Ken Miller: "Why Jerry Coyne is Wrong"

By Chris Mooney | June 11, 2009 12:29 pm

I have to travel today, but meanwhile, I am preparing my next blog post addressing Dr. Coyne. In it, I hope to draw out what I see as the close connection between Coyne’s philosophical naturalist views and his critiques of Ken Miller–arguing that Coyne’s critiques of Miller’s “science” are actually philosophical in nature.

Note: I realize that some, including Coyne in his latest post, have problematized my general approach to MN/PN, upon which all of this rests (that’s why I presented this material first; there is a method to this particular madness). I will answer those critiques in the next post, to the extent that space and time allows. The reason I think we’re getting somewhere in this debate is that I am now clear on Coyne’s view regarding MN/PN, and can directly respond to it.

For now, however, let us not forget that the approach I’m defending is the approach laid out by Pennock, triumphant in the Dover trial, etc. It is not to be abandoned lightly, I don’t think.

And here’s why it matters: I think that if we hold to the methodological naturalist/philosophical naturalist distinction as I have laid it out–and as Pennock does, and as Judge Jones did in the Dover trial–then there is really no reason for a methodological naturalist, a typical scientist, to have any problem with anything Miller says. For after all, Miller accepts the entire body of modern science; indeed, he has few rivals in his robust defenses of science education and the teaching of evolution.

My contention, then, is that only a philosophical naturalist/atheist (or, on the other side of the aisle, a religious fundamentalist) would have any reason to get peeved at Miller–and then, their complaint would really be about theology or philosophy, not about science.

That’s the plan for the next lengthy post; but no matter what I do, I probably can’t defend Miller as well as Miller himself can. So in the meantime, make sure to read everything he has to say in response to Coyne in an extensive, recently posted reply on his website. Certainly, I tend to agree with it. For now I’ll just quote the punch-line:

The record is abundantly clear. I haven’t twisted, compromised, or “accommodated” science to fit religious views. Rather, like others who have made similar arguments, I’m simply pointed out ways in which traditional religious views of nature can accommodate science — not the other way around. Most scientists, even if they reject those religious views, nonetheless understand that this is a logical, honest, and appropriate position for a religious person to take….

The tragedy of Coyne’s argument is the way in which it seeks to enlist science in a frankly philosophical crusade — a campaign to purge science of religionists in the name of doctrinal purity. That campaign will surely fail, but in so doing it may divert those of us who cherish science from a far more urgent task, especially in America today. That is the task of defending scientific rationalism from those who, in the name of religion would subvert it beyond all recognition. In that critical struggle, scientists who are also people of faith are critical allies, and we would do well not to turn those “Ardent Theists” away.

Again, you can read Miller’s entire response here. The “far more urgent task, especially in America today” that he describes is what centrally motivates me in this entire debate.

Comments (108)

  1. John Kwok

    Chris -

    Thanks very much. Ken told me he was going to respond to Coyne eventually, but I didn’t realize that it would be so soon, or so comprehensive. I’m especially intrigued with Ken’s excellent observation that Coyne’s view are philosophicall similar – if not identical – with inane commentary from the likes of former Dover Area School District board member Bill Buckingham and Texas State Board of Education member Don McElroy. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

    While Coyne, and especially, PZ Myers, have made the inane accusation that “Ken is a creationist ” (or rather, as Coyne insisted in his review of Ken’s “Only A Theory” that Ken’s theological and philosophical perspective was all too similar to virtually all of creationists -
    they have forgotten that, time and again, Ken has demonstrated in both his talks and writings that he clearly knows the distinction between religion and science and why – contrary to the fervent wishes of Dishonesty Institute “Fellows” and “Senior Fellows” like Behe, Dembski, Nelson and Wells – they shouldn’t be conflated.

    If Ken is really a creationist, then why would he advise those who belong to faiths which are hostile to science should reconsider seriously their memberships and indeed, terminate them immediately? That simply doesn’t compute – the inane assertions of Coyne and Myers
    regarding Ken’s “creationist” leanings – nor should it for anyone who is willing to look objectively at Ken’s remarks and compare and contrast them with his critics.

  2. Dave

    Let me offer a response which will be forthcoming, it’s best summed up by Weinberg : “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.” etc. etc.

    I think what you need to keep in mind here Chris, is that to Coyne this stuff doesn’t really matter. It will also be read to where another reply would be something like: “oh, for those that think there is no conflict between science and reason….” then present a story, helps to make it a recent news piece, where an atrocity was committed and religion or the religious were involved somehow. Though, I have noticed Coyne has a knack of going back to actual scientific argument when pushed, such as he argument that Miller argues for the *inevitability of humans*. Coyne did say it is because Miller is Catholic that he *needs* to believe this is so, but he never really addressed Miller’s response to this charge (I still am persuaded, as Coyne is, by Gould’s argument — Miller states: “I made it very clear that I do not believe that the “appearance of humans” on planet earth was inevitable.”).

    The point I”m making is that to Coyne this stuff doesn’t matter as much as his views on religion in general and what we need to do about it.

  3. Michael Fugate

    Why couldn’t the converse also be true? – Isn’t Dr Miller seeking to enlist religion in a philosophical crusade to purge religion of its anti-science elements? Is this necessarily the best thing for religion? Or given that Christianity is a proselytizing religion with a goal to convert everyone to the “one true faith”, how to we know Dr. Miller’s goal isn’t to use his science credentials to convert people to Christianity?
    One big item left largely unsaid is accepting current thought in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, Astronomy, etc. will require most Christians to make big changes in their understanding of their religion. For many this will not be easy. Can theologians come up with the core elements needed to be a Christian or a member of any other religion? I am not sure scientists like Drs Miller, Giberson and Collins know enough theology to do this. Then again, this list would ignore the social aspects of religion – e.g. can I believe Jesus is God and cheat on my spouse, while remaining a Christian? I really think the NAS and Miller statements are naive at best.

  4. John Kwok

    @ Michael -

    Ken has said that those belonging to faiths that are hostile to science should drop immediately their membership in such faiths. While it isn’t quite the same, it is similar in both tone and comment to the Dalai Lama’s position that, if religion conflicts with science, then religion must change to conform with science.

  5. I only wonder why Mooney, Miller, Giberson and the rest seem to think reducing all religions to deism so they are kept separate from the real world will work or be convincing to the vast majority of Americans who think otherwise?

    Tell me this going-against-the-facts-on-the-ground approach has something more going for it than a single court anecdote.

  6. Physicalist

    Mooney:

    My contention, then, is that only a philosophical naturalist/atheist . . . would have any reason to get peeved at Miller–and then, their complaint would really be about theology or philosophy, not about science.

    The question of whether and when one should use the reasoning methods and standards of science is obviously not itself a scientific question. It’s philosophical. So of course Coyne’s complaint is philosophical. However, it’s also a complaint “about science,” because he’s arguing that Miller should be thinking scientifically about religious issues.

    The question Coyne raises (or one of many questions he raises) is whether it’s rational to demand evidence on Monday through Friday in your lab, and then on Sunday forgo all demand for evidence in Church.

    Asking this question (and answering it in the negative) commits absolutely no fallacy with respect to methodological vs. metaphysical naturalism.

  7. Physicalist: What about Saturday? ;)

  8. Physicalist

    Saturday we drink beer.

  9. However, it’s also a complaint “about science,” because he’s arguing that Miller should be thinking scientifically about religious issues.

    Semantics. It’s a complaint about religion – he doesn’t think people should be allowed to think religiously about religious issues. But even if it’s “about” science, it still shouldn’t be framed as being “on behalf of” science. He’s making a philosophical claim, on behalf of his philosophy, that science should be used for everything. It’s a fine claim – I hold to something similar to it. But it’s philosophical – not scientific. So it isn’t a matter of “science” being incompatible with religion – it’s a matter of his philosophical stance being incompatible with religion.

  10. Dave

    Chris, one last thing I’ll add that you may want to keep in mind, this follows my last few post on this issue (one here, two in, Coyne Replies). It is this; all approaches have failed, “accomodationism” is a failure that is also dangerous, dishonest etc. What hasn’t failed can be summed up by Dawkins; “we’ve made more progress in a year than decades of niceness.” See, “they’re” making progress, your ideas have not only failed (wrong etc.), it also gets muddled into speaking out as atheist. It will once again be brought back to wanting “them” to “shut up”. That’s why I have said those that have argued about more than one approach are missing the more fundamental aspects of the debates.

    When Sam Harris said that: — “Kenneth R. Miller [is] doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality. Likewise, Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” served only the religious dogmatists who realize, quite rightly, that there is only one magisterium.”–

    This isn’t some invitation for dialogue, Harris doesn’t employ and defend “conversational intolerance” for nothing. These ideas have been repeated continuously over the last few years, including by Coyne in different ways.

    Also, Dawkins isn’t advocating: –”I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt” … and … “I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”— because he doesn’t think it’s the right thing to do.

  11. John Kwok

    @ Dave -

    Apparently the Dalai Lama hasn’t heard you. Again, as a reminder, it is the Dalai Lama’s position that, if science is right and religion wrong, then religion must change to conform with science.

    Last month, Ken said during a private talk he gave here in New York City to our fellow Brown University alumni that those who adhere to religions that are hostile to science should think seriously of terminating their memberships in such faiths immediately.

    Clearly neither Ken nor the Dalai Lama are bending over backwards for science to “accomodate” religion when instead, they are insisting that it should be religion, not science, which should be accomodating.

    Citing Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins ignores the fact that theirs are minority views in both the scientific community and the general public. It also ignores the fact that they are stating positions which run counter to centuries of religious tolerance practiced here, in the United Kingdom, and in much of the rest of the English-speaking world. Moreover, I have heard eminent historians and philosophers of science like Janet Browne, Ed Larson and Philip Kitcher contend that Dawkins has probably done far more lasting damage in affirming the facts of science – including of course the reality of evolution – by his caustic rhethoric on behalf of militant atheism; a militant atheism that is as religiously intolerant as any Fundamentalist version of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or any other faith which you can cite.

  12. It is to be noted that estimates for N in the Drake equation range from millions to zero, a range that to my knowledge has never been narrowed down. The Drake question is a useful way of thinking about the conditions necessary for life to arise, but in my mind not much more. See the last chapter in John Casti’s “Paradigms Lost: Images of Man in the Mirror of Science”.

  13. Dave

    John Kwok

    I think you may be misunderstanding my intentions with regards to my last post (which follows the basic idea of the few prior). I’m trying to point out to Chris things that would be wise to keep in mind and/or expect in his open dialogue with Coyne. I may add, going on the theme of your post, that it may be helpful for you to keep those ideas in mind also since they are fairly fundamental to these debates. It is basically where Coyne is “coming from”, so to speak.

  14. I believe that Dawkins’s lasting contribution is simply that he encouraged atheists to be bolder about their beliefs and fence-sitters to be less timid in exploring atheism. The details of his writings- some of which are of dubious value- are certainly up for debate. But if Dawkins’s views are minority views, I would like to know why his and Harris’s books have sold millions of copies. I would like to think that it’s not because the public has suddenly agreed with all of the points that they make but rather that skeptics among the public have found a bolder voice to express their opinions.

  15. Sure. From one point of view I can see it as being ok that you can believe anything you like as long as you believe in the entire body of science and nothing that contradicts it. But are those views beyond what science has proven empirically reasonable? Is it not more reasonable to be agnostic on issues for which there exists no evidence that to believe in one among many possibilities? It’s not just about true and not true, it’s also about reasonable and unreasonable, probable and improbable.

  16. Anthony McCarthy

    but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.

    Yeah, atheists never do evil things. Or maybe he’s saying they’re never good? This was one of the things Coyne used on his blog right before trying to pin the medical neglect of that kid on all of religion last month, taking a totally below the belt swipe at Francis Collins in the process. I wonder of Robert Oppenheimer would agree.

    Sam Harris’ idea of a nuclear first strike which he says would kill tens of millions in a day, his promotion of the position that killing people because they hold certain beliefs. Imagine what the new atheists would say about a religious figure who endorsed those ideas.

    Clearly, it’s all right to say anything as long as you’re hatin’ on religion while you’re doing it. Sam Harris has put himself beyond respectability.

  17. Anthony McCarthy

    Dawkins isn’t advocating: –”I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt” … and … “I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

    Figured that eventually the new atheists would target other atheists. I always figured it would be the Dawkins faction who would look down on Sam Harris’ club as hangers on. I predicted they’d refer to them as Harrisites.

  18. John Kwok

    @ Dave -

    If anyone is forgetting anything, it seems that militant atheists like Coyne and Myers are. Their comments are not simply sterling examples of religious intolerance, but, sadly – and I must agree with Anthony McCarthy – but also superb examples of bigotry. If anyone has tried his best to observe some form of moderation, then it’s been Chris Mooney, and not, I’m afraid, either Coyne or his principal acolytes, Myers and Rosenhouse.

  19. You keep on citing Sam Harris’s quips about nuclear weapons without including his response. A reasoned debate needs people to look at all sides of an argument so that they can decide for themselves. Here, let me provide the link so that people can look at both sides and also the relevant paragraph from the book to make up their mind.

    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/

    Also, what about Robert Oppenheimer? He never regretted making the bomb. Most scientists did not because they thought Hitler would get it first.

  20. Vytautas

    Mooney quotes Miller as saying, “That is the task of defending scientific rationalism from those who, in the name of religion would subvert it beyond all recognition. In that critical struggle, scientists who are also people of faith are critical allies, and we would do well not to turn those “Ardent Theists” away.”
    ———————————-

    Here’s a question: Why?

    There appears to be this supposition by Mooney et. al. that without support from liberally religious scientists or laypeople, that we’re defenseless against the lunatic fringe. In other words, without people on your side who can walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk (and can be exhibited as shining examples of accommodationist thought) that we are then in danger of having Genesis as required reading in Biology 101? Or that court cases would be eminently difficult to win without a strong “accommodation” tactic?

    Quite frankly, get over yourselves. The upholding of the Establishment Clause doesn’t require scientific rationalism to be soft peddled by religious scientists.

  21. Dave

    I may have to agree with the idea of bigotry. I think I have been fooling myself for a couple years now, I need to come to grips with what has been bothering me so. There is an undercurrent of such ugliness masquerading as being in the service of “truth”. It’s not so much a question of “hostility” as much as a near blind devotion to anti-religiousness, I just can’t deny that any longer.

    Oh, well. I sure did put up a fight.

  22. @Dave #21

    Is this snark? Or have you really had a change of heart of some sort?

  23. Dave

    Vytautas

    –”Quite frankly, get over yourselves.”–

    Ok, no problem. After all, its not really a question of getting over ourselves on the issues you raised since Coyne is saying its all been a failure. Dawkins says more progress has been made than by the “niceness” of the “accomodationist” and advocates even sharper barbs and further contempt then he already forwards.

    Everyone’s failed, not only that but the “accomodationist” have done further harm and are dishonest (though Richard does say maybe they’re deluded, that they really believe in the contorted thinking), and of course Miller is doing lasting harm to our discourse.

    Ok, I’m over myself.

  24. Dave

    smijer,

    No, it’s not a “snark”. It’s an honest assessment of where I stand at the moment. Nothing really changes for me though, I think that’s what’s been hardest to grasp. I’m not about to stop reading my Free Inquiry or Skeptic or Humanist etc. (or buying “atheistic” or skeptical books) or supporting those organizations, this doesn’t mean I stop being an advocate for science and reason, and also being an outspoken atheist (all of which I’ve done for over 15 years now). I’ve really struggled with what’s been going on the past couple years, well ever since Beyond Belief ’06. I just feel I need to be honest with myself now, the constant questions that have kept popping up in my mind have slowly been answered, perhaps not fully, but clearly enough to where when I say as I had before that I think some of what I presented here are “facts”, I can mean that.

  25. Well, that’s cool. I don’t know when that point passed for me… I’ve been on a liberalizing course for a couple of years myself… Like you, I’ve got some favorite atheistic/skeptical material I like to read – even PZ’s & Coyne’s blogs… I’m just convinced that the reconciliation side of this debate is more correct, besides being more liberal and respectful of others.

  26. @ 24 Dave

    I’m curious – what changed? I used to enjoy PZ until he made Miller complicit in any death related to religion. Seriously, was it something that happened at Beyond Belief ’06?
    Because I don’t remember anyone speaking up against the strategy of the Dover trial at the time.

  27. There are several ways of responding. First off I would like to respond with Pope Benedict’s words (some quotes, some paraphrasing below):

    Benedict argued that evolution had a rationality that the theory of purely random selection could not explain.

    “The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion as it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability,” he said.

    “This…inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science…where did this rationality come from?”

    Answering his own question, he said it came from the “creative reason” of God.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-447930/Pope-Benedict-believes-evolution.html

    This is the head of Ken’s church, and by no means is it a fully scientific view. I understand that it’s not what Miller states, and I do not doubt what he says. Nevertheless, how much are we to listen to Ken Miller on religion accommodating science when the Pope seems not to do so (Benedict is vague, of course, yet he appears very intent on reserving a place for god in the perceivable course of things)?

    I commend Miller, I just don’t know that he speaks for Catholicism.

    Where Coyne gets into trouble, however, is that he appears not content to argue simply that Western religion often tries to keep science off limits in some place or other, but he seems compelled to claim that no person in Western religion is able to keep science open everywhere. In that I believe he is mistaken, and has managed to misconstrue Miller’s state position (he is quite right that his earlier book considers leaving a quantum door open, but largely rejects it).

    Coyne seems to fear that allowing that Western theist to be fully open to scientific research will grant too much to religion. But the fact is that we cannot dictate to religious persons that their religion will not accommodate science.

    This doesn’t mean that religion doesn’t tend to intrude upon science and to want certain areas (like “mind”) to be left alone by science. It deserves watching. Yet some theistic scientists do not restrict science in their words or practice, so we should not claim otherwise.

    And in any case, mainline churches make no attempts to prevent research into brain and cognitive science, at worst simply hoping that science doesn’t dispel any place for god in mind. I do not fear the Catholic church or mainline Protestants in that regard.

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

  28. Stephen Friberg

    Coming from a Baha’i perspective – where a core belief is that science and true religion agree – I’m inclined to marvel at the invective of the new atheists while at the same time welcoming the considerable public attention they’ve brought to important issues.

    These kinds of discussions sometimes accompany paradigm shifts – the overthrow of Aristotelian physics 400 years ago comes to mind – and perhaps such a shift is happening now.

    The old paradigms – the ancient philosophical perspectives that animate new atheism and its religious opponents – appear to me to no longer be sophisticated enough for our new command of knowledge. In science, for example, we know much, but try to force it into outmoded philosophical boxes – physicalism, philosophical materialism – handed down to us from the past.

    Maybe we need to think out of the box.

  29. Where Coyne gets into trouble, however, is that he appears not content to argue simply that Western religion often tries to keep science off limits in some place or other

    I should explain that statement. I don’t mean that they literally try to prevent any science, rather, theologically they try to keep some areas “sacred” and untouched by science.

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

  30. My contention, then, is that only a philosophical naturalist/atheist (or, on the other side of the aisle, a religious fundamentalist) would have any reason to get peeved at Miller–and then, their complaint would really be about theology or philosophy, not about science.

    Another way of responding is to say that one cannot divide science and philosophy as Mooney thinks to do. Philosophy tells us how we are going to do science, it sets many of the rules for doing science, especially in the area of epistemology.

    This is again where Coyne is on fairly solid ground–although one has to ask if we really should be worried about what fellow scientist think and say outside of their actual work.

    I’d just say that’s mushy territory, that if a scientist is touting astrology as science, or some such thing, yet doing good work in biology, that scientist still deserves to be criticized. If the scientist is Einstein believing in a god who mysteriously works (or worked) to confer a kind of perceivable order on the universe, well, criticize if you wish, but there’s nothing that science as a whole needs to say to him.

    So it’s one thing to say that we “need” to criticize Ken–which IMO we do not–it’s another to ask if he is portraying the philosophy of science as it is and/or should be.

    Of course even the “philosophy of science” isn’t one thing, or beyond dispute in various areas. Nonetheless, the philosophy of science is well enough agreed upon and understood that I feel confident to acknowledge that Coyne has a point about Miller’s claim of unseen and unevidenced (not properly evidenced, in any event) beings and, of miracles for which any and all scientific data is lacking, as being compatible with science is in serious doubt.

    It’s the old invisible pink unicorn, FSM, or leprechaun thing again. A certain scientist might believe in leprechauns with no harm done to his or her science, but would we really say that believing in leprechauns is compatible with science? Come on, be honest, most of us would not think so, even if the scientist claims that it is wholly beyond the realm of science (I suppose that the scientist “senses” leprechauns in a way that is not investigable by science). The fact is that these leprechauns are meaningless to science, but they are also meaningless to human knowledge altogether (unless possibly to one individual, but again, that is not then able to be knowledge to other folk).

    No, when people talk about things “existing,” we really do turn to science and its epistemology to decide. The scientist who believes in leprechauns is simply not being scientific in that area at all. It may not be such a terrible thing, but the leprechaun claims do not agree with the epistemology that we all largely share (at least in this society), and which is not peculiar to science at all. People do make exceptions to that epistemology all of the time, but they are being inconsistent when they do this.

    Here is one of the “Rules of reasoning in philosophy” that Newton invoked:

    In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions collected by general induction from phænomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses that may be imagined, till such time as other phænomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions.

    This rule we must follow, that the argument of induction may not be evaded by hypotheses.

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/newton-princ.html

    It’s old, and something that uses terms that can be picked apart. Notwithstanding that, however, I think it is quite sound in practice, something that would be arguable on a phenomenological or pragmatic basis without too much difficulty.

    Newton seems to have violated that rule when he invoked angels to nudge the planets into position. And Miller seems to violate it when he credits god overall for the evolution of life and intelligence, because in what sense can we inductively reach the cause “god”?

    My feeling is that Miller would not prevent, and probably wouldn’t even want to prevent, any science that could ultimately lead to a full explanation for life and evolution without any role for god at all. Yet when he says that god is ultimately responsible, how really does that agree with the “rules of induction” (or “rules of inference” if you wish) used by science? Sure, he says that religion is a separate magisterium, yet even though he says that he’s making religion compatible with science, he’s encroaching on the at least practical epistemology and/or epistemics of science by doing so.

    The problem of making religious claims which do not agree with scientific forms of philosophy and reasoning does not go away, then. It’s still a problem. And as for the idea that anyone should just care about “the science” without being concerned about the “philosophy,” that’s just wrong. Philosophy (and the practical workings of courts) played a considerable role in creating modern science, and it comes into practical use again whenever science is dealing with quite unfamiliar terrain, such as when quantum mechanics was being developed.

    Indeed, at the time of Newton it seemed important to bring philosophy into it, in order to justify Newton’s work. The mere fact that science no longer looks to philosophy most of the time does not change the fact that the rules were spelled out by philosophy, even when this philosophy was being done by scientists.

    Ultimately I do find Miller’s religion to be inconsistent with science, because you can’t just waive the rules in order to accommodate leprechauns, or god, and be a consistent scientist. And if anyone wishes to say so, I think they have every right (and not just free speech rights) to say it.

    With that out of the way, however, there probably is little harm in the scientist who believes in leprechauns which are either believed in, or sensed, only by this scientist. Religion is another issue, of course, because it affects society, and yet what real harm can science claim when someone believes in god (contrary to the philosophy of science) and does not let this hinder science in any way? Yet I would have to say at times that crediting god for evolution, as Miller does, can only be held to as a belief only as an exception to good epistemology, and not truly consistently with the philosophy that rules the judiciary and science alike (if in different forms and interests).

    Practically, it remains the case that Miller can speak to many theists by providing his exception to proper scientific thinking without impingeing upon the practice of science. It is a relatively small violation of scientific philosophy, by contrast with the large violations of both scientific philosophy and scientific practice caused by other religious beliefs. So I think that we do not have to protest it or criticize it.

    Just don’t ask me to agree that it is truly compatible with scientific thought–with the rules that science and good thinking properly follow–for it is not.

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

  31. @ 29 Glenn
    “Another way of responding is to say that one cannot divide science and philosophy as Mooney thinks to do. ”

    And yet we do, in the exact way Robert Pennock described during the Dover trial in his capacity as expert witness in the philosophy of science.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day3am.html

    Neither Coyne, nor Dawkins nor Harris were called as expert witnesses. Pennock was.

    If you or others felt so strongly against this position, you should have filed a brief in court. But no, the decision was celebrated as a victory for science and science education.

    And so it becomes a question of philosophy or theology. There is no violation of science and the only way you and Coyne can assert otherwise is if you reject the line between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. Which, obviously, you and Coyne do.

    And so, this conversation is really a waste of time. You dismiss Pennock and support Coyne. I dismiss you and Coyne and support Pennock and Miller.

  32. SLC

    Apparently, PZed and Jason Rosenhouse have now read Prof. Millers’ broadside against Prof. Coyne and are greatly underwhelmed.

    However, based on the Miller essay and a recent presentation he gave, I’m beginning to get the whiff of Deism comming of the good professor.

  33. Dave

    –”Another way of responding is to say that one cannot divide science and philosophy as Mooney thinks to do.”–

    –”Practically, it remains the case that Miller can speak to many theists by providing his exception to proper scientific thinking without impingeing upon the practice of science.”–

    Almost looks like you may have gone a long way to something very similar to what Chris has.

  34. Dave

    –”Prof. Millers’ broadside against Prof. Coyne..”–

    Hah! Do I get a whiff of sarcasm here, SLC? Miller responds to several charges by Coyne in a rather straight forward manner, in one essay, and this is being called a “broadside”, that’s not to transparent, is it? Am I wrong about that?

    I would have never imaged a day I would really want to defend Miller in a discussion of this kind.

  35. Dave

    BTW, that PZ post is good to read, as are some of the comments.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/theistic_evolutionist_beats_ha.php

    A comment by JoshS:

    —- “And who can blame him? It’s clear to any rational reader that Mooney, Miller (and that annoying, pretentious Anthony McCarthy) have a vested, emotional interest in not arguing honestly. Show them they’ve attacked a straw man? The answer is, “Yes, but I have a very good point over here. ..”

    Show them they’ve failed to honestly represent the opposing position, and they concede it, yet continue on arguing as if that didn’t affect their original straw man contention in the least.

    It’s dishonest, childish, and tribal, through and through.” —-

    I notice that PZ commented:

    —”Don’t count on a response from Coyne — he tells me he’s finding the argument futile right now.”—

    Don’t worry, PZ, he’s sure to quote someone else to make his argument, if he once again decides he’s said enough on “accomodationism”.

    Chris, this is the nonsense you have to deal with in these debates, I assume you realize that, but it’s worth repeating.

  36. @ 29 Glenn
    “Another way of responding is to say that one cannot divide science and philosophy as Mooney thinks to do. ”

    And yet we do, in the exact way Robert Pennock described during the Dover trial in his capacity as expert witness in the philosophy of science.

    Analytic philosphy, and not the best of that.

    So you don’t know any better than to agree with Pennock? So what? You can obviously continue your life as an ignoramus.

    Neither Coyne, nor Dawkins nor Harris were called as expert witnesses. Pennock was.

    A pragmatic choice by the attorneys. What is more, I wouldn’t claim that Pennock’s views aren’t sufficient for dealing with the legal issues. “Naturalism” itself is merely a fiction, but it can be defined to be reasonably meaningful. Arguably, it fits fairly well with the legal fictions that we have in our judiciary.

    If you or others felt so strongly against this position, you should have filed a brief in court. But no, the decision was celebrated as a victory for science and science education.

    A particularly mindless claim. Apparently you can’t deal with the philosophy issues, so you come up with ridiculous nonsense that takes no heed of the practical limitations I or others have.

    And you’re too stupid to notice that I’m not re-arguing Dover, which I think was well done, even if the “naturalism” thing might be a (probably distant) future problem. I’m defending Coyne’s position to a point, and I am not bound by the limits of your intelligence, or by the limited resources and knowledge base of a successful prosecution.

    And so it becomes a question of philosophy or theology. There is no violation of science and the only way you and Coyne can assert otherwise is if you reject the line between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism.

    You don’t even have a clue about the decision, do you? By no means did the judge decide that there is no violation of the science by Miller’s religion, he judged that throwing religious teachings into the school was a violation of the First Amendment. Why don’t you know the most basic facts necessary for this discussion?

    The decision did touch upon “naturalism,” as did the testimony, and I see little (yet a little) problem with framing the debate in terms of “methodological naturalism,” etc. It was sufficient for the trial, which was not a major philosophical debate. That doesn’t change the fact that the decision by no means was that there is no violation of science by people like Miller, for he wasn’t on trial.

    Which, obviously, you and Coyne do.

    Of course we do, and apparently you have nothing to say against our reasons for it except a lot of irrelevancies that you apparently trust as “authorities” and are incapable of evaluating.

    And so, this conversation is really a waste of time.

    Actually, it appears that oxygen is wasted on you.

    You dismiss Pennock and support Coyne.

    No, you obtuse person, I argued it out. And I only partly support Coyne, who I think goes too far in his attacks on Miller. This by Coyne is ridiculous:

    Although Giberson and Miller see themselves as opponents of creationism, in devising a compatibility between science and religion they finally converge with their opponents. In fact, they exhibit at least three of the four distinguishing traits of creationists: belief in God, the intervention of God in nature, and a special role for God in the evolution of humans. They may even show the fourth trait, a belief in irreducible complexity, by proposing that a soul could not have evolved, but was inserted by God.

    From Coynes TNR piece, “Seeing and believing”

    This is where Coyne cares too much about philosophy and too little about the practicalities of science. Miller, at least, supports science almost the entire way, and in practical terms, I’d say that he supports it as much as anyone does.

    I dismiss you and Coyne and support Pennock and Miller.

    You just spit because you have nothing intelligent to say.

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

  37. John Kwok

    Glen,

    Last month I heard Ken say to an audience of fellow college alumni that those who subscribe to religions which are hostile to science SHOULD CONSIDER SERIOUSLY terminating their memberships in such faiths immediately (This is almost akin to the Dalai Lama’s observation that if religion is wrong and science is right, then religion must change to reflect the scientific “truth”.).

    Overall, he gave a presentation that stressed more a Deistic orientation with respect to science and religion, and frankly, one that would have pleased most, if not all, of the atheists posting here and elsewhere.

    I asked him whether he thought NCSE was an “accomodationist” with respect to science and religion, and he shot back by saying that, as far as he knew, NCSE doesn’t have such a position (Incidentally, this same question I posed to the NCSE senior staff prior to hearing Ken, and I received a similar reply via e-mail.).

    IMHO, if anyone is getting “carried away”, it looks as though the usual suspects in American militant atheism are going ballistic over Ken’s rebuttal, which I regard as far more nuanced and diplomatic than these atheists have any right to expect.

  38. LOL! You lose it pretty easily Glen. And when you do, apparently you get sloppy: I said nothing about the judge’s decision in Dover, I referred to the specific strategy that incorporated Pennock and Miller’s views.

    On the one hand you concede it was pragmatic. On the other, you show your disdain:

    “Analytic philosphy, and not the best of that. ”

    So yes, you disregard Pennock. And do you disagree that there is a line between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism?

    “Of course we do, and apparently you have nothing to say against our reasons for it except a lot of irrelevancies that you apparently trust as “authorities” and are incapable of evaluating.”

    Of course you do! So, really, nothing I said was inaccurate. And so you’re reduced to ad hominem attacks and strawman arguments about leprechauns and unicorns.

    You dismiss the line between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism with a single sentence: “Another way of responding is to say that one cannot divide science and philosophy as Mooney thinks to do.”

    You need to do a lot more work before I accept that premise, and you haven’t. It’s your assertion, you don’t back it up. The rest of your arguments are besides the point, because I don’t agree with your dismissal.

    I don’t have time to do a longer reply about this and, really, don’t believe I need to. But, I’ve seen the value of the pn/mn line and examined far more difficult questions than the existence of unicorns. It’s useful to me personally and has been successful in the public arena. It works. You have provided no reason to believe otherwise or to follow you in discarding it so arrogantly.

  39. Davo

    One of the simple points here is that NCSE should reflect the opinion of all scientists and not just some. Saying that “some scientists have no problem reconciling science and religion” is simply factually incomplete since there are many others who don’t think so. Whether you think they are right or wrong is not the question here. You may otherwise disagree with Coyne, Myers etc. but I don’t see why there should be debate about this simple point that deals with a straight fact.

  40. Dave

    After reading Ken Miller’s essay, I went back and read the three Coyne pieces to which Miller is responding.

    I want to focus mainly on the “supernatural” question and Coyne’s claims, but first an important point I think Miller may get wrong. Miller’s charge that Coyne wants NCSE to become *for* atheism is simply not correct and as PZ points out, he has been fairly explicit in this regard. Due to this charge, if Miller ever were to read this, I would ask he retract the charge, or explain in more detail.

    I can however, after rereading the three pieces understand how that can be viewed. First, the confusion of illustrating that NCSE has somehow taken a one sided approach while arguing at the same time that others with a anti-”accomodationist” view point are not presented. Second, Coyne is arguing aggressively that reconciliation does not work, even while stating NCSE should remain neutral – he has also argued with regards to acceptance of evolutionary theory does correlate strongly to atheism and it would be welcomed to state that fact (Ex. – Coyne: -”The directors of the NCSE are smart people. They know perfectly well — as did Darwin himself — that evolutionary biology is and always has been a serious threat to faith. But try to find one acknowledgment of this incompatibility on their website.”- Interestingly this is said knowing one of the primary targets of NCSE is faith based creationism, including of course ID). Third, Coyne argues the NCSE is giving a false impression of reconciliation among scientist, however he is arguing the point mainly through the filter that there is no chance of a reconciliation, and as far as I can tell, that means at any level (in fact he takes in quite a bit of personal beliefs).

    ………

    I think Coyne has illustrated several times a problem with what has been going on with discussions of the “supernatural”, in fact I think he’s gotten away with making blatantly false statements regarding the nature of science said in the interest of taking on religion in general and any idea of “reconciliation”. It is hard to tell at times, especially in the three pieces how Coyne is approaching the issue since he seems to clearly understand the limits of science and the fact he’s a brilliant scientist. My guess, before he started to get involved in the “culture war” outside of issues of evolution he never really considered these issues in much detail. It would explain his consistently going back to Dawkins and Harris, he seems to approach the issue as if what they said and his interpretation of their words are the truth of the matter.

    Here’s an example that is common to his argument and seems to illustrate nicely Coyne’s approach.

    He argues from the view of what would convince scientist and himself that a “supernatural force” or God exist. An example is: “if only bad people might get cancer”. This is the type of argument Coyne uses to back up his assertion that “supernatural phenomena” are not “completely” beyond the realm of science.

    There are obviously many things wrong with this approach to make such an assertion, but I want to focus on a few primary points. First, the fact that a scientist, or Coyne himself would become convinced of a “supernatural force” or God based on a natural phenomena simply does not back up any claim that science involves itself in the “supernatural”. That is what it would be, a natural phenomena. That leads to a problem, who is deciding the line in which science identifies a “supernatural force” has been crossed, why would we not first try to provide naturalistic explanations for the phenomena – it simply would not matter what Coyne “believes” unless he can put it to the test. Second, this only works to confuse the nature of science and somewhat paradoxically is done to combat “supernatural beliefs”. However, what science is doing is apart from the “supernatural” belief in that the “theory” (ie – “god is doing it”) is not a scientific theory to begin with, what is being tested is the claims regarding nature. We end up back at the demarcation, and would be left with trying to provide a naturalistic explanation, unless God or the “supernatural force” told us they were creating the phenomena. Take something like Coyne’s example of bad people getting cancer, would we not look for a naturalistic explanation and would it not be incumbent upon Coyne to provide evidence for the phenomena being caused by a “supernatural force” or God? This of course would get back to; “well, it provides evidence of a God”, well that still doesn’t tell us much, especially with regards to science.

    I’ll continue this later (I’ll get to the “claims” issue, which is an important distinction and why Coyne’s approach mirrors in an important way that of the Intelligent Design movement) …. I’m going to see the Dave Matthew Band tonight!

  41. Dave

    I want to make clear, the three Coyne pieces that Miller is responding to I have read all of them twice and certain parts several times.

  42. PZ Myers has now written a post on Miller’s article. Except for a few harsh words I found his analysis to be largely quite reasonable and moderate. I especially like the elves analogy.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/theistic_evolutionist_beats_ha.php

  43. @ 39 Davo

    No sarcasm intended, but do you think this whole debate could have been avoided by simply saying “some scientists have no problem reconciling science and religion, while others do?”

    I don’t know, maybe it’s worth pointing out that – in most instances – you tend to pay attention more to those who pose a potential problem than to people who don’t. In terms of doing science, you generally don’t worry about atheists like Michael Shermer suddenly teaching Genesis as literally true in a public school science class.

    As for the religion section on the NCSE website, I would say – in Glen’s words elsewhere on this thread – it was a pragmatic choice. I think silence on the subject isn’t an option. It’s valid, though, to consider another way of achieving the same goal.

    Finally, I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I have somehow implied that if supporting someone who is able to make their religion compatible with science means I don’t support someone whose personal beliefs don’t include the supernatural, then I have been unclear. That’s not how I feel and I apologize for adding to the confusion. (And I also apologize for that tortured sentence.)

  44. Dave

    CW: I linked it already at #35, I also mention a part in the opening of my #41.

  45. Tim Broderick, let me weigh in a bit. The debate would not have been avoided but it would at least have clarified one central point. Now it may have been a pragmatic choice, but it hides the truth and the truth has an annoying tendency to emerge from one place or another.

    Plus there is an implicit assumption in such a statement; that assumption is that we must get liberal Christians like Miller on our side to fight the fundamentalists. Ironically the problem with this assumption is that people like Miller (or most liberal Christians who support evolution) are already on our side and I am pretty sure that Miller and these liberal Christians are not going to “desert” us if the NCSE admits the existence of many scientists who think science and religion are incompatible. So why not do it and just be honest?

    By the way I don’t know what Eugenie Scott has to say about this. Do you know if she has explicitly said something?

  46. John Kwok

    @ Curious Wavefunction -

    To the best of my knowledge, the NCSE hasn’t commented officially on Coyne’s “accomodationist” view, though I have been in contact with several on its staff, and I am well aware of their personal attitudes. However, both Coyne and Myers are wrong in claiming that NCSE is “accomodationist” with respect to religion or supports “theistic evolutionists”, which, incidentally, is an ironic observation, especially when Genie Scott is herself, an atheist.

  47. John Kwok

    @ Curious Wavefunction -

    PZ Myers’s rebuttal to Ken’s essay is the typical blistering claptrap that I’ve come to expect from him. It is replete in its breathtaking inanity, especially by contending that Ken has beaten a “hasty retreat” as a “theistic evolutionist” (No, not exactly, since having read Ken’s words twice, he truly comes out swinging.).

    While I believe Ken’s assessment is correct, I do so as someone who doesn’t share his religious worldview (I am a Deist.).

  48. John Kwok

    @ Tim Broderick -

    It may surprise you that the NCSE hasn’t really given much thought on religion, except by assuring those who are religiously devout that they can still believe while accepting as valid science, modern evolutionary theory. I think this is especially apparent when quite a few of its articles are several years old.

    Whether NCSE should give much thought to religious accomodation is of course the very issue which Coyne , Myers and others have been contending. But, simply from a practical standpoint, I can’t see how they could devote much time to it given their relatively small size as a nonprofit organization. Instead, they have been investing a substantial portion of their time to issues such as the Texas State Board of Education science standard hearings – and this, not “accomodationism” – is the very reason why NCSE was established in the first place, and therefore, where it should invest both its limited financial and personnel resources to.

  49. You paint PZ Myers with a monochromatic brush. Unlike PZ I don’t think Miller has beaten a hasty retreat and in fact I believe he is making admirable efforts to secure the peace. I was especially commenting on the analogy with elves with which I agree since a lot of it is speculation. Given PZ’s usual bluster this post was largely far tamer for me.

  50. You paint PZ Myers with a monochromatic brush.

    Which is entirely PZ’s own damn fault, no? It’s something he’s fostered for, as far as I can tell, a long time. It’s much too late now to complain that he’s being pigeonholed when that’s the reputation he’s built up for himself at a fever pitch especially over the past year.

  51. John Kwok

    @ Curious Wavefunction -

    Sorry, but TomJoe is absolutely right. Were it not for PZ’s breathtakingly inane conduct during last summer’s “cracker incident”, I wouldn’t have concluded that he is truly the “William A. Dembski of Militant Atheism; a conclusion I had arrived at long before he decided to toss me off of both Pharyngula and his comments over at Panda’s Thumb.

    PZ enjoys writing “blistering claptrap”. He revels in the fact that a leading USA Catholic organization has listed him prominently on its “Dirty Dozen” list of religious bigots and other scoundrels.

    Maybe you ought to be asking PZ why he enjoys imitating Bill Dembski so much. That’s one answer I’m looking forward to reading.

  52. Dave

    TomJoe

    —”It’s much too late now to complain that he’s being pigeonholed when that’s the reputation he’s built up for himself at a fever pitch especially over the past year.”—

    I think that is exactly right. In fact, I’ve noticed when he deviates in the slight ways he has he makes a point of mentioning that is what he’s doing.

  53. Anthony McCarthy

    Would PZ Myers have a reputation if it wasn’t as the foremost anti-religious bigot on the blogs? I don’t read his blog much but I’ve never noticed his thread discussions are a new renaissance academy.

    What’s his publications list look like?

  54. I understand the bitterness but we need to look beyond emotions and reflect on the validity or lack thereof of specific points. I sometimes disagree with 90% of what PZ says, but I may still end up thinking that the remaining 10% is spot on. In any case, I have always maintained that we need people across the spectrum of opinions, from mild and reconciliatory to harsh-sounding and aggressive. Each serves its own purpose in society. I wouldn’t like several PZs but I would certainly prefer one PZ to none at all.

  55. Actually he occassionally has some pretty good analysis of the literature. Admittedly this is sparsely interspersed among his posts. I have actually put the cracker incident behind me.

  56. What’s his publications list look like?

    I have always been loath to go down this road, but since you asked … At this point, his publication record is pretty much nonexistent. According to SCOPUS, he hasn’t had a peer reviewed manuscript (under the name Myers, Paul Z.) since 1998.

  57. CW @55: I sometimes disagree with 90% of what PZ says, but I may still end up thinking that the remaining 10% is spot on.

    That may be. However the problem is in getting people who are not PZ fanboys to wade through the 90% crap to get to the 10% worthwhile stuff. Such a feat is going to be nigh impossible. Most of those who read PZ are so far up his rear-end they can taste what he’s having for lunch. Everyone else probably doesn’t have the stomach to read his blatherings, and if they do, and try to engage him civilly, they are beaten down and ridiculed by his posse.

  58. Dave

    —”I understand the bitterness but we need to look beyond emotions and reflect on the validity or lack thereof of specific points.”—

    This argument has grown tiresomely thin. I have several times just on this thread pointed out quite explicitly the points of debate, without recourse to emotionalism. Your charge is bogus, and taking a look at some of the comments at PZ’s site which say the same thing, some are laden with emotionalism, just look at the one I quoted in #35, which also includes personal attacks.

  59. I asked him whether he thought NCSE was an “accomodationist” with respect to science and religion, and he shot back by saying that, as far as he knew, NCSE doesn’t have such a position (Incidentally, this same question I posed to the NCSE senior staff prior to hearing Ken, and I received a similar reply via e-mail.).

    But what else would they say? They’re not in favor of religion, and I believe most, if not all, of them are non-theists. Yet they’re always saying things like that religion and science can be compatible.

    I suppose it depends upon what you mean by “accommodationist.” They’re not pushing for anything but secular education in schools, and are not misrepresenting the science. What Coyne and Myers (yes, I have my disagreements with them, but they’re making their point) are calling “accommodation” is using Miller and other theists as speakers, and not using Coyne and other atheists for that purpose. If you accept their definition, they’re right, if your definition involves distorting the science, then the NCSE is not “accommodationist.”

    IMHO, if anyone is getting “carried away”, it looks as though the usual suspects in American militant atheism are going ballistic over Ken’s rebuttal, which I regard as far more nuanced and diplomatic than these atheists have any right to expect.

    Oh sure, and Myers’ title “Theistic evolutionist beats hasty retreat” has nothing to do with Miller’s mere restatement of his long-public positions, which Coyne did mess up at several points.

    He’s not a problem for science in the least.

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

  60. Friends, can we avoid the personal attacks, the charges of “bogus” arguments and the serious allegation that I am a PZ “fanboy”? If I were one I would not have written so many critical comments on his blog, especially those regarding his ridiculous hand-waving dismissal of Gregory Cochran’s analyses. My comments on bitter reactions to PZ were directed in all sympathy, and this is something that you should understand. But also consider his valid criticism of true, extreme fundamentalists, of alternative medicine quacks, of global-warming denialists and of Christian “scientists” who would rather let their children die than administer them life-saving antibiotics. I guess I indeed have acquired the skill to quickly wade through 90% of otherwise unconvincing material to get to the 10% part that’s valuable.

  61. John Kwok

    @ Tom Joe -

    While PZ was in the midst of throwing me off Pharyngula, I was corresponding with him via e-mail. In one of my e-mails, I asked him why shouldn’t he try to emulate the publication history of his colleague, University of Wisconsin, Madison evolutionary developmental biologist Sean Carroll, instead of continuing his ad hominem attacks upon religion.

    His reply was the he never claimed to be as good a scientist as Carroll.

    I’ll let you make whatever inferences you care to wish, but to me it seems as though PZ enjoys very much his online role as an “agent provocateur” and thinks that is far more important than doing any credible scientific research.

  62. Actually I think PZ is being quite upfront and honest here, don’t you think?

  63. John Kwok

    Glen,

    Your points, while valid, miss this observation of mine that I wrote in reply to Tim Broderick:

    “Whether NCSE should give much thought to religious accomodation is of course the very issue which Coyne , Myers and others have been contending. But, simply from a practical standpoint, I can’t see how they could devote much time to it given their relatively small size as a nonprofit organization. Instead, they have been investing a substantial portion of their time to issues such as the Texas State Board of Education science standard hearings – and this, not “accomodationism” – is the very reason why NCSE was established in the first place, and therefore, where it should invest both its limited financial and personnel resources to.”

    For Coyne and Myers to claim that NCSE should do as they say, namely, stop “accomodating” “theistic evolutionists”, etc. is really an issue that requires more funding to NCSE. Maybe Myers should ask his rich buddy, Richard Dawkins, to consider making a lavish contribution towards that purpose, especially now that he’s earned a sizeable advance for his next book that’s akin to what bestselling memorist Frank McCourt has received for his memoirs (In the interest of full disclosure, McCourt was my high school creative writing teacher, and his wife is a fan of evolutionary biology. Dawkins’s next book will be published by McCourt’s publisher, which ironically, also publishes Michael Behe’s books.).

  64. John Kwok

    @ Curious Wavefunction,

    Wish I could agree with you, but I can’t. I honestly believe that PZ Myers enjoys acting as the “William A. Dembski of Militant Atheism”. If you wish to doubt my word, then there’s plenty of evidence as others, like, for example, TomJoe and Anthony McCarthy, have noted that exists elsewhere online, most notably, of course, over at Pharyngula.

  65. One of the sad byproducts of these debates and arguments is that the really good stuff is neglected. For instance Coyne’s recent book on evolution as well as many of Dawkins’s excellent books on the same topic are relegated these days to the sidelines, while their arguments and books against religion occupy center stage.

  66. Dave

    CW: -”charges of “bogus” arguments”-

    You make a general claim, which is absolutely bogus where I’m concerned, and now you want to say I can’t call it what it is?

  67. I am saying that the bitterness and emotion are actually justified. Where does bogus fit into this? I also never indicated that you were the main protagonist embodying such a reaction.

  68. John Kwok

    @ Curious Wavefunction,

    I am in complete agreement with you here:

    “One of the sad byproducts of these debates and arguments is that the really good stuff is neglected. For instance Coyne’s recent book on evolution as well as many of Dawkins’s excellent books on the same topic are relegated these days to the sidelines, while their arguments and books against religion occupy center stage.”

    In fact, I have posted elsewhere online that, while I strongly disagree with Coyne’s position, I still strongly encourage everyone to think of buying his excellent recent book (You may have noticed my excellent Amazon.com review of it, and I still stand completely behind every word I wrote on its behalf.).

  69. Dave

    CW: —”Where does bogus fit into this?”—

    This obviously isn’t worth going over again, but your general claim was “I understand the bitterness but we need to look beyond emotions..”, I am telling you I have not reflected emotionalism. As to the “main protagonist”, that’s fine, in that case maybe direct your comments a bit more carefully is all.

  70. CW: For the record, I did not intend to refer to you as one of “PZ’s fanboys” because honestly, I don’t know if you are or not. That fact that you have made the comments you have (eg: 90/10 comment) leads me to believe that you are not one of his sycophantic followers, even though you may read all of his material.

    However, I think it is hard to deny that there are a lot of followers of his blog who take what he has to say hook, line, and sinker … and employ no skepticism when dealing with what he writes. At the risk of psychoanalyzing, I also think that PZ fosters this environment because he certainly doesn’t seem to dissuade it, and I think it feeds his ego. If he was a two-bit blogger with one regular commenter, he never would have done Cracker Gate (for example).

  71. For instance Coyne’s recent book on evolution as well as many of Dawkins’s excellent books on the same topic are relegated these days to the sidelines, while their arguments and books against religion occupy center stage.

    Once again, as with Myers, this is their own damn fault. If they really didn’t want to overshadow the good work they’ve done, they shouldn’t run around trying to make as many enemies as they can. A lot of people claim that there isn’t a need to cater to the liberal religious. Fine. But more than just the liberal religious accept evolution. The majority of Catholicism would gladly throw its weight behind the principles of evolution, which includes both the liberal and conservative elements (I consider myself far from being a liberal Catholic).

    What’s especially funny is, if they lament this [the fact that their past work is being discounted], they’re being highly hypocritical [which, IMO, is common for all stripes of militants]. Myers in particular believes that Francis Collins should be judged primarily on his BioLogos present, rather than his human genome project past. If that’s the way Myers wants it, what’s good for the goose is certainly good for the gander.

  72. Not just that, but it also threatens to obscure the good work that the Dawkins foundation does, such as its ardent defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Simon Singh. On the other hand, those of us who know better can separate the fruits of the tree from its sap and can appreciate the good stuff while denigrating the bad goods.

  73. My analysis of Richard Dawkins is that he realizes his evolutionary psychology and memes are a dead end. Maybe he remembers that Behaviorism was never bigger than right before it fell off the cliff. I think his career in anti-religious bigotry is a salvage operation.

    What’s his actual scientific publications list look like these days? PZ’s?

  74. If Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s stated intention is to promote womens’ rights in the middle east hooking up with someone who advocates nuking them in the millions sort of might put a dent in her effort.

    I’d imagine even atheists in the cities that would be incinerated might not be too keen on her now that she’s joined up with Harris and Hitchens. But I’ve been skeptical of her from the start.

  75. The emotionalism was not only not directed at you, but was in fact stated as being justified to some extent. And I am not a PZ fanboy, but as a scientist my general tendency is to objectively evaluate people’s arguments and then call a spade a spade. While I continue to strongly disagree with many of PZ’s pronouncements, I also continue to read his blog for the occassional gem (against homeopathy and true fundamentalist bigots for instance) that we can pick up and marshall in our defense of rationalism. Continuing in this vein, I think Collins should not be judged primarily in light of BioLogos but neither should we shirk from criticising him in this context if we feel it is justified.

    Although I don’t want to pursue CrackerGate further, I hope you did note that he also trashed a page from The God Delusion with the cracker.

  76. Anothony, have you read “Infidel”? You render Hirsi Ali a great disservice by primarily thinking of her in terms of an association with Sam Harris. Please, get over Sam Harris. Although I think part of his writing is spot on (again, not painting someone with a monochromatic brush is the mark of a reasonable response), there are bigger fish to fry. And did you bother to read his response and the relevant paragraph in his book? Care to debate the actual substance and details?

  77. And I don’t care about Dawkins’s publication list (or The God Delusion for that matter). I care about “The Extended Phenotype” which is a model of scientific clarity and exposition.

  78. Stephen Friberg

    Looks a bit hard to get a word in edgewise here.

    Let me know if I’m wrong, but aren’t we talking about whether or not it is heretical for someone who believes in religion to do science?

    Aren’t we talking an Inquisition here – this ancient religious mode of declaring people doctrinally wrong. I thought that these things were what atheists were against, not for.

    ?

  79. You render Hirsi Ali a great disservice by primarily thinking of her in terms of an association with Sam Harris.

    I’m pretty confident that her critics in the middle-east and other Islamic countries will certainly notice that she’s on the board of his hilariously named “Reason Project”. White guys sitting on North American and Europe might let Harris go on his “nuke em’” stuff, but when you’re getting a target painted on you, it sort of focuses the concentration.

    Harris wrote what he wrote. I’m hardly the only one who has noticed or commented on it. That horse left the barn a few years back.

  80. Again, Ali’s association with Harris is not the locus of her identity, it is not the bedrock of her existence. Ali is a brave woman who suffered genital mutilation and had her agent killed for her “heretical” views. Well, ok. But a reasoned respnonse needs us to examine all sides of a debate. Let’s start with the relevant paragraph. Now what do you think is objectionable? Give me some details.

  81. John Kwok

    TomJoe,

    Your last two comments (71, 72) really hit the proverbial “nail on the head”. I agree completely with your observations, with special emphasis on these:

    “However, I think it is hard to deny that there are a lot of followers of his blog who take what he has to say hook, line, and sinker … and employ no skepticism when dealing with what he writes. At the risk of psychoanalyzing, I also think that PZ fosters this environment because he certainly doesn’t seem to dissuade it, and I think it feeds his ego. If he was a two-bit blogger with one regular commenter, he never would have done Cracker Gate (for example).”

    The online behavior of so many of his followers is regrettably, all too similar to those of Dembski and O’Leary’s over at Uncommon Dissent – oops, I meant Uncommon Descent – and it is a parallel which, I am sure, most of PZ Myers’s acolytes over at Pharyngula would miss completely.

  82. Sorry, I forgot to post the paragraph (from pg 128-129 of The End of Faith)

    “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence. There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.”

    Now please let me know what abhorrent problems you see with these words. I will be happy to go over the paragraph line-by-line since it seems to alarm you so much.

  83. CW: I hope you did note that he also trashed a page from The God Delusion with the cracker.

    I noticed it when he did it, but it meant jack diddly and we all know it. For Catholics, trashing a page from a paperback book is not even remotely close to the same level of desecration as what he did to the host. Myers did that because then people who are “with him” could claim he was being “an equal opportunity offender” who holds “nothing sacred”. Since he holds nothing sacred it was an entirely empty gesture which meant nothing. It was an out for the non-belief crowd, it was another insult to (the intelligence of) the belief crowd.

  84. Anthony McCarthy

    CW, I’ve read Harris. You think being two-faced is a virtue?

    There are few things that could discredit Ayaan Hirsi Ali than liking up with Harris and Hitchens. I assume she’s able to make an adult decision and accept the consequences, good or bad. Though it’s possible she’s being used, though I’d think assuming that would be rather patronizing. Whatever, if she is sincere about her goals, it was about as bad a move as could be imagined.

  85. So what exactly is two-faced about this? Please indicate the exact words in the paragraph above. The scenario as is described seems to me a very realistically possible future scenario in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as documented by several people, for instance by David Sanger in his recent “The Inheritance”. And the criticism of Harris is by a single individual, Chris Hedges, who also claims that both Harris and Hitchens would willingly torture people. Maybe that’s why Hitchens had himself waterboarded. Even though I strongly disagree with both Hitchens and Harris in parts (Hitchens for instance seems to have no understanding of Hinduism and thinks that the fiasco that was Osho Rajneesh is emblematic of everything that could be wrong with the religion), unlike some people I don’t want to interrogate them with a single brushstroke.

  86. Sorbet

    One thing I don’t understand is why people want to pit this as a Mooney vs Coyne or Coyne vs Miller debate. Why does it have to be one OR other? Why can’t it be one AND other? We all disagree with each other, but there’s also common ground.

    Thus I find myself agreeing with Chris Mooney a little and with Jerry Coyne a little. I think Coyne is right that we should make the disagreement between science and religion clear. At the same time Chris is right that if we want any kind of unity, we cannot alienate liberal religious people by constantly saying that science and religion are incompatible. Let us focus on the similarities. The differences should not strain our relationship to a breaking point.

  87. Curious Waveform, I think I might do an analysis of that paragraph, it’s toing to take a while because I’m going to look for evidence to support or refute what he says. It’s going to take a little while, I will post it on my blog.

    I forget, did he talk about nuking North Korea? I don’t seem to recall him thinking that might be a good idea.

    You do know that he’s putting a lot of peoples’ lives at stake for the sake of those 19 men, don’t you. Maybe, since they’re the source of the problem, we should kill all the physicists. There are a lot fewer the ten million nuclear physicists. Or maybe just all of those in states that aren’t nuclear yet. Though, actually, it’s those with intercontinental missiles and nuclear weapons now that are the problem Maybe we should kill them all too, just as a precaution. Then we can start on the rest of the scientists who develop munitions. And industrial chemicals, and potential biological weapons….

  88. John Kwok

    Hi Everyone,

    I’ve made these points both here and over at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog, and no one seems to have risen to my challenge to provide some thoughtful, well-reasoned replies:

    “Whether NCSE should give much thought to religious accomodation is of course the very issue which Coyne , Myers and others have been contending. But, simply from a practical standpoint, I can’t see how they could devote much time to it given their relatively small size as a nonprofit organization. Instead, they have been investing a substantial portion of their time to issues such as the Texas State Board of Education science standard hearings – and this, not ‘accomodationism’ – is the very reason why NCSE was established in the first place, and therefore, where it should invest both its limited financial and personnel resources to.”

    “Given the fact that NCSE does have limited financial and personnel resources, do you think it should spend it more time wisely in trying to shape public school science education policy (as it has been doing in Texas) or should it fritter away its time and resources by trying to do what Coyne, Myers and others have asked with regards to it refraining from an ‘accomodationist’ stance with religion? Realistically I don’t think it is capable of both.”

    “Realistically, NCSE has far more important issues on its plate than trying to kowtow to every whim that’s been entertained by the likes of Coyne and Myers, etc. I would rather see themselves working assidulously towards preparing for the next Texas State Board of Education Science Standards meeting (or something quite similar) than wasting their time trying to decide whether they have to appease militant atheists objecting to their so-called ‘accomodation’ with ‘theistic evolutionists’.”

    “However, on a more sarcastic note, maybe PZ Myers should think seriously of asking his good pal, Richard Dawkins, to donate a lavish contribution towards such an end, especially when Dawkins has received an advance for his forthcoming book from Simon and Schuster that is almost the same as what bestselling memoirist Frank McCourt has received for his memoirs.”

    “The fact that Richard Dawkins has received for his next book an advance equivalent in amount to those received by Frank McCourt – who incidentally has been one of Simon and Schuster’s most popular authors in the past decade – should be irrelevant except for the fact that his American militant atheist acolytes want NCSE to act on behalf of their every whim. Well when you think of it seriously, you begin realizing that it costs money, and who better than Dawkins to be the one capable of providing a sufficiently lavish sum for such a reason.”

    Sincerely yours,

    John

  89. Let me just say that I look forward to your nuanced and insightful analysis of the paragraph. All this talk about killing physicists, North Koreans and random Muslims detracts from the very specific words that he used and detracts from his description of a realistic scenario now recognized by many analysts as a huge problem in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I look forward to reading your post. And would also suggest that instead of killing physicists we should kill chemical industry manufacturers, since without them there would no nuclear and chemical material to work with. But However I also propose that we don’t descend into sarcasm; it draws your attention away from the matter at hand. Again, I very much look forward to your detailed and insightful analysis of those words. Please let me know if I can be of help.

  90. Let’s focus on the substance and actual details of what he said, and argue those.

  91. @ 46. Curious Wavefunction

    Before I reply, I wanted to say you have an excellent point about the emotional factor. It’ll happen every time people argue philosophy.

    And, @ 41. Dave

    I also think you have an excellent point about Coyne’s inexperience in philosophy (not that I’m an expert). I suspected the same when he started talking about the prayer experiments. The problem of falsifying any experiment that hopes to prove whether all prayer works is a pretty standard idea I thought. Guess I was wrong.

    OK, CW

    Interesting conversation and point – would be a good topic to discuss on an evening out with our favorite beverage.

    I would say it’s not so much whether Miller and others like him would leave, but that it makes their job of convincing others that much more difficult. Even if the result of this nonsense is that it keeps theists on the sidelines at crucial times, not standing up against religious is just as damaging.

    Miller and others are trying to expand the number of people under the tent of methodological naturalism. I haven’t seen the playbook that “new” atheists have in mind for doing so, but being rude isn’t much of a strategy IMHO.

    If Coyne had concluded that Miller’s arguments are unpersuasive to him personally, I wouldn’t and never have had a problem with that. But Rosenhouse is wrong in his defense: Coyne’s conclusion in that book review said efforts to reconcile religion with science don’t work – period. And that’s at least as egregious an omission as was pointed out by @39 Davo.

    And, turning the point about leaving on it’s head – what are the “new” atheists going to do, allow public school science to be co-opted by fundamentalist religion? We’re stuck with each other.
    As Dave said, perhaps his inexperience has led him to be unclear and imprecise. Wouldn’t be the first time a new blogger made that mistake.

    Now, let’s debate whether Jesus owned a purse! ;)

  92. Anna K.

    @ Tim Broderick:

    Though Jesus was technically homeless, he was an accomplished social networker who was a regular on the dinner party circuit. When he needed cash for a tax bill, he paid up by pulling a coin out of the mouth of a fish.

    With friends and fish like those, he didn’t need a purse.

  93. Anthony McCarthy

    Curious Wavefunction, if it’s all right to commit, as Harris says, ” an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day” due to the danger of a relative handful of fanatical moslems getting their hands on a nuclear weapon, why not save tens of millions of innocent civilians and kill every scientist who has the technical knowledge of how to produce those nuclear weapons in the first place.

    Or do you believe that their being physicists, chemists, etc. make their lives so much more valuable than those of the tens of millions of innocent civilians, that it excuses their part in producing those weapons which Harris, and clearly you, are so worried about?

    If you don’t clear that question up, I’ll have to conclude the answer is yes. Please clear up this point by telling me why it’s all right to do what Harris proposes but wrong to do what I’ve asked about.

  94. @ 93. Anna K.

    LOL! Thank you :)

  95. Anthony McCarthy, now we are talking about substance, thank you. Sam Harris’s paragraph clearly rests on an implicit assumption that is made clear in multiple place in the analysis; that the people who would get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry share a mental makeup similar to that of the 19 9/11 hijackers. First of all let me answer your other question upfront and say that the scientists you are mentioning are not out to deliberately kill and maim innocents, and not right now whereas our, Harris’s and everyone’s else’s discussion concerns such fundamentalists and the dilemmas of the collateral damage that would be inflicted in fighting them. As a relatively trivial side-point, even killing all nuclear scientists is not going to deprive the general population of this knowledge, while undoubtedly depriving it of peaceful applications of atomic energy in producing electricity and radioisotopes for medical and agricultural applications. Also, we might as well say that we should kill politicians who are averse to signing test-ban treaties and who were responsible for the transfer of nuclear technology between countries, in terms of a contribution much more massive than that made by scientists. I think you will agree that such discussions don’t get us very far. The fact is that the nuclear weapons are out there. We are concerned with people who are out to get them right now. We are not much concerned about what happened in the past. We want to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack right now. The real question is, how do we do this in the very near future? Harris is discussing such a scenario and trying to answer that question as well as raising other questions. So let’s first get that other point out of the way. Now let’s start analyzing Harris. He starts by saying:

    “There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon”

    Here he is talking about people just like the 9/11 hijackers who would get their hands on such weapons. I am sure you know that people in the State Department and the intelligence agencies spend their days and nights worrying about the same people, and they have been doing so for years before Sam Harris wrote his book. They worry about the Taliban who are 60 miles from Islamabad, and they worry about the ISI which is infested with fundamentalists. They would not worry so much if they thought that these people would be fazed by deterrence. Thus this worry and scenario is not specific to Sam Harris. If you want to read more, I will recommend “The Inheritance” by David Sanger in which he describes Pakistan’s slipshod management of its nuclear arsenal.

    Harris furthermore goes on to say:

    “What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. “

    Here Harris is referring to the now well-discussed fact documented by several government officials that Pakistan might have a spare nuclear arsenal that is mobile. In addition the Pakistani government refuses to disclose the location of its current arsenal and has contingency plans to move it around. Thus, if Islamic fundamentalists get their hands on these weapons, the scenario is likely to remain the same as both Harris and history itself note. The US has several precision weapons in its arsenal, but these would be of scant use if the location of the Pakistani arsenal is not known. Now consider that when the hunt for Osama bin Laden was on, more than one US official had considered the use of “small”tactical nuclear weapons in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. This was because of the great difficulty (still thought to be so) of scouting around in the maze of caves beneath the countryside where Bin Laden was hiding and attempting guerilla raids. Similar proposals had been put forward by the government during the Vietnam War. In fact they were considered seriously enough to ask JASON, the scientific advisory group, to author a report titled “Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia”. And of course, both Truman and Eisenhower seriously flirted with the idea of using nukes in Korea. All of these excursions in Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea would have involved thousands and perhaps of millions of casualties of the kind Harris is mentioning. We may find these proposals abhorrent, but the point is that they were considered not by members of any particular political party or by rabid extremists or atheists but by relatively dispassionate officials in high echelons of the government. Therefore such kind of thinking is not limited to Harris, and predates his book by several years in many different contexts. Just like Harris, these officials considered this at one time or the other as one of the few available options. Their thinking involved introspection and they were aware, just like Harris is, that it would have been an “unthinkable crime”, but also like Harris says they were thinking of these options as last resorts. Also note Harris’s words, “may” which were converted to “should”, a huge difference in terms of language.

    Ok, on to the next paragraph:
    “How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely.”

    Now here, the real point Harris is making is to actually bear upon the incalculable harm that could be done, either by West or Middle East, simply by adhering to primitive concepts of faith. The focus here is on the great evils (indeed, Harris himself describes it as “perfectly insane” because it quite certainly is), even in terms of possibilities, that faith can engender in terms of action or retribution. As he says, we are told to realise the “horrible absurdity” that results from the consideration of such genocidal actions. And yet we are forced to consider them because we frequently deal with an enemy, exemplified by the 10 young men on 9/11, that by its actions imposes such a tortured analysis on us. So the goal here seems to point out the rather fantastic and unspeakable notions of utter horror that we are forced to consider, and all because of the fundamental problems with belief. Now you may disagree with this, but it is important to note that the essence of the argument in this paragraph is not the consideration of actual preemptive action but an analysis of the consequences of belief, and this is what this paragraph should be taken for, not as some explicit consideration involving the use of weapons of mass destruction. I think that’s quite clear.

    Finally, moving on to the last part:

    We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.”

    So here Harris is quite explicitly comparing the people who would contemplate use of such weaponry to the 9/11 hijackers; this quite clearly does not include all Muslim countries or all Muslims. The state department worries about the same people, for instance those who are part of the Taliban which is currently close to Islamabad. Harris also says that to prevent any unconscionable action on either their part or ours, it is the Muslim world itself that must take matters into its own hands and prevent such people from getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction. This is a point that has been made by dozens of other commentators who have nothing to do with the New Atheists; Ahmed Rashid, Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman for instance. The question that Harris raises is a dilemma. And not only is it a dilemma, it’s a real-life dilemma that has enormous and immediate practical consequences. As I noted before, it has been faced in Asia and Afghanistan before by US presidents and they have also intensely grappled with the accompanying considerations of collateral damage and related issues. And it continues to be an active issue under scrutiny. To condense all of the above into a statement saying “Harris wants to kill millions of innocent Muslims by nuking them” ignores the details and nuance and is unbecoming of a rational and balanced debate.

  96. I will address those questions when I have had time to study and analyze the paragraph, it’s become rather famous and I don’t want to go over too much ground that has already been covered.

    But in the mean time, what about my proposal? I should let you know that I have decided to post this exchange at my blog along with a more formal version of my counter proposal. Forgive the lack of italics, I’m reluctant to use them after the incident I set off here the other day.

    Here is the final note to the exchange:

    <>

    http://anthonymic.blogspot.com/

    I will note that I am quite as serious about this as Harris and those who agree with him are. I have to be, considering what they deem to be perfectly acceptable.

  97. Oh, I should note, I’m at a remote computer right now and can’t post to my blog from here. I’ll add these two comments when I go home tonight.

  98. rgz

    So to borrow some terminology from legal rethoric…

    Miller’s defense is that as long as one adheres to the “letter” of science one should not mind adherence to the “spirit” of science. Sounds fair.

    Weird, because we would expect a judge to defend the spirit of the law over the letter, is it because these different attitudes produce different results? If it does in law it could do so in science, one has to be at least twice as skeptical o anything a theist scientist has to say when it comes to matters we know are troublesome for them.

    Now, if the question is, are science and faith compatible? Yes, if you chose to ignore a part of one or both of them. Other wise no.

    Is that conclusion philosophical? Yes but so was the question. If you don’t want philosophical answers don’t ask philosophical questions.

  99. We certainly can propose that the Taliban hand their scientific experts over to us. I doubt whether the proposal would work. No harm in trying though.

  100. Does the Taliban have a nuclear program?

    Since Iran and North Korea are the two countries most in the news for having active or potential or actual nuclear programs, and North Korea is suspected of selling nuclear technology, I think they are actually more likely to be a problem of the kind Harris foresees as necessitating nuclear conflagration. And they have the virtue of having relatively locatable nuclear installations and governmental centers to target.

    I am trying to remember if Harris used North Korea, which had been in the news as the major concern for developing nuclear weapons in the near future as he began his career in anti-religious invective.. Though, as I told you I have to wait to borrow from the library. If you have Harris at hand, you could tell me if he proposed targeting North Korea. I believe the catastrophic “Axis of Evil” speech might have predated the paragraph in question. I really would like to know if he included North Korea in his proposed first strike targets.

  101. I’m back at my computer so I can handle this a bit better, though it’s going to take a lot of time to get through this.

    <>

    I assure you that I wasn’t being sarcastic when I proposed killing the far fewer nuclear scientists and others capable of mounting the munitions program that Harris presupposes. I’d rather several thousand involved in weapons development die than tens of millions of innocent people who aren’t in any way responsible for producing them. If my analysis is nuanced and insightful remains to be seen. I suspect it will be a work in progress since killing so many people without provocation is a pretty serious matter. In that kind of situation, full information and caution should overrule order and time constraints. When it comes to the lives of tens of millions of people, I’d rather sacrifice those clerical virtues than the lives.

    I fully disagree with your statement that talking about killing the physicists and addressing North Korea are distractions. Considering your sentence then goes on to mention Pakistan your assertion is quite strange. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program and several of the scientists working under him are responsible for spreading nuclear technology, to North Korea as well as Iran and Libya. He is also believed to have been in contact with the Taliban in order to help their effort to obtain the capability of building and eventually deploying radiological weapons. So, killing the scientists is a more practical solution to the proliferation problem than incinerating millions of people who have no capacity to do what it is already known that scientists have done. Killing the scientists could be preemptive in a far more humane way that the first strike that Harris is so willing to promote.

    Of course eliminating the scientists with the capibility would work until new ones could be trained. But suppressing the information of how to build these weapons, even if it was an enormous task, is certainly worth the effort if the alternative is tens of millions of murders.

    It was this matter that was the tipping point, concentrating me on the issue of the new atheism. The way in which Harris and his admirers so calmly took all of this talk of killing tens of millions of people, perhaps multiple Holocausts in a single day. It is astounding that people who rail about the ancient religious wars, are contemplating that scenario. It is preposterous that people who assign vicarious blame to religious believers for things they disapprove of and opposed, can calmly contemplate murdering millions of people who have no connection to the nuclear weapons programs that are the excuse to kill them.

    Do you think if those influenced by Sam Harris came to power in the United States that Moslem countries would be more likely to talk to us to prevent this new atheist apocalypse from happening? What could they think if people intent on considering them suicidal maniacs who can’t be reasoned with? Does their knowing about Harris’ promotion of this nightmare lessen the chances that? There are many people who believe that it was the infamously stupid “Axis of Evil” speech that gave new determination in the countries named to obtain nuclear weapons. If this theory of Harris became culturally important here it would only give the same incentive to every other Islamic country to consider obtaining nuclear weapons. He’s pretty indiscriminate in his statements.

    I must mention that North Korea is famously erratic and paranoid. It’s certainly less interested in the welfare of its people than Iran, which has been criticized in the American media for spending programs that benefit the lower classes. I seem to recall one idiotic American on the radio talking about “pork barrell spending” by the incumbent government. Though any reporter who would be so clueless as to use that phrase is probably not someone you should take too much confidence in. Perhaps a point that many would make about Harris’ knowledge of the Islamic countries.

    Korea would seem to already be willing to sacrifice its people and has nuclear weapons and is testing missiles, while making threats against all comers.

    Having started this, I don’t think I’d feel right about continuing it here at Chris Mooney’s blog without his permission. I would be willing to continue at my blog if he would rather we do that. I will e-mail him Monday to ask him.

  102. I will look up Harris’s opinions on N. Korea. I am glad to note that we are steering this discussion away from simplistic one-line statements into a productive conversation about details that is devoid of ad hominem attacks and generalizations.

    Does the Taliban have a nuclear program?
    The Taliban does not have a nuclear program. But their rather explicit goal is the Islamification of Pakistan. Plus it is well-known by now that elements in both the army and the ISI are quite sympathetic toward Taliban. Some analysts think that these elements might strike a deal with the more fractious members of the Taliban and either give them some access to a nuclear weapon or fissionale material. Gulam Muhhamad, the scientist who was in charge of Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program is already now documented to have approached Al Qaeda with an offer of a weapon or material. If your comments about scientists apply, it is these scientists like Gulam Muhhamad or of course A Q Khan who must be turned over to international authorities. Turning your argument around, isn’t it also legitimate for the Islamists to target American scientists who have built nuclear weapons? But American scientists have built most of these weapons with the express purpose of deterrence and so have Pakistani scientists. Nevertheless, I am in full agreement with you that asking the Islamic regime to hand over the offending scientists is a practical measure, although one that has resisted success so far.

    Now if we were to seriously consider annihilating the scientists responsible for building the weapons, how would we go about it? Do you think we should include steel and plastic companies who supplied dual-use technology to the Pakistani nuclear program? What about American and other companies whose patents included centrifuge technology and design? How do you think we can round up the tens of thousands of scientists, engineers and officials in dozens of countries who are ultimately responsible for the nuclear program. I believe we should be careful in planning the logistics.

    Also note that the real question is not what we would do if we were given ample time to plan such operations. It is easy to plan accordingly if we know what is going to exactly happen. Harris’s analysis as is quite clear instead focuses of what we would do, say, if the Taliban gets a hold on the nukes. We can start negotiating with them to hand over or kill their scientists. But assuming that they have the same mentality as the 9/11 hijackers (and Harris explicitly focuses on people like this), it is a real question whether deterrence or retaliation would work? What do you do in such a situation. Let’s say you are the commander in chief of the US or another country targeted by these weapons. What do you do? Certainly, killing millions of innocent Muslims who had nothing to do with the Taliban is an abhorrent concept. But the question still stands; what would you do if 9/11-type terrorists got their hands on these weapons and were poised to incinerate millions of your country’s people? The question is not about a reasonable proposal because any such proposal is not reasonable, and I did not see any evidence in Harris’s analysis that he finds such an action an easy one to undertake, perfectly logical or reasonable. The proposal may not be reasonable, but it is one that is undoubtedly going to rear its head, especially when the time for retaliation is short, if not in your mind as commander in chief, in the minds of several officials. This question does not have a yes or no answer; rather it is a profound dilemma. And the use of words like “may”, “perfectly insane” and “unthinkable crime” indicates to me that Harris also sees it as a dilemma and a very difficult decision at the very least. What do you think?

    I fully disagree with your statement that talking about killing the physicists and addressing North Korea are distractions. Considering your sentence then goes on to mention Pakistan your assertion is quite strange. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program and several of the scientists working under him are responsible for spreading nuclear technology, to North Korea as well as Iran and Libya. He is also believed to have been in contact with the Taliban in order to help their effort to obtain the capability of building and eventually deploying radiological weapons. So, killing the scientists is a more practical solution to the proliferation problem than incinerating millions of people who have no capacity to do what it is already known that scientists have done. Killing the scientists could be preemptive in a far more humane way that the first strike that Harris is so willing to promote.

    Well, in relation to the point above, we should also note that it was the US, France, China, Germany, Russia and Holland which provided most of the technology that Pakistan used in its nuclear program. How do you think we would kill the myriad politicians (including Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon) who are ultimately responsible for the global network of nuclear material that enabled Pakistan to build the bomb? For instance, since China also apparently tested Pakistan’s bomb, do you think we should also demand that all the Chinese scientists, politicians and workers in China’s factors also be handed over for annihilation? How do you think we could kill only Pakistani officials and scientists without also meting out punishment to the thousands of similar officials in other countries that acted as enabling agents for A Q Khan, Gulam Muhammad and others? It surely would be unfair to kill Pakistani scientists without punishing those who enabled them to do what they do. I am interested in knowing your thoughts regarding the logistics of this complex annihilation operation.

    Of course eliminating the scientists with the capibility would work until new ones could be trained. But suppressing the information of how to build these weapons, even if it was an enormous task, is certainly worth the effort if the alternative is tens of millions of murders.

    It was this matter that was the tipping point, concentrating me on the issue of the new atheism. The way in which Harris and his admirers so calmly took all of this talk of killing tens of millions of people, perhaps multiple Holocausts in a single day. It is astounding that people who rail about the ancient religious wars, are contemplating that scenario. It is preposterous that people who assign vicarious blame to religious believers for things they disapprove of and opposed, can calmly contemplate murdering millions of people who have no connection to the nuclear weapons programs that are the excuse to kill them.

    Firstly, as a practical matter, it is now impossible to suppress information about how to build nuclear weapons. That certainly does not mean that doing this is easy, but if we were to deny knowledge to anyone attempting to do this, among other things we may have to ban every copy of Robert Serber’s “The Los Alamos” primer that is floating around in thousands of bookshops in the world. Also, you say that were distraught by what you saw as a nonchalant readiness in Harris’s words about incinerating millions of innocents. But as I noted above, the use of relevant words in the paragraph did not give me an indication that Harris thought that doing this was an easy or even a logical situation. As I mentioned in a comment before, one of the principal goals of his analysis seems to highlight the problems with actions and consequences motivated by pure faith, and irrespective of whether you agree with this or not, it would still be quite different from declaring Harris as a bloodthirsty murderer who thinks that murdering millions with a nuclear strike is the logical thing to do. Thus I don’t see his reaction as a clam contemplation of murder but rather as a rather detailed cogitation on the consequences engendered by faith as well as the urgent problems confronted by world leaders who would inherit such a scenario.

    Do you think if those influenced by Sam Harris came to power in the United States that Moslem countries would be more likely to talk to us to prevent this new atheist apocalypse from happening? What could they think if people intent on considering them suicidal maniacs who can’t be reasoned with? Does their knowing about Harris’ promotion of this nightmare lessen the chances that? There are many people who believe that it was the infamously stupid “Axis of Evil” speech that gave new determination in the countries named to obtain nuclear weapons. If this theory of Harris became culturally important here it would only give the same incentive to every other Islamic country to consider obtaining nuclear weapons. He’s pretty indiscriminate in his statements.

    I don’t think it makes too much of a difference to the ilk of Osama bin Laden whether those agreeing or disagreeing with Sam Harris come to power or not. As far as the greater population of the Muslim world is concerned, I think that’s where Harris’s statement “The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it” comes into play. The millions of ordinary Muslims in Pakistan should realise that if the Taliban comes to power and targets any nuclear weapons against the US or other countries, it poses a profound moral dilemma to any commander in chief and one possibility, at least theoretical, that exists on the table in the situation room is that of quickly eradicating an existential threat by any means possible that may exists, considered in increasing degrees of severity. Both Zakaria and Friedman for instance acknowledge this point and stress that that is exactly how deterrence can manifest itself in a roundabout way, but forcing an understanding on the people of Islamist countries that they need to be vigilant about the fundamentalists in their midst who are aching to be in control. Incidentally this is a general point that, just like these other authors, Harris makes in other places. It is a point that seems to now be emerging from many quarters; that moderate Muslims should step up to the task and vociferously oppose the rising fundamentalism in their society. Among the several factors that would induce them to seriously consider doing this, one has to logically include the possibility of massive retaliation in one form or another, nuclear or otherwise, that would be the unfortunate consequence if stateless actors bent upon destruction carry out heinous activities using their nation as a sanctuary. Harris’s theory is a manifestation of a larger set of consequences that any commander in chief would be forced to contemplate in such a situation. As I noted in my note above, US presidents and other officials have been confronted with this possibility of massive collateral damage under scenarios much tamer than this, even when no country or group had targeted them with nuclear weapons. When the Soviet Union did, there were extensive plans drawn for targeting Moscow with hundreds of weapons; it was undoubtedly realized that such targeting would involve millions of innocent casualties. And this was for a country that was actually deterred. With fundamentalists aiming nuclear-tipped missiles from within the sanctuary of an Islamist country, it would be a wholly different ball game that may necessitate these responses only as a subset of an overarching philosophy of retaliation, and Harris does not need to state this at all. Any right-thinking Muslim who reads Harris’s and others’ exhortation would recognise the clarion call to action that has been issued. Where I think Harris prematurely ceases to analyze is in proposing solutions that would prevent such a scenario

    I must mention that North Korea is famously erratic and paranoid. It’s certainly less interested in the welfare of its people than Iran, which has been criticized in the American media for spending programs that benefit the lower classes. I seem to recall one idiotic American on the radio talking about “pork barrell spending” by the incumbent government. Though any reporter who would be so clueless as to use that phrase is probably not someone you should take too much confidence in. Perhaps a point that many would make about Harris’ knowledge of the Islamic countries.
    Korea would seem to already be willing to sacrifice its people and has nuclear weapons and is testing missiles, while making threats against all comers.

    Harris did not mention Iran in his paragraph and I would interested in knowing his specific opinions about Iran, opinions that go beyond religion and into geopolitical interests. This is in fact another limitation of Harris’s analysis, not seeing religion as the possible edge of an island of inclusive reasons that extend into other factors responsible for international relations. North Korea is indeed fickle. It had actually stopped enrichment at one point but then again fired up its reactor. Its neglect of its population’s basic needs may likely cause it to implode from within one day. Iran is an enigma. Friends who have visited the country note the often privately vocal opposition to the Islamic regime and support of the US, support that been equivocal at the least in the face of Bush warmongering.

    Having started this, I don’t think I’d feel right about continuing it here at Chris Mooney’s blog without his permission. I would be willing to continue at my blog if he would rather we do that. I will e-mail him Monday to ask him.

    Sounds good

  103. I am glad to note that we are steering this discussion away from simplistic one-line statements into a productive conversation about details that is devoid of ad hominem attacks and generalizations.

    Curious Waveform,I have been on vacation for the past two weeks I’ve been coming here. This might seem like a funny way to spend vacation and a two week discussion of the new atheism isn’t how I originally intended to spend it. Now I have to go back to work so this discussion is going to slow down considerably on my end. It will take me several days to cover the points in your last comment, I’m sorry for that but I do have to earn a living. I’ll begin now.

    I am glad you appreciate the scope and depth of the problem. This is going to take a very, very long time to go through, now that the task has been taken on. I assume you realize the foremost reason for the absolute need to understand the issues involved. Harris’ paragraph contemplates the nuclear incineration of tens of millions of people. Real, live people, children, adults, elderly, religious believers, agnostics and, yes, atheists. The people killed would, no doubt, include many if not all of the nuclear scientists, engineers, etc. who I have proposed killing in preemption. I assure you once again that I didn’t do that lightly or in sarcasm, it was absolutely serious. That position is forced by the contemplation of killing tens of millions of innocent civilians who have no part in the production of nuclear weapons. I do have the feeling that you see my proposed killing of scientists as preposterous, perhaps impossible. I asked if it was their identity as scientists that made their deaths off limits. Somehow, I think that is an irrational habit of thinking among those of us who are educated and live affluent, relatively placid lives. It’s a lot easier to identify with someone with a degree who lives by their mind instead of by toil and who probably has clean fingernails at the end of the day. It’s a habit I’ve been struggling to shake for years, it’s a constant struggle to view everyone down to the most destitute and depraved wretch as being as fully human as the most perfumed and brilliant person with a university position.

    It would have been just as well if Sam Harris hadn’t introduced this issue into his anti-religious diatribe. At the time he wasn’t equipped to make the statement. I don’t see that he is today. His purpose doesn’t seem to me to have much to do with the issue of a nuclear threat from an Islamic country, his purpose, as the theme of his book and his subsequent career, was anti-religious invective. His use of this issue was massively irresponsible and reckless. As Chris Hedges pointed out in the debate they had and in his subsequent book stemming from it, Harris is quite ignorant of the countries and issues he uses to advocate a nuclear first strike killing millions of innocent civilians. I suspect he took a lot less time considering the issues and the real meaning of what he wrote. Not to mention that there could be other solutions to the problem he states with such confidence. Solutions that are quite immoral and depraved but far less depraved when measured in lives taken and the relevance of the lives of the intended victims is taken into account. Killing without justification is murder, since Harris proposed killing the innocent to prevent a nuclear attack on the United States, the issue of “taking out” those directly responsible for the threat is depraved but it, at least, targets those responsible and capable of posing that threat. It would be preemptive in a way that Harris’ proposed scenario would not.

    You wonder how far my proposal could be taken, if it would necessitate the deaths of nuclear scientists in China and here and around the world. I’m not sure but since we are talking in the murders of tens of millions, how many scientists would that be? Almost certainly not more than that. If Harris’ wild speculation about removing a potential threat, one not even realized, can get people to contemplate nuclear first strikes, setting off a war between a fifth of the population and “us” that would kill many, many millions more and possibly extend far longer than the Palestinian-Israeli wars, killing the world’s supply of nuclear scientists is hardly a detail in the mix. And I do wonder if the world’s largest Moslem country, Indonesia would remain neutral in this issue. I’m guessing it’s certain they wouldn’t. Nor would the Moslems in Europe, the United States, Canada or elsewhere. The blood letting in the Harris apocalypse would not stop in the cities he would destroy.

    I suspect that you or others reading this will, at this point, say, “Why does he keep hammering on that point”. It is so I and none of us will forget that the lives of tens of millions of people IS the point.

    Discussing Harris and the wisdom of Ayaan Hirsi Ali associating herself with him is where this discussion really began, I don’t think anything I said about them constituted ad hominem, I made no personal attacks that were off topic at the time. But that’s as nothing compared to the gravity of this issue so I will drop it.

    .

  104. Anthony, I appreciate the detailed nuance and level of introspection that has now seeped into this debate. I believe that we are reading Sam Harris somewhat differently. If we had had this level of conversation before I think matters would have been quite different. However, you can imagine that I was a little peeved at the reduction of a whole paragraph into a single statement saying that Sam Harris wants to willingly murder tens of millions of babies, elderly and women. Quite irrespective of whether I agree or disagree with the position, I don’t see it that simply. I also don’t think Harris has a real understanding of geopolitics or the complex factors relating to international issues that motivate the minds of even religious fanatics. But again, that’s quite different from me thinking that Harris is a genocidal maniac who would wipe out entire innocent Muslim populations in a heartbeat. Reading your much more detailed and thoughtful analysis now, I believe that you too are not so rash as to reach this simplistic conclusion. It does not matter that you may disagree with a lot that he says; that’s perfectly legitimate. But it still doesn’t reduce a much more detailed analysis to sound-bytes. I don’t know how much you have read Harris’s book but I have read his book several times, and I find him to be much more thoughtful in many places compared to Hitchens, whose writings are full of rhetoric, or even Dawkins. Unlike the others, Harris also talks about recent neuroscience studies that possibly may shed light on mental processes that are kicked into action during prayer; these issues re now being explored by many top researchers around the world. I also find his respect for the spiritual aspects of religion heartening. Again, you might completely disagree with all or most of this, but that is again different from believing that he simply wants to murder millions for what they believe.

    Harris’ paragraph contemplates the nuclear incineration of tens of millions of people. Real, live people, children, adults, elderly, religious believers, agnostics and, yes, atheists. The people killed would, no doubt, include many if not all of the nuclear scientists, engineers, etc. who I have proposed killing in preemption. I assure you once again that I didn’t do that lightly or in sarcasm, it was absolutely serious. That position is forced by the contemplation of killing tens of millions of innocent civilians who have no part in the production of nuclear weapons. I do have the feeling that you see my proposed killing of scientists as preposterous, perhaps impossible. I asked if it was their identity as scientists that made their deaths off limits. Somehow, I think that is an irrational habit of thinking among those of us who are educated and live affluent, relatively placid lives. It’s a lot easier to identify with someone with a degree who lives by their mind instead of by toil and who probably has clean fingernails at the end of the day. It’s a habit I’ve been struggling to shake for years, it’s a constant struggle to view everyone down to the most destitute and depraved wretch as being as fully human as the most perfumed and brilliant person with a university position.

    I agree that there is a certain loss of empathy or understanding that may knowingly creep into the minds and thinking processes of those of us who live relatively affluently and seek a life of the mind. Yet I can assure that I recognize the moral depravity involved in contemplating the murder of millions of innocents. However I suspect that so does Harris. I have read this paragraph and the book several times. I hope you have noted that this is the only time he really talks about anything like this. But let us move beyond Harris. As I noted, first of all we need to be clear that there are people who would contemplate the murder of millions of innocents. Whether they literally mean millions or less is not relevant since any number is abhorrent. As I see it, the discussion goes far beyond Harris and really poses a dilemma, not a question with an easy answer, nor an easy contemplation of the murder of millions. The question again painfully manifests itself in a future scenario in Pakistan. I believe Iran cares about its existence enough to be deterred. But we cannot say the same about Pakistan and especially the Taliban. Many analysts realise this. As I noted before, rather than an endorsement or approval of a nuclear strike, I think that Harris’s (and some others’) statements raise two points; first the simple, harrowing and potentially realistic question of what the US or any other threatened country would do, and secondly (and you disagree with this) as a potential illustration of the horrendous consequences that are engendered simply by what you believe, a point that is a subset of a general theme that Harris explores in his book. Lamentably, Chris Hedges seems to have modified the wording in Harris’s writings as far as I can see. But I have always seen the analysis first and foremost as a dilemma.

    You are also concerned about what countries like Indonesia would think if they are confronted with a commander in chief who would contemplate such action. Firstly, as I noted before, contingency plans were drawn up in many phases of the Cold War which incorporated collateral damage in the from of millions of lives. Every US president during the Cold War had contemplated the killing of millions just like Harris. That did not mean they would actually do it, but in fact the Soviets often operated under this very assumption and it led to effective deterrence. I think all of us are concerned about it, and although Harris does not explicitly say it, his words seem to indicate that his thought processes are not devoid of this consideration. Even though Harris does not completely believe it to be so, deterrence actually can work, as was obvious with the Soviet Union. Thus I don’t believe Harris completely, that deterrence won’t ever work. And deterrence can work if people in a country believe that some kind of massive retaliation or other, non-nuclear or nuclear would be visited upon them if they allow themselves or some non-state actors bent on destructing to assume responsibility of weapons of mass destruction. This contemplation of the death of millions kept the Cold War from escalating into a hot one, and irrespective of its untoward consequences, I don’t see why it won’t work the same way with any country, Muslim or non-Muslim. Plus, it is not certain that such an understanding will simply antagonize Muslim countries toward the US. The appropriate response as always will be induced by the correct combination of sticks and carrots. A possibility of massive retaliation won’t necessarily turn moderate Muslims into anti-Western fanatics if there is also a possibility of peace and reconciliation. That’s how it worked with Reagan and Gorbachev. But a possibility of such massive retaliation would also alert them to the untoward consequences of letting the fundamentalists take the reins of their country. Some analysts now think that only the threat of massive retaliation would force the people of Pakistan to evaluate their survival and turn against the fundamentalists who have so infiltrated their society. This is a point that Harris also understands, both in this paragraph as well as in other places, and it’s a point which as I noted has been trumpeted by others; that moderate Muslims must understand the serious consequences they would face if they don’t put up a fight against fundamentalists.

    You wonder how far my proposal could be taken, if it would necessitate the deaths of nuclear scientists in China and here and around the world. I’m not sure but since we are talking in the murders of tens of millions, how many scientists would that be? Almost certainly not more than that. If Harris’ wild speculation about removing a potential threat, one not even realized, can get people to contemplate nuclear first strikes, setting off a war between a fifth of the population and “us” that would kill many, many millions more and possibly extend far longer than the Palestinian-Israeli wars, killing the world’s supply of nuclear scientists is hardly a detail in the mix. And I do wonder if the world’s largest Moslem country, Indonesia would remain neutral in this issue. I’m guessing it’s certain they wouldn’t. Nor would the Moslems in Europe, the United States, Canada or elsewhere. The blood letting in the Harris apocalypse would not stop in the cities he would destroy.

    I did not see an indication that Harris wants to preemptively contemplate a nuclear strike on a country which has the possibility of being taken over by fundamentalists. As best as I could tell, the dilemma is about what is to be done if a fundamentalist faction or nation takes over its nuclear arsenal. I think you raise a very interesting and perpetual moral question when you talk about killing the scientists; is the killing of tens of thousands better than the killing of millions? But rather than go down that convoluted road, I am noting that the scenario confronting a commander in chief would be an entire country whose nuclear arsenal is taken over by fundamentalists. Plus, in terms of quality and not quantity, killing or prosecuting all those involved in the final manifestation of nuclear technology in one way or another would involve the annihilation of almost as many innocents, many of whom were not directly responsible for this technology. As you can imagine, the horrors involved in both scenarios are unspeakable. I appreciate the level of detail and introspective discussion that is now visible in this analysis.

  105. Curious Waveform, I’ve decided to continue this on my blog and not here. I’ll post again on this topic later in the week. It’s going to take a long time to go over the issues. I expect to have the analysis of the Harris paragraph the following week.

  106. Ok, thanks for the update. I will check out your blog later. I appreciate the reasoned discussion.

  107. benjdm

    @ Stephen Friberg #79:

    “Let me know if I’m wrong, but aren’t we talking about whether or not it is heretical for someone who believes in religion to do science?”

    No, no, and no. What we are talking about is this:

    Coyne criticizes the NCSE for taking the philosophical / theological position that religion and science are compatible instead of remaining neutral

    Coyne reviewed 2 books by theists that attempted to reconcile religion and science, found the science parts of the books good, and found the reconciling part of the books wanting.

    Mooney criticized Coyne saying he shouldn’t have done (at least part) of the above. Near as I can tell, the argument is whether the NCSE should endorse science-friendly religion or whether it should remain neutral on religion altogther.

    The first two posts at Coyne’s collection ( http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/the-big-accommodatinism-debate-all-relevant-posts/ ) are the ones that generated the criticisms, with Mooney’s initial criticisms laid out in 3 and 4.

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About Chris Mooney

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

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