The proper Christian attitude towards science

In the comments of an El Reg piece about one of the crazier Biblical literalists who has actually managed to end up on the Science committee of the House of Reresentatives, we get this:

I\’m honestly staggered people like him end up in positions of power and influence… Hell I\’m a religious man, a Christian, and I think this guy is a wackjob that shouldn\’t be allowed near a slide-rude, let alone influencing critical science oversight…

The quest to understand the universe and how it works is a quest understand God… To disregard evidence out of knee-jerk moronic fundamentalism is to spit on God\’s work.

Indeed, or as I\’ve heard the Benedictine attitude being described. God is truth. More knowledge leads us closer to truth. Thus learning, learning about anything, brings us closer to God.

78 comments on “The proper Christian attitude towards science

  1. But belief in God has declined because the search for truth has often yielded explanations for phenomena that would otherwise be ascribed to God’s will.

  2. Religion is, pretty much by definition, having certain beliefs that are held true and cannot be challenged by anything. Of course within the different flavours of Christianity there are different numbers, degrees, and styles of such beliefs – the fundamentalists just have more of them than the not-fundamentalists. At the opposite extreme things like the CofE seem to have, in some cases, precisely zero dogmatic beliefs and are basically light entertainment for those who like watching men in dresses perform rituals (masquerading as a proper religion).

    I think the fundamentalists are actually far more intellectually honest in rejecting evidence that contradicts their beliefs rather than moulding beliefs to fit – even though this demonstrates a lack of understanding about how we know we know stuff, and a refusal to acknowledge that one’s religious claims are basically factual statements and subject to the usual process of working out whether or not said statements are true.

    Even the wishy-washy do this separation of spheres – religion being exempted from the rational analysis we would apply to any other question. Exemplified by a friend of mine who is both a physicist and Anglican lay preacher. He openly acknowledges that there is no credible and internall-consistent intellectual defense for his faith, it just gives him the warm fuzzies and that’s enough for him. He fully agrees it’s not (and should not be) enough to convince anyone else.

  3. Maths would be more popular in schools (probably not much, though) if maths teachers were better at the imparting than at the ‘perfect universal truth’.

    Much of the problem with Christianity and science come from the organisational need for respect. And the concommitant inability to accept criticism. Whether it is biblical literalism (first question: which Bible? 2nd question: if you’re not Jewish, why so much emphasis on the silly bits of the OT?), papal infallibility, raped kids must be lying etc …

    Science is orthogonal to religion and would probably be happier to stay there (you’re not going to get a well-cited paper in a 1st rate journal by wibbling about religion.) Unfortunately, scientists and the conventionally (orthodoxly?) devout exist in the same meat-space even if they occupy very different meme and head spaces.

  4. Science was developed because Christians and Moslems believed that the World (and Universe, but initially they studied this world) was built according to divine laws and they sought to discover them. Without decrying the Benedictines in any way I could point out that a disproportionate number of major scientific discoveries have been made by Church of England clergymen (and Darwin was a CofE theological student until he got side-tracked onto evolution).
    Those pagans who believed in magic or petulant gods expected nature to be inconsistent and had no reason to invent or study science.

  5. The problem here isn’t the beliefs of people who may or may not get onto the committee. It’s the existence of the committee. If you put State force into anything, who wields that force will become an endless and insoluble bone of cotention.

    See also, “The Arts”, “Sports”, etc etc.

  6. Those pagans who believed in magic or petulant gods expected nature to be inconsistent and had no reason to invent or study science.

    Like the Greeks and the Chinese?

    The CofE thing was significantly to do with the comfortable life of a CofE rural parish rector giving them plenty of time for investigative endeavours.

  7. @VFTS classic

    I generally say I’m an atheist but yeah pan-deism, god is the universe and its alive and infinite makes sense. The stoics and taoists were on the right track.

  8. “things like the CofE seem to have, in some cases, precisely zero dogmatic beliefs and are basically light entertainment for those who like watching men in dresses perform rituals (masquerading as a proper religion).”

    Err, I don’t see how it’s any less a ‘proper religion’ from the perspective of a sceptic, only from that of a fundamentalist. From the agnostic, sceptical or benevolent atheist (ie not anti-theist) perspective, *all* religion is surely to some extent, if not first and foremost, about collective ritual. The CofE just happens to have pretty benign ones combined with tolerant beliefs.

    I admit I’m biased. I think fundamentalists are nutters and I adore CofE hymns, anthems, sung psalms and the proper 1661 liturgy. Oh, and the KJV Bible. But I still think that if you were going to invent a religion from the basis that you didn’t really know if there was a god or not, or what he thought about anything, you’d come up with something pretty close to the CofE.

  9. This is an excellent appointment. An alternative point of view, even a bonkers one, will shake up any cosy consensus this committee currently wallows in. Diverse groups make better decisions.

  10. But , Ian, the committee exists because scientists want the taxpayer to pay for all their shiny toys & keep them in pocket money whilst they play with them. Like it or like it not, quite a lot of those taxpayers share Broun’s strange views so why shouldn’t they have representation?
    For one section of the scientific community it’s appropriate justice. Broun’s no different from the crackpot Climate Catastrophe ‘consensus’ who insist on shouldering their way into much political debate, these days.

