More details on the Thursday debate

As promised, here are the details on my debate this week.

Debate: Are Science and Religion Compatible?
An Evening of Stimulating Intellectual Discourse
Loyal Rue and PZ Myers
Sponsored by
Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists
Thursday, February 7, 2008
7:00pm – 10:00pm
West Bank Auditorium- Willey Hall
225 19th Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55455

I must say I like the tagline — “An Evening of Stimulating Intellectual Discourse” — since I don’t think this will be the kind of ferocious bloody battle some of you might be hoping for. Rue is a religious moderate, so I don’t anticipate any opportunities to go on a rampage by either of us. Come prepared with thought provoking questions; I told Dr Rue that if we can’t initiate any gunfire between the two of us, we could always turn on the audience and get some spectacle that way.

There’s also the suggestion from Rick Schauer that this might be an excuse for Free Beer. Come to the Campus Club, on the fourth floor of the Coffman Union, around six and even if the beer isn’t free we can fortify ourselves. I think I’ll also invite Rue to join us. He’ll be drinking the hard stuff, keep his glass filled.

By the way, my answer to the question will be a solid “no,” if you were wondering.


  1. Mooser says

    Sure they’re compatible, as long as religion know its place, somewhere below theatre, maybe just above a sleazy strip club.

  2. jpf says

    Off topic, but I just saw this on Crosswalk and had to share: “Some Chilling Strategies of Neo-Atheists” by Regis Nicoll, a “Freelance Writer, Speaker, Worldview Teacher, Men’s Ministry Leader”.

    A new wave of atheism is sweeping over the cultural landscape. At the vanguard are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris whose anti-God polemics can be found in The God Delusion, God is Not Great, and The End of Faith. Judging from book sales and bestseller lists, these pitchmen have definitely hit a harmonic with anyone who has ever had an ax to grind against religion; especially, Christianity.

    The ploy is an old one: Point to some negative consequence, single out a belief system or people group that you don’t particularly like, make a connection–no matter how tenuous–and suggest a solution. In ancient times, it resulted in the scourge, the rack and the Roman coliseum; in modern times, the gulag, crematoria, and mass graves.

    Dawkins and Hitchens will start throwing Christians into the ovens any day now! Christian paranoia at its finest. But wait, we’re just getting started:


    D’Souza goes on to quote postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty: “Secular professors in the universities ought ‘to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own’ . . . students are fortunate to find themselves under the control ‘of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.'”

    Imagine, a whole generation of young people cloned by the one-man Ministry of (De-constructed) Truth himself. Our concern ought to be that they could fall into the grip of such frighteningly dangerous man-molders.

    It’s hard to ponder these things without thinking of Joseph Kony, the self-appointed leader of a Ugandan terrorist group that ravages villages, killing parents and kidnapping children. While Rorty is not advocating murder and child abduction, his intention to discredit parents so that their children will fall under his spell, sounds alarmingly Kony-esque.

    Mind control! Child abduction! Clone armies! Crazy, huh? It gets crazier:

    But the most bracing vision comes from sci-fi writer, Arthur C. Clarke.


    From a futuristic perspective in 2500 AD, Clarke looks back at 2010 as the year the human race averted its gravest danger. No, it wasn’t thermonuclear war, global warming, or an earth-bound asteroid; it was the “mental virus” of organized religion.

    The “good” news is that before our worst fears were realized, science came to the rescue. The wonders of technology enabled minds across the globe to be linked into a “supermind” causing religion, and all other divisive ideas, to meld in cosmic oneness. Once the distinctions of thought and personality dissolved into the universal, impersonal entity, the utopian promise of peace and prosperity was fulfilled.

    The Anti-Christian Singularity is nigh! First they write anti-God books, next thing you know they’re trying to assimilate us into the cybernetic Supermind of the Neo-Atheists!

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    …they’re trying to assimilate us into the cybernetic Supermind of the Neo-Atheists!

    Nah – nothing useful comes from plugging defective chips into a functioning board.

  4. t-guy says

    Mind control! Child abduction! Clone armies!

    Cue spooky music.

    I stopped watching The Cross-Files when whatsisname left the show.

  5. Bride of Shrek says

    Loyal Rue? What is it about these people and their names? I came across a televangelist this morning whilst channel surfing of the name Taffi Dollar. Now it just doesn’t get more porn-starish than that in my opinion but Loyal Rue is getting close.

  6. James says

    I’m not blown away by the topic, although I think this is an excellent opporutnity to teach people about how ID is really a political issue dressed up as a religous one by a bunch of far-right charlatans.

    I told Dr Rue that if we can’t initiate any gunfire between the two of us, we could always turn on the audience and get some spectacle that way.

    Science and religion tag team vs. stupidity! Can you smell what the PZ is cookin’????

  7. jpf says

    I forgot to mention… for those unfamiliar with Joseph Kony (from Wikipedia):

    Joseph Kony (born 1962) is the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group that is engaged in a violent campaign to establish a theocratic government in Uganda, based on the Christian Bible and the Ten Commandments. The LRA, which earned a terrifying reputation for its brutality against the people of northern Uganda, has abducted an estimated 20,000 children since its rebellion began in 1987.[1]

    An awfully strange analogy for Nicoll to bring up, especially considering his “old ploy” statement in the previous section, since he’s practically acknowledging that *he* is engaging in the old ploy…

    On second thought, maybe this article was a Sokal-esque plant? Is there really such a thing as “Centurion of Prison Fellowship Ministries Wilberforce Forum”?

  8. Matt says

    I’m glad to see you’re doing more debates, PZ. Will this be filmed and uploaded onto the net? Unfortunately I cannot attend (I’m British) but I’m very interested in watching/listening.

