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Should We Hold Belief in Creationism Against Candidates for Political Office?

Many argue that Sarah Palin's supposed belief in creationism is a major strike against her qualifications for the vice presidency. As co-blogger Jim Lindgren demonstrates here, Palin did not in fact advocate laws requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools; still less did she oppose teaching the theory of evolution (which she in fact endorsed). Nonetheless, given her religious background, it is certainly possible that Palin believes in creationism herself even if she doesn't want to use the power of the state to indoctrinate schoolchildren in that belief.

Assuming that she does believe in creationism (in the strong sense of rejecting the theory of evolution), should that be an important consideration against her candidacy? I believe not. I think that creationism is contradicted by overwhelming scientific evidence. And as an atheist, I don't believe that God exists in the first place and I certainly don't believe that he did any of the things that creationists attribute to him. Nonetheless, I don't see why belief in creationism should be a major strike against a candidate for public office any more than are a wide range of other common religious beliefs that are contradicted by modern science. Consider the following widespread religious beliefs:

1. Belief in the virgin birth of Christ.

2. Belief in the resurrection of the dead.

3. The belief that the Red Sea parted, enabling the Israelites to escape from Egypt.

4. The Bible's claim that God wiped out nearly all life on Earth in a great flood (with only the denizens of Noah's Ark surviving).

5. Belief in the existence of the Devil (a view held by 71% of Americans).

All of the above are contradicted by science, empirical evidence, or both. Yet few argue that endorsement of any of these beliefs should be a major strike against candidates for high political office, including the presidency. As an apparently believing Protestant, Barack Obama presumably adheres to at least 1 and 2 on the above list. Yet virtually no one claims that he is thereby unfit for the presidency. I don't see why believing the items on the list above is any less irrational and unscientific than believing in creationism. One could argue that people can legitimately embrace these beliefs "on faith" irrespective of evidence. Perhaps so. But belief in creationism can be justified in exactly the same way.

Maybe the conventional wisdom is wrong and we should hold all irrational and unscientific religious beliefs against candidates for high political office. Some of my more militant fellow atheists probably feel that way. However, I don't think they are right. Many people embrace irrational religious beliefs out of unthinking adherence to tradition or simply because they lack the incentive to reexamine those beliefs in an unbiased way. As I discuss in this article, the same is true for beliefs on a wide variety of subjects where people are "rationally ignorant" or "rationally irrational" because they have little incentive to seek out the truth. For most people, holding an inaccurate view on the origins of life on Earth isn't going to affect their lives in any significant way and won't prevent them from making good decisions on matters that are within their personal control. Thus, they have no more reason to become knowledgeable about evolution than they do about particle physics or many other fields of scientific research that aren't relevant to the decisions they must make in their own lives. Many people - including many political leaders - believe in the existence of the Devil or in the virgin birth, yet still make perfectly rational judgments in their decisions on matters within their areas of responsibility. I don't see why the same won't hold true for belief in creationism.

Perhaps the problem with creationism is not that it is unusually irrational in and of itself but that belief in in correlates with what many people consider to be objectionable beliefs on various public policy issues. I'm not entirely convinced that this is more true of creationism than of some of the other beliefs I listed above. But even if it is more true on average, it doesn't make much practical difference. Palin, like most other candidates for high office, has an extensive record of positions that she has taken on various issues. We don't need to use creationism as a proxy for a candidate's issue positions when we can simply look at the issue positions themselves.

Certainly, Palin has had a lot to say on the domestic policy issues with which belief in creationism might be correlated. So far, I don't see how any of her positions on these issues are any more objectionable than those of other mainstream conservatives, including those who (like John McCain) endorse the theory of evolution. Indeed, Palin is probably more libertarian than most of them, and thus less likely to use the power of government to promote her religious agenda. Ultimately, we should judge candidates for high office on their policy positions, not on religious views that are at most only tangentially related to policy.

Finally, some fear that creationist politicians might skew government funding away from scientific research based on the theory of evolution. That is indeed a legitimate concern. In Palin's case, however, there is little if any evidence that she intends to do any such thing. Moreover, any such danger has to be weighed against the possibility that a Democratic victory might skew science funding in favor of crackpot theories favored by some on the political left, such as the "junk science," which, as co-blogger David Bernstein has shown, was at the root of much costly tort litigation in recent years. Politicians in both parties promote dubious science when it is politically convenient to do so. Sometimes they do so for religious reasons; more often for entirely secular ones.

UPDATE: I should probably have mentioned that when I said that the five events I listed were contradicted by science or empirical evidence, I meant either that science has shown that they are impossible (e.g. - virgin birth, resurrection) or that the empirical evidence is against the claim that they occurred (e.g. - the worldwide flood, the parting of the Red Sea). The belief that the devil exists falls into the latter category. If the Devil (defined as a powerful supernatural being who actively promotes evil in our world) exists, we should expect to observe evils that he has caused - evils that don't have natural explanations. Yet we do not in fact observe any such evils. As far as we can tell, all the evil we see is the result of the operation of natural laws or of human action. Thus, the claim that the Devil exists is contradicted by empirical evidence. This argument against the existence of the Devil isn't original to me, and has been developed in much greater detail by philosophers such as Michael Martin. I briefly summarize it here in response to comments claiming that it is impossible to prove or disprove the Devil's existence.

Of course, it is always possible to argue that the Devil causes various evils and then somehow "disguises" them to make them seem natural. This kind of argument, however, can be used to "prove" that virtually anyone or anything caused the evils in question. For instance, I could argue that Bozo the Clown is the real cause of all the evil in the world and that he has "disguised" its true origins to make it look natural. We rightly reject this argument in the absence of additional evidence that Bozo really did cause all those evils. The same point applies to claims that various seemingly natural evils are attributable to the Devil.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Creationism and Ability to Evaluate Scientific Evidence - Or, How I Caught Myself in a Contradiction:
  2. Should We Hold Belief in Creationism Against Candidates for Political Office?
  3. Palin on Creationism.
BillW:

1. Belief in the virgin birth of Christ. 2. Belief in the resurrection of the dead. 3. The belief that the Red Sea parted, enabling the Israelites to escape from Egypt. 4. The Bible's claim that God wiped out nearly all life on Earth in a great flood (with only the denizens of Noah's Ark surviving). 5. Belief in the existence of the Devil (a view held by 71% of Americans).

All of the above are contradicted by science, archeological evidence, or both.

I'll give you #3 and #4, but what's the evidence contradicting the others?
9.10.2008 2:20am
SecurityGeek:
Is this the Palin Conspiracy now? Isn't there something legal going on that you guys can comment on instead of trying to squeeze Sarah Palin into your libertarian wish-fulfillment alternative universe?

This is the real problem with rolling out such an unknown VP pick so late in the cycle. There really isn't much record to judge her on issues like this. I noticed that you asserted that there is no reason to worry about Gov. Palin making political decisions based upon her faith. Really? Care to share a link with evidence?

It's difficult for me to understand why otherwise rational, well-educated thinkers on this blog are contorting themselves to defend an anti-intellectual populist who disagrees with the foundation of modern biology.

I get it, you don't like Obama, but you don't have to make tourself love Palin instead.

BTW, the difference between creationism and other irrational religious beliefs is that creationism has a long and sordid history of leading politicians to make stupid decisions that negatively affect the capability of our country to compete in science and technology. I don't think belief in the Immaculate Conception has ever caused the destruction of any AP Biology textbooks.

Although I am convinced that the Hindu belief in reincarnation underlies the driving habits in New Delhi.
9.10.2008 2:31am
BillW:
For that matter, it's within the power of an omnipotent god to have created the universe 6000 years ago, complete with fossils in the rocks and stars shining in the sky, if He so chose.

Which is why creationism (and its disguised variants) isn't science. It isn't testable by the scientific method.
9.10.2008 2:32am
Rod Blaine (mail):
> "All of the above are contradicted by science, empirical evidence, or both."

Uh, no. There is a distinction.

It is not inconsistent for a reasonable person to hold the belief that there is a God who (a) normally lets the universe run according to consistent scientific laws, but who also (b) occasionally intervenes directly by suspending those laws (ie, miracles).

The question is not "Can science explain how a Deity used his supernatural power to raise the dead? (etc)" but "Did this in fact happen in this alleged case?" The question is historical, not scientific. Science depends on replicability, on measuring regularities under test conditions. If there does exist a Deity who created these regularities, but who can and does also override them, then there's no point expecting to measure this with test tubes.

The assumption behind Ilya's statement here seems to be that these ignorant Palestinian peasants didn't realise that virgins don't conceive, that rivers don't turn to blood, that dead people stay dead, etc, but that modern science has now proven that these things are so. On the contrary, the Hebrews 2-5,000 years ago knew as well as Richard Dawkins that these things are not the ordinary course of nature. The very word "miracle" means something to marvel at.

Of course, simply because a religious believer says some miracle did happen does not, by any means, prove that it did (I certainly do not believe in the Nephites or Muhammad's cow flying to Mecca). Atheists are entirely correct that, the more sharply an alleged miracle contradicts the normal regularities of nature, the higher the burden of proof it should meet.

However, to rule it out, absolutely and a priori, because it implies a supernatural conception of the universe is not empirical or agnostic. It's as much an act of faith as reciting the Shema or the Apostle's Creed.

So to me, the difference between believing in the Red Sea parting and believing that the world was created 6,000 years ago is that science refutes the latter but not the former.

Having said that, it is no bar to voting for a candidate that s/he belives in something that science refutes, as long as his/her mistaken faith won't enable him/her to set policy in that area. For example, I wouldn't rule out voting for liberal Democrats for State-level offices merely because of they adhere de fide to the infallibility and indefectibility of the United Nations and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
9.10.2008 2:32am
ratel (mail):
The difference between creationism and the other ideas on the list is that a belief in creationism implies a disbelief in evolution and modern biological science is built on evolution as a fundamental building block.
9.10.2008 2:33am
ofidiofile:
i think there's still cause for concern. she hasn't had a whole lot of time to set policy as governor, and with the powerful new VP office, who knows what could happen? having a creationist in office for the past eight years has hurt science funding in this country; surprisingly little of substance came out on GWB's history as TX governor in the 2000 race, and many (republlicans as well as democrats) were very surprised once he got comfortable.

plus, the response to jim's post on palin's creationism almost worried me more than palin's stance itself. it's obvious many here at VC barely understand what evolution is or how it works, much less believe it. yeesh! scary stuff.
9.10.2008 2:36am
Sinestro (mail):
For me, it's more a question of degree than kind. Yes, both Obama and Palin, as well as McCain and Biden, for that matter, (claim to) believe in religious doctrines which are, to my mind, facially absurd. There is no alternative for whom a vote would make a useful difference, however. I do indeed think holding these kinds of religious beliefs makes a candidate less fit for office, but, unfortunately, there is no viable candidate who does not profess to hold those beliefs. Thus, I vote, among many, many other factors, based partially on which candidate seems less likely to base policy on those beliefs. That appears for all the world to be Palin, although I'm open to being convinced otherwise.
9.10.2008 2:36am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Yes.

