Questionable Motives

April 1, 2012

What’s the Tennessee ‘Monkey Bill’ and why does it matter?

“I ain’t kin to no damn monkey,” is a stereotypical religious response to the very notion of evolution by natural selection. But this isn’t the main reason for the stalwart position taken against the scientific consensus that we share common ancestry with other primates. The reason is religious.

As Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society, explains,

The theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures. (E)volution and Christianity are incompatible.

The explanation of common ancestry is incompatible with any religious belief that tries to suggest that humanity is somehow a special creation of a god… a god that can be ‘known’ because it/he/she has bestowed special gifts and favours and privileges to the human branch of the primate family and is therefore clearly deserving of our obedience to him/her/it… as it has been opaquely revealed in various scriptures (Creationism 1.0). In effect this assumption means that, to the faithful who presume special creation and/or divine intervention for humanity without evidence, we are to assume these different and mutually incompatible scriptures are actually divinely inspired science textbooks… textbooks that fail to adequately explain the overwhelming evidence for natural selection we find throughout reality – a reality that has revealed no compelling evidence to indicate any such divine interference anywhere in the chain of evidence for natural selection.  In spite of soothing words from the science organizations like the NCSE and religious organizations that support the  Clergy Letter Project that if one squints just right there is no compatibility issue between creationism and evolution, the fact is that there is no scientific basis on which hang a creationist hat, meaning that to maintain a belief in some kind of creationism relies not on evidence from reality but a faith-based belief alone. Those who wish to insist that humans have been POOF!ed into existence or that at some point somewhere some divine agency intervened in natural selection fail to appreciate that key word: natural. To be clear, one can sometimes find religion without creationism but you will never find creationism without religion.

Why does this matter?

As Mohler quite rightly points out, accepting the scientific explanation for evolution – a foundation upon which all modern biological sciences are built – causes an exodus of evangelical young people. Although Mohler references these effects on his own preferred religion, the point he raises is also true for any religious tenet built on a divine role in human development for which there is no evidence in support and much against (the latest being genetic evidence that clearly indicates no original human couple like the fictional Adam and Eve – which is explained in simpler language here). As the PEW forum on religion and public life notes,

All but a small number of scientists regard Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as an established fact. And yet, a substantial majority of Americans, many of whom are deeply religious, reject the notion that life evolved through natural forces alone.

In other words, evolution is a very real threat to this creationist tenet regardless of which religion attempts to maintain it.

What’s a creationist to do but find some way to counter this scientific knowledge… but without any science to back it up?

Enter the Wedge Strategy, designed (pun intended) to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies and to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God“.

Theists have been repeatedly thwarted by the courts in the US from including the creationist tenet in science class. The latest (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover) directly addressed creationism in its most modern evolution, namely Intelligent Design (Creationism 2.0). The conclusion was clear: ID has no scientific merit so it doesn’t belong in the science classroom.

Oh dear.

Those who thought that perhaps this ongoing battle had finally reached a conclusion were premature; let us now be properly introduced to Creationism 3.0: Academic Freedom! Strengths and Weaknesses! Promote Critical Thinking! This – not scientific evidence – is the next evolution in the Wedge Strategy, brought to us from the Discovery Institute along with a standard petition on how to best promote it without being accused of promoting religion in the public domain.

In 2011, eight states considered bills to include ‘academic freedom’ into the science curriculum, as if this freedom rather than religiously inspired creationism was in some immanent danger of extinction. As Lauri Lebo so eloquently describes – revealing the common language source for all these state bills –

educators may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Isn’t that grand? What’s so wrong with more critical thinking? What’s wrong is that the problems inherent in evolution – like any science – are trivial in comparison to the robustness of the general explanation. Trivial problems in fully understanding and describing human reproduction is not an invitation to bring Stork Theory into the science class. Somehow this point is missed when it comes to promoting the equally unqualified notion of creationism.

This language of academic freedom helped bring in the Louisiana it’s-okay-to-teach-creationism-in-science-class law (SB 733, LA Science Education Act) and is the template for the Tennessee Monkey Bill – coined accurately to be more  ‘stealth creationism’ by the indomitable Barbara Forrest who works tirelessly to show how this creationist influence remains dedicated to inserting faith-based belief into the science curriculum. This continues now in Tennessee in spite of student complaints and a dedicated campaign supported by 75 Nobel laureates by a Louisiana student Zack Kopplin showing how creationist dogma harms his educational standing for advancement and employment.

