"Chris Mooney Has Abandoned Science, Reason, Logic"

By Chris Mooney | June 17, 2009 8:50 am

When it comes to the science-religion debate, one thing that has both stunned and also intrigued me is how people who are my intellectual allies on the vast majority of matters can somehow become inexplicably livid with me over this one single area of disagreement. For instance, look what atheist Austin Cline has to say, in a post entitled “Chris Mooney Has Abandoned Science, Reason, Logic”:

Chris Mooney presents himself as someone who promotes science and science education. He’s even written a couple of books on the matter, but I’ve concluded that it would be a grave mistake for anyone to even consider looking to Chris Mooney for information or education about science. In his efforts to come up with reasons for why atheists are bad, bad people for daring to criticize religion, Mooney has revealed that he must not really know anything about science or how science works.

There’s a lot more, and it gets worse:

Chris Mooney is not a defender of science per se. Chris Mooney is a defender of an ideological agenda which may at times coincide with the goals of science, but which at other times is antithetical to science. Chris Mooney is a defender of an ideological agenda which is clearly contrary to some of basic intellectual and ethical values which underlie science, reason, and the Enlightenment — all for the apparent sake of protecting a particular class of religious believer from ever having to see or hear criticisms of their religious beliefs. It’s pathetic.

What I think I find most telling about all this is the fact that if Chris Mooney were to take any of his ideas or principles seriously, he would have to apply them to his own treatment of atheists. His insistence at behaving towards atheists in exactly the manner he argues atheists shouldn’t be behaving towards theists communicates not only his own pervasive hypocrisy, but also the fact that everything he’s saying is being said in pursuit of an ideological agenda rather than due to principle or sincere belief. A person who will say or argue anything, no matter how baseless, contradictory, or hypocritical for the sake of an ideological agenda is not a person who can be trusted and is certainly not any sort of ally.

I encourage you to read Cline’s whole post.

I’m saddened by it, but I also think it speaks volumes about the extreme polarization and radicalization that has occurred around the science-religion issue, even among–no, especially among–a relatively small group of people whose political views are almost indistinguishable. It is noteworthy, for instance, that although I’ve been attacked many times by right wingers, never have those attacks been remotely as nasty as the ones I’ve experienced from fellow atheists, with whom I share 99 percent of my intellectual DNA.

How to explain this phenomenon? When in doubt, I often open the Bible of Monty Python, and in this case I find a parable called the “People’s Front of Judea” vs the “Judean People’s Front.” Let us watch:

I can tell you this much: If we waste our limited energy and resources on the narcissism of petty differences, we won’t have the strength left to forge a better, more scientifically literate country. And that would be a wholesale failure to pass on the troubled Enlightenment legacy that we so value.

Comments (194)

  1. Patimus

    Mitch Hedberg:

    # I order a club sandwich all the time. And I’m not even a member, I don’t know how I get away with it. “I like my sandwiches with three pieces of bread.” “So do I.” “Lets form a club then.” “Okay, but we’re gonna need more stipulations.” “Yes we do.” “OK… Instead of cutting it once, lets cut it again.” “Yeah, four triangles.” “And we will position them in a circle. And in the middle we will dump chips. Or potato salad.” “Let me ask you a question, how do you feel about frilly toothpicks?” “I’m for ‘em!” “Well, this club is formed. Spread the news on menus nationwide. “I like alfalfa sprouts on mine.” “Well you aren’t in the ^*(k!n’ club.”

  2. Patimus

    I wish my sound card worked.

  3. Palo

    “atheist Austin Cline”? is that his title or part of his name?

  4. Great video. I personally believe that if Barbara Forrest had used language different from that enumerated in the three points (for instance, “Be Nice” is almost certain to invoke the ire and disapproval of atheists of all stripes) things may have started off on a different foot (although the debate would still have raged on). She could have made those three points equally well without resorting to some of those exact words. For better or worse, language still makes a difference.

  5. Jon

    Chris. Obviously, you are soft on communism.

    Tell us, Chris, when did you stop associating with communists? I understand from someone I know who had a friend who went to a certain meeting, that you attended a meeting. Would you care to tell the committee just what you were doing there?

    Were you aware that said meeting was held by people who Stand Against the American Way of Life? In these critical times, you must choose your loyalties wisely, sir…

  6. I’ve concluded that it would be a grave mistake for anyone to even consider looking to Chris Mooney for information or education about science. In his efforts to come up with reasons for why atheists are bad, bad people for daring to criticize religion,

    One thing to notice in Cline’s statement is that he dishonestly turns a critique of the New Atheism into a stereotype of everyone who is an atheist.

    The second thing to notice is Cline’s use of his false attribution of the substance and motive of the critique of the New Atheism in order to disqualify someone with an actual career in defending science education.

    I’ve had dealings with Cline before, don’t expect him to retract anything he misattributes to you, even showing him that you said exactly the opposite of what he said you did, in the very piece he lifted parts of, he’ll refuse to say he got it wrong. At least that was my experience with him.

    As with other recent developments in the New Atheist fad, you’ve got to be exactly their kind of atheist to get their stamp of approval. From my years in the gay rights movement, that’s a bad sign, you can expect a long period of back stabbing and division. It’s a shame if science education takes some of the shrapnel, I’d advise people who care about that to distance it from Cline’s agenda.

  7. Erasmussimo

    I am in complete agreement with you that this extremism is ultimately to the detriment of the overall goal of helping America become a more rational place. If rational people cannot agree among themselves, then rationalism isn’t a very reliable way to think, is it?

    And that video is absolutely perfect!

  8. I think that all groups has its strain of members who make the ‘true believer’ claim. The GOP, as it struggles to stay relevent, is currently going through this particular uncivil war and they look like buffoons doing it. It’s a shame that this author thinks that your personal notions of spirituality could possibly disqualify you from being a worthy spokesperson for science advocacy, but what are going to do? Some people are just rigid ideological zealots and their hope is for their institutions to be “pure”. It doesn’t show anything about atheists, it shows that buffoons grow on trees just about anywhere.

  9. benjdm

    Austin Cline’s criticism definitely seems unfair and baseless.

  10. People like Cline *hate* it when we cal them “fundamental atheists”, but screeds like this make it blatantly clear why the comparison to fundamentalists of other religious stripes fits. They are convinced that they have the absolute truth about the nature of God and religion, and that anybody who doesn’t fall in line with them is not a *real* member of their faith, and is an enemy trying to undermine the good in society. They think that any criticism of them or their methods is an attack on the fabric of our society itself. (What is defined as “our society” is different in each case, yes, but I also suspect that fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist Christians in the US would each think that the other’s ideas about the nature of “our society” is destructive….)

    They should be treated with the same respect as creationists. Like many creationists, they believe that their views on religion are correct and unquestionable. Like intelligent design advocates, they incorrectly believe that science directly supports their beliefs about religion.

    They are tiresome, ill-informed, and irritating, and give atheists a bad name just as assuredly as creationists give Christians a bad name.

  11. and don’t get me wrong. I, as an atheist, believe we should engage any disagreeing person with respect, and sometimes, that means not blatently disparaging the opposition’s ideology, even when you can’t stand their position. But you should still engage vigorously. I think that your effort to remind atheists to be respectful is a good one, and shouldn’t disqualify you from the debate or being a champion of science literacy.

  12. Andrew Moseman

    As a friendly atheist, I’m sorry you had to be subject to this raving bit of nonsense, Chris.

    Now I’m off to post something insulting about theists before anyone catches on that I’m a heretic.

  13. I am increasingly of the opinion that the easy communication of the internet contributes to the lowering of the level of discourse, to the general aura of rancor that seems to be everywhere. I don’t care if it is this discussion, or the diatribes that are so pervasive on political sites (e.g. DailyKos).

    In many ways, snail mail was a better vehicle because you had an opportunity to think before you received a reply. Besides, we now have some wonderful collections of letters: John and Abagail Adams come to mind. I wonder how many email retorts will be prized reading two hundred years from now.

  14. Hap

    1) Don’t you actually have to understand science to claim someone has abandoned it? The part about not making claims that your data can’t support (and assuming what you can grasp and measure is all there is) seems to have escaped him. Science (and logic) is supposed to be about making it hard to fool ourselves, and to help us recognize the limits of our knowledge and certainty. You can lead a horse to water…

    2) The part about supporting an ideological agenda seems to scream out, “Et tu, Brutus?”

    3) I prefer the overall response, “Thanks. I’ll take that under advisement.” Preferably in an obviously dismissive tone. I don’t generally figure anyone with that much irrational vituperation is worth any more thought.

  15. Nova Terata

    There is a God and its name is Quetzacoatl Ouroboros Macaroni Marinara. Dawkins from his precipice stared into the abyss and it stared back with quill and sinew dripping from its maw.. dripping blood the blood of Paul Newman’s Own. Paul who was Luke was the lamb ragu slaughtered by Richard Judas. The Greys are real! The Lizard People are real! Terry Pratchett is an extremist realist. I for one welcome our pasta overlord.. Spaghett!!

  16. First off, how much effort did it take to find Cline’s diatribe? Secondly–and this is a serious question–why should we care?

    But since we’re on it (and I’m not waiting for “why we should care”), it’s the kind of one-upmanship that athier-than-thou godless folk play.

    Honestly, what gets us a civil society is the fact that we can and sometimes must close our eyes to the specks or beams in the others’ eyes. It’s tolerance. I have to agree that religion is not merely a private matter, but Forrest was certainly partly right by saying that it is a deeply personal matter to a huge number of Americans. Consistent with the rest of their lives it may not be, which does nothing to change the fact that it is part of the constitution of their “souls.”

    And sometimes you just have to quit whining about religion, religionists, and “accommodationists,” so that we can, say, have a discussion about science and its methods. I do not claim that rants are off-limits, or what-not, just that teaching (clearly our job re evolution) is a matter of persuasion, and the best teachers are not the ones who are certain to point out every mistake a religious person may make.

    The best teachers may also have some inconsistencies. I would include Miller there, and in the educational sphere I would count these as very minor indeed.

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

  17. Patimus

    Religion and science both seem pretty determined to alienate everyone who doesn’t choose a wing. What says you can’t lean in a direction without diving in head first? Politics anyone?

  18. Patimus

    You can’t be an alcoholic unless you drink what I drink.

  19. Patimus

    You can’t be a real Cowboys fan if you think Roger Staubach was better than Troy Aikman. Dick Sargent was better than Dick York. David Lee Roth / Sammy Hagar. Cliff Burton / Jason Newstead. David Gilmour / Sid Barrett? Also, why are there so many conflicting religious sects all classified under the same category? Nobody’s opinion is right, no matter what definition supports it. These arguments always seem more about self affirmation than for exposing truths. Please view the Mitch Hedberg joke above.

    If you want to win an argument, start asking questions that the other party can’t answer. You can admit you don’t know it all while exposing their ignorance at the same time.

  20. Jason

    Why am I suddenly reminded of South Park?

    Bow before the Otter Army.

  21. Linda

    I would look to Chris for information and education on science.
    He’s informed and smart.

  22. Austin Cline said,
    Chris Mooney is a defender of an ideological agenda which is clearly contrary to some of basic intellectual and ethical values which underlie science, reason, and the Enlightenment — all for the apparent sake of protecting a particular class of religious believer from ever having to see or hear criticisms of their religious beliefs.

    As for “protecting a particular class of religious believer from ever having to see or hear criticisms of their religious beliefs” —
    Silence from Darwinists would not “protect” from criticism the “cafeteria Christians” who are literal on the gospel but not literal on the bible’s creation story — they are going to be criticized by the fundies and other critics of Darwinism in any case. I think that what Chris Mooney and Barbara Forrest are saying is that the criticisms should not be coming from Darwinists. I am not saying that I agree here with Mooney and Forrest — I am just saying that I think that is their position. Anyway, Mooney has not denied that that is his position.

  23. No one should be exempt from criticism for cause, religious people are always criticizing each other, outside and inside their own religions. Atheists who accurately and fairly criticize religious people and practices should be as acceptable as any that are fair and accurate. Darwinists, both religious and atheists can justifiably launch any fair and accurate criticism.

    It’s not the criticism, it’s the fact that the New Atheism tries to hog science for itself and makes itself the monitor of what it takes to be scientific correctness, as it were. It explicitly practices vicarious blame of religious people for ideas and acts by others in other religions that they’ve rejected and criticized. And now they’re going after other atheists who reject their agenda. Cline, as he seems to be in the habit of doing, is making false claims about “protecting a particular class of religious believer….”. It’s a phony analysis to suit his own agenda, not an accurate statement of the critique of the New Atheism. Apparently Cline wants to protect his own sect from even accurate and fair criticism, himself.

    That’s what I’m getting from it.

  24. Bill C.

    Chris-

    I think what you ascribe to semantic differences may indeed be a far more serious ideological rift within the cultural movement of critical thinkers. To wit:

    “…we won’t have the strength left to forge a better, more scientifically literate country.”

    I think that statement displays an entirely different prioritization of values than exists in the minds of most “New Atheists” (including this one).

    The issue of scientific literacy is important to any critical thinker, certainly. From it, grand palaces of intellect and creativity can be built. But FAR more pressing to the atheists in this country (U.S.A., though I gather it’s a brewing storm in most Western democracies) is the question of religious control of moral, ethical and legal standards. Science is but one small piece of the pie.

    Far more dire an issue for New Atheists than the effective communication of the theory of evolution is shaking off the preposterous religious mores which seek to demonize perfectly healthy segments of society and dictate the limits of personal behavior and choices.

    If anything defines the “New Atheists”, it is our desire for a wholly secular society – science education is but a small piece in a far broader puzzle. I don’t feel your position in this whole accomodationism debate acknowledges that. I fear it’s perhaps because you find that a foolish goal to begin with. To answer, the “New Atheist” can only cry, “By what right?”

  25. Bill C.

    @Erasmussimo: “I am in complete agreement with you that this extremism is ultimately to the detriment of the overall goal of helping America become a more rational place. If rational people cannot agree among themselves, then rationalism isn’t a very reliable way to think, is it?”

    This is well-observed. Though, as ever with reason, a lack of precise connection between mind and mouth is no cause to dismiss the mind of your opponent. Better still to investigate and attempt to enlighten it.

  26. Jon

    …From it, grand palaces of intellect and creativity can be built…

    There’ll be spandex jackets, one for everyone!

  27. John Kwok

    I wonder what Austin Cline would say if he knew that noted physicist Brian Greene is on the advisory board of Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion (along with, for example, his Columbia University colleague, eminent philosopher of science Philip Kitcher). I’m inclined to believe he’d call Greene yet another “traitor” to science (Or rather the view of science that’s being promoted by the likes of Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers.

    Cline’s screed ranks alongside Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers David Klinghoffer’, Bill Dembski and Casey Luskin’s frequent episodes of written verbal diarrhea, as yet another sterling example. You would have thought that Cline was whining and moaning about Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, not someone whom I , a registered Republican, regard as one of our finest scientific journalists who has a keen understanding of the recent history between government politics and science.

  28. Far more dire an issue for New Atheists than the effective communication of the theory of evolution is shaking off the preposterous religious mores which seek to demonize perfectly healthy segments of society and dictate the limits of personal behavior and choices.

    As a gay man, please, I’d rather not have people who gratuitously insult the majority of voters on my side. I like to win some times.

  29. Bill C. said (#25) —
    –But FAR more pressing to the atheists in this country (U.S.A., though I gather it’s a brewing storm in most Western democracies) is the question of religious control of moral, ethical and legal standards. Science is but one small piece of the pie. —

    Right on, Bill (though I am not an atheist)! Darwinists really have a screwed up set of priorities. I am a Darwin doubter and because of Darwinists’ obsession with maintaining excessive ideological purity in the so-called separation of church and state in evolution education (the courts have not even allowed evolution disclaimer statements), I have been forced to ally myself with fundies whose policies on other issues — e.g., homophobia, school prayer, abstinence education, and bans on stem-cell research — I detest.

  30. John Kwok

    Larry –

    You claim that you’re not a fundamentalist, but you share two disturbing things in common with them:

    1) Referring to scientists and those who are scientifically literate as “Darwinists” as if that was merely a perjorative term equivalent to “Communist”, “Fascist” or “Nazi”.

    2) Insinuating that evolution is religious simply because you disagree with legal opinions – all of which have proven to be quite valid – dating from the late 1960s onwards that recognize evolution as valid science, while “creationism” – including Intellgent Design creationism – is viewed as pseudoscientific, religiously-derived nonsense.

    Now it is news to me that you would detest the views of “fundies” on issues such as homophobia, school prayer, abstinence education, and stem cell research bans, since, more often than not, you most certainly sound like one.

    As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

    Therefore, Larry, you are a duck, a delusional creo whining pathetically that he isn’t.

  31. @ 25 Bill C:

    “The issue of scientific literacy is important to any critical thinker, certainly. From it, grand palaces of intellect and creativity can be built. But FAR more pressing to the atheists in this country (U.S.A., though I gather it’s a brewing storm in most Western democracies) is the question of religious control of moral, ethical and legal standards. Science is but one small piece of the pie.
    If anything defines the “New Atheists”, it is our desire for a wholly secular society – science education is but a small piece in a far broader puzzle.”

    I can acknowledge that, respect it, but still not have it as one of my priorities. And, not having that as one of my priorities doesn’t necessarily mean I am against you – even if someone asserts otherwise.

    Jon: Where the h!!! is my flying car?

  32. How to explain this phenomenon?

    It is the subject (science and religion) in itself who is very sensible. Some people are reacting as idiots, like this Cline guy, but even when they are reasonable and moderate, they frequently don’t see the common grounds between them -as it seems to be the case between yourself and Jerry Coyne.

    I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon. Of course, part of the explanation is simply that this is a sensible matter. But there are a lot of sensible matters in this world that doesn’t create as much tensions and misunderstandings.

  33. Wow – Chris is really tolerant: this must be the only science blog in the Universe from which Larry Fafarman has not been banned for life!

  34. Bill C.

    @29 – Anthony:

    That’s very pragmatic of you, but the pragmatists begrudging the idealists their idealism is exactly what I’m talking about (while, certainly, you and Chris bemoan the idealists begrudging pragmatists their pragmatism). I speak not of “idealists” like Cline, who seems loud, inarticulate, and not particularly thoughtful, but rather those like Richard Dawkins, so bizarrely vilified by accomodationists, who is loud, articulate, and eminently thoughtful (or even PZ Myers, loud, more or less articulate, and eminently thoughtful but with zero patience).

    On the flip side from you, Dawkins seems far more concerned with propagating the tools and mindset of critical thinking than in winning candidates or elections. He would rather engage the rabble than the politicians. I (nor Dawkins, I’d venture) won’t begrudge you the latter practice, and for all the rancor and debate, I still fail to see why you (or Chris) would begrudge me the former. You permit political and intellectual credence to compartmentalized supernatural views on the basis of winning in court or on school boards, and that’s fine if you feel that necessary or essential. Meanwhile, I want to make sure your supernaturalist allies (and more importantly, their children) know where, how and why they’re still flat dead wrong.

    Others have been making this point in the comments all along, that the whole issue of accomodationism is a non-debate – without the pragmatists, critical thinking would be in danger of losing its incremental political/legal battles, without the idealists, it would be in danger of losing its ideological socio-cultural ones. I don’t think Chris recognizes or acknowledges this, which is why he takes exception when “New Atheists” get so riled up that he would even throw down the gauntlet for such a debate; as if one side ought subsume the other. It oughtn’t.

    You need each side. In gay rights terms, without the loud, marching, flamboyant and exhibitionist queens, one fears some permutation of gay marriage with a federal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. On the other hand, without the politically-savvy accomodationists, recognizing the deep-seated cultural fears they stir and trying to gently nudge opinion the other way, one fears the development of pig-headed, self-ghettoized GLBT enclaves. Either situation is unacceptable.

    For me, in the end, I just don’t see an adequate rebuttal to Penn: If you care at all about the rest of the world, how can you NOT passionately proselytize the truth as you know it? But I respect the role of those who disagree with that conclusion.

    @32 – Tim Broderick:

    Right on.

  35. The problem isn’t with atheists claiming “atheism is how everybody should be.” I don’t agree with that, any more than I agree with Christians who claim that everybody should be Christian, but that’s fine.

    The problem is when the New Atheists claim not only that they want everybody to be atheists, but *also* that you *have* to be an atheist in order to be somebody who’s reason is worthy of respect, somebody who is capable of understanding science. That’s what Cline is saying here. The less abrasive ones may state it that well, OK, maybe you can do science, but you’re ultimately a hypocrit.

    The New Atheists who make this claim are very similar to the fundamentalists who claim that people without religion cannot be moral– that godlessness is equivalent to having no principles or morality whatsoever. This claim and is offensive to atheists. It doesn’t do anybody any good in furthering the debate other than rallying the already-convinced to hate those who are on the other side of the debate. But, the real problem with it is that it is *false*. Yes, I agree that sometimes abrasive people are an important part of pushing a new idea, but in this case it’s just wrong.

