Eugenie Scott Powerfully Makes the Case for Science-Religion Compatibility

By Chris Mooney | July 10, 2009 7:02 am

Her view is pretty much exactly the same as ours. And I am still mystified as to how this can be so controversial–and still wholly convinced that it is the commonsense approach that will ultimately win out in the end:

Comments (200)

  1. The horse is dead, why keep beating?

  2. Jeff

    If common sense were to win out in such an important area of society, the far-reaching effects could be revolutionary.

  3. Matti K.

    Common sense has told humanity that the earth is flat and that gravity accelerates heavier objects faster than lighter objects. For some reason or another that approach did not win.

  4. Religion without fact claims is essentially a deistic, nebulous, amorphous kind of thing that no one is actually arguing against… other than to point out it is essentially unnecessary.

    I don’t think it is impertinent to ask, though, on what basis a person believes supernatural explanations, and objecting to circular reasoning. In general I like Eugenie Scott, but her empirical explanation of the beginning could just as easily be used to justify the existence of the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance as the compatibility of science and religion.

  5. Shirakawasuna

    Someone really wants attention…. cynical publicity ploy, anyone?

  6. Soil Creep

    Of course there is no controversy if you take this empirical/rational approach. But the paradox embraces the kind of science/religious relativism your advocating is that its a one-way street. The scientist – religious or atheist – is able to see a clear delineation between objective fact and religious fancy; and is able to compartmentalize accordingly.

    But from the other side: the dogmatic, religious advocate sees no such sharp distinction nor do they have any motivation to draw one. They see their religious perspective as superior to both objective facts and other religions – i.e. religious dogma trumps objective facts.

    Reversing this is not simply a matter of better communication or teaching better science. Moving from a religious dogmatic to a rational/empirical understanding of reality means altering a person’s entire worldview.

  7. Soil Creep

    bad edit on my part: “the paradox embraces” should have been rewritten to “the problem with” -

  8. J. J. Ramsey

    Soil Creep: “Moving from a religious dogmatic to a rational/empirical understanding of reality means altering a person’s entire worldview.”

    But it does not entail altering this worldview into a non-theistic one altogether.

  9. Genie is wrong. Her empirical argument is fallacious and meaningless: you could also argue that there are serial killers who are Christian, therefore Christianity and repeated, planned murder are compatible.

    Also her argument that god is entirely outside the bounds of science is only nominally true. To be usefully true, you’d have to confine your belief in a god to one who never affects the material universe. Which would be fine, but the only people who believe in that god are called deists.

  10. Ian

    @8, No you cannot argue that Christianity and repeated planned murders are compatible – not when there is a commandment to ‘not kill’.

    What you can say is that there is nothing in the Bible that is anti-science. Indeed there is plenty that supports the exploration of the natural world, because to pursue such research is to glipse something of His creation, and therefore Him.

    Besides, on the subject of science and christianity, aren’t you forgetting what Wisdom 11:21 did for the progress of science in the Middle Ages?

  11. It occurs to me that whether or not science and religion are compatible is beside the point, given the fractured nature of American society at the moment. It is, however, probably more useful for scientists to pretend, for the sake of public discourse, that they are.

    Eventually, however, it will become necessary to call a spade a spade. PZ is right. The only form of “religion” that is compatible with the real world is deism.

  12. NewEnglandBob

    Eugenie Scott’s statement about so-called non-fact statements is absurd. This is some of the worse parts of Accommodation – accepting this as non-challenging.

  13. Skeptic

    So because science cannot say anything about claims made by religion which religion then claims are only “disguised” as non falsifiable by science, does that mean anything goes? Bravo. Let me give an example:

    I see a pink unicorn in my bedroom.

    Where is it?

    Oh, it’s only visible to me (and maybe a couple of million others)

    But all the methods of science validated by many independent individuals say it’s not there. Plus its existence does not seem to be consistent with a lot of well-established principles of science (not to mention common sense)

    Oh, that’s because it’s really there, but god created it in such a way that it is impossible for scientific methods to actually verify its existence. God simply created the *illusion* that it is falsifiable. Therefore it only *appears* to be false by scientific methods.

    But why would God play such a convoluted game? Wouldn’t it be simply easier to provide proof of his (and the unicorn’s) existence so that everyone including scientists would believe in Him?

    Well, you know, who can know God’s mind?!

    Ergo religion wins. Score!

  14. Brian English

    Fathers who murder their brothers and love their offspring prove that murder and parentage are compatible.

    That is what you keep saying, and acting like it’s a good thing. You are just plain dishonest. You keep pretending that just because people can hold contradictory thoughts, those thoughts are no longer contradictory and are worth supporting. There’s a book to be advertised I suppose. Obviously both of you feel that you are smarter than those who know, for example, Chris Mooney smugly tried to sell philosophical vs methodoligical naturalism to a philosopher like Russell Blackford and still hasn’t admitted that he was way out of his depth. Pathetic.

  15. Jon

    To be usefully true, you’d have to confine your belief in a god to one who never affects the material universe. Which would be fine, but the only people who believe in that god are called deists.

    I’m going to admit I’m slightly out of my depth here. But doesn’t deism also assume something about nature, that it’s like a predictable mechanism? What if there’s a part of nature that is *not* predictable (say, the living part)?

    I would say one thing that tends to divide the New Atheists and “the religious” philosophically speaking (“the religious” is too much of a generalizing term, but we’ll use it anyway, because PZ does), is their view of what is going on with the living part. You can see this in the differences between someone like Daniel Dennett and someone like, say, Francisco Varela. One sees consciousness as a kind of spectacular result of some kind of mechanism, like a watch or a computer, the other sees something very different.

    Again, just an observation by someone who is talking above his pay grade (not a biologist, psychologist, professional philosopher, etc.)

  16. Gadfly

    Religious does NOT equal anti-science. Science does NOT equal anti-religion. Despite what the anti-religious choose to believe 99% of religious people understand the world is more than 6000 years old (6012, I believe). And there are, obviously, scientists who are also believers. The issue is, in a nutshell: is a small sub-set of one community attempting to impose their beliefs on everyone else? When evangelicals attempt to take over school boards — that’s a problem, yes. When anti-religious get on public websites and insult EVERY believer for being stupid and not believing as they do that is, in principal if not in impact, just as wrong. And for people who claim to be ruled by intellect and reason it seems strange that you all don’t get that. I was raised as an atheist in an atheist household. I found faith in my forties. It works for me. It makes me at peace with myself and the world. It fills a space for me. The fact that so many of you seem to resent that is a problem with you, not me.

  17. Barry

    Her “empirical” evidence for the compatibility of science and religion is the existence of religious scientists? Coyne has already addressed that – and it’s a rather silly argument as he pointed out.

  18. Soil Creep

    Ramsey: “But it does not entail altering this worldview into a non-theistic one altogether?”

    I guess that point is debatable; but you can certainly make that argument. My point is that rational thinking requires a fundamental shift and not just any shift; from one worldview to another – its a shift away from religious/magical thinking to rational/scientific thinking. In my opinion that shift has almost nothing to do with the existence of god.

  19. Barry

    Stephen Jay Gould once made the statement (I’m not going to look up his exact words, but the essence was): if science and religion are not compatible then half of my colleagues are either deluded, or lying. Well, that says it all doesn’t it?

  20. Jon

    Another thing I notice is that Eugene Scott is saying something something about a god intervening in something empirical. What about when people try to just make sense of nature within their religious traditions? They’re not trying to claim a god is changing some hard phenomenon, they’re just trying to make sense of something they see empirically– some sort of teleology, meaning (which I think, by it’s very nature, is not empirical)?

    Then they get made fun of by the New Atheists, by people who actually take pride in not having any understanding of their traditions. “Philistinism” is the old word for this.

    As I’ve said before, one thing that marks liberalism with regard to religion in this country is a respect for individual conscience that goes way back. I think this respect comes from a recognition of how difficult these questions are, and that there are different ways to resolve them. People shouldn’t be ridiculed, for instance, just because they follow the religion they were born into, for instance. This is a personal choice to make. And people don’t appreciate a Dawkins, or Dennett, or a PZ Myers coming in feeling entitled to poke into their matters of conscience just because they have a science PHD.

  21. Scote

    10. Ian Says:
    July 10th, 2009 at 8:21 am

    “What you can say is that there is nothing in the Bible that is anti-science. Indeed there is plenty that supports the exploration of the natural world, because to pursue such research is to glipse something of His creation, and therefore Him. “

    How strange. The bible I read says the universe was created in six days, that all the animals were created whole, that the earth stood still for a day, that dead people can rise from their graves, that earth was flooded to the mountain tops about 4,000 years ago, that in the last 4,000 years the entire population of the earth descended from 8 people, that kangaroos and such can somehow travel from Australia to the Middle East and back again on their own, that donkeys can talk, etc. etc. Yup, nothing anti-science in the bible. Nothing at all…

    Stephen J. Gould tried the accommodationist approach with NOMA. How’d that work out?

    Religion and science are not compatible ways of knowing. Science is based on sound evidence, testing and refinement of knowledge. Relgion is based on bald assertions. If religion never impinged on science you could get away with claiming NOMA, but the US has the 2nd lowest rate of acceptance of evolution in the Western World, because of **Religion**, so it is, I think, empirically false to claim that accommodationism is a productive approach.

  22. Jon

    By “poking into” I mean shaming and disrespecting what they chose to do by conscience. This kind of thing tends to produce a backlash.

  23. Ian

    @20, Yes the Bible says these things, but then consider how the Bible was written, it’s culture, the oral tradition, and so on.

  24. Matt Penfold

    As I’ve said before, one thing that marks liberalism with regard to religion in this country is a respect for individual conscience that goes way back. I think this respect comes from a recognition of how difficult these questions are, and that there are different ways to resolve them. People shouldn’t be ridiculed, for instance, just because they follow the religion they were born into, for instance. This is a personal choice to make. And people don’t appreciate a Dawkins, or Dennett, or a PZ Myers coming in feeling entitled to poke into their matters of conscience just because they have a science PHD.

    Strangely all three have stated that were religion simply a personal matter they would not be as outspoken about it as they are.

    However all too often people do not keep their religion to themselves. They decide that they will insist on having their creation stories taught as science, or insist women are not allowed to have abortions , that gays should be denied human rights that are granted to straight people or that people should be required to suffer pain and distress during a terminal illness rather than allowing people the dignity of being allowed to choose the time of their dying.

    So please, if you want to make this argument do so only if you also insist the religious stop telling the rest of us we have to live by their morality.

  25. Ian

    @20, Okay maybe I was being unfair. Let’s put it another way. Are the ‘Just So’ stories by Rudyard Kipling unscientific? Yes, if you think they are meant as scientific textbooks. No, if you realise that they are just stories.

    Likewise with the Bible. Yes, if you think the Bible was meant to impart scientific truths. No, if you understand where the Bible came from in the first place, and the culture it was written in, and so. Of course the answer is no, because there is nothing in the entirety of Christian faith that states the Bible is anything but infallible in matters of faith and morals.

    As for miracles … well then, that’s where faith comes I doesn’t it? Have you ever witnessed someone arising from the dead? If No, then that doesn’t mean it cannot happen. If yes, then you have your answer.

  26. Matt @24: An anecdotal moment: I’ve known of atheists who have argued against abortion, and against euthanasia. So obviously they have devised some sort of moral code which tells them that these things are bad. Are they allowed to vote their conscience?

    Now feel free to correct me if I my generalization is wrong, but it seems as if what is being said here is that “Listen Christian folks, if you stop voting on political issues in which it may be perceived that you may be using your moral code, we’ll stop (sort of) mocking you and attacking you.”

  27. Matt Penfold

    An anecdotal moment: I’ve known of atheists who have argued against abortion, and against euthanasia. So obviously they have devised some sort of moral code which tells them that these things are bad. Are they allowed to vote their conscience?

    Now feel free to correct me if I my generalization is wrong, but it seems as if what is being said here is that “Listen Christian folks, if you stop voting on political issues in which it may be perceived that you may be using your moral code, we’ll stop (sort of) mocking you and attacking you.”

    There are indeed arguments to be made against abortion and euthanasia from a secular perspective. Those are not the arguments religious groups tend to use. When they are not abusing science to make their point, they essentially say it is because their god will not like it.

    Some of us are getting a bit annoyed at being told we have to respect such arguments rather than heap on the ridicule they deserve.

    If someone opposes abortion because of religious dogma, then sorry, that person is deserving of ridicule.

    If you want to argue for or against public policy then do not bring your religious arguments along with you. Bring well argued, rational arguments that have evidence to support them. Anything less is holding the rest of us in contempt.

  28. Jon

    A lot of these notions about nature as mechanism go back to Newton. And criticism of that notion goes back to S. T. Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle (who criticized him on similar grounds as Coleridge and blamed his mentality for industrialism)…

  29. Jon

    Here’s Charles Taylor, interviewed by the EVIL!!1!!1! (sez PZ) John Templeton Foundation:

    JTF: Some scientists criticize religion for not properly understanding science’s incredible ability to explain the natural world.

    CT: The Christian tradition got totally pulled off-track in the 17th century where a very simple scientific influenced notion–through Newton–arrived at design; thinking of the universe like a clock.

    JTF: They thought if we just start to peel off the hands and then we’ll get to the inner cogs and we have just start to really understand the universe as a mechanism.

    CT: They saw it as this fantastic design. But they lost the sense of a really great mystery; the sense that there is maybe something here we can’t understand. And a great deal of Christian apologetic since then has been based on this incredible oversimplification of our universe. The result has been, in a certain sense, a kind of not very fruitful spirituality.

    JTF: The battle over the mystery that you speak of is one that many scientists are keen to engage in. Will science come up against a fundamental limit?

    CT: I don’t know. It’s something you’d have to guess at. We know that Newton had oversimplifying ideas. Although the mystery has been pushed further out, it’s not just the mystery of how it all began that is important here, but there’s also of course the absolutely untouched yet mystery of how we–intelligent beings–arose out of all of this. Today, the equivalent of the Newtonian mind are people in genetics. They say, ‘we’ve got the human genome.’ But it’s laughable, they are no closer to understanding how it really works. People talk about a gene for this, a gene for that. But then you’ve got to press them, how does it really work? They say, ‘something switches it off, and then something switches it on.’ What’s missing here is a holistic account of how it all works. My hunch is that it’s very, very unlikely that we will have a complete resolution on how this extraordinary rise of species came about in terms that are consonant with current molecular biology.

    JTF: As a philosopher, what do you think about the role of neuroscience in pushing back this mystery?

    CT: I’m not a great expert, but I am a great consumer of it. The people that are really cutting-edge are making a lot of sense, but they are more backing me up than anything else… what we really need is a kind of field theory and nobody really knows what that could be.

  30. benjdm

    How many people hold to a religion that makes no fact-based claims?