    (If Tim will excuse a personal message in his comments, good to see another member of the Finsbury Park Survivors Self Help Group is still around, Ian. Thought you’d succumbed.)

  11. Like the Greeks and the Chinese?

    Quite.

    Science developed, in the first instance, because a number of neolithic and bronze age culture notice certain regularities in the world around them which suggested that the natural world wasn’t necessarily as capricious as it sometimes appeared.

    It’s no coincidence whatsoever that the first science to develop to any significant degree was astronomy both because this is where our distant ancestors would have noticed the greatest degree of order and regularity but also because the identification of regular patterns in nature played a crucial part in facilitating the development of farming.

    That said, it would be entire untrue to suggest that hunter-gather societies expected nature to be wholly inconsistent as even they would have been aware of and understood key patterns in the world around, such as when the rains usually came, when patterns of migration would have brought certain animals into a particular area and when certain plants were likely to produce fruit.

    What (some) Christians and Muslims believe about science and the ‘natural order’ is largely the product of the adoption of ideas from Classical Greece which, in turn, acquired at least some of there ideas from the Egyptians and Persians and, of course, the Persians got some of their ideas from the Babylonians and Assyrians, and so on…

    In fact, when it comes to both Christianity and Islam were can readily trace the historical assimilation of Greek ideas and culture into their own canons or thought because much of this process is actually rather well documented, in the case of Christianity, in works of Augustine of Hippo and in the later development of scholasticism.

    By comparison to Augustine, Benedict was a bit of a johnny-come-lately.

  12. The cultural background which enables science to exist or even flourish can become suddenly inhospitable when science comes up with conclusions that are at odds with that cultural background. That is exactly what is happening here. The notion that “science flourished after Christianity hence Christianity=true” as implied (but not stated) by the right honourable gentleman at no.5 is [insert posh Latin name for cart-before-horse fallacy]. Er, post hoc ergo propter hoc, I think. Yeah, Mendel was a monk an’all.

    Politicians, like the religious, like to look for evidence that supports their beliefs. Science done properly (admittedly not that often nowadays) seeks to undermine all beliefs and accept only those left standing. No wonder it is unwelcome to the religious and politicians, in particular religious politicians.

  13. @ Pogo,

    There used to be a theory going round that all animals, man included, are hardwired to assume agency in random events because it keeps you alive. Ergo if the grass is moving it could be random or it could be a sabre-toothed tiger. If you assume it’s a tiger and scram, then even when it’s the wind, you’re safe. Assume it’s the wind, on the other hand, and there’s a goodly chance it’s a tiger and you get eaten. You see this in experiments with most animals – they tend to confuse causation and correlation and where there is no correlation they make up random sequences to fill in the gaps (cf pigeons hitting buttons for food). It has been posited as the baseline impetus behind conspiracy theories, pareidolia &c.

    So whilst you’re probably right, I think religion is more than *just* communicating with the weather, though that has a part in it.

    What’s much more fun is that now that religious types have learned from the Cultural Marxism textbook that you have to present yourself as a victim of discrimination because victims are *always right*, you can have no end of fun asking members of an established religion like Catholicism* why they should be treated with any more credibility than Scientologists or Wiccans.

    *You can try with CofE types too, but the brighter ones will say something like “Well, I’m not really sure that we should. I mean we’re all trying to get to Jesus in our own way, aren’t we? More cake?”

  14. My understanding of the fundamentalist nutjob view is that God has set things up to make it look as if various scientific propositions are true, whereas in fact He created the universe in an absent-minded moment last Thursday week or thenabouts, putting in dinosaur fossils and so forth as an amusing jape.

    I can’t prove that view is wrong. But I can’t see what it can have to contribute to a Science, Space and Technology Committee.

  15. What I’ve never understood is the fundamentalists who tell you that the book of Revelation is *actually* all about the United Nations or the Freemasons or similar. As opposed to being, you know, literally about a beast with seven heads and a woman who drinks blood.

    It’s almost as if they think that parts of the Bible are some sort of…allegory…

  16. @sam, it is all allegorical except for the bits that are literal. Which is why we have so many different varieties of protestantism. It should really be no surprise that the most conservative and repressed of them have a problem with literal horny beasts.

  17. whereas in fact He created the universe in an absent-minded moment last Thursday week or thenabouts, putting in dinosaur fossils and so forth as an amusing jape.

    Strata, Terry Pratchett, 1981. Before both the pTerry and the Sir. And “God” was Hendry and his girlfriend, Nicol. What got them in to trouble was the “End Nuclear Testing Now” placard the pleiosaur was carrying.