    By the same token, the New Atheists who claim that atheism is a necessary component of being somebody whose reason can be trusted are saying something that is *wrong*. That sometimes abrasive people are important in pushing a new idea does not justify making this argument, or giving any credence to this argument, because it’s false.

  36. @35 Bill C

    I’m not entirely convinced that things are as passive as you would describe. Nor do I believe that It’s a good idea to lump theists like Miller in with crazy fundamentalists that murder people (not that you’re suggesting that). Frankly, I don’t have a problem with Miller or his beliefs at all.

  37. Bill C.

    @36 – Rob Knop: Damn, you’re giving way to much credence to this Cline character. Is he really that representative of the face of “New Atheism” to you guys?

    None of the “New Atheist” “leaders” (your Dawkinses, Harrises, Dennetts, Hitchenses, even Myerses, etc) ever actually say anything like what you propose. They’re all keen to point out that religious people compartmentalize their reason, not abandon it outright (though clearly, some do…they’re usually the ones Myers goes after). Dawkins hammers on this compartmentalization point more than the rest, I think, when he rails against religious moderates.

    He says explicitly that most of them are perfectly reasonable, rational people in almost every aspect of their lives. The issue is that they’re perfectly happy to uncritically accept the truth of the Gospels which, I’m sorry, is a pretty damn far stretch from reasonable. But, Dawkins acknowledges, the unreason does seem to sit squarely in just that one compartment of their minds…Which unfortunately isn’t Deism, and therefore stretches with pretty long fingers into all kinds of sociopolitical issues, from the validity of science to the morality of personal behavior.

    I think you’re misreading the “New Atheists”, Rob: the issue isn’t that religiosity disqualifies your reason, it’s the cultural danger of allowing that small bit of religious unreason to become something acceptable or desirable.

  38. Bill C.

    @37 Tim –

    Frankly, I don’t have a problem with Miller and his beliefs either, but that’s because Miller seems to be a self-denying deist. I have no problem with deists – fill that great philosophical unknown with whatever you wish, so long as you let your assumptions end with its existence and don’t venture into the ever more untenable assumptions of its nature. Which Miller does not seem to do, as I’ve never seen him argue a sectarian morality, cosmology, biology (ok, some comments on the “purpose” of evolution toe the line), etc.

    I think both sides here are a little too sensitive with labels (hell, I know I am…I’m a “New Atheist” just because I reject the validity of theistic dogma without exception?). I wouldn’t “lump Ken Miller in” with creationists any more than I’d lump in my own moderate Catholic family…But ultimately they do share a certain degree of illogical or unsupportable conclusions, and its the conclusions being attacked as being the same, not the people. Unfortunately, when you’re discussing conclusions that people embed into the mental bedrock of their very existence, it gets a bit touchy. But that’s part of the argument, too, that it shouldn’t be so damn touchy. They’re just ideas.

  39. John Kwok said (#31),
    –Referring to scientists and those who are scientifically literate as “Darwinists”–

    For someone who uses the disparaging term “intelligent design creationism,” you have some rotten nerve complaining about people using the somewhat neutral term “Darwininst.”

    –Insinuating that evolution is religious simply because you disagree with legal opinions —

    So disagreeing with legal opinions “insinuates” that evolution is religious? Anti-ID legal scholar Jay Wexler strongly disagreed with the Dover decision — he said that Judge Jones should not have ruled on the ID-as-science question. Does that mean Wexler was insinuating that evolution is religious?

    –Now it is news to me that you would detest the views of “fundies” on issues such as homophobia, school prayer, abstinence education, and stem cell research bans, since, more often than not, you most certainly sound like one.–

    That statement only shows your ignorance — a lot of Darwin doubters are not fundies.

    Coturnix Says:
    –Wow – Chris is really tolerant: this must be the only science blog in the Universe from which Larry Fafarman has not been banned for life!–

    “I’m always kicking their butts — that’s why they don’t like me.”
    — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

  40. @ Bill

    Well, no, Miller fits the definition of a theist pretty well. I think that may be one of the problems in that people have different ideas of definitions. I can’t paste a link with my iPhone (yet!) but theism runs a range of views.
    I think that misunderstanding comes from other sources, though. So I do agree that labels can get pretty silly (accommodationists?), but if someone adheres to a label correctly, it’s probably best to respect that.
    For instance, do you realize that saying Miller is a self-denying Deist is actually accusing him of denying his own faith? That’s a pretty serious – and insulting – thing to say.
    And then there’s the idea of something being illogical. While many claims about the supernatural fit that description, for other philosophical beliefs that is only your personal assertion.

  41. Jon

    Richard Dawkins, so bizarrely vilified by accomodationists, who is loud, articulate, and eminently thoughtful

    No, not especially.

  42. None of the “New Atheist” “leaders” (your Dawkinses, Harrises, Dennetts, Hitchenses, even Myerses, etc) ever actually say anything like what you propose.

    What Rob Knop said was : ” The problem is when the New Atheists claim not only that they want everybody to be atheists, but *also* that you *have* to be an atheist in order to be somebody who’s reason is worthy of respect, somebody who is capable of understanding science.”

    It’s pretty close to how the new atheism manifests itself all over the web and in books. Dawkins calls religion a delusion and signs a petition to make it a crime for people to teach children about religion (before chickening out after taking heat), Harris joins him in assigning vicarious blame to all religious believers even for things they disapprove of and oppose, Hitchens spews an even more putrid version of it adding his own ingredients. I’ll leave Dennett out for now.

    Coyne and PZ are big on attacking scientists, some with pretty significant careers who happen to also be religious. Coyne seems to be intent on implying there’s something pathological or hypocritical about them.

    On the blog threads of the left leaning blogs I visit, the new atheists are some of the most freely bigoted voices there are. Sexists perhaps rivaling them for sheer offensiveness and obnoxiousness. Whenever I’ve said something about it on general political blogs, people have agreed that they’re sick and tired of it.

    Dawkins hammers on this compartmentalization point more than the rest, I think, when he rails against religious moderates.

    He rails against religious moderates because they won’t fit into the tidy little cartoon that is so easy for the new atheists to ridicule and dismiss. From reading him for thirty years, Dawkins has never seen a complex of behaviors that he doesn’t want to simplify out of any semblance of reality in order to call it something and pack it away, tidy in some category. Liberal religious people won’t fit into his category so he tries to mash them into that box.

    He seems to be losing patience with liberal atheists for the same reason.

    I think the fundamentalist-liberal analysis of it is closer to reality than any alternative one I’ve seen. The most important thing to learn from the new atheist- regular atheist interaction is close to the same thing you find between fundamentalist and liberal religion.

    At the bottom, new atheists just don’t like that there are people who believe things they don’t, people who don’t do any harm to anyone and who aren’t any kind of a danger to the teaching of science in the public schools. They just don’t like people to think things they don’t like. In that they are exactly like religious fundamentalists. Liberals tend to have no problem with people thinking what the do, as long as their behavior doesn’t deprive other people of their rights. I think “liberal atheism” is probably a term that needs to be used for most of the atheists I’ve known.

  43. Stephen Friberg

    I don’t think its a new insight, but the fundamentalist trends that we see springing to life in the New Atheism movement closely mirror fundamentalism in religion.

    This suggests to me, and hopefully thoughtful atheists as well, that tendencies towards fundamentalism derive from human nature, not from religious belief (as “Ditchkins” would have it). If both atheists and theists (I really hate that word) both tend towards fundamentalism, then belief in God is not the driving factor.

    A wag might say “No, that’s wrong. Fundamentalist atheists are – as indeed are all fired-up atheists – obsessed with theology”. Our wag might have a point.

  44. NewEnglandBob

    Larry @ 40: “intelligent design creationism” is not a disparaging term at all. The courts have declared ID and creationism to be one and the same. Sorry you do not understand the mountain of evidence given in court that proves it.

    Lets us hear some evidence from you as a “Darwin doubter”. What does that mean anyway? That Darwin never existed? Which of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence do you doubt for evolution by natural selection? What evidence to do you propose to counter this mountain of evidence from so many areas of real science?

  45. Davo

    At the bottom, new atheists just don’t like that there are people who believe things they don’t

    I thought the new atheists (and most atheists) didn’t like that there are people who believe things without evidence.

  46. J.J.E.

    There is nothing so frustrating in intellectual debates of any sort as to see willful misrepresentation used to score rhetorical points. The most common case in point in this whole “New Atheist” debate is the woefully inadequate charge that any of the more prominent atheists exhibit anything even remotely akin to fundamentalism. Some fatuous blowhards even go so far as to imply (or even to say directly) that some prominent atheists are no different than leaders of fundamentalist sects in religion.

    Which is of course complete and utter bu115h!t. These charges are the willful conflation of vigorous debate with dogmatic positions. Please, point out the doctrines that Hitchens and Dawkins adhere to uncritically as being incontrovertibly true principles laid down by unimpeachable authority, and THEN there will exist the beginnings of a point.

    Another intolerable consequence of the logic proposed by those who charge that “New Atheists” are doctrinaire and dogmatic because they push their ideas so vociferously is the following: if one wants to avoid charges of being an atheist fundamentalist, one must always temper the passion of one’s convictions and adhere to only milquetoast, accommodating arguments, lest a more vigorous debate cause those with more delicate sensibilities to swoon in dismay.

    Again, this is complete tripe. No interlocutor in any other arena is handicapped by so many conventions of “polite discourse” as are those who would dare question the religious enterprise. You can question any number of topics vigorously and public in fields of medicine, science, philosophy, literature, policy, politics, art, theater, etc. ad nauseum. But not with regard to religion. I’ve had many more vigorous debates about the interpretation of experimental conclusions or the correctness of mathematical proofs than I’ve ever had about religion. In the former, I’ve never been accused of being dogmatic simply for disagreeing and refusing to back down before hearing evidence evidence. But when I question religious tenets and refuse to back down until I hear evidence, I am routinely called a dogmatic atheist.

    Quite frankly, religious apologists can’t simultaneously: 1) adhere to the rules of traditional debate (evidence, consistency, logic etc); and, 2) allow vigorous debate to extend to its logical conclusion.

    Creationists and typical religious fundamentalists routinely discard #1 while moderates will either avoid debate (thereby avoiding #2 altogether) or will attempt to attenuate the arguments of their detractors via counter-accusations of dogma and fundamentalism (effectively sidestepping #2).

    Why are kid gloves required accessories for critic of religion?

  47. John Kwok

    @ J. J. E. –

    In recent months I have heard either talks or comments (or both) from the likes of noted philosopher Philip Kitcher and historians of science Ed Larson and Janet Browne, who believfe that the harsh rhetoric uttered by Dawkins – and presumably his fellow “New Atheists” – have been unconstructive, and in fact, most likely, counterproductive. Indeed, this may be a major reason why there is still a sizeable minority of Britons who reject both Darwin’s ideas and the scientific fact of evolution.

    What a few of us – including yours truly – have observed is that, regrettably, the harsh rhetoric and online behavior of militant atheists – “New Atheists” and their acolytes – bears an uncomfortably close resemblance to what we have seen from IDiots and other creationists.

    This does not mean of course that I reject the important scientific contributions made by some of the more notable “New Atheists”. For example, early in his career, Richard Dawkins made some useful contributions to our understanding of group and kin selection. But he hasn’t been working as a scientist since the early 1990s, if not before. Another important figure in the “New Atheist” movement, Jerry Coyne, is one of our most important contemporary evolutionary biologists, recognized for his substantial contributions to our understanding of speciation. However, Dawkins and Coyne are the only major “New Atheist” leaders who have made notable careers for themselves in evolutionary biology (Objectively, in comparison to Dawkins and Coyne, for example, Myers is merely a fourth or fifh-rate scientist, and that, in fact, may still be a generous appraisal of his scientific ability. Privately, in e-mail correspondence, he did acknowledge to me that he’s not quite the excellent scientist that his colleague, evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll is.).

    Respectfully yours,

    John

  48. Revyloution

    Kwok says:
    “fourth or fifh-rate scientist”

    Where is the rating scale for scientists? I’ve never come across it. What is the total range of the scale? How are the ratings determined? Is it a measure of potential, or work performed? I would love to hear more of this rating system.

  49. J.J.E.

    @JK

    My main focus is why is there hand wringing and non-topical accusations in this debate? In particular, the accusation of “fundamental atheist” or “counterproductive efforts” are constantly lobbed, and those accusations make little substantive contribution to the issue of the debate: do accommodation stances come into conflict with science? I take it for granted that if the answer were “no”, atheists would concede and if the answer were “yes” the accomodationsists would concede. I make no allowance for tactical lying. For example, if the answer were “yes”, then it would be unacceptable for an accomodationist to reply by saying “But ignoring that inconvenient conclusion helps the cause, so let’s just pretend that isn’t the case.”

    But getting down to brass tack, I’d like to focus one issue in particular: should debate ever take into consideration exogenous factors if doing so degrades the honesty and/or quality of the debate?

    Some historical questions of some relevance to this, the answers to which I don’t completely know (especially 2 & 3) are the following:

    1) Was either side of the Mendelians or Biometricians held so such standards as atheists? (these were the warring sides preceding the modern synthesis);
    2) Was either side of the group selectionists vs. individual selectionists held to those standards?;
    3) What about neutralists vs. selectionists?

    In the first case, I’m fairly certain that there was vigorous (and even downright uncomfortably direct) debate with the individual participants vigorously defending their positions. In particular the acrimonious relationship between the arch Biometrician Pearson and the arch Mendelian Bateson is an endless source for quote mining for anyone who wants to paint evolution as a “theory in crisis”. The same could be said for points 2 and 3. And yet, allowing those debates to blossom in their fullness, thorns and all, led to some very productive advances.

    On the other hand, for the accomodationist vs. methodological naturalist debate, the issue is much more trivial. Do scientists take special efforts to make a safe space for watered-down supernatural thinking? And a portion of Miller’s work clearly involves supernatural thinking, as long as the supernatural bits are not clearly conflicting with science and as long as they fit comfortably into gaps of knowledge we haven’t or can’t easily fill. Sure, Miller’s quantum god of the gaps and inevitability of god-loving sentience arguments are so transparently outliers that they can be easily partitioned from his excellent argumentation on the natural aspects of biology, so maybe he’s doing no real harm.

    But the bare unassailable fact is that such perspectives are inconsistent with a falsifiable, testable, evidence-based, recursive, self-correcting methodology that seeks to explain phenomena of the natural world. If I could extract an unambiguous admission from Miller that those bits of his advocacy that invoke god are as relevant as analogous unfalsifiable supernatural claims from a Scientologist or a Pastafarian or a Mormon, then I’d have much less problems with him. Furthermore, if Miller were given the following alternatives:

    1) god is involved somewhere somehow (at the quantum level or in making sentience inevitable);
    2) refraining from invoking an explanation involving god.

    and he admitted that no scientific principle or methodology would justify choosing #1 over #2 and that at the very least, Occam’s razor would frown less upon choosing #2, then all of my disagreement with him would evaporate immediately. Ditto for NCSE and the NAS. When it comes to gods and fairies and airborne pasta beasts, it is simply not within the purview of science to acknowledge such agents until such time as they serve as a reasonable explanation for a repeatably and independently observable set of observations.

    I’m even willing to make a compromise. I would be willing to say something like: “Certain religious scientists, lawyers, judges, politicians, etc. reject unequivocally the ideas of creationism, as do nearly all those who are secular. Those religious people who set as a precondition for accepting evolution the allowance for faith would do well to examine the religious beliefs of people like Dr. Miller. Currently, science however gives no encouragement whatsoever to the idea that a superhuman intelligence of any form has explanatory power for any natural observations.”

    And of course, if there are only scientific obstacles to someone’s acceptance of evolution, I’d happily point them in the direction of Miller or Coyne or Dawkins.

    And one final thing. PZ Myers makes arguments. Some of them are good and some of them aren’t so good. I would encourage engaging with his arguments (which can definitely be effectively engaged) than judging his “authority ranking” based on the quality and quantity of original research he has produced. As a heuristic shortcut, using authority is a fine way to make snap judgments. But we’re immersed in a protracted debate, and the fact that PZ isn’t a productive professional science researcher is neither here nor there. His arguments would be no more convincing if he had 20 Natures and 20 Cells and $5M of NIH money. And his arguments are no less convincing in light of the fact that he’s effectively a science educator instead of a science researcher. If he were a lens grinder or patent clerk or a janitor, his arguments would still have the same force. Let’s not waste time figuring out if he is a 1st rate or 1,298th rate research scientist.

  50. Bill C. Says (#38) —
    –The issue is that they’re perfectly happy to uncritically accept the truth of the Gospels which, I’m sorry, is a pretty damn far stretch from reasonable.–

    Yes. Even the bible’s creation story makes more sense than the gospel. To be interpreted literally, both the creation story and the gospel require belief in the supernatural. However, whereas the creation story is straightforward, the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility. Also, the creation story is consistent with a belief in an all-powerful god but the god of the gospel is a weak, limited god who must struggle against Satan for control of the world. Hence, “cafeteria Christians” (i.e., Christians who pick and choose their Christian beliefs) should have a greater tendency to interpret the creation story literally than interpret the gospel literally.

    NewEnglandBob Says (#45),
    –Larry @ 40: “intelligent design creationism” is not a disparaging term at all. The courts have declared ID and creationism to be one and the same.–

    Only one judge, Judge John E. Jones III, declared ID and creationism to be one and the same, and he is a crackpot activist judge (proof provided on request).

    Some experts deny that ID and creationism are one and the same — see
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2009/06/judge-jackass-jones-contradicted-by.html

    –Lets us hear some evidence from you as a “Darwin doubter”. What does that mean anyway? That Darwin never existed?–

    Don’t act stupid, bozo — you know exactly what “Darwin doubter” means.

    –Which of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence do you doubt for evolution by natural selection? —

    Darwinists cherry-pick their evidence, ignoring evidence that contradicts the theory. And a lot of so-called evidence is not significant — the researchers are just paying lip service to evolution theory.

    –What evidence to do you propose to counter this mountain of evidence from so many areas of real science?–

    There’s coevolution. My ideas about coevolution are summarized in the following article:
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2009/01/summary-of-thoughts-about-co-evolution.html

    J.J.E. Says (#47) —
    –Why are kid gloves required accessories for critic of religion?–

    Religious beliefs have long been considered to be sacrosanct — this is not something new.

  51. I thought the new atheists (and most atheists) didn’t like that there are people who believe things without evidence.

    I’d guess some like to pretend that’s what their ideology consists of. People like to pretend all kinds of things about their faiths. Some people like to pretend that the King James translation of the Bible is the final edit made by a committee guided by God, himself.

    If that’s the case then new atheists would have to be devoid of self reflection, which seems to be a common trait of the fundamentalist mindset.

    Every single person who holds ideas holds some of them without evidence. Atheists who believe in memes, the Paleolithic tales of “behaviors’ that render an “adaptive advantage” as evolutionary psychology creates out of thin air, and a host of other beliefs are believed without any evidence.

    There is no evidence for the ethical correctness of the separation of church and state, the political equality of all people, the right to liberty or life or the pursuit of happiness, there is no evidence that men deserve to have the same level of legal rights as women, that my own folk, gay people shouldn’t be oppressed, there is no evidence that Plato’s awful form of fascism isn’t the optimal form of government. There is no evidence supporting the foundation of any moral position. Where’s the evidence that it would be a good thing for the human species to continue for another generation?

    Those things are all beliefs held on their foundational level without evidence. We all hold things as being the way we think they might be on the basis of our experience but unless you are going to conflate what we believe from our experience with evidence, those things can’t be held on the basis of evidence. And if you do make that assumption, my experience says that you have no right to deny religious believers the right to believe in the deity of their choice and other associated beliefs. You don’t even have the right to deny them the right to change those beliefs on the basis of further experience.

    Whether or not you would deserve the dislike of people you insult on the basis of their beliefs won’t matter because they won’t care, they’ll just do it without your approval. And they’ll consult those feelings when they vote.

  52. Where is the rating scale for scientists?

    I’d guess “fourth rate scientist” isn’t a rigorous measure. Are you sure that PZ hasn’t made a similar kind of rating of other scientists or other thinkers who are his opponents? He and Coyne seems to have an even cruder measure of value, atheist-scientist good, religious-scientist bad.

    Have you guys ever heard of reaping what you sow?

  53. At least Mooney understands that liberal Christians are fragile idiots who, if they get one whiff of criticism will toss up their hands and forsake good science. They must be coddled even if we need to sacrifice every ounce of intellectual honesty to do it, that is how Nevil Chamberlain prevented WWII.

  54. Tatarize, yeah, Francis Collins has just thrown in the towel, good sciencewise, hasn’t he.

    You have any solid evidence to back that up, by the way? Since the new atheists always must have solid evidence to believe in something?

    Don’t you think the Nevil Chamberlain line has become just too ridiculous to keep using?

  55. Anthony McCarthy Says (#55),
    –Don’t you think the Nevil Chamberlain line has become just too ridiculous to keep using?–

    I have used the Chamberlain analogy when I quote Winston Churchill to describe theistic evolutionists who try to appease the atheistic evolution establishment: “An appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last.”

  56. @ 50. J.J.E.
    “…for the accomodationist vs. methodological naturalist debate,…”

    No, there is no debate, here, about methodological naturalism. It’s the assertion (either direct or implied) that methodological naturalism is exactly the same as philosophical naturalism and the very unclear ramifications for that stance. Can religious scientists do science? Is “true” science only able to be done by philosophical naturalists?

    “…And a portion of Miller’s work clearly involves supernatural thinking, as long as the supernatural bits are not clearly conflicting with science and as long as they fit comfortably into gaps of knowledge we haven’t or can’t easily fill….”

    Your statement was rather imprecise, and that can lead to the kind of conflict we’re seeing.
    No, Miller has been clear that his scientific work does NOT involve the supernatural. For instance, the example he gave at the Dover trial of the Boston Red Sox winning the pennant – the belief that god wanted the Red Sox to win is not science and not proveable in any way. And yet, it can be believed.

    “But the bare unassailable fact is that such perspectives are inconsistent with a falsifiable, testable, evidence-based, recursive, self-correcting methodology that seeks to explain phenomena of the natural world.”

    I believe you misunderstand Miller’s position and philosophy, and therefore this statement doesn’t really apply to theists like Miller.
    HOWEVER, there is AMPLE opportunity and resources to go out and learn more about his position, but you won’t if your main sources are people like Coyne and Meyers.
    But let’s be clear, Miller is only “inconsistent” with a philosophical belief, not the methodology. If you don’t the difference, then perhaps you don’t realize how insulting you’re being.
    This, though, is the criticism from theists: Does one have to adopt philosophical naturalism in order to practice methodological naturalism? It seems that “new” atheists don’t distinguish the two, and so their answer seems to be yes.
    It also seems that “new” atheists are in conflict with testimony given at the Dover trial.

    “I’m even willing to make a compromise. I would be willing to say something like: ”
    Thanks for your permission. That certainly takes a load off of my mind.

    “And one final thing. PZ Myers makes arguments. Some of them are good and some of them aren’t so good. I would encourage engaging with his arguments (which can definitely be effectively engaged)”
    I agree with this point. You should know, however, that I’m no longer a reader of PZ’s blog and I’m not interested in his points anymore. Although I do miss the Friday squid.
    PZ lost me when he lumped theists like Miller in with all the worst elements of human behavior as justified by religion.
    Would it be appropriate to, in turn, say that atheism leads to facism, oppression, totalitarianism? Should we paint atheism with all the crimes of the USSR in the last century? China?
    So even though the position of the “new” atheists is not clear in the matter I stated above, I’m not interested in wading through unjustified scorn and blanket condemnations to learn exactly what their point is.

  57. John Kwok

    @ J. J. E.,

    Reluctantly last year, I had to conclude that PZ Myers should be viewed as the “William A. Dembski of Militant Atheism”, since PZ’s commentary and online behavior – as for example, exemplified by last summer’s infamous “Cracker Incident” – demonstrated to me that Myers’s thoughts and behavior were stylstically akin to Dembski’s. Myers has merely confirmed my harsh assessment of him with incidents like celebrating how a leading USA Roman Catholic organization has placed him high on its “Dirty Dozen” list of anti-Catholic bigots, and of course, booting me off his blog (Though that, IMHO, isn’t nearly as serious offense as the others I’ve cited.). In fairness to PZ Myers, his blog is useful when he discusses some interesting facet of cephalopod biology, or in general, evolutionary developmental biology, but increasingly, he seems more interestetd in using his blog as a “bully pulpit” for his anti-religious bigotry, attacks upon critics like Ken Miller, and his increasingly bizarre online behavior.

    Tim is absolutely correct in his assessment of Ken Miller (I’m strongly seconding it not merely because Ken is a friend of mine, but rather, because I know that for years, he has distinguished clearly between his religious thinking and science, unlike, for example, Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers Michael Behe, William Dembski and Jonathan Wells.). If you wish to understand where Ken is coming from, you should read his writings (or view online videos of his talks and debates). You shouildn’t rely on the comments of his critics like Jerry Coyne and especially, PZ Myers, who have inanely called Ken a “creationist”.

  58. Has there ever been a valid poll asking professional scientists if they hold with any brand of materialism, naturalism, or any other kind of add-on ism? Or how many of them ever, even once, think about it while they do their work?

    I’d guess a lot of them would be unfamiliar with the outlines of the ideologies or that there would be unanimous agreement about what those terms mean by the people who say they hold them. I’d guess most of them are held in check by worrying about review and the damage that bad work would bring on their careers. I’d guess a lot of them are more worried about the politics of their own field than they are with these superfluous philosophical distractions.

  59. I think liberal Christians are actually being underestimated here. They cannot be that thin-skinned. Does anyone honestly think most liberal Christians will walk away from advocating evolution because Jerry Coyne criticised the NCSE or Ken Miller or because they are put off by Richard Dawkins? Methinks not.

  60. Davo

    Of course there are some ideas which are not based on evidence. All that is asked is that one must question and seek evidence relentlessly and not accept things without skepticism. We all do that in our daily lives.

  61. John Kwok

    @ 31 –

    Well Larry, am glad you’re still trying to remind others of your own woeful ignorance and understanding with respect to coevolution and other pertinent aspects of evolutionary biology. Have you checked an ecology textbook and Matt Ridley’s “Red Queen” yet? Your ideas about coevolution at your blog are nonsense. If I’m going to read the thoughts of someone not trained in ecology, then I’ll read Carl Zimmer’s, since, unlike you, he has devoted a lot of time to educating himself by listening to and learning from professional ecologists and other biologists.

  62. gillt

    @57 T. Broderick, “This, though, is the criticism from theists: Does one have to adopt philosophical naturalism in order to practice methodological naturalism? It seems that “new” atheists don’t distinguish the two, and so their answer seems to be yes.”

    Is it really any surprise why Collins, an accomplished geneticist, relegates god’s handiwork to a field far removed from his area of expertise, at the level of quantum? Why is god always quarantined in the borderlands of science, always beyond the horizon?

    To quote Blake Stacey: “Science as a body of knowledge is a database of “is” statements. As a human endeavor, however, the scientific enterprise comes with its own “ought” baggage.”

  63. John Kwok

    @ J. J. E. –

    Both Coyne and Myers (and others, including Rosenhouse) are wrong to assert that NCSE, NAS or AAAS, have an official – or even – unofficial “accomodationist” stance with respect to religion. Lately I’ve spent some of my free time looking over relevant sections of NCSE’s website (http://www.ncseweb.org) and have found nothing remotely resembling their inane charges (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m neither an atheist or Christian, but a Deist, so I don’t think I am favorably disposed to either religious perspective – and yes, I would regard the way that militant atheists like Coyne, Dawkins and Myers have been yelling and screaming on behalf of atheism akin to similar broadsides I have heard from Xian zealots.).

    This is another reason why I found so risible and disingenuous, Coyne’s public rejection to participate in a World Science Festival panel session on Science Faith and Religion (An invitation made by the festival’s co-founders and directors, physicist Brian Greene and his wife, journalist Tracy Day.).

    Respectfully yours,

    John

  64. @ 63 gillt
    Because science is the study of the natural world, using natural means and limited to natural explanations. God is a supernatural being – a logical possibility but not a scientific one. Some have postulated that such a being could affect the natural world, but the examples they cite are specifically designed to show that those affects are indistinguishable from the affects that could occur naturally – and thus making the point that such speculations address deeper questions of philosophical purpose without compromising methodological naturalism.

  65. John Kwok

    In reply to some comments Anthony posted elsewhere online, I wrote this, and I think it should be repeated, in light of some recent comments here by others:

    “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.”

  66. gillt

    I think “perceived world” is a more practical, grounded term. It also addresses the false supernatural/natural dualism favored by theists who claim that there must be something more to the natural, perceived world simply because there is a word for it.

    The last half of what you I can’t make any sense of: because miracles are so much white noise means they address something deeper than their apparent irrelevancy?

  67. Is it really any surprise why Collins, an accomplished geneticist, relegates god’s handiwork to a field far removed from his area of expertise, at the level of quantum? Why is god always quarantined in the borderlands of science, always beyond the horizon?

    Maybe it was so people wouldn’t confuse what he was saying about religion with what he was qualified to say as a scientist in his specialty. Or maybe because he could be certain of how people like Myers and Coyne would use anything he did say about his area of expertise.

    There are often political reasons that people use the arguments they do. I wonder if Coyne would introduce atheism into the next paper he submits to a reviewed journal.

  68. John Kwok

    @ Anthony –

    Jerry Coyne will defend atheism only at his blog, or in an essay published, for example, in the New Republic. Like Ken Miller, he does recognize that injecting religious views – and yes, I would include militant atheism as such, ironically speaking – into potentially publishable science is unacceptable, since both do practice methodological naturalism – the scientific method – in their work. Its their creationist opponents, especially those at the Dishonesty Institute like, for example, Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Jonathan Wells, who can’t see the difference.

  69. gillt

    So you pin Collins as an intellectual coward, keeping his god-talk to fields he’s largely ignorant about. Shouldn’t Collins also be worried when quantum physicists read what he said about their field? Or do only the opinions of his immediate colleagues matter?

    Also, running a site like BioLogos should remove any confusion over what Collins the scientist/theist believes.

  70. Bill C.

    @52 – Anthony McCarthy:

    That was a bit…disturbing, frankly.

    The conclusions of sociology and evolutionary psychology are dubious in many instances, but a.) those who engage in the practices always admit as much, regardless how vigorously they argue their points (there’s no cognitive dissonance to be had there in the context of science), b.) those conclusions are free to be argued against (so long as you can stand vigorous debate), and c.) sociology and evolutionary psychology are FAR from dogma to any atheist – the validity of certain conclusions are bantered about all the time by the godless.

    And certainly, the concepts of “right” and “wrong” have no evidentiary standard. They’re a byproduct of consciousness. They’re invented ideas.

    That’s where logic comes in. Physical evidence and reasoned logic, to choose the phrase du jour of critical thinkers’ deference. There’s no evidentiary standard for ANY man-made mental enterprise – law, politics, art, and yes, religion (well, beyond the scope of “Does/did ‘x’ exist in the physical universe?’). Lacking the ability to defer to evidence, the responsible mind then defers to logic and reason – arguments consistent within themselves and with known facts about the world, primarily the chain of cause and effect. Considered with all relevant supporting and non-supporting evidence, with attention paid to the possibility of unintended effects and uncontrollable causes, within the context of current knowledge. What is really the alternative? Deferring to the whims of a being you have no way of knowing even exists? Deferring to the words of 2,000 year old medicine men? There aren’t really a lot of options here.

    Using logical reasoning, we actually CAN explain how secularity, political and sexual equality, fair trials, freedom of expression, etc. are a boon to the human condition. We can explain why we reject Plato in certain regards, despite his great and proven intellect. We can even explain why you or anyone else has not the right to judge if humanity should sire a next generation (mostly, because it’s a question without an objective answer, and your subjective assessment therefore means no more than anyone else’s).

    Is the argument here that atheists who would argue against religious beliefs are somehow fundamentalist logicians when they’re not fundamentalist evidenctiarians?

    And if that is the charge, then speaking for myself, guilty as charged, sir. I find it hard to fathom (and I do try) how anyone familiar with the tenets of logical reasoning can find the very concept of a sectarian god (Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, Thor, whatever…any deity personified with wants, desires, and intentions) can be anything but an egregious affront to human intelligence. On the concept of a creator’s existence, fine, perhaps it’s ultimately unknowable and you can’t begrudge that faith. Anything beyond that is just an ever-compounding stack of baseless assumptions, which produce ever more intellectually and behaviorally constrictive mores. That’s what frustrates us militant, fundamentalist new athetists. The establishment and enforcement of social standards for NO GOOD REASON.

  71. John Kwok said (#62),
    –Well Larry, am glad you’re still trying to remind others of your own woeful ignorance and understanding with respect to coevolution and other pertinent aspects of evolutionary biology. —

    No, I am not “trying” to remind others of my views on coevolution. Someone asked me if I knew of some arguments against evolution, so I referred him to my blog’s articles about coevolution. It was not my intention to do what you are trying to do, which is trying to hijack this thread to get into an off-topic argument about coevolution.

    –Have you checked an ecology textbook and Matt Ridley’s “Red Queen” yet?–

    I already said, bozo, that the “Red Queen” book has nothing to do with my ideas about coevolution — the book is about the effect of sexual reproduction on the evolution of parasitism. I should not have had to say that more than once.

    –Your ideas about coevolution at your blog are nonsense–

    You are nonsense. The only responses I have been getting to my arguments about coevolution are embarrassed silence, scoffing, impromptu just-so stories, bibliography bluffing (just pointing vaguely to the literature), and censorship.

    –then I’ll read Carl Zimmer’s–

    Carl Zimmer is an idiot — he is an expert on parasitism but he does not question evolution theory despite being aware that the coevolution of extremely specific and complex parasitisms is a big problem for evolution theory.

    Despite all your efforts to “educate” the public about Darwinism, you Darwinists are losing — and will continue to lose — where it counts, and that is in the arena of public opinion. The public is just not buying your crap anymore. “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

  72. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    The “Red Queen” is an important aspect of coevolution. If it isn’t then why do you think the NOVA PBS “Evolution” miniseries had an episode devoted to it? Only someone like yourself who chooses to be woefully ignorant of science, and especially, evolutionary biology, would insist on such an inane assertion. Read Matt Ridley’s work, or even Geerat Vermeij’s (though Vermeij doesn’t mention the “Red Queen”, it is implicit in much of his long-term interest in documenting coevolutionary arms races from the marine fossil record).

    Zimmer isn’t an “idiot”, but since you are so insistent, then let me remind you: “It takes one to know one”. If anyone is a certifiable idiot, then it’s unquestionably you, as countless others have demonstrated elsewhere online.

    The “area of public opinion” isn’t where the ultimate success or failure of modern evolutionary theory will be judged. Chemists don’t ask the public whether the periodic table of the elements is true. Nor do such leading string theorists like physicists Brian Greene or Leonard Susskind, rely upon public opinion in determining whether their mathematical equations and models have any scientific validity. Nor do eminent evolutionary biologists like, for example, Francisco j. Ayala, Jerry Coyne, Douglas Futuyma, Richard Lewontin, or Sean B. Carroll, among others, rely upon the public to settle disputes in our understanding of speciation, evolutionary developmental biology and the dichotomy – if one really does exist – between microevolution and macroevolution. In each and every case, “judgements” are rendered by the process of scientific peer review, not via taking public opinion polls.

  73. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    I made this observation about you years ago, and I will repeat it again. You are most definitely enjoying your membership as yet another intellectually-challenged member of the Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg Collective.

    Live Long and Prosper (as a DI IDiot Borg drone),

    John Kwok

  74. The conclusions of sociology and evolutionary psychology are dubious in many instances, but a.) those who engage in the practices always admit as much, regardless how vigorously they argue their points (there’s no cognitive dissonance to be had there in the context of science)

    Ideally perhaps, in real life, only at times. Being a professional musician, I really, really hate that term “cognitive dissonance” by the way. But there’s not much to be done about that now.

    b.) those conclusions are free to be argued against (so long as you can stand vigorous debate)

    That would be as opposed to what? religion? You don’t think there is argument between and even within religion? If that’s your point, you’ve got not the first clue about religion.

    c.) sociology and evolutionary psychology are FAR from dogma to any atheist – the validity of certain conclusions are bantered about all the time by the godless.

    First, what is and isn’t a dogma in evolutionary psychology is pretty hard to say. A lot of the Just So Stories and even the “adaptations” themselves are far from established in solid evidence or even in its extension. Critics of ep have sometimes raised questions as to whether or not the “behaviors” they deal with actually exist as distinct entities or if they aren’t self-serving creations themselves. As an example appropriate to this thread, the “god gene” idea. A useful little idea if you want to find an “origin” for a huge number of behaviors and assertions which are anything but unanimous or even conceivable as a coherent “behavior”. The widespread belief in the new atheists in Dawkins’ and Dennett’s silly idea couldn’t be believed in as anything except as dogma.

    The current dispute features the discussion of several ideologies ending in -ism, all including dogmatic statements among their foundational beliefs.

    And certainly, the concepts of “right” and “wrong” have no evidentiary standard. They’re a byproduct of consciousness. They’re invented ideas.

    Oh, you’ve solved the genesis of morals question. How did you do it? Present your objective evidence that they are the “byproduct of consciousness. they’re invented ideas”. Because I’m sure there are many people who would like to have that one solved.

    Deferring to the whims of a being you have no way of knowing even exists? Deferring to the words of 2,000 year old medicine men? There aren’t really a lot of options here.

    Well, I did make an enemy of Coyne when I pointed out a problem with his citation of Plato as having solved the genesis of morals question the first day I went to his blog. As to your cartoon image of religion, there are some people who do what you say, but they are hardly the majority. How many Christians have sold all they have and given the money to the poor? …. “There aren’t really a lot of options here,”? You think religious people are programmed robots or something? Maybe that’s the new atheist problem, they don’t look at the evidence that’s everywhere to be seen in favor of their dogmatic preconception of what is supposed to be there so they can dismiss that untidy reality. Sort of like evo-psy does on a regular basis.

    Is the argument here that atheists who would argue against religious beliefs are somehow fundamentalist logicians when they’re not fundamentalist evidenctiarians?

    No, that would be you trying to characterize what I said as an expression of stereotypical bigotry. If there’s one thing I have never said about the new atheist fad, it’s that it’s not based in logic or evidence. And if there’s one thing I’ve said from the beginning, it’s that the new atheists are not the only atheists there are. I doubt they’re a majority of atheists.

    I’ve got to eat lunch before going back to work. The rest of your ‘refutation’ doesn’t seem to be much of anything.

  75. 67.   gillt

    “I think “perceived world” is a more practical, grounded term. It also addresses the false supernatural/natural dualism favored by theists who claim that there must be something more to the natural, perceived world simply because there is a word for it.”

    No, I will continue to defer to the expert witness in scientific philosophy and his testimony in the Dover trial
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day3am.html

    Your assertion that your personal philosophy is more true than anyone else’s is baseless.

    “The last half of what you I can’t make any sense of …”
    I agree that you can’t make sense of it. The idea is that it’s consistent with this logic: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” AND with methodological naturalism.

    You could start here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_absence
    and here:
    https://www.msu.edu/~pennock5/research/DISE_PennockVsIDC.html
    and here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

    I don’t know how accurate the quotes are from this section
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Carl_Sagan#Not_Unsourced_-_.22Absence_of_evidence_is_not_evidence_of_absence.22
    “…This is from “The Varieties of Scientific Experience”, published by Penguin, page 251…
    “Questioner: As a scientist, would you deny the possibility of water having been changed into wine in the Bible?
    CS: Deny the possibility? Certainly not. I would not deny any such possibility. But I would, of course, not spend a moment on it unless there was some evidence for it.”

    Ooh! This is cool:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/defining.html

    @ 71.   Bill C.
    “On the concept of a creator’s existence, fine, perhaps it’s ultimately unknowable and you can’t begrudge that faith.”

    See, in my mind, this statement makes you a reasonable person.

  76. Bill C.

    Hopefully I’m going to guess right as to the proper coding for italics

    That would be as opposed to what? religion? You don’t think there is argument between and even within religion? If that’s your point, you’ve got not the first clue about religion.

    Absolutely not. I was just pointing out that there’s no absolute truth in evolutionary psychology, most likely even for the people who posit the truths to begin with. Perhaps you’ve experienced otherwise in reality, but the more you dismiss the likes of Dawkins and Dennett, the more I feel you’re conflating commitment and tone in debate with dogmatic intellectual adherence.

    First, what is and isn’t a dogma in evolutionary psychology is pretty hard to say.

    What is your definition of dogma? Also, the point I was making was that there need not necessarily be a correlation between atheism and an acceptance of any part of E.P. Unless you’re defining “New Atheists” as only those who accept E.P.? I certainly don’t buy that there is a “God gene”, but I confess I haven’t read enough on the topic to comment accurately.

    The current dispute features the discussion of several ideologies ending in -ism, all including dogmatic statements among their foundational beliefs.

    The only dogmatic foundational statements I’ve ever seen attributed to “New Atheists” are those attributed by others. Personally, I’ve only ever observed the “New Atheists” to be distinguished by their lack of respect for the taboos of religious debate. I’m curious what dogma “New Atheists” might follow that other (better?) atheists do not.

    Oh, you’ve solved the genesis of morals question. How did you do it? Present your objective evidence that they are the “byproduct of consciousness. they’re invented ideas”. Because I’m sure there are many people who would like to have that one solved.

    I think those “many people” are then getting far too wrapped up in their own mental gymnastics, which is really what many atheists (the New Atheists?) think of religion in general. I supposed I take that position because it’s a default position. There’s no evidence that they would be anything other than rules we adopt to regulate our interactions with each other. Perhaps that’s too utilitarian a definition, but I’ve never seen what all the fuss is about with morality. I don’t understand where the idea that they’ve been granted unto us would even come from without first starting with a whole host of other baseless premises, as I touched on in what you dismissed as not “much of anything.”

    You think religious people are programmed robots or something?

    Hardly. I come from a moderate Catholic family. Nothing really distinguishes them from me in most respects. The point was even they are of limited recourse when confronted with moral, ethical, legal, artistic or religious questions: they either work through them logically, or they do not. They either start from premises and assumptions and build from there, or they do not. I’m sorry if my “cartoon” offends you.

    If there’s one thing I have never said about the new atheist fad, it’s that it’s not based in logic or evidence.

    Well sure, but that’s what I’m saying. If the accusation is that “New Atheists” are fundamentalists for logic, or fundamentalists for evidence, in the same way Evangelicals are fundamentalists for their version of the Christian God, then guilty as charged. The things we reject or refuse to listen to or talk about are done so, in our case, based on evidence and/or logic, as opposed to Scripture and tradition. But why is that bad?

  77. John Kwok said (#73),
    –The “Red Queen” is an important aspect of coevolution. If it isn’t then why do you think the NOVA PBS “Evolution” miniseries had an episode devoted to it? —

    That’s got nothing to do with it. I looked at the websites for “The Red Queen” and found that the book has nothing to do with the coevolution issues I raised. The book is about the effect of sexual reproduction on the coevolution of parasitism, something I did not address. Sheeeesh. How many times do I have to go over this? You are just a lousy troll.

    –The “area of public opinion” isn’t where the ultimate success or failure of modern evolutionary theory will be judged. —

    Public opinion will ultimately decide how evolution will be taught in schools. Already, the Texas state science standards have added critical analysis of evolution theory to the curriculum. The establishment clause and crackpot activist judges like Judge Jones can only go so far in keeping criticisms of evolution theory out of public schools.

  78. Stephen Friberg

    J.J.E. makes some good points with admirable passion.

    I understand his argument to be that Dawkins, Coyne, Harris and their followers shouldn’t be thought fundamentalist because their arguments and critiques are rational and critical like those widely used in a wealth of other “conversations.”

    As a working physicist and a Baha’i who understands and accepts religion – my concern is not so much with the valid criticisms that are made, but rather with the lack of logic and rationality in the analysis of religion that is employed.

    It is, then, the illogic and emotionalism that bothers me. History tells us that this easily boils over into pogroms and persecutions. This happens irrespective of whether the ideological source is religion, race, tribalism, politics, or a belief in the white man’s burden.

    It is in this sense – that fundamental assumptions are made and held to passionately by some of the new atheists – that new atheism strikes me as the same as fundamentalism. If examining those fundamental assumptions are deemed off-limits – and it seems to me that they often are – then reasoned discussion can’t take place. This is much the point that people made after Beyond Belief in San Diego.

    Some of the fundamental assumptions I see are that (a) reality can only be understood scientifically, (b) religion is intrinsically illogical, and (c) that there are not different levels of understanding between different religious believers. There are others as well.

  79. gillt

    [McCarthy responding to an interpretation of his characterization of new atheists.]

    McCarthy: “No, that would be you trying to characterize what I said as an expression of stereotypical bigotry. If there’s one thing I have never said about the new atheist fad, it’s that it’s not based in logic or evidence.”

    McCarthy: “But, as all bigots do, the new atheists try to make all members of a group they hate guilty of the worst things a tiny number of them does. This has been done just about any time that bigotry takes hold and feels free to express it’s pathological thinking.”

    McCarthy: “Having argued against their blather for several years, the incident that made me focus now was the blog reaction to the murder of Dr. Tiller several weeks ago. That night, all over the blogs I frequented, his murder was used as a pretext for the new atheists on the comment threads, to repeat the putrid slogans of their prejudice as they tried to vie for the one who could tell the most bigoted and disgusting lie against “faith heads”.”

    McCarthy: “I’m not talking about grown ups who are also atheists or agnostics. This is about a subset of atheists who are bigoted, obnoxious, jerks.”

    McCarthy: “Would PZ Myers have a reputation if it wasn’t as the foremost anti-religious bigot on the blogs?”

  80. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    You claim that you have nothing in common with the likes of DI mendacious intellectual pornographers Mike Behe, Bill Dembski, David Klinghoffer, Casey Luskin, Paul Nelson, or Jonathan Wells, and yet this inane observation of yours is one that I’ve read, all too often, from them or their leading acolytes like Denyse O’Leary and Sal Cordova:

    “Public opinion will ultimately decide how evolution will be taught in schools. Already, the Texas state science standards have added critical analysis of evolution theory to the curriculum. The establishment clause and crackpot activist judges like Judge Jones can only go so far in keeping criticisms of evolution theory out of public schools.”

    Sorry Larry, but only creationists say what you’ve said, and of course, that means you are a creationist too.

    This “lousy troll” studied paleobiology and evolutionary ecology, among other aspects of evolutionary biology, in graduate school. Wow, I didn’t know that made me a “lousy troll”.
    A “lousy troll” who definitely knows a lot more evolutionary biology than you will ever master, judging from your consistently inane remarks posted here, and elsewhere, online.

  81. John Kwok

    @ gilt –

    I don’t always agree with Andrew McCarthy, but he has made impressive points, especially with regards to the bigotry emanating from prominent “New Atheist” militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, and especially, PZ Myers (As for Jerry Coyne, I think I have stated beforehand, that I disagree with Andrew’s assessment of him as an anti-religious bigot. He’s certainly quite opinionated, and, at times, very hostile towards religion, but he hasn’t written as much negative propaganda as have either Dawkins or Myers, for example.).

  82. gillt

    I’m simply suggesting how much easier it is for everyone to let McCarthy discredit himself.

  83. John Kwok

    @ gilt –

    Anthony isn’t quite in the same league, as for example, Larry Fafarman, and I think everyone would agree that Larry has an acute case of being intellectually-challenged; an affliction that I’ve been well aware of for years, having encountered Larry elsewhere online.
    Anthony tends to be a bit verbose (which I admit is a predilection of mine too), but when I strongly agree with him, I can’t find any reason to fault him.

  84. John Kwok

    @ gilt –

    Am sure Anthony would agree with my harsh, but accurate, appraisal of PZ Myers as the “William A. Dembski of militant atheism”; an appraisal I wish I didn’t have to make, but sadly, was all too predictable after I heard of – and saw online as it was unfolding – the infamous “Cracker Incident” from last summer.

  85. Bill C.

    gillt – Fair enough. I was beginning to get that impression, but I’m honestly rather new around here.

    John Kwok – The “Cracker Incident” was fabulous, not for the fact that it so offended the committed Catholics, but rather for the fact that it quite loudly introduced many less indoctrinated teens and college students to the notion that hey, maybe, just maybe, it really is just a goddamned cracker. Showing people that they can question, reject and even disparage without fear is never wrong.

  86. gillt

    I can’t remember who first said, a believer has to shoot at someone to be called militant; an atheist need only write a book.

    You agree with that Kwok?

  87. The “Cracker Incident” was fabulous, not for the fact that it so offended the committed Catholics, but rather for the fact that it quite loudly introduced many less indoctrinated teens and college students to the notion that hey, maybe, just maybe, it really is just a goddamned cracker.

    And that, gee, you can insult a lot of good people, who have done nothing to you, by giving them the finger, or the religious equivalent, by sticking a nail through a cracker.

    Why be civil and decent, when you can be a jerk?

    Glen Davidson
    http://electricconsciousness.tripod.com

  88. Absolutely not. I was just pointing out that there’s no absolute truth in evolutionary psychology, most likely even for the people who posit the truths to begin with.

    Bill C. I wasn’t talking about absolute truth, I was talking about any evidence that what evy-psy is founded in even exists.

    I don’t know if it would work but if you go on to just about any new atheist blog and diss memes or evo-psy you’ll find out that it might as well be absolute truth for a lot of them.

    I’ll get back to this when I’m not so busy.

    Gee, gillt, when you’re quoting from my blog the least you can do is provide a link.

    http://anthonymic.blogspot.com/

    You should see what I’m working on.

  89. John Kwok

    @ Bill C. –

    Glen makes an excellent point. PZ could have complained still – and there he would have made a valid point if he was reasonable – without coming across as a jerk. Even – and I recall this from a private e-mail reply I had received from him – Jerry Coyne thought that was a bit over the top for PZ.

  90. John Kwok

    @ gilt –

    Depends on the atheist. If it someone who comes across rationally, like, for example, Lawrence Krauss or Genie Scott, then I have no objections. On the other hand, if it’s either Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins (at his worst), then I might concur with your absurd analogy.

  91. John Kwok

    @ gilt –

    It also depends too on the subject matter. If Jerry Coyne decided to write “one long argument” expanding upon his “accomodationist” criticism, then I strongly suspect that I wouldn’t view it with as much admiration as I have, for example, with his superb “Why Evolution is True”.

  92. I said that I would no longer feed that troll John Crock and I will stick to that. Don’t pay attention to anything he says, folks, he is so full of living crap that it is coming out his ears.

  93. Bill C.

    @ 88 – Glen:

    Meh. I thought it was good, clean entertainment, from a strictly personal point of view, of course. Probably because I can’t think of anything I personally hold sacred enough to be offended were it placed in similar circumstances. Someone could drive a nail into the skull of an effigy of my mother screaming “She’s just a goddamned whore,” and I’d more likely react with bewilderment than outrage. Which was obviously the other implicit message: Don’t take yourselves or your (…parents’…) traditions so seriously.

    And besides, P.Z. was the one who did it and has to deal with the consequences, not me. But maybe I’m just not sensitive enough to the fact that the vast majority of people are keen to partition “atheists” as some like-minded sect. Which, if these discussions are any indication, is an attitude that has lamentably bled over to atheists alike. Maybe it’s an issue of the political expediency of a united front with a united message, as Anthony McCarthy suggests? Again, I say “meh”.

    And, honestly, I think the potential impact P.Z.’s actions had on formative Catholics – the aforementioned twenty-somethings and below, and other quiet doubters – vastly outweighs the negativity he himself cultivated from the Catholic establishment. What’s your position on Sanal Edamaruku laughing in the face of a Tantrik medicine man for a full two hours live on Indian national television? Not surprisingly, I find it absolutely brilliant. That’s the kind of action that shakes people out of apathy and acceptance. Though I admit, Edamaruku straddled a more moderate line somewhere between P.Z.’s mocking and Mythbusters’ debunking.

    But again, just a personal point of view.

  94. From what I read it wasn’t only Catholics who were offended by PZ’s publicity stunt. A lot of people were offended. The enthusiasm for it was evidence that PZ’s fan base is a phenomenon of over extended adolescence.

    I wasn’t, by the way, suggesting a united front, it was that people who are grown up enough to value practical politics over losing “idealism” should avoid the new atheists like anyone else who would lose it all over something like PZ’s grab for the lime light. There is nothing more idealistic than gaining power and changing things for the better.

    I’ve seen enough of those kinds of “idealists” to know they aren’t to be trusted.

    As gillt seems to be clipping my comments for future reference, it’s a pretty good question, if I do say so, “Would PZ Myers have a reputation if it wasn’t known as the foremost anti-religious bigot on the blogs?”

    Maybe in Morris. Elsewhere he would probably be known in the way a high school biology teacher I asked last year about the practical difficulties he faced due to creationism, “Who’s PZ Myers”?

  95. Dave

    These comments by Austin Cline are exactly what you *should* expect, Chris. What bothers me Chris, is how long it took some of you to have the courage to step forward to voice criticism with what was happening right under our noses. There is simply no excuses, the soft soap approach that Shermer, Kurtz and many others have taken has been lame their criticisms of other “atheist”, many reaserchers were left hanging by the so-called “freethought” community all in the name of “speaking out” against religion. Voices who for decades have dedicated themselves to skeptical inquiry let their gaurd down for fear of creating a circular firing squad. There’s no way around this now, I’ve been sending up red flags for years, to little notice because of all those wanting to be heard criticizing religion. It has become horendously ugly, there is little to no serious self criticism or skepticism within the “movement” (just lip service while demeaning anyone seen as going to far).

  96. John Kwok

    @ Anthony,

    Count me as among those who were greatly offended by PZ’s ridiculous, quite juvenile, behavior last year, and I don’t regard myself as very religious. I thought that any legitimate complaint PZ had had with regards to being booted from a private screening of “Expelled” by the film’s producers, Premise Media, at the Mall of America a year ago were instantly nullified by his stupid, quite bizarre, stunt.

    I have no objections at all if militant atheists wish to explain why they believe religions are silly and ultimately, even dangerous. However, if they contend that they are rational people, then they ought to act rationally, and not comport themselves as if they were themselves, Xian fanatics.

    Myers has criticized me for trying to seek the “limelight” and for “name dropping”. I submit respectfully that he has done a much better job with both, since, if you give him an opportunity, he’ll remind you that he’s the best American pal of Richard Dawkins. And he is someone who takes ample pleasure in being named to a “Dirty Dozen” list of religious bigots by a prominent USA Catholic organization, which, incidentally, he did at his blog this past January.

    Anyway, thanks for your most recent post, which I strongly second.

    Appreciatively yours,

    John

  97. Erasmussimo

    I just completed a two-day exchange with Mr. Cline, extending over at least 40 posts, in which I engaged him on his essay. It turned out that he had nothing of substance to say; the entirety of his side of the exchange consisted of evasions, manifold attacks on trivial points of wording, and a refusal to discuss the matter in good faith. In short, he engaged in debate, not discussion. He’s certainly a clever debater, but I don’t think he has anything of substance to say on these matters. Certainly Mr. Mooney can take some small pride in having enemies such as this.

  98. Austin Cline turned a post I wrote into an attack on atheists even though no mention of the word, any variation or synonym of the word or any mention of God appeared in what I wrote. He wouldn’t retract when I pointed that out or when I pointed out that I’d made the same point in the comment thread he’d quoted from. The guy is not credible.

  99. @ Erasmussimo
    It is a rather futile debate. Quite a bit of personal assertions on both sides. I’ve posted a number of links, pointed to positions held by recognized authorities and waited for reasoned arguments in return.
    Nothing. Personal assertions and meaningless ridicule. Beliefs.
    Even vaunted claims of logic and reason undermine their own tactics. I don’t necessarily disagree that areas such as law and values can be understood sans religion. But it can certainly be argued that most of the figures who shaped what we think today were motivated or influenced by religion.
    So if you remove the patina of religion from what can arguably thought of as the best of humanity, intellecual honesty says you also need to do so with worst. Bin Laden and the theocrats in Iran are no different in their efforts to exercise power and control over people than the totalitarians of godless USSR. The crusades were about greed.
    But some are are only too happy to hide behind a veil of logic on the one hand yet take up an intellectually dishonest broad brush on the other. I don’t approve of such methods when employed by the other side, why should put up with it when done by some atheists?
    One doesn’t need to resort to religious language to describe this – doctrinaire works fine.

  100. One doesn’t need to resort to religious language to describe this – doctrinaire works fine.

    The common threads would seem to be selfishness and demanding that things be as they insist on them being. Those aren’t dependent on ideology. Organized religion, no less than a government or any other formal structure that allows the exercise of power, is liable to be used by people who do that.

  101. Oh, and, Tim Broderick, since you strike me as a very reasonable person, I’m using the “broad brush” with the new atheists because that’s the standard they use against their opponents. I’ve said that, since they reserve that right for themselves and clearly use it freely, it’s unwise in opposing them to allow them a more nuanced level of consideration.

    The new atheists rig the rules to favor them, just like the corporate media does for the Republicans and as religious fundamentalists do for themselves. If the rules are rigged by them, there isn’t anything unethical about applying their own standard to them.

    I try to always say “new atheists” when talking about them and “atheists” when I’m talking about other atheists who don’t do that. Any lapse is unintentional, though it’s fair to point it out.

  102. John Kwok

    @ Tim and Anthony –

    Moreover, if you express your dissent too often, and they’re the ones controlling the venue, you run of the risk of having them telling you to “shut up”. BTW this is what Jason Rosenhouse has asked of me at his latest blog entry.

  103. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/21/science/21belief.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5090&en=1248e2f606e1e138&ex=1321765200

    “Dr. Tyson put it more gently. “Persuasion isn’t always ‘Here are the facts — you’re an idiot or you are not,’ ” he said. “I worry that your methods” — he turned toward Dr. Dawkins — “how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence.”

    Chastened for a millisecond, Dr. Dawkins replied, “I gratefully accept the rebuke.” “

  104. Davo

    I don’t think Dawkins uses the broad brush with all theists in his interviews; in his book it appears that he does because he is deliberately provocative in some instances. Have you seen The Root of All Evil? He is sincere and respectful about the views of several theists, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Do take a look at it if you haven’t.

  105. Sorbet

    We are missing an important point here; society needs its PZ Myerss, Ken Millers, Jerry Coynes, Richard Dawkinss, and to some extent even Pat Buchanans. It is only a little bit of otherwise tasteless or bitter ingredients that combine to form that interesting and great pudding called humanity. May the diversity roll, friends!

  106. Bill C.

    @102 – Anthony:

    “I try to always say “new atheists” when talking about them and “atheists” when I’m talking about other atheists who don’t do that. Any lapse is unintentional, though it’s fair to point it out.”

    I’m failing to see the distinction. Atheists who attack religion are new atheists, atheists who are comfortable co-existing with the religious are not?

    Tim Broderick made the argument that atheists are intellectually dishonest if they discount religious motivations for positive social forces and blame religious motivations for negative ones. Which is all well and good, we would all do well to remember that people are just people, each individual and unique, some wired for productivity, others wired for destruction. That still doesn’t invalidate “New Atheists'” criticisms of religion. And it doesn’t refute the fact that one can – easily, I’d argue – arrive at positive conclusions concerning human rights, freedom, rule of law, et al without a spiritual intermediary.

    All these denouncements from well-meaning non-new atheists seem bred from one of two core beliefs. Either a.) religion is actually good for some people and thus good to have around, Daniel Dennett’s “belief in belief”, or b.) we’ll never actually erase religion or its influence from culture, so just stop trying. And both coupled with the opinion that civility is the most important component of any argument.

    On that last point, I’m as much a fan as Carl Sagan as I am of Richard Dawkins – hell, probably moreso a fan of Sagan. But it was Dawkins’ irreverent smackdowns of religious thought – in both his books and lectures – that finally convinced me to shake my Catholic upbringing. The reverence for Sagan only came when the barriers in my mind had been torn down. So perhaps my judgment is clouded, but I know firsthand the power of huge balls and a lack of respect for your opponent.

  107. Davo

    Why is religion accorded a measure of respect that other competing social and political ideologies (communism, laissez fair capitalism, democratic peace theory) are not? I found much to disagree with in Prof. Dawkins’s book but I wholeheartedly agreed that we have been treating religion with kid-gloves compared to our meticulous criticism of other political and social matters. This should change. There is no need to be more respectful only toward religion because it is “personal”. So are many political beliefs.

  108. @ Bill C (and Davo)

    “Tim Broderick made the argument that atheists are intellectually dishonest if they discount religious motivations for positive social forces and blame religious motivations for negative ones. Which is all well and good, we would all do well to remember that people are just people, each individual and unique, some wired for productivity, others wired for destruction. ”

    Yes, a good summation.

    “That still doesn’t invalidate “New Atheists’” criticisms of religion. ”

    But it does take some atheists to task for using general criticism about religion against specific people. A liberal theistic scientist is no more responsible for a fundamentalist allowing their child to die by praying instead of seeking medical help than were atheists responsible for East German guards shooting people trying to escape over the Berlin wall.

    “So perhaps my judgment is clouded, but I know firsthand the power of huge balls and a lack of respect for your opponent”

    Having studied and continuing to study martial arts, I maintain it’s not a good idea to not respect your opponent.

  109. John Kwok

    @ Bill C, Davo, and Tim –

    I probably should be the last one to point a finger and yell “J’accuse” at Coyne, Dawkins and especially, Myers, since I’ll concede that I’ve used well-aimed barbs like “mendacious intellectual pornography” (which I believe is an apt description of the nonsense being peddled by the Dishonesty Institute and Answers in Genesis among others) or “DI IDiot Borg Collective”. But, too often, I have heard philosophers of science, historians of science and some scientists shaking their heads at the “shock and awe” techniques employed by Dawkins and Myers. In Dawkins I especially wonder how effective a science communicator he’s been since approximately 40% of his fellow Britons reject both Darwin’s ideas and evolution.

  110. I’m failing to see the distinction.

    What do you think motivated this discussion? Harris, Dawkins and the others are the ones who announced the newly aggressive tone. Having grown up reading Russell, Thomas Huxley and the entire range of “old atheists” I wondered how they could top them for aggressive dismissal of religion. But they did and in ways that exactly mirror the worst of old line biblical fundamentalism. Including assigning vicarious blame and bigotry. I’m hardly the only one who has noticed. And, as can be seen in Coyne and Dawkins, they’re going after atheists who don’t share their taste in bigotry.

    “Belief in belief”. Daniel Dennett is an astoundingly credulous person, believing that natural selection can be taken from its biological-genetic substrate and imposed on just about everything from the structure of matter to the most ephemerally “defined” social movements. And Carl Sagan, the man who tried to invent “Exobiology”? There isn’t a single person in the world who doesn’t use beliefs as if they are knowledge.

    I don’t think Dawkins uses the broad brush with all theists in his interviews; in his book it appears that he does because he is deliberately provocative in some instances.

    So I’m supposed to take a book he works on over a period of weeks or months, which he, no doubt revises and submits to an editor as if it’s less representative of his intentions than his pubic appearances? No, I’m sorry. If there’s one thing I’ve always held about Dawkins it’s that he’s a very skilled writer, I attribute a lot of the acceptance of his ideas to that fact, even when the idea is incoherent and without any foundation of evidence. Memes in other words. . Dawkins in print is the Dawkins I’ll believe is the real Dawkins.

  111. Davo

    Dawkins’s book was designed to provoke, to up the ante. Take a look at some of his interviews, then make up your mind after looking at all the evidence. Does one sparrow make a bird? Also, Exobiology is the biology of possible life outside the earth, an endlessly fascinating topic (consider the debate about convergent evolution for instance).

  112. Bill C.

    @109 – Tim:

    The only thing I’d point out (and it’s not a new argument), is that professed membership in a religious denomination is a choice to accept the baggage inherent with that sect. Otherwise, get yourself a new label (presumably why “PEARList” is gaining ground in lieu of “New Atheist”, which was never professed, but rather ascribed from the outside). That inescapable fact is what’s prompted the continuous stream of religious schisms since god-talk was first committed to paper; why some Jews became Christians, why the Lutherans became Lutherans, the Quakers Quakers, and indeed why many turn to atheism, a desire to dissociate from all of it.

    So when Ken Miller, for example, professes to be a Roman Catholic, I fail to see how it is out of bounds to take him to task as to what exactly that means. The official Catholic line encompasses evolution, but it also encompasses a whole buttload of other stuff. Books and books and years and years of other stuff. It may be a bit absurd to ask Miller if he thinks heretics ought be tortured twelfth-century style (though absurdism can be a useful rhetorical tool, as South Park consistently proves), but a hard inquisition (no pun intended) as to what, why and how he exactly subscribes to the many facets of Catholicism is far from out of bounds.

    In doing so, there must come a point when the “extremism” pendulum swings to the left as well as the right, and any reasonable person can recognize this. It’s why I called Miller a self-denying deist. If we can recognize the deviancy from the moderate norm in fundamentalist theists, it’s only fair to point out that same deviancy in, to use political terms, radical (leftist) theists. Such as Miller, who, when he manages to make assertions, really seems to subscribe more to a nebulous form of non-interventionist deism than he does my Holy Bible’s Catholicism.

    That’s why the “New Atheists” hammer on the point of moderates empowering fundamentalists. You’ve got a guy like Miller who, no one can argue, is rational, eloquent, almost entirely materialist, and one hell of a good scientist – and who when it comes right down to it is FAR from representative of the intellectual mindset or theological worldview of any Catholics I ever met growing up in a mid-to-upper class moderate-Catholic suburban community.

    Yeah, it’d be great if most Catholics DID think and act like Ken Miller. But they seem far more comfortable not changing at all while holding the likes of Miller up as a sterling example of how their faith does not conflict with science. That’s where the belligerency at intellectual laziness comes in.

    Regarding respect, as a former college football player, I understand what you’re saying. However, my respect never stopped me from wanting to beat the piss out of my opponent. And that respect was never dependent on how many games they’d won in past seasons. It’s all about what they’re able to bring to the table, in the here and now. That’s how far respect need extend.

  113. Bill C.

    Sorry, I meant to end that last paragraph with: “So perhaps my words were chosen carelessly: huge balls and a lack of reverence for your opponent’s reputation is a better characterization.”

  114. Erasmussimo

    BillC, I think you overestimate the degree to which the Catholic Church tolerates deviation from its teachings. Ostensibly, everybody must follow the line laid down by the Pope. In practice, the Church tolerates considerable variation. For example, during the 1970s a new concept, “liberation theology” took form in South America and quickly spread all over the world. It claimed that the Church had a moral responsibility to the poor and downtrodden and must throw all its weight against tyrannical regimes. The Church rejected liberation theology but made nice noises about how oppression is not nice. But it took no action whatever against the priests and bishops who continued that effort.

    Thus, there’s no need to question Mr. Miller, unless you’re curious. If you want to play guilt by association games, that’s your business, but I have no tolerance for such reprehensible tactics.

  115. Bill C.

    That’s exactly the point, Erasmussimo. If Catholicism is whatever you want it to be, then it’s just as easily Miller’s non-interventionist-God-as-natural-phenomena + secular-reasoning-for-moral-arguments-reveals-the-beauty-of-God-within-man POV as it is the moderate Catholics’ science-is-mostly-right-but-sometimes-God-can-do-whatever-he-wants + morals-are-fluidly-interpreted-but-all-proscribed-in-the-Bible POV or even the fundamentalist’s God-made-everything-6000-years-ago + told-us-all-how-to-behave POV. Or anything that lies in-between. They’re ALL Catholicism, just different people’s Catholicism.

    So maybe it’s not a bad thing to cajole people to publicly admit what they actually believe. Nor is it a bad thing to point out this kind of gross inconsistency in the fundamental reasons someone would adopt a label to begin with. The whole point of “guilt by association tactics” is to call attention to the fact that maybe the whole “Christian” or “Muslim” or even “atheist” umbrella labels are socially and culturally worthless (though I thought we recognized this until this whole “accommodationism” debate came up). People should be made to stand by what they actually believe as an individual.

    But again, this is all a tangential argument (though an argument nonetheless) to atheist (New, old, humanist or fascist) criticism of religious thought, and what it should or should not be limited to. I continue to wonder, what skin is it off your nose if P.Z. Myers is flabbergasted by and hostile toward creationists? Would some kind of political concession make them change their minds about school board compositions, if only P.Z. weren’t such a belligerent ne’er-do-well? And when you have literally thousands of people, young and old alike, around the world who admit that Richard Dawkins changed their lives (i.e. shook them of their faith), by what standard is his behavior condemnable, other than a religious one which holds that you should not try to shake people’s religious faith?

  116. @ Bill C

    I still don’t think we quite see eye-to-eye here. I too come from a Catholic background and I know there’s quite a bit of eye-rolling in some quarters as well as devout fundamentalists. As with any large organization, there’s considerable push and pull.

    And while Miller may not be representative of the “average” Roman Catholic, we do agree that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if there were more like him. So I’m not sure how discrediting his views would achieve that goal, or even the goal of PEARLists (please, no). It seems to me this is an area where people could agree to disagree and focus on the vast majority who are really the problem.

    I do disagree that devout Catholics are holding up Miller as an example of their tolerance. He’s not window dressing, for many of them he’s as much a challenge to their faith – and that challenge is definitely not deism. I read his first book, and his recent writings (although not his latest book) and it falls within the theist definition. If you want to understand his views (not agree with them) I would recommend them.

    I tried to point out before, that idea of baggage runs both ways. The USSR and China were arguably atheist countries – does atheism lead to totalitarianism? Broad brushes…

    And finally, if this were a football field I’d agree with you. I would liken it to a marathon though, or (shudder) figure skating, where all this is being done in order to be judged by third parties (the court of public opinion). And although it would make the “sport” a lot more interesting ;). whacking the piss out of your figure skating opponent may not play well with the judges.

    That’s the point, I think, Dr. Tyson was trying to make in that quote I reproduced before.

  117. Bill C.

    I realize the accommodationism(sic?) debate is about those New Atheist individuals’ attitudes toward religious scientists/moderates, and not the aforementioned fundamentalists…But the point is, why should they be (or should we want them to be) inconsistent in their views on religion just because someone happens to be a scientist?

    You can say in rebuttal “Well how can you call someone a bad scientist just because they happen to be religious?” but that’s missing the point. The whole “New Atheist” “regime” attacks these scientists’ religion, not their science. Not even P.Z. would start screaming “Kenneth Miller wrong on evolutionary biology because he’s religious!” Rather, he screams “Kenneth Miller wrong on religion because x y z…” I think many are just uncomfortable that P.Z. takes this view to the…well, to the uncomfortable conclusion that being wrong on religion calls into question his ultimate merits as a scientist. Perhaps it does not, but it does call into question his ultimate merit as a critical thinker…And I’ve said before in these comments, speaking as what I can tell to be a New Atheist, creating a society of good critical thinkers is a far more pressing goal than creating a society of good scientists.

    Besides, good scientists would be a natural offshoot of good critical thinkers.

  118. Erasmussimo

    OK, I understand your point about the broadness of various definitions. If we think of the Catholic Church as sort of the “ur-Christianity”, then all other Christian religions are splinter groups of varying sizes and varying degrees of specificity. I suggest that, the smaller a religion is, the more narrowly defined is its theology.

    But why should we “cajole people to publicly admit what they actually believe”? It’s none of our business? If somebody wants to believe in the FSM, that’s their business. Let it be.

    You ask much the same question about Mr. Myer’s actions. What business is it of mine? None, in the strict sense. Yes, he has an indirect effect on me, but I consider it too piffling to make a stink about. However, I am confident of my assessment that his behavior is making the world a worse place, because it is accentuating the polarization that divides us.

    You also point out that we’re never going to convince the fundamentalists. I agree wholeheartedly. Those people are far beyond the reach of reasoned discussion. However, it’s the lurkers to whom we make our case: the people who are uncertain. If we act badly, then we’ll only convince lurkers that atheists are nasty people. Who wants to be part of that? We want to present ourselves to the world as the voice of sweet reason, patient, understanding, and supportive. We want the fundamentalists to run amok against us, screaming and yelling imprecations. That’s how you change minds.

  119. Bill C.

    @Tim –

    I believe it does become a point of agreement to disagree. I mean, it’s all a question of strategy, and the right one is only judged in hindsight.

    I think the first comment I made in response to Chris’ call for a debate was a question of whether he’s ultimately just advocating patient baby steps toward a more rational world. And I think that’s the case. Dawkins and the “New Atheists” are just impatient.

    You’re right on that Miller is as much a challenge to irrational theistic pseudo-science as any atheist, and maybe we would do best to keep our eye on the big picture.

    But in the big picture, you’ll eventually have to deal with (and please don’t take “deal with” the wrong way) the Miller Catholic-Lites. Because it’s not just a battle for scientific supremacy, it’s about creating a world with universal, secular values and promoting decision-making based on reason and evidence. So even when every theist in the world is exactly up to speed with the scientific community, the real battle has yet to be fought – the battle for moral/ethical grounds.

    Which approach is the correct one? Bottom-up, winning the small intellectual battles (and hell, even the small ones are tough!) and moving on to the more complex ones? Or top-down, swinging for one solid knock-out punch and then cleaning up the blood? In those figure-skating terms, perfect nuanced technique, or blunt spectacular entertainment?

    I can’t really say. But from personal experience as a metropolitan twenty-something, the entertainment did it for me. I came to appreciate the technique once I was already inculcated.

  120. Anna K.

    Bill C wrote: Because it’s not just a battle for scientific supremacy, it’s about creating a world with universal, secular values and promoting decision-making based on reason and evidence. So even when every theist in the world is exactly up to speed with the scientific community, the real battle has yet to be fought – the battle for moral/ethical grounds.

    Anna K says: Huh! So you’re planning on eventually converting pro-science, scientifically educated theist types like me through some kind of “battle for moral/ethical grounds!” I just knew there was an agenda . . . ;-)

    I wonder where our values differ?

  121. Bill C.

    @ Eras:

    But why should we “cajole people to publicly admit what they actually believe”?

    That’s as opposed to them publicly affiliating their belief with a broad, poorly-defined umbrella group which nonetheless acts as a vocal, active presence in all aspects of public discourse. I daresay no atheist would have a problem with totally private beliefs – but that also means churches lose any say in public morality, law, politics, entertainment, etc. You can’t have your private belief and eat your organization’s public activism too.

    However, it’s the lurkers to whom we make our case: the people who are uncertain. If we act badly, then we’ll only convince lurkers that atheists are nasty people. Who wants to be part of that? We want to present ourselves to the world as the voice of sweet reason, patient, understanding, and supportive. We want the fundamentalists to run amok against us, screaming and yelling imprecations. That’s how you change minds.

    I’m going to be honest, and you might find it objectionable: That attitude disgusts me. And you’re wrong. That’s not how you change minds.

    It disgusts me because you couch the argument in milquetoast political terms, of wanting to win over swing-voters to a particular side, that you want to portray a united front of “all sweet, welcoming, cool-headed people”, as if THAT will be the enticement to join a movement. “Look how much nicer WE are than THEM.” That makes the medium more important than the message, and that’s all bullshit to me.

    I don’t want the fence-sitters to think of either atheists OR theists as “the sweet, more welcoming people”. I want them to think of everyone AS PEOPLE. Each no different than the other in so many respects, and yet each completely different than ANY other at the same time. I don’t want to convince the fence-sitters of the truth of theism’s grotesquely false duality – “the believers and the non-believers”, “us and them”, as if there’s Republicans and Democrats, you HAVE to pick a side. I just want them to see HUMANITY, with all its grand achievements and hideous flaws, one collective thing.

    And I don’t want to buy into the theists’ putrid faux-morality, that nice makes right. That it’s best to be on “the nice side”, because it reflects better on you (presumably as a creature of a Nice God). I just want to actually BE right. To be rational and deferent and analytical and loving. None of that has anything to do with temperament, nor should it, because when you start advocating the “correct way” for those “on your side” to comport themselves, well brother, you’ve become far too cult-like for my independent tastes. It’s just about THINKING. That’s it. Rational thoughts.

    And if you actually want “converts” who are moved to resign their faith because atheists “seem so nice and happy,” I question your motivations just as much as I question the validity of those “converts”. I question your critical thinking because when you actually convert someone to the land of the rational, how nice you’ve been won’t actually matter. It will just matter that you’re right. Beyond that, niceness just sells books.

  122. Bill C.

    @Anna –

    I’d like to know more about your beliefs before saying anything concretely, but if they attempt to introduce theistic beliefs into any area of public discourse, I daresay yes, I would argue vigorously with you as to the appropriateness of such action in the hopes of first convincing the youngest generation to my side, and then, if possible, yourself. I have no problem admitting such.

  123. @ Bill C

    “But in the big picture, you’ll eventually have to deal with (and please don’t take “deal with” the wrong way) the Miller Catholic-Lites.”

    No, I don’t take it wrong. But I wonder if you ever actually will have to. Consider the idea of a tipping point…

  124. Davo says: Dawkins’s book was designed to provoke, to up the ante. Take a look at some of his interviews, then make up your mind after looking at all the evidence. Does one sparrow make a bird? Also, Exobiology is the biology of possible life outside the earth, an endlessly fascinating topic (consider the debate about convergent evolution for instance).

    The question wasn’t whether or not Dawkins’ book was to provoke, it was exactly that to “up the ante” was his intention. “The God Delusion” is more than just an insult to religious believers, it was the suggestion that they were irrational if not mentally ill. I’ve heard his interview on the radio and have seen him on-line, I’m not impressed that there’s any big difference. His accent might make some Americans think what he’s saying is elegant and refined but I’m not swayed by his accent anymore than I am Hitchens’ silver plated tongue. The man is a bigot. As I mentioned he’s enough of one to override common sense to sign the petition to criminalize parents teaching their children about religion, before the outcry made him see it would cost him.

    Exobiology is not biology. It isn’t science, it is sciency-fiction. Without a single example of extra-terrestrial life to examine, it is based, literally, on nothing but make-believe, wishful thinking and a rather limited amount of creativity. I think Clifford Simack did a lot better, probably with no grants or institutional backing.

    Not even P.Z. would start screaming “Kenneth Miller wrong on evolutionary biology because he’s religious!” Rather, he screams “Kenneth Miller wrong on religion because x y z…” I think many are just uncomfortable that P.Z. takes this view to the…well, to the uncomfortable conclusion that being wrong on religion calls into question his ultimate merits as a scientist.

    What qualifies PZ to judge Kenneth Miller’s religion? As far as I’m concerned he’s as qualified to judge that as a racist in the 1940s would have been to judge the marriage of the Lovings. Unless he can point to some way that Miller’s religion impinges on someone else’s rights, it’s none of his business anymore than it would be for someone to slam his atheism. Only, I don’t think Miller is a puerile, vulgar and intentionally offensive figure as PZ is.

    If we think of the Catholic Church as sort of the “ur-Christianity”, then all other Christian religions are splinter groups of varying sizes and varying degrees of specificity. I suggest that, the smaller a religion is, the more narrowly defined is its theology.

    I think there are a large range of denominations who would have more than a bit of historical ground to challenge the idea that Roman Catholicism was the “ur-Christianity”.

    And your second contention isn’t borne out by the facts. The Society of Friends, the old Universalists and the modern Unitarian-Universalitists, and a large number of other very small sects are quite diverse in their theological positions. I know an agnostic who is a member of the local Friends Meeting and the UU’s in Cambridge Mass. have had a “Humanist” chaplin deliver talks. Some small groups, though, are very rigid as some atheistic cults have been. The “Objectivists”, for example.

  125. Bill C.

    @ Tim

    Well therein lies the disagreement, I fear, and maybe you’re far more an optimist than I and other “New Atheists.” You see the opportunity to reach a tipping point, I see thousands of years of human civilization wherein almost every time religion has succumbed to reason alone, it returns more determined and more virulent. In that context, and certainly in the wake of 9/11 after a 30-year period of intense secularization in the Western world, I think the “New Atheists” just finally decided to answer the call to the culture wars.

    Again, I find it impossible to say whether that strategy or the tipping point strategy is the correct one, as there’s certainly a historical argument to be made for building toward a tipping point. I can only act on my personal experience and my perception, which I’d like to think I keep constantly amenable to change.

  126. Bill C.

    @ Anthony:

    What qualifies PZ to judge Kenneth Miller’s religion? As far as I’m concerned he’s as qualified to judge that as a racist in the 1940s would have been to judge the marriage of the Lovings.

    Well, I’d argue what qualifies him is that he’s a human being with a functioning brain, and therefore not only is he qualified to analyze someone else’s worldview, he can’t help but do it. As to the correctness or persuasiveness of his argument, that materializes in the “x y and z”. You’re free to disagree. But a sentiment like that second sentence there doesn’t leave a lot of room for any judgment of P.Z.’s assessments.

  127. Well, why isn’t someone with a functioning brain qualified to analyze his atheism and say all kinds of vulgar, insulting things about him on that basis? Miller has the right to decide for himself about his religion.

    Pretending that PZ’ on religion is a critique of the substance of anyone’s religious beliefs is dishonest, there is no way that he’s going to do anything but slam them, no matter what they are. It’s his shtick, the way he gets attention. If it wasn’t for that he’d get a fraction of the hits he does on his website, if he kept strictly to the subject of science. Coyne too. It’s PZ’s big achievement in life, apparently, that he can attract bigots to congregate on his blog.

    I never said someone should have the ability to silence PZ Myers, but making believe his bigoted rants are some kind of intellectual exercise is absurd.

  128. Bill C.

    Well, why isn’t someone with a functioning brain qualified to analyze his atheism and say all kinds of vulgar, insulting things about him on that basis?

    They totally are. The whole point of “New Atheism” as I see it is encouraging just such activity, to lay all the cards bare on the table. People do it to PZ all the time. Most notably creationists. And their arguments are almost uniformly retarded. But he answers them. Usually with bemused mocking, but that’s only because they’re old arguments.

    Lack of patience with bad arguments is what PZ freely admits has driven him to hostility. Genuine wonder and a keen analytical mind both shine through when he’s blogging on Cephalopods or peer-reviewed research. And often when he’s railing against religion, too. He’s just at a point now where most of his criticisms of creationist arguments are too redundant, because the arguments themselves are so stale and futile. And PZ is incredibly transparent about all of this.

    He’s widely credited for and takes great pride in delineating the “Courtier’s Reply”, which is the justification he quite openly uses to defend his mass dismissal of religious folk; it matters very little how nuanced someone’s view of their theism actually is, if they cannot defend the premise upon which that nuance is built it’s all just masturbation, to put it a way PZ would no doubt approve of. You call that bigoted, I call that logical. Get on with the business of justifying your base premise in the existence of an interventionist god, then maybe I’ll take your empty calls to learn more theology seriously. Of course, no one actually can, without resorting to some tired permutation of pan-theism and/or god-of-the-gaps, which invariably contradicts other specifics of their own religious worldview.

    On the other hand, his language might be too harsh concerning theistic scientists like Miller (though, by whose standards? Christians’?), but to dismiss the arguments as without substance is even more absurd than arguing he has no knee-jerk blanket grudge against creationists.

    Miller has the right to decide for himself about his religion.

    Yeah, and he can take other people’s opinions under advisement if he so chooses. As can all those interested in how Miller comes to that decision. This is why free speech and the marketplace of ideas are such damn great concepts.

  129. Bill C.

    And frankly, Anthony, for someone so admittedly concerned with scoring political victories, I’m surprised at your distaste with PZ Myers. I might argue that in fact his big achievement in life is garnering the proven ability to rally large numbers of secular voices against the religious establishment. Or, less grandiose, just becoming an influential voice in the fight for a secular society.

    I’ve never understood that “wouldn’t be so successful if they just stick to science” point either. Aren’t you kind of arguing against yourself there, that good science alone cannot cultivate the kind of political presence good rhetoric creates?

    Clearly individuals like Coyne and Myers are more interested in influencing the politics of religion and culture than in making a name for themselves as scientists (though Coyne has done both). Otherwise, they wouldn’t have started their blogs to begin with. Both men seem to have achieved or are in the process of achieving exactly what they set out to do. It’s not really a surprise nor a secret.

  130. I might argue that in fact his big achievement in life is garnering the proven ability to rally large numbers of secular voices against the religious establishment.

    I can just about guarantee you that no serious politician would welcome PZ Myer’s endorsement in a political race. He would be ballot box poison.

  131. Erasmussimo

    BillC in #122 expresses his disgust for the notion of enticing people towards our side. You’re not explicit about how you would go about increasing the ranks of atheists, but from the tone of your comments I gather that you would prefer that they become atheists because it’s the right thing to do. Or perhaps I should write, “the logically correct” thing to do.

    The problem is that atheism has been the logically correct thing to do since before the dawn of history, and it hasn’t made much progress by just sitting around being correct. If you were dealing with Vulcans from Star Trek, this would be a simple matter, but unfortunately, we’re dealing with members of Homo Sapiens, a hunter-gatherer omnivore that has just recently begun putting on airs. Yes, if everybody were utterly rational, then atheism would be a shoo-in, but people AREN’T rational. We can slowly edge them in the direction of rationalism, but you can’t convince them to be rational by presenting them with rational arguments. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. You’ve got to start somewhere. Maybe what we need is a big public relations campaign showing buxom babes abandoning muscle-bound hunks for brainy atheists. Disgusting thought, isn’t it? Welcome to the world of modifying human behavior.

  132. Anna K.

    Bill C. wrote: I’d like to know more about your beliefs before saying anything concretely, but if they attempt to introduce theistic beliefs into any area of public discourse, I daresay yes, I would argue vigorously with you as to the appropriateness of such action in the hopes of first convincing the youngest generation to my side, and then, if possible, yourself. I have no problem admitting such.

    Anna K. sez: Well, if I disagreed with you, I would argue vigorously back.

    “Public discourse” is a very broad term, so without knowing what you think that covers, I agree with Habermas that if religious people want to advance moral or ethical arguments in the public square to change, say, social policies (assuming a pluralist society with separation of church and state), they should put those arguments in a secularized form.

    Without knowing much about your beliefs, I will say that my main objection to “new atheists” is their apparent allergy to pluralism. They seem more interested in pursuing/enforcing an ideological purity campaign rather than in making pluralist alliances to promote science literacy here and now. This is precisely the issue raised by Chris Mooney’s post.

    @ Erasmussimo (#132): Hmmmm, perhaps I misremember Star Trek, but I’m pretty sure the Vulcans had a religion . . . Back to this planet, though, on top of all the other barriers you’ve described, you have the additional sticky problem that many, many religious people already consider themselves to be rational. So before you can slowly edge us toward your particular vision of rationality, you will first have to convince us somehow that 1) we are actually irrational, and that 2) you’re not.

    I will agree that it is a chicken-and-egg problem . . .

  133. Erasmussimo

    Woops, AnnaK, I’m sorry: I didn’t intend to imply that religious people can’t be rational — although my words certainly do imply that. Let me pull my foot out of my mouth and try again. I’ll agree that religious people can be very rational. I really see no need to convert anybody to atheism. My objective is to increase the degree of rationalism that is exercised in our society. One obstacle to that is that subset of religion that is loudly anti-rational. I have long argued with the New Atheists that we should “keep our eyes on the ball” and counter only those religious behaviors that are intrinsically corrosive to the rationality of public discourse. If a Baptist makes a cogent argument before the school board, I’m certainly not going to reject the argument because it comes out of a Baptist’s mouth. But if a fundamentalist insists that a particular policy be implemented because “the Bible says so”, then I want to stand up and say, “Check yer religion at the door, podner.”

    Have I gotten most of my foot out of my mouth?

  134. Erasussimo, I’d agree with most of your last comment and as your goal is to promote rationality, you certainly see that irrationality isn’t limited to a subset or religious believers.

    One of the questions that keeps popping up is why the United States and not some other developed country has problems over the teaching of evolution. You’ve hit on one of the biggest, our system of local and state school boards. If one municipality or state get hijacked by creationist candidates, as has happened, or even a whole state, it can take a court challenge to prevent them from putting it into science classes. I’m skeptical of the ability of a small, unpopular minority to sustain their civil rights on the basis of court rulings. The Rehnquist and Roberts courts have shown any rights gained even by legislation can be effectively abridged by a malicious court. Public acceptance is the only certain way to protect civil rights. I doubt that anyone should expect that Dover is the last word on the evolution struggle, those who want to keep religion out of biology classes in public schools here had better not rest on that, very possibly, temporary decision. Clearly, the new atheists’ hijacking of that issue combined with the rest of their program won’t help in the effort to build broad public support for protecting the science in the schools. You don’t win elections by insulting the majority of voters.

    Given how difficult it is to change the basic forms of our government in the United States, the local-state school board structure should be taken as permanent. Even more permanent should be the fact that our basic act of governance is the vote.

    The first time I ever waded into this issue was in the months before the 2006 election when the media was trying to provoke the left by widely discussing that stupid poll that showed the public would elect a gay person as president before they would an atheist. Stupid, not just because the poll was bogus, but because most of the various minorities coming out ahead of atheists weren’t in any great danger of being elected. I wrote a piece saying that the coming election was what the left should concentrate on, not getting into the already polluted atheist-religion squabble. I also told atheists that insulting the majority of the voters wouldn’t do a thing to make them want to vote for an atheist. I figured it was about as rational a point as possible to make.

    A number of atheists, notably Amanda Marcott took that point and distorted the entire meaning of what I wrote, which was my refresher course in blog ethics. Austin Cline doing the same thing was several months away. But that’s not really important. What is important is that now a sizable number of atheists have recognized that the new atheism is irrational and is already damaging to other atheists’ interests and potentially to science. I think their positions are superior to the new atheists’ they are more rational and honest. I think their positions.

    I figure science isn’t my responsibility, the future of science rests in the hands of scientists and those who fund their work. I’d like nothing better than to not have this distraction out of politics altogether. My interest is in political progress, environmental protection, national healthcare, civil rights…. all of which I think are more important than the keeping biology classes pure of extraneous religious content. I’m enough of a practical heretic to think that most of those who take biology classes need some of the other topics covered by the one and only biology class they’ll ever take more than they do a pure and pristine view of their ancestry. A knowledge of evolution isn’t going to keep them from an unintended pregnancy or a life threatening venereal disease. The evolution ball that every always has their eye on is important but its not all that big.

    I think the real problem is that the line of explicitly anti-religious intent stemming from those around and about Darwin, as seen most honestly in Thomas Huxley but also others, which took up evolution as a weapon against religion, meets head on with biblical fundamentalism. I don’t think that is useful for science or religious liberalism. In practical terms, in the United States, at least, the effort would clearly favor the biblical literalists. The use of evolution as a weapon against religion has failed the test of history, it’s failed the test of time. It has been damaging to the publics understanding of science and has been an effective tool of political organization among the far right. I don’t think most of the Republicans who kow-towed to the TV evangelists cared at all about evolution and they demonstrably had no intention of following the teachings of Jesus, certainly not in economic and social justice. They saw them as a large and easily used political force. And they have won elections with them. The loss of power by the far right has not been due to the religious right disappearing but due to economic and other factors. The religious right is always going to be a potential source of votes for them.

    So, when we are talking about reason, those considerations are the crux of the problem. The program of Dawkins, Harris, et al are irrational and unrealistic. I think their motive has nothing to do with the promotion of reason or science, it’s because they can’t stand the existence of anything but their chosen mix of materialism-scientism. In that they are no different from their opposite. They don’t like pluralism on the issue of belief any more than the most rigid Souther Baptists. The irony with the Southern Baptists is that the Baptist tradition began as a quite liberal one in which individual conscience and reason were major positions it took. There are still Free-will Baptists, though they are quite invisible. The ironies of the new atheism is that they are some of the worst supporters of science and reason and logic, certainly their web presence is anything but a new enlightenment. When arguing with them, notably one “Science Avenger” it was clear they had no concept of the basic requirements of science and had a very damaged idea of logic.

    I don’t think religion is the only thing that could usefully be checked at the door.

  135. P. S. It shouldn’t ever be forgotten that voters will not leave their religion outside of the voting booth.

  136. John Kwok

    Bill C. (@ 113) –

    If you’re going to take Ken Miller to “task” for being a Roman Catholic, then why stop only at him? Why not go after bigger fish too, like eminent evolutionary geneticist Francisco J. Ayala – who was as a Ph. D. student of Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia University, an ordained Dominician monk recently arrived from his native Spain – whom I believe is still a devout Catholic. And neither Ken Miller nor Francisco J. Ayala are the only ones. As for Ken’s acceptance of Roman Catholic Church teachings, on for example, abortion, Ken is consistent with many of his fellow American Catholics in rejecting it.

  137. John Kwok

    Bill C. (@ 118) –

    P Z Myers accused Ken Miller of being a “creationist” four years ago in public. Since then, he has also referred to Ken as a “wishy – washy Catholic”. In neither instance has he apologized for these rather absurd accusations.

    In his New Republic review of Ken’s “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”, Jerry Coyne observed that Ken shared three out of four traits commonly found in creationists, and the first one was “belief in GOD”, concluding that Ken should be a considered a creationist. How someone who is truly one of our most prominent evolutionary biologists can make such a simplistic, quite inane, comparison really defies not only his otherwise high standards of logic and reason, but quite simply, common sense. In this and other, more recent, related instances, Coyne is allowing his anti-religious thinking (which sadly, as Anthony McCarthy has noted, has been occasionally, bigotry) to conflate his excellent thought with respect to evolutionary biology.

  138. John Kwok

    AnnaK (@ 133) –

    Erasmussimo was emphasizing that, above everything else, Vulcans greatly prize logic and rationality, while still espousing a form of religion that is highly ritualized ancestor worship.

  139. John Kwok

    @ Anthony –

    Am “delighted” that Rosenhouse is such a good “liberal” that he’s extended to you what he offered to me, telling you too to “shut up”. Meanwhile he doesn’t scold some delusional attention seeker like former physicist SLC who seems more interested in posting ad hominem attacks upon us than in engaging seriously in the substance of our respective arguments.

    Rosenhouse’s recent online behavior towards us merely demonstrates to me that he has no business criticizing Chris Mooney for Chris’s excellent observations on the “accomodationist” issue and related matters.

  140. I figure Jason Rosenhouse can run his blog as he wants to. It wasn’t one I read regularly and I don’t expect it will be in the future, except to collect material.

  141. John Kwok

    Anthony,

    I stop by occasionally. I think it’s interesting that I’ve read more objective reporting about their “beef”, and in general, science, from the likes of Chris Mooney and Carl Zimmer than from militant atheist scientists like Jason Rosenhouse and PZ Myers. Care to second that?

  142. The problem is that atheism has been the logically correct thing to do since before the dawn of history, and it hasn’t made much progress by just sitting around being correct. If you were dealing with Vulcans from Star Trek, this would be a simple matter, but unfortunately, we’re dealing with members of Homo Sapiens, a hunter-gatherer omnivore that has just recently begun putting on airs. Yes, if everybody were utterly rational, then atheism would be a shoo-in, but people AREN’T rational. We can slowly edge them in the direction of rationalism, but you can’t convince them to be rational by presenting them with rational arguments.

    Erasmussimo, here we come to a real parting of the ways. I might agree totally with an assertion that agnosticism would be the ultimate conclusion that could be reached on the question of religion, as far as we can go with it. Atheism is no more logical than the basic belief in a god or gods.

    Those who have expressed their belief in God have said a lot of things and attributed a lot of ideas and actions to God. But many of them, many of the clearest thinkers, those who tend to shed more of the obviously cultural conditioned and politically imposed dogmas of religion, have said that God is not comprehensible through reason alone. The attempts to use reason alone have often veered into agnosticism or an impotent form of abstract religion that has little in the way of legs.

    A God that is believed to be omnipotent, omniscient, eternal and supernatural is not subject to logic. That is the God you will have to depose if you want to end belief, you can’t do it with logic. You certainly are aware of the mystical religious traditions that got to that understanding of the attempts to use logic well before any atheist did. I don’t know if it was here or at another blog that I cited Isaiah, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, God’s ways are not our ways. I am religious, I believe that there will aways be people who, for some reason I’m not privy to, will be given that belief and understanding. For reasons I don’t know, some won’t have that. I wasn’t really religious until I’d come to be fully an agnostic in terms of reason and science. Why it happened, I have no idea. I like to think it wasn’t a result of impaired reason, but that evaluation isn’t up to me.

    I don’t tend to be as dismissive of the ideas of “hunter-gatherers” and am a strict vegetarian, myself. I’m not entirely impressed with the results of science and technology, as they would seem to be major contributors to destroying our biosphere. When a species behavior is responsible for its demise that’s a mal-adaptation. I don’t think the problem of evil among unsophisticated people is much different from that of evil among the educated and prosperous. It’s selfishness in every case, personal selfishness and its extension and combination in a family or social context. Selfishness is most effectively resisted through the promulgation of non-scientific counter values, charity, justice, generosity…. The denatured versions of those constructed as an afterthought by the social sciences, are as laughably impotent in changing behavior as they are unfounded in science. I’ve got no problem with anyone calling religious people on their selfish behavior. I’d guess that if we fully knew the circumstances it would be clear that the evil done in the name of religion, as well as that done by science, would actually have some form of selfishness as the real cause.

    I don’t think the new atheism, especially with its faith in the genetic ideas of Dawkins and Dennett, will do anything but make things much, much worse.

  143. Looking at those time stamps on my last two long comments, isn’t it amazing what four cups of coffee can do for you editing abilities?

  144. Anna K.

    Erasmussimo (#134),

    :-D No offense taken; it gave me a chuckle. I’ve enjoyed your thoughtful posts. As I said earlier, I think anyone who argues in the public square, for society-wide policies, needs to use secular reasoning as a default in a pluralist society, so that their arguments are more likely to be accessible and engageable by most. I don’t think it’s that difficult or burdensome to cast most religious ethical and moral stances into a secular form. Also we are agreed that fundamentalists saying “because the Bible says so” is not a sufficient argument before a (public) school board. However, making a theological argument is perfectly proper before a religious school board or religious group. In that case, “because the Bible says so” usually moves into discussions over what constitutes proper exegesis.

    John Kwok (#139),

    Yes, and I was implying that rationality and religion need not be mutually exclusive, so I thought the Vulcan thing segued in rather well . . .

    Anthony McCarthy (#144)

    Coffee also has antioxidents. Live long and prosper.

  145. John Kwok

    Anna K –

    Peace and Long Life to you too… and of course, Qap’la!

  146. John Kwok

    @ Anthony –

    FYI, I just sent this to Jason Rosenhouse:

    Jason –

    Over at Panda’s Thumb for years people have referred to Dembski as “Saint Goebbels” and making other unflattering comparisons. My comment is not out of line.

    I am fascinated that you, as a liberal, would condone ad hominem attacks made by others, e. g. SLC, for example, and yet tell both Andrew McCarthy and myself to “shut up” simply because we’ve tried presenting our points in a cogent, rational manner more so than the flock of militant atheists – especially those dropping by from PZ Myers’s blog. Don’t you think that’s a bit hypocritical for someone who witnessed first hand in Kansas what the Religious Right would do if it tried getting its way.

    Respectfully yours,

    John Kwok

  147. Erasmussimo

    Anthony, I am in complete with your #135, and I cannot see where we part ways in your #143. As I understand it, your #143 argues that reason does not lead to religion; my claim is that religious belief is a common obstacle to the development of reason. I readily agree that religious belief and reason are not necessarily mutually antagonistic. Religion as currently practiced by many people is obstructive to the advance of reason, but there are plenty of examples of religious people who are admirably rational. Here on this blog you and Anna K provide those examples. So we’re dealing with a statistical tendency, not an iron law.

    By the way, Erasmus’ Praise of Folly has an interesting contribution to this discussion. The first half is humorous social commentary, and most people think of the book as nothing more. But the second half of the book is a profound discussion of the necessity of abandoning rational thought in order to appreciate religion. It’s very Eastern in its mysticism — the notion of abandoning thought and becoming one with god through a kind of ecstatic folly. While I don’t personally practice it, I find the concept admirable. And don’t forget that Erasmus was a loud advocate of rationalism in most things.

  148. Erasmussimo, if I had to base what I think about atheism on the blog manifestation of it or on the most popular of its recent authors, I’d have to say the trend was that atheism was an inhibition to reason.

    People can find all kinds of reasons to avoid thinking, the atheist, A. E. Houseman talked about that in, as I recall, the last poem in Shropshire Lad.

    I think you could find that IPoF was quite within a very Western tradition of mysticism. And you shouldn’t forget, Erasmus was sufficiently religious to make a new translation of the Gospels because he thought the Vulgate was flawed. I don’t think it’s possible to divorce his religion from any part of his writing.

  149. John Kwok

    @ Anthony,

    However, while I am sympathetic to your point of view, it is one which should emphasize the harsh rhetoric of militant atheists such as for example, Dawkins, Hitchens and Myers.

    I know a number of atheists who are reasonable people too, and it’s rather unfair to try lumping them with those who display consistently a rather peculiar strain of anti-religious bigotry.

    In closing, however, I think your assessment of Erasmussimo’s thinking that atheism is the logical outcome of reasonable and rational thought is indeed correct. I respectfully submit that there’s probably a stronger case to be made that those who are both reasonable and rational throughout the course of human history would be implicitly agnostic – if not explicit – in their religious orientations (The very concept of atheism – which was coined by none other than Thomas Henry Huxley, if I’m not mistaken – didn’t take root until the late Victorian Age.).

  150. Erasmussimo

    Agreed: agnosticism is the more likely outcome of rationalism than atheism. “The more I learn, the less I know.”

  151. Bill C.

    @ Anthony:

    P. S. It shouldn’t ever be forgotten that voters will not leave their religion outside of the voting booth.

    This is the point of contention which trumps all others in the accomodationism debate: YOU know this is the way it is and always will be. But the “new” atheists, conversely, want to create JUST such an environment. Saying that is unrealistic and unachievable may be a defensible view, which is why New Atheists, I think, have shifted focus to just expunging religion from public discourse altogether. They want it utterly discredited and discarded.

    Clearly, you find that a fool’s errand. Not sure who’s or how to say who’s right. But even unrealistic is not synonymous with irrational, which is where I think you’re getting tripped up. Must good logic be pragmatic?

  152. John Kwok

    @ Bill C. –

    Exactly one week ago I heard Krauss state that he’s told Dawkins that it won’t be possible to discard or to descredit religion. He thinks it will be with us, as an important part of what makes us human. As the “extreme” atheist on the World Science Festival panel on Science, Faith and Religion, this was of course an amazing admission to make.

  153. This is the point of contention which trumps all others in the accomodationism debate: YOU know this is the way it is and always will be.

    First, “accomodationism” is a phony term used by new atheists for people who know that science isn’t endangered by people believing in religion. A more accurate term would be “realism”. Coyne is trying to build his blog career on it, pzing away his credibility in the process.

    If they couldn’t turn the population of the Soviet Bloc into atheists it’s not going to happen here.

    Saying that is unrealistic and unachievable may be a defensible view, which is why New Atheists, I think, have shifted focus to just expunging religion from public discourse altogether. They want it utterly discredited and discarded.

    Well, a lot of people I’m encountering are getting sick and tired of the new atheists, some of them atheists. I’m seeing more people rolling their eyes when one starts spouting their stuff. I’ve seldom called them on it without having someone say they’re glad someone did. I’m encouraging anyone who is tired of it to tell them so.

    I don’t think religion is going to be discredited or discarded. It will, however, change, just like every other part of human life.

    I’m not especially worried about either science or religion. I’m worried about the political left getting dragged into a futile. divisive and unnecessary issue over a phony assertion of rights by a group that is already covered under the civil rights laws. If atheists want to be less unpopular than is constantly alleged by the new atheists, that’s your responsibility, not mine.

  154. John Kwok

    Anthony,

    Maybe you ought to send your “accomodationism” memo to Jerry Coyne. I don’t think he heard you.

    Let’s review some relevant facts, shall we?

    Here’s the first bit of evidence, where Coyne decided to call Ken Miller essentially a “creationist” after reviewing Ken’s “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”:

    http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=1e3851a3-bdf7-438a-ac2a-a5e381a70472

    Then in April, he went on the offensive, formally accusing the National Center for Science Education, National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science of adopting an “accomodationist” view towards religion (It’s amazing he didn’t include the Society for the Study of Evolution or the Paleontological Society too.).

    I’m not going to post the remaining relevant posts, which you can dig up by looking here through the archives of this blog.

    However, these comments of Chris and Ken Miller bear repeating, especially when Coyne did what Miller contends indirectly, by refusing the invitation he received from the World Science Festival to appear at one of its panel discussions, and refusing it, in part, because WSF was receiving financial assistance from the Templeton Foundation:

    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.

  155. Austin: Since when is being “nice” more important than intellectual challenge, criticism, and engagement?

    Since when was intellectual challenge, criticism and engagement synonymous with “not being nice”?

    I’m all for kickin’ ass of people I disagree with, but I try not to confuse me ‘berating your stupid-attitude’ with ‘engagement’. Engagement generally involves following etiquette (or ‘being nice’) and is definitely a lot more productive (if at first not quite as fun) than just saying “you’re stupid, nyah”.

  156. Erasmussimo Says (#119),
    One of the questions that keeps popping up is why the United States and not some other developed country has problems over the teaching of evolution.

    I liked the way PZ Myers put it:

    What I really object to is the goofy “if you don’t be nice to god belief, the churchy scientists will take their ball home”. I metaphorically puke on the shoes of anyone who tries to make that argument.
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/theistic_evolutionist_beats_ha.php

    LOL

    Anthony McCarthy Says (#135),
    One of the questions that keeps popping up is why the United States and not some other developed country has problems over the teaching of evolution.

    Other developed countries have “problems” over the teaching of evolution — here are two groups of articles that discuss those problems:
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/search/label/Evolution%20controversy%20abroad

    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/search/label/Evolution%20controversy%20abroad%20%28new%20%231%29

    I doubt that anyone should expect that Dover is the last word on the evolution struggle, those who want to keep religion out of biology classes in public schools here had better not rest on that, very possibly, temporary decision. Clearly, the new atheists’ hijacking of that issue combined with the rest of their program won’t help in the effort to build broad public support for protecting the science in the schools.

    Dover is not even at most a “temporary” decision — as an unreviewed decision of a single judge, it has practically no precedential weight.

    As I said before, some Darwinists are seriously worried that in the future the courts may require balance in evolution education because evolution theory has been used to promote atheism.

  157. Sorry, the first quote in my last comment was in error. My comment should have read,

    Erasmussimo Says (#119),
    If we act badly, then we’ll only convince lurkers that atheists are nasty people. Who wants to be part of that? We want to present ourselves to the world as the voice of sweet reason, patient, understanding, and supportive.

    I liked the way PZ Myers put it:

    What I really object to is the goofy “if you don’t be nice to god belief, the churchy scientists will take their ball home”. I metaphorically puke on the shoes of anyone who tries to make that argument.
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/theistic_evolutionist_beats_ha.php

    LOL

  158. Erasmussimo

    Larry, I’m not sure if you present PZ Myers’ comment supportively or derisively, but I’ll respond to Mr. Myers’ comment nonetheless. Puking on people’s shoes represents the best Mr. Myers can do here because he lacks a rational argument against the point.

  159. John Kwok

    @ Erasmussimo,

    I strongly second your observation. Moreover, Larry’s “support” of Myers comment merely shows how inane fundamentalists really are; in this case of course, a Fundamentalist Protestant Christian like Larry (I know he claims not to be, but his online history demonstrates he has more in common with his Dishonesty Institute heroes than he himself is willing to admit) endorsing an inane observation made by a Fundamentalist Militant Atheist like Myers.

    Only comment of Larry’s I will give him some credit for is the sad fact that creationism in all of its flavors, especially Intelligent Design creationism, has garnered ample interest in some other parts of the globe, predominantly in English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and, surprisingly enough, the United Kingdom itself.

    You can check the news archive of the National Center for Science Education (http://www.ncseweb.org) for relevant details.

  160. Bill C.

    Re: Agnosticism

    Again I speak for myself in this analysis, but in my experience it is consistent with the viewpoint of the “New Atheist”.

    Agnosticism without a qualifier is kind of a worthless conclusion, because it ostensibly puts ANY viewpoint on even footing with all others. And already I can hear the chorus of agnosticism-defenders warming up their pipes, but that’s kind of the point too; agnosticism, like the above-discussed “Ken Miller Catholicism” can pretty much be whatever anyone wants to define it as, usually in service of just bowing out of the philosophical debate over God altogether. Which strikes me as terribly intellectually dishonest.

    With the caveat that of course we must all be ultimately agnostic on the most fundamental God question, as we can never truly know with certainty (and all the New Atheists freely admit this, save for perhaps your Penn Jillettes), there must at least be something of substance to consider in the debate. Or really is a fundamentalist Mormon exactly as likely to be right as a Buddhist, an ancient Egyptian monoaltrist or a New Atheist?

    I’d answer heartily “no.” As I see it, agnosticism demands a 50% probability on the existence of God, making any specific version of that God far less likely to be a correct description of reality than God’s total non-existence. One could potentially go further, giving equal probability to no God, a deistic Prime Mover, and an interventionist God – but that only makes the God of any particular faith even LESS likely.

    The question out of this agnostic mess becomes one of practicality, and with no observable (read: scientific) way to verify God’s presence, let alone His wishes, New Atheists say just abandon your self-important delusions of divine knowledge and start playing on the same level as every other human being. New Atheists make this point better than perhaps any of their others: Show me objective, verifiable, universally-understandable evidence of God’s plan, and I’ll be happy to consider it. Until then, I’ll just go on as if there isn’t one. In other words, I’ll go on not believing in God – being an atheist.

    And it’s at this point that the theist usually throws up his hands and either screams or mutters about getting “serious” with theology – but I’ve yet to ever actually ascertain what that could possibly mean. I know I’m far from closed-minded to intellectual argument – rather, I think the problem is a lack of an intellectual argument. As with the God question, it’s the only conclusion I can rationally accept until someone shows me different.

    So I dunno about the ultimate rationality of agnosticism. Maybe agnostic atheism (atheist agnosticism…?), but that describes all but the most loony of atheists anyway (and no, I don’t count any of the New Atheists among the loonies, based on the opinions they’ve entered into the public square).

  161. Erasmussimo

    BillC, the whole idea of agnosticism is “I don’t know”. Now, you’re arguing that you DO know. Well, OK, that’s fine with me. I happen to think that I also know the answer to the question “Is there a god?” — that’s why I’m an atheist rather than an agnostic. However, you call agnosticism “terribly intellectually dishonest”, and on that point I strongly disagree with you. If another person chooses to say, “I don’t know”, I consider that an act of intellectual humility. Moreover, anybody who says that they DO know is subject to some hard questions about whether they really know or are just succumbing to intellectual vanity. Remember, Socrates once observed that the only thing he could really be sure of was that he didn’t know. I think that’s an admirable attitude, not “terribly intellectually dishonest”.

  162. Bill C.

    Eras – That’s not at all what I’m arguing, actually. My point was “I don’t know” need not and, I’d argue, SHOULD not amount to “all possible explanations are equally valid.” That is where my point about intellectual dishonesty comes in.

    As to knowing, I think therefore I am. Everything after that is just assumptions. :P Heh. :)

  163. Bill C.

    Also, Eras, to backtrack to your point about atheism not getting anywhere by just sitting around and being right, that’s exactly to the point. New Atheists are then compelled to go out and show how and where it’s right as much as they possibly can. On the other hand, you seem to advocate pairing its rightness with a pleasing demeanor. In my experience, a commitment to a pleasing demeanor can often be an excuse for the less scrupulous to walk all over you. Such as by telling you they’d be happy to believe what you believe if only you’d stop trying to convince them to believe it.

  164. Erasmussimo

    OK, BillC, I see your point. I agree, the agnostic position does not suggest that all possible explanations are equally valid. It doesn’t really take any stance on any of the possible explanations. There are some fine points here; an agnostic could reasonably assert that “As far as I know, Buddhism is just as reasonable as Christianity” — but the agnostic is also saying “I don’t know”, so the negation overrides. If I were born blind, I could reasonably assert that “As far as I know, blue is just as nice as red” without actually making a statement regarding the relative merits of blue and red.

    Your post #164 boils down to a position akin to “Gosh, asking the bartender for a free drink didn’t work, so I am compelled to punch him.” The fact that one tactic has small (but nonzero!!!!) effect does not justify using a tactic that will surely do worse.

    This is something that I just don’t understand about the New Atheists — they honestly seem to think that being nasty will accomplish something. I’ll hit below the belt here by suggesting a kinship with the reasoning of the Bush Administration: invading countries and killing lots of people will make them fear us, which will make us more secure. Right.

    I ask you, how many times have YOU changed your mind because somebody got nasty and insulted you? I very much doubt that it has ever happened to you. I know that it has never worked for me, and I consider myself particularly open to solid arguments. But I am human, and when somebody starts treating me like dirt, all those damn emotions get in the way of clear logical thinking, and I want to resist their agenda only out of self-defense.

    I would like to suggest an alternative explanation. My suggestion violates a number of rules of fair discussion, so I’m not going to assert it. Consider this a purely rhetorical exercise. Let’s talk about a hypothetical person who is intensely frustrated by the obtuseness of those he disagrees with. Moreover, their blindness is conducive to a number of consequences that he knows are injurious to social well-being. And when he tries to reason with them, they close their minds to him. His frustration leads to anger, and his anger leads him to wish ill upon them. He wants to hurt them with harsh words and insults. He wants to deride them for their stupidity and demean them in front of the whole world. His anger blinds him to the true consequences of his actions, yet he thinks he is doing the right thing.

    Do you really think that a person like this, who is motivated by frustration and anger rather than cold logic, is going to accomplish anything?

  165. Erasmussimo

    A followup point: rather than insinuate that you are blinded by your anger (which is not really my intention), let me use a third-party example: Mr. Austin Cline, the subject of the post we are commenting on. As I mentioned earlier, I spent two days engaging Mr. Cline in discussion. I was struck by the anger underlying his comments. This guy has a lot of bile circulating inside, and it shows in his writing. Although he wrapped himself in the robes of logic and reason, his comments dripped with ill-concealed anger at everybody who disagreed with him. As he came to see me as “enemy” rather than “guest”, his anger at me became more pointed. By the time I gave up on the interaction, his snide jabs at me outnumbered his objective arguments. This is a man who is obviously very intelligent and equally immature; his strategy is determined by testosterone and his tactics by acetylcholine. Such young men make good warriors and lousy diplomats. So, would you prefer that society resolve its conflicts over religion by means of war or by means of talk?

  166. @ 166 Erasmussimo

    Such behavior works only on the internet. It would be a far different thing to act that way in, say, a bar on the southwest side of Chicago.

    @163 BillC
    “Agnosticism without a qualifier is kind of a worthless conclusion, because it ostensibly puts ANY viewpoint on even footing with all others. And already I can hear the chorus of agnosticism-defenders warming up their pipes, but that’s kind of the point too; agnosticism, like the above-discussed “Ken Miller Catholicism” can pretty much be whatever anyone wants to define it as, usually in service of just bowing out of the philosophical debate over God altogether. Which strikes me as terribly intellectually dishonest.”

    and

    “My point was “I don’t know” need not and, I’d argue, SHOULD not amount to “all possible explanations are equally valid.” That is where my point about intellectual dishonesty comes in.”

    No, that’s not agnosticism. Agnosticism simply recognizes the logical possibility of the supernatural, and then takes no position beyond methodological naturalism. It does not put science on the same level as the supernatural.

    After that, there are no consequences, no conflicts to such a position and so it is completely intellectually honest.

    Denying the logical possibility of the supernatural, however, is intellectually dishonest. That’s why that Carl Sagan quote earlier in the thread is so good – he accepts the possibility but declares there is no evidence (for or against) and so without evidence he is not interested. An intellectually honest atheist.

    BillC, you really are convincing me that this New Atheism is really just a “with us or against us” doctrine. And we’re at the point in the conversation where I have to echo Erasmussimo: Since I disagree, really, what are you going to do about it?

  167. Matti K.

    Mr. Mooney: “I can tell you this much: If we waste our limited energy and resources on the narcissism of petty differences, we won’t have the strength left to forge a better, more scientifically literate country.”

    OK, Mooney considers intellectual debate to be a waste of time. Then why is Mooney wasting his energy critizising people “with whom he shares 99 percent of his intellectual DNA” ? For narcistic reasons?

  168. Matti K.

    Coyne has collected a chronological library of links relevant to the present internet-debate:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/the-big-accommodatinism-debate-all-relevant-posts/

    It is interesting to note that Ms. Forrest has not taken part in the debate. I think that is in accordance with her principle not to stir what she sees as an unnecessary ruckus between scientific and religious matters. Mr. Mooney, on the other hand, is just as keen as the “new atheists” to pick and continue a debate by critizising the way other people speak out about the relationship of science and religion. As such, I don’t see nothing wrong in it. Even a heated debate is better than a debate muffled because of political considerations.

    However, one who critizises others shoud not label similar critique from others as “narcissism of petty differences”.

  169. Agnosticism simply recognizes the logical possibility of the supernatural, and then takes no position beyond methodological naturalism. It does not put science on the same level as the supernatural.

    Tim Broderick, I think you’ve touched on one of the real, underlying issues of this fight, the status granted to different activities and ideas. A lot of what I see is an old fashioned turf battle between organized religious authorities and those who would depose them from the position religion once held almost everywhere and now only does to a lesser extent in most places. And the other side of that are those who want science to hold a position as the pinnacle of human abilities, the only source of truth. Both of the sides in that dispute are dishonest and absurd. Both sides are clawing at rivals in a struggle for social and political status.

    Religion has never benefitted by being unquestioned and gaining a powerful, wealthy establisthment enjoying the status of impunity. Most of the hypocrisy and crimes done in the name of religion was through those with power holding on to it and exercising it. The results of Christianity’s establishment as an arm of the state led it to almost entirely giving up the most central of the teachings of Jesus. Other religions with that kind of political power are equally awful. It’s not a bad thing that the crimes of anyone are exposed and those people and institutions being knocked off a pedestal they never should have been on in the first place.

    But putting science up there instead is hardly an improvement on the situation. Science is just as liable to be the tool of corrupt people as religion is, and it’s far more dangerous in that it really is efficacious in the material world. The idea that science is a “little candle in the dark” a “torch of enlightenment” in any moral sense is absurd. Science is a way of doing things. It’s a way of finding out an effective way to do something. Scientists aren’t any more moral than religious figures, they aren’t any more competent outside of what they know than anyone else. The weapons industry, industries that are destroying the atmosphere, etc. they all make full use of science and with the full and informed participation of scientists.

    The preservation of life, the egalitarian governance of our society, the just distribution of resources, not causing harm, those are the things that deserve a position of highest honor. Religious people and scientists do those things, agnostics and atheists do those things. It’s when people do those things that they deserve a position of honor. I can name dozens, hundreds of very smart people the world would probably be better off without. I’ve never been able to think of a single good person the world would be better off without. That’s the criterion to judge whether or not someone or some institution deserves to be held on a higher level.

    Intellectually, in the legitimate area of their interest, there have been religious figures who have produced some of the most useful and important insights into life. Those ideas deserve to be held on as high a level as anything produced by science. As they hold some promise of helping us to avoid making ourselves extinct, some of them are probably more important.

  170. John Kwok

    @ Matti K –

    Your chronology of postings is one which Chris Mooney has pointed here at an earlier, but relatively recent, blog entry.

    As for Forrest, I think she doesn’t believe it is worthwhile getting into an argument with Coyne, Myers and their zealous militant atheist fanatics. Regrettably, that is a reasonable position to take, especially in light of all the harsh rhetoric that’s been aimed by them towards their critics. For example, in my case, I’ve been accused of being “Ken Miller’s poodle”, of having a gay relationship with Ken Miller, and of hating Jerry Coyne, which is utterly stupid since I regard him as one of our most prominent contemporary evolutionary biologists. Had Forrest opted to join in the “dialogue”, she would have been smeared too.

  171. Erasmussimo

    MattiK in #168, you write “Mooney considers intellectual debate to be a waste of time.” I am surprised that you would make such an elementary mistake:

    Mooney: “One topic of intellectual debate is a waste of time.”
    MattiK: “You consider all topics of intellectual debate to be a waste of time.”

  172. Matti K.

    Eraetc at 172:

    You missed my main point, the apparent hypocrisy of Mr. Mooney:

    Then why is Mooney wasting his energy critizising people “with whom he shares 99 percent of his intellectual DNA” ? For narcistic reasons?

  173. Erasmussimo

    Matti K, I see no hypocrisy on Mr. Mooney’s part. He criticizes something he finds objectionable. He is not doing the same thing that he criticizes. It is your impression that what he criticizes is equivalent to what he does. I do not share that impression, and obviously, neither does Mr. Mooney. Hypocrisy is based on what the *subject* believes, not what the observer believes.

  174. Bill C.

    Denying the logical possibility of the supernatural, however, is intellectually dishonest. That’s why that Carl Sagan quote earlier in the thread is so good – he accepts the possibility but declares there is no evidence (for or against) and so without evidence he is not interested. An intellectually honest atheist.

    Fair enough. So the line between intellectual honesty and militarism becomes the conflation of personal disinterest with societal unimportance, as I might read it. Dawkins et al seem to share the exact same view as Sagan, insofar as they describe it – they just want to convince the rest of the world as to the logic behind discarding supernatural viewpoints, in addition to promoting scientific ones (it’s worth noting that Sagan’s admonitions of superstition in “The Demon-Haunted World” are really no less barbed than Richard Dawkins’ various arguments in The God Delusion).

    BillC, you really are convincing me that this New Atheism is really just a “with us or against us” doctrine.

    I’m not sure that’s what I’ve been arguing at all, but perhaps it is the case when you get right down to it. Though I’d argue it’s less about “with us as people or against us” as it is about “with evidence and rationality or against it.” As I see it, there really isn’t room for a “sometimes with, sometimes without” attitude in the end. Which is just as much an indictment of irrational atheists as it is anyone else – but the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, and even Coyne and Myers are rather poor examples of the irrational.

    I know I’m personally saddened – not really angered, but saddened – to see theistic belief persist so resolutely in the public square. I know from the experiences of my own life the power and beauty of reality unencumbered, as well as the sweetly whispered irrational delusions with which religion good-naturedly and fearfully tries to modify it. I know unequivocally that religious people are not categorically evil, most of them are not stupid, and all of them are capable of good deeds and clear thought. But that’s no reason to tell any of them that they are right when they are not. I think it’s an essential thing that we tell the moderate religionist “I’m glad to see you’re right on evolution, but you’re still horribly misguided on x y z, and here’s why.” That way it’s not about political alliances. It’s just about people, and the right and wrong between them.

    Again I’ll mention Penn Jillette’s inescapable question on these matters: How little do you have to care for all those around you to not want to impress upon them the world as it actually is? And yes, that quite rightly applies to a theist and atheist alike. What’s the alternative? To me, nothing more than distasteful condescension. But maybe that’s just my opinion of politics.

    And the other sinister side of accommodation that I suspect may be at work, which ruffles my feathers more than anything else to see atheists in so ardent a defense of the position, is advancement of the position by moderate or alternative religionists as a cover for their own proselytizing; nothing more than an even softer version of ID’s “teach the controversy” or “academic freedom”. Which is utterly despicable. New Agey or liberal-Christian types less concerned about the advancement of science than they are concerned about the preservation of supernatural ideas in the twenty-first century conception of reality. Convinced that secular philosophy simply cannot deal with the questions that have always been posed to God. Whispering the fear of cultural irrelevancy to “militant atheists” – as if science is in danger of becoming untrue without theistic support – and convincing everyone of how important and intractable religious support is to any idea in the public sphere. These unscrupulous shapeshifters – those too smart or too worldly to just come right out with their beliefs and motivations – these are the people I, personally, want to make sure do not secure a foothold in any debate. And that’s the reason people like PZ Myers go after people like the Discovery Institute or the Templeton Foundation with such incurable vitriol.

    And we’re at the point in the conversation where I have to echo Erasmussimo: Since I disagree, really, what are you going to do about it?

    What kind of a question is that? I could ask you the exact same thing. And the implications of this statement are absurd.

    I must confess I’ve not personally experienced before what you just did, Tim Broderick; that someone could earnestly conflate a passionate commitment to rational reality to an impulse for militarism is even more mind-boggling when directed at me. If that intimation is unintended in your words, sir, I would only suggest you choose your words more carefully.

    What will I do about it? Shrug my shoulders and bow out, most likely. It often happens in debate that we should boil down an issue to its most primal iteration and find ourselves simply opposed. A true and civil agreement to disagree. But the debate against religion rages on, regardless, for the good of minds not yet made up.

    Why would you jump to so ludicrous a conclusion as to expect me to devolve into Eras’s description of war-like anger against your resistance to, what, “coform”? In considering this, I feel twinges of outrage, bewilderment, insult, and hilarity. What I do not feel in the slightest, however, is contrition for any position I have taken or word I have said. I should hope this rhetorical device was not some attempt to make me see the error of my intellectual ways; rather, it lays bald the error in yours. That you should draw that conclusion is an indictment of you, not me.

  175. Matti K.

    E-11, I don’t think Mr. Mooney is hypocritical when criticizing Coyne or other “new atheists”. That is part of a healthy debate and all participants shoud be able to take the heat. I haven’t heard any whining from the “new atheist” side.

    I think it is hypocritical for a critical person to label countercriticism as a waste of time and energy. Don’t you agree that Mr. Mooney is criticising people “with whom he shares 99 percent of his intellectual DNA”?

  176. Bill C.

    @165 Eras:

    Your post #164 boils down to a position akin to “Gosh, asking the bartender for a free drink didn’t work, so I am compelled to punch him.” The fact that one tactic has small (but nonzero!!!!) effect does not justify using a tactic that will surely do worse.

    If the only way you’ll ever get a free drink is to fellate the bartender, at what point does what you’re giving up supersede what you’ll win in return? And in that case, are you ready and willing to just walk away from that drink?

    At any rate, I don’t think that’s a useful analogy.

    This is something that I just don’t understand about the New Atheists — they honestly seem to think that being nasty will accomplish something.

    It DOES accomplish something. There are thousands and thousands of people in this world who will tell you things like “Richard Dawkins changed my life.” I am one of them!

    It’s easy to argue that Dawkins is too insulting, but whenever I hear that argument from an atheist, I find myself compelled to ask how they arrived at their atheism. Usually the atheists raised in religious households or communities are the ones to admit a dose of Dawkins was just what they needed to shake them into questioning; those raised by free-thinking parents are invariably the ones to decry Dawkins as too mean. Not a rule, just something I’ve observed via personal anecdotes. A fascinating subject for a sociological study, at the very least.

    I ask you, how many times have YOU changed your mind because somebody got nasty and insulted you? I very much doubt that it has ever happened to you.

    But that’s the rub…The debate is meant for the people not partaking in it. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens don’t stand at a dais opposite some cleric and honestly expect to destroy his faith. You must realize that. And if someone is so invested in his or her faith that an insult to anyone who shares it is taken as a personal insult – or if a word like “delusion” is enough to make one ignore the entire book that lies under it – those people are unlikely to be convinced of anything other than what they already know.

    Tangential to that is a point that’s already been risen – what the hell are the parameters on insults when you’re trying to objectively falsify the entire grounds on which someone builds his or her life? Yes, I can certainly and clearly see how a fundamentalist would be insulted to read Dawkins’ thorough and irreverent dismantling of the concept of God. But in that case, so what? If we must tailor our arguments to the sensibilities of believers, we are left without arguments.

    But I am human, and when somebody starts treating me like dirt, all those damn emotions get in the way of clear logical thinking, and I want to resist their agenda only out of self-defense.

    Meanwhile, I, as an outside observer, can clearly recognize the point at which you have no good argument, and are just reacting out of self-preservation.

  177. Erasmussimo

    Bill C, let me off a criticism of this statement of yours:

    “Though I’d argue it’s less about “with us as people or against us” as it is about “with evidence and rationality or against it.” As I see it, there really isn’t room for a “sometimes with, sometimes without” attitude in the end.”

    I think you’re conflating the philosophical issue with the interpersonal issue. Yes, within my own mind, I am 100% in favor of rationalism. But my rationalism also tells me that human beings are not fully rational creatures, and every person has subrational foibles. I know that I too am imperfect and therefore I conclude that criticizing others for subrational beliefs is irrational — it is a futile effort. You can’t convince somebody to be rational by using rational arguments. If you want to change people’s minds, the expertise of the marketing person is more useful than that of the logician. Remember, humans aren’t rational — is it rational to ignore that truth?

  178. Erasmussimo Says (#159) —
    –Puking on people’s shoes represents the best Mr. Myers can do here because he lacks a rational argument against the point.–

    Actually, I think PZ Myers’ response is pretty good — he is saying that he finds the argument “if you don’t be nice to god belief, the churchy scientists will take their ball home” so nauseating that he feels like he is going to puke, and what better place is there to puke than on the shoes of the person making the argument.

  179. Erasmussimo

    Some cross-posting going on. Matti K writes:

    “That is part of a healthy debate and all participants shoud be able to take the heat. ”

    I would argue that rational debate shouldn’t include ANY heat. We’re talking about cool reason, right? So why would you want heat in a rational debate?

    “Don’t you agree that Mr. Mooney is criticising people “with whom he shares 99 percent of his intellectual DNA”?”

    This is an discussion about tactics, not goals. I think it’s proper to consider the consequences of our actions in pursuit of a common goal.

    Bill C, we have indeed come to that fundamental point of disagreement where you claim X and I claim NOT X. You believe that being nasty can change people’s minds. I don’t. I’ll start by addressing your assertion that it has worked in the case of Richard Dawkins. It’s true that Mr. Dawkins has inspired a great many people. But has he actually changed minds or has he merely energized the already-convinced? Let’s compare him with Rush Limbaugh (an invidious comparison, to be sure, but still useful because it’s contrary). Do you believe that any left-minded person would ever be convinced by Mr. Limbaugh’s ugliness? It is certainly possible for somebody who listens ONLY to Mr. Limbaugh to embrace his views, but that’s training, not conversion.

    There are multiple audiences to consider in this analysis. Let’s slice the pie into three basic groups: pro, con, and on the fence. Suppose I’m on the pro side of an issue. I say nasty things about the con side. What will be the most likely effects on each of the three groups?

    My colleagues on the pro side will be amused and heartened by my attacks. Attacking does help the already-convinced.

    My opponents on the con side will surely be angered by my attacks, and will likely be energized against my side by my attacks. None will be converted.

    The one the fence group will respond depending upon the nature of my attacks. If they seem reasonable and fair, then they will be swayed in my direction. If they seem unreasonable, unfair, or just ugly, then they will be swayed against my side. A few might be convinced to join my side by nastiness, but for every person whom I get this way, I’ll antagonize several more people who resent the ugliness.

    This is why I believe that nastiness is counterproductive.

  180. Matti K.

    To John Kwok (171)

    I think Ms. Forrest is an intelligent and practical lady. I don’t actually how much she actually criticized Coyne in the C.P. Snow Conference. I have only Mr. Mooney’s word:

    “Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy.”

    I suspect that the views of Coyne were not very central in the message Ms. Forrest presented at the conference. The reason why Mr. Mooney picked up her mild critique of Coyne was probably because he felt he got an authoritive confirmation for the view he had presented earlier:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/04/27/atheists-for-common-cause-with-the-religious-on-evolution/

    I don’t think Ms. Forrest is as eager to pick a fight with the “new atheists” as Mr. Mooney is. She probably also picks the places for these fights better than Mr. Mooney.

  181. Bill C.

    Eras:

    Points of incredible disagreement here, I’m afraid.

    First of all, what are those fence-sitters to make of points which are reasonable, fair and ugly? You keep operating under the mistaken assumption that rationality prohibits vitriol. Pretty much everything PZ Myers has ever said about the likes of Ken Ham or the Discovery Institute is reasoned, fair and ugly. What about Thunderf00t’s epic “Why Do People Laugh at Creationists?” YouTube series, wherein he functions as the very pinnacle of reason and knowledge while utterly mocking creationist arguments left and right? And what to make of Christopher Hitchens, who openly claims that if Christianity is true and his personal beliefs are wrong, then he finds Christianity even more vile and vulgar than when taken on faith alone…And goes on to immaculately and unequivocally explain why he feels that way?

    This all goes back to the likes of Dawkins, who writes a book entitled The God Delusion, fills it with laboriously-crafted argument, good reason, a consideration of many viewpoints, and then gets derided for his militancy and ugliness. What does he gain by titling it “Arguments For and Against an Interventionist God”? A lower readership and the disinterested shrugs of far more believers? This is why I asked: “What are the parameters on insults when you’re trying to objectively falsify the entire grounds on which someone builds his or her life?” Again, if you let the religious dictate what is or is not acceptable in these arguments – what constitutes hurtful or unfair commentary – you’re left without an argument. And that’s no good for anyone.

    And I should also point out my personal anecdote of being convinced by Dawkins is related from a moderate Catholic background. My parents had no bone to pick with science or evolution, but it was also just taken as a given in my household that God existed, He’d judge you when you died, and you needed to live your life according to His wishes. Obviously, I got over that, thanks to Dawkins, and I am inarguably a better man for it – not only no longer beholden to God-belief, but also more patient, more rational, more accepting, more creative and more happy.

  182. Matti K.

    E-11: “I would argue that rational debate shouldn’t include ANY heat. We’re talking about cool reason, right? So why would you want heat in a rational debate?”

    I don’t really want it but it seems inevitable. It seems that Mr. Mooney has great difficulties understanding that not everyone he counts as “one of us” has the same political goals as he himself has. That results in a somewhat paternalistic critique of these people he sees as strayed comrades. I can understand that this pisses off some of the objects of his critique. Heat follows.

    Matti K: “Don’t you agree that Mr. Mooney is criticising people “with whom he shares 99 percent of his intellectual DNA”?”

    E-11: “This is an discussion about tactics, not goals. I think it’s proper to consider the consequences of our actions in pursuit of a common goal.”

    If it is supposed to be a discussion, why is a critic labeling countercriticism as “waste of time and energy”? Is it to be understood that Mr. Mooney is the only one who has seen the light and can put the priorities right?

  183. Erasmussimo

    Bill, you believe that PZ Myers et al have made purely rational arguments that also include some ugliness. I disagree with your subjective assessment. My own subjective assessment is that the ugliness detracts from the rationality. After all, if an argument were purely rational, it wouldn’t include jabs at others’ beliefs. It would be exclusively about the issue, not the people.

    Again, we’re talking about the psychology of convincing people, not the logic of an argument. People are convinced by the damnedest things. I’m sure that if we attached photos of buxom bombshells to our blogs, we’d get more converts. Not many, but a few. Isn’t THAT a delightful thought? ;-)

    As to your personal experience, I’ll ask, were you a faithful Catholic who read Dawkins, shouted “Eureka!” and converted to atheism?

  184. Bill C.

    Re: Dawkins

    What kind of question is that? I believed that God existed and that he had in some way empowered Jesus. I found partaking in the Eucharist and reflecting on the suffering of Christ to be profoundly moving. I was not a biblical literalist by any means, but as I considered scientific truths, I always tried to incorporate them into a schema which held God as presiding over nature. I was quite enamored with the ideas of God residing in the quanta, or existing within the random probabilities that govern events. I was a Ken Miller Catholic, really. But would my story be any more convincing had I been a fundamentalist?

    The point here is that if individuals are so strongly committed to their belief as to be insulted by others’ irreverency and thus not open to their arguments, a softer approach is not likely to convince them of anything. They are not open to arguments. You accuse me of living in denial of psychological reality, but your assertion that niceness will convince a believer to shed his faith where pointed jabs might fail seems far removed from any reality I’ve ever witnessed.

    And the other interesting point is that in my Catholic days, I was rather satisfied with my above-average but superficial and, in some instances, wrong-headed view of evolution and cosmology. It took a shaking of my faith to really make me hungry for the knowledge of how things ACTUALLY worked.

  185. Erasmussimo

    Bill, you misunderstand my point when you state:

    “your assertion that niceness will convince a believer to shed his faith where pointed jabs might fail seems far removed from any reality I’ve ever witnessed.”

    I have not written that; what I have said is that a) courtesy is more effective than nastiness; and b) courtesy impresses fence-sitters, not die-hards.

  186. Bill C.

    Eras, I must ask: More effective at what, and impresses them to do what?

    Because in my experience, courtesy is more effective at avoiding nastiness than nastiness is, but that’s just irrelevant. And, as I’ve said before, courtesy is no more likely than Carl Sagan’s plain truth or Christopher Hitchens’ ballsy polemic to impress a fence-sitter to consider an atheist’s viewpoint. As I’ve been trying to tell you, I WAS a fence-sitter, I know from whence I speak, and it was an irreverent show of cojones along with a well-reasoned argument which really led me down the path to abandon faith. Reason alone had been there all along, but I’d never had an impetus to pay attention to it.

    You said before that atheism has just stood around being right for a long time, for all the good it did. Inherent to that idea is also that atheism was in fact being polite all that time, as it certainly wasn’t going around trying to rile anyone’s feathers by simply being right. Then, recently, you have a wave of atheists making a show of their atheism, and whattayaknow…Suddenly atheism becomes a cultural movement.

    I know “I’m just sayin'” isn’t very impressive rhetoric, but…I’m just sayin’. Do you have any data – or even personal experience – that contradicts what I’m saying here? Have you encountered any believers turned off by the New Atheists that you’ve then been able to “de-convert” using the same arguments but a much nicer, more conciliatory tone?

    As I’m reading you, your argument is that we shouldn’t be doing anything to turn anyone off to begin with – but as I’ve repeatedly asked, what are and who decides the parameters for that when you’re trying to dismantle everything believers hold dear?

  187. Erasmussimo

    Bill, you ask re the courteous approach relative to the nasty approach:
    “More effective at what, and impresses them to do what?”
    I would say that the courteous approach is more effecting than the nasty approach even with hardcore believers — because the nasty approach has negative value. Being nasty just makes them dig in their heels and vow to fight you. Being courteous doesn’t have that negative effect.

    Your single data point is unchallengeable — but it’s a single data point. It’s pretty hard to base a hypothesis on a single data point.

    “Then, recently, you have a wave of atheists making a show of their atheism, and whattayaknow…Suddenly atheism becomes a cultural movement.”

    Really? How do you know whether these people weren’t just stepping up in front of a parade that had already started? Look at the history of belief in the last 50 years. Europe started going secular long before Mr. Dawkins wrote his book, and even in America the growth of atheism was clear in the 1960s. I think that the growth of atheism is due to a lot of cultural factors, most notably a growing suspicion of institutions and a greater sense of individual responsibility. These are deep subterranean trends in our culture, and to chalk it up to some books and blog discussions seems way wrong to me.

    “Do you have any data – or even personal experience – that contradicts what I’m saying here? Have you encountered any believers turned off by the New Atheists that you’ve then been able to “de-convert” using the same arguments but a much nicer, more conciliatory tone?”

    I have zero direct evidence, but mountains of indirect evidence. Look at the strategies other movements use to gain acceptance. Martin Luther King accomplished far more for black civil rights than the Black Panthers. The militant feminists of the 1970s with their epithet “male chauvinist pig” did not advance feminism — they set it back. Gays have not devoted energy to denigrating straights. More apropos, missionaries don’t attack their flocks telling them that they’re evil sinners (some did, but they never had anywhere near as much success as the feel-good ministries). The best example you can offer is the political attack ad, which has been shown to be effective, but only if done carefully. Specifically, it can’t LOOK like an attack ad. It has to attack without being nasty. Political attack ads that are widely perceived as being nasty usually trigger a backlash against the sponsoring candidate.

    “your argument is that we shouldn’t be doing anything to turn anyone off to begin with – but as I’ve repeatedly asked, what are and who decides the parameters for that when you’re trying to dismantle everything believers hold dear?”

    Each and every one of us makes that decision individually. If you want to go house to house sneering at every believer you meet, that’s your business. I won’t try to stop you. Instead, I’m telling you that you probably won’t accomplish anything good and you’ll probably make matters worse.

  188. Bill C.

    Each and every one of us makes that decision individually. If you want to go house to house sneering at every believer you meet, that’s your business. I won’t try to stop you. Instead, I’m telling you that you probably won’t accomplish anything good and you’ll probably make matters worse.

    This is the crux of the argument. I agree with you completely on the first three sentences.

    After that, I realize what you’re telling me, and I’m just not buying it.

    MLK? That man made a HELL of a lot of people angry. So much so one of them put a bullet in his head. I think most of the New Atheists see themselves in this way, more than they see themselves as Black Panthers: they are simply espousing a viewpoint that is correct, and they won’t back down from it regardless of who feels hurt. That’s exactly what MLK did. The Black Panthers blew shit up and beat people. There is an utter lack of equivalency with New Atheists there.

    Regarding the rest of your analogies, it still goes back to who is RIGHT, not who is nice. Militant feminists (and as for “setting feminism back”, that’s f-ing debatable, my friend) were/are distasteful only as far as they portray/ed their opponents fallaciously – is it really worth taking seriously an outcry against the epithet “chauvinist pig” if the accused actually is/was a chauvinist pig? The issue is that they applied the label indiscriminately.

    Gays don’t denigrate straights because that’s not the issue and they know it; they know there’s nothing wrong with straights, they just want straights to know there’s nothing wrong with gays. But does that mean they should denounce drag queens and transsexuals because those people don’t fit the straight definition of “nothing wrong with” or “natural”? That’s the danger of letting your opponent dictate your terms.

    And as for missionaries – that’s the worst analogy of them all. Because the missionaries did believe their converts were terrible sinners, they just weren’t honest about it because they were crafty, conniving assholes with imperialistic political aspirations. And I do NOT want to adopt that kind of tactic by any means. Above all things, I will be truthful.

    If anything, I LIKE the idea that the opposition will dig in their heels and vow to fight. In an instance such as this, it exposes them for intellectual bankruptcy as much as those who dug in to fight MLK exposed themselves as racists.

  189. John Kwok

    @ Matti K. –

    I know Barbara. We correspond via e-mail occasionally. I also know why she hasn’t been inclined to join in the debate, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t blame her (Nor will I disclose it, since I’m sure this was a confidential remark of hers.).

  190. Erasmussimo

    Bill, MLK generated a lot of anger, but it wasn’t because he was nasty to anybody. His entire approach was exactly on point for us. He achieved his goals by insisting on his correctness without attacking anybody else. And yes, it was the nastiness of his opponents that eventually won the battle for him. The lesson is clear: only losers get nasty.

    We interpret the history of the feminist movement differently. The militants who used angry tactics generated a backlash. The ones who didn’t use angry tactics prevailed.

    You distort my position with your comment about drag queens. I’ve been very clear that I’m denigrating nasty attacks. That doesn’t describe drag queens.

    I don’t know what history of missionaries you read, but the histories I have read show over and over that the missionaries were motivated by genuine love for the people they worked with. The most common strategy used in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, was to set up shop as a charitable operation. The mission was there to help people with their physical problems, providing medical care, education, and/or agricultural organization. The missionaries FIRST established their charitable operation and THEN applied the religious message. The notion that missionaries descended upon savages spouting fire and brimstone — well, that’s just a complete distortion of history.

    “If anything, I LIKE the idea that the opposition will dig in their heels and vow to fight. In an instance such as this, it exposes them for intellectual bankruptcy as much as those who dug in to fight MLK exposed themselves as racists.”

    You seem stuck in the notion that this is an intellectual debate. It’s not. They simply demonize you (easily done if you behave nastily) and then warn their flock against having anything to do with somebody as nasty as you. You haven’t proven their incorrectness, you’ve only proven your own nastiness.

  191. Bill C.

    Re: Missionaries – An entirely relevant point here: the missionaries probably did genuinely love the people they worked with, but they also regarded them as damned heathen sinners. One does not preclude the other. To wit, I can still love someone and consider them incredibly ignorant.

    That’s exactly the attitude of any “New Atheist”. If they genuinely did not care for their fellow human beings, they would not insist with such vehemence on the correctness of a rational, secular worldview. They KNOW, deep down, that reason in a secular framework is the only way to run the world. Knowing that, it’s nothing but love that would compel them to try to convert the species.

    As to demonization, I still fail to see the problem. They’d do it anyway. The godless were long demonized before the godless turned aggressive. It’s up to the flock whether or not they want to believe what they’re told. It IS just an intellectual argument regardless of what they want you to think (because if it’s not, we have no way of winning – we cannot hope to offer anything close to the emotional, spiritual, moral or political comfort religion provides – it is, after all, the most proven source of social cohesion in the history of humankind), and if an environment of disrespect is enough to turn a waffler away from objective truth, that waffler needs more respect for objective truth.

    I appreciate your views and the time you’ve taken to explain them. I understand where you’re coming from. I just disagree. I think from this point on it’ll just get redundant, as I already find myself repeating myself. Good show, and I’ll catch you next debate around. :)

  192. Erasmussimo

    Thanks for the discussion! :-)

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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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