Eric Berger on Unscientific America

By Chris Mooney | July 21, 2009 2:57 pm

Each day, it seems, I see more evidence that many “New Atheists” read Unscientific America differently from other people who care about or are interested in science.

The latest case in point: A review by science writer Eric Berger over at his excellent Houston Chronicle blog, SciGuy. Berger writes:

Mooney and Kirshenbaum persuasively make a couple of points that have already proved unpopular in the burgeoning community of science bloggers:

1) New Atheism will not endear science to the 90 percent of Americans who believe in God, and 2) Science blogging may actually degrade American scientific culture, rather than revitalize it.

On the atheism point, the book drew immediate criticism from Pharyngula, a popular New Atheism blog. While I am certainly sympathetic to the right of anyone to hold his or her own beliefs, what New Atheists ignore is that their shrillness gives all of science a very, very poor reputation in middle America.

Berger, of course, is a science writer who writes for “middle America”–well, Houston, anyway.

He continues:

Secondly, on blogging, I think the following point is the most salient from the book:

The single biggest blogging negative, however, is the grouping together of people who already agree about everything, and who then proceed to square and cube their agreements, becoming increasingly self-assured and intolerant of other viewpoints. Thus, blogging about science has brought out, in some cases, the loud, angry, nasty, and profanity-strewing minority of the science world that denounces the rest of America for its ignorance and superstition.

I couldn’t agree more. And this just doesn’t happen among scientists, of course. This trend toward echo-chamber communities on the Web really decreases the opportunities for meaningful dialogue among those who disagree.

Seriously.

You can read Berger’s full review here….

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Comments (286)

  1. Jeff

    Well Chris, you can choose to ignore the superstitions that science debunks if you want to. That’s your right. The rest of us will gladly point out that, no, the earth is NOT 6000 years old, despite what your quaint religion claims (just to name one BS issue). We’ll also take great umbrage when you try to tell us to STFU, and wonder what’s so damn entrancing about “framing” that makes you want to lie and dissemble.

  2. Each day, it seems, I see more evidence that nothing will persuade Chris Mooney to give up his campaign against ‘New’ atheists and just heed reasonable criticisms instead.

    A reader told me he had posted a link to my list of questions for you, three times here, and that the post had been deleted twice.

    Why? Why delete a post that links to my perfectly reasonable questions?

    Yes I know I belong to the putative group that you have gone out of your way to portray as The Source of The Public-Science Gap – but you ought to be able to entertain reasonable questions from people who disagree with you as well as from those who disagree. I do indeed disagree with you, but I disagree with you for reasons. It’s not just some arbitrary whim. The reasons and the questions are the same – the questions could all be rephrased as declarative objections. I chose to put them as questions partly because you had ignored almost all objections.

    I think you should answer the questions, and I don’t think you should delete posts that refer to them or link to them.

    I think you should stop stonewalling your critics. Pretending they’re all disqualified because they are ‘New Atheists’ doesn’t help – it just makes you look unreasonable. More unreasonable.

  3. Using a quote from a review that mostly quotes the book. Speaking of an echo chamber…

  4. Oh, gee – I should have posted a link to the questions. Don’t delete it, will you.

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

    Here’s how it starts…

    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?

  5. Sorbet

    Chris and Sheril, the problem still is that the statement that “New Atheists are alienating Americans from science and affecting scientific literacy” (or something similar) is based mainly on a gut feeling and an unpleasant reaction you have had to PZ’s and similar blogs.

    Do you really have any evidence or data that shows that New Atheists are causing a significant problem in public acceptance of science or in science communication? Because unless you have such data this belief will simply remain a belief, a conjecture based on personal opinions and feelings.

  6. What Sorbet said – yes, that’s 2-5.

    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?

    You need to answer, Chris. Stonewalling just makes you look…you know.

  7. Actually, I think that most of us really don’t give a damn (religious connotation or not) about the resolution of the debate about God and Science. True believers of both side will not be persuaded.

    What we do care about is that we make the kind of accurate, fact based scientific judgments that will allow our children and grandchildren to have full and productive lives. Right now, I would say that we are failing in that task.

    What bothers me is that the energy that is being devoted to this issue could have been devoted to making significant change about global warming, preventing the next pandemic (malaria?), or even to solving the problems of how to feed this growing population a diet that is healthy for the farmer, the consumer and the rest of the planet.

    I would hope that we get off this topic because it’s resolution does not interest me, at least not enough to make it’s resolution a necessary first step toward making progress on all of those other issues.

  8. Lowell

    I was mildly religious just a few years ago. (Not any more, thank you.)

    I can unequivocally say that reading “new atheists” like PZ Myers and Dawkins gave me a greater appreciation for science and encouraged me to become better informed about it. Who’s to say that’s not the most common reaction that mildly religious people have to it? I’d say it’s at least as likely as the gut feeling Mooney, Kirshenbaum, and Berger seem to share that the opposite is the case.

  9. Davo

    I completely agree. How do you know that the New Atheists are actually not causing more people to become fearless and outspoken about their atheist beliefs? How many people do you think have been put off science itself after reading The God Delusion?

    Berger’s words betray the same deficiency when he says:
    What New Atheists ignore is that their shrillness gives all of science a very, very poor reputation in middle America

    How does he know this? Has he done a survey where the majority of people said that reading the New Atheists engendered an aversion to science among them?

    And to begin with it’s a rather tall claim to state that the reputation of science itself has been damaged because of this small minority of people. As Sagan said, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. To claim that the reputation of science in general has been affected by the small group of New Atheists needs some compelling evidence. Sorry, but I don’t see this even remotely in your and Berger’s pronouncements.

  10. Blogger

    “no, the earth is NOT 6000 years old”

    Only a minority of religious people really believe that anyway. It’s increasingly becoming both a red herring and a straw man in these types of conversations.

  11. Marc

    Ophelia: your questions are loaded with false assumptions and there is no possible answer that would satisfy you. There is nothing that you would accept as an answer to your #3-#6; numerous testimonials from people like me about how deeply you antagonize us will be discarded as meaningless anecdotes. Logical evidence that insults and mockery fail to persuade people don’t even seem to register.

    They aren’t saying that you can’t talk about religion. They’re saying you’re deeply intolerant and irrational in your public behavior. For example: coming over here and posting the same set of loaded and leading questions repeatedly.

    This has been explained to you dozens of times in comments over here, and you appear either unwilling to respond or unable to comprehend. That’s not dialog; it’s just yelling over the fence, which is apparently the standard mode of discussion over at Pharyngula. It’s incredibly sad, actually, that such a useful evolution site turned into a forum for rants about religion.

    And that doesn’t even address the issue about dismissing non-fundamentalist religions as “not real”, misrepresenting the beliefs of actual religious people, and completely misunderstanding what people use religion for. A dialog would be useful, but you and your crowd are only interested in verbal assault, not dialog.

  12. Blogger

    “Do you really have any evidence or data that shows that New Atheists are causing a significant problem in public acceptance of science or in science communication?”

    Yes, but everytime it’s put forward it’s shot full of holes. You scientific types tend be rather intolerant and inflexible with anything or anyone that doesn’t fit *your* definition of evidence.

    And that’s one of the big problems. Your minority (and you forget you’re a minority) doesn’t speak (and doesn’t seem to want to speak) the same language as everyone else.

  13. Blogger

    IMHO Ophelia Benson is very close to becoming a troll. She’s adding little, and irritating a lot. Of course, that’s MHO.

  14. Skeptic

    This is from the Wikipedia Young Earth Creationism article:

    “As of 2008 a Gallup poll indicated that 50% of US adults agreed with the statement “human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.” Whereas 44% of US adults agreed with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”

    By some accounts 135 million Americans believe in Biblical creationism. Is this a minority?

  15. Blogger

    Humans within 10K years /= Earth within 10K years.

  16. Mark F.

    I’m really getting kind of tired of all the bickering going on between both sides of this argument. I’ve reached a “pox on both your houses” state of mind for the most part. I will say to Chris, however, that your hangup on profanity is starting to make you come across like some little old lady who needs to find the fainting couch every time she hears some off-color language.

  17. Davo

    Your minority (and you forget you’re a minority)

    That’s the whole point! Chris, Sheril and Berger seem to think that this small minority is responsible for a generally bad reputation for science all over the country. That’s an extraordinary claim that imparts far too much power to the minority. Where’s the evidence that supports the claim? And we are not exactly asking for p values here. Reasonable evidence will do.

  18. Lowell

    Blogger

    “no, the earth is NOT 6000 years old”
    Only a minority of religious people really believe that anyway. It’s increasingly becoming both a red herring and a straw man in these types of conversations.

    So choose some other assertion about the real world based on religious beliefs. How about “2000 years ago Jesus Christ died and then came back to life three days later.” That’s not a minority position, is it?

    If you want an example where these delusions motivate the religious to tell others what they can and can’t do, how about, “the morning after pill should not be available over the counter because a human zygote has a soul.”

    There are plenty of examples.

  19. Lowell

    Blogger

    Yes, but everytime it’s put forward it’s shot full of holes. You scientific types tend be rather intolerant and inflexible with anything or anyone that doesn’t fit *your* definition of evidence.

    Uh, I must have missed it. Please, tell us what this evidence is.

  20. Brian D

    From a meta-level, it’s very interesting that every time Chris posts a review – positive or otherwise – the comments here appear very critical. Now, I’m not weighing in here on the validity of that criticism (I’ve spoken out in the past on this), but the fact that the same critical points keep arising amongst regular Intersection readers suggests two things:

    1) That the people interested in the science-public gap have very specific concerns and
    2) That Chris (and possibly Sheril – she isn’t the one posting the reviews) is uninterested in dealing with his commenters or unwilling to address the repeated concerns.

    Note that these commenters are people interested in the very topic this blog and the book are about, and are the ones motivated enough to contact Chris directly about it.

    Was the whole point of the book to try to convince people who aren’t interested in the divide that they should be? If that’s the case, consider the newly-converted who looks for more information at the authors’ website (here). What do they see? The authors stopping just short of censorship of critical comments (or maybe crossing that line; see comment #2), acting obstinate and indeed, very pundit-like in their certainty of their message. When’s the last time you saw a pundit speak accurately/positively about science, or admit they were wrong?* And what’s the message this sends to the reader, besides a bait-and-switch?

    Please explain to me how this supports the central prescription in the book of better science communication.

    * (Not necessarily the greatest timing, as Rachel Maddow does both of these on a semi-regular basis now, but the point still holds in general.)

  21. Blogger

    “Chris and Sheril, the problem still is that the statement that “New Atheists are alienating Americans from science and affecting scientific literacy” ”

    Actually, they blame EVERYONE, not just the NA’s.

    From Darksydes review:

    “As to who is too blame, the short answer, presented with convincing research and rationale, is everyone. Politicians poorly trained in science have little to gain and much to lose by taking firm positions, a point well illustrated by the brick wall Mooney and others ran into when they tried to arrange a science debate during the 2008 Presidential campaign. Mainstream media is consumed by presenting both sides of an issue — even when one of them is ridiculous — while less objective media venues suffer no corresponding ethical dilemma and blasts out misinformation like a howitzer. Science writers get wrapped up in the culture war over science and atheism. Scientists and academia share responsibility for not engaging the public and the media more forcefully, or blazing a viable career path for charismatic scientists with a flair for public speaking.”
    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/7/12/751063/-Book-Review:-Unscientific-America

  22. Sorbet

    We know that. Other factors may also be important. But we are asking for evidence that says that the NAs are important, that’s all. And for the record, even if you disagree, Ophelia Benson’s questions are reasonable and full of detail. You cannot dismiss them as irrational ravings filled with profanity or bile.

  23. The reviews I’ve seen divide pretty much between the new atheists who hate the book and other reviewers who like the book.

