Saturday, 29 May 2010

Religion has nothing to do with science – and vice versa

Thanks to Alan's comments for this link, where he say's "Just found this story with which I agree.":

Well, though I agree with some points, there are many specific ones with which I don't agree, and I don't agree with the general notion that Ayala makes.

Let's start with this:
"On the other side, some people of faith believe that science conveys a materialistic view of the world that denies the existence of any reality outside the material world. Science, they think, is incompatible with their religious faith."

and within that, this:
"denies the existence of any reality outside the material world.

First, that's false. Many don't deny it. They say there's no evidence to show it. Why? Because we are material creatures. We have senses that detect the material world. We have a material brain that operates in the material realm. How the heck are we supposed to detect or otherwise see something that is non-material? Do the religious magically have access to a realm that all of science, including religious scientists, has been unable to detect in any way. Our instruments are designed especially to extend the scale of human experience - but nowhere, never, has there been evidence of supernatural forces. Everything that has been discovered has fallen within the bounds of natural laws.

"If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters." - Only to the extent that the religious want this to be the case, along with the odd atheist exception, such as Stephen Jay Gould, who just wanted to let us all get on. 

"The scope of science is the world of nature: the reality that is observed, directly or indirectly, by our senses. Science advances explanations about the natural world, explanations that are accepted or rejected by observation and experiment." - This bit is right.

"Outside the world of nature, however, science has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another." - This bit is right too. But what the religious don't get is that it applies to them too! Science uses reason and the senses - exactly the same faculties available to the religious. There is nothing the religious can get at that scientists can't. In fact it's the other way round. Science has given us access to the brain - albeit we're still in the early stages - so that there are many examples of the brain doing weird things that one particular example, experiencing God, is really no big deal. We have no examples of anything that confirms that an experience of God is actually that and not some trick of the brain.

"Science has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral" - Simply not true. Science has plenty to say about all these.

"...nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose." - Simply not true. Results of science suggest that there is no purpose or meaning in the sense that religion would like there to be.

"Science has nothing to say, either, about religious beliefs, except..." - No exceptions. Science can say quite a lot about beliefs, and I'm sure will be saying more and more as the various branches of brain science expose more.

"People of faith need not be troubled that science is materialistic." - Only if they want to ignore it and pretend it doesn't have anything to say. Wishful thinking will not make science go away.

"The methods and scope of science remain within the world of matter." - True. Same applies to you.

"It [science] cannot make assertions beyond that world." - And neither can you or anyone religious. Well, not quite true. You can make the assertions - and often do, but based on nothing at all.

"Science transcends cultural, political and religious beliefs because it has nothing to say about these subjects." - Warning! Pseudo-intellectual postmodern claim! What the hell does it mean by 'transcends' in this statement? The word is usually the reserve of the religious, to say what they know of is above or beyond, bigger and better (e.g. Lesley's Rollins video). The word is sometimes used to mean 'encompasses', as in Venn diagrams when one encompasses another: the outer includes all that's in the inner but 'transcends' it by encompassing more than is in the inner. 

"That science is not constrained by cultural or religious differences is one of its great virtues." - True. It can address anything the human mind and senses can address, because it is an instrument that expands the human mind and senses. If science can't get at it then we can't.

"Some scientists deny that there can be valid knowledge about values or about the meaning and purpose of the world and of human life." - This is true, but curiously this isn't the point he then goes on to describe with regard to Dawkins. He's confusing the point about what we have access to, what we can know, which this statement is about, with some things that we actually do have ideas about: the denying of purpose (in the religious sense) (not values - Dawkins isn't denying that)

"There is a monumental contradiction in these assertions. If its commitment to naturalism does not allow science to derive values, meaning or purposes from scientific knowledge, it surely does not allow it, either, to deny their existence." - This totally misunderstands the point. The point is that science shows there is no inherent purpose in the universe, not even the characteristics that give rise to us (essentially issues regarding Entropy - it all just happens as the universe 'winds down', to give a simple expression). This in no way prevents us, as organisms with brains that evaluate our surroundings and our selves (echoes of the free will issues here), and to derive values and purpose for ourselves, based on non-teleological evolutionary directives.

