Should Scientific Progress Affect Religious Beliefs?

Sure it should. Here’s a new video from Closer to Truth, in which I’m chatting briefly with Robert Lawrence Kuhn about the question. “New” in the sense that it was just put on YouTube, although we taped it back in 2011. (Now my formulations would be considerably more sophisticated, given the wisdom that comes with age).

It’s interesting that the “religious beliefs are completely independent of evidence and empirical investigation” meme has enjoyed such success in certain quarters that people express surprise to learn of the existence of theologians and believers who still think we can find evidence for the existence of God in our experience of the world. In reality, there are committed believers (“sophisticated” and otherwise) who feel strongly that we have evidence for God in the same sense that we have evidence for gluons or dark matter — because it’s the best way to make sense of the data — just as there are others who think that our knowledge of God is of a completely different kind, and therefore escapes scientific critique. It’s part of the problem that theism is not well defined.

One can go further than I did in the brief clip above, to argue that any notion of God that can’t be judged on the basis of empirical evidence isn’t much of a notion at all. If God exists but has no effect on the world whatsoever — the actual world we experience could be precisely the same even without God — then there is no reason to believe in it, and indeed one can draw no conclusions whatsoever (about right and wrong, the meaning of life, etc.) from positing it. Many people recognize this, and fall back on the idea that God is in some sense necessary; there is no possible world in which he doesn’t exist. To which the answer is: “No he’s not.” Defenses of God’s status as necessary ultimately come down to some other assertion of a purportedly-inviolable metaphysical principle, which can always simply be denied. (The theist could win such an argument by demonstrating that the naturalist’s beliefs are incoherent in the absence of such principles, but that never actually happens.)

I have more sympathy for theists who do try to ground their belief in evidence, rather than those who insist that evidence is irrelevant. At least they are playing the game in the right way, even if I disagree with their conclusions. Despite what Robert suggests in the clip above, the existence of disagreement among smart people does not imply that there is not a uniquely right answer!

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65 Responses to Should Scientific Progress Affect Religious Beliefs?

  1. Shmi Nux says:

    Theism comes from the need to personify the universe. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. That this personification is not grounded in anything but emotion and so results in wild inconsistencies is beside the point if the need is still there. As long as it is, people will find a way to justify it. Fighting faith with logic is a losing battle, as only those already receptive would listen.

  2. I’ve recently been reflecting upon the lifelong progression of my thinking regarding the nature of things. What began as a tracing of experience into its roots in existence has evolved into an ongoing reconciliation of contemporary scientific understandings with that fundamental existential perspective.

    By way of background, I was born into a devout Catholic family; attended a high school seminary; majored in philosophy and minored in theology under Jesuit tutelage at Marquette University; and soon thereafter drifted away from religion in general. However, my quest to understand the underpinnings of experience has never abated.

    Early on, I was impressed with the notion that existence is the necessary basis for any phenomena. Given the Catholic symbolism of the Trinity, I gravitated toward a vision of a Supreme Being as pure immutable existence, lacking nothing, including perfect self-knowledge. In this schema, infinite existence is the first person; identical self-knowledge the second person. The third person is the unity of this identity—a coming to oneness that’s parent to human knowing.

    As an aside, since this Trinity is all-encompassing, it necessarily includes you and me. If it didn’t, it would be incomplete—imperfect, and not the intended eternally infinite Supreme Being.

    So my perspective has long been centered in this nifty construct, as I see no coherent alternative to it. This leads to a mapping upon all recognitions; finding vindication in Big-Bang cosmology, and bringing interesting implications to the quest to reconcile quantum theory with general relativity.

    Experience has led me to conclude that religious belief is redundant at best, as an elegant concept of a supreme being is far more readily derivable through the marvelous findings of contemporary science than it is through nostrums rooted in ancient understandings that are essentially lacking in the validations afforded by careful observation using available technology.

  3. masoume says:

    when there is no empirical evidencefor the existence of God, how one could expect to find any notion of God that can be judged on the basis of empirical evidence ?

