Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Science & religion incompatiblists shut out?

posted by Rod Dreher

Science + Religion Today draws attention to a controversy at the World Science Festival, on now in NYC. There’s a panel discussion about the relationship between science and faith. On the panel: astrophysicist Paul Davies, biologist Francisco J. Ayala — both past Templeton Prize winners, I should note — plus Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa.
Cosmologist Sean Carroll thinks it’s wrong that people (like him) who don’t believe science and religion are compatible aren’t represented on the panel. He would rather we not talk about such things at all, it appears:

Plenty of science festivals and museums seem to get along perfectly well without discussing religion at all. And if you did want to discuss it, there’s no way that an honest investigation into how scientists feel about religion would end up leaving out some fully committed atheists who would be pretty uncompromising towards belief.
Four hundred years after Galileo turned his telescope on the heavens, it’s incredibly frustrating that we still have debates over whether the world can be described in purely naturalistic terms, rather than accepting that insight as an amazing accomplishment and moving on to the hard work of articulating its consequences. It’s a shame that the World Science Festival is helping to keep us back, rather than moving us forward.

Physicist Chad Orzel is not so keen on the idea of the discussion, but he thinks Carroll is wrong to get bent out of shape about it. Excerpt:

In the end, I’m not convinced you need anyone on the panel to make the case that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. That idea is out there, coming from both sides of the science-religion split (and you’ll notice they don’t have any young-earth creationists on the panel, either). The interesting subject of conversation is not so much the absolute compatibility or not of science and religion– given that neither side is really going to budge on that– but rather how it is that religious scientists reconcile the supposedly incompatible sides of the issue. There’s some potential for interesting personal stories and psychological depth there– how do you maintain faith while practicing science when both religious extremists and other scientists are saying that’s impossible? That’s presumably what they’re aiming for with the panel, and given competent moderation, they could get something a lot more interesting out of that than they could by putting a militant atheist or a Biblical literalist on the panel.

Josh Rosenau sides with Orzel:

Someone like Dawkins would stop the World Science Festival panel cold. The whole point Affirmative Atheists are making is that there is no dialogue to be had. Which means that the panel would descend into a metaconversation about whether there should even be conversations like the one they were supposed to be having. And that wouldn’t inform anyone.

Hear, hear. If you don’t believe there’s a dialogue to be had, then don’t talk to religious scientists and theologians who are interested in science. There are quite a few people who disagree. The intellectually censorious attitude atheist fundamentalists have towards questions of religion and scientists is unattractive.



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Elena Grell

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:00 pm


Every kind of attitude that atheist fundamentalists have toward anything at all is unattractive — I think more and more people are coming around to that opinion every day.



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Alan Jacobs

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm


“I demand to be invited to participate in this conversation that shouldn’t exist!”



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm


[faux angst] Dang it, Rod! Why did you present both sides of the argument? How are we going to argue now? [/f a] ;-)
Orzel and Rosenau have the right of it, especially the damper on the whole conversation likely imposed by a Dawkins bloviation. I’m further impressed that they got Pagels for the panel. I don’t know of a more objective person in matters theological.
Walter decoded. Is there a Dan Brown in the house?



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Marifasus

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:46 pm


You, Orzel and Rosenau are wrong on this issue. If the panel is to have any sort of discussion worth the name, it needs to represent a view absolutely fundamental to the subject — namely, that science and religion are incompatible.
This is at the World Science Festival!! It’s not like atheists are clamoring to be admitted to a religious meeting being held inside a monastery. And by the way, I don’t know why you’re conflating atheists with people who don’t believe science and religion are compatible. They’re are also religious people who believe they’re not.
Anyway, about this panel discussion: the organizers are acting like it’s a Dungeons & Dragons session, or a Renaissance or Civil War reenactment, where it’s understood that all participants will be in character, and anyone who refuses won’t be allowed to join. (Why admit people who will ruin the other participants’ fun at pretending?)
What a lack of confidence this betrays. Because otherwise they’d all be certain they could handily reply to the disbeliever, clearly refute his arguments, and greatly enrich everyone present by doing so, right?
I urge everyone to read Carroll’s original post on why science and religion are incompatible:
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2009/06/23/science-and-religion-are-not-compatible/
Marifasus



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TTT

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:04 pm


If anyone censored, it was Templeton. They don’t get to barge religion into the World Science Fair in the first place and then set themselves up as an enlightened elite protecting the rabble outside from their own subconscious “militant” desires to only discuss science at a science fair.
The panel description hinges on the sentence “But is there a common ground to be found?”–a question that, for intellectual honesty’s sake, has to include discussion of the possibility that there isn’t. If there were a panel discussion there about “is there life on other planets?” or “did mankind cause the Pleistocene extinctions?” or whatever, you’d expect there to be somebody actually making a good-faith case for both sides. Instead, here what we see is (as a commenter on Orzel’s blog put it) ill-thought-out bullying.



