In Newsweek On Science And Religion

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 14, 2009 3:44 pm

Over at Newsweek, our latest article is up.  We begin by addressing some of negative reactions to the appointment of Francis Collins as head of NIH:

The critics, though, have it exactly backward: the United States needs more scientists like Collins—researchers who show by their prominence and their example that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs. The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.

Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such. Though some very vocal voices in the science community disagree, I assure you they are not representative of the whole. I continue to work day to day with scientists who hold a very broad array of beliefs across fields from molecular biology to physiology to conservation. And when it comes to issues like climate change and ocean acidification, everyone must be be engaged if we’re to get anywhere. The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science. When it comes to enacting sound policies on what really matters, this will always be a losing strategy.

Americans have serious problems with science, and religion is definitely part of the reason. But that doesn’t mean fighting religion, indiscriminately, is the answer. A far better approach is to work with religious believers to help them separate their personal religion from everybody’s shared science, and move toward a much needed middle ground.

The New Atheists will hardly be pleased by the Collins choice, but that’s unpreventable and perhaps even to the good: science and atheism aren’t the same, and the former must always remain a broader, more inclusive category.

You can read the full piece online here.

Comments (136)

  1. Davo

    The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science

    Sorry, but I would like to see some evidence for this assertion, especially if we are saying things like “the majority of the planet”. Are there studies which indicate for instance that Richard Dawkins and his body of work has actually alienated more people away from science rather than attracted them toward it?

  2. Sven DiMilo

    many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science

    The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science.

    Are you aware that a major emerging criticism of your book is that it is full of bald assertions like these which are, like these, unsupported by any meaningful evidence?
    Do you seriously believe that fanning the flames of the ridiculous “crackergate” affair in Newsweek (online) is helpful to your goals?

  3. GM

    That’s just outrageous nonsense!

    The way the article reads, it seems like we need more watering down of science with religion.

    When are you going to understand that the problem people have with science will never go away as long as religion exists because it is the way of thinking of science that people have problem adopting. Everything else follows from that. And even mild religion is totally against that way of thinking. Which is brilliantly illustrated by people like Collins, who may be famous scientists but are unable to think like one.

    If you agreed that we have to work to eliminate religion, and were promoting accomodationism as a way to achieve this without too much confrontation (it can never do that, but that’s another debate) then it would be somewhat OK.

    But for someone who is an atheist and self-proclaimed science-communicator and public defender to actively defend religion is equivalent to intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind

  4. Paul

    But for someone who is an atheist and self-proclaimed science-communicator and public defender to actively defend religion is equivalent to intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind

    Depends on what you mean by defend religion. I say this not to misrepresent you but to preempt what the Mooney fanboys will say anyway. Many atheists aren’t into the thoughtcrime idea. Religion is fine if it’s just a matter of your own personal beliefs. I’m more than happy to defend the right to believe as you wish. There is no intellectual dishonesty in that. However, once said religious beliefs are presented in public fora there is no reason to shield them from critical thought, the same as any other beliefs. Arguing otherwise is just special pleading.

    There does need to be a line in the sand with respect to science and policy. The Scientific Method is the only consistent, predictable, reliable way we have of objectively understanding the world we inhabit. This method should be the primary source for policy debates. Any attempt to shoehorn religion in when it comes to government policy should not be allowed.

  5. This is beyond belief.

    You left out the important bits – the ones where you do yet more infantile finger-pointing at Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers. Waaaaaaaah, Mommy, they said our book is bad, waaaaaah, make them stop.

    Do you have any idea what you look like? Do you have any clue how petty and obsessive and childish you look? Whining and tattling in Newsweek because the bad “New Atheists” (that is, two of them) said how feeble your book is? Did it not cross your minds that the very last people you should attack in a large-circulation magazine right now would be people who had slated your book?

    It didn’t, did it! You’re so clueless that you thought it would be a good idea to use Newsweek to pay back your critics.

    Well – at least after this presumably there won’t be any commenters saying ‘Hey we’re all on the same side here.’

  6. Since M/K didn’t have the courage to quote the mentions of Coyne and Myers, I’ll do it.

    “As soon as Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian geneticist who headed up the pioneering Human Genome Project during the 1990s, was floated as the possible new director of the National Institutes of Health-he was officially named to the post on Wednesday-the criticisms began flying. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, for one, said Collins is too public with his faith.”

    “Science is their watchword, but it has always been about much more than that. The New Atheist science blogger PZ Myers, for instance, has publicly desecrated a consecrated communion wafer, presumably taken from a Catholic mass, and put a picture of it, pierced by a rusty nail and thrown in the trash, on the Internet.”

    Mommy, Mommy, make them stop! Daddy, Daddy, hit them, hit them! Hit them now! They’re bad, I’m good, hit them!

  7. Ben Nelson

    “Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such.”

    To no evidence.

    The Pew data doesn’t support your interpretation, given 30 year trends. Social psychology doesn’t seem to support your interpretation concerning strategy. Scott-style arguments don’t even engage in the actual debate, which concerns cognitive compatibility, not brute-force compatibility.

    You think people are behaving badly somehow. This is not a claim that has met with much scrutiny, and it would seem has not been put forward with the expectation that it meet any such scrutiny.

    We’re done with the jokes. Let’s try seriousness now.

  8. Allow me to post my list of questions again. They help to indicate what is missing in your book.

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=2841

    1) What do you want? What do you mean? You say religion is private so we have no business prying into what people believe, but Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson wrote books, Francis Collins wrote a book and has a website. The National Center for Science Education has a website. Are you saying we can’t dispute claims made in books and on websites? If yes, you’re making a grotesque demand. If no – what are you saying?

    2) How do you know overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science? How does that work? What is your evidence?

    3) How do you know it doesn’t work the other way? Instead or in addition? How do you know the increased availability of atheism doesn’t make some, perhaps many, people feel more at liberty to explore science, follow the evidence wherever it goes, and the like?

    4) How do you explain the fact that theism has had pervasive automatic respect and deference for many decades yet the public-science gap has not narrowed?

    5) Do you have any evidence that the putative ‘new’ atheism caused a spike in public hostility to science? Can you point to even a correlation?

    6) Do you have any concern that your advice is in sharp conflict with the whole idea of free inquiry, free thought, freedom of debate, discussion, argument? Do you have any sense at all that it is, in general, a bad idea to impose prior restraints and inhibitions on what it is okay (acceptable, advisable) to discuss? Do you worry at all about the general effects of this timid, placating, cautious, apologetic imposition of taboos and ‘ssssh’ and ‘don’t mention that’ on public debate? Do you really think your reasons are good enough to trump those possible concerns? Do they, for instance, rise to the level of the reasons it’s best to avoid racial or sexual or ethnic or national epithets in public discussion? And are their attendant risks as small? Do we lose as little of substance by not saying there is no good reason to believe God exists as we do by not calling women ‘bitches’?

    7) Do you take enough care to present your critics’ views accurately? You admitted on Daily Kos that you got Dawkins wrong in your book. Are you thoroughly confident that you haven’t made other such mistakes, in the book and on your blog? I know I’ve seen other inaccuracies of that kind, and pointed some of them out to you. (Just one example: you said “The New Atheist critics don’t like [what Eugenie Scott says], 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.” Can you see what is wrong with that? I pointed it out at the time. Do you see the problem? Do you worry that it is pervasive?) Have you noticed that this has happened many times? Does it prompt you to worry more about a tendency to strawman anyone you disagree with?

    8) Do you understand the need to be clear about terminology and to avoid ambiguity and equivocation? In particular, do you now see that there is a difference – an important difference, one that’s central to this disagreement – between saying that people can combine science and religion ‘in their lives,’ that ‘you really can have both in your life’, and saying that science and religion are epistemically compatible?

    9) Do you understand the implications of the Pew study, which spells out the fact that a large percentage of people simply ignore the findings of science whenever they contradict their religious beliefs? Do you understand that that is not epistemic compatibility but its opposite? Do you have any qualms at all about telling scientists and atheists to just acquiesce in that?

  9. mike

    First off, you assume that the New Atheists hold science promotion as their first goal. I don’t think that’s at all true of Hitchens for example. The New Atheists goal seems to be two fold. First, to promote atheism to the point that other atheists feel free to come out of the closet. Second, to convince others that the atheist world view is correct or that a religious world view is dangerous. These goals are not entirely separate from the goal of science promotion, but are not entirely entangled either.

    In either case, the anti-science and anti-intellectual bias of western civilization is enshrined right at the beginning of Genesis. Religion is clearly a strong root in western anti-intellectualism, and this is where the New Atheists goals collide with the goal of promoting public understanding of science. For some, science promotion is a tool for New Atheism and for others, outspoken atheism is a tool of science promotion. You’re setting up a straw man of what most New Atheists are after and having a smashing success at knocking it down, all the while, the New Atheists are bringing up points that I just don’t see you adequately addressing.

    You’re own waffling and mealy-mouthed responses to Myers et al, as well as the inadequacy of your take on the Pluto controversy have turned me off to your book and your line of reasoning. I was hoping for something more.

  10. Paul

    “Well – at least after this presumably there won’t be any commenters saying ‘Hey we’re all on the same side here.’”

    There are, already. The New Accomodationists see no problem with saying “we’re on the same side” while actively misrepresenting and arguing in bad faith against the New Atheists. That would seem to be abundantly clear, by now. And something I made note of on WEIT:

    “Kirshenbaum has come out as an agnostic Jew according to that article. Not that it’s all that important, but I have seen people wonder what her particular religious stance is. Contrasting Mooney’s “atheist” label to her “agnostic”, apparently he has no doubt that there is no god. That’s taking an even stronger anti-god position than Mooney castigates Dawkins for taking in TGD.”

    Misrepresenting or not? In all fairness, Mooney’s misrepresentation had Dawkins saying science proves there is no god. So I suppose instead of Mooney taking that position, he just arbitrarily decided that there is absolutely no chance a god exists. Still puts his criticism of Dawkins in an odd light.

  11. @5

    Unlike blog posts, articles are submitted before they run. Newsweek was composed prior to Coyne’s review.

  12. Johnny Wilson

    Well said Sheril and Chris. While I am a religious scientist, I am not nearly as brave as the authors to stand up against both extremes of the spectrum who believe science and religion are mutually exclusive. Us scientists are quick to judge those who do not believe in global warming, evolution etc etc. Yet, what else do we expect if, regardless of our believes, we cannot at least respect the spiritual/religious views of others. Like the article states – by alienating the public with our polarizing views we only hurt our own cause.

    Johnny

  13. Sorbet

    This is really depressing. For centuries people exhibited just this kind of deference towards religion and see where it has taken us. For once there are people who are vociferous in their support of the scientific method and in their opposition to religion, and suddenly they and whoever agrees with them are all conveniently labeled as intolerant bigots and rabid, insensitive and arrogant jerks?

    Chris and Sheril, let me ask you a very honest question; have you actually read The God Delusion, The End of Faith or Darwin’s Dangerous idea carefully. Are you aware that, irrespective of whether or not you agree with these books, tha arguments in them are much more thoughtful and nuanced than you and many of the commenters on this site are making them out to be? It’s very easy to say “Richard Dawkins and others are religion-hating bigots/Islamophobes/’militant’ atheists”. It’s an entirely different matter to specifically and thoughtfully refute particular arguments in their books instead of painting all their opinions with the same brush.

    “Militant accommodationism” is the only description I can think of for this behavior.

