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Evolutionist Wins the Templeton Prize?
March 25, 2010 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Affirmed evolution (and anti-intelligent design) biologist Francisco Ayala has won the 2010 Templeton Prize. In 1981, Ayala was a pivotal expert in overturning an Arkansas law that required the side-by-side teaching of creationism and evolution. Besides his nationally recognized work in evolution and genetics, the former Catholic priest has sought to reconcile evolution with religious belief, noting that science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

In his book, Ayala goes so far as to say that evolution is consistent with belief in God, whereas intelligent design is not.

Among other things, the Templeton Prize has been criticized as given "to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion." Templeton has previously awarded Paul Davies, Michał Heller and Charles Townes, and has funded research into connections between spirituality and medicine.
posted by jabberjaw (67 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
A recent MeFi comment that really opened my eyes to Templeton's activities in attempting to co-opt science into supporting religion.
posted by DU at 9:57 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's pretty unfortunate that the winner this year was announced in the lecture hall of the National Academy of Sciences. I would hope the NAS would know better than to associate themselves with anything Templeton.
posted by lholladay at 10:03 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


A former catholic priest believing in evolution isn't really a big deal. Catholics aren't crazy KING JAMES BIBLE IS DIRECT LITERAL WORD OF GOD types. You can thank various conservative Protestant demoninations for that claptrap.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:10 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Argh. Denominations. Thanks, iPhone keyboard.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:12 AM on March 25, 2010


Who was it who wrote that there is "knowledge from faith" and "knowledge from science", and that they have entirely separate domains, so if they appear to conflict, it's not because one disproves the other but rather because the observer has an imperfect understanding of one or both?
posted by FlyingMonkey at 10:16 AM on March 25, 2010


Of course, it has always been possible to hypothesize that God uses evolution as His means of creating life and the various different species with which He (supposedly) wishes to populate the world. However, since evolution works without requiring any supernatural guidance, God is an unnecessary hypothesis.
posted by grizzled at 10:16 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


there is "knowledge from faith"

Faith is not based on evidence and therefore is not knowledge.
posted by DU at 10:17 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


^demoninations

ha!
posted by molecicco at 10:18 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the central philosophical challenges of our era is the adequate clarification of the respective spheres of science and religion. The pretense of religious believers and theologians to dictate on matters scientific and cosmological is barbaric and ought to be labeled as such without fear of ridicule or insult.

At the same time, religion, insofar as it focuses its attention on the human perspective on an evidently ordered cosmos, has its proper domain. Religious discourse is capable of discussing ethics, aesthetics, society and the human spirit in a manner that is holistic and not reductive. Framed in religious terms, we are not bags of meat with electricity running through them. Nor are our social arrangements and collective actions determined by abstract and abstract-able social forces. Religion in its better guises is capable of keeping our attention fixed on the human scale without lapsing into solipsism, narcissism or naive suppositions of magical causality.

So, I think there's a fruitful and productive conversation to be had between scientists and theologians and I am increasingly interested in facilitating that. It requires scientists to be bolder in their rejection of the excesses of religious discourse and to be careful in policing the limits of their discipline. But it also requires theologians and religious believers to be cautious and respectful of the massive power of the scientific project. A believer cannot call into question the evident fact of evolution by natural selection, but she has every right to question the ethical status of creating human/animal chimeras, for example.

To take stem-cell research as a good limit-case, a responsible approach to the problems and possibilities of this research might respect that the harvesting of tissue from living fetuses or the creation of human life for the purposes of research is abhorrent while still affirming the essential goodness and necessity of carrying out such research. A productive and mutually respectful conversation in an area like this would advance the frontiers of human knowledge, alleviate massive suffering and still maintain the dignity and essential worth of human life.

Based on my limited knowledge, the Templeton Foundation seems genuinely interested in facilitating this sort of conversation and in clarifying the terms under which scientists and theologians can talk to one another productively. In the face of an increasingly shrill and stupid cultural conversation on such matters, this ought to be applauded. That Richard Dawkins and his fellow travelers are more concerned to paint the Foundation as a crypto-fundamentalist outfit says more about their unwillingness to participate in this conversation and their disdain for religious discourse than it does about the Foundation's own aims.

In this regard, awarding the Templeton Prize to Prof. Ayala seems a good start toward building such bridges. I look forward to the conversation to come.
posted by felix betachat at 10:18 AM on March 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


FlyingMonkey: "Who was it who wrote that there is "knowledge from faith" and "knowledge from science", and that they have entirely separate domains, so if they appear to conflict, it's not because one disproves the other but rather because the observer has an imperfect understanding of one or both?"

That would be Augustine, I believe.
posted by charred husk at 10:20 AM on March 25, 2010


More tl;dr - If science can prove it, then your interpretation of the bible need to be reexamined.
posted by charred husk at 10:23 AM on March 25, 2010


The nuns at my various Catholic schools taught us both science and religion. When science conflicted with religion, they said God works in mysterious ways that we as humans can't understand, and so we should not reject well-tested scientific theory just because our flawed human minds couldn't see God's hand in the mix.

Most importantly, they taught us to question both science and faith, because worthwhile beliefs stand up to the test.

Why don't more religions do this? Maybe it's because I duly questioned my faith and soon realized I didn't believe in religion. Oops.
posted by sallybrown at 10:23 AM on March 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


One Templeton official made what I felt were inappropriate remarks about the foundation's expectations of us fellows. She told us that the meeting cost more than $1-million, and in return the foundation wanted us to publish articles touching on science and religion. But when I told her one evening at dinner that — given all the problems caused by religion throughout human history — I didn't want science and religion to be reconciled, and that I hoped humanity would eventually outgrow religion, she replied that she didn't think someone with those opinions should have accepted a fellowship. So much for an open exchange of views.

