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Interesting article by the historian Tristram Hunt about this subject in today's Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1443104,00.html

The interference by the White House in the case of Terri Schiavo - the woman at the centre of America's latest right-to-die controversy - marks another milestone in President Bush's campaign for faith over fact. More concerned with the wonder of miracles than Schiavo's 15-year irreversible vegetative state, Bush and his allies have blithely overturned multiple court decisions to maintain artificial feeding and let evangelical populism triumph over medical opinion.

Thanks to the policies and prejudices of the Bush administration, science has become a dirty word. The American century was built on scientific progress. From the automobile to the atom bomb to the man on the moon, science and technology underpinned American military, commercial and cultural might. Crucial to that was the presidency. From FDR and the Los Alamos laboratory to Kennedy and Nasa to Clinton and decoding the genome, the White House was vital to promoting ground-breaking research and luring the world's scientific elite. But Bush's faith-based, petro-chemical administration has reversed that tradition: excepting matters military, this presidency exhibits an abiding aversion to scientific inquiry that is in danger of affecting the entire country.

Neal Lane, former science adviser to Clinton, has spoken of "a pattern of abuse of science" in policy making within today's White House. What they don't like, they suppress and distort. Official publications on the science of climate change have been brazenly replaced with drafts from utility lobbyists. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report linking industry emissions to global warming had to be withdrawn at the behest of West Wing advisers - not many of them noted climatologists.

Uncomfortable data on stem cell research has been rubbished. Scientific advisory panels have been vetted for presidential supporters. Public interest groups questioning air pollution plans have had their tax records demanded by pliant senators. And in the push to open up wilderness for energy exploitation, submissions from coal, gas or oil corporations are given greater credence than evidence from government scientists. No wonder last year 20 Nobel laureates warned that "the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented".

Given the cultural influence of the White House, it is no surprise this disregard for science is trickling down into civil society. In some school districts, the study of evolution is now in danger of extinction. A New York Times survey revealed that not only was it being replaced in certain curricula by creationism, but even where it was on the syllabus some teachers were too afraid to teach "the E word" for fear of evangelical reaction.

In many classrooms, the teaching of evolution is hampered by the teachers themselves - circumstantial evidence suggests that about a third of American biology teachers support the unscientific theories of "intelligent design". With the successful assault on evolution behind them, evangelicals are starting to train their sights on the earth sciences of geology and physics.

Meanwhile, in a belated attempt to stem the steady collapse in foreign students and scientists entering the US, the state department has begun to revise its onerous visa requirements. However, it will take more than a few shifts in security clearance to reverse the first enrolment decrease since the 1970s.

More broadly, science is playing a diminishing role within public debate. America is experiencing a range of irregular weather patterns from unprecedented rainfall in California to powerful storm cycles across Florida. The suggestion that such extreme weather - along with hotter summers and wetter winters - might just have something to do with climate change is rarely entertained. Instead, the Bush administration continues to befuddle the science (despite a consensus within the US National Academy of Sciences that human activity is causing climate change), and so quietly sanctions the culture of excess.

Just as it cut taxes during war, this presidency sees no need to foster resource conservation in the face of global warming. On the contrary, average house sizes are mushrooming while gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles are frankly passe. In American cities, the three-tonne Hummer is a regular sight, with a "drive-thru" at Starbucks starting to resemble a security sweep outside Falluja.

The talk of the Chicago Auto Show was the International CXT. Part of a new generation of extreme trucks, the CXT is nine feet high, weighs seven tonnes, costs $90,000 and does 7-10 miles to the gallon. TV stars Jay Leno and Ashton Kutcher are already proud owners. It won't be long before it hits Main Street.

Rather than attempting to mitigate climate change trends, the White House seems intent on encouraging them. Its most recent budget proposal cuts funds for the EPA while increasing resources for the truly baloney science of missile defence. The Orwellian Clear Skies Act lets industry polluters off the hook while its truth-speak twin, the Healthy Forests Initiative, encourages more logging and road-building in national forests.

Even if the department of homeland security starts to let foreign scientists back in, many have to be asking: given such official disdain, is there any point doing the science?

