Coyne Debate Link-Ins: Hullabaloo, Klinghoffer, Rosenhouse, Moran, Laden, Coyne, Rosenhouse….

By Chris Mooney | June 6, 2009 11:29 am

A lot of people are commenting on our back and forth, and I’m particularly pleased that it has been getting outside of the standard science blogosphere. See, for example, Hullabaloo, where Barbara Forrest gets a righteous defense from Tristero.

Less helpful is this post by David Klinghoffer, a Discovery Institute denizen who characterizes the discussion along these inflammatory lines: “Are Religious Liberals Useful Idiots or Just Idiots? Darwinists Debate.” Sadly, I do suspect that at least some atheists view the religious as “just idiots.” Certainly some of the rhetoric one sees from blog commenters suggests as much. Take for instance a comment on Coyne’s blog: “Faith is dishonest and stupid.” Well, that’s helpful, isn’t it?

For my part, I certainly don’t see religious moderates/liberals as “useful idiots.” I have great respect for the intellects of a Ken Miller, or a John Haught; just as I have respect for the intellects of many of the New Atheists, like Coyne or Dawkins or Harris. Frankly, I don’t really consider anyone an idiot, not even ID supporters, who also have perfectly good brains–they’re just misusing them.

I pretty much think “idiot” is a word we ought to banish from our vocabulary.

Then there have been lots of link-ins from atheism oriented bloggers. Jason Rosenhouse disappoints me: He continues to perpetuate the “shut up” canard. Look: If any strategic discussion amounts to telling one party to shut up, then we can never have any strategic discussion without a kind of censorship coming into existence. Glenn Davidson got this just right over at Coyne’s blog:

Oh come on, if Mooney was telling Coyne to shut up, fine, but then we’re all being told to shut up countless times during the course of a month.

Indeed, wasn’t Coyne telling Forrest and the NCSE to “shut up,” if we’re using this particular (loose) standard? Not altogether, of course, but to shut up about religion. Which is the closest Mooney came to telling anyone to “shut up.”

Or one could understand Coyne and Mooney to be making statements about what is preferable to say, and how to say it. This is done all of the time as well.

I will add that out of all the strategic discussions I’ve been a party to, on a host of issues, only on science/religion have I seen this charge made. For instance, when I have suggested in the past that perhaps a fact-intensive mode of communication is not the best way to get the public to grasp the global warming issue, nobody has turned around and said that I’m trying to censor the IPCC.

As for Larry Moran–well, I rarely share his point of view, and this post is no exception. “Chris supports the accommodationist position, which means that even if you think science and religion are incompatible you should not voice that opinion in public.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. If I don’t think the incompatibilist view should be voiced in public then why do I want to publicly debate Coyne about it?

A nice contribution comes from Greg Laden, who basically agrees with Barbara Forrest about civil discourse, about being nice. I am eternally surprised that this could be controversial. I’m glad Laden is too.

Coyne has another post too, channeling Rosenhouse, who also has another post….egads. I am taking the weekend off. More next week…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Comments (104)

  1. John Kwok

    Sorry Chris, but I beg to differ here. I think the term “idiot” is most useful, especially as a suitable name for Intelligent Design advocates, whom I have referred to as IDiots for years.

  2. Revyloution

    Im with Kwok. Idiot is a perfect term for people who refuse to accept evidence, even when we go out of our way to offer it to them on a platter.

    Sometimes I wonder why I bash my head against the wall of idiocy. But its the rare gem you find that makes it worth while. Sometimes you get a crack in their denial-armor. They get a gleam of understanding. Those rare moments make it worthwhile to be a science advocate.

  3. John Kwok

    I think it was British invertebrate paleobiologist Richard Fortey who offered the most persuasive set of arguments I have come across, stating why we should use the term “IDiot” to refer to Intelligent Design creationists (It was in a column he wrote for the British newspaper The Telegraph, published at the end of January, 2007 – or was it 2008?). He said the term is especially useful since Intelligent Design advocates enjoyed invoking as perjoratives, “Darwinism” and “Darwinist”. It also correctly describes their modus operandi, especially with regards to their often inane criticisms of evolution and of evolutionary biologists.

  4. Chris –

    Sorry to disappoint you. I closed my post by writing, “It sure sounds like Mooney is telling Coyne to shut up, if only for strategic reasons.” Which part of that is actually a misstatement of your view? If you think that it is poor strategy to express certain views, it stands to reason that you don’t want those views to be expressed.

  5. benjdm

    Alright, re-reading to try and see how this whole thing played out…

    You first said: “In a recent New Republic book review, Coyne took on Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson, two scientists who reconcile science and religion in their own lives. 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?”

    But then you later said “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.”

    So, let’s cut to the chase. Was Jerry Coyne’s New Republic article an example of bad strategy or not? Should he have refrained from criticizing Miller and Giberson where he thought their reasoning was weak or not?

  6. John Kwok

    @ benjdm,

    If we had only the Religious Right to worry about, then you’d seen far more acceptance of evolution as valid science from the American public. Unfortunately, evolution denial is a problem that isn’t confined solely to the Religious Right. Even liberals like Obama supporters seem to have a problem too, as Harvard University physicist Lisa Randall has noted here:

    “By sheer coincidence the day I read this Edge question, a charming young actor sat next to me on my plane to LA and without any prompting answered it for me. He had just returned from the inauguration and was filled with enthusiasm and optimism. Like so many young people today, he wants to leave the world a better place. Prior to his acting career he had studied molecular biology and after graduating coordinated science teaching for three middle schools in an urban school system. He described how along with his acting career he would ultimately like to build on his training to start schools worldwide where students can get good science training.”

    “But at this point the conversation rounded a bend. His proposed curriculum would include at least one course on religion. I was surprised—this bright young man had studied biology and in all other respects seemed to have opinions and attitudes grounded in the type of education everyone responding to this question is familiar with. But religion has been a big part of his life and he sensibly said the worst thing that happens in his schools would be that people learn about religion and make their own judgements. But he himself believes in Man descending from Adam as opposed to ascending from apes. I didn’t get how someone trained as a biologist could not believe in evolution. He explained how he could learn the science and understand the logic but that it is simply how Man puts things together. In his mind that’s just not the way it is.”

    You can read the rest of Lisa Randall’s commentary here:

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/coyne09/coyne09_index.html#randall

  7. Anthony McCarthy

    This reinforced for me why we won’t ever answer the question that’s been posed. Empirically-based logic-derived science and faith are entirely different methods for trying to approach truth. You can derive a contradiction only if your rules are logic. If you believe in revelatory truth you’ve abandoned the rules. There is no contradiction to be had.

    There isn’t any contradiction to the rules of logic when it comes to belief in a supernatural because logic is of unknowable application to any supernatural. Logic is a product of the experience of the natural universe, there isn’t any way to know if it applies anywhere else.

    Chris Mooney, I know I’ve used the word “idiot” here, I’ll try to stop. I’ve been rewatching Slings and Arrows, all I keep hearing in my mind is “Darren Nichols is an idiot”.

  8. Bryan

    Chris, its as if you can’t tell the difference between

    “Faith is dishonest and stupid”
    and
    “the religious are stupid.”

    One comments on an idea, the other comments on a person. The commenter you linked to did not make the latter claim. Granted the former is a very weak argument if indeed that was all that had been posted. Of course you leave out the paragraphs of the same post in which the author tried to make the case that faith was dishonest and stupid. You may disagree, but why go out of your way to mischaracterize it in your favor? It reflects poorly on you.

  9. foolfodder

    “Logic is a product of the experience of the natural universe”

    Why? Surely, if a == b and b == c then a == c, is always true.

  10. A random passing physicist

    There’s a major problem with this ‘strategy’ argument, besides the question of whether as a strategy there’s any evidence that it is or would be effective.

    It gives the impression that you would consider bending the truth for the sake of winning politically. That you would try to hide things, to avoid mentioning certain arguments, that you considered to be true but that looked bad for your side of the debate. That you want people to believe in evolution more than you want them to believe in it for the right reasons.

    It was suggested earlier that one should avoid making the case that evolution implied atheism, because there was a legal risk that teaching evolution would thereby fall under the 1st amendment ban. While I don’t think that’s the case, there would be a major ethical problem in trying to hide it if it were in fact true. If science really does establish a religion, it would be wrong to deny it for the sake of winning politically. Even the cause of scientific literacy does not justify taking away people’s freedoms. If people do not want to believe in science, you should not be able to make them. That’s illiberal.

    Incidentally, natural selection does not imply atheism, it only falsifies those particular religions that claim God created and designed life. (There is a tendency to consider the words ‘religion’ and ‘Christianity’ to be synonymous, especially by Christians.)

    But speaking of strategy, I think it is a strategic error of the greatest magnitude to place this burden on evolution. This is to fight on ground of your opponent’s choosing. There are so many things that contradict the claims of religions – even massive internal inconsistencies – that you should *never* consider attacking it first with such a complex and tricky-to-explain device. By all means defend evolution, but evolution is not in any way an important foundation stone of the case against religious beliefs, and nobody should allow that impression to stand unchallenged.

    On another point, I suspect that fact-intensive communication would work better than fact-free. The problem is that politicians, journalists, and advertisers have said much the same sort of thing, and it has reached the point where the general public have noticed. When you use those methods, and especially without the skill of the politicians, it’s painfully obvious. Science can do better. It’s aim should be to teach people to *think*. Mere persuasion, without that belief justified by real knowledge and understanding, reduces science to their level; to just another priesthood selling its creed. ‘Facts’ are one of science’s strengths and advantages, one religions struggle to match. How is it good strategy not to use them?

  11. foolfodder

    If think there’s a difference between asking someone to shut up and telling them to do so. There’s also a difference between asking someone to shut up and asking them to consider certain issues before deciding whether they should speak.

  12. Anthony McCarthy

    foolfodder, I just read Larry Moran and wanted to ask for a dispensation to use a word I’d just said I wouldn’t. Don’t make things harder.

