Friday, 5 June 2009

The conflict between science and religion

There’s been a lot of public discussion about the conflict between science and religion, whether there is one, and what it consists of. I think it might be worth looking at this in some detail.

First of all, I’d like to describe a bit about science, what it is and how it works. The press tends to report science much as it does politics - looking for disagreements and arguments between authority figures who can be persuaded to say uncomplimentary things about each other, and each of whom will defend their view in order to persuade others. The problem is that science isn’t actually like that.

Scientific theories are descriptions of the way the world works. You start with observations. Let’s take a very simple example. You notice that when you throw a stick up in the air, it falls to the ground again. No matter how many times you throw it up, it always seems to come down again. So you generalise this into a theory.

What goes up, must come down.

Although it is expressed in a very primitive fashion, this is in fact a respectably formed scientific theory. Other people can also throw sticks in the air and see if they come down for them. They can also try with other objects, such as stones. If they all come down, that is said to confirm the theory. If any of them don’t, it disproves it.

Now, suppose on some occasion, you throw a stick up and you don’t see it come down. Must the theory be changed? Not necessarily. There are various possibilities that you have to eliminate first. The most obvious one is that you lost sight of the stick and didn’t see it land. Or perhaps it got stuck up a tree. These sorts of problems are what scientists call measurement error, and it happens frequently, in fact far more often than truly new results that disprove existing theories.

Once you have established that your theory is probably correct by throwing lots of sticks, stones and other objects up in the air and seeing that they do come down, you can try to refine it. For instance, you can ask how fast do things come down? So you vary the experiment, you throw things up with different amounts of force, and measure how high they get and how long it takes for them to return to the ground. After doing this enough times, you are able to work out that the acceleration is constant, and is about 9.8 meters per second squared. In other words, every second, the downward speed of the falling object increases by 9.8 meters per second. This means that for instance if you know the speed with which a cannonball comes out of a cannon, and you know the upward angle at which it is fired, you can predict pretty closely where it will land. That is quite a useful thing to know in battles. And as it happens, Galileo, who famously dropped two different-sized lead weights off the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to demonstrate constant acceleration, wrote artillery manuals that would predict the fall of shot in this way.

But very light objects don’t seem to behave the same way. Balloons and feathers fall far more slowly. What of them? The number is no use if you can’t tell what objects it applies to and what objects it doesn’t. And so you have to start taking into account air resistance, and work out how much that affects the figures. And so on.

This is a very simple example, but it describes exactly what science is about. You make observations, and get your theories to fit them. And if you then get observations which aren’t predicted by the theories, once you have eliminated the possibility of measurement error, you have to change the theory.

That is why, whenever an experiment is reported in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal, there is a very specific format that has come to be used. First you describe what the experiment was intended to test. Then you describe your methods, how you went about testing it. Then you describe your results, and finally you offer any hypotheses that you think could be generalised from the results.

This separation has a very particular purpose. No scientist expects his word to be taken on its own authority. Scientific papers are written specifically so that others can repeat the experiment and see whether they get the same results. They can also look at the methods and may point out some measurement error that the original scientist didn’t think of. Or somebody might think of an alternative theory that explains why the results are the way they are. The scientist writes everything down that he or she can think of that might mean the experiment is wrong. Scientists are of course human, and don’t always manage to meet this high ideal. But this is what they aim for.

Now where does the conflict with religion come in? First let’s explain what the conflict is not. This is not about hordes of atheist scientists who have discovered evolution as the new religion, appointed Darwin as their prophet, chosen The Origin Of Species as their sacred text, and have declared war on all competing religions. That is the old religious way of thinking, and if you have understood anything at all of what I have written above, you will realise that scientists don’t think that way.

In practice there are two parts to the conflict. First is the business of always starting from observation. If you have no observations, you have nothing to make a theory about. As a result of scientific discovery we have learned that many things previously thought to be the work of God intervening in the world to enforce his sense of morality are in fact the result of natural processes. We have learned that many diseases are caused by germs, and that antibiotics work to cure them irrespective of whether the person being cured is a sinner or righteous. We know the cause of lightning, and that a lightning conductor works just as well on the roof of a brothel as on the spire of a church. These answers seem to conflict with what religion has told us.

