The 'F' Word Offends Again!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 16, 2007 9:16 am

Science Blogs are abuzz since PZ, Rob, James, John, and Skatje Myers have reopened the Pandora’s box on matters of Faith. As I’ve stated before, I feel strongly that Science need not become universally synonymous with Godlessness because that certainly doesn’t win any converts. Any breed of fundamentalism (atheism included) usually results in alienating good folks and losing credibility among everyone who thinks or believes differently. Granted, I’m green in the blogosphere, but the topic is one that really gets under my skin because it pits two fundamentally different levels of argument against one other. That said, I recognize it’s a recurring theme and source of contention, and therefore the great science religion divide needs to be addressed. (deep breath) Here goes..

noodle.jpgBased on experience, I believe it’s futile to battle over religion. With regard to PZ, what’s important to recognize is that he’s not alone in his views and represents a growing perspective. And while I may not always agree with everything he writes, his inflammatory remarks keep us all reading and interested. What will he say next? Who will he infuriate? It’s almost Howard Stern/Rush Limbaugh-esqu. Love him or hate him, he’s popular. He’s notorious. He’s very much PZ!

Now the reason we’re all here and part of this SB community is to turn these issues on their head. Debating is half the fun, but all the hullabaloo and angry discourse lately seem to leave many less than enthusiastic to stay engaged. As for me, I love topics like this for the very reason that no matter what you advocate, there’s no conclusion.. but it gives us all more to ponder. So I’ll continue spinning ideas around and certainly hope you’ll join me because clearly, there’s no escape from the interaction of religion and science with culture. Regardless of where you fall in the equation these topics will continue to impact all of us and thus, I encourage exploration, contemplation, and friendly discourse sans all the huffing and puffing and hurt feelings. Just maybe, when we’re open to alternative views, everyone wins.

Several readers seem to have bypassed these comments so I’ll repost here:

I’m by no means purporting atheism is fundamentalism, but rather that any belief has the potential to approach that level when we get to the point we’re not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives.

PZ – I daresay I don’t know where I stand with regard to religion. [Note: I've never actually written about that in detail!] ;) But it sure is fun following the fallout.. I mainly advocate tolerance and respect for others beliefs universally. And please don’t be offended with regard to the radio reference – after all – I spent years in radio and mean no ill will other than you’re successful in that you keep people interested and engaged – whether they agree or not.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Comments (112)

  1. Lance

    Do you suppose you would worry about “alienating” or “losing credibility” with your religious friends if they believed in pixies and elves as the main forces in the universe? I see little practical difference in the beliefs of Christians, Muslims, Jews etc.

    Supernatural belief systems of any kind are simply inconsistent with scientific inquiry.

  2. I’m with you on this, Sheril. I have a couple of book reviews at my Science Shelf website that bear directly on the discussion, and I’ll let them speak for themselves.

    http://www.scienceshelf.com/ScientificExperienceSagan.htm
    The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan, edited by Ann Druyan

    and

    http://www.scienceshelf.com/EvolvingGod.htm
    Evolving God: A Provocative View of the Origins of Religion by Barbara J. King

    You don’t have to be a theist to appreciate these two titles.

  3. CRM-114

    Atheism is not fundamentalism. It is the refusal to believe in any religion of any stripe, including any fundamentalism. When you accuse nonbelieivers of being the worst kind of believers, you look like a fool, and quite a bit like a religious wacko.

    People who do not believe in UFOs are not crackpots.

    People who do not believe in witchcraft are not occultists.

    People who do not believe in palmistry are not fortunetellers.

    Religious wackos argue that atheism is a religion, and you know it is not. Branding nonbelievers as the worst kind of believers is pure chicanery. Chris, you’re smarter than that.

  4. Sherri, I’m very disappointed to be lumped in with the science-deniers because I’m an atheist.

    It’s also completely illogical on your part to do so.

    I always thought people who promoted science wanted evidence. I have no scientific evidence that there is a god, therefore, I am an atheist.

    Fundamentalists have no scientific evidence that there is a god, therefore, they rely on ancient legends.

    I’d rather rely on reason.

  5. Just maybe, when we’re open to alternative views, everyone wins.

    I agree. And this is why we should teach the controversy about evolution, and explore the many solar and cosmic-ray and volcano-based explanations for global warming. Just because the evidence is overwhelmingly one sided doesn’t mean we should be rude to those who continue to promote damaging alternate views!

  6. Lance

    CRM-114, I was also offended by the refernece to athiests as “fundamentalists”. It is an illogical attempt to mislabel non-belief as belief.

    It is also part of the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

  7. Sheril R. Kirshenbaum

    I by no means purport atheism is fundamentalism, but rather that any belief has the potential to approach that level when we get to the point we’re not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives. CRM-114, it’s Sheril, not Chris.

  8. Sheril wrote:
    I by no means purport atheism is fundamentalism, but rather that any belief has the potential to approach that level when we get to the point we’re not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives.

    Okay, Sheril, how willing are you to listen to the views of Tristan J. Shuddery? Have you bothered to read “The Secret” yet? Have you given an alien abductee a fair hearing recently? When did you last consult a professional astrologer to find out what their views were? Have you ever watched Pat Robertson’s show?

    In other words, are you practicing what you preach? Have you really been willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives?

    I would suggest that it is the guys who are dealing out the insults who actually listened.

  9. Look, Sherii, it depends what they’re trying to sell.

    I know some religious people are fine scientists and doctors and the like. Of course, I’d listen to them. Someone being religious doesn’t automatically mean they are also brainless.

    But waste a second of time listening to anyone trying to tell me that the earth is 6,000 years old? That humans haven’t descended from apes? That Noah’s Flood was a real incident? Come on, let’s be real. Why should I listen to crap like that unless I’m in the mood to hear fantasy? That’s not being close-minded, that’s being immune to many kinds of fraud.

  10. thickslab

    Any breed of fundamentalism (atheism included)

    … and that would be where I stopped reading.

  11. B. Dewhirst

    Your above entry seems to contain only logical fallacies: A strawman (‘certainty…’), two uses of ad hominem (‘fundamentalist’, PZ as an inflammatory Rush Limbaugh), the middle ground fallacy presented at least twice… I don’t see an actual -argument- anywhere here.

    Ms. Kirshenbaum presents no evidence for her claim that atheists are ‘the same’ as fundamentalists, nor for her implicit assumption that the ‘true’ answer must be somewhere between these two ‘extremes.’ She also fails to consider where the burden of proof lies in this argument, though Bertrand Russell has conclusively demonstrated it is on the theist to support their extraordinary argument.

    I’m afraid your outrage stems from inculcation in a society which expects extraordinary, overweening respect for the ‘holy’ and ‘religious,’ rather than any logical or evidentiary basis.

  12. What would those “other perspectives” be? That there is an eye in the sky judging our every move? That evolution is not consistent with observed fact? That the Grand Canyon was formed in days? If not those, then what, exactly, is it one has to be willing to listen to to avoid, in your judgement, to be a “fundamentalist”?

  13. Emily

    Sheril,

    Excellent job of stirring the pot! As always, this topic has the potential to spark a really great debate, but also brings out the worst in many folks who are anxious to defend their own positions while destroying the positions of others. I do agree with you that *some* atheists do take an approach to their (non)beliefs similar to that taken by religious fundamentalists – instead of acknowledging that we each experience and make sense of the world differently, and thus may come to different conclusions about how the world operates, they immediately attack those who don’t embrace their views whole hog. Instead, a more productive approach may involve taking the time to engage in a civil discussion about the various perspectives, experiences, and interpretations of the world that may lead toward or away from a particular belief structure.

    Personally, I do not see a fundamental disconnect between faithfulness and science, and I do believe that they can go hand in hand. Certainly, a specific belief structure may be in conflict with a specific scientific theorem, but so to may two theorems be in conflict until further investigation can untangle the issue further (and in some cases, only confuse the issue even more). I can believe that God or gods or little green men set in motion a series of events that eventually led to the world in which we live – especially if my particular set of beliefs includes a “non-meddling” clause which states that the Supreme Being allows the regular beings of this world to have free will. At the same time, I can use science to learn more about that world, to discover the “rules” (e.g., physical constants, evolutionary relationships, etc.), and to make decisions about how I live my life. If I also believe that I will be judged at the end of my life – welcomed to a higher plane of everlasting glory for being “good,” doomed by karma to return to Earth as a lower being, or sent to a flaming eternity because of my evil ways – well, that is just another piece of my decision, not so different from deciding whether the estimated costs of global warming remediation should include a heavily or lightly discounted future generations.

  14. Tell me Sheril, do you have gasoline in your fire extinguisher?

  15. …checking in from coastal Mississippi….

    Hey Science Avenger, of course Sheril has gasoline in her fire extinguisher, why do you think I asked her to join the blog? ;>

    and with that, I’m going back to hurricanes

  16. sailor

    Sheril, I think others have already nailed some of the important points about your post (you cannot be a fundamentalist atheist being the most important). It is always good when people are willing to listen. I had a friend who talked with strange ghosts and spirits on a daily basis, I liked her a lot and never told her I thought she was also a nutjob, I just assumed that these beings were in her head and had reality for her and no one else. However, were these beings to become a factor in governmental policy decisions I would scream out.
    The problem is in the world today there is an assumption that one must have special respect for people who believe that for which there is no evidence. This is dangerous as you can see from recent terrorist events. Time to stop! We have to reach a position where to be deist-free is considered sane and normal. It will take all the PZs and Dawkins and Hichins we can get and then some. It will also take the more moderate people (that was Skatjes point if I remember right). So good luck to you and Chris – but expend your energies in reasonable discourse with theists, don’t waste it bashing the passionate wing of skeptism.