  13. foolfodder

    Anthony McCarthy, the strange thing is that you seem to think that you’re arguing on Mooney’s side, yet you practice the kind of incivility that he’s arguing against.

  14. A random passing physicist

    foolfodder,

    It depends on how you define ‘==’. In the form of logic we normally use, yes, but there are other logics possible without equivalence relations. It’s one of the subjects of special study of logicians and mathematicians generally.

    But if you want a more concrete example, the expression NaN == NaN is false, and the quantity normally called ‘Indeterminate’, returned by calculating 0/0, can be interpreted as being equal to anything.

  15. foolfodder

    Thanks A random passing physicist,
    taking a step back; in your opinion, is logic dependent on the nature of reality?

  16. Jon

    From Coyne’s piece:

    How can so many very intelligent people (Mooney is among them, you can’t take that away from him) blithely go along acting as if there’s something so peculiar, so special, about American discourse that we cannot, ever, ever, ever, get over our special pleading for religion? Why do they think America, as a society, is incapable of moving on the way most of Europe has? Why are they so content with – so insistent on maintaining – the pessimistic view that America will always be burdened with this intellectual handicap?

    One could say something similar about the civil rights movement of the sixties. I was there, and clearly remember people telling activists not to make a lot of noise because it would be counterproductive, alienating those who were sympathetic.

    For one thing, we haven’t established that religion is a categorical “intellectual handicap.” I think insisting that only philosophical naturalism is legitimate is an “intellectual handicap.” And about the sixties–as I mentioned in Coyne’s comment thread, Rick Perlstein has argued persuasively that we’re still cleaning up the cultural messes from those days. If the baby boomers and their various progeny would stop shouting at each other, and mature a bit, maybe we could actually get some of the public’s important business done.

  17. Matt Penfold

    “Take for instance a comment on Coyne’s blog: “Faith is dishonest and stupid.” Well, that’s helpful, isn’t it?”

    Yeah, not very helpful. But then nor is Andrew McCarthy, who seems to post a lot around here, calling “new atheists” dishonest.

    Well first, the term new atheist is dishonest itself, apart from being lazy. I must have missed the part where you tell your supports to be civil. Or maybe you only expect us “new atheists” to be civil.

    Note I am still waiting for you explain why expect new atheists, who do not all live in the US to act in a way you think is best for dealing with creationism in the US.

  18. Anthony McCarthy

    Well first, the term new atheist is dishonest itself, apart from being lazy. I must have missed the part where you tell your supports to be civil. Or maybe you only expect us “new atheists” to be civil.

    Well, go take it up with Jason Rosenhouse and Jerry Coyne because both of them have used this year.

    It’s fascinating how it’s when people who argue against the new atheism use the term that it suddenly becomes a problem but not when the new atheists use it, themselves.

  19. Matt Penfold

    Andrew McCarthy,

    You have not yet apologised for you earlier examples of dishonesty. I know you do not think lying is being uncivil. It also seems you do not think by a hypocrit is being uncivil.

    I cannot tell Chris what to do, but if he fail to acton your uncivility it will tell us whether he really means what he says, or if he applies double standards. His supports seem to be allowed to lie, even on his own blog, yet he demands civility from the likes of Richard Dawkins.

    Incidendetally, you failed to provide any evidence that Dawkins has ever been uncivil in his dealings with creationists. Yet another example of you dishonesty. You are big on assertion, short on evidence. You even started trolling over at Jason’s blog, along with a fellow idiot of your, John Kwok. Here is a hint: Kwok is not sane. He emailed PZ Myers demanding a camera otherwise he would make all his facebook friends block PZ. Last I heard PZ’s friend count was up, Kwok’s was down.

  20. Matt Penfold

    And one other thing Chris, why just admit you screwed up and were calling for Jerry to shut up. Reading what you wrote it certainly does come across as that is what you were saying. You may not have meant to say it, but you are supposed to be a journalist. Either you meant to say, or you did not. If you did not, admit your error. Do what journalists do in decent newspapers, and issue a retraction.

  21. Anthony McCarthy

    You have not yet apologised for you earlier examples of dishonesty.

    Matt, do you have a blog? If you make a list of your allegations there I will look at it and respond there. I don’t think you have any right to use this one for that purpose.

    Apparently I have managed to outrage out but if you insist on a duel, let’s take it outside.

  22. A random passing physicist

    foolfodder,

    Good question!

    I would say that the simple answer is ‘yes’, but I can’t truthfully say that I understand the nature or extent of that dependence.

    The modern view is that logic and mathematical proof are computations, that computation is a physical process, and that the sort of computations you can do are dependent on the laws of physics. It was Feynman who first noticed that the theory of computation up to that point had implicitly assumed certain features of classical physics, and that quantum physics *potentially* allowed you to do more. Hence some of the excitement about quantum computers. But even within classical physics, you can implement many different forms of logic, by selecting different axioms. Our choice is largely based on whether they turn out to be useful, and in that sense also are dependent on physics.

    But it is a common feature of many of those logics that if you take the minimum set of axioms it is based on, take one away and replace it with its opposite, that the result is as consistent as the original. (Because if it wasn’t consistent, you could remove the axiom entirely and then use proof by contradiction to show it as a theorem, which would mean you didn’t have a minimal set. That only works if the logic allows proof by contradiction of course – but the logics that don’t tend to be too simple and not very interesting.)

    But as for the logics that could exist with a different model of computation – well, they’re literally unimaginable. Brains being physical, they’re limited to what’s possible in this universe. I honestly can’t say whether some form of logic would still apply if things were otherwise.

  23. Matt Penfold

    “Matt, do you have a blog? If you make a list of your allegations there I will look at it and respond there. I don’t think you have any right to use this one for that purpose.

    Apparently I have managed to outrage out but if you insist on a duel, let’s take it outside.”

    All I expect from you is for you to behave as you demands others do. You clearly think civility is important but then I find you lying. I do not find lying to be showing civility. I could be doing you a disservice here, and it maybe you just lack the ability to see what it is you do. In which my ire should be directed towards the adult responsible for your care.

  24. Anthony McCarthy

    The modern view is that logic and mathematical proof are computations, that computation is a physical process, and that the sort of computations you can do are dependent on the laws of physics.

    I’d wonder how you could know if what a machine does would constitute logic unless it was read by a person who would be able to verify that was what was happening. Since the concept of logic isn’t even known to reliably exist in another species of animal, how would you be able to divorce it from a living mind?

    Which still doesn’t get to the problem of whether or not you could know that logic would be binding on any supernatural, which we have even less certainty about.

  25. Matt Penfold

    Anthony,

    You could make and give an single instance of Richard Dawkins being uncivil to a creationist. He is supposed to be the archtypal “new” atheist, so it according to you, and Chris, one should expect him to lack civility.

    I will open this challenge to Chris as well. Just one example.

  26. foolfodder

    @A random passing physicist, thanks for that, interesting. Your reply seems decidedly counter-intuitive to me, so I’ll have to think about it a bit.

    @Matt Penfold

    I think that what Mooney wrote seems consistent with asking people to consider certain issues / strategy before deciding what they say.

    If people can’t ask other people to consider what they say then I don’t see how there can be a useful discussion of communication strategy.

    Besides, Mooney has clarified that he wasn’t calling for Jerry to shut up. Why not just leave it and focus on the issues?

  27. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt, I will set up a new blog tonight and give you the address. You can post your allegations there. How much more accommodating can someone be?

    Now cut out trying to pick a fight at someone else’s establishment or I’ll ignore you.

  28. Anthony McCarthy
  29. Cross-posted from “Why Evolution is True” (it’s awaiting “moderation” right now under post “Now…’Erratic Synapse’ vs. Mooney”):

    moderates such as Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson, who declare that there are limits to what they’ll allow science to speak on when it comes to their personal faith?

    Well, do they? I’ve read a book and some interviews by Miller, and I don’t recall anywhere that he limited science in matters that I understand to be addressable by science. In a PBS interview he had this to say:

    Q: Does science have limits to what it can tell us?

    Miller: If science is competent at anything, it’s in investigating the natural and material world around us. What science isn’t very good at is answering questions that also matter to us in a big way, such as the meaning, value, and purpose of things. Science is silent on those issues. There are a whole host of philosophical and moral questions that are important to us as human beings for which we have to make up our minds using a method outside of science.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/defense-ev.html

    As far as I can tell, Miller does not claim to limit science at all, saying that science does well at investigating the “natural” and “material” world (though there is great doubt that there is anything else). I’m sure one could argue whether he might limit science, or not, but I don’t think anyone can point to an instance where he does, or where he states that he would do so.

    It’s all well and good to hash these things out, but it would be best to deal with the facts, rather than what someone thinks is so. The claims that Miller and Giberson would limit science needs supporting evidence.

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

  30. A random passing physicist

    foolfodder,

    Non-intuitive only *begins* to describe the higher realms of logic. :-)

    Virtually all of mathematics is done in a system called ZF (for Zermelo and Frankel, who developed it), or in ZFC which is ZF together with the Axiom of Choice. That there are alternatives is rarely mentioned below university level, so the non-mathematician can certainly be forgiven for thinking that the truths of conventional logic are an absolute necessity. And for all practical purposes, this is all there is. To some extent, I’m merely enjoying a little pedantry.

    If you’re interested, David Deutch writes a bit about the physics of computation in his book ‘The Fabric of Reality’, and for a very readable explanation of the sheer *weirdness* of logic, Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘Godel, Escher, Bach’ is also excellent.

  31. Anthony McCarthy

    Incidentally, natural selection does not imply atheism, it only falsifies those particular religions that claim God created and designed life. (There is a tendency to consider the words ‘religion’ and ‘Christianity’ to be synonymous, especially by Christians.)

