Category Archives: Religion

Is Naturalism a religion?

A couple of days ago Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum debated Bill Nye on the topic “Is creation a viable model of origin in today’s modern scientific era?”  Early in Mr. Ham’s introductory remarks he suggested that Naturalism is a religion and that if creationism can’t be taught in public schools, that naturalism should be prevented as well. Is Ken Ham right?  Is Naturalism a religion?  What is Naturalism anyway?  What is religion?  What would science education be without naturalism?

Naturalism, as defined by Wikipedia, is the philosophical idea that only natural laws and forces operate in the world or that there is nothing in the world beyond what can be observed in nature.  So, I guess, Ham implied that not believing in a god is a religion.  That sounds self-contradictory to me.  Perhaps we need to dig a bit deeper.  Some philosophers distinguish different forms of naturalism.  There is philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism.  Philosophical naturalism is essentially the naturalism defined in the first sentence of this paragraph.  There is observable nature and nothing else.  Methodological naturalism centers on the process or method of knowing (which Ken Ham pointed out is the Latin definition of science) about nature.  That is the scientific process.  By definition, methodological naturalism excludes SUPERNATURAL explanations.  So, potentially, someone could accept methodological naturalism as a way of discovering how the world works (e.g., where it came from, how it functions, etc) and embrace a supernatural worldview that gives their life meaning (why am I here?, what is my purpose?, what happens when I die?).

So methodological naturalism is clearly NOT a religion, but philosophical naturalism could be.  But that begs the question, “What is religion?” Again, if we consult Wikipedia, religion is a collection of beliefs, cultural systems and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.  In short, it is a collection of customs that a group of people share in common.  It is interesting to note the etymology of religion is fuzzy which potentially hampers determining its original definition. It may refer to holding gods in reverence, considering something carefully, or to bind together.  So by the first etymology, methodological naturalism is not a religion.  By the second and third definitions it could be, I suppose.  I suggest the latter, because science does require careful consideration and the scientific community is bound certain processes and rituals (consider the peer-review process or the ritual associated with performing a radioimmunoassay.)  Philosophical naturalism may also be a religion if reverence of nature is replaced for reverence of gods, perhaps.  During the debate, Bill Nye commented on his wonderment for the natural world and the process of discovery.  I must admit I have felt it myself.

Back to the original question, should naturalism be outlawed in public education?  I think not.  The naturalism taught in public schools is methodological naturalism and is the only way to advance scientific progress.  Recognizing a creationism model for origins opens up a garbage can of worms no one (especially the religious right in America) wants to deal with.  Which creation “hypothesis” do we teach in American public education?  Clearly we cannot limit it to the Christian version, but where then DO we limit it?  Do Americans want their children exposed to “other” religions in school?  That is in indirect opposition to the first amendment.

As I said earlier, a creationist model hinders progress.  How did the Earth form?  God did it. Done. Now what?  Instead we need to be teaching kids good, solid science methodology so they can explore the wonders of nature in an intelligent and meaningful way.  The notion that we can advance technologically without methodological naturalism is simply not true.  Creationism stifles wonder.  It prevents kids from asking questions and more importantly from seeking answers.


Don’t keep the keg by the TV during an Evolution/Creation debate

I just watched the Nye-Ham debate on YouTube.  I intend to give a more thorough treatment to the debate tomorrow, but I wanted to get a couple of thoughts into cyberspace tonight as the blogoshere explodes in the aftermath.

1.  Don’t keep the keg of homebrew next to the tv during a science vs creation debate.  Much imbibing will ensue.

2.  Citing your cadre of hack PhD ‘s may impress those who have not been in graduate school.  Those of us who have are not impressed (I am can at least say I did not go to the same Oklahoma university as Fabich)

3.  Evolution does not mean antiGod

4.  Did Ken Ham really have to make a statement about gay marriage in a Creation/Evolution debate?  No he’s a prick. (Again homebrew by the TV a bad idea)

5.  Observational science/historical science is a false dichotomy.  Both follow the same process called the scientific method.

6.  Are we really still confusing methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism?

7.  Yes, science does make assumptions in formulating radiometric dating, the big bang, etc.  But isn’t divine creation by THE CHRISTIAN God  an assumption, too? (see next)

