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Ask Dr. Robert Bakker About Dinosaurs and Merging Science and Religion 528

With his trademark hat and beard, Dr. Robert Bakker is one of the most recognized paleontologists working today. Bakker was among the advisers for the movie Jurassic Park, and the character Dr. Robert Burke in the film The Lost World: Jurassic Park is based on him. He was one of the first to put forth the idea that some dinosaurs had feathers and were warm-blooded, and is credited with initiating the ongoing "dinosaur renaissance" in paleontology. Bakker is currently the curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Director of the Morrison Natural History Museum in Colorado. He is also a Christian minister, who contends that there is no real conflict between religion and science, citing the writings and views of Saint Augustine as a guide on melding the two. Dr. Bakker has agreed to take some time from his writing and digging in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Ask Dr. Robert Bakker About Dinosaurs and Merging Science and Religion

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  • And... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:55PM (#42799025)

    Let the mud slinging BEGIN!

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @01:56PM (#42799053)
    A central tenant of science is that you could be wrong, that seems to conflict with religion. Which is not to say you can't have faith and be a scientist. Just that you would have to keep a fair amount of mental separation between the two. I would even go so far as to say that to be a good scientist you would have to question your faith.
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:03PM (#42799171)

    I don't think so.

    And that's fine, I could be wrong.

  • by eksith ( 2776419 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:09PM (#42799239) Homepage

    Without stepping on anyone's toes...

    Science is the process of understanding the environment through observation, calculation and inference. Theories are formed and they're tested. Even if one believes in God, He is quite safe from science as a result, since... well... it would only be as if you're studying what God has created. One's faith in a higher power need not be shaken when all you're doing is studying His work. If it's observable, repeatable and logical, we can reasonably infer, it is true.

    In this regard, science and faith need not be mutually exclusive.

    To religion OTOH, science would be Kryptonite, since that's an institution of man and, like all institutions, there's a hierarchy of (usually) other men. And men will fight back when their status within this hierarchy is threatened. With science, there's suddenly no need for an interpreter to reality, since you can do the observations yourself.

    Full disclosure: I don't believe in a personal God.

  • by LikwidCirkel ( 1542097 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:09PM (#42799257)
    I completely disagree. The conflict you speak of is a media fabrication, because controversy sells, and all intelligent people recognize this. Religion and faith can help some people be at peace and believe things which science does not yet explain - and there are certainly many things which science does not explain.

    Science denialism is a problem yes, but it is absolutely possible to be religious without denying science. I was raised into a religious group of sorts which never denied any scientific observations. They would actually adjust and adapt their teaching as science advanced. I am no longer an adherent, but I have observed such religious thinkers, and quite frankly, the conflict and divisiveness is more of a problem than religion itself.
  • by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:16PM (#42799363)

    It's fake. You aren't that idiotic, right? Right?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:19PM (#42799391)

    Whether the Bible is or is not based on divine revelation, it was written by pre-industrial people for pre-industrial people.
    The moon was many times more important to them than black holes.
    And the Bible's purpose is moral, not to "advance medicine".
    The purpose of the creation story in Genesis is to establish God's authority as creator and ruler of man, not to teach science.

  • by Shatrat ( 855151 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:33PM (#42799589)

    They aren't a fabrication, they're a vocal minority that gets more coverage than they are worth because it helps people like you feel superior.

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:38PM (#42799641)

    Science is the process of understanding, or at least generating workable knowledge, through observation, theorizing, and testing. The process of science is antithetical to faith since it requires that you test everything. You accept (and only provisionally at that) only things that have good evidence supporting them. Faith is the opposite - belief regardless of supporting, absent, or contradicting evidence.

    The only way you can reconcile faith (in anything, a god, your mother, a book) is to put artificial limitations on the applicable domain of science, as you appear to do. That's fine, and people, particularly religious people, are great at doing that kind of thing. Someone can do good science and believe in whatever. But it's entirely a construction of his own psyche. If science ever does come in conflict with the artificially walled off domain, as it has repeatedly and will continue to do, the believe has to give up or revise his faith, or or give up being a scientist, at least in that area of overlap.

