Once upon a more credulous time, I was happy with NOMA. I got into a fair bit of conflict with religious types because I applied it more consistently than most advocates I’ve seen since then.
These days, I’m seeing the successes of monism. If “spiritual” things don’t interact with the natural world, what do they have to do with anything? My mind certainly seems to be the product of the natural world and operates according to its laws, so what’s left for a soul to do? NOMA seems dead in the water to me since I have a hard time getting an answer to a key question: how could we discover anything about the spiritual/supernatural domain?
I agree that religious people should not expect science to confirm their faith, and I do not think religion and science are in conflict. However, there is a conflict between the philosophy of materialism and religion. Religion says that there are worlds above and beyond the world we experience with our senses, while materialism (or naturalism) denies this possibility.
We are not able to define “matter” or “nature.” It seems to me that matter consists entirely of relationships, not little ultimate particles, as scientists used to assume. If there is no real “substance” to matter, then it may ultimately consist of information.
Something resembling the “matrix” idea makes sense to me, and to many others. I think it leads us to be more open-minded, and more skeptical about the old “naturalist” approach.
BD – I depends on how you see NOMA. NOMA has two parts. The first is that science and religioun are “non-overlapping” -meaning they are completely separate. That is the part I agree with. The second is the “magisteria” part, that both are legitimate intellectual pursuits. While they are certainly distinct and defined pursuits, as I briefly said in the article – it is entirely a separate question whether or not theology is a valuable intellectual pursuit.
You have raised a good point – what is the value of an intellectual discipline based on fantasy? I would argue – none. Which is why I am completely non-religious.
I would only add that religious freedom is also an important principle in an open and rational society. The endless (and I do mean endless) discussion in rationalist circles in whether or not it is more intellectually valid and more strategically effective to put religion in a box (NOMA-style), or to oppose it altogether. I have chosen the former, but respect those who have chose the latter (as long as they respect my choices).
In order words – I choose to focus my efforts on keeping religion out of science and teaching critical thinking skills. If you are successful in this, then supernatural beliefs will tend to moderate, become marginalized, and even fade away.
This reminds me of visiting my folks and watching the local news in Ohio. For some reason, they are hyping the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. I think the local press wants to push for a grassroots effort for legalization in the hopes of making more news to cover … I dunno. Anyhow, the “teaser” to get you to watch the 11 o’clock news was “Some say that marijuana is the only thing that can help this poor girl suffering from a terrible illness. Is pot a miracle cure or addictive drug? You decide.” I said to my parents, “Even if the pot did cure her, it wouldn’t be a miracle. A miracle would be if she smoked it, sprouted wings, and flew to the sun.” And my mom goes, “or it means that someone gave her the good stuff.” The point being that it’s possible that pot has a chemical in it that cures her illness, but it’s not a miracle. It a reminded me of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when a pilot, Sullenberger, landed a commercial jet on the Hudson River after birds damaged the engines. It wasn’t a miracle, it was a combination of skill, experience, training, and engineering. A miracle would be if a giant rose from the river and lifted his hand and gently set the plane down then disappeared. I recall an interview where the newscaster (perhaps on the Today Show) asked him “Did you say a prayer?” and he replied combining politeness with a hint of annoyance, ” ……. uh. I figure there were enough people in the back of the plane taking care of that.” (or something like that)
etatro: “A miracle would be if a giant rose from the river and lifted his hand and gently set the plane down then disappeared.”
Some would say such a giant appearing was a miracle. Others would deny that it happened because they didn’t see it and there was simply some kind of mass hysteria. Others would say there’s a physical explanation because the giant was physical – we just don’t know where he came from or disappeared to yet. Just because we’ve never seen a giant appear like that, or even a giant for that matter, doesn’t mean it’s a miracle. There’s always a physical explanation because nothing supernatural exists.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
― Albert Einstein
I think when most people say “miracle” (as with the Hudson event), they simply mean: highly unlikely in everyday affairs. In other words, it was a miracle that everything came together so that a highly skilled man could land a plane in a place where it would allow the passengers to survive, and that he would be flying over that place at the moment he needed to land.