Sounds like Templeton only pays people who say what they want to hear.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:25 AM on March 25, 2010


From the NY Times link:
Neither the existence nor nonexistence of God is susceptible to scientific proof, Dr. Ayala said, and equating science with the abandonment of religion “fits the prejudices” of advocates of intelligent design and other creationist ideas.

“Science and religion concern nonoverlapping realms of knowledge,” he writes in the new book. “It is only when assertions are made beyond their legitimate boundaries that evolutionary theory and religious belief appear to be antithetical.”
Francisco Ayala seems to be strictly counter to the notions of the Templeton Prize. From the LA Times link:
In a telephone interview from Washington, where he was accepting the award, Ayala said he believed he was receiving it for his scientific work and for the "very important consequence of making people accept science, and making people accept evolution in particular."
Even if he duped into accepting the award, he said he's donating the $1.6-million prize to charity. Unfortunately, the story is creating more buzz around the John Templeton Foundation.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 AM on March 25, 2010


felix betachat: "Framed in religious terms, we are not bags of meat with electricity running through them."

Nor are they from the point of view of biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy...

And I don't think the mechanical physics description of a human which you seem to be alluding to would actually be used by anyone not engaged in building a factory for rendering human meat or batteries for the matrix.
posted by idiopath at 10:27 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


hmm, where's the cash-money prize that goes to theologians willing to question their own paradigms with relation to science? Where's the bribeprize for religious people who "go so far as to say" that a lack of belief is consistent with science, whereas belief in God is, at best, an entirely unrelated assumption?

Oh, that's right, there isn't one! I wonder why!

On preview: "unwillingness to participate in this conversation", my ass. I don't participate in conversations which begin "have you stopped beating your wife yet?", and until Templeton and the like are more than a blatant attempt to frame the conversation in terms of religion, the same goes for them. Stuff like "To take stem-cell research as a good limit-case, a responsible approach to the problems and possibilities of this research might respect that the harvesting of tissue from living fetuses or the creation of human life for the purposes of research is abhorrent while still affirming the essential goodness and necessity of carrying out such research" merely assumes certain things about "human life" and then requires science to accept them -- as though there can be no question as to whether or not harvesting stuff from fetuses or creating human life is "abhorrent". Well, guess what? The entire world does not share your particular religion's hang-ups about these issues, and science has no reason to accept them on faith, simply in order to have a leading "conversation" about how horrid they are.

Give me a break.
posted by vorfeed at 10:28 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


"materialism" is sort of an odd beast... even aside from the Marxist-Leninist aroma. I'm not sure it counts much as a philosophy (at least as a foundation for epistemology, logic, ethics, etc.) and if you take it seriously (which I think very few people actually do), I'm not sure it's all that consistent with modern physics: the basic elements of quantum mechanics are *measurements*, not 'things.'

I'd say a majority of scientists are, at least professionally, naive materialists: they don't think about it, it doesn't have any application to their work and it keeps difficult philosophical problems out of their careers.

In the future, when born again Jahweh'ists control the purse-strings in the U.S. I imagine scientists will have some trouble managing the new way to talk about things, but they will manage and even do good science. They managed under at least as trying an ideological environment in the Soviet Union...
posted by ennui.bz at 10:32 AM on March 25, 2010


From the NYT article "equating science with the abandonment of religion “fits the prejudices” of advocates of intelligent design and other creationist ideas." This is a smart observation. Dawkins and his ilk are playing by the rules of the creationists. Why should we accept that paradigm?

DU, faith can indeed be based on evidence. If a person comes to a religious belief because of an epiphany, isn't that evidence? (If you want to discount subjective observations as evidence, you're in danger of dismissing almost that we would claim to be knowledge. If you want to discount religious visions, but are willing to accept other subjective observations, you are question begging.)
posted by oddman at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I imagine scientists will have some trouble managing the new way to talk about things, but they will manage and even do good science.

Well naturally they will. It's always possible to add an unneeded entity to your model. Trivial proof: Don't attach it to anything. Less trivial, more practical version: Make it do stuff that was going to happen anyway.
posted by DU at 10:35 AM on March 25, 2010


ennui.bz: "the basic elements of quantum mechanics are *measurements*, not 'things.' "

And basing results on measurements is the materialist approach. Materialism is not a philosophy, but it is a stance which much of philosophy since the 19th century takes on, including the philosophy which lays the groundwork for science as it is practiced.
posted by idiopath at 10:38 AM on March 25, 2010


oddman: "If a person comes to a religious belief because of an epiphany, isn't that evidence?"

Yes, there are drugs and physical manipulations of the nervous system that repeatably cause epiphany experiences, and this can be measured and has been studied.
posted by idiopath at 10:43 AM on March 25, 2010


I'm not sure [materialism is] all that consistent with modern physics: the basic elements of quantum mechanics are *measurements*, not 'things.'

posted by ennui.bz at 1:32 PM on March 25 [+] [!]


I think you're distorting popular knowledge of physics to make a philosophical point. Your point may be valid, but I'm gonna object to the argument - it seems devoid of meaning to me.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:44 AM on March 25, 2010


Well naturally they will. It's always possible to add an unneeded entity to your model. Trivial proof: Don't attach it to anything. Less trivial, more practical version: Make it do stuff that was going to happen anyway.

but my point is that materialism, or atheism is just as irrelevant to the practice of science which I think is largely 'formalist' if you want attribute any practical philosophy to it...

on the other hand, look no further than oppenheimer or sakharov to see what happens to the career of a scientist who takes moral philosophy too seriously.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:47 AM on March 25, 2010


From the Current Winner page:

"Referring to Picasso’s Guernica, [Ayala] noted that while science can assess the painting’s massive dimensions and pigments, only a spiritual view imparts the horror of the subject matter. Together, he explained, these two separate analyses reveal the totality of the masterpiece."