The thing is, in all these observations and discoveries, we do seem to be a bit short of actual sightings of God. That means that science can’t really offer any theories about God, because we have no observations on which to base theories. Every time a scientific discovery has been made in an area previously thought to be evidence of God working in the world, it has turned out that the phenomenon can actually be explained by the consistent operation of unchanging natural laws. There hasn't been a single case where the scientists have concluded "Oh, it turns out that this is God working in the world after all".

The other part of the conflict is the question of testing and cross-checking. Scientists are trained not to accept each other’s authority. They want to check the evidence by trying things out for themselves and seeing if they get the same results as each other. This can get very complicated. For instance, human beings are very complex and varied, and don’t always react in the same way to things, and so your results have to take this variability into account if you are testing things like whether particular drugs work to cure a disease. Almost all the complexity of modern experimental science is in trying to get rid of measurement error and cope with this sort of variability, so we can be sure that we really know what we think we know.

Religion works in a somewhat different way. The most important is that you are not supposed to check things, you are supposed to accept them as a matter of faith, and that holding fast to this faith is regarded as a good thing of and for itself. Several passages in the Bible say words to the effect of “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. This is absolutely the complete opposite of the way scientists think.

Some religious people, seeing that scientists have gained a lot of prestige in terms of having their explanations of the world accepted by the public, have decided that they ought to try offering what they think of as scientific evidence in support of biblical stories. Unfortunately, again they are thinking in the opposite way from the way real scientists think. They start with a Biblical story (e.g. of Noah's Ark) and develop a theory from it (e.g. that there was a worldwide flood). Then they look around for evidence that supports the theory and carefully ignore anything that offers an alternative explanation. So long as they use lots of long sciencey-sounding words and write papers with lots of impressive-looking footnotes, they can fool quite a few non-scientists into thinking that they are doing real science. But it isn’t so. Real scientists start with observations before forming a theory, and if some observations don’t match the theory, they don’t cherry-pick the ones that fit and ignore the rest. As a scientist you have to deal with the inconvenient observations as well as the ones which gave you the result you expected.

The conflict gets at its sharpest when considering what should be included when teaching science to children. Scientists, not unreasonably, want science lessons to be about the finding-out process of real science. Some religious people want the pseudoscience that is designed to support their religion included instead, and for this to be accepted on authority.

The crux of the conflict between science and religion is the conflict between evidence and authority.


  1. Very good article. I'll remember this in case I find someone who needs to be enlightened on the differences between science and religion!

  2. To me the vital difference is that science allows no excuses or special pleading, nobody makes excuses for the Laws of Physics.

  3. I like the clarity and simplicity of the article. It is not easy to describe some of the distinctions between the scientific method and faith-based beliefs. Good job.

  4. It is not easy to describe some of the distinctions between the scientific method and faith-based beliefs..

    How about "Science works : religion doesn't". Everything you need to know in just four words.

    Or as Mark Twain put it "Faith is believing what you know ain't so".

  5. You've hit the nail on the head, I think. In other words, there is no way of showing a religious "truth" to be wrong, so they are not capable of disproof, unlike scientific "truths." It baffles me why many people won't accept this distinction and, more important, recognize that it shows that the ways of knowing of scientists and the faithful are incompatible.

  6. Jerry, some religious claims can be shown to be wrong. It is just that when a religious claim is shown to be wrong, the religious take one of two options.

    The fundamentalists refuse to accept the scientific findings, and the liberals slither away from the claim and say that the relevant text should always have been read in a metaphorical sense rather than taken literally.

    Certainly there are some religious claims that are impossible to prove or disprove - try working out from direct observation whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son or whether he proceeds from the Father alone. But it isn't in these unprovable claims that the conflict with science lies.

  7. "The press tends to report science much as it does politics - looking for disagreements and arguments between authority figures."

    Indeed. Jerry Coyne himself has said: The New York Times covered the Dover trial and reported on what creationists said, offering equal time, almost, between creationists and evolutionists. That pissed me off, so I just wanted to put this book [Why Evolution Is True] out.

  8. I applaud the intentions of this article, but feel I have to point out the following faults;

    1 Science starts from observations, unlike religion.

    Thousands of years of astrology dispute this idea.

    Religions have always taken the observed enviroment as one of their starting points. They also posit explanations for obseved phenomenon; Dung beetles rolling the sun across the sky, giants hurling glacier-moved stones, wolves swallowing the sun during eclipses...

    It seems to me that the key difference, is the removal of subjectivity and intentionality. Science views the universe as impersonal; it looks for causes and laws. Religions and magical belief systems don't just describe things; they posit reasons, usually linked to morality. Science explains disease in terms of germ theory (which is objectively true), but sees the question of why illness affects this-or-that person as irrelevant - a matter of statistics.