  4. FrankL says:

    Religion without science is blind, science without religion is lame – A. Einstein
    .
    (but what he understood by religion was something far more subtle than what is usually meant by the word in popular discussion)

  5. Richard Olson says:

    When the set that includes supernatural ex nihilo creation is assumed a given, what claims may rationally be excluded from this set on grounds of simply too preposterous an assertion/supposition to possibly be true?

  6. simon morley says:

    Sean
    I am astonished that you would have such a strong view on God and religion, and the inadequacy of any view based – in the absence of empirical evidence – on faith alone. Isn’t this entirely your (and the entire science establishments) view on Time? There is absolutely no empirical evidence that Time is anything but an abstract (and hence space-time too must be abstract) and yet blind faith seems to lead you to still seek its tangible existence.
    Bizarre double standards – particularly by one of the “smart” people…

  7. Tony says:

    Smart people tend to disbelieve that which they can’t fit into their minds. You can’t fit the infinite into a finite mind. No matter how smart you are.

  8. Brent Meeker says:

    People reading this topic will probably be interested to know that one of the best writers on the subject of science and religion, Vic Stenger, died Wednesday. Vic wrote several books debunking mystics and theologians who claimed support from physics. He debated William Lane Craig twice.

  9. Agron says:

    Time is a concept created by humans to measure the change that happens in forward sequence direction at the level of macrocosm or microcosm. Like ‘mass’ is a concept to measure the quantity of the matter in the same level but in all directions. The problem with the time is the unit. This here the confusion is. But since the concept of time is created by human then the unit used is their problem as well.
    This is time!!!!!!!!!

  10. Ron Murphy says:

    “I have more sympathy for theists who do try to ground their belief in evidence, rather than those who insist that evidence is irrelevant. At least they are playing the game in the right way …”

    No. They cheat. They claim hearsay of Josephus as ‘independent’, ‘corroborating’ evidence for the existence of Jesus, when it’s only evidence of the reports about and from Christians. They use evidence like Josephus as evidence for Jesus the man, and then extrapolate to that being evidence of the supernatural stuff. They make assertions about cosmology when our best scientists show them where they are going wrong (no ass kissing intended – cough!WLC). And then when all this is pointed out they just repeat it all from scratch.

    There may be strong psychological forces at work causing this dishonesty. We demonise lying politicians and bankers, but the slippery equivocating rhetoric of theologians, and undue deference to their ‘smart’ opinions gives them a pass.

    They need to be called out on their dishonesty.

    OK, rant over. Thank you.

  11. Sean Carroll says:

    Wow, I hadn’t heard about Vic Stenger. Thanks for passing that along, Brent.

  12. Avattoir says:

    If folks were truly reverent about the faith of Christian antiquity, there’d be an annual ritual of boiling alive of a spouse deemed difficult or superfluous, to honor the memory of the instigator of the First Council of Nicaea.*

    Not to feel left out, each of the other faiths of antiquity, even recent antiquity like Mormonism, could find a more-or-less equally salutary celebration — such as, say, issuing commemorative stock in a currency swindle while declaiming to be sole holder of “the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations”.**

    [*not necessarily a human; maybe a crustacean***]
    [**not necessarily repeating the actual swindle***]
    [***tho departure from historical accuracy does risk attack as encouraging idolatry]

  13. Jerry Salomone says:

    What we know about physics really negates the possibility of any “God” as imagined by all current and former religions. I’m not so sure it 100% negates some possibility of some sort of “intelligent design” however.
    Earthlings are certainly not created in God’s image, but maybe God is the equations…

  14. Me says:

    My god can beat up your god.

  15. Mel says:

    This is a worthwhile read (at least for its application to religious thought, or a certain type of religious thought, even if an uncommon type) http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2183526

    For those without JSTOR access http://www.geocities.jp/mickindex/wittgenstein/witt_lec_et_en.html

    It more or less agrees with the assertion that any notion of God that can’t be judged on the basis of empirical evidence isn’t much of a notion at all, but it draws a different conclusion from it.

