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.

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  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 ?

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  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)

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  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?

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  6. simon morley says:

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  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.

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  9. Agron says:

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  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.

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  11. Sean Carroll says:

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

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  12. Avattoir says:

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  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…

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  14. Me says:

    My god can beat up your god.

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  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.

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  16. Tony says:

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  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/

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  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?

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  19. Doc C says:

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  20. kashyap vasavada says:

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  21. Caroline O'Donnell says:

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  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.

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  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

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  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.

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  27. Harold Gower says:

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  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.

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  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. “

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  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.

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  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!

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  33. Really says:

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  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.

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  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).

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  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

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  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?

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  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!

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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”

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  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.

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  51. Peter says:

    Sean, you argue, that naturalism has to be preferred over theism, because theism is not well defined. I agree, theism does not predict specific observables of our universe. But I don’t see how naturalism is superior to theism in this respect. I’ve never seen a physical prediction derived from the mere naturalistic claim, that the world can sufficiently be explained without any reference to God. Naturalistic or theistic models make specific predictions, naturalism and theism don’t.

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  52. Peter says:

    If you’ve read articles of V. Stenger on the subject of fine-tuning, it will be interesting to read http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647 too.

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  53. JimV says:

    Re: Kalam @ September 1, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Thanks for the page numbers – which don’t exactly contradict my thesis, but state that there are some scientists (not in the consensus, as I see it) who believe in super-determinism of quantum events. Personally, the concept that (tiny) events and particles could come into existence randomly (in pairs such that their net energy is zero, e.g., 0 = +1 + (-1)) seems so plausible to me that I completely accept it as a possible assumption – which may or may not be true in our universe – and therefore there is no way I can accept without physical proof (which may not be possible) the counter-assumption which your argument asks me to accept, that nothing can begin to exist or happen without a cause.

    In passing, my understanding of Dr. Carroll’s position is that the evolution of the universe’s wave function is deterministic, but which branch of the Many Worlds we happen to find ourselves in at the moment is random (see for example his recent “Sleeping Beauty” post), and in some of those branches virtual particles do or do not begin to exist at an event horizon at a particular instant.

    As a secondary problem, current physics also allows the possibility that the Big Bang which began our observed universe was just one of many such ongoing events in a multiverse which could conceptually be eternal – at least as conceptually possible as an eternal universe-creator.

    So for me, science has ruled out the “first cause” argument which I think can be traced back to Aristotle, just as it has ruled out his belief that a mass in motion tends to come to rest unless continuously acted on by an external force (not that I would have done better, or as well, in his place) – and for the same reason: empirical observations which have broadened our understanding of how strange and complex the universe is.

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  54. Kalam says:

    Dear JimV,
    The page numbers (and the arguments in the sources cited) in the paper I cited in my earlier post indicate that it is simply untrue that science has proven that something can begin to exist uncaused. On the other hand, there is a good metaphysical argument (in reply to Carroll’s remarks about metaphysics) presented in the paper which prove that something cannot begin to exist uncaused. Your demand for physical proof and apparent refusal to accept metaphysical argument assumes a narrow view of scientism which is simply false; see this peer reviewed paper: https://www.academia.edu/6261144/Loke_Andrew_2014_._The_benefits_of_studying_philosophy_for_science_education._Journal_of_the_NUS_Teaching_Academy._National_University_of_Singapore

    You jump from science ‘allowing the possibility of eternal multiverse’ to ‘ruling out the “first cause” argument’. ‘Allowing the possibility’ is different from proving the actuality. Science has not proven that there is indeed an eternal multiverse. On the other hand, there is a good metaphysical argument (in reply to Carroll’s remarks about metaphysics) presented in this peer-reviewed paper published by Cambridge University Press which proves that the universe (or multiverse) must ultimately have a beginning; Carroll and yourself seem unaware of the conceptual problem of postulating an eternal multiverse which is discussed in this paper:

    https://www.academia.edu/2154798/Loke_Andrew._2014_._A_MODIFIED_PHILOSOPHICAL_ARGUMENT_FOR_A_BEGINNING_OF_THE_UNIVERSE_._Think_13_pp_71-83._Cambridge_University_Press._doi_10.1017_S147717561300033X

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  55. JimV says:

    Kalam,

    Your argument seems to rest on some notion of mathematical proof, which is not how science works. I agree science has not “proved” that quantum events occur randomly rather than having deterministic causes, but it has opened our minds to the realization that this interpretation is possible and in fact likely because it is the simplest explanation of experimental facts. This alone however is sufficient to remove the status of the first cause argument from any claim to mathematical proof, because it shows us that there was an unexamined alternative to the basic assumption of that argument.

    For the same reason, your metaphysical proofs seem to be circular arguments: if one is a super-determinist who assumes that quantum events are somehow deterministically caused instead of random, then such events have causes. There is no “proof” or even any experimental evidence for this assumption currently.

    As for an eternal multiverse, my position is that any argument which claims to prove this is impossible should also rule out the existence of an eternal universe-creator. I don’t know if there is a multiverse or whether it is eternal but it seems a simpler explanation to me than that of theism (or deism). As between scientism (physical evidence) or philosophism (metaphysical proofs) I choose scientism.