    The theory of a personal god, for example, lacks any explanatory or predictive power whatsoever, and yet requires a great deal of complication.

  • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:41PM (#42799679)
    I can't speak for the prof, but most of the religious people I know do question and critically examine their faith. If your mileage varies, perhaps you need to mix with more thoughtful religious people.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @02:58PM (#42799917)

    They're certainly vocal, but the bit about them being represented in the media might have more to do with their varied success at ruining schools, harassing families of dead soldiers and pregnant women, firebombing health facilities and shooting doctors, being elected to public office, appearing on our national science committees, impeding research to save lives, and using considerable donated wealth to bend the ear of our nation's highest ranking politicians. The list goes on, of course.

    And let's not run away with the "minority" bit. There are enough of them to build their megachurches around the country, buy TV time, affect political elections, etc. Those resources come with large numbers.

    So short of any kind of violence, people like me would rather they just vanished. It's not us keeping them around just for entertainment. They do real harm.

  • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @03:01PM (#42799967) Journal
    Maybe because humans were too dumb to understand those things? Do you explain to your 3 year old about trichinosis or do you just tell him not to eat the pork? How do you explain a million years to a 3 year old who can't grasp the concept of a week? Maybe that information was originally given but since it was passed down orally the only things that remained where the things understood, such as do or do not.

    Even today, we have people like you who cannot come up with simple logical answers to your questions.

  • Re:Science vs gods (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @03:23PM (#42800247) Journal

    I can assure you, that the "God" of the Hebrew Bible, is not one used to explain nature. The Hebrew Deity was about how to live life "correctly" and has a prescription about that. I can understand the modern rejection of those principles as being archaic, but the result is, IMHO, more uncivilized behavior. Action without consequences are impossible, yet that tends to be the modern Atheist's goal.

    Here is but one example: "I want to fuck all the time, but don't want to deal with pregnancy". The consequences are wraped up in terms like "fetus" and "tissue" and discarded to the trashheap. Regardless of your views, I think that anytime one can dehumanize the smallest among us, we all lose. To me, it is no different than saying "Jews are monkeys" and "Blacks are Niggers" or terms like "faggot", "Dweeb", "Retard" any other term of dehumization we use.

    Words have power that science can't measure.

  • Re:Why Slashdot? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by noldrin ( 635339 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @03:38PM (#42800507)
    The funny part is how neatly this falls into "more of the same." If you read the biblical narrative of Jesus, the Pharisees and Sadducees would do similar tactics, asking no win trap questions, which Jesus was able to intellectually smack them down. You come to know the difference in people who are curious and seek knowledge, and those who have hate in their heart and seek to tear down. I'm sure Dr Bakker is content to speak to those free thinkers whose narrow world view isn't threatened by his views, nor will anyone on Slashdot be so clever as to trip him up in ways he has not already considered far more than they.
  • In Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion", he actually addresses this point at the beginning of the book and describes it as Einstein's god. Einstein didn't believe in a personal god, but his use of god was pretty much synonymous with the universe. This isn't the god that he argues against. Another author worth reading is Christopher Hitchens, especially his book "God Is Not Good: How Religion Poisons Everything", to understand how any religion, whether monotheistic or polytheistic, poisons the good that it does, especially when in power.
    The biggest difference between Science and Religion is how easy Science is able to discard previous ideas when new evidence is brought forward whereas Religion will fight tooth and nail until it is impractical for it to not adjust, e.g. Mormons and polygamy, or Mormons and blacks. We have seen this recently with some sects of Christianity starting to embrace evolution, yet others are still outright against its teachings.

  • Re:Uhh, no... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by medcalf ( 68293 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @04:20PM (#42800999) Homepage

    the religious have a kind of mental retardation

    So, I see you are coming at the issue with an open mind...

    I think that the thing that bothers me about those who see Science (capitalized for a reason) as the only means of knowing things is the same thing that bothers me about young Earth creationists: the utter lack of humility.

