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Hubris versus skepticism: The case of neurosurgeon Ben Carson

As a surgeon and skeptic, I find neurosurgeon turned presidential candidate Ben Carson to be particularly troubling. I realize that I’ve said this before, but it’s hard for me not to revisit his strange case given that the New York Times just ran a rather revealing profile of him over the weekend, part of which included Dr. Carson answering criticism for the really dumb things he’s said about vaccines, evolution, and the like. People like Ben Carson are useful examples of how highly intelligent people who are incredibly competent in one area can also demonstrate unbelievable ignorance in other areas. Ben Carson, having spent his life caring for patients with incredible dedication and skill, can’t seem to go a day without saying something incredibly stupid now that he’s running for President. Whether it’s pandering to the antivaccine wing of the Republican Party, denying that he used to be a shill for Mannatech, a supplement company whose business practices have been less than ethical, or denying evolution, Carson’s depths of scientific ignorance and willingness to lie have reached crank levels.

So, you might think, if Ben Carson is such a crank and there’s considerable evidence that the views he’s been espousing on the campaign trail are not new, why is it that no one seemed to realize this until Carson entered politics? It turns out that Carson was such a private man that few people knew:

When he was not in the operating room at Johns Hopkins Hospital, performing one of his 400 surgeries a year, Dr. Ben Carson could often be seen walking slowly through the hallways, hands behind his back, nodding, smiling and speaking softly to co-workers and students who approached.

“When he walked around Hopkins,” said Dr. Anthony Avellino, a former colleague, “he was like God.”

Patients and nurses asked him to sign his books. Medical students flocked to his occasional lectures or a campus showing of the TV movie version of “Gifted Hands,” Dr. Carson’s memoir.

One student, Dr. Jonathan Dudley, recalled that “Some of my friends had a big poster of him up in their dorm room.”

It seemed fitting, then, that in 2013, Dr. Carson, who was retiring as chief of pediatric neurosurgery, was chosen to give the commencement address for Dr. Dudley’s class. But that March, during a Fox News interview, Dr. Carson appeared to liken same-sex marriage proponents to pedophiles and “people who believe in bestiality.”

We learn a lot of things in this profile. During his years at Johns Hopkins, Carson was basically a rock star whom seemingly everyone admired. He did way more cases than the average neurosurgeon (around 400 a year compared to the usual 250 a year for a typical academic neurosurgeon at Hopkins), and he did some of the most difficult cases. He worked long hours and by all accounts was a good teacher. In the world of surgery, a surgeon who does a lot of cases, many of which are more difficult than average, does them well, and works very hard will earn a great deal of respect and good will. In fact, these are measures of status in the world of surgery, one way for a young surgeon to build a reputation. (Research is another, but, quite frankly, surgeons seem to admire technical skill and dedication more than they admire research, even in academic settings.)

Carson was also daring. he would undertake operations to separate conjoined twins. He revived an old operation for seizures, the hemispherectomy, which involves removing half the brain. Surgeons also admire this in other surgeons. So putting together Carson’s work ethic, his technical skill, the number of cases he did, and his daring, it’s not to surprising that he was so universally admired at Hopkins, the only complaints being from partners who had to cover for him so often when he traveled to give motivational speeches and do other events. Reading this profile, I couldn’t help but wonder whether part of the problem was perhaps that, while Carson did have to engage in the rough-and-tumble given and take that normally occurs in a high-powered academic department of surgery over his surgical decisions, when it came to his crankier views, such as his belief in creationism and his promotion of cancer quackery, no one ever challenged him. After all, no one seemingly knew about them, and those who did seemed able to compartmentalize, just as Carson apparently compartmentalized. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Carson, as he became more and more famous based on his life story as told in his biography, his motivational speeches, and his increasing political activism, started to develop a touch of hubris and that that hubris carried over to his political campaign.

Think about it. Carson is a man who has never held elective office or even run a large organization, such as a company. The entire Johns Hopkins Pediatric Neurosurgery Program only has six surgeons and two physicians’ assistants, which is actually a pretty big for such a program. Add ancillary staff, such as secretaries, nurses, and research faculty and staff and it’s doubtful that there were more than 20 or 25 people in the entire department. This means that Ben Carson thinks himself capable of running the federal government after having only run a small academic department. Not only that, he thinks himself the best qualified person to lead the nation. (Every Presidential candidate thinks himself the best qualified person to lead the nation; otherwise he wouldn’t run for President.) Also consider that Carson has no elective experience. As much as we like to delude ourselves that we don’t want politicians as our President, running a country is an inherently political job. The two can’t be separated. A President skilled at politics, who knows how the federal government works, how its departments work, how the legislature works, will be more successful than one who does not. So right there there’s incredible hubris. So bad is Carson’s lack of relevant skills for the presidency that even one of his campaign advisors gave an on the record interview to the NYT characterizing him as struggling to grasp foreign policy, leading one pundit to ask if there’s a double agent in the Carson campaign.

And, as we all know, hubris is the enemy of skepticism. Hubris destroys skepticism because it interferes with the questioning of oneself, one’s belief, and one’s knowledge that must occur as part of critical thinking. Taken to an extreme, hubris can lead one to believe he is never wrong. Already, we see that in Ben Carson. When questioned about, for example, his long relationship with Mannatech, Carson basically lied through his teeth and denied that he was a spokesperson. Whenever questioned about anything, his first reaction is to double down and/or make excuses.

We see this in the interview published by the NYT. For instance, here is what Carson now says about vaccines:

Some people feel that I make the declaration and everybody has to march to my drum.

My point was that there are a lot of people who are so concerned about the load of vaccines that they are getting in a very short period of time that they may abandon the use of vaccines altogether, which would be a very significant public health issue for us. I think we have to be willing to talk with them and to look at alterations in schedule.

When you look at how many times the schedule has been altered by so-called experts, it tells you right there that whatever schedule they come up with is not necessarily the perfect schedule. Take into consideration the concerns of these people and let’s work with them, so that we can get people on the same page, rather than declaring: “I’m the great Oz. No one else could possibly know anything.”

Notice the straw men. No one was looking to Dr. Carson as the arbiter of whether vaccines cause autism and what should constitute the ideal vaccine schedule. However, because he is a pediatric specialist, his opinion does carry more weight to the general public than, say, that of Jeb Bush or Donald Trump. Given his past stance supporting school vaccine mandates, it was disappointing to see Carson change course and start to pander to the “health freedom” antivaccine wing of the Republican Party. It’s even more disappointing to see that he is still pandering to them and still repeating antivaccine “concerns” wrapped in anti-establishment, anti-pointy-headed expert rhetoric.

He does it to the point of some seriously burning stupid:

There are some diseases where I think there is room for discussion. Chickenpox. Now, chickenpox is generally not a fatal disease by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when I was a kid, they used to have chickenpox parties. Somebody would get it, and they’d bring everybody over so they would get it, too. And then everybody would be immune to it.

Oh,. My. God. Carson is actually parroting antivaccine talking points and blithely dismissing chickenpox parties as though they were OK. You’d think that a neurosurgeon would know the potential complications of varicella. Yes, such complications are uncommon, but they include pneumonia, coagulopathy, encephalitis, secondary streptococcal infections, and more. A doctor should know better. This doctor does not.