  16. Tony says:

    Wow, you people didn’t like my comment, which means it’s true.

  17. John Call says:

    Simon Morely,
    “I am astonished that you would have such a strong view on God and religion, and the inadequacy of any view based – in the absence of empirical evidence – on faith alone. Isn’t this entirely your (and the entire science establishments) view on Time?”

    No, not really (I don’t presume to speak for Sean Carroll). Physicists base there opinions on the nature of time on evidence. But there isn’t necessarily a solid consensus on what time is, Sean discusses his view here: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/10/18/is-time-real/

  18. allan J says:

    Many clever people have a belief in a deity. It’s almost always the deity of their culture/childhood indoctrination. Could there be a connection?

  19. Doc C says:

    All of science is based on experiences in the natural world, which follow mathematical principles. What can we say about a state of reality that has no math at all? We cannot comprehend it. So if an illusion is an accurate but incomplete view of reality, how should we address the possibility of a mathless state that we cannot comprehend? In that mathless void we might find what some call God, the loving creator of a random, mathematical universe where loving creatures could evolve independently of the original creator’s will.

  20. kashyap vasavada says:

    In Hinduism, God (Brahman) is essentially identical with laws of nature. Thus empirical verification of laws of nature is already understanding that part of God. That is why Hinduism (and eastern religions in general)) do not have any problem whatsoever with science. If, however, one wants to realize Brahman fully with one’s limited brain, one has to have a non-sensory experience. There is a prescribed way to do this, namely meditation. But to try to get a non-sensory experience by sensory experience using the empirical method is oxymoron! That should be the end of such arguments!!

  21. Caroline O'Donnell says:

    Interesting argument, but I never find such arguments worth while to start with as even if you believe in the existence of God, at least from the standpoint of Christianity, God is unknowable, so trying to prove his/hers/its existence is a mute point in futility. What we don’t know to begin with is so vast that wether God exists seems beside the point!

  22. Kalam says:

    “(The theist could win such an argument by demonstrating that the naturalist’s beliefs are incoherent in the absence of such principles, but that never actually happens.)”

    It does, but Carroll seems unaware. See

    https://www.academia.edu/1956717/Loke_Andrew._Is_an_uncaused_beginning_of_the_universe_possible_A_response_to_recent_naturalistic_metaphysical_theorizing._Philosophia_Christi_14_2012_373-393

    ‘come into existence’ in the 16-step argument can be replaced by ‘begin to exist’ and the argument would still work.

  23. Tony says:

    Just maybe those scientists, that won’t admit to a Creator, want to see science as the supreme belief system, to have science stand at the pinnacle of human existence, to which we must all bow and worship and the scientist as the high priest.

  24. paul kramarchyk says:

    Very smart religious people is an oxymoron. If, the term “religious” means belief in a supernatural deity(s) that hears prayers and is able to change the course of events by suspending the laws of physics to grant the wish said in the prayer. — A tornado destroys house A and kills three children in the process. While the same tornado misses nearby house B. The neo-Nazi living in house B says, “God answered my prayers, He must have a plan for me.” — If you believe that, you are not smart.

    If, however, you do not believe “your supernatural deity” can change the course of events. That events unfold consistent with the laws of physics. Then, what is so super about your supernatural deity?

  25. Latverian Diplomat says:

    Sean,

    That’s a very good video, and you expressed your position (one I happen to agree with) very well. I think Robert Lawrence Kuhn does deserve a little credit as well for allowing you to express these ideas without interruption even though he found them challenging.

    In your post I think there’s one possibility you left out. Which is that of a God who actively “hides” from empirical investigation (this can be as simple as the Deist notion of a God who creates the universe and then steps away, never to intervene, though it doesn’t have to be that simple). Theologians don’t like to bring this possibility up, I think, for a couple of different reasons.

    First, the idea of an elusive, even deceptive God runs counter to the popular notion of a God who wants to be acknowledged, worshiped, and obeyed.