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hlvanburen

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm


From the festival website: “For all their historical tensions, scientists and religious scholars from a wide variety of faiths ponder many similar questions—how did the universe begin? How might it end? What is the origin of matter, energy, and life? The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found? ABC News’ Bill Blakemore moderates a panel that includes evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, astrobiologist Paul Davies, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa. These leading thinkers who come at these issues from a range of perspectives will address the evolving relationship between science and faith.”
The question asked is “But is there a common ground to be found?”
Imagine if the only side presented at this festival was the negative side. Would you, Mr. Dreher, not speak out about it?
By omitting those who hold to the negative, the festival organizers have erred. They give the appearance of bias, whether intentional or accidental. That this is not perceived as a bias by many posting here undermines the censorship claim.



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hlvanburen

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:09 pm


Ah…nevermind. I saw this on the website as well.
This event made possible with the support of
John Templeton Foundation
as part of the Big Ideas Series.
I apologize. Of course this conference will be biased to the affirmative. What was I possibly thinking.



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Saint Andeol

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:25 pm


I, for one, agree that this is entirely unfair. When this panel discussion issues its final decree on the issue of “Religion vs. Science” and we are all forced to abide by their decision, shouldn’t all views have been equally considered?
Wait, what’s that you say? Oh . . . really? It won’t?
. . .
Well nevermind then.
Also, don’t all these talks pretty much end the same way?
Religion: “There are some philisophical questions that science can’t answer.”
Science: “Fine, whatever, just don’t forget that the atomic bomb works.”
Religion: “Also we help the poor.”



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BobSF

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm


If I may borrow the quotation:
From the festival website: “For all their historical tensions, scientists and religious scholars from a wide variety of faiths ponder many similar questions—how did the universe begin? How might it end? What is the origin of matter, energy, and life? The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different.”
Bilge. When is the last time you met a devout believer who “pondered” any of these questions from a theological standpoint? Believers already have the answers to the questions. I wish they’d just let science sweat the details and stay away from science conferences.
When is the last time Templeton arranged for a science panel at a religious conference?



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:40 pm


The premise is a search for common ground. While I am always ready to entertain rebuttal that points to possible bias, towards what is this panel biased?
Maybe I’m straining at gnats. But as one who struggles daily with interfaith common ground issues, I find it disingenuous at best to decry the lack of inclusion of one or more people who already disagree with the premise. The most of value they’d have to contribute is that the panel is a waste of time. Why beat that particular dead equine in public, and how would their views not be disruptive to the rest of the panel’s, let alone vice versa?
When I engage in interfaith discussions, I see no value in facing down fundamentalists whose sole focus is that I am an agent of Satan. I doubt they’d want me there, either. Common ground presupposes that the participants see value in it. Dawkins, Hitchens et al have stated widely and clearly that they don’t see this value.



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Your Name

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm


St. Andeol: When this panel discussion issues its final decree on the issue of “Religion vs. Science” and we are all forced to abide by their decision…
Well, nevermind then. Christian hegemony is a fact of life where I live, and I’m forced to abide by (yes, only some of) their decisions daily. Talk about bias!



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Larry

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm


Bilge. When is the last time you met a devout believer who “pondered” any of these questions from a theological standpoint? Believers already have the answers to the questions.
You don’t get out much, do you? If you do you certainly don’t talk to many religious believers. Just for starters you might peruse Science and the Sacred. This is a question that many religious believers spend quite a bit of time thinking about. Only extreme fundamentalists (on both sides) think they have all the answers. To all the rest of us there is still a lot of mystery in those questions.



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Larry

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm


I find it disingenuous at best to decry the lack of inclusion of one or more people who already disagree with the premise.
Indeed, how would the people who are bemoaning the lack of a Dawkins or a Dawkins look-a-like on the panel would feel about the inclusion of an fundamentalist Christian like Ken Ham or John MacArthur?



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm


Sorry, the 2:43pm post is mine.
St. Andeol, I regret making a quick rejoinder that is rather disrespectful. No, I don’t believe I am oppressed (though there are days…), and I don’t beleive that Christians at any level have nefarious intent towards me or other non-Christians. Please take my previous post with a grain of salt, and if you plan to respond do so to my 2:40pm post. Be well.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm


I apologize. Of course this conference will be biased to the affirmative. What was I possibly thinking.
You weren’t thinking, you were emoting, based on no facts whatsoever. In fact, atheists do participate in Templeton events and publications. For one, we already have three prominent atheists lined up as columnists for the online magazine I’m going to edit. We did not ask them if they think science and religion are compatible.



