The fact that both Jews and Christians ignore some of God’s or Jesus’s commands, but scrupulously obey others, is absolute proof that people pick and choose their morality not on the basis of its divine source, but because it comports with some innate morality that they derived from other sources.
No reputable theologian, or rational believer for that matter, adheres strictly to Biblical morality. As everyone knows, believers pick and choose their morality from a smorgasbord of divine commands, both good and bad, in scripture. And doing that shows that you have a sense of right and wrong that doesn’t come from the Bible or God. Ergo, it comes from evolution and culture.
Religion may be a quest for the truth, but it has no way of finding the truth, or verifying what it claims to find. Our knowledge of what God is like has not advanced one iota over the ideas of the 1500s.
And insofar as theological interpretation has changed, it’s done so not as a result of faith’s quest for truth, but of pressure from science and secular morality. Really, can any theologian, philosopher, or scientist tell me anything about God now that we didn’t know 500 years ago? Then ask a scientist what we know now about science that we didn’t know in 1500.
But this (a listing of illustrations of how the genome can change other than by mutations) doesn’t constitute a crisis—it’s a very interesting finding that shows that variation in a genome can arise by processes other than mutation of an organism’s own DNA. The disposition of that variation still must occur via either natural selection (it can be good or bad) or genetic drift (no effect on fitness). This hasn’t really changed the theory of evolution one iota, though it’s changed our view of where organisms can acquire new genes.
I am SO tired of this trope. It may indeed be the case that we can’t justify a priori via philosophical lucubrations that we arrive at the truth about nature only by using the methods of science. My answer to that is increasingly becoming, “So bloody what?” The use of science is justified because it works, not because we can justify it philosophically. If we are interested in finding out what causes malaria, no amount of appeal to a deity, philosophical rumination, listening to music, reading novels, or waiting for a revelation will answer that question. We have to use scientific methods, which, of course, is how causes of disease are found.
Theodicy is the Achilles Heel of faith. There is no reasonable answer to the problem of gratuitous evil (i.e., the slaughter of children or mass killings by natural phenomena like tsunamis), and the will to continue believing in the face of such things truly shows the folly of faith. For those evils prove absolutely either that God is not benevolent and omnipotent, or that there is no god. (Special pleading like “we don’t know God’s mind” doesn’t wash, for the same people who say such things also claim to know that God is benevolent and omnipotent). Both nonbelief or belief in a malicious or uncaring God are unacceptable to the goddy. Ergo, any rational person who contemplates gratuitous evil must become an agnostic, an atheist, or someone who rejects the Abrahamic God. It is a touchstone of rationality.
In the end theologians are jealous of science, for they are aware that it has greater authority than do their own ways of finding “truth”: dogma, authority, and revelation. Science does find truth, faith does not.
No, we don’t have faith in reason and science in the same way as “Cru” members have faith in God. I see “faith” according to Walter Kaufmann’s definition: strong belief in propositions for which there is insufficient evidence to command the assent of every reasonable person. We have confidence in science because it has led us to provisional truths—it works. Cru doesn’t even know if there’s any God, or, if there is a divine presence, that it’s the Abrahamic god rather than the Hindu god, Yahweh, or Wotan. And we use reason in the same way: it leads us to truth. Revelation, dogma, and authority do not, for if they did there would be only one religion rather than thousands with their disparate and often conflicting doctrines.
Science has only two things to contribute to religion: an analysis of the evolutionary, cultural, and psychological basis for believing things that aren’t true, and a scientific disproof of some of faith’s claims (e.g., Adam and Eve, the Great Flood). Religion has nothing to contribute to science, and science is best off staying as far away from faith as possible. The “constructive dialogue” between science and faith is, in reality, a destructive monlogue, with science making all the good points, tearing down religion in the process.
“HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?”
That’s the question you should always ask believers when they make unsupported assertions, ranging from “God is loving” to “Our souls live on after death.” The answer will always be one of two things: “The Bible says so,” or “I just know it to be true.” Neither of those are rational answers, but they satisfy the religious.
