William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Lawrence Krauss Wants All Scientists To Be Militant Atheists

This cannot have come from nothing: nothing is the complete absence of everything.

This cannot have come from nothing: nothing is the complete absence of everything.

Krauss’s biggest mistake in the first part of his “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists” article is to assume the (secular) government gets to decide right and wrong. Krauss is a scientist and like many scientists and products of our modern educational system has not done much reading in history, a subject which shows this idea is beyond asinine, or if he has done his reading, the lessons history taught didn’t stick.

But let this pass. We’re more interested in his scientific opinions.

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking.

Global warming, any one? Types of evolution? Gender “theory”?

This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise.

Bovine spongiography. It is true some atheists practice science, but false in general that science is an atheistic enterprise, and this is because science must needs rely on a metaphysics, which at the least mentions mathematics and says something about cause. And if you start speaking about cause, you end up with God as the First Cause.

It’s ironic, really, that so many people are fixated on the relationship between science and religion: basically, there isn’t one. In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature—just as it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to follow the law.

Never heard God mentioned, eh. Well, if he says it’s so it must be so, but I have been to plenty of meeting and have heard it. It may be because some scientists have cut themselves off from classical metaphysics that they can’t see the connection between their fields and religion. But that is a choice, an assumption, a prejudice. And some science reeks of religion. Big Bang, anyone? That was is super consonant with the Bible. Religious belief, on the other hand, is highly relevant to following laws.

I wonder if Krauss, like many who were chanting “Law of the Land!” in the Kim Davis affair, uses the term “undocumented immigrant”? Let it pass.

Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion. The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems. Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world. Even so, to avoid offense, they sometimes misleadingly imply that today’s discoveries exist in easy harmony with preexisting religious doctrines, or remain silent rather than pointing out contradictions between science and religious doctrine.

Say, Larry, does science hold the idea that religion has no place in science as sacred? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeful it seems. Anyway, if Krauss really does embrace purposeless, why does he care what anybody thinks? It’s all purposeless. There is no right and wrong, science holds no special place. There is only Larry and his opinions.

It’s true that science, i.e. observation, does invalidate some religious beliefs. So much for those religions, then. But science has invalidated no belief held, say, by the Catholic Magisterium.

Consider the example of Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers are calling for a government shutdown unless federal funds for Planned Parenthood are stripped from spending bills for the fiscal year starting October 1st. Why? Because Planned Parenthood provides fetal tissue samples from abortions to scientific researchers hoping to cure diseases, from Alzheimer’s to cancer…It’s clear that many of the people protesting Planned Parenthood are opposed to abortion on religious grounds and are, to varying degrees, anti-science. Should this cause scientists to clam up at the risk of further offending or alienating them? Or should we speak out loudly to point out that, independent of one’s beliefs about what is sacred, this tissue would otherwise be thrown away, even though it could help improve and save lives?

Why are you so caring about human lives there, Larry? Isn’t that rather a Christian idea you have? I thought science said the universe was purposeless, no?

Now, Lar, you do realize that the lives inside mothers that are being killed are human, right? And you say it’s okay to kill these tiny humans so that science can progress. Well, is it any surprise, then, that some would say To hell with science? It’s not that “tissue” is being tossed onto the ash heap, it’s that your frightening utilitarianism encourages even more killing. If you want to save lives—though I can’t see why you would, science saying the universe is purposeless and all—then stop killing them. Brilliant!

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples…

I stopped reading there.

But I did read this (at times hilarious) commentary from Lubos Motl, suggested to me by our friend Marc Morano.

59 Comments

  1. “I stopped reading there.”
    I stopped here – “All Scientists Should Be . . . .”

  2. Why is it “law of the land” with Davis and wasn’t “law of the land” for the hundreds of years prior when gay marriage was illegal? There should have been an immediate dismissal of gays wanting to marry by a group of people shouting “law of the land” as the clerks refused to issue licenses to same sex couples. Where were these protesters then? Surely not defending “the law of the land”.

    I guess the Big Bang and Einstein’s theories must go since their originator were religious and we can’t be mixing religion and science. Perhaps there are many other such ideas that can be thrown out of science since science is tainted by religion. We may have to rewrite textbooks.

  3. This would be a nice example of cherry picking partial quotes of out context if it weren’t so blatantly flawed (Motl’s commentary is even worse, to the point of libel).