Let's choose a different nutty idea that many people have: That the germ theory of disease is incorrect.

Is that a disqualifier? Yes.

Same same.
9.10.2008 2:39am
The Cabbage (mail):
5. Belief in the existence of the Devil

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that Kevin Spacey didn't exist.
9.10.2008 2:39am
Calculated Risk:
I will tell you why Palin's belief in creationism should be disqualifying. Because it shows her ignorance of science. And it likely that this ignorance will extend to other areas as well.

I should note that you also exhibit a rather surprising ignorance of science, given your educational background. Science only deals with phenomena that are falsifiable.

The assertion that the devil exists is not falsifiable. Science really has nothing to say about that. Likewise, belief in God is not falsifiable. Thus, science does not really justify your non-scientific religious belief in atheism.

From a purely scientific perspective, agnosticism is the view that can be supported.

Anyway, I agree that people who hold beliefs that aren't falsifiable should not be disqualified from holding office. However, people who hold beliefs that are blatantly falsifiable and have been falsified should be disqualified. Such people have are likely to make very poor policy decisions regarding areas of scientific endeavor.
9.10.2008 2:48am
Ilya Somin:
1. Belief in the virgin birth of Christ. 2. Belief in the resurrection of the dead. 3. The belief that the Red Sea parted, enabling the Israelites to escape from Egypt. 4. The Bible's claim that God wiped out nearly all life on Earth in a great flood (with only the denizens of Noah's Ark surviving). 5. Belief in the existence of the Devil (a view held by 71% of Americans).

All of the above are contradicted by science, archeological evidence, or both.


I'll give you #3 and #4, but what's the evidence contradicting the others?


1 and 2 are contradicted by basic scientific findings and by the lack of any reliable documentation of their ever having occurred. 5 is contradicted by the fact that if a being such as the Devil existed, we would be able to observe activities of his that can't be explained by normal natural processes. Yet we observe no such thing.
9.10.2008 2:50am
David Warner:
SecurityGeek:

"I noticed that you asserted that there is no reason to worry about Gov. Palin making political decisions based upon her faith. Really? Care to share a link with evidence?"

I believe that as the accuser the burden of proof is rather on your shoulders. We're all ears.
9.10.2008 2:51am
Ilya Somin:
Is this the Palin Conspiracy now? Isn't there something legal going on that you guys can comment on instead of trying to squeeze Sarah Palin into your libertarian wish-fulfillment alternative universe?

Since I have explicitly stated on right here on this blog that Palin's presence on the ticket is at most a minor reason to support McCain, I can hardly be accused of "wish-fulfillment" about her.

This is the real problem with rolling out such an unknown VP pick so late in the cycle. There really isn't much record to judge her on issues like this. I noticed that you asserted that there is no reason to worry about Gov. Palin making political decisions based upon her faith. Really? Care to share a link with evidence?

I didn't say that she would never make political decisions based on her faith. Rather, I stated that there is no evidence that she would try to defund scientific research based on her belief in creationism (if indeed she does hold such a belief). And there is indeed no such evidence.
9.10.2008 2:52am
Kellen Kooistra (mail):
I think the important aspect for a presidential candidate is what they believe should be required teaching in public schools separate of their personal belief. If someone believed in creationism, but nonetheless wholeheartedly supported the unequivocal teaching of evolution in school science classes that would likely not be a legitimate issue. The concern is that most who believe in creationism (and under that moniker I'm including intelligent design), believe the schools should "teach the controversy". I understand that this is Palin's position. This, obviously, has a public policy impact and should be fair game in discussions about the candidates.
9.10.2008 2:54am
Ilya Somin:
It is not inconsistent for a reasonable person to hold the belief that there is a God who (a) normally lets the universe run according to consistent scientific laws, but who also (b) occasionally intervenes directly by suspending those laws (ie, miracles).

Fine, then maybe one of those times when he did a "miracle" was in engaging in special creation and then seeding the world with fossil evidence that seems to prove otherwise but is actually there just to test our faith.

The question is not "Can science explain how a Deity used his supernatural power to raise the dead? (etc)" but "Did this in fact happen in this alleged case?" The question is historical, not scientific. Science depends on replicability, on measuring regularities under test conditions. If there does exist a Deity who created these regularities, but who can and does also override them, then there's no point expecting to measure this with test tubes.


Agreed. But the evidence against the the flood and the parting of the Red Sea ever happening is comparable in strength to the evidence against the creationist account the development of life. As for the virgin birth and the resurrection of the dead, if they ever happened, we would expect to see reports of it from unbiased sources, yet no such exist.

The assumption behind Ilya's statement here seems to be that these ignorant Palestinian peasants didn't realise that virgins don't conceive, that rivers don't turn to blood, that dead people stay dead, etc, but that modern science has now proven that these things are so. On the contrary, the Hebrews 2-5,000 years ago knew as well as Richard Dawkins that these things are not the ordinary course of nature. The very word "miracle" means something to marvel at.

Actually, religious people 5000 years ago, like some today, believed that many such events (and "magic") were quite commonplace. Pagans and other religious groups claimed that their gods often produced miracles no less than Christians and Jews made similar claims.
9.10.2008 2:56am
Lior:
There is a fundamental distinction: belief in direct intervention of an omnipotent god does not contradict anything we know. Belief that the world is different than it seems is a serious deficiency in someone who will make cardinal decision for many others.

While they are a sign of credulity, beliefs in the supernatural by definition do not contradict any evidence. It is impossible to rule out that Jesus was not virgin born, or that the Red Sea did not part, so believing that these unnatural things occurred by direct invention of god matters little. They are irrelevant to the present state of the world anyway. On the other hand, if you insist that fossils were deposited in the crust by the flood, and that we should base our oil prospecting on this understanding, I would say that there is something wrong with you.

Creationism is not the claim that god made the world the way it seems (a situation which is indistinguishable from the simpler, non-interventionist explanation). Rather, it is a claim that god made the world in a particular way which is different from the way the world actually is. That belief is a sign of considerable irrationality.
9.10.2008 2:57am
Ilya Somin:
I should note that you also exhibit a rather surprising ignorance of science, given your educational background. Science only deals with phenomena that are falsifiable.

The assertion that the devil exists is not falsifiable. Science really has nothing to say about that. Likewise, belief in God is not falsifiable. Thus, science does not really justify your non-scientific religious belief in atheism.


Actually, all the beliefs I listed in the post are falsifiable. For example, if the Devil exists, we should expect to see evidence of his activities that can't be explained by normal scientific processes. No such evidence exists; therefore, it is likely he doesn't exist. The parting of the Red Sea, the flood, etc., can be proven or disproven in much the same way as the occurrence or nonoccurrence of other historical events.

Finally, this post doesn't address the issue of God's existence. But I do think that his existence or nonexistence is potentially falsifiable. For example, I think that the problem of evil is strong evidence that no God exists who is both omnipotent and completely benevolent. If such a being did exist, we should expect to observe, at the very least, far less evil than actually occurs in the world as we know it.
9.10.2008 3:00am
Calculated Risk:

5 is contradicted by the fact that if a being such as the Devil existed, we would be able to observe activities of his that can't be explained by normal natural processes


This really supposes a certain kind of devil, one that acts consistently in the world to cause "abnormal" natural processes. You are making quite an assumption here.

In any case, since most things that are observed are not subject to scientific scrutiny, most things that are observed we do not even both trying to explain. If someone X says they see something supernatural, there are three possibilities. 1.) That person is lying. 2.) The thing they saw can be explain by "normal" natural processes. or 3.) The thing they saw cannot be explained.

Actually, in the real world, there are many common things that cannot actually be explained given our current state of scientific knowledge. For example, the exact patterns of currents in the ocean.

Now, of course, the bias of a scientist is to assume that anything that can't be explained does in fact have an explanation. We just haven't found it yet. (Or is that the bias. What about the uncertainty principle??) But, at some point, one can go back infinitely. What explains the explanation. What explains the explanation of the explanation. And so forth.

The bottom-line is his. The scientific method does not claim or purport to enable us to fully understand the universe.

There is a reason that eminent scientists are able to reconcile their day jobs with a non-falsifiable belief in God or the devil. The reason they are able to do that is that science simply does not reach these topics.

You seem to be lumping things that fundamentally different into the same group. Basically, you are clumping things that cannot be verified by science in the same category as those things which have actually been falsified by science. These are very different things. A politician who believes something that cannot be verified by science is acceptable. One that believes things that have actually been falsified by science is unacceptable. That's my view, anyway.
9.10.2008 3:01am
Lior:
Agreed. But the evidence against the the flood and the parting of the Red Sea ever happening is comparable in strength to the evidence against the creationist account the development of life. As for the virgin birth and the resurrection of the dead, if they ever happened, we would expect to see reports of it from unbiased sources, yet no such exist.


Ilya, I must disagree with this claim. The evidence against the flood (as an Earth-shattering global event) is of the same strength as the evidence against creationism. Since the parting of the Red Sea was never alleged to be of the kind that would leave evidence for later generations, there is in fact no evidence against it at all. The only evidence against it is: "it would only have happened if god directly intervened".

It's true that you could say "god had the flood and then returned things to the state they are today, wiping all the evidence" -- at that point I would not make the distinction. But this is not what young-Earth creationists are saying. They are actually saying that the flood has left geological evidence that is visible today, and moreover that the geological record is more consistent with a flood than with the scientific explanation.
9.10.2008 3:02am
gabrielsyme (mail) (www):

All of the above are contradicted by science, empirical evidence, or both.



O, please. Merely because a claim is not explicable by empirical or scientific evidence does not mean it is contradicted thereby, and most of your examples fall into this category.

Is it not enough to say that people with whom you disagree are wrong? Is it really necessary to argue that they are irrational? To be fair, plenty of people who disagree with you are irrational- but so too are plenty of people who agree with you. To suggest irrationality is one-sided really debases debate.
9.10.2008 3:05am
David Warner:
ratel:

"The difference between creationism and the other ideas on the list is that a belief in creationism implies a disbelief in evolution and modern biological science is built on evolution as a fundamental building block."