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  56. Ray says:

    Kalam

    Are you Andrew Loke? If so, your arguments are bad and you should feel bad. (Sorry to be rude, but I rather dislike shameless self-promotion in semi-anonymous blog comments.) If you are not Andrew Loke, I recommend becoming a fan of a more competent thinker.

    In any event. The argument in the first paper (which claims to demonstrate that things cannot begin to exist without a cause) fails to demonstrate the first premise of the Kalam argument for a very simple reason. “X begins to exist at time t” is trivially both a necessary and sufficient condition for X to begin to exist at time t. If your definition of causal sufficiency and necessity fails to exclude this trivial case, then your conclusion cannot be used to demonstrate the existence of anything the naturalist hasn’t already granted. (Since all you would be demonstrating with your talk of causally sufficient and necessary conditions is that if X begins to exist at time t, then X begins to exist at time t — well, duh.) If on the other hand, you mean to exclude the trivial case, then the force of the argument, such as it is, collapses.

    The second linked paper (the benefits of studying philosophy) is an opinion piece. Since it contains no actual argument I will ignore it.

    Finally, the paper which purports to demonstrate that an eternal universe is impossible also fails. I think both premises are false, but I’ll focus on the first, because I find it especially amusing. This first premise equates the metaphysical possibility of an eternal universe with the possibility of an eternal person. It seems manifestly obvious to me that one can consistently assert the former while denying the latter. The irony though, is that if your argument demonstrates anything (I don’t think it does) it demonstrates the impossibility of an eternal person — but the whole point of your argument is to demonstrate the existence of God, who is supposed to be an eternal person (or three of them if you’re a Christian of the right sort.)

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  57. Excellent video. Thanks. And it echoes, I think, one a great lesson that needs repeating:

    “Always train your doubt most strongly on those ideas that you really want to be true.”

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  58. DanielS says:

    Religion is a part, and perhaps the beginning of a much broader categories, namely spirituality. And science is also part of spirituality. We talk sometimes about scientific spirit and many people understand the concept.

    So if religion and science are part of a larger category, where is God? For me God is at the top of the list, when I think of spirituality. It helps me remember the hierarchy. Am I wrong? Who cares? If there is a God or almost-God, then it seems like I have structured good enough the branches of the concept called spirituality. I really can’t find any controversy in an approximation of a generous concept. There is place and time to add, cut, copy-paste, etc. anything I like. Science is still science and the rest of spirituality enriches the owner.

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  59. William says:

    Spirit of science is a different use of the term spirit than that which spirituality grows from. A group’s spirit is about shared enthusiasm, spirituality is about a shared conclusion or assumption about how people fit into the world. So one could have spirit for spirituality, but having spirit doesn’t mean one is spiritual. Sadly our language is rife with these opportunities to conflate terms.

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  60. John Barrett says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  61. Swami says:

    Entropy guides our fate and every animal has a degree of consciousness until biological termination. But the laws of physics state that information is never lost so the past is always preserved in some form even if we can’t perceive it. Since there is no universal moral justice, it must be assumed that this includes the good, the bad and the ugly. But for those seeking some kind of immortality, well there it is.

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  62. Robin Herbert says:

    Like most people you completely misunderstand why “necessary” is in the definition of God and it has nothing to do with avoiding having to provide evidence.

    It is OK to be an atheist and not know these things – you don’t need to be an expert in theology to reject the concept. But I do wish people who do not want to inform themselves about these matters would stop acting as though they understood them.

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  63. Pingback: Links and Comments from Recent Weeks, 18Sep14 | Views from Medina Road

  64. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    @Robin Herbert: Of course you don’t need to be an expert in theology to discuss nature and whether or not magic (religious or not) is part of it.

    Moreover, your claim is erroneous. There are atheist experts in theology. And if we instead discuss how informed people is about religion, you should know that statistics tells us atheist are _more informed_ than most religious. (With the exception of Mormons and religious Jews; Pew survey on US available on the web.]

    Your bait-and-switch between “expert theologian” and “informed” is a No True Scotsman claim, which also fails on that many or most atheists once were theists.

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  65. Steven Starkweather says:

    The dangers and excesses of an unlimited enthusiasm for god is well understood by all who have read history. However, the dangers and excesses of an unlimited, highly-funded support for science, especially in an unholy alliance with hyper-capitalism is less well understood. In fact, those who claim to support rational thought seem to me most often unable to admit their personal interest in maintaing that science has “won” or is superior to feeling.

    There is no rational way to validate unfettered discovery or knowledge on the current level in the face of the apparent fact that continuing to do so will result in the destruction of our way of life, our planet, or humanity itself. We have become comfortable with dithering over the time-table, rather than its likelihood.

    Doesn’t this aspect of rationality and scientific “progress” promote a more dangerous societal problem than god ever did? The concept of progress requires, implicitly, a destination. What happens when we arrive, seems pretty clear. The question becomes, why are we in such a hurry to complete the journey?

    Scientists should acknowledge that their cosmological perspectives are also cosmological wishes.

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