  14. foolfodder

    “Yet, what else do we expect if, regardless of our believes, we cannot at least respect the spiritual/religious views of others.”

    What does it mean to ‘respect the spiritual/religious views of others’? Is it different to respecting other ideas? Do you respect other ideas? How can you respect an idea?

  15. Okay, I stand corrected, the article was written before Coyne’s review. But not before Myers’s then? So the basic point is not much altered.

    Really – the way you two are industriously fouling your own nest is mind-boggling.

  16. mike

    “So read a small sampling of the defiant T-shirt and bumper sticker slogans that emerged in late 2006 after the International Astronomical Union (IAU), meeting in Prague, opted to poke the public with a sharp stick. The union’s general assembly voted to excommunicate the ninth planet from the solar system, thus abruptly stripping Pluto of a status as much cultural, historic, and even mythological as scientific.”

    I wanted to follow up and point out where your thoughts on Pluto went wrong. The quoted paragraph above (also the opening paragraph of the chapter) lays everything that’s wrong with your take right out there for all to see. The scientists didn’t “poke the public” any more than Darwin did. The public didn’t understand the science behind the change any more than the church going folks of 1859 understood evolution. But that should in no way throw a bad light on the scientists who followed the science, as you’ve done right there in the first paragraph.

    “Didn’t the scientists involved foresee such an outcry from the public? Did they simply not care? Was the Pluto decision really scientifically necessary?”

    You further implicate the scientists here. The fact is, it is often necessary in science to redefine things once new evidence comes in. But of course you both know that. One of the background events, lost in the uproar, is the discovery of 298 (current count) exoplanet systems over the last 15 or so years. As we get better at finding these systems and characterizing them we will hopefully get a better and better idea of what differentiates a planet from the remnants of planet formation. Instead of lamenting the lost opportunity for the scientists and the media to educate on this matter, (how many in the public even know we’ve identified planets around other stars?), you’ve blamed the scientists for their indifference towards the public’s feelings.

    You’ve got to see the forest for the trees.

  17. GM

    @ #12

    Depending on how you define a science, the term “religious scientist” can be quite an oxymoron. I prefer to go with the broader definition of science as a set of methods for discovering truth about the world, rather than the cultural definition of science as something people in labcoats to for money.

    If you are religious, you are only doing science in the latter sense, but you are failing at the very fundamentals of science in the former.

    My feeling is that the authors of this blog embrace the second view of what science is, which is quite unfortunate if that’s what the people, whose job is to defend science, think

  18. foolfodder

    “The New Atheists will hardly be pleased by the Collins choice, but that’s unpreventable …”

    It might have been nice if you’d mentioned that the specific reason that they give for being unhappy with the Collins choice is not because he is religious but because he has, allegedly, used a previous position to promote his religious views. Would you be happy if Collins used his new position to promote his religious views?

  19. windy

    Help me out here. Let’s assume that what you say is true, and PZ Myers causes people to turn away from science, especially given his actions last year. Then I don’t understand why you insist on keeping that particular controversy alive through your book and your articles, ensuring that more and more members of the general public will learn about it?

    This seems to be explicitly directed at people who were not previously aware of the incident:
    the New Atheist science blogger PZ Myers, for instance, has publicly desecrated a consecrated communion wafer

    What, exactly, is the goal here?

    Contrast this with your response to the “Expelled from Expelled!” incident last year: “This Controversy HELPS Ben Stein, People!” OK, who do you think this controversy HELPS?

  20. Cross-posted from Coyne’s blog:

    Jeezis – speaking of jokes – check out the Mooney/Kirshenbaum piece in Newsweek

    From there:

    The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.

    Hm, yeah, that would be ironic. Any reason to think it’s true?

    Truth is, I suspect that the back and forth (yes, thanks to the accommodationists as well) is making science more interesting to people. Instead of tandem repeats or some such thing, scientists are saying that science matters to their worldview. Results may vary, including reactions against science, but on the whole I’ll bet that science comes out better from the exchange.

    Theists as a group, even, are not unlikely to know less about science from making science appear more central and consequential. They may end up disagreeing with Coyne, Myers, and Dawkins on what science means to religion, but they’re more likely to find the subject interesting.

    Of course there appears to be no data supporting my argument as well, but I think it rests well with our general knowledge about how people react to publicity that touches on their lives. They have no data for their claims, either, but I don’t think that their claims comport with what we know about publicizing a subject like science.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

    And just to add a note, do you guys realize that in fighting for science we are in fact fighting against facile unsupported conclusions like we see in your Newsweek article?

  21. James T

    Science and Religion ARE mutually exclusive if you follow their actual meanings.
    Science is a thought process by which we examine the evidence and reach tentative hypotheses based on the evidence.
    Belief is a thought process by which one makes a guess and believes with absolute certainty “on faith” in that guess.

    It doesn’t matter if someone with a science degree has religious views, that just distorts the topic, and it has nothing to do with whether science and religion are compatible.

    We should NOT pretend that religious thinking is OK. It’s not. It’s irrational, and outright dangerous. Why should we respect someone for believing a cracker is a person?
    Do we respect people who believe that non-whites are inferior? No, we call them “rascist”, and reject their ridiculous beliefs.

    Other beliefs, especially some held by every Christian, are just as dangerous. Belief of any sort goes against the scientific method and rational thinking in every way.

  22. J.D.

    Oy! Here’s that continued bald assertion sans evidence:

    The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science.

    You guys are supposed to be science writers. I know you have some inkling of what the scientific method entails. Yet somehow when it comes to this and related assertions there seems to be some kind of filter where you fail to see the need to apply said scientific method. Perhaps this is your own personal form of NOMA.

    Lets pretend you are taking a scientific approach to your claims and you want to present this in a peer reviewed paper or at a conference. It would be a good idea in this case to have preferably some quantitative evidence but at the very least some qualitative evidence that the “new atheists” (needs clear definition) are taking an adversarial approach (needs clear definition) are in fact “alienating the majority of the planet away from science”. Especially after you’ve been asked over and over again. What evidence is there that the majority of the planet has been alienated away from science by the new atheist tactics? What evidence do you have that the majority of the planet even knows who these “new atheists” are?

  23. James T

    An open question to all “accommodationists”:
    Do you respect racist beliefs? Why/Why not? Isn’t a belief in God, Immortality, and other supernatural topics just as ungrounded in reality, and aren’t they just as likely to cause harm?

  24. Oded

    Wow, I think this statistic quoted in your article really sums up the attitudes:

    “According to a 2006 Time magazine poll, for instance, 64 percent of Americans would hold on to a cherished religious belief even if science had disproved it.”

    Your response to this statistic is “wow! We better not tell them science disproves religion, we have to get them to accept science! Tread carefully!”

    My response to it is “wow! We don’t have a chance of teaching them science as long as they keep this view! We MUST correct this view before scientific literacy can even be debated. This view, by DEFINITION, contradicts science ALREADY. Regardless of the facts of science such as evolution, this view alone is already way WRONG!!”

    Hence, the different emphasis of our approaches…

  25. Dave C

    There seem to be a few rather bold assertions made in that Newsweek piece. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I would be very interested in seeing the evidence on which they are based.

  26. Jennifer B. Phillips

    Unlike blog posts, articles are submitted before they run. Newsweek was composed prior to Coyne’s review.

    But after the exchange over accommodation and Jerry’s UA-related posts on WEIT prior to his review, it was probably wasn’t difficult to predict that the forthcoming review would be unfavorable, was it?

    I didn’t think I could possibly respect your position less, but after reading your Newsweek article, I stand corrected.

  27. JEM

    Ah, if only the world could be so black and white. Atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. Atrocities have been committed in the name of science. (If any of you can’t admit this to yourself, surely you can see that science has been apply to rationalize much that is evil, and has most certainly been applied to magnify the ability to commit various acts of evil). Neither science nor religion are in fact practiced as the philosophers and knee-jerk defenders of either tradition would have it. Perhaps they should be, but Humanity is messy. Religion is messy. Science is messy. The world is impure. Get over it, and figure out how to make a difference anyway.

    Shorter OB at 5,6, and 8: Chris and Sheril are whiny children! I don’t like them! Pay attention to me! Me! Me! I demand to be answered! Me! Me!

  28. Peter Beattie

    » Sheril Kirshenbaum:
    Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such.

    Wow, so it’s not just ‘Shut up!’ to PZ, RD, and Jerry, it’s actually ‘You shouldn’t be allowed to say what you’re saying’. Nice. You are unequivocally right without giving a single supporting argument or, in fact, even understanding the first thing about the issue (compatibility), and your opponents should be silent. Pardon my French, but that’s crazy-talk.

    Though some very vocal voices in the science community disagree, I assure you they are not representative of the whole. I continue to work day to day with scientists who hold a very broad array of beliefs … .

    Of course, why not cite your personal experience in support of a claim about representativeness. And you wrote a book about scientific illiteracy? What an incredible joke.

    The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science.

    At the rate that you’re making completely baseless, self-serving claims and touting your bigoted (yes, bigoted; look it up in a dictionary) interpretations, one shouldn’t wonder why you’re so eager to please the believers. You have obviously joined them.

    When it comes to enacting sound policies on what really matters, this will always be a losing strategy.

    So you do not only know the Truth about “what really matters”, you also have a crystal ball? But do go ahead, make a complete fool of yourself.

  29. not unlikely to know less about science

    I suppose I should correct the above, even though it should be obvious what I meant, which is:

    not likely to know less about science

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  30. James T

    From 16/JEM:
    “””Atrocities have been committed in the name of science. (If any of you can’t admit this to yourself, surely you can see that science has been apply to rationalize much that is evil, and has most certainly been applied to magnify the ability to commit various acts of evil)””””
    You are skewing the issue.
    We aren’t talking about moments when atrocities have been committed in the name of religion or science.
    We are talking about moments when religious thinking has led people to commit atrocities.

    For example:
    Hitler believed that the Jews were inferior. Did he have any empirical scientific evidence to support this? No. However, he acted empirically on the position, enough so to kill 6 million people.
    He was using religious thinking. He made a guess, and empirically accepted it without surveying the evidence.

    Can you find an example of someone committing an atrocity by thinking rationally/scientifically?

  31. Wading through the usual new atheist histrionics, pearl clutching and foot stamping, I think one of the biggest problems with science literacy is lack of a foundation in mathematics and logic for high school students. You can only go so far on stories and cutting up frogs.

    Another is a lack of focus, you can’t study everything, you’ve got to pick and choose what is going to be considered a basic foundation in science.

    A third one, which is one of the foundations of the new atheism, is the widespread superstitious belief that science can do what it can’t and that it has superseded other subjects important to being a citizen in a democracy.

    On the other hand, you do realize that the ID industry is proof that science is held in such high regard that biblical fundamentalists want the imprimatur of science for their religious beliefs. Which is related to the third point. I think science is held in high regard even by people who don’t like some aspects of some topics in science. That’s one thing they’ve got in common with the new atheists, they want science to badly go where science has never gone before, and never can.

  32. foolfodder

    The K&M communication hypothesis (KMCH): “Don’t be nasty to those you wish to persuade.”.

    K&M communication hypothesis in practice: “Oi, New Atheists, you’re really nasty and stupid, and you smell a bit too! Now do you believe us?”.

    The thing is, the antagonistic stance towards the ‘New Atheists’ is actually engaging the NAs with their (K&Ms) messages. If they had solid arguments and would respond to criticism, this confrontational approach could actually work to change the minds of NAs.