    Second, at best it transforms your statement that “any notion of God that can’t be judged on the basis of empirical evidence isn’t much of a notion at all” to “a field of study whose hypotheses can’t be judged on the basis of empirical evidence isn’t much of a field of study at all”. In other words, a hiding God renders theology pointless.

    Lest that conclusion about theology be over-extended, I would argue that even very esoteric fields of study like ethics and aesthetics have to come to grips with real world problems. Indeed, some of the best work in these areas incorporates recent results from psychology, sociology, and neuroscience.

    Another interesting point of comparison is the philosophy of mathematics. Mathematics seems to depend on the existence of abstract entities, many of which can’t be realized in the physical world. Yet many mathematical results are vital to science and technology, and are seemingly tested daily in common applications. So in one sense, mathematics is put to the empirical test to a degree that theologians could never hope to match, and in another, it’s core objects of discourse (e.g., the infinite set of natural numbers) are so fundamentally abstract that fictionalism is actually a viable, if radical, position:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philosophy-mathematics/#Fic

  26. Josh says:

    Should it?
    Absolutely.
    Will it?
    Not likely soon.

    And the later question is where I’d argue we should start pondering. At the moment, religious belief is providing some rather strong things (emotions, existentialism, security, etc.) that science, or a system coherent with science, has not yet provided on that scale. So on that, I take the stance of Buckminster Fuller’s adage that to supplant a system you don’t tear down the old, but rather you build a new one that makes the old seem obsolete.

    The cultural tendency now though on “our” side seems to be to attempt to convince the religious of their error. It may work some, but it’s an exercise in inefficiency until we learn to do it better.

  27. Harold Gower says:

    Consider the difference between belief and faith.
    I believe that the sun is a star 93 million miles away,
    because I have faith in the astronomers’ observations and calculations.
    Most of what we think we know
    is actually belief
    based on faith in something.
    And when that something is science
    We need to bear in mind that
    Our science is continually being
    revised.
    The science of today
    Is very different
    from the science of a hundred years ago,
    when Einstein was still working on his
    theories of Relativity.
    And when that something is the Bible,
    (unless we are reading the original Hebrew text)
    It is continually being re-translated.
    Consequently, no matter what we are studying,
    We need to rely on our own ability
    To think and reason
    Rather than blindly accept the author’s view.
    For example, I find it difficult to believe
    That the universe was created in seven earth days,
    so it occurred to me that perhaps the problem
    lies in our understanding;
    perhaps the seven days of creation are universal days,
    where the universe turns on its axis
    every two billion Earth years.
    It sounds reasonable, logical, and believable to me.
    Now if you are a cosmologist
    You may think this idea is totally ludicrous,
    which is perfectly OK with me.
    On the other hand, if you are a die-hard Bible thumper and
    You insist that the days of creation can only be Earth days
    Then that is OK with me too.
    I will not argue the point either way,
    Because I don’t like to argue and
    I am happy with my reasoning,
    And I truly want you to be happy with yours.

  28. kneemo says:

    It’s inevitable that scientific progress affect religious beliefs. Gone are the days of assigning gods to natural phenomena or we’d hear about the god of the electromagnetic field and so on. That there exists anything at all is actually quite remarkable, in a sense. What shall happen to religion when we finally have a complete unified theory of physics? Time will tell.

  29. Should Scientific Progress Affect Religious Beliefs?

    I think that true scientific progress will in time reduce religious beliefs to eventually be laughable such as we now consider Greek and Roman gods. This has been my conviction for many years now. One of the main problems IMO is what is now masquerading as scientific progress. The two examples that Sean gave were gluons and dark matter, both of which we have no evidence for their existence other than circumstantial. Both IMO are non-existent. Yes, there is more evidence for their existence than there is for religion, but most people consider personal experience as evidence for their religious belief.

    Yes, IMO all religion is complete BS, but I also believe that much of modern physics is also mostly BS that eventually will be replaced. IMO when physics again becomes a totally logical science in every respect, as it once was in the 19th century and had been for two hundred years before that, then I think we will be able to predict the steady decline of religion thereafter. Logic as a primary decision maker is what is missing in the world today IMO, hence religion and irrational science theory.

