Are theism and science incompatible?

It’s a long standing argument: can theism be justified within scientific thinking? There have been attempts to bypass the argument, by calling the two concepts “non-overlapping magisteria”: the claim that the two concepts simply answer different questions and therefore are never justified by each other and never in conflict (Gould, 2011). However, that is not how the average religious commenter or apologist presents justification of theism generally.

Instead, the average commenter or apologist, including popular debaters (e.g. Craig and Smith, 1995), will try to posit theism from within a scientific framework. They don’t tend to claim that theism and science are compatible; they make a slightly different argument: that theism is a powerful scientific explanation.

In the same way that it is not really sensible to claim that the theory of gravity is compatible with science, because it is actually a robust product of science, religious people like to argue that theism can also be framed as a reasonable product of science. It is worth looking at how well that implicit claim holds up.

What is a robust product of science?

The philosophy of science is not a settled subject. That said, there are some very good ideas on what constitutes the sorts of models, theories and laws we might call scientific ideas. Perhaps the best encapsulation of this is derived from Emre Lakatos, who delineated between productive and degenerative models within science. “Degenerative models” might more commonly be known as pseudoscience or bunk (depending on how degenerative they are), whereas productive models might more commonly be thought of as “theories”, the highest standard of knowledge available through science (Lakatos, 1980)

Given a system, a good relevant model will be able to ‘predict’ the observations made of the system in the past, as well as predict future observations. To word that differently, a good model accounts for the data and predicts future data. The best models will be mathematic models, giving little to no room for ‘linguistic trickery’ to make observations fit predictions.

(In practice, if a model’s predictions and the observations do not line up, some effort should be made to make sure the experimental technique gave reliable observations.)

Good models are also ‘thrifty’. Think of ‘Occam’s Razor’: the idea that models should include as few as possible entities. The more entities a model has, the worse it is (although it doesn’t immediately disqualify it). The parsimonious nature of a model can be a little confusing; it is the procedure within the model that should be minimal, not necessarily the amount of stuff predicted. For example, hyperinflationary models of our universe predict a lot of the data for the early universe, so it is an effective or productive model; it also has very few entities in its formulation, another plus. But these models also a multiverse, and this can throw some commenters into thinking that the model is excessive; that is to confuse a simple model with simple predictions (Tegmark, 2014).

Alternatively, bad models need radical adjustment and ‘just so’ interpretations in order to account for the data. For example, “psychics” who claim to be able to contact the dead keep adding to the model to explain why the predictions of being able to contact the dead don’t hold up: it doesn’t work if there is ‘bad energy’ or sceptics present, for example. The model still makes predictions, but to do this it has to be a less well defined model. Psychics can predict that their ‘talent’ won’t be evidence under experimental conditions, and have excuses ready.

Similarly, the products of psychics’ work can be very broad ― like the content of a horoscope. The predicted data is so broad and poorly defined that any observed data could be said to be a hit. In reality, these are not predictions at all because they don’t just account for the data, but they also account for many other things we should be able to observe, but don’t.

Lamarckian evolution ― the idea that during an animal’s lifetime it would ‘strengthen’ the characteristics it needed and pass on those strengthened traits, like a stretched and lengthened neck ― had a similar problem. It had to account for why amputees didn’t have amputated offspring, and it added an entity to explain this: a distinction between incidental and advantageous traits. But even then it would have to explain why ironsmiths didn’t also have muscular offspring. And so the model had to adapt and change to account for data, and thus was discarded. Lakatos would call that a ‘degenerative’ model, and discarding it is the right action.

How does theism fit into this?

The image of the Deep Hubble Field is artistically boring, until you consider what it is. It is little bright smudges on an otherwise black background. Except, all those smudges are galaxies. Suddenly, it becomes a little more awe-inspiring to consider the immensity of the observable universe.

The system around our star/sun is unimaginably large. It has a radius of about 18 billion kilometers, with our star at the centre (Bryner, 2013). There are about 100 billion more stars in our galaxy, and about 100 billion galaxies of comparable size. What models account for that data?

In a coarser sense, theism can be invoked for explain why the universe exists at all by positing an omnipotent God who wants us to exist. But in a finer sense of the actual observations ― the immensity of the non-human universe ― this explanation starts to degenerate; it doesn’t predict the other galaxies, as they have no impact on us. God could have made the universe for humanity without other galaxies. But, we have observed these other galaxies now, and theism adapts to meet the observations.

Such an adaptation could posit, as Sean Carroll (2011) does, a God who is ‘procedurally thrifty’, who ignited the creation of a universe under physical principles that happen to give rise to the immensity of the universe. Given that God and Its desire to create humans are already pretty big entities to be putting into the model, adapting it with yet another big entity ― procedural thriftiness ― is starting to degrade the model. Moreover, you could claim the mathematical plausibility of a principle that gives rise to immensely large universes and stop talking right there, no God in the picture. Here, the ‘theism’ model is intentionally looking like a natural model with one further supposition.

What’s worse is that a lot of popular theisms actually include an infinite entity creation clause: the mysterious plan. There are no observations that could not be explained by theism under these conditions, but in science that is a ‘bug’ not a ‘feature’.

In debate with William Lane Craig, Carroll points out further observations ― in cosmology and in the way humanity practices religion itself ― that go against the predictions that would be made if theism were an accurate model of reality (2015). He points out that you could explain all these observations in a way that preserves theism, but only by adding entities and adapting the model. And, as pointed out, that is a degenerative model that should be discarded.