“It depends on how you see NOMA. NOMA has two parts. The first is that science and religion are “non-overlapping” -meaning they are completely separate. That is the part I agree with”
But that is so obviously incorrect. Science and almost any religion you can think of are NOT non-overlapping. Evangelicals with their creationism quite clearly overlap into science. The bible frequently overlaps into science. And when population genetics demonstrate that the human population never dropped below several thousand and that our most recent common male and female ancestors lived a hundred thousand years apart, then science quite clearly not only overlaps into religion but actually demolishes the very foundation of the world’s most popular religions.
“…to put religion in a box (NOMA-style), or to oppose it altogether. I have chosen the former… I choose to focus my efforts on keeping religion out of science ”
But to excise all the bits of religion that intrude into science is, for all intents and purposes, to oppose it, because the only religions left standing are those based on a non-interventionist deistic god (which less than one percent of the population believes in). Perhaps you mean that you prefer the diplomatic approach to the activist approach. To which I say, let’s have both the diplomat and the activist. After all history shows that both are necessary (consider the movements to give women, blacks, and homosexuals equality). The diplomat achieves the actual change (cultural, legal etc), whilst the activist gets the damn thing happening in the first place and keep pushing things along. The activist won’t accept no for an answer and demands change now, the diplomat cajoles people into gradually accepting that change must occur and doesn’t care how long it takes.
BJ – We are mostly saying the same thing. NOMA does not describe religions as they are practiced, but religion as it properly should be. My activism is about pushing religion out of the realm of science. You are correct – what is left is a pure faith in a non-interventionalist entity – a world indistinguishable from the one we live in.
This is strategic, but also philosophically appropriate. While I agree that there is a range of postures from diplomat to confrontationalist, I would not fall into the false dichotomy. And I don’t think that “activist” is not a good term for the confrontational end of the spectrum – we are all doing activism in our own way. Further, we need to respect individual freedom of religion – people can believe whatever they want, they just can’t call it science or use faith to dictate laws that everyone must follow.
I have tons of anecdotal evidence (in the form of e-mail from SGU listeners) that my approach converts at least some people from their religious beliefs.
Seriously – I have had this conversation dozens of times, in extended blog posts with hundreds of comments. I’m not going to have time to rehash it yet again here. Just Google my name with science and religion if you want to spend the rest of the day reading about it.
I have likewise participated in many blog posts with hundreds of comments and also don’t intend to rehash it all here. I just felt a need to clarify. I’m happy we essentially agree. I know your approach converts some people from their religion. But the activists also convert many. Richard Dawkins apparently has a section on his website devoted to them. The two approaches are complementary rather than exclusive.
“we need to respect individual freedom of religion”
Agreed. I respect the right of everyone to hold what ever religious beliefs they want or need or choose to believe in. I don’t respect their actual religious beliefs, and I don’t respect them for actually holding those religious beliefs, but I do respect their right to hold them….with the proviso that their religious beliefs don’t limit my freedom.
NOMA does not describe religions as they are practiced, but religion as it properly should be.
You do realise our Rice “researchers” describe “science as it properly should be”, at least in their view. The problem is the absence of consensus on what religion is. For secularists, it is a wholly personal and private choice, subordinate to the laws of the land, laws which include moral issues (cf. the right to euthanasia for minors in Belgium). For religious people, it is a choice determining the fundamental moral rules of a society, which cannot be changed by laws.
This fundamental difference was quite obvious in the discussions and controversies preceding the vote on the euthanasia law for minors in Belgium. Proponents didn’t grasp how opponents couldn’t understand the law did not incite people to practice euthanasia, and opponents didn’t fathom how the proponents didn’t see that this was another sign of moral decay, the thin end of the wedge to eliminating unwanted children. It was a textbook example of a dialogue of the deaf.
Bill – I agree that there is a disagreement about what religion “should” be – and that is exactly the conversation I think is worth having. I agree with the secular view that religion should be private and personal, i.e in a free and open society religious beliefs cannot be imposed on others. This is often framed in terms of the debate between whether or not the US is a Christian nation or secular nation. I think it is clearly a secular nation, and our Constitution and other documents make this plainly clear. I also think the best society is one that is publicly secular but allows the freedom to private be whatever you want.