This makes it pretty difficult for a non-believer to appreciate Guernica, doesn't it? No matter how knowledgeble one is about history and art. Unless I'm overinterpreting "spiritual". Experiencing and interpreting art doesn't necessarily have to be about either (science or religion). To claim that a religious scientist has some special access to the "totality" of the meaning of a work of art sounds like a fantasy to me.
posted by The Mouthchew at 10:48 AM on March 25, 2010


When science conflicted with religion, they said God works in mysterious ways that we as humans can't understand

I've never understood why this argument is made more often when religious zealots get up in arms about something that science is suggesting. They say "Science is at odds with my bible" the response should just simply be "Then our understanding of god through the narrow lens of the bible has given us an imperfect view of his works. Since god is all powerful, there is no reason that science isn't simply his way of letting us appreciate and better understand his plan."
posted by quin at 10:51 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


ennui.bz: "but my point is that materialism, or atheism is just as irrelevant to the practice of science"

One of the things that makes scientific inquiry work is Occam's Razor, and atheism is just a particular application of Occam's Razor (until, of course, we find some phenomena where the simplest useful explanation is "a wizard did it").
posted by idiopath at 10:51 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


A recent MeFi comment that really opened my eyes to Templeton's activities in attempting to co-opt science into supporting religion.

So, some people don't like what he does, and they're whining about it? What's the story? I don't see anyone being forced to give up their stubborn atheism.
posted by shii at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think you're distorting popular knowledge of physics to make a philosophical point. Your point may be valid, but I'm gonna object to the argument - it seems devoid of meaning to me.

To the best of my knowledge, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics rests on three legs:

0) the *only* knowledge we have of the world are measurements
1) the mathematical consistency of the formalism
2) the consistency of the results with experimental data

there's little room there for assumptions about the ultimate nature of reality i.e. materialism. and, the person who (in my mind) came up with the phrase "naive materialism" was Einstein (in one of his popular essays.) You can look at the objections of Einstein and Schrodinger e.g. "Schrodinger's cat" to the Copenhagen philosophy as a defense of naive materialism (and naive causality, etc.)
posted by ennui.bz at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


idiopath: "One of the things that makes scientific inquiry work is Occam's Razor"

My science my be a little rusty. Is it really that simple? Occam's Razor may be a shorthand, but I always thought that actual scientific inquiry requires a whole lot more than that.
posted by charred husk at 11:02 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the NYT article "equating science with the abandonment of religion “fits the prejudices” of advocates of intelligent design and other creationist ideas." This is a smart observation. Dawkins and his ilk are playing by the rules of the creationists. Why should we accept that paradigm?

Again, this assumes that religion gets to frame the debate. From a scientific point of view, any unnecessary hypothesis can and probably should be abandoned; in that context, belief in God tends to seem roughly as reasonable as belief in the Primum Mobile, even without any explicit or even implicit attacks on religion. So why should "Dawkins and his ilk" change their opinions to avoid "playing by the rules of the creationists", when their low opinion of religion has a perfectly valid explanation according to their own system?

Why do the creationists get to set the conversational rules, and not the scientists?
posted by vorfeed at 11:03 AM on March 25, 2010


charred husk: "actual scientific inquiry requires a whole lot more than that."

Yes. Like I said, "One of the things that makes science work". It is necessary but not sufficient.
posted by idiopath at 11:06 AM on March 25, 2010


idiopath: "Yes. Like I said, "One of the things that makes science work". It is necessary but not sufficient"

Yeah, noticed that after I posted. Didn't sleep last night, should probably avoid posting today. Sorry.
posted by charred husk at 11:07 AM on March 25, 2010


Idiopath, your response to me is, of course, question begging. You presuppose that your style of explanation is the only valid one.

But that response, and the response to ennui.bz is telling. You assume that the rules of scientific inquiry can be exported to worldly inquiries. In physics (and the other sciences) Occam's Razor suggests that we do not need God. So, we don't use God to explain radiation. But this does not mean that we should dismiss the existence of God tout court. Similarly in physics Occam's Razor suggests that we do not need intentionality or phenomenological mental states. So, we don't use them to explain gravitation. But this does not mean that we should dismiss them. (People tried to do it for a long time, that project is one of the bigger failures of 20th c. philosophy.)

Of course, none of this is an argument for God, but that's a different question entirely.

(Also, notice that Occam's Razor does not compel you deny the existence of God. Physics actually should be agnostic.)

Vorfeed, I think you missed the point of the quotation. Both camps are playing by the same rule. Roughly stated both agree that God and science are incompatible in some strong way. They reach different conclusions, but they share that initial starting point. Ayala suggests a third way.
posted by oddman at 11:11 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


This makes it pretty difficult for a non-believer to appreciate Guernica, doesn't it? No matter how knowledgeble one is about history and art. Unless I'm overinterpreting "spiritual". Experiencing and interpreting art doesn't necessarily have to be about either (science or religion). To claim that a religious scientist has some special access to the "totality" of the meaning of a work of art sounds like a fantasy to me.

I think you're misreading him here. The point that I take from this is that a scientific approach to the phenomenon of Guernica is focused on its adequate description and an accurate assessment of the causal forces that have contributed to its existence in this way and not in another. The "spiritual" approach he talks about makes no special claim for religious belief (as you presume). Instead, he suggests that there is another way of viewing Guernica that is interpretive and holistic. That doesn't ask what forces have determined its mode of being, but that asks after its impact on a series of domains, historical, aesthetic, emotional, ethical, etc.

Knowing how Guernica is put together is adjunct to the total impact of Guernica in history. The composition of Picasso's pigments doesn't explain the emotional force of his lines. These things may contribute to our understanding of the work, but they can't substitute for the work itself. This is what Ayala is calling "spiritual". A domain of being that has to do with the human reaction to a thing and the complex ways that thing intersects with the various domains of human life and human society. This non-scientific, "spiritual" perspective is also the domain of religion, but religion doesn't have a preeminent place here.