    Wait a minute, O Passing one. How does it falsify that? There isn’t any way for science to falsify a claim that God created and designed life in the way it actually happened and that science is the best available description of it we have today. If someone said it happened six or ten thousand years ago, literally, the way it’s written down in Genesis, that’s falsifiable. If, as many Christians believe, that our present understanding of evolution is the way that it was done by a God, there isn’t any way for science to debunk that.

    There is no possible scientific refutation of an assertion that God created the universe and everything within the physical universe in the way it actually happened. Whether or not that is consonant with Christianity is for Christians, themselves to decide.

    It should be pointed out that our present day knowledge of science and, quite possibly, the entire sum of knowledge our species ever acquires about the universe before we manage to destroy ourselves is unlikely to be more than a small part of what actually happened. I know scientists like to be mighty proud of what they’ve accomplished to date, and their groupie wannabes of the even vaster amount they wanna believe has been accomplished, but I think even scientists know they’ve only mined a tiny amount of what’s there.

  32. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    What exactly do you mean by “God created and designed life in the way it actually happened”? In what sense did he do anything?

    This sounds a bit like saying that the King makes the sun rise every morning, and that he does it by making the Earth a giant ball of rotating rock. Sure. But what if he forgets to do it one morning…?

    There is of course the pantheist belief that the universe itself is divine, and therefore physics is ‘done by God’ by definition. If so, I concede the point. But if that’s what you mean, isn’t that just an exercise in labelling? Does it say anything objective?

  33. Anthony McCarthy

    Random, does anyone really know how the universe started or how life started or the entire mechanism of its development? Does science know that? But don’t you believe it happened in the way it happened, whatever that is? If it was the big bang that was the beginning, what motivated that to happen? Or maybe the concept of motivation doesn’t apply? Maybe there was no cause that preceded that effect.

    So, how should I know what it would mean? I’d think you would have to have at least a fairly comprehensive knowledge of what be able to know what it meant.

    I don’t think it’s at all the same kind of idea as that the King makes the sun rise every morning…. Unless you attribute divinity to the King in question. In which case there might or might not be any way to falsify that. Though, I think the idea of a god who is not, itself, material actually makes more sense. You wouldn’t have any reason to suspect that a supernatural God was bound by what we’ve experienced of the material world, a King might easily turn out to have feet of clay.

    I do think that the statement, God created and regulates the universe in exactly the way it actually happens, from the tiniest spec of matter to the hugest structures, from the most minute force of energy to the entire sheebang, is not falsifiable by science.

    I notice you didn’t address the part about the limits of what we are ever going to know about the material universe, about the limits of what we know now. I started thinking in earnest about that when the e-8 figure was announced. Does that dimension really exist? Does it impinge in unknown ways on us and on our world of sense? What qualities does it, and other unknown dimensions impose on existence? If any? I think it’s premature to announce that any aspect of existence is closable by our knowledge.

    Just for fun. In a fight I got in with some materialists who I got to define their ideology to the effect that “Only those things that are within the material universe are real”.
    I asked them if a number that was many trillions of powers larger than the number of all particles in the material universe was real. I threw in a few puns about the set of Real numbers and rational numbers that weren’t appreciated. But it’s held that that number and those infinitely larger than that one exist. Materialists on the blogs don’t like to get asked those kinds of questions. One of them fumed that I was stupid to not have looked up what “people who would know” had determined.

    I don’t mind there being things I can’t know because it’s just too damned bad if I did. I don’t mind that people don’t believe the same things I might. I don’t really care about what people believe, I care about how they behave.

  34. MadScientist

    Some individuals really earn the middle name “idiot”. Let’s suppose that the Discovery Institute were only fooling itself and not attempting to fool anyone else. People might point and laugh at them now and then but that would be about all. The problem is that the DI wants to force parts of their religion into the classrooms under the pretense that it is a viable and truthful competitor to biology and especially evolution as we understand it today. So the DI are just begging to be ridiculed in public; their rank stupidity in promoting “intelligent design” is only topped by their vile ambitions to violate our constitution.

  35. Erasmussimo

    The only reason anybody calls anybody else an idiot is because they’re angry with them. A true advocate of science is motivated by reason, not anger. Therefore, no true advocate of science would every call anybody an idiot.

  36. Jon

    It seems to me pretty easy to construct an epistemology separate from philosophical naturalism. All you have to do is believe in “absolute intelligibilities separate from the natural world” (a great phrase from Richard Rubenstein, if he came up with it).

  37. Anthony McCarthy

    It seems to me pretty easy to construct an epistemology separate from philosophical naturalism.

    Why bother with philosophical naturalism any more than any of the other -isms that have been constructed? Does science really need it? Does it pay a price of it becoming the ideology of so many scientists?

    An ideology is a system of thought. One of the attributes of a system is that it is limited by its methods, definitions, and other formal structures. It can’t go beyond its system because it ceases to exist, or it changes and becomes something else only using the same name but not being the same thing.

    Doesn’t science have its hands full with the exigent requirements of its own methods of trying to find out the reality of its subject without having to answer to an extraneous ideological system as well? I know how much our academic culture loves to put the most abstract level of thinking, what’s most removed from the vulgar realities of reality, at the pinnacle of status but is that realistic?

    Does science really need that -ism? What did it do before it was developed? Can it honestly function within one ideology or epistemology? Or is all this talk about those things not really taking on a talk-shop bunch of impressive lingo for some other reason?

    How many working scientists think about an epistemology of philosophical naturalism unless they get into one of these gab sessions?

  38. Theron

    I for one tire of worrying about the feelings of the religious. While I studiously avoid insulting the religious (I live in the Deep South – besides being rude, it would also be unwise), I have to restrain myself when dealing with the liberal religious who are convinced that *they* couldn’t possibly be part of the problem. Privilege is funny that way.

  39. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    Science has gaps in its knowledge, and is very pleased to say so. On some of those points you raise, the gap is smaller than you might think, (there is no need for cause to precede effect, for example), but that’s not the point. People hunger for explanations, and cannot bear it that their model of the world should sometimes say “I don’t know”. Religions fill that hunger with fiction, science leaves it unsatisfied to motivate the hunt to know more.

    Well, the ancient Egyptians that I got the story from did indeed attribute divinity to the King. But suppose I instead attribute only kingship? If making the sun rise is one of the traditional attributes of kings? A supernatural power of royalty? For a long time we might imagine that it is done with a small grunt of effort around dawn coming from the royal bedchamber. But when somebody comes along and shows that the sun rises because we live on a spinning ball of rock, the answer comes back “well, maybe that’s how the king did it all along?” How could you falsify that? How could I distinguish it from, for example, the claim that mice do it?

    Once you’ve got the spinning ball of rock, there’s nothing left to explain. It would happen on its own, anyway. Attaching the mice to it adds nothing, predicts nothing, explains nothing. The connection is purely verbal. You are absolutely correct that such statements are not falsifiable, but why make them, except as an excuse not to kill mice?

    The problem with the supernatural is that it imposes no limits. And that’s great if you can frame the question as a choice only between your own specific religion and materialism, as in Pascal’s wager. But then there’s no way to stop me from assigning supernatural powers to any of the thousands of other deities people have believed in, or oak trees, standing stones, lucky charms, magic words, or anything else. I can be as ridiculous as I want, and you have to pretend to take it seriously, because your own religion now stands on the same foundation.

    Christians tend to conflate ‘religion’ with Christianity, partly because they have relatively little exposure to other possibilities, and partly for this reason. (Same goes for other religions.) So long as the only visible choice is only between science and Christianity, there’s a good chance a lot of people are going to pick Christianity, or at least respect it. That’s how Pascal’s wager works. But if the choice is between science and an infinitely long list of pure insanity, which happens to include Christianity along with the flying spaghetti monsters and orbiting teapots and mouse wizards, it looks a lot less appealing. Technically, we can’t easily falsify mouse wizards as an explanation for the laws of physics being exactly as they are, but in this context it’s more obviously a weak argument.

    Your question about whether big numbers are real is a very good one. For the example you mention they are, because the universe consists not just of particles, but also *patterns* in the particles, and the relationships between them. Real numbers and rational numbers and infinities are really about patterns and rules, and systems expressing the rules can be implemented with much smaller numbers of particles. But the sorts of numbers we commonly employ (Integers and Reals and so on) are heavily simplified models of the universe that we use because they are accurate rather than true, and we strongly suspect that the universe actually uses something else. We don’t yet know what that is, though.

    If you want an even better example, look up non-computable numbers.

  40. MadScientist

    @A random passing physicist: Put your pasta where your mouth is! How dare you mention the FSM in a long list of pure insanity!

    The FSM is great!
    The FSM is wonderful!
    I think of him each time
    I twirl a fork and take a mouthful.

    I shall repeat that incantation a thousand times to save you from the Westboro Baptist Church. If you make a small donation to the FSM I shall do the same to protect you from a certain church in Wasilla …

  41. A random passing physicist

    MadScientist,

    The FSM is forgiving, too. :-)

  42. Anthony McCarthy

    Science has gaps in its knowledge, and is very pleased to say so. On some of those points you raise, the gap is smaller than you might think, (there is no need for cause to precede effect, for example), but that’s not the point.

    Um… you’ll have to forgive my skepticism but I think the gaps are probably more like chasms, if you take science as a whole. Sorry, I do like puns. In my question about the big bang, it still stands. What, if anything, made it happen? As far as I know, today, that question is held to be unanswerable.

    People hunger for explanations, and cannot bear it that their model of the world should sometimes say “I don’t know”.

    That’s something that has never troubled me, I’m not especially impressed with the results or model making. In the case of the universe, I have liked to see the cosmologists dancing around during my lifetime and doubt it will end any time soon.

    Religions fill that hunger with fiction, science leaves it unsatisfied to motivate the hunt to know more.

    Um… here again, as is typical of even polite atheists, you over generalize about religion. Some do hold that the creation myths from the time of their ancestry are history, if not science. Many don’t do that and might look at them as motivations to think about ethical or theological questions, taking them as metaphors or allegories or some other species of thought.