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What you're saying here - if I've got you correct - is that there is no such thing as objective reality and that 'facts' are merely a series of values, beliefs or pieces of knowledge which are agreed upon by a community. I agree when you say 'scientific 'facts' are always temporary - waiting on the next time they get falsified … which gives us new scientific facts to have a go at.' Except it's not facts but scientific theories which are temporary and are falsified. The statement 'pure water boils at 100 degrees centigrade' could be used to by scientists in two different 'paradigms' to prove their theories.

I'm clearly still not explaining myself correctly! Whereas I can definitely accept religion as a social construct. There's a lovely article by George Monbiot in today's Guardian which touches on how different types of soil in the Mediterranean area are associated with different types of religious worship at http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...443100,00.html, the 'uncertainty' relating to scientific facts is of a different order. A statement like "pure water boils at 100 degrees centigrade" is really a summary of a set of parameters and conditions. As Marco Polo discovered, if you go up a mountain, the boiling point of water drops … because the parameters change.

One difference these parameters and the parameters relating to people's accounts of their religious experience has to do with their scientific nature. The scientific parameters must be capable of being replicated, measured and tested. Another difference lies in their predictive power. The exact degree of uncertainty in a particular scientific fact is really an expression of how exhaustingly these parameters have been tested.

The predictive power is extremely important. The reason that statements about the make-up of distant stars can be said to be scientifically factual, despite the fact that none of us has ever been there and reproduced the experiments which measure the temperatures of various gases on the spot is that these experiments have been done so often and so rigorously here on Earth that there isn't any reasonable doubt left about the parameters involved. The fact that the data thus produced enables us to construct spacecraft which can successfully land on Titan is powerful evidence of their capacity to predict conditions which none of us have ever measured.

There are various religions, for example, whose followers claim to be able to defy the law of gravity by levitating. So far as I know, such claims have never survived this sort of rigorous scientific testing, so they can't be seen as scientific facts, no matter how many adherents of those religions testify to having levitated.

This doesn't mean that they can't be seen as religious facts. It's just that everyone wants the kudos of being thought to be scientific (q.v. 'scientific socialism', the infected debate about whether 'social sciences' like economics and sociology are scientific).

My reading of the matter is that there's a lot of confusion about what qualifies as a scientific fact, and that people get taken in by the kudos surrounding ideas like 'a scientific discovery' and 'proved by scientists'. For me, scientific proof is a far more austere process, involving careful cross-checking and exhaustive testing. It may be that one day a god or gods will emerge from this process, but I don't think it's happened yet. If it does, though, a true scientist would check the results, examine the parameters and replicate the experiment lots of times. If the same results came through, she would then say "yes, the existence of this god or gods is a scientific fact (at least until a new set of parameters comes to light)".

And, naturally, you can't run your life on a day-to-day basis like this - life's just too short for all the testing! So, if the religious set of social constructs does it for you, then that's fine by me.

Edited by David Richardson
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I think the thing I object to with the purely scientific materialist view of the world is regarding faith. Those that share this 'scientific' view of the world have to actually have faith in what they are doing, which is the exact thing they criticize Christians, etc. for!

Let's say you've got a situation where the deity who has created the universe decides to communicate with certain human beings in a non-scientifically testable way. Why should science have the last word? We've already established that it is not entirely objective (it's 'theory laden') - so why should we trust human reason over divine inspiration/guidance?

:tomatoes Doug

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Sure, scientists have to have faith. They have to have faith that their senses give them accurate information about reality. They have to have faith that natural law may be determined from effect. And they have to have faith that natural law works uniformly through time and space.

This seems to me to be a vastly different kind of faith than religious believers have. There is no external referent for religious faith, and therefore it is entirely subjective and personal. That is not true of the faith required to do science.

I suspect what bothers religious believers about science is that it works. When you ask "Why should science have the last word?" — well, of course it doesn't have to have the last word. But it often does because it's "word" works.

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John asked me why God divinely intervened to save my life while He has not saved the life of many others probably far more deserving than me. Of course this is a question that I cannot answer. It is certainly not a case that I have been doing great things for the Kingdom of God.