Note that as in the Louisiana law, those theories protected under ‘academic freedom’ can include “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” tying in very nicely with the stated aims of the Wedge document. This is stealth creationism in action in spite of the ridiculous instructions to future judges contained in the bills that these religious-only, non scientific ‘strengths and weaknesses’ talking points are not “to be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.” As the Sensuous Curmudgeon points out, this is comparable to saying

“Hey, Judge: Here’s how to construe this law” to a suicide-bomber’s explosive-laden vest being sewn with a tag saying: “Attention Bomb Squad Coroner: The deceased wearer of this garment should not be construed to be a suicide bomber.”

All of this legal and legislative and advocating aside for the moment, the real effect described by Dr. Paul Gross from this agenda driven religious attack against the cornerstone of the biological sciences is this:

(It) discourages teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

Really? Science education can be affected when so many attack it as ‘just another way of knowing’? And that affect produces poor student achievement results? Who could have possibly predicted this?

So just how poor is scientific literacy? Read it and weep.

This is the real cost all of us pay to keep creationists in business. Belief in creationism – no matter what form it may take – creates no new knowledge, opens up no new avenues of inquiry, produces no practical applications, and advances our understanding of the world we inhabit not one bit. It is a dead end resulting in thwarting, stymieing, and impeding real science, real progress, real technologies, real knowledge advancements. Seeing this pernicious religious effect in real people, who are convinced creationism deserves a passing nod of approval and wider public acceptance as a quaint alternative to contrary hard science, perhaps we can begin to better understand why biologists like Dawkins, Coyne, and PZ Myers spend so much time and effort counter-attacking this particular ignorance called religiously inspired creationism… for there simply is no other root cause for it.

Religious belief empowers creationism and it is religious belief that motivates its promulgation to infect and distort science. Some people will think themselves justified to doubt evolutionary science while accepting other branches like physics and chemistry conveniently forgetting that all are a single methodology. (But what can we expect with such poor scientific literacy?) Choosing to believe the physics of gravity here but not there to suit a religious belief about the aerodynamics of a flying horse for certain self-proclaimed prophets of god is as incoherent as accepting evolutionary biology within the framework of genetics here but not common ancestry there.

These kinds of Monkey Bills in public legislation matter a very great deal to all of us because they represent superstitious nonsense promoted and legalized and inserted under false pretenses in the public domain under the excuse of words that mean nothing more and nothing less that unsupported religious belief in divine POOF!ism. Rather than gain political capital from promoting poisonous religious beliefs imposed on the public domain, these politicians should be penalized by all of us even if some of us choose to remain privately dedicated to belief in creationism. Our future scientific literacy depends on it and all voters share in this current dismal failing grade we have achieved when we allow religious belief to have such a deleterious effect in our educational system. All of us need to smarten up and start complaining much more loudly and boldly whenever faith-based beliefs dare to enter the public square and demand effect.

November 1, 2011

Why is John Haught an intellectual coward?

Filed under: accommodation,Debate,Jerry Coyne,John Haught,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 11:51 am

Back on October 12, 2011, Dr. Jerry Coyne debated theologian John Haught at the Gaines Center. Coyne describes it here. Prior to the event, both agreed to have it videotaped by the University of Kentucky where the debate was held and many of us have been waiting to see and hear it for ourselves. That’s not going to happen. No, Haught is refusing to release this tape and the Gaines Center is being particularly helpful in going along with Haught’s change in mind to have it suppressed from the public domain. This raises the question of why. Coyne has responded to this, as has PZ Myers, MacDonald, and Benson. By the few accounts I have read of the debate, Coyne who was well prepared was particularly effective in dismantling Haught’s accommodationist position that science and religion are compatible methods of inquiry by using Haught’s own words against him. Haught in contrast seemed to give a standard talk and was very ineffective addressing Coyne’s pointed criticisms.

It is perfectly understandable for someone not to want to advertise a debate in which they have done so poorly. But to change one’s mind after the fact and censor the publication of the videotape is intellectual cowardice and for the Gaines Center to go along with this cowardice is ethically shameful.

UPDATE (Nov 2): after much activity and a cascade of emails, Haught has allowed the video to be released here.

October 27, 2011

Why is William Lane Craig not worth debating?