    “I know that you personally don’t believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God’s greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!” William Dembski’s well known thank you to Richard Dawkins

    If Richard Dawkins or some other anti religious crank becomes the public face of science people won’t have any problems choosing their religion over science. To the extent they have made themselves that public face, science will lose.

  24. Lowell

    That’s your evidence? Bill Dembski says so? Man, that’s weak.

  25. John Kwok

    Eric Berger seems to have hit the proverbial “nail on the head”, and the only thing he is missing his rather astute analysis of both the “New Atheists” and of those infesting many science blogs is the excellent observation made by eminent evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson that atheism is a “stealth religion”. That is an especially apt observation from Wilson in light of the ample zealotry seen from the likes of PZ, Ophelia and their acolyte ilk here and elsewhere online.

  26. “we are asking for evidence that says that the NAs are important, that’s all.”

    Well look, either the NAs have an impact on the general population, or they don’t. If they don’t, why do they bother writing books and chatting with each other on blogs? Surely it’s not just for the pleasure of talking to each other. So all parties ought to agree that they do have an impact on the general population.

    So take the NAs who both bash religion and teach science–folks like Dawkins and Myers. How does the general population react? Well, there are the fence-sitters who might buy into both the bashing and the science. But what about the religious folk? How do they react to the coupling of science and religion-bashing? We all have experiences to draw upon. We don’t react well to a message with coupled with something we find insulting. So at the very least, C&S have very plausible hypothesis. It just happens to be one they haven’t proven true by amassing empirical evidence.

    But should we hold that against them? Should they try to get some NSF money and do a study before they make the conjecture that religion-bashing scientists probably alienate science students? Er, I’d think not. In fact, we’d all be hopelessly crippled if we didn’t let ourselves make and live by such conjectures.

    So there’s nothing wild and woolly about what C&S are saying. Now, it’s another matter what they think the solution is. I think they go too far when they tell scientists to teach that religion and science are compatible (in chap. 8 of the their book). They simplify that issue far too much. Far better to advise that scientist educators to just teach science, and just put religion on the back burner.

    Obviously, that doesn’t mean religion ought not be discussed by anyone. It just might not be the best thing for our best science educators to be religion bashers. I think this is far from an outrageous thing to say–in fact it’s not even terribly exciting (with apologies to C&S).

  27. Lowell

    Well, as long as your source is someone eminent, John.

  28. John Kwok

    Lowell,

    If you meant that as a joke, I appreciate it. Am still in a state of shock, mourning for someone who was indeed eminent, especially in his own way as the gentle soul and inspirationatl teacher that he was, many years before he became the foremost memoirist of our time.

  29. NewEnglandBob

    So, Andrew McCarthy, everyone who disagrees with you is now automatically labelled a “New Atheist”?

    Why do you listen to Dembski selectively, when you know everything else he has published has been discredited and laughed at? That is quote mining and it is offensive.

    Kwok, Kwak, quack: you are the nail and the infestation. Oh yeah you forgot to quote the eminent Ken.

  30. JoeT

    It’s interesting to actually read the Berger review. As to the comment above, that M&S blame everyone, Berger thinks not:

    “While discussing the role of poor science education, science-phobic politicians and religious ideologues in undermining science’s place in society, ultimately the book places much of the blame at the feet of scientists themselves.”

    Now, we already know that Berger is thrilled with the attack on New Atheists, but how thrilled is he about the solutions M&S propose? Not so much …

    “They write about the development of “Renaissance scientists,” and the need to teach speaking and outreach skills as part of graduate school in the sciences. This is good and right, but I’m not sure it’s going to get us there. I thought this section of the book felt somewhat flat and rushed.”

    So, for Berger we have thumbs up on blame the scientists, thumbs up on blame the New Atheists, thumbs down on solutions.

  31. Sorbet

    Nobody here has yet provided evidence that Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers or any NA has been responsible for driving away people from science. I would especially like to see evidence that the sum total of Richard Dawkins’s work has created more opponents of science than enthusiasts. I would like to see documented examples (and not fundamentalists since they were never the target audience) of people who have chosen religion over science after reading or listening to Richard Dawkins.

  32. Lowell

    John, as I’ve said before, I’m sorry for your loss, but this is the Internet. Things get heated, and you can’t demand that your interlocutors be polite to you. If you’re feeling particularly sensitive right now, I suggest you go do something else.

  33. John Kwok

    @ Lowell –

    If they could learn to be as polite and as funny as my former teacher was, then I think we’d all be in much better shape IMHO. I’m actually limiting my time posting here, simply because I am in mourning.

  34. Vytautas

    Oh, these words coming from Mooney are just priceless:

    “This trend toward echo-chamber communities on the Web really decreases the opportunities for meaningful dialogue among those who disagree.”

    Says the man who has completely blown off every substantive question put to him. Yea, it’s all the fault of the “echo”, and not that he really doesn’t have any valid answers to those very clear and well delineated questions.

  35. Lowell

    Sorbet

    I would like to see documented examples (and not fundamentalists since they were never the target audience) of people who have chosen religion over science after reading or listening to Richard Dawkins.

    Somehow, I don’t think that data will be forthcoming.

    As an aside, I’d bet—since all we have here are hunches, anyway—that the more common scenario is where a fundamentalist in a position of authority (parent, preacher, whatever) dissuades an inquisitive young person from reading or listening to Richard Dawkins in the first place. Probably by using the same mischaracterization of Dawkins’s position found in Mooney & Kirshenbaum’s book (i.e., that he thinks science “precludes God’s existence”).

  36. SLC

    Re John Kwok

    I have heard of the late Frank McCourt but have never read any of his books. I believe that his brother is a businessman who, among other things, is the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

  37. John Kwok

    @ SLC –

    Sorry, wrong answer. No relationship between the two. Frank’s brother(s) don’t own baseball teams.

  38. Blogger

    “Nobody here has yet provided evidence that Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers or any NA has been responsible for driving away people from science.”

    Can you show any evidence that anyone or any group is responsible for driving people away from science?

  39. Wowbagger

    Can you show any evidence that anyone or any group is responsible for driving people away from science?

    Is anyone on the so-called ‘new atheist’ side making the claim that anyone is driving people away from science? I don’t recall hearing anything like that from Dawkins or PZ Myers. It’s Chris and Sheril and the regulars here – i.e. Kwok and McCarthy – who keep on insisting that there are people being driven away from science.

    Why is asking for evidence to support this so inflammatory?

  40. Sorbet

    Echoing Lowell above; Ben Stein? (“The last time scientists told my relatives something was when they told them to go into the gas chambers”). Evangelical Christians who home-school their children and tell them the “Darwinists” and Global Warming Alarmists are stupid and evil?

    Of course we may think these people are ludicrous and they are, but that hardly stops scores from taking their loony enunciations seriously. They are clearly the ones who turn people away from science.

  41. Skeptic

    “New Atheists” read Unscientific America differently from other people who care about or are interested in science.”

    Are you alleging that Richard Dawkins does not care about science or is uninterested in it? Do you think that all those books about biology and evolution that he wrote for popular audiences and the talks about evolution that he gave (including the Christmas Lectures for children) indicated his indifference toward science? Interesting.

  42. Nutella

    @37 Why is asking for evidence to support this so inflammatory?

    Because THERE ISN’T ANY!!! I’m just waiting for them to trot out a person who says, “Yes, P. Z. drove me away from embracing evolution.” And for every anecdote like that, we can produce one person who says that Dawkins or P. Z. turned them on to evolution.

  43. Sorbet

    Chris and Sheril, the fundamental problem I have with your thesis is that while in your book you admonish those who would like to extend a hand to the religious to not conflate evolution with atheism, I unfortunately think you are doing a similar thing here by conflating opposition to atheism with opposition to science.

    To me it seems that you think that people who would be put off by Richard Dawkins’s atheism (if at all) would also automatically be put off by Richard Dawkins’s science. I don’t see a good reason why this should happen however; there are many people (like myself) who can call a spade and spade and separate Dawkins’s atheism from Dawkins’s science. I even know people who are largely repelled by Dawkins’s atheism and love Dawkins’s science. Thus I am not sure I understand why Dawkins’s or Myers’s atheistic writings would translate into a dislike for science in general. Thanks.

  44. Blogger

    I guess the bigger question is IS ANYONE BEING DRIVEN AWAY FROM SCIENCE?

  45. —- Why do you listen to Dembski selectively, when you know everything else he has published has been discredited and laughed at? That is quote mining and it is offensive. NEB

    I’d never quote Dembski on “science”, I was giving a well known quote in which he thanked Richard Dawkins for making his work so much easier for him. If you can think of a way to point out that ID quacks are grateful t0 Dawkins because he’s such a useful foil, there’s nothing to stop you from topping my humble demonstration of that.

    Sorbet, I was put off by Dawkins’ science about twenty five years before I was aware of his brand of atheism. I go back to the critique of Sociobiology on that count. And it’s not his atheism that I don’t like, it’s his bigotry and shallow assertions that the gullible mistake as scholarship.

    “Quote mining”, One of a series of slogans that new atheists pull out when they don’t like facts they don’t want to deal with and thus rendered meaningless. See also: ad hominem, straw man, etc.

  46. Sorbet

    What about the ardent followers of Ben Stein who said the most ludicrous, horrible thing that you can imagine. This:

    Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. [PZ] Myers, talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself, the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed.

  47. Since M&K fail to present evidence for their OPINION that those that they don’t happen to like are the responsible for science illiteracy, does Berger present any evidence for this? I surmise that he does not.

    Still waiting for M&K to answer these questions:
    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=2841

    @ Blogger –
    “Only a minority of religious people really believe that anyway. It’s increasingly becoming both a red herring and a straw man in these types of conversations.”

    (response from Skeptic @13
    “This is from the Wikipedia Young Earth Creationism article:
    ‘As of 2008 a Gallup poll indicated that 50% of US adults agreed with the statement “human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.” Whereas 44% of US adults agreed with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years’
    By some accounts 135 million Americans believe in Biblical creationism. Is this a minority?”

    @14 Blogger”
    “Humans within 10K years /= Earth within 10K years.”

    OHHHHHH! So the majority only believe that HUMANS are 10,000 years old. That’s much better.

    Not really making your case there, buddy.

  48. Jon

    Personally, my favorite way to win over people is to tell them that they need to agree with me about everything, even about things that aren’t proveable, or else they’re stoopid.

  49. Wowbagger

    Personally, my favorite way to win over people is to tell them that they need to agree with me about everything, even about things that aren’t proveable, or else they’re stoopid.

    Uh, that’s great. But here we’re talking about science, which – as far as I’m aware – considers things that aren’t ‘provable’ (using the loose, non-mathematical sense of the word) to be irrelevant.

    It’s like not pointing out if a world-class heart surgeon uses every aspect of cutting-edge modern medicine to do his job but who then chooses to go to a Voodoo priestess for some juju to try and banish the bad spirits that are causing his headache rather than use something the very community to which he belongs supports.

    What’s wrong with calling that stupid?

  50. Warning: since we’re evidently now judging the accuracy of comments by their origin, I should say that I am not a new atheist. I am a secular quietist. I think that the best answer to “Do you believe in God?” is “It’s none of your damn business”. That is, I think we should take protestantism to its logical conclusions by eliminating Protestantism.

    Sorbet, in fairness, I had a perfectly good, productive, civil conversation with the commenter TB over this matter in another thread. My position was that confrontation of certain persons with threats is MORE persuasive, not less persuasive (sp. the authoritarian personality), and with respect to the functions of speech. TB took a different position, emphasizing the value of civility for many other targets. Actually, I suspect that we’re both right; unfortunately, neither of us have the expertise or knowledge to go beyond prime facie evidence.

