The science of Genesis?

July 25th, 2015 in Interesting .... Tags: , , , ,


About 6 years ago, on another blog, I did a post about a rising young evolutionary biologist who wrote a book based on accepted evolutionary science, but which related the science to the Bible’s account of creation in Genesis. He was soundly lambasted for his temerity.

Now a young astrophysicist has dared to do a similar thing – accept established cosmology but relate it to Genesis 1.

Andrew Parker and evolution

Andrew Parker was, and still is, an eminent evolutionary biologist. His specialities are the evolution of the eye and biomimetics. He gained attention for proposing the the development of the eye was the cause of the Cambrian Explosion, a sudden increase in species about 500 million years ago.

Now his main work in biomimetics uses design in nature to develop new technologies that are more efficient than the current ones, in such diverse areas as hologram-based security devices on credit cards, improved solar panel efficiency and improved water efficiency.

The Genesis Enigma

His 2010 book, The Genesis Enigma stepped through the six days of creation in Genesis and compared these to standard evolutionary theory. Unlike most scientists and theologians, who don’t think Genesis has any scientific credibility, and most creationists who don’t think the theory of evolution has any credibility, Parker tried to show that evolutionary science fitted into the six days rather well, provided we take a fairly flexible view of Genesis.

There is no doubt that some of the Genesis days fit evolution quite well, but a couple are a bit more of a struggle. The biggest difficulty is explaining how there was light on the first day, vegetation on the third day, but the sun was only created on the fourth day. Andrew’s innovative idea is fitting – he says the fourth day corresponds to the evolution of the eye, the first that any living thing “saw” light – but it isn’t entirely convincing.

Andrew was an atheist before he wrote this book, but he said his conclusion, that Genesis was way more accurate than we could expect from such an old document, led him to wonder if it was “proof” of God. However more recent PR material from him doesn’t mention this book, so perhaps he has changed his mind, or perhaps he felt, or was told, that linking science with Genesis wasn’t a good career move.

Sarah Salviander

Sarah Salviander is a research scientist in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Texas. Her parents were agnostic/atheist, she knew very few christians growing up, and by the time she went to university she was hostile to christianity.

However working on the science of the big bang led her to the same observation as Einstein, that “the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it’s comprehensible”. She saw an underlying order in the universe that led her one day to joyfully realising she believed in God.

From there she read The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder, which convinced her of the truth of Genesis, which led her to accept that the gospels and the story of Jesus were also true. And so she converted to christianity.

Six Day Science

Sarah is one of the main contributors at the Six Day Science website and blog. In one of the site’s main pages, Six Days, she presents her explanation of how the Genesis account of creation fits with modern science (based on Schroeder’s book), via a 125-slide presentation.

Like Andrew Parker, she argues that current cosmological and evolutionary science are correct, and that Genesis, understood correctly, gives a scientifically accurate description of how it happened. Sarah’s big idea (following Schroeder) is to explain why the Bible said creation took 6 days, whereas science shows that from the big bang until the appearance of humans was almost 14 billion years.

She discusses that Einstein showed that time isn’t constant, but relative. When something speeds up close to the speed of light, its time slows down. So, she explains (and I must admit I struggled with this explanation), as the universe expanded after the big bang, time slowed down. As a result, what was 1 day from God’s viewpoint outside the universe was in fact millions or billions of years from the viewpoint of the earth, which is caught up in that rapid expansion.

She does calculations, as only an astrophysicist can, to show that when we make the calculation for each of the six Genesis days, they map quite well against the timeline developed by science.

Finally, she argues that the Hebrew wording suggests that Adam wasn’t created out of nothing, but by placing a living “soul” inside an existing hominid.

What to make of all this?

It is important to note that Andrew and Sarah’s approaches are nothing like creationism. Both accept current science but their ideas cut across both creationism and materialistic science. So are their ideas reasonable?

Genesis – myth or fact?

Many christians believe Genesis 1 is scientific and historical fact, but most scholars these days would regard it as myth, a view also held by CS Lewis. If it is myth, then conforming to science becomes less important.

But Genesis does get some things right

Even if we view Genesis as myth, we must also recognise that it comes closer to modern understandings than we might reasonably expect from a ancient legend:

  • Most creation myths of the time are lurid, fantastic and unbelievable, often involving fighting among the many gods. For example, in the Akkadian Enuma Elish, the earth is created from half the corpse of the god who lost the battle. Compared to most of these, Genesis is sober and sensible.
  • The Genesis story says the universe had a definite beginning (something science now accepts, but didn’t for many years).
  • Genesis says all humans came from Adam and Eve. Curiously, genetic science now says the same thing, with the one crucial difference, that our single male progenitor lived thousands of years before our single female progenitor. There were other humans around at these times, but none of their descendants survive to the present day.
  • The order of creation has some similarities to the scientific account, but with some differences too.
Too contrived?

The trouble with Andrew and Sarah’s accounts is that they seem somewhat contrived. Some of the explanations seem forced, and others are extremely doubtful.


If you really feel the need to accept both Genesis and science as true, then these harmonisations will likely be important to you. But since I accept that portions of the early Old Testament are mythical, I don’t feel the need for these harmonisations, and I can’t help feeling they are not sufficiently credible.

Scientists in a bad light?