"In its publication Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, the US National Academy of Sciences emphatically asserts that religion and science answer different questions about the world..." - And this is supposed to tell us what? With all the kerfuffle in the US about religion, evolution, ID's 'teach the controversy', etc., this is just a conciliatory nod to the religious that evolution won't step on their toes if they don't step on science's. other than that, the specific issue of evolution doesn't cross swords with liberal religion, since liberal religion accepts evolution and evolution doesn't address ultimate origins; but it does very specifically deny Creationism's young Earth claims.

"People of faith should stand in awe of the wondrous achievements of science. But they should not be troubled that science may deny their religious beliefs." - Of course they should. Science, like any common sense approach to life, demands that we have evidence for what we are being told - otherwise you will be conned all to easily, by email scammers for one. The fact that these scams succeed is a testament to the gullibility of the human brain when left to it's own devices. Belief in religion is another.

"Religion concerns the meaning and purpose of the world and human life" - for all it tries to do that, for all it makes claims, it has nothing to back that up. basically, even when you dress up liberal religion in postmodern 'opinion' truths, it says nothing more than, "What's our purpose? Go is our purpose, or gives us our purpose, or demands our purpose, or loves us so we have the purpose to be loved, ...", and on and on with all sorts of unsubstantiated drivel that basically means they don't know either, but they'll have damned good fun making something up.

"[Religion concerns] the proper relation of people to their Creator and to each other" - Whoa! Hold on. "The proper relation of the people to the creator" - More postmodern bollocks. Without any evidence of a creator, or without the capacity to access the creator in order to establish there is a relation (remember, we are material beings. We don't have access to the supernatural) Note how this grammatically reasonable but nonsensical sentence is given some semblance of meaning, "make sure we include something human, our relation to each other, just to give this nonsense some grounding in reality."

"[Religion concerns] the moral values that inspire and govern their lives." - Only because the religious make that claim, and then espouse morality as if they are the only ones with access to it.

"Science, on the other hand, concerns the processes that account for the natural world: how the planets move, the composition of matter and the atmosphere, the origin and function of organisms." - And, one of these concerns is the workings of the human brain: neuroscience and evolution and anthropology suggest that internal personal 'religious experiences' are just brain anomalies, even if within normal bounds of variation; psychology and sociology and anthropology and evolution all suggest that external religious experiences and organisations are cultural memes that satisfied some requirement in the past.

"Religion has nothing definitive to say about ..." - Well, about anything really. Religion is made-up stuff. 

"According to Augustine, the great theologian of the early Christian church..." - And therein lies another problem. Augustine and other theologians concerned themselves with explaining what pertains once a belief in God is given. This puts anything else they have to say into doubt.

"Successful as it is, however, a scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete." - Incomplete, yes, of course. It's work in progress. Humans first appeared about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago - and this might be the point when we really began to use our brains, but the details are unclear. The first human markings on pottery go back about 5500 years. What we call science now had it's base in Greek thought, but really took off just over a thousand years ago - about 1% - 2% of human existence? So, yes, we are still in our scientific infancy. We have no real conception of what science will be telling us about the brain, about religious belief, in another thousand years. 

Because religion has been around for a while and science is so young, the religious seem to have the conceited view that theology has and continues to have access to great insights into the makings of the universe. But given that most of our current religious systems are not much different that those of two thousand years ago, give or take a bit of theological jiggery-pokery in the middle ages, I don't see that religion has had anything to offer.

"Scientific knowledge may enrich aesthetic and moral perceptions and illuminate the significance of life and the world, but these matters are outside the realm of science." - No they are not, because that would put them outside the realm of human beings, when it's human beings that create both science (the process) and these perceptions (in our brains).

Ayala made some similar statements at the Buckingham Palace reception where he received his Templeton Foundation prize. Probably is best statement was this:

"Properly they cannot be in contradiction because they deal in different subjects. They are like two windows through which we look at the world; the world is one and the same, but what we see is different,..."