    Thus, I think, this episode shows that a) they don’t believe in the KMCH and b) the KMCH is not likely to always be right.

    The whole thing is just delightful, delightful I tell you.

  33. Jeff

    In the Newsweek article, Chris and Sheril only demonstrate once again that they don’t know what the hell they are talking about with respect to “New Atheists” and the resistance to injecting religion into science. Almost no one is saying you can’t be a good scientist and be religious. Clearly, you can. Stop claiming otherwise, you just come off as hacks.
    The “put up or shut up” moment when science and religion meets is this: while you can be religious and do good science, please demonstrate where religious belief informs or directly aids in scientific inquiry? Please show where specific religious beliefs actually intersect with good science. Otherwise, injecting religion into science is no different than homeopathy, astrology, or dowsing.

    And the fact is, some religious beliefs ARE made untenable by science. I guess it’s ok if a religious person states this (ie. your Dalai Lama quote in the article), but if an ATHEIST says it… well, they should just STFU.

  34. Marc

    #30: Stalin; Mao; Pol Pot; Robspierre. Any of these names ring a bell? Anything that they had in common?

    Now that we’ve established that both theists and atheists can be genocidal, what have we proven?

  35. Paul

    “#30: Stalin; Mao; Pol Pot; Robspierre. Any of these names ring a bell? Anything that they had in common?

    Now that we’ve established that both theists and atheists can be genocidal, what have we proven?”

    Try actually reading the post, then address it.

  36. GM

    @31:

    A third one, which is one of the foundations of the new atheism, is the widespread superstitious belief that science can do what it can’t and that it has superseded other subjects important to being a citizen in a democracy.

    The fundamental assumption here is that it is for some reason necessary to be a citizen in a democracy. It is far from certain that we should be aiming for that, at least not until a very long time in the future A very good case can be made that you can’t have working democracy when the individuals supposed to make it work are still rapacious primates who don’t realize that they are rapacious primates. And the empirical data is there to support this because there is not a single society on Earth where dysfunction isn’t rampant

    On the other hand, you do realize that the ID industry is proof that science is held in such high regard that biblical fundamentalists want the imprimatur of science for their religious beliefs.

    Huh, how does this support the claim that the fundies respect science??? If they did, the ID industry would be occupied with doing research, not sabotaging the public udnerstanding of science. You example supports precisely the opposite to what you claim

  37. giotto

    The New Atheist science blogger PZ Myers, for instance, has publicly desecrated a consecrated communion wafer, presumably taken from a Catholic mass, and put a picture of it, pierced by a rusty nail and thrown in the trash, on the Internet.

    Technically true. In practice, dishonest. That seems to be the standard MO for our hosts here. It was not just the cracker; he also ran the nail through a page from the Qur’an and a page from The God Delusion. As Myers wrote at the time, “By the way, I didn’t want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred.”

    Myers makes his larger point quite explicit; but acknowledging that he wasn’t signaling out the cracker wouldn’t stir up quite the same outrage among Newsweek’s readers, I guess.

  38. Mariana

    Please explain why you cited the Crackergate affair with any sort of contextualization. You *know* that there was a serious motivation behind the story – you may not agree that it justifies PZ’s actions, but you cannot deny that the context is an essential part of it. The fact that you left it out entirely shows you were acting in bad faith.

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe that there’s anything pro-science at all in your stance.

  39. wildlifer

    From the article:

    Someone like Collins, by contrast, can convince those who think science conflicts with their beliefs that this needn’t be the case.

    This is evidence the authors do not understand the problem and are in way over their heads.

    The forces that deny evolution do not share beliefs with Collins. He’s not a “true” Christian (as well as the majority of Catholics). You don’t think we’ve pointed to religious scientists as examples of how evolution does not mean atheism? Man, recall your book and try and learn something about the issues, correct it and then re-submit it for publication.

  40. scote

    “The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science”

    Well, let’s accept your unproved premise in arguendo, if that is the case then why are you two being adversarial in **your** approach, taking the time to pen an article for Newsweek attacking your critics rather than extolling the virtues of science communication. It seems to me that you are the very thing you accuse others of being.

  41. scote

    Sheril Kirshenbaum Says:

    July 14th, 2009 at 4:29 pm
    “@5
    Unlike blog posts, articles are submitted before they run. Newsweek was composed prior to Coyne’s review.”

    Ophelia Benson Says:

    July 14th, 2009 at 4:50 pm
    Okay, I stand corrected, the article was written before Coyne’s review

    Chris and Sheril, see how easy that is? Admitting erroneous conclusions and updating one’s arguments to the facts? It’s what good scientists do and what people who seek honest discourse do. You should try it, IMO.

  42. James T

    @33, Marc:
    Whether theists and atheists can both be genocidal has absolutely nothing to do with the topic.

    As Paul said, read my post again, and then readdress it. You missed the point so profusely it’s comical.

    How were Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Robespierre all thinking rationally?
    It seems to me that they were thinking irrationally/religiously by killing so many people.

    In general, history has shown us that those who kill massive numbers of people to stay in power endanger their own lives, as well as push society towards chaos, and are always viewed as villains along with their ideology in the future. Thus, on a personal societal level, and ideological level the actions of these dictators were based on irrational and unscientific thought processes.

    Additionally, these dictators mostly based their actions off of religious/irrational thought processes.
    Stalin, for example, believed so strongly in Communist ideology that his belief blinded him to thinking rationally, and thus he hurt Communism more than he helped it by antagonizing it in the western world.
    The same could go for Mao.
    Additionally, all of these leaders believed that they had the right to kill/hurt/rule other people.

    Thus, all the examples you gave were examples of atrocities committed by religious thinking.

    Additionally, as an irrelevant side note:
    Stalin was probably NOT an atheist:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Religious_beliefs_and_policies
    Robespierre is listed, at least on wikipedia, as a deist:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robespierre

    Thus, my question is unanswered. Can anyone cite an example of an atrocity committed by someone who was thinking scientifically?

  43. “Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such.”

    They are mutually exclusive in the epistemic sense, as you must have grasped by now, having been told so several hundred times by people who know something about the subject.

    What do you mean “must not”? I thought you weren’t telling us to shut up? Isn’t that what Chris kept saying when challenged?

    “The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science. When it comes to enacting sound policies on what really matters, this will always be a losing strategy.”

    So you say. How do you know? What evidence do you have for that? What is your argument? What is the causal mechanism at work? Why should we believe you? Just because you keep saying it; yes I get that; but that’s not working; why else?

  44. Blogger

    Let me be a dissenting voice and say thank you for a excellent article.

  45. Blogger

    I like this part, it’s well stated and well reasoned:

    “He and other New Atheists attack faith without quarter, and insist that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable. In the process, they are helping to keep U.S. society polarized over science and likely helping to make it still harder for many religious believers to accept scientific findings…”

    “the truth is that religious scientists like Collins have the best chance of making religious Americans more accepting of modern science.

    Consider the survey evidence, which shows that while most Americans want to have both science and religion in their lives, they’ll only go so far to preserve the former at the expense of the latter.”

  46. “The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.”

    So then…why are you so energetically telling those Americans about the cracker affair when you think it’s so alienating? That looks as if you want to help turn Americans against science. That looks as if you want to make sure that as many Americans as possible find out about the cracker affair and are horrified by it. Why do you think that is helpful or useful? How does that bridge the gap between the public and science? Can you explain? I can’t see any sense in it at all.

  47. Blogger

    And we learn that Sheril is a agnostic Jewess.

    Isn’t that the first time that that’s come out? Tsk, tsk dear. Using your beliefs (or lack of them) to sell books…

  48. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such.”

    Come on people, isn’t there enough to complain about that some have to make an exhortation out to be a demand for others to “shut up”?

    The context suggests only that the authors believe that the situation “demands” that science and religion “must not” be portrayed as mutually exclusive. Wrong they may be, but they’re not overstepping any bounds by stating their opinion that way.

    Lord knows I hate those sorts of misinterpretations from the creationists, why do we have to endure them from anyone on our side?

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  49. Bill

    Ah, it’s so refreshing to read these cold, objective, detached scientific comments: no flaming, no insults, no character-assassinations… yeah, right. These are the sorts of biased and inflammatory statements that have turned off so many religious “nuts” to science: it’s not that science is seen as impersonal or factual by religionists, but that science is seen as very personal, very biased, and very political; it’s too often contradictory to be trusted. I love science — when it’s science. But so much of what I’ve read the past 25 years is less science and more advocacy for a private cause, a personal opinion.

    The ‘New Atheists’ (I hadn’t heard that term before) seem to be pushing a religious agenda, not a scientific agenda. I’m basing that on Dawkins’ “God Delusion”, for example. Hitchins in his incessant rage cannot see that Marxism is not politics but religion — and so while he’s willing to burn all the religionists at the stake for their evils, he never points the finger at all those Marxist atheists who killed more people in one century than all the other religions killed in all the other centuries combined. His statements aren’t scientific; they’re religious.

    We were told by the late Carl Sagan that evolution is “obviously” true, a scientific fact, and beyond challenge — and that was asserted by someone who worshipped the goddess “Cosmos”. I have no preference one way or the other about evolution, but the evidence of the mechanics of it are sorely lacking. We’re still a hundred years behind, saying that two lineages have the same parentage because they have the same morphology. That’s infantile. Or we’re told that we’re descended from the apes because we share 98% of our DNA with them – yeah, but we share 95% of our DNA with fungus. What’s your point??

    Give me something tangible, concrete, provable, and reproducible in the lab. But so far we don’t have that. Maybe soon, but right now it’s just not available to us. So quit saying that anyone who is reluctant to accept ecologic niches and survival of the fittest as the be-all and end-all proof is as nutty as those religionists. When evolution is used as a proof that there is no God, that’s a religious statement, or a political statement, or a sociological statement — but it’s NOT science. And far too many in the scientific community have been guilty of that. They’re abusing science by using it for their personal ends or personal points of view; they are offering their opinions about the reality or fantasy of a god.

    Global warming is allegedly caused by carbon-dioxide — although there is no scientic foundation for that statement — and that worries folks, religious and non-religious alike. Why? Because it’s going to hit them in their pocketbooks and there is no justification, no evidence, scientifically speaking, for that association. That’s what Ian Plimer of Australia charges. And because it’s not politically acceptable, he’s labelled a crackpot. That opposition to the accepted party line is NOT science. It’s politics. He says there’s no evidence of a link. That statement is either true or it’s not. It’s either provable or it’s not. But instead of a scientific inquiry, he’s subjected to a witch-hunt, by alleged “scientists.” So excuse me for my disrespect for those pseudo-scientists who, in their ignorance and religious fervor, refuse to follow the evidence WHEREVER it leads them.

    People who have religious beliefs are said to be “scientifically proven” to have a distortion in their right temporal lobe… so apparently two-thirds or more of the planet have deficient minds while the rest of us are OK. The minority has thus become the standard of sanity. I’ve heard it repeated like a mantra that believing in God is akin to superstition and ignorance. That statement in itself sounds religious; it’s an epithet, a put-down, not a statement of science. It is a self-affirmation, not an affirmation of science.

    The drug companies are populated with scientists; the medical profession is populated with scientists; the pschiatric community is populated with scientists. Yet what appears to be driving all of them is not science, but profit – and we’re being bankrupted by their science. That understandably ticks people off. And yet many of you are asking for PROOF that the irreligious and impersonal arrogance of science is causing widespread alienation?? Our health costs, driven by this alleged beneficent science, too often causes more harm than good. It’s costing people their lives — how? People can’t afford go to a doctor without insurance. That effect of rising health care costs, and the proliferation of unncessary procedures, is NOT perceived as science. It’s seen as profit-driven economics, even when those economics are motivated by lawsuits. It ANGERS people. Haven’t you seen that? Haven’t you overheard the conversations in the coffee shop?

    My experience, anecdotal as it is, is that there is no sense by the American public that scientists have any common sense, any compassion, any ethical standards. They don’t seem to realize the impact of their words and their actions on the rest of us. They play around with DNA by intermixing plants and animals, creating new lifeforms, without any regard to the inherent dangers. One mistake, just one, and we’ve got a pandemic on our hands. Scientist and “mad” scientist are more and more being mentioned in the same breath by the folks I talk to. Scientists seem to have no moral boundaries. Dr. House on TV is the epitome of this indifferent, cold-blooded, harsh and insulting, reprehensible excuse for a human being. The show wants to make a statement that science is more important than feelings, more important than beliefs, and definitely more important than human beings — human beings only have value if science gives them value. If that embryo is just meat, mere cells and nothing more, than do with it what you will. Do with children what you will. Do with adults what you will. Do with old folks what you will. They’re all expendable. It’s as if to say, “There’s more where they came from. They’re no different on the evolutionary scale than a fungus, their distant cousin. They have no inherent value as human beings. They’re just another lifeform.” I’m sorry, but most folks would disagree.

    And so every intimation by some scientist that seems to affirm this radical indifference to mankind, every affiliation with radical environmentalism, and radical atheism, smacks more of being a religion than science. And it frightens the average citizen. It’s like entrusting your life to a robot. It’s mechanistic. And most folks would say, “No thanks! I disagree, and I’m not about to give you any authority over me.” And yet those scientists, with their personal agendas, have gone to the government to impose on the populace their own worldview of reality – and want their opinions somehow sanctified in law as “science.” They want it imposed in the schools, enshrined in the libraries, in the media, and (oh yeah!) on the bestseller list. That sort of elitism just isn’t winsome. I”m sorry to break the news to y’all, but it really pisses people off.

    Let me ask this: when was the last time you heard of a psychiatrist who was so sure of his “science” that he staked his life and liberty on it? “If this guy murders again, I’ll take the death penalty for him — I’m THAT convinced of myscience.” Oh. It never happens? Hmmm. Must just be the psychiatrist’s personal opinion then. And what makes his or her opinion any better than someone else’s if it can’t be proved or disproved, repeatedly, in the lab, like REAL science?

    I suspect that if scientists behaved like scientists, and spoke like scientists, and reasoned like scientists, and stuck to the evidence instead of becoming political, religious, and philosophical advocates, they might be more respected, trusted, and listened to.

    The problem, as I see it, isn’t the religion outside of science that is marginalizing science. It’s the religion inside of science that is undermining its reputation and pushing it out of the mainstream of life…

    But that’s me…

  50. — The fundamental assumption here is that it is for some reason necessary to be a citizen in a democracy. GM

    I’m not going to apologize for being a democrat or a Democrat.

    — It is far from certain that we should be aiming for that, at least not until a very long time in the future GM

    And the reason for that would be, what? That any other form of government produces a more decent and tolerable life?

    — A very good case can be made that you can’t have working democracy when the individuals supposed to make it work are still rapacious primates who don’t realize that they are rapacious primates. GM

    You sound like a Calvinist.

    — And the empirical data is there to support this because there is not a single society on Earth where dysfunction isn’t rampant GM

    OK, so you’re arguing that we might as well all take the gas pipe.

    — And we learn that Sheril is a agnostic Jewess. Blogger

    Charming, what next? Genetic ranking? You wouldn’t be John Hartung, would you?

    On another topic: Ophelia, you are in danger of turning into a parody of yourself.

  51. OK, I haven’t told anyone to shut up yet, so I’ll say it to @48 right now.

    New atheists get really ugly when you don’t kow tow to them.

  52. “And we learn that Sheril is a agnostic Jewess.

    Isn’t that the first time that that’s come out? Tsk, tsk dear.”

    Hey! “Jewess”? Please.

    And don’t call women “dear” – it’s patronizing and sexist.

    I disagree with SK very strongly indeed, but it ain’t because she’s a woman.

  53. “I’ll say it to @48 right now.

    New atheists get really ugly when you don’t kow tow to them.”

    No we do not. Take that back, please, in the light of mine @ 53.

  54. Ophelia Benson. If you want to take that up, feel free to do it at my blog.

  55. Asmodeus

    Chris and Sheril,

    Great article! I think you guys are doing a fine job.

  56. Blogger

    “And don’t call women “dear” – it’s patronizing and sexist.”

    Sorry to offend, dear. It’s just a figure of speech.

  57. Take it back, Mr McCarthy – I repudiated that disgusting comment the instant I saw it. You don’t even know that @ 48 is an atheist.

    Take it back.

  58. Blogger, whoever you are, you’re using your ‘figures of speech’ on Jews and women. You’re contemptible.

    Mr McCarthy I have no interest in your blog, and it’s here that you said that dishonest thing. Take it back.

  59. Paul

    “Thus, my question is unanswered. Can anyone cite an example of an atrocity committed by someone who was thinking scientifically?”

    I am not a big fan of this line of reasoning. Or possibly how you are wording it. Was the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment “an atrocity by someone who was thinking scientifically”? Science is a method. It is neutral with regard to ethics. That is why we have review boards. I understand your point that science is making a hypothesis and testing it, whereas religion is just assuming your premises. I just think that with the terms you are using, the argument is not strong enough.

    I think what is throwing me off with regards to your line of argumentation is that it is normally couched in a “religiously motivated atrocity” vs. “atheistically motivated atrocity”, where I would have no problem saying the latter is to the best of my knowledge unknown. It works because atheism does not entail a positive worldview, it is simply the absence in belief of gods. I do not think we can take the same position with regards to science, since with science mistakes are made. The scientific method is an objective principle we use to filter out the mistakes to make sure only the real stuff remains.

  60. James T

    Oh god, I’m calling it quits. All of our bickering brings out the real crazies like Bill@50.

    The point is, the duty of a scientist is to properly analyze and asses the evidence via the scientific method. It is NOT to pander to religious people and assure them that their beliefs are unscientific.
    Richard Dawkins is doing his job as a scientist by telling people that they are delusional for believing in God. It is irrelevant how harsh he is, but it seems to me that the harsher, the more the point would get across.

    It is more important to keep the process of science isolated from faith than to “unite society”. The day that society is disunited over science and religion is a fixable day.

    The day when belief becomes part of the scientific method is the day when all hope is lost for humanity.

    Additionally, New Atheists get “ugly” and “harsh” because it’s simply not acceptable for belief and faith to be mixed with the process of science, and it’s simply a outright lie to tell people that science and faith can exist.

  61. Blogger

    So I plugged it into the dictionary and found this:

    “the terms Jewess and Negress are now widely regarded as offensive.”
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/jewess

    I’ve never heard Negress before, but I profoundly apologize to Sheril (whom I deeply respect) and anyone else I offended with it’s use.

  62. Blogger

    My post was clipped:

    “I’ve never heard Negress before, but I had read the use of the word Jewess (in an admittedly older publication) and profoundly apologize both to Sheril (whom I deeply respect) and anyone else I offended with it’s use.

    I find no reason anyone should object to ‘dear’.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dear

  63. Ophelia Benson, as I said, if you want to get into a fight, take it to my blog, otherwise, grow up.

  64. Blogger

    “5) Do you have any evidence that the putative ‘new’ atheism caused a spike in public hostility to science? Can you point to even a correlation?”

    This is one of the problems with scientists. Evidence, correlation, evidence.

  65. Right. McCarthy smears all “New Atheists” with a comment by one random flamer and then sticks to it in the face of instant repudiation by a “New Atheist.” That’s principle for you. That’s honesty. That’s decency.

    Jeezis, what a sewer.

  66. Screechy Monkey

    Actually, Ophelia, since it was posted here at The Intersection, under Chris’s standard, it’s now a “Classic Quote From Chris and Sheril’s Blog”

  67. Linda

    Really good article and well written.

  68. Peter Beattie

    » Linda:
    Really good article and well written.

    PZ really has to start reining in those acolytes who will uncritically applaud anything and everything he writes, however patently absurd it is.

  69. JEM

    @31 James T. – I think you are missing the larger point of my comment. I apologize for being unclear in my attempt to be concise. Let me restate things slightly: Religion is not the issue. Science is not the issue. Humanity is the issue. Science requires rationality, but in and of itself it does not make people behave rationally. Idolizing science will not make people behave rationally, just as idolizing a god will not make people behave rationally. Having a scientifically literate populus is a fantastic goal. However, it is important to recognize that science is amoral. For example, It can help tell us how to best achieve a certain outcome, or even a type of society, but it can’t define what the best type of society is. That is a human judgement. If I were to decide that the best possible world would be one that was free of human life, what could science say that would change that. If I were to make that human judgement, I could apply the rational tools of science to achieve that outcome. Whether I was motivated by science is somewhat beside the point.

    That said, the world faces real problems. These problems are far greater than who’s god is stronger or whether there even is a god. Science can help us solve these problems, but we can’t do it if humanity gets in the way. I may be overinterpreting things here (or maybe projecting), but it appears to me that the larger message of Chris and Sheril is that as rational thinking people we need as much help as we can muster to get things done. Its a question of tactics really – telling people they are delusional doesn’t seem like a good place to start even if it is true. It’s better to let them come to that conclusion on their own, but for now we need their help and cooperation. Would you rather be right or would you rather be effective?

    To conclude, I find the story of Fritz Haber to be particularly compelling when considering the dual (amoral) character of science and the humanity fallibity of scientists. The Haber process for making ammonia literally feeds the world. However, Fritz Haber also worked to develop chemical warfare during WWI and personally oversaw its use on the battlefield. Ironically, despite this service, he was later compelled to leave Germany to avoid persecution for being a Jew, and yet the Fritz Haber Institute of course is a major German institution.

  70. Okay, so how do we address people like Bill @60? His mistrust of scientists runs much deeper than simply being turned off by the New Atheists, although that obviously plays a role. He’s not going to do a google search on chimp and human common ancestry, which might lead him to any of our blogs, because he thinks he already knows that the evidence is flimsy. Can we tell him, “no, you’re not likely to see a scientist lay down her life for her certainty about something, because science is built on doubt”? I doubt he’ll find that to be a satisfying answer.

  71. Sorry, I meant Bill @50.

  72. Bill

    JEM, that was brilliant and insightful. Well said!

  73. Linda

    Peter Beattie,
    I am referring to the Newsweek artile by Chris and Sheril.

  74. Sorbet

    Ophelia Benson, you need to understand. Anthony McCarthy is the world’s preeminent expert on New Atheists. Therefore if he calls someone a New Atheist- no matter that that person may simply have disagreed with him or with Mooney or Kirshenbaum- then he or she must be the personification of New Atheism. That’s after all how you become an expert on a topic, through mindless generalizations that paint anyone who disagrees with you with the same brush…o wait, sorry, Bill O’Reilly already exemplifies this set of traits, so we actually know all about it.

  75. Sorbet, you’ll never get over me answering that challenge, will you.

    There’s a big difference between disagreeing with someone and what “Blogger” did. If he wasn’t a new atheist, he was doing a good imitation of some of the nastier ones. And I don’t see he’s denied it yet.

    Bill O’R. A gay, socialist, leveler who would tax Rupert Murdoch into the very fires of hell, and you compare me with Bill O’R.

  76. Heraclides

    I’ve only been visiting here for less than a week and get the impression that everyone else is “exactly backwards” and you’re “just right”…

    You never seem to address any of the (sincere) criticisms in the comments, so perhaps I’ll stop visiting, but one last fling seeing I’m here. As with my posts in other threads, I’ll reply without reading others comments first, so that my views are independent.

    How does a “religious” scientist to put religious people off science less than an atheist? Ths implies that merely because an science leader is atheist put religious people off science. A scientist with religious beliefs might offer a “role model” of sorts for religious kids wanting to be a scientist, but claiming that non-religious leader puts them off doesn’t make sense. (What does put them off, I would think, is other religious people with ‘anti-science’ messages that they are supposed to conform to. If you’re examining in holistic fashion, wouldn’t it be appropriate to include this somewhere in the mix?)

    Why should science “promote” religion, as you are implying if not saying outright? (“and their example that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs”) It’s not a requirement of the position, nor should be, surely.

    With that in mind, that he is religious shouldn’t count “for” Collins. At best it should be irrelevant. As I’ve written elsewhere, if you truly want to illustrate religion not mattering, you’d employ someone who is religious, but doesn’t promote their religion at all. (You might note you’re contradicting yourself a bit here: on one hand you his being religious as “positive” and on the other, that religion should be separate, i.e. not relevant.)

    You should note that Collins is an administrator, not a scientist (or researcher). That he is religious doesn’t illustrate a scientist with religious belief, but an administrator with religious beliefs.

    You also seem to overlook that those people you label “new atheists” also work day-to-day with scientists that hold religious beliefs. They have repeatedly pointed out that these people can be OK scientists, provided they keep their personal beliefs separate from their science. (That said, very few of the very top scientists have religious beliefs as far as I am aware; it might be that religious beliefs might be enough of a restraint that that scientists holding them are limited to mediocrity). The fact that they have to keep them separate in order to do the science is itself evidence that the two are conflicted.

    Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such. Stated as a bald assertion with no substance backing it. You have stated that taking “real world” statements from religious texts clash with science. You should be more precise here. I presume what you mean is that “religion is not incompatible with science, provided the religion makes no real-world statements in it’s mythologies”.

    You also miss a very important point. Religions are incompatible with science. What enables religious people to sometimes be compatible with being a scientist (the person, not the science) is that they compartmentalise. The science and religions themselves are incompatible; it is the “working around the conflict” by the people that compensate for the incompatibility.

    Americans have serious problems with science, and religion is definitely part of the reason. But that doesn’t mean fighting religion, indiscriminately, is the answer. A far better approach is to work with religious believers to help them separate their personal religion from everybody’s shared science, and move toward a much needed middle ground.

    This quote suggests to me that you aren’t reading what people are saying properly! The sincere comments by the people you label as “new atheists” have been that he will have to separate his promotion of religion from his position as he spokespeople for institutions cannot be seen to be using their position to push personal ideologies or whatnot. In referring to “fighting” you seem to be transposing actions about other events onto the discussions about the Collins appointment.

    You appear to want to find a route for religious people to look more kindly to science, all good and well, but the way you are going about it—or at least the way you are writing about it—seems all muddled to me.

    My view, at this point in time, in the context of teaching science to someone with religious beliefs, is that it’s easier to simply ignore that the person you are teaching science to is religious and just show them that things work. They’ll have to do the compartmentalisation in their own time. This may be vaguely along the lines you mean, but that’s certainly not the message you’re sending.

    My own thoughts about being “adversarial” are that, yes, it can get people’s backs up. But in the larger scene you need a few people to point out the issues bluntly. I also don’t agree that the key people you pick on do it in the manner you make out (a few idiotic “followers” do, but the internet at large has these on every topic; most people know enough to recognise it). You also need to recognise that their words are—for the most part—directed at a particular subset of religious people. I elaborated this in an earlier thread.

  77. Umm, if you look up there at the first few comments by “blogger”, he’s taking Mooney’s side. I think that makes it pretty clear that he is definitely not among the ranks of the “New Atheists.”

    He’s one of yours.

  78. Sorbet

    Uh, what challenge? The challenge that you could be any more ignorant and biased than what you have already been? I will give you that. Your bigoted portrayal of anyone who disagrees with you as some kind of extremist atheist continues to get better. Chris and Sheril, I hope you will take note of McCarthy as the kind of polarizing, one-sided, extremist advocate that you are criticizing in your book. I find this all very amusing. To counter what they see as “militant atheism” the anti-New Atheists have erected their own “militant accommodationists” who are as unyielding and extreme in their advocacy as the group they are frowning upon.

  79. Bill

    Zinjanthropus @71, You’re right… it’s not a very satisfying answer, but it’s a practical and pragmatic necessity, isn’t it? We gather evidence of every possible kind; we sort through it and catalog it; we categorize it, and then we begin a painstaking assessment. We begin to assign values to the quality of our evidences, and construct reasonable explanations in the form of hypotheses. And then we hope to test for the right one.

    But, frankly, it’s a rare occasion that we get to test our theories, isn’t it? We lack the original circumstances, or there’s missing information, or inadequate means; there are gaps that put our theories on hold for the time being. That happened with Einstein’s special theory of relativity. It was decades before we could test it – we needed to improve our scientific wherewithal until we had the tools we needed to say, “By golly! He was right!”

    When I was in law school taking my classes on evidentiary proofs, we went through pretty much the same process as any good scientist, with every bit as much the same frustration of not always having a definitive answer. There was always going to be an element of doubt. But that didn’t preclude us from making well-founded assumptions, and drawing well-reasoned conclusions.

    I highly admire scientists who live and breathe on the edge of doubt; I sympathize with those who acknowledge the limits of their knowledge, and making the best call they can with the evidence they currently have in hand. And my admiration is born of their admission that indeed, there are unknowns, and other possibilities. It’s their humility coupled with their passion that inspires me to continue on in my own field of endeavor. In my estimation, those are Scientists with a big “S”, and I suspect they are both rare and precious.

    I found your blog through a Discover Magazine email. My only aim, as a layman “cutting in” on the conversation, was to suggest that the opposition we encounter to our highest aspirations is often found within us, and not outside us. The religious community, as a whole, is not your enemy unless you make it so. However, it is not only “unscientific” in its thinking, it is commonly illiterate in other areas as well. Our schools need help, our parents need help, and our faith-based communities need help as well. They don’t know what they don’t know, and so they definitely don’t know what you guys know.

    Help them. Teach them. Don’t dictate to them. Good teachers help their students draw the proper inference from the evidences. Don’t withhold evidence. Don’t color it. Don’t make it out to be more than it is. And don’t go beyond your sphere of expertise to pontificate on what others may believe about life and eternity. Dale Carnegie would tell you that’s not the way to make friends and influence people. That was JEM’s point @70, I think.

    I’m going to suggest that the most important gift you guys can give this next generation is that we’re still searching: we don’t know it all and never will, in ANY given area. There’s plenty of room for them to play on your playground. Invite them winsomely, caringly, and encouragingly. Get them to question everything, and weigh everything. Teach them critical thinking. The religionists need that most of all. It can only strengthen their faith. Don’t put them down. Don’t label them. Don’t call them names. Instead, inspire them. Light their fires. Give them a universe to explore.

    That’s what Francis Collins is striving to do. I think it would be counterproductive to undermine his efforts just because you disagree with his worldview. He may disagree with yours, and yet he’s not calling any of you names or undermining your efforts, is he? He’s your biggest fan, your best advocate before the Christian community worldwide. That’s a billion and a half people. Why in the world would any of you want to silence his voice or sabotage his influence with them?? Unless, as I suggested in my first comment, there are ulterior, non-scientific biases coming into play. Those may prove to be self-destructive to your cause, which is to give science a more prominent position in the minds of our society.

    I couldn’t have hoped for a better reply from any of you than JEM’s little gem @70. What a voice of reason, compassion, and common sense! And that was not even a reply to me. I was only hoping to find one among you who looked beyond the simple answer, and who avoided the temptation to pin the blame on “outsiders.” And now I’ve found two voices. As one of those religionists might say, “my cup runneth over…” (smile)

    Happy explorations to you, one and all. I’m outta here.

  80. Heraclides

    My post 77 seems to be stuck in moderation… too long I guess, so I’ll extract one portion in the meantime:

    Sheril wrote: Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such.

    Religions are incompatible with science. What enables religious people to sometimes be compatible with being a scientist (the person, not the science) is that they compartmentalise. The science and religions themselves are incompatible; it is the “working around the conflict” by the people that compensate for the incompatibility.

  81. Christina Viering
  82. JEM

    Bill,
    Thank you.
    JEM

  83. Jon

    78. Heraclides: Religions are incompatible with science.

    That’s not what Carl Sagan said. I’m surprised that PZ apparently thinks Sagan is so amenable to his views:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2181165206611526024&hl=en#7m52s

    What Sagan is saying here is really no different than what I have been arguing in the comments here. You can’t deny people their spiritual traditions, and you can’t carelessly mock them, without them getting angry at you. Religion is a matter of *conscience*. And not everyone is a scientific empiricist. There are tons of philosophical positions that are perfectly respectable that are not strictly empiricist. And there are many people who are not that well educated because of circumstance, and it’s a truly adolescent attitude that actively alienates people because they don’t happen to have had the education you had.

  84. Jon

    Argh. The numbers keep changing on me. Looks like it’s 81 now.

  85. Jon

    Exactly what Cark Sagan says in that clip makes him not the philistine that the New Atheists show themselves to be in so many cases.

  86. Scott

    Thank you Chris and Sheril for a well written article which to my mind is nothing more than a call for the debate about vitally important issues to be conducted in a civil and polite fashion. It is sad so many seem to think this is a bad idea.

  87. Paul

    “Thank you Chris and Sheril for a well written article which to my mind is nothing more than a call for the debate about vitally important issues to be conducted in a civil and polite fashion. It is sad so many seem to think this is a bad idea.”

    Yes, cutting out vital context to the situations you discuss and misrepresenting the targets of your ire are always at the top of my list of criteria for “civil and polite” discourse.

  88. John Kwok

    Chris and Sheril –

    Yours is an extremely insightful – and well-written – bit of commentary. Congratulations on a job well done. But I believe you could have emphasized your point further with regards to peaceful coexistence between religion and science by noting that one of the greatest evolutionary biologists of the 20th Century, evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky – among the key architects of the current Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution – was a devout Christian, and so is his brilliant former student, noted evolutionary geneticist Francisco J. Ayala (who was an ordained Dominician monk newly arrived from his native Spain when he entered Columbia University more than four and a half decades ago as Dobzhansky’s Ph. D. graduate student).

  89. Ben Nelson

    Bill,

    Those are generally fine words, with the possible exception: “The religious community, as a whole, is not your enemy unless you make it so.”

    I’m sure that there is no such thing as “the religious community”. Religions do not share any communion, except an imaginary one. There are properties that religions hold in common, I suppose, but these are abstract properties. If I declare war on these properties, then I am fighting against beliefs (or ways of getting beliefs), not people. And this is the form of criticism that is typically leveled against Collins. Consistent with your comment, one reaction to my criticism of these sacred beliefs is that my views are regarded as attacks upon peoples; and so I become “your enemy”, simply for engaging in philosophy.

    Given that this epistemic criticism is the only real sense of animosity that the “new atheists” hold towards anything generic, the question naturally arises: is criticism of beliefs in some way morally worrisome? If you do think criticism is a problem, then I have a right to know why that is. Treat this as an opportunity to educate me, if you like.

  90. John Kwok

    I posted these comments five days ago, but they are worth repeating here:

    What matters most with Francis Collins’s appointment as head of NIH is both his scientific and administrative abilities. I really don’t care about his particular flavor of Christanity as long as he:

    1) Recognizes that evolution is valid science – which he most certainly does – and presumably recognizes too, evolution’s key role in directing future research in medicine and epidemiology.

    2) Demonstrates that he is a capable administrator, which he most certainly did as the director of the Human Genome Project.

    IMHO other considerations, including his religious beliefs, are irrelevant regarding his qualifications for and ability to serve as the head of NIH. I am reasonably confident that the aforementioned points were among those strongly considered by President Obama and his key officials in science and technology.

    Collins directed the Human Genome Project successfully for years. Not once did I hear anything even remotely suggesting that he placed his religious views ahead of his science.

    All that the current “controversy” about Collins’s “fitness” to serve as NIH head is really, nothing more than a ridiculous tempest in the teapot stirred by Militant Atheists of the Coyne and Myers variety.

  91. Scott

    “Yes, cutting out vital context to the situations you discuss and misrepresenting the targets of your ire are always at the top of my list of criteria for “civil and polite” discourse.”

    That article was your idea of Chris and Sheril going after the targets of the ire? I read nothing in it that struck me as angry.

  92. Paul

    That article was your idea of Chris and Sheril going after the targets of the ire? I read nothing in it that struck me as angry.

    Did you read anything aside from their excerpt? The attacks on PZ and Coyne were unprovoked, especially based on Sheril’s comment that it was written before Coyne’s review (if one can call an honest book review provocation, even). It’s also fundamentally dishonest to frame Crackergate as PZ waking up one morning and deciding to offend Catholics, as Chris and Sheril very well know (but Newsweek readers don’t, so a perfect way to incite anger and fool people into buying their premise that atheists are a problem with regards to the intersection of science and religion).

  93. John Kwok

    @ Paul –

    Chris and Sheril’s assessment of “CrackerGate” is right on the mark. Moreover, when we were still friends, Jerry Coyne privately admitted to me that he thought PZ had crossed the line with that incident. In other words, even Coyne thought “CrackerGate” was unacceptable.

  94. Paul

    Rather than attacks, I should say “finger-pointing with intent to mislead/slime the target”.

  95. Jon

    Given that this epistemic criticism is the only real sense of animosity that the “new atheists” hold towards anything generic, the question naturally arises: is criticism of beliefs in some way morally worrisome?

    “Belief” in the context of religion can be a strange word– I think there are some pretty good arguments that it’s not as simple as you think. Not to let the fundies off the hook at all, they’ve done huge damage, but I think the New Atheists grab a hold of a crude understanding and think that’s all there is to it.

  96. Heraclides

    @84 (Jon): Listen to Sagan more carefully, my views agree with his. You’re mangling my message. My comment was that people should take care to distinguish the religion from the people carrying them: some of the articles here fail to distinguish the two.

    Furthermore, when I wrote ‘religion’, I referred to the particular religion taken as a whole, all of it’s statements, practices, etc. (at face value). If you remove the conflicting parts of any religion—just as Sagan points out—then you can have compatibility.

  97. Paul

    “Chris and Sheril’s assessment of “CrackerGate” is right on the mark. Moreover, when we were still friends, Jerry Coyne privately admitted to me that he thought PZ had crossed the line with that incident. In other words, even Coyne thought “CrackerGate” was unacceptable.”

    So you’re saying that there really was no young student receiving death threats for removing a cracker from the church grounds? Shouldn’t be surprising with the level of delusion you normally participate in, I suppose. Still, once you get to the point of denying actual events there’s nothing more to say.

    Well, one more thing I guess. “Coyne said it so it’s true”? You really don’t get that the “New Atheists” aren’t so big on the argument from authority, do you? It’s why most Pharyngulans could never stand you (well, there was also the name dropping when you weren’t making an argument from authority, too). Besides, whether or not Coyne thought it crossed the line, it doesn’t change the fact that all you pearl-clutchers pretend there was no impetus to PZ’s actions. There was, and it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend he did it unprovoked because of religious intolerance.

  98. Scott

    “Did you read anything aside from their excerpt? The attacks on PZ and Coyne were unprovoked, especially based on Sheril’s comment that it was written before Coyne’s review (if one can call an honest book review provocation, even). It’s also fundamentally dishonest to frame Crackergate as PZ waking up one morning and deciding to offend Catholics, as Chris and Sheril very well know (but Newsweek readers don’t, so a perfect way to incite anger and fool people into buying their premise that atheists are a problem with regards to the intersection of science and religion).”

    I read the article, I went back and re-read it. I see nothing in it remotely resembling an attack on Coyne; he is barely mentioned. I also see nothing in it where they say why Myers did what he did; the conclusion I draw is they think it was a bad idea for him to have done it.

  99. Paul

    I read the article, I went back and re-read it. I see nothing in it remotely resembling an attack on Coyne; he is barely mentioned. I also see nothing in it where they say why Myers did what he did; the conclusion I draw is they think it was a bad idea for him to have done it.

    You don’t see a problem with declaring something “wrong” without taking into account why it was done in the first place? I take it you thought the Revolutionary War was wrong because colonists killed English people? Honestly. They do not explain why it was wrong, or balance positive against negative. They go “hey, look at the evil religion basher! new atheists want to put nails through your communion wafers”. Perhaps you’ve heard of “framing”? I hear Mooney’s a fan.

    As for Coyne, they present him as the opposition to Collins as NIH head. Why? It doesn’t advance their point any to point out specific scientists, as they don’t even quote him. He’s just pointed out as the critic on the wrong side of the issue, according to their assertion. They go on to say that the critics are “turning America off to science” with no evidence to the assertion. This part was mild, though, and possibly overreacted to since the two names they give as negative examples are the two negative reviews they were expecting based on preliminary book evaluations.

  100. JoshS

    I also see nothing in it where they say why Myers did what he did; the conclusion I draw is they think it was a bad idea for him to have done it.

    That’s exactly the point, Scott. There was NOTHING in the Newsweek piece about why PZ did what he did. That’s the problem. Do you not understand that? If you innocently don’t, OK, but please consider that omission by M and K is a very, very serious one, and it’s an unethical act on their part. In case you don’t know, here’s a quick summary:

    1. A kid at a Florida University took a communion cracker back to his seat in church (which was on-campus) to show to a curious friend later who didn’t know what a communion wafer was.

    2. Some parishioner tried to grab it away from him in the church. He refused to give it back, and left the church (I don’t take kindly to people grabbing at my hands, do you? And no, I don’t give them a pass for touching me because they’re “offended.” Do you?)

    3. Some members of that Catholic congregation went ballistic, and accused the kid of – wait for it – kidnapping the Body and Blood of Christ.

    4. Other members of that congregation demanded that the kid be expelled from the college.

    5. The kid received death threats from outraged Catholics. Please read that again. Death threats.

    6. PZ got so angry at this bullying, that he threatened to desecrate a cracker in protest. This was to demonstrate that PEOPLE, not symbols, are what’s most important. That the deplorable treatment of this kid was the bigger evil than his “disrespectful” treatment of a cracker.

    7. Before (read that again: before) PZ even performed the “desecration,” he too was receiving death threats.

    Do you understand now how important this context is? How utterly dishonest it was for Chris and Sheril to leave this out? It doesn’t matter whether anyone thinks PZ’s ultimate act was good, bad, tasteless, or not. It didn’ t occur in a vacuum. It was a response to a college kid being mercilessly bullied, being the target of an expulsion push, and threatened with death for what was – at worst – a social faux pas. For God’s sake, where is the outrage against the malicious activities of these church members and death-threateners? Why does THAT not disturb you more than PZ’s act of protest against it?

    Does this make you question, just a little bit, if Chris and Sheril are as honest and reasonable as they portray themselves to be? It really, really should make you question that.

  101. Bill

    Ben @90; Those are a couple of great points that you make. Mere criticism of an abstract thought process is not necessarily a personal attack… right up to the point that you actually express you criticism to the person with the flawed logic (grin). It takes a real knack to say it in such a way that it doesn’t insult their intelligence and offend their sensibilities. One person could say, “I appreciate the fact that you may FEEL that you are correct in your beliefs about X, but objectively speaking, there is no foundation in fact for your beliefs.” And what the other person hears being said is this: “You’re a blithering idiot who can’t add two and two. I’m WAAAY smarter than you are, fool. Get your act together and see things the way I do.” (smile)

    And you’re right that the phrase “religious community” is problematic. There is such a variety that there is no “community” of shared religious values. But there are shared characteristics. “Religion” generally refers to practices associated with a given belief system. That belief system may or may not involve a god or gods. For example, in Buddhism there is no god per se. There is a ground of all being. But what such belief systems share is the sense that there is more going on than meets the eye. There is a perceived (or imagined) spiritual realm in which the fabric of our tangible existence finds its meaning, purpose, and direction.

    But all of them share the belief that empiricism is only half the story. And so that begs the question whether science has anything at all to say about something that isn’t testable, like a god or a force, or whether this spiritual realm exists or doesn’t exist. The most science can say is that there is no evidence of it, no proof for it; and belief, even majority belief, is no proof. It may be a mass delusion, as Dawkins asserts, or a useful fantasy as a Pragmatist might assert, or an opiate of the people as Marx asserted; but the reality or unreality of it is not a concern of science, says the religionist, because it isn’t testable or provable.

    This is where it gets interesting, because people have thoughts, and thoughts are, for now, considered immaterial. We can see the brain light up in those regions occupied by thought. We can alter someone’s perceived reality by chemical interference with the biological conveyors of those thoughts; but we can’t weigh them, measure them, identify them individually, or translate the content of them. Are men’s thoughts outside the realm of science, or are they “not yet” within the realm of science? I’ll like to think the latter. But is belief merely a thought whose object is immaterial? That’s a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

    But doesn’t a scientist, like a psychiatrist, have authority to say that some thoughts are valid and others not? Of course! Schizophrenia and other “distortions of reality” are certainly cause for treatment. But when you say that two thirds of the planet is suffering from a distorted reality because they believe in a spiritual realm, where then is the line that keeps Orwell’s 1984 from emerging, where all thoughts are subject to the state? Will political thoughts fall under the domain of science if religious thoughts are subject to it?

    The assertion being made by many on this blog, it seems to me, is that there is no second sphere, no spiritual realm, and any scientist who thinks there is, isn’t a scientist at all. It’s as if to say that Science determines what spheres do and do not exist, and Science is therefore the final arbiter of all truth, the ultimate determiner of permissible thoughts – as if Science were… wait for it… GOD.

    Such a view seeks to dictate to others what they may think and believe; it binds men’s consciences. What frightens Americans, and gives science a bad reputation in a religious society, is that scientists seemingly want to stamp out “that pernicious superstition called religion;” and they are begining by excluding religionists from the domain of science. By what right and authority?! And where would such a dictatorship end? Do we really want to go there? I hope not.

  102. J.J.E.

    @ Ophelia

    This is an unsolicited observation that isn’t meant as a disparagement: I suspect that continuing to comment in the current climate costs you more than it gains you. Chris and his hangers-on clearly find their perspective to be right and further believe that they have adequately demonstrated as much. I disagree, but they won’t respond to many very well-reasoned and very respectful requests for elaboration (some by you).

    I think your recent caricaturing of their responses (the mommy mommy section above in particular) is far less likely to elicit the response you are seeking and tends to turn off your natural allies like me (though I do understand your frustration). Whether you give up on Chris as a lost cause or not is up to you, but please do recognize you have turned to bald mockery as a rhetorical technique (“Waaaaaaaah, Mommy, they said our book is bad, waaaaaah, make them stop.”) Your arguments (which stand perfectly well on their own merits) are ill served by such discourse.

  103. Matti K.

    “The New Atheists will hardly be pleased by the Collins choice, but that’s unpreventable and perhaps even to the good: science and atheism aren’t the same, and the former must always remain a broader, more inclusive category.”

    Are you kidding? Including religion in science?

    Science is actually quite fundamentalistic, excluding all supernaturalistic explanations. Some religious scientists are able to exclude their supernaturalistic beliefs while working, but still, when doing science they must exclude them. Even the concept of NOMA does not mean including religion in science.

    Why are M&K:s distorting the nature of science? Is anything allowed when selling science to the religious?

  104. Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney, I know it’s risking the charge of tautology, but will you please say frequently that you are not talking about “Including religion in science” in any formal sense. Once per five or so posts will keep it on the current page. It might not get the new atheists to stop distorting what you’re saying, nothing will do that, but it will give us reference points where you’ve said it.

    Then the new atheists will make their charge of tautology, with a few entirely inapplicable terms of classical logic thrown in, but at least rational people interested in reality who happen to come here will be able to see that they’re blowing bubbles.

    Yes, the new atheists have to be isolated and set aside, people interested in progress will have to continually distance ourselves from them.

    —- It’s also fundamentally dishonest to frame Crackergate as PZ waking up one morning and deciding to offend Catholics, as Chris and Sheril very well know (but Newsweek readers don’t, so a perfect way to incite anger and fool people into buying their premise that atheists are a problem with regards to the intersection of science and religion). Scott @99

    Are you saying that’s the way he gets up every morning? Wouldn’t surprise me.

    You’re saying that CM and SK mentioning a well known incident in a piece of journalism is out of bounds? You’re saying that reporting a publicity stunt that the perpetrator went out of his way to put in peoples’ faces is some how below the belt? And you’re blaming the journalists for doing what anyone with a brain working could conclude was PZ’s purpose for making it known?

    You’re blaming them for doing what PZ did himself, and then you’re blaming them for the anger that results when people learn about the publicity stunt. And yet the new atheism thinks they’re the rational ones. Um, hum. I see.

  105. Peter Beattie

    Linda, thanks for helping prove Jerry Coyne’s point.

  106. — Uh, what challenge? Sorbet

    Back on the Responding to Sean Carroll thread, when you challenged me to give a scenario by which “exobiology” might not have been ruled by natural selection. As I recall I gave you four which you said you couldn’t refute. ” 211. Sorbet Says: June 26th, 2009 at 3:48 pm McCarthy, I cannot refute your answer just as you cannot refute my statement that there is a pink unicorn in this room that only I can see”

    But, of course, asserting the truth of those wasn’t my purpose it was to show that we don’t know anything about what “alien” life might be like because there was absolutely no evidence to go on. You can make up anything when it doesn’t have to comport with real life evidence. I said: ” See what you can do when you untie yourself from that pesty and so inconveniently unavailable requirement to have physical evidence. Though I strongly suspect that evo-psy was quite willing to retreat back into the unknowns of Paleolithic behavior just for that reason.” I’d certainly have cleaned up that first sentence a little if it hadn’t been in the heat of battle.

    If you want to go into this any farther, like I said to Ophelia, take it outside to my blog.

    I don’t know PZ, Blogger sounds kind of like an atheist who doesn’t like agnostics to me. That’s one of the commoner traits I’ve found among the new atheists. And there was the jab about “selling books” that has been a constant feature of the charges made by your defenders here. You guys are the ones who set the tone people associate with the new atheism. So if it was a mistake, those are the bases of it.

  107. Peter Beattie

    » John K.:
    Yours is an extremely insightful – and well-written – bit of commentary.

    These PZ Myers sycophants will really hail a stinking pile of poo as if it were manna from heaven, won’t they? And do they give arguments why they love him so? Nooo. But then neither does he, so what do we expect from his disciples …

    Someone should read that Tom Paine quote about “mental lying” to them. I bet C&S have that quote in their book, as Carl Sagan quoted it in The Demon-Haunted World.

  108. — I find the story of Fritz Haber to be particularly compelling when considering the dual (amoral) character of science and the humanity fallibity of scientists. The Haber process for making ammonia literally feeds the world. However, Fritz Haber also worked to develop chemical warfare during WWI and personally oversaw its use on the battlefield. Ironically, despite this service, he was later compelled to leave Germany to avoid persecution for being a Jew, and yet the Fritz Haber Institute of course is a major German institution. JEM @ 70.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of researching Clara Immerwahr, Haber’s first wife who committed suicide in reaction to his involvement with the gas attacks at Ypres. She was the first woman to get a PhD from the University of Breslau, in chemistry. Haber seems to have used her knowledge in synthesizing ammonia and to have pretty much suppressed her professional aspirations. He was about entirely amoral, converting to Christianity for professional reasons. Though, of course, that didn’t, of course protect a convert from the Nazis, for whom being Jewish was considered a biological trait and not a religious one. A point Marilynne Robinson made in her review of TGD.

    Haber’s Nobel Prize, awarded as he was narrowly escaping charges of war crimes, was among the most shameful ones yet handed out. Haber is a pretty repulsive figure.

  109. Sorbet

    Haber’s Nobel Prize had nothing to do with his poison gas research. It was a Nobel Prize for chemistry, not peace. The Haber-Bosch process may be the most important technological innovation in history. By some estimates it’s keeping 2 billion people alive on the planet today.

  110. Sorbet

    I did not answer the question because someone else did it quite well. Check the thread again. And you still haven’t answered why you haven’t looked up exobiology on Google.

  111. Sorbet

    What I said was that we don’t what alien life looks like but we have a good reason for believing that whatever it looks like, natural selection would most probably operate in its evolution. I even cited references that indicate this. Did you look any up? If not, why not?

  112. In fact, the enduring conflict between science and religion has in principle already been resolved with a new teaching of the moral teachings of Christ circulating on the web.

    “A new teaching that delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition, that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable, evidence based truth embodied in action. However unexpected or seemingly implausible, for the first time in history, a new moral tenet exists, offering access by faith, to absolute proof for its belief.”

    Just don’t expect existing religious tradition or the atheist fringe to appreciate it when it comes into general public discussion.

    Revolutionary stuff for those who can handle it? Check it out at http://www.energon.org.uk

  113. John Kwok

    @ Peter Beattie –

    Am glad you can think clearly for yourself even when we may disagree strongly about something (Again I do appreciate that a lot.). Unlike PZ’s sychophants who never seem to criticize him about anything, I have stated here and elsewhere online my disagreement with Ken Miller’s acceptance of a weak anthropic principle and have noted philosopher and evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci’s excellent refutation of it which he has posted at his blog, Rationally Speaking (Check his February 2009 archive. This arose after he participated in a Darwin commemorative symposium at Brown which was chaired by Ken.). If I was – according to noted PZ sycophant Ichthyic – Ken’s “Number One Fan” – do you think I would voice my disagreement with Ken? Sadly the online behavior of some many of those who belong to the Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg Collective is astonishingly virtually identical to those who are Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drones posting over at the Dishonesty Institute’s and the Dembski-created Uncommon Dissent websites.

  114. — Haber’s Nobel Prize had nothing to do with his poison gas research. It was a Nobel Prize for chemistry, not peace.

    Yeah, the Nobel Committee would have been entirely unaware that he was facing an indictment for war crimes due to his work in applied chemistry and his personally overseeing the first uses of poison gas in warfare. And it always ignores factors external to the scientific work of those it awards the prize to. That last sentence should be read with sufficient sarcasm.

    — The Haber-Bosch process may be the most important technological innovation in history.

    Which also helped keep the German war machine going after they had their sources of natural nitrogen cut off.

    — By some estimates it’s keeping 2 billion people alive on the planet today.

    Yeah, he was a real humanitarian. Let’s overlook his enthusiasm for his munitions work. I’d bring up his labs work on Zyklon, but as that was developed as a pesticide it’s most well know use was not directly attributable to Haber’s intention.

    I’m surprised you guys aren’t taking advantage of a “Christian” who was also a war criminal. Considering how many of you are in a swivet over Francis Collins, who as far as I know hasn’t enthusiastically overseen the gassing of thousands of people, that seems like a lost opportunity for the new atheist PR machine.

  115. Sorbet

    Let’s separate the good from the evil; the ills done by Haber-Bosch in keeping the war machine running, as lamentable as they might have been, are far outweighed by the millions of lives saved from starvation and hunger. Let’s call a spade a spade and not interrogate everything with the same brush.

  116. GM

    #120:

    Haber’s Nobel Prize had nothing to do with his poison gas research. It was a Nobel Prize for chemistry, not peace. The Haber-Bosch process may be the most important technological innovation in history. By some estimates it’s keeping 2 billion people alive on the planet today

    What happens with those 2 billion when we run out of natural gas?

  117. Sorbet

    That’s actually the real problem. Nobody recognized it then but Haber-Bosch turned human beings into the first species that drew the bulk of their energy from fossil fuels and not from the sun. Everybody can see the consequences.

  118. John Kwok

    Just to get back to the original point of this thread, I am certain that the President relied extensively on the advice and recommendation of molecular biologist Eric Lander, who had reported to Collins as the leader of the MIT Whitehead Institute team that sequenced the human genome. Professor Lander is now co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Scinece and Technology.

  119. Justin Higinbotham

    I just have to say that while your intentions are no doubt good (spreading science, meeting people half-way, not alienating them, etc.) one thing just doesn’t make sense:

    Why is it so laudable, so commendable, that so many scientists you work with hold such a wide array of beliefs? Because beliefs is simply a nice sounding name for absurd ideas about fairies and ghosts…should we accord the same respect to people who never gave up their “belief” in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus?

    What you clearly don’t seem to get is that the “militant atheist” position is simply calling things what they are…Francis Collins is a great administrator, and has done great science, but he is delusional. Just because millions share his delusion, that doesn’t change the absurdity of his beliefs or the potential harm the accompanies institutionalizing and “respecting” such irrational modes of thinking.

  120. Paul

    Kwok,

    What does you dropping names have to do with the original point of this thread?

  121. John Kwok

    @ Paul –

    It has the utmost relevance in explaining how and why President Obama picked Collins to be the head of NIH. Professor Lander worked closely with Collins for years, when Collins was the director of the Human Genome Project. If there is any prominent scientist who knows firsthand how good an adminstrator and leader Collins was as the head of NIH, then it is Lander. President Obama picked Collins for his scientific and administrative skills, not because Collins is also a devout Evangelical Protestant Christian.

    You’re a sanctimonious jerk IMHO, but what else can I expect from a Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drone such as yourself.

  122. John Kwok

    @ PS –

    A typo. Should read:

    If there is any prominent scientist who knows firsthand how good an administrator and leader Collins was as the head of the Human Genome Project then it is Lander.

  123. Ben Nelson

    Hi Bill, thanks for your considered reply. I should say that the scope of criticism on behalf of the “new atheists” is larger than a point of saying,
    “(a) Belief in god as a matter of fact is not supported by evidence;
    (b) belief in your religion as if it were a matter of fact is in contradiction with the evidence;
    (c) belief in your religion as a matter of therapy and community (or belief in the metaphorical truth of your religion) runs into humanitarian problems.”

    I think we’ve all gotten over (a). (b) is surmountable, though it still shows up in conversation every so often as if it were something seriously in conflict. (c), however, is the locus of the “new atheist” concern, and it receives the least amount of considered attention from the new accommodationists. But it’s important to keep that in mind when we are looking at the “new athiests”: that there’s a very human dimension to the criticism as well, a moral dimension, for example in Crackergate, which causes them to be liable to seemingly ignore civil boundaries.

    It’s against the backdrop of this that we might start to talk about how criticism is interpreted. The fact of the matter is that anything ever said, or not said, can be and will be interpreted as mean-spirited by somebody. The single most important problem in the American culture — vastly more important than mere scientific literacy, I would argue — is a lack of feeling for cooperation, a contempt for philosophy. What I mean to say is that people are singled out for being rude, mean, and so on, without appealing to norms violated in conversation, and without grounding those norms in reasons. So, if I say, “I don’t agree with you,” and somebody interprets that to mean, “You’re a dummy”, and tells all their friends and neighbors that I’m a mean man, then it is absolutely unwise for me to either default into apologetics or default into self-defense. The wisest reaction should be for me to say: “What norm did I violate?” And if I can’t even have a conversation along those lines (as it happens all too often), then I must insist on knowing the rationale behind being branded a communicative monster. And there are many norms that seem entirely right to me, when argued properly.

    With that in mind, let’s look at the Intersection and “Unscientific America”. M/K seem to have this norm that I might call a “principle of accommodation”: focus on the impact on social life, and deal with epistemology and cognitive dissonance afterwards: the logic is to clear the road of obstacles in communication, and then proceed with the good stuff. This norm might be grounded implicitly on all kinds of things. For instance, it isn’t very far off to suppose that M/K think that forceful criticism is and must always be an impediment to communication to all audiences, as opposed to one tool among others by which to engage. At best, shunning critical tactics is maybe a half-truth, if we think that the lack of interaction is the primary impediment to a healthy third culture. Abuse, name-calling, and so on, are entirely unproductive, and useless; as is servility and diffidence to the wrong and the immoral. But worse than either of them is aloofness, disengagement, and neglect — as far as I’ve read the book so far, that has been the one thing they are successful at arguing for.

    The 1984 fear is one that is legitimate only if we accept the authority of the scientist to determine our beliefs. Criticism, however, never has that force. Moreover, if it did, it would lead to a mistaken picture both of how science works (when it does work — it fails more often than it works), and of what can be reasonably expected of people. In the context of argument, even bold argument concerning matters of fact, there is a sense of play involved. Here are my claims, show me yours, and let’s both reason together. To the extent that we can’t find a playful seriousness in our conversations, there will be a peremptory force. The very idea that I can enter into the conversation at all will be nixed; there will be that aloofness, that neglect. Double plus bad.

    Nevertheless, if somebody just isn’t “getting it”, i.e., through flouting a succession of norms, then there’s no other way for me to respond except with a bit of rhetorical force and the presentation of those norms. And people will respond badly to anything and everything; there is no objective criterion that separates the silencing from the non-silencing, except maybe tape over mouth or cut to commercial. There’s no substitute for an articulation of the relevant norms of speech, and the only way to hold onto those norms is through the felt protection and self-confident sense of humility that comes from the felt authority of reasons.

    I really don’t think the “new atheist” reaction to, say, Collins, is about the fact he has faith. It’s the fact that his faith interrupts his science.

  124. wildlifer

    @ McCarthey

    You’re saying that CM and SK mentioning a well known incident in a piece of journalism is out of bounds? You’re saying that reporting a publicity stunt that the perpetrator went out of his way to put in peoples’ faces is some how below the belt? And you’re blaming the journalists for doing what anyone with a brain working could conclude was PZ’s purpose for making it known?

    Fail, again.

    It was more than just a “publicity stunt” and was a response to lunacy, but it seems that only you, kwok, Chris and Sheril are ignorant of that fact.

  125. wildlifer, I thought the new atheists were all about reality. They’re always telling us that, but it’s just more make believe. I’ve come to find even your level of willful dishonesty about your idol unsurprising anymore.

    Webster Cooke was a dolt who wanted attention and got more than he was counting on. He’s a student at a university, not a 12-year-old. I don’t have much sympathy for someone who does something so stupid among people who would clearly be offended by what he did. Their over reaction was entirely predictable.

    PZ Myers is a middle aged publicity hog who wanted attention. He did something outrageous and intentionally offensive, publicized it, got noticed, offended people and got a reaction from them.

    Now he and his addled groupies are pretending that there’s something wrong with two journalists writing about his publicity stunt, calling it exactly what it was clearly intended to be, offensive to a large number of people.

  126. Dog

    The problem is that reality has a well-known atheist bias.

  127. Scott

    Josh@101 @ Paul@100

    Yes, I do find the death threats and other assorted acts to be completely outrageous and I would hope that some people end up being arrested for them. That sort of behavior is completely immoral and unethical; it is downright disgusting.

    I also believe that what Myers did was a mistake done out of anger. It is quite understandable that he would be angry as that sort of thing would piss me off as well. However, while his intentions were good, I believe the what he did was counter-productive. It simply made things worse because before you had a bunch of religious fanatics behaving a way that I believe most people would find indefensible. Now, you’ve added to it someone from the other side doing something that is offensive to a lot of people. Yes, I do understand there is a huge degree of difference but the net result is you irritate and turn off people who were previously likely to be on your side or at least willing to listen. That is a mistake in my opinion.

    As far as whether Chris and Sheril should have elaborated more on that, I concede I was looking at it too narrowly at first and they should have added something more to explain what led Myers to do what he did.

  128. Bill

    Ben @124. All great points. Ditto. Two responses though:

    You said, “The 1984 fear is one that is legitimate only if we accept the authority of the scientist to determine our beliefs. Criticism, however, never has that force.” Agreed, as you’ve worded it. But what I’ve seen happening is that criticism isn’t enough. Politicians are being lobbied by scientists domestically and through the U.N. to establish public policies based on what many are calling questionable science (re: global warming). And so it moves beyond mere criticism and influence, and beyond mere debate. It moves into the realm of law and of force ala Orwell. The scientists aren’t directly exerting force; but many are using politicians to wield force on their behalf, and to coerce others into submitting to their science.

    It will be an unholy alliance that we’ve seen before, when religion was at the helm. If the domain of science has no restrictions on it, then we can expect the political machine to invade every inch of that scientific domain, controlling its content and its outworkings by rule of law: political, scientific, and economic freedom will vanish in order to follow the law of science, not as determined by scientists, but by opportunistic politicians. We saw it in Germany; we saw it in Russia; and we may well see it here shortly.

    I’m just suggesting that there is great temptation for those who are absolutely convinced they know the truth, to impose their truth on others, just like religionists. It’s a Marxist bent, I think. Not everyone likes to control the conversation, but enough do. So as long as it’s mere criticism and influence, I have no problem with it; let free speech reign. But my background in history and PoliSci lead me to think that it won’t remain in the debate stage for long each time. Hence the fear and distrust of “science” on the part of the public.

    Frankly, the public is having a hard time telling who knows what they’re talking about with regard to global warming, and so they’re upset about the carbon tax. They don’t know who to trust, ‘because they’re all “scientists”, and they’ve all got “credentials”, and they all sound “convinced” of the truth of their cause. The logical conclusion is that none of the experts really knows for sure. Thus the public is unwilling to accept a whole new level of taxation to fix what may be an unfixable problem, or that may not be a problem at all. Personally, I’m not questioning global warming; I”m questioning the proposed CAUSES of it, and so are most folks I know (not that the folks I know are the best arbiters of truth).

    Second response. You said, “I really don’t think the “new atheist” reaction to, say, Collins, is about the fact he has faith. It’s the fact that his faith interrupts his science.” I don’t know Dr. Collins to be able to say one way or the other, but in what way does his faith “interrupt” his science? Is that an a priori assumption flowing from the fact that he has religious beliefs and thus cannot be objective? I just don’t see the causal link (sorry). He discovers A causes B and thanks God for it; A still caused B; he’s just attributing it to the hand of God instead of the laws of existence. So what? I don’t think it’s grounds for opposing him, or striving to have him removed. There are too many other historical circumstances that are frighteningly familiar for me to embrace that kind of logic: like the removal of Jewish scientists from their positions in Germany prior to WWII…

    I think it’s the politics of science, and not science itself, that can be troubling. Anyway, thanks for the conversation, Ben. Gotta run. I won’t be back to this thread, and probably not the blog either. Too many Asberger folks throwing flaming darts at each other… (grin)

  129. Heraclides

    @129:

    1. Collins isn’t a scientist, he’s an administrator, and has been for a very long time.

    2. If you read the (serious) comments about Collins’ appointment, most point out that if a person holds a head/spokesperson role, they shouldn’t use that position to promote a personal ideology (or personal business interests, or any other personal interests).

  130. Lotharloo

    “True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind.”

    –Coyne

  131. Lotharloo

    @Anthony McCarthy:
    “Webster Cooke was a dolt who wanted attention and got more than he was counting on. He’s a student at a university, not a 12-year-old. I don’t have much sympathy for someone who does something so stupid among people who would clearly be offended by what he did.”

    Funny, I can find lots of muslim clerics who say they don’t have much sympathy for women who get raped because they dress provocatively, inviting the lust of many men who would clearly be aroused.
    Clearly, the “blame the victim” mentality is indeed very popular around here.

  132. wildlifer

    @126
    Sorry, you’ve got me confused with a theist. I have no idols.

    The church has every right to ban him from the premises for desecrating their idols, or mistreating a cracker as it were, but they’ve no rights beyond that.

  133. John Kwok

    @ wildlifer –

    Had Myers conducted “CrackerGate” as a professor of biological sciences at Brown University – which is where Ken Miller teaches – I am reasonably certain that he’d be known now as a former Brown University professor of biology. Why? Brown’s president would have recognized that “stunt” as an example of Myers’s religious intolerance, and therefore, an act unworthy of a Brown University professor. I am reasonably confident that she would have demanded his immediate resignation.

  134. wildlifer

    @134
    And PZ would have been well within his rights to tell her to take a long walk on a short pier.

    It’s not like he did this in from of a classroom of students as part of his course. (But if it was relevant to the curricula, no biggy either.)

  135. Jack Armstrong

    Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such. Though some very vocal voices in the science community disagree, I assure you they are not representative of the whole.

    What is your source on that last claim, that “they are not representative of the whole?”

  136. John Kwok

    @ wildlifer (@ 135) –

    No PZ wouldn’t have been in his rights since Brown’s Faculty Senate would have endorsed her demand for his immediate resignation as a Brown University professor, simply because “CrackerGate” violated the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity which Brown prides itself on – and as important too – the fact that it stresses tolerance – including religious tolerance – as a hallmark of a Brown education. PZ would have been subjected to a psychiatric exam first – and if he was judged to be sane – then asked for his immediate resignation.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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