About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Once more, trying to prove God through science

You know, for all their insistence on so-called “virtue” of faith, religious believers sometimes seem to be desperate to find scientific evidence of the existence of god, any god. Take a recent study by the team of neuroresearcher Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania: as the New York Times reports it, Newberg and colleagues studied what happens in the brain when people “speak in tongues” (i.e., when they babble nonsense in what appears to be a state of semi-trance, apparently induced by the frenzy accompanying some church rituals – if you've never seen it, don't go to a live one, it's scary; just rent the movie “The Blues Brothers” and you'll get a good feeling for the scene. Besides, hearing John Belushi suddenly crying out “I've seen the light! I've seen the light!” is priceless.)

Anyway, Newberg – who a few years ago authored a pretty badly written and even worse argued book entitled “Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” -- scanned the brains of five women while they were allegedly speaking in tongues. What did the savvy researchers find? That the women's brain were active in a way that was different from the pattern observed when they were not speaking in tongues. In particular, the frontal lobes (in charge of thinking) were working much less than usual, while areas of the brain in charge of self-consciousness were active. So, these women were conscious, but not thinking a lot. Hardly a proof of something supernatural, is it?

To make things worse (other than the lack of gender controls and the extremely limited sample size), one of the co-authors of the study, Donna Morgan, was also one of the subjects! Talk about maintaining a scientific detachment from the object of your study. But the obvious flaws in the study didn't stop Newberg from making the grandiose claim that “The amazing thing is how the images supported people's interpretation of what was happening ... The way they described it, and what they believe, is that God is talking through them.”

Come again? Apparently, Dr. Newberg (who obviously didn't take a course in experimental design, or even one in elementary logic) believes that the fact that some areas of the brain light up during a particular experience “supports” the personal interpretation of what is going on provided by the subjects. This is a complete non-sequitur, analogous to saying that because the brain behaves differently when one has taken hallucinogenic drugs, one's experiences under the influence of the drug are not just hallucinations. All that the brain scans support in the case of Newberg's study is that the subjects where in fact having an experience that: a) required them to be conscious, and b) didn't require them to think too much. Hardly a proof of the existence of god, don't you think?

But the broader point is that it is prima facie hard to understand why so many believers are so desperate for science – which they repeatedly mock in other settings (creationism, big bang, sexual education, global warming, etc.) – to confirm what they ought to believe regardless, in fact in spite of, the evidence. Could it be that these people, deep down, don't really believe the nonsense they so confidently utter? Could it be that science has gotten so authoritative in the eye of the public that even god needs it to strengthen her case?

At a recent conference on science and religion where, for once, skeptics were more numerous than believers, someone proposed in jest that the next Templeton Prize “for the scientific advancement of religion” be given to Richard Dawkins, the author of “The God Delusion.” I whole-heartedly support the motion, and perhaps god doesn't mind either.

21 comments:

  1. I know a guy whose wife cursed him out in tongues when she was drinking.

    Not that he understood a word she said. He just really felt she was cursing him out in tongues while she was drinking.

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  2. Bleee wooo baan klan. Klatu barada nikto. Shea nogo von nubu. Kleez dworf shen zippzee. Gabba gabba hey!

    A Poem By Ted Haggard

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  3. Hello MP and all,

    Here's my two bits on this intractable debate. Hope you and others can appreciate my efforts to provide a key to a true solution for humanity's seemingly never-ending cycle of struggle and despair.

    Analyzing the Creator Debate

    Did you ever consider that atheism arose because certain people saw that religious characterizations about the nature of an omnipotent "God" were seriously flawed and then concluded that religion and the Creator were the same things? This is the exact same conclusion at the base of religious beliefs; namely that the Creator and religion are inseparable. Consequently, both atheists and religious followers are arguing over a flawed assumption without considering that other possibilities negate the common core conclusion of both groups. These arguments are actually over religion and whether it represents a reliable model of reality. The answer to this question is of course not. Religion is not only flawed, it is purposely deceptive! Though atheists are certainly sincere in their conclusions, the fact remains that they and religious followers are locked in a debate that cannot be won by either side because both base their positions upon whether the same flawed premise is the truth. In order for this debate to conclude with a truthful answer, a greater level of discernment is required.