Filed under: apologetics,Dawkins,Debate,Morality,William Lane Craig — tildeb @ 9:44 am

Because it’s the wrong thing to do…. some might even consider it immoral.

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle over Dawkins’ refusal to ‘debate’ William Lane Craig on the basis – so Craig and his supporters insist – of intellectual cowardice. This is just too rich.

Dawkins has explained why he won’t debate Craig only to met with many times with this kind of typical journalistic dribble… widely accepted by apologists to fairly represent the legitimacy of Dawkins’ intellectual cowardice.

What I don’t see (other than on atheist websites like those found here, here, and here) are many apologists appreciating why Craig’s line of thinking is so dangerous and flawed. Sure, if we hold the man to the same standard as he would have us hold for Dawkins, he is at least as cowardly so that’s not it. I think those who endorse Craig’s stance as an apologist of intellectual heft need to be shocked back to reality. And the way to do that is to show that there is no difference between Craig’s line of thinking and that used by oneof the architects of the Nazi genocide: Himmler.

Craig is using the same line of reasoning as Himmler did, and that this fact should concern apologist supporters far more than it apparently does.

Here’s Craig:

“So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.”

Here’s Himmler addressing SS troops in Poland in 1943:

“Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet – apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness – to have remained decent fellows, this is what has made us hard. This is a glorious page in our history that has never been written and shall never be written.”

Cruelty does not become something else, just because it is imagined to be the command of a god. Yet supporters of Craig call this kind of thinking reasonable and I guess intellectually courageous when it clearly is neither reasonable not courageous at all. It is a rationalization to excuse the content of an atrocity – real suffering of real people in this temporal world – on the basis of the assumed sanctity of its source: scripture. This – what’s called the divine command theory – is what Craig is saying, what he is promoting, what he is proselytizing, and no ‘debate’ in the world will alter his position one iota because the line of reasoning he uses is demonstrably NOT reasonable. It is NOT intellectually courageous. It is immoral. Yet support for it is locked into position in Craig’s mind and those of his supporters as a matter of immutable faith, which is the mental groundwork necessary for atrocity to be done and called holy.

It’s the thinking Craig uses that is broken and it is broken across the board in his presentation because it is intellectually dishonest. No matter how much effort people put into correcting Craig’s broken line of thinking with fact – in his erroneous physics, in his erroneous mathematics, in his erroneous conclusions built upon these errors – he rejects factual correction and moral considerations of imposed cruelty and continues to spout the same intellectual garbage at every debate. He has immunized his mind from reality’s corrective input, and here his supporters continue to cheer him on while deriding others who exercise intellectual integrity for not helping this supporter of genocide draw crowds.

March 6, 2011

What’s the problem with science/religious compatability?

I have been described as a bitter individual who thinks that there is only one way to view this world. You scream, verify, prove, facts, figures. Wow. You (sic) view is coloured by extremists who think their religions are right and you try just as hard to scream that your way is the only logical way. Well, I suspect it would not be wise to ask this person for a character reference any time soon.

Of course, I don’t see my views this way. I try to explain that it’s important that we – not just I – respect what’s true, what’s knowable, and hold great esteem for the method of inquiry that allows us to find these answers, that provides us with a foundation upon which to build not only practical technologies that work but a way of inquiring into every nook and cranny of the universe… including ourselves… on an equal footing independent of our perspectives and world views. I’m sorry if I screamed that too loudly, but let me reiterate: I respect what’s true and I don’t think that is an extremist position at all.

What never fails to amaze me is how people who hold their faith-based preferences to be equivalent with what’s probably true, probably accurate, probably correct see themselves and their attitude somehow removed from the ongoing problems resulting from this widespread generous allowance to respect faith-based beliefs, and assume that anyone who disagrees (and provides good evidence for that disagreement) is some kind of fundamentalist or extremist. I take issue with that absurd caricature and I do point out the effects such allowances have in the public domain of the real world and at the expense of real people. That – apparently – makes me not only strident but militantly so. How is it that respecting what is true and holding others to that same standard is so often considered unreasonable if it interferes with the preference for equivalency of faith-based beliefs to what is actually true? Well, I think the answer goes back to the assumption that faith-based beliefs are magically superior to human knowledge as long as it places god at the top of some knowledge hierarchy. In a nutshell, this is the heart of the probelm of asserting compatibility between science and religion.