Are there other ways of giving theism some scientific credibility?

There are arguments that purport to be nested in science that are meant to be back up the existence of God. We could reel them off: Teleological argument, Cosmological argument, Creationism. But, do they stand up, or do they have serious flaws?

Each of these have their own flaws, but 1 flaw actually unites them. The original teleological argument actually was the creationist argument: that such complexity and design was evident in biology that an immense power with intent must have designed it. Most modern debaters have abandoned this creationist approach; an unintentional and systematically parsimonious process has done away with it: biological evolution by natural selection. The reason this could happen is that the system of the argument was essentially fallacious.

The argument was that the appearance of design demanded an explanation, and no one could see what that explanation might be, therefore God did it. And, no matter how sophisticated the formulation gets, that is the argument in its essence.

Biology is not the only place this has happened. Newton made the same argument when trying to explain the movement of all the planets around the sun. He came up with a model that explained how the moon went around the Earth, and how the Earth went around the sun. And the model agreed with observation extremely well, but not perfectly. It’s not just the sun that pulls on planets, but the planets pull on each other too, and this massively increased the complexity of the system and Newton ended up putting it down to being managed directly by a God.

The six primary planets are revolved about the sun in circles concentric with the sun, and with motions directed towards the same parts…. Ten moons are revolved about the earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, in circles concentric with them. … It is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions. … This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

(Newton and Halley, 1713)

The problem is that the solution was found by Laplace, and it was “mere mechanical causes”. It’s the same fallacy again. That fallacy is called ‘the argument from ignorance’ and has the formulation of ‘I don’t see what else it could be, therefore it is this’, or it is the argument from incredulity, which goes ‘I don’t believe it could be the other thing being posited, therefore it is this thing’.

And the history of both the argument from ignorance and the argument from incredulity failing doesn’t appear to have been educational for apologists.

Take the creationist argument and swap “biology” for “cosmology” and you have the new teleological argument all laid out for you. The argument is laced with scientific principles and language. But all they do it set up the question: what is the explanation for the thing currently one level of explanation beyond us? 200 years ago, people asked why life was complex; today people ask why various forces in nature are exactly as strong as they are. The question is legitimate and scientists aren’t ignoring it. But, asking a legitimate question doesn’t make your answer legitimate, even when that is all you are offering.

And the cosmological argument is basically the same in where it goes wrong. It puts a huge emphasis on pointing out that the question ‘what is the explanation for the universe?’ is a legitimate one, and then assumes it must be a powerful being with intent ― because they don’t see any better answers, and they wouldn’t believe the answers even if they saw them.

Conclusion

We might decide to keep Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria to say that religion deals with questions of values (although there are reasons not to, as value creation is increasingly being identified in psychology), because religion has no place where it can overlap with science. This is because theism has tried to be a part of science and should have been discarded over and over.

The theism models make predictions that are not met, which leads to the model being degenerated by excuses and further entities being added. This has added such flexibility to theism that is doesn’t make specific predictions; instead it predicts everything: broad predictions that encapsulate every possible world.

To get as far as a God, patent fallacies have to be overlooked or hidden in formulations of arguments, but they are always there.

Theism is incompatible with science, because all serious methods of science have discarded theistic models.

References

Bryner, J. (2013) Voyager 1: How Big Is the Solar System? Available from: https://www.livescience.com/39620-how-big-is-solar-system.html [Accessed 4 September 2018].

Carroll, S. (2011) From Eternity to Here. (no place) Oneworld Publications.

Craig, W.L. (2015) God and Cosmology: The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology | Reasonable Faith. Available from: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/debates/god-and-cosmology-the-existence-of-god-in-light-of-contemporary-cosmol/ [Accessed 15 November 2017].

Craig, W.L. and Smith, Q. (1995) Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. (no place) Clarendon Press.

Gould, S.J. (2011) Rocks Of Ages. (no place) Random House.

Lakatos, I. (1980) The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Volume 1: Philosophical Papers. (no place) Cambridge University Press.

Newton, S.I. and Halley, E. (1713) Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. 2nd edition.

Tegmark, M. (2014) Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. (no place) Penguin UK.

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84 thoughts on “Are theism and science incompatible?”

  1. “God could have made the universe for humanity without other galaxies.” Yes, He could have. But what makes you think that He made the universe for US? Isn’t it more likely he made the universe for HIM? A work of art on a scale only He could properly appreciate? We only inhabit a corner of it, made specially for us. And perhaps there are other suitable corners out there which we might someday inhabit because He knew that someday we might need to.

    “such complexity and design was evident in biology that an immense power with intent must have designed it. Most modern debaters have abandoned this creationist approach; an unintentional and systematically parsimonious process has done away with it: biological evolution by natural selection.” It is indeed fallacy to say that “Since we don’t know why X, God must have done it”, and those who offer it as “proof” of God are mistaken and those who use it as an incontestable position are delusional. It is not a proof of anything, and Creationism is one explanation of how “we” came to be. If God exists, then it certainly “makes sense” that He caused us to be, but of course we can’t prove that He exists, and even if we could prove that He exists, it would only strengthen the position of Creationism, not make it incontestable.

    Evolution is another theory on how we came to be, and it has the advantage that it in not dependent on the existence AND participation of anything “supernatural”. It’s weakness is probability and lack of definitive proof. Of course we can prove “micro-evolution”, a change in a species; heck we use it as a tool. The problem is that we don’t have any real proof of “macro-evolution”, a change from something which is not a particular species into that species. It is not impossible, but the probability is so low, and due to the required time frame, we cannot observe it, would be hard pressed to encourage it, and as far as I know, there is no fossil or evidence to validate it did happen. Only that it COULD have happened.