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crowhill

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:02 pm


“Four hundred years after Galileo turned his telescope on the heavens, it’s incredibly frustrating that we still have debates over whether the world can be described in purely naturalistic terms ….”
Huh? What does the one have to do with the other? Is this guy claiming that Galileo was a naturalist, or that his observations proved naturalism?



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Saint Andeol

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:16 pm


Oh don’t worry, i was just foolin’ around in a sense. These issues get retreaded so much, sometimes you gotta throw in a joke.
But my post wasn’t all jokes, as funny as they may be. It seems like a lot of these discussions end the same way. The religious side will point out the limits of science when it comes to philosophy and theology (though these limits are not as great as some might think/hope/believe), the science side will point out the limits of religion when it comes to stuff like knowing how old the world is.
The only reason this has become such an issue is because of the people that either want to copy/paste selected parts of the Bible into the Constitution or make it illegal to take your children to church.



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Elena Grell

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:23 pm


What’s especially untoward about all the whining going on at the atheist fundamentalist pity-party that this thread has mostly been is that the thread itself is taking place at the personal blog of a Templeton employee, which is part of a religious website. The village gives its atheists a soapbox-pulpit and still the village atheists complain.



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BobSF

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm


You don’t get out much, do you? If you do you certainly don’t talk to many religious believers.
I was unclear. The vast majority of devout religious believers do not “ponder” those questions in a fundamental way. The answer for them is, in the end, God (or gods).
That doesn’t mean they can’t ponder the mechanisms, of course. Quite a few of them do. The ones who do so seriously are called “scientists” or delve deeply into scientific texts.
I do not think that religion and science are “incompatible”. Even discussing it that way is a distortion. They are irrelevant to each other, unless one makes the other relevant. To date, I have seen many religions make science relevant (in a bad way). I have yet to see a science make religion relevant (except in pre-modern days when they were intertwined). I see no good reason to go back to those days and a lot of good reasons not to. And I see no good reason for the fight between believers and atheists to be included in a science convention.



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clasqm

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm


It’s their panel. They get to invite whom they like and in no way is anyone expected to “abide by their decision”; this is not exactly the Supreme Court, is it? It’s a talk shop on a topic that has been around for a hundred years and will still be around for a hundred more.
You don’t like it, organise your own panel. If your panel is so much more representative, then surely the truth they arrive at will be so obviously superior that it will completely overshadow Templeton’s?
Two words: storm, teacup
(No that wasn’t the captcha, but it should have been)



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TTT

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:55 pm


And still you, Elena, have nothing to contribute to this topic and only post in it to reiterate how much you hate atheists and wish you would never have to hear from them again. It isn’t the atheist complaints that bother you, it is the atheist respiration.



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Saint Andeol

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:05 pm


@ Elena
Your awesome name aside (say it out loud, folks, it rolls off the tongue), you seem to be coming down pretty harsh on atheist fundamentalists without really offering any examples, ideas, or actual points. Could you be possibly hurling your barbs from the other side of the fundamentalist divide? An intriguing theory, to be sure . . .
@ Mr. Evans
i agree with your point that if the panel is asking “How can we find common ground?”, it seems like a waste of time to include someone who is answering the question “Can we find common ground?” with a resounding “NO”. There are plenty of places that he can take his particular view, but this panel is discussing a different topic.
it’d be like if there was a Comicon panel about Kirk vs. Picard, they wouldn’t have someone up there on stage talking about how both shows are stupid and a waste of time to watch.



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MC

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:10 pm


If you read the fine print, it says it’s a panel (not a debate) with “a range of perspectives” (which could mean they only vaguely disagree as indeed, their bios seem to indicate). So the Templeton foundation is not being dishonest or shutting anyone out because they aren’t promoting anything more than a boring, predictable, smoozefest. It’s too bad because all the panelists seem like interesting people but I suppose this is a big moment for the Templeton Foundation so they can’t risk having someone speak who might alter how the journalists covering the panel will report the outcome.
By the way, I appreciate that the Templeton foundation has people of different opinions for your magazine but this posting is specifically about the panel in question Rod.



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R Hampton

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:17 pm


Joe Carter of First Things linked to an excellent article on The Age of Faith and Reason:
The Aquinas Factor—To the Angelic Doctor, we owe the concordance of philosophy and religion, and the admonition never to cite revelation in the proof of a philosophical proposition. Centuries before, Origen had called God the author of two books: scripture and nature. Because of this, Aquinas held that if revelation seemed to conflict with nature, one or the other (or both) had not been properly understood.



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john

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:41 pm


This year or any year, scientists will discover and invent things, engineers will design and build things — important, fundamental things — all independent of the ponderings of religion. Though I’m a Christian myself, I’m afraid I don’t see the point in these kinds of panels except for intellectual entertainment. I’d advise Prof. Carroll to settle down, this isn’t terribly relevant or threatening to the work of real scientists such as himself.