Nevertheless, the reception given to these ideas (especially Andrew’s book) doesn’t show modern science in a good light (to me). Both Andrew and Sarah accept modern science, so scientists needn’t feel threatened by their ideas. But it seems that many non-christian scientists see any attempt at reconciling science and the Bible as compromise, and attack it vitriolically. From a scientific viewpoint, I think the reactions were unnecessary.

Picture: NASA.


  1. Hi, you said:

    “The Genesis story says the universe had a definite beginning (something science now accepts, but didn’t for many years).”

    Why do you keep lying about this? You know it’s not true… honestly, why?

  2. Hugo, lying is a strong word and I don’t appreciate it, and I am wondering about removing your comment. Perhaps you could make your objection a little clearer please and be a little less “insulting, rude, aggressive and aggravating” please, and then I will consider editing both our comments out again. Thanks.

  3. Alright, that was a strong word… personally, I wouldn’t care 1 bit so I tend to forget about your sensitivities; sorry about that. Please remove it if you prefer.

    So perhaps you simply forgot some of the things you discussed on the topic of fine tuning here on your blog, and elsewhere. But to refresh your memory, we had discussions directly related to the debate between William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll, in which Carroll, the physicist, explains why Craig, the non-physicist, is wrong when he claims that the universe had a beginning. Nobody knows.
    Yet, you persist in your belief that WLC is right… because?

  4. Are you saying that the majority of cosmologists don’t believe that our universe commenced with the “big bang” almost 14 billion years ago?

  5. Of course not, I would never reject / deny the Big Bang Theory! Just like most cosmologists wouldn’t. But, the words -universe- and -begin- don’t mean the same here. You are mixing 2 things. Which part do you find confusing?

  6. Hugo, can you please cut out the insults? I don’t intentionally lie, I don’t wish to make you look foolish. We happen to disagree. If you want to be nasty, please go somewhere else to do it. I am only interested in friendly discussion.

    I am unsure what point you are making and I would prefer to understand before commenting. If you and/or Carroll are using the words “universe” and “begin” in some different way, it would help me for you to explain that first thanks.

  7. Even Darwin told us that his “Theory of Evolution” was TOTALLY AND IRRECONCILABLY FLAWED in this statement from his very well known book, “Origin of the Species.” Enjoy what Darwin said, and then, please totally give up this farce. The only reason why there is such a “theory” today is because people need SOMETHING besides God, and this is such an incredibly poor and ridiculous substitute!

    • Charles Darwin’s statement: “Why, if species have descended from other species by fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why do we not find them imbedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?” Origin of the Species, 1859. “The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, must be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory.”

  8. Hi David, there are many scientists who are christians who believe evolution occurred, not because they need something besides God, but because they think that is what the evidence points to. And there are explanations about intermediate forms too.

  9. Wait a minute, I did not write anything about you making me look foolish; read the comment that appeared here again:

    Of course not, I would never reject / deny the Big Bang Theory! Just like most cosmologists wouldn’t. But, the words -universe- and -begin- don’t mean the same here. You are mixing 2 things. Which part do you find confusing?

    However, I did ‘think’ about it, and even wrote something among that line. But then corrected myself when I re-read my comment because I did it very quickly originally, realizing it’s not true that you would do that on purpose. So, it means you can see the edits and you commented on that!? This is so inappropriate; that’s a real insult!

    Anyhow… simply put, the 2 things you are mixing are these:
    1) The Big Bang Theory explains that by looking at the Universe around us, the visible universe including spacetime, we can deduce that everything was closer together in the past, so close that it must have come from a single point, from which everything expanded.
    2) Since spacetime itself started at the singularity, whatever was ‘before’ is not defined, and our universe could be part of a multi-verse, something else, itself possibly infinite. Nobody knows.

  10. Hi Hugo,

    “I did not write anything about you making me look foolish; read the comment that appeared here again”

    This isn’t strictly true. You see, I get notification of comments by email, so I see the original comment, and I generally comment on that, not because I am being inappropriate, but because that is what I see. So you did write something as I said, and it appeared in my feed. But I accept that you corrected it, and I appreciate that. And I’m sorry that I didn’t realise you had corrected it.

    ” Since spacetime itself started at the singularity, whatever was ‘before’ is not defined, and our universe could be part of a multi-verse, something else, itself possibly infinite. Nobody knows.”

    Yes, that’s all true, though just speculation. But I didn’t say there was nothing before our universe, I said: “The Genesis story says the universe had a definite beginning (something science now accepts, but didn’t for many years).” And that is the case, isn’t it? Our universe, or the universe, had a beginning at the big bang, which science didn’t use to accept but now does. If there was something “before” that, we don’t know, it is just speculation, it could have been God, or the multiverse, whatever, but my statement was still true.

    I’m really not sure why you made such a strong disagreement, in fact, why you disagreed at all.

  11. No, it’s not the case. The universe, as in whatever our universe is part of if there is something else, could be infinite. If it is, there was no beginning. And, beginning might not even mean anything as causation is implied in the word ‘begin’ but cause and effect is something that applies only within our visible universe, not outside of it nor ‘about’ it; it may not have been caused at all, being eternal. Science and Genesis do not agree, there is no definite beginning; your statement was not true.