    And then, going to another scenario which evolution does not and can not cover, but which is absolutely necessary before evolution can even be considered, is the “nothing to something” question. We can conceive that something can turn into something else without any intelligent interference, but nothing to something without interference is a harder concept to accept,

    Does religion “deal with questions of values”? It tries to, but that is generally ineffective. “Do this because God says so” is not a high reliability way of directing people. Even those who believe that God exists have a hard time hewing that line, because eventually the command will conflict with desire and lose. It’s unfortunate that many who think they are God’s children think that gives them the right or even duty to control the “heathens”. The value of theism is found in how one relates to their deity.

    “religion has no place where it can overlap with science. This is because theism has tried to be a part of science and should have been discarded over and over” I would tend to agree that religion does not, at this point in time, overlap with science. And likely never will. The only way that God could exist would be that He exists in dimension(s) which are not bound by the laws of our dimension. Science is bound by the laws of our dimension, and so thus is not useful in discussing that which blatantly violates those laws. Those who attempt to integrate theism and science have failed, and that attempt should indeed be discarded. This does not support that theism itself should be discarded.

      1. It’s a challenge, but if the interference is not limited by the laws of our existence is less of a stretch. Perhaps a better view is something from somewhere else to somewhere there is nothing.

      2. If I interpreted your statement correctly, you are saying that “something from nothing” is equally unlikely “naturally” or “due to intelligent intervention”. And I disagree. If the intelligence inhabits a dimension which does not follow the same physical limitations that ours does, then “something from nothing” becomes possible

        In either case, “something from somewhere else to here” is a tad less unlikely than something from nothing.

      3. I have no idea how you have established the likelihood of another being in a different dimension (whatever that means) being able and willing and motivated to create a universe from nothing.
        I also have no idea how you have established the likelihood of a universe coming from nothing.
        I also have no idea how you established the type of ‘nothing’ or state that precedes the universe…

        At least ‘universe from nothing’ is parsimonious in the number of entities it relies in…

    1. Other people have effectively addressed your other points, there is a couple that haven’t been addressed that I’d like to address.

      And then, going to another scenario which evolution does not and can not cover, but which is absolutely necessary before evolution can even be considered, is the “nothing to something” question. We can conceive that something can turn into something else without any intelligent interference, but nothing to something without interference is a harder concept to accept,

      I don’t think that evolution being considered is contingent on us having an explanation for the how the universe came to be. We can effectively describe the impact that a car will have when hits you walking across the street, without knowing how the car came to be. It’s also a bit of a strawman, because evolution is not used to explain the origin of the universe, only an explanation of how life, once started, diverged into the myriad of species we have today, and how life functions in those species came to be. Evolution isn’t even used to explain how life began. There are other theories for how simple proteins and DNA might have come to be, but we haven’t been able to create life out of lifelessness yet, but again this in no way invalidates evolution.

      You also seem to be trying to say that since something from nothing can’t be, that God is the only explanation for how that is possible. There are several problems here with this line of reasoning:

      1) The assumption that there wasn’t always something

      2) The fact that God is also something, and thus also had to come from somewhere, unless God always was, but why can’t matter have simply always been there, rather than God?

      3) You mention the possibility that God is in another dimension that we can’t measure. Fine, but that implies that there wasn’t nothing, only nothing in this dimension, and so if something can operate cross-dimensionally, there is no reason why God is the only explanation for how cross-dimension activity could occur. Science is also certainly not bound by the limits of our dimension. We have a growing amount of evidence that other dimensions exist and so it’s not completely out of the question that we might be able to say something about these other dimensions or access them to explain why things are the way they are in our own dimension. For many who are theists, it is implicitly accepted that God interacts with this dimension, and thus we should at the very least have evidence of that, but simply do not.

      Your response here seems to posit that God can be substituted in for things that we don’t know about, or to fill holes in our knowledge, but this is no different from what has happened in the past for which God has played a diminishing role as science has discovered more and more about how the universe works. A theory like evolution may not have all the answers, however it is far more predictive than any of the “maybes” you propose here. I don’t think allallt is claiming that there isn’t anything to learn about how humans think or behave from looking theistic belief systems, but that there is particular value in invoking the supernatural to explain how the universe works, theism absolutely should be discarded because it simply doesn’t have any evidence for it. It’s been working at for a long time and all its proceeded to do when it hasn’t been jailing scientists it didn’t agree with is try to fit its own dogma into the continually advancing scientific knowledge of the day. I mean here you are talking about other dimensions, a word that wasn’t certainly used in context you’ve used when the bible was written. It’s an seemingly endless game in which theist claims provide no new information but simply try to eat up the parts of the universe that we don’t fully understand yet.

      1. “I don’t think that evolution being considered is contingent on us having an explanation for the how the universe came to be.” You are right, evolution strictly deals with how the first life became current life, and is completely independent of how that first life got there.

        “You also seem to be trying to say that since something from nothing can’t be, that God is the only explanation for how that is possible.” Nope, even if I could prove God exists, that does not prove that is the only explanation for “something from nothing” or more importantly, the origin of the first life.

  2. “Theism is incompatible with science, because all serious methods of science have discarded theistic models.”