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MC

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:51 pm


Wow Elena, yours is the first posting on this thread and you got it started right of the bat with a blast of intolerence that didn’t seem to actually say anything other than to ironically negate the “point” you were trying to make. Sean Carroll’s objections to the composition of the panel in question were actually quite mild and reasonable (though I’m sure you didn’t bother to read them). Then a bunch of other posters on both sides ignored you and began having a meaningful conversation but you had to come back with another meaningless comment to “bookend” the postings as it were.



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Charles Cosimano

posted June 4, 2010 at 4:59 pm


I dislike finding something worthwhile in Aquinas even more than I dislike agreeing with Rod. There is something about it that seems to violate the laws of nature, like the Cubs winning the World Series or the Sun standing still in the heavens. (And I shudder at the spiritual horror Rod must feel if agrees with me.)
Still, I think the quote from Aquinas has it nailed. Science and Religion are compatabile. Sir Isaac Newton was a biblical scholar. Albert Einstein was a deeply religious man and spent the last 20 years of his life as a failure because of it. What are not compatible are the interpretations that exclude each other. When I go outside on a cold winter night to look up at the clear sky and see the starry vault, yeah, I can see how it is possible to be both a scientist and a religious believer.
Now that won’t make me a Christian, certainly not Rod’s kind of Christian. And there is no way I would refrain from pursuing a line of research because that research might offend the religious sensibilities of others. But yes, it is possible to look at the natural world and see the Hand of God, whatever God there may be, at work.
and there are times I really wonder about the captchas. To the best of my knowledge there has never been a halogenated strategy



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hlvanburen

posted June 4, 2010 at 5:02 pm


HLVanburen: I apologize. Of course this conference will be biased to the affirmative. What was I possibly thinking.
Rod Dreher: You weren’t thinking, you were emoting, based on no facts whatsoever. In fact, atheists do participate in Templeton events and publications. For one, we already have three prominent atheists lined up as columnists for the online magazine I’m going to edit. We did not ask them if they think science and religion are compatible.
No, I merely was stating what I saw when I was at the website. With the Templeton Foundation as sponsor of this forum, it is no surprise that all members of the panel generally support the idea of religion and science sharing common ground. After all, that is the mission of the Templeton Foundation, is it not?
It will be interesting to watch the webcast and see if, perhaps, the missing element in this discussion is provided by the audience at the question/answer portion of the presentation.



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MC

posted June 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm


Hi Charles.
You’re quite correct in noting that Newton was a biblical scholar. In fact, he spent more time thinking about theology than gravitation or calculus. However your description of Einstein is not complete. He certainly described himself as religious but not in a way that allowed for a theistic or deistic conception of the devine. Please see Baptist theologian Dr. Albert Mohler’s take:
http://www.albertmohler.com/2008/05/15/albert-einsteins-god-the-product-of-human-weaknesses
Indeed, his conception of God as being similar to Spinoza’s deity is not one that most atheists (or at least myself), would disagree with.
http://www.albertmohler.com/2006/08/15/never-a-harmless-affair/



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Saint Andeol

posted June 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm


@ Elena
Actually, my sentence that you quoted wasn’t an accusation, more of a contemplation. And you deciding i’m an atheist fundamentalist doesn’t really help your case, since i’m not.
So you are wrong.
I’m wondering what it was about my comments that lead you to this false assumption?



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Hector

posted June 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm


Interestingly, Newton wasn’t a traditional Christian believer in the sense generally given to that world. He apparently subscribed to the Arian heresy (as did Milton) which held that Jesus was a created being, instead of being ‘begotten of the Father before all ages.’



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Brody

posted June 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm


Science is far superior to religion, because it deals in evidence and repeatable results.
Sure, theists can attempt to embrace sience, but it is in the spirit of apologetics for everything they have been proven wrong.. By Science.. over thousands of years.
You call us fundamentalists, I call us realists who have an attitude of “Post-Judice” and not “Prejudice”.
In a nutshell, there is no place for religion in science.
Don;t like that? Then keep whining about it, but this doen;t change the facts.