    Secondly (as Karl Popper pointed out), the claims of science differ from religion in that they are, first and foremost, falsifiable.

    Science and religion are both belief systems (indeed, long ago they weren't separate disciplines), they both incorporate observations, they both use logic and the imagination, but they differ in that the pronouncements of religion are carved in stone, so to speak.

    Good science knows that it is always provisional, a part of a process, subject to change when better, more complete theories come along. It also knows that it, however powerful and seemingly complete, is just our best guess as to the ultimate nature of things.

    (As I write this, it occurs that religions, too, are subject to their own 'Copernican Revolutions'; Old gods fade and die, more sophisticated moral and social ideas enter them. For another post perhaps.)

    2 Scientific answers undermine religion

    Not to most moderate belivers. If anything, they complement each other. The theory of evolution, for example, is an explanation of how God created life. The biblical account deals with this in metaphor;the basic intuition, that it was God behind it all, was and is correct.

    There. Far more than I was intending to write! Oh, and please don't think that I'm a cultural relatavist; I certainly DON'T see science as just another belief system, but defining it IS a tricky one.

  9. I don't see the point. So, science and religion are different? We should all know that already? Surely this follows from the fact that their object is different (Science studies the world, whilst religion studies God). The supposed debate is on whether they are necessarily conflicting. Again I suggest not since their objects are different. Atheists may want them to be in conflict but they're not. I mean, you'd be as well saying that philosophy is in conflict with science because it doesn't require empirical investigation and testing. Yet no one is seriously going to suggest that science can mean anything independently from philosophy.

    To suppose that God was only ever postulated as a scientific theory in order to explain things which couldn't be explained by the science of the time is to make as much of an error as those who did the postulating. Again, they confuse the object of religion as akin to that of science.

    The other problem with this article is that it seems to suppose that no religious people can be scientists. This is clearly false since we could construct a huge list of successful religiously minded scientists. It's simply wrong to suggest that people such as Galileo, for instance, were only religious because they were forced to be. Galileo was in fact very serious about his religious beliefs.

  10. "Yet no one is seriously going to suggest that science can mean anything independently from philosophy."

    I am. Why does science require philosophy to mean anything?

  11. also, to matthew - astrology is not science. at all. never has been, never will be.

  12. "As a result of scientific discovery we have learned that many things previously thought to be the work of God intervening in the world to enforce his sense of morality are in fact the result of natural processes. We have learned that many diseases are caused by germs, and that antibiotics work to cure them irrespective of whether the person being cured is a sinner or righteous. We know the cause of lightning, and that a lightning conductor works just as well on the roof of a brothel as on the spire of a church. These answers seem to conflict with what religion has told us."

    The belief that God has given each person free will suggests that the natural processes in the world will run their course. It is often those religious figures in power that interpret things and put forward at 'truth' when it is an extrapolation of the text.

    "Several passages in the Bible say words to the effect of “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. "

    This is about faith and about realising God's power. However to question and to find out actually confirms people in their faith. Blindly following would be dangerous. In the Baha'i Faith ( great importance is placed on each individual's personal investigation of the truth, not to blindly follow the ideas of our parents/those around us.

    “Real scientists start with observations before forming a theory.”

    Religious researchers can't help that a theory has been put in front of them? Therefore to look at the theory and to find evidence to prove it is only logical.

    The crux of the conflict between science and religion is the conflict between evidence and authority.

    No, science and religion are two ways of looking at something. It is not only probable that science and religion are in accordance but necessary. ‘Every religion which does not concern itself with Science is mere tradition, and that is not the essential. Therefore science, education and civilization are most important necessities for the full religious life.’

    In the Bahai Writings it says,

    Religion must agree with science, so that science shall sustain religion and religion explain science. The two must be brought together, indissolubly, in reality. Down to the present day it has been customary for man to accept blindly what was called religion.

    Both Science and Religion are needed in order for us to advance as a civilisation.

    ‘Although a man may progress in science and philosophy, if he does not take advantage of the power of the spirit, he is incomplete’

    ‘…philosophy and science will not suffice to elevate and civilize a people who are in a bestial condition’

    I did enjoy your article and found it a very interesting read. Thank you.

  13. astrology is not a science. at all. never has been, never will be.