  9. CanadaGoose says

    “An Evening of Stimulating Intellectual Discourse”

    I first read this as “An Evening of Simulated Intellectual Discourse”

    Not that I dount PZ’s credentials.

  10. inkadu says

    I always find debates like this incredibly frustrating, because religious moderates just pretend they represent the “real” religion, and can’t imagine why we get so exercised about it. What, they say, nobody believes people actually go to hell anymore, so what are you so worried about? Nobody believes that everyone actually has to believe that Jesus is God’s son to get into Heaven, etc… And moderates somehow think they have a more “reasonable” position than more fundamental adherents to their faith, when in fact, they have the more indefensible position, relative to scripture…

    Argh. Anyway, I would certainly watch it, because it will end up being a solid discussion on actual science. That’s always good.

  11. inkadu says

    Fr’instance, questions I’d want to ask would be, “So if God really does care about us, why does everything point to us being a complete accident? As if the Universe really didn’t care one way or the other about us? How can you hold the idea that God wants to give us eternal life, when it can’t even be shown that He’s in anyway responsible for this finite life? What about the soul? Christian mythology is predicated on the existence of some eternal spark of us, but there’s been no evidence of any existence of a soul, and, in fact, the soul use to explain our personalities and our thoughts, but here again, everything points to our brains as being a natural process that is the result itself of natural process…”

    I mean, jeez, if you think about all the nutty things you have to believe to be even “moderately” religious, there’s a lot of silliness.

  12. John T. says


    You dont think that the “big bang” is silly? Not sure which is more fantastical, That god could come in the form of Jesus or by chance the “big bang” just happened. They both need you to suspend some of your rationality.

  13. says

    Sure, science and religion are compatible. The same way a bullet and an egg are compatible. One does a hell of a job obliterating the other, while the other makes a frightful mess all over the place.

  14. says

    John T (#18) has seemingly not looked at any of the mathematics at, and is just relying on his (failing) intuition to tell him how much sense the big bang should make.

    Presumably he also uses his intuition to judge the suitability of quantum mechanics as well.

    That there was a big bang isn’t hard to comprehend, since what we observe is, by and large plainly flying apart. That it could indeed have “just happened” isn’t even all that surprising, even though it doesn’t accord with his common sense gained from a time and place with entirely different experiences.

    In its place, we’re supposed to accept not just a mythical supernatural being*, but his particular choice of mythical supernatural being. Why your particular delusion over someone else’s MSB, pray tell? Where is teh evidence that yours is a better explanation for what we observe than any other made up explanation? (let alone the actual explanation from physics, which has the merit of at least accounting for a good bit of what we actually see)

    *(which is in fact a *much* wilder story, since no actual explanation for said MSB’s origins is given, and no actual evidence for whichever claimed origin story he pulls out of his ass is offered)

  15. John T. says


    Actually whatever you choose to believe I totally accept. In fact I believe that evolution is definately a possibility. I also believe that the “big bang” is also possible. I also believe that I have a creator. I cant prove it, but that doesnt necessarily mean there isnt one. The truth of the matter. And I pretty much can say this as an absolute. In yours and my lifetime, neither one of us will be able to say how it all started. At least not definatively. Thats the great thing about life, we all get to guesstimate. Mysterious isnt it lol.

  16. John T. says


    Oh by the way my intuition is part of the quantum field. I thought you would know that.

  17. says

    “I also believe that I have a creator. I cant prove it, but that doesnt necessarily mean there isnt one.”

    Oh, man, really? Wait ’til you hear about the teapot orbiting the sun!

  18. Fox1 says

    Willey Hall?! That’s right next door to me…

    I just have to come up with a reason to stick around at work until 7, and a way to get home after the buses have stopped running…

  19. Gregory Kusnick says

    You dont think that the “big bang” is silly?

    Actually, I do think the Big Bang is kind of silly, and so do a number of reputable cosmologists (e.g. Paul Steinhart). That’s why scientists keep looking for alternative ideas that explain the data equally well.

    The “equally well” part is the key. For all its silliness, Big Bang cosmology has enormous explanatory and predictive power. “God did it” explains nothing (where did God come from?) and predicts nothing (if God can do anything, then nothing is ruled out). That’s why scientists continue to accept the Big Bang, despite its weirdness, until something better comes along.

  20. I Reads Good says

    John T. – How much are you willing to wager that within your lifetime we won’t be able to say how it (all) started?

    I’ll take that bet and, depending on your age, I’ll even take the under plus a couple years.

  21. inkadu says

    You dont think that the “big bang” is silly?

    Well, I guess we agree on that point, John. The Big Bang is silly.

    I actually believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster enjoys stretching light waves as much as we enjoy stretching dough to make pizza — which is much better explanation for red shift than that silly big bang. Unlike the big bang, the FSM theory for red shift makes intuitive sense. We can all easily imagine a mass of hyper-intelligent pasta with an infinite number of noodly-appendages teasing out the light waves to be a little longer. Whereas the big bang requires us to believe that all the matter in the universe was condensed to a ridiculously small point. That’s not very believable.

    There’s also this crazy theory that time travels faster when you’re farther away from massive objects, like when you’re further away from the Earth. I mean, it sure seems that way, because we have to update our GPS satellite clocks constantly, because they all run fast. But I think that time moves at the same speed no matter where you are — that just makes intuitive sense — but that satellites orbitting earth are closer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and as such, get excited, and that makes their clocks run faster. I mean, we all get excited, and things seem to happen quickly. If that happens for us, why can’t it happen for satellites? It just makes intuitive sense, unlike that crazy idea of time being a factor on one side of some crazy unintuitive equation involving mass.

    And mass? I mean, come on. What the hell is that? Do people really weigh less on the moon? That doesn’t make any sense! I mean, they didn’t get any less fat, why should they weigh less?

