Tag Archives: religion


Religious Science

I have a better internal and intuitive understanding of folklore and myth than science and technology, so in that way fantasy is easier.
-Sarah Zettel, novelist

Josh Peck is a self-described biblical researcher, author and online show host. He has written several books, including “Quantum Creation,” a book about prophecy and “quantum physics from a Christian perspective.” You may be thinking that there is no such thing as “quantum physics from a Christian perspective,” but Mr. Peck tells us otherwise. He explains there is nothing wrong with the experimental results of science, just the interpretation by those who do not cross-reference the holy book. He claims no conflict between science and religion because:

“When we have the proper interpretation of scripture and the proper interpretation of scientific observation, they should both agree in full. They both should act as two pillars holding up the true understanding of reality. If they do not agree then one or both of the pillars are broken and must be fixed, otherwise the whole structure will come crashing down.”

In other words, scientific observation and scripture have the same level of legitimacy and since scripture is correct because, you know…word of deity…any scientific finding that conflicts with scripture must be reinterpreted until it matches. There now, no conflict.

It is hard to swallow that this bastardization of sound methodology is what many believers call science. It is not, though this is what is being taught to the faithful uncomfortable with scientific findings that imply their deity is not the creator of the universe. Their thinking is rationalization (conscious and unconscious) biased by a presupposition of biblical inerrancy. The cognitive blindness is stunning, truthiness applied like a taste preference.

Interestingly, this type of science-off-the-rails often does include some true science. It may even include a great deal as this presentation by Jason Lisle demonstrates. However where Dr. Lisle goes off track can be hard to decipher if one does not already have strong science knowledge, an inherent problem. If one has been raised with a religiously dominated education where evolution, geology and psychology have been replaced with creation myth, a flood story and objective moral rules, it is nearly impossible to notice the slips. To a student listening to this mangled science such presentations can appear to reinforce scriptural texts. Passages are “matched” through numerology-like  pattern recognition, subjective interpretation and prophesy-alignment presented as evidence.

Real science does not operate in this manner. It works on a much tougher playing field where objective evidence rules. Results only sufficient for subjective interpretation are used as guideposts for further investigation (and replication by other studies); they are not touted as final conclusions to be taught to the public. (Note: despite this standard practice scientists are human and can overstep at times, but the fields are aware of this, constantly open to  internal criticism and correction. For good coverage on this, check out Robert Burton’s “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves.”

The vast majority of scientists follow evidence where it leads them. Often this disagrees with chunks of what religiously-filtered “science” teaches. A young believer can find themselves stuck trying to understand these different positions, akin to being asked to take sides in a parental dispute. Worse, parents and preachers may fight back with accusations of academic conspiracy and ivory tower arrogance. If a student buys this defense they not only learn bad science, they learn to mistrust true experts and even the scientific method.

If a student is able to remain objective she will find the position conflicts unresolvable; where there is disagreement, one side is right and one side is wrong. Contrasting this, a true believer (defined as one unwilling or unable to de-sanctify false beliefs) will learn to swim in a fog of cognitive dissonance, motivated reasoning tools at the ready, perhaps for the rest of her life.

Another feature in hesitation to accept scientists conclusions can lie in the personality trait of mistrust. You know the accusations—scientists are money mongers who deliver results their patrons desire, universities are places where snobby faculty pretend they are smarter than the rest of us, arrogant intellectuals create fancy jargon so they can talk over our heads. Tables are turned with true scientists being branded as pseudoscientists.

The believer’s solution to this supposed deception? A call to individual critical thinking (paradoxically), self-evaluation of experimental results. In other words a belief that a single person, believent and less educated, is more likely to make a better conclusion than a highly educated specialist.

This is purely wrong. First, anyone with less information is by definition less capable of making a better judgement than one with more information, though admittedly we must be wary of researcher confirmation bias. Second, this type of self-confident believer puts more weight on intuition (Type One thinking) than is valid. (See Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.”) Third, individual conclusion, be it by a highly educated researcher or an individual, is prone to error—exactly why scientific conclusion relies on expert consensus, not expert opinion. Further yet, scientific consensus is subject to longitudinal review—study over time—subject to future refinement or replacement.

Meanwhile unscientific believers apply the tools of intuition, apologetics, argument and reinterpretation to scientific findings, mushing results into scripturally-shaped conclusions of their satisfaction. Have you ever watched a numerologist finding patterns everywhere they look? It really is amazing, the mental gymnastics humans are capable of.