You are aware that hundreds of millions of your fellow human beings integrate the two with little difficulty, correct? There is no such implication, and even if there were, the evidence in the case of Palin contradicts it.

She has taken the Obama "above my pay grade" option when asked about evolution, and implicitly favored it by saying creationism need not be in the curriculum (it goes without saying that evolution stands unchallenged in every public classroom in America and will continue to until at least five new Supreme Court justices are seated).

Of course she has done absolutely nothing to promote the teaching of creationism in any position she has held. This is a non-issue and furthermore difficult to distinguish from out and out religious bigotry. Would this be fair game for a Muslim candidate?
9.10.2008 3:05am
Ilya Somin:
Is it not enough to say that people with whom you disagree are wrong? Is it really necessary to argue that they are irrational? To be fair, plenty of people who disagree with you are irrational- but so too are plenty of people who agree with you. To suggest irrationality is one-sided really debases debate.

I didn't say that the people are irrational, merely that some of hte beliefs they hold are irrational in the same way as creationism is. I have no doubt that many people who agree with me on various matters are irrational and never suggested otherwise.
9.10.2008 3:13am
PersonFromPorlock:
Ilya Somin

...if a being such as the Devil existed, we would be able to observe activities of his that can't be explained by normal natural processes. Yet we observe no such thing.

On the other hand, if a being such as the Devil existed, surely he'd disguise his activities as "normal natural processes," the better to lead us astray.

The problem with atheism is that it supposes that we work the way the world works and then ignores the fact that we work by will, which has implications for how the world works.
9.10.2008 3:14am
Randy R. (mail):
Illy: "Since I have explicitly stated on right here on this blog that Palin's presence on the ticket is at most a minor reason to support McCain, I can hardly be accused of "wish-fulfillment" about her. "

Then why spend so much time and space defending her? blog after blog, we find from you that she really isn't a hypocrite, that she always seems to tell the truth, that she really is experienced, that she never really wanted to ban any books, that she really is a good mom to her kids, that they doesn't really want to teach abstinence only in the schools, that we shouldn't even mention that her daughter is a unmarried mother, that she really doesn't accept pork money from the feds, that everyone is so unfair to her to ask her questions about these things, and that the media is totally biased against her.

But no, really, she's just a minor issue....
9.10.2008 3:15am
Ilya Somin:
All of the above are contradicted by science, empirical evidence, or both.




O, please. Merely because a claim is not explicable by empirical or scientific evidence does not mean it is contradicted thereby, and most of your examples fall into this category.


The beliefs I mentioned are not merely inexplicable by science. They are also contradicted by it. Either because there is empirical evidence against it (e.g. - the flood, the existence of the devil, the parting of the Red Sea) or because scientific reasoning shows that such a thing cannot occur (e.g. - the resurrection of the dead).
9.10.2008 3:15am
Vernunft (mail) (www):
How could science disprove metaphysics?

I thought keeping these two fields separate has worked pretty well for the last few centuries; can we please keep doing it?
9.10.2008 3:16am
Roy Haddad (mail):
What matters is effective irrationality. Holding silly beliefs when they have no (non-psychological) effect is different from holding beliefs which do, and everyone knows it, though many would protest otherwise.
9.10.2008 3:21am
ofidiofile:
@David W.


Of course she has done absolutely nothing to promote the teaching of creationism in any position she has held. This is a non-issue and furthermore difficult to distinguish from out and out religious bigotry. Would this be fair game for a Muslim candidate?


any religious belief is a system of ideas; are we now taking the position that to declare some ideas more or less important, better or worse in practical value or functional fit -- "bigotry"? hmm. they're imposing legal penalties on folks for disparaging religion now in canada and many european nations. that seem like a good idea to you too?

further: "in any position she has held"? you mean as a small-town mayor, and then as a governor who hasn't finished half of her term yet? all two positions? not making an "experience" attack here, just making the point that she really hasn't been in much of a position to affect policy change as regards science education, at least, not for very long... that will change, if the election goes for the GOP. i'm not sure i'm willing to take that chance, myself. i like my biology just fine unleavened by absurd religious propositions, thank you very much.

plus, to answer your question: YES, most definitely.
9.10.2008 3:22am
John Moore (mail) (www):
I get really tired of people using "science" to ridicule religious beliefs - apparently ignorant of the fact that many great scientists held or hold those beliefs.

Science has a domain in which it has strong claims to exposing reality. But there are many things outside those domains.

Please save the religious bashing for those who purport to use science to validate religious beliefs. As has been thoroughly pointed out, science has not falsified any of the beliefs you mention (including Creationism).

It has, however, tightly constrained those beliefs in some cases (to believe in Creationism, you need to either deny a whole bunch of solid science, from molecular biology to paleontology, or go with the "salted fossils" hypothesis - which is simply not disprovable).

As for the general issue of "does belief in Creationism make someone unfit to be dogcatcher, or whatever"...

Many of us wish that our politicians had stronger grounding in science and statistics (for that matter, how about the MSM idiots who report on stuff). However, a belief in Creationism, unless accompanied by a political agenda to pus that belief through government action, should in no way be disqualifying.

For that matter, why do people pick on Creationism as the greatest of unallowable beliefs? There are plenty of dumb ideas out there that politicians and others subscribe to. How about the belief that negotiation can solve all disputes? How about the belief that the free market solves all problems?
9.10.2008 3:22am
Nathan_M (mail):

1. Belief in the virgin birth of Christ.

I don't believe this happened, but I can't see how it could be falsified.


2. Belief in the resurrection of the dead.

How do you propose proving this didn't happen, once, two thousand years ago?


3. The belief that the Red Sea parted, enabling the Israelites to escape from Egypt.

I agree it's *ahem* curious that there is no independent record of this, but it was 3500 years ago after all. I agree it seems highly unlikely, but I don't see how you could conclusively prove it didn't happen.


4. The Bible's claim that God wiped out nearly all life on Earth in a great flood (with only the denizens of Noah's Ark surviving).

Science has obviously disproven this. Do mainstream Christians still believe this story is literally true? If Obama believes this happened I agree it is as troubling to me as Palin's alleged creationism.


5. Belief in the existence of the Devil (a view held by 71% of Americans).

I agree there isn't any evidence suggesting the devil exists, at least if one starts from a sceptical point of view. But even so, I don't see how you can prove it doesn't. I don't see how one could scientifically prove there wasn't, say, some supernatural force guiding Hitler and Stalin.
9.10.2008 3:24am
PersonFromPorlock:
John Moore:

Science has a domain in which it has strong claims to exposing reality. But there are many things outside those domains.

Probably not. Physics claims to say nothing about poetry, for instance, but ask a physicist what part of the poet's body functions outside of natural law and you'll get a very odd look.
9.10.2008 3:29am
Should be bar studying:
John Moore:
Sam Harris has sufficiently eviscerated the 'separate domains' argument, so anything I come up with is going to pale to what he has to say on the matter. You can check one of his arguments out here.
9.10.2008 3:36am
Lior:
@John Moore:
As has been thoroughly pointed out, science has not falsified any of the beliefs you mention (including Creationism). ... to believe in Creationism, you need to either deny a whole bunch of solid science, from molecular biology to paleontology, or go with the "salted fossils" hypothesis - which is simply not disprovable.


In fact, Science has thoroughly debunked creationism (to the extent creationism purports to predict reality, as opposed to set out the results of God's direct intervention in the affairs of the Earth).

This does not say you can't believe in creationism (in the irrational "I believe because I do" sense). Note that there is no moral weight associated with the word "irrational" here. Belief in God in inherently irrational, yet it is very natural to the vast majority of people.

However, do not confuse this notion of "belief" with the way scientists use the word. When scientists "believe" something, it usually means that they actually know it to be true, up to an explicit and quantifiable doubt. Whena scientists says "I conjecture X is true", for example, they are to some extent expressing a leap-of-faith kind of belief -- but even then they can list the evidence for their conjecture and understand the provisos under which the conjecture should be used.

To make the story short: qualitatively, scientists believe in evolution the way they believe in gravity. It is only when you quantify their degree of belief that gravity seems more certain.

Thus, a belief in creationism is a serious deficiency in a candidate. It is a refusal to accept the physical world around them.

Politicians engage in such solipsism all the time, exploiting the ignorance of voters, but usually regarding social "science" matters, where our understanding is much weaker in any case. You can't tell for sure whether cutting taxes will have positive or negative economic results, or positive or negative social benefits, not to speak of the ethical issues associated with taxation. It is hard to fault a politician who says "I believe this tax is unfair and should be repealed regardless of the economic ramifications". Politicians who believe the Earth is flat, on the other hand, might actually try to change their policies accordingly.
9.10.2008 3:39am
SecurityGeek:
Ilya, I don't intend to be insulting, but I do think it's wish fulfillment to take the information currently available about Gov. Palin and cast her as a libertarian hero in disguise. It seems like the best we can infer about her is that she is a dedicated parent and talented politician who:
-Stood up to *some* corrupt members of her party in Alaska. Of course, some is better than none, which is normal for politicians.
-Greatly increased the spending of the city of Wasilla and left the town with a much larger debt than she inherited.
-Raised taxes on oil companies in Alaska
-Successfully lobbied the Federal Government for taxpayer dollars for Wasilla and then Alaska
-Campaigned to keep controversial Federal earmarks for Alaska, only relenting when politically necessary and then spending the money elsehwere

Oh, she shoots guns, so definitely a libertarian. *shrug*

David Warner, here is your link and a direct quote:

"Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

"Teach both" is not science. Although later in the article she says she doesn't want to enforce creationism standards, but I'm not sure what her pro-creationism stand means then. I guess it's good she's doing so many interviews so that these issues can be explored further.
9.10.2008 3:43am
Dave N (mail):
Brief comments. First, Palin has been Governor for 20 months. As I have pointed out on other threads, Alaska has one of the two most powerful Governors in the country based on how the office is structured (New Jersey is the other).

She appoints the State Board of Education. If she was going to try to push creationism in the Alaska schools, I am sure she would have tried it by now. She hasn't.

Second, belief in the creationism in general is different from the young earth creationism (the belief that the earth is only 6000 years old). The Young Earth Creationists are a rather small subset of the creationists. There is no evidence that Sarah Palin is a Young Earth Creationist. This has been pointed out on other threads by other posters (No, I do not believe in creationism, but it is actually irrelevant whether I do or not).

