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Richard Dawkins vs Peter Higgs

The reverse fundamentalist vs the peaceful atheist

Two days ago, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and other mostly British outlets amplified an amusing yet potentially serious battle between two famous scientists, Richard Dawkins and Peter Higgs:

Battle of the professors: Richard Dawkins branded a fundamentalist by expert behind the 'God particle' (The Daily Mail)

Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious 'fundamentalism' (The Guardian)

Google News (other sources)
As you surely know, Dawkins is a proud militant atheist. In fact, he is a self-described Darwin's rottweiler. Last week, he concluded that it was worse to educate a child in a Catholic family than to let it be sexually raped by priests. ;-)

Peter Higgs has decided that the discovery of "his" boson has made him powerful enough so that his criticism may matter and in an interview with El Mundo (Spain, video), he criticized Dawkins as a "fundamentalist" for his "embarrassing" attacks on religion – or, if you wish, attacks on one of the individuals after whom the Higgs boson is also sometimes named, namely Mr God. ;-)

Incidentally, I think that many people's hateful reactions to the innocent term "God particle" reflects their anti-religious fundamentalism, too.

What do I think about those matters? It's mostly true that when it comes to similar major questions, I haven't really changed my opinions significantly since I was a teenager. Many TRF readers have noticed the robust consistency of the views and principles presented on this blog between October 2004 when it was created and December 2012 when this blog entry is being written.

However, while I haven't changed my mind about the truth, I may have changed my mind about the question "who deserves to be wrestled with and how much".

As an undergrad, I was kind of an active scientific skeptic – I mean an activist against paranormal phenomena. Needless to say, I still totally agree with the people who are doing this job (the Sisyphus movement in Czechia, for example) but throughout the years, I decided that this fight is sort of futile because the reasons behind the people's belief in similar stupidities are either biological or comparably "hard-wired and unfixable". Using plain English, the widespread belief in the paranormal phenomena ultimately reflects people's stupidity.

This is not a perfect explanation of what's going on: some smart people may be obsessed by something which means that they ultimately have different reasons than stupidity – some ethical urge to prove something to themselves or to be more spiritual or otherwise "better" – but you may view this deviation from the zeroth approximation "stupidity hypothesis" to be just pure noise because there are also many stupid people who believe the right things even though they wouldn't have a chance to rediscover them themselves – they were just brainwashed to believe true things by smarter folks.

To a large extent, I think that these two groups are guaranteed to be equally large in a free enough society. That pretty much means that it makes no sense to try to "dramatically" change the degree of people's belief in science and similar things. One may improve the world by small incremental ants' everyday work – using the words of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia – but the "big percentages" reflecting nations' understanding of things ultimately boil down to biology or other causes we can't change too much, at least not too quickly.

While I would have good relationships to Christians at my university, I was also a sort of "unmasked opponent" of some religious attitudes. This of course became an important issue when we fell in love with a girl who undoubtedly belonged between the top 3 most fanatical believers in the fundamentalist Christianity that you could have found in the Czech Republic. ;-)

As recently as in 2000, I couldn't resist to attend talks by people like Eugenie Scott – the 2000 talk I attended took place in Santa Cruz, California, if I remember well – and I was a huge fan of such organizations and even of herself. (One of the reasons why my excitement was decreasing in the following years was that I gradually realized that what she was saying was kind of trivial – millions of people surely understood such things – which is why I realized she wasn't "special" or "at the top of science" in any sense whatsoever, despite her being a good speaker etc.) If you appreciate that I hadn't changed my opinions about politics much either, it should be easy for you to determine that I just couldn't possibly have any significant trouble with the organized political Left in the U.S. up to around 2000. In fact, you could say that I hadn't had any such trouble until 2004 – no problems for the first 7 years I spent in the U.S.

America seemed like a country of the free to me – much like my homeland since 1989. My ex-adviser Tom Banks would sometimes show me a petition to sign – like a petition attacking John Ashcroft for absolutely no good reason. As soon as I explained to him that I had no sympathy for such ideologically driven harassment of the people by the leftists, and clarified some background linked to my country's history that made this attitude of mine unchangeable, he understood it and he always respected my politics. This was pretty much true for everyone whom I had noticed and who has mattered.

Eva Silverstein who would be a postdoc at Rutgers in the late 1990s would loudly show her being offended when I told Tolik Morozov, for example, that the average female brain had fewer neural cells than the average male brain – but I just never felt oppressed by similar politically correct crackpots hiding their heads in the sand in the name of an insane ideology (I mean Eva Silverstein in this case). All these troubles started in 2004 – probably because members of Harvard faculty are the first ones who are "seriously monitored" whether they obey the politically correct speech codes and thought codes. Only in 2004, I started to notice that the atmosphere in the U.S. Academia is pretty much as totalitarian as the atmosphere in the Stalinist Soviet bloc if not more so; unlike most of the folks at the schools in the socialist bloc, the U.S. leftists actually seemed to believe all this incredible stinky left-wing garbage!

But let me return to their relationship to religion.

I think that some left-wingers' anti-religious activism is often dishonest, severely overstepping the actual insights that may be backed by science, and the targets of their criticism are cherry-picked with a political goal in mind. Even though I agree with a vast majority of e.g. Sean Carroll's "right answers to the religious questions", I think that his (and other people's) focus on the religious targets isn't a sign of his passion for the truth but a symptom of a political bias.

Christians are arguably wrong about many things but so are many non-Christians – not only Muslims and believers in other religious orthodoxies but also atheists and members of various political groups. I do think that evolution is one of the most important pillars of the scientific explanation of Nature. On the other hand, it's not the only one and I am absolutely convinced that tons of (if not most of) left-wing atheists often and regularly display their misunderstanding of things that are perhaps "less fundamental" in the structure of pure science but they are far less abstract and more important for actual decisions we have do in our actual lives.

Whether Jesus Christ could have been born of a virgin is an amusing academic question and science surely chooses one of the answers to be sensible and the opposite answer to be silly. It is bizarre if a scientist chooses the latter answer – but as long as such idiosyncrasies are "kept in check" (e.g. by being described as eternally rare exceptions to the laws of physics), so that they don't prevent one from understanding lots of important things, a scientist-believer may still be a good or great scientist in pretty much all of science. On the other hand, if a scientist decides to believe that groups of people – defined by their sex, race, ethnicity, and other characteristsics – have the same statistical distribution of various quantities such as IQ, it is a comparably universalistic stupidity that is moreover far less abstract than Virgin Mary's virginity. It affects people's interpretations of real events that take place today – and not 2000 years ago – and leads them to right or wrong political and other decisions.

I find it utterly hypocritical if someone spends his activist life by constantly attacking Christians because of their disagreement with some solid insights of science but he or she doesn't spend a second by criticizing the feminist or other politically correct crackpots whose contradictions with science are at least equally striking. And I don't have to talk about the politically correct crackpots. I may talk about people like Muslims. Their opposition to some rudimentary insights of science is arguably far more dramatic than the Christians' opposition. Nevertheless, they are almost never criticized by the typical organized left-wing activists in the Western Academia. (Let me mention that Steven Weinberg's integrity in particular should be applauded because he's an atheist who surely doesn't try to idealize the Muslims – and others.) As far as I can say, this proves the lack of honesty of most of these left-wing activists. They're not driven by the passion for the truth; they are driven by political goals that are ultimately shaped by their predetermined ideas – ideas that are completely independent of the insights in science – how the society should work. They only use science as an occasional convenient hostage and tool if I have to avoid the term "whore".

We could discuss specific examples of demagogy that believers sometimes offer; and specific examples of demagogy and spin that "anti-fundamentalists" such as Richard Dawkins offer. I think that every person who impartially observes these debates must have encountered many such examples on both sides so it doesn't make much sense to randomly pick examples.

Instead, my point is that I agree with Peter Higgs that people like Richard Dawkins are fundamentalists in a similar sense as the believers themselves – despite the fact that they are arguably right much more often than the believers (a comparison that may change as time goes by, however). The general character of answers to the "big questions" is always predetermined – and this comment applies to both of these opposing groups. Every statement that is positively correlated with the vague concept of God has to be supported by the obedient believers; and it has to be spitted upon by the politically correct anti-believers.

Whether or not the second attitude seems to be more successful in the incorporation of the scientific insights of the last 20 or 100 or 500 years, both of these approaches are equally fundamentalist – and both of them are intrinsically unscientific. Science isn't defined by its goal to show that every idea positively correlated with the vague concept of God is wrong much like science should never have been defined by its consistency with God. Science is simply independent of these prejudices – both of them and many others. Science impartially evaluates the empirical data and the right conclusions aren't and can't be determined a priori.