  17. MK

    “I by no means purport atheism is fundamentalism…”
    “Any breed of fundamentalism (atheism included)…”

    I by no means purport german shepherds are dogs…
    Any breed of dogs (german shepherds included)…

  18. factlike

    Sheril wrote:

    I by no means purport atheism is fundamentalism, but rather that any belief has the potential to approach that level when we get to the point we’re not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “fundamentalism” here. (And by “here”, I mean both in your comments and your original post.) Seeing as how atheists don’t exactly have a fundamental text from which they (we) base their (our) opinions, and no infallible authority whose dictates they (we) unquestionably accept, what exactly would make one “fundamentalist”, as opposed to, say, “strident” or “vocal” or “somewhat impolite”? What does the term mean to you, besides being some catch-all synonym for “bad”?

  19. You may very well have the best of intentions, but you seem to be willfully evading a simple and obvious fact. Religion is irrelevant in science. Therefore, science is “godless.” There is no way to persuade any of us who find no evidence and no reason to believe in that which can not be measured and quantified that there is any need to accomodate such a preposterous idea. The burden of proof is upon those who believe. Want us to take you seriously? Provide evidence, just like science does. Until then, shut the – up about it.

  20. I by no means purport atheism is fundamentalism, but rather that any belief has the potential to approach that level when we get to the point we’re not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives

    You appear to be defining “fundamentalist” as “someone who is not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives.” This is not a legitimate definition for “fundamentalist.”

    First and perhaps most importantly, it does a serious disservice to real fundamentalists. Some fundamentalists are annoying zealots who won’t even listen to others, much less take seriously what they have to say, but others aren’t. What you are doing is taking a label for a legitimate religious movement and transforming it into nothing more than a form of criticism or attack. It’s wrong to use “fundamentalist” as a synonym for things you happen not to like at any given time.

    In your post, your words go even further by suggesting that “fundamentalists” and “good folk” are mutually exclusive groups. I thought atheists were the ones who were supposed to be so intolerant and uncivil? Why am I, an atheist, put in the position of having to defend fundamentalists and fundamentalism?

    Second, you create the connotation that there is something about atheism which one can be “fundamentalist” about in the normal sense — i.e., that there are basic doctrines, texts, traditions, etc. that one must adhere to without regard to modern advances, changes, etc. There is nothing to be “fundamentalist” about in atheism in either a limited or expanded, metaphorical sense.

    If you mean to say that there are atheist who are annoying, closed-minded, insulting, inflexible, strident, etc., then why not just say so? Of course, if you do then you might be asked to support such a claim. Calling someone a “fundamentalist” is sufficiently vague that it’s hard to know in advance what, if anything, might qualify as support. This is the third and final reason why the term is wrong: it encourages lazy thinking and writing because you don’t have to be clear even in your own mind what you mean or what you are talking about.

  21. Sheril R. Kirshenbaum

    My comment reposted from Pharyngula
    ______________

    Oh PZ – I daresay I don’t know where I stand with regard to religion. I’ve never actually written about that in detail ;) But it sure is fun following the fallout..

    I mainly advocate tolerance and respect for others beliefs universally.

    And please don’t be offended with regard to the radio reference – after all – I spent years in radio and mean no ill will. Only that you’re successful in that you keep people interested and engaged – whether they agree or not!

  22. Dark Tent

    “Science need not become universally synonymous with Godlessness because that certainly doesn’t win any converts”

    Converts to what?

    Is science about converting people?

    I thought it was about discovering how the world works.

    Scientists may have influence over the public largely by virtue of their credibility on matters dealing with reality , but they certainly have no control over whether people accept what they tell them — and, perhaps i am wrong, but I don’t believe it is their job to convert people.

    And speaking of winning converts, do you think this comment is likely to win any?
    “It’s almost Howard Stern/Rush Limbaugh-esqu. Love him or hate him, he’s popular. He’s notorious. He’s very much PZ!”

    PZ like Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern? Good God.

  23. cm

    Sheril, careful with language. You said:

    Any breed of fundamentalism (atheism included) usually results in alienating good folks and losing credibility among everyone who thinks or believes differently.

    You meant there are various breeds of fundamentalism, with “atheist fundamentalism” being one type, but that doesn’t exclude a non-fundamentalist atheism. But people are reading it–understandably–as there are various breeds of fundamentalism, with atheism being one of those breeds. A better choice of phrasing might be:

    Any breed of fundamentalism (atheist fundamentalism included) usually results in alienating good folks and losing credibility among everyone who thinks or believes differently.

    But beyond that confusion, I take issue with your intended point, too, because we simply need to get this word fundamentalism out of our discourse entirely. Originally used to describe a specific subset of Christians who emphasized 5 key biblical fundamental principles, it has become overapplied and has turned into a junk descriptor, and only serves to muddy the discussion. If you think otherwise, I’d love to read an argument in support of the usefulness of this term.

  24. Nan

    “I mainly advocate tolerance and respect for others beliefs universally.”

    Unbelievable. I for one refuse to either tolerate or respect beliefs that are rooted in superstition and can cause harm to others.

  25. Okay, I guess I need to say why I think Sheril was right about not picking fights with people for whom religion plays an important part of their lives. That includes a lot of non-theists like me who value what a religious community can offer.

    I cited two book reviews earlier. Here are excerpts that support my contention.

    From http://www.scienceshelf.com/EvolvingGod.htm

    …Always the scientist, Dr. King is precise in her terminology and her reliance on observational data…. She carries readers along a path that begins with belongingness, which is common to all primates, and ends with the uniquely human religious practice and “emotional engagement with the sacred.”

    The evolutionary arc, as she sees it, includes empathy, meaning-making through interaction, the development and following of social rules, consciousness, and imagination, all of which exist in various degrees among our nearest relatives, the apes (and less so among our more distant cousins, the monkeys).

    The term “religious imagination,” which pervades the book, does not necessarily involve a deity. It is, the author asserts, a phenomenon accessible to scientific study. But to do so requires a greater appreciation of the role of emotion, not merely perception, in human interactions with the world.

    …Dr. King recognizes that her hypothesis falls short of “the gold standard in science.” When evidence is sketchy and difficult to find, however, “prediction testing should not be weaponized by skeptics. Any new set of ideas about our past that involves untestable speculation should not be dismissed automatically” because it may lead in productive directions.

    That is certainly the case for the “provocative view” presented in Evolving God. Dr. King does not ask readers for their automatic concurrence, but rather for their thoughtful consideration of her ideas and their own imaginations, religious or otherwise.

    And from http://www.scienceshelf.com/ScientificExperienceSagan.htm

    The late Cornell University astronomy professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Sagan did not believe in a physical afterlife, nor was he inclined to spend his time investigating it. He approached that subject, and others usually associated with theology (including the existence and meaning of a capital-G God or gods), with a scientist’s open but skeptical mind.

    To Sagan, evidence and clarity of thought were paramount. And the evidence of his life shows a quest for a very different kind of hereafter, a personal and intellectual legacy that contributes to the long-term survival of our species. That evidence includes the scientific books and television programs for which he is best known to the general public, as well as his political activism.

    In the latter, he found many allies whose motivations were primarily religious. He was genuinely interested in their view of the world, and he made a point of studying sacred literature and philosophy so he could better interact with them. Thus when the organizers of the famous Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology in Scotland were looking for a speaker for their 1985 centennial event, Carl Sagan was a clear choice….

    Sagan didn’t sacrifice his skepticism to work with religious people. To me, he is a far better example than Hitchens or Dawkins, who, to use a misplaced metaphor, preach only to the converted.

  26. One Eyed Jack

    I’m afraid you have this one backwards. Science is not waging war on religion. Quite the opposite.

    Take a hard look at the Bush Reich’s actions over the past 6+ years. Bush and his thugs have actively hindered research, suppressed findings, and censored scientists when they clash with their pseudo-theocratic beliefs. Take a walk through Ken Ham’s fantasy camp in KY. Review the Kansas School Board’s actions of the last three years. Spend a day in a Liberty University classroom. Read anything published by the Discovery Institute. Sit by the bedside of a child who is dying of a treatable disease while her parents refuse medical help because of their religion.

    It is religion that insists on challenging science. Don’t expect those of us with clear, rational minds to lay down and play dead while our country is being run by people that believe an invisible man in the sky is whispering secrets in their ear.

    OEJ

  27. Rob Edwards

    What are the “fundaments” or “fundamentals” of atheism? I’m sorry if this seems a little too obvious, or even silly, but I wonder whether there’s not a useful discussion about our use of language, and the need for terms that we can all agree upon.
    Without considering it too much, I will say that I’m with those who have taken Ms. Kirshenbaum to task for her use of the word “fundamentalist”. I don’t think the word should be used to describe a state of mind (if you will) such as atheist, which, I think quite properly, should be seen as a sort of all or nothing proposition. There’s a single fundamental only, albeit on which can be broadly applied. But there’s no corresponding set of fundamentals of the kind that is necessarily corrollary or implied by the word “theist” — is there? (I suppose you could say you believe in god but are opposed to religion in any form, i.e. you believe that all thinking about god should be purely personal.)