    Right, but Matthew's point was against the idea that "Science starts from observations, unlike religion." That is, his (valid) point was that religion, in the case of astrology, also began with observations of the natural world, in which case that characteristic could not be used to decide between the two: It's not a distinguishing characteristic. At no point was he suggesting that astrology is a science.

    Astrology itself isn't a religion as such, but it certainly formed part of the Old Testament perspective, etc.

  14. Geoffrey

    I'll agree that astrology made observations of the natural world. But I would contest that astrology is based on observation, since there are no observations of the effect of the positions of heavenly bodies on events on earth.

  15. Jonathan, can you explain why so many aetheists believe that scientific theories are truth, and why that absolute position seems so similar to that of the religious faithful?

  16. Very good article jonathan, your simple explanation of science is very well expressed. I especially sympathise with your following statement;

    "The fundamentalists refuse to accept the findings, and the liberals slither away from the claim and say that the relevant text should always hgave been read in a metaphorical sense rather than taken literally."

    Too true.

  17. John Thomas
    Science explains how things work / phenomenon occurs. It never answers why it has occurred.

    Bible attempts to deal with why certain events occurred, to instruct humankind regarding ethical values and relationships between God and humans and between humans. In that attempt Bible may have historical narrations - about beginning of world, story of Jews etc. As these narrations are sketchy, one should not formulate scientific theories or history from them. Besides, there could be varying interpretations of Biblical texts. However, so far, history of Jews and scientific findings seem to agree with Biblical narrations, as we many have interpreted them. - See Andrew Parker "Genesis Enigma".

    As such there is no conflict between science and religion.

    The conflict arises only when one wishes not to accept the Biblical ethical values due to one's emotional formation or because one has willingly chosen a different lifestyle and wish justify that lifestyle to himself and to others.

  18. Jonathan - A couple of comments, but with this preamble. I'm not trying to get you to change your mind about anything, merely presenting my views, which I don't feel are in absolute contradiction to what you're saying, though you may feel otherwise.

    "We have learned that many diseases are caused by germs, and that antibiotics work to cure them irrespective of whether the person being cured is a sinner or righteous." OK, fine. So what do you do with the placebo effect? Something awfully close to "belief" is at work there. There was just a long story in Wired about just how strong it is, and that the "big pharma" types are drooling over figuring it out, but they can't. It exists, but can't be explained. Your position seems to say that if it can't be explained, it doesn't really exist, or that if it does, we don't understand it so we can't really talk about it. (I know I'm exaggerating). Well, music therapy is much the same. From personal experience I know it can be beneficial in ways I cannot fully explain. Until empiricists give us the answers, I want to do what I can to expand those benefits. It's my clients I care about, not what empiricists think of my work.

    As to the Old Testament stuff, that's one reason I'm so attracted to Buddhist philosophy. Like the Bahai commenter, H. H. the Dalai Lama says straight out that if science proves something, then Buddhist doctrine needs to adjust if it says something different.

    One final comment, which is one I'm sure you've heard before in discussions like this, but I forget what the answer is. Over on my blog you say flat out that there is not Something Else. Until you fully, empirically explain the placebo effect and quantum entanglement, that can come across as just as belief driven as a fundamentalist rant.

    Again, I'm not plunking down on either side of this. I'm guessing that in my lifetime it won't be decided one way or the other. I can see how it might go either way, or in some way beyond my imagination. I guess I'm really just in the long line of American pragmatists, looking to see what works, leaving the metaphysics to others.

    Once again, thanks for getting me to think through a bunch of unexamined assumptions.

  19. Hi Lyle,
    Welcome! To the best of my knowledge you are the first person to find your way here from my French horn blog!

    The placebo effect is very interesting, and we are a long way from understanding it fully. We know some things about it, sufficient that we can (as Ben Goldacre describes) know with great certainty that homeopathy is bunkum and produces results indistinguishable from placebo.

    So there's plenty of evidence that the placebo effect exists, but we don't know how it works. That's fine. Scientists love mysteries like this - it means that there is still work for them to do! There are scientists working to better understand the placebo effect right now, and some day they may succeed in unravelling it completely. That will probably be a great day for medicine.

    My position is the precise opposite of what you appear to be ascribing to me. If there is a mystery, then we should work at finding out more about it. It is not sufficient to come up with a plausible sounding explanation and leave it at that. Plausible sounding explanations all too often turn out to be unfalsifiable - in other words they can be used to interpret and "explain" any phenomenon. Anything and everything is consistent with it. But this in turn means that the explanation is useless in that is doesn't offer us any way of using it to predict anything of the future.