Third, I suspect even many evangelicals would agree that the story of Noah's Ark is at best allegorical--though they would point to other civilizations that appear to have Great Floods as part of their myth. I personally look at the story as an allegory and nothing more.
9.10.2008 3:47am
Ohio Scrivener (mail):
"All of the above are contradicted by science, empirical evidence, or both."

While it might be fair to say that your five examples do not find support in science or empirical evidence, your statement goes too far. You do not simply say that these propositions cannot be proven. Instead, you say that "all of the above are contradicted."

I disagree. Nevertheless, if the five examples are contradicted, I would very much like to see a proof for the devil's non-existence (example 5). This argument would neatly mirror one of the great debates of the Middle Ages where philosophers like Thomas Aquinas constructed "proofs" for the existence of God.
9.10.2008 4:11am
Ilya Somin:
Then why spend so much time and space defending her? blog after blog, we find from you that she really isn't a hypocrite, that she always seems to tell the truth, that she really is experienced, that she never really wanted to ban any books, that she really is a good mom to her kids, that they doesn't really want to teach abstinence only in the schools, that we shouldn't even mention that her daughter is a unmarried mother, that she really doesn't accept pork money from the feds, that everyone is so unfair to her to ask her questions about these things, and that the media is totally biased against her.

Most of the Palin-related issues you list above are ones that I have never addressed in any post. If other members of the VC wrote about them, that doesn't mean that I think they are particularly important.

I have written a total of three posts about Palin other than the present one (two of them very short). The present post is only tangentially about her and is more about the general issue of how we should judge creationist politicians. There are many, many other issues to which i have devoted a lot more time and space.
9.10.2008 4:20am
Ilya Somin:
if the five examples are contradicted, I would very much like to see a proof for the devil's non-existence (example 5).

Sure, I'm happy to oblige. If there were a powerful, evil supernatural being influencing events in our world, we should observe evidence of his activities - i.e. - great evils that can't be explained by natural, scientific causes or by human action. In reality, there is no such evidence. Therefore, we can conclude that the Devil (at least as he is described by the major monotheistic religions) doesn't exist.
9.10.2008 4:25am
TokyoTom (mail):
Ilya, to me it's clear that the war over creation v. evolution is chiefly a proxy war over government, stemming from state and federal "public" education mandates. It seems to me that the GOP likes to pander to Red State voters on this, even as Republicans have consistently exacerbated the real concerns of small-town America by further federalizing education, increasing the power of federal government generally and doing little to put political power back in the hands of local citizens.

There is considerable overlap between creationists and climate changes skeptics; though this may in part reflect religious views, I think it reflects even more a similar broad distrust of a pushy but unresponsive government/bureaucracy. (Both of course also reflect the difficulty that we all have in changing our minds, and in seeing with out own eyes that life evolves or that man can change the climate.)
9.10.2008 4:34am
Ilya Somin:
I get really tired of people using "science" to ridicule religious beliefs - apparently ignorant of the fact that many great scientists held or hold those beliefs.

The fact that some scientists - even "great" ones - hold a belief doesn't mean that that belief is itself scientific or validated by evidence.
9.10.2008 4:39am
musefree (www):
Its always frustrating for scientists and mathematicians to read these kind of threads.

Science does not prove things the way math does or the way Thomas Aquinas tried and failed to do. So when scientists say that something is proved to be true it simply means that it supported by overwhelming evidence, i.e. validated by the scientific method.

Of course, there is no purely logical route to disproving (now using the word in the math sense) the hypothesis that the Red Sea parted by itself only once and never since, or that the earth is 6000 years old and God planted all these fossils to fool us, or that the sun is a giant cotton ball and all our observations and tests and evidences about its real nature have been systematically planted by an alien intelligence . Nonetheless, these hypothesis, as well as the ones Ilya mentioned at the beginning, are incompatible with scientific observations. No, they cannot be disproved but then, nothing about the real world can. A formal proof can only exist in an axiomatic setting, where certain rules are set down and you are allowed to play by them. Proofs belong to the platonic world. In the real world, there is no proof in that sense.

So the sense scientists use the word proof is different. And, every form of creationism, indeed every form of theism that makes concrete statements about God, have indeed been disproved in that sense, or to use the term Ilya used, contradicted. The evidence is that Christ was not born of a virgin is as overwhelming as the one that the Red sea never parted at the command of Moses.

To those of you guys who claim that some of the things that Ilya stated are not falsifiable and hence cannot be disproved by science, please at least be consistent and admit that by your meaning of the word, nothing is falsifiable. You would be logically correct if you say that but the statement would also be vacuous and of no value to science or people.
9.10.2008 5:02am
Syd Henderson (mail):
(1) Is Sarah Palin a creationist? I don't know. She's more tolerant of creationism being discussed in the classroom, than most people, but it sounds like she's framing it as a freedom of speech issue.

(2) Does she mandate the teaching of creationiam? No.

(3) Does she try to legislate her religious beliefs? No. In fact, she seems scrupulous not to do so. She realizes she's in a secular office and treats it that way.

To me, the real test is not the candidate's religious beliefs but how he or she handles them as a public official. Bush has failed that test, as has Mike Huckabee, but Palin has not (neither have McCain, Obama or Biden). Unless she changes drastically, her religion is a non-issue for me.
9.10.2008 5:10am
smitty1e:
How do you even begin to put forward criteria negating personal beliefs without implicitly setting up a religion through a negative approach?
Smacks of a 1st Amendment violation to me.
Candidates should be able to hold that Bugs Bunny is God, and the Earth is shaped like a carrot.
The voters get the uber-veto on a candidate's faith.
I could have considered voting for Lieberman or Romney or Guliani, for all their affirmations are not to my taste.
9.10.2008 5:36am
bobxxxx (mail) (www):
Consider the following widespread religious beliefs

I consider all those beliefs and creationism to be insane. The people who believe these things are nuts and are not qualified to be in government.

Does this mean most Americans are out of their minds? Most definitely yes. America is not a country. It's an insane asylum.
9.10.2008 5:44am
dearieme:
There are probably people commenting here who voted for the born-again drunk. There may be people happy to vote for Biden, who adds to his belief in the Christian 3-for-1 a belief in an old codger in Rome being infallible, in the ability of his parish priest to forgive him his sins, and in the worship of a neolithic fertility goddess. Some of you may have supported Romney, who also believes in a sort of Christianity-plus, though on a different formula.
9.10.2008 7:03am
Pauld (mail):
Sarah Palin believes that we were created by God, which is what the vast majority of Americans believed. Any candidate who does not believe this probably could not be elected to a national office.
9.10.2008 7:47am
paul lukasiak (mail):
re: the quote cited by Security Geek....

what I've yet to see is a link to the question that was asked -- and there is no way to even begin to discuss Palin's views on this subject unless we know what 'teach both' refers to.
9.10.2008 7:57am
Big E:
People shouldn't be disqualified for having crazy beliefs, they should be disqualified if they base policy on those crazy beliefs.

I have faith in the eternal cycle of life/death/rebirth but I wouldn't try to make policy based on it.
9.10.2008 8:32am
Loophole1998 (mail):
At this point it is getting futile to discuss what Palin may or may not do as VP/President, since (unlike most candidates for high office) she hasn't made herself generally available to the press to ask the sort of questions raised on this blog and elsewhere. That, in and of itself, is my biggest concern about her right now.

I don't agree with her religious beliefs, but I do not think they should be a public disqualifier for office unless her actions were to violate the first amendment (like teaching creationism in public school would).

Unfortunately, purporting to hold religious beliefs is mandatory to getting elected in the USA. Since all candidates claim to have them, the test should be their degree of tolerance for other beliefs and the manifestation of their individual beliefs in their public decisions.

Palin scares me a little more than the other because I think she really believes the stuff. (Maybe that's why the evangelical right likes her so much?)
9.10.2008 8:36am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Sure, the libs will claim believing in creationism is disqualifying.
Because it's associated with other policy views which are infinitely harder to combat.
So pick up on creationism and claim THAT is the thing that bothers you.
Right.
9.10.2008 8:59am
rbj:
Ghosts in the White House

Haven't there been presidents who've said they've seen ghosts of former presidents, esp. Lincoln? And didn't even Hillary say she's talked with Eleanor Roosevelt's ghost (I don't know if she meant it rhetorically, metaphorically or literally)?
9.10.2008 9:17am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"The belief that the Red Sea parted, enabling the Israelites to escape from Egypt."

Purely geophysical explanations have been advanced to explain the parting of the Red Sea.

Another theory says the "Red Sea" is really "The Reed Sea." That "Yam Suph" should be "Yam Suphim" (The Sea of Reeds) a shallow marsh north of the Red Sea.

The History Channel also presented Exodus Decoded, which also uses the Reed Sea theory along with eruption of Thera to explain the parting of the Red Sea. But as the Wikipedia article shows, this theory has a lot of problems.
9.10.2008 9:40am
Sarcastro (www):
Richard Aubrey makes a good point. Liberals (or "Libs" for short) are tricking us when they say they don't like creationism. Really, they don't like creationist policies like mixing teaching about God in with science class.

Libs secretly LOVE creationism, but dare not speak it's name. It consumes their days and haunts their nights. But they resist it's call because they prefer to give abortions all the time.
9.10.2008 9:42am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Whoops, I messed up the first link.

Purely geophysical explanations have been advanced to explain the parting of the Red Sea.
9.10.2008 9:45am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Professor Somin,

Being a creationist is much more concerning than belief in any of the other "silly" beliefs you list in your post.

As previous comments have noted, most of those events are non-falsifiable and thus one can believe in a miracle without evidence contradicting your belief in a one-off event.

Additionally, those beliefs do not translate into a rejection of the scientific method and critical thinking.

I'll buy that the flood story is falsifiable by geologic evidence (and genetic evidence that points to human and animal genetic diversity that could exist with such a recent genetic bottleneck) and is thus the only one of your examples that even comes close to creationism.

But there is an essential difference - most Christians don't spend a lot of mental energy thinking about the world-wide flood. Most Christians don't think too much about creationism either. For many mainstream Christians, the flood and creation stories can be explained as an attempt to communicate God's plan to pre-scientific people. It is only the fundamentalist literalists who actually believe that the world was created in six days and that all people accept Noah's immediate family died in a great flood.

Creationists - who are coterminous with floodies - actively and dishonestly reject all evidence that contradicts their deeply held beliefs. This is why we should be concerned - it isn't just about science funding - it is about mental habits.