    As to science, it, too, has its creation myths. Or at least, most ironically, in the work of the evolutionary psychologists who create tales of the Pleistocene with more facility than any of the creation myths of the world’s religions. Of course, theirs are about the creations of adaptations, often also invented out of whole cloth, morality tales explaining adaptive advantages for the genes they fully have faith are really, truly, there, even if there is absolutely no evidence that they actually are. When I want to be especially cruel, I point out that they are literally trying to make words flesh. Of course, the biggest irony is the part Richard Dawkins has had in this scenario and his decision to abandon “science” to become an anti-religious bigot. I think an objective observer could be forgiven for suspecting he’s trying to kill off the competition.

    And I haven’t even started in on memes. Which would then lead me on to the double standards that seem to flow like a foetid brook whenever that man, and even more so, his acolytes, are involved.

    The problem with the supernatural is that it imposes no limits.

    Is that a problem? Perhaps for science but I think science is a far more limited human activity that people want to admit. It has to be, its requirements and limited human-hour-years would guarantee it. You simply cannot skimp on the prerequisites and procedures or it falls like a badly made cake.

    It would be completely unworkable in a modern democracy to not make a distinction between how you treat religions – note the plural – and how you use science. That is why, studying the real world lessons of history and a sense of justice, people developed the concept of the separation of church and state. The state is also up against a number of limiting factors and it can’t accommodate all of the multitude of religions that citizens will hold. So instead of favoring one type of religion, it stays out of it and treats all of them equally. Ideally, at least. Science, with all its limits and its peculiar characteristics, is meant to be of universal applicability. When it’s done the right way, it gives us our most reliable information about the material universe and points to reliable ways to do things. One of those limits is that science has to narrow down its subjects for study quite radically. So, for science, an unlimited field is unworkable. For the rest of life, the experience of and expressions about the supernatural can coexist in a workable tension of liberal tolerance within a democracy. Societies that are not democracies have a number of problems, at times those are religious. But officially atheistic and “scientific” regimes aren’t especially great places to live either.

    Christians tend to conflate ‘religion’ with Christianity, partly because they have relatively little exposure to other possibilities, and partly for this reason.

    Here I think you are behind the times, at least when talking about liberal Christianity, especially in the post-war period. I think they have been far more conscious of other religious traditions and science than most other institutions. You can point to failures of that but if you do that you’ll have to accept counter examples, I’ve mentioned Schockey on this thread, James Watson would be another of those. I’ve got quite a list to draw from, institutions as well as individuals. Science can be quite liberal, but its history certainly hasn’t escaped the taint of parochialism, indeed, racism and rather notably, antisemitism.

    I’m not especially fond of Pascal on religion, as I recall he was a Jansenist. I’d go into other and ethical problems with his famous bet but that’s probably not going to be received too well here.

    As to the numbers, I had enough trouble explaining to the true believers of materialism what the question meant without bringing up more exotic numbers. Just saying that I’d exclude imaginary numbers from the problem caused a furore. Materialists can be as ignorant about their faith as a semi-lapsed Catholic can. On the blogs, ignorant materialists have spread like mildew.

  43. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    Um… you’ll have to forgive my skepticism but I think the gaps are probably more like chasms, if you take science as a whole. Sorry, I do like puns. In my question about the big bang, it still stands. What, if anything, made it happen? As far as I know, today, that question is held to be unanswerable.

    Mr. McCarthys’ argument here is known as “god of the gaps,” namely that some phenomenon is not (yet) explained by science, therefore god did it. If Mr. McCarthy were at all cognizant of the history of science, he would know that god of the gaps arguments are somewhat like having one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. The gaps have a disturbing tendency to disappear as the accumulation of human knowledge advances.

    As an example, one of the most famous god of the gaps proposals was argued by one of the three most important scientists who ever lived, Issac Newton (the other two were Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein). After Newton developed his laws of motion and gravity, he showed that the orbits of the planets in the solar system could be described by those laws. However, he became concerned about the gravitational effects of each of the planets on the others. He speculated that these effects, although small, might accumulate over time and cause the system to become unstable. His solution to the problem was to argue that, occasionally, god intervened and provided a small impetus to each of the planets to preserve the systems’ stability, i.e. god did it. Some 100 years later, the French naturalist, Laplace, used a technique called perturbation theory to actually calculate the interplanetary effects and proved that the solar system was stable over long periods of time. Famously, he presented a copy of his treatise on the subject to Napoleon who scanned through it and then asked Laplace what role god might play. Laplace famously responded that he had no need of that hypothesis.

    As biologist Ken Miller, no atheist he, argues in every book he writes and every presentation he makes, god of the gaps arguments are science stoppers. If one accepts god as an explanation, no further investigation is possible. Fortunately, scientists like Laplace refused to accept god of the gaps arguments and thus human knowledge is advanced.

  44. Anthony McCarthy

    Mr. McCarthys’ argument here is known as “god of the gaps,”

    SLC’s statement is not anything like what I was arguing which is about the limited field that science can deal with.

    I really wish you guys could distinguish between what you think or hope someone is saying and what they really are because you are really good at getting that wrong.

    I don’t think trying to explain any part of any proposed supernatural in terms of science can be done, I’ve said that here dozens of times already, I’ve said it hundreds of times other places and it’s as predictable as any phenomenon of nature that a blog materialist won’t get the point.

    It’s the materialists and the religious fundamentalists who look for “God in the gaps”. I don’t think you have to segregate God out of creation. The problem is in us and our inabilities, not in God. As William Blake intuited more impressively than any fundamentalist, religious or atheist, ever has.

  45. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    I’m sorry Mr. McCarthy but the comment you made about the big bang theory is a god of the gaps argument. Your implication is that the big bang is to be explained by invoking the supernatural. It in no way, shape, form, or regard differs a jot or a tittle from Issac Newtons’ invocation of the supernatural to explain the stability of the solar system.

  46. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    What made the big bang happen? Nothing, and nothing is required to, either. The belief in the need for causes for everything is an approximation we use because of where we happen to find ourselves in the universe; it’s the second law of thermodynamics which is a consequence of boundary conditions. It is analogous to believing that wherever we stand on the Earth, there must always be land to the north of us. If there were not, if there were nothing there, what could support the walls of that chasm? But the chasm you mention is tantamount to asking what lies to the north of the north pole.

    We only know about the big bang because of the equations of general relativity, which tell us the shape of the universe at that extreme. It contracts to a point, where it stops; like lines of longitude on a sphere contract to a point. From the point of view of the equations, you can just as well say the future shape causes the past as vice versa, or more accurately, that the equations just are, and future and past satisfy them, are caused by them, embody them, all at once.

    We are not certain about the big bang because we think general relativity is actually wrong, and that the conditions predicted for those first instants are such that we can’t trust the answer we get. And of course there are rivals and extensions to general relativity that make different predictions. It’s quite true that we still don’t know – but not because of the causality problem.

    With those religions that don’t see their myths as history, but as motivations to think about ethical questions, I don’t have a problem – at least not from a logical/scientific point of view. As I’ve already said, evolution does not falsify religion, only those religions claiming that life was designed and created.

    The supernatural posing no limits is a problem for anyone wanting to use it to shore up any *specific* supernatural belief. Religion has exactly the same problem science has, with the need for prerequisites and procedures necessary to avoid fooling oneself, but simply ignores it. They eat the flat and burnt cake and tell everyone it tastes wonderful.

    I discussed the reasons for the separation of church and state on another post. I’ll refer you to that. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/05/31/civility-and-the-new-atheists/#comment-18074

    Liberal Christianity is vaguely conscious of a *few* other religious traditions, but the ones I have met seem to have little conception of the full *range* of possibilities. Do they know Tangata-Manu, the bird man? Or Ereshkigal, lady of the great place? Or was that Yen-Lo-Wang, ruler of the fifth court of Feng-Du? Can they describe how Mbombe vomited up the world? Or how it was actually made from the toenail scrapings of a magic talking turtle?

    There are more than two *thousand* deities of ‘official’ religions to be considered, and it would take *hours* to read all their stories. After having done so, Christianity by no means stands out as any more credible than the rest. And there are infinitely many more things that *could* be. The supernatural is by no means limited to Gods.

    It’s fine talking about other possibilities in the vague abstract, but when you start adding in all the details, it looks different. And when you start comparing it to stories like Balaam and his amazing talking donkey, it becomes very difficult to say why you’ve picked out this particular one and not any of the others. It’s not even as if it is an especially sensible or moral one.

    I don’t know. Personally, I don’t much care about the actual issue. I think theist religions are obviously bunk, and will freely say so, but I don’t think it’s worth turning society upside-down to fix. If people want to believe stuff, that’s their problem. I just enjoy the intellectual exercise.

  47. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    Relative to the origin of the big bang, it might eventually be explained if and when a theory of quantum gravity is developed. One proposal I have seen bandied about is that the big bang came about due to a random discontinuity that occurred in the quantum vacuum. At the quantum level, random events with no primary cause occur all the time (e.g. radioactive decay) so such a proposal is not off the wall.

  48. Matt Penfold

    The seperation of church and state being an issue is a mistake too many Americans fall for. I suspect it comes from adopting a parochial attitude and disregarding what happens elsewhere in the world.

    One only needs to look to Europe to see that having an established religion does not prevent having a secular society. Two examples of countries that have established religions are Sweden and the UK. The church/state seperation argument would have it both should be countries with strong involvment of religion in public life. In fact they are not. In both countries religion is seen as being a private matter, and overt claims of religiosity are considered wierd. Religion plays almost no role in political debate in either country. In both I doubt most voters even know the religious views of their elected representatives and being an atheist is no bar to public office. Indeed it is the overtly religious, who think their own morality comes before the wishes of their voters, who electorate take against.

  49. Anthony McCarthy

    What made the big bang happen? Nothing, and nothing is required to, either.