  31. Soil Creep

    Quick thought. For a great many people outside this new Atheist discussion, “religion” means nothing more than simply going to a church or synagogue, paying lip-service religious holidays, weddings, funerals, etc. I know several de facto atheists who are “religious” in this sense. I bet the same holds for any number of politicians and scientists as well who take time from their jobs to do “religion”.

    So is science and religion compatible? Sure – just make sure you continue to publish and don’t forget your grant deadlines.

  32. @Jon #20

    The questions might be difficult, but the thing is, at the centre of the New Atheists the simple question of “Why?”. It is not considered strident or rude or militaristic for a person to ask, “Why did you vote for that political candidate?” or “Why is that team your favourite sports team?” or any other of a myriad of questions that people can sometimes get very worked up and emotional about. To follow the question with a well-reasoned set of arguments for why that person might be mistaken in their position is likewise perfectly acceptable. Why is it any different for religious questions? A person like Dawkins, Dennett, or PZ Myers does not butt in “just because they have a Ph.D.”, but because they have thought about these questions and do not see an actively religious mindset as a tenable philosophical outlook.

    @Ian #10

    As I said before, there is such a thing as cognitive dissonance. To selectively say that the Bible is only infallible in faith and morals but not in literal fact… how do you make the distinction? Do you refrain from eating pork and shellfish and all the other commandments that fall under the ‘faith and morals’ side of the Bible? The thing is, people often function perfectly will with contradictory ideas or motivations in their heads, but that does not mean that the things themselves are compatible. Thus, the “empirical evidence” that religious faith and science are compatible holds no more weight than the example PZ Myers gave. Being of a certain religious faith is “emprically” compatible with virtually anything, because you can always find someone who is of a certain religious faith who does something against the tenants of that faith.

  33. Sharkey

    @29: From your quoted article:

    “there’s also of course the absolutely untouched yet mystery”
    “My hunch is”
    “nobody really knows”

    Charles Taylor (and the Templeton Foundation) has an interest in propagating the idea that these hard scientific questions are vague, unknowable and lasting gaps in our knowledge, where fuzzy-heading thinking can snuggle into and stay warm forever.

    All the while, real research in the fields of neurology, evo-devo, abiogenesis and artificial intelligence bring us closer to actual understanding, with no mention of “field theory”, “holistic accounts” nor any other wishy-washy term used to describe a quasi-spiritual “I-wish-I-was-somebody-special” belief.

  34. John Kwok

    Genie Scott isn’t the only atheist who advocates a “common sense” approach. Although his rhetoric clearly sets him alongside fellow militant atheists PZ Myers (a mediocre evolutionary developmental biologist – by his own personal admission to me), Richard Dawkins (once a great evolutionary biologist, now merely a superb science popularizer) and Jerry Coyne (our foremost authority on speciation who should be spending more time IMHO on that), physicist Lawrence Krauss has said that he frequently lectures at Fundamentalist Protestant Christian colleges and similar institutions. Krauss’s colleague, physicist Lisa Randall – whom I presume is an atheist too – has found time from her own demanding schedule as a prominent researcher in high energy particle physics and string theory (I am told that at one point she was the most cited physicist from approximately 2000 – 2006) to write against evolution denialists, and to offer common sense advice in an online discussion thread prompted by Jerry Coyne’s question on whether science and religion can be compatible. Her advice included this :

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

    You can read the rest of her comments, as well as Coyne’s essay proposing the very question she tried answering here:

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

  35. John Kwok

    Myers’s comment about the nature of GOD (@ 9) reveals him for being the religious bigot that he is. I believe that many Buddhists – including most notably of course, the Dalai Lama – and even some Muslims – most likely Sufis as well as highly educated, scientifically literate Sunni and Shi’a – Hindus, Jews and Christians would accept a version of GOD that is closer to a Deistic view.

    Sadly, I think it is important that we remind PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne that, under the United States Bill of Rights, the First Amendment fosters religious tolerance by granting the freedom to worship as one wishes, provided that it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others. By arguing as forcefully as they have on behalf of their Militant Atheism, I believe Myers and Coyne are merely demonstrating why eminent evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has referred to their “faith” as a “stealth religion”.

  36. bob

    Chris and Sheril, how’s that substantial response to PZ coming? Thanks for the video of someone else talking in the meantime, though.

  37. MartyM

    @25 “No, if you understand where the Bible came from in the first place, and the culture it was written in, and so.”

    Ian, the problem is that you don’t get this information from the Bible. Most evangelicals don’t research this stuff. They attend church or bible study and accept what get’s taught. What doesn’t get taught is the historical content of the messages, how we got the bible, who wrote what parts of it and when, what happened to the original manuscripts, who changed it, who decided which manuscripts to leave in and which ones to leave out. Basically, most evangelical churches are there to bring people into the fold, not to give a history lesson, especially one that may certainly put doubts into sheep’s heads. I’ve run across a few who have done more research than most, but the problem then becomes they approach it from a devotional point of view, not an objective historical one.

  38. Ben Nelson

    Barry @19, yes, I think most new atheists would agree that there is delusion involved at some level, even among professionals. Unfortunately, uncovering that delusion would require philosophical effort and conversation, and most do not bother with that. Mooney included.

  39. Jon

    The questions might be difficult, but the thing is, at the centre of the New Atheists the simple question of “Why?”

    I think a lot of this comes down to the possibility of “intelligibilities separate from the natural world,” which Plato believed in, and Augustine did following Plato. (The book I linked to *Aristotle’s Children is fantastic, by the way.)

  40. Rieux

    Ian @ 10:

    No you cannot argue that Christianity and repeated planned murders are compatible – not when there is a commandment to ‘not kill’.

    What you can say is that there is nothing in the Bible that is anti-science.

    Scote @ 21:

    How strange. The bible I read says the universe was created in six days, that all the animals were created whole, that the earth stood still for a day, that dead people can rise from their graves, that earth was flooded to the mountain tops about 4,000 years ago, that in the last 4,000 years the entire population of the earth descended from 8 people, that kangaroos and such can somehow travel from Australia to the Middle East and back again on their own, that donkeys can talk, etc. etc. Yup, nothing anti-science in the bible. Nothing at all…

    Ian @ 23:

    Yes the Bible says these things, but then consider how the Bible was written, it’s culture, the oral tradition, and so on.

    Hilarious! Presented with the demonstrable fact that Christianity and murder are, as a matter of empirical fact, compatible,* Ian declares that a single four-word commandment in a several-thousand-year-old book obliterates any possibility of such compatibility. But then, presented with a laundry list of examples from the same book that demonstrate severe conflicts between that same book and actual scientific fact, Ian pulls a complete 180 and demands attention to “how the Bible was written, it’s [sic] culture, the oral tradition, and so on.” My heavens–where was that skeptical eye one comment earlier, when the claim was that the mere presence of the words “Thou shalt not kill” made it impossible for a Christian to murder? (As if the remainder of the Bible, not to mention “how [it] was written, [its] culture, the oral tradition, and so on,” don’t call into severe question how ironclad that commandment is!)

    It would be difficult to find a more blatant exposition of the mindless religious-privilege double standard that religion–and especially Christianity–benefit from. How amusing.

    *: Hey, Ian–I suggest you rewind the video above to where Scott talks about “empirical question”s. Christians. Murder. “Empirical question.” Listen to Scott and see if you start to understand her point.

  41. “And I am still mystified as to how this can be so controversial–and still wholly convinced that it is the commonsense approach that will ultimately win out in the end”

    You are still mystified because you simply ignore all objections and questions. That of course makes it easy to remain mystified – but it’s nothing to boast of.

  42. giotto

    “Empirically-based logic-derived science and faith are entirely different methods for trying to approach truth. You can derive a contradiction only if your rules are logic. If you believe in revelatory truth you’ve abandoned the rules. There is no contradiction to be had.” –Lisa Randall, quoted by Kwok@33

    A decent quote, once you get past the gibberish of the first sentence (faith is a method to approach truth??? No; believing is not the same as knowing).

    But the rest of the quote is solid. She says there is no contradiction between “religion” and science if you are willing to abandon logic. There seems little else to say on the topic.

  43. John Kwok

    @ 43 –

    Randall’s comment was “restated” with more brevity and eloquence by Vatican Observatory astronomer and planetary scientist Guy Consolmagno (who is also a Jesuit brother), who observed that science is understanding in search of truth, while religion is truth in search of understanding. Moreover, he, along with Ken Miller, both affirmed that as religiously devout scientists, they do not think of religious considerations while working as scientists (This was at the now notorious World Science Festival “Science Faith Religion” panel discussion held early last month, here in New York City, which was boycotted by Jerry Coyne in a rather sad and boorish manner.).

  44. Matt Penfold

    Is there an article or video of Eugenie Scott explaining how claims for a virgin birth, or resurrection are compatible with science ?

    Only a fair number of Christian believe such things actually happened, and are literally true. If science and religion are compatible then such claims surely must also be compatible, and yet what we know from science tells us mammals do not go in for parthenogenesis and people do not arise from the dead.

    Maybe we can leave the more specific claims of the Catholics that during communion the bread and wine really do become the body and blood of Christ. That is an empirical claim surely ? And one it is not that hard to test.

  45. Matt Penfold @44: Maybe we can leave the more specific claims of the Catholics that during communion the bread and wine really do become the body and blood of Christ. That is an empirical claim surely ? And one it is not that hard to test.

    Matt, the Catholic Church has always taken great pain to explain that the accidental properties (that which can be measured) of the eucharist remain unchanged. That is why it is called “transubstantiation” and not “transaccidentalism”. The Catholic Church has always seen this as a theological question. I have no idea why atheists wish to claim otherwise.

  46. Screechy Monkey

    “the commonsense approach that will ultimately win out in the end”

    Win out? It’s the same approach that has been used for the last hundred years or so! Stop acting like the Big Meany New Militant Atheists are somehow the reason for your failure, when you’ve been failing long before the “New” atheists came along.

  47. Matt Penfold

    Matt, the Catholic Church has always taken great pain to explain that the accidental properties (that which can be measured) of the eucharist remain unchanged. That is why it is called “transubstantiation” and not “transaccidentalism”. The Catholic Church has always seen this as a theological question. I have no idea why atheists wish to claim otherwise.

    In otherwords they claim both is and is not the body and blood of Christ.

    Which is just as silly an idea as thinking it actually is the body and blood of Christ.

    Can you tell me just why we are expected to respect such nonsense ?

  48. Matt Penfold

    And just what properties are there that cannot be measured ?

    It does not mean anything to say there are properties than cannot be measured. If they cannot be measured Catholics cannot know that any change happens during the communion service. They destroy their own claim.

  49. John Kwok

    @ TomJoe –

    Genie Scott is an atheist, so she’d never conceive of acting favorably upon Penfold’s request.

    @ Screechy Monkey –

    Like her high school and college classmate, physicist Brian Greene, Professor Randall is both an excellent scientist and a superb popularizer of science. She has also weighed in more than once in the ongoing battle against evolution denialsts, and each time, I have found her terse, but still eloquent, remarks far more meaningful than much of the rhetorical nonsense I have ssen from such prominent Militant Atheists as Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and especially, PZ Myers.

  50. FredW

    Sorry, but Dr. Scott is off the mark here. She says that science can reject “fact claims” made by the faithful, such as the great flood: this “can’t happen given what we know about modern geology.” Well, a virgin birth or a resurrection “can’t happen given what we know about modern biology.”

    She doesn’t seem to realize — or wants to ignore –that nearly every religion makes fact claims that don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

  51. giotto

    @44: Maybe we can leave the more specific claims of the Catholics that during communion the bread and wine really do become the body and blood of Christ. That is an empirical claim surely ? And one it is not that hard to test.

    The test would be the easy part; the hard part would be dealing with the torrent of invective, hate, and death threats that Bill Donahue would unleash on you after you’ve defiled the cracker.

    But I’m amused by the idea of subjecting the Body of Christ to a DNA test. . . I am not sold on his parentage claims, and I’d like to know for certain which god is his daddy. Given the Roman occupation of Palestine at the time, I’ve always suspected it was actually Mithras.

  52. Penfold @47: In otherwords they claim both is and is not the body and blood of Christ.

    From a philosophical/theological aspect, the substance has changed. There is a lot of Aristotelian thought on the whole subject, of accidents and substance.

    Which is just as silly an idea as thinking it actually is the body and blood of Christ.

    Can you tell me just why we are expected to respect such nonsense ?

    I have never said that you are expected to respect such nonsense. I just don’t see how it concerns you in the slightest. You also probably don’t know the theology, so why even bother trying to address it without knowing what your opponent really thinks on the matter?

    Matt Penfold @48: It does not mean anything to say there are properties than cannot be measured. If they cannot be measured Catholics cannot know that any change happens during the communion service. They destroy their own claim.

    Eh? Since there was no empirical claim being made, nothing has been destroyed. It’s a matter of faith. It always has been, it always will be.

  53. mike

    Science and religion are compatible like medicine and homeopathy are trying to cure the same ills.

  54. @John Kwok #35
    I’m not sure how PZ Myers demonstrated himself to be a religious bigot there… as he pointed out, he has no problem with a person be a deist. I have never actually met anyone with a serious problem with deism, because it is for all practical purposes no different than any non-religious philosophical mindset (once a god becomes a non-interacting, non-measurable entity, it basically ceases to have relevance to this life, does it not?).

    Also, @John Kwok #49
    What does Lisa Randall (or who she went to school with) have to do with Screech Monkey’s comment? He was directly quoting Chris Mooney from the actual content of the post…

  55. Sorry about my grammar… I just noticed as I hit submit. Should read:
    “.he has no problem with a person being a deist.”

    Also, I should note that I meant not having met any rational, secular person who has a problem with deism. I have met religious people who have problems with deism because it is not the proper set of religious beliefs in their mind.

  56. Sharkey

    @52: “Eh? Since there was no empirical claim being made, nothing has been destroyed. It’s a matter of faith. It always has been, it always will be.”

    Technically, it’s a matter of philosophy; transubstantiation implies adhering to Substance Theory. Claiming transubstantiation occurs is at least an arguable philosophical claim, and possibly a scientific one: e.g., does the concept of “substance” have an isomorphism with reality?

    Just putting it on “faith” willfully ignores the debate.

  57. Matt Penfold

    From a philosophical/theological aspect, the substance has changed. There is a lot of Aristotelian thought on the whole subject, of accidents and substance.

    This is gibberish.

    I have never said that you are expected to respect such nonsense. I just don’t see how it concerns you in the slightest. You also probably don’t know the theology, so why even bother trying to address it without knowing what your opponent really thinks on the matter?

    Fair enough, I am not aware that you personally have told me atheists like me are expected to respect this stuff. However others, including Mooney and Kirshenbaum, so maybe they can. Unforunatly theology requires a priori assumptions that I am not willing to grant, so I ask you restrict yourself to either scientific or philosophical arguments.

    Eh? Since there was no empirical claim being made, nothing has been destroyed. It’s a matter of faith. It always has been, it always will be.