In fact, I think that's why Ayala cites a secular painting rather than a religious work. It's precisely to clarify the area where religion speaks and to differentiate that from what he thinks science is doing.
posted by felix betachat at 11:11 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Again, this assumes that religion gets to frame the debate. From a scientific point of view, any unnecessary hypothesis can and probably should be abandoned

actually, instead of Occam's razor, it should be called Napoleon's joke:
Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, 'M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.' Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, 'Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.' ("I had no need of that hypothesis.") Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, 'Ah! c'est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses.' ("Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.")
posted by ennui.bz at 11:12 AM on March 25, 2010


their stubborn atheism.

My atheism is as stubborn as reality.
posted by grubi at 11:12 AM on March 25, 2010


oddman: "Idiopath, your response to me is, of course, question begging. You presuppose that your style of explanation is the only valid one."

I figure that the anecdotal, subjective interpretation of the world and the experimental, data gathering approach can be compared on their merits.

If you want to start talking about epiphany and evidence then looking at the reliable ways of inducing epiphanous states is at least as informative as looking at their content. And the various revelations and insights that people have during epiphanies are so diverse (and often silly) as to be self negating. An epiphany may sometimes be a good starting point, but I would hardly call it evidence for anything other than its own existence.
posted by idiopath at 11:19 AM on March 25, 2010


My atheism is as stubborn as reality.

"Religion" is an argument, not a thing that actually exists in the world.
posted by shii at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2010


"I figure that the anecdotal, subjective interpretation of the world and the experimental, data gathering approach can be compared on their merits."

Yes, but you assume that the latter should always be preferred to the former.

I'd like to see you respond to the longer claim I make in that post.
posted by oddman at 11:23 AM on March 25, 2010


So, some people don't like what he does, and they're whining about it? What's the story? I don't see anyone being forced to give up their stubborn atheism.

So when I don't like what someone is doing, I can only complain if someone is being forced to "give up" atheism?

I object to Templeton's funding and distributing falsehood and particularly to their co-opting of truthsayers to do so. That no one has (yet) been forced into a religion is irrelevant.
posted by DU at 11:38 AM on March 25, 2010


oddman:

If I understand your claim, it is that we cannot dismiss what is revealed during an epiphany without also dismissing all other evidence of the senses.

I am able to differentiate, in my experiences, between moments I would call epiphanous, and moments I would not call epiphanous.

What connects those experiences of epiphany is the euphoria that accompanies them, and a sense that somehow I have reached a turning point in my life. Another thing that I can generally say about those experiences I would call epiphanies is that they tend to be repeatable in what invokes them, but not in their content. I am pretty sure that we can say that we know something because we can accurately predict how things will recur. In that sense I can say that I am completely ignorant about the content of epiphanies, and that I do know what kind of thing causes them - certain drugs, intense emotional states, physical stress (ie. extreme heat or cold or fasting or dehydration).

On the other hand, most of my lucid (that is non epiphanous) experiences seem to happen in one causal universe, where I can predict to some degree the results of my actions or events I see around me.

Having had a few brief experiences that defy logic and happen when my body or mind is under stress, and a lifetime of other experiences which are on the other hand understandable and fairly well explained, it seems like more than just an arbitrary prejudice to say that epiphany is a interesting, sometimes pleasurable, but in terms of its content, non-meaningful, kind of experience.

Alternately I could presume that the epiphanies were the only moments when I was lucid, and the rest of the time I am blind to reality.

In my experience I can accomplish more, and be happier, by presuming that I live in a semi-rational universe (at least rational enough for pragmatic purposes) rather than a fundamentally irrational one.
posted by idiopath at 11:43 AM on March 25, 2010


Vorfeed, I think you missed the point of the quotation. Both camps are playing by the same rule. Roughly stated both agree that God and science are incompatible in some strong way. They reach different conclusions, but they share that initial starting point. Ayala suggests a third way.

No, they don't "share that initial starting point". You are mistaking the result of a scientific line of thought as the beginning of it. Dawkins doesn't just declare that "God and science are incompatible in some strong way", and then make further conclusions from there. He makes an argument which concludes that religion and science are incompatible in a particular way, all within the context of science.

In contrast, Ayala suggests a "third way" which has absolutely no meaning within that scientific context. "Evolution is consistent with belief in God" is an unnecessary statement which does not matter one whit within the scientific system. The idea that scientists should adopt it, merely because it makes science more palatable to someone else's system, is bizarre. More importantly, adopting this unsupported and unnecessary statement goes against the way science works. And, again, it suggests that religion gets to dictate the terms of the debate.

You may as well claim that the creationists are playing by Dawkins' rules, and are unwittingly helping him to defeat religion as an explanation for events in the universe. But you don't, presumably because you can't use that to suggest that science is the problem...
posted by vorfeed at 11:48 AM on March 25, 2010


I have had (mini)epiphanies of, for instance, a mathematical sort many times. "OMG, I know why X can't be true!!!" But of course mathematics you still have to write out the proof. And when I attempt to do so, I realize that my epiphany was wrong.

Please show me the process in religion where incorrect epiphanies are weeded out.
posted by DU at 11:56 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Please show me the process in religion where incorrect epiphanies are weeded out.

Kalama Sutta
posted by shii at 11:59 AM on March 25, 2010


Faith is not based on evidence and therefore is not knowledge.

Lots of knowledge isn't based on evidence.
posted by kenko at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2010


Lots of knowledge isn't based on evidence.

Statements like this really need to be followed with a 'fer instance'

Historical knowledge is not strictly scientific in nature, it is based upon historical records and interpretation of artifacts (that interpretation can be informed by scientific practices, like carbon dating, or it could be inferred by comparing some unknown thing to a known thing).

Logical knowledge is derived by following a set of known rules to reach a conclusion, etc.

What's common in all of these, science, history, logic, is independent verification.

If my interpretation of historical events in the US ignores the Civil War, you could reasonably say that my interpretation was likely wrong.
posted by device55 at 12:16 PM on March 25, 2010


kenko: "Lots of knowledge isn't based on evidence."