  28. Actully, PZ recently gave a few conditions where he might start to believe.

    Imagine that a great bearded man, 10 miles tall, suddenly manifests himself
    on Earth, and shouts out in a voice every human being on the planet can hear, “I
    AM JEHOVAH, LORD OF LORDS, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, ULTIMATE JUDGE OF YOUR WORTHINESS,” and he’s accompanied by a flock of winged angels with trumpets, and all the birds and beasts congregate around him, bowing and acknowledging his majesty, everyone who uses his name in vain abruptly bursts into green flame and crumbles to ash (I won’t even mention the horrors that descend on those who break the other commandments), laws of nature are suspended, televangelists are teleported to his outstretched right hand and stand their wearing crowns of gold, etc., etc. etc. Every atheist will be saying “Right, well, I guess I
    was wrong then–there is an almighty awesome being.” And we’ll be rummaging in
    our closets for that tatty old bible we got from our devout spinster aunt years
    ago.

    In no way does that sound like someone who is unwilling to listen to other points of view, and perhaps even adopt them with sufficient evidence.

  29. ba

    Sheril said:

    “I mainly advocate tolerance and respect for others [sic] beliefs universally.”

    Really? Do you tolerate and respect the beliefs of those who hold that men are superior to women? Who hold that one race is superior to another? Who hold that the earth is flat? Perhaps we tolerate those beliefs in the sense that we don’t arrest people who hold those beliefs (so long as they don’t act on those beliefs to hurt others), but I certainly subject those irrational beliefs to strong criticism, and I don’t respect those beliefs. Do you? I doubt it. And I consider religious beliefs to be of the same kind as the ones I have just listed: irrational because of a complete lack of evidential support.

  30. Firemancarl

    You will have to forgive me of course, but how are we atheists fundies? That term should be reserved for those who believe in an invisible sky fairy who would swoop in at a moments notice and rescue them from whatever pitfalls they face. Atheists aren’t the ones who are blowing themselves up while following the lead of countless others who think they get a room full of virgins to cater to their every whim. No, i’m and atheist and I love science and I am NOT a fundie.

    Except when it comes to my GREEN BAY PACKERS.

  31. factlike

    Fred Bortz said:

    Sagan didn’t sacrifice his skepticism to work with religious people. To me, he is a far better example than Hitchens or Dawkins, who, to use a misplaced metaphor, preach only to the converted.

    Is preaching to the converted really that bad a thing to do? Isn’t that exactly what happens every Sunday at churches across the globe? That sort of thing in no way bothers me; what really gets my goat are the preachers who set out to convert the heathens, be they the firebreathing subway screamers or the manipulative “nice guy” missionaries with their creepy bicycles who act friendly only insofar as it might get them another notch on their heavenly scorecard. As an atheist, I have no desire whatsoever to “convert” theists, or to convince them to give up their religious practices. In fact, prostelytizing is exactly what I hate about religion in the first place. If theists kept their preaching entirely to the converted, I’d say the world would be a much less contentious place.

  32. MK

    Sheril,

    You consciously picked two odious human beings in radio for comparison to PZ. You did it with forethought. You new what you were doing. To now try and say you were only saying PZ’s successful in keeping people engaged is condescending and ultimately dishonest.

    You are at base a dishonest human being then, aren’t you? If not dishonest (to try and be fair here) then utterly incapable due to deep insecurities of admitting you were wrong and apologizing to PZ…and maybe to the rest of Chris’s and PZ’s readers for insulting their intelligence with that lame ass “explanation.” And this goes for your other comment about not knowing where you stand with regard to religion. Puh-lease.

  33. DuWayne

    I think that it can be argued, at what point one’s atheism reaches the point of fundamentalism, but it cannot reasonably be denied that it can happen. Personally, I tend to think that the point when an atheist, is falling into regular agreement with fundamentalist religionists, then they have become fundies in polar opposition. For example the notion that evolution and secular humanism are inherently atheistic, is a fundamentalist attitude, whether one is a religionist or an atheist. Does that mean that all atheists are fundies, hell no, but not all atheists agree with fundamentalist religionist claptrap either.

    Fred Bortz -

    I actually met Sagan when I was an eleven year old Christian fundy. It was a huge part of moving out of fundamentalism. After seeing him speak and asking a couple good questions during the Q&A (or possibly because I mentioned he was a personal hero), he sat down with me for a few more questions. After I asked him if he thought it might be possible for ETs to worship our God, he was kind enough to explain that he didn’t believe in any gods and express his hope that I would explore the reasons for this, giving me a decent reading list.

    I am still a theist, with very strong deistic leanings, but he (along with J Cambell) was very instrumental in my move out of fundamentalism and rejection of revealed religion. A very kind and gracious man, with infinite patience for the questions of children.

  34. I mainly advocate tolerance and respect for others beliefs universally.

    You’re using words here with an awful lot of connotations and you’re not being clear what, exactly, you mean.

    Respect? First, beliefs themselves do not merit automatic respect — there are lots of beliefs which should, in fact, be disrespected very strongly. Second, it’s been my consistent experience that many people demanding “respect” for their beliefs frequently engage in “respect creep” — they move from a minimal definition to a maximal definition.

    Tolerance? That can mean a lot of different things. If you simply mean that you advocate being fair, objecting, and not censoring others’ beliefs, than I’m with you there. If, however, you mean that you advocate lacking opposition or being indulgent towards others’ beliefs, then I’m not with you.

    If you are going to say that an atheist is intolerant and/or disrespectful, and furthermore that this is wrong, it would help for you to explain what you mean by “tolerant” and “respectful” and, furthermore, why those are attitudes which should be held.

  35. Chayanov

    All alternative viewpoints are, of course, valid. Therefore geography classes should present the alternative viewpoint that the earth is flat. Astronomy classes should present the alternative viewpoint that the sun moves around the earth. Anthropology classes should present the alternative viewpoint that there are distinct races of humans, some of which are inferior to others. History classes should present the alternative viewpoint that the Holocaust never happened. All we have to do is be open to these alternative views!

  36. Jon Winsor

    “I by no means purport atheism is fundamentalism…”
    “Any breed of fundamentalism (atheism included)…”

    I by no means purport german shepherds are dogs…
    Any breed of dogs (german shepherds included)…

    I think she meant “Any breed of fundamentalism (fundamentalist atheism included)…”

  37. I was going to respond to factlike, but DuWayne’s personal example says it all.

    I’ll just add that preaching to the converted is fine, but it doesn’t change much.

    Reaching out as one human to another to those whose beliefs are different can make a profound change. That’s why I think Sagan is a much better model than Dawkins and Hitchens and why my blog (click my name) is an exercise in gentle persuasion, not bombastic argumentation — less fun but more Sagan-like.

  38. AL

    “Just maybe, when we’re open to alternative views, everyone wins.”

    Just because an atheist is vocal and adamant about their position does not mean they are closed off to alternative views. I’m sure if the theists could make a convincing case and not simply defer to “faith,” PZ and others like him will gladly convert. The problem is that the theists cannot, and yet despite this inability, they are undeterred from spouting off their untenable claims as established truth.

    If we are going to foster a society with a reasonable epistemology, one in which claims are given critical and rigorous intellectual scrutiny before being elevated to the status of knowledge, then we cannot allow people to get away with “truth” claims that fail even rudimentary substantiation. If you wish to allow those things, then be prepared to “tolerate” and “respect” the snakeoil salesmen, the Brooklyn Bridge deed holder, the faith healers, the Creationists, and so on. It’s the same epistemology we’re respecting and that we hold acceptable, so it shouldn’t be surprising when people actually utilize it to be suckered by these shysters.

  39. > I believe it’s futile to battle over religion.

    Personally, I agree. Simply standing there and laughing loudly is much more effective. Arguing about religion gives it way too much credit. Once you take away the faithful’s ability to stifle dissent with force and intimidation they really don’t have any way to keep from being the target of jeers and brickbats. But, hey, it’s a lifestyle choice!

  40. I feel strongly that Science need not become universally synonymous with Godlessness because that certainly doesn’t win any converts.

    What science is universally synonymous with is collecting and maintaining the quality of evidence. And the lack of sufficient evidence is what leads to “Godlessness.”

    Science should not be looking to win “converts.” What is “conversion,” after all? The sudden switching off of a good portion of the brain’s mechanism of dispassionate analysis and critical thought. By applying such loaded and religious terminology to science, at the very least you are guilty of relativism and/or equivocation.

    For a thorough discussion of this issue, click here.

  41. dre

    i think the root of this post is that ms. kirshenbaum is likely at least nominally religious, and she does not understand the “fundamentals”, if you will, of atheism. the post seems to be a preemptive, defensive statement, which we all have made in the past, a result of insecurities. maybe one day she will hear the right words from the right person and realize why atheists feel as strongly as atheists do about the atheistic understanding of reality, and why it is logically and semantically different from a religious understanding of reality. then she will no longer compare the two in this way.

