Why Evolution is True, But Coyne is Wrong About Religion, Part I: The "Shut Up" Canard

By Chris Mooney | June 3, 2009 3:10 pm

So–I have recently reread Jerry Coyne’s lengthy New Republic piece, which is at the source of some of our debates; and let me say, it is a very good, extensive, thoughtful article. I have not read Coyne’s book, although time willing, I would like to. However, I also feel myself pretty conversant with the many persuasive reasons why evolution is true, and I know I am in full agreement with Coyne about this.

Still, for those who like good reads in defense of science, let me say that everyone ought to buy a copy of Coyne’s book if you haven’t already–I am quite sure, based on the strength of the New Republic piece, that it will be worth it.

In the arena of throat clearing, I also want to add something else. And that is that in my experience, the science blogosphere is a hard place to really debate matters relating to science and religion, due to the polemicism that tends to occur. So let me also say to Coyne at the outset that I would challenge him to a public debate about how, as two atheists and supporters of evolution, we ought to approach the crucial and also highly divisive subject of religion. A debate in person would be the most thoughtful format, and one in which I suspect we could achieve real progress.

In the form of an olive branch I’d also like to offer Coyne a concession and apology. While there are some things I disagree with in Coyne’s New Republic article–and even more in his blog response to me–I am not arguing that Coyne is guilty of incivility, unthoughtful argument, ad hominems, or anything else along these general lines. There is much incivility in this general area, much unthinking polemicism, much extremism–all of it regrettable. However, this is not my issue with Coyne in particular; and I think the title of one of my posts, “Civility and the New Atheists,” was unfortunate in that it suggested I find Coyne uncivil, when I don’t. In that post, I was really talking more about something like Forrest’s concept of “civic friendship” rather than “civility” anyway, and the word civility does not recur save in the title. So it was a poor choice of words.

[Another choice of words on my part that has been challenged, “flailing indiscriminately against religion,” was not meant to refer to Coyne, and as far as I can see, did not. His New Republic article is certainly perceptive and discriminate.]

So my issue with Coyne is not about manners. It is rather that I think he’s wrong, with very important consequences, about the alleged incompatibility of science and religion, and what we should do about it. So I am going to try in a series of posts to explain why. It will take several because there are a lot of issues rolling around here, and I want to break them up to deal with them more adequately. (It will also take some time–these posts won’t necessarily all appear today or even this week.)

At the outset there is a pressing need to deal with one misconception that, unfortunately, I find in Coyne’s blog post in response to me, and that I have heard before. Coyne says I am being “anti-intellectual” and even that “In their desire to cozy up to Christians, [Mooney and Forrest] are trying to impose a form of intellectual censorship on the rest of us. This is what you do when you’ve lost the argument about the compatibility of faith and science.”

We haven’t lost the argument—on the contrary, the argument has barely begun. There are many issues to address, and the case against incompatibility and for accommodationism, or reconciliationism, is actually quite strong. Indeed, to be truly “intellectual” about it we need to draw upon bodies of knowledge–philosophical, say, or historical–that I believe Coyne does not adequately address in the New Republic piece. But we won’t get off the ground if there are charges flying that somebody wants to squelch debate or dialogue in some way.

So although I shouldn’t have to, let me come out and say it: I believe in freedom of speech and the value of dialogue and the open exchange of ideas. I have never argued that anybody ought to shut up, be quiet, etc. This simply wrong.

Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc.

But while Coyne and the New Atheists deserve (and quite obviously enjoy) freedom of speech, I and others have every right to point out the severe consequences of the divisiveness that is being fueled over science and religion these days. And we have every right to challenge the accuracy of their arguments about the alleged incompatibility that Coyne cites. I myself would challenge aspects of Coyne’s approach on at least four counts—on philosophical, historical, legal, and strategic grounds. We can try to get to all of that (though it will take a while).

But first, we must get past the idea that anybody is telling anybody to shut up. It’s simply not the case.

So what do you say, Dr. Coyne? If I agree that you’re not uncivil, and you agree that I’m not telling you to shut up, then we can start talking, no?

Comments (107)

  1. Good start, and it is forthcoming of you to clear things up at the onset. I believe the use of some words was unfortunate,but now I will look forward to the other parts.

  2. Matt Penfold

    “Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc.”

    No, this is the Internet. Please stop this xenophobic tendancy you have to assume America is all that matters. American Exceptionalism is not confined to the right-wing it would seem, as it is something you seem to believe as well. It is it not a pretty, American exceptionalism, just means that no matter how well argued your point is, it should just be ignored as the pourings of a bigot.

  3. Matt,
    I stand corrected (though the line about America was sort of in jest). However, the evolution/religion issue takes a particular cast in America, so national distinctions here are relevant, and as the author of a book called “Unscientific America,” I will certainly be discussing it primarily as a domestic issue for us.

  4. Matt Penfold

    Chris,

    The evolution/creationism debate is peculiarly American, at least in developed world. Which is why I think many of us outside the US get a little annoyed when we are told our criticism of religion is doing harm to the evolution side in the US. I am pretty sure you are socially liberal, and find discrimination against gays and woman (to give just two of the more egregious examples of religious bigotry) unacceptable. The debate in Europe has moved on, and is now about the secularisation of society. As I have said before, creationism is but one aspect of the attempts by the religious to dictate to society. There are others, and in terms of the harm done to individuals I think issues such as abortion rights, or gay rights, are more important. If we look to Africa, then arguing the toss over creationism seems pretty petty when certain religious organisations deliberately lie about the effectivness of condoms, and are a serious obstacle to preventing the spread of HIV. We are talking about behaviour that borders on a crime againt humanity. Just how do we describe the policy of the Catholic Church is that respect, and still be nice to them ?

  5. [Another choice of words on my part that has been challenged, “flailing indiscriminately against religion,” was not meant to refer to Coyne, and as far as I can see, did not. His New Republic article is certainly perceptive and discriminate.]

    I agree. One could well argue that “flailing indiscriminately against religion” is done in some quarters. As such, that remark was directed at the “flailing” ones, not to those like Coyne who do not meet that description.

    I wonder how much can really be said for “accommodation” from philosophy, to move on to the issues. Historically, legally, and strategically, I think that there is much to be said for most of us (not all, because the extremes highlight the moderation of others) to be fairly tolerant toward the religious, or they won’t be persuaded toward either evolution or atheism.

    Philosophically, there is a great problem with accepting arguments from authority (fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam), which, sensibly, is what most theists do. Philosophy generally doesn’t accept “faith” as meaning anything beyond the individual (and science supplies explanations for religious thinking, too), and so would not countenance religious claims. Sure, if the person sticks to the claim that “this is my truth,” philosophy has little to criticize, yet relatively few theists will keep their claims so circumspect.

    Philosophy is what critiques science, after all, and so science already embodies philosophy’s standards for empirical and “existential” statements. Philosophy is hardly more accommodating of religion than science is, at least in its more rigorous and meaningful forms (there is “religious philosophy” that will privilege theological claims, yet most philosophy would consider that to be a cheat), as philosophy normally makes the standards for good thinking.

    Yes, it is true that philosophy doesn’t deny the possibilities of god, leprechauns, fairies, invisible pink unicorns, or Spinoza’s “nature as god, and vice-versa.” Neither, though, does Dawkins. He just doesn’t find god to be a justified belief, nor does anything I’d call “good philosophy.”

    I’m all for arguing tolerance, but I’d keep it mostly on the practical level, and perhaps also on the neurological “free will is an illusion” view of humanity, which recognizes religious folk as merely wrong and not the least bit evil. Philosophy won’t at all excuse the bad thinking engaged in by most religionists, and it is inappropriate to suggest that it either does or can do so.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  6. I wouldn’t have included “Why Coyne is Wrong” in the title to this post, because this post was more throat-clearing, more drum-roll, please verbiage.
    I’m right now experiencing Deja vu!

    What was it, a year ago…I sat idly by and watched the entire framing debate ignite, burn then fizzle, over at your old site. To my complete surprise you never got much past point one on how framing is different than spin. There was a lot of throat-clearing posts that looked promising (like this one) but it didn’t go much beyond that. You said you gave up the whole attempt at explaining yourself on your own blog because–as you lamented–the commenters were acting like screechy monkeys, or some similar sentiment.

    I sincerely hope this attempt to bring your full and complete argument into the daylight fairs better.

    Best of luck.

  7. Gilt,
    If a dialogue becomes clearly unproductive, or counterproductive, as the framing one did, then I certainly reserve the right to abandon it. But I hope that doesn’t happen in this case.

  8. Matt Penfold

    “I’m all for arguing tolerance, but I’d keep it mostly on the practical level…”

    You mean in the way Richard Dawkins, and Catholic, Anglican and Jewish leaders can overcome their disagreements to unite in their condemnation of attempts to have creationism taught as science ?

  9. @Glen #5 – stick around for the discussion.

    Philosophy may not have a lot of encouraging news for religion, but it has a thing or two to say about whether science and religion are two irreconcilable world-views or instead science is a tool that can be applied by a variety of people with a variety of worldviews, including religious ones. The former is the view of Coyne and the anti-accomodationists. The latter is my view, and I believe it is Chris’s. I look forward to hearing how Chris employs philosophy in defense of that view, as well as how Jerry will use philosophy in defense of his view.

  10. Matt Penfold

    Philosophy, and science cannot tell if gods exist or not. But they can tell us about the nature of any god should one exist. Most, not all, religions make claims for their favourite deity intervening in the universe. Claim of intervention fall within the purview of science, and there is bad news for religion: There is no evidence that events happen in the universe that cannot be explained as the result of natural processes. Of course not all events have been explained, but that does not mean that absent data one assumes “godditit”. Now there some religious groups that say god is how the universe works, in otherwords he works through what scientists consider natural processes. Science does not help us with this type of god, but philosophy does. If a universe that has a god running it cannot be distinguished from a universe running simple in natural processes then why posit a god at all ? Pushing a god into such a scenario has no explanatory purpose.

    So it would seem to me that between then science and philoophy tell us either 1) god probable does not exist, 2) is irrelavent or 3) is deceitful. The deceitful bit comes from claims of some religious groups that god has rigged the universe to give the appearence of age and that it appears to follow natural rules, when in fact it is young, and is subject to his arbitrary whim. They tend not offer a reason why a god they admit lies is worthy of worship.

  11. NewEnglandBob

    Glen Davidson got to the heart of this quickly:

    Yes, it is true that philosophy doesn’t deny the possibilities of god, leprechauns, fairies, invisible pink unicorns, or Spinoza’s “nature as god, and vice-versa.” Neither, though, does Dawkins. He just doesn’t find god to be a justified belief, nor does anything I’d call “good philosophy.”

    This has been Dawkins/Dennett/Coyne/Myers/Hitchens, etc. position all along. The hatred has been poured out by theists upon atheists for hundreds of years, sometimes in the form of murder. The unjustified belief and the enormous damage that has been done in the name of religion is why science and religion are not compatible.

    Educating the public using the lessons of science, critical thought, logic and reason appears to me to be the only way to stop the ‘dumbing’ down of Americans so they can become rational, informed citizens like those of many other countries.

    Gilt @6 and mk at 10 also have important points.

    I await your explanation to begin, Chris. So far there is nothing substantial here.

  12. giotto

    I do look forward to future posts on the topic, but like many here I wonder where this can go. From the beginning there are problems with terms: when you speak of religion do you mean to refer only the the religions that are often the proximate causes of these debates, mainly Christianity and Islam, in their fundamentalist manifestations? These are clearly not compatible with science, nor indeed with modernity. But there are many religions in the world, many of them are non-theistic and so do not believe in the interventionist god(s) that are the crux of the problem. Matt at 11 is spot on (after his second sentence, anyway…): any religious tradition that claims intervention into the natural world from supernatural entities is not compatible with religion. The issue is ontological dualism, and in the Abrahamic religions, it is the supernatural side of that dualism which is generally accorded priority. In science that supernatural side does not exist, methodologically, and any statement regarding its existence (or, especially, its role in the natural world) is meaningless. Who among the theists accepts that? I gather that one of Chris’s primary concerns is that we do not come off sounding mean to various theists who are our allies/potential allies on a number of key political issues. These are liberal Christians/Jews/Muslims, especially, who tend to not oppose, say, scientific claims regarding the origins of the earth, the development of life, etc, so that their god is not deceitful. But their god is certainly irrelevant: god either doesn’t–and never has–interceded in the natural world, or he has. Their beliefs are not compatible with science to the extent they believe their god does or has intervened…. Their “religion” is compatible with science only the extent that they don’t really believe the things that their religions require them to believe.

    I grew up in the Methodist church, which was liberal, has no beef with evolution or old-earth geology, but there were fundamentals one had to accept. Here they are, in first sections of the Apostle’s Creed:

    I believe in God the Father Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth;
    And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;
    the third day he rose from the dead;
    he ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

    Compatible with science?? You can’t get around the interventionist god, not in Christianity.

  13. Fizzmick PaChee

    Thankfully Darwin’s discovery of evolution completely rules out the possibility that man came from some dirt that a god used to make an image of himself out of, and that woman came from a rib of this dirt-man.

    Compare the amount of interlocking data from every applicable scientific field including geology, physics, and even molecular biology, all having observational experiments done, that test and prove the hypotheses of evolution occurring (elevating it to a FACT and a THEORY), with the DISCREDITED FAIRY TALE – a big invisible monster that nobody has ever seen or heard did it.

    It is frightening that mass delusions of supernatural beings still exist today. It is the same thing as saying that my invisible fire breathing dragon is more powerful than your multi-headed fire spewing sea monster. So, come around to my way of thinking or I will commit atrocities for it.

    Everything from the murderous blood stained Sky Daddy who drowned virtually all humanity and other life, sentenced everyone to leave Utopia after Eve (persuaded by a talking snake) ate a magical apple, had Jonah take a ride in the belly of a whale, ruined the life of Job, told Abraham to murder his own kid, killed all the first born of Egypt, had his chosen people commit genocide on the original inhabitants of Palestine, to letting his own son be nailed to some wood so mankind could party with a ghost – is a FAIRY TALE that humanity needs to reject if we are to see many more generations.

    By the way if you are dumb enough to believe that this fable is real; in the Bible, the murder count is God/millions – Devil/zero. Whom would you rather spend time with, a vengeful monster or a fallen angel who thought he had a better way? I am NOT promoting the Devil, just illustrating the craziness in this stupidity.

    Hopefully if you were previously deluded, after reading this you will see how foolish you have been. Society needs to accelerate its retreat from worshiping outlandishly absurd fictional psychopathic beings.

    There is no middle ground.

  14. “Nobody wants anybody to shut up. This is America. Etc…But first, we must get past the idea that anybody is telling anybody to shut up. It’s simply not the case.”

    You mean you specifically in this discussion, right, Chris? You don’t mean that no accommodationist wants anybody to shut up and you don’t mean that no accommodationist has ever told anyone – not to shut up but to ‘Lay low and let others do the talking‘? [Italics in the original]

    “Dawkins and PZ need to lay low as Expelled hits theaters. Let others play the role of communicator…When called up by reporters or asked to comment, Dawkins and PZ should refer journalists to these organizations and individuals.
    If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support: Lay low and let others do the talking.”

    I’m sure you realize that that advice from Matthew Nisbet created a strong impression that accommodationism was about telling atheists to lie low and let others do the talking, which amounts to telling them to shut up. That impression has probably lingered, so that could be why people thought you meant ‘shut up.’
    Now I’ll shut up!

  15. Jon

    Philosophy is hardly more accommodating of religion than science is, at least in its more rigorous and meaningful forms (there is “religious philosophy” that will privilege theological claims, yet most philosophy would consider that to be a cheat), as philosophy normally makes the standards for good thinking.

    “Rigorous and meaningful” can be pretty wide spectrum. Bertrand Russell has one answer to what that is, Charles Taylor has another. You can dismiss Charles Taylor, right-wing-talk-radio style, but that wouldn’t live up to the standards for good thinking…

  16. As someone who is not a scientist but who has absorbed a lot of E. O. Wilson over the years, I wonder if we really fully understand evolution. There are recent studies from Tufts University and the University of Alberta that suggest that Lamarck was not entirely wrong.

    I think that, lacking enough knowledge, we should follow Wilson in the effort to achieve Consilience.

  17. Anthony McCarthy

    giotto, I don’t happen to be a Christian but there is no way to apply any science to any of the items of faith in the creed. There isn’t a single piece of physical evidence to study and since all of them are either held to be unique in history or miraculous none of them can be the subject of science. You can’t compare any other event because it’s asserted by those who believe this that they happened outside of the normal course of events.

    Science can’t do everything and debunking the Apostle’s Creed is one of them. Evolution, on the other hand, leaves both a physical and genetic record so it is entirely within the ability of science to totally falsify biblical fundamentalism’s mistake to consider Genesis as either science or history.

  18. GM

    So if we both people on the “extreme” side of the issue and accommodationists can agree than religion is a bunch of useless, and often harmful nonsense, do we also agree that religion has to eventually disappear?

    And if we do, are we going to make it disappear by being careful not to offend those who believe in it? I don’t get the logic of this position at all…

  19. Bill C.

    Chris -

    Perhaps you’ve observed different phenomena than I, but I think by now every reasonable “New Atheist” has allowed (in writing, no less) for the possibility, be it slim or not, of the Deistic God. Good reason (not to mention good philosophy) demands it. The real battlefield in the “culture war” is on the idea of the interventionist God, where science can partially weigh in and philosophy cleans up around the edges (as Glen already covered).

    The vitriol in atheist critique boils up from the moral/legal sphere, in which the philosophically bankrupt inferences of theists compel them to stringently cling to and try to force upon society otherwise unreasonable positions – or to caricaturize reasonable positions by justifying them with the divine. I am quite curious how it would be strategically – or even ethically! – prudent to accommodate the perpetrators of this action.

    Please tell me it doesn’t just come down to, “We have to be happy with baby steps, one at a time.” I really am curious to read on.

  20. Anthony McCarthy

    That last line in my last post should read:

    Science can’t do everything and debunking the Apostle’s Creed is one of them it cannot do.

    Bill C. the vitriol coming from atheists I’ve seen has had nothing to do with science or philosophy, it’s mostly on the level of soccer hooliganism and group identity. And other people are getting tired of it.

  21. mk

    Free speech and all that. Brilliant Chris.

  22. NewEnglandBob

    mk:

    What happened to your post @10???

  23. mk

    @NewEnglandBob…

    Exactly.

  24. NewEnglandBob

    Anthony @17:

    Give us an example of this mythical vitriol that you allude to where it comes from the major atheist bloggers such as Dawkins/Dennett/Coyne/Myers/Hitchens, etc.

    virulent definition: virulence of feeling or of speech – it means ‘harsh’ or ‘strong’ – why is that a problem?

    You will actually find that it mostly comes from creationists and ‘Intelligent’ Design proponents. But they usually goes further to malicious, lying, fabricating nonsense.

  25. I deleted a comment from MK due to profanity. I will continue to do the same in the future. It isn’t welcome here.

    Ophelia,
    As you know, I am not Matt Nisbet, and am not responsible for what he says; I am also no longer doing the whole “framing science” thing with him.

  26. cm

    It is fine to clearly state that you do not want anyone to “shut up”. But using “canard” (fabricated, groundless, etc) to refer to the idea that you have been telling non-accommodationists like Coyne to shut up is probably too strong, and unjustified. Here are two expressions by you that could reasonably be interpreted as you suggesting Coyne and others “shut up”:

    (1) “In my view, we’re not nearly so secure in our defense of evolution in this country that we can indulge in the luxury of alienating the vast number of evolution defenders who hold something like the above belief. In this light, I find Coyne’s piece deeply misguided on a strategic level…” (Apr 27 blog post)

    The key words there are “we can indulge in”; in other words, you advocate that Coyne should *not* indulge in this, i.e., shut up.

    (2) “Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy. Especially when we have the religious right to worry about, why is he criticizing people like Miller and Giberson for their attempts to reconcile modern science and religion?” (May 31 blog post)

    Here I am reading it that you agree with Forrest. The key words are “why is he criticizing”; in other words, you advocate that he *not* criticize, i.e. shut up.

    So, I believe you when you say you want freedom of expression of intellectual ideas. Perhaps what you really want is that Coyne not *want* to express certain ideas? But calling it a canard, and just generally the way you describe this misconception, makes it sound as if you have been unfairly characterized. I can see why the distinction between “telling someone to shut up” and “telling someone their point is not a strategic one” can get confused in the debate, so I’d just ask that you take some responsibility for the fact that your statements could reasonably be mistaken for asking that Coyne refrain from making his statements.