    Consider these remarks, presented in opposition, as a sort of rebuttal:

    “Types of evolution? ”
    “Big Bang, anyone? ”

    Those, presented as evidence of examples of scientific error (right along with his familiar rebuttals of global warming analyses) are science that the Roman Catholic Church has long formally endorsed (Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, Belgian priest [& I think, Jesuit] is the founder of the Big Bang theory!).

    Such a histrionic emotional response that picks on topics while ignoring the intellectual themes actually presented indicates Krauss has hit a nerve, presenting uncomfortable truths still not accepted.

  4. “Global warming, any one? ”
    Hey! You forgot my favorite, the hole in the ozone. Another impending disaster based on computer models. CFCs were banned because of computer predictions. Those computer models haven’t shown any skill either.

  5. “Bovine spongiography. ”

    WTF?

    I Googled “spongiography” and this article is the seventh result.

    Most of the rest of the first page results are penile medical references.

    Shouldn’t that be Male Bovine Excrement? If not, I repeat, WTF?

  6. Having stood (and prayed) in St. Wenceslaus Cathedral in Prague, I can’t help be saddened by Czech Lubos Motl’s testimony that almost nobody in the Czech Republic believes anymore. It would appear that atheistic materialism, with the addition of lots of guns anyway, can quite effectively reduce belief in Catholicism over time.

    Matt might say: “reduce belief in Catholicism” == “make us dumber”, and I would agree. Yet it is, equally, hard to stare at an image of That Guy Whose Name Cannot Be Uttered dead on a Cross and say with a straight face that the whole Passion/Death thing looks like a smart move. The foolishness of God (1 Cor 1:25) — mark that phrase — is wiser than men.

    Thus, even though metaphysics can in no way be abandoned, repudiated, or gainsaid, I have noted once or twice, much contra to Matt, that the Paschal Mystery is in no way the default position of classic metaphysics, and that St. Thomas’s effort to ‘baptize’ Aristotle is a provable failure.

    How easily Matt and his fellow “classicists” forget that even the idea that a god would voluntarily be branded a criminal, be crucified, and die, would have been incredible, repugnant, prima facie absurd, to Aristotle, Plato — to any master of Greek philosophy. Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 AD), not St. Thomas, literally inhabited that world of thought, the world of classic philosophy, and this is what he said:

    Crucified is the Son of God; not shameful, because it is shameful. And dead is the Son of God; it is trustworthy because it is absurd. And He is raised from the tomb; it is certain, because it is impossible. (De carne Christi 5, 25-29)

    Just to be clear: that means that Tertullian agrees with me. The Paschal Mystery is IN NO WAY the conclusion, or even the default position, of classic metaphysics.

    That science must have a metaphysical referent seems conclusive; that Cause and its study must be part of that metaphysics seems to follow. But that our own ultimate end, the reason for our being, is NOT so that we may be killed like flies, for sport — ah, now things begin to get interesting.

  7. @MattS,
    Yeah, that one stumped me too. Briggs may be referring slyly to the heretical writings of former Episcopal bishop John Spong.

  8. Ironically, he has a point with the Planned Parenthood bit. Either the dead children were human beings just like ourselves and had a right to life and all other human rights, or we presume to dehumanize them and recognize neither their right to life nor the treatment of their remains. It’s absurd to suggest they were merely inconvenient tissue before they were murdered and spontaneously obtain human rights afterwards.

  9. I’ll do you the favor of assuming that you don’t take most of your own comments seriously, but I can at least offer my own experience as a bit of data that might be interesting to some of your readers.

    For over 20 years I attended and presented at from one to three physics meetings per year (plus a few in related sciences). I also never heard one reference to God or any religious idea, and such a reference would indeed have been jarringly out of place. Maybe it’s different in meetings of meteorologists, or whatever meetings you were allowed in to.

    More: I never heard such a reference in any classroom, department seminar, or scientist’s office or laboratory, with one exception: a few of us graduate students were discussing making a contribution to United Way or some similar consolidated charity after a brochure was put in our mailboxes, and someone brought up the concern that some of the money might be given to a religious school. It was so immediately obvious that this was something to be avoided that it didn’t even require a word of discussion.

