Monday, May 01, 2017

May-day Pope-hope

Pope Francis meets Stephen Hawking.
[Photo: Piximus.]
My husband is a Roman Catholic, so is his whole family. I’m a heathen. We’re both atheists, but dear husband has steadfastly refused to leave the church. That he throws out money with the annual “church tax” (imo a great failure of secularization) has been a recurring point of friction between us. But as of recently I’ve stopped bitching about it – because the current Pope is just so damn awesome.

Pope Francis, born in Argentina, is the 266th leader of the Catholic Church. The man’s 80 years old, but within only two years he has overhauled his religion. He accepts Darwinian evolution as well as the Big Bang theory. He addresses ecological problems – loss of biodiversity, climate change, pollution – and calls for action, while worrying that “international politics has [disregarded] well-founded scientific opinion about the state of our planet.” He also likes exoplanets:
“How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.”
I find this remarkable, not only because his attitude flies in the face of those who claim religion is incompatible with science. More important, Pope Francis succeeds where the vast majority of politicians fail. He listens to scientists, accepts the facts, and bases calls for actions on evidence. Meanwhile, politicians left and right bend facts to mislead people about what’s in whose interest.

And Pope Francis is a man whose word matters big time. About 1.3 billion people in the world are presently members of his Church. For the Catholics, the Pope is the next best thing to God. The Pope is infallible, and he can keep going until he quite literally drops dead. Compared to Francis, Tweety-Trump is a fly circling a horse’s ass.

Global distribution of Catholics.
[Source: Wikipedia. By Starfunker226CC BY-SA 3.0Link.]

This current Pope is demonstrably not afraid of science, and this gives me hope for the future. Most of the tension between science and religion that we witness today is caused by certain aspects of monotheistic religions that are obviously in conflict with science – if taken literally. But it’s an unnecessary tension. It would be easy enough to throw out what are basically thousand years old stories. But this will only happen once the religious understand it will not endanger the core of their beliefs.

Science advocates like to argue that religion is incompatible with science for religion is based on belief, not reason. But this neglects that science, too, is ultimately based on beliefs.

Most scientists, for example, believe in an external reality. They believe, for the biggest part, that knowledge is good. They believe that the world can be understood, and that this is something humans should strive for.

In the foundations of physics I have seen more specific beliefs. Many of my colleagues, for example, believe that the fundamental laws of nature are simple, elegant, even beautiful. They believe that logical deduction can predict observations. They believe in continuous functions and that infinities aren’t real.

None of this has a rational basis, but physicists rarely acknowledge these beliefs as what they are. Often, I have found myself more comfortable with openly religious people, for at least they are consciously aware of their beliefs and make an effort to prevent it from interfering with research. Even my own discipline, I think, would benefit from a better awareness of the bounds of human rationality. Even my own discipline, I think, could learn from the Pope to tell Is from Ought.

You might not subscribe to the Pope’s idea that “tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.” Honestly, to me doesn’t sound so different from believing that love will quantize gravity. But you don’t have to share the values of the Catholic Church to appreciate here is a world leader who doesn’t confuse facts with values.


  1. Dear B.

    The relation between the Catholic Church and Science are more complex that generally acknowledged. However, the popes have not fought evolution since at least 1950:

    The theory of the Big Bang was first proposed by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre.

    As such, the speech of Pope Francis on evolution and cosmology are not a change in policy, or even very remarkable to Catholics. I was raised as a Catholic (even schooled by Dominican monks), and I never encountered any friction with science in that community. To the Catholics, the Bible was a book about the relation between God and Man. It was not considered a book on Natural History, or even Human History.

    1. I was just about to write something remarkably similar to this. Thank you for saving me the effort.

      Unrelated but another factual error is in implying the infallibility of the Pope applies to the subjects mentioned. It doesn't. Only ex cathedral papal pronouncements qualify which are all on matters of faith/Church doctrine.

    2. To which I would add that the father of modern genetics was Fr. Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar and Catholic priest.

  2. Dear Sabine,

    “tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.”

    I am sorry you miss the point.

    And btw, gravity will be quantized because someone will love to do it. You bet?


    PS: don'y worry about the Church tax, money is evil; you said so.