    Your conclusion says nothing. Slot any school of thought into your statement and watch what happens.

    – Mathematics is incompatible with biology because biology discards mathematical models.
    – Geology is incompatible with astronomy because astronomy discards geological models.
    – Meteorology is incompatible with psychology because psychology discards weather data.

    Even if these statements were true (which they aren’t), it wouldn’t follow that Math, Geology, or Meteorology are irrelevant to acquiring knowledge.

    1. Read the post in context. The point I am objecting to is:
      “Instead, the average commenter or apologist, including popular debaters (e.g. Craig and Smith, 1995), will try to posit theism from within a scientific framework… that theism is a powerful scientific explanation”

      Mathematics does not claim to be a biological tool; geology does not claim to be an astronomical tool etc.

      So, err… reading comprehension, John. It’s valuable.

      1. Err… I would like to see direct quotes from Craig where he posits theism as a scientific explanation. I’ve read a lot of Craig’s books and I haven’t seen anything approaching this “framework”.

        If you’re going to insist I read the context, please provide it.

      2. Neither can you support your claim that he didn’t say it. Allallt actually did provide you with a reference in which Craig claims that a Personal Creator of the Universe is a scientific argument.

      3. Apparently you read things differently. I read an article by Lane that posits a personal God as creator of the universe as a scientific argument.

      4. No. The place where Craig suggest that theism is a scientific argument.
        There is no place where Craig suggests that the scientific method is applicable for testing or predicting the existence of God.

      5. Goal posts successfully moved.
        We’ll, done.

        Still no quote from Craig claiming theism as a scientific explanation.
        Thankfully, you’re not charging tuition for this class.

      6. Don’t worry about Branyan. The fact that God is being used by Craig as a model to explain certain data is something he will deny over and over to make his point.
        There’s no getting passed this sort of thing with Branyan. I didn’t give up on him so quickly because he caught me out, but because I’ve been in these circles before with him. There’s no progress to make

      7. Don’t worry about Allallt. He will claim God is being used by Craig as a scientific model to explain certain data over and over to make his point.
        There’s no getting passed this sort of thing with Allallt. I’ve been in these circles before with him. There’s no progress to make.

        Powerful rebuttal, isn’t it?

      8. Do you believe yourself when you doubt the the Kalam Cosmological argument and Teleological argument are ways of using ‘God’ as a model to account for the beginning of the universe or the “fine tuning” problem?

        And if “yes”, what do you think those two arguments are doing?

      9. My issue is with the premise that science and theism are incompatible. (You didn’t use the word ‘science’ in your last question, BTW.)

        The incompatibility only exists when theism is whittled down to a parody like the flying spaghetti monster. There is no discovery of science that makes theism untenable. (NOTE: I did NOT say theism is therefore true.)

      10. Oh… It must just be that you’re writing irrelevant tid bits then.
        I accidentally tried to put your comment on the context of the conversation in general.
        Silly me.

      11. Feel free to respond to my actual comment regarding science and theism being compatible.

        Or keep writing rebuttals to things I didn’t say. It’s your blog!

      12. They all look like intentional deflection and misunderstanding to me.
        Pick one that’s not exactly that, and link or copy and paste…

      13. All your comments look like intentional deflection and misunderstanding to me. No reason to repeat myself when you’re not able to grasp the language.

    2. You are once again reasoning by false analogy. Because science is a way of thinking and investigating and is not some sort of academic field. Theism makes claim to how truth is discovered which is through revelation. Science has different things to say about how we discover truth. Your examples or meaningless. Especially so because biology uses mathematical models, geology which is the study of the Earth, which is a planet and thus links to astronomy quite well. Meteorology has links to psychology even since people’s moods are impacted by the weather. But even so, they aren’t analogous to the science vs. theism comparison.

      1. “Theism makes claim to how truth is discovered which is through revelation. Science has different things to say about how we discover truth.”
        I agree with all of this.
        I would be curious to know how you are using the word “revelation” and whether or not you think revelation is incompatible with science.

  3. “Incompatible” is the wrong word, I think. More like inconsequential.
    Theistic schemas are inherently reliable – so reliable, in fact, that the conditions of their validity and the conditions of their error are indistinguishable.
    Teleology, which is finally the type of argument to which all natural theology turns, depends upon a prior knowledge of purpose.
    That leads either to the incredible claim that the speaker knows just what God was up to, or to the claim that God’s purpose was just what is (all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds).

    1. Theistic schemas are only ‘post facto’ reliable; you can always add excuses (“entities”) to the schema to make an observation comply with the model.

      I do like the paradoxical claims of, on the one hand, features that appear like imperfections being dismissed because we can’t be sure they’re flaws because we don’t know God’s plan and, on the other hand, something is obviously designed because we understand the plan well enough to assess it.

  4. Re “In a coarser sense, theism can be invoked for explain why the universe exists at all by positing an omnipotent God who wants us to exist.” Theists spend very little time explaining why a god would do such a thing, would “want us to exist.” Why would a god create such a vast universe, some claim only to support life on Earth? These people are supposedly in communication with this god, so you think they could ask a few questions.

    Why would such a being want beings he created to worship him? Is this not a definition of “needy,” indicating that this god is incomplete and not sufficient unto itself?

    Why is this god so inept and still claimed to be perfect? All of his creations (angels, humans, etc.) seem to rebel against his wishes. For example, he creates mortals like Adam and Eve without knowledge of the difference between good and evil and then subjects them to evil influences (through the serpent he created) and then when they succumb, he punishes them (actually he threatened them with death but that apparently was a lie) and all of their descendants forever.