  12. Hi Hugo, you can say what you think, but I still think I was quite correct. Whatever came before our universe (God, multiverse, whatever) is speculation. The big bang is fact, and it was the beginning of our universe, maybe of all physical things, maybe not. And 50 years ago the prevailing view was steady state, with no beginning – Fred Hoyle originally coined the phrase “big bang” to be derogatory, but it turned out to be true and the name stuck. Those are all facts that virtually no-one would contest, and that is what I said.

    Here are some quotes to demonstrate the point (my bolding):

    “In the mid-20th century, three British astrophysicists, Stephen Hawking, George F. R. Ellis, and Roger Penrose turned their attention to the theory of relativity and its implications regarding our notions of time. In 1968 and 1970, they published papers in which they extended Einstein’s theory of general relativity to include measurements of time and space.[8][9] According to their calculations, time and space had a finite beginning that corresponded to the origin of matter and energy.

    Since Georges Lemaître first noted, in 1927, that an expanding universe might be traced back in time to an originating single point, scientists have built on his idea of cosmic expansion. While the scientific community was once divided between supporters of two different expanding universe theories, the Big Bang and the Steady State theory, accumulated empirical evidence provides strong support for the former.” Wikipedia

    “there must have been an instant in time (now known to be about 14 billion years ago) when the entire Universe was contained in a single point in space. The Universe must have been born in this single violent event which came to be known as the “Big Bang.” NASA

    Even Sean Carroll “why did the universe start out with low entropy?”

    I’m sorry Hugo, but it is clear our universe had a start, and anything that came before it was not our universe, not part of our space-time, possibly not part of any space-time. I really don’t know why you are arguing this except to try to stir me up a little, and I think that is pointless. Let’s give up on this shall we, unless we can discuss something more constructive.

  13. “One increasingly hears rumors of a reconciliation between science and religion. In major news magazines as well as at academic conferences, the claim is made that that belief in the success of science in describing the workings of the world is no longer thought to be in conflict with faith in God. I would like to argue against this trend, in favor of a more old-fashioned point of view that is still more characteristic of most scientists, who tend to disbelieve in any religious component to the workings of the universe.”
    ― Sean Carroll

    Wikpedia, about what Lemaitre had to say about the Big Bang:
    “By 1951, Pope Pius XII declared that Lemaître’s theory provided a scientific validation for Catholicism. However, Lemaître resented the Pope’s proclamation, stating that the theory was neutral and there was neither a connection nor a contradiction between his religion and his theory.[19][20] When Lemaître and Daniel O’Connell, the Pope’s science advisor, tried to persuade the Pope not to mention Creationism publicly anymore, the Pope agreed. He persuaded the Pope to stop making proclamations about cosmology.[21] While a devout Roman Catholic, he was against mixing science with religion,[22] though he also was of the opinion that these two fields of human experience were not in conflict.[23]”

    These 2 quotes serve to illustrate what I have an issue with. As you said:
    “it seems that many non-christian scientists see any attempt at reconciling science and the Bible as compromise, and attack it vitriolically. From a scientific viewpoint, I think the reactions were unnecessary.”
    I agree that the compromise is a sham; something to be fought. Scientists can be religious, sure, no problem at all, but it’s when scientific claims and religious ones mix that it becomes a problem. And your entire post is precisely about that. The 1 part I highlighted about the Big Bang confirming Genesis is just 1 example out of many, but probably the worse of all, as it’s directly used as evidence for ‘creation’, evidence that a god is required to start the universe from nothing. This is simply false. You might have written that “The big bang is fact, and it was the beginning of our universe, maybe of all physical things, maybe not.” But I know that you would discard the ‘maybe, maybe not’ the minute you want to make an argument in favor of a god’s existence. It would then simply become ‘the universe’s birth was the beginning of all physical things’. That’s why it’s an important point, and a point that is being misrepresented in the quotes you put.

    I agree that there is not much more to talk about though; I am not trying to stir the debate more but merely drawing a conclusion. In short, I think our opinions diverge on 2 points here: the compatibility between science and religion, and the possibility that the universe is eternal.

  14. Hi Hugo,

    Thanks for that explanation of how you feel. It clarifies a few things. I think that is helpful, though I think it paints your view in a worse light. But that is something I think we can discuss, and I’d be happy to do so if you are.

    1. I understand and agree that many scientists disagree that religion and science can be reconciled in any way. Your Sean Carroll quote says that, as did my comment which you also quoted. So we are agreed there.

    2. Other scientists find it no problem. George Lemaître may have objected to the Pope’s use of science, but obviously, as a priest and an eminent cosmologist, he reconciled the two in his own mind. Many other scientists – Simon Conway Morris, John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, etc – don’t find holding both scientific and religious views to be a problem.

    3. How do we explain this difference? I can think of several ways:

    (i) The atheistic scientists like Carroll are making an ambit claim for their atheism, to try to put religion down and freeze theists out of science. I think that is happening with a few zealots, and it is highly intolerant and dishonest.

    (ii) The non-religious scientists may have a different understanding of religion to the believing scientists. I think this is very likely.

    (iii) One side or the other has a clearer view than the other. Each side will try to claim this, but it is impossible to settle (as far as I can see), for it amounts to settling the question of whether God exists.

    4. Here’s where I think your view shows in a poor light. You say:

    “I agree that the compromise is a sham; something to be fought. Scientists can be religious, sure, no problem at all, but it’s when scientific claims and religious ones mix that it becomes a problem.”

