Responding to Coyne–Since I Haven't in a While

By Chris Mooney | June 25, 2009 10:25 am

A work crunch and a week of travel–my last vacation before moving, having a book come out, and getting married–have prevented me from carrying on the dialogue with Jerry Coyne lately. It is nothing if not hard work to write the required posts with the rigor and consideration they deserve. But now, Coyne has directly addressed some questions to me, and as they’re relatively easy to answer, let me try.

In a recent post responding to Peter Hess’s claim that “science and faith are but two ways of searching for the same truths,” Coyne writes:

In all these debates about the compatibility of science and faith, I have yet to see an intellectually respectable answer to this ultimate dichotomy between “ways of knowing.”  Instead, people like Mooney go after us for our tone, for polarizing people, and so on.  Does Mooney sign on to Hess’s statement that the faithful and the scientists are all really engaged in the same endeavor?  If not, why does he call Hess’s column “great”? Instead of beefing about our “militancy,” why don’t accommodationists start addressing the question of whether faith can tell us anything that’s true? Let’s hear about whether you can coherently accept a Resurrection on Sunday and then go to the lab the next day and doggedly refuse to accept any claim that lacks evidence.   Now that would raise the tone of this debate.

So let’s field the questions: “Does Mooney sign on to Hess’s statement that the faithful and the scientists are all really engaged in the same endeavor?” Well, I’m sure some of the faithful think they are, and let us not forget that some of the faithful are also working scientists. But apart from this, no, I don’t really think they’re engaged in the same endeavor.

“Why don’t accommodationists start addressing the question of whether faith can tell us anything that’s true?” I’ll address it. I don’t believe that faith can tell us anything true, or at least, anything that we can reliably know to be true. I don’t think we can know anything except based on evidence. In this I’m in full agreement with Coyne, Dennett, Dawkins, and all the rest.

But is that really the point at issue? I gather that it is for Coyne, who wants to know “whether you can coherently accept a Resurrection on Sunday and then go to the lab the next day and doggedly refuse to accept any claim that lacks evidence.” He obviously thinks you can’t.

Where I differ from Coyne is that I don’t really care about a little intellectual inconsistency in my fellow human beings, and indeed, I try not judge. God knows, we all have enough inconsistencies in our heads, and in our lives.

What’s more, I don’t see a need to pry into how each individual is dealing with these complicated and personal matters of constructing a coherent worldview. Rather, from a political and public perspective, I want them all to integrate modern science into that worldview. And, from a civil libertarian perspective, I don’t want their religion telling me what to do. (Especially interfering with my access to alcohol on Sundays!)

Insofar as I’m an accommodationist, then, it’s not because I don’t see the incongruity between relying on faith, and looking for evidence, as bases for knowing. Rather, it’s because I know that many very intelligent people are struggling all the time to make their peace with this incongruity in their own way–a peace that works for them. And so long as they’re not messing with what our kids learn–or, again, trying to ram their views down our throats–then good on ‘em.

We need to encourage people to make a peace between religion and science that meets their personal needs without turning them into enemies of science or, essentially, theocrats.

To put it another way, it seems like Coyne wants everyone to be “intellectually respectable” to the last, and to make them rigorously justify everything. I don’t want to set that high of a bar because I don’t think it’s realistic, and I think criticizing people over things so rarefied gets us pretty far afield from what’s really important–which is how we all get along together in society, and whether we live in a science-infused culture.

This is why Coyne seems to want to hold Ken Miller’s feet to the fire about what he believes and whether he can justify it, whereas that approach just baffles me.

In the end, I am exceedingly close to Coyne in my views on just about everything. But our little difference over how far we need to push rationalism has very large practical consequences.

Comments (176)

  1. Rules For

    If Miller puts his views in the public arena, anyone with disagreeing views should be able to comment on them. It’s anti-intellectual to suggest otherwise. It’s very easy if they don’t want their views scrutinized: keep them private.

  2. barry

    Ah yes! June 25th. How Appropriate. A very significant date, as any follower of the history of General George Armstrong Custer would recognize. Let’s hope that you, Chris Mooney, have not made the mistake of dividing your troops as he did. You will need everyone you can get in your battle for accommodation. What do you think, Mr. Kwok?

  3. Tulse

    “I don’t see a need to pry into how each individual is dealing with these complicated and personal matters of constructing a coherent worldview.”

    I don’t think anyone would care if folks like Francis Collins and Ken Miller kept their faith “personal”, but that is not at all what they do — instead, they explicitly and publicly advocate for their particular understanding. No one is “prying” into Collin’s beliefs, he is quite vigorous is making them generally known. I don’t see how debating whether those publicly stated beliefs make sense is somehow rude. The only reason “accommodationism” is an issue at all is because there are scientists who don’t keep their religious beliefs private.

  4. Rules For

    This is just another example of religion trying to get a free pass in public intellectual discourse; enough’s enough. If the ideas are weak, then Coyne and others should say so; some people can actually benefit from that.

  5. I completely agree w. Tulse. As long as these scientists keep their religious views private, I have no issue. But when they come out publicly with their religious views, they undermine science and deserve all the harsh critics they get.

  6. Jon

    …a free pass in public intellectual discourse…

    This comes from a bunch of people who proudly wear a badge of ignorance when it comes to religion, who “invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.”

    What frequently passes for “intellectual discourse” from the New Atheists is simply aggressive incomprehension.

  7. NewEnglandBob

    Ditto for me – I agree with Tulse, Rules For and sduford.

  8. TB

    Interesting. So some of the above commentators would like Miller to shut up?

  9. John Kwok

    @ barry and Tulse –

    Well Ken is doing such a great job in promoting his religious views that it hasn’t rubbed off on a lot of people, including yours truly (And I have already posted elsewhere that I disagree strongly with his weak version of an anthropic principle.).

    What is relevant, I suppose, is that he has reached the conclusion – and I must admit that this came as a complete surprise to me when I heard him say it last month (during a private NYC talk he gave to our fellow college alumni) – that those who belong to faiths hostile to science should discard their memberships in such faiths immediately. It is a sentiment that I am sure Coyne, Myers, Rosenhouse and other militant atheists posting here would endorse most vigorously.

    Seems to me that Chris Mooney has had a far more practical, more commonsensical, point of view than anything I have read thus far from the likes of Coyne, Myers and Rosenhouse. Maybe they should take a brief pause in their hostile rhetoric and contemplate seriously what Chris has been saying.

  10. So let’s field the questions: “Does Mooney sign on to Hess’s statement that the faithful and the scientists are all really engaged in the same endeavor?” Well, I’m sure some of the faithful think they are, and let us not forget that some of the faithful are also working scientists. But apart from this, no, I don’t really think they’re engaged in the same endeavor.

    Depends on what the “endeavor” is. Some religious folk really do mean to seek for small-t truth. And some of them see religion as a kind of way of dealing with “softer” issues, intuitions and the like. Poetry instead of science, but like Romantic poets, one could include science in the poetry.

    I’m not denying incompatibility, since the final word on “truth” requires more hard-headed thinking than most poetry and religion use. I don’t care if you’re going for something more “holistic,” the metanarratives also need to conform to good epistemological standards, even if most metanarratives will not be complete or unproblematic.

    Yet one has to realize that at least some religious persons don’t see religion and science as incompatible ways of searching for truth. Some, like Einstein in his earlier years, just tend to understand the world in a less desacralized manner, where everything is miracle. “Religious” or spiritual notions such as these appear to be very compatible with science, although they are the exception.

    Thus we don’t have to consider them to be intellectually dishonest, but willing to pass over the problem. Wrong, they probably are, yet I’d suppose that few political positions of scientists would pass intellectual scrutiny either. Indeed, it was Bertrand Russell who noted that, outside of their areas of expertise, scientists are just about as uninformed and subject to prejudices as anyone else is.

    Why that is a special problem with regard to religion and not with respect to politics, social ideas, and the like, I really don’t know. Scientists on the whole are not very consistent with scientific principles outside of science, and if this inconsistency strays into religion, that is a foible of humanity, not a grave indiscretion.

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

  11. Erasmussimo

    It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that militants have completely misunderstood the role of religion in modern life. The vast majority of the faithful in the modern world do not look to religion as an epistemology; they look to it for moral guidance. Yet the militants keep hammering away on the insignificant epistemological aspect of modern religion.

    Do some simple research. Attend some sermons at local churches. Do they talk about how many neutrons are in an iron nucleus, or mitochondrial DNA, or stellar structure, or Proterozoic geology? No. They talk about moral issues, not scientific ones.

    Go into a religious bookstore and look at the books on the shelves. Are they about the physical universe or moral issues? One of the biggest religious best-sellers of recent years was “The Purpose-Driven Life”. What does science have to say about that? Absolutely nothing!

    The militants have completely missed the point and purpose of modern religion. They’re building a huge case on a secondary issue that most believers don’t really care much about.

  12. Rules For

    So, maybe they should care. What’s wrong with arguing that?

  13. Jon

    As long as these scientists keep their religious views private, I have no issue.

    The New Atheists brought the subject into the public square. Would the non-atheist scientists have spoken up if they hadn’t been asked to testify at the Dover trial, or if the New Atheist scientists hadn’t gotten up on a soapbox first, claiming to speak for science?

    By the way, some comic relief:

    http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/155388/?searchterm=

  14. Tulse

    “Do some simple research. Attend some sermons at local churches. Do they talk about how many neutrons are in an iron nucleus, or mitochondrial DNA, or stellar structure, or Proterozoic geology? No. They talk about moral issues, not scientific ones.”

    It’s odd, then, that they expend so much political energy in removing evolution from schools.

  15. John Kwok

    @ Erasmussimo –

    I have heard eminent philosopher Philip Kitcher criticize his fellow Briton Dawkins for rejecting the important role that religion does play in modern society. Moreover, Kitcher believes that religion is important as the “social glue” that binds communities together with respect to their shared moral codes and ethical values.

  16. Tulse,
    Be careful about how wide a brush you use. “They” do no such thing. A small subset of Christians do, but not all Christians do. And that small subset does it ina context of a literal interpretation of the bible that they then use to resist pretty much any fact-based rebuttal. Again, not all Christians do that, and thos of us who don’t are getting exceedingly weary of having to point this out.

  17. John Kwok

    @ Tulse –

    You are referring only to a religious minority, fundamentalist Christians, who insist upon a literal reading of the Bible. I have known Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy (including an uncle, a former Methodist minister), who aren’t interested in inserting their religious values into science classrooms.

    However, Kitcher is concerned that Dawkins is alienating people by his virulent strain of militant atheism, and thus, convincing some that maybe the Xian fundamentalists have a legitimate grievance with regards to their so-called “creation vs. evolution” debate. Moreover, I have heard similar criticism from other philosophers of science and historians of science too.

  18. Rules For

    You must be joking. New atheists did not bring “the subject into the public square.” Dawkins says his publisher wasn’t even interested in “The God Delusion” when he first proposed it, but changed his mind after two terms of Bush.
    None of the new atheists say that religion is wrong, and that they know this because they’re a scientist. They say religion is wrong, and then give reasons, many of them based on science, since science is the best tool for discovering what’s true.

  19. why don’t accommodationists start addressing the question of whether faith can tell us anything that’s true?

    My answer is because, umm, who cares? Obviously and by definition religion cannot add truth that can be known through empirical reasoning only. Instead it adds “truths” that are known through faith. Are they true in the sense of being empirically confirmed? Of course not. That would be science. Are they true in some other sense? Not according to my world view, but that’s just my world view. It isn’t Francis Collins’ or Ken Millers’.

    Basically Coyne is whinging that faith isn’t science and therefore doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. But that’s just him universalising his worldview and throwing a tantrum that other people have other world views.

    It has nothing to do with whether religion and science are incompatible.

    Frankly, his philosophy would be more credible to more people if he spent more time developing and advocating it on its own terms, and maybe criticizing others on their own terms, instead of just wailing that other world views don’t abide by the rules of his.

  20. johnk

    I think the line between faith and science is modern and somewhat artificial. I think that humans have a propensity to create “belief systems” that explain things. I take the Bayesian view that virtually nothing is known with certainty. We make mental bets on the likelihood that a certain thing, such as a visual perception, is true. But optical illusions (and a lot of other stuff) teach us that these mental bets are wrong with a certain frequency.

    Point 1. Imagine living about 5,000 years ago (or perhaps any time before the enlightenment). The question of the line between faith and science would be incomprehensible. As a smart individual I would create my world view from a mix of personal observation, experiment and, importantly, good sounding explanations from authority figures. If I were told that a turtle pushed the stars across the heavens, this might seem like a good and likely hypothesis, and one that was supported by people I respected. This does not mean the pre-historic man was wrong about everything. But he or she had a propensity for belief and explanation and was easily fooled.

    Point 2. Most of what we call scientific fact is a set of assertions from scientific authority figures. I am a neuroscientist, and, in some areas, I am an authority. In this narrow realm I can see that the authority figures (Kandell and the like) are honest and clear. Importantly, in my experience, authority figures can make excellent predictions and develop remarkable technology. But I also know that the facts presented by scientific authorities are not always as clear as they are presented. But how well can non-scientists trust scientific authority figures? Importantly, why shouldn’t they trust non-science authority figures, such as parents and preachers?

    Point 3. I have no faith in lay interpretations of scientific discussions. I trust professional scientists and almost no one else. I know how easy it is to twist scientific “facts” to conform to pre-conceived truths. I also know how hard it is to be an authority in an area of science. Best example here is global warming.

  21. The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.

    Bertrand Russell Introduction to 1961 edition of Sceptical Essays (1961)

    Is that a problem with religion? Yes, I would say so. But it is equally a problem for politics. So why is the passionate politics of a Myers to be exempt from the criticisms leveled at other passionate ideas, like religion?

    IOW, the passions of one group are held to be of greater value than those of another (generally poorer and less well connected) group.

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

  22. Rules For

    Nice – who cares whether faith tells us anything that’s true, let’s just keep doing it and not ask those kinds of questions.

  23. Geoff

    Militant theist: a man who points a gun.

    Militant atheist: a man who wrote a book

  24. Jon

    New atheists did not bring “the subject into the public square.”