    And you know this using what proof? As to a dispensation of a “requirement”, I’m wondering who has the power to grant that to whatever preceded the universe. Some symposium of cosmologists took time out from trying to decide the ultimate disposition of the universe to grant a pleneary indulgence on that point? I think that would be about as risible as any decision ever announced by any body of religious clergy in history.

    If anything did precede it.

    We are not certain about the big bang because we think general relativity is actually wrong, and that the conditions predicted for those first instants are such that we can’t trust the answer we get.

    Yeah, try discussing that on the blogs and watch the materialists go into a swivet. I brought up something Lawrence Krauss said earlier this year and got the “creationist” fingers pointed on me as usual.

    Liberal Christianity is vaguely conscious of a *few* other religious traditions, but the ones I have met seem to have little conception of the full *range* of possibilities.

    Clearly you aren’t aware of the engagement of Catholic missionaries with the eastern religions they encountered. I can’t recall which priest it was who became an accomplished scholar of Zen. And you are clearly not aware that even as far back as the Nestorian expansion into Asia that it was Christian clergy who helped in the translation of some of the Buddhist texts. Much of the scholarship about non-Christian religions published in Europe and elsewhere, have been done by Christians, often clergy.

    You are mistaken about this point which a fairly easily done review of the literature of liberal Christianity would show. That they might not have engaged in the study of or encounters with every non-Christian religion is far less strange than the fact that the new atheists feel themselves fully competent to talk about religion that they know absolutely nothing about.

    More generally, The more I discuss these things with atheists the more I’m struck with this paranoia a lot of them seem to have that someone is trying to convert them to religious belief through rigorous application of reason to their statements. I don’t care what you believe. I don’t care what you don’t believe. That’s not what I was discussing in what I said in the last few comments here. The most I was arguing for in religion is that assertions made about “religion” in a universal sense not attribute the characteristics of the most benighted of fundamentalists to everyone who is religious. It’s clearly seen to not be true by people who bother to read what intelligent believers have written on their belief and the extensions of that which make sense to them. A lot of them are a lot more impressive and honest thinkers than the brite lites of the new atheism.

    Any honest discussion of these matters in terms of science or logic doesn’t lead to religion or to atheism, it leads to agnosticism because there isn’t any way to get to the point where you can honestly call what you find with rigorous application of those in this area, “knowledge”.

    What you get on the topic of the supernatural is belief or disbelief. There is a real and absolute wall of separation between consideration of the supernatural and knowing as in science or logic, either way. There is no way that has ever been found to apply science or logic to the supernatural any more than you can to answering that riddle about those really big numbers I mentioned above. I think some of you will remember the idea that you can’t find the absolute foundations of math with them either. So it’s really not that hard an idea to accept that not everything in human thought is susceptible to the vaunted methods of either science or logic.

    As for the wall of separation between church and state, Matt, it’s my heritage as an American and I might be willing to shed blood to defend it. What you do where you live isn’t my business. I haven’t see that series of charges yet, the blog is still up and the comments were empty the last time I looked.

  50. Matt Penfold

    “As for the wall of separation between church and state, Matt, it’s my heritage as an American and I might be willing to shed blood to defend it. What you do where you live isn’t my business. I haven’t see that series of charges yet, the blog is still up and the comments were empty the last time I looked.”

    Ah, I see like Mooney you are an American execptionalist. I should have guessed.

    I checked your blog. There was nothing there. I took that as your admission you have no evidence. I just checked again. Still no evidence. Pretty much sums you up, all gob and no substance. You were asked for evidence of Richard Dawkins being uncivil to a creationist. You have not provided a shred of evidence that he has ever been uncivil, and nor has Mooney. I guess the pair of you think that calling for people to be civil absolves one of the need to be civil yourself.

    It will be interesting to see how Chris treats your lack of civility. If he lets it go, we will know that he is not really interested in civility from all parties, but just the ones he disagrees with. One would then hope that be an end to the support Mooney seems to have from the anti-creationists.

  51. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ 50

    If the big bang occurred due to quantum effects, it requires no cause, any more then radioactive decay requires a cause.

  52. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt, I have noticed you are discussing what I presume is your country here. I don’t see any problem with defending one of the founding principles of mine from the United States on a blog based in the United States, on a thread discussing another writer from the United States.

    I’m not going to allow someone to slam one of our great achievements, the separation of church and state, without objecting.

    SLC, “If” is a mighty important word in your response to me. “If” it did or didn’t hasn’t been established. Unless you’ve seen something I haven’t.

  53. Matt Penfold

    “If the big bang occurred due to quantum effects, it requires no cause, any more then radioactive decay requires a cause.”

    SLC could also have added that saying god did it does not acutally solve the problem: It merely stops being “Who created the Universe ?” and becomes “Who created god ?”. The problem then actually becomes harder, as whilst there are possible answers explaining in naturalistic terms where the Universe came from, there are so such answers as to where god came from. Indeed those positing such an idea will just ignore the problem.

  54. Anthony McCarthy

    I checked your blog. There was nothing there. I took that as your admission you have no evidence. I just checked again.

    Sorry, missed this. You don’t read the one and only headline that says Matt Do Make Your Best Stab with a line beneath that says ” comments 0″ ?

    Now, go fill up that comment thread with your charges and I’ll answer them there so people who don’t want to be bored with it here don’t have to scroll past.

  55. Anthony McCarthy

    “Who created the Universe ?” and becomes “Who created god ?”

    Some religions have discussed the birth of godesses and gods, the Abrahamic religions hold that God is uncreated and eternal.

    It’s no more of a problem than the idea of a steadily created universe is. Why don’t you ask the scientists who are dusting that idea off about that non-problem.

    I don’ presume to know the answer about the universe anymore than I do about God, I would point out that since we don’t know what rules, if any, the supernatural could be governed by. The entire concept of a beginning, which we expect because of our day to day experience of the material universe, might not apply. There is some precedence to that kind of bifurcated reality on different scales in physics, if I’m not mistaken.

    If you don’t think things like this have been discussed by religious believers you really don’t know step 1 in the subject you’re spouting off about so definitively.

  56. Matt Penfold

    “I’m not going to allow someone to slam one of our great achievements, the separation of church and state, without objecting. ”

    Tell me, how many creationists are there in the US compared to Britain or Sweden ?

    How widespead is the right to same sex marriage in US comapred to Britian or Sweden ?

    Sure, the church state seperation thing really has worked well. Political debate in the US never involves religion does. I guess all those people trying to get creationism taught in schools are staunch secularists. Like the ones who oppose abortion rights, or same sex marriage. Not a religious motivation between them no doubt.

    Now tell me, just in what what has the seperation thing been succesfull ? Only from where I sit if you care about human rights it seems to have done nothing.

  57. Matt Penfold

    “Some religions have discussed the birth of godesses and gods, the Abrahamic religions hold that God is uncreated and eternal. ”

    Yes they do. They also tend to claim the Universe needed a creator, without understanding that claim also destroys their argument for god, since the same logic dictates their god needed a creator as well. Why bother positing a god at all ?

    “t’s no more of a problem than the idea of a steadily created universe is. Why don’t you ask the scientists who are dusting that idea off about that non-problem.”

    Other than it adds an additional level of complexity for which there is neither need nor evidence I think you meant to say. At least I trust you, as I would not like to think you were being dishonest again. For the moment I will take it as just a lapse on your part.

    “If you don’t think things like this have been discussed by religious believers you really don’t know step 1 in the subject you’re spouting off about so definitively.”

    I am quite sure they have dicussed it. Probably to the same extend they have discussed how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  58. A random passing physicist

    “And you know this using what proof? As to a dispensation of a “requirement”, I’m wondering who has the power to grant that to whatever preceded the universe.”

    The ‘proof’ is in the Robertson-Walker models solving the field equations of general relativity. To the extent that general relativity is validated by observation, and the Robertson-Walker metric fits observed cosmology fairly well, its extension to the distant past is routine. Time and space have to curve a certain way, and doing so, they must contract to a point, beyond which there is no time or space.

    If time has a beginning, then it isn’t logically possible that a cause must precede every effect. The idea is falsified by its logical inconsistency. It’s also not even true in general – it is a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics, and therefore in iso-entropic conditions the laws of physics are effectively symmetrical in time, and there are neither causes nor effects. It’s a fallacy.

    How do you know there is no land to the north of the north pole? Who has the power to grant that dispensation to whatever is there? Or could it be a simple fact about the way latitude and longitude behave?

    Believers in the ultra-north might well find it risible, and laugh. But on what explorer’s reports can they base *their own* geography?

    “…and watch the materialists go into a swivet”

    I doubt it. I suspect the problem wasn’t that they disagreed that general relativity was unreliable at the Planck scale, but that you was trying to use it to cast doubt on other matters that are not so unsettled.

    “Clearly you aren’t aware of the engagement of Catholic missionaries with the eastern religions they encountered.”

    Oh, I *am*. But that isn’t what I’m talking about. Catholic missionaries were not exactly renowned for their religious liberality, but let that pass. Given that they’re familiar with the thousands of religions people believe in, what precisely are their arguments for believing in one in particular, that all the others are false?

    “More generally, The more I discuss these things with atheists the more I’m struck with this paranoia a lot of them seem to have that someone is trying to convert them to religious belief through rigorous application of reason to their statements.”

    Can you show me an example?

    I think most of the ones I’ve seen are struck with annoyance that someone is trying to distort their statements. It’s been a long time since I’ve come across anyone trying to *convert* atheists.

    “The most I was arguing for in religion is that assertions made about “religion” in a universal sense not attribute the characteristics of the most benighted of fundamentalists to everyone who is religious.”

    I’d agree entirely with that. But I hope you’re not going to stop me attributing assertions that *do* fit religion in a universal sense?