We could argue that many patently wrong opinions about physics – including the anti-quantum zeal – are linked to the "anti-fundamentalism" of the leftists. People like Mephisto can't ever understand quantum mechanics because they don't want to. They don't want to because the right understanding of quantum mechanics isn't convenient for an overall package of talking points they eternally want to use in order to show their alleged superiority over the believers and others. They have just decided that the world must fundamentally be a reflection of an "objective reality" in the classical sense and if they allowed themselves to learn something else, their whole belief of system – the "value of their lives" – would be shattered. The only problem is that many of these beliefs and talking points are just demonstrably wrong. They're victims of various delusions in the same sense as many believers.

I don't want to overgeneralize this observation – and Mephisto's situation and the situation of dozens of others I know – because as far as I can say, many right-wingers and Christianity-oriented folks fail to understand quantum mechanics properly, too. ;-) But what I want to generalize is the statement that science only allows us to support certain claims but not others; no conclusions are quite clear from the beginning; and there's no reason why all the future scientific insights should still belong to a preconceived intellectual straitjacket, whether this straitjacket looks like a religious one or an anti-religious one.

There are people among the believers and there are people among the anti-believers who just fail to understand this simple point (about the inadmissibility of dogmas in science) which is why they're fundamentally analogous to each other and why Peter Higgs' criticism of Richard Dawkins is justified whether or not the percentage of correct statements presented by Richard Dawkins is above 50%.

And that's the memo.

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reader Shannon said...

Thanks for your thought on this Lubos. To me, attitude towards science is the only important thing in this sort of debates. With both Higgs and Dawkins science is safe. Only with Dawkins it has a negative image among believers.

(I was brought up in a catholic family, school, village, country and I don't think it has affected me in the way Dawkins seems to describe. If any it has protected me from losers.)

reader Cesar Laia said...

I do agree with your points about Richard Dawkins. But I am not sure that atheists do not confront islamic fundamentalists... I know many people that do that. Also the problem to me never was religious people that are religious for their own reasons. My problem is basically the politics involved with the church (christian, muslim, whatever) that very often are a strong lobby in governments, sometimes going over the edge. I guess Dawkins represents just the other side of the coin.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Hmmm, I might have used another adjective---"robust consistency of my views"---perhaps "stubborn consistency"... :)
I sort of agree with Higgs and sort of disagree with him.
Just because evolution left us with a flawed brain that grasps at superstition and religion, that doesn't stop us from using cultural evolution to reprogram it---neuroplasticity is the rage right now. The truth that our brains present to us is the truth selected and interpreted by our senses and the regions in the brain where they are shaped into patterns in our thoughts. That works OK for Middle Earth, which we inhabit, but definitely not for the extremely small. We haven't evolved hard wiring or senses to understand the quantum world.

As far as God goes, the word is so elastic that even an atheist like me can believe in a sufficiently deistic God properly defined. I think we need people like Dawkins to help root out nonsense---to point out irrational belief. Simply ignoring it is like ignoring homeopathy or reflexology because they "do no harm" when in fact they do immense harm because not pointing out their irrationality leads to the spread of something that is not true. Dawkins is like Buckley's cough syrup: "It works because it tastes so bad."
I agree with you that other falsehoods, liberal or not, should also be questioned. And the other examples you gave should do fine, but Dawkins can't attack all of them without appearing to be a total crank. I don't like his aggressiveness, or his arrogance, but he is necessary. One of him is, however, enough :)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Cesar, when I say that these atheist activists usually ignore the – much worse – evil done by Islam, with the exception of Steven Weinberg, I am thinking about very specific real-world people such as Sean Carroll. Make a search through ex-his blog Cosmic Variance,,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.1355534169,d.Yms&fp=5b331de43b1ebcee&bpcl=40096503&biw=1296&bih=717

You will find out hundreds of articles against religion. If you look carefully, all of them are meant as attacks against Christianity, and this specific feature may be documented by some very tangible individual observations. When you also look for Muslims and Islamic things on that blog, you will also find this text:

In this text, Islam and violence are the main topics but it's actually the Pope who is the main target of Carroll's criticism because the Pope dared to talk about a story – a dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim that suggested that the Islam has incorporated violence into its pillars. What a sin! Carroll doesn't hesitate for a picosecond before he takes the side of the violent Muslim savages who criticized the Pope. Is that really a controversial thing to say that Carroll is a fucked-up asshole who opposes key civilizational values of our part of the world?

And it's not just Carroll. The observations hold for pretty much the whole party of these "proud left-wing atheist activists".

reader John Loop said...

Lubos, you amaze me.
Your attitude is so common sense. I was never "religious" growing up, but I always that I was religious, in that I was always in awe of all that was, and continue to be to this day. I am astounded at the arrogance of people like Dawkins. How can anybody, a mere few hundred years after the enlightenment think that we understand all there is! And how can anybody read about the statist failures of the 20th century and still want to go there. I am very saddened in my old age.
Please come back to America and save us from this road to destruction. Europe is too far gone :-) You can be a pundit.

reader leo said...

Beautiful, Lubos. For me the most important is
the education of
children in schools, training bases in terms of teaching
training, but other
important is education in the family and it
keeps for a long time. A very interesting phrase
was: “there are also many stupid people who
believe the right things even though they wouldn't have a chance to rediscover
them themselves – they were just brainwashed to believe true things by smarter
folks”. If we apply this in the case of pupils in the schools ... well ...I would like my daughter to be
one of those brainwashed :-). Now
this is the
basis of education, the most important coming later in high schools
and universities where people are divided into
groups of left-wing
or right-wing
ones, and this
is the worst. It is important
that young people to grow up with a neutral condition, revealing the "truth" on
the way to learning and study, and for me it is more important
for those who study Physics because they
are those made
​​later smart people, well ...not all of them... who learn or “brainwash”
other people

Well done Lubos and happy new year

reader Physics Junkie said...

Let's look at the record:

Religion - evils:
1. crusades
2. forced conversions
3. institutionalized oppression
4. religious wars

Religion - goods:
1. Freedom
2. Capitalism
3. Improvement of the common good.
4. helping of the poor and disenfranchised

Atheism - evils
1. Communism
2. Genocide
3. Corruption
4. Modern Wars
5. Tens of millions dead

Atheism - good
1. Nothing

reader Eugene S said...

Thank you for this timely reminder about Sean Carroll. I admit that I recently praised Carroll as one of the better science bloggers, but that's because my own standards are too low. I see something like this dreck on Motherboard, written more than two years after TRF put a stake through the heart of that paper, and by comparison to the moron who wrote that dreck (and many other so-called "science journalists"), Carroll comes off looking good. However, that's the wrong way to look at it.

reader CIPig said...

Junkie - You might have been smoking too much of something other than physics. Religion has rarely promoted freedom, just the opposite. Our modern ideas of political freedom came more from people who were skeptical of religion. It's also pretty absurd to assert that modern capitalism emerged from any religion I've heard of. Jesus Christ, for example, was rather more socialist than capitalist.

reader Eugene S said... ;)

reader Eugene S said...

Oh là là, il a été traduit en français, aussi!

reader Cesar Laia said...

Oh well, Sean Carroll is really over the edge on that. It is true that many at the far-left take the islamic side just for oportunistic reasons, ignoring, e.g., how fellow leftists are persecuted in those countries to say the least. It's schizophrenic. It is always more sensible to stay away from those religious quarrels. Myself when I made that point, I was thinking about reactions about the veil law in France or other things like the cartoons and the anti-islam movie. I saw many atheists taking the side of the french government and of free expression.

reader Rezso said...

Dear Lubos,

what do you think about this video?

Richard Dawkins teams up with Lawrence Krauss agains theists. What I find really strange about their position on cosmology is, that while they implicitly try to use quantum gravity (they talk about t=0 in the big bang theory, something from nothing, .....) to disprove God, they hide the fact that 4d quantum general relativity is UV inconsistent.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I agree one has to be careful about the actual consistency in the UV - what the theory says - but at the end, I think that the basic intuition based on field theory is likely to be confirmed by string theory.

However, what I find strange is the very fact that the existence of the beginning is used against God. It was always a big "echo of God" which is why many Marxists struggled to "debunk" the Big Bang Theory etc.