    I think you’re on to something. Don’t waste your time blogging here, John. You should be researching some important stuff. Apply for a grant. The world needs clear-thinking people like you.

  22. Olorin says

    Whether or not particular religions or particular religious beliefs contradict science, I think there is a fundamental conflict between science and religion in general.

    In the past, religion has provided a “story” as to who we are as human beings, and how we should behave–i.e., a moral code. Religion also provides a group cohesiveness that humans seem to need.

    More and more, it is science that tells us who we are and where we came from. Science can and does investigate morality, and may someday (perhaps even soon) come up with a universal human moral code—behaviors that we evolved as adaptations, or that can be shown to enhance our survival as a species. Science is also universal, in the sense that it is the same for everyone—no denominations or cults are allowed, and thus it does not satisfy a need for group cohesion.

    Science will eventually, I think, explain religion. Religion, however, is incapable of explaining science. In that sense, science inherently dominates religion. Non-overlapping magisteria is a load of dingos kidneys.

    All this might be depressing for a practicing Christian. Personally, however, I find my faith curiously unthreatened by science.

  23. says

    Not sure which is more fantastical, That god could come in the form of Jesus or by chance the “big bang” just happened. They both need you to suspend some of your rationality.

    Actually only the god theory necessitates that we suspend our rationality because it goes against principles that we already know to be true. The big bang just requires that we keep an open mind to things that may be true but that we don’t know of yet.

    We know a rotting corpse doesn’t regenerate and come back to life. We know that walking on water (unless it is frozen) is an impossibility.

  24. John T. says

    I reads good

    There was a time when religion thought it could explain all the world, then came science. They both come up short.


    I thought the site was for science to prove how wrong faith is. Im here to give you some ammo………….fire away lmao

  25. Eric says

    Thanks for the update. I’m going to try to make this event.

    I’m not a student, but I’ve attended a bunch of great events at the various colleges around the Twin Cities.

    I saw Philip Kitcher give a lecture at Augsburg College (I think that was the one?) last Spring and really enjoyed it.

  26. truth machine says

    Odds are you will be talking past each other, using different senses of “compatible”. And you have the short end of the stick because a sense of “compatible” that yields “no” is necessarily quite contrived, as we live in a world in which both science and religion exist and in which religious scientists exist. It’s a pity that, when the debate is on “our” turf, questions are chosen that are particularly stupid, unenlightening, and force the areligious to take a ridiculous and point-missing position. Instead of this idiotic value-neutral “compatible” crap, how about debating something meaningful and useful, like whether religion helps or harms science?

  27. truth machine says

    There was a time when religion thought it could explain all the world, then came science. They both come up short.

    We’ve been trolled with this exact same lying stupidity before, and all the previous responses apply.

  28. truth machine says

    That god could come in the form of Jesus or by chance the “big bang” just happened. They both need you to suspend some of your rationality.

    No, troll, they both need you to suspend some of your incredulity, but the “big bang” is an inference from the evidence to the best explanation, and thus it is entirely rational to accept it and irrational to reject it (unless you have some other theory consistent with the evidence).

    Which does suggest a sense of “compatible” that can be used by someone committed to a “no” answer for this debate: if science involves a rational process of reasoning from the evidence to the best explanation, religious beliefs are “incompatible” because they don’t obey that process.

    But that’s not an intellectually honest position because this is a matter of inconsistency, not incompatibility — the latter implies that rational and irrational beliefs cannot coexist, whereas they clearly do, in everyone, even the best scientists.

  29. Michael X says

    A common mistake made by many, John T, is to assume that eachothers beliefs are based upon the same amount of evidence, leading somewhat sane but credulous people to assume that everyone must be on the same weak footing that they are.

    Also as for the debate, it seems that in everyone of these that has been had about the compatibility of science and religion the underlying assumption is “are they compatible towards uncovering truth?” and not just about “are they compatible?” where in the vague sense some answers slightly slant towards yes. Now unless someone gets postmodern with the word ‘truth’, then I think a solid NO is the only answer that is sensible.

  30. Michael X says

    Look at that, don’t reload, and see TM has basically stated the idea. “Inconsistent” is indeed the best word to describe the reason why every other sense in which religion and science co-exist, is not due to compatibility, but the partitioning off of ways of thinking.

  31. John T. says

    Michael X

    You may have more evidence for your belief than I do. The one thing in common is that you can no more explain it all then I can. When you can then say “I told you so”.

  32. Shirakawasuna says

    PZ: If there’s one thing you need to bring to this debate that you might not already have prepared, it’s a whole bunch of statistics (the best you can get) of what people in the U.S. and elsewhere believe concerning religion, how people vote, etc. It’s true that moderates often get away with defining religion into vague metaphorical nonsense that applies to what seems to be a small minority of believers. Which isn’t to say that Fundamentalists are a majority, but I would bet that large numbers of people believe Jesus really existed and really had powers, for instance. It would also be interesting to see what they would call Fundamentalism instead of religion, even if they think it’s misguided. The less room you can give your ‘opponent’ to redefine religion into nothingness, the better!

    In the debates I’ve seen between atheists and moderates/theologians, there is also another tactic: after redefining religion into another domain, it is then proclaimed to be a superior domain that then overlaps with science/scientists concerning all sorts of subjects. For instance, after defining religion simply as the search for the transcendental (or something else vague), they will go on to say that science cannot say anything about transcendental experiences, spirituality, the mind, etc, effectively fencing off a chunk all for themselves which is indeed explorable scientifically.

    Hopefully I didn’t ramble on too much, and good luck!

  33. negentropyeater says

    Truth #32,

    I agree with you that the term “compatible” is not the right choice for such a debate. As you noted, the use of the present term makes it easier for Rue to support a “Yes” position, I guess he will refer to the idea that Science and Religion are capable of existing together in harmony, as long as “Religion” can accept the discoveries of Science, and as long as these same scientific discoveries have not ruled out with sufficient certainty the possibility of the existence of a soul and other metaphysical considerations.

