Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself

By Chris Mooney | June 3, 2009 9:29 am

I will be responding in some detail to this post by Jerry Coyne, which is itself a response to my recent arguments on the subject of science and religion (a major topic, and developed in considerably more detail, in Unscientific America). But for now I just want to clear one point out of the way, concerning my previous writings on this subject.

At the intro to his post, Coyne notes that way back when I had a Slate article–a review of the 2001 PBS series Evolution–which pretty much argued that it’s bogus to pretend that evolution is not corrosive to religious belief. The piece (as I read it today) really only had one paragraph that substantively makes this argument, but here it is:

Evolution’s attempt to divorce Darwinian science from atheism, though well intentioned, is finally naive. Darwinism presents an explanation for life’s origins that lacks any supernatural element and emphasizes a cruel and violent process of natural selection that is tough to square with the notion of a benevolent God. Because of this, many students who study evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown up with. What’s insidious is that Evolution allows fundamentalists to say this, but not evolutionists. The miniseries interviews several experts who could be expected to oppose the reconciliation outlook, notably Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, who has written, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But neither Dennett nor Dawkins gets much of a say on the topic of religion.

I don’t entirely disagree with this–especially the observation that “Many students who study evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown up with.” I think that’s very true, and all to the good. Still, I would not have written the Slate piece today….

…indeed, I find my work from 2001 on this topic pretty unsatisfying. I guess you could say I’ve changed my view; certainly I’ve changed my emphasis. A lot more reading in philosophy and history has moved me toward a more accomodationist position. So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars. That’s especially so when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways, or (worse still) with the bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance that I have encountered in such discussions.

I am as much an atheist as I have ever been–and I have been one essentially since birth. But I am also much more interested in liberal tolerance (in the classical sense) and in finding common solutions than I am in eradicating religion (if that’s even possible) or in making other people think like I do. I’ll have more on all of this soon as I respond to Coyne.

P.S.: From here on out I’m arguing just for me–these are not Barbara Forrest’s arguments. I believe I accurately summarized her talk in my last post–and I hope that when it’s published or otherwise available, folks will read her excellent paper–but she’s not to be held responsible for anything I say.

P.P.S.: I also note that that Slate piece was published just 13 days after 9/11, an event that gave considerable force to the “New Atheist” movement, for obvious reasons. I know that at the time I was also feeling many of the same things that Sam Harris would soon articulate in The End of Faith; but again, my views have since tempered and changed.

Comments (106)

  1. Jerry Coyne

    Look, if you’re going to characterize my arguments as “flailing indiscriminately against religion,” I’m not interested in continuing this discussion. They are not flailing, and they’re not indiscriminate. And there is a purpose to all the New Atheist criticism: to lessen the moral authority and hegemony of religion in our society. It is not “indiscriminate flailing” by any means. So lay off the rhetoric, please.

  2. I don’t characterize your arguments as “flailing indiscriminately against religion” (and didn’t). Please, let’s continue.

  3. Jon

    ” I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars. That’s especially so when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways, or (worse still) with the bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance that I have encountered in such discussions.”

    That’s right on. Nice work.

  4. Alan P

    Chris, I’m an indeperndent observer and I read into your statement “when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways” as including Jerry.

  5. Matt Penfold

    Chris,

    Who are these moderate Christians you want to keep on side ? And why do you assume that disagreeing with them alientates them ?

    The Catholic Church may agree with you about creationism not being science, but does that mean we have to stop criticising them for their policies on stem cell research, gay rights, abortion and child abuse by the Clergy ?

    And as for your claims the moderate religious will be alienated, the evidence from the UK does not support you. Richard Dawkins is, supposedly, a very divisive figure. Yet he was able to join with other scientists and religious leaders to condem attempts to teach creationism in a UK school.

    There is far more wrong with religion than simply the simply the attempts by some to have creationism taught as science. Creationism is simply a sympton of a greater malaise.

  6. I find the accomodationist issue to be … well, misguided. Those sects that reject evolution (and other scientific findings) are doing so for entirely theological reasons, and they’re at odds with other sects that don’t reject science. This denominational split isn’t a scientific issue, notwithstanding that many science-denial screeds may be sprinkled with science-sounding terms. Some religious sects are science-deniers, and some scientists are theism-deniers. But so what?

    It’s clear that science doesn’t inevitably result in atheism, although the two are compatible — as are science and some versions of theism. My own view is to let the religious sects debate the issue of science-denial among themselves. It’s not our problem.

  7. Jon

    This is a matter of 1) being informed (in terms of the philosophical issues, etc.), and 2) choosing your battles wisely.

    Some people think if they shout loud enough, ridicule loud enough, we’re on the verge of sweeping aside all religion. That’s seriously naive.

    And potentially politically dangerous too. There’s nothing people on the political right want more than a big fat culture war on the subject of religion to distract everyone from the real public discussions we need.

  8. I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars. That’s especially so when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways, or (worse still) with the bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance that I have encountered in such discussions.

    I don’t characterize your arguments as “flailing indiscriminately against religion” (and didn’t). Please, let’s continue.

    So, who were you talking about? Because when I read the first quoted passage I thought, “that sounds a helluva lot like Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers”.

    Of course, from Jerry’s POV, he’s not doing it… but that’s sure what it looks like to even a sympathetic atheist like myself. Bob only knows what it looks like to the believers of the world.

  9. I’m all for “lessen[ing] the moral authority and hegemony of religion in our society “, but that has bumpkus to do with biology – and biologists who pretend it does are doing a disservice to their craft.

  10. Cameron

    Jerry makes a point that has not been addressed by Chris or others of like minded philosophy: What has accomodationism accomplished in the last 25 years in bridging the science/religion gap? How has it been a more successful strategy?

  11. Anthony McCarthy

    1. Jerry Coyne Says:
    Look, if you’re going to characterize my arguments as “flailing indiscriminately against religion,” I’m not interested in continuing this discussion. They are not flailing, and they’re not indiscriminate.

    And that would be the reason for Coyne’s use of this in his first indiscriminate slam against religion using the Daniel Hauser case on May 9.

    With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.

    –Steven Weinberg

    And this is how he ended that post:

    This is a life-or-death conflict between science, which can save the child, and religion, which is killing him. No conflict here? What would Francis Collins say?

    Coyne’s blog isn’t very old and it’s pretty easy to navigate, so anyone who is interested in looking at the evidence can find it without much trouble.

  12. First, I read the “flailing” as including Coyne.

    Second, I don’t entirely see the problem with less genteel objections to religion. As someone who delights in intellectually challenging argumentation and philosophical discussions, I put a high value on such paths to challenging religion. However, the majority of people haven’t much of a care for these avenues, and I dare say most were never hooked into a religion nor continue to adhere to their religion due to sophisticated philosophical or historical arguments, so why should it be assumed not just that such arguments would disengage them from religion, but that such arguments are the only means to do so?

    I very much like Coyne’s comment about the intent of New Atheist criticism: “to lessen the moral authority and hegemony of religion in our society.” A sophisticated line of argumentation will succeed in both intellectual circles and in legal challenges against the impositions of religion, but I would argue such an approach alone will not address the real force of religion, and that’s the hearts and minds of society. Surveys show it’s virtually impossible for an atheist to get elected to any political office. Most people believe you can’t be moral without religion. Most people think you can’t be a true American without belief in a god. The allowances for religious exemptions are causing havoc in America by way of kids not being vaccinated and in dire circumstances like Madeline Neumann. Calm, reasoned arguments alone are going to address such things? I’d say no, that such things do require emotional outrage, and comments which are “unsophisticated” with “bile” and “negativity”.

    I also want to address this sentiment of not wanting to contribute to the culture wars, as if conflict itself is the problem, so that tolerance and appeasement are the solutions to achieve “peace in our time”. There are things worth fighting for, things worthy of outrage, things which require unsophisticated, passionate pleas and fist waving. Unfortunately, for some things there simply exists no “common solutions”. Giving peace a chance is great, but there are some times when it can’t deliver. Furthermore, peace should indeed be sought, but never at any cost. There are things worth fighting for, things which are more highly prized and more substantially rewarding to humanity than peace at any cost.

  13. Jon

    This is a life-or-death conflict between science, which can save the child, and religion, which is killing him.

    Gosh. Culture war much?

    “Religion” “killing” children? Sounds like indescriminate language to me. Isn’t that more the language you’d expect from Operation Rescue, as opposed to a mature, educated, science-minded person?

  14. Magnetic Lobster

    Chris,

    Your position is ludicrous. You’ve attacked Coyne for expressing his ideas as part of a book review. You’ve failed to demonstrate how Coyne’s piece is the least bit rude or disrespectful. You’ve essentially asserted that Coyne should censor himself, apparently because you think your accommodationist position is right and it becomes easier if people who disagree with you remain silent. Outrageous.

  15. Come on, Chris – if you didn’t mean to describe Jerry and the other ‘new atheists’ as ‘flailing indiscriminately against religion’ then what did you mean? The logic of what you say there seems to be that that’s exactly what you meant.

    “I guess you could say I’ve changed my view; certainly I’ve changed my emphasis. A lot more reading in philosophy and history has moved me toward a more accomodationist position. So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars.”

    You’re defending the accomodationist position and contrasting it with ‘flailing indiscriminately against religion’ in a post that replies to one by Jerry disagreeing with that position. How can you possibly expect anyone to read ‘flailing indiscriminately against religion’ as not applying to Jerry and anti-accommodationists in general?

    That phrase jumped right out at me, and I made a note of it along with a note of what’s wrong with it before I read any further. I think that should tell you something. It’s a sloppy bit of rhetoric, a classic strawman, and it’s just evasive to say ‘I didn’t mean you!’ Come on – fight fair.

  16. J.J.E.

    Chris, your disavowal rings hollow. If this post is your throat clearing to a more detailed and nuanced rebuttal to Coyne’s engagement with you, then what point is there even in bringing up the topic of “flailing indiscriminately against religion” if you didn’t intend to apply it to Coyne? And even if you misspoke, how can you blithely ignore the perfectly reasonable inference that those sentiments were intended for Coyne instead of someone else who doesn’t pertain to the post? The reader is left with three conclusions:

    1) You really did intend to call out Coyne;
    2) You are prone to non sequiturs;
    3) You were setting up a strawman to make the appearance of a rhetorical victory more likely.

    And to get back to the subject at hand, are you seriously arguing for the position that people should withhold serious and sincere arguments simply because those arguments might offend people who may or may not wield their political power in incovenient ways? Are you really arguing that it is acceptable to condone by silence the notions that God loving sentient beings are inevitable or that God acts invisibly through tinkering around the quantum edges? Do you think that professional science and science education organizations should promote the work of people who actively mix the supernatural with the scientific as a way of reconciling science and religion?

  17. Jon

    There are things worth fighting for, things which are more highly prized and more substantially rewarding to humanity than peace at any cost.

    OK, so fighting for a pure atheist movement, actively alienating liberal religious people, is more important than any other civic goal? Anything less than a pure, religion-free society is too great a cost?

  18. Davo

    I am sorry but I have to agree with the others; after focusing specifically on Coyne’s post, it is hard to take seriously your claim that “flailing indiscriminately against religion” was not supposed to apply to Coyne.

    However, I have said this once and I say this again. By focusing on Coyne’s criticism of Miller or Collins or anyone else, we are getting sidetracked from the main issue. Coyne has spent more time than perhaps any one of us in attacking ID and creationism for what they are. His critique of Miller et al. should be a relatively minor distraction from a much bigger and important issue. I don’t see why you are getting so hung up on Coyne vs Miller et al.

  19. Matt Penfold

    What does Chris mean by a “continuation of the culture wars” ?

    If fighting a culture war means that one day gays will not be treated like second class citizens, that woman will have easy access to contraception and abortion services, and that scientists will be allowed to carry out research that has the potential to cure millions of what are now incurable diseases then count me in a warrior in those wars. It is religion that seeks to deny gays the same rights as the rest of us, that considers woman as little more than baby incubators and who wants to stop stem cell research.

  20. J.J.E.

    @Jon (#17),

    So, can you point to the so-called “pure atheist movement”? I’d be rather interested learning about such a thing, though I haven’t come across despite reading such “New Atheists” as Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens. Incidentally, I don’t include Coyne in that lot because his public writings to date deal almost exclusively with the intrusion of faith and science, and not with direct critiques on faith. (Although if he ventured in that direction, I’d read it too.)

  21. Let’s put it this way. Taking the subject to be an argument that accommodationism is a good idea, try arguing that in a way that will actually seem reasonable to people who think accommodationism is a bad idea. That would entail rephrasing “So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars” in such a way that anti-accommodationsts will think it describes their views accurately as opposed to tendentiously. In other words, Chris, try descibing what we think we’re doing in a way that we could agree with, as opposed to a way we obviously won’t agree with.

    You could say, for instance, “”So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by explaining why religion is incompatible with scientific inquiry, other than a continuation of the culture wars.”

    Of course that has the drawback of making your own position seem more unreasonable, since it’s more obvious what’s to be gained by explaining why religion is incompatible with scientific inquiry – but at least you wouldn’t be perpetrating an obvious strawman fallacy. That would be a gain.

  22. Jon

    Matt Penfold– You have to understand the way the culture wars work. They are not real debate. They are a populist, identity-politics-filled destraction. The idea is to generate as much heat and as little light as possible.

  23. “What does Chris mean by a ‘continuation of the culture wars’ ?”

    I think he means making sure that the battle lines are clearly drawn with ‘religion’ on the other side of it. Defectors to our side, whether the issue is acceptance of science or acceptance of gay or women’s rights, will not be tolerated. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, don’t you know.

  24. mk

    Well… I am looking forward to the more detailed response, but this was an very unfortunate beginning. Was hoping for something better, more thoughtful.

    @ Cameron…

    Yes indeed. Good question. I asked it in an earlier thread myself. Let’s really have a look at the two (probably more) approaches and try to determine which is more successful.

  25. Matt Penfold

    Matt Penfold– You have to understand the way the culture wars work. They are not real debate. They are a populist, identity-politics-filled destraction. The idea is to generate as much heat and as little light as possible.

    So how do we counter the anti-science, homophobia and mysogony that is all too prevalent in religion ? The reason the religious oppose things like abortion, gay rights, stem cell research etc is not becuase they have arrived at position based on an understanding of the evidence, although they dishonestly try claim they have done. They arrive at the position they do because they think their holy book gives them the answers. We need to disabuse them of the notion that “my god says so” is an acceptable position to take.

  26. Methinks that a slightly different use of language might have saved some of the keystrokes that followed the post. Just my humble opinion.

  27. Being nice and polite, of course, that should be the way. Like someone once said: Peace on Earth for men of good will…

    But unfortunately, these are not religious moderates who are taking a stand. If religious moderates were politically dominant in places where they can have an influence, there would be no one trying to impose creationism in school books, there would be no leader saying “God gave this land to our people”, and each time somebody would say “Kill them all, that’s God’s will”, there would be an army of religious moderates to say “no way”.

  28. Anthony McCarthy

    I wonder how many of the people who are defending Coyne have any familiarity with his blog, though applying a standard to themselves that they reject for their opponents is one of a number of things the “new atheists” have with old line religious fundamentalism.

    How about this bizarre display of indiscriminate flailing from May 27:

    I am funded by the NIH, and I’m worried. Not about my own funding (although I’m a heathen cultural Jew), but about how this will affect things like stem-cell research and its funding. If appointed, Collins will have wide latitude in how to disperse the $30 billion annual budget, and can steer it towards or away from various projects. I’d be much more comfortable with someone whose only agenda was science, and did not feel compelled to set up a highly-publicized website demonstrating how he reconciles his science with Jesus. (Truthdig has published Sam Harris’s evisceration of Collins’s wacko book.)

    We are just recovering from the theocracy of G. W. Bush, and I was happy that federally-funded stem-cell research was allowed to go ahead. Now what will happen? This is NOT a presidential appointment designed to smooth the waters roiled by our previous administration.
    ———-

    Coyne goes more than a few bubbles out of level when it comes to Collins, though he’s never very steady outside of his area of professional competence. As one of the comments on the thread pointed out, Collins has supported stem cell research, Coyne apparently thinks he’s above finding out if what he posts is accurate, which isn’t a good sign in a non-fiction author.

    So, a blacklist? No faith heads allowed?

    Among the “new atheists”, yes, slamming religion is the paramount goal, even basic honesty and accuracy isn’t too high a price to pay for that.

  29. Pascal,
    For an army of religious moderates saying ‘no way” on creationism, how is this? Does 11,931 Christian clergy count as an army of religious moderates?

    http://www.butler.edu/clergyproject/

    Curious,
    Quite to the contrary, my experience is that whenever I say anything about science and religion, some commenters who disagree with me inevitably find something to object to–usually something to the side that distracts from the main point; indeed, usually a small phrase. This is so even in a post like this one, which merely charts my personal evolution on this topic.

    I think this very phenomenon says a great deal about the tenor of such debates, which are (in my view) unfortunately conducted in very divisive and unproductive ways. We will try to do it differently here at the Intersection, although there is only so much you can do, and very bad habits have been bred in the blogosphere in relation to such dialogues.

    Nevertheless, I have decided that it is time to stand up and make the very important argument for why we need to approach the highly divisive subject of religion very differently if we want to forge an American culture that has a better relationship with science. And I myself will continue trying to make my point as best I can, using the most accurate language that I can. But it is noteworthy that we have now put the point in a book as well as on a blog: That’s where our most extensive and well developed arguments can be found, and where they will be treated most seriously, at least by some readers. And I would request that anyone who wants to assess my views will read our book, in addition to anything we write on the blog.

    Thanks

    Chris

  30. Pierce R. Butler

    It does take chutzpah to combine complaints against “those who flail against religion” and “bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance” into one sentence.

    Can you cite from “reading in philosophy and history” where accommodationism has prevailed in the absence of more militant (assertive/aggressive/strident/shrill) approaches? Bueller? Anyone?

  31. Matt Penfold

    “Nevertheless, I have decided that it is time to stand up and make the very important argument for why we need to approach the highly divisive subject of religion very differently if we want to forge an American culture that has a better relationship with science.”

    Chris, I think I have found why so many do not agree with you.

    This is not only about science and not only about America. I have had this argument with you before, and still you do not seem to realise the problems posed by religion extend far beyond the shores of the US, and impinge on far more than just science. For example, here in the UK there is not much debate over the teaching of creationism, or whether stem cell research should take place. Sure there religious people arguing that ID/Creationism should be taught, and that it is immoral to create embyoes for scientific research but they do not have political power. Why should people in the UK keep quiet and not criticise religion just becuase you think it makes it harder to win your argument in the US ? Are you really that arrogant, or have you simply not given much thought ?

  32. Jon

    We need to disabuse them of the notion that “my god says so” is an acceptable position to take.

    There are some hardcore crazies who you’re never going to change. Those people are probably not worth talking to. As a matter of fact, let them look crazy. Better for our side. (Look what’s happening to the Right right now.)

    The people to worry about are everybody else. We need to look like the adults in the room. How do we do that? We have to choose our battles like adults. We have to be able to differ in ways that can accept legitimate differences and respect the difficulties of problems that are centuries old. We have to set priorities in adult ways. Culture wars against centuries old parts of the culture, even when it clashes with other urgent priorities, just doesn’t cut it.

  33. Oh, Chris – that’s pathetic. It’s not a side issue, it’s not just a small phrase – it’s central. There’s a big difference between arguing that religion-as-faith is incompatible with science and ‘flailing indiscriminately against religion,’ and if you’re going to skate right over that big difference, then you’ve made yourself impossible to argue with.

    “And I myself will continue trying to make my point as best I can, using the most accurate language that I can.”

    That was the most accurate language you could use? ‘flailing indiscriminately against religion’? Flatter yourself much?

    You could just say – sorry, that was sloppy, I went overboard, let me re-phrase that. Instead you whine about distraction and pat yourself on the back for using accurate language.

    Is this framing? It’s not working for you!

  34. “And I would request that anyone who wants to assess my views will read our book, in addition to anything we write on the blog.”

    But the more I read you here the less I want to read your book. If you can’t do better than this, why would anyone want to read your book? The combination of abuse and evasion is anything but attractive.

  35. Anthony McCarthy

    Can you cite from “reading in philosophy and history” where accommodationism has prevailed in the absence of more militant (assertive/aggressive/strident/shrill) approaches?

    The word “accomodationism” is dishonest. Science can’t “accomodate” itself to religion because science can only deal with that part of the physical universe that it can be applied to. Science is pretty exigent in its methods and requirements, even most of the physical universe hasn’t been investigated with science. Nothing outside of the material universe can be addressed by science. So the wall preventing science from being influenced by politics, ideology, professional rivalry, self-interest AND religious belief is a strictly one way exclusion. Science is a very limited and exigent activity.

    Religion, as well as all of the other human activities listed, can and should learn from science, which is actually what Coyne doesn’t like because he hates religion and those who believe in it. Coyne’s extra-scientific ideology of Harrisite atheism can’t stand that within the culture there are people who believe in things they don’t.

    As to political progress that was made real with religion, how about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. No matter what the lies Christopher Hitchens has published, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a number of other front line organizations who got the major civil rights legislation passed (under which, I believe, atheists are a covered class) were and are motivated by religious faith.

  36. Matt Penfold

    “We have to choose our battles like adults. We have to be able to differ in ways that can accept legitimate differences and respect the difficulties of problems that are centuries old. We have to set priorities in adult ways. Culture wars against centuries old parts of the culture, even when it clashes with other urgent priorities, just doesn’t cut it.”

    Seems to have been remarkably succesful in Europe, even in countries where the Catholic Church has traditionally had a stranglehold on dictating morality. The Catholic Church did not listen to reasoned debate and stop opposing same sex marriage in Spain. It fought to the bitter end, but there were enough people to stand up to them and tell them that they were no longer willing to accept their bullying mysogonisitc attitudes. The advances in abortion rights, gay rights etc in Europe (and much of Europe is way ahead of the US) have in spite of the oppostion of the religious, not as a result of reaching a compromise with them.

  37. MIchael

    “This is a life-or-death conflict between science, which can save the child, and religion, which is killing him.”

    This is not an entirely valid argument to use. In some cases, depending on the science, it’s beneficial for the child to die (survival of the fittest, scientific discovery, scientific observation, etc.,.) For example if you are a scientist studying malnutrition and death in children do you use science to intervene in the process you are meant to study in order to save the children?

    Atheists are quick to point out the fundamentalists killing children by praying over an illness instead of getting them to the hospital and getting a shot of penicillin. However, they do not present the opposite case of the other side of religion focused on using any means to ensure that every child gets a chance at life regardless of what defect or disease those children may have (i.e. those who choose to have a baby in spite of down syndrome, deformity, or other serious medical malady).

    Additionally railing against people who refuse inoculation inferring that it’s only a religious thing goes against reality. There are atheists who choose against inoculation and there are religious people who are strongly for inoculation. The arguments against inoculation may also be for some inoculations but against others. It’s not as easy as black and white.

    The problem with both atheist and religious debaters is the fact that they attempt to portray large and complex issues as simple black and white, Boolean logic problems.

    Someone asked how, if atheists move away from a fight against the culture war, they can counter anti-science and fundamentalist religious inequality. My answer to that is “one relationship at a time”. Be a shining example of a moral atheist. Let it be a surprise to people that you are an atheist and let it change religious people’s perception of what it is to be an atheist. Also, address individual issues specifically. Don’t blame all the world’s woes on religion. Chipping away at specific problems and specific behaviors is much more effective and helps to keep everyone on the same moral contract. There’s a wealth of information for fighting ignorance about inequality amazingly enough right in the bible that can be used to counter many fundamentalist arguments against women’s rights, gay rights, etc.,.

  38. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt Penfold, the irreligion of Europe is way overblown. Harris recently mentioned a figure, I think it was 89% of Swedes as being atheists. Which would be odd because when I went to look at polling one of the things I came across is that 40% of teenagers in Sweden are confirmed into the Church of Sweden. And it isn’t the only religion in Sweden.

    France has always been a predominantly Catholic country and it’s hardly famous as a cloistered convent. Spain with gay marriage, is still a Catholic country.

    Here, in Maine, one of the legislators who I campaigned for said he voted for the recently passed gay marriage bill because his old Catholic mother said it was the fair thing to do.

    It’s a mistake to fall for the line that new atheism is progressive. Coyne touted his joining on to Harris’ “Reason Project”. Harris and others on the board are hardly politically progressive.

  39. Jason

    Religion was a social and government construct to provide a sense of stability to society when governments of man were often in flux and collapsing frequently.

    That it is all.

    Now, as for the ‘fight’ between religion and science, I believe it is hyped up excessively by the media. There is no fight in the minds of most, religion lost the war when science began to unveil the history of our world and our development as a species.

    So what then is religion since it has lost that control? A philosophy, an allegorical moral tale that is treated as reality. Like retaining the belief that Santa is real. Why do we do this? Because so many people have based their lives upon the concept that God and Jesus are real, that losing that foundation/bedrock, would be so devestating to who they believe they are they couldn’t cope. So, these individuals lash out at science for anything it believes to contradict what religion teaches.

    There is no way to stop it, but the process of change is already in motion. The number of atheists and non-practicing Christians continue to rise. That is not because anyone is winning a ‘war’ but rather the simple spread of reason and knowledge.

  40. Yes Chris, this clergy letter is quite impressive. But it seems it is far from enough, judging by the state of the debate about creationism in the US.

    One could said it is the first step of an “army of religious moderates” saying “no way”. That’s what I want to believe.

    But history says also that people shouting loudly are frequently listened by bigger crowds than people calling for moderation. If people want to believe in creationism, or in a Bad versus Evil world, they will listen to leaders confirming their views, even if those leaders are preaching for lies, cheating, or even violence.

  41. Matt Penfold

    Anthony McCarthy,

    Nice way to ignore my point. The point, since you missed it, is that advances in civil rights in Europe since the Second World War have come despite religion, not becuase of it. No accomodation has been reached with the religious in those countries that allow gays to marry and not be discriminated against. If the pro-gays rights movement in Spain had heeded Chris’ advice, and tried reasoned argument with the Catholic Church they would have got nowwhere. It was by telling the Church they did not give a stuff what they thought that progress was made.

    Now I suspect there are some religious groups that one can reach an accomodation with. The more liberal Anglicans are an example that comes to mind. Of course the more liberal Anglicans hardly believe in god, so they are not the best of example.

  42. Pascal,
    I see there are also some 400 plus rabbis who signed the pro-evolution letter. I think it is very significant. I don’t think it’s enough, of course–but very significant.

    Anthony,
    Why not start with some readings in the history of science about the relationship between science and religion, and why the idea of “conflict” is, historically, dubious? I would highly recommend the work of Ron Numbers on this.

    Then I would go on to Robert Pennock’s excellent book Tower of Babel for the philosophical arguments that I myself find highly persuasive. Pennock, like Barbara Forrest, was instrumental in the Dover trial.

  43. Anthony McCarthy

    If people want to believe in creationism, or in a Bad versus Evil world, they will listen to leaders confirming their views, even if those leaders are preaching for lies, cheating, or even violence.

    Which differs in what way from those who listened to the eugenicists and put their bad science into effect? And, if anyone wants to look at the history, eugenics was widely accepted as legitimate science, probably even by a lot of people at the time who rejected “Darwinian evolution”. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are creationists who hold eugenics ideas right now. If you’re going to blame all of religion for bad religion, shouldn’t science take the rap for bad science?

    You do understand that this religion vs. science stuff is a purely cultural struggle over ideology and doesn’t have anything to do with real science. Other than funding and keeping ID-creationism out of public schools, the only other legitimate goal for science is in protecting the integrity of its formal proceedures and publications. And that last one is totally in the hands of the scientists and the editors of their professional journals. The rest of this is a culture clash.

  44. Anthony McCarthy

    The point, since you missed it, is that advances in civil rights in Europe since the Second World War have come despite religion, not becuase of it.

    You clearly have no knowledge of post war religion in Europe or here. I’d guess that’s a voluntary situation because the it’s not hard to find the influence of clergy in most of the civil rights movements in the post-war period.

    The number of just Catholic religious and clergy who have been murdered for their human rights and environmental activism in the third world is telling. Many of whom came from Europe.

  45. Okay – so you simply refuse to say ‘Sorry, that description was sloppy and unfair, let me start over.’ You simply ignore criticism. You carry on as if it weren’t there. So you’re not worth arguing with. Duly noted.

    (Funny how like Nisbet it is. Make a big stand about the need for civility and all getting along, but in actual practice fail dismally at both persuasion and civility.)

  46. Jon

    These threads begin to look the same. It’s a trend!!1!! Religion is on the wane! Going away! Permanently! This meme is at least two centuries old… What David Brooks called the Alpha Geeks (I count myself one) all congregate in the same places in cyberspace and convince each other it’s happening.

    But somehow it doesn’t occur to them that that they’re a pretty small demographic, and “shout it louder” and “ridicule more harshly” does not constitute a convincing argument. It would help if the level of sophistication got a bit beyond this…

  47. “Darwinism presents an explanation for life’s origins that lacks any supernatural element and emphasizes a cruel and violent process of natural selection that is tough to square with the notion of a benevolent God.”

    You don’t have to learn about, or accept evolution to see that nature (including man) is “red in tooth and claw”. Religions that speak of a benevolent god had a logical problem long before Darwin. The most corrosive element to religious belief is religion itself.

    And what is it with Mooney’s use of ‘Darwinism’? I thought for a moment that I’d accidentally landed on the Discovery Institute site…flailing indiscriminately against science;)

  48. Jon

    (Jason above is a kind of typical commenter who says things like this, which prompted my comment.)

  49. Sarah P

    Crafting the debate as science versus religion would get people’s hackles up, if it’s that simplistic, but it’s not.

    The arguments should be and typically are against religious practices that are wrong. Practices like discrimination against women, homosexuals, the non-religious or other religions. Or like denying scientific reality because it’s at odds with really old books written well after the events they purport to describe took place. Those things are wrong, and to the extent that religious followers practice or believe those practices to be correct, they are also wrong.

    If by liberal Christian you mean people who don’t follow or believe the discriminatory tenets of their religion, then you probably don’t want to alienate them by blasting all faith. But that doesn’t mean you can’t attack the discriminatory and factually erroneous positions of church leaders and request that right-thinking people, of all faiths, do the same.

    Certainly we should attack the practice of allowing individuals to weasel out of doing their jobs based on some tenet of religion. Like not filling prescriptions because they don’t “believe” in contraception.

    I think accommodation is a mistake. We should be actively and strongly arguing against all aspects of religions that are wrong. So it might make some liberal Christians squirm – well, it should, they are supporting a belief system that espouses some pretty nasty practices, and they should be called on to push their religions to not just end those practices, but state clearly that they are wrong. Telling people that, scientifically speaking, hominids were inevitably is bad science – don’t do it!

  50. Jon

    “Red in tooth and claw” is Alfred Lord Tennyson, not Darwin.

  51. david

    I live in a fairly conservative state in the US, where we just helped both elect Barack Obama and defeat a Gay Rights initiative in last November’s ballot. The success of the anti-gay folks was due to their being able to attach a religious value to the issues. The NeoCons recognized this some time ago and rode these attachments to victory time and again over 10 years.

    The point is that the people responding in this blog, regardless of their positions, share a thoughtfulness about the subject. My experience is that this is not true of a vast majority of the world. Religion is very appealing to uncritical thinkers. It provides a place to congregate with similarly uncritical people. (By the way, while the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was predominantly black Christian clergy, it’s power was the ability of the black church to mobilize lots of people around the quest to correct injustice that was effective. Religion was a mere mantle wrapped around fundamental human urges, not a critical ingredient to success.)

    Most people are inherently lazy about most things in their lives. Just review the Jay Leno “Streetwalker” interviews where he asks questions of people on the street (even graduate students) that the casual NPR listener or daily newspaper reader would know, and the answers are so hilarious that they make good TV. There is much more interest among the general US population re: Paris Hilton than Paris, France. And science? Leave that to the nerds – I can’t be bothered to think about it. I have worked for years in the design field and am daily amazed how few people can solve problems with the simplest geometry!

    So these high debates or science v. religion will be important only to a few. The rest are too busy/lazy to be bothered, and at this point, for better or for worse, religion is the default.

  52. Anthony McCarthy

    The arguments should be and typically are against religious practices that are wrong. Practices like discrimination against women, homosexuals,

    Science hasn’t been used against women and gay folk, such as myself. So, if all of religion, including the large number of religious people engaged in the women’s and gay rights movements are to blame for that, then science should all be answerable for the many sins it committed.

    One of the core problems is the insistence that you can exempt the awful stuff people do with science, and there’s a hell of a lot of it, while holding all of religious believers and all of religion to a different and entirely unjust standard.

    Sarah P, so, are all of the scientists who have produced weapons, knowing full well what their use was, suddenly non-scientists?

    I know as a politically active gay man I’d rather have half of religious believers on my side than every last one of the “new atheists” only because I like to win sometimes.

  53. Anthony McCarthy

    “Religion was a mere mantle wrapped around fundamental human urges, not a critical ingredient to success.”

    Is there a lie that is too big for you guys to tell or does just being able to put words together suffice as the truth among you?

    ” Religion is very appealing to uncritical thinkers. ” Atheism too, obviously.

  54. Matt Penfold

    “You clearly have no knowledge of post war religion in Europe or here. I’d guess that’s a voluntary situation because the it’s not hard to find the influence of clergy in most of the civil rights movements in the post-war period.”

    Really ? What role did clergy have in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights ? What role did the clergy have in decriminalising homosexuality in Britian in the 60s ? Or decriminalising abortion in the same decade ? Would you care to contrast those with the role the clergy have had in ensuring that woman in Ireland still cannot obtain an abortion without travelling to the Brtish mainland ? What role did the clergy play in pushing through same sex marriage legislation in the UK, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Scandanavia ?

    Of course the likes Anthony McCarthy would have all that progress nullified since it was acheived in the face of religious opposition rather than becuase of it. Anyone who is willing to sacrifice the rights of others, as Anthony and others would have us, simply so we do not upset the religuous and make them cross at us is not a friend of liberalism or human rights.

  55. I see there are also some 400 plus rabbis who signed the pro-evolution letter. I think it is very significant. I don’t think it’s enough, of course–but very significant.

    I don’t know. Impressive, yes. But significant of what? As I was saying, I want to believe this is the first step. But I don’t know, we don’t know, and it’s possible we are both wrong in believing this. If it is not a first step, that would mean it is not significant at all.

    What would be significant would be if we could prove that those people have more listeners than ever before. If they would be able, politically, to say “no way” to a school board trying to force creationism into school books. If some leader (political or religious, in the US or elsewhere) calling for violence against “the others”, in the name of religion, would be facing an opposition of “religious moderates” -not just the usual moderates, peace-makers, missionaries, but real, organized political opposition.

  56. mk

    I know as a politically active gay man I’d rather have half of religious believers on my side than every last one of the “new atheists” only because I like to win sometimes.

    Who says the “new atheists” aren’t “winning?”

  57. Matt Penfold

    “The arguments should be and typically are against religious practices that are wrong. Practices like discrimination against women, homosexuals”

    You do not see the problem do you ? People who oppose abortion and homosexuality are overwhelmingly religious, to the extent there is little need to consider the non-religious opposition. They oppose those things not on a whim, but becuase they really are convinced their god dissaproves. So anyone standing up and saying that their positions on those issues are wrong is not attacking a belief that is held rationally. An attack on their stance on abortion, or homosexuality is an attack that cuts to the very heart of their faith. It is an attack on what they believe their god has told them, so it is an attack on god.

    Now were there far fewer religious people holding such views, I would probably be a little less strident. But given the numbers who think the earth is only 6000 years old, or who think woman have no rights over their body, or that gays do not deserve the same rights as the rest of us I do not think it politic to keep quiet. Especially since the “moderate” believers have proved so inept at getting their more fundamantalist co-religionists to review their theology. The Church of England takes the position that abortion may the least bad option is some circumstances, and has accepted the need for civil unions for gays. The fact that they have taken those positions has not changed the view of the Catholic Church in the UK.

  58. Sarah P

    Anthony – not trying to say nothing bad was ever done in the name of science…or that you can separate the knowledge from its application. But scientists doing bad things with scientific knowledge – like building nuclear weapons – aren’t following a moral code of science. There isn’t one.

    Religious followers claiming women are inferior are following the moral code of religion. Ditto claims that it’s OK to deny gays rights the rest of us take for granted.

    Wrong isn’t the exclusive domain of the religious. But science is a process of learning, the scientific method isn’t a code of morality, and doesn’t pretend to be. Religion does claim codes of morality, and also espouses beliefs that are clearly wrong.

    I think you’re confusing morality and science. And maybe thinking I’m claiming something I’d never claim – that all scientists are good and all religious people are bad. I’m saying religious people are mostly good – and because of that, they should look at the beliefs their churches hold that are bad, and challenge them.

  59. Jon

    The success of the anti-gay folks was due to their being able to attach a religious value to the issues. The NeoCons recognized this some time ago and rode these attachments to victory time and again over 10 years.

    This is more accurate than most people know:

    …Modern American conservatism has dedicated itself not to fortifying and replenishing civil society but rather to weakening it through a politics of civil warfare.

    How did this happen? One reason is that the most intellectually sophisticated founders of postwar conservatism were in many instances ex-Marxists, who moved from left to right but remained persuaded that they were living in revolutionary times and so retained their absolutist fervor. In place of the Marxist dialectic they formulated a Manichaean politics of good and evil, still with us today, and their strategy was to build a movement based on organizing cultural antagonisms.

    Why feed this kind of thing? Again, *choose* your battles. Don’t make yourself the poster child for the campaign they wanted in the first place.

  60. On a related topic; the belief that religion is a guideline for explaining morality while science is not clearly has not been validated. Recent studies from neuroscience and animal behavior have shed light on our moral sense and have indicated that this moral sense arises from instinctive forces shaped by natural selection in the brain. While much remains to be known in this arena, there is no reason to believe that science won’t shed light on our moral compass. Some religious injunctions are moral, others clearly are morally bankrupt and wicked. Some people undoubtedly get their morality from religion but religion is not at all a necessary condition for morality, and many times it has actually corrupted moral understanding and action.

  61. Anthony McCarthy

    Who says the “new atheists” aren’t “winning?

    Anyone who can count.

  62. Anthony McCarthy

    58. Matt Penfold Says:
    “The arguments should be and typically are against religious practices that are wrong. Practices like discrimination against women, homosexuals”
    You do not see the problem do you ? People who oppose abortion and homosexuality are overwhelmingly religious, to the extent there is little need to consider the non-religious opposition.

    ——–

    The overwhelming majority of those who oppose discrimination against women and gay folk are religious. Which is good because otherwise women and gay folk would be in big trouble if most of them didn’t.

    And I see more of a reaction against atheists who insist on being loud bigots among progressive people every week. It’s time for someone to tell you you’re being brats.

  63. Sarah P

    Curious Wavefunction – great point. Science may teach us where our morality comes from, although I’d still say science doesn’t teach morality. And I definitely agree religion is not necessary for morality. Although my spouse would argue much of our western ideals of fairness and equality come from religion, I’m not sure he’s right. Catholicism never struck me as particularly egalitarian, and I know even less about other religions.

  64. Jon: I never said it was Darwin.

  65. Matt Penfold

    “Anyone who can count.”

    Well here in Europe the number of people who profess religious belief is declining whilst those who identify as non-belivers are on the increase. In addition the influence of religion is also declining, as even people who nominally describe themselves as religious cease paying attention to the moral exortions of the clergy.

  66. mk

    @ Matt…

    The number of professed atheists, agnostics and “no religion”-ists are growing here in the U.S. as well. Coinciding–unsurprisingly–with the popularity of people like Dawkins and PZ and Harris.

  67. Anthony McCarthy

    Well here in Europe the number of people who profess religious belief is declining whilst those who identify as non-belivers are on the increase.

    First, there are a lot of atheists and agnostics who think the new atheists are idiots.

    Second, the polling that I’ve seen on this doesn’t take into account people who are religious but unaffiliated with any church or religion.

    Third, hardly anyone who is a member of a religion agrees with every official doctrine of the religion they are affiliated with. Not all of them respect their own clergy member.

    Fourth, you need fifty percent plus one to “win”.

    Fifth, most of the polling I’ve read in depth is pretty badly done. And I don’t mean just on this issue. Opinion polling is of wildly variable quality.

  68. Anthony McCarthy

    And what is it with Mooney’s use of ‘Darwinism’? I thought for a moment that I’d accidentally landed on the Discovery Institute site…flailing indiscriminately against science;)

    How did I miss this one? Well, your boy Jerry used “Darwinism” earlier this year as did American Scientist:

    University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne believes that one reason people mistrust Darwinism is a lack of familiarity with the evidence. In Why Evolution Is True (Viking), Coyne draws on genetics, anatomy, molecular biology, paleontology and geology to explain why biologists find the theory so compelling. “I offer it,” he writes, “in the hope that people everywhere may share my wonder at the sheer explanatory power of Darwinian evolution, and may face its implications without fear.” Introduction to the interview from American Scientist

    We accept those things because mountains of evidence have shown them to be true. They’ve been subsumed in what we call neo-Darwinism or modern evolutionary theory. There’s a lot of stuff that Darwin said and that other early evolutionists said that is wrong, so we’re constantly revising and changing our stuff.

    Jerry Coyne University of Chicago, Author: Why Evolution is True
    Interview: American Scientist Online January 2009.

    http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/an-interview-with-jerry-coyne

    If you want citations for Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and a number of others using it, I’ve got them too.

    You people don’t even read your own heroes, obviously.

  69. Matt Penfold

    “Third, hardly anyone who is a member of a religion agrees with every official doctrine of the religion they are affiliated with. Not all of them respect their own clergy member”

    Sorry, but this is silly. If someone identifies themselves as Catholic, then are giving support to the Catholic Church and its attempts to allow paedophiles to escape justice. They have some responsiblity for the deaths from HIV in Africa and from botched abortions in countries that ban them. If they do not want to be held accoutable for such actions they need to stop supporting an organisation that is reposnsible. Actions have consequences, and identifying yourself as belonging to an organisation like the Catholic Church does mark a person as supporting an organisation that care little for human rights.

  70. mk

    there are a lot of atheists and agnostics who think the new atheists are idiots.

    There are a lot of atheists and agnostics who think people like you are idiots. Doesn’t mean anything really, but they exist.

  71. mk

    (Should have looked like this! Ugh.)

    there are a lot of atheists and agnostics who think the new atheists are idiots.

    There are a lot of atheists and agnostics who think people like you are idiots. Doesn’t mean anything really, but they exist.

  72. Matt Penfold

    And what is it with Mooney’s use of ‘Darwinism’? I thought for a moment that I’d accidentally landed on the Discovery Institute site…flailing indiscriminately against science;)

    What is your problem with the use of it ? It is a pretty standard scientific term, albeit one used more in UK than the US. A Darwinist is simply a person who accepts evolution, but thinks that natural selection (along with sexual selection) is the most dominent mechanism.

    Is English your native language ?

  73. Anthony McCarthy

    If someone identifies themselves as Catholic, then are giving support to the Catholic Church and its attempts to allow paedophiles to escape justice…..

    Oh, then those who align themselves with Christopher Hitchens support the invasion of Iraq, cluster bombs. etc.

    Those, like Jerry Coyne, who brag about their association with Sam Harris support his idea that a nuclear first strike that could kill millions of people in a day and that you can kill people for what they think.

    The double standard insisted on by new atheists is one of the things that will limit the fad’s appeal. Most people have a more developed sense of fairness.

    I don’t happen to be Catholic, by the way. Or any other species of Christian.

    mk, well there are a lot of people in every group that are stupid. Just the new atheists have way more than their share.

    My brother, after reading The God Delusion decided he must not be an atheist afterall. He said, You know what the difference between an atheist and an agnostic is?
    An agnostic is a smart person who doesn’t believe in God.

    And I’ve never been bothered by what superficial people think of me.

  74. Anthony McCarthy

    What is your problem with the use of it ?

    I was answering the stupid assertion made by another person above. It’s a bit of folk etymology among many of the more ignorant new atheists, especially those who frequent the ScienceBlogs that only creationists use the word Darwinism.

    I first got accused of being a creationist when I quoted Richard Dawkins use of it. A lot of the atheists here are pretty ignorant.

  75. Matt Penfold

    “Oh, then those who align themselves with Christopher Hitchens support the invasion of Iraq, cluster bombs. etc.”

    Hitchins does not run an organisation claiming 1 Billion members. In fact Hitchins does not run an organisation boasting any members at all. Nor does Hitchins try to claim Papalinfallibilty. Does one have to undego some form of baptism, and later confirmation, to support Hitchens ? Only I am not aware of such a requirment for Hitchins, although I am aware that to be an adult Catholic one must be both baptised and confirmed in the Catholic Church.

    You really are not doing your case any good at all. What I have learnt from you so far is that ignorance of the requirment to take Mass, and general dishonesty are derigour for those who claim “new atheists” are doing harm. Oh, and a willingness to ignore evidence. Hmm, remind you of anyone ? Creationists maybe ? Different cause maybe, but same dishonest tactics. No wonder you want religion excempt from criticism: You think it will give you a free ride as well.

  76. Matt Penfold

    “What is your problem with the use of it ?”

    I have no problem with the term. I consider myself to be a Darwinist. Some people do criticise the use of the term. I do not agree with them. But then I never signed up as a follower of any particular dogma.

  77. mk

    An agnostic is a smart person who doesn’t believe in God.

    My goodness, but that is sooo clever!

    And I’ve never been bothered by what superficial people think of me.

    Yes you have been… admit it… you’re bothered… you care. ;^}

  78. Anthony McCarthy

    “Hitchins does not run an organisation claiming 1 Billion members. In fact Hitchins does not run an organisation boasting any members at all. ”

    That’s entirely irrelevant to the point that if you can assign vicarious blame to people on the basis of their religious affiliation that those who choose to endorse Hitchens or Harris have to be at least as responsible for their insane, homicidal ravings. Especially Jerry Coyne who not only aligns himself with Harris but he promotes him too.

    I’d think Coyne’s bragging about his joining onto Harris’ latest club’s board and specifically about his association with Harris and, if memory serves, Hitchens on the same board, that’s more of an adult choice than it would have been to have been born into a Catholic family.

    Don’t you think it’s a sign that a movement has got shaky foundations if it depends on having a double standard in its favor?

  79. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt Penfold, I’ve got no problem with the word “Darwinism or Darwinist”. It was

    48. Adrian Thysse June 3rd, 2009 at 1:16 pm who said:

    And what is it with Mooney’s use of ‘Darwinism’? I thought for a moment that I’d accidentally landed on the Discovery Institute site…flailing indiscriminately against science;)

    I’ve had idiots who read six hundred word posts I wrote against creationism being introduced into the public schools accuse me of being a creationist on the basis of using a quote from an evolutionary scientist who happened to use the word “Darwinism”.

    I’ve traced the pseudo-etymology back as far as Orac at the ScienceBlogs. He refused to retract his mistake even after I showed him that Thomas Huxley is credited with giving the word its modern use (it had been applied to the evolutionary ideas of Erasmus Darwin before the 1860s) and presented him with citations of its modern use by Dawkins, Dennett, and a number of other famous living Darwinists. From there the pseudo-erudition has spread like a plague of stupid across the American blogosphere.

    I’m not sure that Orac is an new atheist or even an atheist but he’s one lousy lexicographer. Though I do actually like some of what he writes.

    My goodness, but that is sooo clever!
    I’ll let my brother know his joke was so simple even you could get it.

  80. Pierce R. Butler

    AM @ # 36: The word “accomodationism” is dishonest. Science can’t “accomodate” itself to religion…

    Pls try to keep on the subject: the conflict between assertive atheists and (ahem) accommodationists (Mooney, above: “…a more accomodationist [sic] position.”) Science qua science is a red herring.

    AM: Religion, as well as all of the other human activities listed, can and should learn from science, which is actually what Coyne doesn’t like because he hates religion and those who believe in it.

    With mind-reading talents like yours, why are you wasting your time haunting this blog?

    AM: As to political progress that was made real with religion, how about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

    Bzzzt! Thanks for playing.

    Pls note: (a) my question was “where [has] accommodationism … prevailed in the absence of more militant … approaches?” The SCLC, which you cite, was indeed religious, but that was not the question.

    (b) the SCLC was not the sole player in the tangled civil rights movement, and that movement was bolstered by more aggressive influences, from Black Panthers & the Nation of Islam to numerous Third World nations for whose benefit the Johnson & Nixon administrations needed actions to rebut Soviet propaganda. So, your non-answer fails twice.

    Poor Kirshenbaum & Mooney – without Anthony McCarthy, their comment count would drop by half. Maybe I don’t want to be a blogger when I grow up after all.

  81. El Guerrero del Interfaz

    Spain a Catholic country?

    Oh yes, we go to “El Rocío” and similar religious peregrinations. We also have a very beautiful and colorful Holy Week. We baptize and marry in old monumental churches. And lots of very folkloric religious celebrations. And lots of old churches full of history and art. And so on.

    My wife and myself we even had 2 marriage ceremonies using an old loophole to accommodate our 2 families. I’m one of the founding members of the “Hermandad Rociera” in my town. When I see “my” Virgin, the “Macarena” coming out, I cannot avoid shouting “Macareeeeena ¡Guapa!”. And soon my grand-daughters are going to be baptized in a very lavish ceremony.

    And, you know what? My wife, my daughter, her husband, almost all my family and myself of course, we are all die-.hard atheists. As are most Spanish people as shown in the polls where the godless PSOE wins even when the Catholic Church very explicitly tells Catholic *not* to vote them because they are for gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, etc.

    So yes, Spain is Catholic. Folklorically, very much so. But not religiously nor ideologically. Very much less. And very minoritarilly so. As a matter of fact Spain in this sense is one of the least Catholic countries of Europe.

    So Matt is right and Anthony is wrong. Advances and progress in Spain has been gained fighting very hard against the Catholic hierarchy. And not because the government has not tried to be accomodationist. On the contrary. Zapatero’s flag has always been dialogue and he’s been criticized much for that (he did not even repelled the Concordate signed between the Vatican and Franco’s dictatorship). So he tried and he tried again and tried some more. But the Church wouldn’t budge a bit. Never. On anything. And never even acknowledged the goodwill of the government. On the contrary they have been called baby-killers, perverts, inmorals, scions of Satan and the usual range of “Christian” insults.

    So yes, we won and keep winning our progress and freedom fighting against the Catholic Church. But it’s only the Catholic Church who wants to fight and so the majority of the society has to oblige. You cannot have accomodationism if only one of the sides is willing to compromise. This is what Mooney and other accomodationists don’t understand. No matter how “nice” you are, no matter how much you’re willing to compromise, the other side never, ever, will. So what you do is for nothing, no matter how good your intentions are.

    Think about it. If this happens in modern godless Spain where atheists are elected to top government positions, what do you think can happen in a country full of fundies like the USA where no atheist will be ever elected for anything?

  82. IMO, it is also important to remember it is not just a “conflict” over homosexual rights, or over evolutionary biology or those things. Cognitive neuroscience, especially in light of current and future discoveries about willed action, responsibility etc. is a big potential area of conflict, and one which will directly affect more religions.

  83. El Guerrero del Interfaz

    Anthony, I really don’t understand you.

    You’re saying you’re a politically active gay person. But your diatribes against the “new” atheists are very similar to the “arguments” that the few ultra Catholics left in Spain use against the gays. Especially those who do not stay in the closet and do fight for gay rights (for them gays are all right if they shut-up, put down, stay hidden in the closet and don’t “sin”). Why do you seem unable to see something so obvious?

    Do you really things gays would have obtained rights like the right to marry if they had behaved like you want atheists to behave? Ditto for feminists. That’s the reason why we “new” atheists (for me: atheists that are proud of it and don’t stay in the closet and do fight) look at the gay and feminist examples for inspiration. Although our fight is more about ending religious privileges than pushing for atheist rights, it’s similar.

    And I’m not saying the bold attitude of the “new” atheists is all we need or that it is going to solve all problems. Of course not. But not only this attitude is *not* counter-productive but it also *needed*. Just like the bold attitude of the suffragettes and the “locas” was needed for the feminist and gay movements.

    And, remember, “niceness” is not going to convince anybody on the other side. Never had and never will. Although it’s very probable that the Catholic Church will “ponerse las medallas” (auto attribute the merit) and at the end claim that they always were for gays rights and that they were the ones who fought more for these gays rights. Just like they do now with democracy. But, don’t be dupe, they will fight to the very bitter end. And will only give up when there will be o other alternative. No matter how “nice” you are with them.

  84. Erasmussimo

    I’d like to repeat a point that I have made in less detail previously: it’s a big mistake to lump all theists — and all accommodationists — into a single camp. There are theists who deny evolution, and theists who accept it. I know a woman with a doctorate in biology who is very spiritual and has no issues at all with evolution. For her, evolution is part of God’s creation. I cannot imagine any reasonable person dismissing her or her beliefs. Disagreeing, yes — dismissing, no.

    It’s true that SOME theists are anti-rational, anti-science, and anti-education. They are holding back society (although calling them “a threat” is rather hot-headed). But there are also SOME theists who are more rational and reasonable than some of the people posting here. We have to think in terms of bell curves, not simple-minded black-and-white categories.

    Thinking in terms of distributions of theists yields a much more nuanced approach. Sure, we want to fight the anti-rational theists tooth and nail. But there’s no need to fight the rational theists. They are our political allies.

    At this point, the hotheads will argue something like “there ARE no rational theists, because theism is intrinsically irrational”. This again relies on black and white thinking. Is there one person here who can honestly claim to be truly rational? One person who eats only healthy foods, who never wastes time on frivolous entertainment, who doesn’t engage in self-delusion regarding their talents in bed, their intelligence, or their virtue? Let he who is without irrationalism throw the first stone.

  85. chunkdz

    Jerry Coyne on Simon Conway Morris:

    “Conway Morris is way, way peeved at atheists. He mentions them several times in his piece. He thinks he has vanquished them with his “unanswerable” evolutionary arguments. But he has not. He is simply proposing a “God of the gaps” argument, and here the gap is our mind. It’s Alfred Russel Wallace recycled. He is wrong: neither will atheism die, or even flinch a bit, and we will, I predict some day understand, as Darwin believed, that the human mind is simply a product of the blind and materialistic product of natural selection.
    Conway Morris is straying from the scientific path here, but he simply can’t help himself. He is a committed Christian, and has to find some way to show that the evolution of humans was inevitable.”

    Lay-psychoanalysis, followed by a strawman, followed by an unscientific materio-reductionist prediction, followed by bigotted anti-Christian rhetoric.

    Sounds like flailing to me.

  86. I think part of what Coyne is saying that one should not be hesitant to ask your biologist friend in detail what she means when she says that she is a spiritual-minded scientist who believes that evolution is part of God’s creation. What kind of God? When did he set this machine into motion? How did he do it? Who created him? These questions should not be anathema.

    If I understand correctly, one of the things Coyne and others are saying is that people like your friend or like Ken Miller who are deeply religious should not be let off the hook only because they are also scientists who believe in evolution.

  87. Erasmussimo

    I think I can make a good guess as to the likely answer my biologist friend would offer to your question (“what she means when she says that she is a spiritual-minded scientist who believes that evolution is part of God’s creation. What kind of God? When did he set this machine into motion? How did he do it? Who created him?”)

    I think she would answer that God is in everything, that God is the beauty of the universe. I think she’d say that God is not at all like a human being, and that to anthropomorphize God is to underestimate her spirituality. And that nobody created God any more than somebody created the universe; God exists as part of the universe.

    Now, I’m sure that you and I could pick this apart if we wanted to be asses. However, I think that there’s a “people who live in glass houses” problem here. Are you willing to submit yourself and your beliefs to this kind of minute examination? Can you justify your interest in her spiritual beliefs? Can you justify why you have not given all your possessions to the poor, or why you do not work like a slave on whatever task you consider good and noble, to the exclusion of all other things? If we would challenge the predilections of others, should we not be prepared to have our own predilections challenged in the same manner?

  88. I don’t see the analogy. I can give rational reasons (which we can debate of course) about why I haven’t given my possessions to the poor. All that is asked here is that we must be able to look for rational reasons for everything. Of course everything does not have a rational cause, but that does not mean we should not try. Coyne and others are simply saying that we cannot refrain from criticizing Miller and others’ stance on religion simply because we find their work against ID praiseworthy. All we are doing is calling a spade a spade, that’s all.

  89. Erasmussimo

    OK, it’s fine with me if you want only to assert that theists who embrace evolution are less than 100% logical. My point is that there is no human being who is 100% logical. And so I am loth to criticize theists for a weakness that I share.

  90. Veronica Abbass

    I posted following comment on Sandwalk at http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2009/06/chris-mooney-changed-his-mind.html, and decided it is worthwhile posting it again here:

    Jenny Uglow includes this statement by Joseph Priestly (1733-1804) in her book _The Lunar Men_:

    “We had nothing to do with the religious or political principles of each other,’ wrote Priestly. ‘We were united by a common love of science, which we thought sufficient to bring together persons of all distinctions …”(xiv).

    Uglow introduces Priestly’s statement by saying,

    “They [the Lunar men] came from varied backgrounds but when they edged towards rows they agreed to differ, turning back to the things they shared.”

  91. Anthony McCarthy

    El Guerrero del Interfaz, “You’re saying you’re a politically active gay person. But your diatribes against the “new” atheists are very similar to the “arguments” that the few ultra Catholics left in Spain use against the gays.”

    I don’t have extensive knowledge of the issues of gay rights in Spain, though I have read what’s been in the papers here and on the BBC. I don’t think what I said here sounds anything like what the church establishment said in those.

    “Do you really things gays would have obtained rights like the right to marry if they had behaved like you want atheists to behave?”

    Do you think any small minority group which is the target for discrimination would stand a chance in winning the exercise of their rights from a majority who had been alienated by juvenile brats who became self-appointed spokesmen in the way the “new atheists” have here for atheists in general?

    I will point out that atheists have been a covered class under federal civil rights laws here for quite a while now. They got covered when discriminating on the basis of religion was abolished. Those laws were made and put into effect overwhelmingly by religious believers who have what the “new atheists” reject, a sense of fairness.

    No, I don’t think gay people anywhere would be able to secure their rights if they acted like the “new atheists” do now. I’m not even sure democracy would survive if their version of vicarious guilt and double standards became the predominant view. It is breaking down the double standard that secures rights for a minority, a double standard will ALWAYS favor those who already have power. In a country with an elected government double standards will almost always favor the majority.

    The idea that a majority is going to be scared or humiliated into giving equal rights to a beleagured minority through the tantrums of a tiny faction of obnoxious jerks is about as silly ideas get. It was women and black people proving their ability to be fully functioning adults that got them the respect that was essential to gaining their legal rights.

    In the version of this that was apparently lost in a server incident yesterday, I mentioned the fad of spouting racism and bigotry that sprang up among white gay men here in the 1970s. I know most people reading this probably never knew it happened but I was there and am not the only one who heard it, mostly among gay men in New York City. It was a disgusting and foul thing to hear and it didn’t do anything but fragment the gay rights movement in the places it took hold. I think the new atheist fad is another version of that. I objected loudly when it was gay men spouting bigotry in the 1970s, I’m not going to keep quiet about this fad that will damage the political left now.

    “Ditto for feminists.”

    Women are the majority of the population, their civil rights struggles are of a quite different nature from those of a small minority group.

    I think you fail to understand my point, women, African-americans, gay people…. are asking for equal rights on the basis of justice and fairness to redress contemporary and historical discrimination. The “new atheists” are not asking for the same thing, they’re asking to be the beneficiaries of a double standard and lies about history. They’re also trying to hi-jack science, claiming it as their property while showing they don’t even understand what science is. It is a dishonest, impractical and unjust fad.

    Being a covered class under civil rights laws, not being the subject of legal discrimination in the way gay people are in many states today, they have to point to the poll that said that an atheist can’t be elected as president. A situation that could only be changed through acceptance of an atheist by the majority of the religious voters in the United States. A situation which can only be hurt by insulting them. On that basis alone the “new atheists” claim of adherence to logic and reality goes down. Anyone who thinks you win elections by insulting the people whose votes you need is too silly to take seriously.

  92. El Guerrero del Interfaz

    Lots of stuff Anthony so I’ll have to answer in parts.

    First of all I think you should try to apply your own stated standards to yourself before being so aggressive against others. Seriously. And I don’t want a fight about this. Just look at yourself and try to understand it. But if you don’t, I will not argue with you.

    Let’s begin with the start.

    [quote]
    > I don’t have extensive knowledge of the issues of gay rights in Spain, though I have read
    > what’s been in the papers here and on the BBC. I don’t think what I said here sounds
    > anything like what the church establishment said in those.
    [/quote]

    Well, I assure you it does. And very much so. Just swap “gay” and “atheist” and voilà! Although the issues are different. Gays are fighting for their rights and “new” atheists, as a “new” atheist like me understand it, are fighting to end religion’s privileges or “free pass” or double standard to use your words (more on this later as you obviously believe otherwise).

    The things you criticize in the “new” atheists are just the same that the Catholic Church criticize in gay activists. The attitude, the ways, the intentions, almost everything. Basically the Church just wants the gays to behave like you want the “new” atheists to behave. And they also question the legitimacy of their vindications just like you question the legitimacy of the vindications of the “new” atheists. To refer to gays activists they even use very similar figures of speech that you use to describe “new” atheists. Things like your “juvenile brats” and the like.

    Do a little research and you’ll be surprised.

  93. Anthony McCarthy

    First of all I think you should try to apply your own stated standards to yourself before being so aggressive against others.

    Two points, I have not applied the “new atheist” standard to anyone here except to ask why I shouldn’t apply a standard to people who practice it themselves.

    Second, considering you’re among those who are promoting being aggressive, your asking me to be less so is, again, just another example of the double standard new atheists want the benefit of.

    The things you criticize in the “new” atheists are just the same that the Catholic Church criticize in gay activists.

    I’m not able to answer a list of “things” which you are referring to in this sentence, anymore than I am responsible for what the Catholic hierarchy in Spain or the gay rights movement in Spain says. I don’t happen even to be a Catholic, as I’ve said before.