An excellent example is how someone with knowledge is held in contempt for enunciating that knowledge and whose life is actually threatened by those who assume a faith-based belief is not just equivalent but superior to what the method of science reveals. God’s truth – whatever the hell that means – is superior in this belief system to what the human mind can understand is true based on honest inquiry, verification, and its practical validity. Surely this cannot be the case here at home in technologically advanced society that relies on this science for its functioning infrastructure, can it?

It can. And does.

What does this respect for faith-based beliefs look like in a secular western democracy? The examples are many – legion, in fact – but I shall select merely one.

From The Independent with bold added:

A prominent British imam has been forced to retract his claims that Islam is compatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution after receiving death threats from fundamentalists.

Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was intending yesterday to return to Masjid al-Tawhid, a mosque in Leyton, East London, for the first time since he delivered a lecture there entitled “Islam and the theory of evolution”.

But according to his sister, police advised him not to attend after becoming concerned for his safety. Instead his father, Suhaib, head of the mosque’s committee of trustees, posted a notice on his behalf expressing regret over his comments. “I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused,” the statement read.

And what offence did Dr Hasan commit? What exactly was this mistake?

Masjid Tawhid is a prominent mosque which also runs one of the country’s largest sharia courts, the Islamic Sharia Council. In January, Dr Hasan delivered a lecture there detailing why he felt the theory of evolution and Islam were compatible – a position that is not unusual among many Islamic scholars with scientific backgrounds.

Really? This was the offense, the mistake, reiterating this knowledge. But the good news is that this statement of knowledge is not unusual with Islamic scholars who apparently are qualified to judge science, we are assured. Phew. What a relief that this scientific knowledge meets with religious approval. Compatibilists everywhere must be breathing easier, right? Not so fast…

Most Islamic scholars have little problem with evolution as long as Muslims accept the supremacy of God in the process. But in recent years a small number of orthodox scholars, mainly from Saudi Arabia – where many clerics still preach that the Sun revolves around the Earth – have ruled against evolution, declaring that belief in the concept goes against the Koran’s statement that Adam and Eve were the first humans.

These are folk qualified to judge, eh? And compatiblists are seemingly okay with this.

Ah yes, we can’t have knowledge – the ‘good’ kind, that is – without getting the order right: god-approved knowledge first, meaning whatever knowledge doesn’t compete with faith-based beliefs about that god, and all scientific knowledge second. And therein lies the explanation why science and religion are incompatible methods of inquiry:

What’s true, accurate, and correct is a secondary consideration in this compatiblist mind set. And that’s what makes faith-based beliefs that science and religion are compatible a bald-faced lie: we either respect what’s true and knowable first, or we respect what we believe must be true for our faith-based beliefs and preferences to remain unchallenged and supreme. Faith in the latter is a virtue but a failure in the former. These two positions are simply not compatible because of this and those who would like to pretend that they are are not only deluded but continue to grant intellectual respectability to those whose faith-based beliefs contrast honest knowledge. These are the people who need to be taken to task for this capitulation of intellectual integrity to respect that which deserves none: faith-based beliefs.

December 8, 2010

What do religious beliefs look (and sound) like when compared to religious knowledge?

Filed under: 10 commandments,belief,Bible,Critical Reasoning,Debate — tildeb @ 6:53 pm

Foolishness from ignorance.

Now this is entertainment: Mike Huckabee and his ‘beliefs’ about the commandments taken to school by Alan Dershowitz and his historical knowledge about the commandments.


December 5, 2010

How do the religious undermine the Golden Rule?

I read many comments and articles by ‘moderate’ theists who suggest that, at their core, religious beliefs are really all the same, that what people are responding to with various kinds of religious faiths is recognizing the transcendent, honouring the spiritual, paying homage to a felt but never seen creative and loving force. It all sounds so… well, kumba ya-ish. And heart-warmingly lovely, mitigating the trivial differences that so easily separate us and acts like a special kind of blessed force (unseen by athiets, of course) that promotes the common good.

And then I read something like this and have to remind myself that the metaphorical holding of religious hands argued by different theists about life-enhancing nature of religious compatibility is nothing more than soothing lies we find in the daily practice of religious beliefs that inform how we behave towards others.

