Archive for the 'Science & Religion' category

I am one of those moderate Christians

Mar 07 2008 Published by under Politics, Rant, Science & Religion

Phil Plait calls out McCain for accepting the endorsement of a religious extremist, but, thankfully, unlike some atheist bloggers, he also reminds us that there are lots of moderate and reasonable religious people out there who may diagree with Phil about the details of religion, but are good folks for whom the extremists do not speak. He does, however, extort us moderate religious types to stand up and remind everybody that the extremists do not speak for us.

So I'm doing that.

The sad fact is that the religious right has had an increasing influence over politics in recent years. Mind you, I've been aware of them for a long time. I grew up in Berkeley, CA, where people (including people in my church) were all upset about the Religious Right long before they were really an appreciable political force. But, today, the extreme religious types have contributed to what is, from my perspective, the ruining of the Republican party.

I voted for John McCain in the 2000 primary. I will not vote for him this year. Not unless he repudiates both the creationist political forces that have become de rigeur constitents for any Republican candidate, and not unless he repudiates the Bush/Cheney administration as a horrible thing. He will do neither. (Actually, even if he did, I still wouldn't vote for him at this point, but I might think about him as a serious candidate.)

I am a Christian, but I don't want to shove that down anybody's throat. The church I grew up in was the United Church of Christ-- the same denomination, incidentally, that Barak Obama belongs to. We had Nobel prize winning scientists in our congregation. We had ministers who liked to talk about Stephen Hawking. (We've also had openly homosexual worship leaders and ordained ministers.) We had no problems whatsoever with evolution or anything else coming out of science. We think it silly from a historical and text perspective to try to read the Bible as literal truth, never mind from a scientific perspective. And we are all very sad to see extremely loudmouthed jingoistic knee-jerk Biblical literalists out there defining what it is to be "Christian" in a lot of the popular press.

I sometimes fear that some Christians are creationists because they think they have to be in order to remain faithful to their religion. I occasionally have had students come up to me and express basically that after I've given talks about cosmology. I remember one student late last year who really wanted to believe the stuff I was talking about, because it was so cool, but wanted to be able to make it work with what she believed. My answer was that, well, you really can't accept the scientific evidence for this cosmology stuff if you insist on believing that the world was created in seven literal days exactly as described in the first chapter of Genesis. But there are a lot of Christians out there with a very deep and thoughtful faith in both God and Jesus who have no problem with understanding that much of the Bible is composed of stories that say something about being human, and are not necessarily factual history. I continue to write science and religion things, despite the fact that when I do so (such as I did on scienceblogs.com when my blog was there for a time) atheists line up to jump on me for being soft-headed or contributing to the acceptance of the extremists. Part of the reason I do this is in hopes that I might reach out to one or two Christians out there who do not want to abandon their faith, and who may not have realized that they can accept modern science without doing so.

4 responses so far

What is a fundamentalist atheist?

Jan 05 2008 Published by under Science & Religion

You think by now I'd have learned enough not to interact anywhere near PZ Myers, but, well, there's something in a comment thread there that so pithily describes why I think the angry atheists are full of it that I can't resist. When you use the term "fundamentalist atheist", lots of those to whom the term applies get all upset and write out pedantic responses about why the term makes no more sense than does the term "Darwinist" or "gravitist." Which I think is a bit sad, because of course we don't mean the term literally, any more than there is any "gate" involved in the term "Plamegate." It's a reference.

So when PZ links to an ignorant article about why feminism and religion are incompatable-- an article written by somebody who has clearly never listened to any of the legions of feminist (say) Christians out there talk about the subject, an article that's nearly Godwinesque in it's childish simplicity-- it's no surprise that some of the fundamentalist atheists come out of the woodwork for a "me too". Generally, ignorant blog comments should be ignored, but one of them sums up so many of the tactics that I see the most angry of atheists use to argue why Religion Is Bad that I can't resist quoting it. The comment by Kcanadensis:

Religious texts are "The Word". I find it revolting when the religious cherry-pick from their holy text and claim that only parts of it are meant to be taken seriously. It's all or none, IMO.