    The interesting tactic is lumping the tactics of the Bush administration with all religious people, including ones that are scientists. Generalize much? (Good example of the paranoid style in action…)

    Dude, I was talking about the public conversation in the science community. The moderates certainly weren’t inclined to be the first to bring it up.

  25. Rules… who cares whether faith tells us anything that’s true under a naturalistic definition.

    We already know from the get-go – by the use of the word “faith” that it doesn’t do that.

    The argument is not whether faith tells us things that are scientifically true, it is whether faith tells us things that are true under the faith paradigm without compromising a methodologically naturalistic program of ascertaining empirical truth.

    That is the issue of compatibilism. And I think that it does not necessarily compromise a methodologically naturalistic program – that is to say it is not necessarily anti-scientific or “incompatible”.

    A further question is whether faith is a good method for finding out things that are true in some sense other than the empirical. I think it is not, and am prepared to argue the case. Are you prepared to argue the case, or are you just going to keep insisting that if it doesn’t tell you things that are confirmable by empirical investigation and therefore doesn’t live up to your personal standards?

  26. Jon

    What I’m saying is, if you want to criticize the moderates for speaking up, first you have to ask why they did. They obviously had a reason. And that reason was that the conversation as it existed was one sided and not representative.

  27. Things other than science can teach you things that are “true”. A lot of scientists — Coyne included, and seemingly even you here in your agreement with his part of that — seem to equate “true” with “scientifically verifiable.” I think that’s a rather narrow definition of truth.

    Consider the statement “a rose is beautiful.” That is not scientifically verifiable. “Most of the human race would agree that a rose is beautiful” *is* scientifically verifiable, but when I say “a rose is beautiful”, that’s not quite what I’m saying. Yet, is it true? It’s not true in the sense of a scientific theory being ‘right’, but in another sense there is truth to that statement.

    “Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hal.” — Indiana Jones

    I would agree that science and religion are *not* trying to answer all the same questions, just from a different point of view. They’re trying to answer different questions, ultimately. Given that, I do think that faith can tell us things that are true– it just won’t tell us things that are scientifically verifiable (i.e. “true” in the sense of science).

  28. (Especially interfering with my access to alcohol on Sundays!)

    Interestingly, people who use Christianity to argue for blue laws seem to forget that according to the stories, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine….

    In any event, any sort of moral argument is merely a smokescreen here in TN for blue laws. The real reason for them is that there are a very small number of outfits that have a very tight monopoly on the distribution of liquor, and they lobby (and convince people to support them for fatuous “moral” reasons) to avoid losing their power.

  29. Erasmussimo:

    The idea that the any of the three Abrahamic fates can provide moral guidance is just simply ridiculous. Their dogma and scriptures only provide a skewed and primitive view of morality. And let’s not even talk about the moral example provided by priests, imams, televangelists and even the pope himself.

  30. The only reason “accommodationism” is an issue at all is because there are scientists who don’t keep their religious beliefs private.

    This is a red herring. It’s brought up a lot.

    If those who are able to reconcile science and religion — those who can accept all of modern science while still accepting that it’s OK to have religious faith — always stayed silent about it and kept their beliefs personal, then the public debate about science and religion would be dominated by the theocrats who want to tear down science.

    Is that what you *really* want? That no scientist talk about how people can keep the faith that is dear to them while accepting modern science? That people only hear the atheists insisting that science is in conflict with religion, and the theocrats insisting that the militant atheists are right and therefore science is anathema to anybody who values their faith?

    We don’t want that.

  31. Rob Knop, what part of Tennessee?

  32. The idea that the any of the three Abrahamic fates can provide moral guidance is just simply ridiculous.

    …and, yet, lots of people find moral guidance from them. Lots of people who have done a lot of good in the world, including, for example, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter, and others.

    Ridiculous?

  33. smijer @31 : Nashville, but I’m pretty sure the blue laws here are state laws.

  34. Rob Knop: Science is in conflict with all the religions invented by men, there is no way around that. To encourage religion is to encourage belief in myths and superstitions, belief in magic and miracles, and promoting blind unquestioning faith as a virtue. All diametrically opposite to the tenets of the scientific method.

    I could accept Thomas Payne’s deistic views that science is a way to discover the grandeur of a disinterested creator, but that is in my view the only way that one can logically reconcile science and “religion”. If he was alive today, knowing what science has discovered since his time, Payne would most likely be an atheist anyway.

  35. I’m pretty sure your right. Here in Chattanooga, we can pick up beer on Sundays, but we have to get our liquor & wine elsewhen. Georgia is worse. I just wanted to say hi to another tennessean.

  36. Rob Knop: those people only thought they were getting their moral guidance from religion. In reality, they were just going by their own internal instincts, as I do. Had they really applied the bible’s morality and laws, they would have been barbarians.

  37. Interestingly, people who use Christianity to argue for blue laws seem to forget that according to the stories, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine….

    I always assumed that blue laws were for the protection of mom and pop stores, not so much a religious aversion to alcohol (at least that was my perception when such laws existed in the Northeast US). You know, to give them half a day off to relax and recoup (and attend church if they were so inclined) and protect them from the big business who could throw multiple staff into a store and run it 24/7 if they desired, which would put the mom and pop stores at a serious disadvantage.

    As it is, the war has already been lost, as there really is no such thing as a mom and pop business any longer, all of them long ago having been chased out by big business.

  38. Jon @6 — thanks for the link to the Terry Eagleton review of “The God Deulsion.” That’s a great essay!

  39. Jon

    Science is in conflict with all the religions invented by men, there is no way around that.

    This can only come from someone who doesn’t know much about religion. Care to tell us how science conflicts with Neo-Thomism, Nagarjuna, or Ibn al-Haytham?

  40. @sduford : BS. You’re saying that that which those people valued and thought about deeply in their lives did not influence their moral decisions.

    You may as well say that any scientist’s conclusions don’t come from his data, he only thinks that; ultimately, his conclusions come from his internal instincts.

    It’s amazing that you think your preconceptions about the nature of people is a better explanation of the motivations of people than what those people themselves complain. That’s the ultimate in hubris!

  41. “…than what those people themselves CLAIM” is what I meant to say. (Oops!)

  42. Jon: no I can’t, so maybe my use of ALL was wrong. But let’s stick to the religions that matter.

  43. @36. sduford

    those people only thought they were getting their moral guidance from religion. In reality, they were just going by their own internal instincts, as I do. Had they really applied the bible’s morality and laws, they would have been barbarians.

    I’ve been trying to avoid this rabbit trail for quite some time, but I have to ask – then how do you explain that religious people are ~25% more likely to give charitably or volunteer time than non-religious people?

    BTW, I ask as a non-religious person who gives as much as he can & volunteers quite a bit.

  44. SLC

    Re Rules For @ 1

    The problem with Ken Miller is trying to figure out what his religious view actually are. In his books and presentations to audiences at religious institutions, he comes across as a liberal Roman Catholic. In presentations to secular audiences, particularly in response to questions from the audience, he appears to come across as something of a Deist. And this Deistic tendency has become more apparent in the years since the publication of his first book.

  45. Rob: the fact is, the bible is filled with atrocities and barbaric rules, laws, and principles. For someone to get good moral values out of that book, they have to cherry pick and interpret in a way that matches their own values.

    Someone like Martin Luther King was an intrinsically good person, and he would have been so with or without his Christian beliefs. He adapted his view of the bible to match his innate moral goodness, not the other way around.

  46. Answering my own question a little bit in an anecdotal way- I should have said I ask as a non-believer, who attends “religious” services with the UUs and who gives and volunteers as much as able. IOW, it may be the practice of religion, rather than the belief in the supernatural is associated with the difference in charitable activity.

  47. Jon

    But let’s stick to the religions that matter.

    And Dawkins and PZ Myers are the best people to tell us about these “religions that matter”…?

    I think there are some much better guides than the New Atheists.

  48. sduford — what you seem to be saying is that if it isn’t Biblical literalism, it isn’t Christianity– it’s something else that the people who follow it only *think* is Christianity.

    That’s a rather perverse definition. Also an extremely sophomoric definition, and the sort of straw man that people who think that religion is stupid typically set up when arguing against religion. It’s along the lines of arguing that Chemistry isn’t science since it isn’t done by using Feynman diagrams and calculating the most fundamental forces on the most fundamental particles.

    Read this : http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html

  49. Smijer: “I’ve been trying to avoid this rabbit trail for quite some time, but I have to ask – then how do you explain that religious people are ~25% more likely to give charitably or volunteer time than non-religious people?”

    I’m not sure if that is really true, but if it is I think it’s fairly easy to explain. Churches are organized groups who are setup to collect and even coerce money out of people. There are very few equivalent secular organizations. Also, if people are coerce, intimidated, shamed, or promised the benevolence of God in order to give money, does that make him a more moral person than someone like myself who gives just because I think it’s the right thing to do for my fellow human beings?

    Also, I think many atheists, like myself will occasionally give true religious organizations in case of urgent needs, simply because they are often the first ones on the ready. But I make darn sure that none of the money goes towards preaching or any other religious activities.

  50. Rob Knop @48: sduford — what you seem to be saying is that if it isn’t Biblical literalism, it isn’t Christianity– it’s something else that the people who follow it only *think* is Christianity.

    Nevermind that sduford only takes into account the Old Testament, and completely overlooks the literal messages in the New Testament. You know the “love your neighbor as yourself” parts, and the like.

  51. benjdm

    “What’s more, I don’t see a need to pry into how each individual is dealing with these complicated and personal matters of constructing a coherent worldview.”

    Reviewing 2 books about constructing a coherent worldview or challenging public organizations’ positions about coherent worldviews is ‘prying into personal matters’? Seriously?

  52. sduford, I should have mentioned – the studies I’m relying on show that religious people are ~10 percentage points more likely to give to secular charities. Even not counting religious charities and churches, the religious are still more generous…

    My source is here, and it discusses some speculation about the reasons that are a little more sophisticated than coercion.

  53. Rob, no that’s not at all what I’m saying. There is much more to Christianity than moral teachings.

    But what I am saying, is that the morality thought by the scriptures or often by the church leaders themselves is more often than not a bad morality. Those who get good morality out of the bible are cherry picking and interpreting to match their good morality, therefore the morality doesn’t actually come from the scriptures.

    Here’s a simple example. The Christian morality of today, even though it has moved beyond supporting slavery and the killing of “sinners”, is still more concerned with sexual activities than it is with the mass murdering of innocent people abroad. It is more interested in saving face for its priests, than with protecting children. Preaching abstinence rather than education and condom use, thereby indirectly killing countless people. And many of the mega churches in the US are only about power and money as demonstrated by the hypocrisy of their leaders.

    That’s false morality.

  54. Rules For

    TomJoe:
    It would seem that if you pick and choose which moral messages from the Bible to follow, then you are judging those messages based on your own moral compass; which would imply that you didn’t get your moral compass from the Bible.

  55. I fully agree that the many of the institutionalized churches and so forth are off on the wrong track.

    That’s very different from claiming that the notion that the Abrahamic faiths can provide moral guidance is ridiculous.

  56. Benjdm: while it is true that New Testament is much better than the old, it still contains plenty of morally corrupt verses.

    But if the bible is the inspired word of god, what are we to make of the Old Testament? Why are so many people still believing in Genesis? If we drop part of the OT, shouldn’t we drop ALL of it?

  57. Rules: exactly!!!

    Rob, but those churches are mining the bible to justify their actions. This is my point exactly. Bad people take what they want from the bible, good people do the same. The bible was used to justify slavery and genocides. Others use it to preach “love thy neighbor” (although they usually mean thy white Christian neighbor). Where’s the actual guidance if not from within people’s heart?

  58. Rules For Says @ 54: It’s not picking and choosing, it’s that the New Testament clearly says the Old Testament laws have been replaced. Once again, talking theology to most atheists is almost pointless.

  59. benjdm

    @sduford #56: I think you have me confused with someone else. My only comment in this post is #51.

  60. benjdm, yes it was for TomJoe 50 Sorry!

  61. sduford: But if the bible is the inspired word of god, what are we to make of the Old Testament? Why are so many people still believing in Genesis? If we drop part of the OT, shouldn’t we drop ALL of it?

    Why would we drop the OT? Just because Jesus, in the NT, said he came to replace the laws of Moses, which no longer apply, doesn’t mean we just pitch the entire thing and don’t bother reading it any longer. That’s a supremely silly thing to suggest.

  62. TomJoe #58: Yes, but on whose authority? Certainly not god’s is it?

    The bible was written by men, and the various parts of it reflect the morality of the authors and their time. In any case NT or OT, it is mostly obsolete morality by today’s standards.

    There are some who adapt it to today’s standards, and I applaud them, but there are plenty who are still stuck in the middle-ages.

  63. TomJoe: well it is either the inspired word of god or it isn’t, it cant be half. And I find it rather ridiculous that god would have changed his mind on the moral laws.

    This just reinforces my point that the bible was adapted to the moral standards at the time the authors lived. Again, that morality came from the authors, not from God.

  64. sduford @ #62: Yes, but on whose authority? Certainly not god’s is it?

    Uhhh, if you are a Christian than you certainly do believe it was by God’s authority. Jesus Christ is God after all. As for it being written by men, of course it was. Most Christians however believe it was inspired, and as such isn’t this “nothing more than ancient and entirely obsolete” text you think it is.

  65. sduford @63: TomJoe: well it is either the inspired word of god or it isn’t, it cant be half.

    Who is saying that in parts it is, in other parts it isn’t.

    And I find it rather ridiculous that god would have changed his mind on the moral laws.

    It’s not that he changed his mind, he fulfilled his laws through the sacrifice on the cross.

  66. Rules For

    TomJoe:
    I was making a point about morality, not theology. People can have a moral compass without even knowing of the existence of the Bible, and they can judge the moral worth of statements in the Bible even if they don’t know who supposedly wrote it.

  67. @#65 TomJoe

    Depends on who you ask.
    Matthew 5:17-19 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    I believe the above was the view of the Jerusalem church under James. Certainly, Paul took a different view of it. Some theologians try to integrate Paul’s views with those of James/Peter, etc… I suspect the quote above represents a resonably accurate portrayal of Jesus’ on view… but I think we may all be way off topic at this point.