  30. Mel says:

    As a supplement to the Wittgenstein lectures I posted above, here is Einstein on the subject http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm

    From “Religion and Science”–
    “Common to all these types [viz., religions of fear and moral religions] is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.

    The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.

    The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another. ”

    From “Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?”–
    “Does there truly exist an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be superseded by science? The answers to these questions have, for centuries, given rise to considerable dispute and, indeed, bitter fighting. Yet, in my own mind there can be no doubt that in both cases a dispassionate consideration can only lead to a negative answer. What complicates the solution, however, is the fact that while most people readily agree on what is meant by “science,” they are likely to differ on the meaning of “religion.”

    As to science, we may well define it for our purpose as “methodical thinking directed toward finding regulative connections between our sensual experiences.” Science, in the immediate, produces knowledge and, indirectly, means of action. It leads to methodical action if definite goals are set up in advance. For the function of setting up goals and passing statements of value transcends its domain. While it is true that science, to the extent of its grasp of causative connections, may reach important conclusions as to the compatibility and incompatibility of goals and evaluations, the independent and fundamental definitions regarding goals and values remain beyond science’s reach.

    As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship. These ideals religion attempts to attain by exerting an educational influence on tradition and through the development and promulgation of certain easily accessible thoughts and narratives (epics and myths) which are apt to influence evaluation and action along the lines of the accepted ideals.

    It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which belong in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims. “

  31. vicp says:

    Very good conversation. There is belief in God and belief in the belief in God. As Sean says God is not a good idea when it comes to explaining physics but anthropologists and historians point out that religion has played a major role in advancing civilizations, warts and all. Most theologians do not take atheism seriously because they cannot conceive of an advanced civilization grounded only in institutions of government, finance and media run by people with narrow vested interests etc.

  32. kashyap vasavada says:

    @forrest noble: “I also believe that much of modern physics is also mostly BS that eventually will be replaced. IMO when physics again becomes a totally logical science in every respect, as it once was in the 19th century and had been for two hundred years before that” .
    What you are complaining about modern physics as BS(!) and lamenting death of 19th century physics is the difference between classical and modern physics. In my opinion this path is irreversible and worthwhile advance and it is leading in the right direction. What is becoming clear is that the universe is indescribable in human languages which have origin in our experiences in our everyday life which are classical, although mathematically it has worked very well. Logic of the universe is most likely different from our everyday logic. In a way it is leading to the vision portrayed in ancient eastern wisdom! Please see my comment above, which was voted down! Very often people refuse to change their prejudices!

  33. Really says:

    With science only explaining 5% of the universe (see dark matter and dark energy), questions regarding scale (GRT vs QM), and the “is it a particle or wave” issue, what we have is a science of logical convenience and not necessarily truth.

    What effect can a science fact have on faith? One has to examine scientific intent on whether it’s a useful science or just single scientific fact aimed at attempting to influence a whole system of faith? Is the science fact properly conditioned with boundary conditions? Or is the science unbounded and uncontrolled?

    Since they can’t give a straight answer with a straight face they make a good educated guess with a worried smile. And when that guess isn’t close enough to experiment, it’s time to change the theory usually with a much larger theory that encompasses the old theory. Witness relativity and newtonian theories. Or QED and QCD. Like Russian babushka or nesting dolls, we have this onion of theories that is good for our science health but brings us to faith frustration and tears in rain. Is that the purpose of science.

    Even within science we find that logic fails. Instead, scientists become bookies of the universe calculating odds as if they are house security in a casino universe. And then they attempt to carpe diem the conjecture du jour (of the day) or theory du siecle (of the century).

    If all one has is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If all one has is science – even intelligent design – then everything looks like a nail.

  34. David Lyles says:

    In reading some of the comments here, as well as many other places, I keep landing on one thought: It is important to distinguish theism from other forms of religious belief. I gather from my readings in Buddhism that a supreme Being is not required. Spirituality in many forms can be seen as an emergent human phenomenon that has no need to embody a Creator, Intelligent Designer, personal God, or any other supernatural being manifesting itself in our daily affairs or the universe.