  18. @ James V
    “If you haven’t got a good argument invent some straw man and claim your opponent said that” – often effective but less so on Tim’s blog where we get the chance to answer back.
    Where did I say that Christianity is true? My beliefs are peripheral, at most, to the debate. Why did you not assume that I was implying that Islam is true? Presumably because in a post-Christian country you are more concerned with being anti-Christian than anti-Islam.
    @ SE and Unity
    Where did I say *all* pagans believed in magic? But Greek science was *massively* handicapped by their unwillingness to carry out experiments relying on them to be replicable. Xeno’s paradox should lead quite quickly to the concept of convergence series. Did it?
    Whether or not Rectors in rural parishes were comfortable (many worked themselves into an early grave) is not relevant to whether they studied science with an open mind to learn new things. There were very very many rich men with ample leisure time but they made fewerr discoveries.
    It is not proven (and I have not suggested that it was) that science is simply an offshoot of Christianity but the nonsensical claim that science is incompatible with Christianity and/or Islam *is* disproven.

  19. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil (John 7:7).

    I claimed nothing but that you implied something. Clever rhetorical trick if you want plausible deniability. Sure, you could be Islamic but it seems unlikely. The central god claims of both religions (actually rather similar) appear to be equally correct. And just because Islam is currently thrashing Christianity in the global intolerance stakes doesn’t excuse the latter its past and present faults.

    Christianity and Islam are incompatible with science in that their central god-claims are found wanting. There is an array of rather basic kindergarten-level logical proofs for this, starting with the one about the ability or otherwise of an omnipotent being to make a rock too heavy for it to lift. Now it might well be that the scientist is wrong and the toolkit used to detect (and manipulate) atoms, gravity, DNA duplication and oxidation is not one that is capable of detecting a god. Entirely possible. But I would say unlikely, and made more unlikely by the vast evidence (thousands of different god-claims) that people have been using all manner of different toolkits to detect gods, and have thereby detected a large number of mutually exclusive gods. Thus at least all but one of the god-detection methods employed, and at least all but one of the gods thus claimed, are bogus. Even Christians agree with this – if we make a special exemption for their denominational variant of their god.

  20. It would seem to me to be extremely pointless trying to argue that science is incompatible with Christianity, since it developed in Christendom. It would be rather like arguing that pointy domes are incompatible with Islam. A more interesting and difficult to prove either way question would be whether Christianity was a necessary precondition for the development of science.

    Also of course some christian philosophies may be more compatible with, or conducive to, science. For instance, there’s a very reasonable argument that Adam Smith’s understanding of economic science was seriously kneecapped by his Calvinism- which led him into errors like the labour theory of value, emphasis on division of labour and ignoring specialisation of labour, and so on.

  21. Science was developed because Christians and Moslems believed that the World was built according to divine laws and they sought to discover them.

    That’s obviously untrue – see Greece, China, India. It’s roughly true that experimental science was developed by Muslims and Christians, but I’d be sceptical about pious expositions of their motives.

  22. starting with the one about the ability or otherwise of an omnipotent being to make a rock too heavy for it to lift.

    Oh, that one’s easy. It’s just a badly phrased question which is phrased deliberately to create a paradox. This can be seen if we paraphrase it thus-

    “Can God do something that God cannot do”?

    Stated like that, it is clearly a nonsense question. It thus does not require an answer.

  23. It would be inconsistent to point and laugh at modern-day American fundamentalists for being the wilfully ignorant morons they are and ignore the same fault in European Christians past. Christianity has never been happy with other people, scientists or otherwise, coming up with things at odds with their religion. To be fair it is at least like rather a lot of other religions in this aspect.

  24. Would you prefer:

    “Can JamesV make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?”

    Where is the paradox there? Either I can or I can’t. The correct answer is (given some cement and water) “yes”. I also have empirical evidence for this – made one a few weeks ago to level out the floor under the washing machine.

  25. Xeno’s paradox should lead quite quickly to the concept of convergence series.

    Which one? There were at least 9 of them – and they weren’t mathematical. The point of them being to illustrate the Greek arguments about the divisibility of space and time. Essentially, each of the surviving three paradoxes shows that one of the possible options is logically flawed.

    Anyway – convergent series? 20/20 hindsight. You’d have to wait for the concept of an algebraic series first. Which was some 1600 or so years later.

    And, for the snark – where did I say that *all* rural vicars were comfortable? Actually, the ones who tended to work themselves to early death were either urban or were the curates employed in the minor churches by the parish priest and made to do all the work.

  26. Is omnipotence logically possible?

    Well, yes. It isn’t logic but physics, particularly the uncertainty inherent in our understanding of quantum mechanics that makes both omnipotence and omniscience impossible (while still permitting supernatural levels of both capability and knowledge.)

    “Can God do something that God cannot do”?

    And we get to Godel quite quickly – any logical framework which permits recursion can be used to construct statements neither provable true nor false within the rules of that framework. Blame Russell.

  27. JamesV-

    God’s omnipotence tells us that there is no such thing as a rock which God cannot lift. It is thus a meaningless epicycle to ask whether God can make such a nonexistent thing. Since the phrase “a rock which God cannot lift” does not refer to any possible thing, it is a literally meaningless description.

    It’s a fun little logical puzzle, but it really has nothing deep to say about omnipotence.

  28. PaulB: My understanding of the fundamentalist nutjob view is that God has set things up to make it look as if various scientific propositions are true, whereas in fact He created the universe in an absent-minded moment last Thursday week or thenabouts, putting in dinosaur fossils and so forth as an amusing jape.