    “Any honest discussion of these matters in terms of science or logic doesn’t lead to religion or to atheism, it leads to agnosticism…”

    It depends on what you mean by agnosticism – there are several distinct meanings in common use. In the sense you seem to be implying, Richard Dawkins is an agnostic, and has publicly said so. As have most of the ‘New Atheists’. So what exactly are you complaining about?

    I’m also ‘agnostic’ about Klingons – it’s a big universe out there – but I would also be quite firm in saying that I *believe* they do not exist. The certainty of mathematical proof is not required to justify belief. But you do need *something* to justify it.

    “…So it’s really not that hard an idea to accept that not everything in human thought is susceptible to the vaunted methods of either science or logic.”

    Of course, so long as it is clearly understood that it is even *less* susceptible to religion.

    Religion simply *pretends* to have answers. Some people find that comforting – and good luck to them if they do – but I don’t. Just because science doesn’t have an answer doesn’t mean religion therefore must, or that a cleric’s opinion is any more valid than a politician’s or street sweeper’s. And the fact that there are so *many* different religious answers makes it certain that most of them have to be wrong. Why should we believe that *any* of them are right?

  59. Anthony McCarthy

    The ‘proof’ is in the Robertson-Walker models solving the field equations of general relativity.

    – If time has a beginning, then it isn’t logically possible that a cause must precede every effect. The idea is falsified by its logical inconsistency.

    Those are applicable in whatever preceded the big bang? Based on what?

    How do you know there is no land to the north of the north pole?

    Where would it be? Up? Or do you mean because the north pole is the place that defines where north is measured in terms of. Which is kind of a different question than a state of being in which all of our ideas of logic and its applications might not apply but which we can’t even know about.

    Religion simply *pretends* to have answers. Some people find that comforting – and good luck to them if they do – but I don’t.

    I think science does its share of pretending, as shown in one of my earlier answers to you and… well.

    Matt, if you think the separation of church and state is responsible for the success of creationism and anti-gay bigotry, you are kind of silly. You do realize that it’s creationists and many of the religious anti-gay bigots who are constantly trying to destroy the wall of separation here. Or don’t you know what you’re talking about. And liberal religious supporters of keeping creationism out of the public schools and promoting equal rights for my folk are some of the strongest supporters of the separation of church and state. The fact that there are and have generally always been those who want to adopt the British and Swedish custom of having an established church who we have to fight against is something you seem to be unaware of.

    If I suspected you were the kind who did research before they opined, I’d suggest you look at Americans United For the Separation of Church and State.

    http://www.au.org/

    You might want to look at who has headed that organization for most of the past twenty years, the answer would be The Rev. Barry Lynn, if you cared.

    I didn’t pretend to lecture you about your country, don’t lecture me about mine out of that level of ignorance. Maybe, if we’re talking about comparative national virtue we could bring up the ignorant, unsophisticated Yanks who came to your rescue twice in the past century.

  60. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ 53

    Indeed, the “if” in my comment indicates that, in the absence of a theory of quantum gravity, we can’t know for sure that the explanation of the big bang lies in quantum theory. However, that’s a gap which may eventually be filled, as have innumerable other gaps in human knowledge over the centuries.

    In fact, physicists worship gaps because, if there weren’t any, they would be out of business and the whole enterprise could be turned over to engineers.

  61. Matt Penfold

    I have been thinking the tactics of opposing the teaching of creationism is US publicaly funded schools on the grounds that it violates the seperation of church and stare and struck me that is not the real objection most of those opposed to the teaching of creationism have.

    I object to the teaching of creationism in schools, but my objection is on the grounds that creationism is not science. Here in the UK I am glad to say all the main polticial parties object to creationism being taughtt as science, but all do so on he basis that creationism is not science, not because creationism is connected to religion. By saying it is a religious seperation issue you cede ground to the creationists that should not be conceded. Of course I am assuming a somewhat sane legal framework that leaves decisions on curricula to the experts, and that a lot of the problem in the US comes from elected school boards with no expertise in science or education deciding science curricula. I am puzzled by the fact that the pro evolution movement in the US does not seek to end that state of affairs. Where is the campaign to have curricula set by teachers, experts in the field and educationalists ?

  62. Jon

    Religion simply *pretends* to have answers.

    And Daniel Dennett has the answers to the big human questions? That’s a joke.

    As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “Science gives us major answers to minor questions, while religion gives us minor answers to major questions.”

    Science studies nature. But, again, as Plato implies, there can be “intelligibilities separate from the natural world.” Those intelligibilities could be expressed more in terms of metaphors, symbols, narratives, etc., which have meaning for many people, and are not “pretend”–a word that drips with condescension, and fundamentally misunderstands what religion is trying to do.

    And what religion is trying to do is largely separate from science. Charles Taylor explains it pretty concisely in a recent interview:

    Science and religion are not quite totally non-overlapping magisteria, but he is right in the sense that if anybody said, ‘I’m going to solve all the problems of the meaning of life, by only looking at the evolutionary view,’ they would be mad, they do not understand the limitations. Or, on the other hand, reading the Bible to understand how human beings evolved, that’s equally unrealistic.

    And these things aren’t going away. You could be someone who is satisfied with life without religious traditions. That’s fine. But there are other people in society. And it would help to try to understand them, even if you don’t agree with them. Yes, it is possible to understand and respect the merits of views, even if you disagree with them. You can think Aristotle is right, Plato is wrong, and St. Augustine is even more wrong. But you can do that without being offensive, without ruining chances to use the public conversation constructively, so we can get some important public business done.

    Coyne was complaining before about anti-intellectualism. Again, I think refusing to see any merits in anything outside of your narrow views is anti-intellectual.

  63. Matt Penfold

    “Matt, if you think the separation of church and state is responsible for the success of creationism and anti-gay bigotry, you are kind of silly”

    No, I do not think seperation of church and state is responsible for the success of creationism or anti-gay bigotry in the US. However it clearly has not helped has it ? If the seperation of church and state is the answer, why do you have more problems with religion than Europe ?

    What has made a difference in Europe is not contitutional prohibititions on the state promoting religion, but a refusal on the part of the populace to be dictated to by a bunch of backward looking, mysogonistic, gay hating bunch of men (and it is still mostly men) in dog collars. It is not by engaging them in dialog that they have been pushed back, but by telling them that their crap is no longer welcome. The whole premise of Mooney’s case, that you make progress by being nice, is underminded by the evidence. It is underminded by the evidence in your own country, and in Europe. Blacks did not end segregation by asking the bigots for their rights. The blacks took them, and told the bigots where to go.

  64. Anthony McCarthy

    “If you don’t think things like this have been discussed by religious believers you really don’t know step 1 in the subject you’re spouting off about so definitively.”

    I am quite sure they have dicussed it. Probably to the same extend they have discussed how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    Ah, the new atheist idea of witty repartee, based in ignorance impressive only to others of equal ignorance.

    Can you show me anyone who has seriously talked about that question during the past century, if ever? Show me a single living Christian who has seriously addressed this idea?

    We can talk about those who fully believe in memes. The invention of Dawkins, widely rejected by real scientists, staunchly defended by the sage of Tufts, Daniel Dennett. Those things that are like genes of culture, only they’re actually, by description by those who hold the faith, they’re really nothing like genes. I’ve found few new atheists on the blogs who are ready to fully renounce belief in that superstition. And a topic that Jerry Coyne seems to be afraid of having someone bring up in public.

  65. Anthony McCarthy

    Blacks did not end segregation by asking the bigots for their rights. The blacks took them, and told the bigots where to go.

    African-americans ended segregation by proving they were adults who shouldn’t be subjected to the worse part of a double standard.

    New atheists aren’t the victims of LEGAL discrimination since, thanks to the Christians and other religious believers who passed civil rights legislation, they are a covered class. They promote a double standard in the culture, one which favors them. They insist on acting like unpleasant 12-year-olds and think that’s the height of adult sophistication and political wisdom, while insulting the majority of the population. Then they complain when most people don’t like them.

    There’s the difference, Matt. You really don’t understand my country, do you.

  66. Matt Penfold

    Anthony,

    I note how like a typical creationist you ignore the subatantive points.

    And I do consider you a creationist. You certainly like like one.

    And as for memes, you clearly have not read Susan Blackmore. However there is yet another example of you total dishonesty. “New” atheists (dishonesty again from you!) are not required to accept the concept of memes. So why do they have to refute the idea ?

    It is now clear you lie like you breathe. I have zerp tolerance for dishonest pondlife like yourself.

    Until you make it clear you apologise for your lies I have nothing further to say to you. It is clear that you think lies are part of civilised discourse, and given the fact Mooney has said nothing, I must assume he condones your lies. He was pretty clear on his commenting policy earlier, so not really much excuse his failure to call you out.

  67. Matt Penfold

    McCarthy, You need to apologise.

  68. Anthony McCarthy

    And as for memes, you clearly have not read Susan Blackmore

    Susan Blackmore? Of course I’ve read her. And I looked at her pathetic doctoral work, the things they’ll give a doctorate out for in the soft sciences in your country! She’s an… I promised I wouldn’t use that word here.

    So I’m a creationist who doesn’t believe in Genesis, who isn’t a Christian or a member of another Abrahamic faith, who says that under no circumstances should any mention of the supernatural be made in a public school classroom……

    Matt. I know I hurt your feelings early in this thread but you’ve taken it way past the point a rational person would.

  69. Matt Penfold

    McCarthy,

    I do not that apology for your lies. Do you intend to give one, or do I treat as a lying scumbag ?

  70. Matt Penfold

    Sorry, “I do not see ….”

    Still don’t see it. Not like you not had a chance is it. Nevermind, your god will forgive you.

  71. Matt Penfold

    “So I’m a creationist who doesn’t believe in Genesis, who isn’t a Christian or a member of another Abrahamic faith, who says that unblic school clasder no circumstances should any mention of the supernatural be made in a pusroom……”

    Well you are an anti-science lying scumbag.

  72. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt, you need professional help. I’m not talking to you anymore.