8.  Why is the Bible the “Go to” book?  Why not the Quaran,  Taiji tushuo, or one of the Native American creation myths?

9.  What is a “kind” anyway?

10.  It’s okay in science to say, “We don’t know, yet.”

Ain’t that a kick in the @$$

I am sure you have probably heard by now of Ryan Bell, the Seventh  Day Adventist Pastor and teacher who recently embarked on an intellectual experiment to “try Atheism” for a year.  This sounds  like a worthwhile endeavor.  Try something new, see what it’s all about.  Unfortunately Bell was promptly fired from two positions, one at Fuller Theological Seminary as a Doctoral adviser and as a consultant for  the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Glendale, CA.  How’s that for a kick in the Rear?! Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Some suggest it s a popularity stunt to gain more Christian followers (as one comment on the Thinking Atheist suggests).  Others are saying he is seeing real Christianity.  It is also noteworthy that the Thinking Atheist, Hemant Mehta, encouraged atheists to donate money to a fund to support the now unemployed spiritual experimentalist. I applaud Bell for his bold action, and lament that it is considered a bold action. Everyone should confront their spiritual beliefs head-on as Ryan Bell is doing.  Far too many people are willing to be spiritual sheep, following in their parents and grandparents footsteps without considering why they are following that path.  I would guess most folks do this because its easy and the alternative is frightening.  If you are a Christian reading this, think about it.  Life without God…  What does that even mean?  Or more importantly what is a Life with God, exactly?  What do you gain by believing in a God or Gods that a non-believer does not? Most Christians will answer, “Spiritual fulfillment.”  Can’t there be more than one way to fill your spirit?  I think there is.  In fact, I would bet there are more than 100 ways to achieve spiritual fulfillment. Atheists are likely equally quick to criticize, “How can someone honestly believe in a supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent, being that cares for us, though leaves no incontrovertible, unambiguous evidence of its existence?”  The answer is the same as it is to the Christian’s question, “There is more than one way to spiritual fulfillment.”  Instead of looking at the differences between atheism and Theism, we should be highlighting the common ground.  All people (at least all decent people) want to see the hungry fed, the poor clothed, and justice for all regardless of what they believe or do not believe. So, I urge you to reach out and attempt to understand  why others believe differently and help them understand why you believe differently.  There is a good chance both of you will learn something about yourself.

More on the Nye/Ham “debate”

Alright, As promised I have a bit more intel for you regarding the Nye/Ham smackdown in the primordial ooze (What else can you call a creation museum?).  The event press release can be seen here.

The event is scheduled for February 4th at 7:00 pm in the Legacy Hall (and that’s one hell of a legacy!). The topic of the “debate” is, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?” According to, the $25 tickets sold out in less than 20 minutes. Personally I think buying fossilized dinosaur poop would have been a better way to spend the $25 bucks.

I forced my self to visit the answers in genesis website (I kept one eye closed and held my Darwin fish emblem to my heart). Apparently this is being billed as an “historic event.” Since Monkey trial has already been used, Kentuckians will need to come up with something different.  Let’s help them out.  Post your suggestions in the comments below.

The folks at AiG af fantastic marketers (NSF and AAAS needs needs to recruit these masterminds).  According to their website you can purchase a live stream of the event for $5 bucks, a DVD  and stream for $20, or the Stream, DVD, and video download for $25. Though I did see on their website that they were scuttling the live stream  because of demand and that they were looking into other exciting opportunities for people to watch the event live.

I still think this is a bad idea.  As I said before there is nothing to debate since creationism is not science.  There is nothing to be gained from debating creationist.  Their minds are made up.  In the worst case scenario Nye can come off looking like a fool and those folks still on the fence about the issue fall over on to the otherside.

What are your thoughts on the event.  Is it a good idea to get the issue out in to the open so it can be discussed or is this a huge mistake?


AAAS-SWaRM Science and Religion symposium talk

On March 31st I will be chairing a symposium on Science and Religion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science-Southwest and Rocky Mountains Region annual meeting in Tulsa, OK. Attached is the latest version.  It is down to 12 minute. I have posted it here to get CONSTRUCTIVE critisisms. Please don’t comment on the lack of polish or the “ums.” It was the first time I went over it. I know it’s rusty. Please let me know what you think of the content.

AAAS-SWaRM2012 (with audio 4)

You must have a PowerPoint viewer to hear the talk.  Let me know what you think.  As I polish, I will post upgrades.

Spiritual rape

Today was supposed to be a day filled with happiness and pride.  Instead it is filled with sadness, anger, and dismay.  I was forced to listen to a Christian pastor thank Jehovah, Jesus, and all the other code words for the Christian God at a public school graduation ceremony.  While I don’t have to believe what he said, I had to endure it.  It was akin to spiritual rape.  I don’t say this lightly.  Rape is serious.  Follow the parallels.  Sex is consensual and gratifying.  Rape is forced and unpleasant.  Prayer is personal or consensual and gratifying when done at the right time in the right place.  When it’s done in inappropriate places at inappropriate times, it too is  forced and non-gratifying.

The graduation ceremony I attended today at a state university had in it’s program an invocation and a benediction lead by a pastor from the community.  I might add, it wasn’t the generic secular kind of invocation and benediction.

I could handle a secular invocation.  Graduation is a rite of passage for the students involved as they begin the next phase of their lives.  Invocation comes from the latin, invocare,  which means to call on, to give, or invoke. It would be perfectly acceptable to call on these students to go forth and be good citizens, or invoke them to do great things.  Instead, the moment was taken from them by thanking God for guiding them and helping them through college, etc., etc.  The students accomplished this, not God.  Jeepers, he’s supposedly omnipotent.  He doesn’t need a college degree!  Let the students take credit for their accomplishments

The benediction was even more sickening as the pastor droned on and on about Jesus and what not.  To be honest, I stayed in my seat and looked around at all the other faculty wondering how they could stomach a blatant disregard for other people’s beliefs.  The faculty are supposed to be thinking people, not sheep!  I know some of them disagree with the graduation prayers, but don’t want to make waves or they need to protect their bid for tenure.  I think it is our job to rock the boat.

