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Why anti science?

Over the past few decades there has been an increasingly negative attitude by governments, pundits, religiosi and faux philosophers against science. We have seen an increase in denialism about climate change (one of the most well supported scientific models of the day), vaccination, evolution, medical research in general, and the ancillary aspects of science like museums, education, and expert opinion. At the same time we have seen an increase (I believe) in the number of pseuodoscientists claiming scientific credentials they do not have, such as cancer quacks, non-members of the House of Lords claiming to be climatologists, and celebrities opposing this or that public health measure, along with Oprah-style “doctors” of medicine or psychology. What in the merry hell is going on here?

As Goldfinger once said “Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time, it’s enemy action.” Who is the enemy here? I think the answer has to be more than a few conspiracists or plutocrats funding astroturf campaigns. The answer has to do with the basis of modern urban society. It’s the money, honey.

Since the end of the second world war we have seen the freedoms and pro-education values of the time slowly but inexorably eroded. It has been known for a while that the majority of scientific research done in the United States, for instance, is done by the Department of Defence or allied organisations. We know that corporations are well involved in this – and the reason is that the money is to be found in military expenditure (the US spends more on its military and intelligence activities that pretty much the rest of the world). Corporations have but one motivation these days – to “maximise shareholder value” – and so they will employ any and all techniques to achieve this. If it involves science, then they will use science, but if it involves corrupting science, and it does, too often, then they will do that. At the same time the myth has taken root in the west that corporations must flourish for society to flourish (a deeply erroneous myth). So governments have followed the money trail, and taken many steps that promote anti science.

Some people are anti science for psychological reasons. I think of these as “anti modernists”; they fear the change that science will bring. Since science involves, of its very nature, a challenge to the status quo, those who are fearful of changes from the “”way things were” (i.e., in their childhood) will fear also science. These people tend to be those who benefit from the status quo; that is, they tend to be the ruling classes. If science tells us, as it does, that the use of oil and other fossil fuels is bad, the ruling classes who own much of that industry will object, and take steps overtly or covertly to destabilise science.

We have seen this in more than in science. Teaching on what used to be the “humanities” has been defunded. I was chatting to some people recently who were reminiscing about the days when European languages, history and philosophy were well funded university courses. Now there aren’t enough people in my city (Melbourne) to run a frequent seminar series on these topics. The problem is not that science alone is being treated so harshly, but that intellectual life is. Yesterday (and this is what inspires this post) I was told by the vocational counsellor appointed for me by the unemployment agency that “nothing that I know has any value”, meaning that I was unemployable as an intellectual.

What causes this is the focus, purely and simply, on money and its acquisition. The idea that we might take steps as a nation (in my case, Australia) that could in any way interfere with this economy of plutocrats is simply unthinkable to that class. Consequently, science, along with all the other intellectual activities we used to hold dear in a liberal democracy, are now otiose; they simply do not contribute to the Holy Economy. The minister for education in Australia, for example, has said he will personally decide which grants are “useful” when funding academic research. This follows the past thirty years since a notionally progressive government reduced all education to “vocational” education by collapsing the education system into one system, so that vocational education was now the main task of universities (previously, vocational tertiary education was done by non-university colleges).

We live now in a deeply anti intellectual world, at least in the west (there are other problems in the developing nations). It is not because the populace wants no intellectual activity – the many pro-science and pro-intellectual groups that spontaneously form on the internet show that. But instead of it being done properly, the plutocracy has made it into “infotainment”. Instead of shows that actually explain scientific processes and theories, such as we had int he 1960s, we now have Brian Cox or some other pretty face giving us “gee whiz” science, with no explanation or underlying principles at all. But we get some pretty graphics.

For example, in the climate change “debate” I have never seen any mention of Arrhenius’ nineteenth century proof that the earth will warm. Arrhenius used what is now called a “single pixel” approach – treat the earth as a single system and measure the input of energy against the reflection of energy and show that there is an imbalance. What is debated now is the role that parts of that system, like the oceans, play in sequestering heat or recycling it, but the overall sum doesn’t change. We are and can only be seen to be, warming the globe. The rest if detail, and there is no damned debate whatsoever, just about the role different “pixels” play in the way it will happen.

But this is to explain the science, and the media doesn’t like that, because the proprietors, whether state or corporate, do not like that to happen. The reason we live in one of the most stupid of societies for generations si simply that it doesn’t suit the money makers. I have little hope we will oppose this in any way soon.


  1. Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

    Sorry to hear you’re unemployed, John. I hope you’ll be able to continue producing your articles.

    I doubt that anyone is really anti-science in toto. As a creationist, I have sometimes been accused of this (e.g., during a 2006 debate). But I like science enough to have obtained a science degree, and was a science teacher for 17 years (now retired).

    My rebuttal of the charge that creationists are anti-science, in case you’re interested, is here:

  2. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    I think it is picking and choosing those things to accept and not to accept. I am sure Richard chooses to accept most science – just not certain aspects of evolutionary theory. I see ecology as a much more critical issue than evolution; limits on resources are something that is central to ecology but anathema to economics. The purely short-term capitalistic perspective wins. Then there are what I call the “godly greens” who believe their god is good – therefore lions lie down with lambs and cooperation is how the world must work. A bit of reality with mathematical models proves both economists and cooperationists wrong.

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      I’m not sure what you have against “picking and choosing.” All of us make (hopefully reasoned) decisions about accepting what we regard as true and beneficial, and rejecting what we find false or harmful.

      If (fallible, finite) “scientists” make claims we suspect are false, or invent technologies we see as harmful (e.g., nuclear weapons), there is no logic that compels us to approve “science” in a thoughtless, holus-bolus fashion. Certainly not in a free society.

      • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate


        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          So I’m suggesting there’s nothing wrong with what you slight as “picking and choosing.” Critical thinking is a good thing.

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          Depends on how one does the picking and choosing – doesn’t it?

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Of course. I’m simply saying that no logic requires a person to accept everything that is called “science” — even if it presented to us as such by representatives of the “orthodox” scientific community.

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          Richard, just because you claim to be engaging in critical thinking doesn’t make it so. Your inability to provide any criteria for determining when something is a revelation from the gods is a case in point. Your heavy reliance in that and other arguments on appeals to authority further undermine your case.

          One thing that critical thinking does is it informs us that science and history were thought of very differently until the last few centuries and, given that, the Bible or any other book written long ago would not be scientifically or historically accurate. That was not what people were attempting to relate by writing stories then. Let’s take Joshua for instance. I remember from my Baptist youth that people were claiming that NASA scientists had shown that a day was missing when doing some calculations- just like in Joshua. Isn’t it amazing the Bible is true!!!!!!!!! A quick return to reality shows that the story in Joshua 10 could not be true – physically impossible without catastrophic consequences. It must have been written for a different reason than to accurately portray history. Perhaps to highlight their god’s faithfulness?

          I’m sorry, but being a biblical creationist doesn’t get one anywhere near critical thinking.

      • Mike Haubrich Mike Haubrich

        Well, Richard, I think it is a bit more admirable to base your findings on methods which are reliably testable, and which can be modified or overturned based on better data collection, better research methods or more appropriate statistical tools than to snuff out that particular candle leaving only darkness because it doesn’t comport with your pre-established religious conceptions on the nature of the relationships of phenomena. You mistake nuclear weapons technology, which, yes, is based on science but it is not properly “science,” it is an ethically challenging use of what science has uncovered regarding the physical nature of the universe.

        If the claims are those you suspect to be false, I would say that a more appropriate response is to supplant the claims with better data, better research methods or more appropriate statistical tools than to pass them off because you don’t like them.

        However, this is your choice; just don’t expect those who respect science to respect your reasons for rejecting such claims.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          My contention here has been simply that no logic requires anyone to accept in toto every item that is presented as “science.” We may (I would say should) make distinctions based on critical thought. I am not proposing that what Mr. Fugate called “picking and choosing” be done arbitrarily or irrationally.

          You who say you “respect science” surely don’t accept each and every claim made by “scientists.” Thus you yourself engage in “picking and choosing.”

          A further point: No logic requires that an individual who assesses some scientific data or theory as flawed must personally come up with something that those holding to the flawed science will admit to be superior.

          For example: If someone proposes that abiogenesis occurred through a particular process, and I find flaws in the proposal, why should I be obliged to stay silent until I can produce a better idea regarding the origin of life through random chemical reactions?

        • Jeb Jeb

          We don’t have to accept what science has to say but have to accept what one particular highly authoritarian reading of the bible from one religious group that you just happen by chance (or design if you prefer) to be a member of.

          Science must uphold you’re particular perspective on faith it must ignore all opposing christian or other faith groups and conform to you’re very culturally specific beliefs in regard to creation and how the bible is to be read.

          Its a big ask.

          I am sure you should be able to grasp that if you are not a fundamentalist christian (I write from the U.K where you’re particular perspective is a minority christian view point and hotly contested within the christian community) it looks suspiciously like a faith based argument rather than one based on critical thought.

          I am running with the perspective that religion is matter of faith rather than a perspective based on scientific principles.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Jeb, you and some of the other commenters here are tending to wander off topic somewhat. The point I’ve tried to make is simply that there is nothing logically amiss with a person rejecting some aspects of “science.”

          But perhaps one of you can tell me, what is this reified thing called “science” that we are supposed to respect and accept all parts of?

          Here I’m not asking about the “demarcation problem” — I’m just wondering where I can locate the authentic voice of this “science” to which I’m supposed to listen?

          Is it in the scientific journals whose articles are often retracted, and whose reported experimental results so rarely get checked (as highlighted in The Economist of Oct. 19)?

          If “most published research findings are probably false” (Stanford’s John Ioannidis), then why should I be required to accept scientists’ worldview-biased speculative reconstructions of the distant past? If even “research findings” can’t be fully trusted, what logic compels me to automatically swallow every pronouncement from the “historical sciences”?

          Harvard’s Richard Lewontin once wrote:”As to assertion without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them. Carl Sagan’s list of the ‘best contemporary science-popularizers’ includes E. O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market.” (The New York Review of Books 44(1):30, Jan. 9, 1997).

          So please tell me, who exactly is it that speaks for “science”?

        • Yes I do go off topic. I have a tendency to often think and contrast what John is saying to areas of my own research (not in this case) or link them to something else entirely.

          Its one of the few advantages dyslexia gives me with thought. I notice from you’re statements and writing you think very differently given you’re unusual stance on how people read and the manner in which you use history.

          In this case I was thinking about this

          ” those who are fearful of changes from the “”way things were” (i.e., in their childhood).”

          And also this which I read just before making the comment.

          “Tonight I will argue that Evolution is a dreadful mistake, whereas Creation is obviously true……I take as my first point that Evolution is a dreadful mistake.

          In conclusion, I say to each person here tonight: it’s not enough to acknowledge that, OK, there may be evidence of a Creator, in terms of the beauty and complexity of life and the universe. And it’s not enough to merely agree to a skeptical reconsideration of evolutionary arguments. What each of us really needs is a total worldview makeover. So I urge you, go back to the Bible and read it with an open mind. Study the claims of Jesus Christ. Do the empirical investigation for yourself: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. . . ”

          You’re words

          You are free to disagree with science as much as you want but I think you should be honest and note that you’re disagreement is based on faith and you’re own very particular cultural perspective.

          “what is this reified thing called “science” that we are supposed to respect and accept all parts of?”

          Again I don’t think you’re interest in these arguments stems from a commitment to science but commitment to you’re religious faith. You argue that you are correct not just on science but you also use history and the study of language to back the claim that you are correct on every point. You are also attempting to suggest that you’re particular religious grouping is also 100 correct in terms of religion. No room for doubt in your take on these subjects, its a triumphal pageant of science and history all leading to one inevitable conclusion. You and the group you identify with are correct on all things with no room for dissent argument or debate.

          Its deeply authoritarian.

          You’re claims are cultural, political and faith based. Science and history you want to use as a vehicle for those claims at all costs.

          You have a a very deep faith in Christ and a commitment clearly to one particular religious grouping within the broader christian faith.

          I have no wish to dis-respect you’re faith or belief, it is the most important and precious thing in you’re life, but I think it would be more honest to present you’re argument as such rather than dressing it up as science or history. You’re writing is to selective to be of use to either subject here.

          No room for doubt or reflection in what you say Richard. No room for difference in you’re world either Richard. That I find truly scary.

        • And Jeb going off-topic hurts nobody, and inspires me from time to time.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Hey, Jeb, regarding your going off-topic, that was simply a mild observation, not an actual complaint. I was wanting to draw discussion back to some points I had made. But of course it’s a free country (both yours and mine, which is Canada) — and changing topics is part of free speech. I even do it myself sometimes.

          You quoted a part of my 2006 evolution-versus-creation debate speech, and then concluded that my interest in these matters is solely related to my religious faith. This is what is known as a “monocausal explanation,” and in this case (as in many other cases) it is not correct. I am interested in the origins debate because I’m very interested in science, and in philosophy, as well as being committed to Biblical truth. For the curious, my debate speech is here:

          For your information, I became a Christian (as an adult) through investigating the claims of Jesus to be more than a mere man, and in particular through examining the evidence for his resurrection from the dead. The origins controversy played no part in my conversion from atheism (I accepted evolution at that time). About half a year later I was faced with the reality that evolutionary views contradict plain statements of Scripture. As I looked into this issue, I considered only scientific information, and I concluded that the case for evolution has significant flaws. I’m very interested in science, and in general I have great respect for the sciences (I subsequently took a science degree and became a science teacher).

          Now, Jeb, you go on to make several statements of this kind: “No room for doubt in your take on these subjects . . . no room for dissent argument or debate. . . . No room for doubt or reflection in what you say Richard. No room for difference in you’re world either Richard. That I find truly scary.”

          It’s strange that you allege I allow “no room” for “debate” when the quote you ran was straight out of my debate speech! My speech used argument on scientific matters for most of my twenty minutes, and I then concluded with a worldview application — entirely appropriate, given that the debate was titled “Evolution versus Creation: War of the Worldviews!” After my opening speech, my opponent spoke for the same number of minutes, expressing his dissent from my viewpoint — and guess what, I allowed him to do that! So, obviously, there is room in my thinking for “debate” and “argument” and “dissent,” contrary to what you wrote. You can take my word (or not) that there is also room for doubt (which I sometimes do) and reflection (likewise).

          WIshing you all the best for the holiday season. (See, not scary!)

        • p.s I think what you are doing is a commonly used cultural strategy. Our lives are governed an ruled by narrative that often dresses itself as something other than it is. Go further off topic with cite on unemployment from a research paper.

          ………..In turn this means that claims about unemployment bene?ts resulting in complacent unemployed people who chose the situation and would be satis?ed with it cannot be retained uncritically either.

          Arguments to increase or decrease unemployment bene?ts therefore should not be based on discussions which use these claims as their foundation as they could not be supported empirically by this study. Other reasons need to be presented in order to justify decisions regarding unemployment bene?t levels, not arguments based on discussions of systematic effects on motivation, satisfaction and complacency.”

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          Richard, You simply can’t help appealing to authority, can you? Is that all you have as an argument?

          And religion has what? Please contrast.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Hi, Michael. My quotes are not intended to be appeals to authority; they are simply illustrative of my point that it may not be an easy thing to locate the authentic voice of “science.”

          For most of us, I suggest the question is about whose testimony to place confidence in. Putting it this way tends to almost equalize religion and science.

          What I mean is that none of us has direct access to historical information about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Some of us have made a decision, based on evidence satisfactory to us, to trust the testimony contained in the New Testament documents. Having made this decision, Christians might talk about the “authority” of Scripture since we accept it as the Word of God, but for me at least, the element of “testimony” came first.

          Similarly, the general public, and even scientists considering scientific claims outside their own fields, have much the same issue to deal with: Whose testimony (whether in a scientific journal or elsewhere) can we trust? This is a genuine live issue, and I will give you two quotations regarding this (as illustrations, not as appeals to authority).

          First, from leading atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins:

          “Not everybody can evaluate all evidence; we can’t evaluate the evidence for quantum physics. So it does have to be a certain amount of taking things on trust. I have to take what physicists say on trust, for example, because I’m a biologist. But science [has] a system of appraisal, of peer review, so that I trust the physics community to get their act together in a way that I know from the inside. I wish people would put their trust in evidence, not in faith, revelation, tradition, or authority.” Dawkins’s statement is found in the first paragraph or so on this webpage:

          In a similar vein (but with a lot more cynicism!), Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin:

          “Third, it is said that there is no place for an argument from authority in science. The community of science is constantly self-critical, as evidenced by the experience of university colloquia ‘in which the speaker has hardly gotten 30 seconds into the talk before there are devastating questions and comments from the audience.’ . . . It is certainly true that within each narrowly defined scientific field there is a constant challenge to new technical claims and to old wisdom. In what my wife calls the O.K. Corral Syndrome, young scientists on the make will challenge a graybeard, and this adversarial atmosphere for the most part serves the truth. But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution.” [The New York Review of Books 44(1):30f., Jan. 9, 1997]

          Just before the above words, Lewontin had written what I already quoted in my earlier comment: “As to assertion without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them. Carl Sagan’s list of the ‘best contemporary science-popularizers’ includes E. O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market.”

          Bob Dylan very aptly wrote: “Don’t put my faith in nobody, Not even a scientist!” (Note: this quotation is not an appeal to authority!)

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          We have gone over this time and again. It is not about being absolutely true – it is about being a relative better fit to the data. This is why evolution replaced creationism – not because it answered every possible question then or now, but because it could explain so much more without all the post hoc requirements.

          Tells us what your god exactly did and how it did it – then we can compare. You haven’t a clue how a god creates life let alone anything else about it.

        • Jeb Jeb

          “WIshing you all the best for the holiday season. (See, not scary!)”

          Warm wishes to you as well Richard for the year to come. I don’t find you scary and excuse my generalized language. I am messy with un- proofed on the hoof remarks.

          I find aspects of evangelical fundamentalism (assumption on my part this is the group you belong to) alarming in that it seeks to leave no room for difference in terms of belief (religious or otherwise) and I don’t see how you can arrive at the perspective you have without a very particular form of faith based on a very authoritarian reading of the bible.

          Need to differ on that one with regard to reading and interpretation of biblical material and biblical truth, science and aspects of history and ethnology.

          I do however like Bob Dylan!

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Ah, something we can agree on. Excellent!

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          If one regards the Bible as a message from the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, it’s only appropriate to adopt “a very authoritarian reading” of it.

          Some more tidbits from Bob Dylan, should you wish to accept them:

          “But there’s only one authority
          And that’s the authority on high”


          “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
          But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”

        • Jeb Jeb

          “When civil dudgeon first grew high,

          And men fell out, they knew not why;

          When hard words, jealousies, and fears

          Set folks together by the ears,

          And made them fight, like mad or drunk,

          For dame Religion as for Punk;

          Whose honesty they all durst swear for,

          Tho’ not a man of them knew wherefore:”

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          I looked up Samuel Butler’s Hudibras, from which you’ve offered the first few lines, and discovered it to be a mock-heroic poem satirizing religion — and many other things, including even Philosophy.

          Accordingly, I hypothesize that you are attempting to oppose Bob Dylan’s (serious) pro-theistic poetry by using Butler’s (mocking) anti-sectarian (though not anti-theistic) poetry.

          Is that roughly correct?

          (Obviously we are off topic again, but oh well!)

        • Jeb Jeb

          “Is that roughly correct?”

          No. The claims people make for authority rather than religion, I think his words could apply equally to secular groups as well. Its not a specific religious issue to become convinced deeply held belief speaks absolute truth. We have a long history of such behavior as a species. Often results in the circumstances the poem specifically refers to in that part which is the English civil war.

          I don’t think you should ridicule or mock peoples belief. The relationship between knowledge and emotion is close, what is unfamiliar often seems ridiculous and foolish. Stems from ignorance, lack of understanding or indeed empathy. Reasoned argument is of course different.

          I prefer to have a non-authoritative voice, always room for error doubt and indeed change. I also like to work things out for myself.

        • Mike Haubrich Mike Haubrich

          Nice that you bring up abiogenesis, because the process that led to the initiation on life on a planet that had no life is still very much an open question, as are all questions in science. The data are not firm enough to reach a conclusion, and no one has suggested that you “stay silent.” However, creationism does not provide a satisfactory answer to that particular question wrt “how.” Creationism is merely an assertion and explains very little. No one has claimed that it occurred through a particular process. Science may not be able to provide the answer of abiogenesis beyond a reasonable doubt because of the limited data available, but that doesn’t strengthen your default position.

          We do know that there once was no life on the planet, and we do have evidence of very basic life forms that existed some 3.5 thousand million years ago, and so it is reasonable to conclude that abiogenesis happened at some point prior to that.

          No, you don’t have to “accept” anything; but again using a claim that has been discarded as providing no usable information is not going to win any critical thinking awards. I am not saying that you, personally, have to do the science to come up with a better explanation, I am saying that if you are going to criticize results then in order to gain respect for your position you need to back up your claim with a superior rather than an inferior explanation. Only if you want to demonstrate that you are not “antiscience.”

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          “. . . the process that led to the initiation on [sic] life on a planet that had no life is still very much an open question, as are all questions in science. The data are not firm enough to reach a conclusion. . . . Science may not be able to provide the answer of abiogenesis beyond a reasonable doubt. . . .”

          You are a veritable master of understatement, my friend! Actually, “science” is utterly clueless on this topic.

          “. . . we do have evidence of very basic life forms that existed some 3.5 thousand million years ago. . . .”

          Actually, that glib claim has been under a dark cloud for the last ten years or more — even from an evolutionary viewpoint! According to Oxford geologist Stephen Moorbath, “. . . true consensus for life’s existence seems to be reached only with the bacterial fossils of the 1.9-billion-year-old Gunflint Formation of Ontario.” See footnote 17 in my detailed article “Mistaken Microfossils! (And Other Erroneous Evidence of Early Earthlife)”

          Furthermore, there is no such thing as a “very basic life form.” Every cell we know of is exceedingly complex — even including Schopf’s now-discredited “very convincing cyanobacteria-like” fossils from (allegedly) 3.5 billion years ago, which Pigliucci described as “modern-looking” (see the statements footnoted as #8 and #10 in my above-mentioned article).

          If exercising skepticism regarding claims like yours makes me “anti-science,” I will gladly wear that label as a badge of honour.

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          More appeals to authority.

          Of course, we should be skeptical of scientific findings – no scientist should doubt that.

          But then again, we should be more skeptical of religious findings. Wouldn’t you agree?

  3. bwana bwana

    The “anti-science” trend (and I see far more of that in the USA than in other countries) is probably due to the lack of emphasis on a good education and the ongoing “fight” in the media over the various “gods of science” such as Al Gore and other fools that people listen to and believe, i.e.: no one knows who to believe or trust anymore!

    Education has also been downgraded by the influence of influential religious groups and creationism creeping into school curriculums (where it has absolutely no place; teach it in sunday school, if you must).

    Without a good grounding in the scientific method in school people look at all science as guesses, estimates, theories and ongoing research with apparently no solid conclusions and, thus, of no real value. However, this is what science is… theories followed by experimentation to test them, and maybe reworking the theories and starting over. This can be very confusing and totally turn the average person off science if they have no basic understanding of the scientific method. Particularly in a day-in-age where people want instant gratification…

  4. Neil Levy Neil Levy

    I think there are psychological mechanisms that are more important than fear of change. We are not evolved to be able to properly grasp cycles and changes that operate over many years, and on the other hand we are far more impressed by personal experience (and especially recent experience) than data. The last is why belief in climate change correlates pretty well with recent weather.

    It is also worth pointing to features of the local context. It really strikes me how right wing Australia is when I come here. We had both Cameron and Abbott in Sri Lanka a week or so ago: both conservatives. Abbott was giving the Sri Lankans a boat to use against refugees; Cameron was calling for an international inquiry into humans rights abuses. Abbott was introducing his carbon legislation; Cameron was linking the super typhoon to climate change. The Australian media is not supine: rather, it actively supports a neo-conservative agenda. It’s a right wing country.

    • I think the basic motivation for social conservatism (which is a relative stance not an absolute one, which is why Abbott’s conservatism is so much more 1950s than Cameron’s… the baseline here is so much more conservative than in the UK) is a fear of change from what we are used to, and our inability to grasp long term changes and cycles is a reason for that. Because we are not formed naturally to understand anything about the world but what we experience, and of that the most significant is what we experience when we are first acculturating, novelty is a kind of stress. Since the capacity to tolerate stress is a variable with (probably) a normal distribution in a population, some are less able to tolerate novelty and some are more able, and the mode tends to be more conserving of the past than progressive.

      I came to this conclusion when trying to understand why there is an urban-rural divide in social attitudes – i.e., why is it that villagers and farmers are so much more conservative than city dwellers? The answer has to be that in smaller social groups, the natural tendency of humans as cultural animals is to preserve the practices of the past. There is a great evolutionary reason for that: those who have adopted the practices of the past that are still in existence aren’t dead yet. Hence, adopting those views will probably not kill you or your children.

      In larger scale societies, though, there are sociotechnical buffers against bad ideas, and so there is less pressure, more widely distributed over a group of people who are not so closely related, to conform to past behavioural suites. Progressivism is ultimately an urban phenomenon.

      • Jeb Jeb

        “Hence, adopting those views will probably not kill you or your children.”

        “you hold it and you shit your pants. You really do. When you see the first sparkle….”

        “What I had visualized as a large fireworks display, however, turned out to be a bombing. Amid cries of “Christ is risen” several hundred pounds of TNT formed into projectiles of two three hundred pounds each were hurled into the sky from the church courtyard at midnight on Easter eve, rattling our house to its foundations, cracking two window panes…..As the explosions continued sporadically through the day. I felt that I had gotten a taste of life in a war zone. I later found out the dynamiting was considered to be light that year and that the toll of damage was nothing compared to that of twelve years earlier, when four people were killed in what later became known as “the accident…”

        David Sutton, Explosive Debates: Dynamite, Tradition, and the State
        Anthropological Quarterly , Vol. 69, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 66-78

  5. Jeb Jeb

    “I doubt that anyone is really anti-science in toto.”

    I agree, and whilst I am not attempting to defend anti vacc, anti global warming or anti-evolutionary beliefs, I think their are also unhealthy belief based, highly emotive perspectives on culture within science that are damaging and it can also use the media in ways that are misleading and self- serving.

    Public can be seriously misinformed about science, science can equally make rash ill-informed judgements generally exempting itself from being in any way part of the problem.

    No problem with expert opinion but some of the debates I have seen on this are seriously insular. Error is always other people, no self reflection needed and the notion of an uninformed uneducated horde can become something of a convenient self- serving myth when presenting mad as a brush cultural arguments which have no scientific basis but are culturally useful and emotionally satisfying.

    Science is a different entity from the culture that has grown up around it. Its the culture rather than science that I find at times seriously alarming.

    I think these debates need more balance. Medicine, Education, these subjects also have serious internal issues which affect wider cultural belief and attitudes.

  6. Basic scientific discoveries benefit everybody eventually; but the more basic they are, the more difficult it is to own them. That didn’t bother wealthy interests so much in times when it was reasonable to believe you could get rich by making everybody richer. American companies supported government investments in fundamental science and even did serious work themselves—that was the era of institutions like Bell Labs. It was a more optimistic and democratic time, too; and the movers and shakers were perhaps less impressed with themselves than our billionaires are; but my point is that there was an economic rationale for basic science over and beyond cultural factors.

    It seems to me that what has happened since then is a change in expectations. Now that American business people and perhaps business people elsewhere no longer expect general growth, they are only interested in research that is tied to an increase in the bottom line. If the pie isn’t going to get bigger, especially if it isn’t going to get bigger right away, the obvious way to get wealthier is to get a larger slice for yourself. And if you think the pie is going to shrink, business becomes a game of musical chairs. I think there’s a lot of that going on, too.

    From my perspective, much of the hostility to basic science is a consequence of changes in the political economy of the West. For me, the interesting question is whether pessimism about our prospects is warranted. I don’t mean whether pessimism about the prospects of mankind as a whole is warranted—that’s a different, if related question—but whether the Western economies have any prospect of getting out of what is by now a forty-year funk.

  7. Ian H Spedding Ian H Spedding

    The minister for education in Australia, for example, has said he will personally decide which grants are “useful” when funding academic research.

    Good luck with that. I mean, seriously, politicians who don’t know their RNA from their DNA are going to forecast where the next big money-making discovery is going to come from? They’d have a better chance tossing one of their number in the air and seeing which of the two faces hits the ground first. I was going to suggest they read Carl Sagan’s little parable about The Westminster Project in The Demon-Haunted World but I doubt they’d get the point.

    • Jeb Jeb

      ” I remember from my Baptist youth that people were claiming that NASA scientists had shown that a day was missing when doing some calculations- just like in Joshua.”

      I was brought up in a non-religious household in a very religious community. Christianity was a strong part of the education system, we would have a different preacher in each week, but the focus from all the different religious faiths was an emphasis on non-literal reading. Only experience of more rigid forms of faith were when you encountered eccentric individuals on the street often walking around with large signs, one I remember encouraged people not to eat beans as they caused flatulence, to prepare for the end of days and abstain from sexual intercourse.

      But this is the only real encounter you have with this form of faith. I assumed this was not a part of mainstream christian faith anywhere but the result of individual eccentricity.

      Getting slightly older and taking an interest in archeology as a kid I remember reading of one American engaged in a search for the remains of Noah’s arc but you associate that not with a religious movement but you’re own experience, so I wrongly assumed he was just a highly eccentric individual.

      Its only as an adult when I started to encounter American fundamentalist Christians in the education system and workplace that you realize it is part of a wider and bigger social force. It came as something of a shock, as America speaks English you assume it is closer to you’re own culture than it actually is.

      Fundamentalism is utterly outside of my own cultural experience, religious education and understanding. Still rather difficult to get you’re head round as it is such an outside cultural product.

  8. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    My father has and had even when I was a child “progressed” so much compared to his parents – especially his mother. She was convinced the pope was the antichrist and a visit to her brother’s grave (he was a Catholic convert) would be equivalent to walking into Satan’s house. She also believed that Baptists had been a separate sect (founded by John the Baptist no less) since Jesus’s day – never tainted with popery.

    My epiphany occurred due largely to my father signing me up for a year-long Bible correspondence course as an undergraduate. I read a few chapters a day for the whole year so that by December I had finished off Revelations. The OT was not as compelling as I expected and by the time I got through a few of the letters ascribed to Paul, I was ready to give up on the whole shebang. I still can’t stomach those post-Gospel books. How anyone could come up with a consistent set of beliefs and practices after reading the Bible is beyond me. I can see why some sects discourage it.

    • Jeb Jeb

      That aspect of religion is highly familiar. My Grandparents on my on my fathers side held similar views. As my father married into a prominent Irish republican family I met my Grandfather once shortly before he died.

      Religious sectarianism in my neck of the woods was a bloody affair with a very high cost. You want to keep religion well away from dictating policy as a result, as the consequences of one religious grouping politically controlling a wider society is far from healthy for the wider community.

      • Jeb Jeb

        “And Jeb going off-topic hurts nobody, and inspires me from time to time.”

        Thanks. Some people get very anxious about it. Don’t understand the world is filled with people who think differently from themselves. One in about Seven people (I think is the figure) are dyslexic and will order information in a way broadly similar to myself.

        Many educators will go through a career unable to grasp that fact and view it as an incorrect way to think. They do not have a creative bone in their body and appear to be intent on producing replica images of their own minds. Any deviation seems to be a source of extreme anxiety.

        My biggest objection to what Richard is saying is actually his comments about reading and interpretation. Its a death sentence for thought and creativity to think in that way.

        Ironically sold as some celebration of the creativity of the divine. In reality a celebration of the mundane administrator and their diabolically rigid from of thought.

  9. jeb jeb

    p.s In a bid to explain going of topic again been reading his most christian majesty and mundane convener of the diabolical Jamie the Saxth on species and genus and why the stench of burning human flesh hanging over Scotland at the time was ‘perfectly natural’.

    “Argument: Proved by the scripture that such a thing can be, and the reasons refuted of all such as would call it but an imagination and melancholic humour.”

    Creationism uses the same language with evolution, it hints that under the surface it is not an imaginative error pointing to the personal beliefs of biologists and hinting and some greater conspiracy. Given the history and past form religious thought has in this area its seriously irresponsible (but science culture can be insensitive as well on belief and imagination, seems to reflect the language of protestant tradition here).

    Such systems do not tolerate the dreamy forms and species of thought that form the metal world of people like myself. When such language hits its high inflection point we become burnt offerings.

  10. Jeb Jeb

    My musical taste extend more to ‘punk’ ( a creature of my past and culture).

    Experience teaches me that authority claims generally have a more earthly status. Groups form, culture replicates within them and is shared by its members.

    These perspectives can get quite extreme when pressure is high and identity needs to be re-drawn to deal with new cultural issues (all cultural entities change, often dramatically and at speed, although we have a tendency to view such things as unchanging).

    Creationism is one such modern perspective to change.

    Belief can extend as far as denying the existence of a whole species. Historical methods certainly advanced in the reformation but it was also used to orchestrate some interesting cultural dance moves that extended to arguments in natural history, although they had nothing to do with natural history and all to do with human culture and the need of a religious community to reassert its identity in the face of conflicting belief and considerable cultural enmity.

    In the example I look at the need to re-invent and reform in the face of changing historical circumstances, the miraculous was the road taken (to examine these issues I study the ‘ethnic identity’ of frogs and the influence of the catholic church here).

    Although I do go somewhat ‘off topic.’

    Belief, faith, emotion, lead to some extraordinary ’empirical’ claims being made by specific religious groups very much tied to local environment and the cultural issues and conflicts that form the cultural and social environment. Or certainly in the small sample set I am familiar with

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      “Creationism is one such modern perspective to change.

      Belief can extend as far as denying the existence of a whole species.”

      I’m curious as to what you’re referring to. Which species?

      • Jeb Jeb

        The frog in Ireland. D.N.A suggests it not a recent arrival. But it has more of a history. It resulted significant fight between Irish naturalist in the 19th century when the archeological remains of the such a creature were found (this may indeed be as much a protestant catholic cultural as a debate about naturalism but need to check this part) .

        The belief in its modern manifestation is really a creature of the counter reformation. A number of church figures used its non-existence as an example of the miraculous nature of Ireland and its soil (based on old reproductive theory that it was subject to spontaneous generation, that made its alleged non-existence unusual).

        You see an explosion of texts translating the two older historical (used to affirm 19th century claim sources from Latin on 6th century on 12th century in this period. Tradition is a creature of the present this does appear to be a counter reformation tradition rather than a static ancient one.

        It has a relatively wide distribution, the suggestion made by the non-native faction that it was introduced in the 17th century by a naturalist from trinity collage.

        It was also viewed as a creature of ill omen and people became highly anxious and emotional if they came across this ‘non-Irish’ object of terror. It was a creature they were lead to believe should not exist.

        May be a range of beliefs underpinning such anxiety yet to determine it fully. I don’t think belief is propelled by a single reason as you suggested I may, I see it as subject to a much wider pattern of reinforcement in the environment. For such things to survive its helpful to have wide ranging attachment, if a specific cultural object fades or changes its easier to adapt and transform but still have a relevant context in which to be told You can read that historically rather than evolutionary).

        Having a wide pattern of reinforcement is important for cultural transition. Such things need to remain relevant in a changing world, they must have an ongoing fluid context for the telling.

        Its in this area I find literalism somewhat difficult to accept. If it was the case Christianity would not have been able to adapt to Ireland in the first place. The 6th century Irish understood the bible by applying it to their own social structure and adapting it to a specific cultural environment. The family relationships of Jesus seems to have been of particular importance (understood in terms of Irish kinship and the laws surrounding it). Hios relationship with the Devil seen in terms of a family feud for example.

        It had to become something else and something particularly understandable to the Irish to appeal directly to peoples emotions, to feel the pain of Marys birth or her emotions at the death of her son. These things are universal but still a need to make them highly familiar and local to fully feel and become absorbed into self.

  11. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    Hey Richard, let’s play a critical thinking game with Christianity.
    Let’s assume that the basics are true as given (even if that is actually unlikely).
    1) Mary was a virgin.
    2) Jesus was both fully god and fully human.

    Given this which do you think was more likely?
    a) a god implanted a zygote in Mary. (all god)
    b) a god fertilized an ovulated ova from Mary and then the resulting zygote was implanted. (1/2 god, 1/2 human)

    Given the answer above, if we could get a hair follicle or saliva off a cup or wouldn’t it be cool if the shroud of Turin were what it was claimed to be and we could get bloodily fluids, what would show up in PCR/sequencing analysis of these samples? Predict what we would find.

    Next let’s look at the resurrection – the other big event.
    Given what we know which is more likely?
    a) he was not really dead, just deeply unconscious and after a time revived and walked away.
    b) he was really dead and never revived, but appeared to the disciples due to mass hallucinations brought on by grief. This would account for the ability to enter locked rooms and appear suddenly.
    c) he was really dead for days and was revived.

    If c) – where would the energy and matter have come from to restore the entropic effects of death and what would be the consequences on the surrounding environment of that much energy? This really is equivalent to a tornado through a junkyard giving rise to a 747. It would need to happen instantaneously unlike evolution which had billions of years. Another analogy would be that of abandoning a modern house for several hundred years and then completely restoring it overnight. The shear amount of raw materials and technical expertise needed coupled with the short time frame – well you get the picture. How would something like this escape notice?

    If c) – do you think that with adequate prayer, all of the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels for the last 150yrs that is destabilizing our climate could be turned back into coal and oil overnight?

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      Hi, Michael. Critical thinking is certainly in order, on every topic, including Christianity.

      If Jesus can be understood as both fully divine and fully human (as you allow for the sake of argument), then it makes no sense to suggest that one must choose between him being either (a) “all god” or (b) “1/2 god, 1/2 human”.

      Your PCR question is very interesting (not that I accept authenticity of the shroud of Turin). I doubt that Jesus’s deity would be evident from his DNA. His DNA would reflect his humanity as a Jewish male with Davidic ancestry. (Where his Y chromosome came from is not something I have any information about.)

      Option (c), that Jesus was really dead, for days, and revived (resurrected from the dead) is the New Testament claim. I don’t think any of your three options is probabilistically “likely.” No one would claim that a resurrection is common in our experience; accordingly it can be assigned an extremely low probability.

      But its credibility is enhanced when we consider the (alleged) event in light of (i) who Jesus claimed to be; (ii) his ethical teachings and conduct; (iii) Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah; (iiv) Jesus’s own predictions of his death and resurrection; (v) the empty tomb; (vi) the courage of the apostles and others in proclaiming this central teaching of Christianity; (vii) the inability of Jesus’s opponents to produce the body; and (viii) the various difficulties with alternative explanations such as your options (a) and (b).

      Your thoughts about the entropic effects of death and the junkyard 747 are completely appropriate. The reversal of death’s decaying actions could only have been achieved by God’s action (Psalm 16:10; Acts 13:34-41).

      The resurrection did not “escape notice.” Paul to King Agrippa: “I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26; Paul said this right after having spoken of Christ’s suffering and resurrection from the dead).

      Regarding your concern about climate destabilization, I’m unable to sympathize, since at the moment I’m sitting up here in frozen Canada wishing for some global warming! But to answer your question directly, God can do anything that is not logically absurd or contrary to his nature. And he is often pleased to act in response to prayers, though he is not hogtied by them. But Jesus gave some specific teaching against the concept of “adequate prayer,” as if we should or could overcome a hesitant deity’s unwillingness through much praying (Matthew 6:7-8).

  12. Jeb Jeb

    “His DNA would reflect his humanity as a Jewish male with Davidic ancestry.”

    I can translate that into 6th century thought that held sway in my corner of the Frozen North. Jesus was understood according to the a legal term, cu glass (a blue/ grey/ wolf/dog) , the legal definition ‘a man who has followed a women’s buttocks across a boundary.’ (Irish legal texts have a memorable way with words)

    His male ancestry useless his position could only be calculated through his female line and wife’s legal status.

    Referred generally to an outsider marrying into the culture. His status much lower than his local peers.

    • Jeb Jeb

      Can’t understand peoples ‘literal readings’ without understanding the context and culture in which they are written. The early textual history of this one in Western Europe starts with a memorable 6th century description of bums by the 21 st century its shifted to D.N.A.

      Without context it makes no sense.

  13. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    “His DNA would reflect his humanity as a Jewish male with Davidic ancestry.” You know this how? Of course, if he were just a man – it would appear exactly the same. Not convincing.

    “But its credibility is enhanced when we consider the (alleged) event in light of (i) who Jesus claimed to be; (ii) his ethical teachings and conduct; (iii) Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah; (iiv) Jesus’s own predictions of his death and resurrection; (v) the empty tomb; (vi) the courage of the apostles and others in proclaiming this central teaching of Christianity; (vii) the inability of Jesus’s opponents to produce the body; and (viii) the various difficulties with alternative explanations such as your options (a) and (b).”

    i) Anyone can claim anything. Sun Myung Moon claimed he was god too – hardly convincing.
    ii) some good, some bad. Paul is a nightmare.
    iii) if one were a Jewish scholar, it would be easy to make Jesus’s life match prophecy about a messiah. Notice how the different Gospels highlight different prophecies – no doubt what the writers thought were most convincing. Too easy to make “facts” fit well-known “prophecies.”
    iv) if anything in the Gospels is actually a record of Jesus’s life. History writing was very different before the enlightenment and facts were not central. Easily altered after the fact. Hagiographies are just that. Resurrection would have seemed possible before modern science of cell and biochemistry – now not so much.
    v) which was where exactly? No record of opponents in the historical record. No one has ever hidden a body?
    vi) so if I stand up and am willing to risk my life for something – that something must be true?
    vii) If there was one? If Jesus were such an important figure, then why are the Gospels the only source.
    viii) ?? why?

    Your only authority is the Bible – not reliable; Accept any (all?) other claimed holy book(s)/ stories as reliable?

  14. Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

    “Anyone can claim anything.”

    You’re absolutely right. Skepticism in general is fully warranted. Lots of false or dubious claims are made (by evolutionists too — I’m sure you’ll agree). Extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence.

    Michael, I’m quite sympathetic to where you’re coming from. When I was an atheist myself (and accepted evolution), I had lots of objections etc., and it took time and circumstances to make me willing to re-examine my views.

    A booklet I found helpful at that time, regarding the resurrection of Jesus, is this one by J. N. D. Anderson:

    • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

      I could say the same thing about when I was a Christian….

      I realize that our starting points are polar opposite – I see no evidence for and expect no intelligent agency outside of what has evolved from chemistry, but you do. It the difference between small steps and big poofs. I think we will continue to disagree.

      • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey


        It’s possible we may continue to disagree, but it’s not the only possibility.

        Since you mention “what has evolved from chemistry,” perhaps I could refer you to a recent article exploring the enormous problems faced by chemical evolution (chemical origin of life), written by a PhD biologist.

        His analysis concludes: “The origin of life is about as good as it gets in terms of scientific ‘proof’ for the existence of God.”

        I’d be interested to hear your feedback on the article. Here’s the link:

  15. “…treat the earth as a single system and measure the input of energy against the reflection of energy and show that there is an imbalance. What is debated now is the role that parts of that system, like the oceans, play in sequestering heat or recycling it, but the overall sum doesn’t change.”

    I don’t think this is quite correct: see Ruddiman – Earth’s Climate Past and Future, p. 20. Roughly, the amount of energy entering and leaving the earth’s system is the same. Ruddiman doesn’t refer to heat lost by the inner earth, so I would expect that there is actually a surplus of energy leaving our planet. Is this relevant to climate change? Well, not too much. The distribution of heat in the earth’s system can vary in all kinds of ways, regardless of the overal energy balance. So I wouldn’t put much weight in what you call the ‘single pixel’ approach (I was taught it’s called an energy balance model) as the basic argument that the earth’s climate is warming.

    Also, I would like to speak up for people like Brian Cox, who, I think, deliver excellent educational material that does in fact explain processes and theories. Perhaps the problem with these documentaries isn’t in the material or the presentation itself, but in the misunderstanding that they would actually depict a scientific process or method. Perhaps people really believe that they can understand Titan by travelling to a field of ice and looking around, rather than simply accepting it as a demonstration of previously researched knowledge. If you look at what amateur creationists consider ‘science’, they seem to be confusing scientific research with Brian Cox or a national geographic video, resulting in people pouring sand in a bucket of water in their backyard to prove that there was a global flood.

    I would firmly place Cox’ programs in the domain of popular rather than professional science, referring to Michael Ruse’s distinction. But, acknowledging that, I think the level of modern popular science is excellent, and that it shouldn’t be blamed for the anti-science attitude.

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      I’m curious about your statement,

      “If you look at what amateur creationists consider ‘science’, they seem to be confusing scientific research with Brian Cox or a national geographic video, resulting in people pouring sand in a bucket of water in their backyard to prove that there was a global flood.”

      Do you have actual examples of this? I’m wondering who these “amateur creationists” might be.

      • I was thinking about a youtube video by the user Potholer. It showed a fragment of some guy letting mud settle down from suspension and claiming he had explained how the geological column was formed.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          For a more knowledgeable (less “amateur”) presentation on such a topic, by a leading French sedimentologist, have a look at Guy Berthault’s series of videos, starting with:

  16. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    What a waste of my time. Really the best you can do is say it is complicated a god must have done it?

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      “What a waste of my time.”

      Now, Michael. Wouldn’t you agree that, given an evolutionary worldview, ultimately everything is a waste of your time?

      “No gods, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no human free will — are all deeply connected to an evolutionary perspective. You’re here today and you’re gone tomorrow, and that’s all there is to it. . . . it starts by giving up an active deity, then it gives up the hope that there’s any life after death. When you give those two up, the rest of it follows fairly easily. You give up the hope that there’s an immanent morality, and finally, there’s no human free will. If you believe in evolution, you can’t hope for there being any free will. There’s no hope whatsoever of there being any deep meaning in human life. We live, we die, and we’re gone. We’re absolutely gone when we die.” — Will Provine, in the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

      If that’s the kind of worldview you subscribe to, Michael, you have no basis for complaining about anybody “wasting your time.” Your whole existence is already an absolutely meaningless nihilism. In fact, the whole biosphere is, in your view, just a tiny transient island of life between two vast oceans of dead, dark nothingness.

      Wishing you a happy, prosperous New Year and a healthy change of heart.

  17. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    I don’t think you really understand how Christianity is a confidence trick. Heaven is a euphemism for being dead – no pain forever. We live on by the legacy we leave to our family, friends and any others whose lives we touch.

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      Seriously, Michael? We can “live on” as a memory? So when our loved ones are gone (or their memories of us fade) then I guess we “perish” at that time. You’re just playing with metaphors. I prefer a straight-talker like Provine.

      But Christianity is glorious saving truth, not a confidence trick. And heaven will be a conscious positive reality, not a mere euphemism for a lack of negative experiences.

      But what I don’t understand, Michael — having been an atheist myself — is why you would put effort into proselytizing someone else to your nihilistic views. Why would you “waste your time” doing that? What ultimate benefit is it, to you or to me? If both of us are just glorified pond-scum and there’s no ultimate accountability or after-life, why not just “eat, drink and be merry since tomorrow we die”? (And, by the way, what ultimate benefit is gained by your “leaving a legacy”?)

      • Richard, I hesitate to get into this fascinating discussion you two are having, but I would like to say a few things.

        You require that for there to be meaning in life there has to be a God and an afterlife. This is not a given: it is not true of all religions. Buddhism has no God (some forms of it, anyway) and ancient Judaism had no afterlife, as did a number of other religions. This is an assumption of Christianity and those religions that offer such answers.

        As a thoroughgoing Epicurean, I think that the meaning of life is the living of a good life. The way things are is the way things are, and if it happens that there is neither a God nor an afterlife, as I think is likely, wishing for either will not make things true. So meaning must be constructed by us. This is not contradictory, nor is it nihilistic.

        The charge of nihilism arises only if you think that meaning has to be eternal or transcendent. If that is not possible, there can be no meaning, etc., and we may as well suicide, and so on. But this cannot be the case, since if there is no transcendent meaning, then there remains the meaning that we find, individually and socially, by just living. Sure it might be nice if meaning were something eternal but it might also be nice if mountains were made of candy. If they aren’t, well then, we have to make our own candy.

        As to the “glorified pond-scum” point; why should it be that being evolved creatures is somehow demeaning? If you set up a false standard then failing to meet that standard is not a negative. Being what we are – evolved animals with the properties and faculties we have – is as good as it gets, and so long as we can live lives that meet our realistic standards, we are not demeaned. Personally, I find being an organism that lives a life of love and achievement a good thing.

        Nor is morality “false” if you think it evolved. We develop moral codes in order to live well and for all to have an equal chance at a good life. Morality itself evolves to deal with new circumstances (which we generally make ourselves). Justice is when individuals have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else no matter their place in society at birth. This, too, is not nihilism.

        As to death, I repeat the Epicurean slogan: where death is, I am not. I did not exist for at least 14.5 billion years, and no harm came to me. I will not exist for around or more the same time after I die. Why does that make the life I do have nothing? I get to use Apple computers. That ain’t nothing. Oh, and my kids, and loves, and friends, and culture and the sheer physical joy of existing. These are real enough and to be valued.

        I do not intend to convince you these are enough for you: you have your beliefs, but they are not required nor shared by all. Please do no demean those who do not share them.

  18. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    Richard, most of us who can are looking for meaning in our lives. You have apparently found it by believing in a god and in Christianity – bully for you.
    It is not the only way – as John so eloquently points out. And please don’t tell me my life has no meaning – you can’t presume to know what my life is like. Are you really going to tell me that your life had no meaning before you believed in a god? Absolutely none?

    But metaphors – this is where you fail – you think things meant as metaphor are literally true. Life after death metaphors are based on the closest we come to death during life – sleep – sometimes it is blank, sometimes we dream. When we dream, sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. Imagine the torment of not waking from a nightmare or the reluctance to wake from a good dream – imagine hell and heaven (its easy if your try said Lennon).

    Faith is obviously important to you – I engage because it helps me understand my own views not to necessarily change your mind. My only suggestion is for you to read some more about how history was written before the modern era – to think about the reasons a book like the Bible would be written – to think about its goals. I think you will find that an accurate recounting of historical events is not one of them. I think you and I can find truths there even given that the events portrayed never likely happened as written. Think edification.

    To use another figure of speech, life is a bit like my camping adventures as a boy scout – learning to share and eat and learn and have fun, but in the end it is important to leave the campsite a better place than when you arrived.

  19. Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

    In response to both Michael Fugate and John Wilkins:

    Happy New Year, gentlemen.

    “. . . you have your beliefs, but they are not required nor shared by all. Please do no[t] demean those who do not share them.” (John)

    It’s certainly not my intention to demean anyone on a personal level. My aim has been rather to point out some of the implications or ramifications of the nontheist/evolutionist worldview, as part of a critique of that worldview. That’s how philosophy advances, no?

    Further, if I was going to make an issue of being “demeaned,” I could lodge a complaint about Michael’s comments to me, such as: “What a waste of my time” and “I don’t think you really understand how Christianity is a confidence trick.” But let’s not be thin-skinned here; this is all part of the cut-and-thrust of adult online discussion. I’m wanting the best for people; that’s why I say some things that might challenge them. (Unless I see clear contrary evidence, I will assume that all commenters are similarly well-motivated.)

    “Richard, most of us who can are looking for meaning in our lives. . . . And please don’t tell me my life has no meaning – you can’t presume to know what my life is like.” (Michael) “You require that for there to be meaning in life there has to be a God and an afterlife. . . . As a thoroughgoing Epicurean, I think that the meaning of life is the living of a good life. . . . So meaning must be constructed by us. This is not contradictory, nor is it nihilistic. . . . if there is no transcendent meaning, then there remains the meaning that we find, individually and socially, by just living.” (John)

    My point, using the quote from Will Provine, was that a nontheist/evolutionary worldview, has “no ultimate meaning in life.” I have not stated that nontheists/evolutionists cannot have some lower-level “meaning” in life. But as Michael says, that “meaning” will have to be “looked for”; or, better, as John writes, that “meaning” must be “constructed.” Such a bravely-worked-out Sartrean “meaning” (if that is even the right word for it) will inevitably be arbitrary, contingent, transient. It will be, in a sense, shallow — recalling that Provine stated, “If you believe in evolution . . . There’s no hope whatsoever of there being any deep meaning in human life.” It will not be a genuinely meaningful meaning.

    The nontheist/evolutionist worldview teaches, in Bertrand Russell’s words, “. . . that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labour of the ages, all the devotion, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. . . .” (A Free Man’s Worship). In such a “light,” there is no long-term value in our “kids, and loves, and friends, and culture” or “the living of a good life” (John), nor is there any long-term point in leaving “the campsite a better place than when you arrived” (Michael).

    John, you several times disputed my linking of evolutionism to nihilism. One academic source for that linkage, in case you might be interested, is the article “Darwin’s nihilistic idea: evolution and the meaninglessness of life,” by Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg (Biology and Philosophy 18:653-668, 2003).

    And finally: Michael, you write that “an accurate recounting of historical events is not one of” the Bible’s goals. But it is certainly one of the Bible’s stated goals — in fact, just this morning I was reading Luke 1:1-4, in the original Greek language, in which the author makes strong claims of careful historical research. Is your meaning that, in “light” of your worldview, you simply don’t accept the Bible as accurate? (That would seem to be the intent of your statement, “I think you and I can find truths there even given that the events portrayed never likely happened as written.”) Or do you mean something beyond just that?

    • I would like to remark here that the Bible has many different authors, so even if we would grant that the author of Luke 1:1-4 was sincerely trying to write history, then that still implies nothing about the rest of the Bible.

      • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

        Speaking of meaning – I have always liked the poet Gary Snyder’s comment:

        Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.

  20. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    “But it is certainly one of the Bible’s stated goals — in fact, just this morning I was reading Luke 1:1-4, in the original Greek language, in which the author makes strong claims of careful historical research.”

    And you believed him? Why? Do you believe everything that is written?
    Why is the writer of that passage credible – you have no way of corroborating it – so how do you know this? If I wrote the same thing, would you believe me?

    You problem is that you are an authoritarian – which is why you keep citing all of these people without any thought as to whether they know what they are talking about. This is not scholarship – this is just confirmation of a pre-existing opinion.

    • Jeb Jeb

      “If I wrote the same thing, would you believe me?”

      I think even Richard would have difficulty accepting the volumes of medieval hagiography that use the same standard claims.

      Never forget the post- grad lecture by a Fundamentalist ethnology student I attended some years ago. She made the statement that she had personally witnessed someones teeth being turned to gold through an act of god during a fundamentalist religious service (Luke claims its drawn from eyewitness testimony).

      Was somewhat surprising and disconcerting. But she clearly felt her faith trumpet anything else. You walked away with the distinct impression after any conversation with her that you were some sort of lesser being as you did not hold the same beliefs.

      I think Richard is in danger of veering down the same path. He certainly should be more careful in what he says. Not suggesting all members of his faith hold deeply prejudicial attitudes but a notable section certainly do.

      Prejudice is not a religious issue its a people one, but you don’t want to open that door even unintentionally.

    • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

      I just read John’s most excellent contribution The Salem Region: Two mindsets about science in Boudry and Pigliucci’s book on Pseudoscience. Richard’s responses here fit right in with the deeply deductivist, anti-modern authoritarianism John describes.

  21. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    And another thing – why is Rosenberg or Provine a more believable authority on nihilism than John is? It is only because Rosenberg’s and Provine’s opinion matches your preconceived notion.

  22. TomS TomS

    Something that always occurs to me when I see a complaint about evolution is whether the same complaint applies with at least as much force to reproduction.

    Keep in mind that evolution is about things like the origins of collectives, like species or populations or phyla, where reproduction is about individuals. If, for example, there is something nihilistic about the natural origins of Homo sapiens, why is there not something nihilistic about the natural origins of me?

    • TomS TomS

      Is my point so embarrassingly wrong, that no one wants to even talk about it? You should realize that I’m going to continue to talk about Scientific Storkism if no one politely (or not so politely) tells me, Tom, just shut up about this. You’re an embarrassment to the backers of evolution.

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