    The question whether these ideas are compatible with science are trivial compared with the fundamental unanswered questions like these. (Yes, I know there are “answers” but the vast majority of those are pulled out of people’s asses and are not supported by scripture or tradition.) Since these questions are not answered by theists, scientists looking into the deep past keep looking for signs of what happened and the fingerprints of any god are conspicuously absent. (Please also note that the apologists offering “answers” base their answers on the findings of science, not upon their scriptures or other sources. The postulation of the Big Bang was immediately jumped upon as a “creation event” but not suggested at all until discover by science.

  5. Equippedcat says, “It’s weakness (evolution) is probability and lack of definitive proof. Of course we can prove “micro-evolution”, a change in a species; heck we use it as a tool. The problem is that we don’t have any real proof of “macro-evolution”, a change from something which is not a particular species into that species. It is not impossible, but the probability is so low, and due to the required time frame, we cannot observe it, would be hard pressed to encourage it, and as far as I know, there is no fossil or evidence to validate it did happen. Only that it COULD have happened.”

    Every sentence here is incorrect demonstrating a rather significant lack of understanding about evolution but addressing each incorrect point is too time consuming so I’ll focus on just one, that it ‘could have happened’.

    Suffice to say, the genetic inheritance inside your DNA, equippedcat, is a direct link to each of your non human ancestors across many species boundaries over many thousands of generations. The identical lettered nucleotide sequence in your DNA links you as a descendant of the Cambrian blood worms as much as it does from our closest relatives with the great apes – including containing the same genetic damage from a shared ancient simian virus. Now consider the infinitesimal small probability (multiplied by each and every human to duplicate this same inherited sequence) that you’re not directly related to each. The nucleotide sequence perfectly aligns and demonstrates this shared ancestry… a technique used today to demonstrate the genetic link to determine offspring.

    This genetic sequencing demonstrates that evolutionary theory is as close to certain as any product of scientific understanding can get, and far more reliable and probable to be true as any you use every day upon which you are quite willing to bet your life… even with far, far less certainty! That you misunderstand the role of probability in science to this vast of an extent to then claim the opposite conclusion (that the identical sequencing could have happened) regarding evolutionary biology is telling. I hope you can see it’s not a question of “could have happened” whatsoever; we know this is the case because it fits all the evidence and informs how we understand the mechanism of inheritance. It’s a question (more like in house quibbling) of identifying the exact processes and specific time frames involved. We cannot ‘know’ anything with a higher degree of plausibility and likelihood than how life changes over time by means of natural selection. That’s why it’s also considered a fact, beyond any reasonable doubt.

    To be clear, we have overwhelming evidence for this process at both the micro and macro levels, all of which bolsters and strengthens ‘macro’ evolution to the extent that to seriously question either means one pretty well has to commit to accepting two huge undertakings: one must first deny the method of science itself to refute the strength of the theory demonstrated so many ways and to such an extent producing such valuable extensions of human knowledge while secondly also having to produce a counter explanation that is a viable alternative in order to reach the same level of reliability, consistency, and productivity derived from this understanding evolution, of how life changes over time… which is then tested each and every day and demonstrated by the same usefulness of all the applications, therapies, and technologies we use to effect. That’s a very, very, very tall order that the theory of evolution has already met and continues to surpass. You have your work cut out for you if you wish to reasonably disagree.

    1. Every sentence is “wrong”? The first and third sentences, very well could be wrong. The second seems unquestionably “right” to me. How do you see it as wrong? The fourth seems to be part right, and part something I don’t know for sure. And as for the fifth/last sentence, if it is wrong, then evolution is not possible.

      I certainly admit a level of knowledge about genetics which just barely allowed me to follow your argument. However, this has nothing to say about my knowledge/understanding of evolution. From what I could understand, that genetics lecture seems to be another indication that a process externally identical to evolution did happen, but is not in itself proof that it did or that it happened without external interference. Thus “COULD HAVE HAPPENED” is a true statement. If it did not happen, true. If it did happen, true. If it happened due to some intelligent interference, still true. The only way that statement could be “wrong” is if it was “impossible” (thus could NOT have happened)

      The genetics is a telling point, but the problem with it is, that it could be applied in any of the three possible scenarios (random evolution, guided evolution, straight creation). If it applies to random evolution, then it also applies to guided evolution. And even creation, since my long term heredity is not in question, only the origin point of it.

      The difference here is that I am willing to admit I could be wrong because I know and accept that I don’t know everything, yet you are not willing to admit you could possibly be wrong. No matter how much you know, I’m pretty sure you don’t know everything, or even everything about evolution (or genetics).

      1. The genetics is a telling point

        Indeed. Curious, how does your position hold/shift knowing that 80% of all mutations are harmful to an organism’s fitness? Does that speak to design/guidence, or randomness?

      2. I don’t know that 80% of mutations are harmful, and I don’t know what percentage is beneficial. Plus “fitness” is an imprecise term. In an evolutionary setting, the only “fitness” which matters is “fitness to produce viable offspring”. We’re still pulled between the poles of “randomness resulted in order” and “something imposed order”

      3. Re 80%: From the Genetic Literacy Project: “Most mutations in the human genome are recent and probably harmful”

        Joshua Akey of the University of Washington … estimated that more than 80 percent are probably harmful to us.

        https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/07/18/most-mutations-in-the-human-genome-are-recent-and-probably-harmful/

        So, the question again: how does your position hold/shift knowing that 80% of all mutations are harmful to an organism’s fitness? Does that speak to design/guidence, or randomness?