To claim that the Big Bang Theory supports anti-theist position means to advocate an a posteriori fine-tuned interpretation that wasn't natural at the beginning. The anti-theist philosophy didn't predict and couldn't predict/retrodict the Big Bang.

reader Rezso said...

Dear Lubos,

"but at the end, I think that the basic intuition based on field theory is likely to be confirmed by string theory."

Yes, that is clearly possible, but Krauss doesn't believe in string theory.

I just wanted to point out the fact that his reasoning is not self consistent, because without a working quantum gravitational model, he cannot say anything about t=0.

reader Luboš Motl said...

If Krauss doesn't "believe" string theory - this is really not a matter of beliefs, science is about evidence - then he can't possibly have any scientific basis for any statements about events at t=0 or hypothetical events before t=0 simply because no other such consistent basis that doesn't break down in these extreme conditions - other than string/M-theory - exists. So if he suggests that he has a scientific basis for addressing these t=0 questions and it is not string theory, then he is downright lying to everyone.

reader George Christodoulides said...

i would say that you have been smoking something but someone else said that before me. 1,3 and 4 of the religion goods you wrote are being used for the atheism evils you also mentioned. most of the important people are atheists and they contribute much more to the world than others. and this is because atheists are smarter.

reader Tom Hendrix said...

Lubos I love reading your blog, and never more than this post. Thanks for the public service.

reader Luke Lea said...

Dear Lubos, Of course I agree that most left-wing Darwinians turn a blind eye to the realities of human biodiversity when they don't deny them altogether, which is not only anti-scientific but inimical to the design of good social policy.

But my biggest complaint is their ignorant assumption that the Hebraic (and Christian) conception of "God" (Yahweh) is primarily a physical rather than a moral idea. As a result they are blind to the enormous historical influence this idea has had upon modern conceptions of liberty, justice, and human equality as civilizational ideals.

In other words they make a scientific controversy out of what is in fact the most important single idea in Western intellectual history.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

You must be joking saying that Pell is well-informed. Both Pell and Dawkins are quite ignorant about physics, and Krauss is great at self-promotion. Also, Dawkins does attack Islam as a threat. Hitchens was much more vocal about the Muslim threat.

It is actually kind of difficult to dumb down God any more than He is portrayed in the Bible and the Koran, and Catholics who say that they think of God in some sort of sophisticated way as outside space and time, or as an embodiment of nature's laws cannot call themselves Catholics without mangling the meaning of being a Catholic. They would be deists or atheists, like the Founding Fathers of the USA, just like someone who believes in Jesus' moral teachings in general but doesn't believe that he is literally the son of God and the only way to "Heaven" is through him, is not a Christian. Don't we have enough delusional thinking in this world?

reader thorsten said...

Sorry Junkie, but there are a few mistakes in your list. "Freedom" and "Capitalism" are achievements of humanity only realizable in the absence of religion, exactly because religion demands your "goods nr. 3 and 4" which are antagonistic to freedom and capitalism, because they promote the redistribution of wealth from the productive to the unproductive. Communism OTOH is a reworking of Christian doctrine (closely related to your "improvement of the common good", namely "at the expense of the individual good"). The most infamous genocide I can think of - the Nazi holocaust of the Jews - would not have been possible if Central Europeans in the 19th and early 20th centuries had not been divided between "Jews" and "Christians" (unless you take Nazi biology for granted and agree that the Jews form a seperate biological entity). If religion had been unimportant enough for some generations prior to 1933, nobody would have been able to trace whether your distant ancestors had been Jewish or "Aryan" - it was the religious-minded authorities who provided this data!

And you forgot the one major good of Atheism: People who reject any notions of a "Deity", a "common good", and any form of "utopia" will resist the temptations of reald-world "Fuehrers" much better. Religion (and I'm not speaking of organized religion, but the belief in the supernatural or in "ideals" that are contrary to the hard-and-fast everyday experience) weakens the human mind and willpower, it is a form of acquired feeble-mindedness, so-to-speak the HIV/AIDS of the mind.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Well his comment about Catholics and Hell and pederasty is total crap, but I don't think he is only attacking Catholic delusional dogma---he is against all organized religion.
Hitchens is much better and an equal opportunity critic---His book, "God is Not Great" is worth reading. I have nothing against religious or spiritual beliefs when they aren't buttressed by a hierarchical and bullying church structure that requires adherents to not question their authority or infallibility on pain of being shunned, stigmatized or told they are going to purgatory or some imaginary hell. The world is crazy enough without tacit support of batshit crazy nonsense in the name of politeness. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that most religious beliefs embodied by most church (and mosque) organizations and their religious holy books, would be considered insane if the word "religion" were not linked to them.
I do agree that Dawkins and Krauss are annoying ( hmmm, I suppose I am as well, but then the only place I seem to be crusading is here, and I don't have books to shill :) )

reader thorsten said...

Lubos, I'm sorry but I think I am leaving this blog severely alone from now, you have lost a sympathisant and follower. Up to now, I was under the impression you are generally a sane and intelligent person, but your responses on this thread make me realize that you are just another irrational and "religious" person after all - your Deity is quantum physics and String theory, matters just as silly, useless and worthless as the much-ridiculed medieval disputes about the number of angels dancing on the tip of a pin. The visible world, as the only world that we live and act in, the world that gives us food and eventually wealth, the world whose beauties we enjoy - surprise, surprise, it is explained correctly by Newtonian physics, today just as much as thousands of years ago. Even Einstein had to invoke cosmic dimensions and theoretical constructs to give examples of situations where his "new physic" of relativity was relevant. No practically-minded, mundane and mentally healthy person thinks - or should think - in such dimensions, it's a waste of time just like pondering Heaven and Hell. This useless theorizing in fantastic dimensions has led people to believe that mankind "can control the climate", or "could destroy our planet", just as much as our ancestors feared "the wrath of God". At the same time, practical thinking and doing goes downhill: people discuss trace amounts of "carcinogens" in their food rather than think about what tastes best and feels best in their stomach. They willingly pay extra for "green" energy rather than be sensible and always use the kind of energy that's most easily and cheaply available, they worry more about the "fair trade" involved when buying a cotton shirt, or about the "poor animals" when rather not buying a fur coat, than about the actual qualities of the things themselves. Art and "serious" music is lauded for its spritual or socio-political qualities rather than its beauty --- you can easily find more and better examples for yourself. "Science" if pursued as a purely theoretical exercise is not in any way superior to religion; both detract people from enjoying their physical life to the full, and (when being applied by those with the power to make laws) cripple us all from fulfilling our only purpose on this planet, namely living our own life - NOT "caring for others", NOT "caring for Gaia", NOT "caring for God", NOT "caring for the absolute truth", as all these are but constructs by more-or-less subtle fraudsters who behind their righteous masks laugh at us dancing to their tune like marionnettes. Teaching string theory is no more intelligent or useful than teaching the Bible, both are nothing but non-chemical drugs to lead you off your proper path.

reader Angry Prophets said...

The Bible reads :
If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For
anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God,
whom he has not seen.

Atheists often like to associate religion ( specially
Christianity and Islam ) with all man`s self - inflicted problems ! That is so wrong !!!

reader Casper said...

I can't make much sense of this rambling waffle. Roughly speaking religion, a subset of paranormal phenomena, is about 'mind over matter', the rest is fill-in material. Can Lubos either write an article clearly declaring the quantum mechanical position on this issue, or point us to one that he has already written on the subject. Then we can determine whether or not Lubos is a version of Dawkins or Higgs.

reader Physics Junkie said...

If we smoked something else we all might be calmer. How has religion prompted freedom? Very good question. The answer, it hasn't always in a large extent until the last few hundred years, with maybe some brief exceptions for the Greeks and a few other peoples in antiquities. Let's go back to the Catholic Church right a the time of Paul the Apostle. In his letters he, many believers of his time and most who followed, tossed out all but two of the rules of Jewish faith. They were replaced with two, love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. A complete 180 degree turn form Judaism. Also, the new faith was open to all, not just a few. Over the centuries this got corrupted to a greater or lesser extent until the Reformation. Next was Islam, or rather the politics of Islam. When the first Islamic empire grew it did not force religious conversion on the conquered peoples. A form of religious freedom. This is why the first Islamic empire outpaced the west until the Renassaince. It had more religious freedom and freedom for other view points. This crashed with a one, two punch of the Crusades and the Mongols. It was only after this that Muslim thought became more exclusive and black and white (and this is a very gross generalization) at least politically as seen in the Ottaman Empire.
It was the Reformation that shook the Catholic Church and the West back to it's original freedom and beliefs as envisioned by Paul. And a very violent time it was. Religious freedom as we know it was not started by any one church. That was political. However, freedom of the press, freedom of thought, freedom to protest, do have there origins in classic Christian/Western thinking.
Free enterprise: if it were not for the idea of freedom that the Protestants brought back into the West and originally invented by the early Christians, modern Adam Smith free enterprise would not exist. This originally took off in Holland and England. In Holland's case it was a new democracy with a form of religious freedom since it was Protestant. In England it was due to Queen Elizabeth I's disicion to not lawfully torture people anymore for their religious faith. The war of the Roses was a good example of this and she did not want a repeat. Then when you got the trifecta of religous freedom, political freedom and free enterprise of the American Revolution things really took off.