Argument is not evidence, nor philosophy conclusion. Bias avoidance does not include presupposition; it starts with a null position. And “not considering deity” is not a presupposition; it is an appropriate “we don’t know” starting position.

Sadly, expect religious scientism to continue because it appears to relieve believers of some of their dissonance. Many of their conclusions will be wrong of course but lay believers may not recognize this.

Spins your head, doesn’t it? Keep this in mind the next time you consider popping a chad for a candidate who denies climate change, supports funding educational vouchers, or advocates shutting down the Department of Education. Meanwhile teach your children well. Give them science toys as gifts. Challenge their minds. Foster curiosity, wonder and intellectual interest. There is a big real world to learn about and it is much more accessible if they do not have to first dig themselves out of a false information hole.




Inter-Religion Clashes

All the religious wars that have caused blood to be shed for centuries arise from passionate feelings and facile counter-positions, such as Us and Them, good and bad, white and black.

-Umberto Eco

A video has been posted showing a British Christian group, Britain First, walking into a Luton neighborhood (a suburb of London) with a concentrated population of Muslim citizens, intending to antagonize them with large crosses. As expected both sides quickly engaged in angry shouting and middle-finger brandishing. The exchange is unsettling, though no violence ensued.

As demographics grow and shift we will watch this type of event happen with greater frequency. Though groups of humans will always find ways to conflict with one another there is a desire among many to have us grow out of this part of our nature. Do we really have to continue a conflict that has been raging regionally since 700 A.C.E.?

I remember watching a movie about Camelot years ago, Arthur the good king coming to power replacing the bad king of yore. It was exciting, romantic, righteous and triumphant. Years later it occurred to me that this narrowly-timed story, a mythical consolidation of English kings, would be but a happy(ish) episode in a long line of sad stories. Without a system to cultivate good kings it was likely that despicable kings would follow as common as not. The average person, largely powerless, would be dragged through the reign of one ruler after another, stability and happiness in their lives subject to rounds of Russian Roulette leadership quality. (See too Russian history when murder and assassination was the typical method of succession for centuries.)

This is how it feels watching religious adherents clash—endless rounds of righteous rivalry teeing up to claim territory. (This is not to imply that one side is better than the other. Certainly there are differences; your viewpoint can apply those labels.) Though both religions have scriptural elements that teach of peaceful coexistence they also teach the opposite, that their worldview is the holy correct one and the edge of the sword should be taken up in defense and offense. It is far too easy to cherry-pick justification into righteous conflict. From Roman era conflicts to twentieth century Christian/Protestant battles to Islamic sectarian rumbles of today, mankind has seen uncompromising threats of misery from literalists, aimed at those who do not yield from without or stay true from within.

But we no longer live in 3000 B.C.E., 700 C.E., or 1800 C.E.; we live in a time when the findings of physics, astronomy, biology, cognitive science and geology have demonstrated that the existence of deities is…no longer the most likely explanation for reality. However we are stuck with brains that evolution has provided—prone to belief. It feels archaic to be among those who hiss, fume and attack in the name of religion but this is modern. It is present day. And a few miles from such street conflicts colleges teach evolution, secular courts enforce civil laws, and stores sell meat products that have not been sorted by cloven hoof. Collectively, we are of mixed mind.

Humanity seems to be going through its adolescent phase—persisting with its early intuitions while, holding a thickening encyclopedia of new knowledge, not yet able to let the new information revise the old. This growth arc, the lifespan of intellectual humanity, seems to be thousands of years long. In maturity years we have just passed our teens.

Can we use cultural tools to help this maturation, to help strong believers get along despite their impulses to not? Hopefully but the time scale remains unknown. It will take an unprecedented shift within religious communities led by the leaders within. Sacred needs to be corralled. This is not to suggest that strong believers give up their belief; that aspiration is unreachable. But why can’t they agree to let God make the judgments in His appointed time (end of natural life) instead of mortal humans making and imposing judgments here and now? Where is the trust in the deity? Where is the mortal humility? Must we continue to site writings of human leaders, old and new, to force faith and impose harm onto others? Doesn’t our mortal imperfection disqualify us from imposing irreversible punishments on other mortal beings? Are we that arrogant, that unable to control our tribal impulses?