My response to that is that they could be. If religion stuck to it's organisational and pastoral care roles then it has a lot to contribute to human affairs. It differs from science in this respect in that science is best at finding things out, telling us how the world is - even though through understanding the brain and human social issues it can contribute data to be used by religious organisations. This also seems in accord with what Alan has said on his blog - he sees the pragmatic value in religion, what it can do for us.

But if religion wants to tell us how or who created the universe, what interaction the personal brain is having with as yet unknown agents (i.e. God), then these are real questions of science. Cosmology and particle physics tells us much more about how the universe actually is, and as much as we can yet know about how it began, and no amount of theological navel gazing is going to improve on that. The branches of brain science are examining how the brain works, and how it doesn't, how it fools itself, how gullible it is, and no amount of theological navel gazing and introspection is going to tell us anything better.

The religious need to move on. I haven't read anything by some of the more liberally religious, such as Richard Holloway, recommended to me by Lesley. Though science can't yet answer many of our questions about our origins and our interactions with internal agents, neither can religion, and science is in the best position to get those answers, eventually.


Alan Crawley said...

"denies the existence of any reality outside the material world."

"First, that's false. Many don't deny it. They say there's no evidence to show it."

The rest of the article to me goes on to say that there is nothing but the material!

Alan Crawley said...

Forgot to tick to get follow up comments! Plus, I will be out of computer range for a while so not ignoring any replies.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Alan,

"The rest of the article to me goes on to say that there is nothing but the material!"

That's the conclusion, based on current evidence. We can speculate about what else there might be, without ruling it out, but it's just speculation.

But note that should evidence suddenly become available, say through some further examination of the cosmos, or the subatomic, then whatever was discovered would then be classified as part of the natural world as we understand it. We were quite ignorant of the nuclear forces, so science isn't in the habit of saying what can and can't be discovered (though some scientists are prepared to stake their reputaions on doing so from time to time - often to their later embarassment).

So, all that is being said is that it isn't rational to make claims about things we don't have access to. Doesn't that sound reasonable? And so it seems unreasonable, irrational, to say as much about God as religions do, when (a) they say he's so incomprehensible; (b) he doesn't necessarily exist as we know existence. How can religion say as much as it does?

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Alan,

This might help explain why issues that you might associate with God are within the realm of science. Greene explains towards the end:

Alan Crawley said...

"it isn't rational to make claims about things we don't have access to. Doesn't that sound reasonable?"

No, not to me. In fact not even to you! You seem to say that because we don't have access it doesn't exist.

Alan Crawley said...

You seem to be saying that multi dimension theory will explain religion - but that we are not allowed to speculate about it until it is proven? ;)

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Alan,

"You seem to say that because we don't have access it doesn't exist."

No. I'm say that if we don't have access then we clearly don't know anything about it, so how can we say anything about it that we can be confident of in any way? Note I didn't say we can't speculate about it.

"You seem to be saying that multi dimension theory will explain religion" - I'm not sure where you got that idea. But just to make it clear what my current view is:

1) There's a hypothesis that there could be some intelligent creator. But zero evidence.
2) There are religions, which dispite their claims, have zero evidence for those claims.
3) If there is a God, it might be that it has nothing to do with the religious God. Pretty much any speculation about God is just that, speculation - hence the many many varieties of religious belief, even within individual faith systems. The only reason we have as few faith systems as we do appears to be down to the reduction of number and types of God as believers have come together and form the current main faiths, and so consolidated many of the details about God. My post Atheist's God makes the point that all speculations about God are up for grabs, because there is no evidence for any of them.
4) All the examples given for religious experiences, whether visual, auditory, or just some sort of internal conversation, or feeling, all seem remarkably like non-religious experiences that range from simple illusions through to full blown delusions, which may be caused by anthing from misunderstanding natural events to some mental phnomenon such as epilepsy, particular sensitivity in parts of the brain, natural stimulation of brain states (that can be replicated artificially).

As for the multi dimension theory, I don't see how that can explain religion (the belief by humans in God), as I see that more as a question for various brain sciences. Could multi dimension theory tell us anything about God? I doubt it. Let's give it another few thousand years of human evolution (natural or forced) and ask again if science can yet tell us anything about God - barring, should he exist, his sudden decision to make himself known.