I also think we should vociferously criticize and oppose any attempts to change science to allow for supernaturalism.
To me, “worlds above and beyond,” if they exist, would only be exotic, not inherently outside the domain of science. Even if our current understanding of the laws of physics fails to describe them, that would only mean we need to work harder, using science to improve our understanding so that we can accurately describe and predict those worlds.
My big issue is how does religion claim any knowledge about those worlds? I see no reason to believe that theologians and priests are experts on the matter. Why do their assertions carry any weight?
which is why the best stance toward any such notions (those which we cannot investigate because they are beyond our senses or sensory, even indirectly) is agnostic atheism. We simply can’t know, but there is also no particular reason to believe in anything we cannot know about.
The problem is in saying – this is something outside of science, but I can know about it through some other means. This is problematic because the “other means” tend to be indistinguishable from self-deception.
We have our senses, and we have our sensors. And we can’t possibly know what might possibly exist that can’t be detected by either.
If something has an observable effect, that means, at least in principle, we can build a sensor to detect it by observing that effect occur in the sensory organ or device. If an entity cannot be detected in principle, that undetectability effectively defines it as having no observable effects. If something has no observable effects, how is it relevant to us? What difference does it make for it to exist or not exist?
“But there’s no question that the human goal of figuring out the basic rules by which the easily observable world works was one that was achieved once and for all in the twentieth century.”
“[...]if they can’t be found by our current techniques, they are also unable to influence what we see in our everyday lives. We have very little idea how big the region of our understanding is, compared to all that there is to be understood; but we know that it’s bigger than what we need to understand to make sense of the world we see with our unaided senses.”
I liked Carroll’s speech. I think it also fits with one perspective I have of science today: We’re past the era of the lone genius making grand discoveries because we’ve run out of everyday things that need to be figured out, physics-wise. Now we’re stuck with resource-intensive research into the exotic, where subtle errors are easy and collaboration is necessary to make sense of the data.
On my earlier point of sensors: Woos essentially want have contradictory features to their forces: They want the undetectability of the impotent and irrelevant, and they want raw power on par with the everyday forces.
I tend to have trouble suspending disbelief in fantasy shows where the supernatural is both powerful and secret. They often involve a massive conspiracy with unlimited resources to cover it up for inadequately explained reasons and/or a nigh-monolithic lack of curiosity from the muggles.
SN: Pretty arrogant saying it’s “self deception.” What makes you think you cannot reason to something that you cannot prove scientifically? Why would your fallback position be, “I don’t believe it because it’s unknowable?” Why wouldn’t it be that you do believe it because there cannot be any other rational explanation?
DrJoe: Pretty idiotic saying that you believe in some fantastical notion because you cannot find any other rational explanation. Firstly, you’re implying your fantastical notion is rational. Secondly, you’re implying that because you cannot find them that there are no other rational explanations. Thirdly, you’re implying that you have found a way to make armchair philosophy work.
sonic: “Dr. N. is one of the most reasonable people I have ever read on this topic.
Yet, even his statements are self-contradictory”
This implies that you think you’re more reasonable than most people you’ve ever read on the topic.
Well, let’s just say that your contributions here would give the lie to that proposition (;
For example what’s the chance that you’ve simple misunderstood the statement “You can’t constrain science to a pre-existing belief system. You also cannot mix miracles into science – the two are fundamentally incompatible” than that it’s contradictory.
BillyJoe7: Nothing like raising the bar with name calling. What I am inferring is that one can know other things that are not provable scientifically. One can use the concept of reasoning to address whether or not there is a God. One can know good and evil and ethics and justice and right and wrong, but one cannot “prove” any of these concepts. If all you rely upon is what you can prove scientifically, you’re in for a very barren existence.
Nothing like dodging the point by invoking name calling.
Calling an idea or action idiotic isn’t quite the same thing as name calling. People deserve respect, ideas do not.
“What I am inferring is that one…”
The word you are looking for there is probably “implying”, as in “I did infer that which you implied.”
“One can use the concept of reasoning to address whether or not there is a God.”