  73. Matt Penfold

    McCarthy,

    You need to apologise for your lies. What is hard about it ? I know you lied, you know you lied, everyone knows you lied. And yet you cannot bring yourself to do it. How come ?

    You are right, there is no point in your talking to me anymore, as until you apologise there is nothing for you to say. The longer you leave it the worst you look.

  74. A random passing physicist

    “Those are applicable in whatever preceded the big bang?”

    No! There *is* no before the big bang, any more than there a ‘north of the north pole’. It’s not so much that there’s nothing there, but that there’s no ‘there’ for nothing to be.

    They are applicable throughout the part of the universe that we can see, and if the equations of general relativity are valid, extending any such solution back leads necessarily to a singularity.

    “Where would it be? Up? Or do you mean because the north pole is the place that defines where north is measured in terms of.”

    I mean that if latitude was time, and longitude space, then a circle of longitude would be the universe at a given instant of time. As you go further back in time (northwards in longitude), the universe gets smaller and smaller, until at the big bang (north pole) it has shrunk to zero. To speak about what happened before the big bang is *exactly* analogous to asking about the geography of the Earth north of the north pole. It makes no sense! The big bang was the *start of time*. It is a point in the universe from which all directions point futurewards. There *is* no ‘before’.

    It’s a difficult idea, and I admit I’m simplifying.
    And there is always the possibility that it is more like an apple hanging from a tree, with a quantum gravity ‘stalk’ at the point where the rules change. But so far as we understand the rules so far, there isn’t.

  75. Anthony McCarthy

    Coyne was complaining before about anti-intellectualism. Again, I think refusing to see any merits in anything outside of your narrow views is anti-intellectual.

    SLC, I’d be willing to submit the statements made on this thread, double-blind, to a panel of impartial scholars to see who they judged was the most rational. I’d welcome a critique of anything I said on the basis of accuracy and reason. I’d even be willing to back up statements that they might want verification of. Though I might want to correct a few typos and editing mistakes first.

    You think the anti-religious bromides and stereotypes, blanket statements about “religion” made by the anti-religious folk here would pass intellectual muster?

    As for Coyne’s intellectualism. As long as he’s within his professional competence, he’s very good. As soon as he sets foot out of it, his bigotry is always a danger to his intelligence. I came to that conclusion after a week of participating in his blog last month.

  76. Anthony McCarthy

    No! There *is* no before the big bang, any more than there a ‘north of the north pole’.

    How do you know? By applying the physics and logic of the post-bang universe? Who decided that was applicable? What knowledge of the pre-bang whatever do they base that in? “North of the north pole” is part of our universe, we have something to base statements on.

    In a time when string theory and multiple universes are in the air, why isn’t this a valid thing to wonder about?

    This is going in circles. It’s reminding me of arguments I used to have with religious fundamentalists.

  77. A random passing physicist

    “What knowledge of the pre-bang whatever do they base that in?”

    There *is* no pre-bang. If you reject the theory saying there is no pre-bang, you reject the theory saying there was a bang at all.

    ““North of the north pole” is part of our universe,”

    Is it? Is it really? Well, if you truly believe that there’s anything to the north of the north pole in this universe, I’m afraid I can’t help you.

  78. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy # 76

    I am at a loss to understand why Mr. McCarthy is directing this comment at me. The only issue I have raised with him is relative to the big bang and god of the gaps. Most of the back and forth in this thread is between Mr. McCarthy on the one hand and Mr. Penfold and Mr. physicist on the other hand.

  79. Erasmussimo

    Here’s an interesting coda on the Jerry Coyne discussion: I went over to his blog and engaged some people there in a discussion of the issue of how to address religious believers. Apparently Mr. Coyne did not appreciate my comments; he has apparently banished me. Here’s my post that earned his ire:

    Magnetic Lobster, I cannot speak for anybody else, but I draw a major distinction between discussion and attack. If you and I choose to discuss religion, that’s great. If a religious believer approaches you and asks to discuss religion with you, that’s also great.

    Where I draw the line is in attacking others. Such attacks aren’t illegitimate or criminal or unacceptable — they are merely ill-advised. If you want to post a message on a blog declaring that all religious believers are flaming idiots, you have every right to do so, but I will maintain that doing so is ill-advised and detracts from the overall well-being of humanity. You don’t do any good for humanity by attacking other people. You are completely within your rights attacking other people — but I still advise against it.

    I’m not trying to cram this down your throat. If you are unimpressed by my claims and decide to continue attacking other people, there’s nothing I could do *or would want to do* to stop you.

    But I will ask you to engage in some introspection. WHY do you want to attack others? What is your goal? You’re certainly not doing it to make the world a better place. I gently suggest that you might instead be angry and you might then wish to vent your anger by verbally injuring those who disagree with you. I’m speculating, of course — which is why I suggest that you carry out some introspection to decide this matter for yourself.

    It strikes me as ironic that Mr. Coyne would complain that he’s being told to shut up while he simultaneously censors those he disagrees with.

  80. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorry, SLC. Just an error of scrolling. It happens when you’re being attacked by three or four people at once.

    I don’t do “God in the gaps”, never have, don’t see any point in it.

    There’s no reason to be so formal by the way. Mr. always sounds like people are talking to someone else. My friends usually call me” you goddamned little bastard”.

    ““North of the north pole” is part of our universe,”

    Is it? Is it really? Well, if you truly believe that there’s anything to the north of the north pole in this universe, I’m afraid I can’t help you.

    You’re the one who used the turn of phrase, which I thought was pretty silly. the North Pole being the location one points to when referring to North. Maybe you should have asked about “left of left”. You do understand that the North Pole is a location within the post-bang (perhaps) universe and so would have no knowable corollary in the pre-bang (perhaps).

    And, least you forget, I’m the one who is saying we can’t know what conditions might have been like before we can know about anything. If people want to bring up silly stuff like that and the old canard about angles and pins, it’s not my fault.

    I haven’t seen anything in this blog fight that changes my assessment that the new atheism is a shallow, dishonest, bigoted intellectual fad. One which will pass, eventually. Especially since it’s adherents are generally pretty rude and unpleasant to most people.

    I’m not going to post any more comments on this thread.

  81. @Glen Davidson

    Maybe the second quote in this article:

    Thanks, yes, I suspect that’s to what the author of the post was referring.

    However, the claim was that Miller and Giberson would limit science, the second quote was from Giberson, and I was arguing about what Miller would do.

    So I agree, but it still doesn’t make the case with respect to Miller. Nor, of course, does MadScientist’s response to me on Coyne’s site, as it’s ridiculous to suppose that one can use science to determine morals prescriptively.

    I don’t think I’ll bother to say so there, though, as it would be too likely to end up in a meaningless fight, and I’m hoping that most people are brighter than to believe such nonsense.

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

  82. If we are to say there are non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) in the context of this debate, then I think saying one is science and the other religion is wrong.

    Rather, I would say one magisteria is ‘the descriptive’ (what is) and the other is ‘the normative’ (what should be). Science is the rightful magistrate of the former. Is religion the rightful magistrate of the latter?

    I imagine proponents of Gould’s NOMA concept would like to think so. We see some of that sentiment from Miller and Giberson (disclosure: I’m only acquainted with the excerpts of theirs from Coyne’s review and these discussions), and we definitely see it from the less formal discussions here.

    However, I don’t see how religion’s legitimacy to the normative is justified on the basis of science being non-normative; and I certainly don’t see how any one particular religion could rightfully make such a claim. Furthermore, when a religion (such as all Abrahamic religions, plus most others) start making descriptive claims that don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, their claims to the normative magisterium seem even more specious.

  83. Matt Penfold

    “I’m not going to post any more comments on this thread.”

    Well that is a relief. It is not like that your lies will be missed.

  84. Chris Mooney wrote in the original post,
    “I pretty much think ‘idiot’ is a word we ought to banish from our vocabulary.”

    Chris, you missed the specific meaning of the term “useful idiot.” The Wikipedia article on “useful idiot” says,

    In political jargon, the term “useful idiot” was used to describe Soviet sympathizers in western countries and the attitude of the Soviet government towards them. The implication was that though the person in question naïvely thought themselves an ally of the Soviets or other Communists, they were actually held in contempt by them, and being cynically used.

    The term is now used more broadly to describe someone who is perceived to be manipulated by a political movement, terrorist group, hostile government, or business, whether or not the group is Communist in nature.

    Winston Churchill had a good description of the theistic evolutionists who try to appease the atheistic evolutionist establishment: “An appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last.”

  85. John Kwok

    Larry,

    What a surprise seeing you here, simply because I have found you to be among the more thoughtful IDiots posting online (And here, as I noted earlier, I am using the term “IDiot” simply because I agree with Fortey’s belief that it should be used as a term replete with ample derision as for example, the usage of the terms “Darwinist” and “Darwinism” have been applied by IDiots and their fellow creationists.). Am sure you are aware that I have referred sarcastically to the existence of a Discovery Institute IDiot Borg Collective, merely to assert that most IDiots are incapable of reasoning at all, and therefore, must take their cues from the central nexus of their “hive mind”, which of course, is the DI Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture.

    However, I think dear old Winston was aiming his criticism squarely at Neville Chamberlain and his ilk, not at the likes of Francis Collins, Ken Miller or Simon Conway Morris.

  86. Erasmussimo

    The ironies mount. Now we have a creationist using the appeasement concept against theistic evolutionists. So now we have the radicals on both sides shooting at the people in the middle who just want to get along with each other. That, I think, is a comforting reassurance that we in the middle are indeed doing the right thing.

  87. I just want to point out that I am not in the middle. I’m an extremist. I just want to be nice about it.

    Also, Chris is not in the middle (though I would not call him an extremist). He wrote a book called “The Republican War on Science.” You can’t really be in the middle and have written that book.

    This whole middle thing is a bit of a red herring anyway.

