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The Natural and the Supernatural

by Michael Shermer, Aug 11 2009

Cartoonist Sidney Harris once illustrated two scientists at a chalkboard. One has written, among mathematical equations, “Then a miracle occurs,” to which his colleague replies, “I think you need to be more specific here in step two.” This nicely sums up the relationship between science and religion: one deals in the natural while the other deals in the supernatural. And never the twain shall meet.

Were only it were so. Unfortunately, religions routinely make claims about the natural world that are in direct conflict with the scientific evidence. Young-Earth Creationists, for example, believe that the world was created around 6,000 years ago, about the same time that the Babylonians invented beer. These claims cannot both be correct, and anyone who thinks the former is right has relegated all of science (along with brains) to the dumpster of life. Many people of faith believe that prayer can cajole the deity into taking action in our world to do everything from healing cancers to winning wars. Yet a comprehensive controlled scientific study on the efficacy of prayer on healing, funded by the religiously-based Templeton Foundation and conducted at the prestigious Harvard Medical School, found no relationship between the two: subjects in the non-prayed for group did just as well (or poor) as those in the prayed for group. And why is it, scientists want to know, that prayer only seems effective for things that might have happened anyway, such as tumors going into remission. A more dramatic and unmistakably religious miracle that would shock even the most skeptical of scientists would be if prayers for amputees (especially our brave wounded Christian soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan) resulted in renewed whole limbs; i.e., a true miracle.

How, then, can we reconcile the natural and the supernatural? Most people keep them separated in logic-tight compartments, even scientists. Surveys conducted in 1916 and again in 1997 found that 40 percent of American scientists said they believe in God. As well, hundreds of millions of practicing Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and members of other faiths both believe in God and fully embrace science, even evolution: a 2005 Pew Research Center poll found that 68 percent of Protestants and 69 percent of Catholics accept the theory. So, demographically speaking, most people find no conflict between science and religion.

However, the natural world does not bend to the demographics of belief. Millions of people also believe in astrology, ghosts, angels, ESP, and all manner of paranormal piffle, but that does not make them real. The veracity of a proposition is independent of the number of people who believe it.

In conclusion, I go so far as to conclude: There is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is only the natural, the normal, and mysteries we have yet to explain. God is a mystery, and the God of Abraham may very well be an eternal mystery for the simple reason that any God explicable through science and the laws of nature would, by definition, lose the status of supernatural and enter the realm of the natural. A God definable by science is not a God at all.

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154 Responses to “The Natural and the Supernatural”

  1. Deen says:

    God is a mystery

    Or God (like anything else commonly referred to as “supernatural”) is imaginary, which also puts it outside the realm of science.

  2. Aaah, says the believer, but the thing about those studies that show no effect for prayer is that they involve deliberately not letting people know that certain people are in need, and the thing about withholding information like that is that (in the words of the great Monty) God gets quite irate and answers the prayers that people would have prayed if they’d known about the people in need. So there.

    In my life so far I’ve gone from being a nonbeliever to being a Christian to being a nonbeliever again. My loss of faith wasn’t caused by a single factor, more the accumulation of disappointments whereby things I’d taken to be evidence in favour of my religion turned out not to be. However, one small catalyst might have been that not long before I finally lost faith, I was contemplating the idea of taking the telephone directory and, over as many nights as it took, praying a formulaic prayer for every single household listed in it. The prospect of doing this forced me to ask myself if I was really sure that such prayer would actually do any good, and I guess I wasn’t.

    (My theology, by the way, was a tad more subtle than believing that prayer would cajole the deity as such.)

  3. Jim says:

    There is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal.

    vs

    God is a mystery, and the God of Abraham may very well be an eternal mystery for the simple reason that any God explicable through science and the laws of nature would, by definition, lose the status of supernatural and enter the realm of the natural.

    These say very different things. The consequences of each statement are very different. So which is it?

    • badrescher says:

      Yes, the statements are different, but they do not contradict one another.

      • Jim says:

        The first quote actually comes first in the post. Given that “There is no such thing as the supernatural,” it seems odd to suggest that God, whose status is, in the latter quote, admittedly supernatural, will remain a mystery. What is the mystery about? As explicitly stated, there is no such thing as the supernatural, so what exactly is the mystery behind a thing that has no existence?

      • Marc says:

        Jim:

        In saying God may be an eternal mystery, Shermer is simply acknowledging that as long as people believe, they will continue to defend Him from scientific explanation. It is actually the assumption that the God of Abraham does not exist that allows this conclusion. If god(s) did exist, it is conceivable that science would one day acknowledge such existence and therefore relegate it to the realm of the natural.

      • Jim says:

        In saying God may be an eternal mystery, Shermer is simply acknowledging that as long as people believe, they will continue to defend Him from scientific explanation.

        I guess I don’t know what that means. I am unfamiliar with anyone using ‘mystery’ to mean anything like “defended from scientific explanation.” On the contrary, I’m pretty certain that most no one would get that meaning from ‘mystery’. Further, God doesn’t seem mysterious at all if He doesn’t exist. Again, it seems very odd to suggest that something that is in no way there at all is mysterious.
        The stuff about anything that exists being natural is really a different point. That might be the case, but that in no way defends the position that non-existent things can be mysterious in any meaningful way.

    • dave says:

      I’ve come across this basic concept from skeptics repeatedly and I don’t understand it. I heard Richard Dawkins once say something to the effect that he thought the question of god was a scientific one. I doubt he was referring to any specific god but even the general idea of god does not seem to me to be a scientific question, or a mystery. I have yet to see that there is any reason what so ever to consider the possibility of a god, by any definition. The idea of god exists soley because of superstitious belief. There is no mystery in that. And there is no scientific question to be answered there.

      • Jim says:

        I think for Dawkins the idea is that if there is something out there sticking its supernatural finger in and making changes, we should be able to detect that. For example, if intercessory prayer worked, that would be detectable. The power of prayer, at least, is a scientific question.
        Of course, just because prayer worked wouldn’t mean God exists. But if specific, unambiguous prophecies came true, if holy text did, in fact, line up with all scientific findings, etc etc, then God’s existence would be much more plausible.

  4. Max says:

    Does Michael Shermer believe in free will? I know a lot of Libertarians do.

    • Iason Ouabache says:

      I’ve noticed that they seem to believe in a supernatural Invisible Hand of the Market too.

      • WScott says:

        Not a Libertarian, nor do I play one on the Intertubes, but there’s nothing “supernatural” about the invisible hand. It’s a theory of social interactions and mechanisms here in the real world. We can debate it’s limits and utility, but it is clearly testable and falsifiable.

  5. Alex says:

    This reminds me much of St. Anselm’s proof of God’s existence. Except you defined God out of existence: “any God explicable through science and the laws of nature would, by definition, lose the status of supernatural and enter the realm of the natural.” Instead of into existence.

    • Marc says:

      I see your point, but that is why Shermer concedes “the God of Abraham may very well be an eternal mystery”.

      “A God definable by science is not a God at all.”

      Doesn’t this really say that whatever science finds, it will not be God. It will not be the god anyone on earth now worships. It wouldn’t merit worship; it wouldn’t be a personal god. I’ve played with this line of reasoning and I find it wanting. You may as well say god is the first disembodied extraterrestrial being that you run across.

      Science will never find evidence of God. And it’s not that a god definable by science would not be a god, it’s because science cannot take us that far. How could science conclude that it’s found the one and only true god? How could science conclude that god’s domain exceeds the universe in both time and space? How could science conclude that god has dominion over the afterlife? Scientists would have to accept the answers of these things from it’s new found “God.” For science to find God, science would need to become a religion.

      • JGB says:

        I, too, have some trouble with that statement. It makes an awful lot of assumptions about characteristics of ‘god’ (it really seems to assert that ‘god’ must be much like the biblical god, rather than one of the myriad of other concepts of god.

        Not every religion asserts that gods are omnipotent, omniscient and even mildly loving. Look at the Norse gods for example.

        If you allow for the possibility that a non-judeo-islamo-christian god could exist then all bets are off. If we allow the possibility of a non-anthropomorphic god then we may be talking about something very abstract indeed… perhaps something analogous to a driving ‘force’ (or tendency) for emergence of complexity.