    And my answer to this (as a Christian, a scientist, but not a believer in young-earth creationism and the like) is that it doesn’t matter. An omnipotent and omnipresent God is clearly capable of making a “perfect” fake of a 14 billion year old universe a week ago on Thursday. But because he is God, and so his fake will be perfect, it will behave in exactly the same way as universe that was really 14 billion years old, and so it is perfectly correct to use my model of a 14 billion year old universe to make predictions.

    I can make a theological case against the nutjob point of view, but I don’t need to do so to have an honest nutjob accept science.

  29. Why do we always see this distinct dichotomy between religion & science?
    In the beginning was the desire to understand.
    Thus thunder gods were as good an explanation as anything. Now we believe in the discharge of electrical forces. But for most people, that’s ‘believe’ because that’s what they’re told. Understanding’s a different matter.
    Religion is a way of explaining the world. So’s science. To the punter there’s not much difference apart from taking a supernatural being out of the process. Although you don’t get more supernatural than trying to get your head round quantum mechanics.
    The frontier of knowledge isn’t a defined line. It’s a fuzzy grey area. You might say this Broun character is at the trailing edge of the grey area. Couple of generations ago, he might have been in the middle or near the front. The Creation myth was pretty well standard fare for most people until very recently.
    It gets even stranger. Quantum theory seems to say the ‘laws’ of science aren’t even laws at all. Just expressions of probabilities. There’s the strong anthropomorphic explanation for the universe. It is as we see it because it has to be that way for us to exist to see it. And the very strong variant which says the universe exists because we exist to perceive it. Now we’re nearly back to supreme beings again.
    Couple of centuries on & people will probably be laughing at the peculiar notions our experts have. You really believed the speed of light was a constant? How quaint!

  30. The reason for the distinction is that it is essentially a failed attempt at explaining the world. Its explanations are manifestly untrue, and those that are true only by good luck. The thunder gods are not as good an explanation as any, they are an incorrect explanation.

    Science is not only a successful way of explaining the world, it (insert all caveats) knows when to say “I don’t know” rather than having to insert a supernatural explanation in order to not appear ignorant.

    Gods are most easily defended by special pleading – the laws of nature don’t apply to them. So while us mere mortals can give a dichotomous and true answer to the rock question, omnipotent deities are exempted. The tortuous theological squirming to avoid having to answer such questions should be subject to Occam’s razor long before we get onto whether omnipotent and loving deities would have ever invented Plasmodium falciparum, or even carnivores.

  31. There’s also nothing odd about laws of physics (say) being distilled expressions of probabilities. We use probabilities for all sorts of things where we are ignorant of the physics underlying a phenomenon or even when we know it but doing the calculations is more laborious than just doing the experiment enough times and counting the results. For example, it would be theoretically possible given enough computer power to model lots of coin tosses, taking into account spin and trajectory as it leaves the hand, gusts of wind, and the vagaries of the surface it lands on. The problem is however sufficiently complicated to not be worth the effort (unless you are betting on the outcome), and we’d still end up tending to 50% heads for a long enough sequence.

  32. Only been at a C of E church for a few years. Seems to be rather different from the C of E churches others on here have experience of. Perhaps there are different groups within the C of E umbrella?

  33. Perhaps there are different groups within the C of E umbrella?

    Oh, God (sic) yes. Everything from pre-Vatican2 Catholicism to nearly-as-liberal-as-the-Quakers.

    Broad church doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  34. bloke in spain and IanB:

    Whether God can know everything , achieve impossible physical feats, or exist everywhere simultaneously, are unknowable to those with merely human cognition,

    And, despite the fact that “words mean things,” it’s obvious that humans can compose sentences (and more) with proper attention to grammar and syntax which mean nothing comprehensible to either the speaker or the listener.

    Folks have “caught on,” somewhat, in speaking of supernatural phenomena or beings. (But not so much when the matter under discussion is political or, especially, when it’s economic.

  35. Whether God can know everything , achieve impossible physical feats, or exist everywhere simultaneously, are unknowable to those with merely human cognition.

    It’s not that subtle. Either (assuming the religious pov) this universe is ultimately predictable (plus or minus the occassional local miracle – which might, for the irritating amongst us, be suggested as odd qm fluctuations) and we act on it in accordance with our grace (or lack of it), however effectively or futilely – the “free will” doctrine, or …

    The universe unfolds unto God’s pre-determined plan. Pre-destination. And there is nothing we can do about it.

    Human understanding doesn’t enter into it. It is how we see God / god / science.

    If God has invented a world in which our science appears to rule yet there is unquantifiable, undetectable yet effective interference from the divine, how can we tell whether it is God or Lucifer taking their turn running things?

    While I’d not describe Polly as (any of) the Revelation Beast, she surely comes close?

  36. Gods are most easily defended by special pleading – the laws of nature don’t apply to them.

    Which science has proved via the Big Bang ; a singularity of infinite density and infinitesimal size, exploding in infinite temperatures at infinite speed, whence all time and space came into being.

    The act or cause of Creation, or the Creator, (depending upon your preference) is unknowable, even to scientists. It exists outside of known time and space.

    a refusal to acknowledge that one’s religious claims are basically factual statements and subject to the usual process of working out whether or not said statements are true.