I am certain that the members believe me that this happened and I cannot explain it other than a miracle because the voice was loud and clear and commanding. It did not sound like "the voice of God" from movies, just a loud, clear male voice.

I have on a few other occasions fallen asleep at the wheel and woken when the car hit the shoulder but in this case I was driving on the grass and only a few feet from the post when the voice woke me. I have to call it a miracle.

People sometimes "miraculously" recover from sicknesses, but because such seemingly miraculous recoveries can possibly be explained naturally it may not be properly a miracle. But it is difficult to understand the voice I heard other than as being a divine messenger, if not God Himself.

Of course, Christians believe they can experience God working in their lives without audibly hearing His voice--and I am suspicious of some people who claim they have heard God telling them to do this or that. IMO Christians undersatand the "will of God" for their lives not by audibly hearing from God, although I would not say this never happens.

And I do believe there are situations e.g. unexpected recoveries from fatal illnesses that can properly be classified as "miracles", although many may simply be natural causes.

Are members familiar with scienticic studies that have been done to determine whether prayer "works" in helping sick people? Christians are asked to pray for sick people but the sick people are not told of it--to prevent any explanation of a placebo type effect. I understand some of these studies have demonstrated that indeed prayer seems to work.

If only one miracle exists that cannot be naturally explained, that one miracle is sufficient to prove the existence of a divine God.

Perhaps God saved my life so I could contribute to this Forum and help introduce one or more of you to the Lord--someone who will indeed make far greater contributions to the Kingdom of God than I probably ever will!

There is no doubt in my mind that many of you who deny God are fine moral people like John. It is William Craig Lane's point that the "moral sense" in humans in and of itself demonstrates the existence of God since if life is essentially meaningless what is the moral sense of anything other than selfishness?

Edited by Tim Gratz
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Sure, scientists have to have faith.  They have to have faith that their senses give them accurate information about reality.  They have to have faith that natural law may be determined from effect.  And they have to have faith that natural law works uniformly through time and space.

This seems to me to be a vastly different kind of faith than religious believers have.  There is no external referent for religious faith, and therefore it is entirely subjective and personal.  That is not true of the faith required to do science.

So, scientists' external referent is their belief in a benevolent Nature which is uniform throughout time and space, but Christians cannot believe in a loving God as their external referent? Isn't that a bit hypocritical? :tomatoes

I suspect what bothers religious believers about science is that it works.  When you ask "Why should science have the last word?" — well, of course it doesn't have to have the last word.  But it often does because it's "word" works.

It doesn't bother me that science works - in fact it delights me! It shows that God is a deity who care for us and makes the world comprehensible to us! So I believe science to be one of the explanations for Him giving us reason and intelligence.

Science may have predictive power, but (at least in the way it is done nowadays) it is fundamentally amoral. God's 'Word' gives us a way to live out our lives in a way which gives them moral content and makes them fulfilling. So, I would say His Word 'works' as well... :unsure:

B) Doug

Edited by Doug Belshaw
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John wrote:

The interference by the White House in the case of Terri Schiavo - the woman at the centre of America's latest right-to-die controversy - marks another milestone in President Bush's campaign for faith over fact. More concerned with the wonder of miracles than Schiavo's 15-year irreversible vegetative state, Bush and his allies have blithely overturned multiple court decisions to maintain artificial feeding and let evangelical populism triumph over medical opinion.

The "interference" was by Congress and had bipartisan support. Bush signed the legislation but it was initiated in Congress and passed both houses.

The facts are as follows, as I understand them:

(1) Terry was granted a substantial judgment to provide for her care over many

years.

(2) If this money is not needed for her care, because she dies, it does not return to the insurance company, it goes to her husband.

(3) Presumably her husband was granted compensatiion for "loss of consortium" with the loss of his wife's companionship. So if he receives the money intended for her ongoing care it will be a financial windfall for him. And every day that she survives the money is being expended.

(4) Competent medical doctors testified that there are medical treatments that could be given her to stimulate rehabilitation. Her husband decided not to allow these treatments.