    1. Well said, love itself will not quantize gravity, but people that love physics and seek the theory of everything, love understanding how the universe works and, ultimately, why it exists, will find someday the best explanation for the natural world, uggly or beatiful. Our achievements in science as a specie is so wonderful that we should be very proud of, even incomplete. "Our science, even seemingly childish, is the best thing we have." - Albert Einstein

      So, anyway, love is vital, fundamental.

  3. "The man’s 80 years old, but within only two years he has overhauled his religion. He accepts Darwinian evolution as well as the Big Bang theory."

    This was media hype as far as I know:

    You can't trust anybody these days, you must do an independent query on your own for just about everything.

    Total collapse of journalism.

  4. Giotis,

    I appreciate the information, but in this case the hype is the message. Your comment is somewhat akin to complaining that Pokemon Go isn't the first VR game.

  5. The Pope is a chemical technician and worked for some time in a laboratory when he was young.

  6. akidbelle,

    "I am sorry you miss the point."

    I haven't offered an interpretation of the statement in question, so it's presumptuous of you to complain I missed the point.

  7. I don't understand what you mean but Independent's article is totally hype, big bang was always the beloved theory of Catholicism.

    Catholics are not US type creationists, they don't renounce evolution they renounce evolution without a plan.

    I think you are genuinely confused about these issues.

  8. Giotis,

    I know that the Catholic Church is much more moderate than fundamentalist groups and has long been. Since you say you don't understand what I mean: In this case the relevant aspect is how much attention do you receive. That's what the Pope has succeeded in. Hence my comparison to Pokemon Go. Clearly not the first VR game, certainly not the best, but it has brought VR into pretty much everybody's mind. That, in and by itself, is an achievement, and that's what I say makes me hopeful. I don't know what you think I'm confused about. If I gave you the impression that I want to lump together Creationists with Catholics, this wasn't my intention. I'm saying we all benefit from a clear demonstration that science isn't in conflict with religion.

  9. Hi Sabine,

    It's not really relevant to your point, but Pokemon Go is actually an Augmented Reality game, not a Virtual Reality game.


  10. Arthur,

    You're right of course, what was I thinking putting a V there? Thanks for the correction.

  11. "Most scientists, for example, believe in an external reality...

    Scientists are more willing to change their view about the natural world based on the evidence; I don't think the same can be said of the religious people in general.

    In the foundations of physics I have seen more specific beliefs. Many of my colleagues, for example, believe that the fundamental laws of nature are simple, elegant, even beautiful. They believe that logical deduction can predict observations.

    Belief based on evidence is fine. As long as you are prepared to change your mind when the evidence changes. I think when most scientists use the word belief they always mean highly probable / provisional.

  12. It would be interesting to know how well the Pope understands the Big Bang, Evolution, .. The Pope shouldn't accept these theories as true, he should learn about them, and know that they are most likely true based on the evidence.

  13. From this heathen's point of view, even Pope Francis's church has not abandoned its mission of ending heathen cultures via proselytization, so he is the wolf donning his sheepskin.

  14. Arun,

    Yes. I was about to end this post with a rant of how my daughters ended up being religiously indoctrinated against my explicitly stated wish. So not like I think all is great. Alas, someone recently complained I write too much negative things, which is true of course. Not that much will change about this in the long run though.

  15. Paul,

    I'm afraid you entirely missed my point because you, too, don't realize that your belief in an external reality is not more than a belief.

  16. "They believe in continuous functions and that infinities aren’t real."

    That always struck me as odd. There are literally uncountable infinities within the most basic of continuous functions.

  17. Sabine,

    maybe my wording is poor, but my intention was not to complain.

    Why would the statement in question need an interpretation?


  18. The Pope is only infallible when he speaks "ex cathedra" about particular church doctrine, and that doesn't happen very often.

    I'm not a believer either, but my late wife was a devout Catholic. In the U.S. at least, all those church contributions made very useful tax deductions.

  19. bee:

    "someone recently complained I write too much negative things, which is true of course. Not that much will change about this in the long run though." please keep those negative thoughts coming. both negativity and skepticism are more useful than ever in today's alt-fact (post-fact) era.


  20. akidbelle,

    I don't know. This was my best guess at what you were asking for. Yes, maybe that's a misunderstanding, so just to be clear, my statement was meant to say that it's not particularly practical advice.

  21. Religion and the doctrines od "religious institutions" are not the same thing. You live with an erroneous induction (no God because redundant for physics) your whole professional life, maybe longer. I once did too. Wish we could talk.