    I’ve read Unscientific America. The only evidence I noticed for their philosophy of communication was a citation of the paleo-conservative and former Canadian politician, Preston Manning. This was an incomplete citation, obfuscated due to their eccentric notation system. In any case, Manning’s comments were echoed, rightly, by the review at RealClimate of UA, demanding that we take receiver-oriented communication more seriously. This is a theme you can find in many other comments, both positive and negative. Now since we’re all struggling to answer the question, I think there’s an easy consensus that Unscientific America does not help us find any answers to it (though it has been written in such a way as to suggest that the authors are already set with their answer).

    No answer is forthcoming, of course. So I’m prepared to play devil’s advocate.

    If I were Sheril or Chris, I would likely give a syllabus of Democratic Party books written during their years in the hinterland — the years when Joe Leiberman was still part of the party. Books that emphasize the importance of getting to know your Red State neighbors. I might say something about how somebody with a genuine sense of victimhood can be exploited into voting, and acting, against their own class interests; and so we should empower them through civility, not condescension. I might say things about how it is important not to forget those years when the next cycle comes around. Then I would construct a story about bipartisanship and not stepping on anyone’s toes, and that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. As a final coup de grace, I would then (without so much as an afterthought) use the Democrat v. Republican template and frame it above the Science v. Religion one, reflexively, without even noticing quite what I’m doing, or what the implications are of that juxtaposition.

  51. Jon

    What’s wrong with calling that stupid?

    Nothing. It’s just that you shouldn’t confuse knowing science with knowing everything.

  52. CanCan

    I see a lot of people who have never taken a class in social psychology, have never spoken to a social psychologist, and have never taken the time to go through the research available that goes into how humans react to provocation and sensed threats (from any direction, and remember, just because you think your position is eminently justified, that doesn’t mean that others won’t perceive attacks as anything other than attacks or threats). Has there been research specifically done on the consequences of confrontational atheism on science education? I doubt it (though I anticipate a good bit in the future). Has there been research done into similar social dynamics? Yes, and confrontation and attack does not help – it exacerbates, and shuts down discussion. If people feel they are under attack and are not respected, they harden their original position, and ignore anything that comes from the perceived attackers. This is very basic material. Go to the stacks and look through the journals, or else just go and talk to a social psychologist about research done decades ago. Is to just maintain your position like this in contravention of well-known social dynamics really a properly scientific position? I don’t think so. Do you even care?

  53. NewEnglandBob

    So much for free speech here. I said nothing that should have been censored by the hosts of this blog. Apparently they are afraid of free speech.

    They did not even send an email to explain what they objected to.

    I will no longer bother with this cesspool.

  54. Jon

    Benjamin S. Nelson in 51: …When I would construct a story about bipartisanship and not stepping on anyone’s toes, and that you attract more flies with honey than vinegar…

    Except that, on those matters, I think it was obvious who was right and who was wrong: E. g., We should have universal health care like the rest of the freaking industrialized world. We should do something about climate change because opinions about the shape of the earth don’t differ among the people who matter. And we should not invade foreign countries just because we can.

    On the other hand, it’s not the case that everyone’s religion s*cks and scientists know everything we’d ever want to know, or will soon.

    Just because Dennett, Dawkins, and Myers tell me that, I’m very, very far from convinced. And if *I’m* not convinced, being the technocrat-sympathetizing liberal that I am…

  55. Lowell

    “and scientists know everything we’d ever want to know, or will soon.”

    Nobody says that. C’mon.

  56. Wowbagger

    Jon wrote:

    Nothing. It’s just that you shouldn’t confuse knowing science with knowing everything.

    Which is fine except for the fact that different religions make contradictory and mutually exclusive claims. If you can’t provide some kind of validation for either claim, how do you determine which is correct? What ‘way of knowing’ do you turn to? To what extent should be accept this ‘way of knowing’ and allow those who claim it to expect to be taken seriously?

    And all religions have made, and continue to make, claims testable by science, even though its adherents like to claim that they don’t and never have. Which would be fine if they were deists; however, as both Dawkins and PZ Myers have stated, they’d have no issue whatsoever with deist scientists.

  57. Jon

    Nobody says that. C’mon.

    That’s the attitude projected.

  58. Jon

    different religions make contradictory and mutually exclusive claims.

    What if it works like this:

    Today we often assume that before undertaking a religious lifestyle, we must prove to our own satisfaction that “God” or the “Absolute” exists. This is good scientific practice: first you establish a principle; only then can you apply it. But the Axial sages would say that this was to put the cart before the horse. First you must commit yourself to the ethical life; then disciplined and habitual benevolence, not metaphysical conviction, would give you intimations of the transcendence you sought.

    This is Karen Armstrong borrowing from Karl Jaspers. If off the cuff, you don’t take either of them seriously, then I don’t take *you* seriously. Also, I differ that you have to be deist in order to believe in god and not to conflict with science, but that’s another matter.

  59. CanCan, from what I understand about persuasion, I ought to begin my reply with statements upon which we agree. Unfortunately, your post is out of line in pretty much every way that counts. So it is not possible to take the edge off our disagreement with any kind prefatory remarks. In their absence, I do hope you treat my rebukes, at least, as sincere.

    First, you imply, wrongly, that I made a claim quite specific to the social psychology that is demonstrable as far as the present topics are concerned (theism, etc.). I was at pains, in this post and elsewhere, to treat the evidence as prime facie, in full recognition of the limited scope of the evidence, and heavy reliance upon informal argument.

    Second, you both ignore the allusion to evidence and discussion without, it seems, asking first to actually assess its merits, and flout the very idea that evidence (or, in the absence of evidence, argument) has been presented. Presumably, a mere oversight. Here are the relevant threads, with discussion. If I have erred, then I look forward to being corrected. But it will require advancing the discussion far beyond the level of superficiality that it has so far labored under in “Unscientific America” and on this blog.
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/08/unscientific-america-a-must-read-for-anybody-who-cares-about-science
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/10/reactions-to-the-pewaaas-report

    Third, and central to the point: your claim about the viability of threats is stated so generally that it can’t help but be in error. Research has specifically been done on the authoritarian personality, and has shown that credible threats are demonstrably more effective in persuasion for select kinds of audiences and contexts. So the claim, “confrontation and attack does not help – it exacerbates, and shuts down discussion” is not accurate. See “Threat, Authoritarianism, and Voting: An Investigation of Personality and Persuasion”, Lavine et. al. 1999. http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/25/3/337 So, to answer your question: I do care a great deal about evidence, as should we all. Now let’s get serious about it. Do you, or do you not, recognize the validity of this work, in its limited scope? Do you recognize its implications for political discourse, when taken to their logical conclusions? Do you disagree that it can be applied here in any fashion?

  60. Jon, sure, but being right isn’t enough. The stakes are too high.

  61. Roadtripper

    The irony just keeps getting deeper….

    Rt

  62. Jon

    The stakes are too high.

    So what are the stakes on whether or not we say religion can be compatible with science?

  63. Peter Beattie

    » Chris Mooney:
    Each day, it seems, I see more evidence that many “New Atheists” read Unscientific America differently from other people who care about or are interested in science.

    Know why that is? Because apparently you are closing your eyes to anything that doesn’t fit that view. Berger explicitly makes a point that PZ and Coyne also made, that about your book lacking solutions:

    The end of the book looks at possible solutions to raise the position of science in society, but I’m not sure the authors have got this quite right. … I thought this section of the book felt somewhat flat and rushed. This may be because there really aren’t any great solutions.

    As to the parts he actually liked, he, for example, says that you “persuasively make a couple of points”, to wit, a) “New Atheism” is counterproductive and b) science blogging may degrade the scientific culture. In support of which he gives not a single argument and not a single piece of evidence. What he does, though, is trot out the usual talking points of “shrillness” etc. and say that he “couldn’t agree more”. Well, I guess that settles the argument, then. Truly the marks of “an excellent blog”.

    Oh, and there’s this little gem: “This trend toward echo-chamber communities on the Web really decreases the opportunities for meaningful dialogue among those who disagree.” I have got to say that this blog here has among the least meaningful dialogue among its regulars, and its owners have consistently stonewalled any substantive and meaningful questions directed at them. For them approvingly to quote Berger’s comment is simple, unmitigated hipocrisy.

  64. Gerald

    “Each day, it seems, I see more evidence that many “New Atheists” read Unscientific America differently from other people who care about or are interested in science.”

    I first interpreted part of this sentence as “New Atheists (NA) don’t care about and are not interested in science…” and I think a few others have too.

    However, this could also be read as “There are people (other than NAs) who also care about or are also interested in science, and they read UA differently”

    Which one did you mean?

    Also, even in the 2nd case, you imply that all caring and interested non-NA who read your book would interpret it positively (as opposed to the negative view from NAs)? Any evidence for that one? Do you think only NAs criticise your book?

  65. Heraclides

    Chris/Sheril:

    “Each day, it seems, I see more evidence that many “New Atheists” read Unscientific America differently from other people who care about or are interested in science.”

    Your “evidence” isn’t: it’s anecdote 😉 As a science writer you should have an automatic “dumb alert” to detecting that 😉

    You should to take care not to create your own confirmation bias, as it were, by labelling people by what you feel about their replies. Assigning a common personal/ideological label to replies you don’t like will mean that by definition the people with this label will mostly reply in a fashion you don’t like, because your labelling them has the effect ensuring that you will see what seek. Unless the person actually gives their ideology, I wouldn’t applying an ideological label based on their response to your book. People are generally more complicated that that 😉

    I believe some aspects of your work—as adjudged by your presentations on-line—has it faults (as most work does). There are a number of well-nuanced replies pointing out issues over the past week or so in the comments. These do not strike me as coming from foul-mouthed, rabid “new atheists”. I haven’t seen a response to their thoughts. (I have replied several times myself.)

    “On the atheism point, the book drew immediate criticism from Pharyngula, a popular New Atheism blog.” That it drew criticism isn’t really the point: why it did is more relevant. The statement made is a bit empty to my reading, as it doesn’t deal with “why”.

    “The single biggest blogging negative […]” You could also “read” some of this general kind of activity as people who are discovering that other people share the same views that they already held independently alone; it would come down to how you interpret their “intention” in writing.

    I am under the impression that you are talking about particular crowds of people that I guess you see as having a “group mentality”. That would be fine, except that you conflate this, implying a wider range of blogs and a larger audience that these particular blogs will ever reach.

    In my experience, most of those showing this pack mentality are not scientists. They also are over-represented by a relatively small core of people who are very vocal and appear repeatedly on threads on that nature. I’m concerned that you’re conflating things here.

  66. Gina Mel

    Each day, it seems, I see more evidence that many “New Atheists” read Unscientific America differently from other people who care about or are interested in science.
    ********************************************
    Is that entirely true though? A fair number of positive reviews of the book (including two on Amazon.com) do include criticism of the part on “new atheists”. Also Mike the Mad Biologist criticizes the Pluto part of the book like PZ Myers as does Ian Musgrave. Janet’s reading of Chapter 8 of the book is not exactly a glowing review “These would have been outstanding questions to examine at depth in Unscientific America, and I suspect that if Chapter 8 had been framed around these questions, more of Team Science would be engaging with the book positively.” She also had some similar criticisms as PZ in her review of the book.

    The “New Atheists” part seems to have taken up way too much effort on your own blog on the matter instead of other parts of the book.

    It is like you are trying to triangulate yourself by creating a new group of “other” (New Atheists).

  67. Sorbet

    But that’s the whole point. You can be indifferent to Dawkins’s atheism and still be informed by his science. You can loathe The God Delusion and still be perfectly satisfied to find The Extended Phenotype impressive. That’s why I am puzzled by C, S and B who would say that NAs turn people away from science, almost as if the latter logically followed from the former.

  68. The first time I ever said anything about the new atheists was in September 2006, all I said was that insulting people was politically counterproductive and could cost Democrats the control of congress, giving George W. Bush more power than he’d had. What I wrote was distorted at Pandagon blog by Amanda Marcotte and the results were my first experience in being blog swarmed by new atheists. I’ve had numerous other experiences of blog swarming by new atheists since then and have had rather continuous e-mail harassment from them since. Certain key words and phrases in my filters have cut down on those to an extent but not entirely. I’d suggest it to anyone who has that problem, the new atheists are nothing if not verbally predictable.

    I don’t think they’re interested in much other than in asserting their obnoxious agenda. I know they’re not realistic about politics, especially the specialized political topic of keeping religion out of public school science classes. I’ve come to conclude that they don’t especially care about science either. In fact, I think the assertions about religion and science being incompatible prove they don’t care much about learning from the observation of reality. That reality couldn’t be clearer, you can be a scientist and be religious, you can even be a fanatical fundamentalist. There is absolutely no evidence that being a scientist, successfully practicing the methods and observing the rules of the professions of science is in any general way impeded by believing in the supernatural, miracles, etc. The only solid evidence available in reality is that their incompatibility hypothesis is refuted.

    I’d say that the failure of the attempt to refute religion with evolutionary science is just as much a clear failure. You can refute the literal interpretation of Genesis and that will be successful with those who weren’t inclined to interpret it literally anyway. Religious liberals have accepted evolutionary science from just about the beginning. The more radical attempts to harness evolutionary science in the great struggle to end religion is a clearer failure. It might shake the faith of a few biblical literalists, maybe even some rather unreflective religious liberals, but in a hundred-fifty years and more, it hasn’t destroyed religion. Certainly not in the United States. As that excerpt from Buzz Aldrin in a comment on another thread indicated, Madalyn Murray O’Hare and her allies in organized atheism seem to have done little to end religion in the United States. To some extent, I think they helped the “Christian” fundamentalists organize and proselytize far more successfully than they furthered atheism. As with the quote taken from Dembski, they’ve been more useful as foils for the fundamentalists than they have been for those of us who support the wall of separation.

    As I’ve pointed out, Amanda Marcotte’s blog archive is what made her a political liability for the Edwards campaign after someone hired her.

    If the Republicans had won the election in 2006 and 2008, you’d see an Alito or Roberts being appointed to the Supreme Court. I don’t think you could count on two of the other “liberals” surviving on the court for the entire term. I wouldn’t be surprised if a court with seven or eight reliably reactionary votes on it overturned Dover. The Supreme Court has been politicized as it hasn’t been in most of our lives. Relying on the court to maintain the Wall of Separation is a shaky gamble. Relying on a thin electoral margin keeping the Republican reactionaries from making those crucial appointments is the best chance we’ve got of maintaining secular, neutral government. I think the new atheists, with their irresponsible, loud and obnoxious antics are mostly a danger to secular government. I don’t think responsible and skilled politics is more important to them than expressing their materialistic puritanism. I don’t worry about the new atheists being able to put their agenda into effect because I doubt they’ll ever be politically successful. I do worry about them handing success to the far right, I think they’ve played a role in their success over the past thirty years.

  69. You can loathe The God Delusion and still be perfectly satisfied to find The Extended Phenotype impressive.

    Gould and Lewontin are two atheists who are unimpressed by Dawkins’ science. I agreed with their critiques of his science before I knew anything about his atheism.

  70. — So much for free speech here. NEB

    Your hero Coyne is a lot more restrictive about what people can say at his blog. Here’s a complete he deleted from his blog and his e-mail to me about it.

    We are all entitled to our personal beliefs but Collins has
    taken public positions that are unscientific and that it a problem.

    Hands up everyone here who believes in memes. [what I said in response to that quote made by another commentator]

    — This is an ad hominem remark and I have spammed it. You might
    consider going to another site since you seem unhappy on this one. Jerry Coyne in his e-mail

    Apparently I was being mean to memes and it was too much for Jerry Coyne to countenance. Considering what he had said about Francis Collins, the “ad hominem” remark was memorably remarkable.

  71. Jon

    I have got to say that this blog here has among the least meaningful dialogue among its regulars…

    It’s not that I don’t try. 90% of the time the most meaningful things I have to say get no response from the New Atheist commenters.

  72. Sorbet

    And what do they say? The Selfish Gene and especially The Extended Phenotype were praised by many.
    “I think the new atheists, with their irresponsible, loud and obnoxious antics are mostly a danger to secular government”
    Do you have any evidence that supports this belief? I believe you are ascribing far too much power to this minority.

  73. Marc

    The logic is pretty simple Sorbet. If you set up an opposition between science and religion, and religion is important to someone, they’re going to treat science as a threat to be countered, not a body of knowledge to be embraced. If your goal is persuasion there is solid social science on how to do it, and the approach at Meyers place is as counterproductive as the guy waving the bible on the streetcorner and yelling about hell. There is a good reason why virtually all churches adopt a friendly approach when proselytizing – because it puts people in the mood to hear their message. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows this too. It’s exasperating to deal with folks who can’t acknowledge the obvious.

    The point about web sites is extremely important, and I’m surprised that the Pharyngula crowd don’t see it regardless of their opinions about Chris. It is true that there is such a thing as groupthink, and it’s true that it is a severe problem unless the site owner works very hard at respectful dialog. Otherwise the folks who disagree with you are driven away, leaving only the more extreme to feed off each other.

    In my view it’s severe in Pharyngula, and it accounts for the development of the more extreme rhetorical flourishes that don’t travel well. (e.g. references to woo-woo and sky fairies.) You’re not encountering groupthink here; you’re traveling outside your bubble and finding folks who disagree with you and who can’t be shouted down and driven out by a flood of comments from your allies.

  74. And what do they say?

    Many things that are available online if you google them. I can’t recapitulate the entire critique of Sociobiology-evo-psy and I’m sure I’d be accused of quote mining if I selected relevant quotes.

    —- “I think the new atheists, with their irresponsible, loud and obnoxious antics are mostly a danger to secular government” [AM]

    Do you have any evidence that supports this belief? I believe you are ascribing far too much power to this minority. Sorbet

    On the basis of my experience of them for the past three years and my observations of them, that is exactly what I think. I don’t see that other than the Dover ruling, which was hardly won with the new atheist’s agenda, that evolutionary science has made gains in public acceptance during the period of new atheist activity. I am confident that if they were more of a public presence, they’d continue to be of increasing use to right-wing organization and mobilization.

    What evidence do you have that the public is any more accepting of evolution since Sam Harris inaugurated the most recent phase of new atheism?

  75. Sorbet

    Marc, the accomodationist approach would work, but if and only if the religious don’t regard compromise as surrender. The problem in many cases is that you give them a shred and they try to grab a bucketful. For instance you admit that science is never certain and without understanding the scientific method they misinterpret this and say “Look, even your science is uncertain, so don’t say that we cling to superstition”. Often they have no understanding of degress of certainty. In the end they would say- with a friendly face no doubt- that scientists are entitled to their “beliefs” and they are entitled to theirs and of course, the two can co-exist in peace. But this is a complete distortion of science.

    I myself have met a lot of well-meaning and friendly religious people who assert this- that I as a scientist can have my beliefs and they can have theirs, that we only have different ways of “understanding” the world, and therefore we can simply beg to differ and have tea and smile and be friendly. But that’s nonsense and it should be called that, irrespective of what I feel about these otherwise nice and well-meaning folks.

  76. Sorbet

    So you think Judge Jones would have ruled in favor of the creationists if Dawkins or Myers had taken the stand instead of Miller?

  77. Sorbet

    Not evolution per se, but the public sure seems to be more accepting of atheism. So many people have come out of the closet and begun asserting their atheist inclinations, some more forcefully and others less so.

  78. I think there is a good chance that Judge Jones ruling would be overturned by a 7-2 vote of the Supreme Court if McCain was making the next two appointments. That is if he wasn’t succeeded by Sarah Palin during the term.

    I don’t think any rational supporter of the biology teachers would have called Dawkins or Myers to the stand because their past writings would have been a feast for the ID proponents.

  79. 1. There’s nothing inherently wrong with so-called “New Atheists” reading Unscientific America differently then other people. To imply that there is, which Chris does not, is like saying that Asians and Icelanders reading Goodnight Moon differently is wrong. It’s a total non-sequator.

    2.We need a better term fo rthe movement Prof. Myers, Dawkins and others represent then “New Athiests.” Myers isn’t new chornologically new(he looks to be in his 50’s from his blog pic), and I gather he hasn’t come to Atheism recently either. Plus, if we keep calling him a “New Atheist” we can’t remove the religious context from the discussion.

    3. I think Chris and Sheril’s book is loaded with answers – those answers just aren’t called out in bold or in bullet lists. And many of the implementing details have been left to those who might choose to implement them. But the answers are there.

    4. New Athiests get a chapter of comdemnation; Hollywood gets a chapter of comdenation; the “Main Stream Media” get a chapter of comdenation; and politicians and scientists get comdened throughout the whole book. Pretending otherwise is to dismiss a lot of the content.

  80. Jon

    Myers isn’t new chornologically new…

    The term “New Atheists” was coined in Wired:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html

    I think it works. These people aren’t reading Camus. They’re reading Dawkins and Dennett and online atheists like Myers. That’s new. You could go all the way back to someone like Bertrand Russell, of *Why I am Not a Christian* fame, and it would look a bit familiar. But that atheism wasn’t as combative. In *Unscientific America* Chris mentions the attacks on 9/11. That’s important. George Bush and the Christian right are important too. Those things are new.

  81. Sorbet

    While not directed solely at religion, Russell’s “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” was pretty trenchant.
    http://www.solstice.us/russell/intellectual_rubbish.html

  82. Jon @63,

    It depends on how you look at it. As a consequentialist I can’t help but think that when my churchy aunt and uncle are about to lose their home due to the recession and don’t develop any solid plans around how to cope, and instead have faith, they are not in a position to take responsibility for themselves, much less the society.

    But then again, as a detractor of NOMA, and as a consequentialist, I believe that scientific and spiritual magesteria are perfectly compatible. So maybe I’m not the best person to ask.

  83. Lowell

    I don’t think any rational supporter of the biology teachers would have called Dawkins or Myers to the stand because their past writings would have been a feast for the ID proponents.

    That would have been fascinating, though. I would love to see Richard Thompson (lead defense attorney in Kitzmiller) explaining the relevance of Dawkins’s or PZ’s negative view of religion.

    “It goes to bias!”

  84. — These people aren’t reading Camus. They’re reading Dawkins and Dennett and online atheists like Myers. That’s new. You could go all the way back to someone like Bertrand Russell Jon

    I’d say “Russell Redux” but I’m afraid a lot of them wouldn’t know who Russell was. Not Camus, they’re not even Ionesco.

  85. Sorry McCarthy, but I have read Russell, know full well who he is, and am quite familiar with Camus, and I suppose you’d call me a “new” atheist too.

    Why don’t you post all this stuff on your own blog rather than taking up all this space over here?

    Oh, right . . .nobody reads yours.

  86. Nutella, maybe you should read more of Russell’s work in formal logic. I said: “I’m afraid a lot of them wouldn’t know who Russell was.” That isn’t a statement about the universe of all possible new atheists, it is a sub set of new atheists who I said I was afraid wouldn’t know who Russell was.

    And I’ll bet if I went incognito on a random selection of the most popular new atheist blogs and gave some selected quotes from old Bertie, chosen to confuse the NA’s I could get some of them to rail against him as a “faith head”. I’ve gotten some milage about what he said about Occam’s razor. I was under the impression some of the outraged Power Rangers of Occam didn’t know who Russell was in those brawls.

  87. Marc

    Benjamin: churches are actually very helpful to people suffering from economic losses – in forms ranging from food and shelter to emotional support and advocacy. You’re definitely not the right person to ask if you don’t understand that.