  10. As a quondam physicist and as a present Catholic, I’ll have to disagree with Briggs and agree (partially) with Krauss. Science is atheistic in the sense that it proceeds entirely without reference to any sort of belief in God, and, of course, is thereby limited. Good scientists have a faith, the faith that science works, which faith historically proceeded from the Judaeo-Christian belief that God made an ordered, comprehensible world (see Psalm 19A). But such faith in an ordered world does NOT necessarily require a faith in God, although faith in God makes it a more reasonable proposition. Science neither proves nor disproves the existence of any kind of deity. Moreover, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition that you have to be an atheist to be a good scientist. Witness Newton, Galileo, Pascal, and more recently (shameless self-promotion here) my post “Are all great scientists atheists?”
    http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/2014/01/are-all-great-scientists-atheists.html
    Sheri, one minor point: although it is often claimed that Einstein believed in God, it was certainly not a personal God. It might be proper to term him a “deist”–a deity or force that set the universe working and maintains it, but Einstein’s “Der Alte” was certainly not the God of his Jewish forebears.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    I never heard such a reference [to God] in any classroom, department seminar, or scientist’s office or laboratory

    Rightly so. All the classroom time must be spent on training for the vocation. Nor would you get any reference to Galileo in auto mechanics, nor to Darwin in cooking school. As William of Conches wrote long ago,

    “[They say] ‘We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.’ You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.”

    Or St. Albertus Magnus a century later:

    “In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass.”

    a few of us graduate students were discussing making a contribution to United Way or some similar consolidated charity … and someone brought up the concern that some of the money might be given to a religious school. It was so immediately obvious that this was something to be avoided that it didn’t even require a word of discussion.

    This of course tells us a great deal about you and your friends. Better that the poor and needy go without than that you sacrifice some of your gold.

  12. Ye Olde Statistician:

    “This of course tells us a great deal about you and your friends. Better that the poor and needy go without than that you sacrifice some of your gold.”

    No, but your comment tells us all we need to know about your ability to reason and draw inferences. We found ways to divert a portion of our “gold” (at the time, a $435 per month stipend, but tax-free) for the poor and needy without adding, just for example, to the accounts used by the Vatican for the paying of hush money to the families of children raped by priests. Shame on us.

  13. Lee Phillips, your comment about paying hush money to families of children raped by priests hardly constitutes either rational or gracious discourse. I think you should be banned from further comments on this post.

  14. Bovine Spongiform encephalopathy. is Mad Cow Disease and seems a good description of the prejudices of this gentleman,
    He does not seem to have done any research on the subject of religion and science, even on line. Perhaps he is not computer literate?
    Many Christians and Jews are scientists and so are Moslems. one of my favourite sites is Jewish World Review where they don’t mince their words about this kind of opinion.
    http://www.jewishworldreview.com/
    The idea that aborted fetuses are just tissue is strange when he claims that they will be used for research on human diseases and pathologies. If they are not human they would not be much use , surely.

  15. here is a lecture which you can send to him.
    http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2848106.html

    You can go on and on on the internet and find many sites like this. Do your own research

  16. ” your comment about paying hush money to families of children raped by priests”
    was factual. But as long as you are dispensing judgments about who should be banned, what do you think about YOS’ nasty comment about my gold? Gracious and rational?

  17. This relates to the recent post on the Unknown Fallacy, wherein it was reported that the Unknown Comedian had tweeted that there is no conceivable reason a person might reject same-sex marriage, apart from hoary old precepts from antique religious creeds. Likewise, Krauss implies that religion is the only conceivable reason a person might recoil at the the killing, vivisection and sale of a fetus, or that a person might do anything but strew flowers in the path of science.

    If Krauss read history, he would know that atheism is not new. Atheists have been around longer than Christians, and so have almost all of their arguments. Lucretius first proposed the multiverse as a solution to the apparent design of the universe. Natural selection, too. The irony is that the Atheists of yesteryear worked hard to convince their theist neighbors that they had no intention of chopping up babies or subverting the fundamental social order. Right through the nineteenth century, they were loud in their assurances that Christian morality would not be fundamentally changed in a positivist society, only placed on a new, rational footing.

    What we have learned, however, is that the alarmists of the seventeenth century were right about the atheist menace. They were going to eat babies and turn the world on its head.

  18. Lee Phillips, if the money paid as judgment by various dioceses was hush money, it did not achieve its purpose. And one transgression of poor taste does not justify an insult to Catholic believers.

  19. 1) Never heard “God” at a physics meeting? umm, wonder if he plays dice?

    2) Ray: the basis for the CFC scare partially originated in an orbital eccentricity. Seriously – this thing had two tiny truths at its core: one the reaction does happen; and, two the key observational instrument “saw” an oscillating, off center, “hole” over the pole, not because there was one but because the angle of reflection varied with both the carrier orbit and near space atmospheric expansion/contraction.

  20. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 11, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    ” your comment about paying hush money to families of children raped by priests”
    was factual.

    Actually not. For one thing, the Vatican was not involved. Each bishop is supreme in his own diocese. (If one considers psychology a science, the settled science in those days was that one should not make too big a deal about it. Hence, the notion that the cases should be settled quietly, not only when churchmen were involved, but also when it was school teachers, coaches, mother’s boyfriends, and Uncle Jake.)

    However, the main point remains: That God is not mentioned in a scientific classroom is no more remarkable than that Darwin is not mentioned artist studio. It’s not needed in order to achieve the desired training.

  21. For an equally scathing account of Kraus’s tirade, read Kevin D. Williamson’s article, “Portrait of a Fanatic” on National Review Online
    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/423851/lawrence-krauss-physicist-fanatic
    My wife took a look at his (Kraus’s) picture and said “poor guy–no wonder he’s so angry–someone should have taken him to a dermatologist when he was a teen-ager.” (and perhaps have given him a hairbrush also?)

  22. Kurland:

    “if the money paid as judgment”

    I was not referring to the numerous court judgments, but to actual hush money. There are a multitude of news articles where this is documented. Sometimes instead of cash the victims are silenced with threats of excommunication.

    “And one transgression of poor taste does not justify an insult to Catholic believers.”

    I agree that YOS’ tasteless remarks would never justify my sinking to his level. Surely Catholics have had to learn, long ago, to reconcile the ideals of their faith with the realities of the corruption of the fallible humans in the hierarchy, and the continued criminality and licentiousness of its institutions. Pointing out the uncontested facts of this routinely morally abysmal behavior is not an insult to Catholic believers. How could it be? After all, it is they and their families who are the victims of the rapist priests, and the bishops and cardinals who hide knowledge of their felonies from the police.

  23. “someone should have taken him to a dermatologist”

    This contribution from someone who has taken pains, above, to remind us of the importance of “rational or gracious discourse”, and suggested that I be banned for failing to live up to his standards (my transgression being pointing out facts that he would rather pretend didn’t exist).

  24. Lee Phillips, you’re quite correct; I should not have made fun (even by second-hand) of Kraus’s acne scars and his refusal to use a hair brush (even though it may explain why he’s an angry middle-aged man). But that does not justify your greater insult of believing Catholics. As I said in a previous comment, one minor transgression does not justify a greater one.
    But as Queen Kristina said, when asked to justify her conversion to the Faith given all the bad Popes of the Renaissance and before, “The Catholic Church must be given by God to have survived such people in it.”

  25. Hey everybody,

    Just chiming in to remind you:
    Lee’s comments are intended to change the subject away from the argument in hand and push it onto a moralistic argument against Christianity through a fallacy of composition argument by way of an argument from ignorance aimed at the Catholic church.

    Ignore them. Marxist hem-hawing has no place in rational discourse.

  26. By the way, Lee Phillips, my wife’s comment was not intended purely as an insult, but as an explanation for why Kraus might be an angry middle-aged man. I wonder why you’re so angry.

  27. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 11, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Pointing out the uncontested facts of this routinely morally abysmal behavior…

    But you only pickled that particular herring afterward. The original comment was that you and your buddies did not want to donate to the United Way, lest “some of the money might be given to a religious school.” The context was the lack of mention of God in scientific conduct and your comment was clearly intended to reinforce the revulsion toward religion qua religion. The scandal of the homosexual priests was inserted only afterward. What they had to do with “religious schools” and how United Way disbursed funds is unclear.

  28. Addressing only the metaphysical component of this article and both writers response, the problem is that we are dealing with two entrenched ideological positions. Both sides are talking past each other about the same thing.

    Firstly, Dr Brigg’s:

    ” And if you start speaking about cause, you end up with God as the First Cause.”

    Firstly, we don’t know if we require Cause as a metaphysical concept. It is certainly useful for practical study to assume it exists. The reason why we know this philosophically, is that we can see computers recreate, say, virtual worlds. There is no ’cause’ to be found in these simulations. Not in the sense of physics, anyway. There is only maths. This raises the question of whether we even need Cause in our metaphysics.

    But leaving that aside, the argument that there must be a First Cause is as nonsensical as the claim that there must not be. Neither position makes any rational sense, which is why this is such a deep mystery. Criticizing Lawrence Krauss for his militancy while being equally militant in turn, is a self contradictory stance to adopt.

    Now, for the nonsense in Lawrence Krauss position. Note carefully his wording here:

    “I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature…”

    This is of course a delicious piece of irony as Lawrence does not realise that he merely replaced the word God with the word Nature, and then wonders why he has never had recourse to fall back on use of the word God.

    As I’ve said often in the past, neither the religious person nor the atheist dispute the existence of The Creator. The argument is over the *nature* of the Creator. For a religious person, The Creator is personal, self aware and anthropomorphic. For the atheist, the Creator is impersonal and unself-aware. Unself-aware in much the same sense that Lawrence is unself-aware of what his position entails.

  29. I have been plenty of Statistics meetings, and have never heard God mentioned. I’ve met people in those meetings who like to say “OMG” though.

    I read Krauss article a couple days ago via another blog. Krauss thinks that

    And yet, for reasons of decorum, many scientists worry that ridiculing certain religious claims alienates the public from science.

    He might be right to a certain degree. My experiences tell me that many scientists simply have never thought of ridiculing others’ religion claims in public. Yes, many of them are smart and wise.

  30. The problem with too many Scientists is that they assume they are Philosophers without the need to study Philosophy. And they assume they are Moralists without the need to study Ethics.

  31. Definitely worth watching, all the way through:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIZRd1NdJyg

  32. By the way, I don’t think I had ever heard of Lawrence Krauss before seeing this story. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist or that he is unimportant. He may think the universe — and himself? — are pointless, but he is mistaken about both. If the universe really is pointless, what’s the point of even trying to persuade other people? What difference is it to make, in the big scheme of things, if the big scheme of things is simply pointless?

  33. It’s a simple point. If you are a scientist, you have no need whatsoever to apply your religious belief to your profession. There is nothing God can add to what you do. No new or different anything. No need or ability to incorporate God, or with anything. Essentially, religion can at best only be benignly useless to science. There is no need of God in our understanding of the universe.

    JMJ

  34. Dr. Briggs: Funny, you must be telepathic, having read Kraus’ thoughts with respect to what he wants. He certainly never said that “all scientists should be militant atheists” or “I want all scientists to be militant atheists.” Your post is a falsehood.

    Bob Kurland: Please don’t insult us by trying to make the case that your wife was innocently pondering why Kraus is angry and that you were simply passing that information along. If Dr. Briggs can read minds, so can I. And I don’t know how you portray Kraus as angry from that article in any case.

    I’m not an atheist, in fact, I’m a protestant Christian. But it’s a blatantly false claim that only God could provide a moral compass and that atheists cannot have one.

    This about as bad a post as I’ve seen on this site. I come back because sometimes there are good ones. This is not such a time.

  35. rob ryan, you’re wrong! that was the occasion of her remark…maybe it’s your turn not to read minds.

  36. By the way, Krauss (got the correct spelling now) can’t be totally off base in everything he says. He’s had a big argument with Greene about whether string theory is scientifically meaningful (as I understand it, Krauss –among others–thinks not). See:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2005/11/theory_of_anything.html
    or Google “Krauss string theory”.

  37. JMJ, as a scientist (although no longer practicing), I would disagree with your assertion that
    ” If you are a scientist, you have no need whatsoever to apply your religious belief to your profession. There is nothing God can add to what you do. No new or different anything. No need or ability to incorporate God, ”
    Other scientists, better than I, would also disagree. You might read the comments of some Nobel Prize winners quoted in the post linked above, “Are all great scientists atheists”…

  38. Will nailed it for me, but…

    “For the atheist, the Creator is impersonal and unself-aware. ”

    No, it not a ‘creator’. It is maybe an ‘existee’, a thing that ‘exists’. I believe the nature exists in a similar way natural numbers, octonions and groups exist.

    They just can’t not-exist. And they include their own cause to exist.

    An existee can be self-aware. We are part of it. Being self-aware does not mean being omnipotent in the classical sense.

  39. “There is no need of God in our understanding of the universe.”

    Whether God is or is not required for our understanding of the universe is a metaphysical question, not just a scientific one. Hence the assertion is a declaration of faith, not fact. Science does not have the power to decide metaphysical questions although it can provide clues. Whether as a scientist you view your practice as exploring the mind of God, or the workings of Nature, what you do and how you do it does not change. The question of God’s existence or non-existence is not relevant to science because science is not the right tool. If I wish to best understand the history of the Roman Empire, I do not use as my primary tool, I use history, a different tool.

    RR, your comment is remarkably foolish given the fact that the article is titled: All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists – BY LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS

    Deplatonist, you haven’t got it quite right, as Nature evolves. It creates life, it changes life. A religious person (at least not excessively foolish or dogmatic) would believe that this evolution is guided by a divine plan. A non religious person would not. It doesn’t change the fact that both parties are referring to the same thing, which is the Creator.

  40. I have to admit I was a little frustrated by Lubos Motl rebuttal, so as compressed as I could possibly make it, here briefly is my own:

    “To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it?”

    Always. This question was already decided by such historical events as the Nuremberg Trials. If your action is in conflict with your religious, i.e., moral convictions, you should certainly not be jailed for dissent. You are morally compelled to break the law. A more reasoned approach would be to find ways to work around the dissenter or relieve the dissenter of their duties. The question as posed by Krauss is morally shameful.

    ” No idea or belief should be illegal”

    Which would imply that he is opposed to Kim Davis arrest. But of course he is not. What he therefore meant was that people are free to have beliefs but are not free to act in a way that would be consistent with those beliefs. Or in other words, freedom of thought is to be commended, but freedom of action consistent with freedom of thought is not to be tolerated.

    “But “religious freedom” advocates argue that religious ideals should be elevated above all others as a rationale for action. In a secular society, this is inappropriate.”

    It is a misrepresentation to claim (perhaps through historical ignorance) that religious ideals are elevated above all other ideals. In the US religions are viewed, or are supposed to be viewed, as ‘protected classes.’ Historically this derives from the religious wars of Europe. The actual nature of the protections is to prevent the elevation of one set of religious beliefs above another. The status of ‘protected classes’ was pragmatic. It was there to prevent one belief system to become dominant over other systems of belief. Krauss completely misinterprets this point. Again, he may simply be historically ignorant. They are not there to give religion special status, but to prevent any one belief system from dominating and therefore preventing other belief systems from being tolerated. This is because when in the past belief systems were suppressed, violence was the result.

    “Or should we speak out loudly to point out that, independent of one’s beliefs about what is sacred, this tissue would otherwise be thrown away, even though it could help improve and save lives?”

    Another misrepresentation. The issue is not what to do with aborted tissue but that aborted tissue was sold for profit. This obviously introduces at a minimum, the potential of perverse financial incentives for the sale of human issue. A serious moral concern.

    “Scientists need to be prepared to demonstrate by example that questioning perceived truth, especially “sacred truth,” is an essential part of living in a free country.”

    Had Kim Davis not been arrested and imprisoned this admonishment would have at least been logically defensible. But exactly what Krauss wanted to happen, did happen. One can’t help but wonder if religion for Krauss, is his Emmanuel Goldstein.

    As an aside, as an agnostic, the reason why I defend religious freedom is that I appreciate that ‘stamping out’ religious belief will simply cause new types of ideological belief to arise. Whether that is some flavour of Progressivism, or Libertarianism, or Scientism, or something else. Christianity does more good than harm in society. There is no guarantee — in fact much risk — that the belief systems that would replace it, will not be so benign.

  41. Hey Will N, you’ve hit the mark, much as I hate to admit it.

  42. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 12, 2015 at 9:29 am

    If you are a scientist, you have no need whatsoever to apply your religious belief to your profession. There is nothing God can add to what you do.

    Well, except the notion that it’s worth doing. Or the belief in secondary causation. Or that the universe is ordered “by number, weight, and measure.”

    Of course, if you’re an auto mechanic, you have no need whatsoever to apply your beliefs in (say) evolution to your profession, either. When you’re talking about any narrow band of specialization, there is no need to invoke anything from a wider realm.

  43. Will, as you well know I’m sure, the New Yorker editor chose the article title as is standard practice. I have, in fact, confirmed this though it wasn’t necessary to have done so.

    Nowhere in the body does Dr. Krauss state or imply that “all scientists should be militant atheists” though it’s quite possible that he thinks so. Dr. Briggs seems to have read his mind to so determine. Krauss merely states that scientists who do hold such views should be unashamed/unafraid/not reluctant to declare them openly in situations such as those he mentions in the article.

    Bob Kurland: I’ll do you the courtesy of believing you with respect to your wife and simply express my surprise that the anger referred to was inferred from the article content, that your wife fastened on the anger and its possible cause from a photo, and you felt it necessary to publish her psychological interpretation.

  44. Scary, but I agree with JMJ to a degree. I would change his last sentence to “There is no need of God in our scientific understanding of the universe”. Science will never discover God. It’s not meant to. Others have commented to this effect.

    On Motl, I was amazed at the intense hatred of the atheists directed at anyone who was even agnostic. They lived with the idea that religion ruined the world and if God were gone, we’d live like Walden. Except these are angry, bitter people who want no rules in their lives. We’d live more like people did under Pol Pot if these are the ones running society.

    Rob Ryan: Of course atheists can have a moral compass. The question is which direction to which it points.

    Will: Yes, stamping out religious beliefs simply cause new types of ideological beliefs. Humans have a need to believe in something. What that something is can vary, but it never goes away.

  45. Sheri: yes, agreed that that’s the question. As it is, in fact, for theists.

  46. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    as Nature evolves. It creates life

    Actually, it can’t do this. The theory of evolution is that the struggle for existence results in the less fit organisms being culled through differential reproductive success. For this engine to operate, you need things that are already alive. Natural selection cannot work on inanimate objects since they do not strictly speaking reproduce and struggle for existence.

    If evolution is otoh being used merely to mean “change over time,” then it is vacuous as a scientific theory, like explaining the motion of the heavens by citing “location change.” It is the change that wants the explanation.

  47. YOS,

    Setting aside the fact that your understanding of evolutionary theory is shaky at best and your understanding of origins of life research possibly non existent, if one assumed God’s existence then God created Nature, therefore as God’s tool, Nature has no limits. It does whatever God wants it to do, and if God wants Nature to create life, Nature will do so. Accepting such premises, it is ridiculous that you specify limits on God’s power.

  48. RR,

    “Will, as you well know I’m sure, the New Yorker editor chose the article title as is standard practice. I have, in fact, confirmed this though it wasn’t necessary to have done so.”

    So you accused Dr Biggs of lying based on information not contained in the article. Not your best moment. The central argument that Krauss makes is that if one is to define ‘militant atheist” as someone who criticises religion, which is not its usual meaning, then that is what he does, and no scientist should flinch from such a label. Further to that, most of the article makes the argument that it is the duty of scientists to criticise religion. I don’t have a problem with religious criticism, only defenders of such critics who want to have it both ways.

  49. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 12, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    if God wants Nature to create life, Nature will do so.

    As it says in Genesis when God commanded the sea and the earth to “bring forth” the living kinds, leading Augustine to suggest something like an evolution (lit. an “unrolling”) of potentials into actualities and, later, Aquinas to suggest in passing that if new species ever did occur, they would due to the powers given to material being in the first place.

    The issue is not whether life emerged by some natural process (and therefore by the will of God as you say), it is as Albertus Magnus wrote how natures, with her immanent powers, did so. The claim is that evolution brought forth life from inanimate matter, not that it occurred by some natural process. There are more natural processes than evolution, after all.

    It would be helpful in the future if you could specify in which way my statements were incorrect rather than issue blanket pronouncements that my “understanding of evolutionary theory is shaky at best” or that my “understanding of origins of life research possibly non existent.” What exactly is shaking? (Which of the two strokes of the Darwinian engine do you propose to change?) And how can anyone “research” the origins of life without having any actual examples to study? Perhaps you mean “wild speculations”?

  50. Will: So, in short, you’re claiming that Krauss did state, whether in so many words or not, that all scientists should be militant atheists. I disagree. I would agree that Krauss is arguing that: 1) IF the behavior that he’s exhibited is considered to be militant atheism; and 2) IF a scientist holds beliefs similar to Krauss’ then such a scientist should speak out as Krauss does and not be afraid/reluctant/hesitant to be a militant atheist.

    This is not at all the same as Krauss “wanting all scientists to be militant atheists” as Dr. Briggs claims in the title to this post. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Krauss does want that. Nevertheless, he didn’t take such a position in the New Yorker article.

  51. RR,

    Your analysis is correct as to Krauss’s word play, but your apology for him is weaselly. I can’t declare I’m an anti-Semite, arbitrarily define anti-Semite as having some ‘softer’ meaning, then declare I’m a proud anti-Semite and everyone like me should be an anti-Semite too. The trick it too transparent. The point of Krauss’s argument is that religious ideas are ‘fine’, but only so long as they are not ‘expressed’ as actions. He doesn’t have the courage to openly declare that religions should be banned, only that people who behave in a way consistent with their religious belief should not be tolerated. This is a distinction without a distinction.

  52. YOS,

    Similar to RR, your distinction is a distinction without distinction. I’ve read your comments in the past on evolutionary theory and from my recollection your understanding illustrated various misconceptions. Should they come up again, I’ll take note to point them out to you. Regarding abiogenesis, vast progress has been made in the field since Miller and Urey’s early research. Of course, all that vast array of research is utterly beside the point. If you are a rational theist, learning about these natural processes provides insight into the mind of God. Sticking your fingers in your ears and declaring “God doesn’t do things this way because if He did, this would give ammunition to atheists…” is beyond absurd. Assuming the premise of God’s existence, if God wants to use natural processes to create life from non life this is the way life will arise. Given the fact that God created Nature to begin with, or speaking metaphorically, Nature is God’s Hand, that should no be surprising to any rational person.

  53. I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life.

    I do too, Larry. I see it several times a week:

    Retraction Watch

  54. And Boggs, are those good ethical guidelines? From my own academic experience I would be hard-pressed to say yes.

  55. Will:

    “Deplatonist, you haven’t got it quite right, as Nature evolves.”

    Good point. I dismiss or deny that evolution. And I still belong to the nonreligious group.

    My belief is that time is an illusion, so the thing-which-exists evolves only like a series of numbers evolves. The rules keep the same – or rather don’t exist within time – and the rules are what constitutes the ‘real’ world. The rules are not designed, chosen or random. They not just arbitrary either. I believe – this is not provable – they are ‘complete’ so that they are more than arbitrary.

    Nature is beautiful, and it has more imagination than us together.

    I’m waiting for my followers to cheer. /sarc

  56. Ye Olde Statistician

    September 13, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    I’ve read your comments in the past on evolutionary theory and from my recollection your understanding illustrated various misconceptions.

    In this case, I contended that the two-stroke engine of Darwinian evolution consisted of:
    a) competition for resources among reproducing entities, followed by
    b) winnowing of those organisms less fit for the niche through differential reproductive success.
    The former is called “the struggle for existence.” The latter is called “natural selection.” If you could tell me which of these two the Darwinists have gotten wrong, I would be much obliged.

    Given a) and b), above, “evolution” cannot account for the advent of living kinds since inanimate matter a) does not reproduce or compete for resources and b) cannot therefore have differential reproductive success. The origin of life must therefore be by means of some physical/chemical process other than evolution.

    Regarding abiogenesis, vast progress has been made in the field since Miller and Urey’s early research.

    Especially since scenarios of what the early earth was like have changed drastically since then. How many examples of spontaneous generation do we have in the can? Amino acids are not alive, even though they are used by living things. Theyare organic molecules, not organisms.

    Sticking your fingers in your ears and declaring “God doesn’t do things this way because if He did, this would give ammunition to atheists…” is beyond absurd.

    A good thing, then, that I have never done this.

    Assuming the premise of God’s existence, if God wants to use natural processes to create life from non life this is the way life will arise.

    Of course. As Augustine of Hippo said:

    It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in times to come.
    On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11

    Or to cite Thomas Aquinas:

    Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
    Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3

    (IOW, he did not know the actual physical mechanism, but was certain that God had endowed nature with the requisite powers.)

    This was the concept of “secondary causation,” without which natural science would be literally unthinkable, and is one of the reasons that modern science arose in the Christian West.

    Given the fact that … Nature is God’s Hand, that should no be surprising to any rational person.

    Of course not, but you would be surprised how many atheists have resisted the idea both here and abroad.

  57. Sorry Boggs–I didn’t go to your link and didn’t see the sarcasm–you’re right on!

  58. Will, true curiosity and not snarkiness. Please give me a few references to show the “vast progress in abiogenesis” since the Urey experiments. I’d be much interested.

  59. Bob,

    Very hard to know what to tell you if you’re going to google around. Since Miller-Urey, to focus just on chemistry, notable mentions would include John Oro’s synthesis of adenine, Sol Spiegelman’s research, Albert Eschenmoser’s research. And Peter Nielsen’s research. In terms of processes themselves, review the work on the reverse citric acid cycle. Also research work and discoveries relating to RNA. All fascinating. But to get some sort of perspective in the field and its evolution, I’d suggest Robert M. Hazen’s lecture series. I have an older version. I don’t know if he has updated it.

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