  68. OK, now we are getting very far from science, rational thinking and reasonable standards of evidence.

  69. Rules For @66: I was making a point about morality, not theology..

    You were making a point about mortality that can be answered by studying the Bible itself. Like I said, it isn’t “picking and choosing” to forego the OT laws to subscribe to the NT laws. There is a textual basis for doing so.

    People can have a moral compass without even knowing of the existence of the Bible, and they can judge the moral worth of statements in the Bible even if they don’t know who supposedly wrote it.

    Ok, sure. I don’t dispute that. Not that that disproves Christianity, or any other religion, in the slightest. The Catholic would argue that each person (regardless of religion) is imbued with a moral sense of right and wrong, as a consequence of natural law.

  70. Like I said, it isn’t “picking and choosing” to forego the OT laws to subscribe to the NT laws. There is a textual basis for doing so.

    Maybe so, but there is definitely some picking & choosing going on… Another subject for another day…

  71. sduford @68: OK, now we are getting very far from science, rational thinking and reasonable standards of evidence.

    Yes, we’re getting away from science. That is what happens when you discuss religion. I haven’t said in the slightest that these things are falsifiable, that is why they are taken in faith.

    The problem is, you consider that (based on the above comment) to be lacking in rational thought. Which is your prerogative I suppose. I would contend however that it’s also a bit short sighted and ignorant. A lot of rational thought is put into religious issues. Do you think Thomas Aquinas, for example, was a moron? If placed in this day and age he may very well run circles around all of us in philosophical discussions.

    IOW, if you don’t want to go down the road of religion, stop talking about it.

  72. Bill C.

    This is a fantastic post, Chris, one I had been hoping for. Thank you so much for your openness.

    I think ultimately, speaking for myself as what I think is a New Atheist, I just disagree with you. Advocating for a rational framework in all areas of life – be they personal belief OR public policy – simply serves to inject a voice for rationality in all areas of life. No one is pushing for government clamp-downs or bombing buildings – indeed, as most atheists, New or otherwise, are civil libertarians and humanists those actions would be very antithetical to our ideals – so in the end it’s just all about exalting people toward skepticism. It’s unfortunate that some would equate this with militancy, but if there’s anything I’m certain about, it’s that actual militancy will never enter the equation.

    I, for what that’s worth, appreciate and commend you on the work you do toward science literacy. Just as much as I appreciate and commend a Steven Novella on his work on skeptical advocacy or a PZ Myers on his work toward discrediting and marginalizing creationists or a Daniel Dennett on his philosophical and psychological investigations into the root of religious belief. You are all on the same side, after all – I just happen to see that side as standing opposed to the supernatural as much as it is against ignorance.

  73. Bill C @72 or a PZ Myers on his work toward discrediting and marginalizing creationists or a Daniel Dennett on his philosophical and psychological investigations into the root of religious belief. You are all on the same side, after all – I just happen to see that side as standing opposed to the supernatural as much as it is against ignorance.

    In the case of PZ Myers, you think it’s commendable that he instigated “CrackerGate”, alienating potentially thousands of Catholics with his crass attitude? Catholics who otherwise would have been on the same side as all other pro-science individuals when it came to preserving the integrity of science inside and outside the classroom?

    And before anyone claims (like PZ does) that this will cause the Catholics to “take their ball and go home”, that’s not what will happen. What will happen is that it will force Catholics and other religious to support their pro-science stance elsewhere, fracturing the overall message.

  74. Bill C.

    @ Jon, #6:

    If you’re still around, I beg you please, PLEASE try to explain some part of the sophisticated theology that New Atheists are so egregiously missing. I keep hearing that it exists, but I’ve yet to find evidence for it. Even a link, I am more than serious, I would love to read it.

    Be advised, I do not find sophisticated the interpretation that the Gospels (or any religious text, but I hear it re: the Gospels most) are deeply emotional parables, meant not to be taken literally, but to be reflected on at length and held up against personal experience as an exercise to reveal Truth and commonality in the human experience, and to thus bond communities over these shared revelations.

    That’s not sophisticated theology, that is basic literary criticism which can be applied to every story ever written.

  75. Bill C.

    TomJoe –

    I don’t see how the message “Science is true” is really fracturable…? Or, what…It will force Catholics to stop interacting with PZ Myers? So what? I’m not seeing your point.

    Unless you’re less interested in promoting scientific truth than you are in using scientific consensus as a platform from which to launch a more sweet and covert critique of their philosophy, which would just strike me as nauseatingly two-faced. I’m much more in favor of PZ’s approach of brutal honesty. Personal taste.

  76. Bill C @74: If you’re still around, I beg you please, PLEASE try to explain some part of the sophisticated theology that New Atheists are so egregiously missing. I keep hearing that it exists, but I’ve yet to find evidence for it. Even a link, I am more than serious, I would love to read it.

    Read Alister McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion?.

  77. Bill C @75: Or, what…It will force Catholics to stop interacting with PZ Myers? So what? I’m not seeing your point.

    Then you’ve missed the entire point of these blog entries.

    I’m much more in favor of PZ’s approach of brutal honesty.

    PZ’s “brutal honesty” is nothing more than an excuse to be vindictive and petty … and gain more readers for his blog.

  78. Matti K.

    Mr. Mooney: “In the end, I am exceedingly close to Coyne in my views on just about everything. But our little difference over how far we need to push rationalism has very large practical consequences.”

    Could you elaborate? Coyne is not arguing for closing churches or banning Bibles. I think the issue that has created the present discussion is about NCSE: should it

    a) promote compatibility of religion and science (and thus back away a bit from rationalism)?

    or

    b) regard religion a non-issue when discussing science?

    What kind of practical consequences would the latter policy have? I hope that Mr. Mooney appreciates the fact that no one, not even the “new atheists”, is asking NCSE to promote atheism as a prerequisite for understanding science.

  79. John Kwok

    @ TomJoe (@ 73) –

    Just to elaborate further on your excellent observation, I believe PZ Myers is losing credibility by being as much a zealot with respect to his anti-religious bigotry, as, for example, William A. Dembski is with his promotion of his Xian beliefs and Intelligent Design creationism (Hence, that is why I regard PZ Myers as the “William A. Dembski of Militant Atheism”.). His antics may amuse his ever faithful followers – his personal “Borg Collective” of intellectually-challenged fools, etc. – but if he’s hoping to have any success with the public, or with much of the mainstream scientific community, then I wouldn’t place a bet in favor that happening.

    As I have noted in another of Chris Mooney’s blogs, I am surprised that an eminent evolutionary biologist like Jerry Coyne has opted to cast his lot with a mediocre evolutionary developmental biologist (PZ Myers, and yes, Myers has admitted to me that he is mediocre.) who’s real claim to fame is an agent provocateur on behalf of militant atheism, not as a credible scientist doing meaningful research in evolutionary biology.

  80. John Kwok

    @ Matti K. –

    Your latest observation is irrelevant and quite risible, simply because you think Coyne and Myers are correct in their absurd, most inane, contention that NCSE promotes “compatibility of religion and science”. Others have pointed out to you relevant sections of the NCSE website that demonstrate that NCSE doesn’t do this, yet you continue to cling to your inane observation in a manner that is all to akin to what I have seen from creationist zealots posting here and elsewhere.

    Ask yourself why a Deist (yours truly) and a Theistic Evolutionist (Ken Miller) have, independently of each other, looked at the relevant sections of NCSE’s website and have concluded that NCSE does not promote “compatibility of religion and science”. Trust me. I may be a friend of Ken’s, but I don’t take my “marching orders” from him. Nor do I think I am a better person than either Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers (except, of course, with respect to Myers’s often bizarre and inflammatory online behavior). I simply think that they are claiming something that doesn’t exist, and for which they have no proof, except perhaps, in the fact that there is a NCSE employee who is its NCSE Faith Project Director (If that is really “accomodationism’, then I’d like to offer the Brooklyn Bridge to you for a very, very cheap price.).

  81. Sorbet

    We would have taken Christianity more seriously and would have treated it with more request if its practitioners actually implemented some more of the good things that Jesus taught such as compassion and kindness. In fact Jesus treated precisely those people who castigated him and whose views were opposite to his with respect.

  82. #81, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

  83. Rules For

    John Kwok:
    Maybe you could point us to the NCSE statements that suggest it is neutral on the relationship of science and religion. I just checked the “Science and Religion” section of their website, and this is their opening paragraph:
    “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.”
    This certainly suggests to me that NCSE is promoting the compatibility of the two, at least on their website. But I haven’t looked around much so maybe you can point me in a different direction?

  84. Rules For @83:

    I don’t see this as promotion. NCSE, as an organization, is going to be asked a lot of questions. It’s pretty obvious that evolution and religion is a hot button topic for a lot of people, and I am sure NCSE has been asked this question repeatedly. Putting together a FAQ to address those questions isn’t promotion.

  85. G Wood

    I have read in another blog that I don’t remember who wrote so that I can’t give him credit that the theory of evolution disproves the basic myths of christianity. Since we evolved, there was no Adam and Eve, no garden of Eden, no fruit of knowledge therefor no original sin. This means no need for redemption. This puts Science at odds against christian religions and this is what makes it impossible for them to accept the theory of evolution because it exposes the lies.

  86. Rules For

    TomJoe:
    OK. Here’s the section of the NCSE website for anyone interested: http://ncseweb.org/religion

    G Wood:
    I know that is something that Dawkins has argued, although he may have gotten it from somewhere else.

  87. Since we evolved, there was no Adam and Eve, no garden of Eden, no fruit of knowledge therefor no original sin. This means no need for redemption.

    Unless of course you believe that God used evolution to create man, and instilled, at some point in that time line, upon two “proto-humans*” of his choice (who become Adam and Eve) a soul.

    *One could argue that God could have bestowed a soul upon man at any point during his evolution from the simplest forms of life. If one would argue such a thing, saying that evolution disproves the “basic myths of Christianity” is false. It may disprove one interpretation, but it’s certainly not even the most widely held interpretation.

  88. This certainly suggests to me that NCSE is promoting the compatibility of the two, at least on their website.

    They are answering a question, from believers, about whether they must give up their faith to accept evolution. It only makes sense that they would give an answer from believers who accept evolution – an answer which is correct, substantive, and comes from the people in the best position to know.

    I suppose if there were a lot of atheists petitioning them about the problems of teaching evolution – i.e. why it wasn’t more effective in converting people to atheism, then they would have to respond to that… Maybe they could get quotes from Jerry Coyne so he wouldn’t feel left out.

  89. This is a complex issue, but theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, yes

    This is a very biased statement; why no mention of what scientists think and the fact that several scientists conclude that the answer is “no”?

  90. John Kwok

    @ Tom (@ 84) –

    My thoughts exactly. Moreover, I strongly suspect Ken Miller would agree too.

    I think Coyne, Myers et al. are too busy trying to define the meaning of the word “is” and overlooking what is most important; explaining to the public why evolution is valid science and why – at least for most faiths – it doesn’t pose a philosophical threat to whatever theology they claim to profess.

  91. Because the question wasn’t “do some atheist scientists think that I have to give up my religion to accept evolution”? Because nobody cares what atheist scientists think about whether a religious person would have to give up their religion to accept evolution. How would they know anyway?

  92. G Wood

    Hi TomJoe,
    You can interpret any writing in any way that you wish but in the bible story that I was taught it is implicit that god created Adam and then created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. This was presented to me as absolute truth.

  93. benjdm

    Ooooh, let me try:

    They are answering a question, from believers, about whether they must give up their faith to accept evolution. It only makes sense that they would give an answer from former believers who accepted evolution and became unbelievers because the two can’t be reconciled – an answer which is correct, substantive, and from the people in the best position to know.

    The right thing to do is to provide neither or both answers.

  94. Both answers would make sense

  95. “Must” implies that everyone who accepted evolution gives up their faith.

    So, even presuming atheist scientists were formerly religious, and assuming that they chose to give up their religion because they could not find a way to reconcile it, their answer is still less relevant. Because the question wasn’t about “choice” but about “must”. It wasn’t about whether Jerry Coyne found a way to reconcile, and felt it was worthwhile to take that route, but whether anyone can find a way to reconcile and feel it is worthwhile to do it.

  96. G Wood @92 : You can interpret any writing in any way that you wish but in the bible story that I was taught it is implicit that god created Adam and then created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. This was presented to me as absolute truth.

    Ok. Well, I feel for you then. Strict literalism (which is only strict when they want it to be) is going to result in a lot more deconversions (IMO) than a proper, scholarly exegesis of the texts (which includes understanding the culture, the original language, the audience, etc etc).

  97. Gina Mel

    Consider the statement “a rose is beautiful.” That is not scientifically verifiable. “Most of the human race would agree that a rose is beautiful” *is* scientifically verifiable, but when I say “a rose is beautiful”, that’s not quite what I’m saying. Yet, is it true? It’s not true in the sense of a scientific theory being ‘right’, but in another sense there is truth to that statement.
    *******************
    It isn’t? How so? Evidence and observation could determine if you respond to rose as something beautiful. Scientifically testable. Why you think it is beautiful and someone else might not is something that neurobiologists, psychologists, sociologists, etc. are studying. Are you saying their work is not valid? Why we love is something scientists are working on. Feelings, emotions, aesthetic appreciation, etc. all under active scientific investigation albeit we are a long way off from understanding them. Are you saying those people are frauds? Scientifically studying something that is outside the realm of science?

  98. benjdm

    “Because the question wasn’t “do some atheist scientists think that I have to give up my religion to accept evolution”? ”

    The question was to the NCSE, which includes both atheist and theist scientists. So the question IS “do atheist (and theist) scientists think that I have to give up my religion to accept evolution?” The answer is absolutely NOT an unequivocal yes.

    “How would they know anyway?”

    Are you seriously saying there aren’t atheist scientists who weren’t formerly theists?

  99. Are you saying those people are frauds?

    I’m saying that if they hook up their instruments and the computer spits out “rose is not beautiful”, I’ll have every right to point out that we are talking about two very different types of statement. My experience of the beauty of the rose is immediate and complex enough that one would have to model *me* completely in order to completely model my experience. Reductionist approximations will miss the totality of my experience. My statement that a rose is beautiful is very different from the statement that certain specific neural responses can be expected from me each time I observe a rose.