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hlvanburen

posted June 4, 2010 at 8:18 pm


Imagine for a moment that at a major Christian gathering (say at the National Council of Churches annual meeting) the Jesus Seminar were to host a forum to discuss the historical Jesus. On that forum were only members of the Jesus Seminar or theologians/historians who held similar liberal views. Would this forum have any balance with regards to the stated subject? No, absolutely not, and it would be right and proper to point such an imbalance out to the organizers. Of course, given the bias of the Jesus Seminar with regards to the subject, it would be expected for them to choose forum members who would support their views, leaving the opposition to stack the audience and ask “difficult” questions or simply ignore the proceedings altogether.
This is much like what we have here. The forum is called to address a question. The members of the forum, according to their writings and published statements, seem to generally support the affirmative, the position of the organizers. Strong voices in the negative are ignored, leaving them to ask questions from the audience.
To call either of these forums “fair and balanced” with regards to the question(s) being addressed is laughable. Both the hypothetical Jesus Seminar forum and the real Templeton forum have a bias.
In getting called on their bias, rather than getting itchy and emotive in the response it would be better to simply admit the bias and move on. The organizers (Jesus Seminar in the fictitious forum, Templeton in this one) have the right to invite whoever they wish to sit on the forum. They are the sponsors…it’s their money.
Sean Carroll is doing just that…calling out the organizers of the forum for stacking the deck. “But it would be a lot more intellectually respectable to present a balanced discussion of those issues, rather than the one that is actually lined up. The panelists include two scientists who are Templeton Prize winners — Francisco Ayala and Paul Davies — as well as two scholars of religion — Elaine Pagels and Thupten Jinpa. Nothing in principle wrong with any of those people, but there is a somewhat obvious omission of a certain viewpoint: those of us who think that science and religion are not compatible. And there are a lot of us! Also, we’re right. A panel like this does a true disservice to people who are curious about these questions and could benefit from a rigorous airing of the issues, rather than a whitewash where everyone mumbles pleasantly about how we should all just get along.”



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MH

posted June 4, 2010 at 8:28 pm


SMBC comics has two funny strips on science, philosophy, and religion.
Instead of religion in a science conference, what would science in a church look like:
http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1670
The teleological argument in practice:
http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1817



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MH

posted June 4, 2010 at 8:53 pm


I would say the science and religion are compatible in that people who study the sciences can be religious (although at lower percentages the the general population). But they seem incompatible in that they have different methods, goals, and philosophies. For example science never says that something is definately true as knowledge is subject to revision as new data becomes available. I don’t think Christians would say the deity of Jesus and their salvation is tentatively true pending new information.
So I don’t quite get the need the Templeton foundation has in trying to mix religion into science. It’s almost like they’re trying to hard, like an aging rock star seeking to be relevant.



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TTT

posted June 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm


Elena: I still wonder what TTT and Saint Andreol are doing on a thread on a Templeton-affiliated blog on a religious website
You’re the outsider here, Elena. I come here to discuss ideas, and I’d like to believe that’s what I accomplish; it is certainly what I (and nearly all others) have done in this therad. You show no sign of coming here for any reason beyond attacking people. If, indeed, we are “people” to you. I’m honestly not sure what you get from this place that you wouldn’t get by typing naughty words into a .doc.



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al sowins

posted June 4, 2010 at 9:31 pm


Science and theology are in accord until a contradiction is asserted.Then the question becomes, Which side has the evidence to support its contention?
Can scientists replicate the creation of the universe? No? Then, where’s your science?
Can anyone easily prove that a Supreme Being exists? Easy!
But not all scientists and certainly not all theologians think logically and follow the law of rationality. Only those who do so can hope to find truth.



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MH

posted June 4, 2010 at 9:39 pm


al sowins, we don’t need to replicate the creation of the universe as we can look at it using special instruments and telescopes. The light from the birth of the universe (the CMBR) is still around us. That said over at CERN they are trying to replicate the conditions of the early universe to verify some theories about it.
What’s your proof of a supreme being?



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hlvanburen

posted June 4, 2010 at 10:05 pm


Comity between science and religion seems to be a two-lane highway with one lane closed. When groups approach religious belief and dogma with the scientific method and begin poking around it is almost guaranteed that those adherents to the religion (whatever religious belief it may be) will begin complaining.
For religion to ever be truly welcome in the house of science, science needs to be welcomed into of the house of worship. In far too many instances science is left on the doorstep. There are a growing number of exceptions to this, and I commend those religious groups who are willing to see true congress with science. But for many (conservative Christian groups being the most noticable), science is a tool, not a partner.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:25 pm


HL, the premise of the panel is to examine the possibility of there being a common ground between science and religion, a logical duality. The members of the panel reflect a constructive approach to the premise. I reject your Jesus Seminar hypothetical no matter what hypothetical construction of the panel you suggest, because the premise is completely one-sided.
With respect, you appear to want an argument with no room for constructive dialogue. This is rather at odds with my personal impression of you here.
If you really want to question the panel composition, shouldn’t you start with a request to see the panel selection process? I’d much rather discuss the possibility that they took the easy road (choosing two scientists who they already honored in another way), and might have bypassed a more thorough selection process. In any event, I offer you our good Elena’s utter rejection of any logic to any aspect of this. I think better of you, but at this point I’m left with little to justify not lumping you in with her.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:28 pm


Desiring to separate criticism from debate, another post:
HL, your most recent post offers a precise justification for that panel discussion, and I hasten to add that I’m not assuming any further agreement by you with any of the other details known about it so far. If that second lane is to become unclogged, wouldn’t such a panel be a reasonable starting point?



