Is Atheism Unscientific?
    By Hank Campbell | November 27th 2012 02:46 PM | 40 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    While a subset of scientists, and certainly atheists, think any evidence of religion is grounds for dismissal from the ranks of science, most scientists disagree.

    In actuality, religious belief among scientists hasn't changed much at all in the last 70 years.  Ross Pomeroy writing at Real Clear Science, notes that the last time the Pew Research Center polled members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 51% percent reported a belief in a higher power and even more are likely tolerant enough to not hold religion against someone, any more than they would hold listening to Indigo Girls against a fellow scientist.

    Pomeroy invokes Carl Sagan and his quote
    An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.
    and neuroscientist David Eagleman's idea of "possibilianism", where we don't know enough to go hardline atheism but we know too much to go crazy over a particular religion.  

    "Scientists, if you're not an atheist, you're not doing science right," he quotes Prof. P.Z. Myers, head religion- and Republican-hater at Scienceblogs.com.  But PZ ia preaching to the faithful, he can't really believe that.  If you ask most biologists who has contributed more to biology, Richard Dawkins or Francis Collins, no one is going with Dawkins regardless of his atheism.  And the religious beliefs of Collins don't hurt his science at all.

    Why Strict Atheism Is Unscientific By Ross Pomeroy, Real Clear Science

    Comments

    It all depends on exactly how you define 'atheism'. The vast majority of self-described atheists don't use Carl Sagan's 100% sure definition.

    As for your comparison of Dawkins and Collins, it's not only arguable, but irrelevant. Few have contributed as much to science as Isaac Newton. He invoked God to fill the gaps in his own massive intellect. It took a while for science to fill those gaps, but it did.

    The bottom line is that science is continually explaining things once simply attributed to God. Although there remain many things that are not understood by science, and are commonly attributed to God, there is nothing that was once explained by science, which has been replaced by God. Let's just not stop doing science while waiting for God to show up.

    "...atheists, think any evidence of religion is grounds for dismissal..."
    What evidence?

    "...most scientists disagree."
    Source-citation?

    "An atheist is someone who is certain ..."
    Because of people trying to define my position for me without my permission, I use the term 'non-believer' or don't define myself at all for others. Labels aren't the issue any more than your appeal to what "scientist" believe.
    'God' is supposedly not a testable hypothesis, so its a non-issue to me.

    Hank
    Some of your challenges are...bizarre.  I have talked to thousands of scientists by now, and I know more whose spouses work for churches than work for atheist groups.  Is a scientist whose wife or husband works at a church a bad scientist?   

    On the other hand, a 5-second Google search can lead you to plenty of claims by atheists than any tolerance of religion is the sign of a bad scientist. Yet you see no reason to challenge that fallacious crackpottery. I don't much care, most atheists are not scientists so what they think about scientists is irrelevant, just like what they think about Harrison Ford or Broadway musicals is irrelevant.  Arguing with a Carl Sagan quote is pointless, since he is dead.
    "On the other hand, a 5-second Google search can lead you to plenty of claims by atheists than any tolerance of religion is the sign of a bad scientist. Yet you see no reason to challenge that fallacious crackpottery."

    It depends on the intent of those who posted those alleged fallacies, they are directed at believers who are generally prone to use fallacious arguments to justify their faith. Atheist are free to use the same tactic as it wasn't 'reason and logic' that created the beliefs in religious believers. I see no problem with those who choose to debate with religious people on their own religious terms.

    "On the other hand, a 5-second Google search can lead you to plenty of claims by atheists than any tolerance of religion is the sign of a bad scientist."

    From the original article:"...Advancement of Science (AAAS), 51% percent reported a belief in a higher power and...."

    So, 49% non-believer scientist compared to the general population which was what in 2010, 3% to 15%?
    I suppose we could say that some believers can be good scientist in-spite of their beliefs.