    (a) Because you think compromise is a sham, you will fight. “Fight” is a strong word, and one I probably wouldn’t use, though some christians would. But it means your discussion of other (first level) issues are largely coloured by your views on this “second level” issue. I am glad I understand that, because it will help understand things about you that were mysterious to me before.

    (b) But using strong words sometimes leads eventually to strong actions. Atheists are critical of religious intolerance and violence, but they seem to be heading in the same direction – only the “fighting” will be more subtle, perhaps freezing religion out of science, then out of education and into psychiatric hospitals. And we can’t say it couldn’t happen, because it already has, in atheistic/Communist regimes in several countries. Of course I don’t think you would mean all that, but we have to be wary of how others will take the same ideas.

    (c) How can a scientist be religious without mixing the two in some way? It’s impossible and an insult to that person’s integrity. As long as they practice scientific impartiality and methodological naturalism, the two can coexist easily. I honestly think the integrity of science is as much in danger from the atheistic zealots as it is from christians.

    (d) It is true that I use the science as a basis for arguing that God exists? Why shouldn’t I do that? Richard Dawkins, Sean Carroll and others use the science to argue God doesn’t exist – what’s the difference? Again, I think you are showing intolerance and inconsistency.

    I always try to differentiate between the science and my opinions, which is sometimes more than atheistic apologists do. In this post I actually disagreed with those who tried to draw more from the science than I think is reasonable. I still can’t understand what made you take such exception.

    But let’s turn this to something positive. Let’s discuss this issue of the compatibility of science and religion and the dangers of intolerance and worse. I’d be interested to hear your views, and I may write a post on it to help think through my ideas on this.

  15. Hi Eric,

    There are a few main points and many smaller points that could be discussed, but I think many, if not all, of the misunderstandings can be resolved by considering this: arguing ideas versus people is not the same. The problem is that from a religious perspective (and it’s more obvious the more religious the person is), people are tied to their religious ideas, and they thus feel personally attacked when their ideas are attacked. Religion is something that defines them, as people, and so they find it difficult to split the 2 things apart. I think the following quotes from your comment will reflect this quite well:

    1) “try to put religion down and freeze theists out of science “
    2) “(iii) One side or the other has a clearer view than the other. Each side will try to claim this, but it is impossible to settle (as far as I can see), for it amounts to settling the question of whether God exists.”
    3) “– only the “fighting” will be more subtle, perhaps freezing religion out of science, then out of education and into psychiatric hospitals. “
    4) ” (c) How can a scientist be religious without mixing the two in some way? It’s impossible and an insult to that person’s integrity. As long as they practice scientific impartiality and methodological naturalism, the two can coexist easily. I honestly think the integrity of science is as much in danger from the atheistic zealots as it is from christians.”

    All 4 contain some hints at the fact that you confused what Atheists like me attack: ideas vs people. The very first one is the most obvious; I am not aware of anyone ever trying to ‘freeze theists out of science’. What science should do is freeze theists ‘ideas’ out of science; that is a good thing to do. And if a person refuses to leave their religious ideas at home when they come to work as a scientist, and if it does impact their work, well of course it’s going to be a problem, but who’s fault is that? It’s not the secular scientists fault; they don’t reject the theist person. And by ‘secular’ I mean that they could be religious themselves.

    With #2, I think it’s wrong to say that one side has a clearer view than the other, as science is an objective way of learning about the world. What falls outside of science is what atheists and theists disagree with, but the problem is that the theists will sometimes try to bring up their religious ideas within science, to answer questions such as whether ‘God’, or any gods, exists, as you noted. But that is not a scientific question; it’s not even a valid scientific hypothesis!

    So there is no debate; science is the only ‘side’ that has a clear view of the natural world. Gods do not explain anything, do not provide any means for falsification, do not show up anywhere in any scientific experiment. And smart theists scientists agree with that; they leave their beliefs at home. That’s what these people you mentioned actually do. That’s why they can “reconcile” science and faith, that’s how they can “mix” the 2. But they don’t really mix anything. It’s actually because they ‘don’t’ mix that things work well for them. Therefore, it’s not true that it’s impossible, nor that it is an insult to point this out (#4). The only thing that’s dangerous is the insertion of religious ideas in the scientific process and, to a much lesser level, the waste of time and resources when pursing religious hypothesis that would never be considered otherwise, if it were not for the pre-conceived ideas that theists scientists bring up.

    Then, to make it even more obvious that you confused ‘people’ and ‘ideas’, we have #3 were you went as far as pointing out that some Atheists would want to see religion out of science, which is correct, out of education, which is partially correct as it should be out of science class, but no problem in others of course, and, finally, into psychiatric hospitals. But that last example jumped from ‘ideas’ that should be ‘out’ to ‘people’ that should be ‘out’, and even hospitalized. And that is just ridiculous; as you noted, that’s the work of psychopaths and dictators only, who themselves can be religious or not, it does not matter. There is nothing rational about putting people in psychiatric hospitals only because they believe in God.

    Didn’t I tell you that my own wife is religious? Isn’t that fact alone a clear sign that I have absolutely nothing against religious people, even if I do find religious ideas to be wrong?