      4. Asked and answered. The short answer is “no, my opinion does not shift”. It does not detract from evolution one bit, and it is not inconsistent with creation (see my response to John Zande). It actually is mentioned in the Bible, with the original people living hundreds of years, and later people living shorter as (harmful mutations) occurred.

      5. If the mutations increased fitness, then they would be selected. Harmful mutations would not be selected. The randomness of mutation if designed should yield greater fitness. It does not.

      6. (I posted the link, but it’s affecting the comment being passed. This is the comment minus the link, but you can look it up yourself)

        Re 80%: From the Genetic Literacy Project: “Most mutations in the human genome are recent and probably harmful”

        Joshua Akey of the University of Washington … estimated that more than 80 percent are probably harmful to us.

        So, the question again: how does your position hold/shift knowing that 80% of all mutations are harmful to an organism’s fitness? Does that speak to design/guidence, or randomness?

      7. Ah, but are you not expanding a specific (harmful to humans) to the universal (harmful to all organisms)? If there was a significant difference between humans and all other organisms, that might be useful information

        Irregardless, evolutionary theory has no problem with a majority of mutations being “harmful” (counter reproduction). It is not antithetical to creation either. It does not appear to favor any of the possibilities. .

        It appears that you expected that to have some effect on my position. What am I missing?

      8. 80% of all mutations being harmful is not antithetical to creation?

        Can you explain how 80% of all mutations being harmful indicates mindful design/guidence, and not randomness?

      9. If mutations are “natural”, then the results of the “positive” ones are “accidental”. If the mutations are under the control of an intelligence, then the mutations would be chosen so the “positive” ones would give the desired results.

        The obvious question in the latter case would be why have a majority of negative mutations? I don’t know. The same reason we have mosquitoes and cancer, I guess. There are many things which seem terrible to us on a personal or group basis, but we don’t have the “whole picture” to see how they might be beneficial to humanity as a whole, or to God, or which disturb God but not enough to “change the rules”..

      10. Just to be clear, the mutations are random but the selection based on fitness is not Changes due to evolution are not random nor accidental at all.

      11. If the mutations are random, than the selected results are also random. The selection process, of course, is not random, but random in equals random out. Think about it in the simplest of terms. Let us say that you will toss a coin to determine what you will have for breakfast. Heads will always be eggs, and Tails will always be cereal. The flip of the coin will be random, and thus your breakfast choice will be random.

      12. But, it undermines the idea that things are designed to a plan if no one knows what that plan is.

        And the ‘everything that is good is God, and everything else secretly is good too’ argument is exactly the ‘predict anything’ model that actually doesn’t account for anything.

      13. I don’t know the plan and you don’t know the plan and probably no other person knows the plan, but this does not mean the plan does not exist. As long as the “planner” knows the plan, that is all that is necessary for the plan to exist. Although if we don’t know the plan, we can’t be expected to “do our part”.

      14. They’re could also be no plan.
        The planner could also be fumbling.

        The point is that if you think there is a plan, you must have a reason for thinking that. The obvious reason to think that is that reality conforms to the plan, somehow. But at the slightest deviation from the prima facie estimate of what the plan would look like when executed well, you admit you don’t know the plan.

        So, how have your established there is a plan?

        Or are you happy to entertain literally any idea, regardless?

      15. It’s weakness is probability and lack of definitive proof. Of course we can prove “micro-evolution”, a change in a species; heck we use it as a tool. The problem is that we don’t have any real proof of “macro-evolution”, a change from something which is not a particular species into that species. It is not impossible, but the probability is so low, and due to the required time frame, we cannot observe it, would be hard pressed to encourage it, and as far as I know, there is no fossil or evidence to validate it did happen. Only that it COULD have happened.

        The problem begins with using the term ‘proof’. You use it several different ways even in this paragraph. When speaking of a theory, one speaks of 1) plausibility, 2) probability, and 3) confidence. You mention ‘probability’ and so I explained that you’ve reached the opposite conclusion in that there is overwhelming evidence that evolution by natural selection across thousands of generations does ‘prove’ macro-evolution because the probability is as near 1 as any scientific ‘knowledge’ humanity possesses. This is both highly probable and definitive. And it occurs at the micro-level within each species for which the evidence is, as you say, unquestionably applicable. In this sense, it is the micro that informs the macro which is why I explained the genetic angle as direct and compelling evidence for the effects of the micro to the macro. In other words, if you accept the micro, you must accept the macro; the two are inextricably linked, which is why applications based on this understanding work in applications, therapies, and technologies widely applied. This demonstrates just how incorrect your third sentence is, in spite of trying to appear with your second sentence as reasonable, as if you can accept the first but continue to deny the second. That’s why I explained your understanding is lacking. You then introduce the ‘observed’ idea, as if only the directly observable is scientific. When did you last observe a hair turning grey and then fully silver? Does it make any sense to accept the first as ‘proven’ but seriously question the second due to a lack of direct observation? There is a large amount of both fossil evidence as well as many other avenues of evidence to support evolution by natural selection. The scope might surprise you in areas one might not even consider relevant to evolution… like oil and gas exploration, silvaculture, cosmology, advertising, and so on. The model explaining how small incremental changes lead to large divisions is very relevant to a veritable host of applications. But in the meantime, you could Google, say, transitional fossils and see if your claim holds up. Not only did it happen, it is happening. Constantly. Life is always in flux. So your tense selection in the last sentence is actually incoherent. It’s like saying oxygen might exist in the atmosphere of Earth.