    Hank
    So what are you saying, if 3% of America are religious than 100% of scientists who don't make fun of religion are bad scientists?  I see you putting out numbers but they don't seem to have much in common with each other. If you met a scientist who was religious, would you disqualify them or not?
    "I see you putting out numbers but they don't seem to have much in common with each other."

    Currently 5% of the 2012 US population are outright atheist, its odd that this small group supplies 49% of scientist.

    "If you met a scientist who was religious, would you disqualify them or not?"

    Not necessarily, its an individual thing, I'd have to see his work, also what field he was in and the project we are talking about putting him-her on. For example mathematicians are more often religious than most others in the science field, no problem there, some need for order or something, biologist or physicist may need more scrutiny. But you seem to be looking for an absolutist yes or no, I'm a divergent thinker, not a religiously convergent thinker.

    Hank
    You used three words in your last sentence it is apparent you do not understand. It's adorable that you think anyone in science has to satisfy some arbitrary metric you create, yet you are 'divergent'. The curse of militant atheism is its hypocrisy, it seems.
    Boring.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sagan is simply wrong, since it should be clear that the same standard/criteria would apply to Santa Claus or any number of myths.  I seriously doubt that most people would try to be scientifically 'rigorous' in being agnostic about Santa Claus.

    In short, I am not compelled to believe every assertion that someone makes without evidence.  Since there is no evidence for God, then I am under no obligation to provide proof or evidence for his non-existence.
    Mundus vult decipi
    God doesn't even make the cut as a viable scientific hypothesis - it makes no predictions and is not falsifiable. No honest scientist should take it seriously.

    Hank
    No honest scientist should take it seriously.
    So you are saying that all religious scientists are dishonest.  Okay, that is not exactly the claim of a rational, critically thinking person. It is the claim of a zealot.
    Hitch had it right - "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence".

    Hank
    Unfortunately, this invalidates 70 years of modern physics.  Or did you think there was evidence for a Higgs boson before there was evidence for a Higgs boson?  I get the sentiment but it is a meaningless platitude. To critical thinkers, people who rely on vague platitudes are no different than people who rely on scripture.
    John Hasenkam
    "Scientists, if you're not an atheist, you're not doing science right,"


    PZ Myers must be off his rocker. I have in my archives a list of quotes from various famous physicists who assert that the idea of God is not inconsistent with science and even von Neumann asserts the idea makes as much sense as there is no god, a position I am quite comfortable with. After all, which is more bizarre, belief in a supreme being or belief in an infinity of universes that are being continually created with each observation\measurement? As QM demands that we entertain all sorts of strange ideas about reality the idea of God does not seem so bizarre. If the multiverse is a valid interpretation of QM then we must also admit that our perceptions in this universe represent but the tiniest fraction of all possible observable phenomena which means we are not looking through a glass darkly but eternally looking into the dark. 


    What arrogant, pontificating, pusillanimous punces like Myers do not appreciate is that they are examples of individuals where one wonders if they have suffered a series of lacunar infarcts which have rendered their dorsolateral prefrontal cortices all but defunct. PZ  Myers obviously doesn't understand Science because there are plenty of scientists who hold deep religious convictions and have done outstanding work. The man currently regarded as the smartest thing on the planet, Freeman Dyson, clearly entertains a belief in God of some sort. So the evidence is right before Myers that he is wrong. The man does not understand evidence ipso facto he does not understand science accordingly he should dip his eye in hot cockys cack. 




    I just read this same type of rhetoric on a Catholic site complaining about gay marriage being voted in..

    Here what Bertrand Russell wrote about this topic, and I think that the vast majority of atheists align more or less with him (and I certainly do):

    <<
    Here there comes a practical question which has often troubled me. Whenever I go into a foreign country or a prison or any similar place they always ask me what is my religion.

    I never know whether I should say "Agnostic" or whether I should say "Atheist". It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

    On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

    None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.

    Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.
    >>

    from http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm

    See also:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

    If you ask most biologists who has contributed more to biology, Richard Dawkins or Francis Collins, no one is going with Dawkins regardless of his atheism.  And the religious beliefs of Collins don't hurt his science at all.

    All true. But they're both wasting time: Dawkins---for overbashing and trying to make atheism a "cause" and Collins--- by trying to invoke "leaps of faith".
    The tone of Pomeroy's essay is something I'm more comfortable with.
    "But they're both wasting time: Dawkins---for overbashing and trying to make atheism a "cause" "

    Dawkins' has made a positive impact on the world in my opinion with his disputed meme theory experiment by demonizing the religious demonizers and setting the stage for restoring the separation of church and state in many countries. Though Dawkins is now considered irrelevant by many he has spawned many political organizations for secularism and equality.

    Hank
    Right, but you note that science isn't anywhere in there.  He is a fine sociologist and an incredible communicator but his contributions to biology consist solely of giving people who don't know much about biology a way to still kick the field around - because people claim he 'speaks' for a much larger demographic than he does. Most biologists would prefer he just stick to philosophy.
    "but his contributions to biology consist solely of giving people who don't know much about biology a way to still kick the field around"

    In the short term, in the long term he may have contributed to man's evolution by minimizing the importance of authoritarian religious indoctrination which enlarges the right amygdala or the fear or 'fight or flight' response center of the brain which favors emotional responses over critical thinking in the anterior cingulate cortex, also the the source of empathy for others.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but that's not how evolution works. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    I did say "may", though there is a correlation to IQ and size of the anterior cingulate cortex which we could enhance with cultural changes.

    Gerhard Adam
    It still doesn't work that way.  You may argue that it is something learned, but unless it is present in the germ line and subject to selection, then it isn't part of evolution.  No matter what changes you may experience as an adult, it isn't evolutionary; it's cultural.

    Moreover, if you can't illustrate how it would have fitness consequences, then it's really not much of anything.  I do recognize that cultural, behavioral, learned systems etc. can have fitness consequences, and those will exert an evolutionary pressure.  This doesn't fit into that category.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Good comment. The person you are responding to is also making the case about belief nicely.  They don't know anything about biology, they simply choose to believe what leaders tell them and have some canned talking points they memorized - the same way religious people do.   Asking most atheists who claim to be so pro-science about adaptive radiation would get laughable answers, just like religious people. It's belief, plain and simple.
    "they simply choose to believe what leaders tell them and have some canned talking points they memorized"

    Do you actually have something to add to the topic besides authoritarian rhetoric?
    Feel free to enlighten instead of whine and cry. I have no problem admitting that the last time I studied evolution was nearly 4 decades ago. Feel free to from felicitous denouncing to something constructive.

    Of course you may be simply applying Poe's law to demonstrate why religious followers should not be in the science field.

    Hank
    I am simply saying that sanctimonious atheists bleating about stupid religious people are hypocrites. We all believe some science, even if we call it acceptance, because we can't be experts on everything, but pretending your world view makes you superior is silly.  I'm sure I've never met a religious person who denied all science, I can't even recall meeting one who denied evolution, but I have met plenty of atheists who deny other aspects of biology and vaccines too.  So religious people aren't any dumber than atheists, they just believe and accept different stuff. 
    Logically speaking, every atheist is really an agnostic. However, the burden of proof is on the theist, not the atheist. I can't absolutely prove there are no flying elephants, either, but I have no qualms about saying that I don't believe any such thing exists.

    Hank
    It's still an anti-science mentality.  It's the same rationale other anti-science people use about vaccines and food - the burden of proof is on the thing they want to say is unsafe. No one can prove something can't be harmful and I can't prove there are no flying elephants. 

    SETI looks for radio signals from other civilizations in the universe while WETI satirically claims to be Waiting for signals from other civilizations and can claim 100% success. They don't believe it exists. Yet using atheist rationale, the SETI people are anti-science while WETI is pro-science.
    So you want to speak and think for others now, you forgot to mention that atheist eat babies.
    This is also the first time I've heard of WETI.

    Hank
    The problem with everything you write is you come across as rabid - you are so far out of the mainstream, and so filled with hate, you smack of zealotry.  That is why the religious parallel is accurate, but ironic.
    You have a big nose and your ears look funny.

    Gerhard Adam
    I think there are too many people conflating belief with knowledge/evidence.  In the absence of evidence, pro or con, then the only factor that determines the plausibility of something is either how well it fits into existing paradigms, or it is purely a function of belief.

    Anything that is a function of belief is not, and cannot be scientific, unless evidence begins to demonstrate that something is there to investigate.

    As a result, the problem isn't religion, but rather when religion is being elevated to the level of science, or where science is charged with being little more than dogma.  In both cases, there is a gray area where either worldview is subject to being compromised.  I've encountered as many non-believers that don't accept evolution as religious people.  In this arena, the subject often revolves around evolution, however no matter how often creationists try to denigrate it as being "only a theory", their opinions are worthless until they come up with an alternative theory or hypothesis.  Simply invoking god, isn't going to cut it, because then they are no longer talking about religion, but using their religious belief as scientific evidence.  At this point, they are certainly deserving targets for skepticism regarding their scientific motivations.
    Mundus vult decipi
    SynapticNulship
    It just comes down to Pomeroy's hope for "encouraging open-mindedness and discouraging fundamentalism."

    It is also important to keep in mind that an individual human often holds contradictory points of view. A scientist that tries to mix their old fashioned anthropomorphic angry-dude-in-the-clouds god with their science may be headed toward an intellectual outhouse, but most likely he or she will just switch mindsets depending on the context.
    Hank
    Yes, non-overlapping magisteria work just fine.  Some people think humans need to be super-rational ants and heap scorn on anyone different. Ants would never watch "Honey Boo Boo" and that is why diversity among people makes the dynamic interesting, even if we don't all agree.
    Diversity is all well and good until an atheist or gay or woman walks into the room.
    Maybe we can review this topic after Catholic Church starts preforming gay weddings.
    Of course atheist would have to consider evidence of demonic possession.

    Joseph Johnson
    <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 <![endif]-->

    It seems that the term Atheist is being used incorrectly.  It does not mean that you do not believe in “A God” or have no religious belief.  That would be Agnostic.  Atheist means that you do not believe in the Christian god (or Jewish, same god different belief system).

     Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, or any other non-Christian religions, are classified as Atheist.  They have a god or supreme being concept.

     So within the “51% percent reported a belief in a higher power and even more are likely tolerant enough to not hold religion.”, there would be Atheist in the 51%, but not Agnostics.

    as long as he has a love for science and knows what he is doing then in my book he Is INDEED a Scientist

    I don't know what science20 is, I just found it today. Looks like it is following the rules of any internet forum to me. Original poster posts a thread that presents itself as rational analysis of a topic. In reality it is an unsubstantiated pseudo-philosophical agenda-pushing post loaded to the hilt with unspecified assumptions and generalizations. Since the original post contained (intentionally) inflammatory material, the post draws out inflammatory comments. The original poster jumps into the fray to defend his piece, and he has already demonstrated he isn't going to be objective about this topic. Original poster uses ad hominems, generally designed to look like discourse to defend his work. Original poster also replies to other comments and it looks like he is engaging the field. But a quick review of the original posters other threads shows his first replies are aggressive and adversarial, and are often the only kind of replies. In this case the original poster is the troll. I guess that means I'm feeding the troll by replying, but I need find something intellectually stimulating about this site because it is clearly not going to be the content.

    Hank
    There are 5,000 members of Science 2.0 so judging an entire place by one link to one article you happen to disagree with is showing the same lack of reality-based reasoning I am criticizing in other commenters.   Is it insulting?  Of course it is insulting, if people want to be coddled even though they say stupid things, they should read Psychology Today or watch Oprah.