  22. Why does the Creator of the Universe require us to finance His gilded shipyards?
    (Note that God omitted the vowels and intonation marks)
    ...Some 11,000 saints demand idols and graven images, genuflection, worship, and contribution. Black Pope and White Pope united is a Catholic singularity.

    All M-theory lacks is falsifiability. There is no lack of publication, expectation, and interim praise.

  23. "The Pope is a chemical technician and worked for some time in a laboratory when he was young."

    He also worked as a bouncer.

    Yes, he has some good qualities. But his opposition to birth control, as strict as that of his predecessors, is creating many problems in the world.

  24. Issues between religion and science have a centenary tradition. I'm not pretending to say anything new. Empirical philosophy has definitely separated science and religion. Pope Francis is too skilled to fall into the trap of denial of scientific discoveries. Religions will always have followers because it is not so important to know where we are from but rather whether there is a life after what we are experiencing. Religion answers yes, science does not give answers.

  25. Sabine, I agree the current Pope is a huge improvement over what has come before;
    However your statement
    “but within only two years he has overhauled his religion.” I'm not sure is really supported by evidence. Of course it depends on what you mean by overhaul. Just because this Pope takes a particular position, it doesn't follow that the entire Church follows him. It seems clear to me that there is conflict within the Church about the Pope’s positions. There are web sites of Catholics claiming the current Pope is a false prophet and will lead to the anti Christ and several senior Cardinal have written about their unhappiness with the current Pope.
    I personally have argued with many Catholics who don’t accept evolution. So you are just mistaken to think that because the Pope says something the rest of the Church follows through. Yes I know that in Catholicism the Pope is supposed to be infallible, but it seems to me that people often pay attention to doctrines when it suits them and ignores them when it doesn't. So its wrong to argue that the attitudes of the Pope automatically are followed by the Church.
    The Popes embracing of certain scientific facts most certainly does not support your statement “his attitude flies in the face of those who claim religion is incompatible with science. “ . All religious people accept certain scientific facts, I’m not aware of any Young Earth creationists that dispute Hooke’s law. So the fact this Pope accepts certain other facts no more disproves the hypothesis of a fundamental tension between science and religion than the creationists that accepts Hooke’s law.
    Pope Francis also believes in exorcism and recently gave official Vatican backing to The International Association OF Exorcists The seriously undermines the science of mental health. But as that's not really much to do with physics , perhaps it doesn't bother you?
    Its true that Pope has 1.3 billion followers but he doesn't have an army and he doesn't have nuclear weapons, all things that Trump does have. So your statement that “compared to Francis, Tweety-Trump is a fly circling a horse’s ass.” is really off base.

    When you say the “it’s an unnecessary tension. It would be easy enough to throw out what are basically thousand years old stories. But this will only happen once the religious understand it will not endanger the core of their beliefs. “
    I'm sorry but it is not so easy to throw out these thousand year old stories. Maybe you haven't spent a lot of time on Catholic discussion forums , I have. People believe these stories. and why shouldn't they? If the bible is the word of God and God tells them something happened , it's not exactly a surprise to find they think it did happen. The more religious a country is the less likely it is to accept evolution. You think this is a coincidence?
    Sure sophisticated theologians might tell them it's a metaphor or something like that but again it doesn’t follow that the other members of the Church follow through on this. Lots of Catholic theologians backed ID, maybe you missed that?
    The reason that there is a fundamental conflict between science and religion is not because of belief. yes everyone has beliefs. But science demands a high bar of evidence before it can turn people's personal beliefs into what is accepted fact in the community and taught in textbooks to children. And even these accepted facts are open to question and revision. Science teaches us to question authority and throw out long cherished ideas if the evidence demands it. Religion tells us to accept authority and not to question fundamental tenants of faith.
    You are asking us to believe the Catholic Church has been overhauled because the Authority figure at the top is saying great stuff. But this re enforces the conflict between science and religion. Science doesn't re write text book because there is a Pope of Science that changes the record.

  26. The Catholic Church has had an Academy of Sciences since the mid-1200's. Not only has the Church never been anti-science, but it has, until the first part of the 20th century, been unquestionably the leader in scientific advance. (Yes, it took that long for secular science to get the idea.)