    I would have prefered a deabte on the following :

    “Will Science eventually render Religions unnecessary ?”

    Gee, I hope there’s a recording of it (Minneapolis is a bit far from Barcelona, and too cold for the time being).

  34. maxi says

    John T:

    I may not follow atrophysics as closely as I ought, so therefore cannot explain the Big Bang (for instance) to the level of detail that you demand. But I can’t point you to someone who can, and you can ask them. They will be able to answer all your questions in sufficient depth, with all the evidence, to the best of your ability to understand the answers.

    This will give a satisfactory answer. ‘Goddidit’ is all I’ll ever get when asking a theologian about the origins of the universe, no evidence required.

  35. alchemist says

    As a PhD chemist, and agnostic who generally agrees with you, I think I would largely disagree with you on this subject.

    There will always be a place where our understanding of the universe fails us. I had a physics grad student for a roommate who was certain that some day we will have a (very long) equation that explains everything. I’m not so certain.

    Wherever there is a gap in our understanding, some sort of belief takes over. We can’t help it, our brain is programmed to connect the dots with lines that don’t exist. And so we see echoes of our mind in the vast emptiness. Wether those echoes are god, or superstrings, even scientists sometimes cling to their beliefs without substantiated facts (or continue to argue them well after their disproven).

    Two books: Carl Sagan’s Contact, loosely describes aliens who have a theory for the universe, and yet cannot discount the idea of god. The second, a slighly campy short story in Dan Simmons ‘Hyperion’ details a priest, who travels the stars, searching for other life forms who also believe in the Christian god. Faith doesn’t end just because our current beliefs fail the test of science.

    I agree that religion sometimes (or often) imposes itself on others. Shouldn’t atheism, which is ‘based’ on science, take the higher path and not impose itself on those who wish to find faith in emptiness?

    This website does a good job of illustrating faith trying to remove science, why not just leave their ignorance for display, while simply following your own beliefs.

  36. maxi says

    Alchemist, I’m not sure if you were talking to me specifically, or to the thread in general; but I’ll put my two cents in anyway.

    I agree with you insomuch that for now there is gaps in our knowledge, of course there is. But while we have emptiness we can at least hypothesise PLAUSIBLE explanations. As humans, we do have trouble jsut not knowing something. This is why we work so hard on finding out things.

    The difference between someone that uses superstring theory to explain the universe, and someone who uses faith; is that the former has evidence to support it, and can make predictions that can be tested. By its very definition, faith cannot be support by evidence.

    By all means, lets fill the gaps, but how about using a plausible theory?

  37. Manduca says


    Why can’t the gaps in our knowledge be filled with “I don’t know”? Why can’t we call those gaps “interesting questions”?

    Not everyone feels emptiness and despair when facing an unanswered question – nor feels compelled to behave as if the answer is already known (whether that answer lie in string theory or god).

  38. Zib says

    Maxi @ 43:

    If you know of a test for superstring theory, Peter Woit would like to hear from you.

    Obviously I agree with you in principle though!

  39. John T. says


    Now there is an enlightening thought or series of thoughts. You could be a preacher lol. I love what Science can teach me, but the part where it fails(at this present time) is where my faith takes over. In fact I believe the brain requires both to be fully functional. And we dont need to look very far(in both camps)to see where the dysfunctional ones are.

  40. alchemist says

    I should have added (but had to run to class) that religion and faith becomes stronger when it accepts proven facts, and reevaluates it’s current understanding of the world. I think that’s something religion has largely failed to do, and actually makes itself weaker by opposing science, than by accepting basic scientific truths and reevaluating the most important aspects of the church.

    Unfortunately, that would require a lot of change, and a reshuffling of power inside large religions. Not going to happen anytime soon.

    _By its very definition, faith cannot be support by evidence._

    Wasn’t faith, in it’s earliest form, just a way of explaining what we see? The earliest jewish people saw unclean animals making people sick, and thus (in my opinion) believed this to be a testament from god. If you note the unclean animals, (shellfish, pigs etc) they all have to be cooked carefully, because of bacteria.

    Obviously, we now have a better understanding than “God told us so”.

    But there are some places where science just won’t fill in. Making big life decisions. Determining if you’re in love. Figuring out if you’re loved back. Dealing with grief. You can try and deal with them as scientifically as possible (and if you ask my wife, I certainly have tried) but there is no scientific formula for telling you what will happen in your everyday life.

    This is where you have to have faith in something. My faith happens to be non-religious, but important all the same. I have friends who are extremely religious, and we remain friends as long as we have respected our separate faiths (although, I’ve also lost friends for not doing so).

  41. maxi says

    But there are some places where science just won’t fill in. Making big life decisions. Determining if you’re in love. Figuring out if you’re loved back. Dealing with grief. You can try and deal with them as scientifically as possible (and if you ask my wife, I certainly have tried) but there is no scientific formula for telling you what will happen in your everyday life.

    This is where you have to have faith in something. My faith happens to be non-religious…

    But I’m talking about faith in the supernatural. ‘Faith’ that you won’t get run over by a truck today isn’t really faith. It is a measure of statistical probability. Science can certainly tell when someone is in love, or experiencing grief. These emotions are not outside the realm of science, indeed there are hundreds (if not thousands) of papers published every year looking into human emotions, not to mention that minor field of psychology.

    Why plug the gaps with faith? Why not, as Manduca says, can we just say, “I don’t know” and then go an find out. Faith is not progressive.

    I’m not too sure why some people decided shellfish and pork were ‘unclean’. I would bet on personal dislikes and predjudices. Your argument for careful cooking falls down with shellfish though, as there are many species that can be eaten raw.