    So what is different then ? Catholics claims something happens to the wine and wafers. What is it that happens. A simple enough question I would have thought.

    How about you also address the problems of the virgin birth and resurrection. I know the former is less widely accepted amongst Christians as the literal truth than the latter is, but there are plenty who think both are literally true and a fair number of them live in the US.

    How do people who maintain science and religion are compatible deal with fact that most religious people believe their god(s) intervene in the Universe ? The question has been asked many times, but not once have I see someone actually answer it. And yet you, Kwok, McCarthy, Scott, Mooney, Kirshenbaum and others have all implied it is possible to reconcile the literal truth of both with science.

  58. Mel

    And as a scientist, I can’t help but to wonder why anyone in their right mind would be so concerned with applying science to the Eucharist. Why? For what reason? There is a very interesting universe out there to study – why go after a religious ritual that provides a billion people with meaning and solace, and has an explanation that was never meant to be scientific? Just to tick people off? Because you don’t believe as Catholics believe? Because you have decided that the proper role of science is provide reason to be an obnoxious jerk? For the life of me, I don’t get the mindset of so many here. Do you go around yelling at people that it is irrational to believe that love overcomes hate, or that they are stupid for believing any of a myriad of other beliefs not grounded in science and not meant to be that nonetheless help them live their lives? This is such a ridiculous argument, and so very divorced from the actual practice of science as well as every day life. This is so sad and frustrating. The argument never moves. Never. But I guess that is the curse of self-righteousness, not matter where it is coming from.

  59. Mel

    “…atheists like me are expected to respect this stuff.”

    How about at least showing some respect and decency to the people who hold those beliefs?

  60. Penfold @56: This is gibberish.

    Sure, if you say so. I’ve been down the transubstantiation road here once before, and after discussing the issue somewhat in length, was told it was too old of a philosophy to be worth a damn. I’m not wasting my time again.

    How about you also address the problems of the virgin birth and resurrection.

    They were once off instances, and if they could be explained biologically they wouldn’t be the miracles Christianity claims they are. I will additionally say that if further instances of virgin births or resurrections in humans can be replicated/demonstrated, I would consider that to be pretty damaging to Christianity. From my vantage point, those are the two tenets of Christianity on which everything else is supported, and they are the two issues which were most hotly defended at the first Councils and from which the Nicene Creed arose.

    How do people who maintain science and religion are compatible deal with fact that most religious people believe their god(s) intervene in the Universe ?

    Why do sports figures cross themselves or point to the heavens after making a great play? I don’t know, I don’t care, and I don’t think it really matters much. I don’t believe in a God who tinkers with the universe, and as a Catholic I’m not required to believe so either. Faith healings, apparitions … none of them are essential for belief, and I don’t believe in them. I don’t think that any prayers to God will save me from a particular death or otherwise unpleasant fate while assigning other unfortunate people to that particular fate. I also doubt religious individuals are the only people who do things that others around them might consider irrational. Atheists don’t have routines, things they do that they feel make them more productive but which others might just construe as being weird superstitions?

  61. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    I especially appreciate your remarks (@ 58), but both of your most recent ones are especially noteworthy. Too often I have been asked why, as a Deist, I would support “superstitious” religious behavior practiced, for example, by Catholics and many Protestant denominations. It isn’t that I, myself, personally support such behavior, but because I recognize that great civilizations have flourished when they promoted religious tolerance, because I myself am religiously tolerant, and because I appreciate what was written in the First Amendment in the United States Bill of Rights. Ironically I would probably agree with some of the condemnations of religion I have read often here – and elsewhere – but unlike those expressing such opinions, I would opt instead for being far more tactful (with notable exceptions being zealous Xians or Islamofascists, for example).

    I know many of them resent the term “Militant Atheist”, but since they seem incapable of “showing some respect and decency to the people who hold those beliefs”, then, I must conclude that mine is an apt description of their conduct. Moreover, I believe that their own zealous behavior has approached those who are excessively religiously devout, and that, I presume, is why eminent evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has referred to atheism as a “stealth religion”.

  62. giotto

    How about at least showing some respect and decency to the people who hold those beliefs?
    How about at least realizing that some of us are able to distinguish between beliefs/ideas (the subject of discussion here) and the people who hold them?? Mel @58, you were responding to Matt Penfeld; can you show me where, specifically, Matt showed disrespect toward any persons (rather than toward ideas???) It may be true that some people define themselves so much by their beliefs that they cannot make the distinction between self and belief, but that is, and should remain, their problem, not Matt’s.

  63. John Kwok

    @ giotto –

    Penfold shouldn’t be a reliable judge here since he has refused to acknowledge – and this was pointed out to him by others, as well as myself – that the United Kingdom does have an ongoing evolution denial problem (Why else was the British Center for Science Education established? Merely to promote the teaching of science in the United Kingdom or act more like its American counterpart, the National Center for Science Education. I am strongly inclined to believe the latter.).

  64. Sharkey

    @58: “Do you go around yelling at people that it is irrational to believe that love overcomes hate, or that they are stupid for believing any of a myriad of other beliefs not grounded in science and not meant to be that nonetheless help them live their lives?”

    I don’t go around yelling, nor do I call people stupid (well, not often), but if someone brings up homeopathy, common urban myths or other dubious claims as part of conversation and uses them as the basis of a specious argument, I will correct them using the best information known to me at the time. It’s possible to be polite and still disagree strongly.

    However, I think you simply don’t like the direction the debate is taking, and so lash out and put the blame on “self-righteousness” and “obnoxious jerks”.

    “why go after a religious ritual that provides a billion people with meaning and solace”

    Everyone needs a hobby.

  65. Peter Beattie

    I think what this boils down to is something Sean Carroll recently addressed over at his blog, Cosmic Variance. As I also said over there, philosophy teaches you how to think well. And as per Carl Sagan, that’s actually the better part of science. So yes, philosophy in that sense of course makes you a better scientist. But there’s more.

    One of the first things that philosophy teaches you is to properly define your terms. In this whole compatibility debate, no one who argues for such compatibility has actually taken the trouble to define what they mean by that. Hence Chris can say

    And I am still mystified as to how this can be so controversial

    Easy, Chris: Because you never say what you mean by the term. (Not to my knowledge, that is; if you did, I’d be glad to see that mistake corrected.) That’s why different people will associate different concepts with the term and, naturally, disagree about it furiously. PZ, among others, has shown that the trivial empirical fact of coexistence in a mind is not what we should mean by ‘compatibility’. In contrast, what we should (and actually do) mean by it is that two things are contradictory, that they come to substantially different conclusions. Genie actually uses that very same concept when she talks about “evidence that is simply incompatible with [an] idea”.

    She even elaborates on that and says that certain things “can’t happen given what we know about modern geology”. That, of course, applies equally to other “fact claims”, like Moses and the parting of the sea, the virgin birth, turning water into wine, transsubstantiation, Jesus’s resurrection, and other reincarnations. Sorry, can’t happen given what we know about modern science.

    Even the claim that intercessory prayer works is plainly a fact claim, as e.g. Jerry Coyne has noted. Of course science would be able to ascertain whether, after a suitable prayer session, there are any statistically significant deviations in how the world works from the way it normally does, when there is (supposedly) no divine intervention. Which pretty ruthlessly undercuts Genie’s argument about how “science can’t test statements having to do with God.” If these statements are connected to a fact claim, science obviously can.

    The only avenue open to one who would propose the existence of a god then is to say that it is completely out of this world. In Richard Dawkins’s phrase, this “epistomological safe zone” is supposed to shield that god from the prying inquisitions of science. Genie says, “Now you’ve stepped outside of science. Science can’t say that’s wrong.” Actually, what you’ve done is you have stepped outside of rational discourse, eschewing even the theoretical possibility of being wrong. Statements, however, that cannot even be wrong are not just deeply unphilosophical. In the words of the most influential philosophers of science of the last century, Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, such statements are intellectually dishonest.

    [I am] still wholly convinced that it is the commonsense approach that will ultimately win out in the end.

    Speaking of Popper and Lakatos, you should probably be aware that the whole point of rational discourse, especially in a scientific context, is not to try to remain convinced but to try and test your ideas, to specify conditions under which you would be led to change your mind. I have yet to see you do that.

    All in all, this whole compatibility/accomodationism debate has uncovered, more than anything, a deep philosophical illiteracy. Someone should go and write a book about that.

  66. Matt Penfold

    They were once off instances, and if they could be explained biologically they wouldn’t be the miracles Christianity claims they are. I will additionally say that if further instances of virgin births or resurrections in humans can be replicated/demonstrated, I would consider that to be pretty damaging to Christianity. From my vantage point, those are the two tenets of Christianity on which everything else is supported, and they are the two issues which were most hotly defended at the first Councils and from which the Nicene Creed arose.

    They are still empirical claims that are not supported by the evidence. Why not just explain how you reconcile such claims as being compatible with science ?

    And better yet, why not explain how an interventionist god is compatible with science.

    You, and others, keep claiming they are but will not say how.

    Why do sports figures cross themselves or point to the heavens after making a great play? I don’t know, I don’t care, and I don’t think it really matters much. I don’t believe in a God who tinkers with the universe, and as a Catholic I’m not required to believe so either. Faith healings, apparitions … none of them are essential for belief, and I don’t believe in them. I don’t think that any prayers to God will save me from a particular death or otherwise unpleasant fate while assigning other unfortunate people to that particular fate. I also doubt religious individuals are the only people who do things that others around them might consider irrational. Atheists don’t have routines, things they do that they feel make them more productive but which others might just construe as being weird superstitions?

    OK, so you do not believe in an interventionist god.

    However no one is saying there is a compatibility problem between a non-interventionist god and science. If you read Dawkins you would know he makes this very point at the beginning of “The God Delusion”.

    I cannot work out then what your problem is with people who say science and religion are not compatible, since the type of religion in question is that of an interventionist god, not deism.

  67. Mark

    Excerpt from an interview with Eugenie Scott published in Science magazine June 5, 2009:

    “Universtities need to do a better job of teaching evolution because that’s where high school teachers get their training. Evolution needs to be brought into every course of biology instead of getting tacked on as a unit to the intro class.

    What university scientists should not do is force students to choose between religion and science. If a professor were to say that evolution proves there is no God, that’s not just bad philosophy of science, it ensures that a significant number of students will stick their fingers in their ears.

    When explaining biological questions, such as the evolution of the eye, there is no need to say that God had nothing to do with it. It’s an irrelevant comment. I don’t think a classroom is an appropriate place to try to create mokre atheists any more than it is an appropriate place to create more fundamentalist Christians.”

  68. Sharkey

    @60: “I don’t believe in a God who tinkers with the universe, and as a Catholic I’m not required to believe so either.”

    …one paragraph earlier…

    “[re: virgin birth and resurrection] They were once off instances, and if they could be explained biologically they wouldn’t be the miracles Christianity claims they are.”

    This is the “contradictory thoughts” problem in a nutshell. How can you have a non-tinkering god that tinkers with the universe (via virgin births and etc.) What’s wrong with just giving up the actual contradiction in that logic: namely, a god.

  69. Alas, I’m on dial-up so I can’t hear what the You Tube says.

    —- can you show me where, specifically, Matt showed disrespect toward any persons (rather than toward ideas? giotto

    I’d volunteer just about any time he’s mentioned my name, you can hear the clenched teeth. Though, I’m kind of proud that he can’t think of anything more substantial to say in response. I’d be worried if he didn’t, though it might be my nationality. I think that might have preceded what I called him on Rosenhouse’s blog when he dissed the separation of church and state, one of the foundations of egalitarian government here in the U.S. Gets my Irish up when a Brit slams one of our great achievements.

  70. giotto

    I don’t believe in a God who tinkers with the universe, and as a Catholic I’m not required to believe so either.

    Well, are you not required to believe in the immaculate conception of Mary, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Assumption of Mary, etc? How are these not tinkering in the universe? And what of the tinkering of god, in the guise of the Holy Spirit, behind Papal Infallibility? Is not transubstantiation a tinkering? If Christ is, indeed, substantially present, how can be the result of anything other than divine tinkering..?

  71. Matt Penfold

    Mark,

    Can you tell us anyone teaching in a university who does force students to choose between religion and science ?

  72. Matt Penfold

    I

    ’d volunteer just about any time he’s mentioned my name, you can hear the clenched teeth. Though, I’m kind of proud that he can’t think of anything more substantial to say in response. I’d be worried if he didn’t, though it might be my nationality. I think that might have preceded what I called him on Rosenhouse’s blog when he dissed the separation of church and state, one of the foundations of egalitarian government here in the U.S. Gets my Irish up when a Brit slams one of our great achievements.

    Yeah, you lost the plot more than usual there. Seemed to threaten to kill people if I recall. Kind of gave me the measure of the kind of man you are. One who if he lost an argument thinks violence is a solution.

  73. tomh

    # #59 Mel wrote:
    “How about at least showing some respect and decency to the people who hold those beliefs?”

    Does that include respect for the people who went after the kid in Florida who walked out with a cracker in his pocket? The ones who compared it to kidnapping, wanted him charged with a hate crime, tried to get him expelled from school, and sent him death threats? These were not just a few nut cases, some of these were national figures and others were high up in the church hierarchy. These are the people who deserve our respect?

  74. giotto

    John and Anthony, @63 & 69):
    When I asked for specific examples, I was ACTUALLY asking for specific examples.

  75. Since there have been very fine scientists who have believed in miracles, the Virgin Birth, the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, etc… The only evidence is that believing in those isn’t an impediment to being able to do science. As with those who have held that being a woman or of African ancestry is an impediment to doing science, the burden of proof should be on those who claim that, somehow, it is, to prove it.

    That’s not to mention the clear evidence of the cultures in which modern science arose and where it has predominated. That is as much valid evidence of the actual conditions of human culture as the fossil record is of biological evolution.

    The empirical evidence is all against those who hold that religion and science are incompatible. But, empirical evidence isn’t generally effective against irrational bigotry.

  76. Peter Beattie

    And I’m wondering why my previous comment (#65) was held for moderation. Did I use too many tinny words?

  77. Matt Penfold

    When I asked for specific examples, I was ACTUALLY asking for specific examples.

    Well I have called McCarthy a scumbag.

    It was not my finest hour, but he was being especially aggravating and even less honest than usual. Tries claiming Dawkins was uncivil towards believers, so I asked him for an example. He pointed to me towards his blog that did not have a single one. Faced with such an attitude I snapped.

  78. — Seemed to threaten to kill people if I recall. Matt Penfold

    Are you talking to the debating point I made against Harris’ proposal to kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a day in nuclear first strikes? When I said if he’s worried about nuclear weapons it would kill a lot fewer people to kill the scientists who are actually engaged in producing them? Back when Curious Waveform got upset with me for bringing it up?

  79. Matt Penfold

    Are you talking to the debating point I made against Harris’ proposal to kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a day in nuclear first strikes? When I said if he’s worried about nuclear weapons it would kill a lot fewer people to kill the scientists who are actually engaged in producing them? Back when Curious Waveform got upset with me for bringing it up?