    One apt clarifying question is, if someone tells lies about you, does that negate you or make you a liar or a lie? Certainly, the image cast about you would be a false one, but that is their image, not the real you. Consequently, faulty religious assertions about the Creator of this universe do not negate the existence of a Creator. Considering the possibility that this universe is not by chance leaves the door open to how it arose, which leads us to seek what could have created and maintained it. Since neither religion nor science has yet adequately answered this question, it is safe to conclude that those who argue about the Creator based on either are most certainly wrong about one or more aspects. Therefore, another point of view and additional knowledge are required.

    Read More...

    Peace...

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  4. Heyy, MP. I am writing a bunch of essays that borrow pretty heavily from your Philosophical work, and this blog is excellent! I would love to use excerpts from it--do you mind?

    -Kevin Eric Clark

    ######################################################################
    Here is a sample I'd love for you to take a look if you ever have a free moment(which I am sure is rare):

    And the authors last crack at it: "Finally, it is the Darwinists who are committing a God-of-the-gaps fallacy…When they are totally at a loss for how irreducibly complex, information-rich biological systems came into existence, they simply cover their gap in knowledge by claiming that natural selection, time, and chance did it." (page 158)



    Again, this is just an argument based on a mischaracterization of what science is about, and what scientific endeavors actually entail. As Dr. Massimo Pigliucci has stated so concisely: "The creationist position is quite surprisingly intellectually arrogant…scientists are the ones who say we could be wrong, just show me where we are wrong and we will discuss it. On the other hand, the creationists say that anybody who disagrees with them is wrong by definition." This is a genuine depiction of the situation that Turek and Geisler are attempting to misconstrue to their advantage.



    In fact, Dr. Pigliucci has just published a book that documents many of the gaps in our knowledge of evolution, and he does not assert anywhere that since he cannot explain certain things that it must have happened such-and-such a way. Science is in the business of asking the right questions, finding the most intriguing problems, and trying to find reasonable conclusions for those problems. The only time scientists are really bothered by gaps in knowledge is when creationists erroneously and arrogantly infer that some problems are just to great for anyone at anytime, ever to solve. That's just bad science.





    MASSIMO



    I have jumped ahead a bit in this chapter, but I thought it was warranted. I attempted to show here that the evidence proposed by the authors, which th

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  5. Kevin,

    your post got cut off, but I get the gist. Of course you can quote Pigliucci galore, if you'd like :)

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  6. Does quoting Pigliucci make you a squealer?

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  7. There's some good "speaking in tongues" in that Borat movie too, by the way... :O)

    Yeah, whenever I talk to someone who's defending some crazy position like ID or the "evidence for god(s)", I try to insert this question: if you're so sure and have faith and all that, why do you need scientific confirmation at all? Interestingly, I never get a clear response to that. Maybe they need some time to think about it more...

    Obviously it's very selective too, with science seemingly "favourable" to god(s) being eagerly quoted, and science against the specific god flavour in question being summarily dismissed.

    I think people have this urge to seek scientific "confirmation" not just because of the authoritative status science has nowadays in most of the world (whatever that's labeled "scientific" is always more respectfully regarded, it seems like), but also because nobody can be completely irrational (or rational for that matter) all of the time. So to placate that part of their brains that is sometimes screaming BS!!! people have to find some "rational" crutch to reassert their belief that everything is indeed all right and whatever it is they believe is reasonable and respectable -- not like the "superstitions" those other guys hold, obviously.

    J

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  8. Hello!

    Being I as new “questioner” in philosophy area, sometimes this fight between “prove the existence or inexistence of god” seems to me more like a media-political position and a way to shout “Hey! I’m here… I exist!” proving it’s own existence to the others.