  27. mk

    You could have just put a bunch of asterisks in place of the offending word. Or been an adult and get over it. But whatever.

  28. giotto

    Anthony @15
    It isn’t a matter of science debunking the Apostle’s Creed. My point, perhaps not expressed clearly enough, is that the creed demands that Christians believe in an interventionist god, a god who reaches from the supernatural realm into the world of matter. This is anti-scientific on its face. If events in the natural world are subject to willful manipulation by a supernatural agent, then who is to say when and where the laws of nature are in effect, as opposed to when and where the supernatural agent is intervening? How do we know that the test subjects being given the experimental chemotherapy drug went into remission because of the drug and not because their prayers were answered and angels intervened? Any tenet proposing supernatural intervention is directly opposed to modern science’s core philosophy of methodological naturalism. And such a tenet is fundamental to Christianity. Christians have killed one another for centuries over details of ritual and the nature of the incarnation and such, but they all agree, and always have, that god intervenes in the world.

  29. mk

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2008/03/24/pz-myers-mind-your-manners/

    Everyone… click on that link. Then do search for the word that starts with an F and ends with a K and has a U and C in between. See just how much profanity is not accepted here.

  30. mk

    For the record… I put the F-word (with “ing” attached) in between Jesus and Christ in my comment. That’s it. That’s what’s got Chris in a case of the vapors. That’s it. That was the profanity. It’s not like I said F you or you’re an A-hole or anything like that. It was an exclamation like, “Holy cow, I can’t believe that!”

    I think it was more than just my use of the F-word. Oh well… sad and lame.

  31. MK,
    We learned from that experience, and will become much tighter on comments here if necessary. Moreover those who persistently debase discourse here will be banned. You have been warned.

  32. Apart from everything else, I do agree with the comment above that it’s tiresome when you keep harping about America. This is an international forum and we’re talking about an international situation involving the public role of religion in many countries – Australia, Italy, Nigeria, the UK, and on and on. You have such a parochial perspective on the issues that it’s hard to know where to start.

    However, in international perspective, the issue of loony fundamentalists trying to undermine the teaching of evolution in the US is a relatively minor problem. Of far greater importance is the international attack by many religious leaders on gay rights, abortion rights, freedom of artistic expression, assisted reproduction, stem cell research, therapeutic cloning research, etc. To take just one example, have a look at the draconian laws on assisted reproduction in Italy, put in place in the last few years to satisfy the Catholic Church. As another example, look at how badly compromised Australia’s laws on therapeutic cloning are – all sorts of unnecessary concessions had to be made to get a law allowing therapeutic cloning research through the Australian parliament.

    It is very dangerous when our freedoms are attacked on religious grounds. The faithful are likely to defer to the views of their leaders, who purport to speak on behalf of a god. Even those who are not of the faithful tend to give special deference to religious leaders and to think that they have some kind of moral authority. Governments continually compromise to try to keep religious leaders happy, and the latter can, of course, deliver large numbers of votes. It’s important to point out that Peter Akinola, George Pell, and the like, do not actually speak on behalf of a god (because, most fundamentally, no such god exists) and that they do not have any special moral authority. It’s important because, in practice, their views have influence, notwithstanding whatever lip service is given to secularism in various countries.

    Chris, you seem to live on another planet where there’s a problem that too much effort goes into criticising religion and religious leaders. On the planet that I live on, the opposite is true. Even in secular countries such as mine, the tendency is to give religious leaders a free ride for fear of seeming “disrespectful” or “intolerant” – or just because most people don’t want to get involved in arguments about such sensitive matters as religion. As I said, governments try to keep them happy. On the planet I live on, about the LAST thing that anyone should be doing is telling people not to say things that alienate the sensitivities of the faithful. We seriously need a debate as to whether or not Akinola, Pell, etc., speak with the authority of a god. It is legitimate and even urgent to challenge their claim to do so.

    By the way, I am yet to understand why saying that we should not say things that alienate certain people is not the same as saying “Shut up” … and Nisbet has quite explicitly said on various occasions that Dawkins, for one, should shut up and let others do the talking. Don’t you understand the outrage that that has generated? It would help if you distanced yourself from his comments.

  33. Steve F.

    Hi All.

    Some good posts here, especially by our blog authors. Let me see if I can make a contribution, starting with Coyne’s review. He concludes:

    ” Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.”

    This, of course, is palpable nonsense, as anyone who has paying attention to the serious literature knows. And its obviously s0, unless you are mesmerized by creationism or ID.

    Here is the argument:

    Evolution is a mechanism of explanation, i.e., a science. It depends on the repeatability of phenomena in nature, i.e., the existence of natural laws. The existence of natural laws is compatible with religion, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, indeed they are responsible for the widespread dispersion of belief in laws. Therefore, evolution is compatible with religion. QED.

    And, of course, Islam in its Golden Age developed the scientific empiricism (that caught on much later in Europe) in direct response to the revelation of the Koran. With some trepidation at first, religious intellectuals in Europe bought into it to, in no small part because they overlapped with the nascent European scientific community.

    So, the issue has nothing to do with whether evolution is compatible with religion. It obviously is. Rather, the issue is about the politics of science and religion: the point of view which various interest groups of a religious or scientific persuasion are selling their adherents at the moment. And, of course, out of a opposition to what Eagleton would call smug suburban imperialism, the creationists are doing something similar with ID.

    So, what about Coyne? Clearly, he is selling the opposition of science and religion line, and like so my scientists, he simply lacks a wider learning about religion, its history, and its diversity. So, he can claim anything he wants, unrestrained by facts.

    Obvious, no?

    Steve F.

  34. I see that there’s now a comment by you, Chris, in answer to Ophelia, where you do put some distance between yourself and Nisbet. That helps a bit, so thanks for that.

    But the heading and tone of your post are still wrong. It is perfectly legitimate for people such as Jerry Coyne to criticise defences of religious views, and once you recognise that there was no reason for the post that created this mess. Instead of heading the post with “why Coyne is wrong” it would be better to head it “why I was wrong”. And clearly the “shut up” is not a canard. It is clearly what Nisbet said, and you haven’t disagreed until now; it is also pretty clearly what you represent Forrest as having said, while agreeing with her and praising her talk.

  35. Brian

    Sigh.

    Many of the posts here remind me of the reasons behind the old dictum, Never talk about religion or politics.

    When I was growing up we lived near a family. The family was Catholic and wore their faith on their sleeve, so to speak. I always kept a certain distance for this reason, even though they were never anything but nice to me (especially the parents).

    Over the years they had the usual triumphs and tribulations of life. I got to see how they responded, and that their faith was really just one part of their lives, even if important. One of the parents is gone now and the other is not well. The children have scattered with the winds.

    Here’s what I learned about them. They were genuinely decent people, just living their life. Things that I expected them to do (or not do), things that are Doctrinal in the Church, didn’t automatically happen just because their Church said so. In fact Doctrine sometimes didn’t happen at all. Colour me surprised!

    Were these people bad Catholics? Sinners? Maybe even forgiven for their sins? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    I wonder what might have happened, had I not kept my distance. I suggest nothing so simplistic as me acquiring Faith from them. Simply that I learned from them, even with their limited role in my life.

  36. Anthony McCarthy

    Why shouldn’t the owner of this blog get to decide on what standards he’s going to maintain, it’s his blog?

    Jerry Coyne got upset with me posting this comment.

    We are all entitled to our personal beliefs but Collins has
    taken public positions that are unscientific and that it a problem.

    Hands up everyone here who believes in memes.

    He said “This is an ad hominem remark and I have spammed it. ”

    Which I figured was his right to decide, even if it made no sense and was a good example of the rampant misuse of the term “ad hominem”.

    giotto

    “a god who reaches from the supernatural realm into the world of matter. This is anti-scientific on its face. If events in the natural world are subject to willful manipulation by a supernatural agent, then who is to say when and where the laws of nature are in effect, as opposed to when and where the supernatural agent is intervening? ”

    That’s an interesting problem, but it has nothing to do with whether or not there is a God. Why would a God who created the universe and determines its regular motions not be able to decide that sometimes something else is desirable. You might feel uneasy with the idea but that doesn’t make it any less possible. Our liking something or feeling easy with it or even understanding it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with whether or not something is real.

    ” How do we know that the test subjects being given the experimental chemotherapy drug went into remission because of the drug and not because their prayers were answered and angels intervened?”

    Well, how can you tell in a test group, those who are getting the drug being tested aren’t getting a positive result from the “placebo effect”? How can you tell if the drug isn’t interacting with an unknown substance an individual is ingesting or producing as an unusual feature of their individual chemistry? When you’re talking about that kind of proposed miraculous event, you’re talking about individual people, generally. “Prayer” isn’t held to work in every case in to achieve what might be asked for, if it happens its out of the ordinary. They would probably count as outliers in a test.

    I wrote a critique of those “prayer” studies, both the allegedly positive and negative ones. I concluded that you couldn’t study prayer for a number of reasons including:
    1. You couldn’t define what “prayer” was or determine if people were doing it even if you could. Two people might think they were doing the same thing but you couldn’t even be certain if one person was actually doing it twice in a row.
    2. You couldn’t test if “prayer” was happening within the test.
    3. You couldn’t tell if the person was “doing it the right way”.
    4. There would be no way to set up a control group that would reliably exclude the possibility of someone “praying” for the patients in it.
    5. Since “prayer” generally is considered a request for intervention by another party, there isn’t any way to know if that request would be honored on a regular basis. There isn’t any way of knowing if “putting God to a test” would be sufficiently offensive to have a negative impact on the test. God doesn’t sign consent forms.
    6. There is no guarantee that God wouldn’t have intended to cure someone in the control group or to withhold curing from someone in the test group.

    It went on. The conclusion I reached was that the entire idea of scientifically testing healing through “prayer” was absurdly unscientific.

    If you want to get into people getting killed using religion as an excuse, you’ll have to explain how science which has given us the means to kill millions of people in a single day and which has killed hundreds of thousands in two atomic bombings, as well as myriads in other ways, gets a free pass. Sam Harris has endorsed the idea of first strike nuclear attacks against moslems that would kill tens of millions of people in a single day. Instantaneous Holochausts are apparently not insanely depraved enough to give the “new atheists” pause. You’ll forgive me if I don’t take moral instructions from people who can tolerate Harris and Hitchens among their leaders.