  42. AL

    “I by no means purport atheism is fundamentalism, but rather that any belief has the potential to approach that level when we get to the point we’re not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives.”

    Some atheists stop listening because they get tired of hearing the same fallacies committed over and over again. This doesn’t mean they are closed-minded — they were willing to hear it out the first N times, where N is an integer greater than 1 and proportional to the atheist’s patience of suffering crazy-talk.

    Take the ID/Creationist camp. How many times does it need to be pointed out to them that arguing from ignorance or into the gaps of our knowledge is a fallacy, and does not in any way, shape or form prove ID or Creationism? And yet they tell us there are no reasonable mechanisms for evolution of bacterial flagella, so one is presented to them, and they simply move into another gap, say by claiming there is no reasonable mechanism for the evolution of the blood-clotting cascade. And when that is refuted, they move into another gap, say the bombardier beetle, or the evolution of plasmodium and malaria. They keep jumping knowledge gaps, and after awhile, what exactly is the point in being patient anymore? No matter what knowledge gaps they jump into, it is still an argument from ignorance through and through, and there really is no point after a while for us critics to keep listening to the latest gap and attempting to address us. At that point, they may accuse us of closed-mindedness, but we heard their arguments through, told them why it was fallacious, and now they are just being dense, and we simply don’t want to tolerate density.

  43. Jon Winsor

    we cannot allow people to get away with “truth” claims that fail even rudimentary substantiation

    But not all epistemologies are going to be scientific materialist ones. Just take one step into say, the social sciences, and it’s a different world. Then just go and read, say, Plato. That’s even more different. (I can just hear people derisively go “Plato, Bwahaha!! That old guy??”)

    My point is, we’re not going to wake up tomorrow and have everyone thinking like Bertrand Russell. People have legitimate differences, views and assumptions. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

  44. Sheril R. Kirshenbaum

    or just maybe dre.. I could be atheist too? ;)
    or not..

    regardless, i’m sure having a blast following today’s thread.

  45. Dark Tent

    Sheril said: “I mainly advocate tolerance and respect for others [sic] [sic?] beliefs universally.”

    ba,

    maybe she actually meant “others’ sick beliefs”.

    After all, she did mention Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern (though I would not have included PZ with that crowd)

  46. MK

    “or just maybe dre.. I could be atheist too? ;)
    or not..

    regardless, i’m sure having a blast following today’s thread!”

    Simply infantile. Jesus!

  47. solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short

    Uh… how are Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern comparable? Aside from sharing a medium and being widely disliked, I mean.

    Also, can we stop using the term “fundamentalist” as a synonym for “contentious,” please? I mean, really, what would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? An agnostic, that’s what. Nothing against you agnostics–you’ve got enough to deal with, what with those fenceposts digging into your buttcheeks all day.

    And to whoever posted the touching Sagan remembrance–no doubt he was a sweet guy and a great (okay, the greatest) popularizer of science, but don’t forget he wrote “The Demon-Haunted World,” the original smackdown of religion. I’m not sure he’s useful as an example–he could respectfully engage his opponents while he was kicking their teeth in, and that’s a combination of talents so rare that it’s not fair to hold someone like Dawkins* to the same standard.

    *who strikes me as a pussycat whose defenders have allowed his detractors to define him, but that’s a whole other flamewar

  48. There is no such thing as “fundamentalist atheism.” RJ Eskow completely and egregiously misrepresents both atheism and fundamentalism — and in a manner which is not excusable.

    Fundamentalism is not simply being arrogant, annoying, or narrow-minded. Fundamentalism is not simply believing the world would be better off if everyone agreed with you. Fundamentalism is a complex religious movement that is both a product of and a reaction to modernity. Eskow’s use of the term as a rhetorical bludgeon for those he dislikes is little more than an expression of intellectual dishonesty and personal bigotry; as such, it should not be imitated or encouraged.

  49. Jon Winsor

    Fundamentalism is a complex religious movement that is both a product of and a reaction to modernity.

    Sure, fundamentalism is reactionary, in the sense that it is a formed reaction to something someone opposes. Views formed in reaction to things are not always right, even when what they oppose is wrong.

    Say I’m a conservative (just hypothetically, because I’m not) and I formed my views because I don’t like liberals’ lifestyles. Does that mean all my conservative views are right? No.

    I think religious fundamentalism is profoundly wrongheaded, but that doesn’t mean I go after all religion in reaction and become an agressively confrontational atheist.

    And I have nothing up my ass cheeks. I just have enough of an education that I don’t think the world has to live and die by David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan or whoever else is in the pantheon. I mean, my science classes were great. But they’re not the only subject in the curriculum.

    Maybe some of this is that I live in the Northeast and have never had to deal with holy roller types, and I might feel differently if I did, but the attitude of contempt that frequently shows up doesn’t suit people well. Come on, you can’t tell me it isn’t there.

  50. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to elves. I absolutely will not believe in them no matter what arguments you have or what you say. I daresay evidence in the form of an elf would be undeniable, but since everybody knows elves don’t exist providing one is impossible. So not only will I *NEVER* believe what you say, I have impossible evidentiary requirements.


  51. or just maybe dre.. I could be atheist too? ;)
    or not..

    Definitely not. Unless you want to be the Ann Coulter of atheism, in which case I guess I’d like to find another name for not believing in God…

    The purpose of arguing things from a rational point of view is to try to use facts and not merely try to “stir the pot.” The purpose is not to try to be incendiary – the purpose is to attempt to ascertain facts. Based on some of the things you’ve said today, you do not care too much about facts (at least not where atheists are concerned).

  52. Those of you who think that Sheril was claiming that all atheists deserve the term are way missing the point– that’s not what she said at all. However, I agree with her that some warrant the term.

    For those of you arguing that such a term makes no sense, here’s an anecdote.

    At Vanderbilt, we were trying to create a class entitled “Stellar Astrophysics.” One professor in the department argued that the title made no sense, and was redundant, for “Astrophysics” already means “physics of the stars.” Fortunately, this is a professor who is one of “those,” one who frequently makes “out there” arguments that many of the rest of us have learned to ignore. Because, of course, today astrophysicists study all sorts of things, and the study of the stars themselves is just one small part of a much larger field. And, indeed, we already had courses on the books entitled “Nebular Astrophysics” and “Galactic Astrophysics.”

    The point is that just because a word was created to mean one thing, and just because the etymology means one thing, this does not mean that it can’t capture some truth when used otherwise. Indeed, with astrophysics, the etymology completely misses the point, even though in times of antiquity the “astronomers” were “those who name the stars.” The term “fundamentalist atheist” absolutely makes a lot of sense in the context of scienceblogs and the modern world, every bit as much as the term “galactic astrophysics” makes sense today.

  53. Anonomouse

    “I feel strongly that Science need not become universally synonymous with Godlessness because that certainly doesn’t win any converts.”

    Science doesn’t need “Converts”.

  54. i wish i remember who first said this, but a great quote is “saying no religion is a religion is like saying ‘off’ is a tv channel.”

    sorry, sherill, but even as a metaphor, to liken those who believe not at all with those who believe intently to the exclusion of all other beliefs confuses the empirical with the imagined. and you lose your argument and audience.

    you could say atheists are as obnoxious as fundamentalists, but you can’t say they are fundamentalists.

    you could say democrats are as disengenuous as republicans, but you can’t say they are republicans.

  55. Yeah Sheril blew it, but damn she’s hot.

    (sorry zuska)

    Much more seriously, Rob, there is a big difference between the neutral drift, if you will, of etymology, that leads to some of us referring to any old well-behaved chap as a “gentleman” even though it once had a much more specific meaning, and the kind of intellectually dishonest redefinition of terms like “homicide bombers” done for the purpose of political gain and poisoning the well of rational discourse.

    “Fundamentalist atheist” is in the latter category. It’s the bastard cousin of “admitted atheist”. It’s a way of depicting your opponents as flawed without doing the work to prove it. There are so many more common, less incendiary, more accurate terms that could be used, such as “aggressive”, “antagonistic”, “militant”, and “outspoken”. I’ll proudly wear a nametag with any of those. But “fundamentalist”? Sorry, it’s crap.

    Want more peace across the deistic divide? Here’s one way to start. Call people what they’d like to be called, short of “My Lord and Savior” anyway.

  56. ice weasel

    I’ll just add that preaching to the converted is fine, but it doesn’t change much.

    Posted by: Fred Bortz | July 16, 2007 04:30 PM
    ——-
    Poppycock. Then why do religionists preach to their flocks every week? There is value in reinforcing knowledge and message. And frankly, whenever I read a comment such as Fred’s above, I know I’ve run into a concern troll, not someone really attempting to “help me”.

    And Sheril, I hate to say it but your whole, “maybe I am, maybe I’m not” schtick is sad for what is purported to be a science blog. Why not just come out and state your position? I think the fair minded amongst your readers would still evaluate what you say based on what you say, not your religious beliefs. That is, unless those beliefs shape your science…

  57. sgent

    From Websters:
    Main Entry: fun·da·men·tal·ism
    Function: noun
    [skip a bit]
    2 : a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

    Seems to fit to me.

  58. The point is that just because a word was created to mean one thing, and just because the etymology means one thing, this does not mean that it can’t capture some truth when used otherwise.