That partly depends on what you mean by address. If you mean “direct attention to” or “discuss”, I suppose that statement is valid. If you mean “deal with” as in provide an (affirmative) answer to, not so much. The best “sophisticated theologians” and philosophers have so far failed to make a compelling case for logically reasoning the existence of a god/maximal being.
“One can know good and evil and ethics and justice and right and wrong, but one cannot “prove” any of these concepts.”
I’m sure you think that statement is compelling, but it isn’t particularly meaningful. It is, however, nice gish gallup. You can’t prove red either, ergo god!
Karl: Pardon the offensive grammar mistake. By “address” I mean discuss. I believe it is possible to discuss the concept of God and reach a rational conclusion that there is a God. It’s been done many times by many philosophers. You may not accept philosophical and logical non-scientific case-making, but that’s on you.
SN implied that one could not reach a conclusion about something “outside of science.” I think that is incorrect, as one can reach conclusions about many things outside of science, e.g., ethics, justice. My point is that limiting one’s beliefs to that which science can ultimately prove is stifling and ultimately irrational. It does not allow for the complex thought processes and reasoning ability that distinguish humans from animals (we think).
“One can know good and evil and ethics and justice and right and wrong, but one cannot “prove” any of these concepts.”
Prove what? Prove the existence of the human concepts of good and evil and ethics and justice and right and wrong? Prove that they are universally objective and real entities? And how would this question even be relevant to the potential existence of a god, who presumably would be more than an abstract idea constructed by humans?
Are you essentially saying, “because evil exists and you can’t prove evil,” (as meaningless as that statement is, “therefore god exists.”?
“Karl: Nope, nothing more compelling that the arguments you don’t believe. If the great philosophers can’t convince you, sorry but I cannot do better than that.”
Please don’t waste time invoking the logical fallacy of argument from authority of the GREAT PHILOSOPHERS.
Logical validity of a position or statement does not depend on or derive from the greatness of the author.
The Ontological and Cosmological arguments have been pretty well refuted, though people keep trotting them out over and over again.
The Ontological Argument is flawed from step one: “Our understanding of God is a being than which no greater can be conceived..” And I then proceed to imagine a greater being that that. Oh, and we haven’t even defined greatness/ maximal greatness yet. Only step 2 out of 6 can even be remotely considered as reasonable and logical.
Cosmological Argument: Everything needs a first cause except that which does not need a first cause which caused everything else. Do I even need to point out what’s wrong here?
I hope you’re not going to invoke Pascal’s wager next.
“Step one: you can’t get life from non-life. That is my logical scientific premise.”
You’ll need to support that premise before you can logically continue on that line of thought.
Karl: Yes, scientifically prove the existence of the human concepts of good and evil and ethics. How do you prove these concepts apply to human beings? How do you prove scientifically that one is better than the other?
You can’t do an experiment to show there is an objective good and an objective evil. This doesn’t mean that the concepts don’t exist because you can’t prove their existence scientifically. One knows what is good and what is evil, but you cannot prove this using science. One knows that knowing the difference between good and evil and having some concept of justice is beneficial for humanity.
My point is that there are things that one can “know” logically and reasonably without resort to science. This is “outside of science,” to use SN’s term, and can be known about “through some other means.”
It is not self-deception to come to these conclusions rationally without knowing them through science. In the same way it is possible to know reasonably that there is a God. Can’t prove it “scientifically,” but that doesn’t mean that you cannot know about it rationally and by resort to the great philosophers. Though you would disagree.
“Step one: you can’t get life from non-life. That is my logical scientific premise.”
Nothing scientific about that as a premise, so your assertion that it is a logical, scientific premise is false. There IS a scientific premise for life coming from non-life, in that we have direct physical evidence that it’s possible. Furthermore, from everything we do know and can unequivocally demonstrate, it’s far more likely that life derived from purely naturalistic means than from miraculous means. That’s what the science actually says about it.
Besides, that’s a non-sequitur response to Karl’s original premise, which was correct in how he stated it. In essence, the basic premise for a god, which is typically a priori, is an assumption that god exists. Without supporting evidence, or even a cogent argument that can withstand scrutiny, that demonstrates this premise, it’s begging the question that stems from an argument from ignorance.