    "What about Galileo?" you ask. Galileo's heliocentrism was never a problem; the problem was that he was being a jerk in public to proud, powerful men in the Church, counting on his friendship with other powerful churchmen to protect him, and he did it once too often. Copernicus, a Catholic priest, had published on heliocentrism almost a century before, with no pushback from the Church at all.

    And evolution? "God created all things in their forms inseminate, and they evolved to what we see today." -- St. Augustine of Hippo, circa 850 AD. Nice try, Darwin, but it wasn't your idea.

  27. Great sentiment overall. Here’s my quibble.
    Those of us who want to see rapprochement between fans of science and fans of religion would do well not to frame the issue in terms of “belief”. Many uses of “belief” in religion are not comparable to ordinary uses of “believe”, but rather express general attitudes and values. If you compare “I believe in equal rights for all” with “I believe that the earth orbits the sun”, you will see that many religious uses are like the former: they express values rather than statements of fact. For many people “belief in a god” is tantamount to “feeling that life is worthwhile” or meaningful, etc. Not a hypothesis.
    Fundamentalism means conflating these two senses of “belief”, just as it means reading mythic stories as if they were factual history. And just as we need to try to get fundamentalists to read myths as literature, we need them to treat their religious “beliefs” as lying in a different logical category from factual beliefs.
    You’re reaching when you try to put “belief in an external reality” on a par with “belief that Jesus rose from the dead”. The former is NOT an ordinary use of “believe”, it lies in the special category of philosophical language; and confusions about solipsism, other minds, etc., are solved by looking at language use, not by scientific investigation. So instead of emphasizing a commonality in unjustified beliefs, it would be better to emphasize the complementarity of thinking about facts and thinking about values.

  28. Matthew,

    You are jumping to conclusions based on very incomplete information. Please stop assigning opinions to me.

  29. Gabe,

    Scientists do *not* treat the issues I mention as hypotheses, that's exactly the point.

  30. Conchobbar,

    What you say is inconsistent. You can't one the one hand insist I'm wrong to say that the Pope is an authority and on the other hand insist the defining feature of religion is obedience to authority. Make your pick.

    Also the rest of your comment is incoherent. When I say it's 'easy enough' to throw out stories, I was clearly referring to it being easy in the sense of not endangering religious thought per se. Read the paragraph. The whole point was to say it's an unnecessary tension.

    Altogether your comment strikes me as the typically needlessly aggressive attempt to find something wrong with what someone else said if that person didn't actually say something wrong. The only thing you seem to get across is that you think you spent too much time in religious forums. I am happy to agree with that.

  31. I enjoyed the entire article and had a good laugh about the all too accurate comment relating to Donald Dump. His success and rise to power does have scientific value as evidence for a tenet of Quantum Mechanics - No matter how small the probability anything can happen.

  32. Sabine,

    in my own experience, it is a very practical advice. But "how" can be very difficult to find. I am not sure it can be explained...


  33. Paulo,

    thanks for the "beatiful"; the ugly also is in the eye that looks.


  34. This heathen approves of other people being religious as it might constrain their some of their bad behaviors. Because you folks are way too violent and envious; and you scare me.

    Religion doesn’t have to cripple a scientist. J. C. Maxwell to Francis Collins. Physicist John Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest even; he wrote a nice introduction to quantum mechanics for the Oxford Very Short Introduction series.

    P.S. I liked John Paul II despite the pedophilia scandal in the States. But this whole topic is fly paper, quicksand, a tar baby, or whatever metaphor.

  35. God says, "Problems are solved with prayer, penitence, penury, procreation, and pedophilia." No gain issues from funding cultures of failure (other than sales commissions). Faith fills a much-needed gap in the human experience.

  36. Hej B,
    Para 2, 5th word, swap ending 'e' for 'a' ;-)

  37. Sabine,

    "Compared to Francis, Tweety-Trump is a fly circling a horse’s ass."

    You are, of course, entitled to express yourself as you wish on your own blog. But in my opinion, such a gratuitous and disrespectful swipe at the sitting President of the United States is not only offensive, to at least one of your readers, but also unbecoming a respected professional like yourself.

    1. I would agree very strongly that "Compared to Francis, Tweety-Trump is a fly circling a horse’s ass." Trump has so demolished the dignity of his office that no one owes him or it the slightest duty of respect anymore. Hence the only truly valid objection to the "horse's ass" comment is that it disrespects the users and readers of this blog, Trump and his putative dignity be damned.

      So just for the sake of the average blog reader's delicate sensibilities, perhaps Sabine might have said, "Compared to Francis, Trump is no better than a parasitic worm squirming out the anus of a dead rat." More polite, I'm sure, and more rhetorically delicate, avoiding the dirty word "ass," which obviously distresses you and others of feeble constitution.

      Instead however of worrying about how "respected professionals" express themselves, I would urge anyone who would sit around all day barfing out approval for this maniac to take a breath and think really hard about what is important to them, and what they think should be important to the Nation. If you think having a Republican president, even one who is deeply injurious to our institutions and standing in the world, is the only thing that matters, then go for it. Otherwise, don't. Simple as that.

  38. This pope has made more evil than good. He is a veiled communist. He endorses Castro, Maduro and other new communist leaders in Latin America. He don't believes in freedom and in free markets. Recently he said that the libertarians are menace for the humanity future. Anyone who says that deserves my disrespect.

  39. Wow.

    So for those not keeping score, let me break it down... with this article Sabine appears to have pissed off many of her religious readers, several of her scientific readers, the ghost of Joseph McCarthy, and probably the only guy that reads a science blog and voted for Trump!

    Well done :)



  40. @emmayche

    Of course heliocentricism was the main point of contention between Galileo and the Church. Any other claim are "alternative facts" and a denial of science. Whatever his sins, the whole idea that an organization like the Church can arrest people, burn them at the stake, etc, is absurd.

    Why did Copernicus wait until he was on his deathbed to publish?

    Augustine and evolution? Get real. Even assuming that this was the case, why the opposition of most Christian religion to evolution?

  41. we have an interesting contrast today : a great human being in charge of an evil institution and an evil human being in charge of a great institution.

  42. @Unknown
    "He is a veiled communist."

    Is this credible, relevant, or even interesting outside of the USA?

    "Recently he said that the libertarians are menace for the humanity future. Anyone who says that deserves my disrespect."

    I think most Catholics would agree with the pope here. After you have explained to them what Libertarianism actually wants to achieve in the world. Most catholics live in countries where Libertarianism is not even a fringe movement, and with good reason.

  43. Good post, and I agree the current Pope is a good man, but ... there have been bad Popes too. Depending on them for infallibility is still a bad idea. Also, supporting the system which produces good and bad Popes is maybe not a great idea.

    Religious beliefs vs. scientific beliefs is kind of a semantics issue, but ... scientists who hold strong beliefs without good evidence are being more religious than scientific (in my belief).

    The whole reason for science (I "believe") is that human thinking is flawed. It cherry-picks. Religion is based on cherry-picking "miracles". Scientists are just as susceptible to that as anyone else. Otherwise we wouldn't need the methods and discipline of science.

    I agree the Pope is to be applauded for his deeds - but not for his religion.

  44. Looking at Pope Francis statement I think its rather vague and not as supportive of science as you suggest.
    firstly he says “. “He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe“
    I don’t know what this means but I think its a common belief in Catholicism and other religions that human being have free will. Im pretty sure I read on this blog that we don’t have free will. So there is the first potential conflict.

    Pope Francis also says
    “The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. “
    There are a lot of people doing work in quantum gravity which may eventually lead to a natural explanation to the big bang. This comment implies this work is all worthless. I agree it has not paid off yet, but to say the big bang requires divine creation I think is also a potential area of conflict.

    On evolution there have been a number of statements from various Popes and other senior clergy. They are generally supportive of evolution but this to me is too vague. Is is micro but not macro? or is it they accept macro evolution but not for humans ? or do they accept humans evolved and aren't special act of creation? My reading of Catholics is that they are all over the place on this issue. They do seem to confirm man’s dignity comes from being created uniquely in the image of God, so that seems to imply to me, we are apart form other animals in having dignity. Evolution tell us we are are not so sharply divided from other animals. This is not a trivial issue, animals are treated very badly on this planet, whilst religious views on man’s uniqueness are not the only cause of this clearly, they are still, I think harmful and contribute to what some scientists have dubbed as a new mass extinction event.

    There’s also the issue of demonic possession which others have rightly pointed out seems in conflict with the science of mental health.

    So I think your are being too kind to Catholicism here. There is more room for conflict than you admit.

    Moreover the issue isn't whether there is a necessary conflict. The issue is does being religious make one more likely to put someone in conflict with science? I think the answer to that question is obviously yes. There are plenty of Catholics who doubt evolution and of course what about the other religions? Acceptance of evolution amongst Muslims is incredibly low. Try and teach evolutionary science to Muslims kids and see how you get on.
    This Pope is awesome, that doesn’t mean the whole Catholic church is or other religions are. And it shouldn't be used to whitewash what is a clear conflict between science and religion.

  45. P.S. I don't think we are in much disagreement actually. You accentuated the positives and I accentuated the negatives.

  46. He's an imperfect human, and intellectually, a mixed bag. In other words he's like all of us. I never would have imagined it, but at this point, the Catholic Church - at least while Pope Francis represents it - is a real source of hope and optimism for the future.

    No we don't need religion, as it has been. We need whatever comes after religion. I think Francis senses this.

  47. @ hardasgnials

    I might be the only guy who reads this blog and also voted for President Trump, but I am pretty sure you are not unique in making gratuitous smarmy assertions in an online forum.

  48. While I admire the Pope, I sense he is much like Obama. Very naive in the grand historical scheme of things. His views on climate change e.g, like Obama's are just hopeless. Bankrupting the world to lower the temperature .2degC? I think the poor in the world will take the modernity [sp?] and the .2degC. He does seem to want to get things DONE, and here he is much more like Trump. He needs to confront the evil tho, and name it, not apologize for it, much like Obama. @TheBigHenry... I voted for Trump, the alternative was just too scary. The present is scary as well! The liberals are now self destructing, but they are taking the rest of us down too. John

  49. Sabine, I am remember my math classes fondly. They were some of best naps I ever enjoyed. I am a nurse practitioner in a county jail in northern California. I am much much more comfortable performing a pelvic exam on HIV infected prostitutes that attempting anything that reads, "Solve for X". I am intensely interested in science though and a huge fan of your blog (though much of it passes miles over my head). In this case though, I am in total agreement. I am an atheist and my wife was raised in the Catholic church. We are both fans of Pope Francis. He is a man for a new renaissance.
    Iver Lien

  50. @John Loop
    "Bankrupting the world to lower the temperature .2degC?"

    Sorry, but I think you are misinformed. I think Pope Francis seems to be much better informed than you are. Which might explain why he comes to a completely different conclusion.

    You make two quantitative statements of fact that are both false. Stopping climate change will not bankrupt the world, and we need more than 0.2 degC change in the expected temperature outcome. Also, climate change already is an utter disaster for the poorest humans of the world, including many Catholics. Which also might explain Pope Francis' interests.

  51. @Rob: I was going to write something similar, but figured that it wasn't worth the trouble. Logic usually doesn't work when trying to convince people that their opinions are wrong if these opinions were obtained by a means which rejects logic. If people are merely misinformed then, yes, some rational argumentation might help. But those parroting the party line of conservative think tanks and the fossil-fuels industry are usually too far gone to worry about, sadly.

    1. @Philip Helbig
      My comment is as much at unsuspecting passing readers as to John. There is an old saying that a lie will become truth if it is repeated often enough.

      My comment is thus also intended as a bit of antidote.

  52. Ugh. I love your science and thanks for that, but this is venturing into apologetics. Where to start?

    The pope is awesome because he accepts science now centuries old? Because he listens to scientists and has some (selective) respect for science? The word I would use is "rational", not "awesome".

    Science and religion are most certainly incompatible. Science is in the business of building models of the world that are constantly tested and refined. Religion is a system of ad-hoc institutionalized doctrines. When the two collide in open combat science always wins. Religion wins only through suppression of free expression. Gould was wrong, NOMA is nonsense, science and religion occupy the same world, and ad-hoc beliefs are incompatible with it.

    Confusing facts with values? Fact: the pope has done nothing to bring child molesters to book and has actually been obstructionist when they are prosecuted by secular authorities. If he is _not_ confused about his values (e.g. "there is a greater good in defending the institution of the Catholic church than a few kids") then he is a monster. I suspect he wants to be a good man, but, you know, cognitive dissonance. As leader of the Catholic church he can't afford to be terribly introspective about some things.

    And what about your confusing religious "belief" with scientific "belief", more accurately described as "provisional hypotheses"? And supposing "old stories" don't matter to the religious? Go ask the pope about the evidential basis for the doctrine of the virgin birth and how quickly he would abandon it. This is not just a "story", it is fundamental to Catholic identity. Christianity is also noteable amongst religions in the peculiar virtue it confers on adherence to belief in the face of all challenges: the more stubborn you are, the more virtuous! (See Dennett, "diabolical lie"). Compare to your most rabid string theorist buddy. I have no doubt many scientists go to the grave clinging to tenuous beliefs, but that is a human failing in the face of reason, not some nobbly edge that could be softened off with a little more religion.

    Actually I think it is this tarring of science with religion's brush that feels most most annoying, because it is straight out of chapter 1 of the copy-book of apologists everywhere. It is a peculiar argument: "See! You have beliefs too, so you are just as compromised as us!" But see conflation of religious belief with provisional hypothesis above.

    Which makes it seem like you have recently been fed some cool-aid and/or have been led into some motivated reasoning, something every one of us falls victim to myself not excepted. So your husband blows money on the church and your kids are getting indoctrinated, there must be some good in this, right? Your kids will at least be taught good values, right? Donald Trump is a contemptible blowhard but at least the pope speaks of tenderness, right?

    Well unlike the pope Weinberg is a real scientist who understands something about how the world works and seems to be a pretty decent human to boot. And he had this to say: good people will do good, bad people will do bad, but good people doing bad things takes religion. Which is simply a corollary to the law of unintended consequences: if you act in the world using a faulty model, of course you may screw up. The "may" becoming "probably" if your model is derived from religious doctrine. And employing a bad model it is those who are most devout in their goodness who can do the most harm. Exhibit 1, "pope condoms aids africa".

  53. Tres bien! Your comments and understanding surpass the minor pebbles.

  54. Sabine: Any plans to review (here) the latest books by Frank Close and Harry Collins?

  55. "My comment is as much at unsuspecting passing readers as to John."

    I suspected as much, and thought of mentioning this aspect myself. My own internet comments (on others' blogs---I hope to start my own this year---) and on usenet often have the same goal: not convince the person I am ostensibly replying to, who is often a hopeless case, but rather those on the sidelines watching the debate.

  56. It's great to see a pope who is literate in science and concerned about the environment. His impact on the world, during his papacy, will no doubt be very positive. Other popes, in recent history, in their own way, have also had positive impacts on peoples lives. While not raised in the Catholic faith, if I had to choose a favorite pope it would be John Paul the second. He just seemed to radiate an aura of kindness, tolerance, and forgiveness. It was extraordinary that he forgave the gunman who attempted to assassinate him. But his most important legacy, by far, was his immense contribution to the defeat of Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia.

  57. Most people are nice but maybe for a pope this is something special? You are applauding this pope for being normal.

    I like him also (if we compare him with other popes), but even he has his bad moments:

    Personally I'm not against beating up children but some people may find this not so nice.

    And some quotes from our scientific Pope:

    “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. . .

    “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fullfilment. . .

    “The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it. . .

    “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. . .

    “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

    I'm also not against people having an imaginary friend, but I don't think this is science or even more compatible with science than the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He is just trying to hide obviously wrong parts of the ideology he represents by misrepresenting science. Does the Big Bang really require a divine creator? I have some doubts.

    Science tries to distinguish between fact and fiction; that's quite a task. As far as we know religion adds only fiction to the things we already know and fills the gaps in our knowledge also with fiction. Science at least tries to fill the gaps in our knowledge with reliable facts, predictions, explanations and new (hopefully) testable ideas. Religion only tries to obfuscate these ideas, facts and explanations, and tries to avoid testable claims. It predicts that god will kill us all, destroy the world and only the true believers will have access to paradise.

    In contrast with scientists this pope and his ilk have yet to come up with some new ideas. The last new original idea the catholic church has had was the dogma of Papal Infallibility. But the current pope cannot take credit for that (1870).

    To treat women, Jews or homosexuals not as bad as in the past is in currently the norm in liberal politics and also not a new or original idea.

    You seem to think that politicians are bad people; and that this pope is a better person than the average politician. If politicians are like Pol Pot, Stalin or Donald Trump you might be right. However, unlike the pope, a normal politician has real responsibility and has to make decisions that really matter to people, but they cannot please everyone.

    This pope however excels in propaganda but doesn't make decisions yet; that way it's difficult to create enemies.

    This all doesn't make this pope a bad person.

    Just average.


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