Science and Relition are NOT Compatible

Ophelia Benson at Butterflies & Wheels reviewed an interview with Chris Mooney in which he discusses the compatibility of science and religion.   In talking about the Catholic Church’s support of evolution and its contention that god intervened by giving humans souls, Chris Mooney supports this stance as being perfectly compatible with science.

“Mooney says that’s all right provided it’s a supernatural claim, because science can’t say nuffink about that. If the Catholic church said humans have souls and we can prove it and here’s the data, then it would be a scientific claim and science could say No, but as it is, it’s not, so science can’t, and that means science and religion are compatible.”

Basically, what Mooney is saying is that as long as you can come up with any concept, idea, or belief that is falsifiable then it is compatible with science.    This kind of argument breaks down very quickly though.   The classic example of how this is nonsense is Carl Sagan’s, “Dragon in his garage”, argument.  I will quite it in its entirety:

“”A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”
Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you.  Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.  There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

“Show me,” you say.  I lead you to my garage.  You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.

“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely.  “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”  And so on.  I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.  The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.  The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind.  But then, why am I taking it so seriously?  Maybe I need help.  At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.  Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded.  So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage.  You merely put it on hold.  Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you.  Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of “not proved.”

Imagine that things had gone otherwise.  The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch.  Your infrared detector reads off-scale.  The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you.  No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons — to say nothing about invisible ones — you must now acknowledge that there’s something here, and that in a preliminary way it’s consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me.  Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages — but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive.  All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence.  None of us is a lunatic.  We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on.  I’d rather it not be true, I tell you.  But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported.  But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking.  An alternative explanation presents itself.  On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked.  Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath.  But again, other possibilities exist.  We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons.  Such “evidence” — no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it — is far from compelling.  Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.”

Just because someone believes something that cannot be proved doesn’t make it compatible with science, in fact, the scientific method demands that we reject such a hypothesis while keeping an open mind to future positive evidence. 

Using this standard, there is no difference between the “Dragon In My Garage” hypothesis and the” I Believe In God hypothesis”.  From a scientific point of view we must reject the God hypothesis due to no supporting evidence while keeping an open mind the possibility of future positive evidence.  

When you look at it this way, science and religion are not at all compatible and to call yourself a scientist, as Mooney does, and insist that they are compatible requires either self-delusion or deceit.   I’ll give Mooney the benefit of the doubt and hope that he is merely self-deluded.

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27 thoughts on “Science and Relition are NOT Compatible

  1. Your logic is critically flawed. The Scientific method you and fellow athiest quickly bring into an arguement is a double -edged sword. We must apply the same standards toward religion as you do toward the myths you believe. when you do that you will find many of the wonderful claims that are propagated by athiest also rest on thin ice.
    For that matter if something cannot be observed, or it effects cannot be observed or duplicated, then science cannot attest to it. However that still does not prove that it doesn’t exist. lets all live by the same standard

    • “We must apply the same standards toward religion as you do toward the myths you believe. when you do that you will find many of the wonderful claims that are propagated by athiest also rest on thin ice.”

      They do? Which ones? This is weak in the extreme.

      “For that matter if something cannot be observed, or it effects cannot be observed or duplicated, then science cannot attest to it. However that still does not prove that it doesn’t exist. lets all live by the same standard”

      While “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is true for untested claims, accepting a an untested (or untestable) claim in the absence of evidence is an argument from ignorance, a logical fallacy. The typical definition of the Christian god (i.e., answers prayer, creator of the universe, ominipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent, etc.), however, has been tested and failed every test. When there is an absence of evidence in support where we expect that evidence to be there, then that IS evidence of absence.

      So, yes. I also wish we would all live by the same standard.

  2. Great story. I hadn’t seen that one before.

    This works, because when someone tries to use things like energy or protons to make a comparison to god, by this analogy, the comparison fails.

    I love how Moody gets PZ so fired up. It’s fun to watch.