Do we want a leader who never adjusts course when confronted with new evidence or facts on the ground? Or do we want someone who has the "strength of his convictions" and rejects all evidence that the world is different from his pre-existing misconception? I think that some of the Bush administration's problems can be attributed to Bush's refusal to listen to and acknowledge the strength of contrarian views.

I think one of the reasons some people can cling to the "icky gay choice" meme is that they are able to reject all the studies showing that, for males at least, being gay is not a choice because they know what is true - evidence, schmevidence.

Creationists aren't a real threat to science. The type of people with that anti-evidence worldview weren't going to go to MIT and do particle accelerator research anyway.

They are a threat to Christians when they make Christianity appear to be anti-intellectual. The Lord knows my faithwalk has been more difficult when I stop to think about the behaviour of my coreligionists.

Most importantly to all Americans - and even atheists like you, Professor Somin - creationists are dangerous when they hold leadership positions. Lack of mental flexibility and rational, evidence-based decision processes lead to poor decisions.

In short: Being a creationist ought to be a political disqualifier.
9.10.2008 9:46am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
Richard Aubrey -

You are right that some liberals will reject creationism because it tends to be connected to positions like pro-life.

I'm not one of them.

I object to blind adherence to dogma on either side of the spectrum. There are plenty of liberal beliefs that don't stand up well to critical thought.

The fact that some liberals believe creationism is disqualifying for bad reasons does not mean that creationism isn't disqualifying.

If I believe that the sun rises in the East because the magical sun fairies hoist in on their shoulders, the erroneous basis of my belief doesn't change the fact that the sun rises in the East.
9.10.2008 9:51am
A. Zarkov (mail):
If Sarah Palin is a Creationist and that belief impedes her ability to reason about scientific matters, then that argues against her as a potential president. On the other hand, I know scientists who are also fundamentalists and somehow they can compartmentalize their thinking, so as to play both roles effectively. One was an Orthodox Jew who also a theoretical physicist. He did seem to take the Torah as the literal truth, but that didn't stop him from being an excellent scientist. No argument I could muster could ever pry him away from his rigid religious beliefs.
9.10.2008 9:54am
David Hecht (mail):
It seems to me that if we're gong to judge political candidates by their "irrational" beliefs, we owe it not to limit ourselves to purely religious issues.

How many candidates believe that tax policy has no impact on economic activity? Apparently, most Democrats and many Republicans.

How many candidates believe that increasing the min wage has no effects on unemployment? Ditto.

How many candidates believe that protectionism is the road to prosperity? Ditto.

And that's just the three things I can think of off the top of my head.

My response to those who raise the spectre or creationism regarding a candidate's fitness for office is, why not get rid of biology, a subject matter that has little or no long-term impact on most people's understanding of the world, and--more importantly--few or no policy implications, and replace it with economics, a subject that we are all affected by on a daily basis?

Which is the sounder candidate: one who believes in creationism and Hayekian economics, or one who rejects both? I certainly know whom I'd pick, and I'd like to think that a rational, Volokhian voter would agree with me.
9.10.2008 9:59am
AnonymousWussy:
Belief in Creationism should be held against candidates for public office because it indicates an inability to understand a complex relationship between statistics and random events. Basically, Creationists are not very smart. (And having PhD does not necessarily mean you're smart)
9.10.2008 10:05am
Franklin Drackman:
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

So whos the Creator that Jefferson guy was talking about?
9.10.2008 10:05am
Arkady:
Ilya says:


Assuming that she does believe in creationism (in the strong sense of rejecting the theory of evolution), should that be an important consideration against her candidacy? I believe not. I think that creationism is contradicted by overwhelming scientific evidence.


However, I don't think creationism is contradicted by scientific evidence. Creationism is an alternate theory of explanation of natural phenomena. Thus any recourse to "scientific facts" begs the question. What creationism attempts to do is to reintroduce the idea of final causes as an explanatory principle in biology. Since Descartes, the empirical model of explanation has rested on a rejection of final causes in favor of efficient causes:


When dealing with natural things we will, then, never derive any explanations from the purposes which God or nature may have had in view when creating them. For we should not be so arrogant as to suppose that we can share in God's plans. [Principles of Philosophy, sec. 28]


With the reintroduction of final causes, creationists seek to raise the question of what counts as a fact. Competing theories of explanation will count different things as facts. The fundamental argument is, in the end, philosophical and has to do with how we adjudicate between these competing theories of explanation, competing theories of what counts as a fact.
9.10.2008 10:24am
Alexia:
I'd prefer to hold a belief in socialism and globalization against candidates for political office.
9.10.2008 10:44am
SeaDrive:

However, I don't think creationism is contradicted by scientific evidence. Creationism is an alternate theory of explanation of natural phenomena. Thus any recourse to "scientific facts" begs the question.


What creationism does is to replace the conclusions of people who have studied a subject with the untutored opinion of people who have not studied the subject.
9.10.2008 10:56am
jbart:
It's amazing to see how politics can make otherwise intelligent people sound silly. Look at how much everyone here reads what they want to into Palin's comments on creationism, which are quite sparse. Critics of Palin, er, crucify her, while admirers of Palin expiate her supposed sin.

I guess I don't really care what a candidate believes as much as I care about what he or she does in office. If a candidate were to actively tout creationism, it would turn me off. If they stuff such beliefs as these into a political closet, I am fine with a candidate.

I am sure Palin will be asked about this issue in the near future. And that's fine, though it should be asked of all the candidates. We'll know soon enough what she thinks in 2008 instead of what she thought in 2006.
9.10.2008 11:35am
Ken Arromdee:
Ilya, you're missing the distinction between something which is scientifically impossible but is conveniently out of the way where you can't see its effects, and something which is not only scientifically impossible but contradicted by evidence.

Religions do the former all the time. The latter is a lot worse. Of the five examples you give, the only one which is typically treated by religious people in that way is the global flood. (And yes, I'd consider belief in a literal global flood to be as much of a mark against a candidate as creationism.)

Of course, it is always possible to argue that the Devil causes various evils and then somehow "disguises" them to make them seem natural. This kind of argument, however, can be used to "prove" that virtually anyone or anything caused the evils in question.

If you state it that way, it can't be proven, but it can't be disproven either; it's unfalsifiable. Religions say unfalsifiable things all the time; that's what they do. The problem with creationism is not that it's unfalsifiable, but that it's falsified. There is evidence against it, and creationists respond by denying the evidence exists, saying that scientists' theories don't fit the evidence, etc.

When researchers into evil say that they've found no sign of the Devil, believers in the devil don't respond by claiming that the researchers are making scientific mistakes, ignoring evidence, or fudging their data. Instead they claim that the Devil is impossible to detect that way--making it unscientific, but not anti-scientific. Creationists don't say that creation happened in a way which leaves no evidence and looks just like evolution; if they did, they wouldn't be the problem they are. (And in fact, some people do think creation happened that way; but they're not what we usually refer to as creationists.)
9.10.2008 11:36am
Ken Arromdee:
However, I don't think creationism is contradicted by scientific evidence. Creationism is an alternate theory of explanation of natural phenomena. Thus any recourse to "scientific facts" begs the question. What creationism attempts to do is to reintroduce the idea of final causes as an explanatory principle in biology.

That may be belief in creation, but it's not "creationism". Creationists don't just think that God is a final cause. They think that the Earth is thousands of years old, that dinosaurs died in the Flood, that there are no transitional forms and that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. "Creationist" doesn't mean "anyone who thinks God created", just as "progressive" doesn't mean "anyone who believes in progress".
9.10.2008 11:47am
whit:

Sure, I'm happy to oblige. If there were a powerful, evil supernatural being influencing events in our world, we should observe evidence of his activities - i.e. - great evils that can't be explained by natural, scientific causes or by human action. In reality, there is no such evidence. Therefore, we can conclude that the Devil (at least as he is described by the major monotheistic religions) doesn't exist.


no offense, but this sounds exactly like a college freshman just took philo 101 and had a bong hit version of "logic".

i'll be gracious and call it "non-compelling"
9.10.2008 11:47am
jackIYM (mail):
Well, not to put a damper on things, but consider that we already have the capability to do things that would appear as virgin birth and resurrection to the people of biblical times--

We can implant a fetus in a virgin and have her carry it to term. Or, we can fertilise a virgin with allowing her to retain her hymen and allow her to carry the pregnancy to term. Both are 'virgin' births. Remember that the Holy Ghost placed Jesus in Mary.

And we can bring back a lot of people that people in biblical times would have considered 'dead'.

Remember that we're dealing with a far less scientifically-based world.

So those two are explained away.

Parting of the Red Sea? Not yet explainable--but the flood story is most likely the tale of a large flood that has been exaggerated and historicised.

And that's explained away.

The Devil? Well, the Devil operates by temptation of man, not by doing big unnatural evil things. Surely we can think of odd ideas that seem to come out of nowhere that have led to great evils?

While that's not 'proof', it certainly leaves the question as open as the question of the existence of a god.

But, as Bill Quick said, of course we should take a candidates belief in creationism into account--and their belief in evolution, and their shoe size, hair color, and favorite Happy Meal toy, if we want. It's a personal choice. Take whatever into account that you like.
9.10.2008 11:50am
Loophole1998 (mail):
David Hecht,

I hope you were joking about getting rid of biology as a relatively unimportant subject. Science, and biology in particular, offers a great opportunity to relieve human suffering in the coming century. Understanding the human genome will open a new world of medical opportunities.

But scientific biological knowledge is also a threat to fundamentalist religious beliefs because it tends to disprove things like the flood and the literal creation story.

My trepidation with ardent believers in creationism is that they are quite likely to be anti-science. Anti-science is a harmful stance.
9.10.2008 11:53am
Cornellian (mail):

What creationism does is to replace the conclusions of people who have studied a subject with the untutored opinion of people who have not studied the subject.


And if you question the wisdom of doing this you must be one of those "elites" so regularly mocked in the Bolshevik Republican party these days.
9.10.2008 12:02pm
Adam J:
Ilya- your (rather questionable) argument against the existence of the devil also applies to God too, are you saying science has also effectively disproven the existence of God?
9.10.2008 12:12pm
Hoosier:
JackIYM: Remember that we're dealing with a far less scientifically-based world.

So those two are explained away.

\
Are you suggesting that the residents of First Century Judea practiced in vitro fertilization?