  100. benjdm…

    ok yes, there are atheists who were formerly theists.

    I suppose there may have been some who were only believers because they could not otherwise explain the origin of the diversity of life, and who discarded religion when they came to understand evolution and no longer had this single reason for belief. It may even be possible that someone like that works at the NCSE.

    But again, that really misses the point of the question.

    We all know it’s possible for people to come across science and deconvert. The questioner knows this already. (Do you seriously think she doesn’t?) What they want to know is whether its possible to accept science and *not* deconvert. The answer to that lies not in the identification of those who do, but the identification of those who do not.

  101. Jon

    Evidence and observation could determine if you respond to rose as something beautiful. Scientifically testable.

    Scientifically finding some sort of mechanism behind something is not the same thing as finding the essence of beauty, goodness, which I think are inevitably wrapped up in questions of meaning.

    It reminds me of the brain studies they did on contemplatives that found that their brains did some interesting things, but how do you answer questions of meaning and metaphysics from physical processes? That’s what a neuroscientist who worked on the project asked:

    http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2008/08/22/is-this-anything-or-is-this-nothing/

  102. benjdm

    ““Must” implies that everyone who accepted evolution gives up their faith.”

    No, it would only imply that those who held their faith were in error in some way – whether it would be about the nature of religious belief or the implications of science or whatever. Just like the answer that ‘no, they don’t have to’ implies that those who hold to the incompatibility are similarly in error in some way.

  103. Matti K.

    Mr Kwok:

    You say that it is an absurd and inane idea that NCSE is promoting the compatibility of religion and science. Yet elsewhere you state that NSCE has a special mission towards the religiously devout:

    “What Coyne and Myers don’t want to acknowledge is that their criticism would – if followed by NCSE – repudiate an important aspect of NCSE’s mission, which is its important public outreach towards those who are religiously devout and want to accept the possibility that their faith would not be threatened by accepting evolution as valid science.”

    Are you saying that NCSE actually does not take sides on the question of compatibility, it just pretends to do so in order to lure religious people to study science?

  104. benjdm

    “We all know it’s possible for people to come across science and deconvert. The questioner knows this already. (Do you seriously think she doesn’t?)”

    If she knows this already, then it would do no harm to acknowledge this in the answer – that both answers are held by many people in philosophy and science. There is no need to lie by omission.

  105. G Wood

    smijer@99

    It seems to me that you are arguing about your subjective reality. Science does not try to explain subjective reality but objective reality. No subjective experience can absolutely be replicated.

  106. This is a very biased statement; why no mention of what scientists think and the fact that several scientists conclude that the answer is “no”?

    Because the scientists are empirically wrong.

    The question is if you have to give up your religious faith to accept evolution. Plenty of examples out there to indicate that you do not. Even if there are some new atheist scientists out there who assert that you have to, they’re manifestly wrong.

    Yes, you can accept evolution and believe in God. Lots of people do it, even if you don’t think they should.

  107. Walker

    Scientifically finding some sort of mechanism behind something is not the same thing as finding the essence of beauty, goodness, which I think are inevitably wrapped up in questions of meaning.

    The word you are looking for in response to Gina Mel is qualia.

  108. No, it would only imply that those who held their faith were in error in some way

    What, they think they held their faith and they didn’t?

    Or are you assuming that one must use reasoning to reconcile faith and science before holding both (a philosophical task, I add, not a scientific one) and unless one does this *correctly*, one is mistaken to hold on to their faith?

    Well – as Chris pointed out in the post – that doesn’t matter either… we all have inconsistencies in our world-view – it’s part of being human and we aren’t *required* to use reason to correctly reconcile each of our world views in order to continue to hold them. In fact, none of us do. We’re glitchy machines and we all run more than one program without worrying too much if the two programs can talk to each other or produce the same results.

    If we aren’t required to do intellectually reconcile them, and we aren’t, then “must” implies that everyone gives up their religion. Even if we assume that the philosophical processes of those who do not do so are in some way flawed, we can still not say that they “must”.

    Nevertheless I have proposed, in this very thread, schemes of reconciliation that I have yet to see anyone find an error in. Not that this pertains to the NCSE statement – if reconciliation was a requirement, then even a mistaken notion that reconciliation was impossible would merit a voice in the NCSE statement. But it’s pretty clear to me that reconciliation isn’t impossible.

  109. That’s not the point. Not citing the scientists who don’t believe in the compatibility of religion and science (irrespective of whether they are right or wrong) is empirically incorrect and unfair, that’s all. They can all be wrong for all I know but when you make an honest statement you need to present all the evidence, both in favor of it and against it.

  110. To take this line of thought a little further. Let’s assume I believe in horses for what seem to me to be good reasons. I have just come across the idea of ‘cow’ and am deciding whether to believe in it or not. Now, for some reason, I have chosen to undertake the question of whether I can continue to believe in horses if I believe in cows. Maybe I heard from a fellow horsist that cows mean no horses. Maybe I don’t have any other beliefs to check compatibility with, so I figure – having only two beliefs, that I should check to see if they are compatible. For whatever reason, I undertake the task.

    I may not have mentioned before, but I am *very* uncreative. I can only think of one reconciliation between horses and cows – that horses are the mommies and cows are the babies. Unfortunately, I am smart enough to discover that this isn’t the case. Now, being too uncreative to find another reconciliation, should I refuse to believe in cows?

    The answer is no. Even though the only reconciliation I can find is erroneous, if I have what I believe is a good reason to believe in horses, and what I believe is a good reason to believe in cows, then I should believe in both until
    1) I discover that my reasons for belief in one or the other is poor
    2) I discover logical proof that horses and cows cannot both exist.

    This is the reasoning I am using when I say that we are not *required* to reconcile science and religion intellectually (though I continue to say that it is not hard to do).

    If someone at the NCSE has access to a logical proof similar to 2) above, then that could well be included in their statement to counterbalance the other viewpoint and show that it is ridiculous. But so far, they have only found people who have managed to find a real or perceived error in the reconciliations they have been creative enough to imagine. Those people “chose” to abandon religion (if indeed they did so because of evolution). They weren’t required to.

  111. Curious Wavefunction… let’s not get all postmodern about this. Just because the NCSE statement is a place that a PZ Myers type might *want* to interrupt and give their opinion, doesn’t mean it is a place where NCSE must include their statement for fairness. As I mentioned… the questioner already knows that there are people out there like PZ – he knows there are atheists and creationists who believe that science and religion is an either/or proposition. That simply isn’t what their question is about, and PZ’s opinion doesn’t bear on it. Should they have thrown in a statement from Ken Ham, too?

  112. G Wood

    I think the big problem here is in the different meanings of “belief”. One does not believe in reality, one accepts it. You can accept reality or “believe” in something that cannot be proven. The analogy between horse and cow is between two absolute realities and belief cannot be discussed in terms of real things. We are discussing reality and fantasy and faith is the word you should be using when discussing fantasy.

  113. Walker

    I think the big problem here is in the different meanings of “belief”. One does not believe in reality, one accepts it.

    No, the problem here is epistemology. Reality cannot be simply accepted without any understanding of how it is perceived.

    This is why I have always pressured my undergraduate majors to take an epistemology class. Many of them are woefully ignorant of this area, and I believe that it is essential to becoming a world-class researcher.

    As I said in a previous post, all too often these arguments pit bad science (from the religious) against bad philosophy (from the scientists).

  114. John Kwok

    @ Matti K. (@103) –

    NCSE’s mission includes educating the public on what is valid science (and what isn’t) and acting as a science advocacy organization to aid those who are trying to ensure that only science – not religiously-derived nonsense such as Intelligent Design creationism and other forms of creationism – is taught in school science classrooms. I don’t see these as being mutually exclusive.

    Where you, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Jason Rosenhouse and others are in error is assuming that because NCSE is trying to educate those who are religiously devout that evolution is indeed valid science, that it must be stressing some form of compatibility between religion and science. It isn’t doing this, and in fact, as Tim Broderick has noted earlier, it emphasizes this on its website. Let me submit – without being sarcastic I hope – that you, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Jason Rosenhouse et al. are reading too much into what NCSE is doing with respect to its relations with both religious people and religious organizations, and instead of making a fair criticism(s), are simply imposing your own strong anti-religious biases.

  115. Jon

    I’m not sure if anyone is familiar with Karen Armstrong’s distinction between “logos” and “mythos.” I think this is the kind of thing that a lot of prosylatizing atheists miss in their ridicule of religion (summary here by George Scialabba):

    Obviously fundamentalism is a response to modernity, but it is not, Armstrong argues, a mere negation of modernity. It is an adaptation, not a throwback. The first and weightiest distinction Armstrong introduces is between “mythos” and “logos,” myth and rationality. Myth is a collective framework, a shared, taken-for-granted intuition about how everything hangs together. It is expressed in inherited symbols and rituals, and sees history either as cyclical or as a falling off from an original Golden Age. Rationality is practical and piecemeal, demands explicit definitions and justifications, looks to the present and future, and sometimes descries progress. Premodern life was a combination, more or less harmonious, of mythos and logos. But beginning in the 16th century, as we all know, a new “pragmatic, scientific spirit” gathered momentum and “slowly undermined the old conservative, mythical ethos.”

    Modernization, Armstrong emphasizes, is thoroughgoing and irreversible. Fundamentalists cannot escape it and are not trying to. Instead, she claims, they are seeking to rationalize religion: not as religious liberals do, by blurring and accommodation, but by drawing out and insisting upon, ever more rigorously and relentlessly, the implications of their Scriptural premises. From the outside, it may seem absurd to believe in the literal truth of every word of the Bible, to observe every one of the 613 commandments of the Torah, or to regulate every transaction in a complex society by the Koran and Shariah. But from the inside it feels entirely logical and consistent – which, Armstrong points out, is just how traditional religion does not feel. The mystery, the numinousness of traditional, mythical religion is nearly as alien to the fundamentalist as to the secularist. Both are modernists, practitioners of logos, however different their starting points.

    For Armstrong, religion is mostly about “mythos.” Science is completely about “logos.” And a good part of fundamentalists’ confusion is about ignoring distinctions that were a given in the past. But the New Atheists see fundamentalism as the whole of religion, which is a basic misunderstanding of what religion is trying to do.

  116. What’s religion trying to do?

  117. benjdm

    “What, they think they held their faith and they didn’t?”

    No. That they actually accepted the what the theory of evolution said, or that their religious beliefs constituted a religion, or that there wasn’t a contradiction where there was.

    Aaren’t you saying that those who accepted evolution and DID conclude that it required them to give up their faith are making an error in some way?

  118. G Wood

    No, the problem here is epistemology. Reality cannot be simply accepted without any understanding of how it is perceived.

    I interpret this statement as saying that I cannot accept reality unless I understand everything about how I perceive it. This argument leads me to believe that I cannot accept any reality since I cannot understand everything. Epistemology is just a fancy way of twisting meanings to confuse and to win points.

  119. Jon

    Well, “a collective framework, a shared, taken-for-granted intuition about how everything hangs together… expressed in inherited symbols and rituals” is not bad. That’s the kind of thing frustrated Enlightenment thinkers, but it had its minority proponents back then (as I’ve mentioned before on this blog).

  120. Jon

    (Asnwering gillt in 116.)

  121. So what a shared religious belief attempts is a way of knowing about how the world, or reality, works.

    Is that accurate?

  122. articulett

    I’m willing to accommodate a believers view so long as they accommodate my view that their “woo” is no more deserving of respect than the “woo” they dismiss. Moreover, I think science ought to treat all pseudoscience (including religious claims about reality) equally.

    It seems that the accommodation think we want more than that, and that we are being mean and unfair. I disagree. I just don’t want science denigrating those who declare the emperor to be naked while mollifying those who are sure they caught a glimpse of his magical robes. I don’t want my silence on the subject seen as deference to magical thinking of any kind, including religion. I don’t want to feel complicit or enabling of anyone’s delusion. I value the truth over what people want to be true.

    We can’t get rid of peoples’ fear of demons without causing them to extrapolate towards the other invisible entities they’ve been indoctrinated to “believe in”. Reality tends to interfere with a of peoples’ magical beliefs. If they don’t want these beliefs to be challenged, then all they need to do is keep them to themselves.

  123. Jon

    So what a shared religious belief attempts is a way of knowing about how the world, or reality, works.

    But “reality” can be a pretty broad landscape. I think this guy has it right when he says that “when it comes to a world with different, unobservable, properties,” you can reasonably claim that different areas of reality require different “equipment.” Or as Charles Taylor says in this interview responding to a question about non-overlapping magisteria:

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

  124. articulett

    Maybe Coyne advocates holding Miller’s feet to the fire, because he doesn’t like seeing a smart mind acting as a vector for the virulent “faith is good” meme.

  125. John Kwok

    @ articulett –

    Or maybe Coyne advocates holding Ken’s feet to the fire, because he can’t accept the proposition that one can be religiously devout and still be a good scientist (Other, more notable examples include evolutionary geneticists Theodosius Dobzhansky, and his student, Francisco J. Ayala, invertebrate paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris, molecular biologist Francis Collins and ecologist Michael L. Rosenzweig.).

  126. Literal interpretations of the gospel and the bible’s creation story both require belief in the supernatural. However, the creation story is fairly straightforward whereas the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility. Also, the creation story is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful god whereas the god of the gospel is a weak, limited god who must struggle against Satan for control of the world. So on the basis of Scripture alone, believing that the creation story is literal actually makes much more sense than believing that the gospel is literal! LOL

    Also, you Darwinists have deluded yourselves by scapegoating religion for the widespread rejection and skepticism of evolution theory. Geocentrism, like creationism, is supported by the bible, but the fundies accept heliocentrism but not evolution because they find the scientific evidence to be persuasive for heliocentrism but not for evolution.

    G Wood Says (#112),
    I think the big problem here is in the different meanings of “belief”. One does not believe in reality, one accepts it.