Capitalism and Jesus: Hell yeah Jesus was a capitalist (pardon the pun). There are many parables about those who work getting more and those who don't getting less. There are many parables also about giving to the poor as well. Jesus was a capitalist with a heart. Some might call this socialism, but it is definitely not total redistribution of wealth.

reader Physics Junkie said...


See my defense above. 1,3, and 4 are used by atheists. This would include communists, facists and humanists. The difference here is that humanists are inherently good, doing good things and trying to improve the common good. The evils of communism however, I don't think would have reached the heights they did if there was a spiritual belief in a higher power for a common good that was accepted by this ism. Nazism was theist, but it was a gross bastardization of it.

As far as atheists being smarter. I think that just points out your limited brain stem thinking.

And that is my defense.

reader Tom Trevor said...

I couldn't independently discover Newton's or Einstein's laws; does that make me stupid? I don't think so, after all no one before Newton or Einstein discover them either. Surely there were some smart people before Einstein. So I not sure what you mean when you talk about stupid people only knowing the right answers, because smart people told them, I really doubt that my physics teacher could have come up with E=MC^2.

reader Eugene S said...

Dear Gordon, it would be good if you could raise your game a notch.
Lubos did not say that Pell is well-informed about physics, he said that Pell is better-informed about physics than Dawkins, and he explained why he thinks so. Now I would agree that this was not a major achievement, and in fact the point raised by Pell had been raised by dozens of commenters in the period following publication of Krauss' article in the NYT, but he did manage to use it appropriately and made Dawkins look like the arrogant fool he is.

The lumpen atheism espoused by you and commenters
Capitalist Imperialist Pig and George Christodolidou relates to Lubos' atheism like a Lada Niva relates to a Mercedes CL 500. As unlettered as he may be in theology, Lubos sees at a glance the arguments and counter-arguments spinning off in all kinds of directions and knows to sidestep many of the pitfalls lying in wait. As a scientist, he knows there is no need for him to get enmeshed in the interminable back-and-forth between believers and nonbelievers, nor does he feel a compulsion to evaluate individuals through the prism of their adherence (or not) to religion. (Also worth noting is that in much of central and eastern Europe during the Warsaw Pact, the Catholic church was a bastion of resistance to communism while mainline Protestant churches were heavily compromised by closeness to the regime.)

In your caricatured notion of believers, they are rubes, hidebound throwbacks to a pre-enlightenment age, while you fancy yourself a more evolved kind of being. I could point you to Catholic or Jewish thinkers to correct your caricature but it would fall on deaf ears. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

reader Eugene S said...

Dear Gordon, it would be good if you could raise your game a notch.
Lubos did not say that Pell is well-informed about physics, he said that Pell is better-informed about physics than Dawkins, and he explained why he thinks so. Now I would agree that this was not a major achievement, and in fact the point raised by Pell had been raised by dozens of commenters in the period following publication of Krauss' article in the NYT, but he did manage to use it appropriately and made Dawkins look like the arrogant fool he is.

The lumpen atheism espoused by you and commenters
Capitalist Imperialist Pig and George Christodolidou relates to Lubos' atheism like a Lada Niva relates to a Mercedes CL 500. As unlettered as he may be in theology, Lubos sees at a glance the arguments and counter-arguments spinning off in all kinds of directions and knows to sidestep many of the pitfalls lying in wait. As a scientist, he knows there is no need for him to get enmeshed in the interminable back-and-forth between believers and nonbelievers, nor does he feel a compulsion to evaluate individuals through the prism of their adherence (or not) to religion. (Also worth noting is that in much of central and eastern Europe during the Warsaw Pact, the Catholic church was a bastion of resistance to communism while mainline Protestant churches were heavily compromised by closeness to the regime.)

In your caricatured notion of believers, they are rubes, hidebound throwbacks to a pre-enlightenment age, while you fancy yourself a more evolved kind of being. I could point you to Catholic or Jewish thinkers to correct your caricature but it would fall on deaf ears. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

reader Peter F. said...

Re Pell: If a blind hen can sometimes find something edible by pecking-around then, similarly, even the dumbest of Popes (or cardinals) will be able to say something that surprises a Luminary.

reader woodnfish said...

"They would
be deists or atheists, like the Founding Fathers of the USA"

No, they would be deists or agnostics. They were not athiests.

reader woodnfish said...

"As far as
God goes, the word is so elastic that even an atheist like me can believe in a
sufficiently deistic God properly defined."

And I believe that would make you an agnostic and not an atheist, Gordon.

reader woodnfish said...

Thank you for acknowledging that religion, and most especially Christianity, has given us our morals which is the basis of our Western civilization, Lubos. Everyone else wants to dance around the contributions of religion to our civil society and comment on "paranormal" beliefs. There is a lot more to religion than that and it is woven into our everyday life in mostly positive ways because of our Christian heritage.

This would not be true if our heritage was Muslim or atheist. In fact I think atheism is in large part responsible for the Stalinist academia you see in Amerika. (Unfortunately, the "k" in Amerika is intentional and I think appropriate.)

reader Luke Lea said...

Thank you!

reader Luke Lea said...

I'm on a big China kick. Of the couple of hundred books I've read about the country, one of the best is this one, an inside look at what it is like to live in a society ruled by people who believe in nothing. Here are a couple of reviews:

You might read some short extracts in my comment at the bottom of the second one.

reader Luke Lea said...

Excuse me if this is a double post but I've been on a big China kick lately, and of the couple of hundred books I've read about that society this is one of the best. It is an inside look at what it is like to belong to a ruling class that believes in absolutely nothing:

Here are a few choice sentences I extracted from the book in a comment on another site:

reader Gordon Wilson said...

What a load of pretentious crap!

Prove you wrong? About which straw man you set up. I would have thought that mankind had grown up a little bit, but you prove me wrong about that.

Also, some of the Founding Fathers were atheists---just read some of their letters to EACH OTHER, not to the general public. Also, what caricature?

The caricature that organized religions have holy books based on tribal superstitions? The caricature that the Pope is infallible and that books are banned by the Church ?

Come on, Eugene, this is a science blog, not a Scientology one. Sheesh.

Also, the Catholic Church was hardly a bastion of resistance to Communism, unless you mean by actively and tacitly supporting Fascism, or now by the Russian Orthodox Church now supporting Putin. I am getting bored of this.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Well, not much dif, woodnfish---it is a matter of degree. I don't mind being called an agnostic. Thomas Henry Huxley was one (and I believe gave us the word.) Also, I dont mind the Founding Fathers being characterized as deists and agnostics..

What I do mind is people on this blog talking as if belief in unicorns, angels, dragons, and fairies is something to be politely ignored. or even promoted because somehow it may lead to good behavior or morals. What total and absolute crap.

"I can only write these things loudly because this is my blog where the truth is being enforced." And is it true then that fundamentalist religion is truth? Or is it just so stories told to credulous adults who have been trapped in the magical thinking of children. I think that it is ethically repellant to justify false and delusional beliefs because maybe the means may justify good ends (and I emphatically dont believe this). Eugene, I don't know what variety of fool you are, but you certainly are one.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Tom, please try to follow this discussion rationally and not by emotional preconceived reactions.

Who isn't independently able to discover Newton's or Einstein's laws is probably "more stupid", using these words, than Newton and Einstein. That's obviously not such a huge negative characteristic. But I was talking about a more modest task - going through the actual known evidence and/or known or previously proposed alternative explanations of phenomena and patterns and rationally choosing the right one, with a success rate that is high, e.g. higher than 99%.