    It seems many arguments could be avoided if this was better understood.

  35. rocken1844 says:

    Hey gang, in the latest issue of Psychology Today (Oct/2014) Dr Carroll is quoted in an article on NDE – the writer gives him the last word (p88).

  36. vmarko says:

    Science is about facts, religion is about choices.

    Science pushes religion when we figure out there is no other choice in explaining something (say, thunderbolt). Religion pushes science when we figure out that alternative choices in explaining something cannot be excluded (say, falsification of determinism, incompleteness theorems, multiverse, free will…).

    The game is not to persuade people that science can eliminate all other choices for explaining the world (this has already been proven impossible by Goedel), but to find the detailed boundary between choiceless and choiceful worlds. Scientists should not refute religion altogether, but rather teach people which religious beliefs are naive and which are serious. Unfortunately, I see very few scientists concentrating on the latter, “serious belief” issue – the vast majority are either silent or claiming that “all religion is dumb”, which is a very naive point of view on its own.

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

  37. Gil Kalai says:

    Very nice clip!

    Sean: “One can … argue that any notion of God that can’t be judged on the basis of empirical evidence isn’t much of a notion at all.”

    What is the argument? (In fact, what precisely “isn’t much of a notion” means?) Note that there is a difference between saying that something cannot be judged on empirical basis and saying that something has no effect on the world whatsoever. For many (but not all) religious believers the claim that belief is a (free-will based) personal-choice and not something that can be derived from evidence is by itself a basic theological principle.

    Sean: “I think it is actually intellectually not honest to think that there is a division between questions of religious belief and questions of scientific beliefs”

    Why is it intellectually not honest?

  38. bad Jim says:

    No one has ever seen an electron. For all practical purposes, though, they exist, and explain a great many of the observable characteristics of reality. We’re also intimately familiar with gravity and momentum. We can describe both of these phenomena with essentially arbitrary precision.

    In contrast, we have no evidence of gods. We have stories about dreams and lawyerly arguments about the nature of reality which have hardly changed since antiquity, medieval recycling of pagan superstition. Modern theologians are still mired in a magical mindset, conjecturing a supernatural component to experience which they insist must exist despite the failure of every effort to detect it.

    I’ll concede that there might be a god as lazy and incompetent as I am, and contend that if He exists he’s clearly no better than me. Look at this place! It’s a mess!

  39. RayGunn says:

    Whenever I didn’t know an answer on a high school science quiz, I wrote “God!” I usually scored an “A.” Of course I lived in Texas.

  40. Ray Gunn says:

    In logistics class, we were asked to write an equation of equality. I wrote: “I don’t know.” = God.

  41. Tony says:

    No one has ever seen Love or Truth or Wisdom, but we know they exist. I think you know of them, maybe even possess them, but maybe you don’t. If you do then you have met your God.

  42. Larry Esser says:

    Any arguments for or against a “god” must first state what is meant by the word or name “god.” No one seems to be able to do that. How can you claim that a “god” exists if you cannot even say what “god” is? A woman scientist once said, ” ‘God’ is just another word meaning ‘I don’t know.’ ” Thus, to say ” ‘God’ made the universe,” and “I don’t know how the universe came into being” is saying the same thing. The latter statement is honest, the former is not.

  43. Mel says:

    >>Any arguments for or against a “god” must first state what is meant by the word or name “god.” No one seems to be able to do that.

    I’m actually in the camp that thinks God is not definable, but there are religious philosophers who offer definitions of God. For example, I believe Tim O’Connor defines “God” as pure perfection, and he means this in a fairly definite sense, such that he even derives other traits from it, e.g., that God is omniscient and outside time.

    By the way, I am an atheist.