My thoughts on the matter I also posted to that comment thread:

But, then again, this crowd [i.e. the anti-religion atheists] is nearly as fond of quoting the Bible to say what "Christians absolutely must believe" as are fundamental Biblical literalists.

Ah, well, so much for an unspoken 2008 resolution to ignore the religion-hating atheists as any net troll rightfully should be ignored.

11 responses so far

On Science, Religion, and "Compartmentalization"

Jul 18 2007 Published by under Science & Religion

You will frequently hear certain anti-religion science bloggers and
commenters on these boards saying that the only way for a
non-atheist to be a good scientist is to "compartmentalize"— to
wall off a part of his mind while doing science, and likewise to wall
off the scientific part of his mind while thinking about his
religion.

Do I agree with this? Yes and no.

Continue Reading »

179 responses so far

A pressure valve : Rob as Theist

Jul 16 2007 Published by under Rant, Science & Religion, Self

So that people don't feel the need to threadcrap in other threads, I open this thread here for people to make their flames, comments, insults, dismissals, expressions of support, and so forth.

I have said before that I'm a Christian. I had my three-part (one, two, three) set of posts in the past about being such, about the role I see for Christianity in the modern scientific age, and why I am Christian specifically (given the wealth of religious traditions available). I repeatedly echoed what you can read on the NCSE website (at this link and in other places): that there need be no conflict between science and religion— and that those who insist that there is a conflict, be they the creationists who distort science into something unrecognizable, or the antitheists who judge all of religion based on the behavior of the creationists, are missing the point.

Except for one or two people whom I've banned, feel free to comment here about all of these issues. Please avoid the "Rob can't be a good scientist because he's a theist" comments in other threads, for that will derail discussion about them. Put that sort of stuff here. If things get too vitrolic, I may stop reading in order to preserve my own sanity, but if you need to vent, please do it here and not in other threads.

46 responses so far

Should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?

Jul 09 2007 Published by under Science & Religion

This is from a letter to the editor that was published in The Tennessean about a month ago. In the "Issues" section on Sunday, they had a page devoted to this, and this time they actually published a long (more than 250 word) letter that I'd written. I had seen, a week previously, that they were going to do this, looking for opinions on the question, "should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?".

I saw in the Issues section of the paper today that you will be doing an
op-ed on the Creation Museum, and you are soliciting comments.

Before I start, I want to make it clear that I comment as both a
scientist and a Christian. I am sure that your op-ed will strive for
some sort of "balance" by trying to present people both for and against
the Creation museum, but I strongly want to urge you to consider that
position. The Creation museum represents ignorance of the worst sort.
The fact that so many people come to defend it shouldn't be taken as a
reason to present "both sides" in an article about the museum, but
should be taken as a disturbing indication of how deep and widespread
scientific ignorance is in this country. What's more, it dismays me
that creationists are, at least in the public eye, being allowed to
define what "Christian" is, and are being allowed to set up a conflict
between science and Christianity that does not need to exist.

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40 responses so far

Creationist Canard #2 : "Evolution isn't a proper science, you can't do experiments"

Jun 11 2007 Published by under Science & Religion

This is my second post where I'm writing, for my own reference, the response to one of the old and hoary creationist canards that are brought up in response to things like my long letter to the editor published in the Tennessean, as part of a segment on the question "should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?".

I will quote from one of the letters I received to give one version of this argument:

Science, by definition must be observable, measurable (testable), and repeatable (reproducible).
Neither creation nor evolution can be observed. Both are done. By evolution, we must specify macro evolution and not minor adaptive modifications. Change must involve gene or DNA modification to qualify as an evolutionary development. Cross breeding or hybridization is also not evolution. All we "see" or observe today is modification: no true evolution.

The general argument is that evolution is no more scientific theory than creationism, because both are dealing with past events that cannot be addressed in the scientific laboratory. Sure, we've seen evolution in the lab— consider the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria today, clear evidence of bacteria which have evolved in the face of a change in environment (i.e. an environment awash with antibiotics). But creationists call this "microevolution." They say that changes between species as described by the theory of evolution happen on such a long timescale that we can't do experiments, and that as such, according to them, evolution doesn't obey the rules of science. So, they say, evolution is just as much faith as creationism, and the two should be treated equivalently.