It is in fact the “how-do-you-know-that” query that really distinguishes New Atheism from Old. While atheists have always decried the lack of evidence for theism, it is the infusion of scientists and science-friendly people into atheism, starting with Carl Sagan and continuing on to Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Pinker, and Dennett, that has made us realize that religious dogmas are in fact hypotheses, and you need reasons and evidence for accepting them. If you have none, then you have no reason to believe in God.
Nevertheless, religious dogma does change, but not because theology has found better reasons. It’s because a.) science has shown the dogma to be false (Genesis, Adam and Eve, creation, the Exodus, etc.) or b.) secular morality has shown that the tenets of religious belief are no longer supportable (hell as a place of fire, limbo, discrimination against gays, the Mormons’ refusal to let blacks be priests, etc.)
Yes, secularism does propose a physical and purposeless universe, and many (but not all) of us accept the notion that our sense of self is a neuronal illusion. But although the universe is purposeless, our lives aren’t. This conflation of a purposeless universe (i.e., one not created for a specific reason) with purposeless human lives is a trick that the faithful use to make atheism seem nihilistic and dark. But we make our own purposes, and they’re real. Right now my purpose is to write this piece, and then I’ll work on a book, and later I’ll have dinner with a friend. Soon I’ll go to Poland to visit more friends. Maybe later I’ll read a nice book and learn something. Those are real purposes, not illusory purposes to which Douthat wants us to devote our only life.
Since neither Robbins, nor Hart, nor any other Sophisticated Theologian™ or Hipster Poet has produced any evidence for God that would convince someone who wasn’t already a believer or an incipient believer, we needn’t take their claims seriously. The reason people like Robbins sneer at the New Atheists’ call for evidence is because believers don’t have any.
The justification for naturalism is that it works: we have never understood anything about the universe by assuming the supernatural, while assuming naturalism as a working hypothesis has moved our understanding ever forward.
Religion claims to help us understand things about the universe, but, unlike science has no way to test or verify its claims. Both science and religion compete to understand reality, but only science has the method to verify its findings, while religion merely buttresses emotional and epistemic commitments made in advance, commitments impervious to evidence.
Even more than religious belief, acceptance or denial of evolution is a test of character. For if you deny evolution is true, you are either pandering to the public even though you know better (showing that you’re ambitious but lack character), are truly ignorant of the facts (which means you can’t be trusted to be informed about crucial issues), or are a flat-out creationist (showing that you’re batshit crazy).
Atheism—at least the refusal to accept gods for which there’s no evidence—is a logical outgrowth of science, and explains (at least to me) why, compared to Americans as a whole, scientists are so much more atheistic. If your career depends on establishing your confidence in a phenomenon proportional to the degree of evidence supporting it, then God is a no-go. The climate of doubt that is endemic—and essential—to the scientific enterprise is a true disaster for religion. Religious people know this, and that largely explains the many ways they attack science.
I have to say that I find Ali’s argument truly revolting—not just because it’s intellectually weak and actually deceptive, but because it debases the entire realm of university scholarship of which I’m a member. When I see pieces like hers—lame apologetics that are meant from the outset to reinforce an opinion already held—I thank Ceiling Cat that I am a scientist: a member of the guild in which using your scholarship to reinforce emotional commitments is considered a sin.
After all, by what lights can you see atheism as a “leap of faith”? What is the “faith” there? Failure to accept gods is no more a leap of faith than is doubting the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or Santa Claus. It’s not “faith” when you refuse to accept a proposition for which there’s no evidence.
He is the embodiment of greed, ambition, bigotry, and dislike of the marginalized. Of course, all that means is that he simply instantiates in a clear way the values of the GOP, but they don’t like those being so out in the open! Trump is in fact the very product of what Republicans stand for: he’s a monster they created, but now they don’t like it. They want those values, but expressed sotto voce, and by a slicker candidate.
Theology schools are the wisdom teeth of academia: useless and sometimes injurious remnants of earlier times. If you want to teach comparative religion in college, you can do it in sociology departments, and if you want to teach the history of religion or of how scripture was confected, you can do it in history departments. There is no rationale for a modern secular university to teach theology, for it is the study of a nonexistent being and its supposed wants.