  44. collins says:

    Carroll’s promotion of naturalism/atheism over many years lacks a relevant hypothesis, which is unusual coming from a physicist. If the null hypothesis he wishes to reject is simply “We can prove ‘God’ exists, and ‘His’ workings are discernible in the world” then he is successful, but the effort is inconsequential, like a trivial solution in mathematics. It would be a null hypothesis relating to your own subjective opinion, and be as important as debating the null hypothesis “Atonal jazz is not music.” Who cares? By contrast, the compelling null hypothesis would be “Atonal jazz is harmful to both the individual and the society, and should be suppressed from public performance.” Really? – prove it.
    For religion, the relevant null hypothesis should be “Religious beliefs are harmful to the individual and society and should be suppressed from public discourse.”
    It would not be enough to give examples of unhappy personal lives where religion played a prominent role; you would need to show data where atheists by contrast routinely lead happier lives, while otherwise matched to their non-atheist socioeconomic peers. It would not be enough to give examples throughout history and today of atrocities committed in the name of ‘God'; it would be necessary to demonstrate the absence of atrocities in those societies where religions were actively suppressed. One would also have to assess societies such as those of 20th century Europe, where the majority identified themselves as Christians, yet the basic fundamentals present in millions of home Bibles (Sermon on the Mount, etc) were ignored. So were those people believers? Or non-believers?
    The hypothesis that science refutes religion is a stimulating parlor game, but it is a ‘trivial solution’. First things first. You think the world would be a better place if we convince or coerce people to give up religion? Really?-prove it. That’s the only hypothesis that matters.

  45. @kashyap vasavada,

    Re modern physics

    “….What is becoming clear is that the universe is indescribable in human languages which have origin in our experiences in our everyday life which are classical,….”

    Yes, this is the modern opinion which I think is wrong. The only reason IMO that the universe seems indescribable to us today is that our modern theories do not involve simple logic and have not tried to find simple answers. Sad :( IMO all of reality could be understood and explained logically by an average 12 year old, in every respect, mathematics aside. Today’s worldview does not look for logical answers to major questions whereby the answers are almost obvious — hence the illogical beliefs of religion — new Earth creationists — Adam and Eve, reincarnation, praying, chanting — not denying that non-theistic meditation may have true value for some people.

    “…although mathematically it has worked very well.”

    Even the mathematics fails in some cases. General Relativity and the Hubble distance formula are two prime examples IMO.

    “Logic of the universe is most likely different from our everyday logic.”

    No, IMO simple logic can explain all of reality reasonably, from valid perspectives, with no exceptions. Of course the conclusions, if valid, would be very different from modern theory.

    “In a way it is leading to the vision portrayed in ancient eastern wisdom! Please see my comment above, which was voted down! Very often people refuse to change their prejudices!”

    You are transparent, a good person which has been influenced too much by your culture concerning your beliefs. All over the world in the past, present, and future, people in general have been/ are a product of their culture and times, with few exceptions. My advice: consider that nearly all of your religious beliefs are simply BS. Related philosophies may have value however. Science is not exempt from promoting BS also IMO, as it is now doing concerning much of modern physics.

    There have been many books and papers explaining or promoting ties between modern physics, religion and philosophy. Here is one of them.

    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/views/quantum-z.htm

    IMO Quantum Theory is one of the biggest problems in modern physics today that discourages logical thinking and thereby encourages religious beliefs of some kind, for some people.

  46. You Say Non Sequitur and I Say ADHD says:

    Even as an atheist I find religion to be one of the most fascinating subjects because it is a widespread phenomena. I would argue that religious beliefs evolve just as languages, culture and science evolve. If we are discussing god in the western religion then it is apparent that religion does evolve . There are numerous primary sources that allow us to trace the evolution of western religion and even speculate on why beliefs were adopted and others were discarded. We can match the Epic of Gilgamesh with Noah’s flood and the code of Hammurabi with the ten commandments. There are many parallels with pagan cults like Mithras and Sol Invictus . Ancient Rome was the superpower of its day and the religious traditions of pagan worshipers who immigrated to Rome were adopted into the state religion . I have wondered if the obsession with crucifixion has more to do with the mass crucifixion of Spartacus and his army. This mass crucifixion along the Via Appia was a public and brutal reminder to every Roman slave to obey their masters. To me it is strange that instead the crucifixion is associated with Jesus who died on the outskirts of the empire. Perhaps the story of Jesus and his crucifixion had many parallels with Spartacus and became the religion of the poor who were perhaps more likely to be sentenced to death in the arena. We can also speculate about the relationship between the chief priest of Rome the Pontifex Maximus and how the office evolved into the present day Papacy. Additionally, we know that the Roman empire split between Rome and Constantinople and we see a similar split to this day in the religions of Roman Catholicism and the Greek Orthodox religion.