You can have the most logically consistent syllogism, but if the premise is unsound then it’s useless and demonstrates nothing. The major hurdle for apologists is that first premise, that god exists in the first place.
The notions of good and evil as apologists put it is flawed, that is of some sort of universal absolute good and evil, absolute morality. There is no such thing and it’s something theologians and religious philosophers have never been able to demonstrate.
We can demonstrate morality that is based on scientific concepts and data, such as that pertaining to what we know about biology. For instance, we know that humans tend to function best in cooperative groups, and that societies that are the most peaceful, consistent, and stable tend to flourish the most. These can be supported by Theory of Evolution which indicates groups and societies which function the most cooperatively are the most “fit”. That means that there would need to be minimal disruptions in the way of killing, theft, assaults, and tyranny of majority groups onto minority groups. It’s not a great leap to then attribute more specific rules and codes of conduct in the form of morals, ethics, mores, and laws that assures orderly pursuits of these ideals. All stemming from known scientific concepts and data.
This notion that we just “know” something for no good reason, therefore God, is again a blind attribution that ignores what we do know about the natural world. In other words, there is no need to attribute morality to a god, and it’s far more likely that moral standards have biological and physical bases for them.
Karl: Aw, come on. The ontological and cosmological arguments have been refuted? Really? So we are eliminating a whole body of philosophical thought in one fell swoop because you don’t believe it. I dunno. I got Thomas Aquinas and the rest of the boys. You got the Amazing Randi.
You can’t get life from non-life is my scientific premise. If you think that is not true….
It’s not so much that the ontological or cosmological arguments have been refuted, per se. That’s like saying that we can say with 100% certainty that there is no god, which is an intellectually dishonest position.
What they have failed to do, however, is provide an adequate or compelling argument, in essence requiring the denial of entire bodies of evidence (Big Bang Theory, Theory of Evolution) in order for them to remain logically consistent. Again, they require a presupposition of the existence of God as well as a god of the gaps premise (aka argument from ignorance).
You brought up the notion of “objective good” or “objective evil” that somehow cannot be “proven” by science (keeping in mind that science doesn’t deal with proofs or certainties).
While morality is more or less a human social construct, it is based on biological and physical laws. In other words, morality is based on behaviors that are best suited for maximum fitness of humans in particular environmental niches.
“Morality” is merely a placeholder concept, like logic. What apologists try to do is turn symbolic language into actual physical entities in and of themselves (ie, absolute morality, human ideas, absolute logic, etc). Then they try to argue that, since these things have no actual physical states, they must be attributed to their particular divine deity (arriving at that conclusion via the intermediate step of “proving” that, in order for these things to exist, there must be an intelligence that originally developed them).
I was hoping to get out in front of where it appears this is inevitably leading, which are the notions that “absolute moralities” and “absolute logic” were created by God.
Rezist: Would you care to educate me on the life from non-life evidence?
Sure. First, there is the evidence from meteor data that complex amino acids were present on Earth billions of years ago. You may be familiar with the Urey-Miller experiments, as most creationists are by now, which demonstrated that complex organic molecules (primarily aminos) could have derived from what is known about the atmosphere when it’s hypothesized that life first arose on Earth.
It’s not necessary to develop a solid scientific model on how life exactly originated to accept that it likely originated from purely natural means. It’s far LESS likely that life originated from a divine intelligence, and forming that kind of conclusion a priori is fallacious.
Rezist: The idea that one can build “life” from amino acids, wherever they came from, is not something that you can prove scientifically or duplicate. It’s at least as rational to propose that “something” created life than that it came from pre-existing amino acids which are not known to create themselves.
“the best stance toward any such notions (those which we cannot investigate because they are beyond our senses or sensory, even indirectly) is agnostic atheism. We simply can’t know, but there is also no particular reason to believe in anything we cannot know about.”
Many things can’t be perceived by our senses, but can be detected by artificial sensors. We believe in them, even though until recently no one imagined they existed.
Keep in mind that a new artificial sensor could be developed tomorrow, which detects things we never imagined were there.
