Re: [asa] Jerry Coyne's Confused Attack on Religion Part 2

From: Nucacids <>
Date: Thu Jan 29 2009 - 23:04:06 EST

Ken Miller replies:

"Finally, what of his central criticism-the claim that science and religion are not only different, but incompatible and mutually contradictory?
He's right on one score, obviously. That is that certain religious claims, including the age of the earth, a global worldwide flood, and the simultaneous creation of all living things are empirical in nature. As such, they can be tested scientifically, and these particular claims are clearly false. Claims of demonstrative miracles in the past, such as the virgin birth or the resurrection cannot be tested empirically, because there are no data from which to work. On such claims, science has nothing to say one way or the other. Coyne's complaint on such things, paradoxically, is that they must not have happened because there is no scientific explanation for them. That amounts, in essence, to saying that these things could not have happened because they would be miracles. Well, that's exactly what most Christians take them for, so Coyne's only real argument is an a priori assumption that miracles cannot happen. Make that assumption, and miracles are nonsense. But it is an assumption nonetheless, something that Coyne fails to see."


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Nucacids
  Sent: Sunday, January 25, 2009 11:22 AM
  Subject: [asa] Jerry Coyne's Confused Attack on Religion Part 2

  Since I have refuted Coyne's first argument about science having the ability to determine whether or not God exists, let's consider his second argument.


  "This brings us to the second reason why Gould's explanation does not cohere. It is all well and good to say, as he did, that religion makes no claims about nature, but in practice it is not true."


  This is a valid point. If a religion makes a claim about the world and that claim is open to scientific investigation, science can judge that claim. But the key words are "if" and "and."


  "Many religious beliefs can be scientifically tested, at least in principle."


  When it comes to science, we need more than something that is "at least in principle." We need something that is scientifically testable *in practice.* To claim that something is testable in principle is an admission that no test has been done in practice. Thus, a claim that is scientifically testable only in principle is a claim that has merely the potential of falling within the domain of science. It does not actually fall within the domain of science until it can be empirically tested in practice (the scientific method is not superfluous in science). If it has not been scientifically tested in practice, it is speculation and imagination, rooted in subjective reality, and not science.


  Let's make this crystal clear. If you want to claim that a religious belief is sciencitifically testable, then *do* the test and *show* us the results. If you can't do the test, it's not science and "in principle" claims will not serve as excuse slip so philosophy can masquerade as science.


  "Faith-based healing is particularly suited to these tests. Yet time after time it has failed them."


  Yes, but exactly is being tested here? Have all the variables been removed/controlled such that we can use these data to conclude that God does not exist? An inability to scientifically and statistically detect "faith-healing" does not allow us to reach conclusions about the existence of God; it helps us reach conclusions about faith healing - they are not scientifically detectable.




  "Like Giberson, Miller rejects a literal interpretation of the Bible. After discussing the fossil record, he contends that "a literal reading of the Genesis story is simply not scientifically valid," concluding that "theology does not and cannot pretend to be scientific, but it can require of itself that it be consistent with science and conversant with it." But this leads to a conundrum. Why reject the story of creation and Noah's Ark because we know that animals evolved, but nevertheless accept the reality of the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, which are equally at odds with science? After all, biological research suggests the impossibility of human females reproducing asexually, or of anyone reawakening three days after death."


  We can reject the "story of creation and Noah's Ark" because they entail claims that can be tested by science. We can say, "If evolution is not true, we would expect to see this" or "If the planet was entirely covered by water, we would expect to see that." But neither the virgin birth nor resurrection of Jesus allow us to make those testable claims about the world. If you doubt me, present your hypothesis and then test it.

  The virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus are one-time miracles that pertain to one person - Jesus - and have deep theological meaning. His virgin birth, as a miracle, does not mean science would be able to discover virgin births among other humans. Nor does his resurrection entail that science would be able to discover a natural pathway for bringing the dead back to life. If science did discover that natural causes cause humans to have virgin births and rise from the dead, then these events would hardly qualify as miraculous or special. And this is where people run into trouble when they use science to pass judgment on religion. If such judgment is to be passed, one has to understand the thinking of that religion and the meaning of that miracle. For example, the virgin birth of Jesus is not some whimsical display of divine power. Nor is it a miracle that services the isolated need of some individual. From the biblical perspective, miracles were never called miracles - they were known as signs. The miracle comes with a message that, like all messages, is highly context dependent. As any Christian will tell you, the virgin birth represents the divine entry into our reality. If God is not going to continually incarnate in people across time, then why expect the virgin birth to be repeatable? If it is not repeatable, science cannot address it.

  And let us not forget that the only way that science can "corroborate" a miracle is to adopt and endorse the "god-of-the-gaps" approach. The ID debate has taught us that such an approach violates the essence of science. Thus, science cannot ever corroborate a miracle.


  If Coyne wants to set science against the resurrection of Jesus, then he needs to actually *use* science against the resurrection of Jesus while avoiding the "god-of-the-gaps" approach. [New Atheists are also fond of the "god-of-the-gaps" argument (no gaps -> no God).] But as with all the New Atheists making such claims, not one has a single peer reviewed, published study that uses the scientific method to make measurements that determine Jesus did not rise from the dead or was not born of a virgin. Unless Coyne designs and conducts an experiment to determine if these one-time miracles are true, he's just engaging in armchair philosophy that sounds, well, sciencey.


  So Coyne's error here is as follows: If a religious belief makes a claim about the world that science can test, then science can test it. But just because a religious belief makes a claim about something that happens in the world does not mean science can test it, as not all claims about the world can be tested by science.


  -Mike Gene


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Received on Thu Jan 29 23:04:47 2009

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