    Most of science and religious arguments end when someone says they have faith in their beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be and however they determine that belief. I think a logician would say they are using the logical fallacy of arguing from absolute authority, a God who is all powerful and all knowing. The religion divines how to communicate with this authority by using scripture, religious scholars or even winged angels . There is a distrust of atheists. Many have a problem with the survival of the fittest mentality. My religious friends understandably and erroneously believe that survival of the fittest means that only the strongest survive or that it leads to a dystopian philosophy of eugenics. When really survival of the fittest means that a fit gene, present throughout the entire population, has the best chance of survival. And if any gene gives an organism an advantage then given enough time it will likely spread throughout the group through the random exchanging of genes within the species. There is also a misconception that evolution is unable to explain altruism, however, this ignores inclusive fitness . If a celibate priest has no children but increases the offspring of his congregation then the priests may have indirectly passed on 99.9% of their genes many more times than had they been a farmer instead of a priest. Perhaps that is why people often refer to priests as Holy Father and why they are typically present at marriages. Indeed many religions involve themselves with sex which would seem to suggest that somehow condoning procreation directly impacts their inclusive fitness. If our brains are identical to those of our ancestors then what advantage does a common group belief bring about? Ancient human beings may have been in fierce competition with other species of hominids. It may have been difficult to organize resources for the survival of the species without a common underlying belief system.

  47. JimV says:

    Re: Kalam at August 29, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Everything which begins to exist has a cause? What is the cause for the beginning of existence of virtual particles, some of which become real at the event horizons of black holes? According to the consensus on quantum mechanics, it is simply a random event which might or might not happen at any moment. See also the behavior of the tunnel-diode semi-conductors inside your computer, or the clicking of a geiger counter. According to this view, we do not observe such events macroscopically simply because the probability of the huge number of quantum events which would have to happen at the same time to produce a macroscopic violation of “common sense” is infinitesimal. So, yes, in my opinion science has rendered this way of thinking obsolete.

  48. Kalam says:

    Dear Jim V,
    The issue of quantum mechanics is addressed on pp. 381 and 391 of the paper. Sean Carroll himself holds to a deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics.

  49. WillieB says:

    A position of “the material is all there is” is irreconcilable with religion. But the softer position of “the material is all science has to describe nature” leaves open a door for proper interaction between scientist and religionists. Surely religion would be affected but also scientist in their wordview. Scientist would come to accept that nature has its “dark” side. And the position that the vacuum energy is balanced by positive and negative energy to resolve the biggest enigma in science(the theoretical and experimental value differences ) hint of a “dark” mechanism. Science has dificulty to probe the dark side of nature but religion will thrive on it. Religionist coined the term “transendence” long before science came up with a notion of “darkness”

  50. kashyap vasavada says:

    @Mel: “Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims. “
    I do not agree with many of your statements. But I agree completely with the above statement. In fact I have made remarks several times on this blog that Hinduism and Buddhism have no conflict whatsoever with science.I can say this confidently as an emeritus professor of physics, of Indian origin ( in U.S.). You will have hard time finding a single Hindu or Buddhist who believes in creationism or is against big bang theory or theory of evolution. Please see my comment above which was voted down!! Science is about sensory experiences and eastern religions are about non sensory experiences. Since science does not understand consciousness or non sensory experiences , this is not a real conflict. Society needs people with scientific background , who are willing to consider issues with open mind without prejudice.