    You might, in fact, check out the the American Heritage dictionary, which defines small “f” fundamentalism as:

    A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

    Note the “usually religious.” Also consider Stephen Jay Gould’s usage in connection with “Darwinian Fundamentalism.”

    The word has moved out beyond its strictly religious connotations to include any rigid adherence to strongly held beliefs, especially when coupled with intolerance for any dissent, particularly within the group.

  59. AL

    Jon Winsor,

    But not all epistemologies are going to be scientific materialist ones. Just take one step into say, the social sciences, and it’s a different world. Then just go and read, say, Plato. That’s even more different. (I can just hear people derisively go “Plato, Bwahaha!! That old guy??”)

    I don’t see that the social sciences invoke a different epistemology. They certainly deal with different foci of study and examination, but the core epistemology, what allows them to justify a claim as knowledge, is the same. If the claim is empirical in nature, it must be supported by empirical data. If the claim is a priori in nature, it must be logically coherent and be consistent with its assumptions. This is as true for the social sciences, history, psychology, etc. as it is for the so-called “natural” sciences (though personally, I am of the position that there is no meaningful divide between the “natural” and “social” sciences, as technically, all things are part of nature, but that’s neither here nor there).

    The point being is that even in a social science like economics, say, we would not allow an economist to say “decreasing taxes will raise government revenue” if there is no empirical evidence for such a claim.

    My point is, we’re not going to wake up tomorrow and have everyone thinking like Bertrand Russell. People have legitimate differences, views and assumptions. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

    Whether or not people have “legitimate” differences will be determined by debate and discussion. If person X’s views are “legitimate” (and I take by that that you mean “tenable”), then it ought to be able to withstand criticism and scrutiny. If person X’s position can’t handle atheist scrutiny, then he must be honest and concede he holds an untenable position. If he can handle atheist scrutiny, then his position is all the better for it. In either case, there is no use in criticizing the big bad atheists for bringing the scrutiny to the fore, as they are only doing what intellectually honest people do: dissect and pick apart ideas, as opposed to fence-sitting out of culturally-pressured “respect” for certain ideas that haven’t earned it.

  60. Want more peace across the deistic divide? Here’s one way to start. Call people what they’d like to be called, short of “My Lord and Savior” anyway.

    Does this mean agnostics don’t have to be called “weak atheists” any more?

  61. I think religious fundamentalism is profoundly wrongheaded, but that doesn’t mean I go after all religion in reaction and become an agressively confrontational atheist.

    Fine. So? Nothing I have written suggests that atheists can’t be disagreed with or criticized. If you find some atheists to be inappropriately or unnecessarily aggressive or confrontational, then say so and make your case.

  62. I think that it can be argued, at what point one’s atheism reaches the point of fundamentalism, but it cannot reasonably be denied that it can happen.

    I deny it, and I have made extensive arguments explaining why. If you think there is anything about atheism to be “fundamentalist” about, feel free to make an argument. Simply denying that anyone can reasonably disagree with you doesn’t cut it.

    Wait, isn’t one of the characteristics of so-called “atheist fundamentalists” that they deny anyone can reasonably disagree with them? Wouldn’t that make you an atheist-fundamentalist fundamentalist?

  63. The point is that just because a word was created to mean one thing, and just because the etymology means one thing, this does not mean that it can’t capture some truth when used otherwise.

    That’s true. I notice that you don’t offer any justification for applying the term “fundamentalist” to any atheists, though. That would require explaining why “fundamentalist” should be defined in a new and particular way. Do you think you can do it? Don’t just sit there and use the word in a new way while assuming that all the hard work has already been done.

    All the attempts that I’ve seen thus far to justify a new sense for “fundamentalism” that can apply to atheists are based upon using the label as a synonym for attacks: intolerant, closed-minded, rigid, inflexible, etc. I think I’ve explained why I consider that illegitimate and I notice you don’t offer a rebuttal. One of the reasons why I find those attempts illegitimate because of how they defame actual fundamentalists. What we have, then, is the atheist defending fundamentalists against defamatory attacks by liberal Christians and other theists seeking a new way to attack atheists.

    Funny how that works out. You’re trying to defend using “fundamentalist” in a manner that would denote that Christian fundamentalists are intolerant, closed-minded, ignorant, etc. just after you got done with an ad hominem-filled post attacking PZ for saying that theists are ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed. So is it OK for you to make negative generalizations about groups of religious believers but not PZ? How does that work, exactly?

    Feel free to actually make an argument if you think you can. Maybe you can do so in a way that will not attack religious believers (fundamentalists) in the process. I won’t hold my breath, though, because I think if you could have then you would have already. You’re full of grandiose assertions and anecdotes, but you’re really short on evidence and argument. This was the problem in that blog post you removed the links to: claiming that a restatement of your original position qualified as “evidence” that your position was right. As a professor of astronomy and physics, you know better. Or are you now trying to redefine “evidence” more loosely now, too?

  64. Call people what they’d like to be called, short of “My Lord and Savior” anyway.

    So, I assume you’d agree that most people don’t want to be called “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies” instead of “theists” or “believers” and you’ll be chastising PZ and others who use such rhetoric in the future, right?

  65. Jon Winsor

    (Maybe important to clarify: my “ass cheeks” remark was a response to “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”‘s comment above.)

  66. Those of you who think that Sheril was claiming that all atheists deserve the term are way missing the point– that’s not what she said at all.

    No, that is precisely what she said — Jon Winsor’s comment explains why the language used communicates just what you deny was said. However, I doubt that’s what she meant to say. I’ve attempted to be generous and assume she simply meant that some atheists are fundamentalists. That’s no less wrong, but it’s a bit less obnoxious.

  67. llewelly

    >
    Science need not become universally synonymous with Godlessness because that certainly doesn’t win any converts

    Fact is, there are a good many people out there who feel manipulated and betrayed by religion. To these people associating science with atheism makes science it much, much more attractive.

  68. llewelly

    Based on experience, I believe it’s futile to battle over religion. With regard to PZ, what’s important to recognize is that he’s not alone in his views and represents a growing perspective.

    The fact that PZ’s perspective is ‘growing’ is a clear demonstration that his actions are anything but ‘futile’.

  69. llewelly

    It’s almost Howard Stern/Rush Limbaugh-esqu.

    I spent a few months listening to Rush’s show in the early 1990s. It was full of racism, jingoism, lies, and delusions. Those who claim to find any of that in PZ’s material (or, for that matter, Dawkins’ material) need to start providing links, specific references. So far, they’ve failed to do so.

  70. Jon Winsor

    Science doesn’t need “Converts”.

    Sure it does. Science education needs converts. Science policy needs converts.

    “saying no religion is a religion is like saying ‘off’ is a tv channel.”

    There’s no problem calling what you believe “not religion.” But, if you believe that no religion has any basis, and you along with others have a sustained program to ridicule it, then it sounds to me like a system of belief, with its own set of assumptions. And sometimes, assumptions are demonstrably wrong.

  71. Caledonian

    Y’know, I half suspect people are intentionally saying stupid things in an attempt to attract attention to their blogs.

    Science is more concerned with the evidence for positions than the social influence of the people who hold them. We are not a community founded on mutual respect for beliefs – quite the opposite, in fact. The scientific method is founded on not having ‘respect’ for beliefs merely because some person holds them, but in challenging and testing claims to the point of destruction.

    It seems lots of people here want to test claims to destruction. What about ScienceBlogs could be responsible for that, I wonder?

  72. John Wilkins responded to my “Want more peace across the deistic divide? Here’s one way to start. Call people what they’d like to be called, short of ‘My Lord and Savior’ anyway.” comment with: Does this mean agnostics don’t have to be called “weak atheists” any more?

    I certainly hope so. I won’t even call the IDers IDiots. It just seems juvenile and doomed to lower the level of discourse that way.

    Austin Cline uncorked this beauty: You’re trying to defend using “fundamentalist” in a manner that would denote that Christian fundamentalists are intolerant, closed-minded, ignorant, etc. just after you got done with an ad hominem-filled post attacking PZ for saying that theists are ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed.

    Wow. That’s hall of fame material.

    John Pieret asked: So, I assume you’d agree that most people don’t want to be called “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies” instead of “theists” or “believers” and you’ll be chastising PZ and others who use such rhetoric in the future, right?

    You assume incorrectly. I was, as I thought context made clear, talking about group identifying names, not general descriptions. I’ll call you an Intelligent Designer or Pro-lifer because that’s the name your group chose, despite my opinion that the name borders on deceptive. However, if I think you are ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies, I’m going to say so, at least within the normal boundaries of conversation. In some cases there’s an argument to be made that people NEED to be told this. I do however, think those are pretty rare.

    I also account for artistic license and sarcasm when people write for entertainment, and don’t think we should become utterance police and hold each other to the most inflammatory thing we ever chose to say. That too gets in the way of productive discourse.

    Finally, I think these labels should be used sparingly in serious contexts, preferably when the case is a solid one and not just a mere suspicion. Generally it should be avoided.

  73. uriel

    Here’s one way to start. Call people what they’d like to be called…

    For some reason, I get the feeling many theists thought the same thing when PZ was calling them “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies.” But I’m just contrary that way, I guess.