    I don’t know where you’re commenting from, I’m in the United States, so often bemoaned to be a religion ridden society. We’ve never gone to war on the basis of religious belief. I can’t think of a Western democracy that has. Mostly its over money but I don’t notice the “new atheists” calling for an end to that.

    It’s one thing I figured out when I read Coyne’s blog, science doesn’t get a different standard when it comes to moral reckoning. Neither do atheists. If you want to hold religious believers to a very high standard of vicarious culpability, you get it applied to you as well.

  37. @Steve F,

    Obviously, no.

  38. giotto

    Anthony at 38
    You said
    That’s an interesting problem, but it has nothing to do with whether or not there is a God

    Not, it doesn’t. In none of my posts have I addressed the existence or non-existence of god. My purpose has been quite narrow: to suggest that certain types of religion, among them Christianity, are not compatible with modern science because they believe in a supernatural being who intervenes as a willful agent into the natural order. That is all.

    The rest of what you say there seems ancillary to my argument, so I won’t respond to it, save for:

    Well, how can you tell in a test group, those who are getting the drug being tested aren’t getting a positive result from the “placebo effect”?
    Control groups.

    If you want to get into people getting killed using religion as an excuse. . .
    You are reading something into my argument that isn’t there. I was only showing that the belief in an interventionist god is about the only thing Christians have agreed on.

    and

    Science is an epistemological procedure, not an entity or agent. It does not kill people. People with bombs kill people; people who dump chemicals into drinking water kill people. Etc. There certainly are ethical arguments to be made regarding the way science and technology are used, but the moral actors are the people who use these, not the science or technology themselves

  39. giotto

    Sorry. That was meant for Anthony at 36. The muscle relaxants are finally kicking in!

  40. NewEnglandBob

    Steve F @33

    There is no rational argument in that word salad.

  41. J.J.E.

    Chris,

    I think you have really accepted the religious frame on this whole issue and that colors your entire response. I believe that the frame you have accepted uncritically is of the following form:

    “If you criticize any religious people (especially us moderates), you alienate all of us. If you aren’t with us, you’re against us.”

    The basic premise that I gather from Coyne (and even if it isn’t his position, it IS mine) is not that secular scientists, defenders of science, and science educators should attack the accommodationists, but that our professional organizations should not promote the their assistance when that assistance promotes a religious point of view. So, as a result, Jerry can’t accept the (and in fact disagrees very strongly with) reconciliation with religion because it invariably devolves into explicitly supernatural terms. This isn’t merely speculation, he documented instances of that very phenomenon in his review of Miller’s and Giberson’s books. In fact, Jerry took special care to explicitly single out portions of those books that he thought were praiseworthy. Despite their good sections, each of that brace of books does in fact make very supernatural claims.

    In fact, I don’t even know what Jerry’s position is regarding his recommended personal response to fundamentalists who reject evolution. It is thus debatable that he even recommends that scientists ALWAYS adopt an uncompromising rejection of these particular types of supernaturalism. His public advocacy has been of two classes: 1) supernatural claims are unacceptable in science; 2) science advocacy organizations should never under any circumstance give even the impression of support of supernatural claims.

    On the other hand, when personally confronted with a raving fundamentalist, I think it is perfectly reasonable to first try to reason with them on purely secular grounds. If that fails, and they continue to unreasonably reject evolution , I have no qualms about pointing to people like Miller and Giberson and saying:

    “These Christians strongly support evolution. And in fact their understanding of evolution overlaps greatly with my own. I disagree strongly with them when they delve into theology and mix it with science. Despite my disagreements with these folks, they are much more accurate sources of understanding evolution than some of the sources you have shown me. They actually reference peer-reviewed research and discuss the empirical support for evolutionary theory. I think your understanding of evolution will improve if, at the very least, you reject your current stance in favor of one similar to theirs. Maybe then we could share sufficient common ground to discuss areas in which I disagree with Giberson and Miller.”

    I speculate that Coyne would never use that particular strategy personally, but I doubt he would kick up a ruckus for other people using it. But what Jerry and I see as unequivocally wrong is when NCSE and the NAS and AAAS flirt with endorsing views that promote supernatural views. And they have done just that.

    In short, yes, scientists as individuals really can engage with fundamentalists by drawing them to the “middle ground” that folks like Giberson and Miller occupy, as long as they’re honest about telling them that they explicitly see it as a compromise position. But as a strategy for large science organizations, I think that strategy is both awkward and misleading. Those organizations should adopt a general approach that doesn’t even flirt with violations of that natural basis of science. If an organization wants to try to reconcile science and religion or convince fundamentalists that they can keep their superstition and believe most of of evolution too, it should be an organization explicitly founded for such purposes. In other words, the NCSE, AAAS, and NAS should be secular organizations. They are currently flirting with non-secular positions, even if those positions are watered down deistic versions of religion.

  42. “the alleged incompatibility of science and religion”

    Alleged incompatibility? Isn’t it obvious religious people have been fighting against the truth of scientific discoveries for centuries? It’s just getting worse, not better. For example in Idiot America, there are countless evolution deniers and they’re all religious. The Muslim terrorists have the same problem. They’re terrified of evolutionary biology.

    Every day scientific discoveries make the magic god fairy invention more and more ridiculous. Scientific facts will continue to grow stronger, and eventually god believers will be found only in insane asylums, which is where they belong right now in my opinion.

  43. I look forward to seeing a discussion on the merits of the claims (that science is/is not compatible with religion). To date I haven’t felt that logical arguments have been made in the compatible camp.

    Rather, I feel like the argument from that side has been one of strategy, not fact. That is- we ought to accommodate moderate religious claims that support, or at least remain passive on, evolution.

    I have no problem accommodating the moderately religious (in fact, I have no choice- that represents most of my friends and family). I do not believe, however, that this obligates me to accommodate their beliefs if they espouse them to me, or if they adversely affect my life. In other words, if someone tries to tell me there is a god and he did such and such in ancient times, and maybe he did it via quantum-level interventions, I am not likely to shun that person (at least, not the first time), but I am quite likely to explain why I think they are wrong.

    As for the substance of the actual question of compatibility, I don’t think this is a fair question to ask about religion in general. Science has a pretty good definition- it implies a certain epistemology that has become well established over the years. Religion, however, can mean anything, and can claim anything. It seems trivially true that science is compatible with some forms of religious belief (I think Coyne even tried to mention that in his aforementioned book reviews).

    However, when we start talking about specific religions, that’s where the conflict lies- and in the US the most dominant religion is Christianity (or Abrahamic religions in general). The fact is that the Abrahamic religions make a lot of factual claims that are not only not supported by evidence, but directly contradict what we know from science. The world was not created in 6 days. People do not turn into salt pillars. Humans do not ride up to heaven on horseback. Persons are not born of virgins (at least not without artificial insemination) and resurrected after crucifixion. Scientific thought brings us to these conclusions, and it is folly to ignore that conflict for the sake of making nice.

    If theists want to pick and choose their scientific facts to suit their worldview then that is their right. We have every right- indeed, obligation- to explain why that is bad science.

    Science has a long history of being under attack by religious and political sentiments. The best long-term defense, I think, is to stick with the science wherever it leads, and leave equivocation to others.

  44. Jon (alternate)

    Note: Not the same Jon who posted before (@15).

    From a purely practical perspective, having people like PZ or Coyne is important — even if it does somewhat contribute to unresolvable culture wars. Otherwise it’s just an invitation to get steamrolled.

    Lots of people want to think of themselves as moderates. What happens if one side lacks their PZ or Coyne-like figures while the other side does not is that the “moderate” viewpoint just gets defined as being somewhere off to the side where people are screaming most loudly.

    Is that reasonable? Is it good? Is it desirable?

    No. But it’s reality.

  45. Anthony McCarthy

    My purpose has been quite narrow: to suggest that certain types of religion, among them Christianity, are not compatible with modern science because they believe in a supernatural being who intervenes as a willful agent into the natural order. That is all.

    It’s pretty remarkable, then that it was in Europe and the United States that modern science arose, quite notably very often through the efforts of Christians who believed in their religion and among a predominantly Christian population. You’d think they’d have noticed that they couldn’t do science, and if not them the myriad of others studying the material universe who, no doubt, would have liked to get their jobs.

    I’m interested in the “new atheism” because of the obvious disconnect between its pretensions of scientific and logical rigor and the fact that they can’t even deliver the goods on something like this. The new atheism is just the continuation of the “skeptics” fad from the 60s and 70s and they’re about as sloppy and dishonest. Though, I will give the “skeptics” this, they generally had slightly better manners.

    You might want to look for the hard to find later writing of Marcello Truzzi on the topic of pseudo-skepticism. So much of what he said applies even more to the new atheism.

    I can’t participate any more just now, I’ve got a full schedule today.

  46. Anthony McCarthy

    On second thought, I’ll take the time for this.

    Science is an epistemological procedure, not an entity or agent. It does not kill people. People with bombs kill people; people who dump chemicals into drinking water kill people. Etc. There certainly are ethical arguments to be made regarding the way science and technology are used, but the moral actors are the people who use these, not the science or technology themselves

    This is such a bunch of garbage that it has to be answered. Science is what scientists do, there isn’t any disembodied entity “science” that is separable from the real world as it happens. Science is up to its eyes in sordid, commercial, military money. Scientists don’t get to make believe that they don’t know exactly what the likely application of their product is. The ones who are hired by the military and industry are hired to do exactly what they do. The scientists who worked on nuclear bombs knew exactly what those were for, here, in the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, every one of those embodiments of science knew that their work had the potential to kill millions of people. It’s like the Tom Leherer song ” that’s not my department says Wernher von Braun”.

    Scientists do some of the worst things done today, things that kill people and destroy the environment. Some of them do some of the best things done today. I don’t blame the ones who aren’t guilty of what the worst does, which is a lot more fair than the new atheist standard, the one they apply to the “other side”. That’s not the one of complete inculpability they expect to have the benefit of, the one they whine like cry babies if someone doesn’t it apply to them.

    The new atheism is all about blaming religious people for crimes they don’t commit and often vehemently disapprove of. It’s the stated goal of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others to tar all religion with the worst crimes committed in the name of religion. This week there have been the loud mouthed new atheists all over the blogs blaming all of religion for the murder of Dr. Tiller. That was done even on a thread here. Knowing the new atheism is mighty skimpy on logic, apparently they couldn’t follow their argument to the logical conclusion that since he was murdered while ushering in his Reformed Lutheran Church that they had to hold him responsible for “creating the atmosphere” in which encouraged his own murder. The comment I made about Coyne’s misuse of “ad hominem” is consonant with my experience that the new atheist grasp of logic doesn’t extend to flashing around a few of the technical terms of classical logic.

    I’m tired of you guys not getting called on your bigoted, science free, logic free, nonsense.

  47. Anthony, I think you are attaching too much intent to what scientists do. Granted that scientists many times know full well what the consequences of their actions are, but 90% of scientists do what they do not because they want their work to have certain effects on people or because they want to tell people what to do, but because they want to find out more about how the universe works. Even in the quintessential cases cited as an application of science to destructive means, the making of the atomic bomb, many of the scientists primarily worked on the problem because they feared that Hitler would get there first, a very legitimate concern. But let’s not forget that many of them also worked on it because it was the most complex and exciting physics and engineering experiment that they had ever worked on. Even relatively apolitical scientists like Fermi and Hans Bethe worked on the project because they simply and thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual challenge.

    Contrast this with the work that religious people do, almost all of which is directed towards establishing a code of conduct for their fellow human beings. Sure, some of this work may be done in good intent, but it still involves trying to often impose standards and rules on others. And I don’t think the New Atheism is about explicitly blaming religious people for crimes they did not commit. It is more directed against exposing the fundamental problems with blind faith, and how that faith in several ways can blur the boundaries between “moderate” and “extreme” religion by often forcing the moderates to not wholeheartedly take a stand against the extremists. I think Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” makes this case the best.

  48. MadScientist

    [OT]

    @Wes Rolley:

    There are still many Lamarckists out there and they still have no substantial evidence for their case, despite the fact that they like to crow that something they’ve seen proves that their god Lamarck was right all along. If any substantial evidence ever comes up to support Lamarck’s theory, then his idea will be taken seriously. All they have to do is come up with a single instance in which they can show that the next generation organism does have the genes associated with the claimed trait while the previous generations had not and that the trait is dominant (showing this for recessive traits is somewhat a waste of time).

  49. Veronica Abbass

    Anthony McCarthy Says:

    “Knowing the new atheism is mighty skimpy on logic, apparently they couldn’t follow their argument to the logical conclusion that since he was murdered while ushering in his Reformed Lutheran Church that they had to hold him responsible for “creating the atmosphere” in which encouraged his own murder.”

    What exactly are you trying to argue here?

  50. Ditto what Anthony said, only opposite.

  51. NewEnglandBob

    Anthony McCarthy @46:

    These statements are specious baloney and bigoted. Use logic for a change and stop being a hater.

  52. laserboy

    It is pretty facile to argue that you do not want people to shut up, while at the same time warning of grave, though unspecified, consequences (“the severe consequences of the divisiveness that is being fueled over science and religion these days”) should they continue speaking.

  53. I think Anthony hit the nail on the head. New Atheism is the counter to Fundamental Christianity and Fundamental Islam. All are just as militant, illogical, and annoying as the next.

  54. Anthony McCarthy

    When this:

    Anthony, I think you are attaching too much intent to what scientists do.

    is multiplied by : I think Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” makes this case the best.

    The product is a self-serving double standard not unlike the one that men have enjoyed enforcing on women but exempting themselves from.

    Sam Harris endorses a nuclear first strike which he, himself, says would kill tens of millions of people in a single day. There used to be a time I’d have been shocked to find that someone could say something like that and be passed off as the prophet of reason and superior morality. I think it’s time that blithely overlooking that little item was called the depravity it so clearly is.

    Veronica Abbass, I’m not the one who thinks that all religion is culpable for “creating the atmosphere” that incubates violent fundamentalists. I’m just pointing out what the logical conclusion of that is in that specific case. That’s what you do with an argument, you look at its applications to test it. Or that’s what we learned in Freshman Rhetoric back in the day. Applied, logic, in other words.

    I’m not responsible for the results that are inescapable from applying the standard endorsed by “new atheists” with few exceptions. Examples of it appear on this thread.

  55. Revyloution

    I would enjoy watching that debate. It would be far more productive than watching the painful ‘is god real’ debates, where an atheist and a theist talk past each other.

    As for compatibility of religion and science? Of course they are compatible. Religion is so flexible and wishywashy that it can bend to fit any gap in our understanding of anything. It can be the mild, unoffensive deism that never makes claims, or it can be new age science worship that uses sciencey sounding words to sell magic crystals, meditation rugs, and therapeutic healing.

    I think Daniel Dennents question should be looked at more. What functions does religion serve, and are we better off letting it do that job. Or should we wage intellectual war to wipe it out?

  56. Anthony McCarthy

    Someone tells me I should have given the full quote.

    “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
    That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun. Tom Lehrer,

  57. 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.

  58. This confrontation of ideas will never be resolved in the lifetime of any of us who are commenting here. I don’t read much in the social sciences but found the following quote from Max Weber at the Rehearsal Studio. There, the discussion was about abortion rights, but it fits here as well.

    In the final analysis, in spite of all ‘social welfare policies,’ the whole course of the state’s inner political functions, of justice and administration, is repeatedly and unavoidably regulated by the objective pragmatist of ‘reasons of state.’ The state’s absolute end is to safeguard (or to change) the external and internal distribution of power; ultimately, this end must seem meaningless to any universalist religion of salvation.

    Substitute any aspect of a modern secular society for Weber’s comments on “the state” and you have the same dynamic played out again and again. The real role for the scientist is to continue their research and always publish the truth.

  59. giotto

    Anthony, your claim that science is “up to its eyes” in corporate and military money does absolutely nothing to address my point. I said that science was a procedure–a tool, if you will–one that is used by humans, and it is those humans who are the moral actors, not the tools. By all means, critique the way science is used by these people in these contexts. You won’t be the first to do so, and hopefully not the last. The last few decades have seen a useful, and understandable, reaction against the unwarranted idolization of science and scientists that characterized much of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, that critique slides easily into backlash characterized by diatribe and the use of straw-man arguments. This is what you are doing if you think a Tom Lehrer line about von Braun stands as a reasoned critique of the scientific method or of the role of science in modern culture. But I’m glad you brought von Braun up, as his case does neatly illustrate my point: by all means, condemn him for what many of us would hold to be his moral failings; but if you want to condemn the tools he used, you might as well go on to condemn all the sharpened sticks that have been used for murder over the millennia. And if it is the tool (science) that you find anathema, just keep in mind all the other scientists who have used that same tool to do things like allow several people I love dearly to survive cancer.

    But I see that your main concern here is to flail against the media-generated pseudo-movement known by some as “the new atheism.” As that is completely irrelevant to anything I’ve said, I’ll leave it at that.

  60. The problem is, this is the wrong debate altogether. This is a diversionary tactic used by “Believers” intimating that there is actually a foundation of truth to what they believe and rationalists allow themselves to be drawn into this ridiculous non-debate. The true debate is, or should be, apart from the idea of “God”, is there any veracity to any of the world’s religions in the first place?

    I believe once one studies the histories and Holy Books of any of the “Major Religions” in depth one would find that long before we have to worry about religion’s compatibility with science, their opinion on any rational topic of importance as to our survival as a species, the guidance of our morality or the “truth” of a long list of spurious claims of representation of God here on Earth or their self-appointed position of bouncer at the imagined Pearly Gates, religion, especially the “Big 3″, collapses under the weight of its own bullshit.

    Whether there is or isn’t a God, religion’s claims of authority are self-assigned by self-serving, man-made theocratic machines whose fabricated stories and doctrines designed for self-perpetuation are absolutely meaningless outside the sphere of these cults which no one, evidently for fear of “political correctness” or “sensitivity” has the desire to call them. Can 2.4 Billion people be in a cult? Absolutely!

    Why don’t we ask questions of science to Tony Alamo, Sun Myung Moon, “Michael” aka Wayne Bent or Yisrayl Hawkins Pastor and Overseer of The House of Yahweh? Is the Pope any different than these “Men Of God” because he has more people standing behind him?

    Is religion compatible with science? Of course not! Not a chance in hell! Is Voodoo? Rain Dances? Burnt Offerings? Are Fairies, Big Foot, The Lochness Monster compatible with science? No. And neither are any of the primitive, superstitious, man-made, mental inventions of man we call “Religion”.

    Science and rational thought are to religion what sunlight is to a Vampire! What does a Vampire think of sunlight? Shall we ask or debate?

    I say we change the debate! Let’s boldly dive in head first once and for all…. IS RELIGION FULL OF CRAP? YES OR NO?

  61. Anthony McCarthy

    El Guerrero del Interfaz, If I had to choose between having the support of half of the religious believers in the United States supporting gay rights or every last “new atheist” it would be insane to choose the “new atheists”. Not only are they a tiny fraction of the numbers of potential voters, they would also insist on venting against all religion, lose potential supporters who could be won over and mobilize the religious fundamentalists to come out and vote.

    I’ve been active in electoral politics for a long time. In one legislative election in my state, an average of fewer than five votes per district would have put control of the legislature in the hands of the Republicans who would never vote out a gay rights bill or any other kind of progressive legislation. I doubt that there is a single legislative district in which having the more progressive candidate “supported” by anti-religious bigots would increase the progressive’s chances of winning.

    You do realize that in order to win an election, you’ve got to get the most votes. “Niceness” is beside the point, not driving away potential allies is the real issue. People don’t stand with those who are insulting them and I don’t blame them at all. I don’t want new atheists screwing up the gay rights struggle which is hard enough without them grandstanding around it.

    On top of that, the agenda of the new atheists is unfair, dishonest and in many cases anti-progressive. Harris and Hitchens are not liberal in any sense. I wouldn’t stand with people whose basic platform is to spread bigotry in any case. I was outspoken against a similar wave of racist bigotry which became a fad in the gay community, especially in New York City, in the 1970s. It was disgusting and divisive. I’m not going to sit back and view this putrid flowering of bigotry in silence.

    You people don’t seem to understand that people not liking you when you insult them isn’t a civil rights issue. People aren’t required to like you when you do that. You can whine and cry about them not liking you but they’re not required to or to vote for you or to support your rights. The voters aren’t covered by the “no test of faith clause” when they vote. They aren’t required to vote for an atheist, not even one who doesn’t act like a jerk and give them a reason not to.