What I said was ...

"it isn't rational to make claims about things we don't have access to"


"it isn't rational to make speculations about things we don't have access to"

"but that we are not allowed to speculate about it until it is proven" - I'm not opposed to speculation, as long as we recognise if for what it is. Speculation is great. I've no doubt many advances in human knowledge came about by speculatiting about what might be the case. Thought experiments are good examples.

The problem isn't with the speculation. It's with the conclusion that just because you can speculate about means it actually is tru, or did actually happen, or does actually exist.

Alan Crawley said...

Apologies for misunderstanding you.

The thing which for me tips the balance is that people are led to behave in ways which are so counter intuitive that something else is happening. You say that the behaviours that religion engenders could be engendered by something else - the things which I have done are things which even if I had steeled myself to do I would not have done! And the Bible talks about giving up ones life for friends and taking up ones cross - behaviours which almost require a belief in something greater than oneself.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Alan,

"The thing which for me tips the balance is that people are led to behave in ways which are so counter intuitive" - First, making people do counter intuitive things isn't that difficult. Second, doing the intuitive isn't always the best solution. So, none of this need tell us anything about belief itself, or the content of belief, i.e. God. It's all about human behaviour and mental phenomena.

"And the Bible talks about giving up ones life for friends and taking up ones cross - behaviours which almost require a belief in something greater than oneself." - Almost? Only if that's what you already believe - you have what you think is an answer so you make the data fit that answer, and perhaps want it to fit the data. Do you not accept evolution as a mechanism that descibes how humans came about from earlier species? You you not see altruism as an evolved trait as a sufficient explanation?

Voice in the Crowd said...

Hey Ron, checking in on how my favorite Atheist is doing.

Here's a quote from one of Pope John Paul's speeches on God and Science.

"May a reference to an Italian scientist, Enrico Medi, a few years deceased, be sufficient. At the International Cathechetical Congress of Rome in 1971 he affirmed: "When I tell a young person: Look, there is a new star, a galaxy, a neutron star 100 million light-years away, yet the protons, electrons; neutrons and mesons which are found there are identical with those which are found in this microphone... Identity excludes probability. That which is identical is not probable... Therefore there is a cause, outside of space, outside of time, the master of being, which made being to be in this way. And this is God..."

One shown you JPII was not blind or fearful to science:

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes."

Voice in the Crowd said...

One more, here is a Catholic biochemist who probably speaks your language better than I could:

I think you will like the read, even if you don't agree. Behe softly states the case.

Ron Murphy said...


Nice to see you back.

"yet the protons, electrons; neutrons and mesons which are found there are identical with those which are found in this microphone..." - This depends very much on the use of the word 'identical'

"Identity excludes probability." - What does this mean?

"That which is identical is not probable" - same thing

"... Therefore there is a cause," - It doesn't follow from what goes before, even if the author made it clear what he meant.

The most scientific of catholics have trouble sometimes:

"Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes" - Science doesn't have absolutes. Religion does. How does religion protect itself from it's own absolutes?

Michael Behe's ideas of Intelligent Design don't wash, even with other catholic scientists:

A Voice in the Crowd said...

"Identity excludes probability." - What does this mean?

"That which is identical is not probable" - same thing

Maybe a better word would have been randomness/random not probability/probable.

If you found two things with the same make up on opposite ends of the world, would not you think they are related? And came from the same source? The microphone and galaxies have the same make up, could you not say they came from a same origin?

In regards to science not having absolutes, visit P.Z. Myers blog and post "Is their a chance that God exists?" You will see the absolutes, believe me.

Fr. George Coyle was a rogue priest that was replaced by the Vatican not because of his beliefs, but they way he went about his beliefs.

One more thing to consider, can't blame a Deist for trying right? A little more food for thought.