    I hope this answers your last paragraph question… Maybe not directly but I think it covered why I think ‘religious ideas’ are not compatible with science but ‘religious people’ absolutely can be good scientists. Most of the best scientists were!

    But I was also thinking about another positive way to explain why we disagree on something like the Big Bang. If you are interested, I think we should each write, in our own words only (not quotes!) what we know about the Big Bang and how we got to know? Basically, what we think the Big Bang really means, how we know that, and what are the implications we can infer from it, and what are the conclusions that conflict/agree with religious ideas or the concept of God in general. That last bit would be for my next comment, where I would address something I did not get to today, regarding what you said: “scientists like Carroll are making an ambit claim for their atheism […] use the science to argue God doesn’t exist – what’s the difference? ”


  16. Hi Hugo, thanks for responding.

    “people are tied to their religious ideas, and they thus feel personally attacked when their ideas are attacked”

    Let me say very clearly I don’t feel that way. I object to insulting comments because (a) I think life’s too short to bother with people who don’t want to be friendly, and (b) I want this blog to be a safe place for people to comment. I think I am no more or less tied to my beliefs than you or anyone else.

    “I am not aware of anyone ever trying to ‘freeze theists out of science’”

    It has been said. There was a great furore about Francis Collins getting the job as NIH director, despite his eminent qualifications, simply because he is a christian. Notable among the critics were Sam Harris, Stephen Pinker and Jerry Coyne. And I have seen some of the same characters saying that being a christian disqualifies someone from doing science.

    And since you later say “some Atheists would want to see religion out of science, which is correct” I’m not sure what you think.

    “And if a person refuses to leave their religious ideas at home when they come to work as a scientist, and if it does impact their work, well of course it’s going to be a problem”

    Can you give me a realistic example of how that could occur? I’m not talking about creationists, but people who accept science but are also christians. I’m a bit doubtful it actually happens. I also think atheists like Dawkins are more likely to corrupt science with irreligion – he had a position for the advancement of science at Oxford, but he used it for atheistic propaganda. I think he did it because he thinks religion and science don’t mix, which is an example of my previous point.

    “science is the only ‘side’ that has a clear view of the natural world”

    I think this is quite wrong of course. It has a clear view of the materialistic account of the natural world, but it is a reductionist account which can’t explain consciousness, ethics, free will, etc. In the end it explains the mechanics of the world well, but very little of the most important things. That is why I feel it would be hopelessly dangerous for atheistic scientists to run anything worthwhile, for they only see the reductionist view, and deny the human view. Of course I understand you won’t agree with that, but I just want you to be clear there is an alternate view. You need to realise that the general public often has very ambivalent views of scientists – after all, scientists did inhumane things in Hitler’s Germany, based partly on “eugenics” that were a prevalent idea at the time. A lot of people not christians still mistrust scientists, and it is because of this inhumane reductionist aspect. I don’t feel that way generally, only about militant atheists with an agenda and zeal.

    “even hospitalized. And that is just ridiculous”

    Is it? If christians are “delusional”, shouldn’t they be in psychiatric care? Peter Boghossian says “When I speak to speak to somebody of faith, I view them as a person who really is mentally ill.” John Loftus says “religious faith is a mind virus” and “a public health crisis”, he suggests “interventions need to be designed that counter the spread” of the virus and our “containment strategy should promote the ‘value’ of believing on the basis of evidence”. John and Peter say atheists should plan to “contain” and “eradicate” faith. Sam Harris says Science must destroy religion. These guys are managing to sound like zealots and bigots, and I wouldn’t trust them any further than I’d trust other zealots and bigots from the christian right and from twentieth century history.

    I’ll come back to your suggestion about the big bang later. I think it would be helpful first for you to look up the references I have given, do a little Googling, and then tell me what you think of Harris, Boghossian, Loftus & co. Thanks.

  17. Hi,

    You know what, I think you convinced me; science and religion conflicts even more than I wanted to admit. Therefore, it is imperative that scientific organizations distance themselves from non-scientific thinking as much as possible. I still don’t see this as an attack on religious ‘people’; it’s the ideas that matter. But someone like Francis Collins writes a book about his religious views and in parallel acts as a public figure for a scientific organization, there is indeed a conflict. I am forced to pick the less tolerating views since the 2 cannot be reconciled. As for religion being a virus, yes, I think it’s the case. I actually read a book called “The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture” a few years ago and it made a lot of good points. It’s far from stating that we should put people in psychiatric ward though; that’s where you exaggerate still. But it’s true in my opinion that faith is very similar to a virus. And what should we do when we see something as a virus? Trying to cure the people of it; not kill the host, just cure the virus. If forcing people to choose between their religious views and a career in science is required to help cure that virus, well great! We just need to make sure people are given a chance, are not judged ‘only’ based on that. This is what I get from these links you posted and it’s nothing new; I has read some of these articles already I believe, or at least the main arguments. And again, to me, it’s still not an attack on people at all; it’s an attack on religious dogmas, on unsupported beliefs, on assertions without reasons, and so on. It’s an attack on non-scientific thinking. The right thing to do. Yes, science must destroy religion.

    Obviously, I don’t think being that “in-your-face” is the right way to do it publicly, so I think these public figures should be more subtle, but I certainly agree with the message. And especially here in the US, we have seen the religious right take a much more aggressive approach than any of these Atheists pro-science figure. Attacks on Planned Parenthood, strong reactions to legalizing gay marriage, bashing of transgenders, etc… are so much more aggressive than any anti-religion movement which only seek to keep religion limited to places of worships and people’s homes.