    Scientific explanations by definition have to leave open the possibility that they are wrong, and offer a means of testing this. If you conduct experiment X and get result Y, then your hypothesis is probably right, but if you get result Z it is probably wrong.

    Jungian archetypes and the collective unconscious, as we were discussing over on your blog, appear to me to fall into the category of unfalsifiable explanations for everything. It makes them superficially attractive but ultimately useless as explanations of the world.

    To work out whether a potential explanation is in a scientific form, all you need to is ask yourself a very simple question. If the explanation were wrong, what experiment or observation would cause you to reach that conclusion? Or in other words, how can you tell whether the explanation is right or wrong?

    It needn't necessarily be terribly easy to devise such an experiment, and certainly you may not have the resources to do it unassisted. But provided that there is at least in principle some distinguishing observation that could be made, you are on fairly safe ground in deciding that you are dealing with a proper scientific hypothesis.

  20. Jonathan - For me, at least, the point of diminishing returns on this debate has been reached. I'm going to take a Grand Pause and then come back sometime in the future to see if I can pick up how I'm not getting my points across.

    I know you don't see it this way, but to me in your righteous zeal to proselytize your views of which you are 100% certain, there's a tendency to respond to what you think I'm saying rather than trying to find common ground. For my part, when someone tells me how I need to be thinking (whether Jehovah's Witnesses or empiricists), there's an endogenous obstinacy that wells up.

    A few closing points. This is really the same conversation we started with when I commented on how very, for lack of a better term, "left brain" your approach to practicing was. All I'm saying is that what works for you may not be the best approach for me, in both horn and metaphysics.

    If we were playing together in an ensemble, would you insist with this fervor that we play the piece your way?

    For me, it's not the metaphysical construct someone lives with, but what they do with it in the world. A lot of good has been done by God bothered fundamentalists, and a lot of evil by godless empiricists; and visa versa.

    Again, thanks for getting me to work through this stuff and making me verbalize my positions. I don't think they're going to change much, but maybe down the line after mulling all this for a while I'll be able to make myself more clear. I wasn't joking when I said I was sort of slow witted about deep issues such as these.

  21. OK - once more into the breech.

    I think the issue is in large part one of semantics. For me the "something else" formulation is wide ranging, and is meant to be, at least in part, a place holder for those advances in the future that our current conceptual framework doesn't allow for, and that may go well beyond what we now think of as empirical foundations. In this article,

    there are these two quotes:

    Zeilinger specialises in quantum experiments that demonstrate the apparent influence of observers in the shaping of reality. "Maybe the real breakthrough will come when we start to realise the connections between reality, knowledge and our actions," he says. The concept is mind-bending, but it is well established in practice. Zeilinger and others have shown that particles that are widely separated can somehow have quantum states that are linked, so that observing one affects the outcome of the other. No one has yet fathomed how the universe seems to know when it is being watched.


    "I worry whether we've come to the limits of empirical science," says Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University. Specifically, Krauss wonders if it will require knowledge of other universes, such as those posed by Carroll, to understand why our universe is the way it is. If such knowledge is impossible to access, it may spell the end for deepening our understanding any further.

    Over on my blog you said once flat out that the notion of something else doesn't exist when talking about Jungian terms. Given the quotes above, and my sense of the phrase, that comes across as belief ridden as any fundamentalist talking about their personal relationship with God, whereas to you it's probably a simple statement of fact.

    My guess is that for you, "something else" is seen as code for an anthropomorphized father or mother type godhead or stereotypical cant. If you were to broaden your sense of the phrase to include whatever it is we don't understand about entangled particles a universe apart being connected enough to reverse spin simultaneously, and at least not completely reject the notion that all answers are going to be empirical in nature, then I think our positions, though not the same, could be seen as not contradictory enough that you feel you need to convert me to your views.

    It seems to me that your position has the virtue of avoiding logical fallacies, but lessens the opportunities for conceptual breakthroughs in areas not amenable to logic. For me it's visa versa.

    Back when I was psychiatric attendant and group therapist, I was several times told by docs that I had a great intuitive sense of the patients that made my work very effective, but to be careful as it probably wouldn't be right all the time. If I were to stick to logical thinking only, I don't think I'd be as effective as I might be as a therapist.