  42. John T. says


    I had a hunch you were married by your writing style. By the way my wife thinks you have great insight too.

  43. Sparky says

    I have to also cross my fingers and hope someone has the decency to bring a take recorder along. If need be I can host the file. I just can’t make the trip to attend personally.

  44. alchemist says

    Yes, maxi, there is the science of understanding grief, but that isn’t how most people get through it. Psychology has gotten much better and understanding the subject of grief, and giving counseling, but it’s something religion has done (sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly) for thousands of years. Still, many people get through grief by believing in something greater than themselves.

    As far as ‘supernatural’, do I believe that god is a literal figure with a bushy white beard? Not really. I’m also not talking about faith in terms of ‘getting hit by a truck’ but in evaluating feelings that are complex, and are often conflicted. I have no problem with people using religion to help them find a path through these issues. And although psychology is become a valuable tool to deal with issues, most therapists will argue that it’s not the only tool, and that therapy alone won’t solve anything.

    So, what’s the harm in believing there is something out there guiding you, and helping you through the day to day? Obviously, when you’re decisions start to become shaped entirely by religious ideals, it can lead to rash “God told me so” decisions (aka our president). Then again, if you start to shape your life entirely by science, you become B.F. skinner.

  45. maxi says

    The harm?

    The harm is that it is lazy thinking. By believing that something is guiding you, you remove all personal responsibility.

    For instance, I have a choice to make right now, whether to stay on at my lab or leave to head into the unknown. Why woudl I ever leave such an important decision to an unkown guiding force? The choice I am going to make is going to be my choice, after I have carefully thought out all possible outcomes. If it turns out thatI regret my decision, well then I will live with that regret. I am not made of china, I will not break.

    I have lived through both grief and love without any need to rely on a supernatural guide, and I am only 24 years old. It flummoxed that others require such a prop to make it through what little time we have on Earth.

    I am confused with your reference to Skinner. He was an excellent scientist and by all accounts a good man.

  46. alchemist says

    Again, I don’t think you understand which decisions I’m referring to. It’s not the decision of going out to the store. I’m talking complicated emotional issues that are not always easily answered by reason. “Is it better to lie or to be honest but hurt someone with honesty?”, “Is it more important to finish my career, or be there for a family member?” Sometimes, how you feel is more important than the ‘best’ answer.

    I agree that Skinner was a brilliant researcher. It also seems to me that he was convinced that humanity was all science and no humanity. While he may be right, there is a danger in that message too, that we can modify ourselves to biologically be whatever we need. (Now, I’m not a huge BF skinner reader, so he may not have agreed with this viewpoint either).

    Lately, we do see this showing up more and more often. Kids saying “I’m too small to be a b-ball player, I need to fix my flaws with HGH” instead of emotionally reevaluating the situation and saying “maybe I wasn’t supposed to play b-ball….”. yes, science could fix part of the problem, but should it? Sometimes science forgets that social and character health is as important as biological health.

    I’m sure i’ve mischaracterized skinner’s positions…

  47. says


    the reference to BF Skinner probably means radical behaviorism. It’s supposed to imply that if we follow a rational/scientific life, we lose our humanity and become nothing more than robots. It’s a kind of “science unweaves the rainbow” argument/appeal to mystery.

  48. says

    Sometimes science forgets that social and character health is as important as biological health.

    There are a lot of psychologists who would be surprized by that.

    You do know that science isn’t some monolithic entity, right?

    Of course biologists focus on biology.

  49. Mooser says

    I used to believe in Science and Rationality, but then I got married. There is no Scientific, Rational explanation for my wife. She defies all physical laws, all logic, and cares not a whit for any deities, or diets.
    Where the hell can I get an answer? I’m not going to some filthy ashram, so forget that!
    Did I mention that she shot her first husband?

  50. Rick Schauer says

    Oh yeah, I’m all in…Free Beer then discussion!

    Our reservations are Thursday Feb, 7th, 2008…U of M Campus Club 5:45-6:45 pm …Couch Area adjacent to bar.

    Look here for directions!

    Wonderful! Looking forward to meeting you. -Rick

  51. alchemist says

    Marley; yes, of course biologists focus on biology. What I’m saying is that we can know alot about how things work, why things work, (say the brain, for example) and it still may not help us deal with, for example, a specific depression. Knowing that a lack of dopamine is causing the problem isn’t necessarily soothing. Fixing the biological problem with drugs doesn’t always fix the problem at the root of the option. Therapy is the best option, but for some people religion works as well.

    Other people don’t have any problems, but see religion as an essential, stabilizing force in their life. I don’t, but I’m not going to condemn anyone for figuring out what works for them.

    Now, if they start telling me how to live, then I’ll raise hell.

  52. says

    Fixing the biological problem with drugs doesn’t always fix the problem at the root of the option.

    True, but often there is no ‘fix’ for the root cause (think bipolar disorder or schizophrenia) and drugs to control it are the best, if not only, effective solution.

    Now, if they start telling me how to live…

    We rarely see or hear one who isn’t. That’s the problem. If they were all Fred Rogers, I’d have no problem with them either.

  53. flynn says

    >>Knowing that a lack of dopamine is causing the problem isn’t necessarily soothing.

    Not necessarily, but i will testify that it can be. A chemical, internal problem can be far easier to deal with than, “my life is falling apart.” Once I figured out that the chemistry preceeded explanations for it, things got much much better.

    Alchemist, I’m still wondering what you mean by faith. If it’s just trusting your past experiences and your reactions–love feels like this, etc.–then it’s not what I usually call faith but I agree that it is useful whatever we call it. If it is the idea that someone has sent me a lover to love, we’re not in agreement.

    I had to smile at your basketball analogy. Years ago I decided that chemistry was hard and I wanted to give it up. Would you say to one of your students expressing this same view that they were clearly not meant to study science? Many of us never find that we have any “calling,” after all.