  18. Hi Hugo,

    I guess I’ve at least achieved something! 🙂 But we still profoundly disagree.

    For example, if it is true that “it is imperative that scientific organizations distance themselves from non-scientific thinking as much as possible”, wouldn’t this equally apply to atheistic thinking as religious thinking? Shouldn’t it be true that no-one should mention God belief or disbelief?

    If it is wrong for Francis Collins to write a religious book and be a public scientific figure, isn’t it just as wrong for Richard Dawkins, Stephen Weinberg, etc to do the same?

    It seems to me that you and other atheists want to make statements of belief in God religious and out of bounds for science, but statements of disbelief in God are OK.

    Further, if we “ban” scientists from making religious statements, perhaps we should ban them from making political ones …. or ethical …. or aesthetic? Or even expressing love for their wife/husband/partner unless they have published a peer-reviewed paper on the topic?? I am being ridiculous because I think the whole proposal is ridiculous as well as oppressive.

    And if religion is a virus, why wouldn’t you want it to be treated in a hospital? I can’t see why you wouldn’t. Some others seem to say they do.

    So I think it is all awfully one-sided – and demonstrates again why I would be wary of that mode of thinking gaining control. (Just as I agree with you I hate the thought of right wing christians gaining control.) I think your thinking is awfully dangerous, and you pass it off as benign.

    I don’t want to be nasty, but we have seen what happens when extreme views gain the power of the state – whether it be crusades, inquisitions, the Holocaust, pogroms and slave camps, the cultural revolution, the killing fields, jihad or the war on terror. Atheists have, if anything, a worse record in that regard than christians do, though both have been culpable. I hope you reconsider those extreme and oppressive views.

    I want to finish by reassuring you that I don’t think badly of you personally, I think you are simply naive. But I think those views are very dangerous. I’m sorry (in every way). I think any further discussion between us must inevitably be coloured by this. Best wishes.

  19. Hi,

    I happened to be in front of my computer, waiting for my wife to get ready, so that might be the fastest yet complete response I will ever give 😉

    First of all, no worries about ‘thinking badly of me’, it takes a lot to get me offended/insulted when discussing. And I think it might actually be related to the topic at hand because it’s ‘what’ we talk about that really matters and, even more, how we act on our beliefs.

    So, should the distance between religion and science apply to atheists as well? Yes, absolutely. If, for example, a scientist say that his work on ‘x’ proves that there is no god, that should be a red flag. But is that something that even the most outspoken atheists do? Hardly… even Richard Dawkins who you used as an example would never make such claim as far as I know. He repeatedly mentioned that his god belief from a 0-10 scale would be a 1, or something like that, meaning that he does not believe in a god, but he would never claim that there is ‘0’ chance a god exists. He also never used biology to claim: ‘look, DNA is natural, hence everything is natural and God does not exist’. If he did, maybe he did and I don’t know, that would be wrong!

    But take Francis Collins on the other hand. He did 2 things which directly relates to his work regarding the human genome. First, he wrote a book called ‘The Language of God’ with a strand of DNA on the book cover. I have not read the book so I cannot comment much, but just looking at it is already enough to see the conflict, as we know, for a fact, that there is no evidence that an intelligent designer was needed for DNA to exist. I heard Collins make that claim himself! Yet, he published a book with the exact opposite idea being presented on the cover, even if that may not be the actual content of the book…

    Next, regarding a “ban” on religions statements, I actually think it is the same as making comments on politics, ethics or personal things like love, children, family, etc… because it’s not the type of comments that matter, it’s the implication for the science. If the statement is not related to science at all, there is no problem, but if it is, there is a problem. Take a political example: if a climate scientist goes on TV to support a Republican candidate that denies Climate Change, I would be concern. If the same scientists goes on TV to deny abortion, who cares… in both cases I disagree with the scientist.

    Also, I don’t think my views are extreme at all. And atheists are quite often accused of that. The problem is that it goes back to what I said before: religious ideas are tied to the person. You rejected that premise but here we are again, discussing how anti-religion comments are ‘strong’. Well, no, there is nothing strong about them from my point of view because it’s only the religious ‘ideas’ that are wrong, bad, damaging, to be shutdown… never the people. And yes, we put people in hospitals to cure them, but not if they have something like an addiction to smoking cigarettes, which religion is closer to in terms of degree of mental impact. At the same time, a true religious fanatics who pretends to see visions of angels telling him to kill people should indeed be incarcerated/hospitalized, and hopefuly we would agree on such extreme case.

    Oh, time to go…

  20. Hi Hugo,

    I don’t know on what basis you “pass” Dawkins and “fail” Collins, especially as you haven’t even read the book (I have). I wonder what criteria you use? Surely not the cover as per this comment!

    But apart from that, I don’t think I have anything else to say. You have just reinforced my concerns.

  21. Hi,

    Yes, the cover alone is enough in this case. Not to judge the book of course, but to show a conflict between science and faith. That’s what I explained above actually; not sure what was not clear. And that’s also why we can draw different conclusions regarding Collins and Dawkins: Collins essentially thinks that the science of DNA shows God, or at least the book cover and title alone strongly say so, while Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth, for example, states what evolution is, what we know about it, and why Creationism is wrong. It does not claim God doesn’t exist. That’s the difference. But Theists are expert at pretending that when someone claims ‘this ain’t proof for God’ it means ‘God ain’t real’. That’s logically wrong.