My claim was that in this world, there are already tons of people who just couldn't be able to do this more modest task but who still end up believing the right things because they were taught - or they were positively brainwashed - to do so. From this viewpoint, it's a statistical fluctuation and there are inevitably people who are "smarter than their beliefs", too. It seems that you haven't even started to think about the point I have made as you are stuck with some trivialities whether or not your physics teacher was stupid.

I don't know. Chances are that this is an appropriate description. Half of my math and physics teachers at the basic and high school surely did deserve this adjective. After all, teaching belongs among the lowest-IQ specializations of undergrad students, see , so if you wanted your physics teacher to be promoted to the ultimate benchmark of intelligence, it is likely to be an amusing suggestion. "Stupidity" is really the right word for the inability to think. Repeating the right answers doesn't prevent one from being stupid; the right word linked to the absent knowledge of right answers is "ignorance" but there are still lots of people who are not ignorant but who are stupid, and vice versa.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Religious concepts are ill-defined in quantum mechanics so one surely can't write a fully coherent presentation of such things. When it comes to the question whether quantum mechanics confirms all the materialist preconceptions, well, I am surely closer to Higgs - it doesn't and Dawkins knows next to nothing about any of these matters - and Higgs is arguably between me and Dawkins on a "simple linear axis" of this kind which means that my picture of QM is more compatible with "religion", whatever it is, than Higgs', while I am still atheist. But what's the point of these things? Science isn't a tool to collect positive and negative points about religion. Religion isn't the goal of science; the explanation and prediction of empirically observed facts and patterns is.

reader Eugene S said...

See? I knew you could not do it.

No idea why you are talking to me about the Founding Fathers, I have said nothing about them.

I am talking about the Catholic Church during the Warsaw Pact years, and you won't find a single historian who disagrees that they were a bastion against Communism. What has the Russian Orthodox Church got to do with this?

You are free to deride religion(s) as tribal superstitions but your unwillingness to even attempt to find out how religious thought and experience inform a believer's worldview does not reflect well on your standing to talk about these matters.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Right. One may be uncertain whether the overall sign of religions' impact on interpersonal relationships is positive or negative. I mostly think it's positive, especially for Christianity. But even if it were negative, it's preposterous to suggest that religion is behind "most" of the evil done by one human against another. Most of these bad things people do to each other have nothing to do with religion.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Luke, a physical God surely had enough influence on the Western civilization (and all others) which doesn't mean that it was a good thing, a good influence. It's a part of our identity but we may realize that it's one of the stupid parts of our identity. To be more accurate, most of similar beliefs that people have had more than 2,000 years ago reflected their primitive level of understanding of the natural phenomena which were almost non-existent.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks a lot, Tom.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Right, I also feel that the Chinese system converts people to parts of a machine - and I also think it's not something to be excessively proud about.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Maybe, Peter, but I doubt it was a complete accident.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Gordon, I agree with you that Pell and Dawkins are ignorant about physics and Krauss is about self-promotion. I agree that God in the Bible is low-brow - after all, it's a 2,000+ years old book addressed to average people so how it could be otherwise. But that doesn't mean that contemporary people accepting all the essence of this book must be stupid or ignorant about physics etc. After all, Juan Maldacena is the top theorist of his generation and he should be counted as a Catholic.

There are lots of particular questions in which the actual real-world beliefs of the believers are silly and demonstrably false; and the beliefs of the liberals are inconsistent mixtures. But it's still true that there exist defensible attitudes - not in demonstrable contradiction with the scientific data - that contain a lot of the Christian principles. It's just stupid if someone behaves as a mindless godless killing machine and endorses *any* statement that sounds anti-Catholic because of his belief that Catholics must be "delusional" about everything. This is surely wrong.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Yup, I accept that. One or the other, maybe even a deist at a stretch.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

You dont need religion to have morals.

Beleivers seem to think that without religion we would be running around committing mayhem. This is total bollocks, as is the notion that atheism caused Stalinist purges etc. And the idea that people behave civilly because if they don't they will be condemned to eternal torture in hell is both craven and sick. The "good" morals are cherry picked out of the bible. Many other so-called moral codes in the bible and the Koran are twisted barbarities.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks a lot, leo, and happy new year to you, too!

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thank you, John, and you may be right Europe is too far although much of the collapse is a caricature popular among U.S. conservatives. When you actually live at both places, you will see that the difference between Western Europe and the U.S. is not so qualitative and 5-10 years is the time scale after which all the tables may revert.

Look at the cultural wars and politics in the U.S. and Canada. For example, there's a lot of aspects in which Canada is today more conservative than the U.S., something that would be unthinkable for many previous decades. The EU is of course more big-brotherized, PC-spoiled than Canada but I don't believe all these things are irreversible.

reader Rathnakumar said...

Thanks again for your dispassionate analysis Dr. Motl!

I cannot resist quoting Michael Crichton here -
“What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There's no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told-and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their 'beliefs.' The reason is that beliefs guide behavior which has evolutionary importance among human beings. But at a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion. Next question.”

reader Luboš Motl said...

...your Deity is quantum physics and String theory, matters just as silly, useless and worthless as the much-ridiculed medieval disputes about the number of angels dancing on the tip of a pin.
Dear Thorsten, it's really bizarre why you were visiting this blog at all because the importance of quantum physics and string theory was not only the main point of the largest fraction of the blog entries but also the reason why the blog was created in the first place. They're the most valuable parts of the mankind's intellectual assets today, the culmination of the human history's worth of giants' thinking. String theory can't answer everything - some questions are ill-defined and others are just too complex or advanced for string theory and/or our current understanding it. But it may answer an amazing fraction of the deepest questions we can have.

The analogy between string theory and religion has some points that make it totally inaccurate but there are also aspects in which it is legitimate. The main difference is that string theory is the result of the scientific method where the truth is searched by careful, quantitative comparisons of the empirical data and the principles extracted out of them with possible explanations i.e. theories; the truth isn't composed of preconceived God-given divine dogmas. On the other hand, the truth accumulated in this way is viewed as an important thing and one may be deducing numerous consequences in approximate analogies with what theologians etc. would be doing with the religious axioms. Scientific theories with crisp insights and/or principles are analogous to religious faith in the sense that people who follow them have something they "believe in" - propositions they assume and/or conclude to be valid - so in this sense, both science/string theory and religions vastly differ from those who don't believe in anything and who don't really care.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Rathnakumar, and an insightful quote!

reader Eugene S said...

So where is Mephisto? You are needed to round out this merry Donnybrook! And I am already missing anna v :)

reader Peter F. said...

I have lately (maybe 8 months ago) perceived Pell being unmistakably daft in an ABC TV debating program called Q&A; and I have been provided with plenty of other such clues to cause me to not have a high opinion of how he sees and understands himself and humanity at large.

On the other hand, the tenaciously "knee-jerking" crusader, R. Dawkins, has also made it obvious to me (after you pointed it out) that he is not as well informed about those relevant physics-related issues as a well informed physics interested lay-person might typically be, in addition to that I have for a long time also observed that he lacks a broad and in-depth insight into "the whys and hows" of the emergence and persistence of not just religions (especially the Abrahamic faiths) but also other examples of our extreme 'people-typical' capacity to acquire AEVASIVE (ways of being habitually and addictively preoccupied (or 'actentive').

Apropos which, I do think you are well justified to call my response "a knee-jerk reaction". Especially so if you did it with reference to that I am easily incensed (mainly because of conditioned-in, early in my life incurred hence hard-to-root-out, LTP'ed states) when certain kinds of issues catch my attention, in combination with that I did not supply at least some portion of my personally arrived at explanatory and perversely thought not just acceptable but also most agreeable philosophical take on things.

I might try to make such a comment after I have done a few more pressing or ordinary tasks, like eating. ;-)

reader Angry Prophets said...

I woke up with an e-mail from a self - proclaimed "Muslim
jihadist" Qais Omer threatening me with " You are a fucken basterds, you will get your head cut off soon ". He is apparently insulted by my latest game and twitter page Angry Prophets, featuring two characters called J and Mo.

Should I blame Islam for Mr. Jihadist attitude ?! Of course not, to the contrary, Islam ( from the real Quran ) promotes tolerance ! In fact the Moors tolerated and lived side by side with Christians and Jews for centuries in Iberian Peninsula.

reader Dilaton said...

I just skimmed trough your post and more I needed not to do to see you are a troll trolling about theoretical physics and blatantly insulting people working on it.

You understand not a single thing about physics or even the scientific method, so you are right; TRF is not a place for you and Lumo should ban you!

reader Dilaton said...

Wow Lumo, how could you write such a nice answer to Thorston's trolling comment ? I just exploded ... :-D

reader Smoking Frog said...

Pell is probably smarter than Dawkins.

Are you aware of his views on global warming?

reader Smoking Frog said...

the world whose beauties we enjoy - surprise, surprise, it is explained
correctly by Newtonian physics, today just as much as thousands of years

Are you aware that GPS would quickly go wrong if it did not take relativity into account?

reader Smoking Frog said...

Lubos - I can't agree with you about the paranormal. I've seen enough evidence of it in my own life to think there may be something to it. However, I agree with you about the paranormal movement, so to speak.

reader anna v said...

Hi Eugene S. We are back on speaking terms with Lubos :) having exchanged comments in Physics.SE .

On the subject here, I am with Higgs. I think a scientist should be agnostic as far as metaphysics goes. A lot of what we take for granted would have been metaphysics 300 years ago. I expect the same will be true 300 years hence: what we think is metaphysics will have a perfectly good physics basis. Religion is one level more esoteric than metaphysics and completely sociological and psychological in origin, so physicists should not be using physics arguments against religion. It should be ethics and philosophy, imo .. Physics is orthogonal to religions.

reader woodnfish said...

You cannot separate morals from religion Gordon because that is the where they came from in our society. It is the reason the 10 commandments are on the wall in the US Supreme Court as well as many other courthouses around the country.

You can believe that morals may exist without religion, but there is no way to prove it because you cannot change our history.

My reference to Stalinism was about Lubos's comment; "Academia is pretty much as totalitarian as the atmosphere in the Stalinist Soviet bloc if not more so..." I think atheism has helped lead to this.

As I have written in past discussions about religion on TRF, most Christians are not fundamentalists and follow the New Testament, not the Old Testament. Jews use the Old Testament, yet you left them out of your comment while you try to lump Christians with Muslims. I don't see any Christians going around murdering people because of their beliefs, or raping women and treating them like cattle for the same reason.

Lastly, people are not black and white little boxes you can easily characterize as believing in "fairies" and the other nonsense you wrote earlier. Most people willingly admit they don't know everything, and so they are quite happy to know that you, and Lubos, and others are smart and know many things about certain subjects they may not know as much about, but they do not think you know everything either, and for that reason are also happy to go on continue on with their own beliefs and let you have yours.

reader Robert Rehbock said...

Not long ago I saw a remark by Lumo declining the suggestion to write a text on QM - at least I think I did. To the effect that many readers are not looking for truth and not seeking to learn but rather to have their personal beliefs reinforced.
If I mis-remember or not, I think it true in case of much of organized religion and for that matter the rabid extremists against religion. I suspect we all believe things that are falsified and disbelieve things that are verifiably true. I like to test and challenge beliefs, mine and others. I do believe that when doing so on subjects of religion, politics, intelligence or even just manners many persons decline to challenge their own beliefs and react badly to challenges.
The third rail of challenge in current America is to challenge the PC standard insistence that all races and both genders and all religious beliefs have equal merits. Of course, perhaps I am wrong and just read this blog because it reinforce my preference to discuss evidence even when contrary popular beliefs and to challenge beliefs even when to do so may offend.

reader Honza said...

What bothers me a big time on people like Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scot, or PZ Meyers is that they are talking at length about how to distinguish pseudoscience from the real thing and all the logical fallacies and discussion tricks, but then when it gets to subject like AGW, they throw it all out, swallow it hook, line and sinker and start with ad hominem attacks on AWG opponents.

This allows some people quit rightfully ask, what good is their science, if they cannot figure out even that. AGW to physics is what creationism is to biology. Easy to figure out, if you are a little bit interested and not willfully ignorant

Eugenia Scott runs "National Center for Science Education defending the Teaching of Evolution & Climate science".

So in a sense, these people just push alternative religion, they are not dispassionately examining the evidence, but rather push their own agenda. But who does not. ;-)

reader Honza said...

In no meaningful way is religion orthogonal to physics/science. It just makes that claim to avoid scientific scrutiny, yet turns right back and starts telling you what to eat and when, who to have sex with and how ... It insist on organizing your life in very practical way, nothing metaphysical or supernatural. Just a power grab. Just a way to get power over other people.
I am sure that if religions keep in their supernatural realm, nobody would have problem with them. Problem starts exactly when they trespass on the science turf and start describing reality, meddling with astronomy,biology, geology...

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reader Bohdan said...

Stupidity .. ;)

reader Luke Lea said...

In Genesis -- the patriarchal narratives in the middle part -- we are introduced to a god (unless you think this god introduced himself to Abraham) which is "a just judge of the earth," which judges every person according to his deeds by a single standard of justice, and whose jurisdiction, unlike the power gods of the Mesopotamian city states, extends everywhere. This god promises to protect Israel if they will walk in his paths and later on becomes the Christian god of the poor and the weak. There had never been such an idea in the past. Take away this emphasis on justice and what are you left with? Zeus?

reader James Gallagher said...

Higgs is clearly verging on senile, Dawkins says lots of brave, great and true stuff. His main problem is his belief in determinism, and his failure to recognise the Jewish religion as a truly great culture in human development.

Protestants deny free-will (retards)

Catholics think our biology is spiritually infused - no abortions, stem-cell research etc etc (morons)

Muslims think a single middle-aged man might have got the rules from god - so they indoctrinate children with shit (dumbasses)

Hindus have the stupid Caste system (retards)

Communists think they understand nature (Cunts - the worst people)

Dawkins is right in so many more ways than he is wrong.

But he is wrong (I believe) to belive in determinism.

It is the Christians preventing scientific advance more
than other religions, at least in biology - catholic retarded beliefs caused the death of an indian women in Ireland recently because the doctors wouldn't abort the dying fetus.

All the established religion are retarded, some of them are randomly correct about the determinism/indeterminsm debate and subsequent arguments about free-will. Sean Carroll isn't evil because he doesn't believe in free-will - he's just badly wrong - and yes it makes the rest of his philosophy (along with others like him) untrue and , frankly, stupid.

But the religious believers are the true enemies - not Richard Dawkins, he is heroic imho - even though he is also wrong (to believe in determinism)

reader amplitwist said...

The always interesting Mencius Moldbug wrote an excellent series of articles on Dawkins from a more historical perspective. He traces the rabid hatred of Christianity by the New Atheists to the fact that the beliefs of Dawkins et al are largely consistent with those of the completely insane extremist Puritans who left the Anglican church in the 17th century. The series is entitled "How Dawkins got pwned", and can be accessed here.

reader anna v said...

Your argument about religion "organizing what to eat etc" is a sociological issue and certainly is orthogonal to physics. IMO when religion starts meddling with astronomy etc it should be ignored as cranky advocates of science-sounding-bytes are ignored, that is what I meant by orhtogonal.

reader Honza said...

As long as religion can be ignored, I have no problem with it. But that is definitely not the case. It attempts to make it's supersticions into my laws, influences the politicians

reader Luke Lea said...

AGW and Hbd. You know, the little stuff. Not nearly as important as combating Young Earth Creationists, who are a real menace to society.

reader Luke Lea said...

I wouldn't call it side by side. More like one on top, one on the bottom, and one in between.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Much too black and white. Someone can be a genius but hold incompatible is called cognitive dissonance. I don't want to focus on Catholics, just organized religions and their belief systems and their power structures. The Jesuits said (paraphrasing) that if they were given a child until the age of seven, they would have the man. Also, from Ignatius' Rules for Thinking for the Church---

"Rule 13 of Ignatius' Rules for Thinking with the Church said:
"That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity[...], if
[the Church] shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes
appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be
black." wiki

This is called brainwashing. It is no better or no worse than what the Nazis or the Maoists did.

A scientific attitude encourages a mature adult to question things, and to modify his thinking as a result of demonstrable evidence. Religious thinking ( that shoved down childrens' throats by organized religions, and imprinted into long term memories reinforced by threats that trigger the limbic system and amygdala, does not encourage questioning doctrine, does not tolerate changing your mind about ex cathedra pronouncements, punishes
curiosity generally as wicked etc etc.
(see Rule 13)
I am sure that Juan Maldacena is a Catholic because he was born into a Catholic family in a generally Catholic country (Argentina) and was indoctrinated with Catholic dogma as a child. He did not choose the things to believe; did not analyze them freely on the basis of evidence, logical explanation, correspondence with reality, replicability etc as he did when he matured and he absorbed the scientific method....cognitive dissonance---one set of beliefs inculcated and reinforced by social acceptance, emotional blackmail etc, the other set developed and refined through curiosity, education, and subject to modification.

reader Shannon said...