    Seems that the problem is the incompatibility between objective experience and subjective experience. Jesus, and others, claimed the existence of god and its inherent conditions that affect us, but we could not verify then. How important is the subjective experience? This may lead us to Qualia
    http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/stanford/entries/qualia/

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  9. Tongues is such an interesting subject for me. Active in church music and leadership until the age of 30, I regularly spoke in tongues. (I'm 38 and have been an atheist for a while now)
    As a teenager I greatly desired this "gift" and wondered why others who seemingly lived worse lives than me, were getting it and I wasn't!!!
    I went from altar call to altar call to the point that even the pastor was getting frustrated with me.

    In hindsight, my error was, I was expecting something to happen to me... when really, everyone else just does it...
    So after another couple of hours (literally) of holding my hands up and crying out to god, I started to babble (probably more from exhaustion) and the pastor, with great relief, announced that I had received "the gift".
    Once i learnt the sounds to make, it was easy to replicate it...

    Even as a xtian I wondered if everyone had the same experience that I did. ie, speaking babble earnestly rather than being overcome with this mysterious holy spirit uncontrollably...

    And again I have to wonder why it took me so long to become rational....

    myvoice@aussiemail.com.au

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  10. Margot said:
    ... Active in church music and leadership until the age of 30, I regularly spoke in tongues. (I'm 38 and have been an atheist for a while now) As a teenager I greatly desired this "gift" and wondered why others who seemingly lived worse lives than me, were getting it and I wasn't!!!"

    Interestingly, Margot, my way of viewing the world began to change and "reform" itself around that age likewise. But, to the opposite end.

    By my mid-thirties I was reasonably certain that the secularists had it wrong. Not quite 100%, tho. By the time I took care of my dad who was a believer and he passed away, I was positive that the secularists were wrong. How that worked out, I don't quite understand. But I just know that a certainty settled over me.

    There are some thresholds of experiences that particular world views just simply will not take one through. And death and suffering is one of those that secularism has absolutely nothing to offer for the individual mind and heart.

    tongues? Hmmm.. whence the beginning of any language for that matter?

    N. Chomsky, if I remember correctly, says it is innate and I take that to mean that he has theorized that the ability for language just more or less popped into existence. What came before this so-called "innate language"? Possibly just one language, 6000 and some? And I wonder what that first language sounded like? Maybe "tongues" is a universal language of sorts. And maybe that is why it appears to be effortless for the brain to produce.

    cal

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  11. Hi Cal, perhaps this isn't the place to discuss it but I always wonder why death and suffering have to have any meaning? Life just is....
    Yes there may be comfort in attaching a creator's care and concern in hard times but that doesn't make it true.

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  12. Cal,

    Correct me if I am wrong but this is what I think you are trying to say:


    Your Observation?:

    tongues? Hmmm.. whence the beginning of any language for that matter?


    Your question?:

    What came before this so-called "innate language"?

    { Innate as defined by u - I take that to mean that he has theorized that the ability for language just more or less popped into existence.}


    Your theory?:

    Possibly just one language, 6000 and some? And I wonder what that first language sounded like?


    Your ANSWER?:

    Maybe "tongues" is a universal language of sorts.


    Your FINAL answer?:

    And maybe that is why it appears to be effortless for the brain to produce.

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  13. Even babies balle, Cal. Would you consider that to be a language?

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  14. MP: "But the broader point is that it is prima facie hard to understand why so many believers are so desperate for science – which they repeatedly mock in other settings (creationism, big bang, sexual education, global warming, etc.) – to confirm what they ought to believe regardless, in fact in spite of, the evidence."


    The question isn't whether science can provide all answers, because we know it certainly cannot. So there would be no conflict for someone like myself to use the sciences where they are applicable, but in observing categories, use other means for “answers” when it makes more sense. That is as sound of a method for me to use as it is for you.

    Further, no one that I know of literally "mocks" sex edu. But I am aware of quite a few who think that ANY interpretation of what goes in human relations is as good as any other. And is that really a "true" methodology scientifically? NO, of course it is not. Our secular, cultural views on birth control alone are going to guarantee either the extinction or at least the overthrowing of various people groups across the world. And who would have thunk it 10-20 years ago? Some people who consider themselves "thinkers" have consistently used only their “feelings” to make deductions on these matters and it will turn out to be the worst possible way to arrive at a conclusion when all is said and done.