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hlvanburen

posted June 5, 2010 at 9:37 am


“With respect, you appear to want an argument with no room for constructive dialogue. This is rather at odds with my personal impression of you here.”
Franklin, if there were a panel at that conference that was to discuss the question ‘Is there a God?’ and only atheists were invited, I suspect that you would agree with me that the forum would be dishonestly imbalanced.
The stated purpose, from the organizers’ website, of this forum is:
“For all their historical tensions, scientists and religious scholars from a wide variety of faiths ponder many similar questions—how did the universe begin? How might it end? What is the origin of matter, energy, and life? The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found?”
Note the last question. It is not “What do we do with the common ground” or “how do we develop the common ground”. It is a question of the existence of said common ground.
Who, among this panel, is going to make even a modicum of an argument that there is little or no common ground to be found between religion and science? Who is going to make the argument that if science is to become more accommodating towards religion, religion must also become more accommodating towards science?
If there is nobody on that panel who can put forward this side of the argument, how can you call it a fair and balanced panel?



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hlvanburen

posted June 5, 2010 at 9:42 am


“I reject your Jesus Seminar hypothetical no matter what hypothetical construction of the panel you suggest, because the premise is completely one-sided.”
And I, with all due respect to you, Franklin, suggest that this forum taking place at the World Science Festival is every bit as one-sided. Can you show me one person on that panel who will offer up the position that there is and should be little common ground if any between science and religion? This is a position held by a large number of scientists and theologians, many of whom offer rational arguments in support of their position.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 5, 2010 at 10:08 am


there is and should be little common ground if any between science and religion? This is a position held by a large number of scientists and theologians
I know the names of some of the scientists, though I would ask you how you know that there is a “large number” who believe science and religion have nothing to learn from each other. How large is that number? How do you know?
But I do not know the names of any theologians who believe this. Again, how do you know there are a “large number” of them? What are their names? Are they Christian fundamentalist theologians? And if so, are you really saying that it would have been constructive and enlightening to have had Young Earth Creationist theologians on the World Science Festival panel? I very much doubt it. Alan Jacobs nailed it on the very first comment on this thread: these scientists are complaining about being excluded from a discussion they don’t think ought to take place at all. It makes about as much sense as PETA complaining that they were excluded from a symposium about barbecue.
To reformulate the old joke about Puritans, these ideologues seem to be deathly afraid that somewhere, some scientist might have something good to say about religion.



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MH

posted June 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm


No comment, but this recaptcha is cool: 20 kooky



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Franklin Evans

posted June 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm


HL, you still have not addressed my main point: Why insist on placing prejudicial minds on a panel intended to produce a dialogue? A panel is not a trial, no one is going to send up white smoke, and certainly no one will look to the panel as the final authority on whatever it finds in the way of consensus.
“Is there a God” is a singular premise. There are two conclusions, yes or no. There is a single set, God, and one of two conclusions. “Is there a common ground between science and religion” is a dual premise. Science and religions represent sets, and the question explores whether there is or can be an intersection.
I don’t know how to make it any more plain than that. I have not seen you justify the presence of a prejudiced party at an open discussion. Those large numbers of scientists and theologians are answering a very different question: Can science prove or disprove religion? The answer is it depends on the claims of faith. Science has long since proven that the earth is not the center of the universe, that there could not have been a world-wide flood, and that the earth is many magnitudes older than six or eight thousand years. In the meantime, science has categorically rejected any attempt to prove or disprove the existence of God, to accept or reject the presence of life on other planets, or to define the exact conditions just before the Big Bang. If you insist on conflating that with “common ground”, then you really don’t understand science or the scientific method.
Frank Herbert’s take on bias and prejudice: Bias means if I can decide for a side (in a debate, trial, etc.) then I will. Prejudice means that no matter what happens, I will decide for a certain side. Yes, he was the author of Dune, and that dualism was used and expanded upon in his book The Dosadi Experiment.
Sometimes bias is valid. Prejudice, however, is never acceptable.



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hlvanburen

posted June 5, 2010 at 3:30 pm


“Why insist on placing prejudicial minds on a panel intended to produce a dialogue?”
How can you have a dialogue when one valid viewpoint on the question is not present?
Again, I ask you to very carefully read the question presented by the organizers of this forum. “But is there a common ground to be found?”
Who, on this panel, would suggest that there is no common ground to be found, and make a logical argument in support of that position? (Such as the position put forward by Carroll in another of his articles: http : // blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2009/06/23/science-and-religion-are-not-compatible/) If there are none, then you are not having a dialogue on the existence of common ground. You are having a monologue suggesting that the only valid answer to the question is “yes”.
I understand that this is the position of the Templeton Foundation, and that is fine and good. But at least be intellectually honest and admit such bias up front. Don’t castigate those of us who point out said bias with a sackbut and harpsicord serenade.
“I don’t know how to make it any more plain than that. I have not seen you justify the presence of a prejudiced party at an open discussion.”
There are already prejudiced parties present. Those present are prejudiced in the affirmative to the question. Why can you not admit that?
The panel, as constructed, does not fairly address the question put before it. They are well situated to discuss HOW science and religion can work together, and how much common ground should exist. If that is the purpose then the organizers should be honest and not try to suggest that they are going to discuss whether or not such common ground exists. In the case of those people on the panel, that question has been answered and need not be discussed.
Why shouldn’t the position described by Carroll be represented at this forum?