    The expression is “seeing is believing,” not “seeing is accepting.” And in John 20:29, Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed,” not “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast accepted . . . . . . .”

    Jon Says (#13),
    “As long as these scientists keep their religious views private, I have no issue.”

    The New Atheists brought the subject into the public square. Would the non-atheist scientists have spoken up if they hadn’t been asked to testify at the Dover trial, —

    Jon, Ken Miller’s book “Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution” was first published in 2000, several years before the Dover trial (2005).

  127. Stephen Friberg

    Coyne writes:

    “Instead of beefing about our “militancy,” why don’t accommodationists start addressing the question of whether faith can tell us anything that’s true?”

    Neat trick, this accomodationists bit. Its a like what the radical right did with the word liberal. First you label them, then you try to get rid of them.

    Can faith tell us anything that’s true? I sincerely hope so. I believe in evolution because I have faith in the scientific community that thought it true. I certainly didn’t do all the legwork myself. The same holds true for anyone who believes in any scientific result whatsoever that they haven’t repeated (and not just repeated, but repeated several times).

    So, Coyne has apparently made up his own definition of faith. If you have faith in science its no longer faith, its being superior, or special, or something higher than those who have faith in other things, like, say, democracy, truth, love, those kinds of things.

    I don’t get it!

  128. Chris, do you believe that the entire field of philosophy of religion should be abolished? Or perhaps that it should be left entirely to people who disagree with you, me, and Jerry – to people who do think that religion offers truths about reality? That seems to be the implication of your final paragraph. This is one thing (of many) that I don’t get about the position that you and some others appear to be advocating. It is actually a quite extreme position since it would involve abolishing (or at least gutting) an entire sub-discipline.

    Maybe you just think that the job should be left to academic philosophers of religion like Michael Martin, Michael Tooley, and Graham Oppy. But do you seriously think that NO ONE should be engaging in public criticism of the truth claims of religion? That’s what you seem to be saying in your final three paragraphs, so I’d like you to clarify whether it’s what you really think. If it’s not what you really think, why did you make such a big deal about Jerry’s article in The New Republic? Surely it wasn’t just that you thought the job should have been assigned to Michael Martin.

  129. That should say “final paragraphs” (plural). And I’ll add that my comment above encapsulates a lot (not all, but a lot) of what I find so baffling and frustrating about this debate. Coming from a background in philosophy, I think that what Jerry is doing and saying is perfectly normal, even if he’s engaging in some disciplinary boundary crossing (but, to me, that’s a GOOD thing). Then I see people like Chris putting forward this incredibly extreme position about the propriety of criticising the epistemic content of religion.

    Okay, it’s true that there was something of a cultural consensus in the 1980s and 1990s that we would not criticise the epistemic content of religion in a robust way in popular writings. But that was when we thought that the secularization thesis was true, and that religion was on the way out anyway. I don’t think that’s tenable anymore. In any event, that consensus was only a product of the 1980s and 1990s. It didn’t exist back in the 1970s. It’s not some kind of iron law, just the product of a particular, quite brief, time in Western intellectual history.

  130. articulett Says(#124) —
    Maybe Coyne advocates holding Miller’s feet to the fire, because he doesn’t like seeing a smart mind acting as a vector for the virulent “faith is good” meme.

    John Kwok Says (#125) —
    @ articulett –

    Or maybe Coyne advocates holding Ken’s feet to the fire, because he can’t accept the proposition that one can be religiously devout and still be a good scientist

    John, IMO you merely sort of paraphrased what articulett said. Being a “good scientist” is similar to the idea of having a “smart mind,” and being “religiously devout” is similar to the idea of being “a vector for the virulent ‘faith is good’ meme.”

    Stephen Friberg Says (#127),

    Coyne writes:
    “Instead of beefing about our ‘militancy,’ why don’t accommodationists start addressing the question of whether faith can tell us anything that’s true?”

    . . . Can faith tell us anything that’s true? I sincerely hope so. I believe in evolution because I have faith in the scientific community that thought it true.–

    Stephen, I think that the kind of faith that Coyne was talking about is religious faith, not faith in the scientific community.

  131. Sometimes, reading through a thread like this, I wonder what people did before they had an epistemology.

  132. Jon

    Coming from a background in philosophy, I think that what Jerry is doing and saying is perfectly normal… Then I see people like Chris putting forward this incredibly extreme position about the propriety of criticising the epistemic content of religion.

    It’s about priorities. If atheists “own” science, and overwhelm other voices (which is easy to have happen, controversy sells), then people will closely associate atheism and science. It’s a bad thing to have this happen in the public’s mind.

    You can disagree philosophically, but what’s more important, the public’s problem with methodological naturalism, or philosophical naturalism? I think for sane adults, the problem with methodological naturalism (actual science) is more important, hands down.

  133. John Kwok

    @ 126 –

    Sorry, but Ken Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God”was published originally in 1998. It’s just one of several mistakes that you’ve made, and which, of course, I expect from a delusional IDiot like yourself.

  134. Matti K.

    I think there is no way to back away from the fact that NCSE is promoting the compatibility of science and religion. It certainly is not it’s main aim, but in order to advance the education of science, NCSE tries to make it palatable to religious people. To make it palatable, NCSE presents science as if studying it is no threat to religious faith. Therefore NCSE has numerous pages on their own site promoting the compatibility of science and religion, starting from

    http://ncseweb.org/religion

    There are many valid arguments against the compatibility of science and religion, but NCSE does not discuss them on their pages. Since the main interest of NCSE is educational policy in USA, not philosophical matters related to science, this is understandable. What I don’t understand why it is so difficult for some people to admit that, yes, for practical reasons NCSE promotes the compatibility of science and religion.

  135. gecko

    Wel, though I don’t purchase, I start to doubt the value of the book “Unscientific American”. Since you admit Science gives you truth, why waste time in your illogic explaination? A theist won’t accept your favor of reconciliation sincerely. Remember you are an atheist, why care the feeling of others whose faith is false, and reconcile their view with ours, if all evidence points the worthlessness of religion? If you only wanna keep good relationship with them, please try to avoid this dispute. AND, the two culture is practically a Delusion!

  136. gecko

    Not every reconciliation is worthy, so why you let two things that are in essence incompatible be compatible? If they wanna reconcile science and religion, please keep it private, ok, it’s their freedom, (but I doubt whether they can reconcile successfully.) Science education is for public, how can we let alone these reconciliation and ambiguity that may interfere with our children? You say, you’re afraid Coyne’s rejection will turn someone into the enemy of science. No, you won’t worry. Science is the only reflection of man’s intellect and reason. If they are really indiscriminate and willing to listen, they could feel the charm of Science. Why Science must degrade itself to cater to their interest? As you point to in your new book, most of Americans are Unscientific, don’t you feel the accommodation will worsen this condition? Science is the only and best solution to major problems in the world, while religion is helpless and only make one anaesthetic. Your know, your major is not religion, so you may be anaesthetized. I must admit, when some atheists are in touch with other theists, their mind will be flickered into blur. Be conscious! Most famous and distinguished scientists are very self-confident and pride, as they think, if their theories are proven correct, why would listen to other rants and lies, and why would cater to fabricated accommodation?

  137. —– do you believe that the entire field of philosophy of religion should be abolished? Russell Blackford

    Who would do the abolishing? University administrations? Some kind of National Committee of ‘Reason’? I don’t quite get that from the post itself, but I’ve got more than a strong suspicion that a lot of new atheists would, actually, like to do that. How else do they intend to drive religion into being disreputable and then into extinction?

    — Or perhaps that it should be left entirely to people who disagree with you, me, and Jerry – to people who do think that religion offers truths about reality? RB

    Are any of you sufficiently versed in the literature or able to make an original contribution of interest to those who read religious philosophy. Because that’s what will get you in the game to start with and get you influence. It’s just like any other specialized, academic field. If you write stuff that is sufficiently interesting and informed enough to not be absurd within the field, you get readers and gain influence for your ideas. It’s the same in every academic field, even in the sciences. On the side, it’s really odd that scientists don’t seem to realize that the protection of the standards of science is, actually, in their hands, not in the hands of people outside of science.

    I’ve engaged Jerry Coyne about theodicy on his blog, which I’m certainly no expert on, but he’s clearly even less informed about the literature and ideas of that branch of religious philosophy than I am. Yet he’s the one who felt sufficiently confident to declare that everything it had produced was “ridiculous”, without having read any of it.

    – Maybe you just think that the job should be left to academic philosophers of religion like Michael Martin, Michael Tooley, and Graham Oppy. But do you seriously think that NO ONE should be engaging in public criticism of the truth claims of religion? RB

    I don’t think the question is if people are going to criticize religion, people within religion do that all the time. The question is whether the criticism is honest and rational or if it’s dishonest and veers into sheer bigotry. There are atheists who reject the idea of a supernatural but who don’t make dishonest and disproportionate attacks on all people who are religious.

    If it was merely a matter of debating ideas it would be a lot less important than it becomes when it’s an actual attack on people based in stereo-types, dishonest representation of the entire range of what people believe, the opposite practice of blanketing the same people for the criminal acts and gross dishonesty of a minority of religious people, and the other practices that the new atheists, and other bigots practice.

    If the new atheists were honest, proportionate, informed, focused and a lot less paranoid about their criticisms of religion, they wouldn’t get any flack from me, I probably wouldn’t even care. But they wouldn’t get the publicity they do which is one of the express purpose of many of their figureheads. It’s pretty funny to hear people complaining about getting flack when they go out of their way to do exactly the things that will guarantee them flack. Especially when, as the new atheists are never tired of telling you, they’re so much smarter than you are.

    Russell Blakford, I didn’t get any of your comment from reading the post. I thought it was clearly not a call for abolishing discourse on the topic. I think your actual intent and that of the New Atheists is far more open to the the kinds of abolition you asked Chris Mooney about. You say as much in your next comment.

    — Okay, it’s true that there was something of a cultural consensus in the 1980s and 1990s that we would not criticise the epistemic content of religion in a robust way in popular writings. RB

    Was there a vote held at some conference? This is a really bizarre idea and I’d like to know what event or actual published documents its based in.

    — But that was when we thought that the secularization thesis was true, and that religion was on the way out anyway. I don’t think that’s tenable anymore. In any event, that consensus was only a product of the 1980s and 1990s. It didn’t exist back in the 1970s. It’s not some kind of iron law, just the product of a particular, quite brief, time in Western intellectual history. RB

    Do you know how really bizarre these ideas are? It reminds me a lot of Phillip Johnson or how I might imagine the decision to publish The Fundamentals came about. Where is the body that came to these conclusions? And do you still wonder why the new atheists are getting flack?

    About the only conclusion I’m reading in what you’re saying is that there’s a far more serious streak if intellectual paranoia running deep in the new atheism.

  138. You see, Chris, your blog has become a refuge for the likes of this McCarthy character, someone who cannot follow the logic of an argument but loves throwing around words like “bizarre” as if they prove something. The fact is that you keep saying that you don’t want us to criticise religion. Yes, mate, we get it by now. You’ve been going on about it long enough.

    I asked, are you saying NO ONE should criticise religion or are you saying that only paid up philosophers of religion should do so? Or what? You haven’t thought it through, and although McCarthy’s latest comment misses the point entirely (surprise! surprise!), but it does demonstrate my point. He hasn’t thought it through either, of course, since everything he says simply strengthens the essential point I’m making. Just how are you going to stop criticism of religion? It’s a normal thing. There’s nothing unusual about it except in your mind. An entire university sub-discipline is devoted to it. You’re the one, Chris, that keeps calling for something impossible … and undesirable.

    Yes, we are increasingly seeing criticism of religion beyond the philosophy departments and out there in more popular parts of the culture. Yes, some of it is robust, but no more so than criticism of, say, political or economic views. Yes, I conceded we are seeing more of this than we did for awhile (why McCarthy objects to my making this concession to your position I don’t know; I’d happily withdraw it if I thought I had good grounds to do so). But in the scheme of things, it’s natural and desirable that religious ideas be subjected to scrutiny.

    I don’t know why you continually rail against this phenomenon as if there’s something odd about it. Religious ideas are important, for good or ill; they should and will be subjected to the same scrutiny as other ideas that affect our lives, such as political and economic ideas. You’ll just have to accept this sooner or later. Why is this simple point so hard for you to understand? Why can’t you see how radical a position you take when you try to deny it?

  139. Russell Blackford, you don’t seem to be taking a fairly calm analysis of what you said very well. You seem kind of panicked.

    Your complaint that I called some of your ideas “bizarre” is pretty funny, considering the words generally used by the new atheists for the ideas of their opponents. Your warning Chris Mooney off of me,…. well, that’s for him to decide.

    I’m sorry, but the idea that there was some kind of decision made in the world body of atheists in reaction to the failure of ” the secularization thesis” …. “that religion was on the way out anyway” is a truly bizarre idea. Just account for why you said what you did and it might seem less bizarre. Is there any evidence of this widely known “secularization thesis” in the 80s and 90s or that it was commonly agreed to by atheists?

    Maybe you missed the point that I don’t think you understood CM’s post. I don’t think I missed your point, seeing as I went through it point by point, just that you don’t want to see it criticized calmly and, I hope, rationally.

    It’s one of the more obvious traits that the new atheism shares with other forms of fundamentalism, that they don’t really like it when other people make a critique of their ideas. If you think the new atheism is going to escape that kind of examination, you are mistaken

    If you think that religion doesn’t face constant criticism, both internally and externally and throughout its history, you are shockingly uninformed about a topic you have so many opinions about.

    I don’t really mind being disreputable among the new atheists or biblical fundamentalists, they’re not the people I’m interested in talking to and being of service to.

  140. Chris, you censored my abusive response but you did not censor John Kwok’s abusive original comment. That shows a lot of bias.

    I cleaned up my response — here it is again.

    John Kwok said,
    @ 126 –
    Sorry, but Ken Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God”was published originally in 1998. It’s just one of several mistakes that you’ve made, and which, of course, I expect from a delusional IDiot like yourself.

    That’s just another example of your one-upmanship. I got the date from the Amazon.com website:

    Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st edition (September 15, 2000)
    http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Darwins-God-Scientists-Evolution/dp/0060930497

    The book’s website gives 1999:

    First edition (1999)
    http://www.findingdarwinsgod.com/

    Anyway, the earlier the better so far as my point — that the book was published long before the Dover trial — is concerned.