What kinds? I have been using the word knowledge to mean "things which two persons could reliably and independently arrive at, given the same evidence". If your knowledge is the text of "Alice In Wonderland", what makes it knowledge is that two persons with a good enough memory who are asked to recite "Alice In Wonderland" would recite the same words. So what definition are you using for knowledge that cannot at least have that sort of evidence?
posted by idiopath at 12:18 PM on March 25, 2010


noting that science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Well, duh.


Argh. Denominations. Thanks, iPhone keyboard.

No... no, I think you got it right the first time. ;- )


Maybe it's because I duly questioned my faith and soon realized I didn't believe in religion. Oops.

Yeah, oops. I have questioned my faith also, and so far, it's hanging in there.
posted by Doohickie at 12:22 PM on March 25, 2010


"Truthsayers"? You mean like these guys?

I suspect whether you'd use the word "truthsayers" depends on how you view science. Is science a series of fixed Platonic propositions about the world? Is it a process? A technique? Something else entirely?
posted by jhandey at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2010


Yeah, oops. I have questioned my faith also, and so far, it's hanging in there.

Sure, if you stop questioning after "Do I believe in God?"
posted by grubi at 1:07 PM on March 25, 2010


>This is what Ayala is calling "spiritual". A domain of being that has to do with the human reaction to a thing and the complex ways that thing intersects with the various domains of human life and human society. This non-scientific, "spiritual" perspective is also the domain of religion, but religion doesn't have a preeminent place here.

Your definition of spiritual is very broad and accomodating, and maybe that's what Ayala means. I don't know his writings. What you say about Guernica, I agree with. I just have trouble seeing the vast domain of being you describe--basically, thinking about life and the human condition--as a necessarily spiritual pursuit. And if religion is not even preeminent, there's no reason to. By the way, I should point out that I have trouble with concepts much less slippery than 'spiritual'. In case you're wondering why this comment's such a mess...
posted by The Mouthchew at 1:07 PM on March 25, 2010


idopath, I'm not disagreeing with the relative weight of the evidence between the two states.
In fact, what you just said suggests that we might agree after all.

My point was that using Occam's Razor, as we use it in science, to rule out the existence of God is illegitimate because, analogously, it would lead to us ruling out something like the existence of colors. When we want to justify the existence of colors (or as in your example we want to give inductive evidence for the consistency of the world) we have to present arguments outside of specific sciences like physics. As you point out the inductive evidence for the consistency of certain experiences is pretty good the evidence for the existence of God, is or course, much more problematic.
posted by oddman at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2010


oddman: "the inductive evidence for the consistency of certain experiences is pretty good the evidence for the existence of God, is or course, much more problematic"

This is basically the induction problem, which is a solitary and very special case.

The thing is (as I understand it) that without the premise of a somewhat consistent world (however tentatively consistent), we can't actually have a meaningful basis for calling anything knowledge. This consistency, of course, being a precondition for knowledge, by definition cannot be established by knowledge, for simple formal logical reasons.

Regarding evidence for God, actual evidence would make God part of the natural world. It would be as much a defeat for the modern theist as for the atheist. If you want to establish a domain for theology unencroachable by science, the last thing you should want is material evidence for God.
posted by idiopath at 2:17 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think Ayala is right about science and religion involving different knowledge sets. But their methods are entirely antithetical. Much like science and art. Science is not, in that sense, introspective and doesn’t deal with the irrational.

And equating science with the abandonment of religion does play into creationist ideas, but there’s the whole Nietzche thing about science killing God.
Whatever one thinks about that particular position, it was a pretty widespread concept and holds as a historical symbol if nothing else.

That and other similar propositional jousts have occurred in the past so obviously some folks hold certain scientific views at odds with certain religious views (and vice versa) irrespective of the validity of doing so or the actual arguments involved. And those echo and rattle socially and mentally through people and get reiterated in various ways and contexts.
And there is something to be said for the amorality of science. But (I agree with vorfeed) that doesn’t mean there can’t be guiding values.

On the other hand - why is it ‘better’ to harvest tissue from stem cells? Practically speaking, I’m completely sold. But I can’t come up with an ethical determination. And I haven't really seen anyone attempting one (outside of academia, and many lawmakers, Bush notably, rested on religious grounds).
F’rinstance – what’s wrong with Bill Gates making 1 million clones of himself? What’s wrong with society making selective clones? Habermas (in The Future of Human Nature) says there’s a difference between “moral issues – those things that have to do with the just way of living together: arrangements between fellow citizens, members of a community who share common notions of rights and obligations, public justice—and ethical issues, identity-forming beliefs that have to do with our self descriptions that ’guide our own identification as human beings and our self-understanding as members of the species”

What’s wrong with genetic enhancements (there Khan Noonien Singh)? What are the political rights in biological inequity?

Reminds me of the Duggar family (and the quiverfulls in general) in the inverse – I can’t exactly explain why a family shouldn’t have 20 kids (to the point where there should be a law) but it rubs me the same way someone having 20 clones of themselves. Even though in the latter case there’s no guiding principle behind it (where the Duggers have the whole religious thing).
What about chimerae? Does an intelligent iguana have human rights?

Part of the problem with placing science as contrary to religion or in parity - or related in any way, whatever creationists hold, is the assumption that there is, or is supposed to be, some attendant set of values to go with it which is dangerous.

Also dangerous is the assumption that we can work out from what science has established as fact into what ought to be or what we should do based on that in a timely manner.
I don’t know that we can. Not because of science, but because of us.
I’m not trotting out the old “frankenstein” thing here with science goes awry and people will always blow themselves up.
What I’m saying is the dichotomy here is a false one- it’s not science/religion it’s centralized authority vs. self-governing and domesticated.