A 17 year old girl lived a hellish life and died a horrible death because of people acting on their religious convictions. More religion will never solve this ongoing and familiar tragedy played out in the lives of us little people who grant their religious convictions and the convictions of others a legitimate role in determining how to behave in ways that supposedly honour a god.

This is insane. And it’s insane because doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – some divine enhancement in the lives of humans – is not a rational nor reasonable expectation. Such a belief that a different result will occur is maintained in spite of contrary yet consistent evidence of harm caused by acting on religious convictions. When we choose to empower such beliefs with an assumption that they are legitimate because they involve some homage to a deity, then we have left the arena of what is rational, what is reasonable, what is probable, what is likely true, and entered the arena of what is is merely hoped for, what is wished, what is improbable, what is likely false. And this legitimizing of what is hoped for in spite of evidence to the contrary is not compatible with empowering respect and audience for what is true. Expecting more religious belief to magically find some way to stop the kind of human abuse people commit in the name of some god is crazy talk. It’s delusional. It’s dangerous and, in the case of Nurta Mohamed Farah, deadly.

Anyone who thinks that religious belief has a legitimate and compatible role to play in helping anyone determine how to treat other human beings with dignity and respect is guilty of helping to legitimize the actions of people to do terrible things to other people for exactly the same reasons. By legitimizing the intentions of those who act to honour some god, we legitimize the basis of such assumptions that they are true, that they are accurate, that they are correct. Such assumptions help to legitimize delusion and insanity rather than what’s rational and reasonable and backed by consistent evidence. Those who assume that religious belief is equivalent to rational thinking have no evidence to insist the two are compatible methods of inquiry, compatible voices that need to be heard, compatible means to inform morality and ethical behaviour, compatible avenues to establishing respect not only for the rights and freedoms and dignity of other people but how to act in ways that achieve these results. The evidence does not support this assumption. What evidence there is shows that by legitimizing delusional thinking, we legitimize its failure to respect other people’s claim to equal rights, legitimize its failure to establish equal freedoms, legitimize its failure to support equal respect between people, and we see this failure played out in religious inspired tragedy after religious inspired tragedy.

Isn’t it high time in the 21st century to stop tolerating and legitimizing this failed voice offered up as a compatible way of achieving noble goals and Enlightenment values by the religiously deluded? The religious perspective has nothing to offer any of us but more failure to be reasonable and rational and consistent with the evidence in every area of human endeavor in which it is granted a fair hearing. Isn’t it time we recognized its failure? Isn’t it time that we gave full credence to the rational and reasonable voice  of a basic equality and dignity for all in shared rights and freedoms and reject the anti-rational voice of delusion? Is that not the least we can do on an individual basis if for no other reason than in memory of this one girl whose sad life was warped and twisted and ended by the deluded in the name of their religious beliefs? Isn’t a human life more important in and of itself to be treated as we ourselves wish to be treated – with the same level of dignity and respect – than simply as a piece of property of some god to be used and abused by the faithful who claim to be fulfilling god’s wishes?

We really do have to choose eventually because these different perspectives and antithetical methods of achieving our goals are not compatible. Agreeing at the very least to empower the Golden Rule seems to be a good starting point for everybody… unless you are deluded, in which case your opinions should not be invited to the grown-up’s table.

November 28, 2010

Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

Filed under: belief,Blair,Debate,God,Hitchens — tildeb @ 3:36 pm

Tony Blair vs The Hitch

April 7, 2010

Is there a meaningful difference between skepticism and atheism?

Filed under: Argument,Atheism,belief,Debate,Faith,Science,Skepticim — tildeb @ 9:47 am

Steve Novella thinks so and argues the matter this way:

Science is agnostic toward untestable claims. Science follows methodological naturalism (MN), and anything outside this realm is by necessity outside the realm of science. It’s not a choice so much as a philosophical/logical position.

The agnostic position is about method not beliefs; it is about methodological naturalism (science) vs faith (not necessarily religion). Any belief which is structured in such a way that it is positioned outside the realm of methodological naturalism by definition cannot be examined by the methods of science. In short, this usually means that the beliefs cannot be empirically tested in any conceivable way. One can therefore not have scientific knowledge of such claims, and science can only be agnostic toward them. Any belief in untestable claims is therefore by definition faith. But whenever fact-based claims step into the arena of science, they are absolutely fair game.