Gordon, you are so stiff in your thinking...

reader George Christodoulides said...

your thinking has so big mistakes that i won't even bother explaining to you some very simple things that if you had the brains you would have thought by yourself years ago...and you studied physics.

reader George Christodoulides said...

by the way atheists that are atheists because they had the brains to think of some very basic things and not because the state forced them to are smarter and most of the most important people are atheists.

reader Raisonator said...

Here is the explanation of the "logic" behind religion:

reader thejollygreenman said...

Hi Lubos, May you have a good and prosperous 2013.

I read just about every comment on this thread. I do believe that Dawkins is suffering from a common ailment among pop-stars, football players and film stars. Once you believe you own publicists you are doomed. I am heartened by the fact that you are beginning to question atheism. I am turned of by atheism because I have found too many inferior minds claiming to be atheist just to draw attention to themselves and pose as intellectuals. I don't think about religion too much as I am too busy trying to discover the wonders of nature. I have come to one conclusion though, I don't believe God is a socialists. He created diverse parts of the world, contrast Afghanistan and Argentina, and it is up to the people living in those countries to make the most of what they have got. And as my one Brazilian friend said, you have a long time to think about all those issues once you are dead, in the meantime, get on with life!

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Gah-I wrote a long non-rigid response (I do yoga) but lost it into the internet void---

In short, I only crusade on TRF because it is a science blog. I generally don't question others' beliefs unless they are trying to control others or becoming overwhelmingly annoying and stupid.

You may be less able to question your religious beliefs than you think. When a child is inculcated in a religion before he/she has undergone brain maturation (a marked weeding of superfluous synaptic connections occurs up to early 20s), the reinforcement of neural pathways selectively preserves those connections. It is like re-inforcing addiction pathways in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens. The reinforcement is made more effective by tying the religious dogma to emotional states---ie threats of punishment and promises of rewards for belief. I do agree with Dawkins that a rigid church immersion for children is a form of child abuse.

Think, for example, of Scientology---Katie Holmes recently split from Tom Cruise when Cruise was ready to put their young daughter into a Scientology school (bootcamp). If you look into Scientology, it is an incredibly stupid scam founded by a drug-addled megalomaniac science fiction author who told friends he set it up to make scads of money. See its core beliefs--

Yes, most organized religions do not have quite as many irrational beliefs, but they do have more than enough.

Also, tell Amish kids that they can question their religion, or Pakistanis who decide to renounce Islam (apostates are killed), or talk to Salman Rushdie, or go back to the days when the Catholic Church was "preserving" Western civilization---read Grey Eminence by Aldous Huxley about for example Surin, the power behing Cardinal Richelieu, or better yet, The Devils of Loudun, about the witchcraft mania.

Sure, most people who believe in things like virgin birth, transsubstantiation, resurrection, etc can question those beliefs, but given their prior childhood brainwashing, will they? And at what price?

Because of political correctness, religion gets a free pass from being examined critically. Even hard core Marxists like Stephen J Gould pander to this----his "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" essay is a great example---the verbiage is magnificent (implying that religion and science are separate but equally valid "Magisteria" which, conveniently, dont overlap, so are immune to analysis or impolite criticism. EO Wilson had a great comeback for Gould---"He uses the squid defence--when attacked he disappears in a cloud of ink"

reader Casper said...

Well I think my comment was somewhat ill-conceived and your reply is quite reasonable and rational. Your many replies to the comments here make much more sense than the original article.

I was trying to reduce religion, divested of its politics and historical accretions, to a simple concept which can be tested empirically and is therefore in the domain of science (as we know it).

You also claimed in your article that 'science impartially evaluates the empirical data and the right conclusions aren't and can't be determined a priori.' Well yes this mythical impartiality might exist after a couple of hundred years of torrid arguments, many changes of generations of scientists and technical advances which are able to settle long standing arguments of interpretation. However in the short term impartiality in science is a ridiculous concept which in fact the rest of your article makes clear by many examples.

I suppose (mumble mumble) that the religious point of view is that mind is a fundamental irreducible element of the universe in the same that particles etc are. What I suppose I am asking is whether or not quantum mechanics is compatible with this view or not, or has nothing to say on the matter.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

Don't tell me what I cannot do, Woodn--I certainly can separate morals from religion. Do you really believe that if Christianity weren't invented, that there would be no morals? Worse than I thought. What about the ancient Greeks? They didn't get their altruism etc from their Gods. What about Buddhists--a non-theistic religion.
Do you really think that with no relgions, morals would either not exist or be worse. If you do, you are even more deluded than I imagine. Look at say, elephants---a highly moral society with great family values and caring....same with wolves. They aren't being given decalogues by imaginary sky friends.

reader Shannon said...

Dear Gordon, I agree with you, but you are putting the magnifying glass on some problems that religion creates due to our poor human nature; this doesn't make it the sum of all that religion has brought to human beings.

reader Shannon said...

Right. The Pope recently said that it is a great mistake when Men thinks they can take in hands God's cause.

reader Shannon said...

Gordon, mayhem exists in both atheists and believers countries. It's just that the type of mayhem might be different ;-)

reader Shannon said...

Gordon (again ;-), Elephants are amazing animals. They suffer and cry like us humans. They respect their deads and come back to their cemetery regularly. Gordon you say they do all this because of "family values", WTH ?!

They do it because they remember the great pain and suffering they endured. It's that very pain that bring human beings close to God. Not because they feel they "have to" for some mechanical rules of "family values and caring".

reader Dathmar said...

Growing up as a Christian and going to private schools I have seen fundamentalist Christians turn into fundamentalist atheists. The mind set is obviously the same on both points. They believe that they are built from a different stock from the rest. They have "secret" knowledge that the opposite side can't see and therefore are much "smarter" than everyone else. They fail to see that they believed the same before they switched sides.

I believe that there are the same tendencies on both sides. You will have reasonable people on both sides as well as unreasonable people.
Generally the reasonable people are the ones that don't speak up as much. This makes it easier for both sides to point to eachother and unreasonable as a whole.

reader woodnfish said...

Stop whining Gordon, you can't change reality. Our Greek influence is in government. Buddhism is not a Western theology and has no influence. (And you seem to want to ignore Budddhist terrorism and atrocities. You do know the Khmer Rouge wanted a Buddhist government, don't you?) As I have already noted, our modern society has been greatly influenced by Christianity which gave us the 10 Commandments; the source of our morals today. It doesn't matter what you personally think because you cannot change that reality.

You're going to try and compare us with elephants? I'll bet you have a dolphin sculpture in your living room too. As far as I am concerned elephants are food and they make great piano keys, and their skinned out feet make pretty cool waste baskets.

The truth is that you are the delusional one, Gordon because you seem to think you can divorce yourself from a couple thousand years of Western culture. Your humanist morals are an imaginary construct built inside a pipe dream.

reader Honza said...

Hay, Woodnfish. What is the crap about Christianity giving us 10 commandment? Half of them is not observed or even just straight illegal (1-You shall have no other gods...; 2-You shall not make for yourself a carved image..., 3-Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, 6-You shall not commit adultery, 10-You shall not covet your neighbor's ...) and the rest is general humanist stuff (5-You shall not murder, 7-you shall not steal, 8-You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor). So whatever is exclusively Christian is useless and whatever is useful is not really Christian. The biggest problem I have with this Christian's claim to giving us the morals is that they had to be given those by God. Really? Any reasonable person can figure this out internally, on its own.
If you cannot reason on your own why not to steel and murder people of your community, the morality discussions are apparently not your forte.

reader woodnfish said...

Okay, so you have no respect for Christianity, Honza. So what? Neither does Gordon. That does not change historical fact.

reader Honza said...

Thanks for reminding me - the other problem with Christianity. It demands respect. Often (most of the history) at gun point or under a death threat. It does not understand that respect should be earned.

And yes, respected or not, it does not change historical facts. I would not deny that religion does something good here and there, just like the proverbial blind pig who finds an acorn once in a while. But it definitely is not a systemic thing.

So if you think that religion contributes to morals in any meaningful way (and saying "do whatever you want and here we give you Gods approval that it is right" does not really count) - show your facts.
I guess neither I nor Gordon go for NASA's "In god we trust, everybody else bring the data." We demand data from everybody. ;-)

reader woodnfish said...