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hlvanburen

posted June 5, 2010 at 5:44 pm


Ah well, in any case the forum will be interesting to watch. There is a question that I sincerely hope is asked of this panel.
With the premise being that there is a common ground where science and religion can interact, I am curious on where each side would set the boundaries for such common ground. From what I have seen in this discussion here an in other venues the theologians are willing to give less territory to this common ground than they demand from scientists. We hear much about how religion must be respected in their commentary on science (stem-cell theory, cloning, etc.). Is religion willing to entertain scientific commentary on their positions (such as birth control, abortion, overpopulation, and healthcare)?
Which side is willing to sacrifice more sacred cows to create this common ground? The impression that I have is that religion is willing to give little, and expects science to give the larger share.
There’s a whopper to put in front of this panel.



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Siarlys Jenkins

posted June 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm


Four hundred years after Galileo turned his telescope to the skies…
…people who are happy to cite him an an empirical observer have apparently forgotten that he wrote
“As to rendering the Bible false, that is not and never will be the intention of Catholic astronomers such as I am; rather, our opinion is that the Scriptures accord perfectly with demonstrated physical truth. But let those theologians who are not astronomers guard against rendering the Scriptures false by trying to interpret against it propositions which may be true and might be proved so.”
also
“I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth — whenever its true meaning is understood. But I believe nobody will deny that it is often very abstruse, and may say things which are quite different from what its bare words signify. … I do not feel obliged to believe that that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.”
It is not actually necessary that there be overlap between science and religion. It is sufficient that the two realms, even if entirely distinct, are congruent with each other — that they do not directly contradict each other so that if A is true, B must be false. I would enjoy an opportunity to skewer and roast Mr. Dawkins, a peddlar of rather low-grade science fiction, but after the pleasures of the tourney were concluded, I would prefer to have a serious conversation with people who would consider the proposition seriously. He would not be welcome at that table.



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Phillip

posted June 6, 2010 at 1:05 am


What you have with this panel is a one sided mutual conformation society. You have a yes or no question, but you only place on the panel the yes side. There is no discussion here. The only possible answer is yes. This is group mental masturbation, intended to get only one happy outcome.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 6, 2010 at 9:54 am


HL, it is clear that you and I will only find a shaky “agree to disagree” point on this one. I offered Herbert’s distinction between bias and prejudice for a reason, and I find your answer to prejudice inadequate so far. Perhaps we’ve both missed another point up to now: The premise itself implies bias. You point to it being Templeton’s ball and playground, and that’s well taken, but which came first, their biased goal or the premise bias?
I have to wonder, too, at the implied distrust you and others have shown here. You assume that bias means foregone conclusion (Herbert rejected that), and I am pointing to the foregone conclusion of the prejudicial POV you decry as being uninvited to the game. I have yet to see an adequate rebuttal to that other than “well, you have prejudice too!” which is arguable and not automatic. Maybe it would help to know that I would have at least that level of distrust of the prejudice of those who have already decided there cannot be a common ground. I would expect them to pay close attention to any chinks in their argument, and be prepared to shout it down, obscure it with emotional sound bites, or just write it off as religious nonsense.
I like your question: Which side is willing to sacrifice more sacred cows to create this common ground? I like constructive provocation, and that one is both perfect and a whopper. Nicely put.



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hlvanburen

posted June 6, 2010 at 10:18 am


“The premise itself implies bias. You point to it being Templeton’s ball and playground, and that’s well taken, but which came first, their biased goal or the premise bias?”
Apart from this form, the Templeton Foundation has long advocated for the exploration of common ground between religion and science. I’m quite comfortable with that, though I may disagree with some of their conclusions in that exploration. The are up front about their goal…their bias.
However, the organizers of this forum (and I do not believe Templeton organized it, merely sponsored it) offer this forum as a discussion of, essentially, whether or not such common ground exists. Templeton, naturally, takes the affirmative. Two scientists, both Templeton fellows, take the affirmative. Two religious scholars from two separate religious traditions take the affirmative. Nobody takes the negative.
Had the organizers billed this as a forum to explore the common ground between religion and science, this bias would have been in accord with the stated purpose of the forum. Exploring common ground can only happen among those who agree the common ground exists. If presented in that manner the organizers would at least be honest in aligning their stated mission with their chosen panel.
Instead they cast this as a search for common ground rather than an exploration of that common ground. The stacking of that panel with people who believe there is common ground means that the answer to the question, even before the panel starts, is “yes”. If that be the case, why play the charade?
This is where the “fundamentalists” that Mr. Dreher decries so emotionally are coming from. If the genuine goal is to determine if such common ground exists then the panel, as constructed, can only find one answer to that question…yes.
And that is intellectually dishonest. As I have said earlier, it is like having a forum to discuss whether or not there is a god and inviting only atheists to the panel (or inviting only theists).
For folks who sometimes claim that science is a religion and that it often comes at questions with preconceived notions and biases, y’all are doing a pretty good job of it yourselves.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 6, 2010 at 10:55 am