    What concerns do you have? I think I know and it’s unwarranted, but I still prefer to ask as I am not sure…

  22. I think you are wrong on several counts (I’m sorry!).

    1. Your discussion of Collins and Dawkins has, I think, a poor theoretical basis. There is science and there are conclusions about life that we may draw from science. Provided a person does the first well, they are a competent scientist, regardless of the second. Dawkins is (or was) a competent scientist because he did the first well, regardless of what I think about his life conclusions. Exactly the same applies to Collins. Atheist attempts to paint it differently are, in my opinion, bigoted self-serving ambit claims without basis. Imagine if we brought in other extraneous matters like whether a scientist abused his wife or was racist. Those things might make him a bad person, but they wouldn’t necessarily make him a bad scientist.

    2. The arguments are, in my opinion, arrogant. We atheists happen to disagree with you christians, so we will use that OPINION to discriminate against you. Because we are arrogant enough to think our opinion should rule. If a christian did the same (and some of them do) atheists would be up in arms, but they don’t mind when it works the other way.

    3. It is returning to evil discrimination. Have you read, or seen the movies, about Alan Turing? One of the most brilliant scientists of the last century, some would say, hounded to an early death because he was homosexual. But now atheists want to return to those days? Remember, if you guys propose such nasty stuff, and the conservative christians gain political power, it could be used against you. I say don’t discriminate on either grounds.

    So that is why I feel strongly about this. In short, I think some atheists are being dishonest, misrepresent the situation and are bringing back ugly discrimination, all because it suits their rhetoric to paint christians as mentally deficient when the evidence says otherwise. It won’t turn out well.

  23. 1. Collins is not just some scientist. He was the director of the Human Genome Project and has been nominated by the POTUS to be the director of the National Institutes of Health. So yes, it absolutely does matter whether he is a racist, a wife abuser, or outspoken Christians with ideas which contradict scientific knowledge. I don’t think he necessarily has such ideas, nor that he is a bad choice for the position; I am not sure myself but the links you shared made my opinion shift a little. But the point is that YES it absolutely does matter whether he is a good person or not, and what is views are on a vast array of topics, including religion. It’s not just some random scientist working in a lab; we are talking about a prestigious position at (quoting Wikipedia) the largest biomedical research institution in the world, with a biomedical research funding of US$26.4 billion.

    Let me give you another example to show that it actually has very little to do with Christianity specifically but everything to do with the relative importance of a person/position combination. Someone at my parent company got fired a couple of years ago because of a stupid Tweet she posted. So, why would an employee get fired just for a tweet? Lots of people write stupid things, they don’t lose their job for it, it seems extreme… well it turns out that she was the head of corporate communications of a multi-billion dollar company:

    2. This is not a 2-way thing; it’s not Christians VS Atheists. Again, same exact fallacy that I pointed out above: “But Theists are expert at pretending that when someone claims ‘this ain’t proof for God’ it means ‘God ain’t real’. That’s logically wrong.” It’s just formulated differently but you show the same reasoning error here. It happens to be ‘Atheists’ that point out ‘Christians’ faulty reasoning, but that’s just because Atheists in the Western world happen to be living mostly among Christians, and were Christians themselves most of the time. But pointing out why a Christian is wrong on something does not, in any way, translate into a claim that the Atheists’ opinions are correct. The arrogance seems to be that Christian opinions matter for some reason, as if they had special values. They don’t, and when they are proven wrong, they are proven wrong based on what these specifics opinions are. And they are not just opinions; that’s actually the bigger problems. Christianity makes claims about the nature of reality and that is what the non-Christians should point out, depending on the context. I am not saying it’s always done correctly as we are all flawed biased humans after all, but it does not get an excuse for pretending that Christian claims are valid until the other side proves theirs. If a Christian claim is proven false, it’s false, that’s it; no need to look at what the alternative claims could be.

    Moreover, you have absolutely no evidence supporting the notion that there is discrimination based on opinions alone. We have been discussing 1 case, and 1 case alone here: Francis Collins. It’s as if you assume that I, or other Atheists, make broad judgment on all, and any, scientists. Yes, it matters, sometimes, and yes even low-profile scientists should not be hired if their beliefs are in direct conflict with them doing some good work. But in general, nobody cares; there is no way that a scientist doing a good job should lose it only because he/she happens to be a Christian. That is what discrimination ‘would’ be, but it does not happen; or if it does, it should rightfully be denounced and that’s why most countries have rules against that kind of discrimination. In other words, I don’t think these Atheists who spoke against Collins’ nomination are claiming that Christians should be ruled out of science altogether. And many Christians would agree! Secular Christians who keep their faith private would be the first to denounce the mixing of religion and science, if the work in question is affected by personal beliefs, of any religion, or even just bad beliefs in general. A doctor being anti-vaccine would be a red flag for instance…