Honza, I am not interested in discussing this any further with you because you are an idiot.

reader Honza said...

No problem. Feeling is mutual, except I was not quit as explicit. There is really no point to have a discussion with an idiot, as after all the best possible outcome is that you win a discussion with an idiot. ;-)

reader Blazej Potmesil said...

The brain is predisposed for religion by evolution. So it's interesting to see "Darwin's rottweiler" to fight against product of evolution :)

reader Nilac Opo said...

Lubos, to be intelligent does not mean to follow blindly some given rules, as fundamental nature does :)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Well, but it's surely not true that those things are incompatible. Nature is both supremely intelligent *and* meticulously following the laws of physics.

What's your point?

reader Nilac Opo said...

Look at the definition of intelligence. To be intelligent means to find (the optimal) solution to different existent problems. Intelligence isn't applicable to fundamental nature, she has no goal to achieve, no purpose.
There are scientific facts in morality: we know that somethink is bad or good from observing or anticipating the results of our actions. That somethink is bad or wrong, morality, depends on our model of the world.
If someone wants to be responsible then it is imperative to base his views on an accurate vision of the world. And that accurate vision does not include gods.
My point is, is essential that nature in itself has no purpose or goals, that is not intelligent. If nature is intelligent than we are not (you know some bayesian thinking, you figure this for youself).

reader Luboš Motl said...

Well, maybe you're right, maybe you're not. I don't know what to do with those metaphysical things. Nature has no "anthropomorphic" goals. On the other hand, it may have goals of a more general kind. Some laws of physics may be viewed as tools to achieve those goals. The anthropic people could say that the goal is ultimately to produce intelligent observers. I disagree with that but there could be a more sensible insight of this kind that is waiting.

Our own goals and our intelligence is a different matter. Yes, we say that we have goals and intelligence. With some definition, we would end up being non-intelligent, rather mechanical engines, too. Without goals. The goals are imposed upon us (quantum) mechanically, maybe.

Those questions aren't sharply connected with some operationally well-defined observations so they can't really be answered by science.

reader Nilac Opo said...

Science is based on the premise that nature is not deceptive, that nature is neutral to us. A nature that is not neutral to a bayesian agent and gives subjective inputs can't give as output reliable models of what we think is reality. In an intelligent reality, with unknown goals, science is futile.
The existence of a goal requires a mechanism that makes predictions and you know very well (or maybe I'm wrong, please correct me) than it isn't the case in fundamental nature. Only at the level of biological organisms prediction apparatus emerged.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I mostly disagree. Science doesn't have to "assume" that Nature is not deceptive. The word is largely ill-defined to start with. But if you give it a definition that has some content, a "deceptive Nature" is a legitimate hypothesis in science that may be considered. And it will be falsified, at least at a huge confidence level, rather soon.

By saying that science has to presume that Nature is not deceptive, you want to create a mental framework that - you want to believe - is permanently screened against the penetrating power of science. But this is impossible. It's your illusion. It just shows that you don't want to fairly and rationally consider the evidence because you want "Nature may be deceptive" to remain a dogma. But science doesn't respect dogmas and be sure that this wrong statement may be falsified by the scientific method much like any other wrong statement, e.g. the Moon is a shadow on a screen that is infinitely far away.

The same comments apply to the existence of a goal. When it comes to any modestly large subset of science, e.g. biology, it may be pretty much demonstrated that Nature (the structure and evolution of species) is incompatible with a goal.

reader Nilac Opo said...

A bayesian agent's outputed model depends on what kind of input he has acces to. If inputs are given selectivelly by an intelligent nature or a supernatural being, our bayesian science is futile (and I don't want to say that we have an alternative to science). We deduce what that entity wants us to deduce. We are not discovering reality but reality that is given by that entity. There is no way to discover the "real" reality if God don't wants to or he is not neutral to our endeavours to discover it.

I wonder how can you ever know that nature is or is not deceptive. :)

Science is nothing than a more complex and extended bayesian agent. She has the intrinsic limitation that a bayesian agent has, depedence on the inputs that it has acces to. I repeat, I don't want to be misunderstood, science is the only way of knowing something and I don't consider that nature is deceptive.

Yes, it is demonstrated that biological nature is incompatible with a goal, but religion wan't to impose a goal that has (yet) active and sometimes dramatical consequences on our everyday lives. Not much on intellectual progress but in human relationships. Religious citizens are thought that they are morally superior to others because they have faith in some nonsense that is not provable or happens to contradict scientific facts. That is Dawkins fighting with.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Nilac, even if you imagine an "agent" above us that may try to deceive us, if this agent is making us repeatedly feel something that you may call "deception", it's still the reality!

According to science, reality is whatever is observed or indirectly deduced from observations. You seem to say that there is some "realer reality" that has nothing to do with observations but by thinking in this way, you are showing that you completely misunderstand what science is all about. If something can't show up in observations, directly or indirectly, it doesn't exist according to science.

Also, you may say that science is nothing else than Bayesian reasoning except that this may at most describe science at the very beginning of it - and perhaps even earlier - as it completely ignores what has actually been inferred by this Bayesian reasoning.

What has been inferred is that the patterns governing phenomena/observations are repeatable and obey some universal laws that have been getting increasingly more unified and increasingly more universal in their ability to be applied to many things.

This development couldn't have been guaranteed from the beginning, so it's no assumption of science - as you seem to indicate at one point. Also, these developments aren't unimportant things that you may competely overlook - as you did in your most recent comment.

Instead, the stability of the laws of physics, reproducibility of experiments, and unification of our explanation of causes of many kinds of phenomena that were previously unrelated are breathtaking results of science, the most important intellectual enterprise that that the mankind has ever started. They were not true from the beginning but they were inferred to be true by applying Bayesian inference - and many methods "above it" that are far more specific - on the actual observations and perceptions that the people have.

reader Nilac Opo said...

Science is, still, fortunatelly, bayesian reasoning and you use heavily this type of reasoning in your blog, in defending your ideas about good physics.
In a deceiving nature hypotesis, your observations that converge to a no-deceiving-like model are not a prove for a no-deceiving nature. If I want to deceive you, first I give you enough proves to make you think that I am onest :)

reader Luboš Motl said...

No, quantum mechanics implies that there can't be any correct "models" of reality.

One has to predict the observations directly, using the knowledge from other observations, and every attempt to insert a spurious intermediary in between will result in making your physics theory invalid.

I am using Bayesian inference but what one learns in science is not *just* Bayesian inference. Instead, most of what we learn are actual properties of Nature as inferred from millions of observations. You don't seem to want to see this bulk of science, the actual beef.

It doesn't matter if you want to deceive someone (and indeed, this is the point of all your comments): your behavior (in the sense of its impact on any observations we can actually make) may still be studied by science. If the impact of your deception on the observations converge to zero, then of course the theory one infers after a reasonable time will be extremely close to the right theory.

If you think that the theory will be still "far away", then you are measuring the distance of theories in an unscientific way.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Yup, I am, but this knowledge wasn't incorporated to any judgments about Pell I made in this thread.

reader Nilac Opo said...

Dear Lubos, quantum mechanics IS a model of reality, the most rationaly concordant with our observations, a rational/bayesian extended model of classical mechanics, witch is a less accurate model of reality. Anyway, if a correct model of reality doesn't exist how could you say that reality is what we observe or infer? We know what we observe and infer only based on a process of knowing, based on previous models (and less accurate but more persisting) of reality, models constructed by our experience and inference or inherited and based on the experience and inference of our ancestors or friends.
I didn't said that science reached her limits, I said that she has the limits of a bayesian agent; that depends on capacities to imagine hypotesis, on capabilities of those hypotesis to coherently spit data that can be comparable to observations and, the most important to me, to acces the most diverse inputs/observations and the willing to not cherrypicking them.
I understand, I think, your thoughts; that if nature is deceiving now we will find someday,in the same scientific way, when her goal is to be revealed. Only that if she is deceiving we will not know when she will tell the truth. Maybe she will deceive us with her goal. :)

reader James Gallagher said...

This is a bit late, but something I said was incorrect, Christians are preventing some aspects of science advancing but Muslims would prevent almost everything advancing (if non-muslims didn't exist). Although Islam is more liberal on things such as abortion etc, it locks the minds of every child into study of the Koran and hence prevents almost all muslims of ever being free-thinking and creative enough to contribute to modern science.

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