  54. maxi says

    I’m talking complicated emotional issues that are not always easily answered by reason. “Is it better to lie or to be honest but hurt someone with honesty?”, “Is it more important to finish my career, or be there for a family member?” Sometimes, how you feel is more important than the ‘best’ answer.

    There are whole branches of ethics/philosphy that deal with these questions, with or without religion.

    No one is telling you what to believe. But when a thread opens up asking whether religion and science are compatable, I am going to say ‘no’ and argue my point. Engaging your own brain and freeing yourself from the need of invisable guidance is the most liberating feeling. I have complete control over my decisions, and if I will ask for guidance, I won’t be asking my invisible best friend for their opinion.

    I agree with flynn, knowing the science behind something does not unweave the rainbow, but rather gives us better knowledge with which to make decisions.

    Who wants a calling in this life with all its wonderous variety?

  55. Michael X says

    No one claims that science can tell us everything right now. But simply because there is a gap in human knowledge doesn’t give anyone the go ahead to fill it with whatever answers make them feel better. Wishful thinking is not a respectable answer when the ballots are still out. Now, a hypothesis based upon our current knowledge and where it may or may not lead, that would be a more intellectually honest way of coming to ones beliefs.

  56. David Marjanović, OM says

    Oh by the way my intuition is part of the quantum field. I thought you would know that.



    alchemist, you should really read Dawkins’ book Unweaving the Rainbow. (Yes, that Dawkins.)

  57. David Marjanović, OM says

    Oh by the way my intuition is part of the quantum field. I thought you would know that.



    alchemist, you should really read Dawkins’ book Unweaving the Rainbow. (Yes, that Dawkins.)

  58. Michael X says

    As for you Alchemist,
    You have put forward a very unconvincing case of romanticized ignorance. Every single last question you put forward is being investigated by science and has been for quite some time. You fail when you assume that it is ok to allow sloppy, wishful thinking in principle, as long as you’ve decided that no harm will come, or that religion handles the situation equally as well.

    Neither of those assumptions are true.

    Religion works off of little more than human intuition muddled by iron age superstition. It is no match for evidence based psychology and the study of ethics in our human search for happiness. As for stating “what’s the harm?”, Sam Harris wrote an entire book, just for you!

  59. Alchemist says

    Michel X: Look, people are going to do what they want, so you can spend your time trying to dictate to non-scientists, or you can guard your yard and shoot when they come through the fence.

    I personally, would rather spend time on the latter. And I would agree religion is certainly charging through science’s fence, and I am certainly in favor of shooting away. ID theory should be buried and thrown asunder.

    What I do not agree with, is people that believe that Science will answer every question for everyone. Even if it could (and it can’t) some people will refuse to believe it. Most christians I know have NO problem with teaching evolution, but they still like to belive in god. Hell, there are LOTS of religous scientists out there. It’s not that religion handles the issue better (or even equally), but that some people enjoy life attached to a religous system or community. Is that a problem? Or do you need to call them all ignorant, weak-minded and unintelligent?

    Let people live their lives, (and hopefully, someday) religion will learn to stay out of ours.

    Can science and relgion work together? If religion insists on bending the rules of science, then no. But religion is almost certainly going to change, and it’s going to have to accept science to survive. If it can learn to deal with humanity’s spirtual journey while respecting it’s scientific conlcusions, we’re all set. I think it can, just not in it’s present form.

  60. John T. says


    I think you hit the nail on the head. Respect each others beliefs and maybe see where the common ground is. I have a faith in God as I understand it. That understanding is in a constant flux. Do I profess to have it exactly right, not even close. But as I can see neither does science. Check out a video by Rob Bell, called “Everything is Spiritual”. He may not have the science exact but hes got some great points about connecting.

  61. John T. says


    Just curious how old are you? And what do you do for a living? If I may be so bold to ask.

  62. Michael X says

    You seem to have missed my line of argument. So I’ll clarify: unless you have contrary evidence, you can’t argue with science. “Faith” is not an acceptable argument for the existence of a deity who interacts with, or even created the universe. Nor is it an acceptable argument for any other physical phenomenon. It is not tolerated in intelligent conversation. While everyone has the right to hold nonsensical, unfounded beliefs, that in no way dictates that those beliefs will not be challenged or ridiculed for the inanity that they represent.

    Also, consider that many people, yourself included, are apparently unaware of the vast progress science has made into what the average joe considers personal (subjective) experience. Thus, even where you thought “faith” was an acceptable, while thoughtless stop-gap, it turns out that it is actually contrary to scientific findings.

    As for dictating; what is the discovery of fact other than an dictation about the physical reality of the world? If prayer has been shown to be ineffective, then what is that other than a dictation that the “prayer answering god hypothesis” tested in numerous experiments doesn’t exist? Or are you hinting at the asinine idea that people unfriendly to the concept of “faith” would pass laws restricting people from the freedom to hold such beliefs? I’m sure you would be smarter than that.

    Lastly you continue to make the false assumption that religion has anything to offer towards the answers that you claim science can’t answer. So, by what mechanism does religion answer the question “What should I do with my life?” that a godless philosophy couldn’t answer just as well or better, without the chance of being lead askew by iron age dogma?

    You have yet to respond with anything better than the romanticizing of ignorance. You should also note that aside from one man determined to hold irrational beliefs, you have convinced exactly zero skeptics as to the acceptability (much less plausibility) of seeking and finding any demonstrable truth through faith and religion alone.

  63. alchemist says

    Michael X,

    I’m not going to convince you. All I can hope for is that you turn down your rhetoric. Sorry for the length (those who are still reading), I’m definitely skating on thin ice at times, but I’m enjoying the thought process.