I’m not sure who’s in charge of “The Stone,” the New York Times‘s philosophy column, but that person is not doing their job. Imagine if some of our greatest living philosophers would post there about matters diverse: ethics, animal rights, abortion, drone strikes, and so on. But all too often the column is about God; that is, we have Great Minds lucubrating about nonexistent beings. Among all species of philosophy, the philosophy of religion is the most intellectually depauperate. It’s a waste of time.
The battle for evolution seems never-ending. And the battle is part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition.
This book lays out the main lines of evidence for evolution. For those who oppose Darwinism purely as a matter of faith, no amount of evidence will do—theirs is a belief not based on reason.
It’s clear that this resistance stems largely from religion. You can find religions without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion.
We humans have many vestigial features proving that we evolved. The most famous is the appendix.
Tiny, nonfunctional wings, a dangerous appendix, eyes that can’t see, and silly ear muscles simply don’t make sense if you think that species were specially created.
The biogeographic evidence for evolution is now so powerful that I have never seen a creationist book, article, or lecture that has tried to refute it. Creationists simply pretend that the evidence doesn’t exist.
We now have many of the answers that once eluded Darwin, thanks to two developments that he could not have imagined: continental drift and molecular taxonomy.
If you can’t think of an observation that could disprove a theory, that theory simply isn’t scientific.
If the history of science teaches us anything, it is that what conquers our ignorance is research, not giving up and attributing our ignorance to the miraculous work of a creator.
Because of the hegemony of fundamentalist religion in the United States, this country has been among the most resistant to the fact of human evolution.
Now, science cannot completely exclude the possibility of supernatural explanation. It is possible—though very unlikely—that our whole world is controlled by elves. But supernatural explanations like these are simply never needed; we manage to understand the natural world just fine using reason and materialism.
Evolution tells us where we came from, not where we can go.
A well-understood and testable hypothesis like sexual selection surely trumps an untestable appeal to the inscrutable caprices of a creator.
Although this book deals with the conflict between religion and science, I see this as only one battle in a wider war—a war between rationality and superstition. Religion is but a single brand of superstition (others include beliefs in astrology, paranormal phenomena, homeopathy, and spiritual healing), but it is the most widespread and harmful form of superstition. And science is but one form of rationality (philosophy and mathematics are others), but it is a highly developed form, and the only one capable of describing and understanding reality.
It didn’t take long to realize the futility of using evidence to sell evolution to Americans, for faith led them to discount and reject the facts right before their noses.
I was flabbergasted. How could it be that someone found evidence convincing but was still not convinced? The answer, of course, was that his religion had immunized him against my evidence.
Science and religion, then, are competitors in the business of finding out what is true about our universe. In this goal religion has failed miserably, for its tools for discerning “truth” are useless. These areas are incompatible in precisely the same way, and in the same sense, that rationality is incompatible with irrationality.
Understanding reality, in the sense of being able to use what we know to predict what we don’t, is best achieved using the tools of science, and is never achieved using the methods of faith. That is attested by the acknowledged success of science in telling us about everything from the smallest bits of matter to the origin of the universe itself—compared with the abject failure of religion to tell us anything about gods, including whether they exist.
One can meet all the emotional requisites of a human—except for the assurance that you’ll find a life after death—without the superstitions of religion.
I will have achieved my aim if, by the end of this book, you demand that people produce good reasons for what they believe—not only in religion, but in any area in which evidence can be brought to bear. I’ll have achieved my aim when people devote as much effort to choosing a system of belief as they do to choosing their doctor. I’ll have achieved my aim If the public stops awarding special authority about the universe and the human condition to preachers, imams, and clerics simply because they are religious figures. And above all, I’ll have achieved my aim if, when you hear someone described as a “person of faith,” you see it as criticism rather than praise.
If religion and science get along so well, why are so many scientists nonbelievers?
Ironically, as the credibility of creationists grows smaller, their voices get louder.
After all, what new insights has religion produced in the last century?
I could go on, but the point is clear: religions make explicit claims about reality—about what exists and happens in the universe. These claims involve the existence of gods, the number of such gods (polytheism or monotheism), their character and behavior (usually loving and beneficent, but, in the case of Hindu and ancient Greek gods, sometimes mischievous or malevolent), how they interact with the world, whether or not there are souls or life after death, and, above all, how the deities wish us to behave—their moral code.