In addition to being skeptical, I think we should remember that our current knowledge is limited. We have no idea what will be discovered. We should not assume that everything we don’t already know is unknowable.
“If something has an observable effect, that means, at least in principle, we can build a sensor to detect it by observing that effect occur in the sensory organ or device. If an entity cannot be detected in principle, that undetectability effectively defines it as having no observable effects. If something has no observable effects, how is it relevant to us? What difference does it make for it to exist or not exist?”
It’s easy to think of things that had no observable effects until someone decided to look for them, and built instruments that would detect them.
The idea that one can build “life” from amino acids, wherever they came from, is not something that you can prove scientifically or duplicate. It’s at least as rational to propose that “something” created life than that it came from pre-existing amino acids which are not known to create themselves.
As I’d mentioned, the idea wasn’t to create a scientific model on how life was created, but to indicate that it’s possible and likely that life formed through naturalistic means. Suggesting an intelligent creator, much less a specific supernatural deity, is far less likely. Furthermore, there simply is no evidence for it. So no, they are not equal positions.
One process follows natural laws, is a purely natural process, has some physical evidence for it, and can be explained from what we do know about the natural universe. The other points to an unlikely supernatural all-powerful being that we have no evidence for, have no evidence of a life-starting process initiated by such a being, breaks natural laws, lives outside of the natural universe, and in many traditions runs contrary to what we do know about the natural universe. Not equal by a long shot.
Rezist: Nope, gotta disagree there. I don’t think it’s “likely” or even “possible” that life was created so accidentally from a soup whose existence in itself is problematic. Where did the soup come from?
There is no “natural” process by which life is formed out of non-life. And there is no evidence for it. It cannot be duplicated or proven.
It is much more rational to posit that “something” must have caused all this universe to happen either by creating it or by providing the environment for it to happen in. Otherwise you are violating the laws of science by proposing that something just existed out of nowhere.
If you don’t know what was first, why is it not rational to call that first thing God?
“If you don’t know what was first, why is it not rational to call that first thing God?”
It’s not rational because you’re making the argument from ignorance fallacy. I’d hold you’re hand and walk you through it, but if you’re familiar with Christian apologetics, which I think you are, you already know most of the counter-apologetics arguments.
It’s very obvious that you’re being extremely illogical in regards to god. Every statement you’ve made about god contains some sort of fallacy, which has been adequately addressed and refuted by other commenters.
If you’re serious about having a valid logical argument for god, then let’s hear it or post a link to the argument. If you have evidence for god, even better. Otherwise, your god is indistinguishable from fantasy and non-existence.
If you’d taken the time to read the links I provided, the “soup” was created in a lab using the materials and substances known to be present during the first billion years of Earth’s existence. If you’d taken the time to read what IS available on the subject, you’d be creating yet another fallacy in order to prop up your claim that “no evidence exists”.
However, that’s not even the impetus of my argument, which is that it’s far more likely that life was created through naturalistic processes, because naturalistic processes are the ONLY things we’ve been able to observe and demonstrate. Given that we’ve been able to create the very basic organic structures of life using components commonly found on ancient Earth, it takes great mental gymnastics to propose that a godidit proposition is at least on equal footing as a naturalistic process. Just by the very nature of it being natural alone makes it far more likely than a magical “poof” into existence.
To propose a godidit position IS illogical, because it’s an argument from ignorance. It’s not a valid premise to presuppose something without evidence to support it.
If you don’t know what was first, why is it not rational to call that first thing God?
Because it’s an argument from ignorance. To assume a thing exists a priori, especially in favor of more likely scenarios, IS irrational and illogical. You may as well say The Great Leprechaun created the universe, that’s just as valid.
Rezist: I meant where did the original soup come from that cooked these amino acids to create life? We have NOT been able to observe and demonstrate the source of components found on ancient Earth. Where did they come from? Seriously, that’s the question. Why is this soup theory scenario “more likely” even though it cannot be proven scientifically?
Your argument, I assume, is that the “likely” foundation of the universe is provable scientifically. We can observe naturalistic processes, but they do not lead us to say that a naturalistic process is the cause of the creation of life.