    If new atheists want me to stop saying that they should stop acting like juvenile brats, it’s up to them to stop doing it.
    Basically the Church just wants the gays to behave like you want the “new” atheists to behave.

    The Catholic hierarchy wants gay people in Spain to act like responsible adults who don’t alienate their potential allies in a political fight by insulting them? I’d have thought they would want gay people to weaken their political chances by doing stupid things.

    And they also question the legitimacy of their vindications just like you question the legitimacy of the vindications of the “new” atheists.

    What vindication? Atheists are a covered class under civil rights laws here, it’s illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their being an atheist in public accomodations, public services, etc. They’ve got what gay people, for one, don’t have now. It’s illegal to attack someone on the basis of being an atheist, they’ve got the full protection of the law now, I’m pretty sure those who do could be brought up on hate-crime charges where those cover them on the basis of “religious orientation”.

    What new atheists want is what spoiled brats do, their own way. They can’t stand that there are people who think differently than they do. Sorry, that’s not a civil right. Other people get to have their own ideas.

    Do a little research. I’ve done much more than a little. Maybe that’s your problem.

  94. El Guerrero del Interfaz

    Anthony, your answer is a perfect example of what I was saying about the need to apply your own principles to yourself. If you don’t understand, it’s your problem because I’m not going down this road with you. I’ve told you I was not going to fight with you so if you keep going on this way, I’m out. Because you need 2 people to fight and I’m not going to do it.

    If you’re interested in having a civil conversation addressing what I say instead of some straw man and agree to give the same civility and good manners you required, I’m in. On this I must say that I think you bring some interesting and good points although personally I prefer a more balanced view. We can discuss this. I just ask from you that you do what you require from other. Nothing more. But not less either.

  95. Anthony McCarthy

    El Guerrero del Interfaz, Anthony, your answer is a perfect example of what I was saying about the need to apply your own principles to yourself. If you don’t understand, it’s your problem because I’m not going down this road with you.

    What principle are you talking about, the principle that says people should have to live by their own standard of judgement, or in the case of the new atheists the half of their double standard they apply to themselves.

    I am always interested in how new atheists get whiny about incivility when they find someone who can and isn’t afraid to answer them. Which of my words to you are you accusing of incivility?

    I don’t know of any code of manners that requires that someone not rationally answer someone’s assertions they believe are wrong.

  96. El Guerrero del Interfaz

    Anthony, it seems that I need to clarify my posture because I don’t identify with what you attribute me.

    Another poster has pointed out the fact that not all accomodationists are equals. And so are “new” atheists. Very much so. The proverbial flock of cats. I agree with others “new” atheists in some things. And I disagree in others.

    I already said that I know the fight of the gay and of the “new” atheists have different goals. Gays fight for their rights and atheists for respect and recognition (which is the same that ending the “free pass” of religion, the double standard). Atheists already have their rights. At least theoretically.

    Like gays in Spain. Here, precisely due to the fact that the other side did not want to negotiate, the government went full throttle on gays rights. So homosexuals in Spain have the same rights as heterosexuals. Theoretically. They can marry, adopt children, inherit, get protection from hate crimes, etc. But, is that enough? Because they still can suffer lots of forms of covert discrimination.

    And the same way that gays don’t like when they are called perverts, pedophiles and more, atheists don’t like when they are called immoral, evil and the like. Is that being a juvenile brat? Is it wrong to answer?

    From my point of view the bold attitude of “new” atheists is just an answer to the continuous attacks of the religious against incredulity and those who share it. And, frankly, they are very mild responses compared with the virulent attacks of the religious. For instance atheism being “the greatest of evils” like the Archbishop of Westminster said a while ago. This civil? This is civilized? Atheists have to put up with that?

    This is the double standard that I, as a “new” atheist, oppose. Religion can attack atheism at will. But, if atheists answer, they are not being civil, they are behaving like juvenile brats.

    I think that the bold attitude of more vocal “new” atheists is needed and does not practically alienate anybody. It does not because most of those who could be “alienated” already have their negative opinion fixed and will never change. But their voices make people, who otherwise never will, take conscience of the issue.

    Just like did the gays in Spain. Here the problem was not that they were hated but that they were ignored in plain sight. The “mariquitas” were quite popular. Like the village idiot or the dwarf clown. Always supposed to be funny and entertaining. As long as they stayed “en su sitio” (at their designed place). But if they moved… Like happened with the singer Miguel de Molina when he dare to answer when a “facha” patted his ass. Or like when the dancer Antonio dared to swear. Or when an antiquary of Seville asked for payment when he was robbed by “la Collares”.

    It took lot of provocative actions from the GLT associations to make people aware of the issue and to get involved and do something about it. Even if it’s just to vote. And they were criticized for being loud, provocative, immoral, and things less charitable. But, precisely these virulent critics from the more conservative gained even more people to their cause. Because most of the ones that criticized them would have done so anyway. Even if they had forgot about gay pride parades, “la pluma”, or anything. Because for them the problem is to *be* gay. Just like for too much religionists, the problem is to *be* atheist.

    I personally think that it’s true that some people need religion and/or faith. But that’s not everybody. So I think religion and faith should be a personal thing. And neither religion nor atheism nor any other similar option should be given a “free pass” over the other ones. If it’s normal that believers criticize atheism, it’s also normal that atheists criticize religion. If it’s not civil that atheists criticize religion, it is not civil that believers criticize atheism. “O jugamos todos, o se pincha la pelota”.

    That’s what I meant and think. Sorry I was not clear enough and caused your misinterpretation.

  97. Anthony McCarthy

    El Guerrero del Interfaz, it was the stated intention of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, as well as other published prominent new atheists, that they wanted all religious believers to be held responsible for the crimes of any religious believers. That includes people who not only aren’t responsible for those crimes, it includes religious believers who completely disapprove of them. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins targeted the Amish, for crying out loud.

    That is the standard of vicarious culpability that they promote, it’s the one that new atheists practice, you can see it on this very thread. It’s a standard they don’t accept for themselves even as their heroes call for nuclear first strikes and cluster bombing and military invasion of countries without cause. It’s a standard they have absolutely no right to expect, its a standard no one should give them until they explicitly abandon their double standard and stop practicing it.

    I’m going to do my best to point this out and to ask people to start giving the new atheists the benefit of their own standard. That’s only just.

    From my point of view the bold attitude of “new” atheists is just an answer to the continuous attacks of the religious against incredulity and those who share it.

    Thank you for illustrating my point. It’s absurd for you people to insist on your right to be rude and obnoxious and, in many cases, dishonest, while crying when people are assertive with you. It’s been my experience that just rigorously pressing the statements of new atheists on the basis of evidence and reason is enough to get them to cry foul.

    So homosexuals in Spain have the same rights as heterosexuals. Theoretically. They can marry, adopt children, inherit, get protection from hate crimes, etc. But, is that enough? Because they still can suffer lots of forms of covert discrimination.

    You think I don’t understand that? The most that government can do is make discrimination illegal and allow for legal recourse, they can’t stop bigots from discriminating. What do you expect them to do on top of that? Government can’t guarantee an injustice free life, they can only permit redress of some forms of it.

    If you think that atheists never discriminate against gay people, look at the laws in those countries that are officially atheistic, China, the old Soviet Union. And I clearly don’t mean countries with a neutral separation of church and state. Their prohibitions rival a lot of the countries with right-wing religious rule. None of them have been as good as many countries with democratic governments but which have kept the anachronism of an official state religion. A civil democracy is the guarantee of minority rights, not the program of the new atheism.

  98. James

    I would encourage anyone who feels that religion will ever go away to listen to what Andy Thomson had to say to American Atheists 09 about Why We Believe in Gods (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu9eMrg).

    You can draw your own conclusions, but if you oppose accommodationism, bear in mind that we’re in with a better chance of convincing the religiously inclined if we don’t insult them, great though the temptation may be. And if we confine ourselves to specific issues.

  99. just one small point on the aestheitc aspect of Darwinian model.

    Rather a point defying it.

    If we see with a clear vision, ALL animals are HUMAN. I mean not only from their heart. But as a WHOLE.

    To test for yourself, imagine a tyranosaurus rex, putting on his glasses, to read his newspaper.

    Done? now imagine EVRERY other species doing that.

    Got IT?

    It’s just that surprises (supernatural events) would make us haywire. So the creator lets it happen in the natural flow. Which is healthy for our minds and less work for the creator.

    Both directions of the arrow..

    GOOD FOR YOU!

    p.s: and what more, those guys can take to reading newspapers ANY DAY OF THE YEAR that THEY choose. They don’t because doing that would compromise their other abilities ..things that they ACTUALLY enjoy – DOING. Those enjoyments that are harmful to others, or are not fitted with the times. Are removed.

    Simple as a Cat!! :-D

  100. Ben

    Yes, I also agree that people who do study evolution, or most sciences DO question the religion they believe in, and also other religions.

    This happened to my neighbour, he was a strong catholic (not sure what specifically), he was a university headmaster, very successful.

    Although he started to question religion very much. After a few years, he and his wife stopped believing.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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