[Or that coconuts are migratory?]
9.10.2008 12:29pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Does anybody know how many presidents have been creationists? Or how many Americans are creationists? Let's say X% of Americans are creationists. Does that mean they are all disqualified from holding public office?
9.10.2008 12:40pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Can you name a single Republican or Democratic candidate for President or Vice President in the last ten elections who made any public comments that suggest that he or she does not believe that all life on this planet was created by God?
9.10.2008 12:46pm
JRL:
I had not heard the term "creationist" until Palin was picked to be VP.

Is "creationist" simply a euphemism for "not an atheist"?
9.10.2008 12:53pm
Dave N (mail):
Ken Arromdee,

You are incorrect in arguing that "creationism" means Young Earth Creationism. As Wikipedia notes:
Creationism is the religious belief that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe were created in their original form by a deity (often the Abrahamic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) or deities, whose existence is presupposed.[1] In relation to the creation-evolution controversy the term creationism (or strict creationism) is commonly used to refer to religiously-motivated rejection of evolution.[2]

Such beliefs include young Earth creationism, proponents of which believe that the days in Genesis Chapter 1 are 24 hours in length, while Old Earth creationism accepts geological findings and other methods of dating the earth and believes that these findings do not contradict the Genesis account, but reject evolution. The term theistic evolution has been coined to refer to beliefs in creation which are more compatible with the scientific view of evolution and the age of the Earth. Alternately, there are other religious people who support creation, but in terms of allegorical interpretations of Genesis.
9.10.2008 12:56pm
byomtov (mail):
It seems to me that Ilya should let this one go. It's been pretty well refuted in the comments. Another way to think of the difference is this:

No one argues that the Virgin Birth means the scientific understanding of conception and childbirth is wrong.

Creationists do argue that their ideas mean the scientific understanding of biology and geology, at least, is wrong.

That's a huge distinction, and, among other things, it tells us some rather scary things about how creationists think and evaluate evidence.
9.10.2008 1:01pm
I'mWithSam:
It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.

People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the margins of our societies not in our halls of power

--Sam Harris, The End of Faith
9.10.2008 1:02pm
Adam J:
Elliot123 - Who's talking about disqualification from office? Nobody said she's not entitled to run for her beliefs.
9.10.2008 1:06pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Actually the burden of proof is on Palin because of her nutter views. Will she be a another Dubya, using the office to go after scientists?
9.10.2008 1:13pm
Bryan C (mail):
Proponents of such things tend to single out those based on the Judeo-Christian belief system. But the fact is that smart people hold all sorts of odd beliefs. Some of them have invoke God (or Gods), some don't.

- Extraterrestrial life
- Ghosts
- Mythical animals, past or present
- Bad luck/Good luck
- Non-theistic notions of "karma"
- The existence and/or value of racial purity
- Psychic, precognitive, and paranormal abilities

Insofar as ones actions are concerned, strong secular beliefs systems are functionally religious. Lacking evidence which does not yet exist those beliefs can't be proved or disproved in any definitive way. We can run statistics and point to the lack of any supporting evidence but believers will remain unconvinced.
9.10.2008 1:57pm
Floridan:
"People shouldn't be disqualified for having crazy beliefs, they should be disqualified if they base policy on those crazy beliefs."

I would certainly hope that each of us would disqualify a candidate for the presidency if he or she had "crazy" ideas.

Then again, some among us are crazy, so it may prove difficult to reach a consensus on this issue.
9.10.2008 2:05pm
Hoosier:
I'mWithSam:
It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.

People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the margins of our societies not in our halls of power

—Sam Harris, The End of Faith


This really can't fly after the postmodern assault on the belief in any relationship between essence and signification. Not that one needs to accept the radical epistemological skepticism of PoMo: Lord knows the PoMos themselves do not really believe that there are no knowable facts causing of our sense perceptions.

But you can't prove empiricism empirically. So 'what'll it be, Alex?'

Unless an empiricist critic of religion can provide a good answer to this problem, he has no more solid claim to knowledge than anyone else.
9.10.2008 2:06pm
Ilya Somin:
It seems to me that Ilya should let this one go. It's been pretty well refuted in the comments. Another way to think of the difference is this:

No one argues that the Virgin Birth means the scientific understanding of conception and childbirth is wrong.


Actually, belief in the virgin birth does imply that the scientific understanding of conception and childbirth is wrong in at least some cases. It suggests that sometimes one can give birth in ways science holds are impossible.

Creationists do argue that their ideas mean the scientific understanding of biology and geology, at least, is wrong.

Belief in the virgin birth, the resurrection of the dead, the great flood, etc., also implies that various scientific understandings are wrong.

That's a huge distinction, and, among other things, it tells us some rather scary things about how creationists think and evaluate evidence.

Maybe. But the evidence for the virgin birth, the flood, and so on, is just as weak as the evidence for creationism.
9.10.2008 2:13pm
Ilya Somin:
your (rather questionable) argument against the existence of the devil also applies to God too, are you saying science has also effectively disproven the existence of God?

As I noted in an earlier comment, I think that the existence of massive evil in the world does indeed disprove the existence of an omnipotent and completely benevolent God. However, the issue is more difficult than that of the Devil because there are various philosophically sophisticated arguments defending the existence of God (e.g. - the first mover argument) that aren't relevant to the case of the Devil.
9.10.2008 2:18pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
smallholder.
I guess I should be more explicit. People who believe in creationism frequently believe in gun rights, are pro-life, dislike multiculturalism, are pro-school-choice or pro-voucher or home school.
There are others, as well. None of which are easily disputed. They may be disputed, but the other side has powerful arguments.
So glomming on to "creationism" is the way to discredit the candidate when, in reality, it's meaningless, compared to the arguments which could, for a lib, be losers.
So pretend creationism is, 1, important, and, 2, one-issue decisive.
9.10.2008 2:20pm
genob:
How exactly are people on this thread defining "creationism?" There is nothing anti-science or even anti evolution about believing that God created the heavens, earth, life and processes that we can observe. Believing that God created these things does not imply that one believes that the "days" described in the bible are 24 hour days that are correspond to a rotation of the earth. or that the earth is literally 6000 years old and sprung into existence largely as it looks today in an instant that short time ago.
People project a particular meaning to a word that I don't think fits what most people who believe that God is responsible for our creation would agree with.

My guess is that Barack Obama is a creationist too.
9.10.2008 2:25pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Ilya, your argument about evidence against the existence of the devil misstates what is generally referred to as "evil". In general language and thought, only human actions can be evil, not natural disasters. This is a definitional matter, because a moral choice is part of the definition.

A hurricane, earthquake, Black Death, etc. is not evil. The Holocaust, Killing Fields, Jonestown, Helter Skelter, etc. - those are evil.
Of course all evil can be explained by human action at this point, because what we call evil is a subset of human actions.

You're either engaged in a sophistical trick or a fundamental failure to understand the question.

Nick
9.10.2008 2:29pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Ilya,

Look, it's already been said by several people here, but I have to pile on. "Science" can't prove any event "impossible"; the most it can do is prove that the event couldn't happen unless the ordinary regularities of the physical world, the things we call "laws of nature," were suspended. (Strictly speaking, it generally can't do even that; practically anything is naturally possible, just vanishingly improbable. But let's ignore that.)

The point is that a miracle, pretty much by definition, is a suspension of the laws of nature; and science is in no position even to opine about whether the "laws of nature" are the real ground of reality or not. All science can say about the Virgin Birth or the "resurrection of the dead" (I presume you mean the resurrection of Christ, or possibly of Lazarus, but for most Christians the phrase refers to something that, um, hasn't happened yet) is that these things would be miracles — that is, outside the domain of science — if they did happen. Since everyone seems agreed on that point, I don't see that science gets us anywhere here.

I'd say more, but byomtov (12:01) gets it exactly right.
9.10.2008 2:29pm
Sigivald (mail):
Technically, science has not shown that virgin birth or resurrection are impossible; just that they're exceedingly difficult to manage.

(This is not, differing from previous arguments, a dependence on the inability to disprove anything or prove it "impossible" - I'm talking about ways that our understanding of science would allow one to hypothesise the actual possibilities for occurrence of both phenomena. Or perhaps more fittingly, a non-strictly-miraculous mechanism through which both phenomena could occur.

Believers, quite rightly, will reject these hypotheses as irrelevant at best. I offer them only as an intellectual exercise and as another demonstration of how science per se is irrelevant to the question.)

(Cf. Clarke's law, and we can substitute "miracles" for "magic" if we want.

Certainly one can imagine technology sufficiently advanced to cause an egg to be fertilized without a sperm being involved - nanotechnology could allow one to build the appropriate binding proteins and the DNA required in situ on demand, in theory. God works in mysterious ways, and that's plenty mysterious, right?

Likewise resurrection; if we grant the fever-dreams of the more outre quantum mechanics interpretations, there's no reason the information needed for resurrection [ie, brain state sufficient to recreate the mind and memories from raw materials, at least in theory] are not notionally available, given enough time and energy; whether we need time travel or parallel universes to manage it.

Similarly to the virgin birth scenario, given the information it's notionally possible to make bodies to match the original DNA, and then program the brains to match.

So, while ludicrously impossible with current technology, and likewise effectively impossible with any technology we're likely to ever get, we can't say that science has demonstrated that it cannot be done, just that it would be Very Hard Indeed.

But an entity of Godlike technological advancement would do Very Hard Things before breakfast without breaking a sweat, wouldn't it?)
9.10.2008 2:46pm
gasman (mail):
Well you've convinced me Ilya. Anyone who believes in any of the unsubstantiated claims you cited are not fit for office.
However, since someone is going to take office, and a majority of citizens hold irrational beliefs, then I cannot hope to find a truly rational candidate who might be electable. There fore I can only choose the one whose beliefs are on the whole most benign to the wellbeing of reasoned folks like ourselves.
9.10.2008 2:48pm
PLR:
Should We Hold Belief in Creationism Against Candidates for Political Office?


Hell yes. Having lived in a conservative county in a red state and having voted in every election for over 30 years, I can assure you that not a single person who espouses the creationist philosophy as a campaign position has been a good public servant at any level from a statewide office down to my local school board.

I'm not going to ignore that empirical data.
9.10.2008 2:51pm
wfjag:
A. Zarkov: Here's another link along the same lines. "Crossing the Sea of Reeds" www.mystae.com/restricted/streams/thera/reedsea.html


I'm not going to ignore that empirical data.


PLR: The plural of data is not "anecdotes". And, those espousing the "scientific" theory of Marxism didn't exactly work out as "good public servant[s]", either.
9.10.2008 3:03pm
DiverDan (mail):
Should We Hold Belief in Creationism Against Candidates for Political Office? Short answer -- YES, withy but one caveat. It may not be a disqualifying factor, but I view it as a definite negative on any politician's qualifications. There are only two reasons (that I can think of) why one might believe in creationism (at least the Biblical View - 7 days, Adam &Eve, 6000 years, Bishop Usher, et al): either (1) the person values decisions based purely on faith much higher than empiricism, which to me is a DEFINITE negative for anyone to be placed in a policy role, whether or not they are going to influence education or science policy; or (2) the person is so completely lacking in any scientific education that they are unaware of the vast pile of evidence, both fossil and molecular, which supports Darwinian evolution, and fails to understand that creationism (or intelligent design) simply fails the most basic test of what science is.

The only caveat I would have is if the person expressed a belief in "creationism" only in the most general sense - i.e., a belief in God, and that God created the Universe, and established the universal laws of physics and nature to enable the development of life, including intelligent life. Since no one knows just how the Big Bang started out of what was (presumably) either "nothingness" or "quantum foam", it is not necessarily irrational to believe in God as an originating force in that respect. However, anyone believing in "creationism" as a belief in the literal truth of the Genesis myth puts me off, and, while I might not view that as disqualifying, I would certainly hold it as a significant negative against him or her.
9.10.2008 3:04pm
PLR:
PLR: The plural of data is not "anecdotes". And, those espousing the "scientific" theory of Marxism didn't exactly work out as "good public servant[s]", either.

Thanks for clearing that up. I don't specifically recall any campaign literature touting a candidate's Marxist credentials, but I'll certainly keep an eye out.
9.10.2008 3:07pm
Hoosier:
I can assure you that not a single person who espouses the creationist philosophy as a campaign position has been a good public servant at any level from a statewide office down to my local school board.

I'm not going to ignore that empirical data.


Can you post your spreadsheets for us to give the once-over? And we'll also need a summary of your methodology.

Thanks!
9.10.2008 3:28pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
Apparently because of some undeniable scientific discoveries, many religious adherents seem to have reduced the role God to simply flipping on the switch to a self-sustaining system. This would seem to be curiously passive role to be played by an omnipresent and omniscient power. And I'm sure that it is not the role of God that Palin envisions when she implores congregants to pray that God's will be done in the completion of a natural gas pipeline.

The kind of creationism we are talking about here is the Palin version, i.e., the literal truth of the biblical recounting: six days and a rib. For me, that kind of belief is a little troubling, but I'm on the other side of the cultural divide.
9.10.2008 3:39pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
FYI, although there are no reported instances of virgin births in humans (other than the one you refer to), virgin births do occur in many other species, see "Parthenogenesis." In bees, for example, drones come from unfertilized eggs. Even "higher" species, such as fish and reptiles are known to have virgin births naturally and virgin births have been caused in other species including monkeys (although there does appear to be certain problems when it occurs in mammals). The virgin birth of Jesus is probably B.S., but I don't think it is impossible, or even disproven in the way Creationism has been.

With regard to resurrection, I don't know that this has truly been proven, and even if it has, it depends on how you define "death." You aren't going to resurrect Thomas Jefferson any time soon, but there are many scenarios where a person may appear dead, but actually are in a coma. For example, there is a saying among EMS that a person isn't dead until they are warm and dead, as you may very well appear to be dead if you are cold enough. Considering the state of medical technology in 32AD, would it be all that surprising to find that Jesus was just mostly dead when he was taken off the cross?
9.10.2008 3:42pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
To add to what I said above, there is also a big difference between believing in one-off miracles (virgin birth, resurrection, parting the Red Sea), believing in spiritual agency (the Devil) and believing in a what, according to all of the evidence is a false history (Creationism or the Flood). The former generally are not disproven, they just go against our normal understanding of things. The later require you to disregard mountains (literally) of evidence.

If someone believes in the former, I treat it as somewhat wishful thinking. A lot of people engage in that and its not really harmful. If someone believes in the later, it is either extreme cognitive dissonance or a willingness to claim you believe in something you know to be false in order to support your overall belief structure. The later is certainly harmful (see e.g. Bush and the Iraq War).
9.10.2008 3:52pm
Ken Arromdee:
You are incorrect in arguing that "creationism" means Young Earth Creationism.

Why, because you quoted Wikipedia?

In a political context, and in reference to whether creation should be taught in schools and used as a basis for public policy "creationism" refers to young earth creationism. Although there are other people who are called creationists, they're not the ones whose beliefs are involved in creationist-related politics.
9.10.2008 4:04pm
Ken Arromdee:
Belief in the virgin birth, the resurrection of the dead, the great flood, etc., also implies that various scientific understandings are wrong.

It's a different type of "wrong" (except for the flood). Ignoring any quibbling about virgin births being possible, scientists think they don't exist. And Christianity thinks there was one. So scientists are "wrong". But they're only wrong about this one particular example, and this one example is a miracle which has never been examined by science. Scientists are correct about all the births which they can see.

In order for creationism to be comparable, creationists would have to say something like "creation happened, but only in some way which is invisible to science. Any evidence that science can actually see looks just like evolution".

This is very much how religions treat the virgin birth, and the resurrection of the dead, and the Devil. It is very much not how creationists (at least the ones who mix creation and politics) treat creation.
9.10.2008 4:17pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
Ken Arromdee:

That is a much more articulate way of saying what I tried to say in my second comment.
9.10.2008 4:26pm
Should be bar studying:
Hoosier:
Sam Harris, a post-modernist? I don't think you know who Sam Harris is, or maybe you don't know what post-modernist means.
9.10.2008 4:26pm
CJColucci:
To me, what disqualifies a creationist is not that creationism is silly, it's the intellectual arrtogance of the person who thinks that he or she has some reason to have an opinion on a subject about which he or she knows nothing, and then asserts an opinion contrary to what virtually everyone who knows anything about the subject knows to be true. I wouldn't be upset about a politician who was ignorant of chemistry and didn't understand Avogadro's Law -- that would be most of them -- but I'd be very wary of a politician who was ignorant of chemistry and nevertheless held and proclaimed the opinion that Avogadro's Law was a crock of shit. That politician has no business having any opinion at all on the subject. To take a homelier example, I know very little about hockey. The only players I could pick out of a line-up are Wayne Gretsky, Mark Messier, and, for very different reasons, Ron Duguay. If I wandered into a bar and the two guys next to me were arguing over the comparative merits of Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic (I know enough to know that people who know hockey would regard them both as fine players, but that's the extent of what I know), it would take an overweening arrogance to join in and take sides. That's the "disqualifier" in a creationist politician, the arrogance, not the substance of the belief.
9.10.2008 4:32pm
Jay Myers:
Roy Haddad:

What matters is effective irrationality. Holding silly beliefs when they have no (non-psychological) effect is different from holding beliefs which do, and everyone knows it, though many would protest otherwise.

Ok, but in two hundred years nobody has been able to refute Hume's assertion that it is irrational to believe in causation. Since belief in causation is foundational to science, would you say that believing in the claims of science has no non-psychological effect?
9.10.2008 4:36pm
ROLYAT136 (mail):
http://www.slate.com/id/2199568/

The above links to an article by Christopher Hitchens. I feel that the last paragraph of the article is an accurate description of the status of religious beliefs at play in the current election cycle. (". . . Interviewed by Rick Warren at the grotesque Saddleback megachurch a short while ago, Sen. Barack Obama announced that Jesus had died on the cross to redeem him personally. How he knew this he did not say. But it will make it exceedingly difficult for him, or his outriders and apologists, to ridicule Palin for her own ludicrous biblical literalist beliefs. She has inarticulately said that her gubernatorial work would be hampered "if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with god." Her local shout-and-holler tabernacle apparently believes that Jews can be converted to Jesus and homosexuals can be "cured." I cannot wait to see Obama and Biden explain how this isn't the case or how it's much worse than, and quite different from, Obama's own raving and ranting pastor in Chicago or Biden's lifelong allegiance to the most anti-"choice" church on the planet. The difference, if there is one, is that Palin is probably sincere whereas the Democratic team is almost certainly hypocritical. . .")

via con Dios
9.10.2008 4:53pm
Oren:
Loophole, more than a few of the Founders espoused the 'clockmaker' analogy for the Almighty. It's not nearly as nutty as you seem to think.
9.10.2008 5:05pm
Suzy (mail):

As co-blogger Jim Lindgren demonstrates here, Palin did not in fact advocate laws requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools; still less did she oppose teaching the theory of evolution (which she in fact endorsed).


But as Kellen and others note above, she does suggest that we should "teach both". As a Christian, I absolutely do not want public schoolteachers "teaching both" to my child. Their mandate is to teach science, and not religion. I will be responsible for teaching religion to my own children. At some point I might send them to a religious school that I trust to teach theology; right now I handle it myself. "Teach both" is offensive to me, because the version of creationism that the Wasilla Assemblies of God advocates is probably not how I interpret Genesis. I should have a right to teach that information to my own child without having paid agents of the Government telling her something different. If what I say seems incompatible with what they learn in Biology--and I don't think it is!--that's my problem. But it's Biology class, not Religion class.
9.10.2008 5:15pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
Just because something was espoused by the Founders (probably due to their discomfort with the literal biblical story) does not mean that I'm wrong to imply that it's nutty.

Does it make sense to pray to a God that hasn't done anything but flip a switch millions of years ago?
9.10.2008 5:19pm
ginsocal (mail):
Three things:

1. While I like a lot of the stuff I read on this site, Ilya appears completely devoid of any significant knowledge of Christianity, a condition that seems to afflict many of the posters here (both "good" and "bad"). God said, from Day One, that we had freedom of will-we could follow God's law, or not. Of course, within minutes, we chose to not follow the law. All the bad that has happened since, is a result of man's on-going decision to not follow God's laws.
2. Even science has concluded that the universe was, indeed, "created." That is how the Big Bang is characterized. For a thing to be "created," there must be a "creator." To believe that something as incredible as the universe was purely an accident (of what?) leads me to question the intellectual capacity of the individual making such a patently foolish statement.
3. People who profess to be atheist, or agnostic are uniformly nastier than those with belief in God. Not sure why, but I have my suspicions...

OK, four things:

I find it ludicrous and supremely arrogant to think that we should be able to define, analyze or otherwise pin down God. Were we able to do so, how would God be any different than us? It is an attempt to limit God, which, of course, is a fool's errand.
9.10.2008 5:28pm
CJColucci:
Please don't feed the troll.
9.10.2008 5:31pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
CJColucci - Am I the "troll"? If so, why? I've been reading this site for a long time and I'm not trying to cause trouble just for the fun of it.

ginsocal -

As to your first point, what evidence exists?

As to your second point, science has not concluded that the world was "created," in the sense that it was designed or intentionally brought about. Science has merely concluded that our present universe began at some point in time. Science does not know what, if anything, preceded the current universe. Why do we assume that a creator is required simply because there was a beginning that we do not fully understand? Do our brains yearn to posit a creator in order to make sense of things? And who created the creator? Is it turtles all the way down?

Your third point is not supported.

Your fourth point suggests that we should not question God, but instead merely accept everything on faith. This might work for you, having the luck of being born into the "correct" faith (I presume), but would you say the same thing to a person born into a faith tradition different yours? Should they not question their faith (given the risk going to Hell according to the religion you advocate)? If they should question their faith, why should you not question yours?
9.10.2008 6:29pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
ginsocal -

One more thing:

I find it arrogant when people profess to state the truth on faith without any evidence and then, with the broadest possible brush, paint all who do not accept the same as being "nasty."

Nice.
9.10.2008 6:38pm
ginsocal (mail):
First, I referred to "the universe," not the "world." Prior to the Big Bang, there was nothing (Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?). Then, there was something. That implies creation-something out of nothing. Clear enough for you?

As for the nasty part, I was referring to the attitude exhibited by the posters here, and elsewhere I have been having the same discussion. If you'll pardon the expression, they have this "holier than thou" aspect.

As to my first point, Ilya claims that a "benificent" God would not allow all the bad things to happen. That indicates that he is unfamiliar with the "free will" concept that is a fundamental part of Judeo-Christian theology. This is NOT a giant puppet show.

I never said anything remotely like "we shouldn't question God." I said it was impossible to know him, at least in any fashion that you "know" your neighbors or friends. We are mystified as to how our own planet works, yet you demand we should know God? If there are those who aren't satisfied with their religion, by all means, they should cast about for something else. The words I believe to be true say there is only one way to avoid death. I don't know of other religions that provide the same assurance. BTW, one does not have to be "born into" the faith, which is probably the most beautiful aspect of it. All are welcome, regardless of their history. None of us is perfect. I just like the idea that I'm forgiven.
9.10.2008 7:53pm
Ohio Scrivener (mail):
In response to Ilya's comment:

"Sure, I'm happy to oblige. If there were a powerful, evil supernatural being influencing events in our world, we should observe evidence of his activities - i.e. - great evils that can't be explained by natural, scientific causes or by human action. In reality, there is no such evidence. Therefore, we can conclude that the Devil (at least as he is described by the major monotheistic religions) doesn't exist."

I was not asking for a tongue-in-cheek proof of the Devil's nonexistence. But since you have obliged, I doubt it will come as a surprise that your proof fails on multiple levels.

1. The absence of evidence is not proof of a thing's nonexistence. Your argument makes the same mistake found in the original post of assuming that because empirical evidence does not exist for something then the thing itself does not exist. (ie. the earth has always been round, it did not suddenly become round with the first appearance of empirical evidence for its shape).

2. Your argument also commits the fallacy of ruling out evidence associated with human conduct or natural events. What is the basis for your assumption that the Devil does not act through the hearts of men or in nature? Indeed, your assumption is at odds with the reported characteristics of the "Devil (at least as he is described by the major monotheistic religions)" (As an aside, how many criminals say the Devil made them do it -- and do you have proof to the contrary?)

3. Your proof also makes the mistake of treating your observations as being universal. In other words, simply because you have not observed evidence of the Devil, you cannot conclude that no one has observed such evidence. In effect, you have set aside the accounts of what others claim to have seen or observed as recorded in various sources including religious texts because you have not seen or observed the same thing. Given that the "Devil (at least as he is described by the major monotheistic religions)" prefers that you remain in a state of non-belief, wouldn't he be making a tactical mistake, if he exists, to offer you evidence to disabuse you of your incredulity? Therefore, how can your observations differ what a "supernatural being influencing events" intends them to be? (And indeed how can you disprove the existence of that "supernatural being" by resorting to your obervations of the natural world?)

At this point, you have demonstrated your belief on the matter, you have not proven that it is correct.
9.10.2008 8:58pm
Deo Vindice:
Congratulations. You atheist bigots have managed to proclaim most of the Founding Fathers and most of the previous American Presidents as being unworthy of the office.

You ivory tower elites really need to listen to yourselves sometime. Your arrogance apparently is endless.
9.10.2008 10:32pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
"Elite" has now replaced "Liberal" as the new naughty word among Republicans. Fits in nicely with their emerging anti-science stance. (It would not surprise me if Obama's Harvard education drew "boos" at the Republican convention.)
9.10.2008 10:54pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
ginsocal,

Science has not determined that there was nothing prior to the big bang. It's possible that a prior universe existed. Also, before there was the bang there was the energy/matter that banged. This does not prove creation, even under your broad definition of creation (i.e., the coming into existence of something out of nothing).

On another point: Maybe you did not say that we should not question God, but you did say that it was ludicrous to think that we should be able to analyze God. Sounds similar to me.

Through science we are less mystified about our universe now than we used to be. Sorry to be arrogant, but I am impressed by our human scientific advances.

As for other religions, Islam purports to provide the same assurance regarding death as does Christianity. And the promises are mutually exclusive. How am I to know which assurance is correct?

Most likely the answer depends on which culture I am born into. Neither religion encourages the other to read the holy scriptures of the other in order to make an informed choice. To the contrary, most religions encourage parents to indoctrinate their young children into a particular religious belief. Accordingly, we see a lot of faith and confidence and relatively few conversions. All of us may be "welcome," but some have a huge head start while others are required to overcome "false" childhood indoctrination into the "wrong" faith in order to have eternal life.
9.10.2008 11:14pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
I must correct a typo that has changed the meaning of what I was trying to say. Sorry.

Neither religion encourages its adherents to read the holy scriptures of the other in order to make an informed choice.
9.10.2008 11:18pm
Floridan:
Of course the devil exists . . . I saw him myself, on South Park.
9.10.2008 11:51pm
Ohio Scrivener (mail):
With respect to the update, I enjoyed reading the summary of Michael Martin's proof but I disagree with your characterization of what Michael Martin has achieved:

"This argument against the existence of the Devil isn't original to me, and has been developed in much greater detail by philosophers such as Michael Martin. I briefly summarize it here in response to comments claiming that it is impossible to prove or disprove the Devil's existence."

Michael Martin has not disproved the existence of the Devil any more than Thomas Aquinas has proved the existence of God. The proofs created by philosophers are arguments with varying degrees of persuasiveness. The fact that you may find Martin persuasive does not make his argument dispositive. Moreover, the argument as summarized suffers from numerous defects that I have already discussed.

This is not a new puzzle that Martin magically solved. The arguments philosophers have made for and against the existence of God (and now the Devil) could fill a library and include debates that go back centuries. In this context, when someone says that you cannot prove or disprove the existence of God (or the Devil), they are referring to a definitive proof -- not the ability of yet another philosopher to kill more trees in the attempt. Here, Martin has created a thoguht-provoking proof and I appreciate you sharing it, but he has not disproved anything.

Your original post posited that the existence of the Devil was "contradicted by science, or empirical evidence, or both." The update clarifies your argument to mean "that the empirical evidence is against the claim . . . that the devil exists." Yet, I have not seen any empirical evidence or data. Martin's argument tries to bridge the gap by turning the alleged absence of data into an argument that the Devil does not exist. This argument proves too much. How many true facts exist in the universe for which we do not yet have any empirical data? Does the absence of such data make those facts any less true? Again, the earth did not suddenly become round once man obtained proof of its shape. Or put another way, the current failure to prove a proposition does not disprove it.

Finally, the Bozo the Clown argument is a strawman. If there is "a powerful supernatural being who actively promotes evil in our world," does it matter what name you attach to it? In your original post, you argued that the Devil does not exist -- not simply that Bozo the Clown is an unlikely candidate. Proof of the former is much more elusive than the latter.
9.11.2008 4:05am
Ursus Maritimus:
I remember from sunday school (I got better) a OT story about a Hebrew priest who competed in "Which God Is The Mightiest?" against some Baalite priest or something.

The challenge was that each of them put kindling on an altar, and then they waited to see who's god would light the fire for them. Naturally the Baalite got pwned.


Why don't we do fun stuff like that nowadays? How about: Science vs God.

The science side will attempt to light a fire using only science: quantum interference or some spooky action at a distance if they feel cocky.

The god side will attempt to light a fire using only prayer.

Mildly in jest :-)
9.11.2008 11:25am
David Warner:
Ursus,

"if they feel cocky"

if? When does the "science side" not feel cocky?

As a card-carrying member of the "science side" (the other side is the "ignorance side", not the "Christian side", Einstein), I think we'd be better served making allies on these questions rather than enemies. We need them to counter the junk science from the much more powerful illiberal left whose march through the institutions is nearly complete.
9.11.2008 2:18pm
ginsocal (mail):
David W. has it exactly right. I have no problem with science; it is, in fact, a requirement for me to do my job. But for it to be valuable, it must remain apolitical. The damage done to science's reputation vis a vis the AGW issue is incalculable.

Loophole continues to misundersatand my comment regarding God. It is permitted to question God. The history of the Jews is replete with questions of God. Just don't expect to pin him down. It's not possible, given our manifold limitations, and his total lack of them.
9.11.2008 3:54pm
Bill McGonigle (www):
It's somewhat uncomfortable reading this thread when people argue against Creationism using a poor approximation of science.

That aside, I think the question that people are trying to get at is, "do we want political leaders who tend to make decisions based on data, logic, and analysis or based on dictated belief and emotion?" To the best of my knowledge neither politician on either major party ticket can be described as the former, so the first approximation of the question is almost uninteresting.

That's not to say that, in the absence of data, intuition and character aren't exceedingly important, but I doubt we're going to get any President who really runs the math and asks for models to be built to support his government largess. It used to be that character was once a rather random assemblage of behaviors based on fundamental beliefs, but with math like Game Theory many of these can be tested.

And, just because I can't help myself, I'll add that I find the stories of the Devil as a destroyer much less interesting than the stories of the Devil who appears as an angel to relieve suffering.
9.11.2008 5:37pm