He also completely misunderstands the antivaccine movement:

The question for the antivaxers is, do the vaccinations create more problems than they solve? You are never going to convince them unless you are willing to sit down with the data and unless you are actually willing to listen to them and listen to their concerns. That’s been the problem.

I generally am very pro-vaccines and pro-vaccinations. I think they’ve saved a lot of lives and cut down on a lot of morbidity in our society.

I think the problem we are having now is we have an increasing number of antivaxers. I think they are being reactionary. And I think they are being reactionary because of the way things are being imposed upon them.

It is a microcosm of the bigger problems that we are having in our country right now where people try to impose things on everybody rather than sitting down and having an intelligent conversation and looking at the data, looking at the evidence.

This level of naïveté is painful to behold. What on earth does Carson think that vaccine advocates have been doing for all these years but showing the data and trying to convince antivaccine loons that vaccines are not only not dangerous but are safe and effective. Indeed, the very reason for vaccine mandates is because antivaccine activists can’t be convinced with evidence, reason, and rational arguments. You can’t have an intelligent conversation with them. It’s certainly possible to have an intelligent conversation with the vaccine-averse parents (who are very different from the real antivaccinationists), but with hard core antivaccinationists? Not so much.

Then there’s creationism:

I believe the Bible. I do believe it is the word of God. I do believe he created heavens and earth. It says in Genesis 1, in the beginning God created heaven and earth. Period. We don’t know how long that period is before he started the rest of creation. It could be a minute. It could be a trillion years. We don’t know. I have never stated that I have an understanding of how old the earth is. That’s something that a lot of people will ascribe to me.

Organisms, animals have the ability to adapt to their environment. But the evolutionists say that’s proof positive that evolution occurs.

I say it is evidence of an intelligent God who gave his creatures the ability to adapt to its environment so he wouldn’t have to start over every 50 years.

What is it with neurosurgeons and creationism? So Carson might not be a young earth creationist, as he has been accused of in some quarters, but he is clearly a creationist. The problem is that evolution is not only well supported by the existing scientific evidence but is currently the best explanation for the diversity of life.

I’ve said it before (many times). I’ll say it again: Most physicians are not scientists, and highly intelligent people (like Ben Carson) are frustratingly all too often not skeptics.

As I’ve said before, every human being on this planet has the potential to believe the same nonsense the Ben Carson, or maybe nonsense on the same level as what he believes, if not necessarily the exact same beliefs. Add to that the considerable hubris that Carson has exhibited over the last three years, and you have a very toxic combination.

Hubris is the enemy of skepticism because skepticism begins with recognizing how our thinking can go awry, not just Ben Carson or other cranks but you, me, everybody. Critical to that recognition is having the humility to recognize that we all believe things without evidence and to begin to test our most deeply held beliefs against reality in order to determine which ones are supported by evidence and which ones aren’t, testing that must involve seeking out disconfirming evidence. Most importantly, we must have the humility to be able to admit when we are mistaken and be willing to change our minds when the evidence does not support our beliefs.

Ben Carson is a walking, talking, nonsense-spewing example demonstrating that a high level of knowledge and skill in one area does not necessarily make one a skeptic. As importantly, he also demonstrates how, no matter how soft spoken and seemingly self-effacing a person might seem, that does not mean that person is not full of hubris that destroys skepticism and critical thinking.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

319 replies on “Hubris versus skepticism: The case of neurosurgeon Ben Carson”

Two points:

1) Carson’s naive expectation that one can just “sit down and talk” with anti-vaxxers brings to mind a certain 2008 presidential candidate and his naive belief that one can just “sit down and talk” with certain world powers such as Iran and Russia.

2) It’s not entirely clear, at least from the quoted portion of the interview, that Carson is expressing a policy rather than a religious belief. One can be religious, and believe in a god that created the universe billions of years ago, a god who designed the universe in such a fashion that it would give rise to life through the mechanism of evolution – and yet not think this is a legitimate subject of discussion in a science classroom.

Notice that Carson is expressing the willingness to accept as fact the existence of evolution (as a mechanism through which god manages the development of living beings in the world). Perhaps, then, when he says – as he has in other interviews – that evolution was an idea created by “the adversary” [presumably Satan], he merely means evolution as a replacement for God.

To be fair, this is highly unlikely to be the case (cf. his idiocy with the pyramids). But on the off chance that it is, it’s not really fair to label him a creationist in the “crank” sense.

Dear friends, whom I love so,
This is a copy of an email I recently sent out
To a circle of bodhisattvas.
Please, please pay attention.

“Friends,

I have an urgent request to you.

First, read this article. h[]tp://http://washingtonspectator.org/donald-trump-and-the-f-word/

Pay attention to the news. Do not turn away.

Next, watch this video. h[]tp://http://www.ted.com/talks/carl_safina_what_are_animals_thinking_and_feeling

Now, educate yourself to the best extent you can on our factory farming practices.

And for the love of God, don’t kill the f*cking mice that are pooping on the shelf where the towels are. Just trust me on this one.

Go back and read the Cain and Abel story and reflect upon the fact that I have a tattoo on my right arm, which I got done with a gift certificate from the Dharma auction a few years back which reads “Thou Mayest.” It might also be good to look up the relevant part of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

Thank you and good night.

Perhaps Carson has never seen a child die from a vaccine-preventable disease, though I’d think maybe as a neurosurgeon he might have put in some VP shunts on pediatric meningitis (Hib, pneumococcal, meningococcal infections–all vaccine preventable) survivors which would have impressed up him why vaccines are so important. I’ve seen one (unvaccinated) two-year old die horribly from Hib meningitis/sepsis, and the older pediatricians (this was in 2002) told me how they would see a case very month before Hib vaccination started. Lesson learned and forever burned into my cortex for me as a 2nd year pediatric resident.

At 64 years of age, maybe Carson is just “young” enough to have not seen a lot of vaccine-preventable diseases first hand, but the ignorance of what they used to be like is inexcusable for a physician.

One way (legislatively) or the other (after more VPD outbreaks with resultant death and morbidity) vaccine rates will start increasing in the US. Carson’s views, depressingly, help to push things to the latter.

Unfortunately, Carson’s answers will seem moderate and reasonable to a great many people, especially agnostics of the “who knows?” variety, and the great majority of at least marginal believers. To the average person, it probably seems not unreasonable to spread out the vaccine schedule. My own children, one in particular, had his vaccines spread out in the extreme because he always seemed to have a bad cold when they were due. No doctor ever explained to me any harm that this might cause, and I was blissfully unaware of the attendanst risk until finding this blog (in spite of being a long time atheist and skeptic).

Your concerns are real, but it would seem difficult to convey them to the masses.

The vaccine thing, I’m convinced, is just to pander to far-right antivaxxers and to try and rope in some more liberal-leaning antivaxxers. I don’t for a second think it’s anything other than that, especially considering his very strong statements on mandatory requirements in the past.

Which makes it worse, actually. He’s risking lives for a few votes. At least true antivaxxers really think they’re right.

@ Chris Hickie / Yerushalmi

I’m afraid Ben Carson’s position is more about pandering to as many niches of voters as possible, but especially to the various groups big on freedom, small on government.
His basic message, be it on religion or vaccines, could be summarized as: “government is providing guidelines, but feel free to do whatever you want”.
In short, I don’t know about being a neurosurgeon, but Ben Carson is definitively a politician: trying to appear reaching for a middle-ground position. ‘Let’s just sit and talk it out.”

Left out of the window is, of course, the little issue of how much compromise is ethically acceptable in a given situation when following the other side’s position is likely to result in avoidable harm.

That’s why I’m not too thrilled by his half-mouthed acceptance of evolution. It sounds too much like “you call it evolution, I call it the Hand of God, but I will be a nice guy and let you call it whatever you want”. To answer Yerushalmi:

he merely means evolution as a replacement for God.

I could buy that. He doesn’t seem to be a young earth creationist, but the way he talks about “evolutionists”, he seems to equate them with hard-line atheists. In other words, he does deny evolution, but as a standalone process.
That’s still mixing up magical thinking and science, however.

No need to post this comment, just wanted you to fix a typo in this excellent and much needed post.
no one seemingly new
should be ” no one seemingly knew”

Never forget the first principle.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
If you forget the first principle, then no matter how intelligent, educated and experienced you are – it’s all useless.

@Yerushalmi: I agree with Helianthus on this point. Look at Carson’s quoted words:

But the evolutionists say that’s proof positive that evolution occurs.

The term “evolutionist” is a code word telling creationists that he’s one of them, not one of those evil scientist types who believe[1] in evolution. He claims not to have a position on whether the Earth is 6k-10k years old, or substantially older, but he is clearly stating his opposition to the theory of evolution.

[1]Yes, I know, scientists don’t believe in evolution per se, they believe that the evidence in favor of the theory is overwhelming. But that’s not how fundamentalist religious types see it–they need to believe in something, so they project that need on scientists.

He’s in the ID camp, IOW a stealth creationist.

I wonder if the groundwork for hubris wasn’t laid at an early age– a combination of early issues with learning, religious training, and being raised his mother’s precious nebbish.

Being treated as a god later in life would be enabling to say the least. Still can’t get over that seriously weird painting of him with Jesus.

Organisms, animals have the ability to adapt to their environment. But the evolutionists say that’s proof positive that evolution occurs.

Isn’t that basically the definition of evolution? I think what he really means is that he accepts evolution, but not common descent (or, as creationists like to say, “microevolution but not macroevolution.”) This seems to be the crux of a lot of the “talking past one another” that inevitably occurs when creationists and “evolutionists” (for lack of a more accurate but equally concise term) get into it.

We don’t know how long that period is before he started the rest of creation. It could be a minute. It could be a trillion years.

Yes, we do know, Dr. Carson. It just doesn’t fit the narrative that you need to win over the current Republican base. That’s why you want to pretend that “we” don’t know. But we do. Carbon 14 is a hell of a little atom. You should get to know it sometime.

Other than the extreme he has taken his hubris–running for president–I don’t see that there is much difference between Dr. Carson and celebrities who attempt to cash in on their popularity to advance a cause that is dear to them, however misguided they may be. Ultimately, the common sense of most Americans prevail, but it can be painful to watch and disheartening to see so many swayed by ignorance, lies, and misinformation.

@Helianthus

He doesn’t seem to be a young earth creationist, but the way he talks about “evolutionists”, he seems to equate them with hard-line atheists. In other words, he does deny evolution, but as a standalone process.
That’s still mixing up magical thinking and science, however.

Let’s say you believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god that created the universe.

Almost by definition, you have to believe that any process present in the universe is one that that god set into motion and/or actively maintains. Similarly, every outcome of that process, no matter how small, must have been part of that god’s original intent. After all, being omniscient, he knows all the actual, real-world outcomes of the laws and initial conditions he set into motion; and being omnipotent, he had the ability to set up a different set of laws and initial conditions in order to create an identical universe except for that one undesirable outcome.

That means that, if you believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god, and you also believe that evolution is the mechanism by which humans arose on Earth, you *must* believe that evolution took the path it did because god set it up that way.

Nothing I have said so far is in any way anti-science. There is no “magical thinking” involved here, nor is there the denial of evolution as a “standalone process”. “Magical thinking” only arises if you take that as your endpoint. If you say “God wanted it that way” and leave it at that. (This would also prevent you from jettisoning the theory of evolution if and when evidence emerged that presented a competing theory.)

But if you instead say, “God created this principle of how the universe works, and now I will investigate exactly what the parameters of this principle are” – there is no functional difference between this and saying “this is the principle by which the universe works, and now I will investigate exactly what the parameters of this principle are”. The basic definition of science is not “there is no God” or “there is no magic”; the basic definition of science is the hunt for the rules by which the universe works. (Magic and science are not incompatible, as long as it’s of this type: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SufficientlyAnalyzedMagic.)

In conflating the generalized belief in God with “magical thinking”, you are doing *exactly* the same thing Carson is doing in conflating “hard-core atheists” with “evolutionists”, only from the other side. It might be *unscientific* to believe in god, but there’s nothing that necessitates it being *anti-scientific*.

Consider that the Vatican has absolutely no problem with evolution or a 14-billion-year-old universe. Neither does Judaism.

I am an Orthodox Jew. The compatibility of Big Bang-like theories with Judaism, for instance, is established in rabbinical writings as far back as the 13th century, long before the actual Big Bang theory was created. Yet in the past fifty years there has been a surge of anti-scientific, anti-evolution attitudes among Orthodox Jews, mostly because of spillover in the war between anti-science modern evangelical Christians, and anti-religious atheist crusaders. A cultural attitude has emerged that says that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, supported by the agendas of both sides in this war, and it’s actually become quite damaging to Judaism. We’ve *never* had a problem with the basic principle of “God created a universe with a set of laws, and we can investigate and explain what those laws are”, but all of a sudden this anti-science attitude has begun to emerge, and it makes me quite sad to see my religion trending in the direction of modern evangelical Christianity.

You can slice, dice, and parse and philosophize about faith anyway you like. What’s going on with Carson matters because of current American politics, the 800 lb. gorilla subtext of which is attempts to wedge religion into science classrooms (see Kitzmiller v. Dover).

In general for purposes of discussion here, I think this guy is on the right track:

“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Yerushalmi #14,

You appear to be an educated and intelligent person, but you are stretching a bit here. It’s one thing to say “God is just another name for the Big Bang, through which the laws of physics were established”, and quite another to say “God is just another name for the Big Bang, and he really would prefer that you don’t eat pork.”

The latter represents the reality of Orthodox Judaism and Seventh-Day Advent-ism and so on. The former is something UU types might say, as one of the “least religious” religions.

I am saying neither.

I am saying that the belief in god does not preclude one from being a scientist and thinking rationally about the world. Believing in god doesn’t prevent you from doing an experiment, reading the result, and changing your understanding of how the world works based on that result.

In assuming these are incompatible, hard-core anti-religionists do the cause of science a disservice by basically convincing the world that, in order to be religious, one *must* to stand in opposition to science. (The hard-core anti-science religious right does the exact same thing to their side, driving people away from religion by making them choose between being religious and being rational.)

As for eating pork, well, that’s a matter of simply accepting upon yourself a legal and moral framework written by another. It has nothing whatsoever to do with science, neither for nor against it.

@ Yerushalmi

That means that, if you believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god, and you also believe that evolution is the mechanism by which humans arose on Earth, you *must* believe that evolution took the path it did because god set it up that way.

Yes, but you missed part of my point: It’s actually about the “god set it up that way” part of your answer: there is an underlying assumption here, you are using the past tense.
I emphasized how Ben Carson doesn’t believe in a standalone evolution. As in, god is playing with it, right now.

I lack the philosophical/theological background to put it in exact words, but I wanted to distinguish between:
– a believer who sees god as a watchmaker: the old guy put the world together, cranked the spring, and now the watch is ticking all by itself. All of its moves may have been planned in details in advance, but right now, it’s a standalone process, with strict relations of cause-and-effects between its gears.
– a believer who sees god still walking among us, shaping events on the go.

The 1st believer may only hope to be part of god’s plan; the second may hope for the rules to be bend occasionally around him.
The 1st believer won’t be tempted to pray for a personal intervention of god in his life. The second will; it may actually be part of his credo. Hence, magical thinking.
From your description, you are close to the first type (with all due respect, I’m not trying to offend).
Ben Carson is of the second type.

I agree I may be going a bit too far with pulling out “magical thinking” out of the bag (eh, now I can say that sometimes i veer off into “scientism”); on the other hand:

A cultural attitude has emerged that says that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible,

But they are.
It’s not just science and religion. Similarly, most religions, down to most religion currents, are incompatible with one-another. Only one could be right.
Well, I guess a lot of them could be half-right. That’s where the more ecumenical currents stand. To paraphrase Theodore Monod, we are all taking different paths to climb the mountain, and all we can hope is to meet again at the top.

To emphasize, two systems of visualizing the world are incompatible whenever they have different point-of-view on reality.
No matter how you cut it, young earth creationism is incompatible with paleontology, geology, astronomy, biology, archaeology…
And to some extend with theology itself 🙂

People with different visions of the way the world is working may try to live side-by-side. Trying to work together may be more difficult.
But a single person having two of these systems coexisting in its head? It will need to compartmentalize, and some parts of each system will have to gave way for the other.
It will be easier if both systems in that person’s head are very clear on their limits, and open to change and self-scrutiny. Science could be quite thick-headed with its quest for evidence and facts; any religion generally has a strong, unmovable dogma at its core. That reduces strongly the maneuver room.

tl;dr: when people’s metaphysical beliefs collide with science, I would prefer the side with evidence and facts to win.

– a believer who sees god as a watchmaker: the old guy put the world together, cranked the spring, and now the watch is ticking all by itself. All of its moves may have been planned in details in advance, but right now, it’s a standalone process, with strict relations of cause-and-effects between its gears.
– a believer who sees god still walking among us, shaping events on the go.

They are both true. We are G-d, or at least we are paving the way for Him/Her to come. I do not know what happens next.

Yerushalmi #18,

I assume you are responding to me.

Helianthus is making a similar point to mine, and I don’t think you are addressing it. Of course one can compartmentalize, and perform scientific experiments while believing that one is communicating/interacting (through prayer or not eating pork or whatever) with a supernatural entity.

But then one must be acting outside either religion or science, which JP may (or may not) be trying to get at.

We have all been doing a good job at holding fast to the truths that we are suited to. Now is the time to work together, and to speak truth to power, and to no longer tolerate lies.

“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

I’ll see your eastern mystic and raise you a Pat answer,

“You go back in time, you’ve got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you’ve got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas, They’re out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don’t try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years….”

“If you fight science, you are going to lose your children, and I believe in telling them the way it was,”

— Pat Robertson

@ JP

They are both true.

Yes, I wanted to add that believers – and religions themselves – spread the full spectrum between full determination and free will, or whatever I was trying to say.
That worries me is that Ben Carson appears more and more as an extreme on this spectrum. Worse, even when he is in mild-mannered politician mode.

We are G-d, or at least we are paving the way for Him/Her to come.

Eh, careful, you are getting close to the omega point heresy, which almost resulted in the excommunication by the catholic church of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
OTOH, being compared to Chardin is a big compliment, in my book.

Sidenote: both Teilhard de Chardin and Theodore Monod were deeply religious men and successful scientists – I cannot quote them and not agree with Yerushalmi that it is indeed possible to be both.
Actually, I have worked in scientific labs with people of various religious sensitivity, from mild Catholic or Muslim to hard-line evangelical Calvinism, without much fuss. My misgivings are more about what will happen if my evangelical coworker was to become prime minister. He is very nice and polite and professional, but frankly, I’m not exaggerating by saying I would feel a strong urge to flee the country the day after his election.

I do not know what happens next.

Eh, no need to rush.

@Helianthus
I take no offense at anything you’re saying. But it’s clear that so many of your beliefs about religion are shaped by the prevalence, either in the media or in your personal background or both, of one particular religion, and these criticisms do not apply to almost any other religion.

Most religions are incompatible with one another because they are in *direct contradiction* with one another. I do not argue with this. You either believe in one god or three or seven or seventy or zero.

But religions contradicting one another is not evidence of religion contradicting science; science offers no opinion on the number of gods because nobody has run an experiment with that number as an output.

Applesauce (#15) put up this interesting quote:
“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

This is a great quote because it very closely reflects my own beliefs with regards to religion. There’s a saying in Orthodox Judaism: “If you think that science and Torah are in contradiction, then either you misunderstood the science, or you misunderstood the Torah.” Christianity fought for centuries against the idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe, until eventually it was realized that such a belief wasn’t strictly necessary to being a Christian. Similarly, almost every single one of the more ridiculous Jewish beliefs that I’ve encountered have turned out to come from medieval-era rabbis who based their beliefs on superstitions prevalent at the time. The Talmud at one point describes an argument between the Jewish rabbis and the Greek philosophers about where the sun goes at night, and the discussion in the Jewish religious text ultimately comes down on the side of the Greeks because, it concluded, “their words make [more] sense than our words”. (Though, hilariously, the Greeks’ reasoning is completely flawed even though they turned out to be right.)

You use young earth creationism as your example, and yes, young earth creationism stands in contrast to almost every branch of science known to man. But that’s an example of *one* belief system: a belief system that follows neither the Buddhist principle from Applesauce’s quote nor the Jewish principle from mine; a belief system that does not represent even the whole of its own religion, given the Vatican’s (and many other Christian sects’) lack of a problem with evolution or the scientific age of the universe; a belief system that, yes, is probably stubbornly hanging on to outdated imperalist dogm- sorry, I mean outdated unscientific beliefs not because it is antithetical to their religion but because of the *societal* rifts that cause them to believe that science, as they misinterpret it due to the anti-religious sentiments of its loudest and rudest proponents, is actively attempting to distance them from their religion.

Young earth creationism is infecting Judaism nowadays, for that same societal reason. But it’s not part of our belief system, and it never was. I would not be surprised if modern Buddhism is having the same problem.

This is one of my favorite quotes:
https://twitter.com/loresjoberg/status/525035527225892864

I love the Pat Robertson quote. A similar thing was said by Rabbi Natan Slifkin (I don’t have the exact words):

“If God invested so much effort in trying to convince me that the universe is billions of years old, why should I believe He is lying?”

“… was basically a rock star whom seemingly everyone admired.” Check.

“… he became more and more famous based on his life story as told in his biography.” Check.

“… started to develop a touch of hubris and that that hubris carried over to his political campaign.” Check.

“… a man who has never held elective office or even run a large organization, such as a company.” Half-a-check.

“… basically lied through his teeth.” Check.

“… even more disappointing to see that he is still pandering.” Check.

“… a walking, talking, nonsense-spewing example demonstrating that a high level of knowledge and skill in one area does not necessarily make one a skeptic.” Check.

That’s six and a half checks for Obama.

SN, the article was not about Obama. You must be confused by the skin color of the subject of this article.

science offers no opinion on the number of gods because nobody has run an experiment with that number as an output.
Russel’s teapot much? This is why I find theology so useless…

To Helianthus #19:

“The 1st believer won’t be tempted to pray for a personal intervention of god in his life. The second will; it may actually be part of his credo. Hence, magical thinking.”

Aren’t BOTH believers engaged in “magical thinking”, in your view?
………..
“I agree I may be going a bit too far with pulling out “magical thinking” out of the bag (eh, now I can say that sometimes i veer off into “scientism”)”

And your “scientism” is not science. It’s a philosophy, a world-view.
………
“A cultural attitude has emerged that says that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, But they are.”

No, they are not.
Fides ET ratio.
……….
“Similarly, most religions, down to most religion currents, are incompatible with one-another. Only one could be right.”

Agreed! THAT makes sense.

@AdamG: I don’t see what Russel’s Teapot has to do with anything. I’ve never claimed that the lack of a disproof indicates that the existence of a god or gods should be assumed. All I’m saying is that the lack of a disproof indicates that the sum totla of our scientific knowledge to date is not actively incompatible with such a belief.

To Yerushalmi #27:

“This is one of my favorite quotes:
https://twitter.com/loresjoberg/status/525035527225892864”

I kind of liked the quote above it:
“If Darwinian evolution applies to religion, then religion must have some evolutionary value.”
…..
I’m a YEC who has sometimes said something similar:
‘Don’t get mad at me. I just “evolved” this way.’ Or
‘Don’t blame me. Blame evolution.’

Carson has simply realized that to get noticed in today’s anti-science and pro-racist republican party you have to say things they like: state that what is believed to be established science really isn’t, that what people who don’t worship the way the masses do are evil and need to be tracked and kept out of the country, and that facts don’t matter (saying you met with someone who wasn’t in your city about a scholarship that doesn’t exist is good since the subject was a military academy: the fact that it was entirely made up doesn’t matter and really is just a “gotcha” question).

In short: to have a chance as a republican candidate, you have to lie through your teeth. That’s what makes him appealing to so many on the right: he’s one of them.

Also, AdamG, it is precisely that dismissive and condescending attitude towards religion that is contributing to the great science vs. religion rifts in modern American society. I come and say that I represent an example of how the two sides need not fight, and you answer by telling me how useless my beliefs are.

If you instead respect my beliefs, especially seeing as I am in no way trying to convince you to share them, you will demonstrate that you don’t have the active hostility towards religion that the religious right in America always assumes the atheist left has.

All I’m saying is that the lack of a disproof indicates that the sum totla of our scientific knowledge to date is not actively incompatible with such a belief.

Isn’t that the whole point of burden of proof though? I don’t see it as being all that far off from an antivaxer saying ‘science has no opinion on autism and vaccines because [insert impossible study here] has not been conducted’

I emphasized how Ben Carson doesn’t believe in a standalone evolution. As in, god is playing with it, right now.

The only clear meaning I can extract from Carson’s tergiversation is that ‘evolution’ is something that ‘evolutionists’ believe in, but only because they’re misinterpreting the evidence. He accepts ‘adaptation’ but not evolution.

it is precisely that dismissive and condescending attitude towards religion that is contributing to the great science vs. religion rifts in modern American society.

I’ve seen this tone argument play out a thousand times. No evidence for this statement, as usual.

And I’m out.

I don’t see it as being all that far off from an antivaxer saying ‘science has no opinion on autism and vaccines because [insert impossible study here] has not been conducted’

Science has expressed opinions on autism and vaccines because literally dozens of studies have been done. Waiting for the imaginary perfect study (or using its absence as an excuse) is nowhere near the same thing as expressing an opinion on something that, virtually by definition, cannot be tested. Show me a study that purports to prove the nonexistence of god, and then we’ll talk; until then, I’m free to believe what I like, and so are you.

Isn’t that the whole point of burden of proof though?
Where did I set out to prove the existence of god? Why are you making that assumption of me?

Yerushalmi @36:
I come and say that I represent an example of how the two sides need not fight

I have nothing intelligent to contribute on that broader issue, but on the narrow question of Carson’s own beliefs and statements, you seem to be offering an excessively charitable reading of his words.

Carson is *not* accepting a kind of divinely-guided evolution, or “evolution as the workings of the divine clockwork”. He presents his belief in contrast to what “evolutionists” believe (i.e. that adaptation to the environment is “proof positive” that new species can arise).

#36 Yerushalmi,

“If you instead respect my beliefs…”

But we have no idea what your “beliefs” are, Yerushalmi.

If you follow the various quoted instructions about accepting scientific proof over traditional religious views of the physical universe, then what is it that anyone here is “not respecting”?

If you say that e.g. not eating pork is a choice independent of the claim that God doesn’t want you to eat pork, what exactly qualifies you as “religious”? It sounds much more as if you are a Jewish version of Cafeteria Catholic, which is fine, but it is more a choice of cultural identity than a matter of “belief”.

Yerushalmi – what does “respect my beliefs” mean in this context? What different actions or statements would be required to show sufficient respect? How do you reconcile that with your previous statements which, if I may be so bold, claim that anyone who says their religious beliefs conflict with science are incorrect?

FWIW, like Stephen Jay Gould I believe that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria. However, there are those who clearly disagree with me on this.

Some of my best friends are Hubris, and they are not opposed to skepticism.

@herr doktor bimler:
The last paragraph of my very first post (#1) here makes it clear that the differences between our opinions on Carson are not very great:
To be fair, this is highly unlikely to be the case (cf. his idiocy with the pyramids). But on the off chance that it is, it’s not really fair to label him a creationist in the “crank” sense.

@zebra, Mephistopheles:
I was referring to my belief in god in the most general sense. You don’t need to know the details about my belief – beyond the fact that it exists – to see that why phrasing “Russel’s teapot much? This is why I find theology so useless…” would be construed as dismissive and condescending.

I will say that I’ve thought Stephen Jay Gould is an idiot ever since I was twelve years old, when I read the introduction he wrote to one of the Far Side books and noticed that in one of the strips he referenced he utterly failed to get the joke.

Yerushalmi,

I will say that I’ve thought Stephen Jay Gould is an idiot ever since I was twelve years old, when I read the introduction he wrote to one of the Far Side books and noticed that in one of the strips he referenced he utterly failed to get the joke.

I’m surprised by that; are you sure you didn’t misunderstand him? I’ve thought Stephen Jay Gould was brilliant since I too was twelve years old, when my brother bought me a copy of ‘Ever Since Darwin’. I loved it, and then read my way through everything he had written that I could get my hands on. My impressions were only reinforced when I attended a lecture he gave in London circa 1989 (about spandrels as I recall), in which he displayed a well-developed sense of humor. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I love his style of thinking; I think you may have dismissed him prematurely, which would be a shame.

@ Yerushalmi

But religions contradicting one another is not evidence of religion contradicting science; science offers no opinion on the number of gods because nobody has run an experiment with that number as an output.

I agree, at least in general terms. It was my point about each system needing to know its limits in order to coexist with the other one.
You forget to mention that, in all most known religions, god(s) are notoriously difficult to coerce into cooperating with some scientific experiment…
This is fine by me. Religion is about belief, and beliefs, by definition, is about thinking something is true without evidence of it being true (and also without evidence of it being false – if there was such evidence, it’s not a belief, but a delusion).

Connoisseurs will speak about religious beliefs being unfalsifiable: you cannot prove they are wrong. Or right.

On specific terms, religion – well, people talking under the guise of their religious beliefs – does contradict science from time to time, like when Carson talked bout the pyramids being Joseph’s granaries.
That’s an assertion which could be assessed scientifically. Heck, forget the scientists in a labcoat, anyone with some knowledge on how to store grains can go and check by itself. Pyramids aren’t designed for grain storage.
That doesn’t make Carson’s religion wrong; but it does make him wrong and him using his religious beliefs wrongly.

Again, my misgivings are about when facts and beliefs collide.

but because of the *societal* rifts that cause them to believe that science, as they misinterpret it due to the anti-religious sentiments of its loudest and rudest proponents, is actively attempting to distance them from their religion.

Yerushalmi, please don’t school me on “anti-religious sentiments”. You get it easy.
All your non-fully secular countries (US, Israel…) got are “loud and rude proponents” for a little less religion in the streets. (and unfortunately, the occasional gunman on a rampage)
But you still have freedom of religion. And your countries are still religious countries. You can go to your church of choice whenever you want. Nasty atheists are not running around blasting themselves to smithereens.
What atheists (and mild agnostics like myself) want is freedom from religion. You don’t get the right to tell me the lie that the Earth is 4000 years old or that the Garden of Eden is East of the Himalaya; you certainly don’t have the right to lead a policy based on any of this.

That my country had, a little more than a century ago, was an anti-clerical government who went out of its way to separate church and state.
They had some good reasons for this; notably it had more to do about the secular activities of the Catholic church than its theological message.
Still, during this period, the state was actively suppressing religious freedom. There is no other word.
I’m pretty sure any historian can come with dozens of tales of anti-religious oppression in other countries.

So, when you complain about “anti-religious sentiments”, give me a break. Newflash: the world is a large place, and you cannot expect everybody to like you. People have the right to think this whole religion thingy is sh!t. Even if I think they are id!ots for annoying people publicly with their opinion.

You spend a lot of text explaining to me how religious people – or at least your coreligionists – can still make good scientists, because they are not afraid of confronting their beliefs, and vice-versa. As it happens, I agree that this is possible and that it is happening.

I will leave you with another pearl of wisdom from a religious friend of mine: when a relationship is going sour, both parties are responsible for it.
I will grant you that the atheist movement certainly has its share of imbeciles in its ranks. Human nature is the same everywhere.
But when you complain about these rude atheists disgusting your fellow believers from science, it sounds to me like they still have trouble having their beliefs questioned. They may misinterpret science because they want to.

And frankly, these weeks are a bad time to tell me that religious people are fair-minded. Do some effort to clean your ranks of your crazies, and we will clean ours. Deal?

I’m saying is that the lack of a disproof indicates that the sum totla of our scientific knowledge to date is not actively incompatible with such a belief.

Well, the smart religions have all moved on to making unfalsifiable claims, so science can say nothing about their validity. With that, it all comes down to a matter of what you find interesting and what sorts of priors you find plausible.

And I find the idea that some unphysical intelligence created the physical universe to be very implausible, and it leads to a nasty recursion problem. To me, the universe simply exists, and the great and probably unanswerable mystery is why there is something rather than nothing. Anthorpomorphizing this mystery seems childish to me.

And that, for once, is all.

To Yerushalmi:

I don’t know what complement of religious beliefs is considered orthodox for an Orthodox Jew, but what do you believe about this verse from the Jewish scriptures (i.e. Old Testament)?

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Daniel 12:2.

Yerushalmi #45,

“…beyond the fact that it exists…”

But that is not a “fact” at all. That is simply your assertion.

Yerushalmi, I’d like to apologize for being so flippant before. It was entirely unnecessary and driven by my previous unpleasant experiences surrounding this topic.

All movements for social change are composed of people with wildly differing philosophies, and the least effective strategy for change is infighting.

zebra 52 — The “it” in Yerushalmi’s post refers to his belief, which evidently exists

Although I don’t believe in an extraphysical God, there is no question that God exists as an idea that many people believe. My own reconciliation with religion is to consider God to be a placeholder, so to speak, for the sense that many of us have that there are important things that are bigger than any of us, and for the instinct to empathize with others. Or something like that.

I dismiss the silly claims of religion, but I sure don’t dismiss those overarching ideas.

I will reprise a point I made on Dave original Facebook post when he commented on the New York Times article: What seems to have happened to Dr ‘Gifted Hands’ is that he has indeed developed a severe case of hubris, brought on, in my view, by too many people saying how great he was for too long, and starting too early in his life. His age has only accentuated these difficulties, as when we age, our basic personal traits often become even more ingrained. And not only that, he has also spent too much time in revival meetings and other such stops on the Praise the lord circuit; he now – literally – thinks he sits at the right hand of Jesus Christ himself. He has, in short, been creating his own bullshit for so long, he actually believes it.

Of course I couldn’t stay out of this one, if only to change the topic back to Ben Carson.
I also read the Times profile, and I was impressed by the loyalty he inspired in his PA. That AAPA wanted to honor him shows that he must be a strong ally of and contributor to the PA profession, and that this was cancelled suggests his opinions were well beyond the pale – PAs are politically and philosophically a very mixed bunch or people. PAs are like that old joke about Jews that if you ask two you’ll get three opinions.
Getting back to his hubris, which I don’t doubt is the correct word, and in spite of his sedate(d) appearance, an observation by Hunter S Thompson applies to him. As the good doctor said, every politician has to have a little kinky streak of Mick Jagger in him, and it’s there in Carson too. He loves the adulation of the crowd, and he’s got a kind of counter-political appeal that I think he cultivates to make himself stand out. This inner Mick Jagger lives very nicely alongside quiet hubris, just as it does with Donald Trumpery’s self-aggrandizement and megalomania, or Chris Christie’s crassness (or should we just call him Chrass Christie?).

#49 “People have the right to think this whole religion thingy is sh!t. Even if I think they are id!ots for annoying people publicly with their opinion.”

I’m not entirely clear why it seems to be okay for believers discuss their beliefs but, should one thing the whole thing is a pile of horse pucky, it’s some how rude or not nice or insensitive to state that.

Carson’s religious beliefs are deeply disturbing to me. I suppose I should be grateful he is so public about them as it means I know he’s not a man I’d trust with the running of my country. As if the anti-vax stuff wasn’t enough.

@Krebiozen
You shouldn’t take that statement *THAT* seriously 🙂

@Helianthus
Wow. You just brought in a LOT of straw-man arguments:
* What does anti-religious *oppression* have anything to do with my assertion that our culture has created an environment of religious opposition to science and vice versa? I’m not saying “religious people have it bad”. I’m only saying that an environment has been created in which religious authorities and rationalists seem to believe their two groups cannot intersect.
* Why do you bring that “pearl of wisdom” into this discussion? I’ve said multiple times in the earlier posts of this thread that modern evangelical Christianity is responsible for much of the attitude that religion must be in opposition to science; my later posts, which lack this even-handedness, are addressed to the hostility towards religion expressed by people *in this thread*.
* What does Islamic terrorism have anything to do with my assertion that you can be religious and yet be rational? And in the context of that terrorism, telling somebody *Jewish* to “clean my ranks of the crazies” is a low blow.

@palindrom
The smart religions have moved on to making *mostly* unfalsifiable claims, yes. But almost every religion has a history that can at least in part be verified. For instance, it is fashionable to claim that many things in the Bible are metaphorical and not literal, and to claim that god’s omnipotence allows him to weasel out of any test you might conduct that is designed to reveal his existence. You can say that god, being omnipotent, wrote the Torah in such-and-such a fashion so that it would fool later generations of linguistic investigators, for example. But there is only so far one can move the goalposts before anybody’s faith snaps under the strain, including mine. So while the core belief in an omnipotent being may be unfalsifiable, the surrounding beliefs that support it certainly can be.

@See Noevo: I’m not familiar enough with the book of Daniel, I’m afraid.

@zebra: palindrom has it right. My belief is something that exists; I make no assertions to you about god.

@AdamG: Apology accepted. Thank you. I certainly believe that those of us who are rationalists – regardless of our positions on religion – ought to fight together against the irrationality that is sweeping modern religion. (And, before the obvious objection is brought up, I will remind you that I am Jewish, not Christian; my religion has *always* had a rich vein of rationalism, and it is only recently that some authorities have begun to reject its legitimacy.)

@Meg: I have no problem with people telling me they think my beliefs are stupid, but there are ways to say it without being condescending, dismissive, or offensive. Palindrom’s objections to religion, for example, are a good example of how to express it.

Please, tell your truths proudly. We have all done very well, and we have much to be grateful for – from each other. Don’t forget to be excellent to each other. I think I might go on holiday for a while, but I’ll be dropping in and out to hang our with all you lovely, intelligent people.

@ Yerushalmi

Wow. You just brought in a LOT of straw-man arguments:

Maybe.
Although I think that , due to a bit of cultural difference, we are talking past each other.

What does anti-religious *oppression* have anything to do with my assertion that our culture has created an environment of religious opposition to science and vice versa?

– I over-reacted, thinking how atheists/free-thinkers movements in US are framed as “war on Christianity”.
– I also wanted to put things into perspective. A local group of vocal anti-religious people is not the same threat on religion as a state-enabled anti-religious policy.

Let me put it this way: your paragraph about rude anti-religious goons gave me the impression you were playing the oppressed minority card. It riled me up.
You weren’t, and I apologize for this.

At the same time, I was trying to tell you that, from my little experience in USA, we in France went a lot further into separating religious expression and public life. A French president who “prays for his enemies” while declaring war will be laughed out of office.
(although, recently, there have been a surge of “France has Christian roots” politicians; but it’s disguised racism rather than religion bigotry)

In this context, what you see as rude anti-religious expression may be considered normal in my country and doesn’t stop us from being religious. We are expected to heavily compartmentalize our religious beliefs and our professional life and accept it as routine.
In short, you may see your country as secular, but for me, you country is still deeply religious. So we don’t have the same reaction to people saying “bring less religion in professional/public life”.

What does Islamic terrorism have anything to do with my assertion that you can be religious and yet be rational?

Religious-based violence is not the monopoly of Islam.

And in the context of that terrorism, telling somebody *Jewish* to “clean my ranks of the crazies” is a low blow.

Should we let the discussion veer off into Israel politics? Not so long ago, Ariel Sharon’s government was entertaining the idea of expanding current borders to match the Old Testament borders (the Great Israel).
Sharon since recanted on the idea, but still. There are still hyper-religious Jews to entertain the idea (along with a few hyper-religious US Christians, who see the restoration of Jerusalem temple as a necessary step before the second coming of Christ),

I see it as a prime example of religion driving (bad) politics.
The Israel-Middle Eastern conflict is a lot more complex than just a religious war. Just the geo-politic aspect of resources access is a diplomatic nightmare.
But the local interactions of the three Abrahamic religions are not helping. And I am sorry, but each side does have its share of crazies.

But I agree my shot was a bit dirty.
If anything, you are not responsible for anyone I deem “crazy” and on “your” side (emphasis on “I deem” – my opinion, my biases).

Yerushalmi (and also for Palindrom),

This is one of those concepts that must be spelled out very carefully, I suppose:

I am not questioning an assertion that God exists.

I am questioning your assertion that you believe God exists.

It is no more possible to prove or disprove the latter than the former.

The point is, Y, that you are claiming some authority based on this untestable internal state, which is not much different from someone telling me that he knows the truth because God speaks to him.

If you want to make a case in the context of a nuanced, psycho-social, scientific analysis of human behavior, by all means have at it. I would argue, for example, following on from Helianthus’ point about the ME, that you could explain suicide bombers without invoking religion at all.

But I don’t think your personal philosophical viewpoint, whatever it might be, is at all relevant to the actions and reactions of the groups in question.

I appreciate the apology, Helianthus. I will also point out that I don’t actually live in the US; religious Jews in Israel are certainly not an “oppressed minority”.

The reason I said you were talking about Islamic terrorism is because you said I shouldn’t discuss being religious and fair-minded in “these weeks”, and you’re from France. It wasn’t that much of a leap. 🙂

I don’t want to get into a discussion of Israeli politics either, but I should just point out that hyper-religious Jews are not the ones who espouse Greater Israel philosophies; in fact, the more hyper-religious they are, the less they support (and, after a certain threshold, the more they *actively oppose*) the existence of the State of Israel. Some links:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edah_HaChareidis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satmar_%28Hasidic_dynasty%29#Satmar_and_the_State_of_Israel
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neturei_Karta

There are other misconceptions in your post as well but I *really* don’t want to get into the discussion.

@zebra
All I said is that it’s not hard to imagine how somebody who believes in god, such as me, might find a particular phrasing condescending or offensive. I have no idea what you’re trying to say in disputing that I believe in god.

# 27 Yerushalmi
Christianity fought for centuries against the idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe

Excuse me but this is nonsense overall. The Catholic Church, at least, did not fight against this the idea but rather refused to change a earth-centred model for a helio-centered model without adequate proof. Certainly the Catholic Church had no real problem with the idea as long as it could be convincingly demontrated and for a good century or so it could not be untill future research showed that the helio-centric proposition was a better explanation of the data.

In fact, the Church’s position was just the same as the Dalai Lama’s that you posted.If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

“Stop badmouthing and lying about our future president Ben Carson! It’s mean! And it makes you all seem ridiculous. Obama is much worse! The worst, bloody communist muslim immigrant.”
“We’re not lying, we’re just asking him to explain what he said.” says someone from the audience.
“You liberals are trying to smear him! It’s all lies!”
“There’s recordings of him saying those things, evidence-”
“Bah! Evidence, shmevidence, who believes in those things anyway. Bible says it all, the age of the Creation and how even Jews belive in the afterlife!”
“Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that guy is a young earth creationist…” whispers one spectator to another, while holding the camera.
“It’s not his fault, it’s just that he was createth dumb.”

(pause)

Irritated by the giggling from the audience, See Noevo stomps the stage hard in anger. “Now listen!” he shouts, before to muster a calmer demeanor and an air of reasonable discussion. “I took time off my busy and incredibly important schedule of studying the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact to be here for you people, so you should accept what I have to say without questions.”

(pause)

“And when you think about it, isn’t that what honest debate is all about?”
“No.” answers the audience.
“Shut up, I wasn’t asking!” shrieks See Noevo.

@ Yerushalmi

Two points I would like to clarify, because I feel I was not clear enough, and it’s bugging me since yesterday it could have been seen as offensive:

In conflating the generalized belief in God with “magical thinking”

Actually, I was trying not to:
– by magical thinking, I meant the act of believing that the universe will make an exception for the believer.
Believing in an afterlife or that some supernatural entity is watching over you is not.
Believing that you can jump off a cliff and said supernatural entity will catch you is magical thinking.*
I guess I could have just said religion-based hubris. Or just hubris: magical thinking is not necessarily linked to a given religion, or to any religion.
Note that I am not judging on the existence – or non-existence – of miracles; just on the belief that a miracle will happen.

– dogma: I was using the term in a non-pejorative way. I meant by it the core beliefs and rituals of a given religion/set of beliefs; the ones by which one identifies itself and its fellow coreligionists.

* If someone is already on the way down, I certainly won’t blame it for hoping for a magical rescue.

@ Yerushalmi

There are other misconceptions in your post

Oh. Fair enough.
Eh, I’ll have learned something today.

jrkrideau #66,

It might be more accurate to say that many in physics were reluctant to embrace a position that, given what was generally accepted as Church doctrine, might alienate a powerful entity and its followers. You can hardly suggest that there were not factions within the Church (as there are today) less open to change.

But you are quite correct that the numbers were still with epicycles for a while there.

@Helianthus
I saw nothing wrong with the use of the word “dogma”. As for “magical thinking”, I don’t entirely see how prayers for intercession relate to evolution, which was when the first term was brought up.

Yerushalmi #65,

You have no idea what I am trying to say? How could I be any more clear than saying that “God exists” and “I believe God exists” are equally empty statements?

It may be that you empathize with people who profess belief, but your claim that the empathy is because you Believe is unsupported. And that’s what you are claiming.

I have no idea what you’re trying to say *in this context*.

p = I believe God exists.
q = I found statement x to be hurtful.

How does the verifiability of p in any way change your ability to evaluate the statement p->q?

Yerushalmi,

Let’s dispense with trying to use logical symbols, which is really a form of distraction. The validity of

“I found statement x to be hurtful because I believe God exists”

obviously depends on the validity of the second part.

If I say “I found this racist comment offensive because I’m an African American”, it would not be true.

Do you really not understand that?

As Carson tries to wiggle out from the flaps over fabricating stuff in his autobiography, some of what he HASN’T made up shows more hubris than the his inventions or stretching of the truth..

His oft repeated claim he was offered a scholarship to West Point caps a narrative arc of extraordinary boot-strapping, in which he takes control of his of life, and transforms himself from the young ‘thug’ who stabbed a friend and only escaped being a murderer by the hand of God’s belt-buckle into a thoroughly disciplined and respected young-man-headed-for-great-things. He says he received the ‘scholarship offer’ after having dinner with William Westmoreland on Memorial Day 1969, having been selected to attend dinner with the General by virtue of being “the highest student ROTC member in Detroit.” Here’s how he describes this momentus day in Healing Hands:

“I felt so proud, my chest bursting with ribbons and braids of every kind. To make it more wonderful, we had important visitors that day. Two soldiers who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor in Viet Nam were present. More exciting to me, General William Westmoreland (very prominent in the Viet Nam war) attended with an impressive entourage. Afterward, Sgt. Hunt introduced me to General Westmoreland, and I had dinner with him and the Congressional Medal winners. Later I was offered a full scholarship to West Point.

Lets forget about the ‘scholarship, as it’s merely a footnote to the paragraph, and focus on what no one’s disputing:
• In 1969 Carson was the highest ranked Junior ROTC candidate in Detroit.
• He was more excited to meet William Westmoreland than to meet Medal of Honor winners.
• He knew Westmoreland had recently returned to the U.S. and a Pentagon post after having been the commander of U.S. forces in Viet Nam during the height of the war.
• He was very impressed by Westmoreland’s entourage.
By 1969, only utter tools were proud of being in ROTC. After Tet and Chicago, revelations about body-counts and possible atrocities, anyone with an ounce of critical thinking skills and/or intellectual humility was rethinking the Vietnam War and American militarism and imperialism in general. Parading in front of a ROTC group bursting with pride at your chest full of non-combat) medals took considerable hubris.

But not as much as recounting the incident the way Carson did in his book. He writes about how “wonderful” it had been to meet Westmoreland? The general who said:

The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. … We value life and human dignity. They don’t care about life and human dignity.

…while instituting ‘kill anything that moves’ tactics that resulted in massive civilian casualties, and then covering-up the atrocities like My Lai that inevitably followed? It was bad enough he couldn’t manage critical thinking on Vietnam in 1969. That his head could be so far under the sand in 2003 boggles the mind

But that’s probably indicative of why Carson is polling up there with The Donald:

Here is the thing. The central and sacrosanct tenet of 21st century conservatism—the core ethic against which to judge a Republican politician’s fidelity and consistency—is not fiscal prudence, or the preservation of social tradition, or even cold post-human market rationality. It’s flailing, entitled hostility toward the very notion of reason. Trump and Carson are at the middle of the debate stage, Fiorina and Rubio and poor Rand Paul on it at all, because what they say is ridiculous, because them saying things about policy and policymaking is itself ridiculous, because they rather obviously are the most ridiculous people to take seriously when they say pretty much anything at all. They’re there to express an idea: Refusal.

Do you want to stay here and play some more?
No!
Okay, well, then, let’s pack up our stuff and head home.
No!
Uh, well, sweetie, we have to either stay or go.
I don’t want to!
You don’t want to what?
I don’t know!

Tired and cranky, arms crossed, glassy eyes pinched shut, heads swiveling back and forth in simple stubborn refusal. You can’t make me! I don’t wanna! Refusing everything. The point is refusal…

The thing those eight clowns were put there to conserve isn’t money, or tradition, or individual liberty, or some proud American heritage. The constituency… empirically and emphatically does not give a fuck about any of those things. The thing being conserved is a fantasy, and a privileged, childish one: that the universe bends itself to the pieties and self-assurances and red-faced insistences of the entitled; that truth comes from authority and not the other way around; that I don’t give a good goldang what some fancypants “math” book says, under my roof two plus two equals five and don’t you forget it. – Albert Burneko

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