HL, I have the cure to your criticism, that being adding two more panel members: you and me.
;-D



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Jillian

posted June 6, 2010 at 11:51 am


So I don’t quite get the need the Templeton foundation has in trying to mix religion into science. It’s almost like they’re trying to hard, like an aging rock star seeking to be relevant.
A recent and very complementary review:
http://www.thenation.com/article/god-science-and-philanthropy?page=full



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Jillian

posted June 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm


You’re the outsider here, Elena.
‘Elena’ has a long and, er, distinguished history here. He invariably gives himself away by the second or third post under the latest alias.



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MH

posted June 6, 2010 at 1:49 pm


Jillian, interesting article. I still think that it’s like mixing oil and water.



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hlvanburen

posted June 6, 2010 at 7:22 pm


“‘Elena’ has a long and, er, distinguished history here. He invariably gives himself away by the second or third post under the latest alias.”
Jillian, are you suggesting that Elena might instead be a crusty conservative?



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MH

posted June 6, 2010 at 9:19 pm


That was my guess too.



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oldfuzz

posted June 9, 2010 at 4:53 pm


I think it was Socrates who proffered, “If you would debate with me, first we must define our terms.”
The problem with the science/religion debate, so called, is that science can be defined rather tightly, but religion cannot.
The definition of science must be intuitively obvious because the Oxford Dictionary of Science (1999) offers no definition.
Defining religion, on the other hand, is so challenging that the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1999) offers a ten page discourse on the subject.
For me, one’s religion is the meaning system by which they live. Religion is about behavior. As the Rabbi said, “Do not do unto others what you find offensive to you. That is the whole of the Torah. All the rest is commentary.”
There is a core of knowledge, with its attendant disagreements, in science. There is a core belief in religion with unimaginable differences across Religions.



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John Kwok

posted June 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm


Rod -
I have heard a well-founded rumor (I can’t disclose the source) that the Templeton Foundation does have some input in determining who the participants will be on those World Science Festival panels which are part of the Templeton’s Big Idea Series. If that rumor is true, then I think there are certainly legitimate reasons for criticizing the Templeton Foundation’s support of World Science Festival, not simply because it has been one of its major benefactors since its inception.
While I had the pleasure and privilege of attending both this year’s festival (as well as last year’s) as a volunteer and an audience member of several panel discussions, this year’s Science Faith session was by far the worst. I thought the format – which opened with the moderator asking each panelist in turn to describe how a favorite work of art and piece of music reflected their thoughts on science and religion – was quite odd and not suitable for having a fruitful dialogue. Moreover, it was obvious from the beginning that one of the panelists, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels, was clearly out of her depth, unable to offer any meaningful discussion to the commentary offered by the other panelists.
In stark contrast to this year, last year’s Science Faith Religion panel was a sharp divide between atheists and theists, with well considered, but still friendly, exchanges betwee the atheists, philosopher Colin McGinn and physicist Lawrence Krauss, and the theists, Vatican Astronomer Guy Consolmagno and cell biologist Ken Miller. Much to their credit, both Consolmagno and Miller stressed that, as scientists, their scientific principles and duties outweigh their religious ones, except in the privacy of their personal lives when they are able to devote themselves to their faith as devout Roman Catholic Christians.
Reluctantly I have to agree with Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne’s observation that a discussion on science and faith does not belong at a World Science Festival (though I am willing to concede that it might, but only in the context of discussing science denialism, that is why some people strongly object to well established science such as evolutionary biology, and even, though to a substantially lesser extent (that it is established), climate change science. Should World Science Festival opt to present another next year, especially with Templeton Foundation support, I believe it is a distinct possibility that none other than Richard Dawkins himself will be leading the chorus of New Atheists and others willing to condemn both the World Science Festival and the Templeton Foundation (especially since his foundation’s website posted both Carroll and Coyne’s condemnations).
On a more positive note, I often considered your columns in The New York Post to be insightful and well stated. I look forward to reading more of the same when that new magazine is launched.



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