(5) Terry never executed a "living will" or a "power of attorney" giving her spouse the right to make medical decisions for her. I spent the last two years of my practice drafting these documents for young couples. Absent such documents, all there is re her wishes is her husband's testimony of what she told him, and he has a clear financial reason to seek her death. Terry never apparently discussed these issues with any one else in her family. Moreover, her husband first remembered that they had had these discussions only years after she went into the state she is in.

(6) Terry is receiving no "extraordinary" medical intervention to preserve her life. All she requires is feeding. Therefore, the only way to accomplish her death is to starve her to death. There are many people like Terry who cannot feed themselves. Should we starve them? That's a long, painful death. Why not just a lethal injection?

The whole point of the legislation was to allow Terry's claims to be reviewed by a federal court, just as the legal claims of every person convicted to death by state court is entitled to federal review. Itr is difficult to formulate a legal objection to permitting a federal court review of her claims under the federal constitution.

There is no doubt that people in Terry's condition would not be allowed to live in Hitler's Germany. But as President Bush stated, when there are difficult decisions to be made, it is best to err on the side of life rather than death. His position was affirmed by the famous moral philosopher James Q. Wilson in a column in the March 21, 2005 Wall Street Journal.

These are the facts of the case. Correct me if I have misstated any.

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John wrote:

The interference by the White House in the case of Terri Schiavo - the woman at the centre of America's latest right-to-die controversy - marks another milestone in President Bush's campaign for faith over fact. More concerned with the wonder of miracles than Schiavo's 15-year irreversible vegetative state, Bush and his allies have blithely overturned multiple court decisions to maintain artificial feeding and let evangelical populism triumph over medical opinion.

Tristram Hunt wrote this not me. See the original posting and link to the Guardian article for confirmation.

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John, I believe you.

The Schiavo case is a difficult case, to be sure.

Any case in which a human being can survive merely through feeding and hydration is a difficult case because such measures are not normally considered extraordinary medical procedures. Moreover, if extraordinary medical issues are withdrawn the death will normally be quick and presumably rerlatively painless, since quick. A death through denial of food and water is longer and more painful which is one of the reasons why it raises more difficult moral issues.

Unless Schiavo can obtain some recovery it is difficult to understand why her life is worth preserving. But there is testimony that there are untried medical procedures.

Since it arguably makes no difference to Terry whether she lives or dies in her current state, but since it makes a great deal of difference to her parents, and since it is not even a burden on taxpayers to sustain her life given the proceeds of the judgment, it would seem to me a solution where her husband divorces her but her parents take care of her ought to make everyone happy and spare the difficult moral questions. Only reason why I could see the husband objecting would be if his real purpose would be to obtain the "windfall" of the money that was specifically intended for her ongoing medical care.

Why not give the parents what they want? Is this not a solution that shoulld make everone happy, absent any "hidden agendas" by the husband?

Edited by Tim Gratz
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One last (I promise!) thought re the Schiavo case.

What difference would it make if there were taxpayer funds involved in sustaining her life?

I think it is very difficult morally to make a decision to starve a person to death, and I do not think such a decision can be justified by economic considerations. However the question does arise whether the money being used to maintain lives of persons in vegatative states should better be used to research for instance medical diseases and issues that affect young people. If it were a question of using this analysis to avoid paying for extraordinary medical measures, I would say moral considerations would say don't employ extraordinary medical measures. But I think it is very difficult to say society should starve a person to death because his or her life is no longer worth living. There are no easy answers--although living wills help. So if you do not have one, get one!

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So, scientists' external referent is their belief in a benevolent Nature which is uniform throughout time and space, but Christians cannot believe in a loving God as their external referent? Isn't that a bit hypocritical?

The difference between the scientists' 'faith' and religious faith is the 'reliability' of the first one. I'm using 'reliability' in the specialist sense of producing the same result in the same circumstances no matter who it is who conducts the experiment and where they are. If religious experiences could be tested in the same way that the experiences of scientists when they are experimenting can be tested, then there'd be no disagreement between scientists and religious believers.

Unfortunately, religious faith can't be tested in the same way as scientific faith, so it can't have the same status. Note that I don't say 'inferior' or 'superior', just not the same.