These are empirical claims, and although some may be hard to test, they must, like all claims about reality, be defended with a combination of evidence and reason. If we find no credible evidence, no good reasons to believe, then those claims should be disregarded, just as most of us ignore claims about ESP, astrology, and alien abduction. After all, beliefs important enough to affect you for eternity surely deserve the closest scrutiny.
The rational scrutiny of religious faith involves asking believers only two questions:
How do you know that?
What makes you so sure that the claims of your faith are right and the claims of other faiths are wrong?
Any “knowledge” incapable of being revised with advances in data and human thinking does not deserve the name of knowledge.
“The interest I have in believing in something is not a proof that the something exists.”
p. 29 (quoting Voltaire)
Religion is heavily laden with the kind of confirmation bias that makes people see their own faiths as true and all others as false. In other words, religion is replete with features to help people fool themselves.
In other words, truth is simply what is: what exists in reality and can be verified by rational and independent observers.
“What distinguishes knowledge is not certainty but evidence.”
p. 30 (quoting Walter Kaufmann)
Claims of supernatural phenomena like the efficacy of prayer are rendered unfalsifiable by the assertion that “God will not be tested.” (Of course, if the tests had been successful, then testing God would have been fine!)
In the end, a theory that can’t be shown to be wrong can never be shown to be right.
Living with uncertainty is hard for many people, and is one of the reasons why people prefer religious truths that are presented as absolute.
Although scientists come in all faiths, including no faith at all, there is no Hindu science, no Muslim science, and no Jewish science. There is only science, combining brainpower from the whole world to produce one accepted body of knowledge. In contrast, there are thousands of religions, most differing profoundly in what they see as “true.”
These (i. e., the statements of the Nicene Creed) are all empirical statements about reality: they are either true or false, even if some are hard to investigate.
These claims, of course, absolutely conflict with those of other faiths. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Muslims believe that those who do so will spend eternity in hell. Doesn’t choosing among such faiths require a way to evaluate whether this dogma is true?
You can find some religions without creationism, but you can’t find creationism without religion.
The question to ask believers is this: “Does it really matter whether what you believe about God is true—or don’t you care?” If it does matter, then you must justify your beliefs; if it doesn’t, then you must justify belief itself.
My claim is this: science and religion are incompatible because they have different methods for getting knowledge about reality, have different ways of assessing the reliability of that knowledge, and, in the end, arrive at conflicting conclusions about the universe. “Knowledge” acquired by religion is at odds not only with scientific knowledge, but also with knowledge professed by other religions. In the end, religion’s methods, unlike those of science, are useless for understanding reality.
In the end, religious investigations of “truth,” unlike those of science, are deeply dependent on confirmation bias. You start with what you were taught to believe, or what you want to believe, and then accept only those facts that support your prejudices. This is the basis for the theological practice of “apologetics,” designed to defend religion against counterarguments and disconfirming evidence....In contrast, science has no apologetics, for we test our conclusions by trying to find counterevidence.
The most important component of the incompatibility between science and religion is religion’s dependence on faith.
Theologians intensely dislike the definition of faith as belief without—or in the face of—evidence, for that practice sounds irrational. But it surely is, as is any system that requires supporting a priori beliefs without good evidence. In religion, but not science, that kind of faith is seen as a virtue.
“Blasphemy” and “heresy” are terms of religion, not science.
In fact, changes like the elimination of limbo don’t come from new information, but from secular currents in society that make church dogma seem insupportable or even barbaric.
Just as many churches don’t want to be seen as rejecting science, neither do they wish to lag too far behind public morality, and so they often tweak their religious “truths” to reflect the zeitgeist.
But all that changed when Darwin explained those designlike features by natural selection. The best evidence for God simply vanished.
One can’t read a great deal of theology without appreciating the mental dexterity of its practitioners when faced with hard problems. And as a scientist, I regret how much more we’d understand about nature had that dexterity been applied to science instead, or to any field involved in studying what’s real.
Most of the world’s believers reject these claims (i. e., of Scientology, Mormonism, and Christian Science) as blatantly false. But that’s only because these three religions are fairly new. They were founded in the last two centuries, and we see their origin not as divine but as obvious fabrications of humans—in the case of Joseph Smith, of a con man. But if you look with equally critical eyes at the doctrines of older faiths, their tenets seem equally bizarre.
To a very large extent, which religion you accept and which you reject are accidents of birth. And after you’ve been religious for years, and surrounded by those who believe likewise, you become emotionally invested in your faith’s truth. This makes you more susceptible to confirmation bias and less likely to be skeptical about your beliefs.
The different claims among these faiths have consequences, for they’ve produce endless misery over the course of history....Clearly, religions aren’t incompatible only with science: they’re incompatible with one another....This farrago of conflicting and irresolvable claims about reality stands in stark contrast to science.
What I am saying is two things. First, religion hasn’t obviously come closer to understanding the divine....I also claim that insofar as theology or religious beliefs do change within a faith, those changes are driven largely by either science or changes in secular culture....Religious morality, at least as promulgated by priests, rabbis, imams, and theologians, is usually one step behind secular morality.
The methodological conflicts between science and religion cannot be brokered, for faith has no reliable way to find truth.
Our reliance on naturalism, then, is not an assumption decided in advance, but a result of experience—the experience of men like Darwin and Laplace who found that the only way forward was to posit natural rather than supernatural explanations. Because of this success, and the recurrent failure of supernaturalism to explain anything about the universe, naturalism is now taken for granted as the guiding principle of science.
If you spend your life looking in vain for the Loch Ness Monster, stalking the lake with a camera, sounding it with sonar, and sending submersibles into its depths, and yet still find nothing, what is the more sensible view: to conclude provisionally that the monster simply isn’t there, or to throw up your hands and say, “It might be there; I’m not sure”? Most people would give the first response—unless they’re talking about God.
It’s important to realize that philosophical naturalism is, like atheism, a provisional view. It’s not the kind of worldview that says, “I know there is no god,” but the kind that says, “Until I see some evidence, I don’t accept the existence of gods.”
Science in fact has a lot to say about the supernatural. It can and has tested it, and so far has found no evidence for it....Indeed, over its history science has repeatedly investigated supernatural claims and, in principle, could find strong evidence for them. But that evidence hasn’t appeared.
Theists’ typical response to these failures (i. e., of prayer to affect rates of healing) is to say either “God won’t let himself be tested” or “That’s not what prayer is about: it’s simply a way to converse with God.” But you can bet that had these studies shown a large positive effect, the religious would be noisily flaunting this as evidence for God. The confirmation bias shown by accepting positive results but explaining away negative ones is an important difference between science and religion.
This shows what we already know: belief may arise by indoctrination or authority, but is often maintained by social utility. But if no conceivable evidence can shake your faith in a theistic God, then you’ve deliberately removed yourself from rational discourse. In other words, your faith has trumped science.
Hume was right about one thing: to have real confidence in a miracle, one needs evidence—massive, well-documented, and either replicated or independently corroborated evidence from multiple and reliable sources. No religious miracle even comes close to meeting those standards.
In the end, theistic evolution is not a useful compromise between science and religion. Insofar as it makes testable predictions, it has been falsified, and insofar as it makes claims that can’t be tested, it can be ignored.
It is curious that those who claim such firm knowledge about God’s nature and works become silent when asked about God’s methods.
That doesn’t mean that the religious completely abjure evidence. If it supports their preconceptions, they’ll accept it.
When facing “scientific” arguments for God like these, ask yourself three questions. First, what’s more likely: that these are puzzles only because we refuse to see God as an answer, or simply because science hasn’t yet provided a naturalistic answer? In other words, is the religious explanation so compelling that we can tell scientists to stop working on the evolution and mechanics of consciousness, or on the origin of life, because there can never be a naturalistic explanation? Given the remarkable ability of science to solve problems once considered intractable, and the number of scientific phenomena that weren’t even known a hundred years ago, it’s probably more judicious to admit ignorance than to tout divinity.
Second, if invoking God seems more appealing than admitting scientific ignorance, ask yourself if religious explanations do anything more than rationalize our ignorance. That is, does the God hypothesis provide independent and novel predictions or clarify things once seen as puzzling—as truly scientific hypotheses do? Or are religious explanations simply stop-gaps that lead nowhere?...Does invoking God to explain the fine-tuning of the universe explain anything else about the universe? If not, then that brand of natural theology isn’t really science, but special pleading.
Finally, even if you attribute scientifically unexplained phenomena to God, ask yourself if the explanation gives evidence for your God—the God who undergirds your religion and your morality. If we do find evidence for, say, a supernatural origin of morality, can it be ascribed to the Christian God, or to Allah, Brahma, or any one god among the thousands worshipped on Earth? I’ve never seen advocates of natural theology address this question.
Of course, atheism, which is merely the lack of belief in gods, isn’t responsible for explaining altruism and ethics, a task that properly belongs to philosophy, science, and psychology. And those areas have offered plenty of nonreligious explanations for the “Moral law” and altruism. The explanations involve evolution, reason, and education.
So if morality is innate, it’s certainly malleable.
The rapid change in many aspects of morality, even in the last century, also suggests that much of its “innateness” comes not from evolution but from learning. That’s because evolutionary change simply doesn’t occur fast enough to explain societal changes like our realization that women are not an inferior moiety of humanity, or that we shouldn’t torture prisoners. The explanation for these changes must reside in reason and learning: our realization that there is no rational basis for giving ourselves moral privilege over those who belong to other groups.
But some of our moral behaviors, if not sentiments, almost certainly evolved. Evidence for that comes from finding parallels between the behavior of our own species and that of our relatives.
But the God hypothesis for morality and altruism has its own problems. It fails, for example, to specify exactly which moral judgments were instilled in people by God and which, if any, might rest on secular reason. It doesn’t explain why slavery, torture, and disdain for women and strangers were considered proper behaviors not too long ago, but are now seen as immoral. For if anything is true, God-given morality should remain constant over time and space. In contrast, if morality reflects a malleable social veneer on an evolutionary base, it should change as society changes. And it has.
While our view of the world is filtered through our senses, evolution has, by and large, molded those senses to perceive the world accurately, for there’s a severe penalty to be paid for seeing things wrongly. That holds not only for the external environment, but also for the character of others. Without accurate perceptions, we couldn’t find food, avoid predators and other dangers, or form harmonious social groups. And following those perceptions is indeed the pursuit of “true beliefs”: beliefs based on evidence. Natural selection doesn’t mold true beliefs; it molds the sensory and neural apparatus that, in general, promotes the formation of true beliefs.
It doesn’t trivialize morality to argue that it is based on evolution and secular reason.
When one has a religious experience, what is “true” is only that one has had that experience, not that its contents convey anything about reality.
Can you prove that leprechauns don’t live in my garden? Well, not absolutely, but if you never see one, and they have no effects, than you can provisionally conclude that they don’t exist. And so it is with all the fanciful features and creatures we firmly believe don’t exist.
Putting all this together, we see that religion is like Sagan’s invisible dragon. The missing evidence for any god is simply too glaring, and the special pleading too unconvincing, to make its existence anything more than a logical possibility. It’s reasonable to conclude, provisionally but confidently, that the absence of evidence for God is indeed evidence for his absence.
Science’s results alone justify its usefulness, for it is, hands down, the single best way we’ve devised to understand the universe.
The conflation of faith as “unevidenced belief” with its vernacular use as “confidence based on experience” is simply a word trick used to buttress religion.
The orderliness of nature—the so-called set of natural laws—is not an assumption but an observation.
Accommodationists further accuse scientists of having “faith in reason.” Yet reason is not an a priori assumption, but a tool that’s been shown to work. We don’t have faith in reason; we use reason, and we use it because it produces results and progressive understanding...
Reason is simply the way we justify our beliefs, and if you’re not using it, whether you’re justifying religious or scientific beliefs, you deserve no one’s attention.
Isn’t science, as some maintain, based on a “faith” that it’s good to pursue the truth? Hardly. The notion that knowledge is better than ignorance is not a quasi-religious faith, but a preference: we prefer to know the truth because accepting what’s false doesn’t give us useful answers about the universe.
Every bit of truth clawed from nature over the last four centuries has involved completely ignoring God, for even religious scientists park their faith at the laboratory door.
As the journalist Nick Cohen noted about accusations that atheism is like religion, “It’s not a charge I’d throw around if I were seeking to defend faith. When people say of dozens of political and cultural movements from monetarism to Marxism that their followers treat their cause ‘like a religion,’ they never mean it as a compliment. They mean that dumb obedience to higher authority and an obstinate attachment to dogma mark its adherents.”
Most religions, and certainly the Abrahamic ones, have three features that are foreign to science. The most important is religion’s linkage to moral codes that define and enforce proper behavior, behavior supposedly reflecting God’s will. The second is the widespread belief in eternal reward and punishment: the notion that after death not just your fate but everyone else’s depends on adherence to conduct mandated by your religion. And the third is the notion of absolute truth: that the nature of your god, and what it wants, is unchanging. While some believers see their ability to fathom God’s nature as limited, and don’t accept the notion of a heaven or hell, the certainty of religious dogma is ar more absolute and far less provisional than the pronouncements of science.
This combination of certainty, morality, and universal punishment is toxic. It is what leads many believers not only to accept unenlightened views, like the disenfranchisement of women and gays, opposition to birth control, and intrusions into people’s private sex lives, but also to force those views on others, including their own children and society at large, and sometimes even to kill those who disagree.
For good people to do evil doesn’t require only religion, or even any religion, but simply one of its key elements: belief without evidence—in other words, faith. And that kind of faith is seen not just in religion, but in any authoritarian ideology that puts dogma above truth and frowns on dissent.
Science has a huge advantage over “other ways of knowing”: built-in methods of self-correction.
But none of this criticism of science makes religion even a tiny bit more credible...
In contrast, religion has never been right in its claims about the universe—at least not in a way that all rational people can accept. There is no reliable method to show that the Trinity exists, that God is loving and all-powerful, that we’ll meet our dead relatives in the afterlife, or that Brahma created the universe from a golden egg. Lacking a way to show its tenets are wrong, religion cannot show them to be right, even provisionally.
The harm, as I’ve said repeatedly, comes not from the existence of religion itself, but from its reliance on and glorification of faith—belief, or, if you will, “trust” or “confidence”—without supporting evidence. And faith, as employed in religion (and in most other areas), is a danger to both science and society. The danger to science is in how faith warps the public understanding of science: by arguing, for instance, that science is based just as strongly on faith as is religion; by claiming that revelation or the guidance of ancient books is just as reliable a guide to truth about our universe as are the tools of science; by thinking that an adequate explanation can be based on what is personally appealing rather than on what stands the test of empirical study.
Religion has no warrant and no method for decreeing what is and what is not beyond science.
Medicine can cure; faith cannot.
Above all, religion, faith healing, and alternative medicine all show the diagnostic feature of faith: an agenda not to find the truth, but to support one’s biases, emotions, and personal beliefs.
The first argument, that religion is a social necessity and will always be with us, is dubious. It can be demolished with only two words: northern Europe.
I’m not a Marxist, but Marx got at least one thing right: for many, religion weakens the incentive to fix both personal and societal problems.
Religion has nothing to tell scientists that can improve their trade. Indeed, the progress of science has required shedding all vestiges of religion, whether those be the beliefs themselves or religious methods for finding “truth.” We do not need those hypotheses.
What might be considered a real contribution of science to religious belief is the empirical demonstration that some of those beliefs are wrong.
I have argued that religion is to science as superstition is to reason; indeed, that is the very reason they are incompatible.
In the end, why isn’t it better to find out how the world really works instead of making up stories about it, or accepting stories concocted centuries ago?
It is time to stop seeing faith as a virtue, and to stop using the term “person of faith” as a compliment.
A world that is faithless would not be without the arts, either. Those don’t rest on faith, so imaginative art, literature, and music would still be with us. Too, we would retain justice, law, and compassion, perhaps in even greater measure than now, for our judgment wouldn’t be warped by adherence to unevidenced divine strictures.
Indeed, secular morality, which is not twisted by adherence to the supposed commands of a god, is superior to most “religious” morality.
Coyne is also s special kind of scientist---one who accepts some things on faith himself! Most important is "determinism," when means that all of reality as we know it evolves completely deterministically according to physical laws.