  62. Anthony McCarthy

    “I said that science was a procedure–a tool, if you will–one that is used by humans, and it is those humans who are the moral actors, not the tools.”

    giotto, if you are going to regard religion universally in order to form an indictment against the entire body of religious believers based on what some of them do, you don’t get away with pretending that science is more than just the formal aspect of its procedures in order to ignore the consequence of a lot of it. Thats just more of the double standard ruse that the new atheism is based in.

    If you’re going to talk about the formal practices of science as if they had no part to play in the arms industry, environmental destruction, and a number of other evil results of what scientists knowingly do, why doesn’t religion get to hid behind its best words and intentions when it does evil? I can tell you why, because you hate religion and want to make the best possible case against it.

    I’ve got no problem with the crimes committed through religion being fully aired and punished. But if you’re making the argument for the moral superiority of science, you don’t get to judge it by a different standard by ignoring its pervasive and often horrendous effects.

  63. Anthony McCarthy, I would like to know the page number in Harris’s book where he endorses a nuclear first strike. From what I remember he says that unlike many religious demagogues, even George Bush would use a “perfect weapon” that would not cause collateral damage.

  64. I am not making an argument for the moral superiority of science. I am making an argument for the moral neutrality of science. When science is practiced it often has no moral goal. I work in drug design. Is my goal to cure human disease? Yes. Is that my primary motivation for doing research? A resounding no, it’s to find out more about the behavior of molecules and biological systems. And I know most of my colleagues will answer similarly. The difference between science and religion is that religion tries to make a moral case that generally holds for all human beings. Science does not such thing. There is no double standard here; the primary purposes are explicitly different even if the consequences themselves could be grouped under shades of morality.

  65. Why is it that “Religious Folks” can tell you to your face, on television, on billboards… EVERYWHERE that you are going to Burn in Hell and that’s ok, they are just “Sounding a Fire Alarm” for you, they are “Saving” you, doing you a sincere heart-felt favor! But, when an atheist calls them out on it and let’s them know what he thinks of this judgmental, intolerant, constantly in-your-face derision THE ATHEIST, not they are the Bigots?
    So Bigotry, as long as done “In The Name Of God” is acceptable? Sticking up for yourself in reaction to the ever-present judgement and condemnation of the “Holier-than-thous” equates to Bigotry?

    I say once Religion is something not enjoyed by the individual in their own life but instead is something that is Judgmental and forces that judgment upon others it becomes fair game for anything it gets and deserves it completely!

  66. A random passing physicist

    “…is there any veracity to any of the world’s religions in the first place?”

    *Veracity* is not the issue. Is there any *veracity* to Newtonian physics? Rigid bodies and incompressible fluids? Point masses and perfect gases?

    Scientists routinely use plenty of concepts they know perfectly well to be false. And judging by past history, many of the concepts we hold to be true now will turn out not to be. If you ask them about it directly, they’ll tell you they know it’s actually untrue, but at the time they do the calculation they don’t think about that. There is a temporary suspension of disbelief, so clearly this is not always incompatible with science.

    The question isn’t always “Is it true?” Quite often the question is “Is it accurate?”

  67. Anthony McCarthy

    I am not making an argument for the moral superiority of science. I am making an argument for the moral neutrality of science.

    If you are asserting that science is of neutral moral status then you are still making an argument that it is morally superior to religion if you assert that religion is morally depraved. And you can’t ignore the effects of science on people and the environment, which is far from an unalloyed good.

    Science doesn’t exist anywhere except within people’s minds, it doesn’t exist anywhere else. You can’t absolve scientists from moral responsibility, you certainly shouldn’t. No more than clergy and other religious figures should be let off the hook.

  68. Anthony McCarthy

    I’d have thought Curious Waveforms would know that they can google. “Sam Harris nuclear first strike” and find out that I didn’t make it up.

    But I’m finding that even that ez form of research is like a lost art among the new atheists. And you can find out the revealing and at times disturbing discussions of it among the faithless-faithful.

  69. Anthony McCarthy, thanks for allowing me to google Sam Harris’s position on nuclear weapons. Reading it simply confirms that you have taken his words out of context. Here is his detailed rebuttal to claims by you and others on his position on nuclear weapons and or torture. I would reproduce the relevant paragraph but instead of wasting words I will let you read it yourself on his site. Seems that this kind of criticism is not new for him. Note especially the words in bold:
    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/

    And you are quite right about google searching. Only atheists seem to suffer from this particular handicap. Maybe a class would put this valuable skill within their reach?

  70. Also, you take a pretty anthropomorphic viewpoint if you believe that science and its facts exist only because human beings deign to discover them. And you again twist my words. I am emphasizing that science by itself does not seek to impose moral codes on others whereas religion does. This very fact creates a problem.

  71. A random passing physicist Says: “The question isn’t always “Is it true?” Quite often the question is “Is it accurate?”

    So, “Is the Bible “Accurate”?” you ask. (Quite a “Tap Dance”) If you call Mistakes, Forgeries, Made Up Stories, Morphed Oral Traditions, Plagiarized Myths, Fabricated “Divine Inspirations”, Interpolations and Back-Writings all to further the many vying agendas throughout history accurate, then… NO! No it’s not accurate at all and therefore the religions based on it, the “Big 3″, are all based on fabrications and lies and are therefore themselves a “BIG LIE”. The “TRUTH” which scholars have actually known for quite some time is now coming out.

    Organized Religion’s place in the “Creation/Evolution” debate is based on False Credentials! They make un-based claims to “Ownership” of “Creation Story” because they need to, badly, because that is something that gives them “Credibility” and their credibility is diminishing fast. They must guard evolution like a drooling, snarling Pit Bull protecting its lunch. They CLAIM a link to Creation, Heaven, Hell, God (THEIR “God” Of The Bible), The Devil, The Everlasting Soul, however, the only rightful link they can claim is that they Created ALL of these to serve their agendas of Control, Power and Wealth-Gathering.

    So, no, the Bible is not accurate, or true and neither are the religions that sprang from it. And like I said, the REAL DEBATE should be do they even have a place in the discussion at all? If Religions are False then they absolutely do NOT! Once and for all it is time for Religion to Put Up or Shut Up! Prove their claims! (Good Luck!) No, I am not for attempting any warm and fuzzy middle ground, there is none to be had.

    God may not at this time be provable or disprovable but Religion is most certainly False and Provably so! They make the Claims the Burden Of Proof is on them. If they want a seat at the table, show us your ticket! The world has suffered and the hands of the Greatest Scam Ever Pulled. The stakes are too high now. It’s time to spread religion out on the table, shine a very bright light on it and expose it for exactly what it is. The “Debate” is their defense. There is no room for considering “Hurt Feelings” the Human Race MUST now Grow Up and away from its primitive, superstitious roots if we are to survive a global melting-pot.

    I, for one, unlike Passing Physicist, am not willing to “Temporarily Suspend Disbelief” in order to accommodate this imagined “Middle Ground” or for that matter to facilitate it. Either Religions are NOT a complete FRAUD or they ARE! Let’s Debate That FIRST! I say as they were created by man they can be torn down by man and proven to be the absolute frauds that they are and therefore any debate with them as far as evolution is concerned is unwarranted, a tremendous store of misplaced energy and a fruitless endeavor. The only “Truth” to them there is one of self-preservation and therefore highly biased and a sealed deal.

    Although you’ll notice, just in case, some are already changing the story to accommodate science as they always do. Pretty soon they will be saying “What? Of Course Evolution Was God’s Tool For The Creation! We Told You That! We’ve Always Believed That!” It is the workings of Cognitive Dissonance in action.

    So again I say we change the debate! Come on, let’s once and for all get to the REAL Meat Of The Matter…. IS RELIGION FULL OF CRAP? YES OR NO?

  72. giotto

    Anthony@63
    giotto, if you are going to regard religion universally in order to form an indictment against the entire body of religious believers based on what some of them do…

    Where did I do that?

  73. giotto

    also Anthony@63
    But if you’re making the argument for the moral superiority of science…

    Where did I do that?
    You seem intent on arguing against things that I have not said.

  74. A random passing physicist

    Bible says,

    I don’t disagree that all the religions I know of are patently made up. My point was a technical one about the philosophy of science. The problem with getting excited about truth (or perhaps, TRUTH!!!?) is that you open science to attack from theist philosophers who can point out the hypocrisy of demanding rigorous logical standards without being able to meet them oneself.

    There are a lot of non-scientists who figure that relying on the *authority* of scientists makes their arguments scientific. Unfortunately, argument from authority is the precise opposite of science. I can’t ignore atheists using it while criticising theists for relying upon it, and hope to get away with it.

    Feel free to ignore me if you like. Theists certainly do. I’m just sayin’.

  75. Erasmussimo

    Bible Also Says, I’d like to inquire as to the reasons behind your passionate assault on religion. The world is full of untruths, and there are lots of people perpetrating falsehoods. Some of those falsehoods present serious and more direct threats to our well-being than religion does. Falsehoods got us into a war that has cost over 4,000 lives and roughly $2 trillion in total costs. Falsehoods deny evolution. Falsehoods appear every day in political discourse.

    Yes, religion is responsible for some of those falsehoods, but religion itself has a mixed record. It has been the font of many evils, but much good has also come from religion. We can argue about the relative weights of the good and evil, but you cannot deny the mixed nature of these results. So why take a blunderbuss to the whole damn thing? Don’t you think that it might be more effective to target the specific ills of religion and work on those? Wouldn’t it be more effective to advance science than attack religion? Humanity has committed enormous evils and vast atrocities — war, genocide, murder, rape, terrorism — so do you target humanity for destruction or do you target the specific evils?

  76. NewEnglandBob

    Erasmussimo @76:

    You entirely missed what “The Bible Also Says….” posted.

    Your statement:

    Some of those falsehoods present serious and more direct threats to our well-being than religion does.

    is incorrect. Other than N. Korea, most of the direct threats to our well being are religion based.

  77. Anthony McCarthy

    Reading it simply confirms that you have taken his words out of context.

    Ah, the old you took his words out of context line. Oddly, a number of other people understood them just as I have, including in published criticisms of him. I’ll go with them, since they came to the same conclusion I did when I first read it.

    I’m going to make a list of the favorite dodges of the new atheists, they seem to use the same ones all the time.

    But if you’re making the argument for the moral superiority of science…

    Where did I do that?
    You seem intent on arguing against things that I have not said.

    I was aware of the ambiguity of what you were saying, which is why I phrased it as a conditional statement. I would have said “Since you’re making the argument….” if that’s what I’d meant.