    No.

  80. My comments are getting held too, I figured everyones were after the swivet some folks got into yesterday.

  81. If that wasn’t it Matt Penfold, you’re hallucinating. I don’t make death threats. Or do you figure that’s what we folk do?

  82. Jon

    This is a good bit on respecting conscience, and some of the history behind that:

    http://www.radioopensource.org/what-would-roger-williams-say-and-do/

    The bit about the contrast between “purpose” and “conscience” is really interesting.

  83. Oh, by the way, giotto, would accusing someone of making death threats, when they haven’t, not constitute disrespect? I’d think so. So, there’s the evidence you asked for.

  84. Mel

    #73
    The kid in Florida was in the wrong there. He should not have taken the consecrated host. That was being disrespectful of the beliefs of others. What he did was stupid and childish. Does that absolve the people who reacted poorly and childishly to what he did? No. Does that excuse those who made threats against him? No. Does their behavior justify what PS Myers did? No. Look, bad behavior does not justify more bad behavior, and needless disrespect and provocation does not justify more needless disrespect and provocation.
    So, what is the lesson here? Don’t do stupid, childish, disrespectful things that you know are unnecessarily provocative just to provoke. A central lesson of history is that such behavior just provokes more childish, stupid, disrespectful behavior that easily escalates into really bad things. And the thing is that every side in such conflicts thinks it is utterly and completely justified in its actions, even up to the unconscionable. Look at the Thirty Years War. Same thing. Look at much of human history. Of course, I am reminded of something that Otto von Hapsburg said a few years ago: “The more we learn of history, the more we learn from history, that no one learns from history.”

  85. Matt Penfold

    I am going to have to withdraw my claim McCarthy threatened to kill people.

    I thought I recalled him saying that would kill anyone who tried to remove the seperation of church and state in the US. Either I cannot find where he said it, or my recall was incorrect.

    I did find him calling Richard Dawkins a toffee nosed Brit though, so I think we can disregard any claims by McCarthy that he is civil.

  86. I believe I said that I would consider shedding blood to defend it, which I would just as I would any of the other major civil rights provisions of our constitution and laws.

    Don’t think I’ve never claimed to be civil, having no intention of wading into a fight with a hand tied behind my back.

  87. Matt Penfold

    I believe I said that I would consider shedding blood to defend it, which I would just as I would any of the other major civil rights provisions of our constitution and laws.

    Don’t think I’ve never claimed to be civil, having no intention of wading into a fight with a hand tied behind my back.

    So I was right.

  88. Jon

    All in all, this whole compatibility/accomodationism debate has uncovered, more than anything, a deep philosophical illiteracy. Someone should go and write a book about that.

    In a way, all works of philosophy are about philosophical illiteracy. Daniel Dennett thinks lots of people are misguided and should start thinking his way. Charles Taylor thinks people have stopped thinking and should start thinking his way. Kieth Ward wants to nudge peoples’ thinking his way.

    I think the point is to have an appreciation of what the questions are and how difficult they are to answer, which I think promotes more respect between the different parties…

  89. Matt Penfold

    The kid in Florida was in the wrong there. He should not have taken the consecrated host. That was being disrespectful of the beliefs of others. What he did was stupid and childish. Does that absolve the people who reacted poorly and childishly to what he did? No. Does that excuse those who made threats against him? No. Does their behavior justify what PS Myers did? No. Look, bad behavior does not justify more bad behavior, and needless disrespect and provocation does not justify more needless disrespect and provocation.

    So taking the host back to your seat, which I understand is accepted practice in some parts of the US is being disrespectful, and fleeing when assaulted, rather than fight back against a woman is also not showing respect ?

    Cooke did something which it seems was not accepted in the church he as attending at the time. However since the service was being held at a university it should be expected that worshippers might well come from places with different ways of doing things. The person who attacked Cooke was trying to prize the wafer from his hands. It would seem at no time did she attempt to explain that he was not following the customs applicable in that church. It is reasonable to expect her to be aware of practices in other parts of the US, and even the world given the nature of the congregation. Had she had the courtesy to have a quiet word with him none of the furore would have occurred. The Church brought on itself and had no ones else to blame.

  90. tomh

    @ #84 Mel wrote:

    A whole lot of words but didn’t answer the question. Do the people who compared the kid’s action to kidnapping, wanted him charged with a hate crime, worked hard to get him expelled from school, and sent him death threats, are these the people you insist should have our respect? You didn’t say we should respect their beliefs, you said we should respect the people who hold these beliefs. The people who engaged in all these actions against a kid. Do you actually think that these people deserve respect?

    I never mentioned Myers or whether the kid was right or wrong, I’m asking about people like Bill Donohue who wanted the kid charged with a crime, or church officials who worked hard to get him expelled from school. Are these the people you say we must respect?

  91. giotto

    Yes, yes, yes to Peter Beattie @65, esp. regarding the definition of terms.
    And his response to Chris’s mystification.

    Chris, I don’t know if you read these or not. But there is some good, constructive criticism in these threads. I’d like to add my own:

    You are dealing with several very different issues when you talk about the “compatibility of science and religion.”

    One is a philosophical issue, and in this discourse, definitions of terms and problem are essential. Otherwise nobody can know what you are talking about. That means, as well, that YOU won’t know what you are talking about . Precision is essential. For starters, you are careless in not stipulating what you mean when you say “religion.” A number of comments have brought this up: given the bewildering religious diversity among humans, the term “religion” is nearly useless. What religions are you talking about? As I’m sure you know, some religions have no deities, some have no supernatural realm. With these non-theistic religions, the question of compatibility is different, and there may be no conflict at all.

    There are also epistemological and ontological issues, and of course the even thornier interface between the two. You skate over these with your talk of methodological and philosophical naturalisms, but as several critics of your book have pointed out, this is a fairly shallow take on a complex philosophical issue. Have you read much in the philosophy of science??

    Another is a social/historical issue, one with a quite narrow focus on the US, it seems. How do you frame the your account in the context of a longer history of phenomena such as American anti-intellectualism, evangelical discomfort with modernity, and the like? These, again, are sociological issues with histories, and have been studied from those vantage points. Are you familiar with any of this scholarship? If not, you are floundering in the deep end of the pool.

    Given that you are mystified why we don’t all just agree with you, I have to assume that you entered into this project without doing the necessary homework. I certainly do not see evidence of such work in your blog posts, especially of late, when you seem content to cherry-pick evidence. Are you really interested in the question you proposed, or is the point of this really to just sell books? It is all starting to look to me like an enormous missed opportunity, alas. . .

    .

  92. Mel

    If what Cook did was simply a misunderstanding, then my point still stands. There should have been an effort made to understand what he was doing. I don’t understand the whole thing originating in a misunderstanding would nullify my point. Yes, the woman was out of line even if Cooke was completely ingenuous in his actions. My point was that there was far too little understanding and too much rush to judgment and provocation in the entire affair.

    However, if you look into the story, Cook does not seem to have been a practicing Catholic, and was unaware that church doctrine holds that a consecrated host is to be consumed soon after consecration. He did not intend to take it back to his seat to consume. He stated that he put it into his pocket after pretending to swallow it, with the intent of taking it out of the church to show a friend. From statements he made afterward, and the apology he later gave, it seems clear that he was ignorant of substantial portions of the ritual, of the status of the host in the ritual, and did not consider the agitation he would cause. He also lied about having swallowed the host. Whether out of ignorance of intent, he was in the wrong. Those who behaved improperly toward him afterward were also out of line. PZ Myers was even more so because he simply had no role in the incident until he insinuated himself into it in what was, in essence, a stupid, offensive, and needless publicity stunt. No one behaved properly in this incident, and that is not something for anyone to be proud of.

  93. giotto

    Oh, by the way, giotto, would accusing someone of making death threats, when they haven’t, not constitute disrespect? I’d think so.

    I’d think the world, and human beings in it, are more complex than that, to say nothing of the complexity of the interactions between human beings. I’d think I would want to rule out other possible causes (faulty memory? mistaken identity? misreading? misunderstanding???) before settling on one cause. I’d also think that attributing motives to people is often a most unreliable enterprise, especially when the attribution is based on a lone anecdote. And if, after all that, I am forced to conclude that Matt did indeed show disrespect, I would take into account the usual tone of his posts here, and conclude that the recipient of such disrespect had probably been asking for it.

  94. Mel

    tomh:

    Though it is hard, and no one is successful all the time in it, all people deserve at least some respect. What those people did was not right, but, like the kid, that does not eliminate the need to show them some respect. And you will notice that you seem to be going from not respecting those people, to thinking it is justifiable to show disrespect to all Catholics. At least that is how I am interpreting. I apologize if I am incorrect in that.

    While it may be hard because it requires fighting human instinct, attempting to react with understanding and respect for one another, even in really charged situations, is generally a far, far better approach than the alternative. Again, history teaches this lesson, not I.

  95. Matt Penfold

    If what Cook did was simply a misunderstanding, then my point still stands. There should have been an effort made to understand what he was doing. I don’t understand the whole thing originating in a misunderstanding would nullify my point. Yes, the woman was out of line even if Cooke was completely ingenuous in his actions. My point was that there was far too little understanding and too much rush to judgment and provocation in the entire affair.

    I agree, but on the part of Church, not Cooke, or PZ.

    However, if you look into the story, Cook does not seem to have been a practicing Catholic, and was unaware that church doctrine holds that a consecrated host is to be consumed soon after consecration. He did not intend to take it back to his seat to consume. He stated that he put it into his pocket after pretending to swallow it, with the intent of taking it out of the church to show a friend. From statements he made afterward, and the apology he later gave, it seems clear that he was ignorant of substantial portions of the ritual, of the status of the host in the ritual, and did not consider the agitation he would cause. He also lied about having swallowed the host. Whether out of ignorance of intent, he was in the wrong. Those who behaved improperly toward him afterward were also out of line. PZ Myers was even more so because he simply had no role in the incident until he insinuated himself into it in what was, in essence, a stupid, offensive, and needless publicity stunt. No one behaved properly in this incident, and that is not something for anyone to be proud of.

    The friend was inside the church at the time. Please, if you want to pass judgement at least get the facts right. This is the second I have had to correct you.

    Cooke did flee the church with the wafer, (not host, that assumes you accept Catholic dogma, call it was it is please). However he did so only after he was assaulted. Prior to the assault there is no indication he intended to do anything other than return to his seat.

    Someone acting on behalf the Church assaulted Cooke, and rather than apologise the Church chose to accuse him of a hate crime.

    I love the fact you chastise those involved for too little understanding, when you do not seem to have bothered to understand that much yourself. Am I supposed to respect your argument from ignorance ?

  96. Mel

    #95
    Thank you for the clarifications. I appreciate coming to know more about the events that have been kicked around so much. The point I was trying to express still stands. No one acted well in the situation, and no one involved seems to have taken the effort to sufficiently understand all the aspects of the event. But I understand if you and I will have to agree to disagree on the matter. That is fine.

  97. And I’m wondering why my previous comment (#65) was held for moderation. Did I use too many tinny words?

    You included three or more links in the comment. AFAIK, once you go over two links, it’s automatically sent to the moderation bin.

  98. — I would take into account the usual tone of his posts here, and conclude that the recipient of such disrespect had probably been asking for it. giotto

    Well, you asked for an example and Penfold provided one on cue. Was I whining about it? And your face saving move IS consistent with what I’ve observed of the new atheist standards of civility and fairness, bend over backwards to excuse the behavior of a Penfold or a PZ when it’s staring you right in the face, then make up stuff about the other side.

  99. Mark

    @Matt Penfold

    Was it unclear from my post that all the words were from Eugenie Scott’s mouth, not mine? Was it also unclear that she was using hypothetical examples?

    I’ll concede that by not providing any comments, I made it possible for you to have a broad range of interpretations as to why I quoted her, ranging from I support her every word to I just want to throw this out there into the conversation. My motives were closer to the latter.

  100. Matt Penfold

    Was it unclear from my post that all the words were from Eugenie Scott’s mouth, not mine? Was it also unclear that she was using hypothetical examples?

    I’ll concede that by not providing any comments, I made it possible for you to have a broad range of interpretations as to why I quoted her, ranging from I support her every word to I just want to throw this out there into the conversation. My motives were closer to the latter.

    No, I gathered they were Eugenie Scott’s words. I guess I was a little confused as to your motivation in posting them, or indeed hers in saying them.

    As I said, I am not aware of anyone in the US who can be said to be pushing atheism when lecturing to students. PZ does not do that, I know. In fact he makes a point of telling new students that despite his reputation he is not interested in their religious views, and only judging he will be doing is in how well they have understood the material.

  101. giotto

    Let me recap for you Anthony:

    Mel@59 accused Matt of not being respectful to religious believers

    I responded by noting that Matt was dealing with ideas and beliefs, and that I had seen nothing disrespectful toward persons in his comments. I asked for evidence to the contrary.
    You and Kwok responded with random gesticulations, but no evidence.
    I called you on that, and then you responded with your claim that Matt had accused you of making death threats. (@83).
    Now that I’ve gone back to take a look at that accusation, we can see how “disrespectful” it is: Matt wrote, of you: “Seemed to threaten to kill people if I recall. ” As hedged as that is, I’m not sure it constitutes an accusation.
    At any rate, he withdrew the claim. It is the respectful thing to do, don’t you think?
    And then you confirmed that, yes indeed, you would “shed blood” to defend the separation of church and state. Does that bloodshed not include killing? Or would you just put leeches on your opponents, or something? (Cause as for me, I WOULD kill to maintain separation of church and state, and if anyway wants to “accuse” me of that I will not take it as disrespect, or even as an accusation. )

    Anyway, it is a fact that you said you would shed blood. Matt’s memory was not clear on the specifics, as he clearly stated in his post. So, I’m sorry, but nobody has made anything up here. So, I ask again, where has Penfold shown disrespect to persons of faith??

    And if you don’t get the respect you think you deserve, you should take some time to study the intellectual wreckage that is your last paragraph in 98. It seems there is no anecdote so trivial that it can’t be turned into a sweeping generalization about “new atheists,” whoever and whatever those are.

  102. tomh

    @ #94 Mel wrote:

    “Though it is hard, and no one is successful all the time in it, all people deserve at least some respect.”

    So, regardless of the fact that they tried to ruin the kids life, they deserve respect because all people deserve some respect. Well, that clears it up.

    Mel wrote: “No one behaved properly in this incident”

    The fact that you equate what Myers did, which at most might have hurt some feelings, with what church authorities did, which had real consequences in a kid’s life, says a lot about your priorities.

    Mel wrote: “you seem to be going from not respecting those people, to thinking it is justifiable to show disrespect to all Catholics.”

    How you arrived at that conclusion is a mystery. It is beyond all reason.