  88. CanCan

    “Marc, the accomodationist approach would work, but if and only if the religious don’t regard compromise as surrender. ”

    Which of “the religious”? You know that there are some 52,000 Christian denominations that vary tremendously in their attitude to science, and then there are thousands of other religions that vary tremendously as well? Are you lumping them all together? Most religious people I know are very moderate on most views, and really just want to be able to practice their religion in peace, be left alone, be respected as human beings, have no dog in the “religion-science fight”, and are genuinely nice people who, when asked about atheists, have a negative view of them in general (though not in particular from person to person) in large part because most of them have been attacked at some point by an atheist. I can tell you, they wouldn’t view the “accommodationist” position as a surrender – they would view it as freedom to believe as they find they must religiously while still becoming more scientifically literate. Sure, I know some fundamentalists who would view it as you suggest, but they are a minority in most places. Truly, most people in this country don’t view this as a zero sum game, and there is no reason, aside from ideological or religious commitment (or, to be frank, the desire for the emotional rush of being a jerk to people who disagree with you) to view it as such.

    Anthony McCarthy @69: Right on the money, my friend.

  89. Palo

    Eric Berger is a scientist as much as I am a reporter. Another Mooney buddy in journalism who doesn’t like real scientists that are also atheists. Yawnnn.

  90. Gina Mel

    Christian right are important too. Those things are new.
    **************************************************
    The Christian Right is older than the more outspoken atheists. In many respects the vigor of certain atheists to stand up for themselves in larger numbers is in response to the Christian Right along with what a number of atheists view as a poor showing by other Christians to oppose the Christian Right.

    The Christian Right movement has many of its modern foundations in opposing desegregation and the Civil Rights movement.

  91. Jon

    The Christian Right as a major force in government is a late 20th century event. Under George Bush it got ridiculously bad. These are new events that directly inspired the NA’s.

  92. Marc

    Gina Mel: I think you’re right; the hyperaggressive religious right environment has undoubtedly provoked much of the response that we’re seeing from atheists. I get very angry at these assaults on reason too; I just believe that responding in kind is not the wisest strategy.

  93. Marc, I feel that you’ve missing my point by deflecting it with your own. This is unfortunate, since the two points are ultimately related.

    There is no doubt that churches are communities, and communities can help folk get back on their feet. That’s fair enough, and to the good. My point is that the thought-processes of my aunt and uncle are dysfunctional, and have been for some time. They do not plan ahead or regulate their expenses. They put the future to faith as a matter of choice. Their dependency is artificial, and akin to a welfare system for the middle class which subsidizes their poor economic decisions.

    Your reference to my final “last person to ask” comment is cute, but decidedly misses the point, since it is entirely separate from my family woes.

  94. Steve H

    I have a distinct feeling that most of these people offended by M&K’s insights on atheists’ online behaviors would agree that Obama will be better able to get international treaties signed with our nation’s competitors like Russia and China than his predecessor was able to. Why? Because Obama is one to moderate his speech such that the leaders of other countries are not offended, and more moderate leaders are not ashamed/afraid to stand with him.

    Also, all of this follows simple game theory. If you want to survive, then you’ll have to cooperate with others at some point. However, I wouldn’t expect established science to stop all of these grad school zealots. Their arguments remind of cocky students that don’t grasp the topic, but still want to argue so they nitpick over minor details while avoiding gist of the argument. Hence the “where’s the evidence” meme.

  95. Jon

    All human institutions have their problems. Heck, just look at your average university–you can have an institution based completely on reason, by all appearances, and it can still be quite dysfunctional.

  96. TB

    Having read the book, I want to comment on this:

    64.   Peter Beattie Says:
    “a) “New Atheism” is counterproductive and b) science blogging may degrade the scientific culture. In support of which he gives not a single argument and not a single piece of evidence.”

    A) He does lay out evidence in Chapter 8 to support his assertion that NA’s tactics are “divisive”, “historically incorrect about the relationship between science and religion” and “misguided about the nature of science.” You’re free to disagree or you may find his evidence unconvincing, and I’ve said before that I’d fight for someone’s right to diasagree. But to claim he didn’t lay out evidence for his assertions is a lie.
    B) That is Berger’s description, not what it says about science blogging in the book. In the book, it’s actually complimentary about blogging in general and some sites in particular. But, he also lays out a good case why blogging alone isn’t the answer for science literacy. Again, the evidence for the assertion is in the book. Berger is actually referring to only a portion that points out those deficits, and says they “may degrade,” not that they do.
    Considering all that, I don’t put a lot of stock in your complaints about the quality of dialogue here, nor in the calls for the authors to answer your “questions.”

  97. The question is not whether some New Atheist tactics anger some religious people; the question is whether science literacy would be improved if New Atheists shut up about religion. And for that there is not a shred of evidence in chapter 8. (I’ve read the book too.)

  98. Marc

    Nutella: is there any evidence that could possibly convince you, and do you have any particular evidence that atacking religion helps? These discussions have a odd flavor: “prove that attacking someone’s religion makes it harder to convince them about something!”

    If I want to teach people about the age of the Earth or climate change – which is something that I do in classes for non-science majors – I talk about the science. I don’t talk about religion, which would be tangential *and* something where I have no special training. I do know, from student feedback, that I have changed peoples minds on the science – and that they appreciate not being confronted on religious matters. (I think that saying “this isn’t understood well” or “science isn’t posed to answer these sorts of questions” helps tremendously in getting people to listen when I say “but here we really do have powerful tools and do know a lot”).

  99. Steve H, unfortunately, by taking a cavalier attitude towards social psychological evidence, you miss quite a lot of nuance. You might pay to look at the counter-evidence from personality psychology cited above (Lavine et al.) and put that within the limited context in which it applies. In fact, as I noted, that is precisely the logical conclusion of M/K’s appeal to Preston Manning in their book. I am simply advising their would-be defenders to follow the road right up to the end, if they’re truly interested in this subject.

    As for your other remarks. I submit that you and many others here might do well to ask yourselves just how G.W. Bush got so much power in the first place. They did it through coordinated strategy, the 9/11 opportunity, spurring cultural hostility, and poking and prodding at foppish liberal guilt. The first three have dissipated for the mostpart; the fourth remains their greatest asset. Once properly understood, the impact of these facts upon your point is quite direct. “Simple game theory”, as you surely know, cuts both ways: in the long term (infinite iteration of the prisoner’s dilemma), cooperation may be inevitable. But even in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, this is the abherration, not the norm (especially when it comes to a prisoner’s dilemma of finite steps). We are worried precisely that the next cycle will repeat the same kinds of horrors that we’ve seen over the past 8 years, and frankly we should spare no expense at trying to prevent them, while doing our best not to pre-empt cooperation.

    You might argue that PZ Myers et al are pre-empting cooperation with their tricks. Except that in a free country, and where the “new atheists” are merely singing to the choir (as M/K allege), there is no threat to the opposite magesterium. There is, however, coalescence of an alternative culture that has some political discipline — enough discipline to react with outrage when the opposing magesterium infringes upon basic moral principles, as it did with Webster Cook. As they should have.

    Jon, yes. So what is the complaint if one human institution picks up the slack when another has its obvious and predictable failings? If the unique feature of this alternative “new atheist” culture happens to be the doctrine of non-compatibility, and it genuinely does serve as a corrective to the cultural excesses of the religious right, then what do we have left to say about stakes and consequences?

  100. Jon

    It’s basic reason. If a bunch of scientists are always publicly and ham-handedly sounding like philistines, then people (even moderates) will begin to assume that science denegrates their religious traditions.

    Which it does, for you guys, right?

  101. Sorbet

    CanCan in terms of absolute numbers there don’t seem to be enough. Also, the moderates, while tame on their own, still act as enablers for more extreme version, mainly by keeping quiet.

  102. TB

    @ 98 Nutella
    Neither is there a demand for anyone shutup. Criticism is not censorship.

  103. TB

    @99 Sorbet
    Ken Miller keeps quiet? And you know all the religious moderates in the world? In all the religions? Okay, I’m done feeding the trolls.

  104. Sorbet

    TB, give me a couple of examples where the moderates have vocally come out in large numbers against the extremists and continue to do so, especially in the Islamic world. Ok, I am done feeding the trolls.

  105. Jon

    They did it through coordinated strategy, the 9/11 opportunity, spurring cultural hostility, and poking and prodding at foppish liberal guilt.

    Yes, and they did it through a superficially coherent set of ideas. And what will our ideas be now to counter theirs? That religion sux? Good luck with that.

    You may get people to organize, but they’ll organize around some notions that will be based on some pretty blinkered and imprecise understandings, and very offensive to a good part of the country.

  106. Peter Beattie

    » TB:
    “misguided about the nature of science.”

    Do Mooney and Kirshenbaum actually say that? Are they any more specific than that?

  107. TB

    @ 105 Sorbet

    Fine, one last morsel troll. Google these: The Catholic Chuch’s position on evolution. The Anglican Church’s position on evolution. Jewish views on evolution. Oh sorry, that’s three. And I like how you tossed Islam in there. Pity there’s nothing going on in places like, oh, Iran and their elections.

  108. TB

    @107
    Yes and yes.

  109. Sorbet

    Is evolution the only issue? And are 135 million literalists a small number?And how many Catholics believe in the virgin birth? And did it actually work in Iran? And would it dare to even happen in Saudi Arabia? Last morsel, I promise thee.

  110. I’ll confess to being pretty ignorant of the relationship between Islam and evolutionary science. I just read this, which would indicate that it’s hardly a monolithic response.

    http://www.irfi.org/articles/articles_151_200/muslim_responses_to_evolution.htm

    I’d never expect that a single article could sum up the issue of the thoughts of more than a billion people, but it’s a start.

  111. How many new atheists believe in The God Gene(s)?

    The evidence would seem to indicate that any scientist who was or is a member of the Roman Catholic Church or most other Christian denominations believe in The Virgin Birth of Jesus. Including Mendel. Anyone who holds that’s a bar to doing science has got to explain a large number of eminent scientists away and they were and are there.

  112. — If the unique feature of this alternative “new atheist” culture happens to be the doctrine of non-compatibility, and it genuinely does serve as a corrective to the cultural excesses of the religious right, then what do we have left to say about stakes and consequences? Benjamin S. Nelson

    Except the “doctrine of non-compatibility” is refuted by objective reality, as mentioned at 112. It is irrational to assert it in the face of objective evidence. Refusing to admit that religious scientists are there is as irrational as refusing to admit any of the features that demonstrate that evolution happened. It’s certainly far more obvious than any of the stories of Paleolithic behavior which have absolutely no evidence of having happened. And those are widely accepted by the new atheists, certainly by the Dawkinsites.

  113. Sorbet

    About Islam and evolution, here’s a recent Science report:
    http://helios.hampshire.edu/~sahCS/Hameed-Science-Creationism.pdf
    Even progressive Turkey has a 30% acceptance rate for evolution.

  114. Jon

    The backward beliefs of third world countries with low education rates isn’t a surprise.

  115. TB

    He asked for two, I gave him four. He doesn’t concede that I answered his challenge, moves the goalposts and asks for more. I could answer him again, and quite well, but he’ll just do the same thing, over and over again. Because that’s what trolls do. And then they wonder why M&K don’t talk to them. Waaaa!
    See ya!

  116. I’m quite confident that the new atheists attacking Islam in the name of evolutionary science will do nothing to increase the number of Moslems who accept evolution.

    Quite frankly, I’d wonder how many people would think the topic of evolution is relevant to their every day lives. I doubt most of the people who are ignorant of it and those who don’t accept it have any reason to want to learn more about it. For large numbers of people who are pro-evolution, it’s primarily of cultural importance. For a lot of them it’s more like supporting a sports team than like science. You take that into consideration and add a level of political-cultural-religious antagonism over it, you’ve baked a sure fire recipe for failure.

  117. Jon @ 106,

    “Yes, and they did it through a superficially coherent set of ideas. And what will our ideas be now to counter theirs? That religion sux? Good luck with that.”

    A superficially coherent set of ideas is all you can possibly communicate in the American media environment. So, yes. Though I hope for a bit more nuance than “Religion sux omg lol”, it does fill a sound byte, and you know the nuances will be reasonably picked up by the anti- side, thereby producing an appropriately contemptible sideshow.

    And this sideshow will set the real debate.

  118. Jon

    And this sideshow will set the real debate.

    Yes, that’s what we need. A big fat public “debate” on whether everyone should be atheists.

    That will go over like a depleted uranium balloon.

    This TNR piece hit the issue dead center:

    Far from shoring up the secular political tradition, their arguments are likely to produce a country poised precariously between opposite forms of illiberalism.

    The last thing America needs is a war of attrition between two mutually exclusive, absolute systems of belief. Yet this is precisely what the new atheists appear to crave. The task for the rest of us–committed to neither dogmatic faith nor dogmatic doubt–is to make certain that combatants on both sides of the theological divide fail to get their destructive way.

    Long live the new atheist utopia.

  119. Sorbet

    Shifting goalposts indeed! You answered what “challenge” (as if I was trying to challenge you)? You simply showed me moderates who believed in evolution whereas my initial question was about why these moderates are not being more vocal. Plus I never said that simply believing in evolution greatly helps the cause of science, although it certainly plays a role. See ya! Wouldn’t want to be ya!

    And pointing out that most Muslim countries have a very low acceptance of evolution and that this needs to change is not attacking them, simply pointing out the facts. It’s like saying that women’s rights are trampled underfoot in Saudi Arabia and Iran and that’s not exactly a nice thing to do.

  120. PhysicistDave

    Reading through all these comments, I am bemused by what seems to be an assumption on both sides that the real question is whether or not the New Atheists are damaging public perceptions of science.

    I’m a New Atheist, and I have a Ph.D. in physics (Stanford).

    I do feel a personal responsibility to tell the truth about science and, indeed, to tell the truth in general.

    But I do *not* feel a personal responsibility for other people’s “perception” of science, for other people’s taking out their emotional frustration at scientists’ criticizing their religion by getting angry at science, etc.

    I am old enough to have lived through the civil rights revolution, the gay rights revolution, etc.

    Believe me, there were indeed an awful lot of whites who were alienated by the more forthright statements of many outspoken blacks, an awful lot of straights who were alienated by the forthright statements of many gays, etc.

    That seems to me a problem for the bigots and the homophobes, but not a problem at all for those blacks and gays who were honestly and forthrightly stating their opinions.

    If we New Atheists’ pointing out that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are disproved by science does cause many Christians to hate science and try to prevent their kids from learning science, so much the worse for the Christians and their kids.

    In a way, I would welcome that: at least we would have a grand clarification of where everyone stands.

    Frankly, I do not guide my life, or what I say publicly, on the basis of whether it is likely to increase or decrease federal funding for science, or give the GOP a chance to regain the Congress or the White House, etc. Indeed, in same ways, I find the GOP preferable to the Dems (they may be marginally less insane when it comes to irresponsible spending).

    Even taking a purely pragmatic perspective, I am a good deal more concerned about the millions of children who are psychologically abused by Christians and their threats of hellfire (I was one of those kids) than I am about federal funding levels for science or partisan politics.

    But, in any case, I am more concerned about simply speaking the truth than about pragmatic concerns about the possible pragmatic political impact of my words.

    Speak the truth, and let the chips fall where they may.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  121. why these moderates are not being more vocal.

    What would constitute “more vocal”?

    — It’s like saying that women’s rights are trampled underfoot in Saudi Arabia and Iran and that’s not exactly a nice thing to do.

    And who do you think is the best person to ask what should be done about that? Some white guy sitting in a college town in the U.S.? Some white guy who has written hostile things about the religion and culture of the people who live in those places? Christopher Hitchens? Or someone who has joined up with Sam Harris, perhaps most famous for his meditations on the virtues of a nuclear first strike against unspecified cities within the Islamic world? Ayaan Hirsi Ali? I’d really like to know what people who might live in one of those cities, even feminists or atheists, might think of her associations with Harris and Hitchens.

    If you want to find out how to promote the rights of women in Islamic countries, ask the women who are trying to do that who happen to live in those countries. They’re bound to know a lot more than a bunch of white men sitting on North America and Europe. I’d imagine people who live in those places, who actually know what they’d be talking about would be ever more likely to be the ones who know what they’re talking about. They’re the ones who might come up with something that will work in the real world, more so than the entertaining ideological fantasies of people with nothing at stake and no real knowledge.

    “Shifting goalpoasts”, add that to the lexicon of new atheist obscurantism.

  122. — He asked for two, I gave him four. He doesn’t concede that I answered his challenge, moves the goalposts and asks for more. TB

    Now that’s a real use of “moving goal posts”. I once gave Sorbet four answers when he’d asked for one to much the same effect. Don’t expect him to remember it several days from now.

  123. Jon, unfortunately, what is being referred to as “destructive” by TNR — two mutually exclusive belief systems — is actually just the realistic consequence of Stephen Jay Gould’s proposed detente. For the only way that you can support the notion that science and religion are incompatible in the cognitive sense is by setting up the debate in such a way that they have little of consequence to say to one another, inhabiting different spheres of life and serving altogether different functions in speech. For the strongest sense of incompatibility is incommensurability.

    Sure, there’s no doubt that this sheepish incompatibility will let you get along with most of your neighbors. But of course you also have the Alpha Male crowd, the bullies of empire. How do you convince them? They’re the ones that make or break the elections. The people who just want to be left alone — the harried and the diffident — will follow their lead (at worst), and split the difference between the extremes (at best). And if the most extreme case in favor of science is Chris Mooney, then you had better get used to the idea of Intelligent Design in your schools.

    If, on the other hand, you believe that science and religion are compatible, it means you will abide the occasional ‘territory invasions’ from one magesterium to another: i.e., lively debate between earnest believers. It is of course logically possible, in such a case, for one of them to win out, “destroying” the other one through pure power of persuasion. But this cannot happen in the actual media environment as it is. Still, the faux-debate can at least draw the issue to the fore — indeed, this is the ONLY thing the present US media system is capable of doing. Needless to say, lively debate and active criticism is consistent with the very idea of liberalism: relevant to this case, the idea that free speech in any meaningful sense will have the capacity to upset someone. Maybe if your system was less pathological, more meaningful and non-contemptible debates could happen in the public arena, but there we are. Only on Jon Stewart, it seems.

    (…This is not even mentioning, by the way, the inherent absurdity of taking the New Republic’s advice on the definition of what is “illiberal”. Isn’t that kind of like looking to the Economist for advice on how to avoid being a bad socialist?)

  124. John Kwok

    @ Jon –

    It’s rather ironic that TNR also published Jerry Coyne’s opening “accomodationist” salvoes more than a year later. I guess he didn’t get the right message.

  125. John Kwok

    @ Benjamin S. Nelson –

    PZ’s fundamental problem IMHO is that he thinks the First Amendment of the U. S. Bill of Rights exists only for himself and his fellow militant atheists. Any neutral observer of his blog would probably reach a similar conclusion.

  126. Jon

    Still, the faux-debate can at least draw the issue to the fore — indeed, this is the ONLY thing the present US media system is capable of doing.

    Certain people would love it if we *only* had that faux debate, at the expense of all others, perpetually.

    A lot of people on this blog accuse me of pushing NOMA. I don’t believe there’s no overlap. But I do believe that the business of saving souls, if you will, and methodologically understanding matter, are two distinct human endeavors (one is soteriological, the other epistemelogical). If you conflate the two, in the case of the fundies, or insist that everyone say one doesn’t exist, in the case of the new atheists, then you create all sorts of coflicts and misunderstandings that are futile and unnecessary.

    By not conflating the two, do you avoid all conflicts? No. But you avoid a lot more of them than the new atheists’ extreme rhetoric would indicate. And the NA’s find that lack of conflict disappointing. But the rest of us don;t, because we’d actually like to conduct some adult business in our public space, as opposed to a meaningless culture war.

  127. PhysicistDave

    John Kwok wrote:
    > PZ’s fundamental problem IMHO is that he thinks the First Amendment of the U. S. Bill of Rights exists only for himself and his fellow militant atheists.

    He does??

    Has he tried to have you jailed for expressing your opinions, John?

    Chris and Sheril can dump any of us off of here if they wish – it’s their blog: that is not a violation of our First Amendment rights.

    PZ can do the same, as can you or I if we choose to run a blog.

    I don’t always agree with PZ: for example, I’m homeschooling my kids, and I seem to recall that, like many liberals, he is critical of homeschooling.

    But can you point to any example of his opposing the First Amendment for those who disagree with him?

    Dave

  128. ‘If we New Atheists’ pointing out that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are disproved by science does cause many Christians to hate science and try to prevent their kids from learning science, so much the worse for the Christians and their kids.”

    Really? What about everyone else who suffers the consequences of bad public policies that rest on bad science? Do you actually think just the Christians and their kids are going to suffer from global warming, stupid sex education policies, etc? (And wait a minute, don’t Christians and their kids matter too?) The question about alienation just can’t be dismissed so lightly.

  129. PhysicistDave

    Jon wrote:
    >But I do believe that the business of saving souls, if you will, and methodologically understanding matter, are two distinct human endeavors (one is soteriological, the other epistemelogical). If you conflate the two, in the case of the fundies, or insist that everyone say one doesn’t exist, in the case of the new atheists, then you create all sorts of coflicts and misunderstandings that are futile and unnecessary.

    Jon, I am a New Atheist, and a scientist, and I do not know of any New Atheists who, in your words, “insist that everyone say one [a soul] doesn’t exist.”

    We ourselves do say that immortal souls most likely do not exist, and we are unwilling to shut up about the subject, just because many people think we should.

    But where do we *insist* that everyone must publicly repeat the views we hold?

    More broadly, if souls do exist and can somehow be “saved,” then I suppose physics and soul-saving would indeed be different activities. But a lot of us New Atheists think there are good scientific reasons (talk to a neuroscientist) for doubting that souls independent of the body do exist. Maybe we’re wrong: consciousness is a complicated phenomenon, and perhaps we will someday find out that ghosts (i.e., disembodied consciousness) are real.

    But, more importantly, the most industrious “soul-savers” choose not to talk merely about hypothetical disembodied souls, but rather make specific claims about very physical things indeed – the Virgin Birth, the physical Resurrection, the Creation of humans and the universe, etc.

    As a scientist, I have little interest in challenging a minimalist deist who wishes to encourage people to be decent folks: I suspect he is mistaken in his deism, but it makes little contact with science, one way or the other.

    It is quite different for the great historic religions: traditional Christianity, as still believed by a vast number of Americans, still makes claims that differ quite dramatically with the claims of science.

    Look: suppose a girl comes in pregnant, with a male embryo (i.e., with a Y chromosome), to a physician practicing modern scientific medicine, and she claims that the pregnancy, as revealed to her in a dream by an angel, was the result not of insemination with normal human male sperm, but rather that it is the result of divine virginal conception.

    Any competent practitioner of modern medicine would not take that story seriously: he would know that science shows that the Y chromosome got in there somehow from a male.

    The same applies to that nice Jewish girl who supposedly conceived out of wedlock two millennia ago.

    I know we throw around words such as “faith,” “miracle,” etc. Words do not change physical facts. If the modern girl tossed out words such as “faith” or “miracle” to her modern physician, they would not change his opinion that she was either lying or deeply delusional.

    The same applies to “religious” claims: science disagrees with the so-called “Virgin Birth” just as clearly as it differs with a similar claim made by a contemporary girl. Applying words such as “faith” or “miracle” cannot change that: words do not alter physical reality

    The only way around this is to strip religion of all its supernatural trappings, and leave it as a sentimental museum piece associated with some beautiful music and inspiring architecture, which seems to be what Steve Gould had in mind.

    That is fine with me, and most New Atheists – Dawkins has gone on at length about his fondness for many of the cultural relics of Christianity, and he has even said that he thought that British and Americans should learn more about the Bible than most know now.

    But that is not okay with most pious, active, practicing Christians, at least in the USA. They are intent on a religion which holds on to the supernatural, and a conflict between their “soul-saving” and natural science is therefore simply a fact.

    Dave

  130. Sorbet

    Now that’s a real use of “moving goal posts”. I once gave Sorbet four answers when he’d asked for one to much the same effect. Don’t expect him to remember it several days from now.

    McCarthy, do you remember that Dan S answered the questions as well as I could? What’s the point of repeating answers? And of course you did not bother to respond to those answers. It’s not my memory but your memory that is faulty. Go back to the thread and take a look.

  131. Sorbet

    Sam Harris’s response to criticism of the one paragraph about nuclear weapons in his book:
    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/

  132. Sorbet

    Shifting goalposts, quote mining, straw men; add these phrases to McCarthy’s lexicon of words that he cannot comprehend, so that he can then conveniently tout them as excuses made up by the New Atheists (a.k.a anyone who disagrees with him)

  133. Sorbet

    And a Palestinian cousin of mine who has also lived in Iran tells me that many women she knows are in full sympathy with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and completely agree with her that the vile parts of Islam should be vocally denounced. She also admits that they are very scared to say their views out loud. But she clearly indicates that none of them think that vocal criticism of Islam in the West should stop and in fact should be pursued to shake the Mullahs’ convictions.

  134. Jon, of course I want a philosophically literate society as well. A culture of reasoners.

    I think your link tells us something about our present context. The right does not have a monopoly on the use of social science against the political left. They’ve just been better at it ever since the socialists disappeared.

    The debate is going to be there anyway. Is it futile? It is in the sense that no one side is going to win over the other as a corporate whole. It isn’t, in the sense that by widening the range of debate towards the naturalistic edge, you encourage the diffident moderates to split the difference more in favor of naturalism. Or at least, those are my assumptions. It is nevertheless an empirical matter; I could be wrong.

    I am not inclined to agree with you concerning the matter of endeavors. What you call endeavors are, I think, usefully classified as psychological needs, or functions. And no real social organization, or its doctrines, neatly map onto a single conversational function. There are legitimating functions of course; science as a cultural practice is legitimated in its relation to epistemology, religion legitimated in its relation to therapeutic value. If you want to kill science, show that ouija works better; if you want to kill religion, give free therapy and set up community pools. Does that mean that we cannot identify other functions of those organizations? That’s impossible; every organization, being human, is fluent in the language of power, and therefore gravitates toward the fulfillment of (and manufacture of) need — every need, any need. And humans, for their part, can in complacency allow their intuitions to drift from one kind of function to the other. So you find methodological naturalists wondering what there’s left of the world when you take their method away, and you find some theists taking all the declarative sentences in their gospels at face value. People don’t need criticism from outsiders in order to give them license to break the detente. They do it if they think it’ll work.

    But as I said, it’s ultimately an empirical matter.

  135. John Kwok

    @ Dave –

    It’s sarcasm, Dave. Get it? Or are you like your fellow Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drones just too dense?

  136. Re: Benjamin S. Nelson:

    Mooney, steeped as his writing is in campaign rhetoric, I’m curious to read his take on the concept of the “Overton Widow of Possibilities” and to what effect the more vocal atheists employ this tactic. I have never seen him post his thoughts on this here and so can only assume it is left out of the book as well.

  137. Wowbagger

    John Kwok wrote:

    It’s sarcasm, Dave. Get it? Or are you like your fellow Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drones just too dense?

    Yeah, that’s it, John. When someone doesn’t ‘get’ you it can’t possibly be that you write in a peculiar (in both senses of the word) style impenetrable to those few who still bother reading your posts; the reader must be a ‘Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drone’.

    You sound like you’re one fold away from having yourself a nice tinfoil hat.

  138. PhysicistDave

    John Kwok wrote to me:
    > It’s sarcasm, Dave. Get it? Or are you like your fellow Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drones just too dense?

    Well, John, kinda pointless sarcasm.

    Sarcasm is supposed to be biting humor, you know.

    Hard to see anything humorous in falsely accusing someone of opposing the First Amendment.

    I guess you just have a radically different concept of humor than most Americans.

    As for my being dense, well, John, my Ph.D. is in physics is from Stanford. Where did you say your Ph.D. was from?

    (And, yes, John, that *is* sarcasm! I do find your accusing someone of being “dense” who is in fact a good deal better educated than you to be humorous indeed.)

    Dave

  139. PhysicistDave

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:
    > Quite frankly, I’d wonder how many people would think the topic of evolution is relevant to their every day lives. I doubt most of the people who are ignorant of it and those who don’t accept it have any reason to want to learn more about it. For large numbers of people who are pro-evolution, it’s primarily of cultural importance. For a lot of them it’s more like supporting a sports team than like science.

    Yeah, I think that is true. Evolution does matter, in fact, in terms of its importance for subjects such as evolutionary psychology, genetic variation among humans, etc., but few people learn enough to understand that.

    But I think you under-rate “cultural importance.”

    Indeed, as a scientist, I think the primary importance of science *is* its cultural importance.

    Have you read Gellner (e.g., “The Legitimation of Belief”)?

    One of his main points is that science is the first belief system which transcends local human cultures, which avoids, as he puts it, the “poisoning of the well” of belief by the political and social ruling class.

    That matters – science is not just a bunch of lies created to empower the priests and the nobility.

    Similarly, as Sagan pointed out in “The Demon-Haunted World,” science frees us from all the false fears and bogyemen used so long to control everyone from children to grown-ups.

    That too matters.

    And, most importantly, science places the highest value on truth, not on social stability, personal comfort, social conformity, etc.

    To me, that privileging of objective truth matters most of all.

    I know that science has provided lots of wonderful gadgets for us all and, indeed, dramatically extended human life expectancy.

    But, for me, and for most scientists I know, that is not what matters most about science.

    What matters most to me — and one of the major reasons, I became a scientist — was not the gadgets or even the extension of lifespan but rather the cultural effects of science.

    To put it in terms of this current debate, I care about science largely because of the proven destructive effect of science on existing traditional human cultures such as Christianity, and also science’s creating of a new pan-human belief system that transcends local, obsolescent, idiosyncratic human cultures.

    Perhaps part of this current debate is due to some people’s being unable to see that it is precisely this which motivates a lot of us scientists to be scientists. It is not likely that we will be willing to shut up about the implications of science for human culture at large, especially for religion, when those cultural implications are precisely what we find most attractive about science.

    Dave

  140. Peter Beattie

    » TB:
    Yes and yes.

    Okay. Could you perhaps give me one or two sentences that quote or sum up what M&K say? That would be much appreciated!

  141. —- McCarthy, do you remember that Dan S answered the questions as well as I could? What’s the point of repeating answers? Sorbet

    Apparently you don’t remember but I was the one who was answering a challenge you made to me. I do believe we went through this within the past two weeks, unless there is more than one Sorbet. I’ve answered countless questions that Dan S. has posed to me for the three years he’s been trolling me around the blogs, including the feminist blog for which I was the weekend writer. That’s where the blog swarming I mentioned above happened.

    —- many women she knows are in full sympathy with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and completely agree with her that the vile parts of Islam should be vocally denounced. Sorbet

    I’m sure there are many women in the Islamic world who would agree with her that Islam, as practiced in many places, oppresses women and must be changed. I would wonder how they would feel about the point I mentioned, thought, that she has joined up with Sam Harris who has called for nuclear first strikes that could target these same women. That, I would think, might sort of influence their “total support” for Ayann Hirsi Ali. I’d suspect that the prospect of their own obliteration might sort of dampen that “full sympathy”.

    I wrote a piece for Echidne’s blog relevant to this, which I reposted the next week at my old blog.

    http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/2006/10/billion-moslems-dont-care-what-we-want.html

    One thing I’m pretty sure of, at least a billion Moslems would find Harris’ subsequent explanation of his outrageous promotion of nuclear first strikes against them hollow and self serving. As I do. Especially with what he said about killing people for their ideas instead of their acts thrown into the argument. He should have been more careful about the way he made a splash, you don’t tend to be able to put a call to consider killing “tens of millions of innocent civilians” in a day aside. Not with those who could expect to be the ones getting nuked, anyway. Wish I knew the languages to find out what role such statements made by Americans and Europeans play in the promotion of nuclear weapons development. Nuclear deterrence is a proven means of a country to protect itself from people who want to obliterate it. Why else do you think it would be popular in countries like India and Pakistan?

    —– Shifting goalposts, quote mining, straw men; add these phrases to McCarthy’s lexicon of words that he cannot comprehend, Sorbet

    Ah, that’s the problem, Sorbet, I do understand them, just as I understand “ad hominem” can’t conceivably cover that innocent little quip I made about memes. It’s the new atheists who, having read Carl Sagan or some other popular writers who’ve used them, mistake themselves for logicians. I must say that having someone with the reputation Coyne has pull it in that context rather shook my faith in the level of logic required to get that kind of reputation.

    In the hands of new atheists, especially on blog discussions, those and similar terms of rhetoric and logic, are becoming little more than markers that they can’t handle the argument. You get so you can predict one is coming up, the trouble is, since they use them incoherenetly, you can’t reliably predict which one. “Quote mining” is about the only one that has any meaning in that context, since it’s used as part of the dodge requiring an infinite amount of evidence from their opponents. That’s the reason you can never make any headway with new atheists. Like all fundamentalists, they already know “the truth” and nothing can shift them from that.

  142. — Has he tried to have you jailed for expressing your opinions, John? PhysicistDave

    Doesn’t PZ have a dungeon instead of a jail?

    I do think that the owner of a blog has a right to determine its content, including comments posted on their blog. PZ is about the only one who holds people up to ridicule over it for the entertainment of his regulars and admirers, though. While a commentator does rather put themselves in harms way on his -or any other- blog, that’s kind of gratuitously mean.

  143. Sorbet

    You need to go back to the thread where Dan S analyzed the answers to the challenge; the four points. I hope you remember. And Harris raises a dilemma that is currently contemplated by many state department officials regarding the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. For instance read David Sanger’s “The Inheritance” to get an idea of of scenarios similar to that envisaged by Harris that people in State worry about in the real world.

  144. Sorbet

    In the hands of new atheists, especially on blog discussions, those and similar terms of rhetoric and logic, are becoming little more than markers that they can’t handle the argument

    This is a convenient excuse by the New Accommodationists that is made because they cannot understand these terms. That’s the problem.

  145. Skeptic

    What a spectacle! The level of discourse in the comments section of this blog has descended to the point where all we have is the two trolls McCarthy and Sorbet slugging it out with each other. How much more irrelevant can this become?

  146. J. J. Ramsey

    Anthony McCarthy:

    PZ is about the only one who holds people up to ridicule over it for the entertainment of his regulars and admirers, though. While a commentator does rather put themselves in harms way on his -or any other- blog, that’s kind of gratuitously mean.

    I wouldn’t worry about the meanness of it so much as the potential for abuse. PZ has already said false and misleading things about me. I try to be charitable and attribute it to a lapse in memory, but writing “several times, after being warned” when “once” is what actually happened, or using “insult my daughter” to mean “show how my daughter has absorbed some of my prejudices,” is pretty lousy behavior.

  147. — This is a convenient excuse by the New Accommodationists

    Having said from the beginning that science can’t accomodate anything but it’s study of the material universe, I’d guess that doesn’t apply to me.