    The real question that needs to be addressed is whether a premise that one begins with (scientifically or culture wise) will make a person a more truthful when interpreting the evidence.

    cal

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  15. Margot: "Hi Cal, perhaps this isn't the place to discuss it but I always wonder why death and suffering have to have any meaning? Life just is...."

    Presumably, by the end of our lives we should each be humbled and improved versions of what we were at twenty or thirty, don't you think.

    My older sis reminded me recently that a person's soul is forever the same age. But our accumulation of experiences, that is another matter. So at least experiences must exist for some reason. Even bad ones with church people. :)

    Like an accounting principle, how we live and what we think matters. And that is ultimately a good and sensible thing.

    cal

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  16. "Even babies balle, Cal. Would you consider that to be a language?

    kimpat,
    some people do think so.

    The Toronto Star

    Mom unlocks baby talk

    Australian says she's unlocked the mystery to five sounds made by all babies

    An Australian mom claims to have discovered the holy grail of infant development — a universal baby language spoken by all newborns the world over.

    She believes it's composed of five distinct sounds: Neh, Owh, Heh, Eairh, Eh, meaning, I'm hungry; I'm sleepy; I'm experiencing discomfort..."

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  17. Cal, if you buy that, now that I live in Brooklyn, I've got a really nice, large bridge to sell you. Good price, too... :)

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  18. so remedial reading comprehension for you too, Massimo? ;)

    Key words being, "some people". That then is an idea kind of in a theory stage, don't you think?

    I'm not afraid to explore new ways of looking at a problem. I am sort of surprised that you would be.

    cal

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  19. Obviously, you doubt the existence of God. (It's okay to doubt because we find answers by questioning.) Have you ever considered these things: If God is real, then He really loves all of us, as the Bible says.
    If He is real, then Jesus really died for everyone.
    If He is real, then many people are going to hell because of not accepting His offer of salvation.
    Again, if God is real, these people who refuse His offer of salvation will suffer for all eternity. Eternity goes on and on and on. Just like the number system. It has no limit. It is infinite. It goes on forever. Lastly, if He is real, then speaking in tongues is a real supernatural event that is not produced out of human will.
    Please visit these websites and consider the facts about God: www.truthortradition.com
    www.gnmagazine.org =)

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  20. I saw a documentary on the BBC about the plagues in Egypt. It was basically scienctific proof that these things had actually happened. Before this, people wsaid that it was just a story, and these things haven't happened. After this, people said that it was processes like the weather etc that caused the plagues, not God. It seems to me that if there is proof, or if there isn't then people will argue against God. All I know is that I want to know the truth. When I look to science and when I look to blind believing I find a load of crap. So what I do, is I think about everything and trust my instincts whether something seems crazy or not. And God is there. There is no other explanation.

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  21. Dear Sir, I first would like to say by disproving one mans attempt at trying to prove through science God's existence does not disprove God's existence. If you want to prove God does not exist then you must prove that the Bible is not real. Unfortunately that is hard to do because of the many things within the Bible that occur today like Speaking in Tongues. Speaking in Tongues is the least of your worries though because there are many other gifts given to those who receive the Baptism of the Holy Ghost which is spoken of in the Book of Acts.

    If you really want to prove the Bible is not real then you would have to disprove the book of Revelation or the book of Daniel these books speak of the end times when Jesus will come back for his church. They talk about the beasts that arise in the end times. Like the Lion with the eagles wings. If you haven't paid attention England has the symbol of a lion and America has the sign of the Eagle. There are 4 beasts that arise. All 4 nations currently exist. god inspired Daniel to write that book over 2500 years ago. What does this prove? Simply that the bible can predict the future. When you can tell me what happens tomorrow or a 1000 years from now then I will believe you but until then I will look tot he Word of God.

    P.S Jesus still loves you!

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