-------

As regards the Schiavo case, I'm an opponent of experiments on live animals, so I think it's disgraceful that it's taken this long to allow the poor woman to die peacefully. In this respect, the amorality of the scientists who've kept her on life-support machines all these years needs looking at closely. Just because science has its rigour doesn't mean that scientists shouldn't be examining their own ethics.

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If religious beliefs could be verified completely, as David says, there would be no need for faith.

If God exists, as I think has been demonstrated by my own single experience, that means, then, that God deems faith worthwhile.

Knowledge of God does not mean acceptance of His commands. The Bible teaches that Satan knows God exists but of course rejects Him.

If the morality of people like John who do not believe in God demonstrates the existence of God does not the existence of pure evil (eg Hitler) also demonstrate the existence of God? Without absolute good (God) there could be no absolute evil.

This Friday I suggest you each consider the possibility that God did indeed send His Son to our world to become the sacrifice for the sins of each of us. Consider Jesus words as He who was innocent of any wrongdoing urged forgiveness for those who were putting Him to the cruelest death.

Since Good Friday is not always on the same day we do not know the actual anniversary of the crucifixion. But it is observed this Friday. If the Bible is correct, that day was the most important day ever to occur since only through the sacrifice of Christ could God forgive our sins.

It does take faith to accept Christ as your Saviour. But once having accepted Him you should then have positive evidence of His existence in your own life.

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QUOTE(Doug Belshaw @ Mar 23 2005, 06:59 AM)

So, scientists' external referent is their belief in a benevolent Nature which is uniform throughout time and space, but Christians cannot believe in a loving God as their external referent? Isn't that a bit hypocritical?

I don't believe I said anything about "benevolent" Nature (nor did I capitalize "nature"). Scientists are unable to make any sort of value judgement about nature - as scientists. They simply "have faith" that they can discover natural law—and that natural law may be that the Universe is expanding and will eventually fade into "nothingness", or that we are endowed by natural selection to commit violence on one another; or have a "moral" sense (yes, many biologists "believe" that a moral sense has selective value and therefore evolved in us by the same mechanism that produced an opposable thumb).

I also don't think any of us have said Christians can't believe in a loving God - it seems to me the opposite of what I've read in this thread.

Tim, I suspect all of us scientists and atheists on this thread have considered just what you've asked us to consider. In my own family, we have various rituals to observe the day—some from Christianity, some pagan (and pagans were probably the first to celebrate the importance of resurrection). I certainly believe in the historical Jesus and regard some of his teaching as incredibly profound. I just can't believe that the only way to heaven is through him.

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Mike,

A very intelligent and well-made reply. It does, however, demonstrate the problem I raised above about communicating what you mean across belief systems. You seem to be saying that scientific 'faith' and religious faith are two different but equally valid things. That makes it very difficult for me to argue that religious faith is the better without sounding intolerant and/or silly! :ph34r:

When you say:

I certainly believe in the historical Jesus and regard some of his teaching as incredibly profound.  I just can't believe that the only way to heaven is through him.

I'd love to know the reason for this!

:plane Doug

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You seem to be saying that scientific 'faith' and religious faith are two different but equally valid things. That makes it very difficult for me to argue that religious faith is the better without sounding intolerant and/or silly!

Ooops! You're on to me! Seriously, I am arguing that scientific faith and religious faith are different, and are equally valuable.

Now, as to why I don't subscribe to the idea that Jesus is the only route to heaven - first let me state that I don't think heaven is a place we go to when we die. I think what we have here and now is IT. There is no after-life for me, except in the sense that my bodily composition will be used again by other critters, and again after that. And my family and friends may remember me for a couple of generations. So heaven is here and now. So is hell. Which it happens to be at this particular moment depends mostly on my own actions and attitude.

Even if I believed that there was an after-life, I still couldn't buy the idea that the only way to get there would be through one particular religious entity. Human culture is far too rich to allow me to entertain such an idea. If I believed that the only way to heaven was through Jesus, I would be relegating people like Gandhi to hell, or at least to purgatory. If there really is a heaven, I'm pretty sure Gandhi is there, and so is Chief Joseph, and Lao Tzu, and Buddha and.....you get the idea.

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