And there exist some real ‘how problems. I mean – do you let your kid clone himself? Play with real viruses? How do you stop him? Can you even stop him? Plenty of laws today regarding hackers and we still haven’t worked out enforcement and jurisdiction issues.
Carl Woese’s (who Alan Moore seems to have gotten the Tom Strong villain the Pangean from) position is that evolution wasn’t Darwinian for most of history.
That life had mostly horizontal (borrowing code from neighbors in a sort of open source biology) gene transfer rather than vertical.

So the question is (in terms of social evolution) will we continue to do that or not? Not to equate hierarchy with the creation of lineage, but it’s a nice metaphor. And as time passes successful traits may lead to overspecialization.

I think that’s the beef most ‘atheists’ have with ‘religious’ folks. And indeed that pattern is often reflected in these kinds of threads regardless of the given exchange of ideas. Not necessarily ‘God’ but the presumption of speaking for ‘God’ and the attendant derivative authority that is supposed to rest on.

“If a person comes to a religious belief because of an epiphany, isn't that evidence?”

Whether faith rests on knowledge derived from experience (such as an epiphany) or from deduction or pure reason, it’s still, by definition, a predictable. A given. Science is the opposite, deriving knowledge from an unpredictable state. So the two are not really equitable. And to some degree to the benefit of (more genuine and personal) religious experience. There’s no need to try to shoehorn them. I mean “Evolution is consentient with enjoyment of art.” Is it? One might say art appreciation exists because we’ve evolved the trait (as some folks have posited religious thought is an evolutionary trait) but does one need to have either in mind to appreciate the other? (unless it’s part of the subject matter). Not really. And it can be intrusive if it’s brought up inappropriately. (‘Hey, ya think Van Gogh had evolution in mind when he painted Sunflowers?’ - absurd)

“Faith is not based on evidence and therefore is not knowledge”
Well but logical knowledge is not derived by direct observation. Pretty sure Godel had some things to say about more complex math systems.
Abstractions can be useful, they don’t have to be based on direct observation. Although that only makes the attempt to reconcile religion and science only more absurd. Fish/bicycle, all that.
But again, as obvious as the intrusion is from the science side, I think there's a good deal of intrusion from that as well. Certain forms of thinking ('religious' thinking among them) depend on a sort of inspiration that scientific intent tends to destroy. In consideration, there's no logical reason for Van Gogh to paint or have painted or to have continued painting. Guy was never appreciated. Never made a dime really. And there's nothing to his work. His cornfield is nothing special really through certain eyes. Through other eyes there's something very haunting and deep going on there.
But again, no one likes a critic jostling your elbow at the museum forcing you into looking at it their way.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:30 PM on March 25, 2010


Smedleyman: "Well but logical knowledge is not derived by direct observation. Pretty sure Godel had some things to say about more complex math systems.
Abstractions can be useful, they don’t have to be based on direct observation."

And their usefulness relies on their reproducibility. If another mathematician could not follow Gödel's steps, then Gödel would be rightfully considered a crackpot.

It is knowledge because two independent observers will reliably come to the same conclusion given the same information. The evidence is the fact that the math works, and that is something you can experience by working out the steps, if you know the math.

Smedleyman: "Whether faith rests on knowledge derived from experience (such as an epiphany) or from deduction or pure reason, it’s still, by definition, a predictable. A given. Science is the opposite, deriving knowledge from an unpredictable state."

This is completely backwards. Science is built from verified predictions, and faith is built on certainty about things that are not only unpredictable, but furthermore unknowable, and arguably in many cases so confused as to be meaningless absurdities (ie. "not even wrong").
posted by idiopath at 2:42 PM on March 25, 2010


faith is built on certainty about things that are not only unpredictable, but furthermore unknowable, and arguably in many cases so confused as to be meaningless absurdities (ie. "not even wrong").

You don't know much about faith, do you?
posted by felix betachat at 2:49 PM on March 25, 2010


felix betachat: I don't understand phlogiston either. Coming from where I am, picking a Jewish or Christian conception of what God is, or what faith is, vs. Buddhist or Shinto or Voodoo or whatever else is pretty much absurd. What I do understand is that generally the word faith is used to describe a kind of certainty that is distinct from knowable or known. And the very premise of that, also, seems absurd to me.
posted by idiopath at 3:34 PM on March 25, 2010


Felix Betachat
And, I would add, at the same time science has to be realistic of the claims it makes. For example, just becuase evolution might be true and can be tested in a scientific way, it does not disprove the existence of God. Making that kind of extrapolation is a leap of faith and goes beyond the realm of science.
posted by dov3 at 4:12 PM on March 25, 2010


Right, see that's the problem. You're engaging in this "conversation" by insisting on a straw-man version of religion and religious belief and hence it's impossible to find any common ground. Reduce religion to its most absurd caricature and clearly its an impediment to science. Not a very effective strategy if you intend to learn something, obviously. But then, maybe you don't.

Anyway, I cite Buber because his book makes an interesting and perhaps germane point. What we blithely call "faith" is actually a translation of the Greek term pistis meaning something like "an intellectual insistence on the reality of a thing not seen" (note, classical philological lurkers, I am operating from memory here). This is how "faith" is usually conceptualized in the Christian west.

But in the Hebrew Bible (my bailiwick), the term that is often translated as "faith" is quite different. Emunah in Hebrew has nothing to do with intellectual apprehension or belief. Instead it's related to the root √'mn meaning "groundedness/stability/firmness". Emunah in the Hebrew Bible refers to an emotional sense of being well established. It is pre-intellectual and pre-rational. It is a primary emotional state, as opposed to pistis which must be arrived at consciously.

There is a lot to be said about how Christianity grafted its idea of pistis on an older Hebraic matrix of emunah, but that's not germane to this discussion. What is germane, though, is the way that a naive attitude toward matters of "faith" makes it seem like something contingent and subject to revision based on better data. That fits pistis but it doesn't fit emunah. Even Richard Dawkins (though, to be fair, probably not Christopher Hitchens) has emunah that is founded on something. There are pre-conscious certitudes that order his cosmos. Nobody exists in a state of constant interrogation of their ontological fundament. Not if they want to be sane.

All this is to say that if we were more charitable about these matters, we would discuss the values and primary experiences that ground our sense for our place in the world. We would ask how it is that some people adhere to pistis-based "beliefs" that are at odds with the scientifically established truths of our universe. And we would avoid placing ourselves on pedestals simply because we subject some of our certainties to rather more interrogation than do others.

The point is not to be right. It is to be convincing. And you can't convince with a sneer on your face.
posted by felix betachat at 4:52 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


“And their usefulness relies on their reproducibility.”

You say knowledge is derived from evidence. I refuted that in terms of systems deriving knowledge. Now it’s about reproducibility in the system.

“It is knowledge because two independent observers will reliably come to the same conclusion given the same information.”

Ah, yes, science is clearly inundated with theories not refuted by a variety of independent observers who always come to the exact same conclusions. Scientists only pursue purely empirical truths. Everyone’s math aligns perfectly and there’s no dispute or conflict. No empirically solid scientific theory in history has been dropped. Yeah. Again, that’s testability, not knowledge.

I’m not defending faith in those terms (or any terms beyond knowlege and more broadly meaning).
I’m asking if it’s not possible your net is cast a little narrow there in terms of what ‘knowledge’ is and isn’t?

“Science is built from verified predictions,”

Really? So doing experiments under controlled conditions without knowing for certain beforehand what’s going to happen – that’s not science?
I know the whole – hypothesis to experiment thing, sure, I see that.

But think about it beyond the organizing factors (finger/moon, all that) beyond the systemic observation to the collection of knowledge – you do the experiment, the organization, to see what happens, to collect the knowledge. If you knew what would happen, you wouldn’t need to do the experiment. One might say science is the belief in the ignorance of experts (if one were Richard Feynman).

Prediction uses deductive reasoning (again those abstract systems we use to organize information) to help observe, but it’s not the observation itself.

It’s not reproducibility (at least when it comes to the knowledge itself), it’s falsifiablity.
Reproducible in method sure, but two guys or ten thousand can come to the same conclusion over and over on white swans using a perfectly solid observational system. If one swan in a million shows up black– it’s been disproven.

So yeah it’s an organized method, but used to create (and perhaps isolate) unpredictability to see what happens.

“and faith is built on certainty about things that are not only unpredictable, but furthermore unknowable,”

As a non-theist I can’t help but agree with the last bit. But faith is built on things that are unpredictable? So the Bible turns out differently each time? Christ escapes in an exciting chariot chase through the streets of Jerusalem?

…actually that’d be cool.

So contrast that with science. Test. Measure. System. All that.
Faith is fundamentally trust (whether in an abstract or a symbol, be it physical, human, abstract itself, whatever). (on preview - to agree with felix betachat's link)
And it’s essentially the same story in many ways. That flexibility of perspective as it relates to knowledge reiterating in not exactly the same way every time seems to be a feature not a bug.

I happen to think there are human truths there, although I think a lot of folks try to impress themselves on people who avail themselves of that wellspring. Like any set of predators.
But I also think that’s true of a certain kind of mindset that faith is a sort of subset of. Lots of ire out there for irrationalism. But who goes to an art gallery or to a symphony looking for empirical truth?

I don’t think the two should be conflated though. For the more obvious reasons already expressed around. But also because I think genuine knowledge can be derived from abstract sources and I’ll go further – irrational sources. Tolstoy had some interesting things to say on that (essentially in common with the existentialists except he asserts a more indefinite ‘faith’ as a method for dealing with meaninglessness.)

And I think the confusion arises from that conflation. Not from the inherent superiority of either method - a hammer is not superior to a screwdriver, say – depending on what it is one is looking for. (“How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?” – Einstein)

That is - not only science vs. religion (or irrational thought, or aesthetics as a better word) or their reconciliation (being confusing) but sorting between what is meaningless and meaningful in terms of fact and relevance (or meaning and ethic).

God is meaningless in terms of the theory of evolution (although I have a broader argument here I’ll side step). And evolution, and the scientific method, means nothing to an irrationally derived (or aesthetic) experience or the seeker or producer of one.

What reason and other abstract thought can do to help one experience one’s own being in relation to existence is pretty much out in the open. The more mysterious element – bit harder to chase down. But it does an injustice to either to try to loosen up the order of reason or to try to put the cold light of inquiry on a more metaphorical, perhaps paraverbal, communication. Kant had some things to say on the symbolic reiterating into an infinity we couldn’t understand rationally.

I suppose that that immediate indeterminacy in the knowledge (or subject) itself is also feature in some art. Lots of folks place the more rational abstracts (engineering is better than art) higher generally. I don’t know that we could do without either. I could do without the authoritarianism tho. Which I think is the root of some of the clouding of the issue.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:06 PM on March 25, 2010


felix betachat: "a naive attitude toward matters of "faith" makes it seem like something contingent and subject to revision based on better data."

Based on the ways I have heard the word used, it describes those beliefs someone will not change regardless of evidence.

felix betachat: "e would avoid placing ourselves on pedestals"

Like for example institutions dedicated to awarding monetary prizes to scientific research that affirms our worldview? I'm supposed to be all grateful they didn't award the prize to a creationist or something?
posted by idiopath at 5:10 PM on March 25, 2010


Smedleyman: "faith is built on things that are unpredictable? So the Bible turns out differently each time? Christ escapes in an exciting chariot chase through the streets of Jerusalem?"

I will agree that the Bible contains text claiming that Christ was crucified for my sins yadda yadda. It is predictible and verifiable that it continues to contain those words. What is neither predictable nor verifiable is the accuracy of any of those claims.
posted by idiopath at 5:13 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, idiopath, it doesn't seem like you're much interested in a conversation here. So, I'll wish you well & beg off.
posted by felix betachat at 5:37 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


“What is neither predictable nor verifiable is the accuracy of any of those claims.”