They are, of course, very wrong.

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23 responses so far

Creationist Canard #1 : "Evolution is a theory, not a fact"

I had a long letter to the editor published in the Tennessean, as part of a segment on the question "should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?" I receive a fair amount of e-mail. This has motivated me to put up, so that I can reference it from now on, my own rejection of a couple of creationist canards. Doubtless you can find huge numbers of rejections of this elsewhere, since these are canards that creationists bring up all the time.

"Evolution is a theory, not a fact."

Strictly speaking, that statement is true. However, this statement is always raised by those who would then take it to mean that it is reasonable to doubt that evolution happened, that evolution is just somebody's idea that caught on rather than something that is supported by mountains of evidence.

The problem is that the uses of the term "theory" and "fact" do not mean in science what most people think they mean. This is true particularly of theory.

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8 responses so far

Ken Ham, Biblical authority, Truth, and the Square Root of 256

May 27 2007 Published by under Rant, Science & Religion

I'm pretty sure that nowhere in the Bible does it say that the square root of 256 is 16. I happen to know that, yes, 16 squared is 256. Therefore, if I were to tell you and attempt to convince you that the square root of 256 is 22, I would be lying, in that I would be telling you something that isn't true.

But, the "mind" (I hesitate to use that word) behind the new Creation Museum, Ken Ham puts to shame even ultraliberal postmodernists who assert that the results of science are merely a social construction. He says:

Many of the media reps chuckled when I said that the people responsible for this banner did not believe in the Bible as the absolute authority and didn't believe in the God of the Bible and therefore had no basis for deciding right or wrong, and thus logically could not accuse us of a lie!

In other words, his basis for determining the truth of a statement is the Bible. Never mind integrals and differentiation (math that, um, works), the Bible's not real big on a table of square roots. As such, Ken Ham cannot assess the truth or falsehood of the statement "the square root of 256 is 16."

What a sad intellectual life.

Even sadder that he feels so superior about it, and that he thinks that so many people seem to recognize his narrow view of reality as superior.

It also makes me feel amazingly inadequate to realize that this dork was able to raise $27 million.

13 responses so far

The Intelligent Design Sort

May 23 2007 Published by under Nerdism, Science & Religion

To heck with bubble sort, selection sort, insertion sort, and all the rest. Yes, all of those algorithms were intelligently design, but none of them follow the precepts of Intelligent Design.

And, now, David Morgan-Mar gives us Intelligent Design Sort.

(found via Steve Jackson Games)

4 responses so far

Intelligent Design : a trap for Christians

May 23 2007 Published by under Science & Religion

Intelligent Design is cleverly designed.

Much of what I say here will apply to almost any other religious tradition in the modern world. I refer specifically to Christianity for three reasons. First, it's the most dominant religion in the USA, which is where I am. Second, I'm a Christian myself. Third, a form of Christianity is the religious tradition followed by those who designed Intelligent Design. However, whenever I refer to Christians or Christianity, I am aware that it could easily apply to many other religions.

Consider the situation many people find themselves in. They are raised Christian. They go to Sunday School, and learn the Bible stories. By and large, those stories are thoughtlessly taught as history, rather than as (often) larger-than-life stories about historical figures that have been passed down orally, and then written, as part of the tradition of our faith. Many people don't think very deeply, and assume that if they are to "believe" the Bible, they must believe it all literally. Many other people are told that to be a good Christian, they must believe that. Fortunately, that's not as big a fraction of people as you might think given how good the young-earth creationists are at spreading their message.

However, one thing that gets drilled into you is that God created humans in God's image, and that God created the Universe.

Now thrust yourself into the modern world. Believing the Bible to be literally true is either ignorant (i.e. you just haven't learned much about what we know) or willfully delusional (you choose to deny much of what humanity knows). Many, probably most, of us can't go on accepting the fairy stories of a literal reading of Genesis given how much modern science has learned, given that there's absolutely no question that the Earth is billions of years old, given that there is absolutely no question that for most of the history of the Earth, animals other than humans (and most of the other species alive today) walked the Earth, and given that we understand beyond any shadow of a doubt that modern species developed from earlier species.

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13 responses so far

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