RE: [asa] God Or Science? A Belief In One Weakens Positive Feelings For The Other

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Mon Dec 22 2008 - 14:53:22 EST



Thanks for your comments - I haven't read the subsequent back and forth on
this in great detail, but I do agree with you that the scientific
experiments in this study and the assumptions based on them, while
interesting, seem to me rather dubious in proving the result that was
reported. Also agree with you that there are other explicit reasons why
Theistic Evolution is difficult for many to accept, which certainly have
sociological factors (key among them being the gross misrepresentations of
science and TE within Christian literature, and the perpetual
misunderstanding among both atheists and Christians that God and nature are
mutually exclusive explanations). Whether there is any underlying
biological factor might turn out to have some truth, as you or George
suggested we may in one sense tend to think less about God being the "cause"
when we discover a physical cause, but that seems to be an interpretive,
philosophical layer, not one that is necessarily natural/biological.


On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if scientists were to discover a
more fundamental biological tendency, that we tend to prefer simple
"either-or" conclusions over more nuanced positions. (For instance,
something tracing back to the "fight or flight" instinct - binary responses
may be an inherently natural tendency.) But even that may be heavily
influenced more by experience and education than biological predisposition.


Jon Tandy


From: [] On
Behalf Of Schwarzwald
Sent: Sunday, December 21, 2008 1:45 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] God Or Science? A Belief In One Weakens Positive Feelings
For The Other


Hiya Jon,

I see some flaws in this writeup.

""It seemed to me that both science and religion as systems were very good
at explaining a lot, accounting for a lot of the information that we have in
our environment," she said. "But if they are both ultimate explanations, at
some point they have to conflict with each another because they can't
possibly both explain everything.""

-- How is science an 'ultimate explanation'? Science can't deliver on a wide
range of questions, typically philosophical and theological. It can
certainly deliver a lot, of course, but they couldn't hope to address the
same 'ultimate' questions. Why do so many people seem to forget that science
has some serious limits in principle?

It doesn't help that the explanation of the experiments seems downright
confusing. 129 volunteers (Did they determine how many of them believed in
God / did not believe, and in what capacities?) read about the Big Bang
theory and an origin of life theory. Half read a summary that said the
theories were strong / supported, the other half read a summary that the
theories raise more questions than they answer.

Then suddenly there's a second experiment with 27 undergraduate students
(Were they the only 27 remaining of the 129 volunteers? Were they 27
additional undergraduate students? And if the experience with reading about
the Big Bang/Origin of Life is part of this second phase, is it really a
second experiment?) being told to list 6 things God can explain, and 6
things that can explain or influence God. (What does the latter mean?
Explain as in 'explain away'? Influence as in 'influence belief in God'?
Explain as in 'justify God's existence'?)

Next, a 'determine if this word is positive or negative' portion, with a
subliminal priming of the word 'God' or 'Science' beforehand. And the people
who received the 'these theories are strong/strongly supported' summary were
quicker at correctly identifying positive words appearing just after a flash
of 'science' than the ones who received the 'raises more questions than it
answers' summary.

"Those who were asked to use God as an ultimate explanation for various
phenomena displayed a more positive association with God and a much more
negative association with science than those directed to list other things
that can explain God, the researchers found."

-- 'Asked to use' is the standard they were using? And how are they
measuring positive associations with negative associations at all? The
experiment had them identifying whether given words (like 'awful') were
positive or negative after a 15-millisecond flash of the word 'science' or

"Similarly, those who read the statement suggesting that the scientific
theories were weak were extremely slow to identify negative words that
appeared after they were primed with the word "God," Preston said."

"It was like they didn't want to say no to God," she said.

-- That's what it was like? A slower identification of a negative word as
negative after a subliminal flash of 'God' in the group that read a summary
of scientific theories where it was suggested the theories were weak, and
that's what the results seem to suggest? And one of the scientific theories
is the Big Bang (which typically gets played up as a scientific theory that
lends scientific credence to the idea of God)?

"What is really intriguing is that the larger effect happens on the opposite
belief," she said. "When God isn't being used to explain much, people have a
positive attitude toward science. But when God is being used to account for
many events - especially the things that they list, which are life, the
universe, free will, these big questions - then somehow science loses its

-- Or it could be that people view questions in a different light when
considering God's role in those questions. Science does have less of a value
when considering questions like 'Did God create life?', because science, at
most, can explain a material process - not whether that process was the
result of guidance or planning.

Going by the article - and I recognize there's always a danger of
considerable miscommunication when it comes to that, rather than looking at
the paper directly - this experiment seems hopeless. A small group (possibly
as small as 27 students at the end, and no larger than 129 volunteers?)
being treated to a mix of subliminal priming and word association in order
to glean how they (meaning, for all practical purposes, 'most people') view
science and God? Why not serve them tea at the end of the experiment, and
look at the leave left in the cup in order to determine what they really

I can give a suggestion as to why theistic evolution is a difficult sell for
many people: A combination of conditioning (being told by many people,
including quite a number of popular atheists, that you cannot accept both
God and evolution, certainly not Christianity and evolution), poor
communication (Most TEs seemingly prefer to focus on why alternatives are
wrong, with few bothering to explain why evolution is not only correct, but
utterly compatible with God and Christianity - and the few that do try to
explain why TE is compatible with God either make gaffes ("Random Designer")
or, much more rarely, come across as quislings (Francisco Ayala)), and
apathy (I have encountered a number of Christians who simply don't care
about the deeper scientific questions, or mostly have concerns about
perceived societal fallout from placing too much confidence in evolution).

And to George Cooper: I'd actually disagree with that popular summation. I
think the idea of 'God as an explanation' historically has been vastly
overrated and misunderstood. To credit God with the dominion over natural
events (weather, motions of stars, etc) is not to propose a material
explanation or to use God for 'explanatory power' in a relevant sense.
Developing a material explanation does not discredit God as having that same
dominion. In my own view, scientific and technological developments
throughout the 20th and 21st century have been, if anything, vastly more
harmful to popular atheist concepts of the universe than to theistic ones,
with the sole exception of YEC (Which may be why that's far and away the one
area just about everyone wants to talk about, practically to the exclusion
of all else.)

On Sun, Dec 21, 2008 at 8:13 AM, Jon Tandy <> wrote:

I'm sure some of you have seen this article. I'm wondering about the
validity of the experimental methods used, and how well they can justify the
conclusions drawn. If there is such a fundamental disconnect between
people's acceptance of God or science as explanatory powers, perhaps this is
one reason why Theistic Evolution is a difficult sell for many people.



Jon Tandy




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Received on Mon Dec 22 14:53:46 2008

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