that they do.”

    Does that statement really sound OK to everybody? I mean: logically, scientifically, etc.?

    nygbrus, do you understand the difference between believing in God and being dogmatic? Their are PLENTY of scientists being badly influenced by their own personal dogmas that have nothing to do with God or religion. It would make just as much sense to say that theists would be better scientists because a theist is bound to the truth of creation as a commandment of the God he fears.
    hogwash

  31. Mlemaon 08 Jul 2011 at 10:33 pm

    ps-when i say “creation” there, I’m using a theist’s word for “the universe”

  32. titmouseon 08 Jul 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Also, Jerry Coyne and psychopharmacology.

    Also, Bill Maher.

    If you troll the Facebook pages of the skeptical community, you will find plenty of alt med lovers and 9/11 truthers.

    Atheism is not worth fighting for, IMHO.

  33. titmouseon 08 Jul 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Just to underscore my point about stupid atheists…

    RichardDawkins.net has taken to posting over-hyped health research articles like you see in Oprah magazine.

    Here’s a recent one: A gut-full of probiotics for your neurological well-being

    Last week at RD.net I read something about breastfeeding taken directly from NaturalNews.com.

    The people, aka the bad people, really like Dawkins when he’s harshing on the Christians, Muslims, and Jews. But they do not want him near their alt med.

  34. mufion 08 Jul 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Mlema: nybrgus’ last comment does not sound entirely OK to me, but that’s happened before, so I trust that, when he’s back from vacation, he’ll explain it in a way that is more palatable to the both of us.

    titmouse: I’ll draw on a personal anecdote: My neighbor is both an atheist and an alt-med therapist, whose practice is based on a theory that I find especially implausible (i.e. something called “regression therapy”, which relates somehow to reincarnation and communication with the dead).

    That said, atheism is only a response to one question, which is: Does God (as commonly understood within our culture) exist? While I believe that a sound epistemology demands a negative response, that by no means entails that everyone who arrives at that same response is similarly committed to a sound epistemology.

  35. RyanJLindon 09 Jul 2011 at 12:41 am

    I find the subtle twist of “god in the gaps” to “god of the gaps” to be gleefully hysterical. Love it and I am not entirely sure why.

  36. Enzoon 09 Jul 2011 at 12:47 am

    Give me a specific theist and I may be able to make a judgement as to how good his/her science may be. But if you give me a pool of atheists and a pool of theists, I can tell you that, on average, the atheists doing science will come up with better results because, on average, they won’t have dogma to keep them from (consciously or not) tainting the work that they do.”

    –nybgrus

    You’re statement is practically only valid for research with an agenda to prove literalist religious dogma (like creationist research). If you are doing bad science, you are doing bad science. Period. Results don’t magically become bad if the person doing the research has a faith. And data analysis across every field is not “tainted” by faith.

    I fail to see how biologists, chemists and physicists as a whole are suddenly less capable of good science because they have a faith. It doesn’t enter into the picture. At best you are saying people of faith are (on average) less capable even if they are trained scientists and at worst you are accusing a huge chunk of scientists as frauds (“warp science”).

    I get what you are trying to say, but you chose a poor way to say it. What does faith have to do with studying dark matter, alternative fuel sources and cancer drugs? Most people of faith have no problem with what science tells us about our universe, there is no conflict.

  37. Enzoon 09 Jul 2011 at 1:02 am

    However, many (myself included), recognize that a theist can only do good science as long as his/her field of research is not contradictory to their dogma.”

    — nybgrus

    On having a second look, I guess you appropriately qualify your statement. But as others have pointed out, you can just as well eliminate theism entirely from this statement. Going into anything with a preconception from any dogma is bad science. That’s why young scientists can’t wait for the old scientists entrenched in their old dogma to retire so they can get their paradigm challenging papers published.

    Blarg. This is why I loathe getting into any faith/religious arguments.

  38. steve12on 09 Jul 2011 at 1:12 am

    @Titmouse:

    One of the most absurd attacks on atheists is to associate them with scientology or, worse yet, Stalin, as you did above. Guilt by association is illogical for a reason. There are horrible atheists and wonderful atheists, and their atheism is not what makes the either of those things.

    I’m sure I could find horrible people that share some belief with you – and what would that prove? Nothing.

  39. mufion 09 Jul 2011 at 1:19 am

    I think the key statement in nybgrus’ comment is: No atheist claims science as their sole purview. However, many (myself included), recognize that a theist can only do good science as long as his/her field of research is not contradictory to their dogma.

    That’s not to say that I agree with it. For example, consider this quote from Darwin’s autobiography:

    The old argument from design in Nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.

    If we take him at his word, then Darwin was not only a theist, but a believer in what we today call “intelligent design”, prior to his discovery of evolution by natural selection. Yet, the force of the evidence led him away from that view.

    Similarly, it’s conceivable that evidence may yet lead us towards a more theistic view. Unfortunately for theism, the trend has thus far been in the opposite direction and seems very unlikely to reverse course.

  40. steve12on 09 Jul 2011 at 1:25 am

    # mufion 08 Jul 2011 at 7:50 pm
    Are all supernatural claims beyond scientific evaluation? See here for a response.

    The Bayes approach was interesting, but here’s the problem:

    How do I interpret data in a ‘supernatural’ world?

    In an experiment, I control every