    That aside, I do have to say the view in this comment section is lovely. Its like some quaint harvest festival- So many strawmen. I wonder if building them is dangerous with such thin skin.

  74. uriel

    Sorry Science Avenger. I sat on that post rather too long, and didn’t notice that you had already addressed it. Probably should have realized that the conversation might have moved on in the hour or more since I read the post I quoted. Mea culpa.

    Also, just to be clear- the second part wasn’t targeted at you.

  75. John the Gnerphk

    I wonder if any of the composers of the above posts have read “Ishmael”, by Daniel Quinn.

    For those who haven’t, I should explain that Quinn uses his story to logically demonstrate the fundamental unreliability of modern science, using the same arguments Voltaire et al used to discredit religion.

    Faith is hardly inconsistent with science. Indeed, for any thinking individual to adhere to a set of physical laws that seems more incomprehensible day by day (chaos theory aside – or not, depending on one’s set conditions) requires a deal of faith. Indeed, I would define science as a modern religion, a post-Renaissance opiate for the masses.

    Don’t throw science away on my say-so, though. Just as it is logically impossible to disprove the supernatural (lit. “that which is beyond what we can observe”), it is equally problematic for one to attempt to ignore experimantal results and statistical analyses.

    Besides, even the intelligent masses of today require an opiate, it seems. Go back to sleep, and by all means pay your taxes.
    J

  76. Caledonian

    Faith is hardly inconsistent with science.

    Faith is utterly incompatible with science. The first requires “belief in things unseen”; the second requires sufficient evidence to justify positions. Faith reifies dogma; science tests hypotheses to destruction.

  77. John the Gnerphk wrote:
    Quinn uses his story to logically demonstrate the fundamental unreliability of modern science, using the same arguments Voltaire et al used to discredit religion.

    So, what exactly is Quinn’s definition of “science”? I don’t see that “demonstrating the fundamental unreliability of modern science” working unless you’ve got a straw man definition.

  78. Jon Winsor

    I don’t see that the social sciences invoke a different epistemology.

    Some social scientists do. I was thinking of the antipositivists.

  79. (Just posted this at PZ’s. Maybe we need shared comments’ sections for threads like this one and PZ’s, if they are supposed to lead somewhere productive?)

    I am a bit confused. What is the hypothesis behind this tedious and time-consuming experiment?

    Option 1: insulting people is great to reach the Top 5 emailed list. a) If you are a militant atheist, call stupid to whoever doesn’t agree. b) If ID fan, denounce personified evil. c) If somewhere in between, shout “fundamentalist!!!” in both directions.
    = Status: validated

    Option 2: insulting people not in one’s group will make them convert to one’s position.
    = Status: falsified

    Option 3: calling “the frontal enemy” names (doing so with people in group c, if you are a, and vicaeversa) will make the group in between (b) a solid ally.
    = Status: apparently falsified

    Option 4: insulting people not in one’s group will make all in-group members rally around.
    = Status: validated

    Option 5: getting all the in-group members rally around will be enough to create fundamental change in the pitiful science policy situation we live today in the US.
    =Status: ???? (but isn’t this what we are doing here?)

    I know I know. I can vote with my feet and try to learn about interesting topics elsewhere. I’d simply rather not to, given the great collection of bloggers here at SB.

  80. EEEO

    Sheril, you betray your profession by not researching before publishing. Surely a review of the respective definitions of “fundamentalism” and “atheism” would be advisable before drawing the conclusion they may be equivalent.

    Incidentally, you also use the word “convert” with respect to science. Unless your definition of science includes “belief system,” or “faith” I don’t see how one would “convert” to science. It’s as ludicrous as saying one “converted” to atheism.

  81. As an atheist, I don’t feel I have to respect anyone’s beliefs. I respect people’s right to hold their beliefs, however bizarre, deluded and flat-out wrong those beliefs might be. But the beliefs themselves are fair game, especially when they inspire evil acts, as so often happens with religion.

    This whole idea that religious belief gets a special pass exempting it from criticism has led to an unhealthy situation where believers keep upping the level of their outrage – e.g. Muslim mobs killing and rioting over a friggin’ cartoon fer chrissake. It’s like humoring a child’s tantrums – you’re only going to get more, and worse, tantrums.

    My viewpoint is that religion is a human construct and as such, subject to scrutiny, crticism and even ridicule just like any other human invention.

  82. Science Avenger:

    I’ll call you an Intelligent Designer or Pro-lifer because that’s the name your group chose … However, if I think you are ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies, I’m going to say so …

    I’m sorry, I’m missing the distinction. So you won’t point out that an Intelligent Design advocate is acting like a religious fundamentalist even if the lable fits and is relevant, just because IDers want to hide that fact?

    You presumably assert the right to use words descriptive of actions, attitudes and states, like “ignorant,” “deluded,” “wicked,” or “foolish” against IDers. Why is small “f” fundamentalist,” as defined in the dictionaries cited above (roughly, a rigid adherant to strongly held beliefs, coupled with intolerance for dissent within the group), not a descriptive term that is as fair to use in rhetorical attacks as “ignorant,” “deluded,” “wicked,” “foolish,” etc. are?

  83. This is an excerpt of a comment I just posted at Rob’s blog, that I think is very relevant to this conversation about fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is indeed just as possible in atheists as it is in theists. Though I think the accusation is not one that should be used lightly. Certainly, painting PZ or Dawkins with that brush is not very reasonable.

    It is no coincidence that the only people who accept the notion that acceptance of evolution is inherently atheistic, are extremists who are either religious or atheists. The further you go in either direction you will find that they agree that secular humanism is inherently atheistic. Until you reach the end (at least the furthest extreme that I have seen) where even the very notion of being a scientist is inherently atheistic.

    This is not just true of theism versus atheism, but in any ideological posturing. Take an extremist Marxist and contrast them with an extremist libertarian and you will see the very same thing. Even more bizarre, is that the desired ends are the same. With marxism v libertarianism, the goal is absolute power in the hands of the individual. With theism v atheism, it is a desire to find, or a belief in, an absolute truth. Keep in mind I am talking about fundamentalists, this is not meant to paint all theists or atheists, with the same brush. Ultimately this is the definition of fundamentalism, a belief in absolutes.

    This is what makes fundamentalism so appealing. Absolutes are easy. Absolutes are clean and comfortable. Unfortunately, life is not black and white. Life is neither clean or comfortable, at least not all the time. It takes great courage to face the reality that, no matter how hard we try, absolutes are hard to come by. Ideals are just that, ideals. It doesn’t mean we stop trying, most certainly we shouldn’t. I daresay that to even accept that the ideal cannot be achieved, is to accept defeat. What it does mean though, is that we should be ever skeptical, even fearful of those who make claims of absolute truth.

  84. For some reason, I get the feeling many theists thought the same thing when PZ was calling them “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies.” But I’m just contrary that way, I guess.

    You’re not being contrary, you’re just comparing apples and oranges. The quote from PZ isn’t a label he applies to others which they dislike, it’s a personal opinion about the nature of theism – and one which PZ will explain/support if asked.

    The principle of “calling people what they like to be called” isn’t a demand not to express one’s negative opinions about others, but rather a demand not to dishonestly mask those negative opinions through the use of misleading and false labels dressed up to look like they are neutral and objective descriptors. That’s precisely what we have with the application of the adjective “fundamentalist” to atheists: it’s an attack that’s made up to look neutral and objective, but it’s based on the vague use of an inappropriate terms which has been invested with nothing more than negative appellations. Sometimes we have a similar situation when atheists or liberal Christians deride someone as a “fundamentalist” when their theology is not fundamentalism at all.

    People who use it have the option of using specific labels (arrogant, obnoxious, intolerant), but those labels would not be clear attacks and they would have to be supported. If someone wishes to be critical of atheists or atheism, they should do so specifically and directly.

  85. John the Gnerphk

    In RE: the query about Quinn’s definition of science -
    Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. Read the book; he makes some great points. Commenting on the foolishness of a book you haven’t read is idiocy.

    Faith is not necessarily the belief in something you can’t see or understand. Faith is, instead, an adherence to an ideal or concept sufficiently powerful that one might act on that belief. One can exercise faith in the strength of a chair by sitting in it; occasionally, one bruises one’s posterior when one’s faith happens to be misplaced.

    And many people exercise faith in Darwin’s General Theory, never having read the man’s writings or studied other, more likely, concepts – Catastrophism, for example.

    I guess what I’m saying is that, while some of the comments in this post are thoughtful and well-reasoned, more simply reveal the ignorance, superstition, and fear of rational thought that governs the minds of some (not all) dogmatic atheists. You’re an embarrasment to your creed.

    Wake up, people! Read a book! Learn something!

    And above all, START THINKING!

  86. Far from shooting fish in a barrel, stomping the most ridiculous parts of Religion is blasting minnows in a teacup with a shotgun. Too easy.

    The atheists started one of the biggest spiritual movements in human history.

    The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous would never have been more than a historical whisper if it hadn’t been for the atheists demanding to choose no God, or, as it was eventually defined, God “as we understand God.”

    Since I got to choose, I went back before Religion, then back before people, to the power of the planet, then forward a bit to the shamans who understood and used that power.

    Seven years sober would never have happened with self-will. Believing, as the shamans do, that altering consciousness allows the spirit to heal, and using the power of the planet/universe to do so, is my approach.