    In response to your “basic kindergarten-level logical proofs” I’d like to offer the words of Robert Pirsig:

    “Yes and no…this or that…one or zero. In the basis of this elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge is built up. The demonstration of this is the computer memory that stores all knowledge in the form of binary information. It contains ones and zeroes, that’s all.

    Because we’re unaccustomed to it, we don’t usually see that there’s a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don’t even have term for it, so I’ll have to use the Japanese mu.

    Mu means “no thing.” Like “quality” it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, “no class: not one, not zero, not yes, not no.” It states that the context of the question is such that a yes and a no answer is in error and should not be given. “Unask the question” is what it says.

    Mu becomes appropriate when the context of the question becomes too small for the truth of the answer. When the Zen monk was asked whether a dog had Buddha nature he said “Mu,” meaning that if he answered either way he was answering incorrectly. The Buddha nature cannot be captured by yes or no questions.

    That Mu exists in the natural world investigated by science is evident. […] The dualistic mind tends to think of Mu occurrences in nature as a kind of contextual cheating, or irrelevance, but Mu is found through all scientific investigation, and nature doesn’t cheat, and nature’s answers are never irrelevant. It’s a great mistake, a kind of dishonesty to sweep nature’s Mu answers under the carpet. “

  37. @JamesV

    Ian B is entirely too kind to you. FFS, man, have you never even heard of Aristotle?

    Outwith the frankly loopy world of quantum mechanics do you understand that a cannot equal non-a?

  38. It is a pity that James V knows *nothing* about the scientific method. Well, if he does, he is as much a liar as Richard Dawkins whose claim to know that there is no god implies omniscience which implies that Richard Dawkins himself is god. Oh dear! Reminds me of GK Chesterton’s children’s book when Father Brown is asked how he knew someone was a crook disguised as a priest he replied “You attacked logic – it’s bad theology”.
    Science rejects a theory when there is some evidence to disprove it. There is, as yet, *no* evidence to disprove the evidence of God: there isn’t even enough evidence to disprove the existence of Thor. There is some witness evidence *for* the existence of God or Allah (the same person but viewed differently by Jews, Christians and Muslims). Atheism is a religion which has zero evidence (unless you count Richard Dawkins) in its favour. Some atheists claim that atheism is not a religion despite its meeting all the criteria that they and others use to define religions.
    This is way off the original question of the correct Christian approach to science because James V is implying that there isn’t one.
    AND I can do without James V saying that I implied (the correct English is “inferred”) something that he didn’t say when I am actually quoting his unwarranted attacks.

  39. john77 – “Science was developed because Christians and Moslems believed that the World (and Universe, but initially they studied this world) was built according to divine laws and they sought to discover them.”

    Muslims do not, as it happens, believe that the world is built according to divine laws. I forgot the actual theological term for the moment, but they believe that everything happens according to Allah’s will so every event is a one-off. Fire burns not because fire burns, but because at this one time, Allah wants it to burn. The next time you stick a finger in a flame He may decide otherwise.

    There is an interesting discussion by a Pakistani physicist of the effects this point of view is having on the Pakistani education system now the nutters are in charge.

    “(and Darwin was a CofE theological student until he got side-tracked onto evolution).”

    Well not really. He was a student who was probably destined for a clerical job just because that is what the aimless, ambitionless and not obviously talented did if they couldn’t afford to buy their way into the Army.

  40. I predict that some merging of science and religion will come from evidential substantiation of the hypothesis that there is a duality between entropy and mass-energy. This is in a similar way to the discovery (much younger than mainstream religions) that mass and energy are interchangeable in certain circumstances.

    This hypothesis allows for the universe (of mass-energy) to be created from sentience: hence by God – the ultimate sentience.

    If and when we get there, we will have to start asking about the where all the mass-energy-sentience came from.

    We will start with: God – the next level.

    Best regards

  41. Xeno’s paradox should lead quite quickly to the concept of convergence series. Did it?

    Antiphon discovered the geometric “Method of Exhaustion” at about the time of Zeno. It was developed by Eudoxus and used in proofs by Euclid and Archimedes.

  42. If God exists outside knowable time or space then how can we know he is there? You really can’t claim that God is unknowable but then that you know he exists!

    @John77, I don’t profess a knowledge of an absence of gods, I agree that would be a logically indefensible position. Instead my position is that I have not heard of any god claims that I find credible, and am not aware of any evidence for gods that is convincing enough (or at all, for that matter). So I don’t believe in any gods. This is actually “weaker” atheism than, say, a Muslim would profess towards Vishnu, Ganesh, etc – the Muslim, in claiming Allah exists, claims to know that that the others do not exist.

    You are using the other tedious trick of reversing the burden of proof. This is also incompatible with your (correct) criticism of those who claim to know with certainty this or that god doesn’t exist. Unfortunately it is you making the claim (some god exists), so you have to bring some evidence to support it. Lack of evidence against your god is not evidence for it any more than lack of evidence disproving the FSM is evidence for it.

  43. If God exists outside knowable time or space then how can we know he is there? You really can’t claim that God is unknowable but then that you know he exists!

    I didn’t claim to know God exists. I was pointing out the scientific consensus that the laws of nature do not and can not apply to the creation of the known universe.

    So I’m free to believe anything I want about the moment of creation, knowing that science can not disprove it. Just as you are.

  44. I will tend to believe nothing rather than anything simply because it can’t be disproved. This is why we ask those making unfalsifiable claims to provide evidence for them.

  45. @ James V
    The scientific method is to reject a theory when a fact occurs to disprove it. *I* have not reversed the burden of proof – you *pretend* to do so.

  46. @ James V
    As previously stated – how about reading what I’ve already written? – there are a substantial number of witness statements which would be admissible as evidence in a court of law. It is your privilege to disbelieve them but it is *not* your right to claim that none of them exist.

  47. @ James V #47
    ” Instead my position is that I have not heard of any god claims that I find credible, and am not aware of any evidence for gods that is convincing enough (or at all, for that matter). So I don’t believe in any gods. This is actually “weaker” atheism than, say, a Muslim would profess towards Vishnu, Ganesh, etc – the Muslim, in claiming Allah exists, claims to know that that the others do not exist.”
    Agnosticism is an intellectually respectable position. As distinct from Dawkin’s claim of certainty that God does not exist.
    However, to claim that Christianity is incompatible with science because your understanding of logic and epistemology is still at kindergarten level is ridiculous.

  48. I don’t think you understand atheism. Atheism is simply “not theism” (theism being the belief in one or more gods). Atheism is thus “not believing in gods”. I am both an atheist and an agnostic. Some (a few) atheists do indeed go further and believe there are no gods. More commonly such people are straw men elected by the religious to portray atheism as “believing there are no gods”. It’s freely conceded that (because of the enormously high burden of proof to falsify all god claims known and unknown) this is a vastly easier proposition to argue against than “weak”, agnostic atheism.

    We reject claims where there are contrary facts for sure. But most claims are subject to rather straightforward evidence. Unfalsifiable claims (gods, Russell’s teapot) however present a special problem – by definition it is not possible to ever find a fact that would disprove them. So we generally ask for at least some positive evidence to support them before such claims are accepted.

    Your next problem is that there are a number of competing claims for all-powerful creator gods, all of which are backed up by some witness evidence that would be admissible in a court of law. It’s therefore a leap to say “we have this bible therefore God”, or “we have this quran therefore Allah”.

  49. John77-

    The scientific method is to reject a theory when a fact occurs to disprove it.

    No, that’s not it. The “official” i.e. Popperian definition is that you develop a hypothesis, then try to devise tests to disprove it. It isn’t scientific to believe any old thing until somebody can actively disprove it.

    A christian (or any other religionist) is entitled to believe whatever they like; that is a private matter. But they are not logically justified in believing in things for which there is no testable evidence. I am entitled to believe that I am Emperor Napoleon; but if I assert that claim as truth, I must subject it to testing in order to justify it logically.

  50. A hristian (or any other religionist) is entitled to believe whatever they like; that is a private matter

    And is, surely, allowed to talk about it in the public sphere, or do you believe we need to increase even more than the current irrationality the list of thoughts we are forbidden from expressing?

  51. @ James V
    Atheism is, by definition, believing there is no god.
    “a” “the” ism meaning “without god(s)”

  52. @ Ian B
    The scientific method is to reject a theory when a fact occurs to disprove it.
    It doesn’t get to be a theory until after it has been tested.
    You are therefore equating the theory of gravitational attraction between two objects with the Efficient Markets Hypothesis when you say “No, that’s not it.”
    Atheists and sceptics are entitled to believe what they like in private but they have no justification for claiming that christians lack testable evidence. Whereas King Cnut’s experiment demonstrated, as he was confident that it would, that his flattering courtiers were wrong, when Naaman carried out what would now be a quite standard attempt to disprove Elisha’s claims he was cured of his leprosy. Gideon asked for testable evidence and it was provided.
    I am unsure how you define “logically justified” but your post seems to imply that Christians lack testable evidence for their beliefs. In some cases that may be true but in many cases it is not.
    Christians

  53. Gideon asked for testable evidence and it was provided.

    Did he? Any evidence that the story is anything other than fable?

    your post seems to imply that Christians lack testable evidence for their beliefs. In some cases that may be true but in many cases it is not.

    Oh, go on. I’d love to see it. Testable evidence for the existence of the Christian Trinity – or anything other than the most trivial of Christian belief.

    Please … Honestly – I’ve got intercessions to do on Sunday and a Popperian-structure proof of, or even solid evidence for, say, any of the core of creation, incarnation, resurrection or assumption, would be lovely.

  54. Surreptitious Evil – “Linky thing?”

    It has been a while, but it must have been Pervez Hoodbhoy and the book, presumably, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality. But if you can wait, I will check.

  55. JamesV: Science is not only a successful way of explaining the world, it (insert all caveats) knows when to say “I don’t know” rather than having to insert a supernatural explanation in order to not appear ignorant.

    You miss the crucial point. The thing that distinguishes science from non-science is the ability to make testable predictions about future behaviour. “God made everything in 6 days 6000 years ago – I know because he said so” is a consistent explanation of the origin of the universe, but it’s not useful (regardless of whether or not it’s true) because it doesn’t make any predictions.

