Science & Evolution -  Stuck between religion and science (212 views) Notify me whenever anyone posts in this discussion.Subscribe
 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host4/12/14 6:23 PM 
To: All  (1 of 11) 
 1129.1 

America: Stupidly stuck between religion and science
by Andrew O'Hehir
12 Apr 14

Karl Marx’s famous maxim that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, can apply just as well to the history of ideas as to the political sphere. Consider the teapot-tempest over religion and science that has mysteriously broken out in 2014, and has proven so irresistible to the media. We already had this debate, which occupied a great deal of the intellectual life of Western civilization in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was a whole lot less stupid the first time around. Of course, no one on any side of the argument understands its philosophical and theological history, and the very idea of “Western civilization” is in considerable disrepute on the left and right alike. So we get the sinister cartoon version, in which religious faith and scientific rationalism are reduced to ideological caricatures of themselves, and in which we are revealed to believe in neither one.

Young-earth creationism, a tiny fringe movement within Christianity whose influence is largely a reflection of liberal hysteria, is getting a totally unearned moment in the spotlight (for at least the second or third time). Evangelist Ken Ham of the pseudo-scientific advocacy group Answers in Genesis gets to “debate” Bill Nye the Science Guy about whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old, in a grotesque parody of academic discourse. Ham’s allies, meanwhile, complain that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new “Cosmos” TV series has no room for their ludicrous anti-scientific beliefs. If anything, Tyson’s show has spent a suspicious amount of time indirectly debunking creationist ideas. They seem to make him (or, more properly, his writers) nervous. Not, as Ham would have it, because somewhere inside themselves these infidels recognize revealed truth, but because religious ecstasy, however nonsensical, is powerful in a way reason and logic are not.

Everyone who writes a snarky Internet comment about why the T-Rex couple didn’t make it onto Noah’s ark betrays the same nervousness, and so do earnest Northeast Corridor journalists who rush to assure us that Ham’s elaborate fantasy scenarios about fossils and the Grand Canyon are not actually true, and that we would all find science just as wonderful as religion if only we paid attention. (Such articles strike me as totems of liberal self-reassurance, and not terribly convincing ones at that.) Repeating facts over and over again doesn’t make them any more true, and definitely doesn’t make them more convincing. I suppose this is about trying to win the hearts and minds of some uninformed but uncommitted mass of people out there who don’t quite know what they think. But hectoring or patronizing them is unlikely to do any good, and if you believe that facts are what carry the day in American public discourse then you haven’t paid much attention to the last 350 years or so.

This creationist boomlet goes hand in glove with the larger political strategy of Christian fundamentalism, which is somewhere between diabolically clever and flat-out desperate. Faced with a long sunset as a significant but declining subculture, the Christian right has embraced postmodernism and identity politics, at least in the sense that it suddenly wants to depict itself as a persecuted cultural minority entitled to special rights and privileges. These largely boil down, of course, to the right to resist scientific evidence on everything from evolution to climate change to vaccination, along with the right to be gratuitously cruel to LGBT people. One might well argue that this has less to do with the eternal dictates of the Almighty than with anti-government paranoia and old-fashioned bigotry. But it’s noteworthy that even in its dumbest and most debased form, religion still finds a way to attack liberal orthodoxy at its weak point.

Things can’t possibly be as bad on the scientific and rationalist side of the ledger, but they’re still confused and confusing. Tyson has made diplomatic comments about science and religion not necessarily being enemies, a halfway true statement that was never likely to satisfy anybody. (Meanwhile, “Cosmos” thoroughly botched the fascinating and ambiguous story of Giordano Bruno, a cosmological pioneer and heretical theologian burned by the Inquisition.) Tyson was clearly echoing Stephen Jay Gould’s 1997 pronouncement that the two domains were “non-overlapping magisteria,” meaning that science is concerned entirely with empirical questions and religion with questions of morality and ultimate meaning. Even at the time Gould admitted he was being strategic and trying to uphold the social status of science in a deeply religious nation (although he also defended his doctrine on philosophical grounds). At best, he was outlining a tentative truce between certain areas of scientific inquiry and a certain strain of up-market orthodox Christian and Jewish theology — the once-dominant tradition of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas — that has been willing to accommodate scientific discovery and has tended to avoid unequivocal pronouncements about the nature of reality.

 

 
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From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host4/12/14 6:24 PM 
To: All  (2 of 11) 
 1129.2 in reply to 1129.1 

Creationists and other Biblical fundamentalists, needless to say, are having none of it: For them, the empirical realm is always and everywhere subservient to the revealed word of God. Meanwhile “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, along with their pop-culture sock puppet Bill Maher, espouse a similar view from the other direction.

Their ahistorical or anti-historical depiction of religion is every bit as stupid as Ken Ham’s. Since there is nothing outside the empirical realm and no questions that can resist rational inquiry, the so-called domain of religion does not even exist. These debased modern-day atheists conflate all religion with its most stereotypical, superstitious and oppressive dogmas — a mistake that Nietzsche, the archangel of atheism, would never have made — and refuse to acknowledge that human life possesses a sensuous, symbolic and communal aspect that religion has channeled and accessed in a way no other social practice ever has. Strangely, their jeremiads urging the sheeple to wake from their God-haunted torpor haven’t won many converts.

As the Marxist cultural critic Terry Eagleton puts it in his new book “Culture and the Death of God,” Dawkins and his new-atheist peers are “old-fashioned 19th-century rationalists,” whose arguments rest upon a post-Kantian theological dodge, in which reason and the scientific method are enthroned in the space formerly occupied by God and defended with a flaming sword. For them to argue that religion is “a set of erroneous propositions,” Eagleton notes (citing Emile Durkheim, who was no believer), is a fundamental misjudgment, like claiming that the death of Cordelia in “King Lear” cannot possibly move us to tears because she’s not a real person. Religious doctrine may well be false or sinister and is certainly mythological, but it is also “a power that moves us to action in ways of which Reason alone is incapable.”

It’s not surprising that reporters and pundits are drawn to young-earth creationists and New Atheists alike. (I interviewed Ken Ham years ago, for a story about the links between New Age pseudo-archaeology and Christian fundamentalism. He knew what I wanted and delivered it.) Powerful convictions of any kind are highly seductive, especially in a bewildering and rootless age when consumption is the only absolute good, an age adrift between permanent skepticism and boutique belief. (As Eagleton quips, “those who cannot conceive of an end to Wall Street are perfectly capable of believing in Kabbalah.”) While Ham’s beliefs are avowedly irrational and Dawkins claims to represent absolute rationality, both come off as passionate extremists within the cool, denatured, post-ideological space of the mass media — where in any case there is no obvious difference between those things.

So on one hand we have atheists whose views would have seemed old-hat under Queen Victoria but who see themselves as representing the apex of progressive modern thought, and on the other we have a modern twist on religion that pretends to be ancient or traditional. Biblical fundamentalism as we know it today is essentially a 19th-century British invention that took root among white rural Americans much later than that. William Jennings Bryan, although revered as a forefather by today’s creationists, would have had nothing in common with them politically and very little theologically. (Bryan would have told you that the Bible was “true,” but he didn’t mean that God created the universe in six literal 24-hour days.) Islamic fundamentalism, the particular bugaboo of Dawkins and Harris, is more recent still, a metaphysical uprising against late modernism and the global force of Western consumer culture.

It would be foolish to deny that fundamentalism is or can be dangerous, but the liberal intelligentsia compulsively exaggerates the danger posed by the likes of Ken Ham or Pat Robertson, who are deemed to be plotting the theocratic overthrow of the republic when in fact they represent a marginalized constituency with little power. Fundamentalists oppose the science of climate change on supposed scriptural grounds, for instance, but on that issue they’re just serving as handmaidens to corporate money and power. In much the same way but on a larger scale, conservatives and government apparatchiks interpret the scattered and disparate actions of al-Qaida and its allies as an apocalyptic threat that justifies secret drone wars, unknowable levels of surveillance and the expenditure of countless billions.

Eagleton claims that our “post-theological, post-metaphysical, post-ideological [and] even post-historical era” is reacting with intense anxiety to the rise of a renewed fundamentalism, and the news flash that God isn’t dead after all. But he’s writing from the context of Britain, one of the world’s most thoroughly secularized societies. The American dilemma lies in the fact that we’re not post-anything. The Enlightenment never entirely took hold on this continent, as Thomas Jefferson accurately predicted, and the faithlessness or supermarket spirituality of consumer culture coexists uneasily with intense religious feeling and intense mythological nationalism. If Americans keep fighting the old philosophical battle between faith and reason over and over again, in increasingly silly forms, that reflects an unresolved spiritual contradiction at the core of our national identity. We long to be a shining city on a hill but cannot build it; we long for a mystical synthesis of science and religion but cannot find it.

 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host5/27/14 7:35 PM 
To: All  (3 of 11) 
 1129.3 in reply to 1129.2 
 

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson vs. the right: “Cosmos,”
Christians, and the battle for American science

The real reason conservatives are freaking out about Neil deGrasse Tyson:
He's laying bare their worst hypocrisies

The religious right has been freaking out about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” for what feels like an eternity. And, while the theological complaints seem laughable for their rancor and predictability, it’s time we thought harder about what they represent, because the Christian right’s “Cosmos” agita actually indicates a far deeper problem in religious conservatism — the selective acceptance of “Left, Right and Christ,” the world is “not a glass ornament that we might accidentally destroy … we are not capable of destroying it, whether by nuclear weapons or carbon emissions.” Young earth creationism is the ultimate attempt to both accept modern science, but also to deny it. Fundamentalists like Ken Ham argue that the world and laws we currently observe simply bear no resemblance to the past.

In truth, we cannot get fundamentalism without the scientific revolution. Fundamentalism does not exist independently, but rather defines itself in relationship to post-Enlightenment values. It is the odd melding of science and religion that creates fundamentalism — the belief that the Bible is ultimately both a scientific and religious text. Fundamentalists, like the conspiracy theorists they resemble, will build up reams of evidence creating the case for something that can be disproven with a simple logical proposition. Few thinkers have built such an impressive edifice of logic and evidence upon such a thin foundation of speculation.

Dinesh D’Souza, for instance, has taken to using science as proof of religion — he argues, rather absurdly, that the Bible’s explanation of the origins of the universe predates modern science. In his speech at Intelligence Squared, he claims:

When the discovery of the big bang came — this, by the way, was at a time when most scientists believed the universe was eternal, the steady state universe was the prevailing doctrine of American and Western science — so it came as a shock that the universe had a beginning. Why? because, in a way, it wasn’t just that matter had a beginning, but space and time also had a beginning. In other words, this was something that the ancient Hebrews had said thousands of years ago and without conducting a single scientific experiment. By the way, this is not the same as other cosmologies. Other ancient cosmologies posited the universe being fashioned by a kind of carpenter god who made it out of some preexisting stuff, but the ancient Hebrews said, “No, first there was nothing, and then there was a universe.”

But this rhetorical flourish is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the creation narrative, and religion in general. Religion, ultimately, aims at truths deeper than science and trying to apply religious reasoning to the natural world is absurd. Augustine warned as much, telling Christians in “De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim” to avoid, “talking nonsense on these topics.”

More worryingly, the idea that a rather tenuous reading of a literary work holds the same weight as centuries of scientific evidence is more than a little absurd. D’Souza is trying to selectively apply science, but without its foundation — empirical, testable, repeatable propositions.

We see here the fundamentalist flaw: a mass of rhetoric, reason and evidence built on the utterly insane proposition that the Old Testament is meant to be a scientific account of the origins of the universe.

The reason any somewhat knowledgeable Christian is frustrated by these debates is that they simply pit one fundamentalist against another. One tries to use science to disprove religion, the other to prove it — both apparently unaware that belief is something that cannot be “proven.” That’s the entire point! Too often, religious excursions into science resemble the thinking of the suicidal people described by Anne Sexton, “They ask only what tool, they never ask why build?” Fundamentalism at its core is the misunderstanding of the proper relationship between science and religion — one practiced just as frequently by atheists as Christians.

Another form of this trend is the co-option of liberal values. The religious right cannot generally be found decrying freedom of speech or freedom of religion, instead they make a selective application of these values — much the way they’ll talk science when you question nuclear power but deny a consensus about evolution or global warming on entirely spurious grounds.

One recent example of this illiberalism was the quickness with which Catholics decried a “Black Mass” at Harvard. The “Black Mass” is merely a satanic parody of the Catholic mass — which, while it may be offensive to some Catholics, is totally harmless in practice. Of course, the idea of Catholics demanding special privileges is not rare, but to be expected; one wonders if Satanist child abusers could claim that their church would deal with the matter internally.

 

  • Edited May 27, 2014 7:36 pm  by  EdGlaze
 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host5/27/14 7:37 PM 
To: All  (4 of 11) 
 1129.4 in reply to 1129.3 

Liberal values are not weighed in a vacuum, but this weighing appears to be something many religious conservatives are incapable of doing. During the Black Mass controversy, Father James Martin appeared on MSNBC and said, “I think to put it in perspective, we could say, how would we feel if they said, ‘we’re going to do a little cultural thing, we’re going to do something that’s anti-Semitic, or racist, or homophobic, just as a cultural experiment, we’re going to set up the reenactment of a lynching …’” Father Martin claims to put the event in perspective, and then does the opposite, equating the merely offensive with an act of white supremacy.

Lynchings were intimately tied to white supremacy in the post-Civil War South — their intention was to establish white hegemony and create a permanent underclass. Lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan and the burning of crosses were either overtly violent or symbolically violent. The reenactment of a lynching would not be acceptable at a liberal university because it would amount to the direct threat of violence to minorities on campus. It would be aimed at suppressing their rights to expression.

One wonders how Father Martin has lived his entire life in the United States and is still capable of making such an odious comparison. The distinction between the merely offensive and what amounts to group libel or defamation is hard to make, but the Supreme Court has endorsed the idea that some speech may be more than just offensive, and can therefore be regulated. As Clarence Thomas noted in his correct dissent in Virginia v. Black, “just as one cannot burn down someone’s house to make a political point and then seek refuge in the First Amendment, those who hate cannot terrorize and intimidate to make their point.” Father Martin seems to miss this distinction and believes that he should be protected from ever being criticized or offended.

Hobby Lobby provides another example of the selective use of the liberal tradition. One might find it ironic that Catholics aim to carve out an exception for themselves from laws of general applicability when denying other religions that privilege. But sadly, religious majorities have a long history of understanding the First Amendment diametrically wrong, as a protection of powerful religions rather than weak ones. It is the latter the Founders knew would need special protection (see: Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah), not the former.

To both of these claims — that many on the religious right have entirely abandoned the post-WWI liberal consensus of scientific inquiry and Enlightenment values — there are those who would like to say the same about the left. The Economist is quick to point to GMOs as the left’s version of anti-scientific inquiry. Such claims are entirely overblown. More recently, there have been claims that the left is showing the same illiberal tendencies as the right, . She argues we are “entering a new era of political correctness,” which she calls “left-wing anti-liberalism.”

While she cites some rather damning movements, they are all fringe movements that have produced pixels but will not bring about change. As Marx once wrote of Communism, “In order to supersede the idea of private property, the idea of communism is enough. In order to supersede private property as it actually exists, real communist activity is necessary.” We might note that the idea of illiberalism is something liberalism must countenance, even though it must be prevented from ever being existent.

And here the threat from the right is far stronger: We have seen free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and rights of due process come under scrutiny at all levels. Workers are being denied even the semblance of control over their labor and women over their bodies. Money is making a mockery of democracy.

What we see is an asymmetric illiberalism. The religious right and some portions of the conservative movement have hijacked Enlightenment values for selective use. A truly deep (almost dogmatic) commitment to free speech, say, that practiced by the ACLU, which will defend the right of neo-Nazis to protest, is not what we find in many conservative circles. Instead, we see an embrace of empiricism when it is good and a rejection when it is bad. We see an embrace of religious freedom for me, but not for thee. Harry Emerson Fosdick preached in 1922:

The present world situation smells to heaven!  And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!

Well, they are not going to do it; certainly not in this vicinity. I do not even know in this congregation whether anybody has been tempted to be a Fundamentalist. Never in this church have I caught one accent of intolerance. God keep us always so and ever increasing areas of the Christian fellowship; intellectually hospitable, open-minded, liberty-loving, fair, tolerant, not with the tolerance of indifference, as though we did not care about the faith, but because always our major emphasis is upon the weightier matters of the law.

His words are still more important today. We live in an increasingly connected and multicultural world, and yet many major religions refuse to recognize marginal ones. We also live in a world threatened by global warming, and yet some Christians deny it, even though it has long been a tenet of religion to live in harmony with nature.

 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host5/27/14 8:07 PM 
To: All  (5 of 11) 
 1129.5 in reply to 1129.4 



How right-wingers are amping up their war on science
From climate change to reproduction,
Republicans are increasingly deciding "science" is whatever they say it is

by AMANDA MARCOTTE, ALTERNET
23 MAY 14

No longer content just to claim to be “skeptical” of scientific findings they find disagreeable, Republican politicians have moved on to a more alarming anti-science strategy: confuse the public about what science even is, claiming it’s just someone’s opinion and ignoring the importance of evidence.

Marco Rubio’s recent remarks about climate change epitomize this new era, with conservative politicians deciding that “science” is whatever they say it is. “I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there — including scientists — that somehow, there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate,” Rubio told ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientist are portraying it,” he added.

By making climate change a matter of what he “believes” or “agrees with,” Rubio was implying that climate change is a matter of opinion and not of evidence or fact. There’s the old saying, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Conservatives have figured out a workaround: redefine the facts as opinions, and by golly, now you get to have your own facts!

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal was even more blunt in asserting that scientific findings should be regarded as more opinion than fact in his defense of Rubio, portraying Rubio as a rebel “for refusing to submit to scientific authority.” In a sleight of hand, Taranto portrayed the debate as one of scientists simply asserting, from authority, and Rubio as just someone disagreeing. But Rubio isn’t disagreeing with the opinions of scientists; he’s disagreeing with the conclusions derived from the evidence. Even if all the climate change scientists died tomorrow, the planet would still be heating up. This isn’t a matter of one person’s opinion versus another. It’s a man being presented with facts and refusing to believe them.

But it was Rubio’s followup to this debacle that made it clear this isn’t just about those bought off by oil and gas lying to protect lobbyist interests. This has become broader than that, and is now a full-blown attempt to degrade the word “science” until it doesn’t mean anything at all. When pressed on the issue of his climate change denialism, he tried to punt by saying, “All these people always wag their finger at me about science and settled science,” he whined, as if accepting that the sky is blue is too oppressive if you prefer to believe it’s yellow. “Let me give you a bit of settled science that they’ll never admit to. The science is settled, it’s not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception.”

Well, no. That is yet another example of conflating Marco Rubio’s opinion with what he wishes “science” said. The claim that “human life” begins at conception is not one asserted by science, but by religion, as many religions believe that’s when God injects a soul into a human body. But science is pretty clear that, by the scientific and not religious definition of “life,” life does not begin with conception. In order for life to begin, it has to be non-life turning into life. Since both the sperm and egg are alive, by the measure of science, it’s not life beginning. It’s really just life continuing.

 

  • Edited May 27, 2014 8:52 pm  by  EdGlaze
 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host5/27/14 8:52 PM 
To: All  (6 of 11) 
 1129.6 in reply to 1129.5 

As biologist P.Z. Myers explains, “We can trace that life all the way back to early progenotes with limited autonomy drifting in Archean seas, to self-perpetuating chemical reactions occurring in porous rocks in the deep ocean rifts. It’s all been alive, so this is a distinction without meaning.”

Nor does science agree that “conception” makes a distinct human person, as opposed to simply a cell that, like the sperm and egg that made it, has a unique combination of DNA. As Myers notes, “Conception just adds another level of semi-random rearrangement of a random assortment of genes that were made during oogenesis and spermatogenesis.” Indeed, sometimes a zygote splits into two separately developing individuals after conception, ones that have the same DNA but will be born as two separate people. We know them as “identical twins.” If “science” believed that “life” begins at conception, then science would argue identical twins are the same person. Science clearly does not believe that identical twins are one person because they have the same DNA.

Between his blatherings about conception and climate change, it’s clear that Rubio is asserting a worldview where “science” is whatever he wants it to be. Religious belief about ensoulment is “science”. Blunt denials of the overwhelming evidence for climate change is “science.” Science, in Rubio’s estimation, is just a matter of opinion.

The problem is that science is actually the opposite of opinion. So often our opinions are shaped by what we want to believe, so the scientific method was established to remove the influence of opinion from the examination of the evidence. “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it,” as the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson famously said.

Let’s be clear: No one probably wishes more than climate scientists that global warming wasn’t true. If someone was able to prove conclusively tomorrow that all the models of climate change were wrong and we aren’t experiencing manmade global warming, climate scientists would throw the biggest party imaginable, ecstatic that their fears of doom and gloom turned out to be illusions. Unfortunately for them and for all of us, global warming is happening, whether we believe it or not. Sorry, Marco Rubio. Climate change can’t be made untrue simply by claiming you disagree. And science is a process and an amassing of evidence, not just a matter of your opinion.

 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host11/16/14 12:23 PM 
To: All  (7 of 11) 
 1129.7 in reply to 1129.6 

 

photo ReligionVsScience_zps5d788cad.jpg

 

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  • Edited November 16, 2014 8:25 pm  by  EdGlaze
 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host1/10/15 10:17 AM 
To: All  (8 of 11) 
 1129.8 in reply to 1129.7 

Excerpt:

Currently in the US we are witnessing the losing battle of scriptural interpretations over gay rights; equal treatment in marriage. Modern thought driven by reason, empiricism, and tolerance has been chipping away at the Bible verses for over 4 centuries now, jettisoning them one by one; modern genetics negating anything but a metaphorical interpretation of Adam and Eve as a particularly recent example. We have to turn up the heat and make it even more difficult for the literalists; challenge their lies at every turn lest they take us back to the Dark Ages.
 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by host3/6/16 6:26 PM 
To: All  (9 of 11) 
 1129.9 in reply to 1129.8 

 

 

  • Edited April 1, 2016 3:52 pm  by  EdGlaze
 

 
From: EdGlaze DelphiPlus Member Icon Posted by hostJul-29 9:06 AM 
To: All  (10 of 11) 
 1129.10 in reply to 1129.9 

 

 

 
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