Scriptural interpretations are just that—interpretations. They may be flawed. This does not mean the scriptures are wrong, but our readings of them can be fallible. Every holy person who has disagreed over the smallest scriptural word, phrase or passage—over thousands of years—has proven this. Sounds like a decent basis for minimally, not harming one another.

In light of these issues, not the least of which are ongoing terrorist bombings, can we also agree to do more as a global population? How about an annual Copenhagen-style worldwide conference on the issue of religious conflict, on the scale of what we did to battle the HIV crisis? Time sensitive. High on the priority list. Ongoing. Until we are done. If we can’t evolve our biology out of religious conflict can we at least evolve our culture?


The Role of Philosophy

What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Blood from the right chamber of the heart goes to -vena arteriosa – lungs – arteria venosa – left chamber…”
-Ibn Nafis (1210-1288 AD)


“We likewise discover that there cannot exist any atoms or parts of matter that are of their own nature indivisible.”
-Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

Philosophy is proto-science, the development of hypotheses and the testing of these by thought experiment using the tool of logic. Its limitation, as the above quotes demonstrate, is that its conclusions cannot be raised to a level of strong confidence since, evidence not being part of the process, there is no way to tell which conclusions are true and which are false. Sometimes it results in a hit, sometimes a miss. This is not to say that philosophy is useless—it is in fact essential—but that its conclusions are preliminary. They are the end of a road that does not continue unless and until evidence becomes available to progress the investigation with physical experimentation. The samples above are both reasonable and logical, however only one is correct. In time, evidence arose and accumulated to elevate one to the level of high theory while the other has been relegated to the dustbin of ideas that didn’t pan out.

Ask yourself then: before evidence was found to substantiate or destroy the hypotheses, what degree of confidence should have been stamped upon its plateaued conclusions? Sans evidence can any confidence even be assigned? In other words, can the output of philosophy be considered truth?

The answer is no, in of itself. Although it may derive what later becomes learned as truth, until that result is proven by evidential experimentation of positive result, a philosophical conclusion is held in a waiting position, cued up hopefully for the scientific method to take the baton and move forward. But if no runner comes along—no evidence arrives—then conclusions remained cemented at this level they have obtained, able to advance no further. They are refined speculations, educated guesses, reasoned options, even hopes.

Of what use then is philosophy? Tremendous use, particularly when evidence has not yet been discovered or when evidence may never be discovered. For the later consider the question, what is “importance?” As an abstract concept, there is no way to discuss this question without thought argument. The outcome therefore remains hypothetical and conceptual. A vase may be important or unimportant for a variety of reasons but its physical properties do not change according to its deemed importance. This is analogous to a truth vs the perception or knowledge of a truth; a truth exists independent of any knowledge or perception of it. Yes, a tree falling alone in a forest does make a sound.

In millennium past, philosophy has had a great role in leading us toward truth, though for every truth eventually matured to fact many alternate dead ends were abandoned. We kindly tend to remember the successes and forget the failures. We revere Isaac Newton for his Calculus and Theory of Gravitation while diminishing to trivia his efforts in alchemy and apocalyptic prophesy.

Though the knowledge we have gained from the last four hundred years of science has reduced the realm of philosophy—natural philosophy in particular–but there is still much we do not know. (Indeed we don’t even know how much we don’t know, so perhaps philosophy should be considered to have just moved on to new territories.) Thus philosophy will always have an important role. While science continually moves into new areas, it is often philosophy that first helps us imagine beyond the current one*. And if the history and progress of the philosophy-science team has taught us anything it is that there will always be new horizons.

However, there is a problem. Among the believent, (those with a propensity to conclude belief, particularly when evidence is scant or nonexistent), philosophy is often used beyond its boundary. When faith is criticized or considered insufficient, deities are often rationalized by argument. Religious apologists lacking physical evidence of the supernatural (by definition) make philosophical arguments to justify not only scriptural teachings but their preferred deity’s existence. This would be fine if only done to the degree of hypothesis without confidence, but they often treat their conclusions as raised to the level of likelihood, even seeing them as “truth.” This is typically an honest error, motivated reasoning being in full bloom, but it is nonetheless incorrect. Problematically, when people group and reinforce such beliefs, the result is a deficit from reality that can result in ideological, educational, political, even physical conflict.