  141. John Kwok

    @ Matti K. (@134) –

    Here is what Peter Hess, NCSE Faith Director says, and it clearly does not imply – either implicitly or explicitly that NCSE advocates compatibility between religion and science:

    “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.”

    “Theologians from many traditions hold that science and religion occupy different spheres of knowledge. Science asks questions such as ‘What is it?’ ‘How does it happen?’ ‘By what processes?’ In contrast, religion asks questions such as ‘What is life’s meaning?’ ‘What is my purpose?’ ‘Is the world of value?’ These are complementary rather than conflicting perspectives.”

    “This section of the website offers resources for exploring religious perspectives on scientific questions and scientific perspectives on topics of interest to various religious groups, as well as resources for anyone interested in engaging with these issues.”

    A religiously devout scientist such as Guy Consolmagno, noted planetary scientist and astronomer, a member of the Vatician Observatory (based outside of Tucson, AZ) and the Vatican Meteorite Collection (in Italy), has said that Science is understanding in search of truth, while Religion is truth in search of understanding. For him, and many other religiously devout scientists, whether they are devout Conservative Jews (eminent ecologist Michael L. Rosenzweig), Evangelical Protestant Christians (noted molecular biologist Francis Collins), Roman Catholic Christians (distinguished evolutionary geneticist Francisco J. Ayala) and others, they can, to paraphrase a famous New Testament quote, render to Science what is Science, and to God, God, without conflating the two. However, on the other hand, Militant Atheists contend, without justification, that NCSE, NAS, AAAS or WSF (World Science Festival) and other, similar, science advocacy and professional scientific organizations foster compatibility between religion and science, simply, I think, because they want ONLY their “New Atheist” views disseminated as the “official answer” from the scientific community regarding any concept of “compatibility” between religion and science. It’s not my problem that such prominent Militant Atheists like Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers have been, quite literally, foaming at the mouth over this issue for months.

    Again ask yourself how I, a Deist, independently of my friend, Theistic Evolutionist Ken Miller, reached the same conclusion that NCSE does not endorse compatibility between science and religion after we both spent ample time perusing its online resources. I am sure that Coyne and Myers might conclude that, as fellow Brunonians, Ken and I might have exchanged some secret “winks and nods” online. However, I can assure that isn’t the case, and I only found out that Ken had looked at NCSE’s website, when I had told him that I had spent a lot time doing just that.

    Both Coyne and Myers have been wasting yours, mine – and in fact, everyone’s – time by debating the definition of the word “is”, metaphorically speaking, in their ongoing series of risible accusations of “accomodationism”. Surely they ought to think that this time should be spent more wisely in dealing with evolution denialists of all stripes, not against those, such as Ken Miller and myself, who are interested in combatting effectively, Intelligent Design advocates and other creationists.

  142. John Kwok

    @ Russell Blackford,

    Thanks for a most terse, quite thoughtful, repudiation of NOMA here:

    http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2009/06/noma-no-more-great-accommodationism.html

    (Incidentally it is an interpretation that Ken Miller would concur, since he, himself, also rejects NOMA. As for me, my own attitude is “Who cares?”).

    Your comments, however, do not address the inane contentions of Coyne and Myers, among others, who have asserted that science advocacy and professional scientific organizations such as NCSE, WSF, NAS and AAAS have no business advocating an “accomodationist” stance towards religion. Theirs is a view I find especially absurd, since, as I have noted too often here, I don’t see any semblance of “accomodationism” at NCSE nor any of the other organizations which have borne the brunt of Coyne and Myers’s harsh criticism.

  143. Matti K. says (#134),
    There are many valid arguments against the compatibility of science and religion, but NCSE does not discuss them on their pages.

    NCSE pretends that people and organizations that hold that evolution is incompatible with religion do not exist. For example, at least three major Christian sects — Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons — have big problems with evolution, but the NCSE’s list of “Statements from Religious Organizations” has no statement from any of these three sects. The NCSE website is utterly worthless as a one-stop source of information on the issue of the compatibility of evolution and religion.

  144. John Kwok

    What Larry Fafarman doesn’t want you to know is that there are Mormon scientists who, while strongly professing their faith, also accept evolution as valid science. His observation is, of course, coming from the delusional IDiot that he is, most inane.

  145. Jon

    NOMA makes it too black and white. The domains *do* overlap in some cases. But the New Atheists seem compelled to reach for a paper bag to breathe into every time you run into something that you *could* read as literally true, but were intended to be about as empirical as a John Donne sonnet. (Not to say that there aren’t some people who take them literally…)

    Of course, many New Atheists have never even heard of John Donne, or if they had, couldn’t care less. Because for them, absolute empiricism and materialism is where it’s at, and anyone else can kiss Bertrand Russell’s a**. (Again, assuming they even know who Bertrand Russell is, let alone the arguments and counterarguments he was engaged in.)

  146. I don’t really care about a little intellectual inconsistency in my fellow human beings, and indeed, I try not judge. God knows, we all have enough inconsistencies in our heads, and in our lives.

    Here’s where I think Chris misses the boat. While it’s certainly his prerogative to care or not to care about “intellectual inconsistency,” the problem is that this inconsistency is not confined to a few individuals here, a few individuals there, with no appreciable consequences. In fact, if that were the case, religion should receive very little criticism indeed.

    Instead, religion is so widely considered to be fundamental to the human experience that faith in divine, cosmic forces is held up as an ideal. This has consequences – not confined to religious expressions, either – that extend beyond individual believers who might otherwise be perfectly reasonable, rational people. The problem is so prevalent that listing examples would be excessively tedious.

    To be sure, religion isn’t, as Hitchens says, completely poisonous. It does have it’s upsides for both individuals and societies, which is to say it’s liberal application does have some prosocial consequences. But it’s unclear whether this balances the ways in which its dogmas have a negative impact.

    Mooney is quite right, of course, in stating that “we all have enough inconsistencies in our heads, and in our lives.” But our inconsistencies – theistic, atheistic, or otherwise – are worth calling to account when they cease to be victimless.

    As for the NCSE, I think one can interpret the way they address the faith issue in different ways. Their approach seems less promotional than it does conciliatory, with the completely understandable pragmatic objective of neutralizing unjustified complaints from religious fundamentalists that certain scientific theories are inherently atheistic. That said, they do seem to come dangerously close to promotion, and some of the materials they offer originate with those who are unabashedly friendly to religion (e.g., Norman Geisler, Hubert Yockey, and others). I’m not convinced that this is detrimental to their primary objective of fighting creationist attempts to subvert the teaching and understanding of science.

    @ Andrew McCarthy

    Are any of you sufficiently versed in the literature or able to make an original contribution of interest to those who read religious philosophy. Because that’s what will get you in the game to start with and get you influence.

    You seem to be saying that one cannot contribute to the discussion unless one has seriously considered the arguments of theologians. Would that be correct? If so, your point is taken (if this is your point) that a prepared mind is better than one hampered by ignorance. However, this is also arrogant.

    There are few people in the world today who have not been exposed to religious dogma. If you’re saying that they should not voice their opinions if they have not read Plantinga or Swinburne (or whoever), then you’re engaging in a level of intellectual snobbery rare even among the ranks of the published “New Atheists.” And, it dodges the question completely.

    To put it another way, one need not be a theologian to criticize theologians.

    But, as it happens, I have read those individuals. I studied my way (unintentionally) right out of religious belief, and this included reading a lot of apologetics on top of scripture. From the simplistic arguments of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J.P. Holding, to the high philosophy of Plantinga and others, I’ve read more religious numbnuttery than I care to remember.

    On the side, it’s really odd that scientists don’t seem to realize that the protection of the standards of science is, actually, in their hands, not in the hands of people outside of science.

    Please tell me you aren’t seriously arguing that science (and its method) is not under clear and persistent (if polite and political) attack? The protection of the standards of science, more often than not, does not rest with scientists doing science. At least not in the public sphere and in education, which is where it has been under greatest threat. That requires organizations like the NCSE, and (seemingly) an independent judiciary.

    Or, did you miss the events in Dover, PA, Texas, Florida, and Kansas (and more)?

    I’ve engaged Jerry Coyne about theodicy…but he’s clearly even less informed about the literature and ideas of that branch of religious philosophy than I am. Yet he’s the one who felt sufficiently confident to declare that everything it had produced was “ridiculous”, without having read any of it.

    I can’t speak intelligently about what Jerry has read or hasn’t read. However, having considered for some time the arguments purported to address the problem of evil, I have no qualms whatsoever in also dismissing them as “ridiculous.” Nothing I’ve read adequately defends the religious position on this. In fact, the whole argument is hamstrung in the beginning by one very big problem, which the Catholic Encyclopedia states early in its own article on the topic: “The first and most important task of theodicy is to prove the existence of God.”

    But again, are you saying that the problem of evil is only properly addressed by theologians and philosophers versed in the classical argument? If so, again, this is intellectual snobbery and dodges the question.

    If you think that religion doesn’t face constant criticism, both internally and externally and throughout its history, you are shockingly uninformed about a topic you have so many opinions about.

    Criticism to little effect, you mean. Religion is so exalted that the U.S. Congress seemingly can’t resist the temptation to draft & pass resolution after resolution touting its importance. This is a country in which Senators can refuse to vote for HIV testing for pregnant women because it stems from promiscuity, and express that if babies get HIV from their mothers, that’s fine because it’ll teach those HIV moms a lesson. This is a country in which non-believers are “worm dirt” and considered (by some) to be non-citizens.

    I could go on, but as I said earlier to list the examples would be excessively tedious.

    @ Jon

    (Not to say that there aren’t some people who take them literally…)

    Yes, some do. About 25% (or more) of the U.S. electorate, actually. Something on the order of 75+ million people, give or take.

    That a large majority choose to view the same passages as metaphorical only serves to illustrate the absurdity of turning to scripture for meaningful guidance and using it as an excuse to support faith-based policies, among other things.

  147. Mel

    Per your last comment, #145, John Kwok:

    printed in the June 8, 2000 edition, reads as follows:

    We should like to respond to the comments by Robert Baczuk (Forum, May 22), in which he asserts that Mormons are creationists and then faults Brigham Young University for teaching evolution.

    Mormonism emphatically does not fit into the theological mold of modern creationism. The creationists’ concept of a single triune and sovereign deity who spoke all time, energy, matter and space into existence from nothing (i.e. ex nihilo) is flatly rejected in LDS doctrine. While some LDS writers have indeed opted for a relatively short age for the Earth, none has ever accepted creationism’s insistence that the creation periods were six literal 24-hour days. Other prominent Mormons have interpreted the creation periods as embodying millions of years of life and death. Creationism and Mormonism are vastly different philosophies.

    Mormon literature has long taught that God works through natural laws, and that the study of those laws is the study of divine handiwork. To clarify the church’s views on evolution, the First Presidency and a number of apostles formally approved in 1992 a packet of materials for use at BYU. The packet includes First Presidency statements of 1909, 1910, 1925, and the Evolution entry in the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism. This latter statement, formally approved by the current First Presidency, includes data from the presidency’s private files. The upshot of these statements is that “The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how …” Of interest to this latter question is an editorial to priesthood leaders in the April 1910 Improvement Era expanding on the earlier 1909 First Presidency statement. It lists three possibilities for the creation of the original humans’ bodies. Though evolution “in natural processes … through the direction and power of God …” is given as one of the apparently acceptable options, the so-called literal reading of Genesis (breath of life into a body molded form dust) is significantly not included. Rejection of this latter scriptural interpretation offers yet another significant difference from creationism, which insists adamantly on the literal interpretation.

    Mormonism further teaches that humans are responsible for divinely mandated stewardship of the Earth and its organisms. Evolution beautifully synthesizes the masses of demonstrable scientific data as no other concept ever has.

    But more important, it is the only concept that provides management principles for effective stewardship. Clearly it is a science critical to Latter-day Saints.

    WILFORD M. HESS
    Professor of Botany, BYU
    and 19 others
    Provo

    ____________
    As always, Larry speaks out of ignorance because he hasn’t bothered to do any research first. This is also seen in his comment about the Genesis account of creation being logical. From a mythic point of view, sure, but not scientifically by any means given that Genesis contains two different accounts of the creation of man (a case of mythic phylogenetic inertia, as Genesis, like a lot of the Bible, was cobbled together from libraries of different, often contradictory mythic texts.

  148. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Larry is an accomplished practitioner of “double speak”, whom I’ve had the “pleasure” of encountering online for years. He hates to be associated with Fundamentalist Christians who reject stem cell research, global warming, etc. etc. and yet he always manages to demonstrate why he is merely one peculiar variety of them, which, of course, you have just noted.

  149. Mel

    “he is merely one peculiar variety of them, which, of course, you have just noted.”

    Larry is not a Fundamentalist Christian. He is just a disagreeable person who takes what is likely the only joy in his life from being disagreeable with as many people as possible (hence his disregard for civility, research, or consistency beyond simple obsessiveness). This is even more clear when you run into people who have known him in real life.

  150. John Kwok Says (#142),
    Here is what Peter Hess, NCSE Faith Director says,
    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.”

    “Unequivocally” yes? That is just plain wrong. The Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have webpages stating the view that evolution and religion are not compatible. A PEW Forum survey showed that 8 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 22 percent of Mormons, and 24 percent of “evangelical Protestants” do not agree “that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth”:
    http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=392

  151. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Larry is doing a terrific job as a high Orc acting in the service of his master Sauron (the great Xian “savant” William A. Dembski).

    As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it is a duck”. Until Larry can demonstrate otherwise, IMHO he’s just a more intelligent Xian Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drone lurking here.

  152. Sorry, that last statement of #151 was in error — it should have read:

    A PEW Forum survey showed that 8 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 22 percent of Mormons, and 24 percent of “evangelical Protestants” do (not “do not”) agree “that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth.”

  153. Mel

    “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it is a duck”.

    Except when it is really just a sad old man with a mental illness.

  154. - You seem to be saying that one cannot contribute to the discussion unless one has seriously considered the arguments of theologians. Would that be correct? J.C. Samuelson

    You have to deal with what someone says in order to contribute to a discussion of what was said. I’d have thought that was obvious. And if you’re entirely unfamiliar with what they said you shouldn’t make pronouncements about what they said. If by “seriously consider” you mean you’ve got to agree with them, obviously that’s not what I said.

    But your quote of what I said was only advice on getting taken seriously by other people who knew a topic, especially on a high level. I’d have thought that was obvious too.

    – If so, your point is taken (if this is your point) that a prepared mind is better than one hampered by ignorance. However, this is also arrogant. JCS

    Not as arrogant as thinking that what you say out of ignorance is important. Seems Bertrand Russell made that point, though he said that sometimes what ignorant people said could be interesting.

    I’m trying to understand how advising someone that they will get taken seriously if they know what they’re talking about is arrogant.

    — There are few people in the world today who have not been exposed to religious dogma. JCS

    You say that as if there was one and only one kind of “religious dogma”. Well, there isn’t it’s a huge literature with an enormous range of ideas and viewpoints. No one who has given even a cursory glance at the subject area would think they could possibly master more than a small part of the literature. But you’d have to have read even that small part to have been “exposed to” what you could know of religion.

    — I’ve read more religious numbnuttery than I care to remember. JCS

    Well, that would clearly have given you a leg up on Coyne re, theodicy. What you care to remember is your business.

    — ” On the side, it’s really odd that scientists don’t seem to realize that the protection of the standards of science is, actually, in their hands, not in the hands of people outside of science.” A M quoted
    Please tell me you aren’t seriously arguing that science (and its method) is not under clear and persistent (if polite and political) attack? JCS

    I tried to be as clear as possible when I said “the protection of the standards of science”, that is what I say is in the hands of scientists. They do their research and publish their papers, they set the standards of the review of what gets published, they decide what they’ll reject and ridicule. Whatever gets published and accepted as science by scientists is in their hands. I don’t know how much clearer to be on that point. Are you denying that isn’t true?

    — I can’t speak intelligently about what Jerry has read or hasn’t read. However, having considered for some time the arguments purported to address the problem of evil, I have no qualms whatsoever in also dismissing them as “ridiculous.” JCS

    Coyne was the one stupid enough to label it “all” as being ridiculous. You make that kind of universal statement about something you don’t know much about and you’re liable to have someone point it out to you.

    Are you claiming that you can know if something you’ve never read is ridiculous? It reminds me of Charles Krauthammer brushing off modern physics because he couldn’t understand it.

    — ” If you think that religion doesn’t face constant criticism, both internally and externally and throughout its history, you are shockingly uninformed about a topic you have so many opinions about. ” A M
    Criticism to little effect, you mean. Religion is so exalted that the U.S. Congress seemingly can’t resist the temptation to draft & pass resolution after resolution touting its importance. JCS

    I’ve been in legislative hearings when representatives of religious groups were supporting contraceptive funding, funding of needle exchanges and a host of other things, I’ve been in the room when religious spokesmen were supporting my civil rights as a gay man and criticizing religious spokesmen on the other side. That’s the important part of this.

    The new atheists like to pretend that biblical fundamentalists represent all of religion and that all religious people, including their opponents are to blame for their political power. Actually, I think the new atheists are potentially a bigger contribution to motivating religious fundamentalists than their religious opponents on the liberal side.

    You know, it’s interesting, I never in my life got called “Andrew” before going on the blogs. I wonder what that’s about.

  155. John Kwok

    Mel –

    I am more inclined to suppose that Larry is an intellectually-challenged, quite delusional, DI IDiot Borg drone than a mere old man with an acute mental illness.

  156. Mel

    John Kwok-

    To each his own (but I do disagree, though not disagreeably, of course. He is an old man, after all. And he did perjure himself in court in a case he brought to protest a fee he didn’t have to pay. That is kinda insane, wouldn’t you agree? And the ID drone designation doesn’t explain his belief in the staging of the moon landing or that meteors originate in the atmosphere, not to mention his incredibly inane, offensive, and delusional ideas about the holocaust). I think we can agree that he is certainly one of the most unpleasant and nonsensical (if sometimes entertaining) trolls out there. Whichever view of ours is correct, it collapses into the same thing so far as his behavior on the internet goes, doesn’t it?

  157. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    I wonder if Larry is as kooky and as old as Stuart Pivar, who filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against PZ Myers (I regret to say that I had the misfortune to having meet Pivar at a symposium which featured talks by Jerry Coyne and Genie Scott a year ago last spring at Rockefeller University.). I suppose Larry isn’t as wealthy as Pivar, who has donated ancient Greek and Roman antiquities to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Didn’t know about the court case. Do you have a link for it? Otherwise, I think we are in agreement with respect to Larry’s behavior.

  158. Mel

    @John Kwok

    Ed Brayton picked up on it a while back. His post is here:
    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2007/07/fafarman_loses_it_again.php

    W. Kevin Vicklund who gives more details on the case, which he got documents concerning, comments later. I have gathered that Vicklund may know Larry in real life, too.

    Also, if you search Ed’s blog, you will find the case of how Larry started impersonating his brother, Dave (whom he seems to hate for some reason, and indeed Larry’s antipathy toward evolution seems to stem from Dave being an NCSE member) before getting caught. Dave himself also commented on some of Larry’s problems. It is all rather informative. It all goes to another problem Larry has in being taken seriously: he has left too much of a trail of reasons why he should never be taken seriously, but instead pitied for his long fall into almost inhuman crankness.

  159. @ Anthony McCarthy

    You know, it’s interesting, I never in my life got called “Andrew” before going on the blogs. I wonder what that’s about.

    Sorry. Not sure what that’s about either.

    And if you’re entirely unfamiliar with what they said you shouldn’t make pronouncements about what they said.

    Sorry to be pedantic, but that’s not what you said. Being insufficiently “versed in the literature” does not automatically mean one is “entirely unfamiliar” with the arguments in question.

    As an example, I am arguably insufficiently “versed in the literature” on the history and application of homeopathy. However, that does not preclude my estimating the potential effects (if any) based on other relevant standards, and judging whether anyone should use them or not. For another (perhaps more relevant) example, one need not be completely versed in Swinburne’s argument for the coherence of theism to construct a criticism based on a general apprehension of his arguments and the application of sound principles of critical thinking.

    Whether or not homeopaths (or Swinburne) prefer to take such criticisms seriously or not has little to do with whether they should, or with whether those criticisms contribute anything to ongoing dialogues between laypeople or their validity.

    If by “seriously consider” you mean you’ve got to agree with them…

    No. What I was referring to was deeming them worthy of a substantive response. That remark might sound hostile, but actually it’s born of exasperation. In terms of what any given set of theists might believe, all too often it turns out to be a moving target. The constant gerrymandering of theologians and lay believers leads some of them to claim “That’s not my religion you’re criticizing,” when in fact this usually turns out to be little more than a retreat from the huge number of conflicting truth-claims made all the time.

    At least, that’s been my experience.

    I’m trying to understand how advising someone that they will get taken seriously if they know what they’re talking about is arrogant.

    I based this on what appeared to me to be an argument that only those with a background in theology or philosophy should discuss those topics, which you have clarified. Even so, the ongoing conflict is not merely academic due to the consequences already mentioned, and it’s not necessary to be versed in a philosophy to level criticisms at it when one experiences (or witnesses) those consequences at every turn.

    To argue that a lay person who says, “Your theology led 19 men to fly a plane into a building, and that’s wrong” needs to know what “real Islam” teaches would be absurd.

    You say that as if there was one and only one kind of “religious dogma”. Well, there isn’t it’s a huge literature with an enormous range of ideas and viewpoints.

    Though I was speaking in generic terms, I am well aware that theism is not monolithic. However, each variety of theism has its own dogmas, and one need not be versed in all of them to criticize religion in generic terms. Religious beliefs do have some common characteristics, and in some cases, origins.

    You seem to be suggesting that each variety of faith should be addressed piecemeal, one at a time to determine their merit (or lack thereof). So, how should we proceed? Which sect should I start with?

    Maybe this isn’t what you’re suggesting?

    Whatever gets published and accepted as science by scientists is in their hands. I don’t know how much clearer to be on that point. Are you denying that isn’t true?

    I wouldn’t deny it cast that way, no. However, what I would say is that science doesn’t occur in a vacuum (metaphorically speaking), and what is considered sound science by a population can directly impact a society. Defending science in the public sphere is what I was talking about.

    Surely you wouldn’t suggest that scientists simply ignore what the public believes and keep doing what they do.

    Are you claiming that you can know if something you’ve never read is ridiculous?

    Well, I’ve never read a book on Pangu and his cosmic egg, but I can feel pretty damn confident that it’s ridiculous based on what we know about how the universe operates. I’ve never read a book on the Fountain of Youth either, but I would call claims about its alleged existence and powers ridiculous. So yes, I’m claiming yes, you can.

    Granted this relies on knowledge of something other than the described phenomenon, but there’s nothing wrong with applying a critical standard to truth-claims one is not fully versed in.

    I’ve been in legislative hearings when representatives of religious groups were supporting contraceptive funding, funding of needle exchanges and a host of other things, I’ve been in the room when religious spokesmen were supporting my civil rights as a gay man and criticizing religious spokesmen on the other side. That’s the important part of this.

    As I said before, religion – liberally applied – can have prosocial consequences. However, I refuse to give it a pass on this basis alone. If its prosocial consequences outweigh any negative impact, then sure, I’d have no problem with it. But that is not at all clear. Indeed, it’s not clear that it’s their religion that is the impetus for their ethical standards.

    Having said that, your point is well taken. Religion is not confined to fundamentalists. Yet I remain skeptical that religion in general has a redeeming worth that should cause us to refrain from criticism.

  160. Bill C.

    @ J.C.:

    Having said that, your point is well taken. Religion is not confined to fundamentalists. Yet I remain skeptical that religion in general has a redeeming worth that should cause us to refrain from criticism.

    I’m gonna go ahead and agree. Nice. :)

  161. - As an example, I am arguably insufficiently “versed in the literature” on the history and application of homeopathy. However, that does not preclude my estimating the potential effects (if any) based on other relevant standards, and judging whether anyone should use them or not.

    Understanding the effects of repeated dilutions and ability to estimate the average number of moles of “active ingredients” per “dose” is quite a bit different from understanding the huge range of complex ideas and subtle arguments included in theology. However, not knowing how to do that or even what it means would mean your dismissal of homeopathy wouldn’t be worth much scientifically.

    You’ve got to know something about a subject to have in informed opinion about it. I don’t see how anyone can honestly get past that requirement, unless you’re a new atheist writing a screed for the consumption of the credulous faithless.

    — one need not be completely versed in Swinburne’s argument for the coherence of theism to construct a criticism based on a general apprehension of his arguments and the application of sound principles of critical thinking. JCS

    If you want to make a serious critique of a point in anything you’d better know about it or your critique is likely to get critiqued.

    — The constant gerrymandering of theologians and lay believers leads some of them to claim “That’s not my religion you’re criticizing,” when in fact this usually turns out to be little more than a retreat from the huge number of conflicting truth-claims made all the time. JSC

    So you think you can criticize someone for believing something they don’t believe? So I can blame you for Sam Harris believing that it could be justifiable to kill someone for ideas they hold even if they haven’t acted on them? Why would you believe that? Or how about Chris Hitchens support for the invasion of Iraq, How come you wanted invade invade and overthrow one of the few secular countries in the Arab world, without cause, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, etc. and enhancing the old of extremely conservative and oppressive religious regime in Iran? See how that works?

    Not to be pedantic, but I think you’ve misused the word “gerrymandering”.

    — To argue that a lay person who says, “Your theology led 19 men to fly a plane into a building, and that’s wrong” needs to know what “real Islam” teaches would be absurd. JCS

    It would be absurd to hold anyone who didn’t fly a plane into a building on that day or support the action responsible for it. It would be especially absurd to hold people who condemned the action responsible for it, including many religious figures in Islam. It would also be absurd to say, as so many have, after, I believe, Harris, that “no atheists flew planes into buildings on 9/11 as if that meant anything about religion. As I pointed out the night Dr. Tiller was murdered while ushering in his Reformed Lutheran Church to such an absurd man, neither did any Reformed Lutherans or women…..

    You say “real Islam” as if there was only one kind of Islam. Which is an absurd generalization not borne out in fact.

    — Though I was speaking in generic terms, I am well aware that theism is not monolithic. However, each variety of theism has its own dogmas, and one need not be versed in all of them to criticize religion in generic terms. Religious beliefs do have some common characteristics, and in some cases, origins. JSC

    Well, you’d better make sure you don’t expect people who don’t share the beliefs you criticize while generalizing them into your criticism to take it lying down. Which is one of the problems with that kind of unrealistic generalization. See the questions about why you support mass murder and individual murder above for examples.

    — However, what I would say is that science doesn’t occur in a vacuum (metaphorically speaking), and what is considered sound science by a population can directly impact a society. Defending science in the public sphere is what I was talking about. JSC

    Then science had better not make itself or allow itself to be made the enemy of the public it wants to support it. The public isn’t under any obligation to provide subsidies to scientists. If they choose not to allow their money to be appropriated for some subject in science due to the hostility of the spokesmen for that science, then there isn’t any reason for said scientist to expect a hand out. You can read Lawrence Krauss for a relatively mild example of condescending hostility to a very large segment of the population in the the name of science in a thread above this one. And Krauss is one of the more attractive figures in the new atheism. Quite simply, I was especially disappointed in his piece for several reasons, some of them logical disconnects.

    —- As I said before, religion – liberally applied – can have prosocial consequences. However, I refuse to give it a pass on this basis alone. If its prosocial consequences outweigh any negative impact, then sure, I’d have no problem with it. But that is not at all clear. Indeed, it’s not clear that it’s their religion that is the impetus for their ethical standards. JSC

    Are you willing to apply the same standard to science and to atheism? Why shouldn’t they be required to serve the public and to have the ways they don’t taken into account? I’d like science to answer for its many destructive and dangerous results and acts just as much as religion should. And in a lot of countries, atheism has as much to answer for as religion does in others, that is, if you’re going to apply that standard of vicarious responsibility to religious believers.

    As to whether or not someone’s good behavior is the result of their religious beliefs, you can’t know without them telling you and their authority on that topic outweighs any skepticism you or others might have. They can speak for themselves and no one has the right to second guess them.

    Bill C. Do you really think your opinion on the topic is objective enough to be worth anything to a fair person?

  162. Bill C.

    God damn, you’re hostile. And yes.

  163. Mel and John Kwok are trolls who spread malicious gossip about me because they are unable to debate the issues — and they know they can get away with this kind of crap because the blogger is on their side. I can’t even retaliate without having my comments censored.

    Mel Says (#148),
    Mormonism emphatically does not fit into the theological mold of modern creationism.

    I never claimed that it does — I only said that evolution is a “big problem” for Mormons. Evidence for that is the Pew Forum survey results that showed that only 22 percent of Mormon respondents “agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth.” That figure is ahead of the 8 percent figure for Jehovah’s Witnesses but is comparable to the 24 percent figure for “evangelical Protestants.”

    As always, Larry speaks out of ignorance because he hasn’t bothered to do any research first.

    Wrong. I did the research on the Pew Forum survey and I also found that the literature shows that evolution has been controversial in the Mormon church. Anyway, my criticism of the NCSE was not just based on the NCSE’s ignoring Mormons, but was also based on the NCSE ignoring Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    This is also seen in his comment about the Genesis account of creation being logical.

    Well, it is logical in comparison to the gospel — that was part of my point. I said that literal interpretations of both the gospel and the creation story require belief in the supernatural but that literal interpretation of the gospel additionally requires acceptance of the gospel’s illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility.

    Genesis contains two different accounts of the creation of man

    Yes, but because the order of creation is not clearly specified in Genesis 2, the two accounts are not inconsistent.

    As I said, IMO the main cause of fundy rejection and skepticism of evolution is not belief in the inerrancy of the bible but is failure to persuade the fundies that evolution is even plausible on scientific grounds. Compare the fundies’ beliefs on heliocentrism and evolution.

  164. You’ve got to know something about a subject to have in informed opinion about it. I don’t see how anyone can honestly get past that requirement, unless you’re a new atheist writing a screed for the consumption of the credulous faithless.

    Accepted. But at what point does an opinion become valid, in your opinion? Is it when a person reads a book on the subject? Ten books? Receives a doctorate in the subject? Comprehends an article in Weekly World News?

    No one I know of is trying to get around the requirement to have general knowledge of a given subject before offering an opinion. In your earlier posts, you had asked (with implied skepticism) if anyone here is “sufficiently versed in the literature,” and seemed to equate an alleged insufficiency in this area as being “entirely unfamiliar” with a topic. That is, you seemed to be arguing that something more than general knowledge is necessary else no one will (or even should) take you seriously.

    If that is your position, then I would ask, what right does anyone have to offer a critical review of anything they are not experts in? One might wonder if auto makers should stop paying attention to their customers’ complaints. After all, those customers are truly not “sufficiently versed in the literature” of auto making.

    Lest you feel inclined to parse that too literally, I’d like to point out that no matter how subtle and complex an idea might be, an idea is essentially a product. Once that product is offered to the public, and the public becomes familiar with what the idea entails (even if only in a general sense), the public gets to comment on it. No amount of whining that the public just doesn’t understand the subject will prevent criticism – both sound and unsound – from being offered freely.

    If you want to make a serious critique of a point in anything you’d better know about it or your critique is likely to get critiqued.

    When offering any sort of critique on any subject, one can be sure that one’s critique is going to be critiqued regardless of whether one knows about the subject or not. Thick skin is required because people will try to defend their position regardless of how salient your argument may be.

    With respect to the “New Atheist” authors, I will grant Harris does seem to get a little too worked up when someone critiques his arguments.

    So you think you can criticize someone for believing something they don’t believe?

    No. I think it’s reasonable to offer generic criticisms of beliefs whose boundaries are not fixed. Moreover, I think it’s reasonable to offer criticisms of beliefs that foster – directly or indirectly – a continuation of less moderate beliefs.

    You seem to be laboring under the illusion that I’ve never talked to any moderate believers before. In actuality, I once served as a contemporary praise leader at two different churches, both of them of the mainstream, liberal-style Methodist type. And, before leaving faith entirely, I spent some time as a moderate myself. If anything, a moderate apologetic is more convoluted than one offered by a fundamentalist.

    And I disagree that I misused the word ‘gerrymandering.’ I merely co-opted its political meaning to apply to the “deliberate rearrangement of the boundaries” in religious debates.

    It would be absurd to hold anyone who didn’t fly a plane into a building on that day or support the action responsible for it.

    Indeed. “To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy” (Heinlein). I quite agree that a moderate should not be accused of supporting something he/she didn’t. Yet, it’s not quite that simple, is it?

    Should Ernst Haeckel be held at least somewhat culpable for lending scientific credence to the Nazi “Endlösung der Judenfrage?” I would argue that perhaps he should share in that, even if he was not the one pumping gas into gas chambers or passing ammo to members of one or more Einsatzgruppen, and even if all we can reasonably do is criticize his role.

    Now, to be perfectly clear I’m not equating moderately religious people with Nazis, or even racist scientists of the early 20th century. What I’m saying in this context is that if one’s ideas help to perpetuate the kind of thinking that supports fundamentalism, one should expect to receive some criticism for it.

    You say “real Islam” as if there was only one kind of Islam. Which is an absurd generalization not borne out in fact.

    Not at all. What I was referring to is that when someone criticizes Islam as being the impetus for belief in divinely sanctioned martyrdom, someone invariably says, “That’s not my faith. That’s not ‘real Islam.'” But this is nothing more than the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, which is really what I’m getting at when it comes to criticising those who say, “That’s not my religion. They’re not real Christians” in spite of the obvious similarities in both form and function.

    See the questions about why you support mass murder and individual murder above for examples.

    An utterly unconvincing emotional appeal, that.

    Then science had better not make itself or allow itself to be made the enemy of the public it wants to support it.

    In other words, if the public doesn’t believe in the science being done, science should change itself to match public opinion? Is that really what you’re saying?

    You seem to have entirely missed the point! Science does not make itself the enemy. Those steeped in religious teachings about the origins of the universe and of life have declared science the enemy already! Well, certain scientific theories, anyway.

    Are you willing to apply the same standard to science and to atheism? Why shouldn’t they be required to serve the public and to have the ways they don’t taken into account?

    Whatever gives you the idea that I have a double-standard? I have not been defending the “New Atheist” authors for some very good reasons (I think) which I have not outlined here. With respect to science too, I have concerns which I haven’t outlined here. But we weren’t talking about those criticisms. We were talking about religious belief.

    As for whether “they” (I take you to mean scientists) should be “required to serve the public,” I would ask if by that you mean you’d prefer scientists were public servants, subject to the will of the people in terms of what they should study and what their findings should be?

    I’d like science to answer for its many destructive and dangerous results and acts just as much as religion should.

    Fair enough. Just because science can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that science should. Progress for its own sake is dangerous, and science as an enterprise best serves itself and the public by learning from its mistakes.

    And in a lot of countries, atheism has as much to answer for as religion does in others, that is, if you’re going to apply that standard of vicarious responsibility to religious believers.

    Here we get into a dicey area. I have not been talking about history. I am talking about today. I do not hold modern Christians accountable for the Crusades or the Inquisition any more than I hold myself accountable for American slavery. Still, I do not think it’s tenable to argue that atheism was not the basis for Marxists’ ill-conceived attempts to eradicate religion, resulting in great loss of life and destruction of property. Yet I do not hold modern atheists accountable for that either.

    To put it another way, vicarious responsibility (as you put it) does not extend to matters of history, in my opinion. On the other hand, historical trends can be instructive depending on how consistently an idea has caused problems. So, if atheism were the impetus for ongoing violence and strife, as religion has been, I would certainly hold it under a microscope.

    They can speak for themselves and no one has the right to second guess them.

    No? I wonder. You are second guessing the motivations of the “New Atheists,” so is it that unreasonable to question the motives of modern theists? Whether we have the “right” or not is beside the point. It seems to me that we cannot help but to compare and judge. It’s in our nature.

  165. Mel

    Larry, we, like so many others who have had the displeasure of running across you, have tried to debate you on issues. The problem is that 1. you don’t know enough about any issue to debate issues; 2. your “points” and “arguments” are usually laughably inane at best; 3. any time anyone disagrees with you, your typical reaction is to start making juvenile insults; 4. you refuse to read sources (like anything in the literature of evolutionary biology in general or coevolution in particular or your tendency to review books you haven’t read); 5. you are hideously dishonest; 6. if anyone attempts to argue with you in good faith, you quickly show your bad faith; 7. as anyone familiar with your behavior toward Zachary Blount on Carl Zimmer’s blog knows, you will be rude and unpleasant to anyone who tries to address your questions at face value; 8. you have shown absolutely no compunction at quote mining; 9. your reading comprehension is among the lowest I have ever encountered – someone could really and truly write that the sky is blue and you will then hound them for having written that the sky was red (and example is in your reaction to what I posted above regarding Mormonism and evolution. You didn’t read the post carefully, did you? The part you quoted back is from a letter signed by 19 Mormon professors at BYU describing how Mormonism is not in conflict with evolution – something that is certainly true, for the LDS church does not have an official position, and has shown no problem with BYU teaching evolutionary biology. To say that portions of the adherents of a given religion have a problem with a finding of science is not the same as saying that the hierarchy of a religion or the religion itself is in conflict with that finding. That is logic even a child would understand, though it, as usual, appears above you). Finally, Larry, you are sadly delusional and quite ill. It comes through more and more in what you post. You need help. It is still possible to have a decent life. Take that chance, Larry, and you will be able to reconnect with family and friends again, and be something other than a ridiculed crank on the internet. The choice is yours.

  166. Mel at #166 —
    Once again, your scoffing shows your frustration at your inability to counter my arguments.

    The part you quoted back is from a letter signed by 19 Mormon professors at BYU describing how Mormonism is not in conflict with evolution

    WHAT? I did not quote that letter.

    . . . for the LDS church does not have an official position . . .

    I never said that the LDS church has an official position — I only said that the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses posted webpages stating the view that evolution and religion are incompatible.

    and has shown no problem with BYU teaching evolutionary biology.

    You have not shown that BYU has no problem teaching evolutionary biology — you only showed a letter signed by some BYU professors.

    To say that portions of the adherents of a given religion have a problem with a finding of science is not the same as saying that the hierarchy of a religion or the religion itself is in conflict with that finding.

    I never said that the two are the same. But it is certainly significant that in the PEW Forum survey only 22 percent of Mormon respondents “agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth,” regardless of the official position of the Mormon church.

    You need help.

    You are the one who needs help.

  167. Mel

    Larry, look at your life. At what it has become. Think of how it used to be. Are you really happy now? You used to have a job. You used to have friends. You used to no offend everyone with whom you came in contact. You used to not be so angry all the time. You can have a good friendship with Dave again. Get help. Things can change before it is too late.

    Oh, and thank you for having a reply that illustrates perfectly the reasons I gave for why you shouldn’t be taken seriously on these boards.

  168. Mel, your personal attacks and gossip about my private affairs violate every principle of decency and civility. I would be surprised to see Chris Mooney allow such comments had I not seen so many other Darwinist bloggers allow such comments from Darwinist commenters.

  169. Mel

    Larry, what do you know of decency? Anyone who has looked at your blog can easily see that you do not.

  170. Mel

    Or do you consider how you have repeatedly and vilely slandered Judge Jones, Eugenie Scott, Ed Brayton, Chris Comer, and so many others decent? What is decent about calling people “dunghill” for merely trying to present a rational argument? I am just trying to get you to realize that you could get treatment that would allow you to have a normal life again. I think there might just be a good person still in you somewhere who could actually contribute to discussions and society.

  171. Or do you consider how you have repeatedly and vilely slandered Judge Jones, Eugenie Scott, Ed Brayton, Chris Comer, and so many others decent?

    I have not gossiped about these people’s private affairs, e.g., their employment status, financial situations, their relatives, how they live, how many friends they have, how happy they are with their lives, etc.. My criticisms of these people are specific and substantiated, e.g., in the case of Judge Jones, I have pointed out that: (1) he said that his Dover decision was based on his notion that the Founders based the establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not “true” religions; and (2) he has charged that critics of his Dover decision lack respect for “the rule of law” and “judicial independence.” I have not made such broad, vague and absurd criticisms of these people as you have made of me, e.g., “you don’t know enough about any issue to debate issues”; “your ‘points’ and ‘arguments’ are usually laughably inane at best”; and “your reading comprehension is among the lowest I have ever encountered.”

    What is decent about calling people “dunghill” for merely trying to present a rational argument?

    I call people “dunghill” for presenting frivolous arguments, not for presenting rational arguments.

  172. John Kwok

    Larry –

    I call myself a Conservative Republican with strong Libertarian leanings and remain delighted with both the content and tone of fellow Republican Judge John Jones’s historic Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial ruling. I wouldn’t be surprised if your brother would concur with my positive assessment. Maybe its time to realize the error of your ways and recant and seek the psychological help which Mel believes – and I agree with him completely – you are in dire need of.

  173. Mel

    Larry, it is rather clear you haven’t read the content of your own blog. Content you have written. All of which contradicts what you have just written (anyone interested can go to Larry’s blog and see the evidence, which is more than clear to anyone but him). You need help, and it is clear you are neither well nor happy. You do have it in you to be a good, well person again. Dave, for one, will thank you for finally taking the necessary steps.

  174. It doesn’t matter how many facts and logical arguments are thrown at you Darwinists — you will never be satisfied and you will always find some reason to reject and scoff. When I point out that only 22 percent of Mormon respondents to a survey agreed that evolution is the best explanation for human origins, you say that survey result doesn’t count because the Mormon church does not have an official position on evolution . Go ahead and scoff, Darwinists, if it makes you feel good, but you are making a very bad impression on reasonable people.

  175. Mel

    Thank you, Larry, for again proving my points about you. Seek help, please.

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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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