    I’m glad for the atheists; I’m sad for the religious folks. All paths lead home. Some seem different, but in the beginning and the end, they’re all the same.

  87. Caledonian

    Faith is not necessarily the belief in something you can’t see or understand. Faith is, instead, an adherence to an ideal or concept sufficiently powerful that one might act on that belief.

    1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.

    2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.

    3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.

    The dictionary doesn’t seem to agree with you.

  88. Luna_the_cat

    Austin Cline:

    For some reason, I get the feeling many theists thought the same thing when PZ was calling them “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies.” But I’m just contrary that way, I guess.

    You’re not being contrary, you’re just comparing apples and oranges. The quote from PZ isn’t a label he applies to others which they dislike, it’s a personal opinion about the nature of theism – and one which PZ will explain/support if asked.

    No, “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed victims of obsolete mythologies” was NOT a label PZ applied to theism — it was a set of labels he applied to theists. And, um, yes, I think it’s a fair assumption that they disliked it.

    The fact that he is willing to explain/support his characterisation is also irrelevant. Numerous people have explained/supported the applicability of the label “fundamentalist atheist”, too. Neither target population in either situation accepts the explanation and support as being valid, either, providing yet another point of synchrony.

    The rest of your comment was somewhat ironic. You see “fundamentalist” as an insult dressed up to look like an objective descriptor, whereas you seem to think that calling someone either “deluded, wicked or foolish” or “obnoxious and arrogant” would not be perceived as, say…an insult in the form of an objective descriptor?

  89. Faith is not necessarily the belief in something you can’t see or understand. Faith is, instead, an adherence to an ideal or concept sufficiently powerful that one might act on that belief.

    Bait and switch. Faith in the unknowable, such as religion is based on, is not the same as faith in that a chair will hold ones weight. If the book, as you suggest, places these type of faith as equal, then the book is not worth reading. If it doesn’t, why did you resort to the bait and switch trick (and fallacy)? If your judgment is so bad you willingly commit fallacies, why should we trust your judgment about a book, which you additionally paint up as using fallacious reasoning?

  90. The principle of “calling people what they like to be called” isn’t a demand not to express one’s negative opinions about others, but rather a demand not to dishonestly mask those negative opinions through the use of misleading and false labels dressed up to look like they are neutral and objective descriptors.

    In what way is the use of the term “fundamentalist” an “objective descriptor,” except when capital “F” “Fundamentalism” is used for a particular group of Christians who self-identify with the term? The usage is (almost) always a term of abuse applied by adherents of one position to their opponents rather than anything that could be taken as “objective.” Gould certainly wasn’t being “objective” when he used “Darwinian Fundamentalism to describe Daniel Dennett’s position. Nor are these people when they use terms like “fundamentalist capitalism;” “fundamentalist environmentalism;” or “fundamentalist feminism.”

    That’s the whole point of this kind of rhetoric – the “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish and fundamentalist” are supposed to feel denigrated by terms they object having applied to them! The only question is whether the pot has the right to object when the kettle gets its own back.

  91. Jon Winsor

    If someone wishes to be critical of atheists or atheism, they should do so specifically and directly.

    My best criticisms were in the links I included in my comments above. I don’t think those criticisms are that hard to understand. And since this nuance is bound to be lost, I should say I have no arguments with atheism, but with a certain type of atheism.

  92. solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short

    Okay, John the Gnerphk, I’m up. Stop yelling.

    “One can exercise faith in the strength of a chair by sitting in it; occasionally, one bruises one’s posterior when one’s faith happens to be misplaced.”

    If a chair looks rickety but functional, what I’ll do is, I’ll test my hypothesis that I can sit on it by exerting some force using my palm and forearm.

    Anyway, back to my superstitious atheism, whatever the hell that means (wondering aloud “who’s next?” when two celebrities die within a few days of each other, I guess).

  93. Jon Winsor

    The dictionary doesn’t seem to agree with you.

    There’s more than three items in that definition you cited.

  94. Graculus

    if you believe that no religion has any basis, and you along with others have a sustained program to ridicule it, then it sounds to me like a system of belief, with its own set of assumptions.

    That makes absolutely no sense.

    A sustained program is a system of belief? Who knew that weeding my garden was a religion?

  95. Can one tolerate and respect a belief at the same time? Is that coherent?

    To tolerate something, you have to dislike it first. If you like it, there is no need to tolerate it.

    If you dislike a belief, it can be because of relatively inconsequential reasons (esthetically displeasing, inane, merely annoying…) or for more important reasons (harmful, luring but dangerous…). There is usually no reason to respect the former, and there is plenty of reason to respect, but not tolerate the latter.

    There are probably some beliefs that can rationally be both respected and tolerated, but, if so, they are rare.

    We can tolerate some beliefs and respect most persons. That is the only constructive recipe for tolerance that is neither self-defeating nor self-deceiving.

  96. Paul A

    Just maybe, when we’re open to alternative views, everyone wins.

    Sorry, but I’m never going to be open to views that are patently ridiculous and full of unsubstantiated supernatural claims. That leaves religion off-limits to me and I can’t see how that is a bad thing. What I am open to is evidence. Show me the evidence for your claims and I’ll examine it, if it’s strong enough then chances are I’ll end up agreeing with you. Otherwise it’s just so much hot air.

    not willing to listen to those who hold other perspectives.

    The thing is we’ve been forced to listen to religious views all our lives and those views are never backed up with any more than “because my magic book says so”. I believe that’s a major reason why advocates of atheism can become so heated and end up accused of fundamentalism, as ridiculous as that is. We’ve encouraged rational debate on the subject but been met with nothing more than handwaving and superstition, it’s incredibly frustrating.

  97. Jon Winsor

    A sustained program is a system of belief?

    So I’m out on a crusade, out cure everyone of their belief in Abrahamic religion, and presumably all other forms of religion. Well that means I’ve got the goods and they don’t. Richard Dawkins doesn’t think his subject matter is worth serious study because he already knows what there is to know. For Dawkins, a scientific education means that he’s got nothing to learn from his chosen subject of study.

    So that’s a system of belief. He’s confident that scientific materialism covers all he needs to consider. In fact, he’s so certain about what he believes, that he feels that he can ridicule people he hasn’t taken the time to understand.

    So yes, there’s a belief. It’s a belief that doesn’t want to be aware of itself as a belief, because that might mean engaging in dialogue, when the perferred mode of discouse for someone like Dawkins is monologue.

  98. I wrote:
    I’ll just add that preaching to the converted is fine, but it doesn’t change much.

    To which ice weasel replied:

    Poppycock. Then why do religionists preach to their flocks every week? There is value in reinforcing knowledge and message. And frankly, whenever I read a comment such as Fred’s above, I know I’ve run into a concern troll, not someone really attempting to “help me”. (emphasis mine)

    That’s why I said preaching to the converted is fine. I agree with you, weasel, but you call my statement poppycock and accuse me of being a troll. You clearly haven’t been around here very much to say that.

    But reinforcement is not change. As a writer, I’m in the business of changing minds, which is why I like interacting with people who disagree with me.

    In my writing for children, I’m also a teacher. Both Sagan and Dawkins are marvelous teachers of science. I gave Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale high praise in my review (click my name). But when it comes to interacting with people who have a different religious perspective, and possibly changing their minds, Sagan is far more effective than Dawkins.

  99. Luna:

    And, um, yes, I think it’s a fair assumption that they disliked it.

    I’ll assume it, too. I’m not aware of PZ being obligated to only say things that other people like. He, however, is at least clear and specific in what he says — he doesn’t misappropriate neutral words in order to mask what he wants to say. He does not, for example, define “evangelical” as “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish” then apply that label to all Christians irrespective of their actual theological position.

    The fact that he is willing to explain/support his characterisation is also irrelevant.

    No, it’s not. By being specific in his complaints, he can be challenged and required to support his specific allegations. People who use the vague “fundamentalist” label attempt to avoid just this.

    Numerous people have explained/supported the applicability of the label “fundamentalist atheist”, too.

    No, they haven’t. They have repeated their use of it over and over, and one pretends that because words evolve then this change is OK, but that’s it. No one has tried to explain or defend this radically new definition of “fundamentalism,” much less why it rather than the specific allegations should be applied to atheists who are critical of religious theism.

    The rest of your comment was somewhat ironic. You see “fundamentalist” as an insult dressed up to look like an objective descriptor, whereas you seem to think that calling someone either “deluded, wicked or foolish” or “obnoxious and arrogant” would not be perceived as, say…an insult in the form of an objective descriptor?

    No, the latter is a straightforward criticism which some will find insulting. The former is an attempt to mask the this and avoid taking personal responsibility for what one wants to say. A person who wants to criticize atheism or atheists should do so directly and specifically, not misuse religious labels in order to score rhetorical points.

    The simple fact is that some theists are defining “fundamentalist” incorrectly and inappropriately solely for the purpose of attacking atheists without appearing to do so. It’s lazy, cowardly, and dishonest. Let them say what they really think openly and directly so their claims can be evaluated. If they can’t be open and honest in what they think, then they simply have nothing to contribute to the discussion.

    John:

    In what way is the use of the term “fundamentalist” an “objective descriptor,”

    In this context it’s not. That’s part of my point.