  3. Even Richard Dawkins admits that HE does not know how or what started the existence of matter, or energy. He does not know nor can he say (according to him) what caused it.
    So One belief such as ID say there was an intelligence rsponsible, (you can’t kknow that, must be an explaination or hypothesis based on faith) others say it was evolution, (you cannot know that must be based on faith) so therein lies two hypothesis or myths niehter one proven, both have to be considered if one was truly a “FREE THINKER”.
    you cannot just dismiss one possibility because you don’t like it. First prove the hypothesis wrong and then replace it with one that has greater validity and scientific evidence. (has not been done yet)
    evolution still false short of a resonable explanation. I am open to it are you. I want truth no matter where it leads me. this is true scientific method. As well, when you examine any empirical evidence, you cannot claim it supports your argument simply because you want it too. In other words there may be more than one logical explanation to the evidence. You may not have the right answer.
    example: you may have 1+1 and still come up with 1+1=3 you would be wrong because your logic is wrong not because the evidence is wrong. Therein lies your myths, theories, opinions, hypothesis, psychologies, “the way i see it” etc. all is vanity until we have conclusive proof. until then you are in the same boat as those religious fanatics. you base your “belief” on the information you have, they do as well. Who is to say who is wrong at this point?

    • “Even Richard Dawkins admits that HE does not know how or what started the existence of matter, or energy. He does not know nor can he say (according to him) what caused it.”

      First, Richard Dawkins is not a cosmologist. If you want to know how the universe began, ask a cosmologist like Lawrence Krauss. Second, even if there were no good hypoteses accepting a spurious claim with no evidence in support is simply an argument from ignorance, a logical fallacy. (Boy, do I get tired of writing that to religious objectors of natural origins…)

      “you cannot just dismiss one possibility because you don’t like it. First prove the hypothesis wrong and then replace it with one that has greater validity and scientific evidence.”

      This is not how science is done. We do not accept hypotheses till they are proven wrong. This also (surprise, surprise!) a logical fallacy known as the burden of proof shift. We accept a hypothesis because 1) it explains the current relevant data; 2) it is falsifiable; 3) it explains new data as it comes in; and 4) most importantly, it produces testable predictions which when verified greatly strengthens our confidence in the hypothesis.

      ID makes no testable predictions, does not explain anything (HOW did the ‘designer’ design life?) and isn’t even testable! Therefor, it is not even a hypothesis. THAT’S why I dismiss it, and not because I don’t like it. It simply does not deserve any attention.

      And, no. Evolution does not explain the origin of life. That is abiogenesis. Evolution explains speciation. And the assertion that there is no evidence for it is absurd. Please do read something like “The Greatest Show On Earth” or “Why Evolution Is True”, books written for the lay public by researchers in the field and not by some hack liar from the Disco Institute. Or are you being dishonest when you claim to have an open mind?

  4. ID or Evolution?
    it is not about religion. It takes more faith to believe in darwinism than it does to believe in an intelligent designer. Your “faith” or belief tells you that strictly mindless forces, with no guidance or direction, relying on random copying errors, took some pulsating blob of matte and transformed it into a human being over time, with about 60 trillion cells, each one carefully constructed in an intricate array out of trillions of atoms. All according to a blueprint whose complexity amazes even our greatest scientist. I am talking about faith in Scientific method not the “vast Darwinian conspiracy against science itself.

  5. I simply can’t abide Chris Mooney. He drives me nuts with his rather questionable logic. His sole bit of reasoning is that there are religous scientists out there. But that only suggests that such people compartmentalize the two. The true measure of compatibility would be if it were possible to do both religion and science at the same time. When one does that you get a failing of science and bad theology – Francis Collins, IDists and their ilk.

    He also thinks that one can affect change (increase acceptance of science) without addressing the root cause of scientific illiteracy – religion – and without shaking the tree. Sure, people put up a psychological defense to protect the beliefs that give people their identity (Kelly, anyone?) even if they’re wrong. But how on earth does Mooney think pandering to them is going to change anything? People like Kelly will never accept the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution till the religious beliefs that he holds supported by mere emotion are addressed. If that kind of belief is compatible with the acceptance of hypotheses based on evidence in support, then I’m a freaking squirrel. The two worldviews are diametrically opposed, and the idea that there is no cognitive dissonance producing massive migraines in people like Francis Collins with a foot in each one is absurd in the extreme.