        BTW: The lack of direct evidence of any sort of god is mirrored (in broad brush strokes) by the lack of directed evidence for dark matter and dark energy. (In fact, some claim that dark matter is simply our incomplete understanding of the law of gravity rather than a type of matter). After all, in both cases we’re not even sure what it is that we’re not seeing

      • Peter says:

        If you allow for the possibility that a non-judeo-islamo-christian god could exist then all bets are off.

        Given that, e.g., the Greek or Norse gods are basically just particularly bad-tempered humans with better technology (“indistinguishable from magic”), it’s not much of a stretch to allow for the possibility that they could exist (either on another planet or in the future of this planet). But I doubt they’d pass muster as “gods” nowadays!

  6. John says:

    In a recent ABC video interview – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5sMva2ydoU&feature=fvsr – at 2:41 into the video – Francis Collins says that once you’ve accepted the idea of a God who created the laws of nature, the idea that “God might, at unique moments in history, decide to invade the natural world and suspend those [natural] laws” doesn’t become a logical problem. I think that for a scientist, it become a very large problem. How does a scientist who believes such a thing go into the laboratory with any confidence that the laws of nature are consistent enough that good conclusions about experimental data can be drawn based on those laws? Maybe God fudges the data to reveal something or just to play a practical joke. It seems to me that ANY belief in the supernatural poses a grave problem for scientists.

    • Max says:

      “Sir Isaac Newton and his followers have also a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to their doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.”
      -Leibniz

    • How does a scientist whose religious beliefs imply that God doesn’t behave whimsically go into the lab with any confidence that God won’t behave whimsically? Well, duh…

      • Max says:

        Re-read the quote. Francis Collins says that God does suspend natural laws sometimes.

      • Suspending natural law does not constitute behaving whimsically. Frankly, I find it incredible that you might not be able to tell the difference.

        Your typical religious scientist will believe that miracles always happen for a reason, not because God just happens to be feeling bored. To worry that God might perform a miracle merely in order to mess with your lab results is not the thought of a sane religious mind.

      • Tim says:

        Sane religious mind? Isn’t that a contradiction sir? Well I suppose like Mr. Shermer said many people can keep these things separate in logic proof containers.

        Good humor aside, if God can intervene in natural law then there is no natural law. Nature does not have volition, it exists unconditionally and cannot initiate motion on its own. If there were a process of suspending natural law then natural law would not be suspended, that method of suspending it would simply be part of natural law (a hidden code, like a cheat code in a video game which is worked into its programming that can be discovered and applied consistently).

        The alternative is there is no nature and every input into our minds is simply an input from God occurring whimsically, even if consistently. Of course then, how can we have consciousness or be aware of anything? A consciousness that is just aware of itself is a contradiction. If a consciousness can only recognize itself then before it could recognize itself it had to be conscious of something…and round and round we go. What is consciousness except the ability to recognize and process existence? If we cannot rationally consider the world then we are conscious of nothing, we are thinking about nothing. If nothing exists then there is nothing to think about which means anything you think you are thinking does not qualify as thinking, it is just some sort of marionette by God.

        Of course all this God business just pushes the questions we ask one step back because then, where did God come from? How does God consider anything if there is nothing to consider except himself and the creations of his mind?

        So no, you cannot say that existence exists and think that sometimes existence doesn’t exist.

        A is A.

  7. Arne says:

    “Young-Earth Creationists, for example, believe that the world was created around 6,000 years ago, about the same time that the Babylonians invented beer.”

    Isn’t it a nice connotation that the first thing that mankind did by themselves is to invent beer. “And god divided water and land, to make a beach to party on, and man invented beer to drink at sunset. And it was morning and evening and the 8th day” or something like this ;-)

    or to put in in better words: http://soufafrican.blogspot.com/2009/08/aint-that-truth.htmt

  8. Andres says:

    One of Shermer’s weaker blogs.

    • AndrewB says:

      I’m still hoping the comment section turns into a big fight over how this post is clear example of Shermer’s “Libertarian Bias.”

      • Tim says:

        Shouldn’t be too hard. Once you reject the supernatural, those who believe in the supernatural believe that morality is exclusively derived from that supernatural critter. At that point they think you are rejecting morality because they cannot conceive of morality outside of a supernatural code and you will be left doing one of two things:

        1: Go the Stephen Jay Gould route and suggest that morality and science never overlap.

        2: Suggest that philosophy is needed for science to take place, and with any philosophical system which makes the metaphysical claim that existence, exists, requires a subsequent epistemology, a system of ethics and then with it politics and morality.

        So to answer your question about how quite “libertarian bias” will take over the thread, very quickly.

        Also there are anti-rationalist nuts who just come here to attack Mr. Shermer on his libertarian beliefs, so I would expect them to crawl out of the woodwork pretty quick also.

  9. Brian M says:

    Good article. Short, sweet, and full of non-crazy.

    • Tim says:

      More accurately, devoid of crazy. Atheism and rejection of paranormal claims are not beliefs in themselves, they are just the absence of nts. You can’t fill something with nothing.

  10. Evil Eye says:

    Even if prayer actually worked in a miraculous way, it would still not be proof of a “God”. It would just be evidence that prayer worked.

    • Max says:

      That’s like saying fossils are just evidence of fossils, not of evolution.

      • JGB says:

        Well … fossils only support evolutionary biology when they are interpreted in a certain context. Granted it is a damn good and solid context – it includes the work of geologists in dating strata, physicists in radio-active dating, biologists in identifying the fossils, etc.

        I know some sincere people who think god put fossils in the ground to test our faith. In their context fossils don’t prove anything about evolution

    • JGB says:

      Right.

      Before we could prove the existence of god, we’d have to adequately describe the nature (!) and properties of god.

      In fact, I say we should drop such an over-loaded term as ‘god’ and use a more descriptive one, even such vague ones as: ‘primary cause’ or ‘supreme being’, or even ‘spirit father’

  11. Kenn says:

    “Atheism” is the label we apply to those who do not believe in God.

    Needed is a term to apply to the disbelief in the supernatural.

    Suggestions?

  12. MadScientist says:

    What I find fascinating is that you can ask just about anyone how they decide if someone is lying. All sensible people, including the majority of religious people, would include a method which involves asking questions and verifying claims or checking the consistency of answers. Yet many religious people exempt their own religion from such scrutiny. Religious stories are the greatest lies ever told.

  13. John says:

    Perhaps you might consider reading some actual Science-Religion dialogue literature rather than perpetuating these childish and outdated caricatures of both “science” and “religion.”

    Might I suggest a couple of serious books…

    Ian Barbour
    Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues

    John Haught
    God After Darwin

    • Max says:

      Please define supernatural. Thank you.

      • Kenn says:

        1. of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal.
        2. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to God or a deity.
        3. of a superlative degree; preternatural: a missile of supernatural speed.
        4. of, pertaining to, or attributed to ghosts, goblins, or other unearthly beings; eerie; occult.

        –noun 5. a being, place, object, occurrence, etc., considered as supernatural or of supernatural origin; that which is supernatural, or outside the natural order.
        6. behavior supposedly caused by the intervention of supernatural beings.
        7. direct influence or action of a deity on earthly affairs.
        8. the supernatural, a. supernatural beings, behavior, and occurrences collectively.
        b. supernatural forces and the supernatural plane of existence: a deep fear of the supernatural.

      • Max says:

        Thanks Webster, but I was asking Dr. Haught, the theologian, for his definition.

  14. Roy Edmunds says:

    Yesterdays supernatural is todays scientific mystery in many instances. We don’t have answers for a lot of things as yet. And gazing at the universe it might just as well invoke feelings of the supernatural for all its overwhelming expanse and awsome mystery.
    But then the debate over health cover heats up and we come back down to earth. Such is life.