    “Here’s a physical model that explains how the universe began as a point something shy of 14 billion years ago and is still expanding” makes predictions about, for example, what subatomic particles can and cannot exist, which are testable. If future measurements remain consistent with the model, it’s a useful model, even if it is actually false.

  56. @ SE
    Contemperaneous records are all that we have that Queen Victoria was not a fable. Can *you* provide unfakeable proof that she existed? I thought not. Do you believe that she existed? Do you believe in the existence of Julius Caesar?
    So when I give examples of scientific experiments you say “Any evidence that the story is anything other than fable?” Have you any evidence that it is anything other than a fable that the Curies discovered Radium? Should I claim that to be a myth?

  57. Surreptitious Evil-

    And is, surely, allowed to talk about it in the public sphere, or do you believe we need to increase even more than the current irrationality the list of thoughts we are forbidden from expressing?

    Oh, absolutely, and I didn’t mean to imply others. I was trying to say that your thoughts are your own, that’s all. A Christian has the right to believe, and to practise their faith unmolested. From a “liberal/libertarian ethics” position, I believe it is improper to interfere with that, for instance by “demonstrating” outside my local church against Christianity.

    If, however, a Christian in a public debate asserts their faith as truth, then it is open to criticism and discussion and, as in all debates, opponents are naturally going to demand evidence, as with any other assertion. Just as, if somebody says, “the economy will improve if the government print lots of money”, opponents of that view will ask for its justification.

    People tend to confuse “the right to believe and to be” with logical justification, which is what I was trying to get at.

    “God exists”.

    “What evidence do you have for that assertion?”

    “I don’t need to provide any, it’s my right to believe”.

    Kind of thing.

  58. So when I give examples of scientific experiments you say “Any evidence that the story is anything other than fable?”

    Which Gideon are you talking about? If you are talking about the one out of the Book of Judges, I’m not sure what he did was a scientific experiment. And I’m fairly sure that very little of the Bible – Old or New Testaments – was ever a ‘contemporaneous record’ and certainly, now, has been so munged by various translators and vested interests that what might have once been ‘the literal word of God’, if that’s your belief, is as reliable but much less funny than the result of a ‘Party Whispers’ game.

    But then, I not sure that you and I have the same understanding of what constitutes ‘scientific evidence’, either.

    SMFS – happy to wait, thanks.

  59. “I’m fairly sure that very little of the Bible – Old or New Testaments – was ever a ‘contemporaneous record’”

    No one who knows the slightest bit of biblical or christian theological history thinks that they are. The compostion of the new testament wasn’t even formally agreed upon until the Second Council of Trullan in 692. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it was generally accepted by about the mid 300s but not earlier. As for the Old Testament., debate still rages, not least because most of the manuscripts were lost in the sack of Jerusalem, so it would be down to oral tradition. The christian cannonical new testament quotes books that aren’t actually in the cannoncical Old (like the Book of Enoch). The fact that there are lot of books that aren’t allowed in the cannonical tradition rather suggests that even then people weren’t sure about them.

    I think, on balance, the evidence for Queen Victoria is rather less shaky. Oh, sure, you can go all solipsist about it, but if we’re going down that route, none of you can prove that you aren’t figments of my imagination SO THERE.

  60. @ SE
    Either answer my question or shut up.
    @ sam
    I didn’t state that Judges was written down at the time – like Homer most of the earlier books were oral tradition for a few centuries and it is generally accepted that the editors compiled the current version from three different primary sources.
    I asked SE whether he could prove Queen Victoria wasn’t a myth – which he ducked because he cannot prove that to the standard of proof that he demands. So should I claim that anyone referring to Queen Victoria should only mention her in private? I don’t think so.
    The original post was “What is the proper Christian attitude to science?” for which Tim deserves a B+ (not sufficiently specific for an A) but James V has treated as being “What is the atheistically-leaning agnostic’s attitude to Christianity?”

  61. Oh sodding hell, we’ve a fundamentalist pseudo-christian troll to replace Arnald.

    Either answer my question or shut up.

    Which question, you twit? I count six in #62.

    1. I can’t provide unfakeable proof of anything. I suspect there is better ability to fake than there is to source proof.

    2. Yes.

    3. Yes.

    4. You didn’t provide evidence of scientific experiments therefore your question is meaningless.

    5. Contemporaneous evidence. Which doesn’t exist for the vast majority of the biblical stories. Interestingly, especially those that have a religious significance.

    6. You claim whatever you want. Judging by your standards here, you are likely to be deluded. Don’t expected any of us to believe your assertions, however. Especially when you claim ‘evidence’.

    Put up or shut up.

  62. @ SE
    You can’t count. One challenging question plus four supplementaries makes five.
    “I can’t provide unfakeable proof of anything. ”
    But you expect me to!
    I quoted not one but two examples of sceptics – Gideon didn’t accept the first demonstration and asked for a second – testing claims and finding them valid.
    Why is it meaningless to ask if you have any evidence that the Curies discovered Radium? There is actually quite a lot of circumstantial evidence for that. “deluded?” – try a mirror.
    The answer to 5) should be a simple “No”
    In theory everything in the Bible has religious significance (although I cannot fathom some of it) and *it* is the contemporaneous evidence or the subsequently record thereof so your snark is meaningless.
    I have put up – you haven’t.