    3. The comparison with Alan Turing is disgusting, to be frank. How could you bring that up? He was a gay man, something he could not changed, yet people tried to give him medicine to “fix” him. How on Earth is that related to Atheists pointing out that some beliefs are wrong? I told you already; nobody should be sent to the psychiatric hospital over beliefs alones. The only reason why you feel strongly about all of this is because of what I pointed out before: being a Christian is an integral part of who you are. You find it very uncomfortable to hear complaints regarding your beliefs because they look like attacks on you personally. Thanks for proving my point. Also, what’s ironic is that we discussed the notion of whether we choose our beliefs or not, and you think that we can really choose our beliefs. This means that Christians, according to you, can choose to not be Christians at any point, just by sheer will. And then you compare that with Alan Turing’s sexual orientation, which he could not have possibly changed; at best he could have forced himself to be with a woman but he would never have really liked it. The analogy is so wrong…

    Moreover, to give more clarity to the notion of ‘religion virus’ infecting the mind, which you clearly misunderstood and took way too far, I think a better parallel would be with drinking alcohol. If someone says that they drink a beer a week, nobody would judge them. If someone says that they go to church every week, nobody would judge them either. If someone drinks beer everyday, that’s starting to sound a bit extreme already, but it could just be 1; just like praying everyday is not that strange. But what if someone gets drunk every single day, cannot stop and even cause various problems around them; violence, dangerous driving, missing work, etc… then it does become a problem, and they might be forced into rehab. The same would go for a mentally ill person expressing an abnormal religious fervor. Someone who hears voices telling him that Jesus wants them to kill their children, for instance, should definitely be seeking mental help, or even forced to. In all of these cases, the analogy with a ‘virus’ applies. Even the person who drinks once a week might find it hard to quit completely; they might really really miss it after a couple of weeks of more. It’s a small addiction, nothing serious, but it’s kind of like a mind virus, something that impairs the ability of the host to function normally and out of his/her pure conscious choices.

    The same thing goes with some beliefs; they are so intrinsic to the host that they cannot imagine not having that belief. Religion amplifies this principle by making sure that certain key aspects of life are controlled by the ‘religion virus’; elders/priests/leaders are to be respected to make sure they can teach their values, children are indoctrinated as young as possible before they can think about it for themselves, sex is usually under some form of control since the virus ‘knows’ that our human instincts is to want to have sex, so it forces guilt upon the host, with a magic cure in the faith. Basically, the virus creates problems, and then offers solutions to these same problems. It gets transmitted from generation to generation and usually encourages the host population to have as many children as possible in order to succeed.

    Finally, you know what won’t turn out well? Nothing at all. Because stupid people will keep believing stupid things. (I am not saying you are stupid, don’t worry.) They will not succeed as well as smarter people and if they stick to their bad beliefs, they will simply block themselves from success. Smart Christians understand that and use their intelligence to focus on what really matters for their carreer, should they choose to do so. They are thus not discriminated against, but the ones who prefer to put faith first, when it contradicts what the real world accepts, are simply blocking themselves. Again, there is no discrimination based on religion when applying for science job, or any job. If there is, it’s wrong, and it should be addressed to the full extent of the law. But that does not mean that a faith-based worldview is as good as a fact-based worldview. Most Christians actually have a fact-based worldview and everything is fine; it’s only the more extreme individuals that will suffer, because of their own inability to adapt, to learn and cooperate with others in a secular world.

    So that was way longer than I expected, as there are really just a few things I thought were important: yes, public figures involved in science are under more scrutiny than everyday folks. No, Atheists do not want to block ‘people’ out of science. But, some might exclude themselves because of their inability to accept objective facts that contradict their personal faith.

  24. Hi HUgo, thanks for spelling all that out. But there is so much there that you claim as fact that I think is opinion (and wrong opinion), so much you say about me and christians that I think is blindly wrong, and so much I disagree with that we are clearly not going to agree on, that it would take a major comment to address it. I just don’t think I want to spend the time, I’m sorry. But I will be posting on a similar topic soon, so that will be my response I guess. Thanks.

  25. Hi Eric,

    No problem, I appreciate that you took the time to consider my answers and will look forward to more comments from you. I hope you understand that, yes, it was long because each of the 3 points above had at least 1 factual error in my opinion, and it’s always longer to ‘explain’ why something is wrong rather than just ‘state’ that it’s wrong, like you just did… I hope you can do the same and ‘explain’ what you think I got wrong as there is very little that was actually just opinion here. I am actually trying to ‘not’ include much of what I think but rather show what we, collectively, know or agree on.

    To quickly exemplifying that last point; just 2 examples:

    #1 above had a tiny fraction of it being my opinion: I think the standards for judging a public figure should not be the same as the average person. That may be ‘my’ opinion but it’s also a ‘fact’ that this is how it works, regardless of what you and I think. It’s a collective opinion, I guess.

    #2 had two parts. The first one is a logical statement; not an opinion at all. And it’s a fact that you commit that error, and that many Christians do it too. I could give you a video of a call-in show that gives a great example, from just this Sunday (but you said before you don’t really care about that kind of stuff so let me know…). The caller (partially) reminded me of you because of his insistence that beliefs in things like the creation of the universe or evolution were all opinions that need either “side” has to support AND prove wrong. The problem of course is that proving a position wrong does not automatically prove the other position right, and vice versa, or it does not even mean that the person doing the rebuttal agree with any specific counter-position. A person pointing out a flawed Christian argument could be Christian themselves, obviously.

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