  15. William Patrick Haines says:

    You can not prove or disprove what you can not define . Anyway why would any serious scientist care whether a prime mover existed anyway ? Also should this god exist why would he /she care if anyone believed in them ? Also most sane sensible people realize not everybody in the world is going to know them . So why would this god lack this basic sensibility and get offended if people disbelieved in them.?
    While non believers such as progressive liberals versus Libertarians will often be insulting in their debates , you simply do not see the sort of viscous actions you see in disputes between various religious sects . Please do not confuse Communist with socialist since communist are fundamentalist which in itself causes all kinds of trouble .Anyone who believes one size fits all usually does not have the tools to get the job done and goes around in ill fitting clothes .Elitist whether government corporate or philosophical are more often not just distasteful but dangerous as well and quite often a huge impediment to both social and scientific progress and quite often claim to herald progress but are the platinum medal winners of rabid regress !!Galeio is one such victim and unfortunately a lot cranks will use his name when their causes comes under scrunity and unlike Galeio are not willing to prove their ideas through vigorous examination of the facts .

  16. unbound says:

    The sole basis for any of the gods is oral traditions and texts. According the 3rd hand accounts (and even more remote accounts), there are real impacts and real encounters with one or more gods. There are *never* any reliable 1st hand accounts that stand up to scrutiny. In the judeo/christian traditions (old testament), their god was very active, very visible and openly responded to requests. Christian traditions (new testament) moved on to the equivalent of parlor tricks (food appearing in a crowd, a person resurrected on the side, etc). Even the canonized saints of the catholic church (need to have performed at least 2 miracles to be canonized) miracles have been disputed by first-hand witnesses.

    Step outside of the religious bubble, apply basic rational thought, and Michael’s statement at the end may not hold a lot of weight, but I would surmise that he is leaving room for something that we have yet to discover. I think the last statement summarizes that if we do discover something beyond our current understanding of this natural world, we will find that what some call “god” today is no such thing.

  17. Jacob Stein says:

    “There is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is only the natural, the normal, and mysteries we have yet to explain.”

    How exactly do you define “supernatural”? Couldn’t anything be called “mysteries we have yet to explain”?

    • Marc says:

      That is what the quote says.

    • Tim says:

      Supernatural is something that operates outside the laws of nature but can interact with nature.

      No, anything could not be called mysteries yet to be explained (redundant). Some mysteries have been solved.

  18. Jeff says:

    To W. P. Haines (#15): In order to be non-discriminatory and cover all possible bases regarding the gender(s) or lack thereof of all possible(?) deities, the approppriate pronominal designator must surely be “s/he/it,” easily and efficiently pronounceable as a single word.

  19. WScott says:

    Roy @ 14 and Jacob @ 17: you both seem to be making the same mistake of using supernatural to mean “anything we don’t understand.” Re-read the definition Ken posted @ 13. Supernatural is not saying “We don’t know what did it;” it’s saying “A wizard did it.” It is the belief that certain things are outside of natural laws or mechanisms.

    There are many things that are currently unexplained; that doesn’t make them supernatural.

  20. msgt thomas vance says:

    “Dying’s no sin,I’ll be born again. Or is it all in my mind?”
    1970-Quicksilver Messenger Service from the album, ‘what About Me’, song- All In My Mind.

    Most of us hold on to our child given religious beliefs out of fear of letting them go. Funny but true. My wife and I both raised Catholic, watched “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” on Discovery. When all the info was presented together near the end we both looked at each other and said,” well, there goes the neighborhood!” That was a while back and my wife still is a little sad, and even though it is as my adult mind knew it to be, I too was a little sad, I guess at the loss of childhood more than religion.

  21. Hector Corona says:

    My little son who is by now 3 years and 4 months old always surprises me. He sees many things with an impressive clearity and ask about anything without prejudices that anyone could think he is a genius. He doesn´t understand why people worship an imagine of Christ, why we pray in front of a saint or a Holy Virgin (We live in Mexico where most people is Catholic). For him God is not more than a super hero and the images toy for playing.
    I assume most little children must be like him. But sadly in the future, many of these clever, wise and bright young minds will become manipulated and one day will defend nonsenses and absurds. Here is the ugly part of the story: many free minds will be converted to the fanatism and fundamentalism by religious groups for serving their own selfish and hidden interests. Shame on you!

    • tmac57 says:

      People “grow up” and become indoctrinated into the groups that give them the easy answers, and relieve them of doubts. Humans tend to become uneasy with uncertainty, and gravitate toward anything (person,creed,faith,politics) that ‘solves’ the mysteries of life and sets them on the ‘sure’ path of ‘the truth’. Science can also offer this comfort, but the main difference is that in science all answers are deemed provisional, in that there is always room for ‘doubt’ and revision.

      • Peter says:

        There’s a third option. That 2+2=4 is absolutely “the truth”; there’s nothing provisional about it. There are other absolute truths that can be stated, too.

      • tmac57 says:

        Good point Peter. I should have said that science leaves the door open to new evidence. And theories may be overturned in the light of new evidence. Much of science is very solid, but that doesn’t mean that a high degree of confidence makes a theory necessarily ‘true’ in the sense of being immutable.

  22. Joe says:

    Thank the non extant deity we have moved away from the pointless liberal/conservative diatribes.

    Although, I have to admit, it does make for a somewhat duller give and take.

    I wonder, since neither of those points of view will be adequately proved (to the respective nonbelievers), does that make them supernatural?

  23. Jose Valdivia says:

    Michael Shermer, I am Fasinated buy this topic. I am a former Catholic. Now, a none beliver. The more I hear & read about you.
    The more I would like to see you in the movies. The movie for you is a re-remake of “god”, whith George Burns. If you directed and/or produce it, I don’t know if you could act, but, it would be nice to see you playing the roll of “god”. Comedy, Drama,??

    • Tim says:

      Hey Jose, knock it off. This site is not a fan site, it is a reason site. Make a point or, well, or nothing I suppose because I can’t stop you. Ah, forget it, say whatever you want, who knows what might turn out to be an interesting topic of conversation.

      • Vern says:

        Hey Tim,

        Chill out! Give him a break. He’s not a troll. Your snobby reply portrayed a large element of intellectual hubris.

        While José’s comment may have been non sequitur, it is hardly worthy of such a scathing and blunt reply. While reason may be the site’s raison d’être, it doesn’t exclude compliments or suggestions on José’s part, or civility on yours. Let’s not discard compassion, respect and pleasantry in the name of self-impressed critical thinking.

        José, by his own admission, is new to critical thinking and probably to the rules, conventions and agenda of this site.

        A little tolerance and patience to a newcomer does not create a threat or contradiction to reason. I think you could have given your message in a more positive and constructive way. Personally, I like his idea for a movie.

      • Tim says:

        Well there’s only one way to learn…

        :-)

  24. Thurmon says:

    Shermer, even when he is short is to the point. If there is a G(g)od I have often wondered why Old Testament early New Testament and/or mythological type displays of power are non-existent these days. The actual absence of G(g)od then really explains why folks gravitate to whacko televangelists with their fake miracles and redefinitions of ordinary phenomena as the miraclous. They yearn for a fantasy that does not exist.

    And then if G(g)od does exist, he would not be measurable or observable in any empirically verifiable way. This whole thing leaves gaps one can drive a truck through–G(g)od or no G(g)od–there is no way to prove he/she/it/they exist or don’t.

    Ah well.

  25. Allen says:

    If a million people prayed and an amputated limb re-grew, would it be a miracle? No,it would not. Clear evidence exists that prayer has absolutely no measurable effect; the fact that a limb re-grew would simply indicate that there are aspects of human biology and cell growth that we cannot yet explain with science. The fact that a million people prayed for the limb’s re-growth becomes an irrelevant sidebar.

  26. Thurmon says:

    Real evidence however, would be that if every miraclous request–ALL amputees regrew their limbs; ALL mentally ill folks got better; ALL illness and diseases prayed for were cured–made by believers were answered then that might point in G(g)od direction–or ESP, or telekinesis or alien intervention.

    Still NO testable proof of G(g)od.

    • aaron says:

      Um… I’d take a single limb as quite exciting, personally :)
      Lets avoid the over raising of the bar, at the point of ‘all limbs, bad things are prayed away’ you risk coming up against one of the most powerful back out points in religion, that god gave free will.

  27. Allen says:

    One limb would indeed be very exciting and it would open the door to scientific research so that we may understood the mechanics behind this…”miracle”. The danger, of course, in calling it a miracle is that the metaphorical door tends to slam closed behind it. If all limbs re-grew, would it be a miracle? Semantically,I think we would all say, “This is miraculous”, and then the science would compel us to understand it from a scientific perspective. But would it be a miracle, according the current and most widely held definition? No, of course not.