  63. You really are a prat aren’t you?

    You haven’t put anything up except vague references to one (unspecified) version of the most mistranslated book in history. The snark is entirely relevant – the bible is recent misinterpretation of long-post-event documentation based on what, at best, is the usually horridly inaccurate personal witness. Basically, it’s a load of bollocks.

    I’d suggest a good distance-learning B.Div, myself. Hopefully if all the people telling you the same stuff I am about the unreliability in translation and attribution, the inconsistencies and contradictions and the endless cuts and insertions have “Rev” as a title, you might actually listen.

    But, hug your delusions closely. They might keep you warm this winter.

  64. Oh, and I’ll be specific on that ‘put up or shut up':

    your post seems to imply that Christians lack testable evidence for their beliefs. In some cases that may be true but in many cases it is not.

    Go one. Just one example, please. Testable evidence for a belief that is positively differentiable of Christianity. Quotes from the bible, even to a specific version, are not acceptable.

  65. @ Surreptitious Evil
    You really need to change your name. if you seriously believe the Bible is just “a load of bollocks” you lack a definition of “Evil” which makes you the intellectual equivalent of the, largely mythical, Daily Mail idler (John Humphreys found just *one* guy in Middlesbrough, where they get 200 applicants for one job advertised, who didn’t want to work).
    Your lack of arguments is revealed and demonstrated by your repeated descent to random insults.
    By the way it’s B.D. – and B.D.s know a lot about transcription errors as well as mistranslations and the change in the English language since 1600 is best measured by the difference between the King James Version and the REB which comparison is a major aid to Shakesperian scholars.
    “long-post-event documentation based on what, at best, is the usually horridly inaccurate personal witness” Nonsense: There is ample evidence that the Gospels were written and circulating within the lifetime of the Apostles and Mark’s Gospel which is widely accepted as being Peter’s memoirs is unusually frank about Peter’s failings.

  66. By definition anything that is positive testable requires a forecast of the future. Only a moron or liar would ask me to supply that with a current/historic result.
    Quotes from any record or website are not acceptable
    You need to provide to me, sitting in my study in front of my computer, umpteen miles from where you are situated, physical proof of, say, Archimedes’ theorem. No, the bath is not in my study.

  67. if you seriously believe the Bible is just “a load of bollocks” you lack a definition of “Evil”

    Do I? Complete non-sequitor.

    Personal witness is hugely inaccurate. Regardless of whether it is taken by skilled investigators within hours of the events concerned as opposed to decades if not centuries later. How many people and in what order visited the tomb on Easter Day?

    Only a moron or liar would ask me to supply that with a current/historic result.

    You, not me, claimed that your odd variety of pseudo-christian did not:

    lack testable evidence for their beliefs.

    So, pony up. Come on. You are attributing to me the negative hypothesis. So your’s is the burden of evidence.

  68. @ SE
    Actually you do, because the English word is the antonym of good and depends upon the context which is a Christian world view. The liberal “intellegentsia” has tried to redefine a lot of words but they have not dared to redefine “evil”.
    You reject personal witness and ask me to provide evidence over the internet!!!!
    What other evidence can I provide over the internet? Yes, I have personal experience but there is no way that it can be demonstrated by email: are you joking? If you are not joking what are you – a Soviet interrogator? Am I required to wait until Thunor strikes you with lightning to prove Thunor (Thor if you’re Danish) is real? Sorry but I do not pray to Norse Gods in whom I do not believe.
    This blog is about whether or not Tim is right to support for a Christian who debunks a bigot pretending to be Christian opposing science: Tim says Christians should seek truth (of which science is a part as God’s laws). However certain individual bigots have intervened to attack Christianity which is not any part of the original topic.

  69. @ John77

    “I didn’t state that Judges was written down at the time – like Homer most of the earlier books were oral tradition for a few centuries and it is generally accepted that the editors compiled the current version from three different primary sources.”

    Well, yeeeees, but Homer is not taken as a source of revealed truth to inspire an entire weltanschauung, is he? Even scholars who regard him as *primarily* an historian tend to accept he might have been romancing a little, and academic debate still continues concerning how much he just wrote flattering legends.

    The issue with the Bible is not how far the gospels are synoptic or the true authorship of the Septuagint, or how much of the Vulgate St Jerome changed “lest he offend the faithful”, or whether the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Hebrews or the Essenes or whether John of Patmos was out of his tree on psilocybin, but the fact that despite all this uncertainty people still a) claim it is the unadulterated Word of God and b) base entire legal codes on it.

  70. You have provide NIL evidence or support for your argument.

    And? Mine is the null hypothesis. Scientifically, I need provide no evidence or support for “nothing interesting here, move on.”

    You, on the other hand, have provided no _evidence_ for your argument and the only support is self-referential (Christianity is true because it says so in the Bible!)

    because the English word is the antonym of good and depends upon the context which is a Christian world view

    The word – in other languages – existed well before there was Christianity, never mind a ‘Christian world view’.

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