  6. addressing the root cause of scientific illiteracy – religion?
    What an amazing self-serving and ridiculous statement:
    No the root cause of scientific illiteracy is people who have not been educated in science.

    An observer of the sport of gymnastics once commented that he had “observed” a rather strange phenomenom. He stated that female gymnasts tend to be small, with a low center of gravity, and have little breast. It seems as if they had not gone through puberty yet. So his explanation for this phenomenom was that the sport of gymnsatic CAUSES one to be small, delays puberty and stops the developement of breast in females.
    The evidence that these things occur are undeniable. There does seem to be some sort of relationship there.
    However, even though the evidence was there, his conclusion was flawed.
    Female gymnast have small breast and seemed not to go through puberty because most of them have not gone through puberty they are little girls ( 10 years old) They are not mature professional athletes. Even those who are adults 16, 17 year old who compete on an international elite level are small simply because those who rise to such a level have an advantage over larger girls.
    So it is not gymnastics that make them small but rather their size that make them suited for gymnastics.
    That would be like saying “since most of the basketball players in the NBA are over 6 1/2 feet then basketball must make you tall.

    “Overwhelming evidence that supports evolution?”

    We do not deny fossil evident that there were prehistoric animals, there were dinosaurs etc. It is not the evident that is in question. It is the conclusion that is in question. There is NO evidence that supports evolution. Yet there is much evidence that opposes it.
    My personal problem with the evolutionist is not the wonderful THEORY of evolution that Darwin so aptly plagarized from his father; I am open to evolution, however it is still a theory and should not be taught as fact. Until it is proven. Up to this point it has not. One writer on a blog said that one day scientific facts will be found to disprove religion, well maybe, but that has not happend yet. Until then you are just like the religious prophets making predictions about what might come. You have your right to do that, but that is not scientific at all and should not be claimed as such. Such a claim is psuedo-science used by folks trying to claim validity of their theory. If it has any validity at all it will and must stand up to critical scrutiny. The same critical scrutiny that religion has endured for thousands of years Thus you become guilty of what you accuse others. You can dish it out but can you take it? Can your theories withstand it?
    I find on these blogs , insults and condenscending attitutes toward those who may believe in ID. You claim to be the intellectuals, yet I have been unable to find anyone of you who will engage in meaningful dialog with me. I have asked. I am available. But like I said before; my education although far surpassing the norm for most of you, gets dismissed just because I am a “TRUE FREE THINKER” and think for myself instead of what is politically correct or trending at he moment.
    Show me one transitional fossil?
    Darwin himself said the reason for the absence of transitional fossils was that palentology was in its infancy, and if 100 years later that none were found then his theories would be false.
    Sorry we stand today with no missing link of any species at all.

  7. ID makes no testable predictions, does not explain anything (HOW did the ‘designer’ design life?) and isn’t even testable! Therefor, it is not even a hypothesis. THAT’S why I dismiss it, and not because I don’t like it. It simply does not deserve any attention

    My point Exactly! ID does not neither does evolution.

    This is not how science is done. We do not accept hypotheses till they are proven wrong. This also (surprise, surprise!) a logical fallacy known as the burden of proof shift. We accept a hypothesis because 1) it explains the current relevant data; 2) it is falsifiable; 3) it explains new data as it comes in; and 4) most importantly, it produces testable predictions which when verified greatly strengthens our confidence in the hypothesis.

    Exaclty all of which when you apply these standard to evolution it falls short.
    Science is a search for knowledge this is what the word means.
    So by default we do not accept a hypothesis as law until it has been proven to be so.
    yu false assumption that the burden of proof is not on those who present the hypothesis is ignorant and just plain wrong.
    Anyone, Including religion, including ID, must be willing to prove his ideas, otherwise it is just some joker making staements.
    we do not accept any idiot making a statement and then say a logical fallacy known as the burden of proof shift

    Sir this is an OLD ARGUMENT that has no validity. the burden of proof is on you

    THAT sir is how science is really done.

    • Evolution makes no testable predictions? Really? One of the first testable predictions was that that if common descent is correct, three-toed horses should be in the fossil record. Lo-and-behold, Parahippus was found not long afterward, an extinct three-toed horse. In fact, the lineage is so well fleshed out it is becoming difficult to tell where one species ends and the next begins.

      There are literally thousands of such testable predictions that have been verified. I only needed one to bust your assertion wide open.

      Get one of the books on evo that I mentioned and open your mind. Right now it’s closed as tightly as a drum.

      yu false assumption that the burden of proof is not on those who present the hypothesis is ignorant and just plain wrong.

      Not at all. You’ve proven beyond doubt by your own words that you are ignorant and just plain wrong. I have given one case out of an immense number which falsifies your assertion. Again, read those two books.

      Sir this is an OLD ARGUMENT that has no validity. the burden of proof is on you.

      I have never said the burden of proof was on you. I am telling you that the burden of proof has been met and where you can go to find the information.

      THAT sir is how science is really done.

      Speaking as a published scientist, I can assure you you haven’t the faintest clue of what science is. It is YOU who does not accept evolution because you don’t like it. You assert that there is no evidence when in fact there is a mass of evidence in its favor.

      I have pointed you in the direction of where you can start learning about it. Wilfully remaining in ignorance does not justify your assertion that there is no evidence any more than sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la-la-la-la…” does. But of course, that is exactly what you are doing.

      The amount of evidence in favor of evolution via natural selection is huge. I couldn’t possibly even begin to go in to it here, which is why I have given a title to two of the many books out there on the subject which review the evidence. But it is readily available and it is not my job to spoon feed you, particularly when it is clear that you are being disingenuous.

  8. Second, even if there were no good hypoteses accepting a spurious claim with no evidence in support is simply an argument from ignorance, a logical fallacy. (Boy, do I get tired of writing that to religious objectors of natural origins…)

    I am not a religious objector of natural origins I am an objector false claims of free thinking and scientific method claimed by the evolutionist I have encountered.
    If I accept religion it is solely based on faith. I afford you that characterization.
    However If I accept evolution it too is solely based on faith.

  9. Kerry, you do not believe in evolution?

    Ok, quick question. If you get a staph infection do you want the penicillin that worked 50 years ago or the medication that works today on the staph that evolved into a penicillin resistant form?

    That alone is proof of “survival of the fittest”

    Or is that part of ID?

    this intelligent designer of yours, what was he thinking when he designed the platypus?

    We see genetic mutations every day. Was that a part of intelligent design as well?

    Genetic mutation that helps the organism survive is passed on to the next generation. those that ensure we don’t survive die out. those that have little to no effect on survival continue on (blue eyes, blond hair etc.)

    I am sure all this diversity was part of the grand design of the master intelligent designer but can you please tell me the purpose of giving us a curved spine? You know the one that gives us all the trouble?

    It can be explained by evolution but surely an intelligent designer would have given us the straight spine that any machine designer would have put in.

    You see all other primates walk hunched over and their spines are straight but as soon as you stand them up and rotate the hips back so they can walk like a human their spine curves just like ours. Evolution is pesky in that it does not really fine tune the design much once it ensures survival so we walk upright, freeing our hands for defense, raising our eyes above the grasses and allowing us to see danger ahead which ensured our survival but left us with this pesky curved spine.

    Just curious is all.

  10. Another thought. Kerry, no matter how often you say it, no matter how loudly or passionately you deride it, accepting the reality of evolution is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be based on faith.

    I have read the entire string here and I have to agree with others here that you are willfully ignorant.

    You are challenged by this affront to your core religious beliefs and are incapable of approaching this challenge in a scientifically sound way. Instead you attempt to push forward distorted and inaccurate interpretations of what science is, what proof and evidence are and decry the theory of evolution as being some sort of leap of faith.

    It is this sort of willful ignorance and intentional distortion that is most troubling because it represents a huge backwards step in thought and discussion. It devolves in to “it isn’t true because I said so”.

    Again, not matter how many times you hold your breath and turn blue, acceptance of the theory of evolution is not based on faith.

    It is based on interpretation of evidence and proof that the evidence is correctly interpreted.

    ID is based on “I want it to be true because than my bible is more than just badly written fiction”

  11. Again you prove my original point. Here you make many assumptions about me. You call me willfully ignorant… and assume I have done no research at all. You and your group tend to condenscend instead of having a dialog.
    Oh you characterize me as one that holds his breath and turns blue.

    Please re-read the string and find anywhere where I have stated that am for or against ID or evolution.
    My point is and has been, and you prove it with your last post, that you are guilty of what you accuse others of. My personal beliefs have not been the subject here.
    my arguement is what you seem to call your scientific method is not is flawed. Science, true science, considers all possibilities.
    I have not mentioned the bible at all. you brought that up. you assume
    that is exactly what your method is a lot of assumption. this is where my problem lies.
    You also assume I am ignorant of science. I have a masters in physics and a bachelor degree in kinesiology, as well as a JD (I am a lawyer) OH yeah , wow I happen to be published as well. So I am not impressed.
    I would love to answer your three toed horse argument (very easily debunked) however I see that you are not interested in civil dialog just mindless insults and assumptions.

    fyi ( I am currently in a running debate with a group of proffessors on staff at a local and respected Christian university. I do not accept their assumptions either.)
    As A scientist I would expect you to be a bit more open minded, but I see that might be too much to expect

  12. why do you feel it necessary to attack the bible as a badly written ficticious book?
    who cares what it is, I never mentioned it. you did

    My feelings are not hurt
    you do not even know what my thoughts are towards the bible, so why the attack?

    you all resort to the same tactics.

    a presumption that a three toed horse should show up in fossils and them does still does not conclude anything except that there was a three toed horse. read the post about the gymnast.
    that is my point.
    fyi, I do not HAVE an intelligent designer.
    what mutations have we observed with a positive effect. oh yeah the spotted moth hoax

  13. For the record, I do not “NOT” believe in evolution, I do believe in presenting theories with honesty and integrity, presenting openly the problems and hurdles that counter them. Evolution has many unanswered questions and many less than honest hoaxes and scams with “shady” people involved. This does not necessarily represent the theory or everyone who subscribes to it. Religion has its share of nut – cases as well. (Case in point in recent new is harold camping) Nut cases on both sides do not negate the truth. Which is what science is supposed to be all about.
    by the way I love the science of star trek and have hadthe pleasure of sitting under a class taught by lawrence Krauss. So I am a bit familiar with him.
    He is passionate but i found him to be fair as well. This is what my post is all about. Unlike the mental giant that posted above me.

    • I removed his post. His post was nothing but ad-hominim attacks against believers. Personal attacks against people, not ideas, is not what a debate is about.

  14. @Kerry

    I have to be honest, I find it hard to believe that you have a bachelor’s in kinesiology, a master’s in physics, and are a lawyer. My main reason being due to your deep misapprehension of what evolution, and indeed even science, is. It is quite striking to read a self-purported physicist conflating evolution, abiogenesis, and cosmogony, all into one all-encompassing science. So I know where you are coming from, do you not believe in evolution at all? Do you not believe in speciation? Natural selection? Or is your contention mainly with transmutation?

  15. I couldn’t care lrss of you doubt my education, I am sure the writer of this blog would be able to attest to it validity.
    Regardless, you are totally missing the point. It is not about evolution ar no. It is about the condenscending attitude that has motivated me to come to the defense of those you folks put down. I am simply trying to be fair. Folks you would be more able to present your arguments if you didn’t call everyone who disagreed with you stupid. They cannot hear you. What you are oing is exaclty what the “religous” do. You lose credibilty just like they have.
    Wake up,, there aremany folks in the scientific arena that have wonderful credential and are taken serious that disagree with you.

  16. for example richard dawkins believes in the possibility that the earth was “seeded” by aliens
    hhmm…that would be intelligent design I guess.

    anyway thanks for the wonderful string!
    my rebellion and socratic method has reaered up
    however vacation is over and time to return to a heavy work load

    cheers and may darwin bless you

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