    I don’t disagree that all the religions I know of are patently made up.

    Of course they are, so is science, so is everything else that people say. Every part of human culture is a human expression of their experience.

  78. Erasmussimo

    NewEnglandBob writes

    “Other than N. Korea, most of the direct threats to our well being are religion based.”

    That made me ask myself, “Well then, what ARE the most important threats to our well being?” So I came up with a list of things that I consider to be fundamental threats to our well-being, with “our” being interpreted as “American” — other interpretations are possible and relevant, but I’ll stick with the local version.

    These would be, in my mind:

    1. Loss of social capital with its resultant polarization
    2. Inability to cope with increasingly complex and/or technical challenges
    3. An economy too dependent upon fossil fuels
    4. Angry young males
    5. An economic structure that fails to balance between wealth creation and social health

    The list could go on much, much further, but I thought I’d cut it off at this point. Looking at these threats to our well-being, I see only one that could be associated with religion: #2. However, poor education plays a role in this every bit as important as religion. So I don’t see religion playing a crucial role in our most important problems. Note, however, that the intolerance that some people have demonstrated in the comments here definitely contributes to threat #1. So there’s plenty of blame for everybody.

  79. Ah, the old ploy of focusing on methods of debate rather than on substance. I would rather you criticize the factual assertions than philosophize on the strategies of argument. Please focus on facts. Here is for example what Harris says and means:

    “There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?”

  80. NewEnglandBob

    Erasmussimo @79

    That list is your personal fears. I doubt 5% of people would agree with it. I certainly do not.

    My list includes (not in any order of precedence):
    N. Korea
    Iran
    Al Qaeda
    Darfur genocide
    Somalia pirates
    Religious fundamentalists (evangelicals, Islamists, right wing orthodox Jews)
    US political right wing nuts (Limbaugh, Coulter, Cheney, etc.)
    Middle East
    Threats to separation of church and state (US)

  81. Anthony McCarthy

    So, Jerry Coyne’s getting worked up over someone taking him seriously enough to spend several posts addressing his, well, his ideas/

    Sort of rings hollow considering how much of his blog has railed against Francis Collins.

    NewEnglandBob, I’d think the dangers of most of your list are pretty small compared to the chance of a nuclear accident from a facility in the United States, the dangers of being targeted by countries that NOW have massive nuclear weaponry and the ability to get many rockets here now, Russia and China, chemical pollution, global warming.

    I’m only worried about the separation of church and state if the majority of religious believers here give up on the idea, which they have had the major responsiblity of upholding through out our history.

  82. Erasmussimo

    Well, NewEnglandBob, your list is, IMO, dominated by the nightly news and not by the historical forces that change societies. For example, al Qaeda has not had any significant effect on the USA; the damage was all done by the American reaction to al Qaeda’s actions. Think in terms of immune systems. Asthma is a reaction to allergens; the victim suffers not from the allergens (which are harmless to others) but from their own reaction to the allergens. In the same way, it is our own foolish reaction to al Qaeda that has inflicted the real damage.

    Study history. Look deeper into the causes of human events. Religious fundamentalism is indeed an important historical force in Islamic nations, but its primary impact stays within its own borders. For the USA, Islamic fundamentalism is a minor concern. Christian fundamentalism is a more important force, but its worst effects are the corrosive effects on overall social capital; they combine with class differences, differences in education, and regional differences to undermine social comity. The USA is indeed suffering from a culture war, but religious fundamentalism is not the driving force at work; the conflict is driven by the accelerating pace of social change made possible by economic and technological change. All the studies of the psychology of political stance show that it is derived from personality factors, not religious ones. Thus, religious fundamentalism is a consequence of deeper forces, not a causal factor.

  83. Anthony McCarthy

    Thus, religious fundamentalism is a consequence of deeper forces, not a causal factor.

    Have you ever read Richard Lewontin’s well known essay review, Billions and Billions of Demons?

    http://www.drjbloom.com/Public%20files/Lewontin_Review.htm

    What he says about the differing conclusions that he and Carl Sagan drew from a creation-evolution debate in the early 60s is pretty telling. I think Lewontin’s analysis is a lot more realistic, though far less simplistic.

  84. Erasmussimo – Religion Always plays this game, “Well we acknowledge we killed millions of people in forced conversion, but the Atheists like “Hitler” (who wasn’t an Atheist) Stalin, Pol Pot killed many MORE!”

    So what?! Even if that were true, SO WHAT?! Religion is supposed to be BETTER than that! Remember? “Moral Compass”, “Foundation Of Superior Morality From God”!? The atrocities carried out BY religion in the NAME of religion were done IN SPITE of Religion and its supposed “Moral Grounding”! Forget what others may or may not have done, immaterial! This isn’t a child’s game here! Either Religion is BETTER MORALLY or it is NOT. Either Religion is TRUE or it is NOT. PERIOD!

    Any “Good” that has come out of religion has come from its otherwise good people and sometimes (as seen during the Holocaust, etc) IN SPITE of their religion. Religion merely takes claim of that good like they falsely take claim for everything and anything else that will give them (undeserved) credibility. And ALL of that good would have been done and perhaps even more if religion did not exist.

    The point is and the debate SHOULD BE – ARE RELIGIONS MAN-MADE SCAMS OR NOT? Religion for 2,000 years has BULLIED its way to “Credibility” and “Respectability” much the way we see Scientology doing today (Sans the Blood shed and Torture) Well, that just doesn’t cut it any more! The days of burning heretics at the stake, torturing dissenters into submission or even the modern versions of coercion such as social and economic pressure are either gone or going. If Religion wants Credibility and Respect it must now EARN it! Judgement Day IS coming , but it is coming FOR RELIGION!

  85. random passing physicist – Again what they will claim back is immaterial because religion is false and provably so and will not survive a proper debate that ignores God and focuses on the man-made entity itself. The Holy Books are provably false and history shows the systems provably corrupt and fraudulent once you strip away the spurious claims of authoritative representation of “God” that we have been BULLIED into “Accepting”.

    Let’s not fall into the trap of playing Religion’s “I’m Rubber, You’re Glue” game. We should refuse to talk to them about Evolution till they prove they are not merely “Time Honored Scams” and have a rightful seat at the discussion. Anything they contribute is a self-serving, self-interested act of self-preservation with any concern to reality of no concern. THIS should be the FIRST debate that gives them a chance to prove themselves WORTHY of even being in the Evolution Debate in the first place!

  86. Erasmussimo

    Bible Also Says, you write:

    “Either Religion is BETTER MORALLY or it is NOT. Either Religion is TRUE or it is NOT. PERIOD!”

    This is certainly a great example of absolutist boolean thinking. Me, I prefer to view the world in color, not black-and-white. It’s a complicated world we live in. I understand your desire to simplify things to make them more understandable, but your process of simplification only precludes a deeper understanding.

  87. Erasmussimo Come on! Really? So religion can be “Half Pregnant”? Just to keep it all warm and fuzzy around here? So because I say religion is either true or false I am an “Absolutist? Well isn’t that the Pot calling the Kettle Black? How do you know all the other subjects that I am either Grey or in Color on? I assure you they are many!

    But no, Religion is not one of them. it is either REAL or it is a MAN-MADE SCAM. One or the other, there is NO in between. THAT is the subject of the FIRST Debate and the outcome of that one determines if they even have a right to insert their Highly Agendized 2 Cents!

    There are MANY things in this world that all agree are either Black or White. I think would could both create a long list that you would agree with.

  88. Anthony McCarthy

    Religion is not one of them. it is either REAL or it is a MAN-MADE SCAM.

    Science is “MAN-MADE”, much of what is accepted within science is eventually over turned or loses acceptance. Is “science” a man made scam?

    “Religion” isn’t only one thing. It’s a word used to cover a huge range of beliefs, ideas and practices. Like politics or any other part of life. Science being one of those.

  89. Anthony McCarthy

    “I don’t disagree that all the religions I know of are patently made up.
    Of course they are, so is science, so is everything else that people say.”

    WOW! Now THAT is quite a statement! So then, there are simply NO things then that are true? NOTHING is false because everything is?!

    See you later, I’m going to hang myself now………..

  90. Monty Gaither

    The following biblical passages are incompatible with the Theory of Evolution, unless you claim any word can any meaning that you want it to.

    Gen.
    21And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

    22And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

    24And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

    25And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

    These passages do not say that god started simple life-forms and then assisted them (using natural selection) to evolve into the whales, fowls, cattle, and creeping things. It states quite clearly that he created them.

    For someone to claim to believe in Gen. 1 and that they accept Evolution requires them to compartmentalize their superstitious beliefs and never really logically go over them and to accept that the Theory of Evolution has withstood all tests/challenges and is an acceptable explaination for the life on this planet. They would also have to twist the meaning of most words in the Gen. 1.

    But it is quite clear that the two are in no way truely compatible (both valid explainations of the same thing).

  91. Anthony McCarthy

    “Science is “MAN-MADE”, much of what is accepted within science is eventually over turned or loses acceptance. Is “science” a man made scam?”
    “Religion” isn’t only one thing. It’s a word used to cover a huge range of beliefs, ideas and practices. Like politics or any other part of life. Science being one of those.”

    Science once it finds a false idea held, or mistake, corrects it self and replaces the errant information with new, more informed data. There is never a “Scam” involved. It is a “Best Efforts” basis. Fully dependent on furthered questioning and updated explorations. This is something Religion knows nothing about. It is Stagnant and forever sealed in until it is forced to change something or be embarrassed out of existence. Change for Religion is a matter of survival but only when absolutely necessary.

    Science is the study, by man, of things NOT man made. The topics of Science are NOT Man-Made but are man’s observations of the natural to the best of our ability and technology at that time.

    Let’s not play games, we can’t spread religion out all over the place an hide behind esoteric descriptions. You know exactly what I mean by “Religion” Organized Religion, A system of Dogma, Doctrine, Rituals, Liturgy based around a supposed “Intercessory God” With “Believers” following what they are told “God” said in Lock-Step based on nothing more than Blind-Faith and most importantly giving a portion of their earnings to the Corporate Religious Structure and thus allowing said structure the benefits of Control, Power and Wealth along with the undeserved fore-mentioned “Credibility” and “Respectability”.

    Religion is not as complex as it sounds. It is no different today than when the first “Shaman” convinced those around him he could visit their dead in his dreams in exchange for a free meal.