"The human eye is enormously complicated - a perfect and interrelated system of about 40 individual subsystems, including the retina, pupil, iris, cornea, lens and optic nerve. For instance, the retina has approximately 137 million special cells that respond to light and send messages to the brain. About 130 million of these cells look like rods and handle the black and white vision. The other seven million are cone shaped and allow us to see in color. The retina cells receive light impressions, which are translated to electric pulses and sent to the brain via the optic nerve. A special section of the brain called the visual cortex interprets the pulses to color, contrast, depth, etc., which allows us to see "pictures" of our world. Incredibly, the eye, optic nerve and visual cortex are totally separate and distinct subsystems. Yet, together, they capture, deliver and interpret up to 1.5 million pulse messages a milli-second! It would take dozens of Cray supercomputers programmed perfectly and operating together flawlessly to even get close to performing this task.

Obviously, if all the separate subsystems aren't present and performing perfectly at the same instant, the eye won't work and has no purpose. Logically, it would be impossible for random processes, operating through gradual mechanisms of natural selection and genetic mutation, to create 40 separate subsystems when they provide no advantage to the whole until the very last state of development and interrelation. "

...So, how did Darwin deal with the staggering realities of the eye in the 1850's? As "absurdly" improbable as it was, he followed through with his theory and pointed to the simpler eye structures found in simpler creatures. He reasoned that more complex eyes gradually evolved from the simpler ones.

However, this hypothesis no longer passes muster. Short of the micro-biological and genetic information issues, paleontology now shows that "simple creatures" emerged in the world with complex structures already intact. Even the simple trilobite has an eye (complete with its double lens system) that's considered an optical miracle by today's standards."

Ron Murphy said...

All appallingly bogus crap.

Read this for how Creationists purposefully misrepresent.

And read the rest of that site to learn more about evolution, instead of just taking the word of these fakers. By all means offer criticism of evolution - though I doubt any more thorough criticism than evolutionists themselves. They are scientists trying to find stuff out, not theists with an agenda masquerading as science.

Ron Murphy said...

This is good page to start if you want to see if any of your opinions about evolution have already been responded to.

By all means come back and ask specific questions, which I'll try to answer.

Anonymous said...


Looked at the site. I particularly was interested in functional integration which deals with the eye scenario I gave.

The web master states:
"Climate is produced by the interactions of terrain, trade winds, bodies of water, and latitude. These can occur arbitrarily, but they are bound to produce some kind of functional climate."

Now I am not an evolutionist or creationist scholar, but what he does is try to argue the outcome of things grouped together is functional intergration, to the same affect as the 40 sub systems of the eye work together.

If one of the eye subsystems doesn't work or doesn't contribute, no sight. If there is no wind, I still have climate because it is a grouping.

If 60,000 football fans group to watch a game, and one leaves, we still have the group. If the Quarterback leaves who is working together with the team in a functional intergration way, there is no game.

He also mentions random design like clouds, which I would argue at the molecular level have design.

Btw, personally, I believe it is a mixture of creationism and evolution working in a functional intergration type of way.


Ron Murphy said...

By the time the eye gets to where it is now, yes, if some parts don't work we have sight problems. You're talking about problems caused by taking some feature away, i.e. introducing a malfuction, given the eye in its 'normal' state now. To rephrase your statement: If one of the eye subsystems doesn't work or doesn't contribute, then anything from same sight (what was removed was redundant), or deterioration of sight, or all the way to no sight - and this can occur with age, damage, illness, or congenotally. So, your analogies of taking stuff away don't really work.

More to the point is the possibility of evolutionary changes occurring - they do, mutation, geneteic drift, etc. Then, what morphological changes does the genetic variation make - demonstrated so many times (e.g. change a genetic detail in a fly and it can grow a leg where the eye should be). The final bit is natural selection - that is, does any such change make the organism better able to survive to reproduce or less in the environment it finds itslef in at the time. So, light sensitive pigmants, pits, cells, lenses, eyes, can all evolve in numerous ways, adding more and more advantage in a visible environment. Note that there are many minor differences: all animals have evolved sight that works at the dimensional scale and part of the spectrum that works for them. There is nothing particularly special about the human eye, as if it's the one and only structure that will do the job.

I think your main problems is, as you suggest, you don't fully appreciate some of the implications of evolution, and so you are suffering from the argument from incredulity:

Darwin misunderstood:

The eye: