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Teaching Science in Tennessee

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April 18, 2012 Tags: Education
Teaching Science in Tennessee

Today's entry was written by Praveen Sethupathy. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Last week, Tennessee legislators approved a bill on science education (the Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act) that has stoked controversy around the country. As a deeply committed Christian, an educator, and an active member of the scientific research community, I am grateful to BioLogos for the opportunity to contribute my views about this legislation. I have several serious concerns about the content of this bill that I will endeavor to share with clarity and respect, hoping that doing so will play a small part in reinvigorating a productive national discussion on the topic of science and faith.

Within hours of the bill’s becoming law, numerous news stories, blog entries, and web sites issued warnings of the “anti-evolution law” that will “allow creationism back into the classroom.” Yet it is important to note that the bill itself does not use this language; rather, I believe that such terminology regarding this bill is derived in no small part from sentiments about Tennessee’s past. Specifically, the Butler Act of 1925 prohibited the teaching of biological evolution in all public schools of Tennessee, and the Scopes Trial brought this act—and Tennessee’s educational policies—into the national spotlight. The bitter aftertaste still lingers for many. While it may be tempting to look at the current law in light of Tennessee’s colorful history on science education, I will intentionally avoid doing so in this essay. This will allow us to focus entirely on the content of the bill, rather than the perceived motivations or purported agendas of the bill’s authors.

The bill begins by stating the importance of students receiving a rigorous science education, developing critical thinking skills, and becoming generally informed and knowledgeable citizens. This declaration is to be welcomed by all who believe that science is not only a noble pursuit, but accessible and relevant even to those who are not scientists. The text goes on to state that many educators are unclear about how to teach certain subjects, including biological evolution. Indeed, we must agree that there is substantive confusion amidst the nation’s public on the topic of biological evolution.

But what happens next is very troubling: the text refers to biological evolution (and a few other topics) as “scientific controversies”—that is, simply “theories” with both “strengths and weaknesses.” Having established this, the bill then states that teachers cannot be prohibited from “helping students understand” these strengths and weaknesses.

I have two major concerns about this section. First—without any substantiation—it erroneously proposes that biological evolution is controversial within the scientific community. Quite to the contrary, biological evolution is hardly contentious among scientists. Various polls over the years have consistently demonstrated that over 95% of scientists (and 99% of earth and life scientists) believe in biological evolution. This is underscored by the fact that some of these scientists are notable luminaries who are also committed Christians in the public sphere: Francis S. Collins (Director, National Institutes of Health); Jennifer Wiseman (Chief, Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics at NASA); and John Polkinghorne (Particle physicist and winner of the 2002 Templeton Prize).

In the past few years, BioLogos has performed the tremendously important work of gathering scientists, theologians, and evangelical pastors around the country to initiate a dialogue, grounded in mutual respect and honesty, on the topic of biological evolution and creation. While not all theological questions have been answered, and some certainly require more study, there is broad agreement on the following: (1) that there is little-to-no controversy about biological evolution within the scientific community, (2) that the preponderance of evidence—particularly from the field of genetics/genomics—is overwhelming, and most importantly, (3) that when biological evolution is rightly separated from ideological evolution (or Evolutionism), it is harmonious with the Christian’s faith in God as the magnificent Creator of the world.1 This bill clearly disregards all of these, and in so doing, represents a major step backward in the national dialogue. Specifically, the bill’s implication that biological evolution is scientifically controversial and just one among many equally-likely speculative hypotheses to explain today’s diversity of life represents a gross mischaracterization of the position of the scientific community and many in the faith community.

Second, as it is written, the primary purpose of this law seems to be providing educators with almost unmitigated latitude when “helping students…critique [biological evolution and other ‘controversial’ topics]…in an objective manner.” But objectivity can only be pursued in a context where a common standard of truth is upheld. In a science classroom, this standard should be set by the overwhelming scientific consensus; however, in this bill, it appears that teachers are given the right to set their own standards of truth as they see fit, even though the law does not formally alter the curriculum. While at first glance this appears to be a bill about empowering teachers, it is ultimately one that could confuse students, given that their scientific education will be tailored by their teachers’ varying personal opinions. It is true that science changes, and that questioning is always a critical component of the pursuit of learning and truth. But, in science, questioning must be motivated by (and result in) empirical data, not by how well the evidence fits into our personal comfort zones. As stated previously, there is overwhelming agreement on biological evolution within the scientific community, and it is not legitimate to teach students otherwise.

To be clear, I do believe it is important to “teach the controversy,” in the sense that students should be informed and knowledgeable about the current national dialogue on a variety of topics, including biological evolution. However, this is not best done in the science classroom, because doing so gives the impression that the controversy is based in the science, when in fact it is largely based on a number of other factors. Thankfully, the bill does not support the promotion of any specific religious doctrine, but it does appear to sacrifice the integrity of science education at the altar of the educators’ and students’ comfort.

Influential Christian leaders like Bruce Waltke2 and Tim Keller have modeled what it looks like to be intellectually honest students of both the Bible and the world around us; they do not necessarily agree on everything with regard to biological evolution, but they have exhibited a refreshing willingness to meaningfully engage the real science behind it. It is my sincere hope that those of us in the Christian community—particularly educators—who are unsure about how to navigate subjects such as biological evolution will take our cue from such models, resisting the temptation to pursue our own more comfortable versions of reality. Scientific and faith-based communities are often talking past each other, and I am eager to see us spend more time talking to each other. As is often the case, we might find we have more in common than we thought.


1. D.R. Alexander, Creation or evolution – do we have to choose? (Monarch, 2008).
2. B.K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan, 2007)

Praveen Sethupathy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he directs a research laboratory focused on the genetics/genomics of complex human diseases. Praveen received his B.A. in Computer Science, his Ph.D. in Genomics and Computational Biology, and he continued his training as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Francis S. Collins at the National Institutes of Health. Praveen was recently selected by Genome Technology as one of the nation’s top 25 rising young investigators in genomics.

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George Bernard Murphy - #69351

April 18th 2012

I think the controversy is about origins and the two sides are whether life AROSE through evolution HERE ON EARTH or whether panspermia exists  THROUGH OUR ENTIRE UNIVERSE and OUR life came in by being seeded on comets.

This origin of panspermia  [life throughout the universe] may or may not have arisen through evolution.

Certinly DNA can be modified,.... which is evolution…..forward.

 Saying life AROSE through evolution IS CONTROVERSIAL.


 The legislture was correct in saying teachers should have the right to say that.

Jon Garvey - #69357

April 18th 2012

Saying life arose through evolution is just incoherent rather than controversial. Except in text books, it’s generally accepted that origin of life is not part of evolutionary theory - and how could it be, since variatioon and natural selection are both features of life.

Enosh - #69359

April 18th 2012

Jon, while I understand that (microbes-to-man) evolution is different from abiogenesis, it seems that, for most evolutionists, naturalistic abiogenesis is a necessary precursor to evolution. Otherwise, an intelligent design hypothesis for the origin of life must be invoked. So how can discussions of the origin of life be neatly decoupled from discussions of evolution, at least as a subject of natural history? I don’t see many evolutionary Christians claiming that life evolved from the LUCA, but the LUCA was specially created by God.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #69360

April 18th 2012


Are you saying that nature is not intelligently designed?

Is it without design or form?

Or is it stupidly designed? 

Enosh - #69361

April 18th 2012

None of the above. I’m a young age creationist. I think that design in nature must ultimately be traced back to the miraculous causation of God (for whom the adjective ‘intelligent’ is a severe understatement). Mediate causation via natural regularity doesn’t cut it for the origin of life.

I was just wondering how abiogenesis can be split off from evolutionary theory as a matter of history unless we assume miraculous causation for the origin of life. It seems to me that it can’t. And I don’t see many evolutionary Christians positing miraculous causation for the origin of life, which means that at the level of history, most evolutionary Christians appear to be in agreement with secular evolutionists that life came from non-life via natural processes.

randps - #69362

April 18th 2012

Hi Enosh, Thank you for your comments.  I just wanted to clarify one point.  Biological evolution is agnostic with respect to the existence of God and the origin of life.  While many evolutionists do choose to believe that God is not the source of life, that is their personal belief, not what the evolutionary process itself compels them to accept.  I believe in the miraculous causation for the origin of life, and in the evolutionary process for the origin of new lifeforms and species—the two are not in conflict for me, or for most theistic evolutionists that I know.

Enosh - #69365

April 18th 2012

@reandps: As a young-ager, I can accept that evolution is agnostic concerning theism in general, but I have a problem considering the historical dimension of microbes-to-man evolution as agnostic concerning the existence of the biblical God. Basically, I see far too many inconsistencies in chronology and causation between the two to be able to reconcile evolution with the Bible.

And note that when I refer to miraculous causation, I am contrasting it with causes that can be explained by the regular operation of nature. It is only a heuristic distinction with respect to God’s providence, but it is nonetheless a useful experiential distinction within history.

I would be interested to hear from other evolutionary theists/Christians here: do you consider the origin of life to fall into a category of event with creatio ex nihilo and Jesus’ resurrection (what I mean by ‘miracle’), or with e.g. water boiling at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level (what I mean by ‘natural regularity’)? I’m trying to avoid nature/supernature dichotomy that plagues post-Enlightenment thought, while acknowledging that people typically recognize some sort of experiential difference between ‘miracle’ and the ordinary course of nature.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #69452

April 22nd 2012

Enosh, It seems to me that you gave raised the question as to what ia a miracle?

One definition which seems to be popular is a “one of a kind event.”  Certainly in my view the Creation is a miracle in that it is a one of a kind event.  Now the Big Bang was a one of a kind event, at least by human standards, and I think that it is both a natural event and “supernatural” event.  The same thing concerning the beginning of life, even though as far as I know scientists do not have a workable theory of how life began.

I do not think that we have to make a dichotomy between the way that God works and the way nature works.  Jesus was both 100% God and 100% human.  This is the miracle of His birth, not that Jesus was born of a Virgin, which was a sign of His birth.  If Jesus was born of the union of a human mother and a divine Father, as some seem to think, He would be only half human and half divine, which would have made Him neither God nor man, but something else.   

Psalm 139: 13-15 depicts the birth of a human being as a divine miracle which does not defy of laws of nature.  Certainly I consider the act of being “born again” as a spiritual miracle that does not defy the laws of nature.  God the Father through the Logos, Jesus Christ, the rational Word of God, and the Holy Spirit is the Author of both our natural and spiritual births.    

Jon Garvey - #69401

April 19th 2012

randps - You know biological evolution is agnostic, and I know it’s agnostic, but does the science community at large know? With reference to the Tennessee educational system, would it acceptable to use the current issue of the journal Evolution in science classes?

I understand that jobs have been lost in the US because journals published “religious” ID-sympathetic articles. “The job of scientific periodicals is to publish science” - like the Coyne article?

Jeff - #69363

April 18th 2012

I agree with the author that any science curriculum in our time should include a serious and thorough presentation of the theory of evolution, and that it should be made clear to students that this theory is accepted by a great majority of the scientific community at the moment, so that there is almost a concensus among scientists today.  As a Christian father who homeschools my four children, I feel that I would be doing my students a great disservice to present the subject of science any other way.

However, I think it is equally important to stress to students in our time that the theory of evolution is not more than a theory, and therefore controversial by definition.  In all fairness, students of evolution should be made aware that many other theories have captivated the minds of men in the history of our world such that there was almost a consensus of opinion among them, only to be subsequently overthrown by the emergence of new lines of evidence that led to very different conclusions.  It should be pointed out to our students that the theory of evolution is especially difficult to demonstrate scientificially in that it deals with a distant past which can be neither observed nor tested by scientists today.  And where the theory of evolution has run into difficulties with the facts of science (e.g. the unexpected rarity of transistional forms in the fossil record), those difficulties should be acknowledged in the classroom rather than concealed.  In the name of objectivity, let the weaknesses be known and considered alongside the strengths to give an accurate picture of the challenges that face the theory today.

Furthermore, contrary to the modern model of education which isolates academic subjects by assigning to each one a separate teacher and classroom, it should be stressed that the pursuit of knowledge in general is greatly served by teaching students about the important relationships that exists between the various academic subjects in the real world.  Thus, to include in a discussion of the theory of evolution some exposure to the theological and philosophical assumptions upon which that theory is based is not only appropriate, but of great value in exploring the full scope of the theory as it has developed in our world and much of the controversy that surrounds it. 

Contrary to the suggestion of the author, the near consensus that prevails today among the scientific community concerning evolution is far more complicated than the mere facts of science.  This moment of consensus is a phenomenon which has philosophical, theological, social, psychological, political, economic, and spiritual components, all of which have made and continue to make important contributions to what we now hear from the scientific community.  The proponents of evolution would very much like for the public to believe that their theory is the product of a pure and objective discipline unsullied by things like cowardice and blasphemy and the abuse of power among men.  They would love to shut the door of the science classroom and let their consensus speak with an authority that cannot be challenged on intellectual grounds.  But thankfully the state of Tennessee has a broader view of education, one that will not present a scientific theory which happens to enjoy a momentary consensus as if it were therefore incontrovertible fact.  Geneticists may think that way, but educators should not.  There is controversy concerning evolution, and in all fairness to the students, that controversy should be discussed in the classroom.

Jon Garvey - #69400

April 19th 2012

Jeff, I agree with this.

Another, related, factor is that the OP has taken the all-too-common step of failing to define what he means by “evolution” for the purposes of the article. As this outsider (UK) understands the Tennessee law, it’s directed primarily against the fallacy of a monolithic final consensus within the evolutionary community, and particularly against students being forbidden to discuss this.

It’s simply meaningless to use statistics like 99% of life/earth scientists supporting biological evolution if you don’t say how many:
(a) support the thesis that random variation and natural selection alone are sufficient mechanisms to explain all biological evolution. Some very eminent biologists have said not (symbiosis, natural genetic engineering, emergence, convergent evolution, hybridisation - even Eugene Koonin’s invocation of the multiverse to lessen the odds for the evolution of DNA replication).

(b) Affirm the metaphysical add-on of undirectness and purposelessness that is attached to evolution, in scientific publications, by some of its greatest proponents (and also, I gather, still printed in some textbooks over there).

HornSpiel - #69402

April 19th 2012

I think it is equally important to stress to students in our time that the theory of evolution is not more than a theory, and therefore controversial by definition.

Jeff this sentence show a lack of understanfing of what a theory is. Scientific theories are not inherently controversial. You are mixing up common usage with a rigorous understanding of scientific theories. there are plenty of articles here on biologos that explain this such as  http://biologos.org/blog/understanding-evolution-theory-prediction-and-evidence-1.

For a scientific hypothesis to become part of a theory is must stand the test of expermental challenges and confirmation. I think what you could say is that theories are inherently open to revision and refinement. There is no such thing as a final theory. Einstein’s refinment of Newtonian physics is a good example of how theoriesare refined. The quest for a theory that unifies relativity and quantum physics is a good example of how theories are never final.

So is Relativity controversial? No. does it explain everthing about gravity? No. Is it still being worked on? Yes. Will it be different 100 years from now? Almost inevitably yes. Will Relativity, or whatever it becomes, ever explain everything? No.  Does the theory of Relativity make God redundant? No.

Now substitute Evolution for Relativity.


Jeff - #69424

April 20th 2012


I think that you and I must be using our terms differently.  Let me clarify.  When I speak of evolution as a theory, I simply mean that it is an educated guess.  Theories may be weak or strong depending on how much sense they make of the facts that are available, but a guess is still a guess until it is not a guess anymore.  By this definition, evolution is a theory.  And when I speak of something as controversial, I mean that it invokes discussion, especially among people of differing views.  Something may be more or less controversial, in whole or in part, but where there is any question about a matter or room for opposing views, there is bound to be controversy.  By this definition, evolution is controversial.  Thus I conclude that evolution is a controversial theory, and it would be misleading to teach high school students otherwise. 


Terrance - #69425

April 20th 2012

Jeff, your understanding of what a theory is seems to be very different from everyone else’s. From the National Academy of Sciences;

A plausible or scientifically acceptable, well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena and predict the characteristics of as yet unobserved phenomena.





HornSpiel - #69432

April 20th 2012


I do not think a theory can be correctly compared to an educated guess.

If you are sick and tell the doctor your symptoms over the phone, he may give you an educated guess. but if you come in and have an examination with lab tests, you get a diagnosis, which is far more definitive because he is now working from a whole set of confirmed facts. Now if you had a problem with it you might get a second opinion, and if there was a different diagnosis then there might be some controversy. But not if the diagnosis was confirmed again and again. Controversy would arise only if a charlatan or a quack was able to make a big noise and convince people to listen to him.

Evolution is far more than an educated guess. It has been confirmed again and again by scientists from a wide variety of cultures and religious beliefs. It is the diagnosis of how live developed and changed on earth over time done by those able to look at and evaluate the wide array of evidence available.

Uncle Bonobo - #69439

April 21st 2012

If you are defining a scientific theory as an educated guess you are woefully misinformed or are being intentionally misleading. Nobody defines scientific theory as n educated guess. 

Evolution is not controversial in a scientific sense. It is controversial in a religious sense and I am in favor of teaching students that both young earth creationism and old earth creationism are factually wrong and based on bad theology.  Fortunately, Tennessee educators can now do so.

George Bernard Murphy - #69364

April 18th 2012

Well accidental origin of DNA by way of NON-SELF-REPLICATING molecules seems impossible even to scientists.

 They want to postulate an “RNA universe” as a precurser.

But that took a big hit recently from some work that was done at the University of Illinois,.

[I am sorry to say I cannot recall the details.]


 BTW Enosh I like your comments.

melanogaster - #69417

April 20th 2012

“Well accidental origin of DNA by way of NON-SELF-REPLICATING molecules seems impossible even to scientists.”

Hmmm…are scientists just guessing, or are they working from evidence?

“They want to postulate an “RNA universe” as a precurser.”

It’s “RNA World,” not universe. Is that merely a postulate or is there a vast amount of evidence consistent with RNA preceding DNA?

“But that took a big hit recently from some work that was done at the University of Illinois,.”

If you were being accurate, you would have written, “I read somewhere that someone who doesn’t do any research CLAIMS that it took a big hit,” but that would make you look silly.

“[I am sorry to say I cannot recall the details.]”

I suspect that is because you never bothered to look at the details (the evidence). You’re all about hearsay, right?

longtimebaptist - #69428

April 20th 2012

I began reading “the evidence against evolution” and “the scientific evidence for the Biblical Account of Creation” nearly 40 years ago.  I encountered misrepresentations of scientific data and of scientific arguments and conclusions so consistently that I finally was reluctantly forced to conclude that these misrepresentations were (and are now) deliberate.  If you don’t understand how an Evolutionary Creationist in Tennessee could be upset at the passage of the new Tennessee “Academic Freedom” legislation, in my case it is because I have learned that we cannot afford to ignore the motives of those who stand ready to offer teachers information and teaching materials on “the weaknesses of the theory of evolution” or “the weaknesses of evidence for human-caused climate change”.

HornSpiel - #69431

April 20th 2012

I have learned that we cannot afford to ignore the motives of those who stand ready to offer teachers information and teaching materials…

I agree that peoples motives are important for understanding what they do. However I am reluctant to call people motives into question when looking at matters of scientific evidence and conclusions. I thin the facts and reasoning should speak for themselves.

However, I also wonder if people’s understanding of creation and climate change are connected. Poeple who think the world was created in 6,000 years would, I’d expect, to discount the evidence of climate change  and carbon in the atmosphere recorded of hundreds of thousands of years locked in glaciers.

But many people also feel ecologists have “cried wolf” too many times to be taken seriously. Moreover they may have political leanings they disagree with or an ideological/religious agenda bordering on pantheism/Gaia/Earth worship. Such “human” reasons can be far more powerful than cold facts.

Perhaps the motives of the big corporations whose profits would be affected by climate change action should be questioned. Big oil is likely doing the same scientific denial thing the cigaret companies did a generation ago.

Also the motives of politicians can never be without suspicion as they pander to constituent opinions.

Yet I would not question the motives of the great majority of people. I do not think if people really believed there was a good chance we were going to leave the earth in a shambles for their children and grandchildren, that they would not be willing to do what it takes to ameliorate the situation.

Ultimately it seems to boil down to Do you trust science and scientists or not.

sy - #69435

April 21st 2012

Until the last few years, I would have totally agreed with the author and Hornspiel that this law is disturbing in that the theory of evolution by natural selection is so well established that it is inaccurate to treat it as controversial in any scientific way. But, I am not sure that this can still be said, given the newer emphasis on the evolutionary paradigm to explain aspects of biology that Darwin never applied it to. These include human psychology, ethics, morality, consciousness, and the general neurolobiological correlates with human behavior and characteristics. This attempt at a scientistic ( as opposed to a scientific) explanation of human evolution as purely evolutionary is in my mind, quite controversial.

Enosh asks how abiogenesis can be separated from evolution. In my view these are totally separate, and I agree with Jon, that they must be, since they must follow different mechanisms by definition.  Darwin hardly mentioned abiogenesis, and Dawkins has admitted that we have no clue about it. RNA world is one of many hypotheses, but it has many very large gaping holes, as do all other theories, and the concept of a divine intervention is just as plausible as anything else.

I am concerned that the Tennessee law could be seen as a step backward, but considering the rabid, and to my mind, totally anti scientific agenda of the new atheists with their hatred of all things spiritual, perhaps looking at some these statements as controversies is not such a bad thing.

Tim Neis - #69440

April 21st 2012

That Darwin never applied evolutionary theory to psychology, ethics, morality, and conciousness is irrelevant to modern science. There have been serious advances to all of these areas and they require us to take them seriously. To allow other (non-scientific) explanations permits a God-of-the-gaps philosophy that only will damage religon once the scientific explanations become more mainstream and accepted. 

Regarding abiogenesis, there is no reason to deny that science has explained it all, because clearly it hasn’t. But that is not reason to express “controversy” over a science that hasn’t yet figured everything out.

sy - #69443

April 22nd 2012


Of course all scientific advances need to be taken seriously. When I say that there is a controversy, I am referring to the a priori belief that ALL questions, of any kind may be answered by science, and in particular by using evolutionary theory. It may be true, and it may not be. It is in fact a belief system, one I dont happen to hold, although I am a scientist. A great many other scientists also dont hold that belief system, which is mostly being spread by a new breed of atheists. This has nothing to do with God of the gaps. Gaps in knowledge of the physical or biological reality of the universe can and will be filled using the scientific method. Gaps in knowledge as to why I think Kandinsky’s paintings are beautiful, and what is the meaning of beauty, not so much. If you dont agree, then we have a controversy.

melanogaster - #69444

April 22nd 2012

“When I say that there is a controversy, I am referring to the a priori belief that ALL questions, of any kind may be answered by science, and in particular by using evolutionary theory.”

I don’t know anyone who has ever claimed that for ALL questions of ANY kind. Can you provide evidence for even one person doing so? It has to be exclusive, now!

“It may be true, and it may not be. It is in fact a belief system, one I dont happen to hold, although I am a scientist.”

How can it be a belief system if you can’t provide a single case of a single person who believes that ALL questions of ANY kind may be answered by science?

This looks like a desperate straw man fallacy to me, Sy.

“A great many other scientists also dont hold that belief system, which is mostly being spread by a new breed of atheists.”

You haven’t provided any evidence that anyone believes that ALL questions of ANY kind may be answered by science.

“Gaps in knowledge as to why I think Kandinsky’s paintings are beautiful, and what is the meaning of beauty, not so much. If you dont agree, then we have a controversy.”

I think you’re moving the goalposts.

sy - #69449

April 22nd 2012


Of course I can provide such names, as can anyone who has been following the new atheist movement. We can start with Sam Harris and his well publicized TED talk about how science can answer moral questions. (Just google  Harris and TED to get the link) Harris and Jerry Coyne and others don’t stop there of course, If science can deal with morality, there isn’t much else that is beyond that domain according to them.

If this doesn’t convince you, then simply do a quote search for Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. All of them have made statements that back up my assertion. If you cant find them, I will provide them, but it will take a few days, since I don’t have the time right now.

melanogaster - #69730

May 7th 2012

“How can it be a belief system if you can’t provide a single case of a single person who believes that ALL questions of ANY kind may be answered by science?”

“Of course I can provide such names,…”

I didn’t demand names, sy, I demanded a single CASE.

“… as can anyone who has been following the new atheist movement. We can start with Sam Harris and his well publicized TED talk about how science can answer moral questions.”

Moral questions aren’t ALL questions, now, are they? We can start with you showing that he claims this to be true for ALL questions of ANY kind.

“(Just google Harris and TED to get the link)”

Sorry, you should be able to do much better than that if you weren’t fudging, sy.

“Harris and Jerry Coyne and others don’t stop there of course, If science can deal with morality, there isn’t much else that is beyond that domain according to them.”

“Deal with morality” doesn’t support your claim. Does Harris even claim that science can deal with ALL moral questions, or merely with SOME of them? The latter makes your claim false and your attempt to support it disingenuous at best.

Remember, it has to be ALL questions of ANY kind or you are employing a straw man.

sy - #69451

April 22nd 2012

Here is a quote from Jerry Coyne related to free will, which he says doesnt exist.


The first is simple: we are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics. All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe. Those molecules, of course, also make up your brain — the organ that does the “choosing.” And the neurons and molecules in your brain are the product of both your genes and your environment, an environment including the other people we deal with. Memories, for example, are nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells. Everything that you think, say, or do, must come down to molecules and physics.

True “free will,” then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works. Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this because “we” are simply constructs of our brain. We can’t impose a nebulous “will” on the inputs to our brain that can affect its output of decisions and actions, any more than a programmed computer can somehow reach inside itself and change its program.

I happen to think that this is a good example of bad science and bad philosophy. If a statement like that were presented in a science class, I can say without doubt that it would be controversal. The very question of the existence of free will is not part of any scientific agenda, and is outside of any rigorous scientific discipline. In fact, there are very good scientific arguments against Coyne’s statement.

Uncle Bonobo - #69453

April 22nd 2012

John Calvin didn’t think much of free will either.  I don’t see your point.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #69475

April 23rd 2012

Coyne in effect says that humans cannot think and make objective decisions.

Sadly many scientists seem to agree with him these days.

Jon Garvey - #69468

April 23rd 2012

Uncle Bonobo

(a) Calvin wasn’t claiming a scientific justification for metaphysics, but a theological justification for theology. Coyne is drawing unwarranted metaphysical conclusions from crudely reductionist science, not only for free will but for “everything you think, say, or do.” That confirms Sy’s claim exactly.

(b) Calvin did not deny self-determination, unlike Coyne. This editor won’t allow cut and paste (or is it just me?) but he says:

According to these definitions [of free, coerced, self-determined and bound will] we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil it should be imputed to him and his own voluntary choosing… for we do not say that a man is dragged unwillinghly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captibe under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will act in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in the corruption of the will, from which it follows that it is self-determined.

I’ve no doubt that Melanogaster would have criticised you, if I hadn’t, for failing to provide evidence of your opinion about Calvin and, indeed, misrepresenting his thought.

PNG - #69480

April 23rd 2012

You have to click in the text box before you paste.

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