Some would say, “But we’ve always had an invocation and benediction.”  I would say “we also thought women shouldn’t work out of the home and that the Earth was flat.”  It’s the 21st Century for Pete’s sake (that’s a biblical reference for those who care).  The University’s Strategic Plan says we need to embrace our role in a global society.  News Flash! Not everyone on the globe is Christian.  It is true Christianity is the largest world religion, it accounts for about 33% of the world’s population.  That means 67% of the world is something other than Christian.  So, unless our role in the global community is Christian proselytization, we need to re-think the prayer at graduation.

Other would say, “But we’re in Northwestern Oklahoma, everyone is Christian.”  I would say to that, “Bull honkey!”  There are many other faiths or spiritual beliefs practiced in Northwestern Oklahoma.  I know some Jewish, Hindu, atheist  agnostic, and Naturists  in the area.  Most people are afraid to say what they truly believe for fear of ostracization and ridicule.

If neither of these arguments convince you, you are  self-righteous and contemptuous.  Many people point to the first amendment of the constitution and cry foul.  The first amendment has the separation clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…  Unfortunately, this does not apply to college graduations.  In 1992, the US Supreme court decided in Lee v. Weisman that school officials could not promote prayer at public secondary schools.  It did not address the university level.  Then in 1997, Tanford v. Brand failed to extend the earlier ruling to public post-secondary schools because coercion was the pivotal issue and it stated that college kids were mature enough to know they were not being coerced.

So, while insensitive and rude, prayer at college graduations is legal.  Let it be said then, that it sucks to be a justice-minded freethinker.  Don’t we want to graduate students that embrace diversity in all of it’s forms.  The university should take the lead here and stand as an example.

The nature of the relationship between science and religion:Neighbors, layers, or deftly woven fabric?

A couple of weeks ago when I started this blog I said it was about science and region.  I haven’t said much since about the two endeavors since .  I aim to rectify that today.  As part of a Scientists in Congregations project funded by the John Templeton Foundation, I have the opportunity to talk about these two human trappings with people who have very different viewpoints.  This week I had occasion to think about how science and faith might be perceived by different people to be related.  I am by no means the first or last person to think about this, but I don’t thin enough people think or write about it.  So, I guess, I’ll give it a shot.

The first visualization I came up with was that championed by Stephen Jay Gould, Non-overlapping magestaria.  Science and religion can be viewed as neighbors.  Each of them dealing with a separate and equally important domain.  Science addressing the natural world in a strictly empirical manner and attempting to explain why nature and its processes occur the way they do.

Stephen Jay Gould

Religion on the other hand deals with how we should treat each other and ourselves.  Some people are very good at compartmentalizing these two domains and using each toolkit in the appropriate circumstance.  Others though, are not so good at applying the toolkit in the appropriate circumstance.  Who has tried to use a pliers instead of a wrench to loosen a nut and ended up stripping the nut in the process?

Another possible relationship is one of layers, similar to a geographic information system or on of those old transparencies of the human body where each overlay was a different organ system.  The idea

A three layer GIS

here is that you can look at each layer separately on its own or you can look at each layer together, one atop the other.  So in the case of  science and religion, by this view it is possible to view a problem or situation through the science overlay to assess why or explain how it is occurring.  Then look at it through the religion overlay to assess how that situation affects us spiritually or how it relates to our behavior towards others.  Finally, through deliberative theology, it would be possible to view a situation through both overlays simultaneously.  The primary aim being to match up what we know scientifically and theologically .  Again, some people are very good at this.  I’ve seen it while working on the SinC project mentioned above.  This may not be the best approach for everyone, it requires considerable thought and deliberation to look at both of those layers simultaneously.

Is it possible for science and religion to be interwoven in American Culture? Should it be?

The final possibility for the relationship between science and religion is best described as a fabric with the fibers of science and religion interwoven.  This is how I perceive the relationship as advocated by John Polkinghorne and others.  This is admittedly difficult to wrap your brain around.  I would go further to say, that as a culture, we are miles away from a relationship like this. The embedded theology of the american culture is not yet prepared to form a relationship as intimate as this one.

I have not finished thinking about these metaphors or descriptions for the possible relationships between science and religion, but I think it important to note that it is likely that different people will be better suited to different types of relationships.  It is glaringly obvious that some give these issues more though than others. The first steps will be to get the various denominations and religious faiths to inspect the possible relationships between science and religion AND TALK ABOUT THEM.  Additionally, we need sound science education in our public schools.  This will give young people the ability to ask thought-provoking questions.

So, I leave you, the reader to think about this and comment on these ideas.  They may have merit or I may be full of crap.  I don’t think these two choices are mutually exclusive, either…

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