Well again – that’s system, not the knowledge itself. And faith is a far larger subject, as I’ve been trying to explain. If you want to talk Christ – that is a very old and very widespread and predictably repeated story. The miracle working divine virgin born human who brings salvation existed centuries before in a number of cultures, Mithras, Bacchus, Alcides, Attis, Osiris, Huitzilopochtli, Zoroaster, Zunis, Isis and her kid, - Tien or Shang Ti (or Shangdi) had a number of Christ-traits.

In many cases it was not even religious, a lot of Christian concepts drew from ancient Mediterranean culture (in many cases this is indisputable and far more clear – Aristotle for example, big big Gorilla in the medieval church and why Galileo got the torture instruments rattled at him for pointing out moons around Jupiter).

So again – I’m not arguing whether Christ literally died on a cross for our sins, merely that this particular bit of information not only has a basis of truth in the human experience but recurs in different, but very predictable ways (it’s always a sacrifice for example). Indeed, extremely verifiable ways since it’s been written down for thousands of years in innumerable languages by cultures separated by vast distances and times.

You want to argue it’s not knowledge, nor repeatable in the sense that mixing baking soda and vinegar creates a certain kind of chemical reaction, ok.
But this is not the only kind of knowledge that exists.
I’m still not debating the scientific reality of walking on water or some such.

And why the hell is it always ‘the bible?” Someone brings up Kant, Habermas ,Tolstoy, Feynman, or Carl Woese and the retort always seems to be “No you idiot teh Jeezus isn’t true! Lolchristian!”
Hell with it. No one’s reading this anyway. Talk about an interesting intersection the FPP has with a recent biological discovery and conceptual thinking about microorganisms and how paradigms shift to fit the facts instead of vise versa? – no thanks, that would suck as compared to demagoguing high school science in contrast to straw man Christians. I must be a bible thumping christian (even though I stated I'm a non-theist) because I have a contrary position.
Or, of course, I'm stupid. Must be, because I think those claims are verifiable and accurate don't I? Habermas who?
posted by Smedleyman at 9:51 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman: regarding The Bible, don't blame me, I brought up "Alice In Wonderland" instead but nobody took me up on it. And what I said when I brought up Alice was that you could have knowledge of the contents of the book, regardless of the "truth" of any of it.

My point about faith and verifiability was, I thought, a simple one. If we can see it, repeat it, predict it, it is not a subject of faith. Faith is for those things that we cannot witness, that we cannot know or cannot yet know.

Regarding stupidity, I don't think that knowing or thinking about the content of these texts is stupid. If anything, what I would call stupid is agitating for willful ignorance. Claiming that our prejudices about those things that are by definition unknowable should hold precedence over and limit the pursuit of the process of expanding human knowledge is not just ignorant, it is stupid - it is fighting against knowledge.
posted by idiopath at 10:54 AM on March 26, 2010


“My point about faith and verifiability was, I thought, a simple one.”
Extremely simple. Why is it you think I don’t understand what your saying, but you completely understand my position?

Even when spelled out explicitly. Even when it’s pretty clear I’ve taken that as read. I mean the whole Kant- Habermas thing is a shorthand for an entire discussion on the topic.

First – I’m not talking about faith specifically, I’m talking about the possibility of deriving knowledge from non-empirical sources (evidence). I gave several examples of such knowlege, logic among them, and the goalposts moved from 'evidence' to 'reproducibility,' and from there to an assertion that faith is now meant to be something else such the form it takes doesn't follow rules (which is demonstrably wrong) or there's no experience of it (wrong but not demonstrably so anymore than one can prove one experiences 'beauty').

Secondly – you keep asserting ‘science is’ and ‘faith isn’t’ as it regards repeatability and predictability.
I don’t know how to better phrase an argument than to say that repeatability is about the system of derivation of knowledge, not knowledge itself.

And that the difference between scientific method and other forms of derivation is falsifiablity – that is something can be disproven through observation. I don’t think that invalidates a given form of knowledge. I have argued repeatedly that they are very different things. If anything my argument goes far further than yours in this regard. In any case, none of that invalidates scientific thought or seeks to encroach on that form of derivation of knowledge (again, quite the contrary)

In terms of seeing it, repeating it, predicting it and faith – I disagree with your assertion but I’m not contesting it. I’m contesting the idea (yours by implication) that knowledge derived from abstract and/or non-empirical sources is genuine knowledge in as much as aesthetics, say, or logic. Which certainly do have rules but are not material in nature and still produce knowledge.

Alice In Wonderland is a perfect example. It contains many exercises in logic. Even that aside, it produces an experience and appreciation for a kind of symmetry within an imaginative framework. The method and communication themselves are often nonsense, but there is genuine knowledge to be derived from it.

As to faith, I think categorical thinking is a delusion in the first place (the 'God' question) and so the science/faith thing is a loaded ‘have you stopped beating your wife’ type question.

But that’s a different thing again from the authoritarian/hierarchy thinking. Made my position clear on that as well.
But the method and the ideal aside, science is subject to the same pitfalls that any other system embedded in a human environment is subject to - there have been more than a few pieces on aesthetic construction of scientific theories (driving force behind some of them) and how grant money, academic status, and other institutional structures affect scientific arguments.
Same sort of thing goes on in the art world, politics, etc. And that's the more challenging opposition.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2010


dov3 wrote: "And, I would add, at the same time science has to be realistic of the claims it makes. For example, just becuase evolution might be true and can be tested in a scientific way, it does not disprove the existence of God."

And Dawkins makes the point that science need not disprove the existence of God. There is no scientific evidence of God's existence, therefore there is no need to consider the existence of a deity in the first place.
posted by wierdo at 9:39 PM on March 26, 2010


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