    I think you have basically argued that religion is irrational, and therefore ‘stupid’. I have basically responded ‘so what?’. Let me further explain why I’m unpeturbed.

    Humanity, in my opinion, is more complicated that the sum of it’s rational, scientific parts. The most complicated part of humanity is our ability to make decisions. Sure enough, scientists have noted that the decision center our brain (especially with morality decisions) is directly linked to the emotional centers. We make tough decisions with our ‘heart’ and not with our deductive reasoning centers. Now if you want to argue that emotions are just physiologically controlled, and therefore our poor emotional decisions are nothing more than responses to over-stimulated neurons interfering with our rational centers: ok, I can accept that answer on a rational level.

    Sometimes, however, emotion (whether chemical or spiritual) is extremely important, more important than the rational answer would be (For example: letting an elderly family member die, or stay comatose on a ventilator). Sure, science can explain how we make these loaded decisions, why we’re obsessed with things that are unhealthy and how to make better choices. But sometimes, you have to make a decision that you know is wrong, but emotionally important.

    One place where we use emotion to define ourselves is in fulfillment: has our life been worth it?. What does that even mean? I have no idea, but we’re all working really hard to get there. And we all have different ideas of what the word means.

    While science can explain what fulfillment is, and what the idea implies, it can’t tell you what each individual needs to be fulfilled (Though counseling certainly helps). For some people, they feel that they reach fulfillment through religion. Now, you have implied that religion (& prayer) don’t accomplish anything. I would tend to agree with you in the direct sense of the word: God (if he exists) generally doesn’t grant wishes, or solve your problems for you.

    However, if people feel lower stress, or gain a sense of community by connecting to mediation, or a ‘greater being’, or a supportive religious group, that definitely is a secondary benefit. Most studies suggest religious people are healthier (physically), and while this probably results from a more pious lifestyle (in general), maybe religion also calms and relaxes them. Maybe religion, after all, is nothing more than an opiate.

    But I say this in the nicest possible sense. I LOVE my opiates. Without beer, pets and weekend sports, I never would have made it through a week of work. And that’s fine, as long as keep these to myself. If I start walking around the streets drunk, then I become a nuisance to the public around me. But I don’t think a lone pint of guinness is hurting anybody, even though it adds unhealthy calories to my waistline. And I don’t think attending church is a ‘burden on society’, even though it may make someone ‘ignorant’.

    Other points
    1) Can you get let askew by Dogma? Sure, but you can get led askew by anything. Even brilliant atheists make mistakes without a dogma.

    2) I would agree with the notion that ignorance is romantic, (or rather Ignorance is bliss). Life was more fun when we were kids and didn’t know anything. And the process of becoming non-ignorant is scary, sad and emotionally taxing. I’m glad I’m not ignorant anymore, but life was still more ‘romantic’ as a kid.

    3)Am I hinting that aethists might restrict religious freedoms? It’s certainly happened before, although it’s unlikely to happen here. You certainly have freedom to insult religion, (as ‘ignorant’) and they certainly have the freedom to insult us (Godless Pagainsts). And I certainly have the power to call both sides ‘a bunch of jerks’. But wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we didn’t have to call everybody else names?

  64. Michael X says

    If you think I’ve argued that religion is “stupid” then I conclude you haven’t been paying attention. I’ve said that religion is irrational, unfounded and I also pointed to Sam Harris’ book, End of Faith, as an example of why moderate believers shelter extremists by their thoughtless adherence to a dogma that justifies atrocities.

    I see now your entire argument has been little more than an appeal to consequences. In this case, “religion makes people happy.” As a drunk man is happier than a sober one, your argument fails to take into account happiness vs well-being and human dignity. Your argument also fails to respect the power of claiming to be acting on or following god’s commands. A claim that only religion can produce.

    As every Christian Scientist who refuses modern medicine for themselves and their children, every JW who refuses blood transitions for them and their children, every Christian Dominionist who holds fast to a verse about not sparing the rod on your child, all these people are happy, fulfilled, sane, and dangerous to those around them. People will needlessly die because of our religiously born policy on stem cells. Homosexuals are still second class citizens, and a woman’s right to her body is being challenged everyday by happy, fulfilled people acting in accordance to god’s perfect unquestionable will.
    If you’re asking “so what?” you haven’t been paying attention.

    Your argument is horribly naive Alchemist. You implicitly support the trade of dignity for romanticism, without any understanding of the possible and likely consequences.

  65. john t says


    Dont try to convince Michael X. Like a Christian Fundamenalist, his position is set in stone.

  66. spacedevil says

    I’ve said that religion is irrational, unfounded and I also pointed to Sam Harris’ book, End of Faith, as an example of why moderate believers shelter extremists by their thoughtless adherence to a dogma that justifies atrocities.

    Irrational & unfounded is smart people speak for stupid and brainwashed. I guess you disagree?

    By atrocities, do you mean, like sending christians to the frostfields of siberia so that they could be taught how to be better communists? Yes, atheists commit atrocities too. They are still people, just like the religious.

    I agree that not using stem cells is stupid. But, it’s every person’s right to argue what think is morally right and morally wrong. The goverment’s job is to come down somewhere in the quesy gray middle. If we get a democrat in office, maybe it will get a little closer.

    Homosexuals are not second class citizens. They can’t get married, or work protection, which I disagree with. Both are injustices. But let’s not equate them to refugees in Sudan ok?

    In my opinion, anyone has the potential to be dangerous. The difference is the person who tolerates differences, vs the person who is consumed with correcting them. That pretty clearly describes catholics in the spanish inquisition, nazis in germany, and those who used atheism to punish christians under Stalin. Even snarky, know-it-all atheists can be dangerous, if they suddenly decide the world MUST share their view.

    Think about it.

  67. Michael X says

    Wow, Spacedevil.
    That was… something.

    Let’s start from the top and work our way down.