A bigger problem: when one can generate a conclusion that is intuitive or desirable, avoiding the discomfort of the unsatisfactory, the unfamiliar or the unanswered, the search for knowledge stops and sometimes inconvenient evidence is suppressed. This is common because evolution has sculpted us to be intuitive. Intuition is a quick-decision neurological shortcut that enhanced our survival in an environment where there was often no time for slow, deliberate consideration. Infinities, time dilation, “nothing” before the Big Bang do not make intuitive sense yet they have non-supernatural explanations. But settling on a deity explanation, fanciful and teleological, is intuitive and comfortable.

So use philosophy wisely. Value its contribution in the past, present and future. But be aware of its limits and our bias to use it beyond its ken. If truth is what you’re after, philosophy is just the first step.


*Science does not progress only by the philosophical generation of hypothesis. Given the knowledge base we’re standing on now and the technology available, much (most?) of new science is investigating questions that previous work exposed. Just ask anyone who is involved with a planetary exploration project; the backlog of data to be analyzed is monstrous, not even including the reconsideration/revaluation that future findings will trigger. Almost everything we learn generates exciting new questions. Mathematics too is a field that proposes and generates new horizons, particularly in cosmology.



Atheism as Religion, Simplified

If you can’t convince them, confuse them.
-Harry S Truman

Atheism is commonly attacked as being a religion, a worldview with faith-based presuppositions. The label is applied by theists in an attempt to deflect arguments against their own religion. This is a counterattack from a weakened position (see Upping the Anti Ante), a Tu Quoquo fallacy (latin for “you also”), in which one accuses the other of what they are being accused—in this case unsubstantiated belief.

The tactic has gotten more slippery of late so let’s give it more nuanced consideration. First the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:


1. A particular system of faith and worship:
     the world’s great religions
2. A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance:
     consumerism is the new religion

You may notice that this definition omits a reference to deity, an element that many dictionaries include. This is a good demonstration that the meanings of words differ depending on source and usage. Further, definitions shift over time when usage shifts.

Oxford’s first meaning sites faith and worship. Atheists decline these labels, holding that their conclusion is based on evidence and reason. Theists counter that it takes more faith to not believe in God than to believe. To parse this debate would require a breakdown of the meanings of faith and worship. See where this is going?

Next meaning, religion can be just an interest of importance. It’s peculiar that Oxford uses the adjective supreme, a word commonly associated with deity. Is great interest in vegetarianism a religion? Perhaps not if it’s not the most important interest in your life…unless it is. What if you have two great life-consuming passions, theatre and poetry. Is the practice of these arts religion? Can you have two supreme interests, more than one true religion? Is the celebration of one sacrilegious to the other?

By default, by deceit, or perhaps misdirecting intent of the accusers we are led to being unable to answer the original question. Is atheism a religion? It depends who you ask. People can give different answers and apparently all can be right. If not they can certainly claim have the right answer backed up with some form of logic. Words only have the meaning in the way they are used. Everyone wins…but then everyone loses. Why do we even bother with language?

This reminds me of the presupposition apologist tactic, trying to get their opponent to admit to possibly being wrong about anything they know (note, possibly not probably, thus the fallacy trap). They never mention to onlookers that if any person can’t be one hundred percent sure of their thoughts (not aware of living in the Matrix, etc), then nobody can—including themselves. This disarming of both sides is pointless and deceptive, as is slipperiness and shifting of definitions within an argument.

So I’ll examine the posing of the question itself. Why would a theist prefer that an atheist be engaging in a religion, be it science or the not-doing of a thing? Could it be a defensive attempt to lower their opponent to the same debased position, that of placing a leap of faith on par with a conclusion derived from evidence?

What happens if government legally deems atheism to be a religion? First off, tax-exemption for all atheist groups. Is that your goal, theists? Perhaps so as a tactic to counter atheist’s advocacy for religions to lose their historical exemption. Better to let weeds grow than pull out the monetary garden, eh? We are already living with the awarding of exemption to organized cults with all the abuse that has yielded, in particular on property accumulation. And then what—tax exemption for bowling leagues? Or is that hobby deemed not “supreme” enough in interest intensity? Who decides where that line is drawn?

So let’s dump this ridiculous gameplay. How can we know if atheism is a religion? If you can’t handle the reality, apply the walks-like-a-duck common sense test.

Christianity is a religion. Islam is a religion. Stamp collecting is a hobby. Being a Star Wars super-fan is an enjoyable obsession. Buddhism is a philosophy that many practice as a religion. Mormonism is a scam that evolved into a religion. And a mallard is a duck.

Atheism is a disbelief. Look it up.