  92. Monty Gaither Says: (Above) “The following biblical passages are incompatible with the Theory of Evolution, unless you claim any word can any meaning that you want it to.” Etc Etc

    My Question is how does the Enuma Elish square up with Evolution? Or how about the Hopi “Four Creations” or China’s “Pan Gu and Nu Wa? Or how about the Hawaiian “Birth In The Dawn”? Or how about we go back to say 2400 BCE and check with the Egyptian “Pyramid Texts” to be sure. Why should we be so concerned about what such a relative late-comer like the Bible says about Creation?

    Seriously Monty, you are allowing yourself to be pulled into the NON-DEBATE! The point is the Genesis account is a FABRICATION based on the stolen account from the Enuma Elish that the Hebrews were exposed to during their time of captivity by the Babylonians in 586 BCE

    You might as well be arguing that Mad Magazine is incompatible with Evolution! The inmates aren’t just running the asylum here, THEY BUILT IT! And we live in their world, for now. Time to tell the Emperor to throw on a pair of pants!

  93. Anthony McCarthy

    This is something Religion knows nothing about. It is Stagnant and forever sealed in until it is forced to change something or be embarrassed out of existence.

    You clearly know absolutely nothing about the history of religions, not even specific religions. You ever hear of the Reformation? The change from Temple based to modern forms of Judaism? The changes in Catholic doctrine, ritual, etc? Of course you haven’t because you don’t feel any inhibition to say whatever you want to about religion without ever looking to see if anything you say about it is accurate or true.

    You know exactly what I mean by “Religion”

    You had better be careful about saying that to me because I’ll take it as a permission to assume I do know what you mean and I really don’t think you would like the results of that.

    Let’s not play games, we can’t spread religion out all over the place an hide behind esoteric descriptions.

    You’re the one who is playing the game by calling an enormously varied and dissimilar series of beliefs that change even within the life of single people who believe them “religion” as a method to distort all of them in order to not have to deal with what people really think. That is a game. Looking at what you’re talking about in detail is called telling the truth.

  94. Anthony McCarthy

    Reading up the thread:
    Anthony McCarthy
    “I don’t disagree that all the religions I know of are patently made up.
    Of course they are, so is science, so is everything else that people say.”
    WOW! Now THAT is quite a statement! So then, there are simply NO things then that are true? NOTHING is false because everything is?!

    Watch those pearls dear. Both science and religion consist of statements people make about their experience. Identify a single statement in science which isn’t an assertion made about the experience of the material universe.

    Where you get the idea that what I said would lead to the rest of this silly statement is not my responsibility to address, it isn’t logically coherent in any way I can see.

    See you later, I’m going to hang myself now…

    If you feel you must. Though it would appear you changed your mind.

  95. Anthony McCarthy – said above “You ever hear of the Reformation? ”

    Yes I have! Like I said – “forced to change something or be embarrassed out of existence”….. But the Catholic Church knows no embarrassment! That’s why it’s still here! How beyond belief bad did it have to get before things changed?! Inquisitions! Indulgences!

    But yes, change they do! Let’s not forget the Church coming around and admitting they were wrong about the Sun rotating around the Earth only 400 years after the fact! All the other changes you speak of are usually the church doing what is good for the church. Changes as a result of changes in self-serving agenda, RARELY is it for the good of the people ie; How they handled molesting priests and the ensuing scandals. (Please tell me you are not a Roman Catholic!)

    OH! And of course, we do have the “Creation Museum”! Glad to know Dinosaurs are no longer thought of as a Devil-Hatched plan to deceive us by “planting fossils” and that we now agree that they existed, although “we” don’t agree they lived among us. But, we are making progress.

    You say “Identify a single statement in science which isn’t an assertion made about the experience of the material universe” I went over that above. Here it is again: “Science once it finds a false idea held, or mistake, corrects it self and replaces the errant information with new, more informed data. There is never a “Scam” involved. It is a “Best Efforts” basis – to the best of our ability and technology at that time. Fully dependent on furthered questioning and updated explorations.”

    What the people think is what they have been told to think, and usually, I find, it is simply a vague notion of what they think their religion is supposed to be. Actually studying their religion (other than reading the Bible – If That) is usually minimal at best and their “Belief” is usually a personal collection of composites of ideas that create their own personal religion within the denomination of their religion. A religion within a religion within a religion. In other words MOST people don’t actually have a clue about the religion they supposedly have devoted their life to. Which Jesus do you follow? The Jewish Apocalyptic Preacher of the Early Church or the later Paulanized/Paganized/Catholicized Jesus of post-Constantinian Christianity?

    You say: “You had better be careful about saying that to me because I’ll take it as a permission to assume I do know what you mean and I really don’t think you would like the results of that.” What the hell does this mean? Are you going to start praying that I hang myself?

    To clarify, this is what “I MEAN” by “Religion” The fact is, that which ever of the 38,000 varieties of Christianity you believe in or any of thousands of the other religions, as varied as they all may be, they all pretty much boil down to the same thing: A religious system based on false, fabricated, plagiarized and forged writings of “Divine Inspiration” that clearly aren’t and false claims that they lead you to or represent God and your “After-Life” all then used by that system (Plus shame, guilt, greed etc ) to control people, gain power, and get money. Study your Holy Books and your History Books and you’ll find this absolutely and undeniably true.

    Or am I un-allowed to have an opinion regarding religion? Are you of the “Religion is to be afforded unquestionable respect and therefore off the discussion table” mind-set?

    You keep wanting to hide religion behind a protective shell of complexity when it’s just not that complicated! As I said before: Religion is not as complex as it sounds. It is no different today than when the first “Shaman” convinced those around him he could visit their dead in his dreams in exchange for a free meal.

    You see, this is the “Genesis” of ALL religions concocted by man. Clever people taking advantage of Superstitious, Credulous people. Really turbo-charged when priests and powerful rulers joined forces! After a hundred thousand or so years, it’s still exactly the same!

    So if religion is man-made, the Bible is false, the Genesis account is false (not to mention ripped off from the Babylonian’s Enum Elsih), what exactly does religion have to offer in this discussion of evolution? Other than wailing “It’s not true!, it’s not true!” while stamping your feet like a spoiled child at the grocery store because that is all you can do, all you can be expected to do, because it is a matter of survival for your beliefs. NOT a great source for a credible voice of truth however.

  96. Anthony McCarthy

    You say: “You had better be careful about saying that to me because I’ll take it as a permission to assume I do know what you mean and I really don’t think you would like the results of that.” What the hell does this mean? Are you going to start praying that I hang myself?

    You seem to be able to do that without anyone’s intervention. I’m going to frame this as an example of the logic that comes from your ideology. No one would believe it if they didn’t see the evidence.

    I might answer the rest of this later, but it’s so silly I might just let it stand on its own.

  97. Anthony McCarthy
    (You say: “You had better be careful about saying that to me because I’ll take it as a permission to assume I do know what you mean and I really don’t think you would like the results of that.” I Said: What the hell does this mean? Are you going to start praying that I hang myself?)

    (You say: You seem to be able to do that without anyone’s intervention. I’m going to frame this as an example of the logic that comes from your ideology. No one would believe it if they didn’t see the evidence.
    I might answer the rest of this later, but it’s so silly I might just let it stand on its own.)

    Answer: Funny that of all I have written here THIS is what you comment on. Always the diversionary tactic. I’m very used to that.

    So what was that exactly? A threat of some sort? “I really don’t think you would like the results of that” Because I happen to think different ideas than you? Isn’t that what this forum is all about? To express different ideas? And you don’t like that? I had better “Be Careful”! Or what? You’ll throw me on the rack? Burn me at the stake? I am told constantly and matter-of-factly I am going to “Burn In Hell” and YOU are upset?!! Isn’t it you who is being silly?

    I have made some serious points here that could be the basis for a serious debate and this is what you dwell on? And I’m silly? Grow up and stick to the topic. Either Religion is True or it is false, that’s the debate! It can’t be sorta’ true! I believe by studying history and the “Holy Books” themselves religion is very provably false without even considering whether “God” exists or not. And if it is false (which I obviously believe it is) it doesn’t even deserve a seat at the discussions on evolution in the first place and is nothing more than a self-serving ball and chain holding back science. A tremendous price for humanity to pay for no other reason than religion’s attempt to “save” itself.

  98. MRM

    Chris Mooney writes: “And we have every right to challenge the accuracy of their arguments about the alleged incompatibility that Coyne cites.”

    Yes, but Coyne’s whole point is that this is precisely not what you’re doing in the post to which he responds!

  99. articulett

    I posted this at the Wilkins site (to me the accomodationist always seems to be saying, “hey you folks, you should be nice like me!”, but I tend to find them smarmy and somewhat unintelligible):

    Wilkins goes out of his way to miss the point. All we ask is that science be allowed to treat religious superstitions the way we treat all superstitions–the way that believers would want us to treat the beliefs that conflict with theirs. (That’s fair, isn’t it Chris? And it fits so well with “do unto others”…)

    This may be the very best way to encourage believers to keep their faith private so that it stops infecting the masses with it’s promises of salvation for “believing” the “right” unbelievable story. This is possibly the kindest way to lead humanity forward out of their “demon haunted” imaginary worlds. Without the masses declaring how fabulous it is to be able to see the emperor’s new clothes, more people will finally admit to themselves that they’ve been fooled by a naked guy and their imagination.

    I believe that theism is a delusion which inspires discrimination against atheists. (As an atheist this concerns me and should concern you.) The atheist makes the theist realize that his beliefs are no more tenable than the beliefs he readily dismiss es and so the cognitive dissonance makes him desperate to find a reason to vilify the messenger and miss the message. Wilkins sounds like he is asking scientists to be part of this enabling without giving a coherent reason as to why. This is the meme that Dennett refers to as “belief in belief”. This attitude spreads prejudice against those who speak the truth most plainly.

    I want no part of the lie that faith is a means of knowledge. It isn’t. It’s just a mind trick so that people feel ennobled for believing unbelievable things. My heroes are those who helped me think my way out of the faith trap. I want to be part of that path for others.

    I want the accomodationists to understand that they seem to be asking others to tone it down which just seems to make the magical thinkers imagine themselves entitled to respect. Moreover, they feel “humble” as they spread their atheist prejudice amongst the similarly deluded.

  100. Alan G.

    Science and religion are not compatible, unless religion makes a lot of concessions. Science need not make any.
    Religion enslaves the mind. Science is freedom of thought.

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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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