Religions are multifarious – they often contain tenets of faith (the ultimate meaning of things), claims about history and the nature of reality, a source of cultural identity, and a code of morality. Freedom of (and from) religion means that people have a right to any tenets of faith they choose, they have a right to their own moral code (within limits, of course), and they also have a right to frame their personal and group identity how they wish.

People do not, however, have a right to their own facts. So when religions make claims about history or the nature of the material world, they are within the purview of science. Religions should not dictate to science, to limit its scope or its conclusions. It is also logically invalid to claim that faith is an appropriate approach to factual claims.

Philosophical naturalism (PN) is the position the material world that science can investigate is not only all that we can know but that it is all that there is (to know). It is reasonable from a philosophical point of view to conclude that there is no reason to believe in anything unknowable. All such beliefs are by necessity arbitrary, and most people end up believing whatever is taught to them by their parents and culture. But it has to be acknowledged that some people can and do accept and practice methodological naturalism and simultaneously maintain personal articles of faith for questions outside the realm of science. There is nothing inherently inconsistent in this position.

Skepticism, according to Steve, is not atheism but agnosticism. This difference is therefore meaningful.

Skepdude thinks not and takes a similar position about the method of science based on philosophical naturalism but argues that agnosticism is not a suspension of inquiry but a refusal to come to a decision on the merits of an unjustified faith claim. The reasonable position on faith claims, he argues, is atheism – non belief rather than a perhaps/perhaps not stance. He writes in the ninth comment about Steve’s article:

The heart of the issue as I see it is this (this applies to both the god hypothesis, not religion as that is too broad, just the god hypothesis): A claim of existence is being made (X exists); X is set up in such a way as to be undetectable by science, therefore, by definition, no evidence supporting the claim has or can be presented. The million dollar question is: What position do we as skeptics take about such existence claims that are set up as to be outside of science?

Now the options, as I see them are: Accept the claim, reject the claim or put it aside and take no position on it. Now, I think anyone that claims to be a skeptic will not accept any such claims (not to be construed to mean no skeptic will believe in god, but that skepticism must not accept claims presented without evidence, individual skeptics can still believe). It is the other two options that split us: some of us, me included, think that skeptics must reject (not accept) such claims, others think that this set up puts these claims outside of the scope of skepticism, thus we can’t know, thus they take the agnostic position, in essence not taking a position. As Hitchens famously says: What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

Veon, a poster who does not have a link, enlightens us still further a few more comments down:

When someone comes up to me with a god claim, I don’t respond by bringing up the difference between PN and MN. I simply ask them, “What do you believe and why?” Is their belief based on evidence and reason or personal experiences and anecdotes?

I will bring science up, but as the best method for determining whether or not something is true, not the only method. It has the best track record of everything we’ve tried. It has a way to self correct. It can weed out accurate claims from inaccurate ones. And that’s enough. I don’t need to fall back to some distinction between PN and MN. Methodological Naturalism is enough to dispense most god claims, even the most nebulous.

For example, Steve brought up the type of god people typically fall back on when debating non-believers: the god outside of the universe. Sure, it’s an untestable claim. It’s also a meaningless one. My first response to such a claim would be, “How do you know such a god exists?”

Either it truly does exist outside the universe and the person has no basis or reason to accept the claim of existence, or at some time, it interacted with our universe in such a way to provide the person with a reason to believe in its existence. If it’s the latter case, we can test for that interaction.

If its the former, and the god exists completely apart from the universe and has no interaction, how is it any different from a god that doesn’t exist? How would you distinguish a god apart from the universe from one that doesn’t exist? The invisible and the non-existent have a way of looking identical. The most reasonable conclusion to make at that point, the one which makes the fewest assumptions, the one that is based on prior plausibility, is that belief in such a god is unwarranted.

My position isn’t that these people shouldn’t hold these beliefs, or can’t hold these beliefs. It’s that no position, whatever it is, should be beyond scrutiny. Even in the instance of the “faith only” claims, you can still ask the person why they believe what they do. Do they have a reason for it? If not, why do they still believe it? Do they think that other people should believe the same thing? If so, why? What reason would they give to try to convince people to believe the same way they do? Should we behave differently based on that belief?

My point is, that even in cases where someone has a belief that is purely faith-based and separate from science and reason, that person is going to be making decisions and taking actions based on that belief. It’s not a “personal choice, and nothing else.”

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