Monday, July 21, 2008

It's as easy as "A is not non-A"!

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, wrote an article July 9 in the Ottawa Citizen (you can find it here: on Intelligent Design. Shermer has a wonderful, fool-proof way to solve the debate between evolution and Intelligent Design. Just recognize that Intelligent Design is religion, and that science and religion must remain separate: "Belief in God depends on religious faith. Belief in evolution depends on empirical evidence. This is the fundamental difference between religion and science." It's all really very simple, as Shermer explains:

"The problem with all of these attempts at blending science and religion may be found in a single principle: A is A. Or: Reality is real. To attempt to use nature to prove the supernatural is a violation of A is A. It is an attempt to make reality unreal. A cannot also be non-A. Nature cannot also be non-Nature. Naturalism cannot also be supernaturalism.

Believers can have both religion and science as long as there is no attempt to make A non-A, to make reality unreal, to turn naturalism into supernaturalism. The Separate-Worlds Model in which science and religion deal with completely different subjects is the only way to do this. Thus, the most logically coherent argument for theists is that God is outside of time and space; that is, God is beyond nature - super nature, or supernatural - and therefore cannot be explained by natural causes. This places the God question outside the realm of science."

See, now doesn't that clear it up? If theists would only remember that God is not real, they wouldn't keep trying to mix religion and science. It's fine to believe in Santa Claus; just don't invoke him as an explanation for why your chemistry experiment resulted in a strange orange goo. What theist would have a problem with that?

Sometimes I wonder if atheists like Michael Shermer really believe that theists are so stupid that they won't notice the atheist-bias underlying Shermer's simple little arguments.

Atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, ironically, shows more respect to theists by taking their views more seriously. Not that Dawkins doesn't have a ways to go before "respect" would be a good word to describe his attitude towards theism, but at least he doesn't treat them like children quite as much as Shermer does. Dawkins has this to say about God and science in The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), pp. 58-59:

"And whatever else they may say, those scientists who subscribe to the 'separate magisteria' school of thought should concede that a universe with a supernaturally intelligent creator is a very different kind of universe from one without. The difference between the two hypothetical universes could hardly be more fundamental in principle, even if it is not easy to detect in practice. And it undermines the complacently seductive dictum that science must be completely silent about religion's central existence claim. The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice - or not yet - a decided one."

Theists, like atheists, make real claims about the real universe. Those claims must be taken seriously as such and subjected to the bar of reason and evidence, just like any other claim. They cannot simply be excluded on the basis of semantic tricks, as Shermer tries to do.