  • by miserere nobis ( 1332335 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @04:21PM (#42801011)

    Here's the thing about evidence and verifiability. Science is a framework which has proven extremely useful, for good reason. It distills out a sort of best practices for a kind of practical philosophy of approach that results in its practitioners being able to make more effective predictions about the universe around them. I would hope anyone interested in truth of any sort is keenly attentive to the benefits of exploring the world scientifically.

    But the problem is that this is not enough. We are forced to live in all the dimensions of life, constantly, many of which are partly or entirely made up of decisions and beliefs (or at least tentative beliefs) for which we have no choice but to rely on unfalsifiable, unprovable hypotheses. I would venture to propose that most of our everyday decisions about how to live our lives, what to pursue, how to interact with other people, what is worth spending a life on, what is good and what is bad...basically our entire set of operating assumptions about the meaning of our lives is untestable, because we can't step outside of those lives, we can't see them from an objective point of view, we can't repeat conditions, we don't live consistently enough to isolate any of the possibilities as we'd have to do in order to measure things in a controlled test, and we won't be around in the end to see whether we were right (nor is there is any obvious way of measuring this even from the perspective of the "end of the story"). Plus, well, once we're dead, the outcome is not helpful, so we all live according to our best estimation of what life is about.

    This doesn't by any means demonstrate that a particular faith of any sort has a basis in truth. The point is that there is no choice but to live by faith, because the knowledge we have about the whole deal, or even that we can possibly acquire in time to make any difference, is miniscule. The faith we're holding to might not be religious or deistic in any way, but no matter who we are, we're living according to some operating assumptions, and putting enough faith in them to make decisions based upon them, letting our lives slip away having applied them irrevocably to one or another path. And so, knowing that there is utterly no way to apply the framework of science to all of the matters concerning us, we have no choice but to use other methods of exploration as well, in order to build anywhere near complete enough a working model of how things are. Philosophy, theology, these are just that sort of exploration: ways of searching for understanding in the midst of this situation. One can't live without them, live "only by science", any more than one can make a successful and worthwhile journey by car taking into account only those truths that are clearly visible within the small bit of road directly illuminated by one's headlights.

    (Even worse would be to insist that only the things that can be illuminated by headlights exist at all. Occam's Razor often gets shoved into the "science vs. religion" debates in a way that doesn't work. It's a very useful expression of the mentality one uses within science because it creates methodical practice out of what could be chaos. What it is not is any kind of proof of how things actually are. It is helpful to investigation to avoid multiplying entities unnecessarily. But is it true that there are no entities beyond those which are required to explain the currently visible portion of a phenomenon? We can't actually make that kind of positive assertion without resorting to exactly the kind of unfalsifiable truth claim that science supposedly doesn't care much for.)

    But interesting you should mention critical peer review- in this area you'll not find theology wanting, at least not when it comes to trying. There is not a doctrine out there that isn't dissected, taken apart, put back together every which way, and run through the rigorous gauntlet of critical review, in many cases hundreds or thousands of years of such review. Of course, the whole thing lacking some of wh

  • by DriedClexler ( 814907 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @04:47PM (#42801341)

    No. The scientific method was established in the west by medieval bishops.

    Who immediately failed to apply it to their own dogma, and in fact, propagated memes against doing so.


  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:59PM (#42803869)

    I noticed that you glossed over the part of that wiki article which refers to exactly the concept that I was referring to: and the reality of a single human ancestor (commonly called monogenism) for all of mankind. Yes, the Catholic church accepts theistic evolution. No, the very specific doctrine of Christian monogenism(not the scientific idea of monogenism) is not supported by science.

    I think genetic science and the figurative language of genesis are not far off from each other.

    "Two pieces of the human genome are quite useful in deciphering human history: mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome. These are the only two parts of the genome that are not shuffled about by the evolutionary mechanisms that generate diversity with each generation: instead, these elements are passed down intact. According to the hypothesis, all people alive today have inherited the same mitochondria from a woman who lived in Africa about 160,000 years ago. She has been named Mitochondrial Eve. All men living today have inherited their Y chromosomes from a man who lived 140,000 years ago, probably in Africa. He has been named Y-chromosomal Adam." []

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