    The only question is whether the pot has the right to object when the kettle gets its own back.

    There is no pot/kettle dichotomy unless both sides are doing the same thing. In this case, they are not: some atheists are forthright and honest in expressing their complaints about theism while some theists are lazy and dishonest by masking their criticisms. This are misusing an otherwise neutral term by investing it with inappropriate negative connotations so they don’t have to be specific and support their allegations.

    Now, if PZ starts using “evangelical” in a manner like I describe above while criticizing the “fundamentalist” label when applied to atheists, then you’ll have a pot/kettle argument to make.

    Jon:

    My best criticisms were in the links I included in my comments above.

    One of those links was an extended diatribe on so-called “fundamentalist” atheism which, in turn, relied on an intellectually dishonest writer — all of which I have already addressed.

    I should say I have no arguments with atheism, but with a certain type of atheism.

    Based on what I have read, you have made no criticisms of any type of atheism, but of the behavior and attitudes of some atheists. The failure to distinguish between the two is part of what leads some to think that the label “fundamentalist atheism” makes any sense in the first place.

  100. Ms. Krieger

    Thanks to DuWayne for bringing up an inspirational point–that reasoned and respectful debate can change people’s beliefs.

    Sheril’s original post suggested this as well, by criticizing the self-defeating behavior of a lot of atheists on the web. Atheists who refer to theists as as wackos, superstitious, primitive,non-rational, etc., and refer to G-d as a myth, an imaginary friend, etc., are alienating a lot of otherwise reasonable people. Reasonable people who would support scientific education in public schools, evidence-based medicine,
    government funding for research, etc.

    Why do many of these atheists in the science community, who pride themselves on their reason, believe that alienating all of the theists who would otherwise support the cause of scientific inquiry and public education is rational? It seems like there’s something going on…the “debate” is framed oddly. Many atheists base their arguments on
    ridiculing simplified, childish ideas from the Judeo-Christian literature (creationism, the Flood story, etc.) Most religious faiths have much more to them than their childrens’ stories, so maybe their arguments reflect ignorance. Maybe they’re just examples of typical rhetorical technique. But you could take a lot of atheist arguments and simply substitute global warming vocabulary and you’d replicate something issuing from the mouth of Sen. James Inhofe or another global warming denier. And as most of us know, the GW-denier arguments sound good initially but are full of holes and obvious logical fallacies.

    So why is there this pointlessly divisive “us”, i.e. atheists, against “them” (theists) mentality?

    Something for the more nuanced voices on this comment thread to consider: Is there a way to frame the discussion about religion and science to shut out the childish rhetoric and easy hits from the (a)theist extremists?

    Cheers,

    Kim

  101. On this general topic, over at Framing Science I have the following post up advocating for the critical evaluation of the New Atheist Movement, spotlighting recent insights from the philosopher Phil Kitcher..

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/07/phil_kitcher_and_a_critical_ex.php

  102. Jon Winsor

    I think some of the reverse culture warriors on this site might want to have look at the way the German intellegentia have traditionally looked at religion. Here’s an article in a British magazine about a public meeting between Jurgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger (the Pope):

    [The meeting's] conciliatory tone will come as a particular surprise to English readers. Here, the periodic spectacle of “science versus religion” has acquired something of the character of a Punch and Judy show. (See Richard Dawkins’s piece on “Gerin oil” in last month’s Prospect.) Things are different in Germany. There, the long tradition of Kulturprotestantismus–a diffuse, non-denominational religiosity–guarantees the churches widespread respect, if not attendance. The German philosophers, although rarely conventionally pious, always took religion seriously. Not for them the sneering scepticism of Hume or Russell. Habermas is in this tradition. Like Kant and Adorno, his aim is to disentangle religion’s ethical vision from its dogmatic claims.

    I’ve found some of Ratzinger’s public statements really objectionable. And I’m not at all interested in looking up his writings (Habermas, on the other hand, is really interesting). But there is something to be gained from moving beyond “the Punch and Judy show” that this article mentions.

    And again, the Anglo-American Hume/Russell/Dawkins tradition of scientific materialism is not the only game in town…

  103. Austin:

    In what way is the use of the term “fundamentalist” an “objective descriptor,”

    In this context it’s not. That’s part of my point.

    But neither does it have to be. It can just be rhetoric.

    Your complaint was that the term was masquerading as an “objective descriptor,” while I’m maintaining that the term is not so understood and gave examples of such usage. It is, and is understood as, a non-objective expression of opinion about the nature of a certain type of atheist/atheism, that falls exactly within the same rhetorical stripe as PZ’s “ignorant, deluded, wicked and foolish” description of theists.

    The amount of the heat it elicits from atheists suggests it strikes rather closer to the bone than they like, more than the existence of any impropriety of usage.

  104. Jon Winsor

    Austin Cline — I think anyone who has read through my comments and the things I linked to has a good idea of my criticisms and who I’m criticizing. The Mahablog link has a lot more to it than the article you mention. There’s also the Alternet article, the Terry Eagleton Op-ed, and the David Weinberger link. There’s plenty of specifics in there. I’m not going to go line by line and argue each point, which would be tedious, and chances are it would miss the forest for the trees.

    If you want to know what I don’t have a problem with, I thought this Bill Moyers piece with Jonathan Miller was thoughtful without the monological bluster and aggression.

  105. MK

    Brilliant piece in latest issue of free Inquiry by Richard Dawkins. Do check it out.

  106. John the Gnerphk

    Jesper Anderson:

    You’ve fallen victim to an error in your assumptions, and are presenting me with a circular argument to demonstrate your point.

    Should one presume from the outset that faith demands an unknowable, one concludes that anything one has faith in is unknowable. If, however, one accepts that faith may be exercised regardless of the condition of the object thereof, one gains a useful tool thereby.
    My contention is that science, like religion (or sometimes just sitting in a chair) demands faith. This presents a similarity between the two (three) concepts and demonstrates that we all, in one way or another, exercise faith in our daily lives.

    The scientific method is useful, but only to disprove an hypothesis. It is virtually impossible to prove something using it; take Newton’s Laws of Motion relative to quantum physics as a prime example. And yet, reversion to an earlier (say an Aristotelian) mode of thought advances us little; sometimes, we simply don’t understand “Why?” or “How?”, and (at least in quantum mechanics) we logically can’t.

    So I’d make the perhaps heretical claim that science is a religion, an opiate for the intelligent portion of the masses. Modern science (post-Newton, if not post-Heisenberg) requires faith to function, as does an economy, a political system, or any other religion. The only difference is that most science doesn’t tell us about the soul or the afterlife, or for that matter what came before the Big Bang.
    It can also be said that functional atheism requires faith. It is, after all, logically problematic to attempt to disprove the supernatural, and I’d challenge anyone to disprove the existence of God. (Yes, I’ve read Voltaire and Neitzche. They couldn’t do it.)

    But again, don’t waste your time baiting me about the works of an author you haven’t read. Read “Ishmael”; it’ll be educational.
    Heck, try reading the Torah, the Koran, the New Testament, or even the Book of Mormon or L. Ron Hubbard’s books. You’ll gain an interesting perspective on religion, and you’ll be less susceptible to the charge that you’re a closed-minded, ignorant, dogmatic fundamentalist atheist.
    (Not that I’d ever call you that. I don’t even know you.)

    And support your local used bookstore! Reduce, reuse, recycle!
    -J

  107. Caledonian

    The amount of the heat it elicits from atheists suggests it strikes rather closer to the bone than they like, more than the existence of any impropriety of usage.

    Unless having their position compared once again to a religious subgroup known for their irrationality and dogmatism irritated the atheists for some reason.

  108. Unless having their position compared once again to a religious subgroup known for their irrationality and dogmatism irritated the atheists for some reason.

    Well, as I’ve shown (and I have even more examples now) the usage of calling someone a “fundamentalist X” has moved well beyond the connotation of a specific religious group to include descriptions of feminists, capitalists, socialists, communists, environmentalists, and many more. It now means someone who holds to narrow beliefs so strongly that s/he displays intolerance toward dissent, especially within his/her group.

    But the term is certainly intended to irritate, just as theists are supposed to be irritated by being called “ignorant, deluded, wicked and foolish.” The reaction by atheists here has gone well beyond irritation to such excesses as claiming that Sheril is a “fool” or “a religious wacko” or is attempting to “mislabel non-belief as belief” and so forth.

    Maybe atheists should invest in some mirrors.

  109. Caledonian

    It now means someone who holds to narrow beliefs so strongly that s/he displays intolerance toward dissent, especially within his/her group.

    Then it seems our society has been totally dominated by round-Earth fundamentalists, who don’t tolerate dissent about whether the Earth is flat or roughly spherical. How terrible!

  110. Then it seems our society has been totally dominated by round-Earth fundamentalists, who don’t tolerate dissent about whether the Earth is flat or roughly spherical.

    Ah, so you are claiming that the non-existence of God is so clearly demonstrable by empiric evidence that dissent from it is in the same category as dissent from the shape of the Earth?

    If so, I’m afraid that you are merely proving the point of those who use the fundamentalist term.

  111. Atheism need not equate with fundamentalism. PZ’s brand, on the other hand, clearly does. There is no debate with him and his followers.

    Their mantra: “religion is evil. That is all.”

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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