    Irrational and unfounded is english for irrational and unfounded. Meaning not logically based and not founded upon evidence. Also, if I wish to demean you, it will be with more class than calling you stupid and brainwashed.

    You make my point despite yourself by pointing out the atrocities committed by stalinists. Would you argue that Communist Russia was a safe haven of reason and freedom? Of course not. These acts were committed by people following yet another form of unquestioning dogma. Religion may historically hold the vast majority of dogmatic totalitarian states but it does not own them all. This is of course not a point against atheism. Atheism owns none of them. No one has ever committed a crime because their atheism made them do it. Atheism is alone, a negative statement. “There is no god.” It has no prescriptive tenets. Communists, like all other dogmatists, commit atrocities because they give up their rationality. Now, you find me a country that follows the ideals of Jefferson and Paine (only if America could…) and then still commits atrocities, then you’ll have a point. Otherwise, all you’ve said is “You think only dogmas commits atrocities? Well, what about this other dogma?” Not so much of a convincing argument.

    It is not the governments job to come “somewhere in the grey middle.” It is the governments job to increase the safety of it’s populace, while adhering to its founding principles. The relevant one being secularism. Meaning no religious view alone can justify a law being passed. So, stem cells remain a poignant example of what happens when the belief that “it’s every person’s right to argue what {they} think is morally right and morally wrong” becomes “every persons right to think what they want is enough to determine laws.”

    Homosexuals actually are second class citizens. The Sudanese might be “third world citizens” but they have no relevance on this topic. If you are a “citizen” by law and yet are not allowed all the rights granted to you thereof, then by definition, you are a class below those who get all the rights listed. Simple.

    So to reiterate, “atheism” was not the cause of Stalinist Russia. As any history book will show. As for the other two horrific examples you give, I can only agree. You also forgot to mention the crusades, witch trials, and darfur as other stock religious examples of dogmatic atrocity.

    And one final question Spacedevil. If an atheist decides that all must follow his/her ideas, then isn’t that simply another form of Dogma?

    Read for comprehension friend. This has been my point all along: Unthinking faith and dogma are great evils in this world. Much more so than whatever to assert to be the evil inherent in us all. To choose faith and dogma over rationality and science is at the least, pitiable, and at the worst, lethal.

  68. Michael X says

    John T, I always attempt at the beginning of debates to steer away from character assassination, but yours seems intent upon suicide.

    Here is some recommended reading in case you attempt to speak publicly on this topic again.
    Bertrand Russell’s “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” (Also, “Why I Am Not a Christian.”)
    Lucretius’ “De Rerum Natura” (On the Nature of Things”)
    David Hume’s “The Natural History of Religion and Miracles”
    And Lastly, Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World, and The Varieties of Scientific Experience.”

    You may benefit from them. Or atleast the people who you encourage will, as you are not only misinformed yourself, you inspire it in others.

  69. alchemist says

    Sorry by using spacedevil. I only use spacedevil on a few blogs where someone uses “the alchemist”. I was writing quickly and used the wrong thing.

    Ok, question for you then: how do you define a society that is 100% rational from a society that is irrational(say communism, or religous theocracies)? What would a society designed around science look like? What would be allowed, what would not be allowed?

    Just trying to follow your train of thought.

  70. SteadyEddy says

    I’m going to do my best to make it to Coffman for the pre-party. If not, I’ll make the Willey show.

  71. says

    Alright, many posts with too much arguing for my puny brain right now. Is there a meeting of the minds and/or pro-religious “debate” attendees at Coffman? If so when? and I am assuming the campus club is the venue. Do I need a membership to enjoy a tasty malt beverage?

    Thanks for any help a noble poster provides (who by definition could not be an atheist, since atheists would never help another beverage seeking individual /snark).

  72. says

    Ignore my previous response, having just re-read the original post for the first time in 3 days, I realized all my questions were answered there. Man, I really need a beer.

  73. Michael X says

    Well, I’m glad you asked.

    In the basic ideal, the US isn’t a bad example. All citizens are equal (no difference in race, gender, or sexual orientation), we have a bill of rights giving us freedom of and from religion (There is no religious test of office either), freedom of the press (an informed populace is the back bone of democracy), freedom to express our grievances and gather in large groups of protest to do so, and most importantly, the freedom of speech. Our laws are to be passed after being rationally debated by the House and Senate in light of the evidence given to support them. If the law fails, we can retract it and revise it to respond to the evidence better, much like science. We also have a representative gov’t that protects the minority view and is built with internal checks and balances so that one branch will not become too powerful and possibly totalitarian.
    In a totalitarian state none of these are guaranteed. If you want to see in practice what a free society looks like compared to one that is the height of totalitarian dogma, compare Switzerland to North Korea.

    The US in practice, sadly, doesn’t follow these ideals as closely as it should and we step from time to time into the land of irrational government. Slavery, for example lasted long after “all men are created equal” was penned. We too censor the press, and other peoples freedom to speak all too quickly, without rational argument. (This of course is not the same as declaring, in rational debate, that certain arguments are void. Ones freedom to hold beliefs and speak them is not a free pass against criticism. Nor is being criticized a restriction of ones freedom.)

    I’ve heard the question expressed “Arn’t you afraid of what the world would be like if we were all hyper-rational?” And I think Hitchens answered it well when he said something to the effect of “It’s not a big enough worry to stop me.”

    If you want to further your reading, Bertrand Russell wrote an extraordinarily prescient piece called Theory and Practice of Bolshevism, where he points out the similarities between totalitarian states and religious ones. Also, Hitchens, in his last book, god is not Great, answers the objection in greater depth in chapter 17 titled “The last ditch ‘case’ against secularism,” also taking the time to demolish the claims that a society without religion would lead to moral anarchy.

    I hope this clears up the government issues.