    Maybe if my mind were as amazingly quick to get to the analytical core of situations as yours seems to be, my approach would be different. I'm going with my strength and you with yours.

    Well, that's my best effort, but if past is prolog, you'll probably see it as illogical maundering in need of massive correction. Our personality types are so different, my guess is that's just the way it is and that I'll be better off arranging Christmas music for my group, practicing horn and flute, and cleaning up that wind quintet. Metaphysics and philosophy have never been my strong suit.

  22. Just came across this after writing the above. An example of "something else" and faith or belief overlapping.

  23. The examples you give of quantum weirdness are ones where we have a phenomenon - we have evidence - but we don't yet have a working explanation for it. Scientists like that situation, it means there is still fundamental work left from them to do. They can invent hypotheses, and run further experiments to see whether those hypotheses work or not. Apart from several hundred years advance in technology, in terms of the scientific method they are doing nothing fundamentally different from Galileo dropping two different-sized lead weights to see if they accelerate at the same speed.

    The reason we think of the results as being weird is that things seem to work very differently at extremely small scales from the normal mid-range size of environment we commonly inhabit. The results are weird, the way we go about obtaining them isn't. It is necessary to be very careful not to confuse the two.

    Now, in producing new hypotheses to explain new and unexplained phenomena, it is necessary to be careful about the way the explanation is constructed.

    First, the explanation has to be consistent with and provide an explanation for the phenomena we already know about.

    Second, it has to be falsifiable. In other words, it has to make some prediction concerning phenomena not yet observed, so that it becomes possible to make that observation or run the experiment to see whether the result is consistent with the hypothesis. A hypothesis which is consistent with every possible outcome of an experiment doesn't in fact explain anything, while outwardly appearing to explain everything.

    I'm skeptical about Jung's collective unconscious and similar "out there" explanations for two reasons. First, it isn't looking to provide an explanation for any specific unexplained phenomenon. Second, it appears to be unfalsifiable - there isn't as far as I can tell any experiment you could run that would demonstrate that the collective unconscious doesn't exist. And thirdly, as I've described on your blog, there are ways of communicating an a level below the conscious via the senses which means that concepts like ESP or the collective unconscious aren't actually needed to explain the phenomena that these explanations seek to address.

    I have nothing against the use of intuition to reach quick answers in new situations. I do it myself. But where the time is available, the answer given by intuition should be cross-checked against mundane reason, because intuition is quick but unreliable, while reason is slower but better at checking things out. Moreover, by practicing this kind of cross-checking, I have found that my intuition actually grows sharper and more accurate, because it has available in my memory the results of all the past cross-checks I have done.

    There are certainly things out there that we are not yet aware of, having no evidence of them. But we can only discover them by plodding through the evidence and explaining it, one hypothesis at a time.

  24. We're using the same words but speaking a different language. To help me understand your position, what's your hypothesis for what John Williams was talking about, i.e. the evocative nature of the sound of the horn to most people that hear it? Archetype is a handy way of talking about that. How do you talk about it? What causes such a common response in people who don't know each other?

    In a similar vein, what's the point of music and the arts in general? They offer no logical explanations of the world around us. They are not evidence based. Do you agree with the notion that music is evolutionary cheesecake, having no real value to humanity other than simple entertainment to pass the time? Since music is not falsifiable, does it have no meaning? Is playing music any different than playing cards?

    And tangentially, why for a rationalist blog have you chosen a symbol as iconographically freighted as the pentagram? Sort of triggers cognitive dissonance in me every time I see it up there. It's not exactly an archetype, but from what I know it's an emblem for a lot of stuff I wouldn't associate with what you're up to here. Why were you attracted to it enough to be an icon for your blog? Does it have any meaning for you, or is it just a simple design that appealed to you?

    You seem so disparaging of faith, but that second article lays out data that having faith (in the docs and meds) can improve medical outcomes. What are you offering in return? If there's solid evidence that irrational faith is beneficial, does that make it OK?

  25. Hi Lyle
    Those are all valid questions deserving of answers. rather than leave the conversation hidden in the comments of a five-month-old blog entry, I'll do a new article sometime soon and give you a full response.

  26. Jonathan - Glad to hear the questions registered as meaningful and will be very interested in your answers. As hard as this kind of thinking is for me, it's exactly what I need to do to set the foundations for my project of producing musical learning materials for average folks looking to enjoy themselves and explore what music making has to offer. I need to be able to use language that won't trigger negative responses in particular demographics.