  88. John Kwok

    Moreover, as a registered Republican, I regard Chris’s “The Republican War on Science” to be quite extensive, and balanced, since he also mentions some of thescientific errors committed by Democrats in both the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government, some as long as more than a decade prior to the start of the first George W. Bush administration. Chris has demonstrated that, when it comes to the political use – and abuse – of science, he is among our very best reporters and commentators.

  89. Erasmussimo

    Greg and John, I’m using “middle” only in the sense of being “between the two extremes on this question”. This kind of middle is a big place; it includes everybody who isn’t a radical.

    I suppose, however, that we could differentiate between an irenic extremist and a confrontational extremist. While both would believe that science and religion are incompatible, the former would diplomatically work with theists to advance socially desirable programs, while the latter would refuse to treat with theists in any fashion.

  90. John Kwok

    Erasmussimo,

    While I’d agree with Greg’s assessment of himself, he does demonstrate – for example, his interview with Genie Scott a few weeks ago – that he can express his extremist views without resorting to some of the strongly harsh rhetoric against NCSE, NAS and AAAS over their “accomodationist” stance with religion that has been expressed, for example, by the likes of Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers.

    Ideally, maybe we should all step back, and allow various online talking heads to “cool it”. I, for one, don’t think that this ongoing bickering about being an “accomodationist” is going to settle much, except to provide more ammunition to the likes of Larry Fafarman and other, even more extreme, creos who contend that “belief” in evolution EQUALS an Atheistic denial of GOD, or rather, as both the creos – and ironically the militant atheists – contend, to be an evolution “believer” means being a good Atheist too.

    Regards,

    John

  91. SLC

    Hey, the old Holocaust denier, Larry Fafarman is back from his sojourn in the nuthouse.

  92. John Kwok

    @ SLC –

    Thanks for reminding me that Larry Fafarman is a Holocaust denier. I’ve known Holocaust survivors, including an uncle who spent World War II hiding in Amsterdam, and anyone who can believe still that the Holocaust didn’t happen is someone who isn’t “less extreme”. So I have to take back that observation I made of Fafarman in my most recent post.

  93. SLC

    Re John Kwok

    One should also point out what President Obama had to say about Holocaust deniers during his speech at the former Buchenwald concentration camp.

  94. barry

    “I pretty much think “idiot” is a word we ought to banish from our vocabulary.” In fact, “idiot” is a very scientific word with precise definition; and it was created by scientists (a review of history seems in order). But I guess scientists now want to argue that it has been “hijacked” like another of their words: Darwinism.

  95. John Kwok

    @ SLC –

    Yes, that did enter my mind. But Obama’s remarks pale in comparison to, for example, Elie Wiesel’s voluminous writings. Any credible person who has seen the photographs and videos of Allied soldiers being welcomed as liberators at the Nazi death camps like Buchenwald and Dachau should understand immediately that the Holocaust was real, and should never, ever, be regarded as myth.

    @ barry –

    Even if you are not Barry Arrington from Uncommon Dissent, your observation is rather pointless. As I noted earlier, eminent British paleontologist Richard Fortey was quite correct in declaring that Intelligent Design creationists and their fellow intellectually-challenged acolytes (whom I have dubbed sarcastically as members of the Dishonesty Institute Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture’s IDiot Borg Collective), given the sad facts that again, and again, they have aimed as epithets, “Darwinism” and “Darwinist”, at both the mainstream scientific community and those of us in the general public who recognize that evolution is valid science and Intelligent Design is religiously-derived pseudoscientific nonsense (though again, I have gone further by referring to it – and I believe quite correctly – as mendacious intellectual pornography.).

  96. Gaythia

    @barry

    I would refute the use of the term “Darwinsim” with a slightly different tone than that used by John Kwok above. I do not consider myself to be a “Darwinist” because I recognize that Charles Darwin was not the first person to attempt to describe natural selection and evolution, nor were his ideas anywhere near being the last word on the subject.

    A scientific theory is not a dogma.

  97. John Kwok

    @ Gaythia –

    Sorry, but you are mistaken. Darwin was the first to develop a comprehensive theory of evolution with a plausible mechanism for it, Natural Selection, which he did in the late 1830s through mid 1840s. Independently, Wallace would discover the same evolutionary theory while working in the East Indies from 1855 to 1858. I realize you’ve been inspired by Matt Young’s laudable contest over at Panda’s Thumb, but even he would concur with my analysis.

  98. Gaythia

    @John Kwok. Undoubtedly I would be foolish to quibble with you. Can I strike the words “natural selection” from my sentence?

    I still like the idea that evolution is about a theory not an individual person of whom I am to be deemed to be an adherent.

    I don’t think it really matters how you refer those who believe in Intelligent Design, but I think that in dealing with the middle ground, separating out belief from science is crucial.

  99. Gaythia

    I think that the overall lesson here is that to effectively convey one’s opinion in a discussion, careful word choice matters. An exchange can improve ideas.

    Some words close off discussion. Erasmussimo in #80 has done an excellent job in expressing this with regard to attacking others.

  100. John Kwok

    @ Gathyia –

    Even if you did strike the words “natural selection” from your sentence, you would still be factually incorrect with respect to implying that there were scientifically valid theories of biological evolution prior to the 1858 Royal Society of London presentation of Darwin and Wallace’s ideas. Because no one could conceive of a plausible mechanism, evolution was rejected as valid science, even though, as you’ve indicated, there were others, like for example, Darwin’s grandfather, physician Erasmus Darwin, who had a notion of evolution back in the 1790s.

    I will agree with you that evolutionary bioiogy has made substantial progress since 1858 and that Darwin did not envision all that would spring forth, such as for example, population genetics, molecular biology and evolutionary developmental biology (more popularly known as “evo – devo”). But, regardless, it is still amazing how much Darwin got right, and the clarity of his thinking and the predictive power of many of his ideas, are among the reasons why he is still acknowledged as one of the greatest scientists of Western Civilization.

    I’ll agree with your assessment of Erasmussimo’s comment (# 80), but sadly, such diplomacy hasn’t proved effective in ongoing battles against Intelligent Design advocates – I don’t think to call them IDiots is either harsh or misleading, especially for the reasons I have noted, referring to Richard Fortey’s rationale for that term – or, for example, in ongoing online discussions as to whether science advocacy /scientific organizations like NCSE, NAS and AAAS, should have an “accomodationist” stance with respect to mainstream religions.

    I don’t know how much you’ve read of my own comments elsewhere online, but I will observe that it’s sometimes useful to be sarcastic, and have that laced with humor, as I have done, for example, in asserting that there is more proof for Klingon Cosmology than there will ever be for any form of creationism (or in referring to IDiots as members of the Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg Collective). I think enough people on both sides have noticed that I’ve tried to be funny while also attempting to make some valid points too.

  101. Gaythia

    I don’t mean to imply that there were scientifically valid theories of evolution before Darwin and Wallace or that Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection wasn’t indeed an amazing insight. But rather, as you suggest, that others before had “a notion of evolution”. My use of the word “attempt” was not enough to clarify this, and thus I admit my first statement in #97 above is poorly worded.

    I believe that the use of the term “Darwinism” by Intelligent Design advocates is strategic. I think that their purpose is to frame Evolution as a belief, with an advocate who sounds like a prophet who has had what appears to be a revelation.

    This makes the decision of the public one of: Do you believe this or do you believe that? This segues into their understanding of Evolution as “only a theory”. It helps Intelligent Design sound credible and equal in standing.

    I think that scientists need to get the public to understand that science is about evidence and then get them to examine that evidence and get them to try to understand it. There are Great Scientists, but the advancement of science takes place in many steps and is not totally dependent on any one individual. (We might have been labeled Wallacites).

    Connecting back to Chris Mooney’s post at the top of this thread, if we delineate the distinction between what is religious faith and what is science, and refrain from attacks, we can improve the scientific literacy of the public and increase acceptance of Evolution and other scientific theories.

  102. Oh come on! No one is stupid? That’s like saying there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Of course there is. Sure, not all creationists are necessarily complete morons. Some can even be very intelligent in other areas and this could be just their one big sacred cow belief. But I think it’s entirely fair to say that anyone who’s a Young Earth Creationist is stupid. Likewise, if someone believes the Earth is flat, they’re stupid. When you say that no one should be regarded as stupid, this is exactly why I think people characterize your position as an “accomodationist.”

    Sure, we should be polite and respectful at first. But once it becomes clear that someone is unwilling or incapable of being moved by sufficient evidence and they become hostile towards you and others who present evidence that disagrees with them, I see no reason to not bluntly and unapologetically call them on it. I believe we shouldn’t be basing our position on what is strategically convenient but on the truth. If a biologist truly sees a conflict between religion and science, it is dishonest to not say so merely because that’s what is practical. That’s what creationists do. That is not how scientists and skeptics should behave. We’re better than that.

  103. John Kwok

    @ Gaythia,

    It isn’t just IDiots who use the terms “Darwinism” and “Darwinist” as pejoratives. Indeed, this is common practice throughout much of the creo “literature” if you do some digging. Creos – including IDiots – do this because they contend that “belief” in evolution is a religious theology. It is for this reason why NCSE has devoted a substantial amount of its resources in combatting, especially via its strategic alliances with organizations like the Clergy Letter Project. For espousing such a strategy, militant atheists like Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers etc. etc. have made the risible accusation that NCSE must, therefore, have an “accomodationist” stance against religion, when I have not seen anything posted on NCSE’s website that would suggest such a policy.

    I think the reason why we can correctly refer to something known as “Darwinian” thought because of Darwin’s own voluminous writings on evolution, and the fact that he came up not merely with one theory of evolution, but several, as the great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr has observed. But of course, Darwin’s most important contribution is having discovered – along with Wallace – a plausible mechanism for evolution, namely, Natural Selection (Again, to be technically correct, one needs to refer to it as the Darwin – Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection.).

    Finally, last but not least, I concur completely with Skepacabra’s excellent observations.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »