How Can We Rouse the Silent Majority?

By Chris Mooney | June 22, 2009 10:59 am

I was just reading this great column by Peter Hess, director of the Faith Project at the National Center for Science Education, on science-religion compatibility. And I came across this passage:

Too often, debates over the public perception of evolution are dominated by the fringes, by fundamentalist Christians and others who reject basic science due to their literal reading of the Bible and by ardent atheists who reject religion because they’ve embraced metaphysical naturalism ― that nature is all that exists. But the silent majority ― that spans the spectrum from theism to atheism ― have no problem reconciling their religious beliefs with established sciences such as evolution, or with new sciences such as stem cell research. My work at the National Center for Science Education brings me into contact with voices across that spectrum and I’ve found that honest, open, and inclusive dialog is not only possible, but vital for our children’s education, for the credibility of religious traditions, and for the continued role of the United States as a scientific and moral leader in our increasingly interconnected world.

I heartily agree–my sense, too, is that the silent majority doesn’t side with either of the extremes. And I think the polling data eminently supports this. For instance, as David Masci of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life writes in a survey of that evidence:

These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion. And when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers.

At the same time, though, let’s face it–in the science blogosphere, we don’t hear a lot from the “silent majority.” Rather, and admittedly with some important exceptions, we hear from the New Atheists.

Yet I am arguing on behalf of the silent majority, and that is what keeps me going. So my question is this: How can we wake them up, make them realize that this is their issue too, and help them reclaim the debate for the middle ground?

Comments (222)

  1. John Kwok

    Chris,

    An excellent question, and I am glad Hess has decided to speak out, especially in light of the increasingly vehement attacks which he and his colleagues at NCSE have been receiving from such prominent New Atheists as Jerry Coyne, and especially, PZ Myers (As for the term New Atheists, I think that’s a misnomer, since Militant Atheists is a term that more accurately describes their behavior.), and their zealous acolytes (Oddly enough, I see no difference between the style and reasoning of their arguments than, for example, at a prominent creationist website as Uncommon Descent, which I often refer to sarcastically as Uncommon Dissent.).

    I suppose one way is to encourage the development of organizations and events such as New York City’s World Science Festival (Who knows, maybe your question is worthy of discussion in a panel discussion at next year’s event.).

  2. And when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers.

    So, if religion and evolution are really contradictory, these people will reject science? How can you trust them, so?

    Marco Ferrari

  3. Blogger

    This blog has become dominated by two things: feministic posts and atheistic ones.

    I’m going to scramble backwards through the archives to remind myself why I used to like it so much…

  4. “… when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers.”

    And the above is exactly why Mr. Hess and Mr. Mooney are 100% wrong. Their approach enables those who distort science for religious purposes, and has led to a severe dumbing-down of the American people when it comes to science. Such ignorance on the part of our people is not only unbecoming, but it bodes ill for our future in an ever-more science and technology-driven world economy.

    Turning to religion to answer questions best answered by science is a serious weakness of intellect and purpose; avoiding criticizing, to the extent of seemingly encouraging, that practice is unconscionable.

  5. Gaythia

    Based on my personal experience, Dr. Peter Hess is utterly magnificent at facilitating a dialog about the compatibility of evolution with faith or lack thereof. He is excellent at fostering a discussion among those of widely varying religious and philosophical persuasions and getting people to see that religion need not exclude science. I am very happy to see this column featuring his ideas. I think his voice is one that needs to be heard.

  6. How can we wake them up, make them realize that this is their issue too, and help them reclaim the debate for the middle ground?

    Isn’t that why we hear from the ends of the spectrum, not the middle? Is there supposed to be an answer to “how can we wake them up?” Isn’t the question, “can they be awakened?” And isn’t the probable answer, “No,” at least for the most part?

    I’d add that I don’t think there’s any reason to think the middle is important because it’s right. More likely, it is not. The middle is important because it allows dialog–because contradictions exist and may be hashed out if enough tolerance exists. Yet that’s why the middle is silent, for it has little enough stake in one answer, and is not very sure of itself.

    The web, and its blogs, generally lacks subtlety, giving people who have felt alienated a place to group together, to cheer their tribe, and bash the other tribes. There may even be many voices in the middle, but who goes to those? People tend to go where the fights are, or at least where the sabres rattle.

    And isn’t one of the problems with advocating for the middle the fact that much of the work is done by the extremes? Those who argue consistently and strongly against ID, and who have large audiences (the tendency to drift toward the fights shows again), are the New Atheists. Granted, on the organizational level, the NCSE does a great deal of work (and they would be compromised if they took an anti-religion stance, certainly), but those who drive home the embarrassing nature of ID and other creationism is more the New Atheists.

    More strong theistic voices against creationism might modify this reality, and it is good to see Biologos in there now.

    The middle will always be well-populated, yet have unsure voices. So I doubt that anything will cause a large change. Like I said, though, get a good deal more pro-science talk out of theists, and it might shift somewhat. As long as the New Atheists dominate the web battle against creationism, it will be seen as the successful strategy. Theistic successes, beyond a few single theists here and there, might at least give people cause to think that the atheistic flavor is not the only one that wins.

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

  7. The way we begin is by not being silent. There are so many other things that are important that this kind of issue gets dominated by those for which it’s the be-all and end-all of things. A lot of us have thought through the issues and found the limits of what can be known with science and logic and that religion is really quite bad at doing those things which science was invented to do. I’d guess if religion had been good at that, science would have been superfluous.

    I think, eventually, people will conclude the clash in question is actually between two groups of fundamentalists. Maybe it’s going to be most effective to exclude them from any serious engagement undertaken in order to make some kind of progress. It’s going to be impossible to include them without being distracted from a futile debate which neither group of fundamentalists will give up. For them it’s about the truth of their ideologies, not about anything practical. We are going to have to move on without them.

  8. Davo

    When was the last time a “militant atheist” advocated banning someone’s beliefs or personal choices and making them illegal?

    By the way it is worth taking a look at this marvelous question that Neil DeGrasse Tyson asks Richard Dawkins:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYBFqse7tiU

  9. Bill C.

    These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion.

    Frankly, that’s because most people in the United States are content to not use their minds. Cognitive dissonance is far more easily ignored than confronted.

    The very next sentence after the one I quote betrays this fact, and Marco Ferrari @ #2 makes the point: If the majority of Americans will cling to their faith when presented with subjects of actual science/religion conflict, by what rationale does a science educator court and defend their views?

    This is all so very backward to me.

  10. Bill C.

    @ Gaythia #4:

    He is excellent at fostering a discussion among those of widely varying religious and philosophical persuasions and getting people to see that religion need not exclude science.

    And the very fact that he works at the NCSE seems to suggest that, vice versa, science need not exclude religion, which is both wrong and dangerous.

  11. John Kwok

    @ Davo –

    In the past few days, Jason Rosenhouse has ordered both Anthony McCarthy and myself to restrict ourselves to one comment per day on his blog, effectively telling us to “shut up”. On the other hand, he is allowing fellow militant atheists – who believe that the best way of having a rational discourse with their opponents is by flinging ad hominem attacks at them – carte blanche to post as long, and as much, as they wish.

    I think that answers your question quite clearly IMHO.

  12. rjb

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned somewhere in the argument, but I do think there is a level of a lack of honesty on both sides of this argument. One of the inherent truths that needs to be addressed is that many, if not most, research scientists do not hold any religious beliefs whatsoever. And until that can be accurately and fairly represented and understood, I find the arguments on both sides very frustrating. I think it’s important to state that it is apparently possible to reconcile science and religion, as Kenneth Miller and others claim to do. But to claim that the atheistic/agnostic viewpoint is not dominant within the scientific research community is disingenuous. Let’s start with the reality, and then show where there is common ground that we can agree upon.

    The best analysis of evolutionary biologists and religion that I have ever seen is done by Greg Graffin, who is both the front man for the post-punk band Bad Religion and a PhD evolutionary biologist from Cornell. His thesis was actually more of a culture of science thesis and the results are online at http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/results.pdf. He surveyed top level biologists from across the globe, and got a high level of responses. By direct questioning, 79% of the respondents claim that they do not believe in a traditional god. Only 12% claim to believe in any type of god. This is where I agree with the new atheists. Science and religion are not usually aligned. Of course, there’s still the 12% who do reconcile it. But where else in society do you find only 12% acceptance of religion? To state that science and religion are completely compatible just doesn’t agree with the facts. Likewise, to state that it is not possible to reconcile the two also doesn’t agree. It is possible, but it is definitely in the minority in the scientific community.

  13. JoeT

    Hi Chris,

    When you first started writing on this subject you quoted Pennock in an attempt to state that science had nothing to say about the supernatural:

    “Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables. We confirm causal laws by performing controlled experiments in which the hypothesized independent variable is made to vary while all other factors are held constant so that we can observe the effect on the dependent variable. But we have no control over supernatural entities or forces; hence these cannot be scientifically studied. (p. 292)”

    It would enlighten the discussion some if you could start with Pennock’s definition of experimentation and then tell us whether astronomy, cosmology, geology and evolutionary biology are sciences. Specifically, tell us how controlled experiments in these sciences are performed so that only one independent variable is made to vary.

    My claim is that Pennock’s definition comes from a philosopher and no actual working scientist would accept Pennock’s claim. Which is why, I imagine that Jerry Coyne might reject Pennock’s definition and that you, a nonscientist along with Pennock, are inclined to believe it.

    Thanks,

  14. John Kwok

    @ rjb –

    The sample used by Graffin is relatively small, consisting only of members of the National Academy of Sciences who do research in one or more aspects of evolutionary biology. It isn’t a representative sample of all evolutionary biologists, let alone, of all prominent evolutionary biologists.

    I had trouble accessing your link, so am reposting it here for the benefit of others:

    http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/

  15. Um, I’d really rather not be used as an example, J.K. I’ve always held that the owner of a blog has the right to determine its content.

    These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion.
    Frankly, that’s because most people in the United States are content to not use their minds. Cognitive dissonance is far more easily ignored than confronted.

    It’s only a problem for people who insist that either religion or science can do what neither of them can. Most people, when they go through the facts of what science can and can’t do and what religion can’t do, don’t seem to have any problem making that very real distinction. But they’ve got to have those facts presented to them. From what I’ve been reading on new atheist blogs, a lot of people in science and the wannabees who flock around them like stage door johnnies don’t know what the limits of science are, why should the general population know that yet.

    That’s “yet”, they could know it if the very basic level of science education dealt with methods and boundaries instead of fun facts that aren’t very useful.

  16. @ JoeT

    “My claim is that Pennock’s definition comes from a philosopher and no actual working scientist would accept Pennock’s claim. ”

    https://www.msu.edu/~pennock5/research/vita.html

    “Education:

    B.A. (w/ Honors), Biology/Philosophy, Earlham College, 1980
    Ph.D., History & Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, 1991.
    Academic Honors & Awards:

    National Associate. National Research Council of the National Academies of Science. Designated lifetime member in 2008.
    Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Elected 2006.
    Friend of Darwin Award. National Center for Science Education. 2003.
    Sigma Xi National Distinguished Lecturer. 2000-2002.
    National Press Club Author’s Night. 1999.
    CTNS Science & Religion Course Award. 1999.
    Templeton Prize – Exemplary Paper in Theology and the Natural Sciences. 1997.
    President of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society (UT-Austin Chapter) . 1994 – 1999.
    The Philosophy Foundation First International Essay Competition. 1990.
    Michael R. Bennett Prize (Philosophy Essay Competition). 1988.
    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. Elected 1986.
    Apple for the Teacher Award. 1986.
    Phi Beta Kappa. Elected 1980.
    Grants & Fellowships:

    National Science Foundation – Co-PI. CRI:IAD — A Testbed for Evolving Cooperative and Adaptive Behavior among Autonomous Systems. (APP 98946-00) 2008-2009.
    National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) Sabbatical Fellowship. Theory and Applications of Evolutionary Computation. 2008.
    National Science Foundation. Senior Personnel. “BRAID: Bridging the Disciplines with Authentic Inquiry & Discourse” 2007-2010.
    Cambridge Templeton Consortium. Principal Investigator. Emerging Intelligence: Contingency, Convergence and Constraints in the Evolution of Intelligent Behavior. (#1119) 2005-2009.
    National Science Foundation. Principal Investigator. Avida-ED: Technology for Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science using Digital Organisms. (#DUE-0341484) 2004-2008.
    etc …”

    Just a philosopher?

  17. JoeT

    Tim,

    Actually, you just proved the case that Pennock is a philosopher, not a working scientist. His degree in biology stops at a bachelors. He was never an active researcher in the field

  18. I’ve heard Greg Graffin on the Unitarian Universalist radio program, The Cambridge Forum. I thought his view of religion was astoundingly superficial for someone who is supposed to think in line with the exigencies of science. But I’ve come to see that someone with fine credentials within their specialized field can be quite as sloppy a thinker outside of it as someone with no credentials of that kind. I didn’t like his music either.

  19. Davo

    I am talking about legal injunctions.

  20. John Kwok

    @ Anthony –

    Regardless of whether you liked to be “used” or not, Rosenhouse did ask you to stop probably because you, like myself, were among the most prolific posters opposing the claims of the militant atheists posting at his blog.

    @ Tim –

    I regard Pennock as among our very best philosophers of science who has a keen grasp too of both the history of science and of evolutionary biology, ranking right alongisde the likes of William Provine, David Hull and Philip Kitcher. He’s not just a mere philosopher IMHO.

  21. @ 12 rjb

    “To state that science and religion are completely compatible just doesn’t agree with the facts. Likewise, to state that it is not possible to reconcile the two also doesn’t agree. It is possible, but it is definitely in the minority in the scientific community.”

    Excellent point – although I might quibble with the numbers (but I won’t).
    I think, though, it doesn’t matter what the numbers actually are. This isn’t something subject to a vote – it’s personal belief.
    For me, as long as a person’s religion is reconciled with science is the most important thing.

  22. John Kwok

    @ Davo –

    You should have been more explicit then. But regardless, if anyone has told someone to “shut up”, it’s been militant atheists, not their critics. I find that an especially odd position for them to embrace, especially when they all proclaim themselves to be devout liberals too.

  23. I’d think a philosopher of science would, actually, have more to say about the boundaries of science than someone who doesn’t deal with those ideas in a way that has to stand peer review. I wonder how what PZ or Dawkins said on those issues would stand up to the review of philosophers of science.

  24. rjb

    @John Kwok

    I agree that it is a small and select sample and probably not indicative of the larger field. But the names on that list represent a huge influence on the field of evolutionary biology. In my own travels through academia, my own anecdotal evidence is that the vast majority of my colleagues are either openly atheist/agnostic, or express no obvious religious point of view. Again, I know that this is not true data. But I still stand by my claim that it is disingenuous to say that religion and science are completely compatible. The more common position, I claim, is that most researchers do not have any religious beliefs that resemble what the general population would deem religious belief.

    On the other hand, I do agree that it is possible to do so. It’s just a minority position within the field, and I see no need to antagonize anyone with such beliefs. But I do get frustrated when I hear the claim that science and religion are completely compatible. Clearly they are not. It requires some rarely observed reasoning to bring them together.

  25. @ JoeT

    Try again. Click the link – he’s actively doing research

    Here, I’ll even do some work for you:

    “Cockroaches, Drunkards, and Climbers: Modeling the Evolution of Simple Movement Strategies Using Digital Organisms
    Wesley R. Elsberry, Laura M. Grabowski, Charles Ofria, and Robert T. Pennock
    Proceedings of IEEE Symposium on Artificial Life (ALIFE 2009) Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence. (2009, pp. 92-99) [pdf]

    Abstract: Even the simplest of organisms may exhibit low-level intelligent behaviors in their directed movements, such as in foraging. We used the Avida digital evolution research platform to explore the evolution of movement strategies in a model environment with a single local resource that diffuses to produce a gradient, which organisms have the ability to follow. Three common strategies that evolved, Cockroach, Drunkard, and Climber, exhibit how both environmental constraints and historical contingency play a role in the emergence of intelligent behaviors. The evolved programs are also suitable for use in controllers on robots.

    Evolving coordinated quadruped gaits using the HyperNEAT generative encoding
    Jeff Clune, Benjamin E. Beckmann, Charles Ofria, and Robert T. Pennock
    Proceedings of IEEE on Evolutionary Computing Special Section on Evolutionary Robotics. (2009) [pdf]

    Abstract: Even the simplest of organisms may exhibit low-level intelligent behaviors in their directed movements, such as in foraging. We used the Avida digital evolution research platform to explore the evolution of movement strategies in a model environment with a single local resource that diffuses to produce a gradient, which organisms have the ability to follow. Three common strategies that evolved, Cockroach, Drunkard, and Climber, exhibit how both environmental constraints and historical contingency play a role in the emergence of intelligent behaviors. The evolved programs are also suitable for use in controllers on robots.”

  26. John Kwok

    @ JoeT –

    You haven’t read Pennock’s C. V. carefully. He is participating actively in research pertaining to evolutionary biology and is a faculty member of Michigan State University’s evolutionary biology program.

  27. giotto

    Given that previous silent majorities brought us Nixon and perhaps Reagan, I say let that sleeping dog lie.

    John Kwok, your response to Davo is a thing of immense beauty, and I will submit a summary of your position to the Pete Hoekstra memepool:

    “I was asked to restrict my commenting in a blog thread; now I know what it is like to have my beliefs banned and made illegal.”

    JK, you have earned your place in the great cavalcade of Imaginary Oppression.

  28. Davo, I’ve brought up that stupid petition Dawkins foolishly signed to make it illegal for parents in Britain to teach their children about religion.

    I know it’s considered unfair to bring it up, but there have been some pretty horrible examples of officially atheist governments violently suppressing religion. That history is as real as any part of evolution, it’s a record of what actually happened in history.

  29. Walker

    Normally, I don’t like wading into these battles, but as a scientist with philosophy training, this reading of Pemcock by JoeT strikes me as incredibly bizarre:


    It would enlighten the discussion some if you could start with Pennock’s definition of experimentation and then tell us whether astronomy, cosmology, geology and evolutionary biology are sciences. Specifically, tell us how controlled experiments in these sciences are performed so that only one independent variable is made to vary.

    Pemcock’s definition has nothing to do about the number of independent variables. It has to do with what is observable. None of those areas deal with the unobservable (yes, there are branches of theoretical physics that are more mathematics than science because of the lack of observable verification, but we classify them accordingly).

    Naturalism is a fundamental principle of science — no scientist rejects it. It is what separates astronomy from astrology. The question at hand is whether you accept metaphysical naturalism or methodological naturalism. And this is a question of philosophy. Trying to answer this question with science is like using logic to prove modus ponens.

  30. Erasmussimo

    While I don’t think that we can arouse the silent majority, I believe that there is merit in contesting the militants who shout down the moderates. My impression of blog discussions is that many are dominated by the local militants who denigrate moderate positions. Occasionally a strong-willed moderate steps in and makes the case for calm rationalism, but the militants always gang up on the moderate, and eventually the moderate gives up. I have found myself in that position many times. While we cannot and should not attempt to throttle the militants, I think it is worth our while to contest them for the benefit of the lurkers, who always outnumber the participants. The strategy is always the same: remain courteous, stick to the facts, and don’t let their angry rhetoric get under your skin. This is always the most productive approach. It accomplishes nothing with the militants but exposes their irrationalism to the lurkers.

    There’s a salutary example for us to consider here: the Republican Party. Starting 20 years ago, conservatives began developing their own media, first in radio and later on television with Fox News. Now, politically biased commentary is a necessary component of democracy, but the conservative version had a fatal flaw: most conservatives listened ONLY to the conservative media. Without the crucial check of alternate news sources, conservatives went on a wild binge of belief disconnected with reality. At first, this gave them power because they shared their outrage at what they thought were the ills of the world. But you can’t fool Mother Nature — if you divorce yourself from reality, eventually you screw up badly. And that’s exactly what happened to the Republican Party. It has been taken over by a militant group that is way out of touch with reality; its policies are so far out the fringe that the majority of Americans have rejected the Republican Party.

    The basic lesson here for rationalists is that we must insure that the militants don’t shout out the moderates. We must continually counter their bile with our rationalism. It’s a Sisyphusian task, but one that must be done if we are not to walk down the same path that the Republican Party has trod.

  31. Erasmussimo, I think what happened with the Republicans is that they saw an opportunity in the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and went for the far-right, racist vote. The peculiarities of late 20th century American culture means that if you’re going to do that you get biblical fundamentalism as well. I doubt any of the right-wing politicians who pander to the biblical literalists really cares about what happens in a public school science class It’s all a matter of getting elected and holding onto an office. The market fundamentalism of the Republican right isn’t incompatible with creationism, since public education isn’t a priority to them.

    Actually, as the pieces I posted at my blog yesterday and today show, there’s an odd link between the Republican right and the ultra-Darwinists in the form of Herbert Spencer.

  32. Walker

    I doubt any of the right-wing politicians who pander to the biblical literalists really cares about what happens in a public school science class It’s all a matter of getting elected and holding onto an office.

    I used to work at a university where a fair number of students would go and work for John Cornyn’s office (ranked 4th most conservative in US). They would say this (e.g. pandering to the religious base to get elected) quite openly.

  33. giotto

    Walker @29: Yes. JoeT’s interpretation of Pemcock may seem bizarre, but it is a claim I have heard from creationists and young earthers: Their approach to the silent majority is to take advantage of the SM’s lack of decent science training, and one way to do this is to define science as that which can be replicated in a laboratory, under controlled conditions so as to control variables, etc… Once they have the audience nodding at this, it is a simple step to then claim that neither geology nor evolution nor astronomy are science. How do we know the earth is older than 6000 years if, after all, that cannot be replicated in a laboratory?? Likewise for the age of the cosmos, and of course for evolution. It is a rhetorical ploy and nothing else. I’ve never been able to decide if those making that ploy are just ignorant about science or if they are being actively disingenuous in order to win souls to their side.

  34. Walker

    Yes. JoeT’s interpretation of Pemcock may seem bizarre, but it is a claim I have heard from creationists and young earthers

    But it doesn’t even make sense. Any mathematical model with more than one independent variable can be converted to a model with just one independent variable through trivial application of Cantor’s pairing function. We just use the models with more than one variable because they are easier to comprehend.

  35. giotto

    Walker, I am not disagreeing with you. As I said, this is a rhetorical move, not a logical move, on the part of creationists. It doesn’t have to make sense; it has to be convincing. And from what I’ve seen, it often convinces those want to be convinced.

  36. Bill C.

    @ Anthony:

    Most people, when they go through the facts of what science can and can’t do and what religion can’t do, don’t seem to have any problem making that very real distinction.

    I think the New Atheists’ point, somewhat (though perhaps not intentionally) reflected in your wording here, is that there isn’t anything religion CAN do. At least nothing that some other field of inquiry cannot do better. When it comes to religion, it’s all “can’t”. Many atheists (the “New Atheists”) feel that point very much needs to be made to the Americans who can comfortably defer to faith on matters of science OR philosophy.

  37. MFG

    I’ve been following this debate as best I can with limited time, and feel both Coyne and Mooney and their allies have been talking past each other.

    Mooney has really thrown me for a loop this time, however. The “silent majority”? The “middle”?

    First of all, I hope everyone remembers where the phrase “silent majority” comes from. Second, what conceivable meaning does “middle” have? Is there a middle that Mooney would accept between those who accept that climate change is happening and those who deny it? Is there a middle between evolutionary biology and ID/creationism? Between the Copernican theory and the Flat Earth Society?

    The “middle” isn’t the issue. So-called philosophical vs. methodological naturalism isn’t the issue. Politics is the issue. This debate began with Coyne’s thesis that the NAS and NCSE had gone too far by telling nonfundamentalist believers that they can keep their beliefs while accepting evolution.

    Coyne has made it clear, to me anyway, that he’s no philosophical naturalist. He accepts that there are religions compatible with science. He provides a list of the kinds of events and phenomena that would convince him, as a methodological naturalist, that the supernatural exists.

    The argument is tactical. Should a sop be made to believing parents or should intellectual honesty be made an absolute value? One preserves alliances for the cause of keeping religion out of the science classroom. The other preserves one the highest values, if not the highest, of a secular society.

    In regard to this tactical question, both sides are taking extreme positions.

    For Coyne et al., offering the sop is “corruption” and somehow changing the “mandate” of the NAS and NCSE, as if the sop is an the ideological impurity that will become a cancer and devour science from the inside.

    For Mooney et al., criticizing Ken Miller when he publishes a book making claims that some of us find dubious is to end forever any chance of an alliance with so-called moderate and liberal believers.

    Both sides are saying “shut up”: shut up rather than reassure believers in any way, shut up rather than criticize believers when they make claims about reality. Both sides are engaged over ephemera such as MN vs. PN, rather than a tactical question on which they both take extreme positions.

    Meanwhile, Mooney seems to have gone off the deep end, making a commitment to the notion that somehow one can split the difference regarding actual beliefs about reality, and that somehow the views of an unengaged majority matter.

  38. I think the New Atheists’ point,….. there isn’t anything religion CAN do. At least nothing that some other field of inquiry cannot do better.

    Apparently, by a large majority, humanity doesn’t agree. Who knows if things wouldn’t be much, much worse if there wasn’t any religion. As mentioned, those countries where the attempt was made to drive it into extinction weren’t exactly the workers’ paradise they were supposed to be.

    “some other field of inquiry cannot do better”. Just a few days ago you told me that a whole host of political truths weren’t susceptible to the methods of science. Is this your fall back provision?

  39. MFG. I don’t think the majority are “the middle” I think the biblical and atheist fundamentalists are beside the point, not on either side of it. They are insisting on involving everyone else in a conflict that is the product of their own flawed thinking and egocentricity.

    The problem for us is how to isolate them so their spit ball fight isn’t a problem for the rest of us.

  40. giotto

    Anthony @ 28 said:
    I know it’s considered unfair to bring it up, but there have been some pretty horrible examples of officially atheist governments violently suppressing religion. . .

    I’m curious: which officially atheistic regimes violently suppressed religion while not suppressing other potentially oppositional ideologies? Are you talking about atheists singling out religion to suppress (while maintaining official tolerance for, say, liberal democratic ideals, etc…)? Or are you talking about authoritarian-totalitarian regimes that, by definition, suppress any ideology that might be considered a threat to the regime? Yes, we have examples of authoritarian-totalitarian (to give Jeane Kirkpatrick more than her due…) regimes claiming to be atheistic. We also have them claiming to be Catholic (see how Protestants fared under Franco, for example; and really, much of European history is a history of authoritarianism allied with Catholicism….). Examples can be found for any religion, I suspect (the Puritan settlements in colonial America were hotbeds of religious oppression; the current rulers of Myanmar tilt toward Buddhism and persecute Christians and Muslims…)
    So, if you are trying to suggest some intimate connection between atheism and and the suppression of religion, I would say the claim is not so much “unfair” as it is uninformed. The will to power does quite well, with or without the trappings of religion.

  41. Vytautus

    Does anybody else think there is something amiss when we have something called a “Faith Project” at the National Center for SCIENCE Education? What does Faith have to do with promoting science education? Science is a secular business. No position needs or should be taken with respect religion. The NCSE should be promoting the teaching of science. Period. Not science with a spoonful of Jebus.

  42. @ Anthony Mc. #39 –
    I think the spitabll fight has already spilled over. In fact, I’d argue they have gone to water cannon, trunceon, and riot shield. But what do I know – I’m just one of thos elowly middle scientists, who is a practicing Christian, who keeps getting called weak minded because I won’t renounce my views or beliefs on God.

  43. John

    My sense is that the Silent Majority hasn’t thought enough about these issues, which is in part why they don’t see a conflict between science and religion, and why in the U.S. many people would feel comfortable falling back on faith rather than confronting difficult questions.

  44. gillt

    “These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion.”

    Hilariously out of context when we all know that the minds of most people in the United States are bereft of basic science literacy.

    Is it really honest to say there’s no clash between two epistemologies when you’re largely ignorant of one?

  45. Bill C.

    @ Anthony:

    I would take secular philosophy over theology any day of the week on any of the issues you mentioned a few days ago. I think philosophy is far too marginalized, in even secular societies…But I think that’s because philosophy is too often mistaken for theology, in even secular societies. My “fallback provision” is that secular moral arguments make not only the same case as many theistic moral truths, but they makes those cases far more compellingly and universally.

    Who knows if things wouldn’t be much, much worse if there wasn’t any religion.

    Even if they were, does that point to any truth in religious beliefs? If we were a quabbling, petty, hostile, destructive godless species unified and pacified by this new concept of God, does that really lend credence to the truth of God’s existence and will?

    As mentioned, those countries where the attempt was made to drive it into extinction weren’t exactly the workers’ paradise they were supposed to be.

    Perhaps that’s because suppression is incapable of driving anything into extinction, and/or because a worker’s paradise has never been a reasonable, desirable, or realistic conclusion. I don’t think even New Atheists are under any illusion that human conflict and suffering would end or even change significantly with the disappearance of God-belief – they’d just rather those issues be addressed with something more rational than God.

  46. Bill C.

    @37 – MFG: Well done.

    @42 – Vytautus: I do, and apparently so do several atheist-evolutionist bloggers, which roused this entire debate in the first place. I’m STILL engaging the debate here in an attempt to understand the mindset of those who would object to that objection.

  47. Erasmussimo

    MFG, I think you misunderstand Mr. Mooney’s position. He’s not saying that the *content* of secular thought should be compromised with the content of religious thought. He is saying that the *political stance* of secular thought should be compromised with the political stance of moderate theists. (At least, that’s how I read him.) Politics makes strange bedfellows. If you want to get anything done in the political world, you make compromises with other people.

  48. gillt

    If you use the “a majority of humanity thinks such and such,” as a debating point then you’ve run out of debating points.

  49. I’m curious: which officially atheistic regimes violently suppressed religion while not suppressing other potentially oppositional ideologies?

    Well, that’s kind of on point. The officially atheistic political regimes are oppressive in other ways too.

    So, if you are trying to suggest some intimate connection between atheism and and the suppression of religion

    No, I was responding to Davo at 8

    When was the last time a “militant atheist” advocated banning someone’s beliefs or personal choices and making them illegal?

    And Davo at 19

    I am talking about legal injunctions.

    As I said, I know it’s considered unfair to come up with the actual, historical examples, but they are there and the results are anything but enlightened.

    If you use the “a majority of humanity thinks such and such,” as a debating point then you’ve run out of debating points.

    I didn’t think that Bill C.’s assertion: I think the New Atheists’ point,….. there isn’t anything religion CAN do. At least nothing that some other field of inquiry cannot do better. was sufficiently focused to require a debating point in refutation. I think you’d find that the majority of people would agree with me on that one too.

    If you think I’ve run out of debating points, that’s just wishful thinking with no evidentiary basis.

    I wouldn’t require Bill C. to consult religious writing in support of political equality and liberty, but to pretend, as some new atheists do, that even The Reverend Martin Luther King was motivated by secular values is to deny reality. Religion has been the motivation of some of the most effective advocacy of freedom on the word of those who have done the work and made the sacrifice.

    Phillip H. I hope you realized that I include religious people who accept science as being completely relevant to the problem. It’s only the two fundamentalists, the religious and anti-religious ones that need to be shoved aside.

  50. Does anybody else think there is something amiss when we have something called a “Faith Project” at the National Center for SCIENCE Education?

    I’m not a member, is it governed by a board elected by membership? Are you a member? If you’re a member you get to say if there is something amiss, if you’re not they can do whatever the membership will accept. If they don’t like it they can replace those who made the decision.

    As for it being called the “Faith Project”, that doesn’t tell us the motives and goals. I can understand why a National Center for Science Education might want to take notice of the fact that the nation, by a very large majority holds some form of religious faith.

    Are you proposing that they ignore the nation they are supposed to serve?

  51. John Kwok

    @ Vytautus –

    I have no problem with such a position at the National Center for Science Education since it is the responsibility of the Faith Project Director to serve as an educator to the religiously devout, by explaining how and why their religious faith isn’t threatened by accepting as valid science, evolution and other, related aspects of science. If that’s the only sign of “accomodationism” -and frankly I don’t see it as such – then, let’s be perfectly frank here. Neither Coyne nor Myers nor any of their militant atheist “faithful” have any reason to whine and to moan incessantly about NCSE, World Science Festival, National Academy of Sciences or the American Association for the Advancement of Science (or other, similar science advocacy and professional scientific organizations) being “accomodationist” towards religion.

    I honestly think I have probably spent more time in the past few weeks perusing NCSE’s website than, for example, either Coyne or Myers, and I have yet to find anything that remotely resembles “accomodationism”, unless, of course, you regard Hess’s position as being “accomodationist”.

  52. John Kwok

    @ giotto ( @ 27) –

    Yours is a comment I would expect being stated on the “Doctor Who” series (season) devoted to the “Key of Time” (which was written primarily by Douglas Adams), not here at Chris Mooney’s blog.

  53. I’d think the swipes against NCSE are more in keeping with the scientists intent on ruling the world, remaking it on “scientific” principles in the earlier Dr. Who series “Robot”.

  54. gillt

    “If you think I’ve run out of debating points, that’s just wishful thinking…”

    You’ve captured my sentiments exactly.

  55. MFG

    Erasmussimo @48

    I’m not sure Mooney has a coherent position.

    Perhaps I was insufficiently clear in my earlier post. I have severely mixed feelings about the NCSE religion page, but on balance see no catastrophic harm in essentially saying to believers: “You can accept science and still believe; here’s how many theologians and believing scientists do it.” What Peter Hess, the author of the page, has to offer is a tissue of rationalizations, and he does get distastefully disingenuous re “Do Scientists Really Reject God,” but it’s presented overall in a manner that leaves it up to the reader to conclude “This is a tissue of rationalizations” or “Gee, it’s OK if I keep believing.” It reassures parents that their kids won’t automatically become atheists if exposed to Darwin, and provides ammunition in court cases against the claim that science/secularism/atheism is/are religion.

    Mooney makes that point, but then moves on to the position that somehow it’s wrong to criticize the rationalizations, as Coyne does in his review of the Miller and Giberson books. Mooney’s been carrying on about MN vs. PN, which is simply not relevant. And now he wants to “rouse the silent majority.”

    The beliefs of the Jealous God religions are rendered implausible to the point of zero probability (but not impossibility) by the findings of science, but Mooney seems to be saying that somehow it’s wrong to talk about that. Believers who accept science deal with this implausibility by rationalizing, but somehow it’s wrong to talk about that as well.

    Basically, Mooney, though a self-declared atheist, seems to be telling critics of theism (as opposed to deism, pantheism, etc.) to shut up.

    Meanwhile, Coyne is saying shut up too: How dare NCSE have a page admitting to the simple fact that there are scientists who manage to have their science and their beliefs too.

    I say, chill out.

  56. John Kwok

    @ MFG –

    Even an atheist like physicist Lawrence Krauss has come to the realization that we’ll never, ever, completely rid ourselves of religion, and he said last week, at the World Science Festival panel discussion on Science, Faith and Religion, that he has said this too to his friend Richard Dawkins.

    What bugs Coyne and Myers is the fact that organizations like NCSE, WSF, NAS and AAAS seek to have any kind of “dialogue” with religion, even with religious fundamentalists (which, I overheard Krauss say, in private, to an interested fellow audience member after that WSF session, that he frequently visits fundamentalist religious schools merely to try to get the message out that their religious beliefs aren’t threatened by modern science.), and that, contrary to Coyne’s and Myers’s wishes, they see this an important part – if not the most important part – of their efforts at reaching out to the public merely for educational reasons. For both Coyne and Myers, the mere fact that NCSE is doing this merely demonstrates – at least to them – that NCSE is supportive of religion (or at the very least, one religious constituency, the theistic evolutionists).

    I have the utmost respect for Coyne’s clarity of thought with regards to modern evolutionary biology, especially with regards to our understanding of speciation. However, i am both amazed and stunned that he loses that logic whenever he tries to condemn scientists and scientific organizations for condoning religion. You would never know that Coyne is the same person recognized as one of our leading authorities on speciation if you concluded that he was only capable of such simplistic logic as concluding that Ken Miller had three out of four things in common with creationists, and therefore, himself was most likely a creationist, in his New Republic review of Ken’s “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul” that was published in January (One of Coyne’s three reasons is the fact that, like creationists, Ken Miller believes in “GOD”.).

  57. @ 40. giotto

    “I’m curious: which officially atheistic regimes violently suppressed religion…”

    I’ve made this point before: If someone uses a broad brush against one group it’s not unfair to use it right back.
    I don’t disagree with you about it specifically being unfair to atheists to paint them with the sins of a last century’s USSR. But, do you agree it’s just as unfair to paint a theistic evolutionist with past sins of organized religion?

  58. @ 37. MFG

    “So-called philosophical vs. methodological naturalism isn’t the issue.”

    Yes, it is. That’s entirely the issue. Sounds like you reject the line between philosophical and methodological naturalism. On what basis?

  59. provides ammunition in court cases against the claim that science/secularism/atheism is/are religion.

    What you have to understand is that the creationists aren’t interested in the question of science or even of logical coherence, they are intent on winning politically. The protection of science teaching in the public schools is entirely a political fight. You can’t win it without using the tools necessary to win in politics, ideological purity is not one of those, neither are logical or scientific purity.

    The creationists will use anything at their disposal to win elections, legislative bodies, executives and judicial appointments. That’s their long term strategy, that’s why they can run rings around the side with the science facts ABOUT EVOLUTION. The “science side” that engages in making phony, anti-religious claims for science provide them a lot more of their ammunition than the NCSE has by trying to engage religious believers who can hold both scientific and religious positions.

    Anti-religious spokesmen have been associating evolution with atheism for more than a century and a half. You’d have to believe that their opponents would be entirely stupid to not use that material for their own purposes. Well, history shows they’re not stupid, they are dishonest and crafty. It’s the ones who depend on them being stupid as they convince a majority of their position who are more susceptible to that charge.

  60. @ 42. Vytautus

    Read their FAQ

    http://ncseweb.org/about/faq

    “WHAT IS NCSE’S RELIGIOUS POSITION?
    None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.”

    Science advocacy is not science. NOT engaging various public constituencies potentially friendly to good science education would not help to further their purpose.

  61. Bill C.

    @ Anthony –

    I wouldn’t require Bill C. to consult religious writing in support of political equality and liberty, but to pretend, as some new atheists do, that even The Reverend Martin Luther King was motivated by secular values is to deny reality. Religion has been the motivation of some of the most effective advocacy of freedom on the word of those who have done the work and made the sacrifice.

    The question is “So what?” And I ask that very, very sincerely. That it can motivate people to do good things says nothing about the veracity or necessity of religion.

    Of course I would never pretend MLK was motivated by secular values or secular philosophy. The point is that he could just as easily have been.

    The idea that there is nothing religion does or can do that cannot be done just as well or better by other, secular enterprises lies at the heart of the “New Atheist” argument. And it’s not a critique lacking substance. Your out-of-hand dismissal of that point seems to ring of personal offense more than it does of anything intellectual.

  62. MFG

    Tim Broderick @ 60

    No, I don’t reject the line. Philosophical vs. methodological naturalism is an issue, but it’s not the issue that triggered this argument.

    The core issue is whether or not the NAS and NCSE may acknowledge that there are people who both accept science and believe in the Jealous God. People like Coyne believe that publicly admitting this fact is undermining science and secularism. That’s the issue.

    It’s Mooney who has spun this off into MN vs. PN.

    Again, to be clear, I’m on balance OK with NCSE’s religion page. It simply shows believers how they can believe and accept science too, if they’re disposed to travel that road. Those capable of critical thinking will see the tissue of rationalizations for what it is. Those seeking reassurance that they don’t have to be atheists to accept Darwin will be reassured.

    It’s a political ploy, pure and simple, and won’t lead to the death of science.

  63. Bill C.

    I overheard Krauss say, in private, to an interested fellow audience member after that WSF session, that he frequently visits fundamentalist religious schools merely to try to get the message out that their religious beliefs aren’t threatened by modern science.

    Assuming this is true despite the third-hand account of events (and with apologies to Lawrence Krauss if it is not), do you not see how this amounts to lying to children?

    It’s not for Lawrence Krauss to say what these children’s religious beliefs are, and if they’ve been raised fundamentalist, there’s a damn good chance those beliefs include aspects like creationism; which, contrary to his assertions, is a belief structure VERY MUCH threatened by modern science. And, of course, Krauss knows this. But a rationalization that this is politically expedient makes it all okay? Come on, people.

    Is this just flying over everyone’s heads here? You cannot in good faith (no pun intended) tell people they can reconcile their God-belief with science without placing your own strict boundaries on their God. It’s like sneaky, under-handed proselytizing for deism or pantheism. It’s condescending and manipulative: “Well, we’ll never be able to just do away with religion like those New Atheists want, so instead we’ll use reconciliation as a pretense to define other people’s religions in our own terms. That way, they’ll want to learn science. Huzzah!” And woe unto the militant atheist and his or her damnable ideological purity who calls them out on this two-faced agenda.

    Actually reconciling faith and science means (re)defining spiritual belief into a very narrow, specific subset of the intellectual landscape which just does NOT jibe with the picture posited by the vast majority of popular religions. Adopting the kind of two-faced tactics ID proponents went for with their “academic freedom” crusades is NOT right just because the other side will use them. Come ON.

  64. giotto

    I’m not sure Mooney has a coherent position

    I think that is a problem, one which then seeps into these threads. I think Chris would do everyone here a favor by at least laying out more carefully the contours and terms of the problem he claims to be addressing. On the one hand, there is the question of what the NCSE should or shouldn’t be doing; this is largely a question of institutional politics. That question is not the same as the question of whether “science” is “compatible” with “religion”, though obviously those questions are linked, though perhaps not as tightly as some would like to think.

    On the “compatibility” of “science” and “religion”, I have seen no careful definition of those terms, and absolutely no reason to think that there is, or could be, any consensus among us what we mean when we use the term “religion.” The people with the most investment in studying “religion” from a comparative perspective–anthropologists–have long since stopped pretending that any single definition of the term can cover all human practices that carry the label. To ask if science and religion are compatible is meaningless; the world contains a bewildering variety of religious beliefs: some systems involve a supernatural realm, some don’t; some involve plural gods, some involve a singular god, some no god at all. Some are monist; some are dualist. It really needs to be specified what we are talking about when we say “religion” in the context of this discussion; as far as I can tell it is a specific, contingent variant of Christianity.

    The question whether that brand of Christianity is “compatible” with “science” is a philosophical question, and should be addressed as such. Given that, I think Chris would also do everyone a favor by asking posters to avoid the several fallacies that pop up here all too often. For one, the argumentum ad populum (“lots of Americans and/or scientists are religious AND scientific”). Another would the irrelevant historical claims that pop up from time to time (“Christians have done all these horrible things…. Atheists have done all these horrible things.”) Both those claims are true, and both are absolutely irrelevant to the topic. I’m afraid I’ve made the mistake in the past of responding to Andrew McCarthy’s claims regarding the horrors of atheism. I don’t think I can expect him to stop making those claims, but in the interest of keeping the conversation on focus, I will try to stop responding to them as though they were relevant to the matter at hand.

  65. giotto

    Sorry. Anthony McCarthy. My bad.

  66. @ 64. MFG

    I’m sorry, I misunderstood your position.

  67. Of course I would never pretend MLK was motivated by secular values or secular philosophy. The point is that he could just as easily have been.

    He could have been motivated by any number of things, the point is that he and many other of the most effective figures in the civil rights movement WERE motivated by religion.

    You do realize that what actually DID HAPPEN is a lot more important than your entirely invented possible alternative that might have happened ‘if’. You do realize that the historical record is absolutely as much a record of what happened as the fossil record is. Or at least I hope you do becuase it doesn’t look to me as if you do.

    The best evidence is that MLK and the ones who actually, against enormous opposition got progress made on the basis of their religious beliefs IS the way to do it, since that’s what happened. And, least you forget, atheists were covered under the classification of religion in the laws that came from that.

  68. @ 65 BillC
    “You cannot in good faith (no pun intended) tell people they can reconcile their God-belief with science without placing your own strict boundaries on their God.”

    But it wouldn’t be one person imposing their beliefs on another, it’s simply – here is what science has tells us about the natural world.
    After that, it is their challenge to come to a new understanding of their god.

  69. giotto

    Tim @ 59 asked:
    But, do you agree it’s just as unfair to paint a theistic evolutionist with past sins of organized religion?

    I did not paint theism in such a way, nor do I think it would be fair to do so. The only point of my comment (@40) was to point out that atheists have had no monopoly on oppression, especially oppression against religious people. People who want to wield power over others, to oppress others, to torment, torture etc. seem to find justifications to do so, and those justifications can be manufactured from religious principles just as surely as from most other ideologies.
    Just for the record, I don’t associate theistic religion with the past sins of religion; hell, I don’t even blame the current Catholic church for the sins of the Inquisition. For that matter, I don’t even blame “Catholicism” for the sins of the Inquisition; nor communism for the Gulag; nor capitalism for the genocide of the Maya in Guatemala. We can’t get away from ideologies, but unfortunately they often serve merely to justify the cruelty that seems endemic to the species.

    But what I really want to say is that nothing that has been done in the past, by religious people or by atheists is particularly relevant.

    And, Anthony: I do apologize for messing up the name. I’ve had this problem since I was a kid: the set of neurons that processes the name “Anthony” is the same set that processes “Andrew.” It has embarrassed me before…..

  70. gillt

    A lot of people–the silent majority–make peace over the science/religion issue. Those who refuse are the extremists. What’s so hard about that? Now let’s get back to learning about global warming!

    That’s Mooney’s position.

  71. John Kwok

    @ Bill C. (@ 65) –

    During the WSF session, I heard Krauss agree with Dawkins that religious instruction for young children is tantamount to child abuse.

    I also had the pleasure of talking to him the following day, in which we did discuss some of the issues he raised, and of course, Coyne’s public refusal to participate in the WSF session, which, I can say, Krauss was there as Coyne’s replacement.

  72. And, Anthony: I do apologize for messing up the name.

    You should see the list of things I’m regularly called. By my friends, even.

  73. John Kwok

    @ gilt –

    Yes, that’s probably Chris Mooney’s position. But he’s also found himself under the radar gun from Dishonesty Institute goons like Luskin and Dembski too in the not so distant past.

  74. Bill C.

    @ Anthony:

    That’s where my “So what?” question comes in. So what is MLK was motivated by religion? So what if Pol Pot committed genocide as a means of enforcing atheism? So what if atheism is a religious worldview protected by laws campaigned for by a Christian? These things have no bearing on the merits of any particular belief system.

    @ Tim:

    Please take the comment in the context of what Lawrence Krauss was allegedly doing; if he was just saying, “here’s what science tells us,” he couldn’t have actually been advocating the fact that science was compatible with fundamentalists’ religion. And if he was advocating compatability, he would have necessarily had to be defining the parameters of that faith outside of what the children were already being taught. The two approaches, at least in that context, are mutually exclusive.

    The NCSE is less egregious in their duplicity in that their audience is so broad, but the message does still strike one as soft-pedal proselytizing-in-disguise of pantheist or deist or other New Age ideas; God of the quantum gaps or other margins, God as an implacable moral force, etc. The one constant in their “non-message” (they have no position on religion, after all) just seems to be that they’re intent on assuring people God can still exist despite scientific explanations of so much of nature. That might be a little more palatable if they were to then at least extoll the virtue of remaining forever skeptical.

    The NCSE knows full well that science is blatantly incompatible with a vast majority of spiritual beliefs, especially the most popular versions of the most popular faiths; but again, actually saying so, actually saying that accepting all scientific truths means most people must fundamentally redefine their spiritual beliefs is just not politically expedient.

    I think “Science is right, and if you can fit God in around the edges while not turning your back on any future scientific discoveries, meh, go ahead” would be a very useful message to send…But that’s not the message being sent. In the name of political expediency, we can mean this, but we can’t actually say it?

  75. I think they have woken up–look who you guys elected as president. Personally I posted my middle way perspective on some of those blogs but found, interestingly, that my voice was ignored. I wasn’t insulted, I just wasn’t in the game. I had a similar experience on a professional (non-science) list serve where a small group of people was engaged in vitriolic verbal combat over political issues and the majority silent. There are people who are invested in the combat itself and aren’t interested in actual dialogue. And that’s fine–except when it seems to be representative of anything other than a small group. When they dominate or seem to dominate the discourse they distort the perception of it.

  76. That’s where my “So what?” question comes in. So what is MLK was motivated by religion? So what if Pol Pot committed genocide as a means of enforcing atheism? So what if atheism is a religious worldview protected by laws campaigned for by a Christian? These things have no bearing on the merits of any particular belief system.

    Oh? Have you informed Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Coyne, Myers, etc. on this finding of yours? Because they insist on Religion being responsible for the crimes committed in its name, even by religious people who vigorously disapprove of those crimes and try to prevent them.

    And, considering your faith in “evidence”, why do you abandon the most relevant evidence in the great smack-down between faith and science? What happened in real life is the best evidence possible of the relative merits of the two, if you insist on making it a choice of two absurdly generalized, highly artificially drawn categories.

    I’d have thought the real life product of a “particular belief system” was the acid test of its merits. I could have been really nasty and asked you to produce a single, officially atheist government that hadn’t led to numerous murders, oppression, etc. I’m trying to think of one and am not succeeding. I don’t think the equally awful religious dictators can match them for sheer numbers of killings, perhaps due to their lesser mastery of science and records keeping. Not that I’d like to live under either kind of despotism.

    I can think of a number of countries with official religions which have developed into democracies unaffected by retaining that status. Though I prefer the separation of church and state since I’m convinced that egalitarianism is the key to a decent society, not an official extraneous ideology.

    You don’t care that your civil rights as an atheist are covered under the relevant civil rights acts. Being the member of an unprotected class, that’s a pretty gross example of the profligacy of privilege.

  77. Bill C.

    The rogues’ gallery you list argue vigorously that religion provides a cover of sincere righteousness to criminals and tyrants which atheism cannot foster or bestow, as it makes no claims and offers no frameworks, moral, ethical or other. The point about moderates abetting is entirely about the universal inability to strictly define any religion, so the label becomes more important than its meaning.

    Now, the topic of what moral, ethical, political, etc. frameworks one would be best served in adopting – in lieu of religion especially – is an interesting and endless discussion. And certainly totalitarianism or Soviet-style communism or any number of painfully oppressive ideologies could be rightfully denounced.

    But again, the effect of a religious mindset on any individual has zero bearing as to the rationality of that mindset; akin to how the effect of alternative medicine in the mind of any individual has zero bearing as to the efficacy of alternative medicine. In religion’s case it’s Carl Sagan’s argument of invisible tigers (or, more to the point, intellectual oppression); we can affect good, desirable behavior (or, conversely, not so good behavior) by making people believe any number of bizarre, flat-out false, or unprovable things. That’s not an argument that anyone should do so.

    I keep getting this feeling that your central thesis lies in the idea that any ideology which might arise in religion’s stead will be invariably more harmful than religion (as broad as religion may be). You won’t know that until we’ve tried all the alternatives. And even that STILL has no bearing on the truth of any particular religion (or no religion at all).

    Have we had an officially humanist government yet? (Actually, I guess the U.S. probably qualifies…)

  78. A few cents:

    ‘silent majority’ is a poor term to use, Chris. Those of us old enough to remember its invention, don’t have a favorable ‘frame’ for it.

    I skip the ‘new atheist’ term since that never seems to have been defined. From where I sit, as a .. call it 20 year … participant in the running flamewar that is evolution vs. young earth creationism, the overwhelming majority of the volume comes from Evangelists. Evangelical Atheists, and Evangelical Theists. In the latter group, one has to subdivide some, as not all Evangelical Theists are committed to Young Earth Creationism. Some are ok with science, at least broadly, and even as one gets near to the icky parts (i.e., being related to the other apes).

    Both the theist and atheist versions of evangelical are setting about telling us what we’re supposed to believe about something that they cannot prove by evidence. At best, the evangelical atheist can show that there is no evidence in favor of one or more gods. But, as they are otherwise usually aware, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Undaunted by that, they blithely disregard the fact that there are scientists who are also religious, and tell us all that one can’t be both. (c.f. Philip H.)

    In that conclusion, they are reinforcing the Evangelical theists, YEC especially, greatest fear, and their active campaign against science — that you can’t accept science and be religious.

    The YEC conclusion, and one that evangelical atheists are supporting and pushing for themselves, is that you have to pick one. Given that the US is 85% or so theist, and that if they are forced to choose, most will reject science to preserve their religion, I think it’s exceptionally foolish of the evangelical atheists to take the line they do. If nothing else, the fact that they’re in agreement with young earth creationists should give them pause. It doesn’t, of course.

    Bizarre reasoning, from people who claim to be rational:
    a) Given that we need to persuade a majority of the country to support science, let it be taught, etc.
    b) Given also that most people are religious
    c) Given also that most religious people will abandon science to preserve their religion
    they conclude:
    d) First thing to do is tell them that they have to give up their religion.

    Assorted evangelical atheist knees will now dutifully spasm. Some evangelical theists might join them, as neither group likes to be lumped with the other. Still, both tell us that we all have to believe as they do about religious topics, and both tell us that we can’t be scientists or accept science if we’re not evangelical atheists. Hard to see the difference.

  79. I think you need to distinguish between “state religion” and theocracy. A state religion doesn’t necessarily mean the sanctioned sect has any official power (e.g., church of Scotland).

    As Orwell said, a totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible.”

    Evidence of this can be seen in how religion confronted the “secular” totalitarian regimes of our time.

  80. “But, as they are otherwise usually aware, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

    Please tell us you’re joking, and if not, why you do not take the tooth fairy seriously.

    Scientists and the scientific-minded deal in probabilities, not impossibilities.

  81. Anna K.

    Chris Mooney wrote: “. . . I am arguing on behalf of the silent majority, and that is what keeps me going. So my question is this: How can we wake them up, make them realize that this is their issue too, and help them reclaim the debate for the middle ground?”

    Anna K. says: Thank you for what you do, Chris, and please keep it up. I am very involved in my current work with church issues and religious believers; I’ve also conducted scientific research. I concur that very few people in the general public understand how science works, know working scientists, and/or can explain why science is reliable when it comes to evolution. I also concur that when people are given the false dichotomous choice between science and religion, they’ll pick religion. They live with religion and many are intimately, personally and deeply involved in its practices and communities. This is not so for most people when it comes to science. We trust what we personally know.

    So I think the answer is threefold, but it comes down to this: with religious audiences, get personal about science and faith.

    1) Talk about science-related goods that most non-scientists also value, which depend on understanding and acceptance of evolution (i.e. improved agriculture, medical care, children whose strong scientific educations allow them to compete on the global job market). People care about food, health, their kids and their jobs. Luckily, evolutionary science directly applies to a lot of those matters. It hits home, and that matters.

    2) Talk about and with people of strong faith who contributed to good science, and people of strong faith who value and accept it (not necessarily scientists; plenty of nonscientist religious leaders value real science as well). They can be role models in both faith and science. btw the head of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., Katharine Jefferts Schori, also has a Ph.D. in oceanography.

    3) There is at least one person in the comments here who said he was a working scientist and a practicing Christian. Scientists who are religious might consider offering to speak before religious audiences about their work and their faith. Most religious organizations are only too happy to have guest speakers – after all, if they have religious education programs, they have to schedule 52 talks, per age group, every year! Also, scientists who are involved with religious organizations might consider getting involved with those organizations’ education committees. Somebody has to pick those programs. I’ve seen some religious curricula out there which deals responsibly and well with science and faith, aimed at nonscientific religious audiences. When it comes to the middle majority, religious scientists and religious people who are scientifically literate (people in medical and technology fields, for example) can exert influence over what gets taught and what perspectives are presented in their faith communities.

  82. @gillt, 82: Knee jerking just fine there. Where did I say that you were obliged to take the tooth fairy seriously? Or that I did so?

  83. MadScientist

    Chris, I think you are missing the point. Atheists’ attitude towards religion does not matter at all. The issue is that apologists want to co-opt science and make fantastic claims that it supports their religious beliefs. If religious people would simply top trying to shoehorn mystical beliefs into science and science education there would be no problem – people are free to believe whatever bullshit they wish. The objection is that religions pretend to cosy up to science in an attempt to: (1) make it seem like science lends any sort of credence to religious belief, and (2) insidiously insert religious belief into science teaching and attempt to undermine science (especially obvious with creationism and the current ‘ID’ war on science).

  84. The rogues’ gallery you list argue vigorously that religion provides a cover of sincere righteousness to criminals and tyrants which atheism cannot foster or bestow, as it makes no claims and offers no frameworks, moral, ethical or other.

    So, you’ve never heard the line that “there were no atheists who flew planes into buildings on 9/11. I’ve heard it quite a number of times now. When I saw someone say it on another blog the night Dr. Tiller was murdered, I had to point out that no Reformed Lutherans or members of the United Church of Christ or women or gay men…. had either.

    The point about moderates abetting is entirely about the universal inability to strictly define any religion, so the label becomes more important than its meaning.

    “Moderates abetting” I’m used to new atheists changing the meaning of words to suit their transient needs. Abetting apparently means vigorously disapproving, outlawing, even. As I had to remind Jerry Coyne when he tried to blame all religious believers for those parents who deprived their son of chemo-threapy last month. Since the majority of religious people are the ones who passed laws against that kind of child neglect or they wouldn’t have been forced into doing it.

    If you can’t define any religion, it doesn’t follow that you get to hold people responsible for things they don’t do. This might be the most serious disconnect in logic I’ve seen today, though I haven’t listened to the network news either.

    But again, the effect of a religious mindset on any individual has zero bearing as to the rationality of that mindset; akin to how the effect of alternative medicine in the mind of any individual has zero bearing as to the efficacy of alternative medicine.

    How do you know? Your statement actually means in no religious person does their religion have no bearings on their reasoning, or vice versa. I wouldn’t feel confident to judge any particular person unless they either demonstrate that’s so.

    As to alternative medicine, I wouldn’t judge that without thorough testing. Are you a medical researcher?

    In religion’s case it’s Carl Sagan’s argument of invisible tigers (or, more to the point, intellectual oppression); we can affect good, desirable behavior (or, conversely, not so good behavior) by making people believe any number of bizarre, flat-out false, or unprovable things. That’s not an argument that anyone should do so.

    As I hold that Sagan believed in a few bizarre, unprovable things, he might not have been your best choice. As “bizarre” is too subjective a term to make arguing that point worth while, I’ll go with “unprovable things”. You remember that list of things like “all people are created equal”, the various rights held to be inherent. Those are unprovable and I think people are quite demonstrably better off for people believing them. I think people are better off when people believe they should do justice to them, I even think they’re better off when they treat other people justly. I think they are better off when they can forgive their enemies, etc.

    The rarity of people doing good things, especially heroically good things, might place those into the “bizarre” category.

    Given his personal history, I’m not sure I’d take Carl Sagan as an exemplar of morals. Though he was good on the nuclear disarmament issue, as were many people on the basis of religious belief.

    I keep getting this feeling that your central thesis lies in the idea that any ideology which might arise in religion’s stead will be invariably more harmful than religion

    I don’t think in grandiose, ultimate terms about a future I will not be here to shape or experience, that’s for the people who will be alive then to decide. What I think is that the new atheism is, today, a shallow, dishonest and bigoted fad that has some potential to cause political harm to the left, of which I’m a part, to cause a lot of people pain and which, in both its bigotry and it’s unjustified claim of owning logic and science, annoys me. I see its potential as being dangerous in the way that biblical fundamentalism is, if it had the same numbers as biblical fundamentalism does. Though, given its penchant for insulting people and going after even other atheists deemed insufficiently obnoxious, I doubt it will ever be more than an irritating minority of the population.

    I do think they have the real potential to cause a backlash that could damage science education in the public schools, I think that’s been its greatest achievement in public life so far, serving as an unwitting foil for creationists.

  85. Bill C.

    @ Mad Scientist:

    Indeed, and I think what a lot of atheists are even more uncomfortable with is the prospect that if you make religious science (even if it is good science which just shies away from addressing the belief in God) the accepted norm, those who take the scientific worldview to its ultimate conclusion – a philosophical naturalism (or, the frivolity of the God hypothesis) – seem even more like a pompous fringe element. Just as it always has been. Meanwhile, outside the realm of atheists’ hurt feelings, religious moral, ethical, legal and political arguments can continue on uncontested in both public and private spheres – because those are “personal choices”. Just as it always has been.

  86. I must have not been let into the secret that the tooth fairy was omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal. I was only told that she was invisible and rather stingy.

    I think the “tooth fairy, and Leprechaun” line of logic is, actually, a fairly good sign that the person using it has no debating points worth considering.

  87. MadScientist @85 — there’s more to it than that. Some of the militant atheists out there are interested in tearing down religion– and explicitly so. They co-opt science when they say that fully accepting science requires you not to be religious. That co-opting of science by the militant atheists is in many ways just as annoying and deceptive as the co-opting of science by the theists you talk about.

  88. Your ineptitude (in tooth-fairy-ology) knows no bounds McCarthy

    There are entire pages of books on this stuff, explaining how She’s eternal, all-powerful and all-knowing. She transcends generations, defying space and time, and is able to flutter around leaving loot under the pillow of every child on earth whose parents told them to believe in Her. She’s most certainly a miracle-worker, and while there’s no good evidence for Her existence, you are unable to disprove it just the same, thus relegating her to the status of the one true god.

    Accommodate that.

  89. I am pretty sure I don’t agree with everything Anthony McCarthy is saying (I don’t quite get all of it) but I agree that adamant atheism among scientists is damaging science, and is based on a shallow understanding of what religion can be about.

    As evidence, consider this quote:

    “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.”

    – The Dalai Lama

    see http://www.dalailama.com/news.5.htm

    Or as a friend of mine likes to quote rabbi Harold Kushner, “You know that God you don’t believe in? I don’t believe in that God either!”

  90. There are entire pages of books on this stuff, explaining how She’s eternal, all-powerful and all-knowing. She transcends generations, defying space and time, and is able to flutter around leaving loot under the pillow of every child on earth whose parents told them to believe in Her. She’s most certainly a miracle-worker, and while there’s no good evidence for Her existence, you are unable to disprove it just the same, thus relegating her to the status of the one true god.

    Accommodate that.

    Citations of claims made on her behalf by actual believers, “entire pages of books” written by them.

    I think you will find in no instance have I asked for science to accommodate anything but rigorously collected, quantified, analyzed, published, reviews inf0rmation about the material universe and claims about the material universe based on those.

    Scientists and those interested in science, however, shouldn’t accommodate illogical and unsupported claims made on its behalf by a subset of irrational and bigoted atheists and others ignorant of its subject matter and methods.

    People in society should accommodate diversity of belief because if they do they can go on to concentrate on things that need fixing and the musicians among them might get some work done because their political activities don’t take up their time with frivolous topics when there is no actual crisis to divide their side and party.

  91. Citations of claims made on her behalf by actual believers, “entire pages of books” written by them, please.

    Sorry, left a word out.

  92. Your tourette-like embrace of the word bigot aside, thanks for making my point McCarthy. Is it too much to expect that you now see how the statement “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is contra science?

  93. Vytautus

    In response to a couple of comments (Anthony, Tim): The FAQ is correct in that the NCSE is not affiliated with any religious organization. But, they ARE advocating a religious or philosophical position. That is, you can have science and your Jebus too. While you may agree with that position, I’m of the opinion that the NCSE should not to be dabbling in such questions and acting as a proponent of compatibility. Likewise, they should not be advocating atheism or a position of incompatibility. Good science education will, of course, have as a by-product an increase in atheism and an overall lessening of religious hegemony. But that is a simply a function of promoting critical and rational thinking (as will other forms of higher education).

    By soft-selling science with a touch of Jebus, the NCSE is indirectly endorsing the idea that a god or gods is responsible for SOMETHING that we see in the natural world (except in some form of watered down deism). This notion has no place in science or science advocacy.

    And yes, I’m an NCSE member and have voiced my objection.

  94. John Kwok

    I’ll comment later on some of the recent comments on this thread probably sometime early this evening.

    For now, I am announcing that the 9th North American Paleontological Convention is meeting later this week at the University of Cincinnati, in Cincinnati, OH. Of special interest will be Thursday’s sessions, beginning with the morning session on “Evolution and Society” which will feature talks by Genie Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education, and Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University. In the afternoon there will be an afternoon session on Science Literacy with two talks discussing some of the themes of Chris Mooney’s recent blog entries, including a talk on methodological naturalism by invertebrate paleontologist Keith B. Miller (no relation to Ken), who is an evangelical Protestant Christian (and of course, accepts evolution as valid science). For more details see here:

    http://www.napc2009.org/

  95. John Kwok

    @ Vytautus –

    I’ve asked NCSE senior staff if NCSE endorses any religion or has an “accomodationist” stance towards religion. They have said no. I have also spent ample time perusing relevant sections of its website, and I don’t see anything that would even remotely support your inane assertion (Independently of me, I know that Ken Miller has looked too, and he hasn’t seen anything.). So don’t you think that it is interesting that a theistic evolutionist and a deist (yours truly) have looked critically at NCSE’s website and drawn the same conclusions that are contrary to what you, Coyne, Myers et al. have been asserting for weeks?

    I am one NCSE member who does strongly endorse NCSE’s ongoing mission and its current staff, including Mr. Hess.

  96. But, they ARE advocating a religious or philosophical position. That is, you can have science and your Jebus too.

    As objective fact that can be observed in the biographies of numerous scientists of the first rank, it’s objectively true that you can have both. It’s a fact that is more established in evidence than anything Richard Dawkins has produced.

    I suppose you, like many of the more adolescent voices of the new atheism, think your use of a comic strip dialect pronunciation of Jesus which comes right out of black-face minstrelsy is clever. I think the implied racism of that is entirely fair comment.

  97. Is it too much to expect that you now see how the statement “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is contra science?

    Have you brought that up with Carl Sagan, who apparently was fond of saying it, or any of the legions of his loyal fans on the science blogs?

    While I can see the point of it, I don’t think I’ve said it, have I? I’d think that absence of evidence means you can’t make a logical conclusion about something. As an adult, I don’t think I’ve ever held anything except that real religion, which is really believed by the person professing it, would have to be entirely reliant on their conclusions drawn from their own experience. Perhaps that’s to subtle a point for the new atheism to deal with but it’s what my experience and observation of life tells me.

  98. gillt

    Does the analogy of a dragon in my garage ring any bells for you McCarthy? Sagan and I are in agreement on this point.

    Check-out from your public library “Demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark.”

    For an excerpt go here: http://www.users.qwest.net/~jcosta3/article_dragon.htm

    Or read this:

    “The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.”

    And lets not equate disrespect for a belief with disrespect toward the person holding the belief.

  99. Vytautus

    Kwok,

    I would say the following statement by Hess in the Science & Religion section of their website is a pretty explicit endorsement of a philosophy:

    “In public discussions of evolution and creationism, we are sometimes told that we must choose between belief in creation and acceptance of the theory of evolution, between religion and science. But is this a fair demand? Must I choose only one or the other, or can I both believe in God and accept evolution? Can I both accept what science teaches and engage in religious belief and practice? This is a complex issue, but theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, yes.”

    http://ncseweb.org/religion

    The NCSE seem to be missing the section where they acknowledge that a majority of scientists are atheists and many do not find compatibility between science and religion.

    Anthony,

    You were saying something?

  100. lets not equate disrespect for a belief with disrespect toward the person holding the belief.

    gillt, I’m sure you insult people only in the best possible of ways.

    Vyantus, If the NCSE is only interested in the predominant culture within scientists instead of in the nation at large it’s misnamed. You apparently don’t care what a considerable percentage of even scientists think, some of them with very significant careers in science. I can assure you, other people you consider unimportant will have no problem returning the compliment. In fact, they do now. Only other scientists take the heat for that. Why they should continue to allow your POV to lead to problems for them, that’s something they might want to address in a group like the NCSE. Or so I’d think.

  101. Oh, and I read Demon Haunted World, figuring I should look at the source of the new atheist grasp of formal logic.

  102. gillt

    McCarthy’s worldview is gelling! Sagan was the father of New Atheism, since he’s now the source of their reasoning, which makes him required reading for every aspiring anti-religious two-faced bigot. Does this wife know about this? You should go tell her.

  103. I’d say that’s an example of a world view that has gillt, not one that has gelled out of what I’ve said.

  104. @ 95. Vytautus Says:
    “In response to a couple of comments (Anthony, Tim): The FAQ is correct in that the NCSE is not affiliated with any religious organization. But, they ARE advocating a religious or philosophical position. ”

    No. They are simply doing outreach in the political arena. That’s their job.

  105. @ 76 BillC

    “Please take the comment in the context of what Lawrence Krauss was allegedly doing; if he was just saying, “here’s what science tells us,” he couldn’t have actually been advocating the fact that science was compatible with fundamentalists’ religion.”

    You’re right, he wasn’t advocating that science was compatible with religion (btw, you and I are on the same side regarding fundamentalists, so I’m not really addressing them as the issue). What I think he was saying, and according to his recent writings in all this he continues to maintain, is that it’s not science’s problem how a religious individual squares their faith with methodological naturalism. It’s their business. But if they want to be taken seriously in public discourse, they have to do it.
    People like Miller and advocacy organizations like the NCSE are essentially encouraging that movement.
    And (this is not directed at you BillC) I just don’t see why that’s a problem, like Vytautus mentions @101. Generally, atheists and agnostics don’t need help in that regard. What, you want a cookie? A pat on the back? I don’t need that.

  106. @ 71. giotto Says:
    “Tim: But, do you agree it’s just as unfair to paint a theistic evolutionist with past sins of organized religion?”
    Giotto: I did not paint theism in such a way, nor do I think it would be fair to do so. ”

    Hurried my comments, so didn’t mean to imply that you did.
    My point was, however, that a lot of dialogue being tossed around is with a broad brush – PZ Meyers did this with Ken Miller for instance.
    So when I see it being done (on either side), I want to (Barney Fife) nip it (/Barney Fife). It is a pet peeve, something I strive to avoid because I don’t think it adds to any debate.

  107. 82. gillt Says:

    ” “But, as they are otherwise usually aware, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
    Please tell us you’re joking, and if not, why you do not take the tooth fairy seriously.
    Scientists and the scientific-minded deal in probabilities, not impossibilities.”

    Gillt, that is the logical basis for the possibility of the supernatural, the one that intellectually honest atheists like Sagan and (I think) Forrest concede.

    It is not, however, evidence in and of itself. It is why there is a line between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism.

    Methodological naturalism simply doesn’t bother to address this logical possibility because there is simply no evidence for it.

    Philosophical naturalism asserts that because there is no evidence, there is no logical possibility and/or reject any ideas that cannot be proven or disproven.

    Religion, too, must recognize that there is no evidence beyond assertion and embrace the reality of faith – believe without evidence.

    Now, that does not mean you can not test specific claims about the supernatural. IMO, faith is not believe in spite of the evidence. But in disproving an individual’s idea of what the supernatural might be is not the same thing as disproving the logical possibility of the supernatural.

    And that is the can of worms upon which billions and billions of words have been written. As far as I’m concerned, I would boil it down to: Let’s agree to disagree, and let’s have our public discourse through the filter of methodological naturalism.

    Agreeing to THAT would, IMHO, could be a miracle in and of itself.

  108. Vytautus

    Tim,

    Yes, outreach is part of their mission. And in doing their outreach, they are clearly promoting the view that religion is compatible with science. Compatibility (with theism) implies that a supernatural entity is responsible for at least something in the natural world. As such, the science they are promoting is being watered down with a little Jebus. The only escape from that is to cast religion as watered-down deism – and I highly doubt their outreach is meant to engage deists.

    I wouldn’t have problem if they clearly stated that some people find them compatible (meaning that they believe God exists and he DOES something), while many others do not.

  109. gillt

    Tim, the “logical possibility of something” or the MN/PN distinction as used by Mooney and other accomodationists to set up an unrealistic scenario that supports a deistic god that virtually no American Christian–Collins and Miller included–believes in, has been largely laid to rest. If you want go back to the original Mooney post on the topic and read the comments, or Coyne’s response.

  110. @ 110. Vytautus

    No, they are clearly promoting the view that religion CAN be compatible with science. Not all religions are going to be able to be compatible with science. Heck, I found this just by skimming:

    “Contrary to what biblical literalists argue, the Bible was not intended by its authors to teach us about science — which did not exist at the time the Hebrew oral traditions were set in writing as the Book of Genesis. The Bible does not teach us the literal truths that the earth is flat, or that a global flood once covered Mt. Everest, or that we inhabit a geocentric cosmos, or that the world was created as we now observe it in six solar days, or that species were specially created in their present form and have not changed since the days of creation.”

    http://ncseweb.org/religion/how-do-i-read-bible-let-me-count-ways

    That’s a pretty strong statement against fundamentalism.

    You said: “Compatibility (with theism) implies that a supernatural entity is responsible for at least something in the natural world.”

    This is, IMHO, a misunderstanding of what faith is, but it’s a common one not just with atheists. I address this in @109. So, no, deism is not the logical outcome of such an exercise.

  111. There’s a lot on the ncse site that I get the feeling people haven’t read. For instance, this section:

    http://ncseweb.org/religion/commentary-science-relgion

    Here’s a rational for the ncse involvement

    http://ncseweb.org/rncse/22/1-2/why-ncse-should-be-involved-science-religion-dialog

    “Finally, NCSE has been effective because we connect, encourage, and provide resources to people at the grassroots – dealing with real threats to the teaching of evolution in their communities. We recognize that it takes whole communities to do this, with activists from education, science, citizen groups, and religious congregations working together. Yet many religious congregations that want to be partners in our cause have not done the dialog work at the local level that can help them to argue for sound science teaching from a faith perspective. We cannot do that work for them, but we can point them toward resources that can help if, and only if, we are involved and informed about what is happening nationally and internationally in the conversation between religion and science.”

    You should read this:
    http://ncseweb.org/rncse/18/2/science-education-scientists-faith

    Eugene Scott explains a lot of things, and corrects me on one of my ideas:

    “Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of science and religion, and why I lobbied to take the words “impersonal” and “unsupervised” Out of the NABT statement. Consider: If to test something scientifically requires the ability to hold constant certain effects, this means that omnipotent powers cannot be used as part of scientific explanations. Logically, if there are omnipotent powers in the universe, it is impossible to hold their effects constant, to “control” them in the scientific sense. An omnipotent power could interfere, or not interfere or interfere but make it look like it’s not interfering — that’s omnipotence for you!”

    http://ncseweb.org/religion/science-religion-methodology-humanism

    Read it for yourself

  112. Bill C.

    @ Tim:

    But disproving an individual’s idea of what the supernatural might be is not the same thing as disproving the logical possibility of the supernatural.

    Of course. And people are welcome to fill this blank spot in their heads with whatever they wish, on a personal level. The problem being (and this goes round back to our discussion in the other post), every single mainstream (popular/traditional/you get the distinction) religious denomination infers from the supernatural a whole host of edicts and morals and impetuses which invariably enter into public discourse. Inferring from an indefinable possibility an entire framework for modern human life.

    As far as I’m concerned, I would boil it down to: Let’s agree to disagree, and let’s have our public discourse through the filter of methodological naturalism.

    Then why oh why would any ire be directed at atheists, of all people? The atheist’s (even the New Atheist’s) entire point is that discourse cannot be based upon personal supernatural beliefs, because they cannot be held to reason or understood intellectually. They are anathema to discourse in universal terms.

    This all seems backward. Granted, there exist religious traditions which compel the same viewpoints as secular humanism (to get back to some of Anthony McCarthy’s concerns vis a vis MLK). Along the same lines, there are a cornucopia of New Age humanistic spiritual movements which may be called religion but which remove all the trappings of interventionist gods, prophecies, messiahs and other assorted supernatural imposition on the material world. And finally there are the Abrahamic Gods of the likes of Ken Miller or Francis Collins, redefined out of His New or Old Testament persona and into some ephemoral pantheistic presence. Fine. But the practitioners of all these various flavors of religion know full well their framework is far from the normative approach they defend when they rebuke atheists or promote the “reconciliation” of science and faith.

    But instead of earnestly critiquing their fellow “religionists” for more right-wing or literalist adherences to dogma which are often anti-science and/or anti-humanist, or at the very least refuse to undertake discourse on universal, secular terms, the most prudent course of action is to present a united front against atheists?

    Now there’s a whole host of atheists apparently jumping to their defense. I don’t know if the atheists don’t get it or what, but yes, this is about politics; in fact, it’s a brilliant political play on the part of religious-moderates far more worried about preserving the God-concept as an umbrella to science than in contributing to the advancement of the scientific enterprise. Indeed, like apparently most Americans, when presented with a conflict between science and faith, religious-moderate scientists are coming down on the side of faith, defending it against attacks by evil bigot atheists.

    Which may not be a bad thing, except that in preserving the primacy and importance of God, they are also able to preserve all the supernaturally-derived philosophies which so provoke atheists to begin with. After all, science has nothing to do with God’s will, right?

    If the religious-moderates want to defuse the tension with atheists, they need to go work at massively redefining their various sects’ God-concept into frameworks consistent with secular moral arguments, and reconditioning their brethren into partaking in discourse on universal, secular terms. Religious people don’t listen to atheists – New, Old, naughty or nice – on these points anyway.

  113. 111. gillt Says:

    “Tim, the “logical possibility of something” or the MN/PN distinction as used by Mooney and other accomodationists to set up an unrealistic scenario that supports a deistic god that virtually no American Christian–Collins and Miller included–believes in, has been largely laid to rest. If you want go back to the original Mooney post on the topic and read the comments, or Coyne’s response.”

    Oh, bullocks! This argument continues because Coyne and others are either ignorantly or deliberately misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting those views.

    No one – not even Coyne – has successfully refuted the MN/PN distinction. They’ve dismissed it, but that’s not refuting it.

    Ironically, I just linked to this, so I’ll do it again:

    “In May 1998 Dr Eugenie C Scott, NCSE’S Executive Director, was awarded the American Humanist Association’s 1998 “Isaac Asimov Science Award”. What follows is excerpted from her acceptance speech. Ed.”

    http://ncseweb.org/religion/science-religion-methodology-humanism

    “Properly understood, the principle of methodological materialism requires neutrality towards God; we cannot say, wearing our scientist hats, whether God does or does not act. I could say, speaking from the perspective of my personal philosophy, that matter and energy and their interactions (materialism) are not only sufficient to understand the natural world (methodological materialism) but in fact, I believe there is nothing beyond matter and energy. This is the philosophy of materialism, which I, and probably most humanists, hold to. I intentionally added “I believe” when I spoke of my personal philosophy, which is entirely proper. “I believe,” however, is not a phrase that belongs in science.

    We philosophical materialists may all be methodological materialists, but the converse isn’t true. Gregor Mendel was a methodological materialist who didn’t accept the philosophy of materialism. I think we make a grave error when we confuse philosophical views derived from science — even those we support — with science itself.”

    1998. And then, repeated in the 2005 Dover trial by a recognized expert witness (Pennock) with a doctorate in History and Philosophy of Science.

    I do not blindly appeal to authority here, any authority can be challenged. I defer to a recognized authority in the field AND in the courtroom for one of the most important scientific cases of our generation. Coyne and all the internet posters I’ve seen have not proven to me that their opinions deserve equal weight.

    In fact, Coyne proposed an experiment about prayer that completely betrayed his ignorance of the topic. (And by ignorance, I mean lack of knowledge, not the in pejorative sense). In those other threads where I posted, (the ones you think I haven’t read), I pointed out the defect in his proposed experiment (prayer is an appeal to an uncontrollable supernatural entity) and that, at best, Coyne could only prove that supernatural entities likely do not take part in tests of prayer.

    And, the continued accusation that such an exercise leads to “unrealistic scenario that supports a deistic god that virtually no American Christian–Collins and Miller included–believes in” is proven false by the very existence of Christians who successfully do make their faith compatible with science. Continuing to make that accusation only proves that you do not and/or can not and/or refuse to understand their position. They reject your rejection and your characterization of their position.

    “Laid to rest?” What, by vague assertions or outright dismissals? I repeat: Bullocks.

  114. @ BillC

    “As far as I’m concerned, I would boil it down to: Let’s agree to disagree, and let’s have our public discourse through the filter of methodological naturalism.”

    First, I am very happy that it seems we agree on this point and I think it’s important to say so.

    “Then why oh why would any ire be directed at atheists, of all people? The atheist’s (even the New Atheist’s) entire point is that discourse cannot be based upon personal supernatural beliefs, because they cannot be held to reason or understood intellectually. They are anathema to discourse in universal terms.”

    Well, first, please note that I don’t direct ire at atheists in general. I’ve said this before, I don’t like it when people make assertions about the religious and atheists that are untrue, and untrue because they do not describe the religious and atheist friends I have. That broad brush, you know.

    It is the attitude of some new atheists that I disapprove of. I do not think my religious friends are responsible for some goofball who would rather pray over a child than take them to a doctor for medical assistance. PZ Meyers implicated Ken Miller in this way, and that is wrong.

    Bill, maybe you’re just an atheist?

  115. Anna K.

    Bill C. (# 113) wrote: “But instead of earnestly critiquing their fellow “religionists” for more right-wing or literalist adherences to dogma which are often anti-science and/or anti-humanist, or at the very least refuse to undertake discourse on universal, secular terms, the most prudent course of action is to present a united front against atheists?”

    Anna K.: Hmmmm. I can think of several religiously oriented scientists who have used their platforms to challenge religious literalists; Francis Collins, for one example, does so repeatedly when he calls on creationists to deal with the evidence for evolution. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the oceanographer who now runs the Episcopal church in the U.S., sparked off quite the lawsuit fest by appointing an openly gay bishop. Then there is the ELCA Lutheran church which welcomed George Tiller even though they knew their congregation would be harassed by anti-abortion demonstrators.

    These sorts of debates dealing with science and moral issues go on between the religious left and right, and non-literalists and literalists all the time, and sometimes at great financial and personal costs; but you would have to follow religious stories in the press and communications within religious communities to be aware of that.

  116. Bill C.

    @ Tim –

    An entirely valid possibility, but I’d still be an atheist who thoroughly enjoys and does not object to the shows put on by PZ Myers and the like, and an atheist who always advocates – in discussions with atheists, agnostics, theists and all shades in between alike – for the complete abandonment of any faith in an interventionist god.

    Maybe I’m a Soft-New-Atheist? Ah, the complexities of labeling people unlike yourself.

    Frankly, I’m a rationalist-secular humanist, thank you very much. And to the extent that also includes a rejection of the belief in god, I’m an atheist.

  117. Bill C.

    @ Anna:

    I am aware of it, and the point I was making was that instead of uniting against the atheist attack, folks like Francis Collins need to become more proactive at transforming their faiths. With the current religious make-up of the U.S., it really seems like they do not have a leg to stand on when they’re out there defending religious belief from atheist “bigotry”. If the large majority of the people they were defending actually held views consistent with secular morality and secular discourse, their fight with atheists would have more merit.

    As it stands, stories of outright religious absurdity (I’m talking more here about creationists dominating school boards and entire churches still denouncing gays than isolated incidents like the Tiller shooting) abound in the United States, and there is no rebuke to atheists pounding on their absurdity.

  118. instead of uniting against the atheist attack, folks like Francis Collins need to become more proactive at transforming their faiths.

    Just what kind of transformation do you have in mind?

    With the current religious make-up of the U.S., it really seems like they do not have a leg to stand on when they’re out there defending religious belief from atheist “bigotry”.

    Considering what people like Jerry Coyne and PZ are constantly saying about him, Collins has more than a leg, he’s defending his reputation against a concerted and not very honest attack. Those guys want to create an atmosphere where he and other religious scientists would have trouble finding work.

    Creationists dominating school boards is a political problem, not anything to do with science. And, as I’ve said many times, I’d rather the new atheists keep out of the gay rights movement because they can’t keep from insulting people whose support we need.

    Some day I hope the discussion gets around to anthropocentricity because I’d love to explore that often used gambit wielded by “humanists” against “theists” in view of several major ironies.

  119. BillC
    Please know that I will fight for your right to be whatever you choose to label yourself.

  120. Anna K.

    Bill C. (#118),

    Bear with me, as I’m a little confused by what you’re saying, and am not sure I’m reading you correctly. First, are you saying that religious people should somehow be obliged to hold the same moral views that secular people do? I can see why you might prefer that everyone shared your views, but I don’t see why religious people should ipso facto be obliged to hold views consistent with secular morality and secular views. That expectation seems to me to be as unreasonable as religious people expecting secular people to hold views consistent with religious ones. I think in a pluralist community, in the public square, the reasoning behind moral arguments ought to be made accessible to a wide variety of people, which means that if I’m arguing against the death penalty I oughtn’t to say, “My religion says it’s wrong,” because anyone who does not share my theology won’t be persuaded; but that is very different from saying that people ought to have one particular set of values or views or ought not to allow religion to shape their views, which is what I (perhaps mistakenly) understood you to be saying.

    Hmmmm. Collins started that BioLogos site and is blogging at Beliefnet and his efforts seem to be aimed at, well, transforming faith — it sure isn’t aimed at atheists. I’m not sure what more he could doing.

    Also confusing to me — far as “secular morality” goes, just as with religion, there are several secular moralities. One atheist relative of mine, for example, is a hard-core libertarian who thinks universal healthcare is the end of freedom as we know it; but then I know other atheists/secular humanists who think we are morally obliged to provide universal, publicly funded healthcare. Ditto with other morally influenced public policy positions. Secular people don’t agree in lockstep any more than religious ones do, so I’m not sure it’s very practical to speak of broadbrush secularist or religious moralities — both groups seem to go all over the lot.

  121. Vytautus

    Tim,

    Yes, I agree. They are saying religion CAN be compatibility with science. As I said, it’s is a view that they are promoting. Saying that they “CAN ” (versus my unqualified description) is no different And indeed they do say science is not compatibility with YEC. They better say that, since they fight YEC/ID in the courts, and after all, it’s obvious lunacy to anybody but a hardcore godbot. [This, of course, comes in a variety of nuanced forms that people have managed to invent e.g. god operates through quantum entanglement – it’s easy, I just made that one up.]

    In contrast, I find nothing with regards to the views of many scientists that science is incompatible with religion. If they are going to promote the former, then they ought to be also stating the latter. Although, the best solution is to remove any and all references to religion. The NCSE should be completely neutral and promoting science as a secular activity having no relation to religion.

  122. A

    There might be reasons why some scientists are more ‘ardent’ atheists than others, such as having more confrontation with fundamentalists when teaching, say, evolutionary biology.
    For most scientists, religion might just not matter, so why expend energy to beat a dead horse?
    In this society (U.S.A.), doubting religion is also controversial. So better avoid it.

    If you are the Chairman of the Science Department in the Bible Belt, or even elsewhere, you will NOT speak your view on religion, lest you offend donors and legislators funding your college. So I would think that there is also a silent number of scientists who – while atheist – do not speak out as much as they would without the constraints of (the more religious) society surrounding them.

    And if astrology would be as accepted as mainstream religion, we scientists would also have to adapt to that, and there would be denounciations of ‘ardent’ astronomers, appeals to the middle ground, etc.
    And many scientists would be for that, not that they believe astrology, but they see the danger to a society which otherwise would completely ignore scientific findings, such as global warming.

  123. Bill C.

    @ Anna:

    My argument rests in your last paragraph. Personally, I think religious morality is nonsense for the very fact that it is a framework of living concocted, as I said in response to Tim Broderick’s assertion about the logical possibility of the supernatural, upon an indefinable possibility.

    No one is under any obligation to share this view. However, if religious people cannot express their divergent views in secular terms – i.e. how policy will affect human welfare as opposed to how it will reflect on one’s appreciation of scripture – those views become worthless in public discourse.

    No one should be compelled to hold any particular moral viewpoint, but they should be compelled to explain that viewpoint in terms grounded in the secular. It’s the whole idea of conducting discourse through the prism of naturalism, because it’s the only prism we can all see through.

    Re: Collins’ efforts – Bully for him, but I’d be more impressed if his efforts plainly addressed what I’m talking about here rather than focusing on how one might squeeze the Christian God into the fringes of current scientific knowledge. They are not by any means equivocal approaches. The irony of course being that the only authority a religious person is likely to accept on moral/social issues is their reigning cleric.

  124. if religious people cannot express their divergent views in secular terms – i.e. how policy will affect human welfare as opposed to how it will reflect on one’s appreciation of scripture –

    They frequently do when testifying in front of legislative committees, at least here in the North East and to Congress. I’d guess that the representatives of religious organizations testifying in those terms as opposed to those who bring up scripture are many times more often heard.

    those views become worthless in public discourse.

    Depends on what they’re trying to do and the results of it. If it gets a better law enacted I don’t care what they say about it.

  125. 123.   Vytautus

    A comment after my response to you is apparently awaiting moderation, probably because of the number of links in it. This is the most pertinent, though: http://ncseweb.org/religion/science-religion-methodology-humanism

    And, I would say that saying something can be is only acknowledging the possibility – asserting that something is refers to specific instances, that would need to be judged on their individual merits. So, no, I think there’s an important distinction there.

    The link above is from a section that has quite a few interesting articles btw.

  126. Anna K.

    Bill C.,

    Thanks for taking the time to clarify your views.

  127. Bill C.

    Depends on what they’re trying to do and the results of it. If it gets a better law enacted I don’t care what they say about it.

    That’s where you and I differ, clearly. And that’s fine.

    Anna: No problemo. Always like to be clear, however short of that goal I may often fall.

  128. Tim said, “And, the continued accusation that such an exercise leads to “unrealistic scenario that supports a deistic god that virtually no American Christian–Collins and Miller included–believes in” is proven false by the very existence of Christians who successfully do make their faith compatible with science. Continuing to make that accusation only proves that you do not and/or can not and/or refuse to understand their position. They reject your rejection and your characterization of their position.”

    Always in a defensive crouch aren’t we. Why not make a few positive statements about this god I keep mischaracterizing. Why am I wrong that NOMA is only compatible with deism, and that MN is only compatible with deism?

    What, Tim, is the “official” position on god, you say I don’t get? Does it involve watering down faith to an impotent and hapless cosmic burp? Is that what Francis Collins prays to, or the million or so American Catholics who believe bread and wine literally turn into the body and blood of their god–a process called transubstantiation–every Sunday?

    The fact is, religions have always made claims about the natural world, and about supernatural intervention into the natural world. This, I’m afraid, conflicts with both PN and MN. Simply shouting that I don’t get god or your god or your mom’s god, or America’s god isn’t convincing anyone.

  129. That’s where you and I differ, clearly.

    For me the results are what matter, I wrote under a pseudonym back when I wrote that.

    http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/2006/05/incorporating-outcome-for-molly-ivins.html

  130. Always in a defensive crouch aren’t we. Why not make a few positive statements about this god I keep mischaracterizing. Why am I wrong that NOMA is only compatible with deism, and that MN is only compatible with deism?

    Tim Broderick doesn’t strike me as the crouching kind, though he’s certainly much politer than, say, me.

    God is not bound by our limited conceptions. God created the universe as it happened, whatever science can discover about the universe is a partial expression of God’s intention. There. Two positive statements that definitively place God beyond any of your limits.

    NOMA is a lot more about us than it is about God. It could be part God plays in the material universe is not obvious to us because we aren’t equipped to. As said to someone here a while back, maybe more of the picture has been made available to some other species somewhere. Perhaps, seeing what a mess we make of things with the knowledge we have, God didn’t want us to have more than we can. At least not now. NOMA is a rational acknowledgment of our inability to bridge a gap, it doesn’t nullify the holdings of either Magisterium, just all of the lifetimes of trying to bridge them or to abolish one of them have failed and it’s time to move on to more productive use of our time.

  131. John Kwok

    @Vytautus (101) –

    Instead of regurgitating inane comments made by the likes of Jerry Coyne, and especially, PZ Myers, could you please demonstrate that you are far more capable of clear, coherent thought, than, for example, what I have read from lunatic Intelligent Design creationists like Larry Fafarman?

    Hess’s statement is a more benign version of the kind declared by the Dalai Lama, in which he stressed that if Buddhism was in conflict with science, then it should change to reflect modern science (not the other way around). And Hess doesn’t quite go as far as I have heard from that leading “accomodationist” Ken Miller. Late last month at a private talk he gave here in New York City to our fellow college alumni, he said that those who belong to religions which are hostile to science should terminate their memberships in such faiths ASAP. I think it is both presumptuous and ridiculous of Coyne, Rosenhouse, Myers et al. to condemn someone like Ken Miller for being a “creationist” and an “accomodationist” serving on behalf of his fellow theistic evolutionists without listening carefully to what Ken has been saying.

  132. As you’ve outlined, your belief in a Prime Mover, a Cosmic Happenstance, existing beyond our “limited conceptions” necessarily limits your capacity to say anything meaningful and intersubjective about this undetectable Thing that is by your own definition beyond our current understanding.

    To Mooney’s credit, your view of things places you within his NOMA quarantine, but far outside the popular stance of church attending, angel believing, jesus, mary and joseph, Christian America he claims to be speaking for.

    I could be wrong. We should test it. Lets take the accomodationist idea of god, the deistic god, into a few maga-churches across America. Someone should volunteer.

  133. John Kwok

    @ gilt and Anthony –

    BTW I heard Ken Miller reject Steve Gould’s concept of NOMA at the World Science Festival session on Science, Faith and Religion last Saturday. That may be, ironically speaking, the only point of agreement that he has with militant atheists other than recognizing that evolution is valid science and that all forms of “scientific” creationism – including Intelligent Design creationism – are thinly disguised efforts at trying to get religion taught in science classrooms.

  134. Well, gillt, no one’s going to mistake you for Miss Manners either. Though I don’t think I quite match your sour milk piquancy.

    I will point out that what I said was perfectly acceptable to many Christians, I’d guess most of them would accept what I said as being consistent with their understanding of God. I didn’t say anything about god being “imperceptible” and you can say many meaningful things about something you are never going to comprehend fully. What do you think science does every time it says something about the material universe? Only someone who is profoundly ignorant of science would think that it has comprehended any part of the universe, I’ve got to say I haven’t found much of that here, where the conversation is on a much higher level than on the new atheist blogs I’ve visited.

    I’ll pass on the mega-churches, don’t like the music.

    Your “accomodationism” fixation is seeming more of a phobia than a legitimate point, as no one here seems to be asking for science to be opened to the supernatural. I don’t think any serious person anywhere has said that science can accommodate that. If someone did actually say it, and not just have that foolishness attributed to them by those with an ax to grind, they’d immediately be marked as someone who wasn’t serious. Oddly, the people who keep attributing ideas to those who never endorsed them suffer not consequences of that sort, no matter how many times they tell those lies. Maybe that’s an accommodation people should choose to give up. There isn’t any reason for the new atheists to be able to exempt themselves from accuracy and truth as well as basic fairness.

  135. Davo

    I am interesting in knowing where Rosenhouse asked both of you to limit your comments to one per post. I am also interested in Dawkins’s letter where he says that parents teaching children about religion should be made illegal. Could you pleas provide the links? Thanks in advance.

  136. Please, let’s call a spade a spade. Watson and Crick may have pilfered x-ray diffraction images from Franklin, but the model building, the chemical reasoning and their own peculiar insight were the products of their own…DNA. And these were insights which nobody else including Franklin, Perutz, Bragg and Pauling possessed (even though all and especially Pauling were capable of possessing them)

  137. God is not bound by our limited conceptions. God created the universe as it happened, whatever science can discover about the universe is a partial expression of God’s intention. There. Two positive statements that definitively place God beyond any of your limits.

    Now just replace “god” by “fairies” or “goblins”. Do the statements sound equally plausible now?

  138. John Kwok

    @ Davo –

    Not only did Rosenhouse ask both McCarthy and I to limit our comments to once a day at his blog, but he also strongly resented my sarcastic nickname for William A. Dembski as the “Joseph Goebbels of the Intelligent Design Movement” (In a private e-mail to Rosenhouse, I pointed out that for years, over at Panda’s Thumb, Dembski has been referred to as someone who follows his “master’, “Saint Goebbels”:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2009/06/ruse_news.php#more

    In plain English, if you don’t like what your critics are saying at your blog, just tell them to
    “Shut Up”!

  139. @ 130 gillt

    “Always in a defensive crouch aren’t we. ”

    That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? That I’m being defensive? I provide links, quotes from recognized experts and even logical exercises, and you don’t engage their ideas or attempt to refute them.

    Pitiful. Absolutely pitiful. You’re really just parroting other people’s ideas, ideas that you don’t completely understand, aren’t you?

    Not for gillt, who’s just a troll, but here’s why, for the most part, I do not regard Coyne as a particularly reliable expert when it pertains to philosophy.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/06/10/rosenhouse-vs-mooney-redux-jason-is-doing-my-job-for-me/

    Coyne makes specific assertions. First, he says he doesn’t want to get into a philosophical/semantic arguement, but doesn’t realize that he’s doing just that.

    I’m going to disregard the obvious behavior of building up strawmen and then tearing them down (some claims about the supernatural can’t be tested? Come on!).

    I’m going to focus on his claim that science can successfully test whether prayer works. I’m basing this on these specific statements:
    “The claim that prayer works is a claim that science can study.” We disregard “(or that moral people get cancer less often than immoral people)” because that is a completely different idea (IMO another strawman, but he may not realize it).
    “Just because we can’t control God and how he responds to prayer doesn’t mean that we can’t study whether prayer works.”
    “Now you can argue about whether those studies were done properly, but the fact is that they can be.”

    His language can be a bit imprecise, but that would actually be another criticism of him so, let’s play this out.
    This assertion, that the claim that prayer works can be studied properly (scientifically) and that there is no need to control God and how he responds to prayer in order to ascertain whether prayer works is wrong in at least three ways.

    Let’s apply this to a theoretical test using hospital patients undergoing some kind of procedure. It is a test that is simply not falsifiable, a useful way of identifying what is and is not science.

    I use the idea of falsifiable that can be found here

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

    in much the same way as it has been used against fundamentalism:
    “Falsifiability was one of the criteria used by Judge William Overton in the McLean v. Arkansas ruling to determine that ‘creation science’ was not scientific and should not be taught in Arkansas public schools. In his conclusion related to this criterion he stated that “While anybody is free to approach a scientific inquiry in any fashion they choose, they cannot properly describe the methodology as scientific, if they start with the conclusion and refuse to change it regardless of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation.”[2]
    It was also enshrined in United States law as part of the Daubert Standard set by the Supreme Court for whether scientific evidence is admissible in a jury trial.”

    Philosophical fail #1
    The idea that you don’t need to have control of a supernatural omnipotent being – one who exists in the past, present and future simultaneously and who has stated that he (or she, or it) should not be tested – that idea is incorrect for the most obvious reason.
    Without any ability to detect the supernatural being directly or indirectly, it’s impossible to know whether the being heard the prayers, knew it was being tested and so declined to participate in the test. Nor can you determine – outside the test – whether it may choose to answer prayers in ways indistinguishable from natural means (praying for the Red Sox to win the World Series in 2004, for example).
    And since prayer is an appeal to that supernatural being, no test that excludes the supernatural being is a test of prayer. Results – proving yes or no – don’t matter since there is simply no evidence for or against that a supernatural being played any role. Before any data would even be collected, the question of whether prayer works is then unfalsifiable, not science and not testable by science.

    Philosophical fail #2
    Even if you could get around the first fail, there’s no way you can control who takes part in the test here in the physical world. You want a control group where no one prays for them so you can have a baseline with which to compare? Impossible. Everyday, someone somewhere in the world is praying for the sick. So, even if you had a result that showed the control group faring better than the other group, it would mean nothing because they were being prayed for by people NOT TAKING PART IN THE TEST, and so not subject to the constraint that one should not test the being. Again, the question of whether prayer works is then unfalsifiable, not science and not testable by science.

    Philosophical fail #3
    Not only can’t you control who takes part, but you can’t control WHEN they take part. There’s no way to keep someone from the past from praying for a person’s future benefit. A grandfather or mother’s prayer for someone when they were a child doesn’t suddenly become null once they enter a scientific trial. Unfalsifiable, not science and not testable by science.

    Someone who had considered the philosophical implications of such testing would have seen the pitfalls of making such statements: No way to control a supernatural being. No way to measure results since you can’t correct for who prays or when they pray. And since there is no way to control these elements, there is no way to conclude scientifically whether prayer works or whether it doesn’t. Unfalsifiable, not science and not testable by science.

    Coyne not knowing this puts him means any appeal to his authority on questions of philosophy does not carry much weight.

  140. 139. Curious Wavefunction
    “Now just replace “god” by “fairies” or “goblins”. Do the statements sound equally plausible now?”

    You’re confusing folk beliefs with religion:

    http://ncseweb.org/religion/science-religion-methodology-humanism
    “Anthropologists define religion as a set of rules and attitudes regarding interaction with certain supernatural beings. Not all supernatural beings — elves, the tooth fairy, and Santa Claus are the subjects of folk beliefs, rather than religion.”

  141. Here is my question: Does the middle define itself, or is the middle defined by the two ends?

    If the latter, then the ends are more important than one might otherwise think, and for my part, I want my preferred end of the distribution to be strong, active, always pushing, and I want the other end … wll, arrested as soon as possible. Or something.

  142. John Kwok

    @ Tim –

    Thanks for your excellent “deconstruction” of Coyne’s remarks. As I have noted previously, when it comes to the prospect of any “accomodation” between science and religion, Coyne’s often impeccable logic with regards to his understanding of modern evolutionary theory, especially speciation, leaves him, and is replaced instantly by rather simplistic reasoning (As an excellent case in point is his New Republic review of Ken Miller’s “Only A Theory” in which Coyne asserts that Miller is a creationist since Miller shares three of four traits with creationists, starting with a “belief in a GOD”. I suppose using Coyne’s “logic”, then one could conclude too that the Dalai Lama is also a “creationist”, even though the Dalai Lama has declared that if Buddhism is wrong and science is right, then Buddhism must change to conform with science.).

    There are of course ample examples of gillt’s inane commentary posted here in defense of Coyne and quite delusional militant atheists like PZ Myers:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/06/12/coyneaccomodationism-debate-links-compiled/

  143. John Kwok

    @ Greg –

    I can sympathize with you, but when your friends like PZ Myers, for example, insist on acting like bigots – and worse – to their critics, then theirs are positions that are no longer intellectually tenable. I remain puzzled as to how PZ insists that NCSE has an “accomodationist” stance towards religion , when I, a mere Deist, and others (including Ken Miller), haven’t seen it (And in my case, I made this determination independently of Ken’s, so I can’t be accused of being Ken’s ever faithful “poodle”, always willingly obeying his “commands”.).

  144. John @135: BTW I heard Ken Miller reject Steve Gould’s concept of NOMA at the World Science Festival session on Science, Faith and Religion last Saturday.

    Interestingly enough, after going through a few of the addresses Pope John Paul II made to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, it appears that the recent Pope actually agreed with Steven Gould (more or less). I’ll try to find the actual quotes in a later post (or I’ll blog them).

    Greg @143: I want the other end … wll, arrested as soon as possible. Or something.

    I’m going to assume this is you being facetious, and not really advocating censorship, no matter how odious the other sides argument.

  145. McCarthy: “God is not bound by our limited conceptions.”

    McCarthy again: “I didn’t say anything about god being “imperceptible…”

    How could you even know what the limits of my or anyone’s conceptions are? Complete hubris.

    If you can’t conceive of god through one of your god-given faculties of perception (he only gave us five) then through what epistemology is he knowable? Have you some god-detector contraption stowed away that enables you to distinguish between the divine and eating mushrooms? I can only presume that god for you is a catch-all word for the beauty and complexity of the universe, a sense of the sublime and numinous in nature, and perhaps love…or something.

    I wish you would have said you were going to avoid plain english before we went down this road.

    “…you can say many meaningful things about something you are never going to comprehend fully. What do you think science does every time it says something about the material universe?”

    Again, you’re attempting to equate the supernatural with the material universe. Poofing a supernatural world into existence doesn’t mean such a world actually exists outside your brain’s ability to conceptualize it. It should go without saying, but a scientific way of comprehending the universe allows for ideas to be falsified. That’s how science achieves accuracy–by correcting for the very humans impulse toward personal bias and wishful thinking. We should probably be teaching that in schools.

  146. @ 137 Davo

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/12/dawkins_and_the_religion_petit.php

    “Update: at the insistence of several readers, please be advised that Dawkins has now repudiated his signature on that petition and asked that it be taken off. You can find that retraction in the comments below.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/12/dawkins_and_the_religion_petit.php#comment-302272

    Dawkins admitted he was wrong to sign the petition – thought it meant something else. I don’t believe it’s legitimate to point out that he signed it without also pointing out that he repudiated it later.

  147. OK, I get it – more than one link per post means moderation. I’m very sorry, I’ll watch that.

    @ 137 Davo Here’s what a post currently awaiting moderation says:

    “Update: at the insistence of several readers, please be advised that Dawkins has now repudiated his signature on that petition and asked that it be taken off. You can find that retraction in the comments below.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/12/dawkins_and_the_religion_petit.php#comment-302272

    Dawkins admitted he was wrong to sign the petition – thought it meant something else. I don’t believe it’s legitimate to point out that he signed it without also pointing out that he repudiated it later.

  148. Tim, just out of curiosity, why use Mooney’s post to go on and on about something Coyne did that you don’t like? He has a blog of his own, you know.
    Anyway…

    #1 Failed on intellectual honesty:
    Apparently you think those people who believe in god were praying the wrong way. To make a good faith effort, Coyne is only holding theists to their assertions: that god is a. beneficent, b. has at some point answered a prayer. When theists are pinned down over how they believe, they throw their hands up in the air and deny everything. Just as soon as the pesky skeptic is gone, they go back to praying for the strength or wisdom to make it through the recession. And of course, if just one of those actual published studies designed to test intercessory prayer ever gave positive results, the churches wouldn’t be filled with people overjoyed about it, right?

    #2 Failed to comprehend experimental design.

    Tim said “So, even if you had a result that showed the control group faring better than the other group, it would mean nothing because they were being prayed for by people NOT TAKING PART IN THE TEST, and so not subject to the constraint that one should not test the being.”

    All you’ve done is dissolve the groups into one global group by including background noise. Unless there’s a reason to assume people NOT TAKING PART IN THE TEST were aware of the two groups, you still have to explain why one group, according to your scenario, fared better. If the background noise of outside prayers factored in, then they should have an equal net affect on both groups. Other than the backdoor excuse that god works in mysterious ways, you haven’t explained why one group would fair better than the other. Does god dole out prayers in complete disregard to our intentions? This certainly puts a damper on the free will. Isn’t that a big no-no? The possibility of one group fairing better than the other, however remote, falsifies the experiment.

    Philosophical fail #3 More of the same silly rationalizations.

  149. Davo, Rosenhouse said to several people, including me, to limit comments to one a day on a thread called Ruse News. I don’t really mind since I hadn’t figured on commenting there anymore, since the quality of the conversation there is on such a low level. If someone named SLC hadn’t insulted me by name I wouldn’t have commented on that thread even once. As far as I’m concerned Rosenhouse has the right to make rules for his own blog, though I think he wasn’t happy when I asked him to clear up a glaring and basic misunderstanding about applications of probability some of his regulars had. Apparently he doesn’t have the same kinds of protective feelings about his own field that he has for materialism.

    About the Dawkins petition signiture, I do, I believe, generally point out that Dawkins took his name off that petition after days of people pointing out to him what a stupid thing it was to have signed it. I don’t believe he didn’t know what he was signing but if he didn’t know, it’s a pretty serious lapse of judgement.

    Considering his desire to make religious belief extinct and his belief that it is a delusion and and evil in the world, anyone could be forgiven for believing the petition was in keeping with his intentions. I do and that Dawkins, with decades of being familiar with the subject of publicity, wouldn’t have been unaware that it was a way to get his name in the news. I think it was a publicity stunt that blew up in his face.

  150. McCarthy: “God is not bound by our limited conceptions.”

    McCarthy again: “I didn’t say anything about god being “imperceptible…”

    How could you even know what the limits of my or anyone’s conceptions are? Complete hubris.

    I don’t know the limits of anyones’ conceptions are, which is why I don’t think I’d ever claim to know them. That doesn’t preclude believing that no human being has the capacity to comprehend God. I’m quite confident that you’ve not demonstrated that ability and neither has anyone else to my knowledge. If you’ve got that ability, why keep your little candle under a bushel?

    You do seem to be having a difficult time distinguishing between comprehensive knowledge of something and perceiving it. You can perceive many things and know many things in part based on that perception that you can’t in total. “Comprehend” would seem to have a strong sense and a weaker one. When I say people can’t comprehend God I mean that being infinite, omniscient, etc. we’re not equipped to take in enough information to do that and that a lot of the information we would need for effectively understanding God isn’t available to us. I did say our conceptions are “limited”.

    You might not like that but I think it’s also true for the material universe. The evy-psych people might not like it one little bit that the actual behavior of our Paleolithic ancestors which their speculations require are, actually, lost to us forever. They can’t be observed, they can’t be known in sufficient detail to make anything said about them science. They don’t have that information so they just make it up. The results aren’t science anymore than any other creation myths.

    If you can’t conceive of god through one of your god-given faculties of perception (he only gave us five) then through what epistemology is he knowable? Have you some god-detector contraption stowed away that enables you to distinguish between the divine and eating mushrooms? I can only presume that god for you is a catch-all word for the beauty and complexity of the universe, a sense of the sublime and numinous in nature, and perhaps love…or something.

    First you fault me for not believing you have the ability to comprehend the infinite and omniscient, now you want to put this discussion snidely into the terms of a Superman comic. As said, you don’t seem to be able to distinguish between comprehending something and perceiving it.

    The “five senses” are a grade school convention just as the list of the colors of the rainbow. I remember asking a teacher in an early grade why the sense of balance wasn’t included not to mention a sense of proportion which her response could have benefited from. I’ve never said that belief in God was like the knowledge of science and technology which are entirely dependent on the perception of the material universe.

    I don’t have any idea why some peoples’ experience leads us to believe in a God and a very small number of people don’t have those experiences. I’d guess there might be many different reasons for both. Which is why I generally don’t deal with those issues in discussions like this one.

    You guys are awfully antsy about whether or not the large majority of human beings are mentally ill. Obsessed with it, in some cases rather pathologically. I’d see that in strictly functional terms. If there’s no problem that impinges on other people’s rights or the environment, I don’t care what people believe. As long as my spoons or those of unwilling participants aren’t involved, I don’t care if they bend their own. I don’t care if someone wants to study some proposed extension of the traditional grade-school five senses and can put together the funding. Maybe they’ll find something interesting or even useful. I don’t care that my neighbor down the street has been paying ten bucks to the local sooth sayer in her monthly visits, she can afford it and it’s her business, not mine.

    Maybe you should see someone, this seems to be upsetting you. And if you were being polite, I might not have felt the necessity to bring it up.

    “…you can say many meaningful things about something you are never going to comprehend fully. What do you think science does every time it says something about the material universe?”

    Again, you’re attempting to equate the supernatural with the material universe.

    No, that’s not what that is about at all, it’s about our inability to know what we don’t or can’t know. Though I believe I learn something about the habits that lead to fundamentalism and the tactical dodges they depend on whenever engaging them to this extent.

  151. God is not bound by our limited conceptions. God created the universe as it happened, whatever science can discover about the universe is a partial expression of God’s intention. There. Two positive statements that definitively place God beyond any of your limits.

    Now just replace “god” by “fairies” or “goblins”. Do the statements sound equally plausible now?

    The universe is not bound by our limited conceptions. The universe on the subatomic and macro levels, and perhaps in an unknown number of dimensions (and what qualities they might impose on existence) are as they are and whatever science can discover about the universe is only a very partial expression of the whole.

    There, two positive statements about the fact that comprehensive knowledge of the universe is beyond our abilities and that whatever we know know about it is only a small part of the whole.

    Isn’t this the point when some new atheist quiz kid says “QED” ?

    You might have missed the point the other night, but I’ve never known of anyone to propose that any kind of fairy is omnipotent, omniscient, etc. I’ve also never known of them to have been credited with the creation of the universe or to have the task of keeping it in working order. I’m not as familiar with “goblins” but aren’t they a species of fairy?

    I wish you guys would come up with a better argument, this one doesn’t do what you want it to except with the very superficial and the entirely ignorant.

    C.W. I’ve gotten side tracked on several issues but that Harris piece is forthcoming.

  152. The interesting thing is that the line between folk beliefs and religion can be sometimes thing, as I finding out in Robert Wright’s excellent recent book, “The Evolution of God” which I would strongly recommend to everyone here.

  153. Gina Mel

    Is the middle ground actually constitutional?

    Coyne argues that NAS, NCSE, etc. should not have a position one way or the other on the issue of religion and science being compatible. To say they do not promotes atheism. Coyne doesn’t think those organizations should promote atheism. That is for atheists to do as they see fit.

    Promoting religion and science being compatible though is problematic. Not all religions and faiths are compatible with science. The Church of Latter Day Saints has to bend history and natural science to accommodate the stories in the Book of Mormon. Biblical “literalists” contend the earth is on the order of 4,000 to 6,000 years old, denying biology, geology, physics, and chemistry (not to mention archaeology, anthropology, history, etc.). These religions are not compatible with religion. That is falsehood. To promote religion and science being compatible, what you are really saying is some religions. You are advocating a particular belief system. The NAS should not be promoting certain types of beliefs. Nor should the NCSE. Science should be promoted.

    Advocating the middle ground is an attack on the religious faiths of many Americans. Coyne is advocating that is not the place of NAS nor the NCSE.

    Many Americans believe in some variant of special creation for human origins. All scientific evidence is to the contrary. The evidence points to humans evolving like every other species on the planet, nothing special except what we humans subscribe to it. Coyne’s beef in many respects with regards to Miller and Collins is that in promoting the compatibility between science and their theistic beliefs, are advocating a variant of special creation and God in Gaps. In turn promoting inaccurate science to fit their belief systems. Their actual scientific research is not in question but how they promote science to the public is distorted to accommodate their religious beliefs.

  154. These religions are not compatible with religion. That is falsehood. To promote religion and science being compatible, what you are really saying is some religions.

    Gina Mel, that would be far more reasonable and accurate than the general dogma of the new atheism that all belief in the supernatural is incompatible. And I think you’ll find that Coyne has gone a lot farther than that in his blogging. He’s pretty reckless and indiscriminate in his wild attacks. I’d guess that he’s only going to get worse when he feels free to vent his actual thoughts unedited by any professional restraints.

    I think that what Miller and Collins are saying isn’t that you can use the supernatural within the practice of science, I’ve never heard their fiercest opponents actually making the charge that they are, though that’s the actual position they take in attacking them. If they had evidence of either of them actually publishing a scientific paper which was reliant on anything but material evidence they’d shout it as loudly as possible.

    The new atheist attack on Miller and Collins , not being really about science but about the political purity of the community of science, relies on people not distinguishing between what a scientist does when they are acting as a professional and in the rest of their life.

    It’s just that difference between science as a specialized activity and the rest of life that is at the heart of the engagement between and within those who accept the validity of what science can demonstrate and can also believe in the validity of what their personal experience tells them in regard to the supernatural.

    There are a lot of things in life other than science in which consulting religion isn’t essential. Science, dealing strictly with the material universe, goes one step farther, it can’t exist if it does consult religion. At least not in an undamaged form. Science can’t use other areas of life either, departmental politics in a university or within a field is an area which has certainly done more damage to science than any serious scientist imposing their religion on it. I’ve been asking and have yet to have anyone produce the evidence that religion is that kind of a problem for science and no one seems to be able to produce any.

    I’ve got quite serious religious problems with biblical literalism, any kind of fundamentalism, actually. But I wouldn’t bring those here because that’s not the topic here. If I run into a comment thread where that is relevant, I’d have no problem setting those out.

    Other than the political issue of science teaching in the public schools, the danger to science posed by religion is a fiction. The new atheists who constantly whine about it can’t produce any evidence that it’s anything but their cover story, which is all about imposing their ideological agenda on other people, not with protecting science.

    People are not going to give up their experience on the basis of other peoples’ ideological assertions, that’s just not going to happen.

  155. OK, I didn’t try any html code so I have no idea where that bold comes from this time.

  156. McCarthy: “it’s about our inability to know what we don’t or can’t know.”

    A fine example that just because a sentence is grammatical doesn’t mean it isn’t nonsensical.

    Besides, if you really believed that McCarthy, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  157. gillt @159: A fine example that just because a sentence is grammatical doesn’t mean it isn’t nonsensical.

    Not only do you seem to lack an understanding of basic logical fallacies (e.g., ad hominem), you also seem to lack basic reading comprehension skills.

  158. It’s real easy:

    Tell us how you intersubjectively detect/perceive your god.

    or failing that

    How you can know the god “conceived” in your head is real and not a pure figment of your imagination.

    (I’d hope for an answer in the positive and not some hand-waving, like maybe all reality is a hallucination).

  159. @ 150. gillt

    LOL! Gillt tries hard not to be a troll – major fail!

    gillt: “Tim, just out of curiosity, why use Mooney’s post to go on and on about something Coyne did that you don’t like? He has a blog of his own, you know.”

    Because, here in this thread, you appealed to Coyne as someone who “laid to rest” the idea of there being a line between mn/pm. I’m using his own example to show that Coyne doesn’t have enough knowledge of the subject to be regarded as an authority on it.

    gillt: “#1 Failed on intellectual honesty:
    Apparently you think those people who believe in god were praying the wrong way.”
    LOL! Apparently you can’t use google: http://www.answers.com/prayer

    It’s all about requests, nothing about results.

    gillt: “To make a good faith effort, Coyne is only holding theists to their assertions: that god is a. beneficent, b. has at some point answered a prayer. When theists are pinned down over how they believe, they throw their hands up in the air and deny everything.”

    ROTFLMAO! You actually think I’m arguing FOR religion here? That’s great! What are you, 13 years old? No, Coyne wasn’t arguing that and you’re trying to introduce another standard of measurement to distract from the fact you can’t get your mind around what I’m saying. Maybe when you’re 15. This is a test of whether prayer works, nothing more. That is what Coyne said.

    gillt: “Just as soon as the pesky skeptic is gone, they go back to praying for the strength or wisdom to make it through the recession. And of course, if just one of those actual published studies designed to test intercessory prayer ever gave positive results, the churches wouldn’t be filled with people overjoyed about it, right?”

    Blah blah strawman blah blah. If there were positive results, they would be wrong to interpret them as proof. It would go against the science – no evidence that the results were due to a supernatural being – and against their own theology – you should not test God. So they would be wrong.

    gillt: “#2 Failed to comprehend experimental design.

    Tim said “So, even if you had a result that showed the control group faring better than the other group, it would mean nothing because they were being prayed for by people NOT TAKING PART IN THE TEST, and so not subject to the constraint that one should not test the being.”

    All you’ve done is dissolve the groups into one global group by including background noise. ”

    You know, I had wondered if I should lay this trap for you. Would it be a nice thing to do? Then I thought, screw nice.

    gillt: “Unless there’s a reason to assume people NOT TAKING PART IN THE TEST were aware of the two groups, you still have to explain why one group, according to your scenario, fared better. If the background noise of outside prayers factored in, then they should have an equal net affect on both groups. ”

    Actually, a result that shows the control group faring better could be considered more consistent with the premise of an omnipotent being who does not like to be tested. You see, the group of patients who are the focus of prayer as part of the test would be less likely to receive aid since the being could rightly decide that answering any prayer on their behalf would be taking part in the test. As the control group is essentially neutral, the being could decide to answer prayers in the normal course of his affairs. Thus, the idea of “background noise” fails.

    Another explanation is that the being did not take part in the test at all, and thus the results are simply within the range of what would happen naturally.

    Either way, the idea of whether prayer works remains unfalsifiable.

    gillt: “Other than the backdoor excuse that god works in mysterious ways, you haven’t explained why one group would fair better than the other. Does god dole out prayers in complete disregard to our intentions? This certainly puts a damper on the free will. Isn’t that a big no-no? ”

    Wow, you really are drowning in deep waters here, aren’t you? Uh, free will doesn’t mean we have any special power over god. We can make requests, he can choose to not answer or answer in any manner he wants.

    gillt: “Philosophical fail #3 More of the same silly rationalizations.”

    Frustrating isn’t it :) Yup, that’s what happens when you try to inject science into areas where there is no evidence for or against, where premises are unfalsifiable.

    It’s not science. Now, you can certainly BELIEVE that your experiments prove otherwise, but belief is a philosophical stance. Congratulations! You’ve just helped to bolster the line between methodological and philosophical naturalism!

  160. @ 156. Gina Mel

    You should read what the NCSE says for itself, not what other people say about it.

    http://ncseweb.org/religion

    There’s a lot there, including the perspective of atheists. Click the links on the left, especially the commentaries.

  161. gillt

    “Actually, a result that shows the control group faring better could be considered more consistent with the premise of an omnipotent being who does not like to be tested.”

    A being who doesn’t like to be tested? Why would you jump to that conclusion instead of saying there is no god to be tested? It’s because you are a god-botherer and not a scientist.

  162. McCarthy: “it’s about our inability to know what we don’t or can’t know.”
    A fine example that just because a sentence is grammatical doesn’t mean it isn’t nonsensical.
    Besides, if you really believed that McCarthy, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Oh, my. The dregs of logical positivism which I’m constantly assured by the new atheists is dead. Which it is but, like a vampire, it still sucks the life out of the thinking of so many. I’m talking about how people get through real life, not the fictitious version that purists of all stripe construct and insist on imposing on everyone else.

    In order for that sentence to be nonsensical you would have to think I don’t know what I intended, which I’m certain I did. Or that you can know things you don’t know.

    How you can know the god “conceived” in your head is real and not a pure figment of your imagination.

    I can’t know that, no one can, that’s why an honest person would say they BELIEVE it.

  163. gillt

    “I can’t know that, no one can, that’s why an honest person would say they BELIEVE it.”

    Then you simply aren’t being honest.

    You’ve made truth statements without evidence, which I think is unacceptable in any serious thought.

  164. John Kwok

    @ Gina Mel (156) –

    I have to endorse Tim Broderick’s recommendation (@ 163) to read carefully the NCSE’s own extensive commentary on the relationship – if any – between science and religion. Contrary to what has been asserted by, in particular, Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers, the NCSE doesn’t endorse – either explicitly or implicitly – any religion or religious worldview that would demonstrate its compatability with science. On the other hand, New Atheists (I prefer the term Militant Atheists as being far more accurate.) like Coyne and Myers would like to see science presented in accordance with their atheistic views. If this isn’t a blatant example of hypocrisy or a strong example of trying to inject their own religious – and yes, I would describe their conception of militant atheism as a “religion” – values into public understanding of science, then I probably need to attend some “New Atheist” “re-education camp”.

    @ Davo –

    While Anthony is right in observing that Rosenhouse, as the “keeper” of his EvolutionBlog, has the right to enforce online “traffic” there, it is simply the height of hypocrisy from Rosenhouse to tell me and Anthony essentially to “shut up” when he gives carte blanche to SLC – who claims to be a former physicist with a Ph. D. in elementary particle physics – to launch ad hominem attacks against both of us and others and to act like some sex-obsessed male chauvinist pig (It seems SLC’s sole criterion for judging whether a woman is “worthy” is whether or not she is “hot”.).

  165. Gina Mel

    I have gone through the NCSE site. My opinion, they should be silent on the matter of the compatibility of science and religion. End of question. Anything else is promoting a certain religious faiths (or lack thereof) above others. The religious section promotes certain religious faiths over others. That is dangerous for an organization working in public schools to advocate good science education.

    In terms of Collins and Miller, for their popular work they contend they can reconcile their theistic beliefs with science. Coyne argues that they are distorting the science to do so. That is a fair game for criticism.

    Most Americans belief in some sort of special creation to explain human origins. Collins and Miller are at one end of that spectrum FAR, FAR from Young Earth Creationists, but they still in some manner argue in favor of special origins for humans. Scientific evidence for that is lacking.

  166. The term “ID creationism” shows that you Darwinists are fond of making up terms that combine scientific (or pseudoscientific) ideas with the religious implications of those ideas. So what should we call evolution: “evolution atheism” or “evolution theism”?

    Vytautus Says (#110),

    –the science they are promoting is being watered down with a little Jebus. —

    You Darwinist bigots call my holocaust revisionism anti-Semitic but yet look at how you use the “De Lawd Jebus” black dialect to represent ignorance. I just hope that the NAACP gets after your lousy racist hides.

  167. John Kwok

    @ Gina –

    I can’t speak personally for Collins, but I think I can for Ken Miller, who is a friend. Twice, in the past month, I have heard him state views that aren’t dissimilar at all from what one might expect from an atheist like Lawrence Krauss, or, I hope, even Jerry Coyne, with regards to the fact that religion has no place in scientific research, period. Coyne and especially, Myers, among others, have been consistent in twisting and falsely attributing, comments made by Ken Miller that even I – who is by religious inclination, a Deist – find rather objectionable.

    The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is headed by an atheist, physical anthropologist Dr. Eugenie Scott. Again, I urge you to read again the comments posted by Tim Broderick, as well as the appropriate link to the relevant portion of the NCSE website. Having looked critically at its content, I think Coyne, Myers, Rosenhouse, and others are completely way off base in trying to assert that NCSE is advocating an “accomodationist” position between religion and science. All that NCSE is doing is to provided information who those who are religiously devout and are unable to resolve in their minds whether or not evolution is valid mainstream science (Incidentally, unlike NCSE, Ken Miller has said that those belonging to faiths hostile to science should think seriously of ending their memberships immediately. That is not an “accomodationist” view at all, and clearly one you might not expect from as prominent a theistic evolutionist as Ken.).

    Your observation – which is also Coyne’s, Myers and Rosenhouse’s, among others – that NCSE “should be silent on the matter of the compatibility of science and religion” is not borne out by the actual facts, the very content of NCSE’s website. Ask yourself how two people, one a Deist (yours truly), the other a devout Christian “theistic evolutionist” (Ken Miller) can independently examine the NCSE and reach independently, the obvious conclusion that NCSE does not have an “accomodationist” stance with respect to religion.

    Instead of accurately reporting NCSE’s motives and the actual content of its website, militant atheists like Coyne and Myers are merely “projecting” their own anti-religious biases and shouting that “The Emperor Has No Clothes”, when it is they, not NCSE, who possess inane reasoning and logic on this very issue; so it is they, not NCSE who have “no clothes”.

  168. John Kwok

    The great Orc of Intelligent Design creationism, Larry Fafarman, has emerged once more from his personal Mordor. Since his commentary is well suited only to the ears of Sauron (William A. Dembski), may I suggest that he return from whence he came.

  169. You’ve made truth statements without evidence, which I think is unacceptable in any serious thought.

    You provide the quotes, I’ll read them and clarify or correct as needed, gillt.

  170. In terms of Collins and Miller, for their popular work they contend they can reconcile their theistic beliefs with science. Coyne argues that they are distorting the science to do so. That is a fair game for criticism.

    Well, Carl Sagan made all kinds of wild claims in his extra-scientific writing, some of which came awfully close to being represented as if it was science. His absurd quasi-Freudian “debunking” or so-called near death experience is one of the wackiest. I seem to recall that was even too much for Susan Blackmore to ignore. The Evo-psy guys, including several prominent new atheists, do and call it science.

    I’m not familiar with the entire range of Miller and Collins’ writings either within or outside of science but I’ve never seen them quoted as having mixed the two.

  171. @ 164 Gillt

    Poor gillt – I jump to no conclusion about the existence or non-existence of god. It simply isn’t a scientific question. But your belief system doesn’t allow you to accept that, does it?

  172. gillt

    “God is not bound by our limited conceptions. God created the universe as it happened, whatever science can discover about the universe is a partial expression of God’s intention.”

    You closed that statement with a “definitively.”

    It’s obvious you are making (unfounded) assertions about reality.

    I’ll put it another way, you’ve mistaken belief for knowledge. You have not good reason to believe the things you say and yet assert them to be true.

    End of story.

  173. gillt

    Tim, you’re saying god can’t be known which is why god can’t be tested by science. It’s dishonest from the outset, but in principle I get your point. When science comes into the picture, god becomes mysterious, a being whose motivations defy comprehension.

    But lets not be daft here; you must see the double standard with that statement and how religion is practiced by millions of people who profess to have not only knowledge about the supernatural but claim intimacy with a psychological god who acts on their behalf? What would have been the impetus for the study if the assertion in the reality of intercessory prayer having real world effects wasn’t in need of objective validation?

  174. God is not bound by our limited conceptions. God created the universe as it happened, whatever science can discover about the universe is a partial expression of God’s intention. There. Two positive statements that definitively place God beyond any of your limits.

    I was asserting beliefs. You do realize that beliefs can be asserted as positive statements. I could have begun by saying “The God I believe in” which would have been more complete but the challenge it was a response to didn’t make that a formal necessity.

    It was in response to this rather rudely put challenge you put to Tim Broderick at c. 130,

    Always in a defensive crouch aren’t we. Why not make a few positive statements about this god I keep mischaracterizing. Why am I wrong that NOMA is only compatible with deism, and that MN is only compatible with deism?

    You didn’t ask for evidence, you asked for positive statements about this god you keep mischaracterizing. If that wasn’t a god you were mischaracterizing that might have been a valid point in refutation of what I said, but you didn’t say that, at least not yet.

    You further asked why NOMA was only compatible with deism. That was the exclusion that the two positive statements I made definitively overrode. Or, actually, God does.

    I can assure you, in no place did I mistake belief for knowledge.

    I didn’t figure I should speak for Tim Broderick, though I’ve come to respect him as well as several of the other participants in this conversation.

  175. John Kwok

    @ Anthony and gillt –

    I strongly suspect the Dalai Lama would embrace NOMA as long as it remained consistent with his observation that, if Buddhism is in conflict with science, then it must change to conform with science.

  176. Bill C.

    God is not bound by our limited conceptions. God created the universe as it happened, whatever science can discover about the universe is a partial expression of God’s intention. It could be part God plays in the material universe is not obvious to us because we aren’t equipped to. As said to someone here a while back, maybe more of the picture has been made available to some other species somewhere. Perhaps, seeing what a mess we make of things with the knowledge we have, God didn’t want us to have more than we can.

    The relevant question is not CAN one believe these things, but WHY would they?

    And even moreso, why the hell would they believe them to the exclusion of the alternative?

    But most pressing, what other belief system(s) are they defending when they invoke these versions of philosophical guessing-games-cum-Truth?

  177. gillt @180: Not really. It’s just more of the same, and linking to another source does nothing to “prove” your point.

  178. @ 176. gillt Says:
    “Tim, you’re saying god can’t be known which is why god can’t be tested by science. It’s dishonest from the outset, but in principle I get your point. When science comes into the picture, god becomes mysterious, a being whose motivations defy comprehension.”

    Ok, this is a valid post. Thanks Gillt.

    No, I’m not making any claims here about whether god can be known or unknown. That’s a completely different kind of knowledge than scientific knowledge. I agree with Eugene Scott, you can say you believe in something but belief is not part of science – even the belief that all there is is the natural world.

  179. John Kwok

    gillt @ 180 –

    ‘Tis more of the same rhetorical nonsense from someone other than the more prominent usual suspects. Even a colleague of his at the Reason Project, physicist Lawrence Krauss, has observed that religion isn’t going away.

    Instead of arguing who is – and who isn’t – an “accomodationist”, I believe a more effective strategy is having a “Big Tent” offensive against evolution denialists of all stripes, period.

  180. Bill C. 179, are you asking why someone believes what they do or why you should believe it? If you suspect I want you to believe in a God, that’s not really any of my business. Other people get to believe what they believe.

  181. @ 168.   Gina Mel
    
”I have gone through the NCSE site. My opinion, they should be silent on the matter of the compatibility of science and religion. End of question. Anything else is promoting a certain religious faiths (or lack thereof) above others. The religious section promotes certain religious faiths over others. That is dangerous for an organization working in public schools to advocate good science education.”

    I respect your opinion, but I disagree. Science advocacy is not science. From the FAQ

    http://ncseweb.org/about/faq

    “WHAT DOES NCSE DO?
    The National Center for Science Education, founded in 1981, engages in a number of activities advancing two primary goals: improving and supporting education in evolution and the nature of science, and increasing public understanding of these subjects. This work is supported primarily by membership contributions, with some additional assistance from grants.”

    and

    “WHAT IS NCSE’S RELIGIOUS POSITION?
    None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.”

    The NCSE does not take any stand on religion. Not reaching out to political constituencies that could help increase “public understanding of these subjects” would in fact be counter to their stated goals.

    Science is not just taught in public schools, but in private religious schools and home schoolers. They are engaging in a public dialogue on methodological naturalism, as they should.

    “In terms of Collins and Miller, for their popular work they contend they can reconcile their theistic beliefs with science. Coyne argues that they are distorting the science to do so. That is a fair game for criticism. (snip the rest regarding people’s beliefs).”

    This is a different issue than the NCSE site. Coyne reviewed books on philosophy. As Coyne has no special knowledge in the field of philosophy (I’ve addressed this elsewhere in this thread), there is no need to give much weight to his criticism. As a matter of fact, I have come to wonder whether Coyne’s own belief system allows him to tolerate other people’s belief systems, including religion, no matter if they’re perfectly aligned with methodological naturalism.
    You may disagree, and you’re free to do so, but as we’re talking about philosophy and beliefs and not science, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I think Chad Orzel is right. Not directed at Gina, but it feels like I’ve had this conversation before.

  182. gillt

    “That’s a completely different kind of knowledge than scientific knowledge.”

    Then you confuse belief with knowledge, and so my comment at #175 is resubmitted.

  183. andrew

    I would argue that belief is a big part of science. Nicholas Maxwell’s excellent book “The Comprehensibility of the Universe” makes the point that metaphysics determines methodology: if you believe that God makes the laws of the universe you use certain methods to increase your understanding of the universe (e.g., prayer, reading the Bible, going to church etc.), if on the other hand you believe that the universe is governed by a pattern of physical law you adopt quite different methods to increase your understanding (e.g., the scientific method, hypothesis testing, theory construction).

    Thus, as Maxwell states, it is vitally important that we get our initial assumptions about the comprehensibility and nature of the universe as close as possible to the actual true nature of the universe – otherwise we will set off on the wrong direction and while it might appear that we are increasing our understanding of the universe we would not be.

    The success of natural science over the past 2 centuries, I think, is a good reason to adopt some kind of materialism, i.e., that the universe is physical and physically comprehensible (I don’t think there can be any question about the former, while the latter is still open to debate).

  184. John Kwok

    @ Tim (185) –

    I concur completely with your observations. Moreover, if I want a philosophical discourse on different types of naturalism, I am far more confident that eminent philosophers of science like David Hull, Philip Kitcher, Robert Pennock and Elliott Sober will do a much better job explaining it than, for example, either evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne or science journalist Chris Mooney.

    This has definitely been a “conversation” I’ve been having too many times over the past few weeks, and it is frankly time to move on IMHO.

  185. @186 gillt

    “Then you confuse belief with knowledge, and so my comment at #175 is resubmitted.”

    Still can’t use google, huh?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge

    “Knowledge is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as (i) expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject, (ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information or (iii) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation. Philosophical debates in general start with Plato’s formulation of knowledge as “justified true belief”. There is however no single agreed definition of knowledge presently, nor any prospect of one, and there remain numerous competing theories.”

  186. gillt

    You’re putting yourself in a bad light Tim.

    So fond of your search engine…Google “Gettier counter-examples.” It should help you better understand what you cribbed from wiki, such as justified belief as distinct from true belief, neither of which are necessarily considered knowledge. Note, that this should only be considered a start-point in your education on the broad field of epistemology; I can’t be bothered anymore with it.

  187. GinaMel

    Tim, then why does the NCSE website have a section on science & religion and only has certain religious viewpoints? That is promoting certain religious faiths over others. (http://ncseweb.org/religion) That is the reality of the site. Why include them? It isn’t reaching out, it is promoting certain viewpoints. Would they put up a statement from a creationist saying evolution is not compatible with their faith?

  188. John Kwok

    @ Gina Mel –

    It is not promoting certain religious viewpoints, but instead, making well-reasoned explanations as to why certain religious viewpoints (e. g. a literal reading of Genesis) are not merely myths, but more important, are not accurate scienficially. In other words, NCSE is merely fulfilling its ongoing mission as a “clearinghouse” for valid science education and therefore, one aspect of that mission is reaching out to those belonging to certain faiths who feel “threatened” about evolution as valid science, and demonstrating how and why their fears are completely groundless.

    Ask yourself how and why – and making this determination independently of each other without prior consultation – a Deist (yours truly) and a Theistic Evolutionist (Ken Miller) have concluded that NCSE is not promoting or accomodating any religious faith or viewpoint whatsoever?

  189. As a private group the NCSE can have whatever it wants on its website, if members want to complain wouldn’t that be the place to do it?

    I looked, while they have practical advice on testifying to school boards, they could really need a basic primer in how to get science folk to understand just how politics work because a lot of them seem to think it’s some kind of magic that you just insult enough voters and they miraculously vote your way.

  190. Tim Broderick Says (#185) —
    The NCSE does not take any stand on religion.

    Wrong. An establishment clause lawsuit, Caldwell v. Caldwell, was partly based on the NCSE website’s one-sidedness on the issue of evolution & religion, so you can’t tell me that the NCSE does not take any stand on religion. Caldwell v. Caldwell is discussed in the following post-label group of articles on my blog:
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/search/label/Caldwell%20v.%20Caldwell%20%28UC%20Evo.%20website%29

    gillt Says (#186),
    Then you confuse belief with knowledge

    The words “belief” and “believe” do not always mean “faith” — for example, there is the expression “seeing is believing” and John 20:29, which says,

    Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

  191. John Kwok

    Once more the great Orc of Intelligent Design creationism, Larry Fafarman, has emerged from his personal Mordor. Once more he has stated nothing that makes much rational sense, period. Since his commentary is well suited only to the ears of Sauron (William A. Dembski), may I suggest that he return from whence he came.

  192. John Kwok

    @ Anthony –

    NCSE has been quite effective in political outreach, as evidenced by its recent work in promoting valid scientific standards at the Texas State Board of Education hearings.

  193. @ 190. gillt

    “So fond of your search engine…Google “Gettier counter-examples.” It should help you better understand what you cribbed from wiki, such as justified belief as distinct from true belief, neither of which are necessarily considered knowledge. Note, that this should only be considered a start-point in your education on the broad field of epistemology; I can’t be bothered anymore with it.”

    LOL – yes, that would be the idea of scientific knowledge I spoke of.

    And then there’s the other knowledge (I know, it’s shocking that people think words can have different meanings!).

    Maybe as defined by Merriam-Webster
    ” the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association ”

    or by the Catholic encyclopedia
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08673a.htm

    “(1) Knowledge is essentially the consciousness of an object, i.e. of any thing, fact, or principle belonging to the physical, mental, or metaphysical order, that may in any manner be reached by cognitive faculties. An event, a material substance, a man, a geometrical theorem, a mental process, the immortality of the soul, the existence and nature of God, may be so many objects of knowledge. (much more at the link)”

    We don’t have to agree with the Catholic Encyclopedia, but we certainly can’t deny that they define knowledge differently than philosophers of science. And of course, the definition clearly hedges between facts and conditions.

    Science should really stick to the kind of knowledge as defined by philosophers of science like, for instance, Pennock!

    An honest debater would have known that, so yes, feel free to run away now. I’m not interested in close-minded semantic arguments.

  194. Tim, your responses are noteworthy for their lack of engagement with the subject matter. You’ve not shown you’ve internalized the difference between justified and true belief and knowledge.

    Quoting the Catholic Encyclopedia tells me you don’t have any original thoughts or responses, nothing new to add to the debate besides mindless repetition of your own ignorance on the subject. I’m sorry, but I find you boring.

  195. Notice how the new atheists, as they can’t answer points made by other people, do things like changing the meaning of words and reject the use of standard reference materials.

    That tells me they are dependent on double standards and rigging the rules. Then they think they’re hurting the feelings of those they’ve insulted by telling them that they are boring.

    The new atheism is a fad that’s well past its sell-by date.

  196. John Kwok Says (#193),
    @ Gina Mel –

    It is not promoting certain religious viewpoints, but instead, making well-reasoned explanations as to why certain religious viewpoints (e. g. a literal reading of Genesis) are not merely myths, but more important, are not accurate scienficially. In other words, NCSE is merely fulfilling its ongoing mission as a “clearinghouse” for valid science education and therefore, one aspect of that mission is reaching out to those belonging to certain faiths who feel “threatened” about evolution as valid science, and demonstrating how and why their fears are completely groundless.

    John, try as hard as you might, you just can’t weasel out of the fact that the NCSE’s presentation of the issue of the compatibility of evolution and religion is very one-sided. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a major Christian sect, has a webpage stating the view that evolution is incompatible with the bible:
    http://www.watchtower.org/e/20080101a/article_01.htm

    Also, in a PEW Forum survey, only 8 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed “that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth” (some percentages for other religious groups are: Jews — 77, Catholics — 58, Mainline Protestant — 51, and Mormon — 22):
    http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=392

    Yet the NCSE’s following list of “Statements from Religious Organizations” has no statement from the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
    http://ncseweb.org/media/voices/religion

    John Kwok moans (#196),
    Once more the great Orc of Intelligent Design creationism, Larry Fafarman, has emerged from his personal Mordor. Once more he has stated nothing that makes much rational sense, period

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

  197. @ 200 gillt

    LOL! OK sure gillt, whatever you say!

  198. John Kwok

    @ Larry (@ 202) –

    Well if NCSE ever had a statement referencing Jehovah’s Witnesses, then I would insist that, as a devout Klingon Cosmologist, that they have one for Klingon Cosmology (Indeed, as I have reminded your pal Bill Dembski, there is ample more proof for Klingon Cosmology than there will ever be for Dembski’s favorite mendacious intellectual pornography, Intelligent Design creationism.

    Mentioning Jehovah’s Witnesses is absolutely irrevelant to the issue at hand (though I will say I have a good chuckle or two whenever I see them give guided tours to their faithful in the Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptology archaeology halls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, always striving – and apparently in their own delusional minds, succeeding – to reconcile Scripture with what we do know from an archaeological context about such great ancient civilizations as Egypt, Babylon and Persia.

    Methinks it is time for you to return to Mordor. I hear your master Sauron (Bill Dembski) summoning you.

    Live Long and Prosper (as both an Orc and a Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drone),

    John

  199. John Crock, you are a stupid buffoon and a pesky troll. Even most Darwinists do not take you seriously.

    BTW, it is not just the fundies whose views are not represented on the NCSE website — the views of many atheists are not represented on the NCSE website either. In fact, many atheists tend to agree with the fundy view that evolution and religion are not compatible.

  200. In addition to Jehovah’s Witmesses, other large Christian sects that have problems with evolution are the Seventh Day Adventists and the Mormons. For example, the Seventh Day Adventists say,

    Although some data from science can be interpreted in ways consistent with the biblical concept of creation, we also reviewed data interpreted in ways that challenge the church’s belief in a recent creation. The strength of these interpretations cannot be dismissed lightly. We respect the claims of science, study them, and hope for a resolution. This does not preclude a re-examination of Scripture to make sure it is being properly understood. However, when an interpretation harmonious with the findings of science is not possible, we do not allow science a privileged position in which it automatically determines the outcome. Rather, we recognize that it is not justifiable to hold clear teachings of Scripture hostage to current scientific interpretations of data.
    http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/statements/main_stat54.html

    The NCSE list of statements from religious organizations has no statements from the Seventh Day Adventists or Mormons, either.

    The NCSE website is simply worthless as a one-stop reference on the issue of the compatibility of evolution and religion.

  201. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    Only a delusional twit like yourself would post more of these inane comments.

    Frankly, I don’t care whether most “Darwinists” find me credible or not. If I think I have something meaningful to say, and that it will add to the discussion, then I shall say it.

    I just looked at my watch. You’re overdue for a return visit to Mordor. I hear your master Sauron (William A. Dembski) calling….

  202. andrew

    @Larry Fafarman

    Relgion evolved through Darwinian selection. The puzzle is why would people hold false beliefs in supernatural agency, when behaving according to these beliefs leads to costs in terms of fitness, time and resources?

    There are many hypotheses about this (see Pals, D. L. (2006). Eight Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University
    Press).

    However, I think it is reasonable to assume, contrary to even some atheist scientists, that the social, evolutionary function of religion is becoming anachronistic and that humans will eventually stop holding false beliefs. This may take centuries or millenia (if we survive that long), however the important social function that religion has played in evolution should not be denied.

  203. Andrew Says (#209),
    –The puzzle is why would people hold false beliefs in supernatural agency, when behaving according to these beliefs leads to costs in terms of fitness, time and resources? —

    Can you name one instance where belief in creationism has led to “costs in terms of fitness, time, and resources”?

    Also, you Darwinists have badly deluded yourselves by making religion the scapegoat for people’s rejection or skepticism of evolution theory. Geocentrism, like creationism, is supported by the bible, but in general the fundies accept heliocentrism but reject evolution because they find the scientific evidence to be persuasive for heliocentrism but not for evolution.

    BTW, I have a problem with the following statement of the Seventh Day Adventists (from my quote in comment #207):
    However, when an interpretation harmonious with the findings of science is not possible, we do not allow science a privileged position in which it automatically determines the outcome. (emphasis added)

    The key word here is “automatically.” Would the Seventh Day Adventists allow science to determine the outcome if that determination is not automatic but is based on the strength of the evidence?

  204. John Kwok

    @ 211 –

    It’s time to return to Mordor, my dear favorite Orc. No one is reading you; no one is paying attention to you. Instead, I hear the shrill cries of your master Sauron (William A. Dembski), beckoning you to head home with utmost haste.

  205. Geck

    Aha, Joke! Do you forget these silent majority is Unscientific American?

  206. Leigh Jackson

    According to the 2006 Pew survey quoted by David Masci, 42% of Americans flatly deny evolution and 21% believe in invisible design. Once upon a time what was thought to be the visible evidence of design in biology was argued as reason for supposing a designer. Now the argument is the other way round: belief in a designer implies there must be invisible design. Totally incompatible with science, all of it.

    But according to Peter Hess, David Masci and Chris Mooney, science and religion can and do get along just fine and dandy; well, most of the time… sort of; excepting the extremist atheists and creationists. Using Hess’s criteria, most Americans profess a profoundly unsound theological position – as well as a profoundly unsound scientific position. So most Americans are religious extremists. Unless it’s Hess’s theology that is unsound.

    Does this mean that the NCSE is endorsing a particular theology? A theology which accepts all theories which science says is supported by overwhelming evidence? If so this is very interesting but it puts the NCSE on a theological collision course with most of America, 64% of whom say that they would hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding. (See Masci.)

  207. andrew

    @ Leigh

    There are facts that are observer independent, features of reality that exist independently of us such as physical reality (Searle, 2006). And there are facts, such as social institutions, that are observer relative, i.e., that exist only because we think they exist yet they are objective facts. 20 dollar bills are just pieces of paper but in an objective sense they are 20 dollar bills because they have a collective acceptance as such. If I think a 20 dollar bill is not a 20 dollar bill I am wrong.

    Religion is clearly an observer relative social institution. However, the supernatural objects and entities in religious mythology do not have an observer indepedent objective existene, and if I believe they do I am simply mistaken. The social institution of relgion has an observer relative objective existence, of course.

    Science is interested in describing and explaining observer independent objectvie facts. Even those interpretations of quantum theory which question the existence of an observer indepedent reality have for the most part been discarded as implausible.

    After Galileo and Kepler, natural science has met with success after success in increasing our understanding of the universe. What accounts for this astonishing success? What’s more, the pace of scientific advance is accelerating.

    Religious traditions, insofar as they attempt to explain the universe, utterly fail to explain the facts of the world. Simple examples such as the geographical distribution of animals cannot be explained as originating form a single georgraphical location. The failure of theology to function as a scientific theory was widely acknowledged even before Darwin.

    It is unfortunate that scientific inquiry must concern itself at all with religious traditions, except to explain the evolutionary reasons for why humans collectively accept false beliefs. The NCSE should NOT MENTION RELIGION AT ALL anywhere.

  208. Arcos Plage

    Bill C., why must proselytizing for Deism or Pantheism, or even Pandeism or Panendeism, be “sneaky and underhanded”? There are people who genuinely hold those positions, and they are defensible vis-a-vis science, at least to far greater a degree then theisms. So the Pandeist believes in a God-made-world, at least it is said to be discernible to scientific inquiry. I have no fear of faith so long as it does not stand against such inquiry or dispute the findings of science.

  209. Dave2

    The majority of Christians in America are young-earth creationists.

    So what Mooney says about the “silent majority” appears to be demonstrably false.

  210. jeb

    I think the silient majority is a dreadful term beloved and employed by politicians and media comentators trying to make a cheap point. Its not a very original term and I find it a very lazy one.

    The silent majority something of a mythical beast and claims to be representing such a group uuuuugh. Its sad.

    Its most often used in the U.K by right wing politicians trying to inflict particular moral perspectives on society.

    A more grown up debate without the standard meaningless terms, academic nonsense and backbiting may be a way forward out of this goldfishbowl into a more public debate.

  211. jeb

    p.s I should add I am not unsympathetic to some if not all of the arguments raised just the language used in this case.

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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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