  103. Mel

    tomh,

    Thank you for being kind enough to consider what I have to say. I hope you have a nice day.

  104. sharky

    Good luck with common sense.

    I spent my entire elementary and middle school experience in a private Christian school, given a private Christian education–Creationist, anti-atheist, and anti-any-other-religions.

    In science class, I learned there is plenty of evidence that dinosaurs are still alive on the earth (evidence including a photo I later learned was a dead killer whale,) that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, that all methods of dating but early radiocarbon dating are wrong, that humans had rediscovered and actually entered Noah’s Ark, that coal formed in the lake after the Mt. St. Helens eruption, and… just about everything talkorigins rebuts with common sense. I believed it because they had me as a child and were able to teach me that was what science was and that I had to believe it.

    College stung. I had to relearn biology to stay afloat in a basic biology class. The prof would mention things he considered basics, and I would either have never learned them because it would have contradicted creationism, or because I was taught a lie in place.

    I can say from experience of most of my life spent in Baptist churches and a school that, quite frankly, there isn’t accomodation on the side of the extremely religious. There is nothing but a heartfelt certainty that scientists–“evolutionists”–are misguided at best, sinful liars at worst. There is no good faith. And because the super-devout are good at getting their message out, fervent, often strident, and looked up to morally, they will often be more emotionally convincing to other people of faith. (They might pretend you’re getting through to them so they can try to convert you.)

    You may be able to reach moderates. (Hooray!) But moderates aren’t the ones running the anti-science, pro-creationism show. Those people say among themselves that you are evil, blinded, and misguided. Sense, common or not, has nothing to do with it.

  105. John Kwok

    @ giotto –

    Penfold has refused to acknowledge my assertion that there is an ongoing problem in his native Great Britain with respect to evolution denial. Instead he ducks the issue by still insisting that I was serious in my demand of photographic equipment from PZ Myers (which, incidentally, I wasn’t. Even after I told Myers that I was joking, he still insisted on repeating the lie). This issue was raised originally over at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog and here too about a month and a half ago, and sorry, I don’t have time to cut and to paste each and every instance of Penfold’s refusal. However, I believe I had brought this up when he proclaimed that, unlike the United States, his country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, had no problem with evolution denial. As I – and others – have pointed out, this observation of his is erroneous especially in light of the recent poll published in the Guardian.

  106. — I responded by noting that Matt was dealing with ideas and beliefs, and that I had seen nothing disrespectful toward persons in his comments. I asked for evidence to the contrary. giotto

    Let me repeat, Penfold provided.

    — Anyway, it is a fact that you said you would shed blood. Matt’s memory was not clear on the specifics, as he clearly stated in his post. giotto

    There is a big difference between defending the Civil Rights and equal protections provisions of the constitution and “threatening to kill people”, and I can point out that I didn’t say whose blood I might be prepared to shed. And if I was going to accuse someone of “threatening to kill people” I’d have the quotes ready to back it up. As I recall, way back in the beginning of the Coyne issue here, I had to ask Matt to back up accusations that I’d lied with actual quotes of what I’d said. I even started my last blog so he’d have a place to back up the accusations with my actual words. You can go look at the very first post there. I told him about it, posted the URL, he even said he’d looked at it, as far as I know he’s never backed up calling me a liar with a single example.

    You ever think of entering a limbo contest?…..

    —- And then you confirmed that, yes indeed, you would “shed blood” to defend the separation of church and state. Does that bloodshed not include killing? Or would you just put leeches on your opponents, or something? (Cause as for me, I WOULD kill to maintain separation of church and state, and if anyway wants to “accuse” me of that I will not take it as disrespect, or even as an accusation. ) giotto

    Because you’d win hands down.

  107. giotto

    105 , 106,
    So, in the interest of getting on back on track: I disagreed with Mel that Matt was being disrespectful to people who hold religious views. (I did so largely because there is a common problem here of people coming to make unsupported assertions about how mean and disrespectful atheists are….) You two have offered nothing to back up Mel’s point. Whatever disagreements you two have had with Matt over defending the bill of rights (defending it to the point of bloodshed, but not to the point of death, apparently) or the status of evolution in Britain, or god knows what trivia is eating at you two, is completely irrelevant. Being disrespectful to you (and not answering your monomaniacal questions doesn’t really count as disrespect, btw) really can’t be conflated with not showing “some respect and decency to the people who hold those beliefs” in Mel’s words. I know induction isn’t your strong suit, Anthony, but there is no grounds (beyond narcissism) for you to think that whatever Matt thinks about you, he must surely also think about the believers to whom Mel referred.

  108. John Kwok

    @ giotto –

    You asked for evidence to substantiate my claim with regards to Penfold, and you reject it out of hand when I present it. Why should I waste my time addressing your refusal to acknowledge that Penfold isn’t as reliable as you apparently believe? The fact that he refuses to recognize that his country has a serious problem with evolution denial – as demonstrated by the fact that a British Center for Science Education exists and that a leading British professional scientific organization, the Geological Society of London, issued a statement a year ago last spring condemning creationism – should suggest to anyone that not only is evolution denial in the United Kingdom not “trivial”, but, indeed, in this context, that Penfold is so caught up in his own biases, that he refuses to acknowledge that his country does have a problem with “evolution denial”.

  109. sharky @104: I spent my entire elementary and middle school experience in a private Christian school, given a private Christian education–Creationist, anti-atheist, and anti-any-other-religions.

    Like you, I spent a majority (from 3rd grade through high school) in a private Catholic education. It was not Creationist, we learned about evolution, there was no bashing about other religions (or lack thereof).

    I agree that we will not be able to reach the hard-core, militant fundies. However I truly do believe they are in the minority. They’re certainly the loud ones, but they’re not the majority.

  110. Back in the 1950s, when I was in catechism classes, pre-Vatican II, with nuns in full habit, we discussed evolution as fact.

    I’m struck at how many of the most strident of the new atheists seem to be damaged from a fundamentalist background. I was always glad that being raised as a Catholic I’d never been taught that the bible was literally true. I’m pretty sure that they talked about Jesus being Jewish too although that might have been in the 60s. You’ll never convince them that’s the way it is in the Catholic church, reality isn’t as gratifying to them as Orange-tinged invective.

  111. Mel

    Anthony McCarthy,

    Given some of what you have written, I am curious if you have read Steven Waldman’s “Founding Faith” about the origin of religious liberty in America during the Founding, with a focus on the thoughts and attitudes of the Founders on the subject. If not, I think you would really enjoy it. There is a lot in it about the influence of Madison’s dedication to religious liberty as a way to engender religious pluralism that he saw as crucial to long term maintenance of peace and prosperity, and the iron of the fact that, for all that, we don’t know much about precisely what he believed because he just didn’t write or talk much about it. It is quite fascinating stuff.

  112. Michael Fugate

    It is interesting from the Pew Report that 27% of catholics believe humans were “specially created”. Somewhere along the line the message is not getting through.

  113. —- There is a lot in it about the influence of Madison’s dedication to religious liberty as a way to engender religious pluralism that he saw as crucial to long term maintenance of peace and prosperity, and the iron of the fact that, for all that, we don’t know much about precisely what he believed because he just didn’t write or talk much about it. Mel

    I’ll add it to the list of books I need to read. I’m a real absolutist about the wall of separation, I just had a conversation with my brother about the new book about The Family cult, hoping that it would lead to the suspension of the National Prayer Breakfast. That kind of religious mixing with politics is really bad for democracy, for equality and is just as bad for religion. The Christian religion never lost as much moral credibility as when it became the state religion in various places.

  114. Mel

    Is that book on The Family worth reading? I have listened to some interviews with the author and it does sound interesting, albeit extremely scary.

  115. 110: Many of the “New Atheists” come from non-fundie backgrounds, at least the most prominent; Dawkins was raised Anglican, , PZ Lutheran, and Harris was raised by a Jewish mother and a Quaker father .

    Hardly fundie backgrounds.

  116. J. J. Ramsey

    Peter Beattie:

    She even elaborates on that and says that certain things “can’t happen given what we know about modern geology”. That, of course, applies equally to other “fact claims”, like Moses and the parting of the sea, the virgin birth, turning water into wine, transsubstantiation, Jesus’s resurrection, and other reincarnations. Sorry, can’t happen given what we know about modern science.

    This is an apples-and-oranges comparison. What Eugenie Scott said “can’t happen given what we know about modern geology,” namely the flood geologist’s formation of the Grand Canyon, isn’t a miracle. Sure, God bringing all that water on to the Earth would be a miracle, but all that deposition of sediment, formation of fissures, etc. afterward is supposedly due to the natural movement of sediment as a result of gravity, fluid flow in the flood waters, and so on. In that scenario, the creation of the Grand Canyon isn’t itself a miracle, and one can point out that what the flood geologists claim is a natural byproduct of all that flooding could not be such a natural byproduct. No one, by contrast, is claiming that a virginal conception or turning water into wine are indirect natural consequences of prior miracles.

  117. Paul

    “No one, by contrast, is claiming that a virginal conception or turning water into wine are indirect natural consequences of prior miracles.”
    So as long as you have less than a certain degree of separation, anything is possible by declaring “miracle”? In that case, now the YECs only need to claim that the formation of the Grand Canyon was formed in a miracle directed by the hand of the Lord. Somehow, this doesn’t seem useful for rooting out beliefs, when once they play the “miracle” card you accept that any arbitrary claim can happen given what we know about modern science. Especially since it begs the question regarding the existence of miracles that contradict what we know is possible via modern science.

  118. Peter Beattie

    » J.J. Ramsey:
    This is an apples-and-oranges comparison. What Eugenie Scott said “can’t happen given what we know about modern geology,” namely the flood geologist’s formation of the Grand Canyon, isn’t a miracle.

    *ROTFL* Oh, that was priceless. You’ve just given me the first hysterical laugh of the day. If it’s merely impossible, then we can deal with it. But if it’s a miracle, then all bets are off. Sorry, can’t go there. God, that’s bloody BRILLIANT! Just say it’s a miracle, then nobody will be able to say it’s impossible. In other words: “Whee! This deep thinking stuff is fun.” *stillgrinninginanely*

  119. J. J. Ramsey

    Peter Beattie: “If it’s merely impossible, then we can deal with it. But if it’s a miracle, then all bets are off.”

    If someone claims that something is a result of natural laws (e.g. regardless of how the flood waters came to be, the turbulence of them was enough to deposit thousands of feet of sediment and cause fossil arrangements to be as we see them now), then one can argue from these natural laws that the claim is inconsistent. If one is simply positing that a natural law was broken, simply complaining that a natural law was broken isn’t too helpful in and of itself.

    Sheesh, this isn’t rocket science, here.

  120. Peter Beattie

    » J.J. Ramsey:
    Sheesh, this isn’t rocket science, here.

    My point exactly. *gg*

    But seriously. If you make a claim that can in principle be shown to be false, then we’re having a discussion. If your claim then is shown to be wrong, well, tough titty. But if thereupon you move your claim to the netherworld of miracles, then it can’t even be wrong anymore. And as I said in #65, claims that cannot be wrong aren’t even worthy of notice, much less respect.

  121. J. J. Ramsey

    Peter Beattie: “But if thereupon you move your claim to the netherworld of miracles, then it can’t even be wrong anymore.”

    No, the miracle claim could in principle still be wrong, it’s just that saying that it’s a violation of natural law isn’t enough. All that does is beg the question of whether miracles can happen in the first place. One can argue that historically, reports of miracles have consistently been poorly substantiated, and that it seems awfully strange that as the media have gotten better at documenting our lives, miracle reports are still at the level of rumor, except for cases where they have been outright debunked by, say, people like the Amazing Randi. That is, of course, a more indirect line of argument, but it doesn’t beg the question.

  122. JEM

    From my point of view this is a fight over (false) idols. On one side I see evangelicals (who are assumed to be a stand-in for all religions) with their champion God (truth). On the other side I see the (militant shall we say) atheists (who are a stand-in for all scientists) with their champion Truth (god). The perceived prize is social dominance.

    Personally, my idol is happiness, and neither the atheists, nor the evangelicals with their strict dogmatic views of the world have illuminated a path to this for me and thus as long as neither side actually wins dominance, the battle appears irrelevant to me and my kind. All this sound and fury adds up to nothing, changes nothing, accomplishes nothing.

    A few of the commenters here may get this (maybe Gadfly @16). Sadly, I don’t expect most will. After all, its just a strawman.

  123. sharky

    TomJoe: I’m not so sure it can be that easily dismissed. The school is still around; the publishers for the books are still around; the arguments are still around. Politicians are still making claims that would have gotten nods from my science class (the earth is 6000 years old, etcetera.)

    What you’re telling me is that you’re from a moderate Catholic background, which makes it sound like your childhood education was not a total ripoff. This makes you fortunate. But it doesn’t change the impact that my school, the affiliated church, the “learning programs” associated with it, my church, and other churches I’ve visited over the years have on thinking and on the overall religious culture.

  124. Hi Chris,

    Just having emerged from a University bubble, I’m not really at a good vantage point to debate which approach (yours/Eugenie Scott’s or Dawkins/Hitchens) is the most practical, or the most effective, in terms of socio-political improvement. Eugenie Scott’s position seems very reasonable, and close to Gould’s NOMA. You may be right that this is the point-of-view that will win in the end, and I would be delighted to witness that.

    However as a point of philosophy, Scott’s argument awakes in me a sort of deep psychosomatic pain. I’m sure you’re familiar with Dawkins’ arguments in the God Delusion, and I imagine were he here he would heavily criticize Scott, pointing out that humans are often illogical, and have an immense desire to compartmentalize. Furthermore, it makes no sense to reject some specific factual information from religion while still affirming religion’s status as a viable ideology on par with science (if non-overlapping). As I believe Dawkins wrote: “You can’t pick and choose.” Finally he would probably request that Ms. Scott read (or re-read) the chapter of his book entitled “Why There Almost Certainly is No God.” I find the view that Science cannot approach the question of a supernatural entity quite incredible, and I wonder if she really believes that.

    I recognize that Scott’s position is a compromise, and I see how it is very palatable for moderates on both sides of the fence. It just doesn’t sit easy with me personally.

    -Rajiv

  125. Chris Mooney

    Hi Rajiv,

    So cool of you to drop by.

    Is she really arguing NOMA? NOMA was about the proper spheres for science and religion to occupy. It seems to me that Scott is just making the blunt empirical point that a lot of people reconcile the two in some way–which is undeniable–and then adding that there are limits to the scope of science.

    The New Atheist critics don’t like that, it seems, because they want to force people to be “rational” and completely justify their views to a very high standard, or else reject them. That would be the “you can’t pick and choose” approach–or, the “you shouldn’t hold incompatible ideas” approach.

    But on the question of whether science and religion are “compatible,” why is Scott’s approach less valid? She says she doesn’t want to answer it as a philosophical question, but rather as an empirical question. It seems to me that’s a perfectly good way to go, given that she explicitly admits as much. It also has the benefit of letting us look at how actual people are making peace with these issues and living out their lives–the people we have to deal with day to day, or with whom we may have to work in a local fight over evolution (as Scott constantly does).

    That’s why I’d praise Scott’s as a common sense approach, and it seems like you agree with me on that. It’s fine to go further and debate whether reconciliation is really possible on a philosophical level (I argue that it is). Those are great arguments to have, and I’m sure Dawkins would, in this sense, go straight at Scott with a barrage of criticism. But let’s remember that we also have to live in a society with people who, as you say, “compartmentalize” all the time. As do we.

  126. Peter Beattie

    » Chris Mooney:
    But on the question of whether science and religion are “compatible,” why is Scott’s approach less valid? She says she doesn’t want to answer it as a philosophical question, but rather as an empirical question.

    See #65 in this thread for the case why Eugenie’s approach is rather incoherent. The short version is: Just saying something isn’t philosophy doesn’t make it so; saying something is empirical does also not imply that philosophy doesn’t enter into the question. Unsurprisingly for an approach so oblivious to philosophy, she contradicts herself all the way along, right up to the point where she essentially advocates a little special pleading for the intellectual outer space of miracles.

    The New Atheist critics don’t like that, it seems, because they want to force people to be “rational” … .

    What’s with the scare quotes there, Chris? Do you think it is not a good idea to propose that public discussions should be guided by rationality? Because that’s the only thing the Popular and Successful Atheists are advocating. Some of them say that they’d like religion to disappear, but at the same time they have made absolutely clear that they don’t want to force anything down anyone’s throat and that in private everybody is entitled to be as irrational as they want.

    And if you are justified in saying that your opponents in this debate “want to force” anyone to do something, then it surely is fair to say that you want them to shut up. Sauce for the goose.

  127. Peter Beattie

    Oh, and one more thing. One is led to wonder, Chris, whether you might hold a certain bias against the Outspoken Atheists, as your assertion that they claim that “you shouldn’t hold incompatible ideas” is quite absurd. What they are claiming is that religion and rationality are incompatible and that it’s important not to blur the line between them.

    And again you don’t address the definition of compatibility, another point I made in #65. As I show there, the actual definition of (in)compatibility that Eugenie uses herself would lead pretty much anyone to the conclusion, born out by the Pew data by the way, that there is a fundamental incompatibility. (Except, that is, for the fairyland of miracles. Which is even worse: it’s not even theoretically incompatible.)

  128. Peter Beattie

    And can I ask, just out of curiosity, why #127 was held for moderation? It doesn’t really seem to contain anything objectionable, does it?

  129. Chris-

    Thank you for responding to Rajiv’s post. As far as I’ve seen, it’s the closest you’ve come to responding to what is turning into the main bone of contention in this debate. Would it be possible for you to respond to the more pointed version of Rajiv’s argument presented by PZ or, if you prefer, Peter Beattie? It seems like your definition of “compatible”–mere coexistence–is not a particularly useful one. I think you misunderstand the PZs of the world when you say they want to “force people to be ‘rational'”. I’m reading their argument as, “definitions and rational conclusions about scientific principles must be rational,” not “all people must eliminate every internal contradiction in their own minds.” Those two statements are not on the same level of discourse, but it seems like you want to conflate them.

  130. Matt Penfold

    Chris,

    Eugenie Scott is correct that science and religion are compatible if by compatible you mean someone can both do science and be religious. This is not a contraversial and quite honestly is really pointing the bloody obvious.

    You do seem to accept there is another way in which the compatibilty of science and religion can be discussed and you correctly say Dawkins is going to disagree with Scott there. Just how do you deal with the empirical claims that many religions make about their god ? You seem to accept that it there is an argument to made over how compatible an interventionist god is with science, but you do not actually explain how the problem is overcome. The attempts I have seen to date from others have all been pretty weak and seems to be saying that miracles may happen but it is hoped they do not happen frequently enough to become a problem. Of course one you start allowing miracles as answer in science you start ending up with all kinds of problems. It would become very hard to dismiss creationist claims that life began as a miracle rather than a series of chemical processes for example.

    Do you address this in your book at all ? If you do it would be worth buying.

  131. Heraclides

    @10:

    Besides, on the subject of science and christianity, aren’t you forgetting what Wisdom 11:21 did for the progress of science in the Middle Ages?

    What’s historically true (assuming it is, for the sake of the argument), doesn’t make it true today, which is what is being discussed. Times, knowledge and situations change. It’s frustratingly common to see religious people point to something ancient past, that really isn’t particular relevant to the present day and hold it up as justification for present-day events and situations.

  132. Heraclides

    @131: Excuse my poor grammar: late at night, poor self-editing, etc.!

  133. Chris – as Peter Beattie and p4limpsest said, but more politely than I am going to – this is sheer strawman, and it’s all too typical of the way you talk about the putative ‘New’ atheists –

    The New Atheist critics don’t like that, it seems, because they want to force people to be “rational” and completely justify their views to a very high standard, or else reject them. That would be the “you can’t pick and choose” approach–or, the “you shouldn’t hold incompatible ideas” approach.

    Of course we don’t expletive want to force people to be rational! That’s a tendentious, inaccurate, belligerent, rude way to put it, and (to repeat) it’s all too typical.

    Why can’t you get it right? Why do you (apparently) refuse to get it right? How is that productive? How is that even ‘civil’? How does that ‘bridge gaps’? You talk a lot about bridging gaps in the book; well does it bridge gaps to distort what your opponents argue? Not much! I can testify that it doesn’t make me feel more respect for you, or more inclined to meet you in the middle of the bridge for a chat.

  134. Now. Another point.

    On Thursday, on your Francis Collins thread, I made a point which I have made here several times before.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/09/francis-collins-to-head-nih/#comment-23612

    First, quoting your post –

    “Needless to say, I’m glad of the choice. It elevates to new prominence someone who merges top tier science with religion–a powerful way to show that you really can have both in your life.”

    Then, my comment –

    As always, that simply steps around the real problem. People have pointed this out over and over and OVER again yet Chris never acknowledges it. Of course “you really can have both in your life” but that is not the same thing as epistemic compatibility. Everybody already agrees that you really can have both in your life, the question is whether you can have both in your thinking without denial or evasion or compartmentalization or some other defective “way of knowing.”

    I do wish Chris would address this, just once, instead of always addressing what no one disputes instead.

    ——

    Now one thing you said to Rajiv sounds very like what I said.

    “It seems to me that Scott is just making the blunt empirical point that a lot of people reconcile the two in some way–which is undeniable…”

    Precisely. That’s what I said to you on Thursday, and several other times – yet you never replied or acknowledged the point. Now suddenly it’s what you think – when you reply to someone you consider a friend, apparently.

    That’s no good, Chris. We keep telling you – it’s no good refusing to reply to critics but then replying to friends. It makes you look bad. You don’t want to look bad. You do look bad.

  135. Rilke's Granddaughter

    As usual, John, your inability to separate your own petty emotions from rational discussion are getting in your way – in other words, you’re lying about other people. Again. Consider this errant piece of nonsense from you,

    “I know many of them resent the term “Militant Atheist”, but since they seem incapable of “showing some respect and decency to the people who hold those beliefs”, then, I must conclude that mine is an apt description of their conduct. Moreover, I believe that their own zealous behavior has approached those who are excessively religiously devout, and that, I presume, is why eminent evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has referred to atheism as a “stealth religion”.”

    Myers, et. al. do show respect and decency to the folks who hold religious beliefs. They certainly allow that folks (such as yourself) are permitted to hold any set of beliefs they want. But they are not required to, nor do they, show respect to the BELIEFS THEMSELVES when those beliefs make claims contrary to evidence. Nor are Myers et. al. ‘religiously devout’ even in nature – they are perfectly willing to admit that they don’t BELIEVE in God, but do not believe nor claim that God cannot exist – merely that the evidence is lacking.

    The fact that you’re unable to deal rationally with the statements of Myers and Dawkins seems to have more to do with the fact that Myers booted your butt from Pharyngula for being a tedious, intellectually dishonest, name-dropper. Get over it, John. Nobody cares.

  136. JoshS

    What Ophelia said.

    And also, I’ve never felt more insulted in discussions of this sort than I feel when Chris pointedly ignores criticism and honest requests to engage on substantive issues. I’ve had knock-down debates with people who hold views completely opposed to mine-on extremely important issues- that have respected me more. Because they actually take the topic seriously, and they realize they need to engage it directly.

    Evading questions from honest critics, shifting the goalposts, and using INSULTING terms (did you see that, Chris?) to describe them-“New Atheists”-while deliberately ignoring them is just sheer contempt. You have unbounded nerve Chris, to position yourself as “the nice guy” who disapproves of rudeness and condescension, while treating your critics (who mostly started out not as enemies, but honest questioners) this way.

  137. Mike McCants

    “She says she doesn’t want to answer it as a philosophical question, but rather as an empirical question.”

    Riiiight. Obviously whether or not “religion” is compatible with science could not have anything at all to do with “philosophy”. The fundamental question is “what is rational?” Perhaps “philosophy” tries to answer this question, but “religion” isn’t even interested in listening.

  138. bob

    Let’s remove religion from the table for a second, Chris. How do you feel about, say, anti-vaxxers (or any other out-there alternative medicine)? Their position is clearly faith-based, since it certainly is not evidence-based. Do you respect their faith? Do you acknowledge the “compatibility” of their faith-based beliefs and the scientific worldview? (After all, these folks use the fruits of science to spread and promote their faith-based claims.)

    What is the “common sense” approach with anti-vaxxers? By analogy to your feelings about religion, it seems that we should accept that science has nothing to say about these folks’ faith. Enjoy the measles epidemics, pal.

  139. Chris Mooney

    129&130: These are fair and civil questions, that I would answer in detail now, if I had the time–and perhaps will get to in another post. The problem is that giving such answers well takes time, and moreover, we’ve already done a lot of it in the book and the footnotes–although we lay out a stance that obviously not all accept. But Scott would accept it, I believe, as would many others, like Robert Pennock. Also if you go back over my Coyne posts in the last month or two then I’ve articulated my views on much of this there as well.

  140. JoshS

    Unbelievable, Chris, unbelievable.

  141. No you haven’t. You haven’t done a lot of it in the book. I’ve read the book, and one of the major questions I have about it (as I’ve written on my site) is: how do you know? How do you know that explicit atheism causes people to be hostile to science? What is your evidence for that? You offer neither evidence nor argument for it, you merely assert it, over and over.

    And as for civility – what about the civility of your claim?

    “The New Atheist critics don’t like that, it seems, because they want to force people to be “rational” and completely justify their views to a very high standard, or else reject them.”

    That’s not true. It’s a falsehood. I’ve just said that, above. I pointed out how rude – not civil – it is to do that. Yet again – you simply ignore any objections you don’t like.

    I said it makes you look bad, which is true – because your book and your blog both give the impression that you care very much about appearances and tactics. But I can also say that it’s morally reprehensible. It is. It is morally reprehensible to misrepresent your critics, ignore all objections and questions that your critics post, incorporate your critics’ objections as if they had been your idea all along, and reply only to people you like.

  142. My comment is awaiting moderation, is it. That’s interesting.

  143. This is interesting and puzzling and baffling and indicative of something. (Don’t ask me what, exactly.)

    Mooney must have himself convinced that we (his critics) are all being terribly unfair. But the trouble with that is – he would have a hard time showing any evidence of his critics behaving the way he does. He would have a hard time showing any evidence that we 1) misrepresent our critics 2) ignore all cogent objections and questions 3) reply only to friends 4) incorporate critics’ objections into his own thinking without saying so 5) then repeat the whole process all over again.

    Yes, it takes time to reply. But that’s the price you pay for having a blog. It is possible simply to refuse to reply (just as it is possible to combine theism with science), but it is not possible to do that without consequences. Doing that can cause severe harm to the reputation.

  144. foolfodder

    Chris, you clearly want to debate what you think is an important issue, but you seem to lack the time to understand the positions of your critics or actually debate the issue. Perhaps you would be better served by putting this debate off until you have the time, or risk further alienating those you wish to persuade.

  145. Peter Beattie

    » Chris Mooney:
    129&130: These are fair and civil questions, that I would answer in detail now, if I had the time … The problem is that giving such answers well takes time, and moreover, we’ve already done a lot of it in the book

    Since #129 mentions PZ’s and my posts (#65 and #127-8), I’ll just assume that you are referring to my points as well. Let me just say this one thing. I specifically mentioned the seeming ill-definedness of the term ‘compatibility’. That’s pretty easily addressed: Either you have already thought about it extensively, then you should be able to give a reasonably concise answer in a matter of minutes; or it’s already in your book, in which case you should be able, I suppose, to just copy the relevant section here. Do you think that would be fair to say?

  146. Ophelia, how do you get through a day? You really want people going through your stuff using those same criteria? You shouldn’t from what I’ve read.

  147. Peter Beattie

    Again out of curiosity: Why was #145 held for moderation? I’d be happy to avoid using any terms or behaviour that could be construed as impolitic, if only I knew what they were.

  148. Heraclides

    @146:

    My comment 131 was held for moderation, too, so goodness knows what trips the thing off.

  149. John Kwok

    @ RG (1135) –

    You make it sound as though I’m the only one complaining about Militant Atheist behavior against “theistic evolutionists” and other “accomodationists”. Far from it, starting of course with the excellent observations made by Chris and Sheril in their book (I have read Chapter 8, and disagree completely with every MA critique that’s been tossed at it.).

    Over at PT recently one of your risible efforts at critiquing me was removed almost immediately after you had posted it. Maybe you should learn some humility my dear. Your arrogance is in full bloom.

  150. Chris-

    I appreciate the reply, and completely understand that it takes time to formulate answers to what I certainly agree are difficult questions. I think that it’s fair that you suggest I look at the book, but could you perhaps tell me more specifically where I should look? Especially since you imply that at least some of your response to this issue is likely to be found in the endnotes, which–especially in the “trailing-phrase” format–can be difficult to navigate.

    I would only add that I think it would be an excellent idea to address this particular side of the debate, especially since I really think it may be the crux of the disagreement. Such a post would not only answer a number of your commenters, but would serve as an important response to both the Coyne and the PZ posts you have on backorder.

    Thanks.

  151. “Maybe you should learn some humility my dear.”

    Classic. Absolutely classic. The commenter addressed is of course (according to the name) female. It was just a couple of days ago that someone pulled that nonsense on me at another blog, and several people pointed out the typical, wearying sexism – ‘a red flag of misogyny,’ one said.

    It would be so nice if women could be allowed to participate in intellectual discussions without being patronized as soon as they utter a word. But noooooooo – not in a world full of kwoks.

  152. Jerry Coyne

    @150 Kwok

    “My dear”

    Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

  153. John Kwok

    @ Jerry Coyne –

    If your favorite evolutionary developmental biologist from Morris, MN has such a “first – rate” mind, then how come he isn’t a member of your department yet?

    It’s rather odd that you would complain about my indecency when it’s been exhibited by you in:

    a) January 2009 New Republic review of Giberson and Miller’s books
    b) “accomodationist” charge against NCSE, NAS, and AAAS
    c) your less than diplomatic refusal of the WSF invitation to participate in one of its panels

    Would you care to venture any thoughts as to why your “accomodationist” charge apparently inspired a 9th North American Paleontological Convention technical session held on the last Thursday in June, which featured eminent marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson’s condemnation of your stance?

    Discuss whether your colleague, distinguished evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson, is correct in asserting that atheism is a “stealth religion”?

  154. windy

    But on the question of whether science and religion are “compatible,” why is Scott’s approach less valid? She says she doesn’t want to answer it as a philosophical question, but rather as an empirical question. It seems to me that’s a perfectly good way to go, given that she explicitly admits as much.

    Are there any activities or ideas that can’t be declared compatible using this method? Many smokers are in good health, so smoking is perfectly compatible with healthy living?

  155. John Kwok, you really should address the intellectual dishonesty and not Ophelia Benson’s gender. Ophelia, who I think is just as much of a bigot as Coyne, is within her rights to call him on that. But she’s still as wrong on just about everything else she’s said here.

    While I’d agree that Kwok has been pretty sexist in those remarks, having Jerry Coyne lecture someone on bigotry is stunningly hypocritical.

  156. Windy, the empirical evidence, in the form of scientists who are religious and in the fact that the societies which are religious have supported science is that science and religion are compatible. There is no superior empirical evidence, since that is drawn from what actually happens in real life.

    Your counter argument is a smoke screen because typically smokers suffer measurable, observable health impacts in proportion to the amount they smoke. They only have one body to be impacted by an unhealthy addiction. Even in the case of biblical fundamentalists, they can be quite scientific, even having successful careers in some sciences, so the two areas are not analogous. Though any individual might be an atypical case.

  157. Leigh Jackson

    I would be interested to see the full tape to set this clip in context. Scott appears to be choosing not to answer the question which she has just been asked but switching to this phoney device of claiming religion and science are compatible by virtue of the fact that some people say that it is.

    To repeat, this does not prove anything more than that people can hold contradictory beliefs in their heads. The question of the compatibility of science and religion is a philosophical question. Scientific institutions should remain neutral on the queswtion.

  158. Leigh Jackson, I generally agree with your point, only, both science and religion exist only within the minds of people, neither of them have an independent existence, both are attempts to express parts of human experience. This is something that the devotees of scientism can’t seem to get, in the new atheist sect it seems to be a form of invincible ignorance.

  159. John Kwok

    @ Anthony –

    My criticism wasn’t aimed at Ophelia Benson, but someone else, and my apologies if you thought my comment was “sexist” (That wasn’t my intent.).

    Clearly Coyne is more than a bit hypocritical for criticizing me when his own recent behavior hasn’t been noteworthy either for the very reasons I noted in my reply to him from last night. Moreover, I am more than a bit puzzled how he, a first-rate evolutionary biologist, seems to enjoy now the online company of someone who is – by his own admission – a mediocre evolutionary biologist, and who most certainly is better known as a bizarre agent provocateur of Militant Atheism than as a biologist or teacher. My puzzlement stems from the fact that noted Intelligent Design “prophet” dubbed Coyne the “Herman Munster of Evolutionary Biology” over at Dembski’s Uncommon Descent website approximately a year and a half ago, posting a picture of Coyne next to one of actor Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster.

  160. Once again this discussion is stuck in the self referential ‘christianity vs science’ debate, which assumes itself to actually be universalizable to ‘religion vs science’. If I may, I’d invite you to take a look at a series of posts that I published on my blog, precisely around this problem: when we say ‘science vs religion’ most people don’t know what ‘religion’ might or might NOT mean. http://hypertiling.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/understanding-religion-a-primer-on-critical-studies-part-1/

  161. John Kwok

    @ Anthony (@ 160) –

    I was typing too fast that I forgot to say that it was noted Intelligent Design “prophet” William A. Dembski who had dubbed Coyne the “Herman Munster of Evolutionary Biology”.

  162. Wait a minute – I think Anthony McCarthy got his pronouns scrambled here and ended up (I think inadvertently, in this case) creating a misleading impression.

    “John Kwok, you really should address the intellectual dishonesty and not Ophelia Benson’s gender. Ophelia, who I think is just as much of a bigot as Coyne, is within her rights to call him on that. But she’s still as wrong on just about everything else she’s said here.”

    To be very very clear – it was Kwok who called me sexist names; it was emphatically not Jerry Coyne.

  163. That comment went into moderation – I wonder if it’s because I wrote the dreaded name. Let’s see if a revision makes it in.

    Wait a minute – I think Anthony McCarthy got his pronouns scrambled here and ended up (I think inadvertently, in this case) creating a misleading impression.

    “John Kw-k, you really should address the intellectual dishonesty and not Ophelia Benson’s gender. Ophelia, who I think is just as much of a bigot as Coyne, is within her rights to call him on that. But she’s still as wrong on just about everything else she’s said here.”

    To be very very clear – it was Kw-k who called me sexist names; it was emphatically not Jerry Coyne.

  164. Meanwhile – this is hilarious.

    “@ Anthony –

    My criticism wasn’t aimed at Ophelia Benson, but someone else, and my apologies if you thought my comment was “sexist” (That wasn’t my intent.).”

    He apologizes to Anthony if Anthony thought his comments were sexist! No apologies to RG for patronizing her as ‘my dear’ or, of course, to me for calling me names that won’t get through the filter now. Call women any old thing, but apologize to men if they find the comments sexist. Ha!!

  165. Leigh Jackson

    Cunctator, academics and the general public alike will form their own opinions as to the respective natures of science and religion in general and in particualr – and how they relate to one another. There is unlikely ever to be general agreement.

    Individuals are free to express their opinions on these questions. What I want scientific institutions to do is to explain and defend evolution in terms of science – not in terms of its compatibility or otherwise with religion in general or particular. Scientific institutions should make certain that the public is made aware of the absolute confidence within the scientific community that evolution is a fact. The religious implications are a matter for individuals to decide for themselves. The AAAS et al should not say a word on the subject.

  166. For example, OB. ” Of course we don’t expletive want to force people to be rational! ” #133

    You need a bit of punctuation, there, OB. For “expletive” and, since its your guys, “rational” too.

    And about this:

    ” typical of the way you talk about the putative ‘New’ atheists ”

    As I told your boy Matt Penfold here weeks ago, if you want to take up the use of “new atheists” you’d better go hound your pal Jerry Coyne because I’m just about certain he used it in The New Republic earlier this year. Probably all over the place. And Jason Rosenhouse too. I’d imagine I could find it in most of the archives of most of the big names in the new atheism.

    I’m sure there are lots of atheists who want some kind of way to distinguish themselves from you guys. If they come up with one phrase to distinguish themselves from you, I’ll go with that. In the mean time you’re stuck with the one I first got from your side.

    You know, when I get really sarcastic I say “Brights”, with parenthesis. In italics when I’m feeling really sarcastic.

  167. I guess that previous comment might have been a little strongly put. Something to this effect should have come before #167.

    OB. So I left out a space between two lines. So make a federal case of it, why don’t you.

    And I really didn’t think I had to explain what kind of bigotry Jerry Coyne practices, I do expect people who read comments here to have some awareness of things. He’s an anti-religious bigot, of course. Just the same as I figure people can follow changes in who is getting addressed.

    Like I asked you before, you want people going through your stuff using the rules you’re pushing here, because I’m sure more than one person might like to compile a list for future reference.

  168. Marion Delgado

    Just to clarify, the behavior that’s worked so well for the NCSE is not an endless string of jeremiads against science bloggers for being religious bigots. Hope this helps.

  169. Marion Delgado

    Jerry, while I’m not on your and PZ’s “side” in these matters, I have to tell you at this point that if someone wrote PZ’s name on a rock and tossed it in a pond, Kwok, and perhaps McCarthy, would follow it down and drown. Basically, appeals to reason are pointless. Your writing “Why Evolution is True” and Myers continuing to expound on the joys of biology on his blog are the BEST response.

  170. Marion Delgado, I went to Coyne’s blog after reading the mostly positive review of the book of the same name by Richard Lewontin. I wasn’t familiar with Coyne before that and was intending to order the book on Lewontin’s recommendation. After finding out that the blog was one more cooky-cutter, new atheist, bigotry fest, reading the things he’s had written for The New Republic, I changed my mind. As I would imagine the majority of people who are religious might if they found out that Coyne is an anti-religious bigot. Would you expect women or people of African ancestry to trust James Watson?

    Building on what you said about me. If you wrote “Francis Collins” on a rock and threw it into a cess pool it might explain some of the content of much of Coyne’s blog. Looking back at his archived posts mentioning him. Coyne’s practice of associating Collins with positions and practices he clearly opposes, was the last of a number of straws.

    If I want to read about science, there are better places to read about it. Lots of them. PZ’s isn’t one of those.

  171. John Kwok

    @ Marion –

    Your latest comments are absolutely the most ridiculous I’ve read, period. If you think that I’m “obsessed” with Myers, then I have some news for you. He’s the least of my concerns – if I can call them concerns – and they are virtuall nil.

    What is sad, however, is that Coyne – whom I still have ample respect for as one of our preeminent evolutionary biologists – has cast his lot intellectually with someone who is not merely a mediocre evolutionary biologist – by his own admission to me – but even worse, someone who is better known for being an agent provocateur on behalf of Militant Atheism, not for his teaching, nor for any scientific research – if he has done any since 1998 – period.

  172. John Kwok

    @ Marion –

    Not that I want to be known as Anthony McCarthy’s twin – especially when I don’t always agree with him – but his latest rebuttal, especially with regards to PZ, is well justified (I’m still trying to figure out Jerry Coyne however, and will not go as far as McCarthy has in crticizing him.).

  173. Leigh Jackson

    Just to reinforce my last post. It is important for the canard about evolution being “just a theory” to be nailed and buried.

    The AAAS et al should follow Jerry Coyne’s lead in explaining to the public that scientists consider evolution to be a FACT based on overwelming evidence and they should expalin to the public that our best understanding of how evolution happens is termed the “theory” of evolution rather than the hypothesis of evolution precisely because of the overwhelming evidence. Scientific theories rarely remain static but themselves evolve over time, and are therefore always held to be provisional. But the fact of evolution is not provisional – it is absolutely established.

    These are the kinds of things that the public needs to understand and that the AAAS et al must hammer home.

    The compatibility with religion strategy is a distraction which serves to undermine the communication of the scientic fact of evolution to the public.

  174. John Kwok

    @ Leigh Jackson –

    It’s creationists, including Intelligent Design advocates, who have insisted that evolution is “only a theory”. Every prominent scientific organization I know of, including AAAS, SSE (Society for the Study of Evolution), PS (Paleontological Society), and NCSE (National Center for Science Education) have gone on the record not once, but indeed, many times in an effort at counteracting such creationist nonsense, and have, in fact, been “hammering” it home. Unfortunately Militant Atheists like Coyne and Myers seem oblivious to these very facts.

  175. Leigh Jackson

    John Kwok, a quick check on the home page of NCSE finds this:

    “”Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while only 61% of the public agrees, according to a new report (PDF, p. 37) from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.”

    If these organisations are hammering it home then they had better keep on doing so. They have certainly been hammering home the message that evolution and faith need not be opposed. Perhaps you could supply a few specific references to statements that evolution is a fact from these organisations.

  176. John Kwok

    @ Leigh Jacskon –

    Please look at the FAQ of NCSE. As for the Society for the Study of Evolution and the Paleontological Society, I am quite certain that they have such a statement – the one you’ve requested – posted on their websites. Moreover, I believe such a statement is listed prominently at both the NAS and AAAS websites.

    If you can’t do an online search for these statements, then I’ am going to dismiss you as yet another Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drone.

  177. Mel

    @Anthony McCarthy
    Jerry Coyne does, indeed, know what he is talking about when it comes to evolutionary biology. He is one of the most respected evolutionary biologists working in the field. His work is simply magnificent, and his technical book “Speciation” with Allen Orr was such a thorough and useful treatment of the phenomenon of its title that it was regarded as a classic of biology almost as soon as it was published. No matter his hangups and errors with regard to religion, he is an exemplary scientist. As to “Why Evolution is True”, I have read it, and rest assured that it does not go into religion. It is instead one of the best, most readable, and rewarding short surveys of the massive amounts of research findings supporting evolution that have come out of the past century and half of research in evolutionary biology. In my opinion his writing style is not quite as good as Sean Carroll’s, but enjoyable nonetheless and very clear. Much like Richard Dawkins, his stance on religion should not deter you from reading his writings within the area of science with which really is an expert.

  178. articulett

    Is Eugie Scott this “accommodating” with demon belief and notions about evil spirits?

    Is there a reason scientists should preferably accommodate some superstitions, but not others?

  179. Michael Drew

    The fundamental fact claim is that God exists. And it is not testable because the claimants will not adopt a single clear meaning for the statement — collectively of course, but even in many cases individual claimants are evasive when asked to commit to a single personal meaning for that claim. But there is no reason that that basic claim lies outside the domain of science in theory. Science is interested in investigating the fundamental nature of the universe. If there is an all-powerful (or otherwise) deity or deities, science would be interested in that fact.

  180. Michael Drew

    Why is the belief in God not equally militant as the belief in no god?

  181. Mel, one of the things I learned from going to Coyne’s blog is that when a very smart person suffers a form of bigotry it can have a double effect. In their professional life, when they are restrained by professional ethics and other restraints from expressing or including their bigotry, their work can be excellent. But outside of those restraints, if they allow the bigotry to come into play, it can become a controlling factor and makes them irrational. It answered the questions I’d always had about the odious William Schockley.

    The irrational fear that Coyne expresses about religion destroying science is a lack of trust in the professional practices of scientists. The fear is irrational because in the hundreds of years of modern science it hasn’t been seriously damaged by a very large percentage of scientists being religious. Even now the anti-religion side claims that 40% of scientists are religious but that percentage of science isn’t permeated with religious ideas placed there by scientists. I asked a while back for the evidence that it was a problem and one person came up with a grand total of one sentence in a kind of odd looking paper in one journal which had been caught before its official publication.

    I think there are problems with the structure of professional science, probably different problems in different sciences. Most of those probably have to do with things like lax oversight, internal politics, on occasion, professional influence and self interest. In the one instance, it was a serious failure of peer review of the kind that is probably the most serious problem. Outright fraud is certainly more common that religious scientists trying to sneak religion into their work. Fraud depends on not being noticed, there wouldn’t be any reason for a theoretical dishonest religious scientist to sneak in their religion, because the religion being noticed would be the entire point of it. There wouldn’t be any point in doing it unless it was explicitly noticed.

    So, I have every confidence that other scientists, within biology, would be able to determine if Coyne’s professional work was good. But he says a lot of things about religion that is bigoted and at times false. He has said things about some religious scientists that is clearly false and at times rather unhinged.

    As I’m about to have to stop doing this for quite a while, I think the thing I’ve learned from the five weeks I’ve been here is how little even real scientists don’t consider about their profession. One of the most serious of those is the limits on their area of study imposed by the necessary focus of it and the great pains necessary to get what science was invented to get, enhanced reliability of information about what is studied. I wonder if the successes of science haven’t made people irrationally presume that it can extend past what it studies. That presumption seems to be part of the basis of the new atheism.

    But there are some real problems with it. One of the most serious is that there is no one thing called “religion”, there are a large number of religions and almost none of them practice totalitarian influence over their members. There is wide variation among what is believed even within one religion and in a single believer, beliefs develop and change. There is nothing in religion that is fixed like the structure of matter or the measurement of forces. There’s no one “religion” that you can make any true, universal statement about. Some religions are incompatible with evolutionary science, many are compatible with it. And even a person who absolutely denies the truth of evolution or even geology can fully accept other aspects of science.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. The point is that Coyne on his specialty is probably quite good, as soon as he steps outside of it his bigotry is a controlling disability in what he says. I think that’s generally the way it is when smart people are bigots.

    Micheal Drew, even if God is there, being supernatural, science couldn’t find God for that reason. It can’t find a lot of things for that reason. I think the failure of scientists to understand that the essential boundaries of their work precludes them considering problems that can’t be addressed by the methods and tools of their profession is at the heart of a lot of the new atheism. In the social sciences it can be at the heart of a lot of bad science that gets junked after a decade or two of dominance. My guess is that some of the professional work of some of the bright lights of the new atheism will go the way of discontinued psychological theories for that reason. Maybe they should consider working on that problem during their work hours instead of trying to find what their methods and tools can’t.

    I haven’t been calling the new atheism militant atheism, I sometimes call it fundamentalist atheism because it is so remarkably like biblical fundamentalism.

  182. Mel

    @Anthony McCarthy

    I just want to be clear that you are I agree on a great deal, and I wasn’t disagreeing with you on Jerry Coyne’s views on religion. I just wanted to stick up for the man’s scientific work and advocacy. I am an evolutionary biologist, so I am familiar with his work and can vouch for it, and I have a vested interest in urging people to read popular accounts as good as Coyne’s to get a better of idea of the vast body of work that has been done in my field. I confess that I don’t understand how vituperative and ugly Coyne has gotten regarding religion. Indeed, having met the man, I have a hard time understanding how the person online can live in the charming, brilliant, polite man I saw then. Of course the same is true of PZ Myers (I can’t really say it about Richard Dawkins, though. I was at a dinner for him when he came to speak at my university, and he was, frankly, a bit of a jerk – making gratuitous snide remarks about people saying grace, blowing off people with professional questions, insulting an advocate of evolution education who happens to be a devout Christian, and, at one point, declaring that MLK’s civil rights fight was in no way impelled by his religious faith. He was charming, of course, but there was that other side that kept jarringly coming out). I frankly think at least some of it is due to the semi-anonymity of being online and the cheering from the fan base, but what do I know?

    As to science, I agree with some of what you say, but I think you are giving the scientific community the short shrift. Fraud is really not that bad a problem, not least because there is no tolerance of it. If you fake your data or commit any other form of serious research misconduct and it is discovered, your career is over and you are ostracized, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It is, however, far more of a problem than, as you acknowledge, scientists letting their religious beliefs override their science (though my experience is that religious colleagues find great inspiration in their beliefs that can help keep them on track through the frustrations and failures that are par for the course in the lab). We do have problems, and all would largely acknowledge that. We are human, after all. However, I think you would be surprised if you came into a lab for a while at just how little this New Atheist crusade is reflective of what goes on. We are largely very curious, dedicated people who are far more interested in asking questions, forming models to explain the phenomena we work on, doing good work, keeping up with the literature, and so on. Having worked in academic science for ten years now, I have to say that I really don’t recognize the image of it given by Myers and his followers (Nor, for that matter, the incredible animosity toward all religion, as I have had a great many religious colleagues belonging to a diverse array of faiths with very little conflict – save for one New Atheist who got very unpleasant and temporarily hurt the function of the lab with his constant hectoring, though he settled down after realizing that everyone was avoiding any interaction with him). So, please be sure not to commit their mistake and form a negative picture of a large number of people based on an obnoxious few.

    I hope you have a good rest from this. I understand the frustration and sense of hopelessness in trying to defend a more rational, humane viewpoint in forums like this. It is sad how little listening there is here.

    Be well,
    Mel

  183. Mel

    One other thing, Anthony, I am in full agreement with the ultimate effect of the harsh anti-religious rhetoric of Myers, Dawkins, and others who have so conflated science and their brand of atheism. I have had a number of conversations with lay persons who are strongly religious and skeptical of science, and, increasingly, the New Atheists names come up as conversation stoppers. The moment Dawkins name comes up with at least some of them, their minds slam shut. Brashly offending people is not a good route to getting people to listen to your position – it just makes rational, civil exchange of ideas much harder. One would think that human history would have been sufficient evidence of this key fact.

  184. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Thanks for your two most recent posts, which merely reemphasize my point that Jerry Coyne is indeed among our most prominent contemporary evolutionary biologists and that this is due to his excellent work on speciation, culminating in his 2004 book “Speciation” co-authored with his colleague, fellow evolutionary geneticist H. Allen Orr (I have yet to have the opportunity to read it, but I suppose I shall eventually.).

    As for PZ Myers I have read a first-hand account of how charming he can be in person by someone who had just met him (This was in private e-mail correspondence between myself and the person in question.). However, his personal demeanor doesn’t absolve him IMHO of his rather outrageous online behavior. As for both Coyne and Dawkins, I have had the pleasure of meeting both, and Dawkins, in particular, I found especially charming and gracious. I met him at a public discussion and booksigning he had at a New York City Barnes and Nobles (His wife, actress Lalla Ward, was also present, and I believe I was the only one who recognized her. Not only did I chat with her, I had her autograph my copy of Dawkins’s book too.), and he was rather ecumenical towards religion, though I should also note that this was at an event held months before the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks.

  185. Mel

    @John Kwok

    As a Doctor Who fan since childhood, just let me say that I am very jealous that you got to meet Lalla Ward. When Dawkins came to visit here, I had hoped that she would be able to make it also, but alas, no. I am glad that you got to see more of the good side of Dawkins than I did. I think the last several years have hardened him in his stance. It is too bad I didn’t meet him then. I think I would have felt far less disappointment after meeting a man whose writings were a big part of the reason why I chose to work in evolutionary biology. This is not to say that I wasn’t glad to have gotten to meet him and shake his hand, as I was, but there was that disappointment just the same.

  186. Leigh Jackson

    John Kwok, I can go searching but it would help to speed things up if you could give direct references.

    I cannot find a categorical statement on the NCSE site to the effect that evolution is a fact. However, they do have a link to an article by Ryan Gregory,in which he says, “…the scientific community at large has accepted evolutionary descent as a historical reality since Darwin’s time and considers it among the most reliably established and fundamentally important facts in all of science.”

    I would like the NCSE to emblazon that statement on their home page.

    Question #11 of NCSE’s FAQ page is: Does evolution prove there is no God?

    This is their answer. “No. Many people, from evolutionary biologists to important religious figures like Pope John Paul II, contend that the time-tested theory of evolution does not refute the presence of God. They acknowledge that evolution is the description of a process that governs the development of life on Earth. Like other scientific theories, including Copernican theory, atomic theory, and the germ theory of disease, evolution deals only with objects, events, and processes in the material world. Science has nothing to say one way or the other about the existence of God or about people’s spiritual beliefs.”

    This answer is clumsy and inaccurate. Since when have anthropology and psychology not been able to speak about spiritual beliefs? Identifying science as the study of the material world just begs the question. It seems to allow that there is or may be an immaterial world (or worlds) distinct from the world which science studies. There is no need to allow space for this excess suppositional baggage. There may be no such world, in which case we are not being told anything of consequence. Science deals with any object, event, or process which can subjected to empirical testing – in this or any other world which may exist.

    The best answer is simply: No. Science has nothing to say about the existence of God.

    Thank you for drawing my attention to The Society for the Study of Evolution. They have two exemplary statements (found under Resources) which everyone should read:

    ‘”Evolution” refers both to a set of scientific facts and to a theory explaining such facts. “Evolution” refers to the scientific fact that biological organisms have changed through time, and that all life, including humanity, has descended with modification from common ancestors. Evolution is as well documented as are other currently accepted scientific facts. The theory of evolution is a comprehensive and well-established scientific explanation, based on natural processes, of the fact of biological evolution.’

    ‘Evolutionary theory should be taught in public schools because it is one of the most important scientific theories ever generated, and because it is the accepted scientific explanation for the diversity of life. As a scientific theory, it is testable and has been extensively tested. As stated by the great geneticist and evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The theory of evolution is subject to refinements and revisions, but this is no different from any other major scientific theory, such as the those providing the explanatory frameworks of geology, physics, or chemistry. There is no pedogogical or scientific reason to treat evolutionary theory any differently than any other well-accepted scientific theory, and it should be taught in public schools as the firmly established, accepted unifying scientific principle that it is.’

    I cannot see any accomodationist statements floating around their site but if they exist I would urge the SSE to drop them. They can only serve to deflect attention away from the most fundamental facts of biology. Nothing more is required than the elucidation and repetition of those two statements. If people don’t want to accept scientific facts they have that right. But they must be informed about what the scientific facts are.

  187. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Not only did she sign my book, but she drew a sketch of “K – 9″. I believe I was the only one present who knew that she once portrayed a Time Lord!

  188. John Kwok

    @ Leigh Jackson –

    Here’s a hint:

    GOOGLE “Paleontological Society” and “Geological Society of London” and put next to them, also in quotation marks, “creationism” and “Intelligent Design”. I am certain that if you did this GOOGLE search: “Paleontological Society” & “creationism” & “Intelligent Design”, then you would come upon its official statement. As for the Geological Society of London, their public statement against creationism was issued on April 11, 2008 as a press release.

    Wish I had time to accomodate your request for online search assistance, but I am delighted that you found those statements over at the Society for the Study of Evolution’s website. It’s one of many I am certain which refute Jerry Coyne’s inane accusation that professional scientific organizations have “accomodationist” stances towards religion.

  189. John Kwok

    @ Leigh Jackson –

    There is ample online resources over at the NCSE website which demonstrate that evolution is a fact. I can’t help you further if you can’t recognize that NCSE’s mission includes informing the public that evolution is valid science, and thus, therefore, a valid scientific fact.

  190. Mel

    @John Kwok

    So jealous…

  191. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Considering some of the famous people that I do know, I would say that meeting Dawkins and Ward that night was one of the most amazing meetings I ever had and one I still treasure a lot to this day (And I say this even though I’ve been troubled by some of his recent rather harsh, anti-religious biogtry.).

  192. Leigh Jackson

    John Kwok, I am not saying that every scientific organisation is accommodationist. Nor is Jerry. He has named the AAAS and NAS and also the NCSE. I agree with him. I am saying that those organisations should drop their accommodationist position.

    To a varying degree these organisations are straying beyond the bounds of science and into the bounds (or the embrace) of religion and philosophy to defend evolution. I don’t think they should be doing so, nor does Jerry.

    This list of organisations you have given: are they all commenting on the agreeableness of science and religion? I have no idea. If so I would find it quite extraordinary. I would assume that they would be making the point as strongly as possible that evolution qua theory is as well atttested a theory as any in science, and is also considered to be a fact in the same way that it is considered that atoms exist, that gravity exists, that the planets revolve around the sun, that germs cause diseases etc.

    To engage in an attempt to tempt religious objectors to accept evolution by pointing to others from different religous faiths who say that they accept evolution is patently futile.

    Scientists must not become missionary agents for science-religion compatible faiths.

  193. John Kwok

    @ Leigh –

    I’ve spent much time – maybe too much time – looking over NCSE’s website, and I don’t see anything that remotely confirms Jerry Coyne’s absurd “accomodationism” charge, unless you contend that NCSE Faith Project Director Paul Hess is ample confirmation of such “accomodationism” (It is not, since he doesn’t write – nor has he written – anything explaining why science should accomodate certain – or all – religions.). And I’m not the only one who has been checking. I asked Ken Miller – after I had done my own private investigation – and he claims that he hasn’t seen anything at NCSE’s website which supports Coyne’s accusation (Now before you accuse me of being in collusion with Ken since he is both a friend and a fellow alumnus of our undergraduate alma mater, please bear in mind that I had asked Ken AFTER I checked and that I’m a Deist, not a devout Roman Catholic (which is Ken’s faith)).

    Jerry Coyne has said that everyone who engages creationists should be “together” since we’re all on the pro-evolution side. If he means what he has said, then why does he attack me, Ken Miller and others who strongly disagree with his “accomodationist” charge?

  194. Leigh Jackson

    I am not Jerry Coyne’s spokesman.

    Speaking for myself I will say that all those who are able to reconcile their religipus faith with evolution can join together and speak from the religious point of view, or points of view, in defense of evolution if they wish. The NCSE, as an organisation speaking on behalf of science education, is the wrong place to do it, though. A more correct platform would be an organisation which speaks on behalf of religious education. But this would never work because there is no religious consensus on the truth of evolution. A whole lot of religious people think it’s the greatest evil the devil ever landed humankind with.

    The NCSE’s policy inevitably invites dissent from thoses who believe that religious faith and science do not mix; particularly those who believe that science and religion are antithetical. It can appear to be sending a message that science needs the help of religion. It can also appear to be saying that science officially endorses religions which endorse science: whether or not it intends to do so.

    Why should non-believing scientists buy into all this when it is obvious that religious objectors to evolution cannot be delivered unto science by the blandishments of false religions?

    I believe that science can and must fight its own corner. Religion offers science nothing in return for a seat at its table.

  195. John Kwok

    @ Leigh –

    Nor do I believe that you are “Coyne’s spokesman”. My apologies for making you think that.

    However, I have to differ strongly with your assessment regarding NCSE’s “accomodationism”. It doesn’t exist, period, even if you, Coyne, Myers et al. continue to believe so.

  196. Leigh Jackson

    I just want to point out that the news headline on the home page of NCSE which I quoted in an earlier post is wrong. The headline quotes the new Pew Report as stating 97% of scientists and 61% of the public accept evolution.

    The report actually says, “87% of scientists say that humans and other living things have evolved over time and that evolution is the result of natural processes such as natural selection. Just 32% of the public accepts this as true.”

    This represents a small improvement on the 2006 Pew Report which found 27% of the public acceptance of evolution by natural processes alone.

    Surely the evidence is compelling: science and religion – as practiced by most Americans, at least – are far from compatible.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

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

About Chris Mooney

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

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

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

Not Registered Yet?

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