    Okay, now let’s raise the bar and go with Thurmons idea of all limbs re-growing. Would that be miraculous? It might seem so and, in the same vein that an ahteist says “oh my god” when something unexpected happens,I might say “Wow! this is a miracle!” And then, as per usual, the critical thinking side of the brain says, “Of course it’s not really a miracle, we are simply habituated to describing events as such.” And then we set to work to understand what actually occurred so that we may exponentially advance our understanding of human biology. Regardless of one limb or all, there can be no compelling evidence for the existnece of miracles occurring. “Miracles”, on the other hand, are clear evidence that we really know little of the natural world, relative to what we think we know and how much there is to know.

  28. Tim says:

    Does God exist? Does the wind blow? We know because the leaves move. So, when you say,

    “God is a mystery, and the God of Abraham may very well be an eternal mystery for the simple reason that any God explicable through science and the laws of nature would, by definition, lose the status of supernatural and enter the realm of the natural. A God definable by science is not a God at all.”

    …God would not lose the status of supernatural, but the natural would be affected. Supernatural may not depend upon cause and effect, but if our natural universe which does depend upon cause and effect did have its rules suspended for a supernatural intervention then that absence of cause and effect could in itself be measured along with the change. The supernatural can be measured (or could be if it existed) by the degree to which natural laws are suspended. As far as I am aware, no such evidence exists.

    As far as Judeo-Christian versions of the universe remaining a perpetual pain in the ass I would refer you to a book you have no doubt already read for a refresher course; “God: The Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger.

    P.S. Mr. Shermer, you seem to end every post with a “we-are-the-world” sort of fluffy can’t-we-all-get-along statement about how we should all come together. Why?

  29. lalalala says:

    “In conclusion, I go so far as to conclude: There is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is only the natural, the normal, and mysteries we have yet to explain.”

    I.e., scientism. The above cannot be proven or disproven by science, and hence, is a philosophy. It has been has been argued about for centuries, even before the neo-atheists discovered themselves on the upside of a popularity cycle. Bertrand Russell redux, zzzzzz. Some dudes with excess facial hair years ago applied the consequence of these ideas to their part of the world and killed a bunch of Ukrainians (easier to do once you surmise that only the natural exists and persons are reduced to mere material and become disposable).

    • Max says:

      Is Occam’s razor science or philosophy?

      • lalalala says:

        OR is a rule in the Aristotelian/Thomistic line of logic that can easily be applied by science. The scientific method is logic applied to the natural world. Although Someone smarter than I could likely write a whole thesis on your question.

    • Tim says:

      Well well well, what a hateful and ignorant post. I’ll try to take your points in order.

      First your accusation of scientism. Yes, yes, yes, you’ve got it, you get it, you understand what is wrong with faith and belief. Yes! Now apply that to your own beliefs.

      In this case you are wrong, but the fact that you would use a belief system based on faith as a derogatory remark as a way of demeaning somebody means that you understand what is fundamentally wrong with it, which is good. Mr. Shermer does not make the claim that supernatural and paranormal claims are absolutely baloney, but instead stresses the point that we can come to a provisional conclusion based on the facts which can lead one to conclude that these beliefs are baloney. The degree is not absolute, but is pretty damn sure.

      Second, your claim about proving and disproving, by science (redundant), is misleading and in large part incorrect. The burden of proof lies on those that make the proposition. A paranormal, supernatural, or subnatural claim must be proved in which case you are right in your claim; none of these have ever been proven. Such claims however do not need to be “disproved” because, again, the burden of proof lies on those that make the proposition. I don’t need to disprove the notion that God is an ant and he lives on the moon, the person who claims it must prove it. Now is this system of objectivity, rationality, logic, and skepticism a philosophy? I would say yes, and it is the correct one because it is consistent with reality. I would argue that you cannot take a position without adopting a philosophical premise in the first place either consciously or unconsciously, but philosophy is different from belief or faith. The term scientism and the context in which you used philosophy suggest equivocation between systems of thought and systems of faith. If believing and thinking are no different, then nothing can really be known about the universe. If nothing can be known about the universe then it is because the universe is not absolute, not governed by laws, and therefore does not really exist except as some supernatural critter makes it exist. If one follows this line of thinking (if that is what it could be called) to its logical conclusion then you either end up in Solipsism or some perpetual state of fear or lobotomized bliss believing that you can be crushed at any moment or that your every whim will be satisfied in Heaven. Either form of detachment from reality is just that, a detachment from reality.

      Philosophy matters.

      As for your accusation that science or atheism leads to immorality, I have a two word response I could use but will refrain from using to keep this discussion from devolving into nothing more than gutter language. The atrocities that you allude to were the result of communism and totalitarianism and any attempt to saddle the refusal to accept your view of the afterlife with blame is beyond historically inaccurate, it is illogical. Once you conclude that only the natural exists and that people are material they, we, become precious. The notion that people are disposable has been the premise accepted by every faith and religion that has ever existed which preached an afterlife. Those religions, which include Christianity, argue that our bodies and lives are disposable and indeed that there are occasions of “duty” in which they must be disposed of our own volition, or cases in which others must dispose of us (or cases in which we must dispose of others). Islam is the most inflamed religion today which preaches such degradation of human existence, that since our bodies are just an Earthly stage the killing of human beings is acceptable and the loss of your own humanly body is not just okay, but as mentioned before is sometimes demanded to be sacrificed.

      No my friend, only WITH God can people give themselves moral license to do anything once they have rid themselves of any Earthly or rationally derived morality. Morality can only be found and maintained through a materialistic view of the world.

      • Thurmon says:

        Well said Tim!

      • lalalala says:

        My problem with the original post was the switching of gears–use the scientific method for science, but then let’s not pretend it can be used for non-science questions (e.g., How ought we to live?). Call it scientism, reductionism, or anything, but not science. Call it a philosophy, not something from the lab.
        Shermer is quite clear, he concludes that there is “no such thing as the supernatural or paranormal”. When one says there is no such thing as xyz, I would assume they would agree that xyz is, in your words, absolute baloney. Is it an issue of definition? Supernatural in a popular sense means palm reading and spoon bending, but in a stricter philosophical sense it means something outside (supra) nature and natural law. Again, my problem is that arguments about final causes cannot be fulfilled by strictly scientific methods. Exposing pranksters and frauds does not equate to some sweeping deconstruction of systematic theology. If one does surmise such a connection, they will sink over their head in centuries of philosophy gone before. It is dishonest to propose or suggest that science, in the strict sense of the word, has answered these questions of metaphysics, and perhaps we are in agreement on that point by the gist of your fourth paragraph.
        It is in my lobotomized bliss (just give me the opiate for the people, it’s so much more easy to detach from reality) that I have found solace with Czeslaw Milosz, Solzhenitsyn, Zbigniew Herbert and others who lived through it. I NEVER wrote that science or atheism leads to immorality, nor did I state that one has to accept my view of the after life. I would hope that materialists would view life as precious, as you wrote (Nat Hentoff comes to mind, although I’m not sure I could pigeonhole him), but I’m skeptical. For one, I do not see delegations of concerned atheists going to Tibet or other provinces of China, North Korea, Vietnam, or Cuba to help those currently persecuted by materialist/atheist regimes. Those regimes will eventually fall to religious movements, judging from history. The following is a short dialogue of sorts between an atheist and a non-atheist; at the very least, it is an example of calm, reasoned discourse on the subject, and the contributors are much more self-controlled than I am: http://www.amazon.com/Dialectics-Secularization-Reason-Religion/dp/1586171666/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250150139&sr=1-1

      • Tim says:

        I re-read Mr. Shermer’s original post and I did not see any comments talking about ‘how we ought to live our lives.’ Mr. Shermer simply spoke of using science and objectivity as a means of understanding our existence. He concluded that supernatural and paranormal claims have never been able to provide any evidence of their legitimacy. Now you may very well translate that to mean that since God can be the only source of a moral code (a false assumption) that therefore Mr. Shermer rejecting the supernatural is rejecting morality through science, and again you believe that science and philosophy are non-overlapping magisteria. However, Mr. Shermer did not say that, even if you translate his comment to mean it.

        “I NEVER wrote that science or atheism leads to immorality, nor did I state that one has to accept my view of the after life.”

        Well, yes you did imply in no uncertain terms that a bunch of bearded guys killed a bunch of innocent people in Ukraine, but I do not need to point back to show your contradiction when I can just point forward:

        “I do not see delegations of concerned atheists going to Tibet or other provinces of China, North Korea, Vietnam, or Cuba to help those currently persecuted by materialist/atheist regimes.”

        So there, your own words. This statement in itself has two points though. First, if you are not seeing delegations of concerned atheists going to Tibet (where I assume you are talking about the Llama class returning to power, a regime that when it was in power condoned and practiced slavery, punished people with eye gouging, and had an oppressive caste system), Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea then you simply are not looking. Second, to describe these regimes as materialistic is seen as absurd on the most basic examination. Apart from the claim you do not seem to realize that you have made (that if these communists were just willing to adopt Christianity with their communism then they would not be committing their horrible crimes) there is no way any reasonable person could conclude that a country like North Korea was a place of atheism. North Korea is perhaps the most theocratic state on the face of the planet. The Dear Leader (Kim Jong Ill) is the reincarnation of his father according to the North Korean government and while he is the head of the party and the army, he is not the Head of State. His dead father is still considered to be the Head of State. It is a necracracy. North Korean text books include many “facts” about the Dear Leader which must be believed under punishment of work camps and death including the fact that he does not defecate. I shit you not. We laugh at such a thing, but to laugh at that claim in North Korea will get you killed. All food is distributed from the State and every handful of dirty food bits must begin and end with a graveling worshiping and thanks to the Dear Leader. Not too long ago the Discover Channel aired a program in which Lisa Ling (before her sister was kidnapped) went to North Korea along with a few good doctors to perform several cataract surgeries to restore vision to people who were completely blind, a severity that is unheard of in the United States. As soon as these people could open their eyes and see, the first thing they had to see was a picture of the Dear Leader who they immediately began thanking not just before they thanked the doctor or the good secular doctors who actually came to help them or the many business men who contributed the money to provide the equipment, but to their exclusion. Those people could not be thanked, only Kim Jong Ill was to be thanked.

        Try going to Cuba or Vietnam or even China without seeing the leaders of those countries elevated to the point of religious worship, immaculated in posters and paintings all over town. No my friend, these regimes are nothing close to atheist, they simply reject the traditional monotheistic religions and replaced them with their own cults.

        “Those regimes will eventually fall to religious movements, judging from history.”

        I do not know which history books you are reading, but they must not have any history in them. Poland threw off their communist masters through Solidarity, a labor movement. Russia fell under the weight of the failure of communism and the busted bank that came from trying to keep up with Reagan on military spending. Ghana devolved into a state of near Anarchy after the terrible rule of communist Kwame Nkrumba, although in recent years they have managed to put together a democratic nation.

        If you want a true example of a secular nation then the best example I can give is the United States of America, the first nation to put in writing that there shall be a wall of separation between church and state. You can decry the wording all you like, but you agree with it. If I were to ask you if you wanted a system like England, where the state runs the Church of England which has the Queen at the head, required religion in every school, and an ArchBishop who seems to think that Sharia Law should be acceptable in Muslim communities (after all, to run the country just on Catholicism would upset protestants, to just have those two would upset Lutherans, and so on and so on…), I have little doubt that you would reject such a system. If I were to ask you if you wanted to become more like Germany, where the national government requires that each citizen give a percentage of their income to a religious organization (don’t really matter which one, just one of there choice, but they cannot choose none), I’m pretty sure you would disagree. I’m sure if I asked you about what Massachusetts tried to pull when it was about to pass a law that would tell the Catholic Church that it had to allow members of the church to vote on who their Bishops would be, I think you would say like a loud and proud American “keep the government out of the church!”

        If your only complaints are about nativity scenes and the football team not being allowed to pray with their government payroll teachers, then you believe in the separation of church and state, you just hate political correctness.

        Now if you want a dialogue on atheism and not atheism (along with liberty vs. tyranny and a materialistic approach to morality) then I recommend:

        http://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Shrugged-Centennial-Ayn-Rand/dp/0452286360/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250179149&sr=1-1

        and if you want something REALLY boring, then:

        http://www.amazon.com/God-Not-Great-Religion-Everything/dp/0446697966/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250180018&sr=1-3

      • Tim says:

        P.S. In defense of Karl Marx (who should rarely be defended), you used the phrase “opiate of the people” incorrectly.

  30. Thurmon says:

    Allen,

    The point of the ALL statements was that they were ALL specific requests for specific people by specific believers–not the indiscriminate re-growing of EVERY amputated limb on every person in need of such succor. The idea being that even if this occurred there is still nothing testable from an empirical perspective–the same problem every test of the “paranormal” encounters.

  31. Ron says:

    Why do we need a God at all

    • Tim says:

      Not a valid point. I agree with what you are saying Ron, but put like that is logical fallacy. Whether we need a god or not has nothing to do with whether or not one exists. There is no evidence that God exists and a great deal of evidence that discredits many of the claims that are made by various religions and those should be the points of focus rather than whether or not a God would serve us or be useful.

      Although your point is good.

    • epicurus says:

      Perhaps the question is why do we need god to explain the natural world? We don’t. By Occam’s razor, god is unnecessary and superfluous therefore the burden of proof is on those who make positive claim for its existence. But this logic. Belief is another thing. As Voltaire put it, if god did not exist, man would be obliged to invent him. And to add Mintzberg, theories aren’t true but they are useful. If the god hypothesis isn’t true, is it useful? This is not science. Do you like chocolate? Science cannot answer that but you can.

  32. Allen says:

    Hello Thurman,

    I understood your point and agree with you. I meant not to disagree; in my own (sometimes unclear) way, I was supporting your position as I understood that we were on the same page.

    • Thurmon says:

      No problem Allen. The caps were not intended to convey irritation but just emphasis.

      I was just unclear as to your precise meaning. Nobody’s bad, just another adventure in communication.

  33. Baloney Detective says:

    Does God(or god) exist? No one really knows. The hypothesis is untestable. One can choose to believe or not. If one chooses to believe it is called a “leap of faith”. If one chooses to not believe it is called “free will”. I honestly don’t know the difference, if there even is one.

  34. Thurmon says:

    B-D,

    There really isn’t. The difference is in emphasis. Leap of faith focuses us on our side of the choice–WE make the leap of faith. Free will focuses on the “G(g)od” side of the choice–He ALLOWS us to make un-coerced, unencumbered decisions. Flip sides of the same theistic coin.

  35. Cthandhs says:

    Free Will has little to do with Faith. You can be an Athiest and believe in a pre-determined universe.

  36. OK. I don’t believe in God.
    but let talk about the attraction of it, because every culture on earth has a religion.

    If consciousness is an emergent property of complex systems, is “religion” an inevitable emergent property of consciousness? An aspect of self-protection?

    send your answer to liznees@charter.net because i am getting out of this post. thanks.

  37. Allen says:

    SBTR:

    That`s a good question. I find it infinitely more compelling to discuss why we believe versus the content of our belief. In my mind, narrow though it may be, I have arrived at the conclusion that god is a human construct and, as such, get bored rather quickly debating its`existence (maybe because much more learned men and women than I, on both sides of the argument, have said it all before, and more eloquently than I ever could). I do, from time to time, allow myself to get suckered into such a debate when I`d much rather attempt to understand WHY we believe. However, having said that, I have really enjoyed the posts and find that your contributions are both insightful and educational. Thanks.

    Back to my question: what is it in the human hardwiring that causes us to believe in things that we can neither see, touch, taste, feel or hear. Is it a survival mechanism or evolutionary baggage; would we be better off as a species if we lacked the ability (has it had a net negative effect) or has it contributed to our collective survival. Where in the brain is belief in the magical located (okay, somebody help me here – my keyboard is giving me an É for a question mark, hence the lack of proper punctuation after my questions. In other words, how do I turn the question mark back on and the É off…I donèt know what keys I accidentally hit! The è has replaced my apostrophe).

    If our belief is rooted in our hardwiring, can it be turned off. And, if so, why are there so many who do not believe. For example, as a child and young teen, I truly wanted to believe as so many of my close friends were either born again christians or dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholics. But no matter how hard I tried to believe or how many religious functions I attended, it seemed to my young mind that I simply could not. It was almost like there was a physical barrier in my brain that prevented belief. The more I was exposed to the dogma, the rituals, the mythology, the more preposterous it seemed that adults could actually believe and recite the stories as fact.

    We are in the minority; as SBTR has pointed out, the majority of the worlds population either believes in the chritian god, the hindu god or the muslim god. The majority believe in ghosts, the afterlife, heaven and hell; the majority believe that water can be divined and that extraterrestrials have visited earth. And, finally, I know of no one in that majority whose belief can really be shaken regardless of the lack of evidence re:their behalf or the eloquence of the debate by such learned men as Michael Shermer.

    So, what in the brain is going on hereÉ While we attempt to understand the unknowable, what is going on inside our head is inaccessable. If we cannot yet comprehend the finite, that which lies within our brain, how can we pretend to know that there is a god, a concept which by itès very definition is at once infinite and incomprehensible.

    Now, if someone could be so kind as to enlighten me on the ways of the keyboard…

  38. Allen says:

    Hello Thurman,

    I agree that determinism is not necessarily a theistic concept. However, I wonder if it does imply a tendency towards a belief system that is more inclined towrds the magical. What may the force, and its origin,that guides the universe. Your thoughts..

    • Thurmon says:

      I think it does because it is difficult to conceive of a mechanism that could somehow override the independent decisions and actions of sapient beings that is not itself sentient and–for lack of better term–“intelligent.” I personally think a uniformly natural, non-sentient mechanism could exist and determine the course of events, but if it does we have not discovered it. In its absence, I tend to be NON-deterministic in my view of the universe.

      • Allen says:

        I like your answer. I wonder if we call that non-sentient mechanism the law of physics…and?

      • Thurmon says:

        Hey I think that is good answer–the laws of physics and the other laws underlying the operation of every aspect of reality.

  39. frank says:

    amazed that no one curbed Mr Shermer on his categorical dismissal of Young Earth Creationists

    eg astronomer Dr Russ Humphries starting from YEC hypothesis has successfully predicted values of planetary magnetism (with mercury in his sights as we debate)

    (note his predictions were contra the standard model)

    try any decent creationist site for further examples – you ought to be surprised

    ps, try plugging a bounded universe condition(rather than ‘unbounded universe’)into the relevant equations and you may be able to see how the Babylonians could have invented beer about the time of creation – or more seriously – find that the need for ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ has evaporated.

    • Max says:

      try any decent creationist site

      To me, that sounds like “try any decent flat earth site”

      • Thurmon says:

        Young earthers, how quaint. I know of a guy–fundamentalist catholic Gerry Mantaticks (sp?)–who claims, based on his St Pius X version of Romanism, that we live in a flat earth, geocentric universe–AND he will argue with you about it maintaining that all the evidence contra-wise has been fabricated by Satan.

      • Thurmon says:

        Or perhaps he meant “Santa” or “Staan” or “Stana” or “Antas.”

      • Thurmon says:

        :-D

    • Allen says:

      You quote Russell Humphreys? Let’s be clear – because he has a PhD in physics does not mean he is therefore not a nutbar. It simply means he able to (more) believabley rationalize his mistakes. When deconstructed by science, his rationalizations for an Earth that is a few thousand years old appear, even to the layman, to be a spurious argument.

      His work is building/designing fuses for bombs; he is neither a cosmologist nor an astrophysicist. Though I’m certain he is very good at what he does, he fails miserably in the broader scope of science. He has been largely discredited by scientists whose area of expertise is precisely where erroneously claims to have knowledge. When you start quoting
      Kip Thorne, Steven Hawkings, Mikio Kaku, et al, and when your quote has them agreeing with Humphreys, then the real world will start listening. And should you find it difficult comprehending a universe that is 15,000,000,000 years old and an earth that is 5,000,000,000 years old, how difficult must it be to imagine that everything you see on this planet was created by a being that spans all time and space in a few thousand years!

      • frank says:

        with respect Allen, appeal to ‘authority(s)’ is merely that. the process of science is not blind, lock-step conformity, but honest debate over specific data.

        plugging the unbounded condition into the standard (Einstein’s?) equations must rate as scientifically reasonable.
        that it removes the need for dark matter / energy must appeal to lovers of Occam!?

      • Allen says:

        Tim, I think that Humphreys (and, by extension, those who quote him) must be implying that the human race is older than the Earth! Now that’s exciting! And quite a parlor trick, even for god.

        “Maybe they (being the early humans) hung out on Mars until the earth was finished being created. Then we were transported, along with all the water, and some of the fish that look “different” from the others, and placed in our new home.

        That would mean that we actually pre-date the earth. Hey, maybe Eric Von Daniken was onto something, but the government conspiracy to hide the fact that the earth is only a few thousand years old effectively shut him up. Damn them all to hell, those bad conspiracists. Because we know that the aliens that crashed at Roswell were really the transport company that shipped us here from Mars (I think it was Mars) and they were coming back to pickup the last payment owing. I heard that it was paid in 4 installments (one every 500 hundred years) and, well, that makes the Earth about 2000 years old. This line of reasoning is rock-solid evidence, and Mr. Humphreys has my permission to quote me during his next lecture. Y’all can’t argue with it ’cause there’s nothing you can say that will disprove this evidence.

      • Tim says:

        Mars? That’s ridiculous. They lived in the Garden of Eden moron!

      • frank says:

        further info, Allen – i learn that professor John Hartnett of the University of Western Australia is the lead proponent of a bounded universe harmonising with the biblical account.

        he (JH)was led to it by (non-creationist) prof Carmelli (?) who was led to try the bounded condition to resolve some of the problems with the standard bigbang theory.

      • Allen says:

        Hello Frank,

        I’m guessing that, whether it’s with Humphreys or Hartnet, there’s a bit of a problem with a priori reasoning.

    • Tim says:

      How does the Young Earth Creationist account for fossils and carbon dating issues?

      With all due respect I think that you are ignoring the overwhelming amount of evidence that contradicts the stated point of view.

      • frank says:

        easy Tim – checkout creation.com and search “carbon dating” and “fossils”.

        you may laugh (or sigh!)- but ya gotta hand it to ‘em!

      • Max says:

        Clinging to Bronze Age mythology in the 21st century, ya gotta hand it to ‘em.

      • Allen says:

        Well said, Max. I know of a few religious groups who cling to a bronze age mythology (other than christians) and their effect on humanity has not been good.

      • Allen says:

        Tim, you may be correct re: the Garden of Eden. But where was the Garden if the Earth wasn’t yet created? Hah! Gotcha!

      • Allen says:

        By the way, Tim, your posts have been brilliant. Quite frankly, they are so well written that anything I write just seems redundant. So, instead, I attempt to poke fun…does it work?

      • Tim says:

        That is true, I am pretty sweet.

        Oh, and the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. Try undoing that logic!

  40. MScott says:

    Kiri-kin-tha’s First Law of Metaphysics: “Nothing unreal exists.”

    ;)

  41. Stuart says:

    Allen
    You might want to check the Keyboard language options. Go to Control Panel /
    Classic View and select Regional and Language Options. Click the Keyboard
    and Languages Tab / Change Keyboards button.

    Make sure that your local language keyboard is selected there. If you have
    other keyboard languages set there, click the ‘Advanced Key Settings’ to see
    what keyboard shortcut changes the keyboard language. The keyboard shortcut
    for this may conflict with a keyboard shortcut in the programs where you are
    seeing this behavior.

    If you do not use any other language for the keyboard input, remove all of
    the other keyboard languages there.

    • Allen says:

      Thank you Stuart. I didn’t want to lose my post last night so I was unwilling to re-boot, which did eventually solve the problem. But what I did to turn the French on (I mean the French language on my computer, as I’m not certain of the effect that I may have on the French people…), I still do not know. I appreciate your advice and will save it for the next time.

  42. asim dagar says:

    a great man from my country once asked another great man- do you believe in god? he replied- yes. then he asked- can you prove it? he replied-yes.then he asked-how? his reply was- i can see him just as i see you, only in a much more intenser sense.this was the conversation between vivekananda and his teacher ramakrishna. vivekananda went on to the world parliament of religions and represented the hindu concept. his first line was- a hindu is not someone who believes in blind faith. he is the one who goes out in the world and finds out for himself. religion has never taught us to abandon reason. a few misguided people have popularised this idea and have attacked religion on this front. the fact is that science and religion are both looking to answer the same questions. questions concerning our origin etc. to give you food for thought i would just like to add that a few hundred years ago some of the best brains in the world including the most celebrated scientists believed that earth was flat. over the years we have now come to conclude that such is not the case. what was outrageous a few years back has ultimately shone out as truth! we use only a small percent of our brains today and we have a very small understanding of the brain thus far. this is not my fancy it is a scientific fact! now how can we be 100% sure that the knowledge we have so far is 100% accurate? this will almost be unscientific to conclude! in light of this statement i make the assertion that at the present moment of time no scientist can claim to make big statements about god or religion. how can the author in his article state- “a god definable by science is not a god at all” when he is just using a minute percentage of his brain! come now mr. shermer ,are you not going against your own scientific reason?

    • tmac57 says:

      “few hundred years ago some of the best brains in the world including the most celebrated scientists believed that earth was flat.” Straw man argument. Just because people in a pre-scientific era didn’t understand something, has little to say about the state of knowledge today.
      “we use only a small percent of our brains today and we have a very small understanding of the brain thus far. this is not my fancy it is a scientific fact!” No, factually incorrect. We use all of the brain.That is an urban myth. We also know a tremendous amount about brain function, but yes, it is far from complete,so I’ll agree on that much.
      “now how can we be 100% sure that the knowledge we have so far is 100% accurate?” Straw man again.Just because you don’t know ‘everything’ is no reason to abandon reason in favor of a belief in something with zero evidence. That is post modern thinking.
      “in light of this statement i make the assertion that at the present moment of time no scientist can claim to make big statements about god or religion.” Make that assertion all you want, but that is a complete misunderstanding of science. Since there is zero scientific evidence for god, science can only conclude that there is good reason to reject the god hypothesis. Religion is completely a cultural phenomenon, and as such, people’s beliefs have nothing to do with science. If you (or anyone)think that you have scientific evidence for god, then please, write it up and submit it to a peer reviewed scientific journal. If not then, why would you accuse Dr Shermer of violating scientific reason?

      • Tim says:

        Could not have done a better job addressing all the points myself. When I read the original post I thought for sure nobody would catch the 100% of the brain thing and then systematically point out how every point made was logical fallacy.

        Asim Dager is hoping that if he/she puts forward an assertion that is not falsifiable then it cannot be false. He/She is also likely only making the argument he/she is because he/she believes that the only source of morality is God and therefore any arguments which suggest a universe that isn’t run by God is an attack on morality itself. Such is not the case which is why no matter how much scientific evidence you throw out at the believer they will reject it because their scientific point of view is rooted not in science (which is assume when you address them with scientific evidence), but in philosophy (namely religion). Before you can convince somebody with reason that the supernatural does not exist and that the universe is governed by laws, you must first convince them that reason is the proper epistemology rather than revelation, mysticism, and blind faith (redundant I know, but I like the phrase).

      • Allen says:

        Thank you tmac and Tim for a brilliant response to A.D.

      • asim dagar says:

        first of all i wold like to say that i am not attacking scientific reason on any front, as seem to have presumed. in my post i myself said that religion never tells us to abandon our reason. i am not saying that the only source of morality is god. you are just assuming that yourself. my reasoning may have been a bit crude or straw man as you put it but you yourself admitted that our knowledge about brain function is far from complete. you have also completely neglected my central point “the fact is that science and religion are both looking to answer the same questions. questions concerning our origin etc.” you also accuse me of neglecting- the state of knowledge today! so let me use the law as you know it today to make my point. energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change its form. newtons law as i am sure you know. so all energy within me you and all around us is essentially a collective of the whole. this ” whole” for a lack of better word i call god.

      • asim dagar says:

        my haste seems to have made me commit the error of pointing out that the law of conservation of energy was put forth by newton. all apologies.

      • Tim says:

        If God is not the only source of morality then who cares about God? You don’t seem to realize that if morality can be derived rationally then there can be no revealed wisdom. Wisdom that you must have faith in by definition is irrationally derived.

        Science and religion are both looking to answer the same questions? No. Science is simply a process of non-contradictory identification, discovery, and theorizing about the nature of reality. Religion does not look to answer any questions because it operates on the assumption that it already has the answer. Faith and reason are mutually exclusive.

        I don’t know how you go from energy cannot be created or destroyed to the abolition of the individual. There is no sequence in saying that energy cannot be destroyed to we are all a collective of the whole. Now I would say that if that is your God, then your God is nothing because when observed the amount of positive energy v. negative energy appears to be equal which means that the net amount of “stuff” in the universe is zero. For more on the physics I refer you to the book “God: The Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger.

      • asim dagar says:

        tmac57 if you want the scientific proof of god then you should ask the question in scientific terms. so what is your scientific definition of god?

      • asim says:

        are you not forgetting something tim. the net amount of “stuff” in the universe is not zero.everything exists before our eyes. the energy distribution is such. you say that we can cancel out total positive energy from total negative energy and get nothing . but this is a purely theoretical conclusion. can you actually practically carry out such an experiment and prove nothingness?

      • Tim says:

        That’s why I refer you to the book. I got it for my brother a couple of gift giving occasions ago and he enjoyed it. I also found it to be intellectually stimulating and so will you.

      • asim says:

        thank you for the reference. i will definitely try to grab hold of the book. but i must add that i will be convinced with practical experiments and observations not just purely academic and theoretical conclusions that can’t be tested. however the most important question that i have is the one concerning our origin. i agree that the idea of special creation is far fetched and fascinating at the most. but so are many scientific theories like the extra terrestrial origin theory. even the best of the scientific theories concerning origin are fiercely debated upon. science has not still fully answered this most basic question as yet although i admire the long strides it has made in this direction. the question however still remains,to be answered accurately.

      • Tim says:

        A man who asks for evidence is a man I can get along with. I do hope you enjoy the book.

        As for the origins of life, the best single experiment I can reference is:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller-Uray_experiment

      • tmac57 says:

        asim- I see no reason to look for proof of something that I see as arising from a primitive understanding of the universe, that morphed into a cultural belief system that has no compelling explanatory power, and as I said, zero scientific evidence to even begin to explore. To me it would make about as much sense as trying to prove scientifically that Casper the Friendly Ghost could fly through walls.

      • asim says:

        tmac57- i recommend to you the book waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. essentially it states that- we live in a godless world. life passes by and then there is the end.this is it, nothing more nothing less. but there is much more to it, you can see that for yourself when you read. literary people do write wonderful books sometimes!

      • tmac57 says:

        Isn’t ‘Waiting for Godot’ a play? Also, my understanding is that Beckett didn’t ascribe any hidden underlying theme in the play other than what it is about on the face of it. But all of that aside, I am unsure what your point is. Do you suspect that my appreciation of life is somehow deficient? That would be presumptuous.

      • asim says:

        you are absolutely right tmac57 that waiting for godot is a play. absurdist play to be precise in literary terms. i am not presuming anything about you, how can i when i hardly know you. i recommended the book not because it contains any underlying agenda or something but because it can be interpreted in a vast number of ways. some have called it absurdist as is the common notion while some have called it realistic as is less commonly known. there are many more interpretations that have been put forth. beckett himself opined in an interview that all he had to say was already in the play. most people think that the play only means what one can observe on the face of it as you also have pointed out. my point is that we must keep our minds open to all possibilities. life itself must be looked at from all the angles no matter how absurd to fully access the the magnitude of its extent.

      • asim says:

        i have read the miller uray experiment before. the best one so far i agree. but it has its deficiencies none the less.

      • asim says:

        our discussions have been plenty and i have enjoyed them thoroughly. i thank you for your valuable insights. alas i leave you with a few words i greatly admire. don’t analyze them, just try to observe them in a practical and simple light- if we admit that life could be ruled by reason then the possibility of living gets extinguished.

      • Tim says:

        Deficiency? You don’t mean with the experiment, do you? I’ll simply assume that you mean that the experiment didn’t create life (which was not the purpose of the experiment). The purpose of the experiment was to simulate a hypothetical early Earth atmosphere and to see what would happen. The experiment gave proof of concept that organic material can arise from inorganic material. Now we simply have to continue changing the variables until we hit upon a combination of conditions that can produce a self-replicating single celled organism.

        “if we admit that life could be ruled by reason then the possibility of living gets extinguished.”

        Wow! Forget the previous books, you need to read “Atlas Shrugged.” Until then, I’ll assume that you didn’t mean that statement to be as offensive as it is.

        Offensiveness aside, that statement is a confession of, well there is no nice way to put it, stupidity. You are admitting that you are unreasonable, that you do not believe that reason is a way to understand the world and life, and that the only way to give life any meaning is through lobotomized incoherence. How can you possibly gain meaning without reason? Of course your disclaimer says it all,

        “don’t analyze them, just try to observe them in a practical and simple light”

        Don’t think, just obey.

        Faith is the surrender of the mind, it is the surrender of reason, it is the surrender of everything that allows us to understand life and everything that makes life worth living.

      • asim says:

        oh no. you completely mistook all my statements. the experiment was just fine. the deficiency i talked about was that the amino acids as well as other organic compounds that were formed during the process were very difficult to link together to form dna or simple rna strands. plus there can be more than one set of conditions that can give rise to a desired result. it would only be speculative to pick one.
        further you completely mistook my philosophical statement by taking it too literally. it has got nothing to do with belief in faith or doubting reason. let me just give you an example. it was raining today and i was riding my bike in it at 80 miles an hour! reason says that i should not do it. the road is slippery, friction is less, its dangerous to say the least! and i have done it many times! call me a junkie or anything but that was the most i felt alive. i know you can very well explain the cause of my thrill, even rationally enough but you can not really feel the way i did if you are not the one on the bike! just like you can’t exactly describe how it would feel to be standing at the top of Mount Everest. I went against reason and got my thrill. i know that this does not mean there is anything wrong with reason and i am not even trying to insinuate that. reason is perfectly right. but sometimes the thrill and the feeling of being really alive comes when we go against its dictates. this is what i was trying to say.
        perhaps i will have to pay for it sometimes.ha ha. but i will just take my chances.

      • Tim says:

        You are confusing reason with risk. You could not understand that riding your bike in the rain at 80 mph is risky without the ability to discriminate between different behaviors and their consequences. Now I could go the easy route and point to a parallel activity that would entail risk (which is what you mean when you say unreasonable which does not describe reason, but a common saying about what is ‘reasonable’ which translates in our lexicon to mean ‘within a range of probability’) such as “well then, if you like riding your bike that fast in the rain then try driving drunk down side streets for a real thrill.” However, I get the feeling that consciously or unconsciously that sort of red herring is what you want me to go chasing after.

        What you have done is take a word that describes a concept and then by misusing the word you hope to destroy the concept. By using ‘reason’ on one hand to say the thoughtful discrimination between different things and on the other hand using the word ‘reason’ to describe ‘risk’ you are attempting to remove the negative connotations associated with me saying that you are wrong from the debate. You are hoping that by attaching my reaction to a scapegoat of language confusion and sending that goat away you can maintain your position by changing the meaning of the word ‘reason’ and therefore with it make the CONCEPT of reason mean the concept of risk. This debate tactic is a subtle and nasty confusion that needs to be taken head on.

        As a ‘P.S.’ though let me say that if you are looking for meaning by means of risking your life, then I think that your current method of finding meaning outside of reason may be in immediate need of re-examination.

      • asim says:

        in life it is not necessarily important to be strong but what is important is to feel strong. and i will do whatever it takes to feel that way. i am not on this earth to win debates or anything. i am here to live.

      • Tim says:

        “in life it is not necessarily important to be strong but what is important is to feel strong. and i will do whatever it takes to feel that way. i am not on this earth to win debates or anything. i am here to live.”

        Wrong, but at least you admit that you know what you are saying is crap. You say it just to keep up an illusion. If you do not grow food in a farm because you did not work hard enough, but you feel like you worked hard enough, guess what? You don’t eat. You cannot live without reason, without being “strong” as you put it. You don’t care to win a debate? That means you don’t care to be right, which means you do not care what is right, which makes me wonder why you debate at all! If you want to go through life lobotomized, fine, but stop recruiting.

      • asim says:

        i am a firm believer in man.
        i am a firm believer in science, i am a firm believer in religion and i am a firm believer in reason. i believe that all of them exist to seek the truth and elevate mankind.
        if you believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive then that is a subjective assertion on your part.
        i am not so obstinate and thick brained as to completely rule out everything that cannot solely be proved by scientific knowledge we have accumulated thus far and this does not mean that i believe in blind faith.
        i am always ready for a debate but my main aim is not to win by being obstinately bound up with my own views and ideas. my aim is to reach the truth by accepting the new and valuable ideas that agree with my reason and common sense. man’s intellect is ever expanding and i seek to expand mine at all times. here is a quote by one of the greatest scientist that ever lived; Albert Einstein himself said- religion without science is blind and science without religion is lame.
        Vivekananda according to me has presented religion in its true light. i completely agree with his insights and to me they are ever expanding.
        i have tried to explain my thoughts as best as i can in this limited space. if you or anyone else want to know more then i wholeheartedly recommend the works and writings of Vivekananda and if not then that is your own choice. i never impose, i only seek to present his ideas to everyone.
        i always stand by the statement of Buddha- believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

  43. Allen says:

    Missouri? Damn. I’m wrong again. But why Missouri?

    • Tim says:

      Blasphemy! You dare challenge the doctrine of Mormanism!

      • Allen says:

        Yes, of course. Missouri. How could I have overlooked Joseph Smith’s contribution to modern religious thought. You might be interested in a great little tongue-in-cheek book titled “THE SAVVY CONVERTS GUIDE TO CHOOSING A RELIGION. COMPARE AND CONTRAST BEFORE YOU CHOOSE. RELIGION TO YOUR LIFESTYLE AND AFTERLIFE GOALS! 99 RELIGIONS TO CHOOSE FROM!”

        I believe that the religion (or belief) of choice is irrelevant; people who believe, save for a few “un-born-agains”, are driven to believe. Whether it’s Mormonism, Christianity, Hinduism, alien abductions, crop circles, et al, the need is the same. Regardless of the eloquence of Michael Shermers debates, the clarity of those who post on this blog, the brilliant responses to factually inaccurate statements, their armour of belief cannot be dented. They don’t want to believe; they HAVE to believe. They just don’t see it that way. The investment is too great,

        So, Missouri it is…

      • Allen says:

        That should read “RELIGION TO FIT YOUR LIFESTYLE…”

      • Tim says:

        While I appreciate the good words, I leave the sort of fatalism you spoke of to the religious. I do think that you can argue somebody down and that no matter how “gone” they may be, their armor is not particularly thick.

        In case you forget or are unaware, Mr. Shermer himself was once an evangelical Christian.

      • Allen says:

        I was aware, and I did forget. And I agree that my words do read somewhat fatalistic though that isn’t my intention. I wonder if the Michael Shermers of this world are the exception = the ones who WANT to believe, to belong, but cannot. Perhaps he found that his belief system was in conflict with his true nature and as such chose the path to true enlightenment (I’ve read his account of his transformation and admittedly what I ponder isn’t indicated therein). I suppose that only he shed could light on this one.

        More to your point = I’ll work on leaving the fatalism to the religious.

  44. Archangel says:

    For me, there are two questions that you can ask that well illustrate the foolishness of religious belief, regardless of the religion:

    1. What defines a “god?”
    2. If there is no scientific (i.e. testable) evidence of god(s) then what is the compulsion to believe in one or many of them?

    I just find in oddly convenient that as scientific knowledge has increased the number of gods responsible for nature has decreased. We no longer need Zeus to throw lightning or Atlas to hold the world up on his back because we have a natural understanding of what causes lightning and how our world fits into the universe. Having a supreme being that sees things only from your point of view is just another manner of believing that the Sun revolves around the earth.