        You say “The genetics is a telling point, but the problem with it is, that it could be applied in any of the three possible scenarios (random evolution, guided evolution, straight creation). If it applies to random evolution, then it also applies to guided evolution. And even creation, since my long term heredity is not in question, only the origin point of it.” Possible scenarios? Let me explain:

        Evolution is a fact. It’s not a possible scenario. A brute fact you’ve already admitted, in case you’ve forgotten. Evolution scientifically understood means natural selection. The emphasis is on the natural. That means two of your scenarios are purely theological and have no reference whatsoever to evolution. You’re use of the term ‘guided’ is illuminating because it’s a theological term entirely and has zero connection to the science that informs understanding why evolution is true and how its mechanisms work. If it’s guided, you see, it’s not evolution. If it’s created, it’s not evolution. But we know evolution is true because it has successfully accounted for ALL the evidence, all the testing, all the applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time, all the extensions including genetics, all the ongoing discoveries based on this explanation, and so on. Nothing claimed to be known, claimed to be understood, in this world is better informed by evidence than the theory of evolution. Why don;t you know this? Well, the use of the term ‘random’ by you helps explain why: it reveals a true paucity of understanding of these mechanisms that are anything BUT random (another topic I’m not going to flesh out here). Simply put, that’s because of the ‘selection’ bit in ‘natural selection’.

        So, other than misunderstanding both the ‘natural’ as well as the ‘selection’ parts of evolution, I’m not going to argue that you might not understand it very well. But explaining this basic science to you is not to say that I think I must know everything. But I do know enough about evolution to understand why every sentence you wrote in this paragraph was in error. And that didn’t take much knowledge on my part, a bar of understanding I’m sure you can attain with even a modicum of honest study that does not include religious a priori assumptions … enough study to at least stop using the term ‘proof’ and start understanding why the plausibility, the probability, and the confidence in evolution as the fact it is should be higher than anything else you or I might think we understand. All religion has done in this matter of understanding how life changes over time and by what mechanisms is try to sell doubt to those motivated to buy into the lie for purely religious reasons.

      16. You are right. Proof is a specific term and I misused it shamefully.

        “overwhelming evidence that evolution by natural selection across thousands of generations does ‘prove’ macro-evolution”. Yes it would pretty much “prove” macro-evolution to be valid. There do appear to be transitional fossils known these days. I’m leaning more towards that view, but I’m not yet to “overwhelming”

        Once we accept that it COULD result in the current biological spectrum, there is still the question of DID it. Could does not necessarily mean did, although it is certainly suggestive.

        “It’s like saying oxygen might exist in the atmosphere of Earth” No, not really. It is quite simple to PROVE that oxygen exists in the atmosphere”.

        Evolution is a MECHANISM, and I’m not sure that it has to be “natural”. Is man’s forcing changes to plants or animals by controlling their environment to select for desired characteristics not “evolution? Guided, no less. Saying “evolution is a fact” is not specific enough to debate. If you want to say that “evolution is the methodology by which the most simple forms of life became became the current forms of life” then that is a claim worthy of consideration.

        “Nothing claimed to be known, claimed to be understood, in this world is better informed by evidence than the theory of evolution.” Nothing? Not gravity, geometry, the reaction of acids and bases or anything else? .

  6. Re: keithnoback suggesting ‘incompatible’ be replaced by ‘inconsequential’.

    I think ‘incompatible’ is exactly on point, whereas ‘inconsequential’ is a profound misnomer because it fails to address the not insignificant methodological problem between the two by supplanting a scientific understanding with a conflicting faith-based belief to produce an opposite result… and then pretend the two can coexist peacefully.

    Reality doesn’t care about anyone’s faith-based beliefs. Faith-based beliefs are worse than useless because they so often impede human understanding of reality.

    Look no further than evolution vs creationism and just how conflicting the two are when played out in, say, science education. Five times as many Americans believe in angels and demons than they do understanding evolution. That’s not inconsequential when it comes to understanding biology. There really is a fundamental incompatibility in understanding produced by rejecting the methodology of science when it produces a conclusion that really is in conflict with a fundamental religious assumption. The consequence becomes even more obvious in, say, understanding human caused climate change and how to mitigate it vs believing it’s some Chinese conspiracy or a tax grab by some rich and powerful ‘cabal’. When we conflate faith-based belief and substitute it in place of adduced knowledge as if it were ‘another kind of knowing’ and pretend it is therefore an equivalent method to knowing anything about the real world, then we’ve joined the ranks of apologists and accommodationists who value what’s true about reality (and what we can know about it) less than propping up those who want to believe what isn’t. And the effects of this unprincipled stand that conflates faith-based belief to be equivalent to (but of a different kind of) evidence-adduced knowledge is not inconsequential at all but of vital importance to the health and welfare of the human species.

    Yes, the two methods are incompatible and reality is going to insist only one works to produce knowledge about it. And that is not an inconsequential result.

  7. As Carroll once said, “God is a terrible hypothesis.”

    Great piece, but you did fail to mention one critical point concerning there incompatibility of science and religion: Theism starts with the conclusion and works backwards, trying to make reality fit the presupposed answer, whereas science starts with a question, then works forwards in search of an explanation.

  8. Sorry for getting up caught up in JB’s nonsensical responses and not responding to the article itself. This was wonderfully written and argued. If I had Facebook I would probably share it there. lol But I do plan on reblogging it. 🙂

    It seems pretty clear to me that there is no personal God (i.e. someone who interferes with the physical laws of the universe for the sake of benefit or punishment to an individual or group of people). So God could be at the start of it all, but we simply don’t need such an entity to be there, because even if they did exist, we simply don’t need to acknowledge such a being to understand the universe. I know Sean Carroll often says the real question that we can’t answer is why is there something rather than nothing? Well if a God is the answer to that question (and by the way it doesn’t have to be just one) it is such a meaningless answer given how much of the universe we don’t really understand, and knowing that there is a brilliant deity out there who can create universe, doesn’t answer or solve a single problem we have to do in sustaining life and satisfying human curiosity.

    I liked that you talked about predictability here, and I think that’s a very important point and one that I often make when explain what good science vs. bad science or pseudoscience. Saying a God created the universe gives us no predictive value. Even if we were to find this person and ask some questions, the answers we would want, would all be in the form of equations, because we would want to be able develop predictive models. The information that God is at the top of the process provides us with no actual information, and why every group of humans has tried give an explanation as to why and how God made the universe but the level of disagreement and the relationship between the culture and myth make it fairly clear that no one with communing with a deity to come up with the story.

    I do think of religion as a model itself and it makes sense that we would come up with such things in the absence of a lot of information as to why things were the way they were, and as an early model one might be even impressed. However, I think given how poor a predictor it was its biggest use would be a way of becoming comfortable with uncertainty. Something that I think still is a big part of why people subscribe to religion today. I always imagine what it must have been like, particular in the early days of agriculture with people dying of germs through the exposure to animal feces and then the close proximity of populations. Seeing children die at birth, and people dying in their 20s at unprecedented rates would have created a great deal of grief and confusion. As emotional creatures one doesn’t have to wonder too hard to explain why we wouldn’t desperately hang on to anybody who tried to give us an explanation for why we must experience such grief and toil daily. Such things, mixed with indoctrination, are why religion largely persists today. There are some truths embedded into religion, but much of it can be discarded, and certainly the supernatural aspect can fall away, and we’d all be quite fine.

    1. Saying a God created the universe gives us no predictive value.

      Oh, I think it does. This is why traditional theism (a good god) stands only if buffeted by inventive theodicies;excuses there to explain away every stunning contradiction. If, however, one posits a non-traditional Creator, a malicious being, for instance, then the predictive models (where suffering increases with greater complexity) are remarkably accurate.

      1. Certainly the role of self-fulfilling prophecy and excuse making work so well in propping up religion, but I would say this is more akin to the type of situation that allallt describes in regards to psychics it’s more handwaving to make it seem like the belief system has predictive value, but usually only through either confirmation bias or a post hoc rationalization of events after the fact.

        But I take you’re point, you are right in that we can give religion predictive value by using the right rhetoric and fallacious reasoning but I guess I would argue that it isn’t predictive value based on any rules of logic that we should be applying to models of how anything works. lol

      2. Agreed, but the traditional theist is lumbered with a universe behaving in a manner that flatly contradicts the claim they’re trying to make. This is why TOOAIN revolves around Paley’s (teleological) observation:

        “Contrivance proves design, and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer.”

      3. Lumbered? Traditional?

        Only in the mind of the atheist and narrow minded fools can the charge be made that the creation of light is ascribed to a grand accident.

        No greater example of the sublime can be found in such fewer words than: ‘Let there be light.’ ‘And it was so.’

        God’s word, at it’s outset, shuts the mouths of false science and pretended intellect. Then there is that inconvenient ‘mist’ which watered all new vegetation, from ‘the ground up,’ as any expert gardener would tend to new life. As I said, God’s word ALWAYS and PERFECTLY shuts the mouths of the Darwins, the Nye clowns, and Degrasse fools.

        But no, the common atheist is too busy studying the dry works and opinions of idiots.

  9. The post addresses the question of whether theism can provide natural-scientific explanations (judging by the examples). This seems to be in some ways different to the question of whether science and theism are compatible.
    Many of the arguments for theism are heavily dependent on philosophy, even ones which frame themselves in more scientific terms also contain (and are often reliant on) philosophical argument. This can be seen in the quoted examples of the teleological argument and cosmological argument.

    Rather than having to choose between Steven Gould’s NOMA and theism being some kind of model that is part of the natural sciences, I would say that it is largely a philosophical position. It’s only if someone believes that philosophy can’t provide us with knowledge of reality that this would be a problem, or the fact that theism doesn’t consitute part of the natural sciences would start to be significant.

    It’s correct that theism can’t really be refuted by or falsified by the natural sciences, but the same is also true of naturalism. (Taking naturalism as basically the idea that everything is (or must be) explicable by impersonal laws of nature plus brute facts). It seems like a lot of the doubts about theism derive from either the assumption that naturalism is true or the possibility that is.

  10. The basic form of the Kalam argument goes back to the 9th century, so I don’t think it is an attempt to account for data from the physical sciences, at least data from physical sciences in any modern form. Maybe it depends how broad your idea of data from the physical sciences is.

    I think Lane Craig’s modern version of the Kalam is an example of what I was talking about, when philosophy and natural science overlap and current science is used to support or attack philosophical positions.

    On reflection, a teleological argument like (as far as I know about it) Paley’s probably is closer to being an attempt at natural science.

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