    Skeptic, I don’t know what your experience of blog discussions is, but generally things have diverged from the topic of the post by the hundredth comment. There wouldn’t be much point in discussing things if further developments didn’t happen. With the new atheist attention span, I’d guess things generally get off topic a lot faster than average at those places.

    As to me being a troll here, I’d think that’s up to the owners of the blog to tell me. I’ve told them to let me know if they’ve got objections to things I’ve said and I’d avoid those things. I don’t think I’ve accused the new atheists who have been swarming here for the past six weeks of being trolls, since it’s not my blog.

    I’m not under any obligation to withold information, logical arguments or to ignore attacks. At least I’m not falsely crying “ad hominem” every third comment.

  148. J. J. Ramsey, I have to admit, considering your attempts to be rigorously rational, what PZ said about you was kind of surprising. I thought his hiding behind his daughter, after HE had posted what SHE said, and identifying her as the source was pretty hypocritical.

    If he thought it was something embarrassing enough to disavow when it was attributed to him, his posting it was the only thing abusive about that incident.

    As for blog commentators, I’ve always got to remind myself that it’s opening myself up to criticism or ridicule. You’ve got to go into it with your eyes open.

  149. J. J. Ramsey

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I thought his hiding behind his daughter, after HE had posted what SHE said

    No, I posted what she had said, as a counterexample to his claim that a “strident” atheist is merely “an atheist and publicly arguing against god-belief.”

  150. Don’t want to get into the debate here (since I don’t want to troll) but thought I would simply weigh in with the Wikipedia definition of troll and let people decide who is and who is not a troll here.

    “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or collaborative content community with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional or disciplinary response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion”

  151. Pete M.

    I have a concern about Chris Mooney approvingly citing a passage that refers to ‘New Atheists’ as “shrill.” I’ll develop this concern with an analogy.

    Hillary Clinton has also been repeatedly called shrill, and worse. These instances of name-calling have embodied a terrible double standard: a man (or, perhaps, a Republican) who engaged in similar behavior would not be labeled shrill for it. It’s even worse when it’s women themselves, the victims of this double standard, who apply it to Ms. Clinton.

    I believe that something similar is happening here. The ‘New Atheists,’ on account of being atheists, are labeled shrill for behavior for which a non-atheist would be seen simply as strongly defending a point of view. This is not to say that atheists are never shrill or obnoxious: of course we are, just like anyone (and Hillary Clinton was no doubt actually shrill at times). But atheists are the victims, I believe, of an unjust double standard, and it angers and saddens me to see that double standard embraced by an atheist like Chris Mooney. One can passionately and even aggressively defend their atheism and not be shrill on account of it.

  152. Curious Wavefunction, that definition would probably include most of the people who comment at blogs.

    JJR, I guess I misunderstood. From what I read, it appeared as if PZ had originally posted his daughter’s comment and you mistook it for something he’d said. Given some of what he has said, I could see how anyone could make that mistake. He still could have been less obnoxious about it.

  153. I don’t think so. Certain people much more than others keep on provoking responses and constantly commenting (and I am not talking about you)

  154. Having said from the beginning that science can’t accomodate anything but it’s study of the material universe, I’d guess that doesn’t apply to me.

    C’mon, Anthony. Equivocate much? You’ve complained rather bitterly toward non-accommodationists who do not give allowances for religion at the table of empirical truth, yet now seem to be substantially agreeing with them.

    Is it perhaps simply a question of manners for you?

  155. Sorbet

    Heh. PZ and his friends deleted the “New Atheism” page from Wikipedia and redirected it to “History of Atheism”. This keeps on getting more entertaining. JC, welcome to the amazing world of AM where equivocation and goal post shifting rule.

  156. The distinction between a commenter and a troll:

    A blog commenter is someone who may wittingly or unwittingly post controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or collaborative content community that sometimes results in provoking other users into emotional or disciplinary responses, or derails an on-topic discussion.

    A troll, on the other hand, is someone whose primary motivation is to provoke other users into an emotional or disciplinary response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

    It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference, of course.

  157. J. J. Ramsey

    John Kwok:

    The trolls posting here are our “friendly neighobrhood” militant atheists who are intolerant of criticism.

    The “militant” atheists are simply responding to criticism with countering criticism. One can question the quality of the criticism, but it is unfair to call it intolerant.

  158. @ JK,

    I’m pretty sure I haven’t asked anyone to “believe in me,” much less “believe in me, or else.” I’m also pretty sure you would classify me as a militant atheist.

  159. Anthony McCarthy

    — C’mon, Anthony. Equivocate much? You’ve complained rather bitterly toward non-accommodationists who do not give allowances for religion at the table of empirical truth, yet now seem to be substantially agreeing with them. JCS

    Quote me to that effect. Verbatim quote, not alleged paraphrases or summing up. Because I don’t think I ever had done anything except to say that a person has the right to believe in what their personal experience leads them to believe. I’ve stressed the specialized limits that science exists within from the start. Science needs those limits to produce an enhanced level of reliability. But that reliability only applies to the limited topics treated successfully with science. It doesn’t extend past those limits.

    — Heh. PZ and his friends deleted the “New Atheism” page from Wikipedia and redirected it to “History of Atheism”. Sorbet

    Ah, I’ve long suspected that new atheists and their allies have a program of slanting Wikipedia their way. On just about any topic that impinges on issues surrounding the new atheism, the slant has been quite suggestive.

    Wikipedia, a nice idea but I prefer professional editing done by people who try to follow a higher level of objectivity. Unfortunately, you can’t get that quality without paying for it.

  160. Sorbet

    If you dislike it so much, edit the article yourself. As you said, Wikipedia needs people of higher objectivity.

  161. Sorbet

    “I’ve stressed the specialized limits that science exists within from the start. Science needs those limits to produce an enhanced level of reliability. But that reliability only applies to the limited topics treated successfully with science.”

    True. That’s why we apply it to young earth creationism, the virgin birth and the resurrection. All deal with physical and testable events.

  162. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, Lord, you can’t apply science to anything for which there is no physical evidence and there is no possibility of making an analogy with other events or phenomena. Young earth, is pseudo-science because you can apply science to a large range of physical phenomena. I really don’t want to go through The Virgin Birth or the Resurrection again, but neither of those can be successfully subjected to science. There it’s the attempts to assert you can which are pseudo-scientific. You do actually have to apply the tools of science to something to do something scientific.

    Those challenges are still up on my blog, though I haven’t looked at them for a while.

  163. Oh Lord indeed, McCarthy. There’s no physical evidence for a virgin giving birth or walking corpses because there’s very little reason to believe a virgin has ever given birth or a corpse walked, and every reason to believe that both have never happened. I have the whole of the biology of our species on my side, you have nothing but a just-so story in a book. Come to think about it, your arguments are no better than the worst of evo-psych. At least they’re within the realm of the possible.

    Hiding behind history doesn’t change the probability of something approaching zero because every second that goes by and a virgin doesn’t give birth on this zombie-free planet of ours is more evidence against those two claims. I’ll forestall your whining about miracles by saying that if you want to account for or defend the possibility of the miraculous on a public forum you’ll have to make the case for each miracle put forth. There are no sweeping generalizations when it comes to the miraculous; their validity must be judged on a case-by-case basis. I know you have nothing to add to this, because you would have already spilled the beans by now. So why bother defending the unsupportable?

    Now McCarthy’s long history of comments here demonstrates his struggle with basic science–this should surprise no one, but I thought he’d be able to at least understand the basics of probability :)

  164. Skeptic

    The physical evidence is based on what we currently know about sexual reproduction or the phenomenon of biological death. Science deals with such indirect evidence all the time (consider the fields of astronomy and geology for instance).

  165. Sorbet

    I second Skeptic’s assertion. The ratio of human non-virgin births to virgin births as known to us is…let’s say…infinity? As gillt says, it’s really biology versus a story in a single book. Mildly put, you don’t need to be a scientist to guess which one would be more likely to be true.

  166. PhysicistDave

    Anthony McCarthy wrote in response to me:
    > PZ is about the only one who holds people up to ridicule over it for the entertainment of his regulars and admirers, though. While a commentator does rather put themselves in harms way on his -or any other- blog, that’s kind of gratuitously mean.

    Perhaps, although I have seen lots of blog owners who are *much* meaner than PZ!

    And I know of many blog owners who simply expect commenters to be people qualified in some relevant field (science, econ, whatever) and, if you are not qualified in that field, you are not supposed to comment.

    The house sets the rules.

    Watching John Kwok’s performance around here, it is easy for me to see why PZ might not find John a positive addition to his blog.

    At any rate, it’s not about the First Amendment in the way that John stated it. It is about the First Amendment simply in the sense that the First Amendment guarantees PZ’s right to ban whomever he wishes, Chris and Sheril’s right to kick any of us off of here, etc.

    That’s one reason I try to be polite to PZ as well as Chris and Sheril (the other is that I suspect they are all basically decent people).

    Dave

  167. PhysicistDave

    Anthony McCarthy wrote (apparently in response to me?):
    > I really don’t want to go through The Virgin Birth or the Resurrection again, but neither of those can be successfully subjected to science. There it’s the attempts to assert you can which are pseudo-scientific. You do actually have to apply the tools of science to something to do something scientific.

    Anthony, I know Christians hope that if they repeat that often enough they might actually convince one intelligent, well-educated person to believe it!

    That won’t happen, for it is simply and obviously preposterous.

    Science deals with historical events all the time – not only in geology and cosmology, but also in actual human history (vide C-14 dating, dendrochronology, etc.).

    Human reproduction and the shutdown of systems concomitant with organismic failure (death) are among the better-studied phenomena in science.

    If a prosecutor brought a murder indictment against someone for murdering a “victim” who died but was now alive because of a supposed “resurrection,” we would all think the prosecutor was quite nuts: he obviously failed to grasp some very basic and elementary facts of forensic science (fact no. 1: zombies are make-believe!).

    I know that there is an established social norm in our culture that says that Christians are allowed to utter the words “miracle” and “faith” as a social sign to us scientists that we must now be quiet and not claim that science proves what it most assuredly does prove about the falsity of the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, etc.

    What really irritates people about us New Atheists is that we are breaking that long-established social norm.

    But, the truth is that social norms do not change physical reality. Uttering the words “miracle” or “faith” can not change physical reality.

    The physical reality is that science proves that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection did not happen, just as surely as science proves that the earth is more than six thousand years old, that OJ was guilty, etc.

    It always surprises me that moderate Christians do not “get” why the fundies are so mad over evolution vs. Genesis. The fundies quite sensibly feel that the same social norm that says that scientists should not question the Resurrection and Virgin Birth (don’t demean others’ “faith”) applies with equal force to demeaning Genesis.

    The fundies are entirely right on that.

    The “shrillness” of us New Atheists consists of our being consistent here. Those moderate atheists who demean the fundies’ views on Genesis but but insist on reticence about the Resurrection and Virgin Birth are indeed being unfair to the fundies.

    We New Atheists know we are violating a social norm, hence the accusation of “shrillness.” We think it is a bad social norm, just as there were bad social norms in the past in this country relating to blacks, gays, etc.

    Sometimes, an accepted rule of etiquette needs to be treated with contempt in the name of justice and truth.

    Dave

  168. Marc

    You’re proving nothing and convincing no one when you say that a miracle requires a miracle. It’s the lack of training in logic among a self-professed rational crew that’s the most depressing here. If A, then B. Fine. But if I don’t accept A, B doesn’t then follow. You’ll fare no better when disproving a soul, or God. That doesn’t mean that they exist; merely that you can’t assert them out of existence.

    It’s odd to be defending religious traditions that I don’t hold. But there is such a thing as expecting rigor in a logical argument, and saying that a religious tradition is not compelling to me is distinct from decreeing it false.

    If, on the other hand, you insist that an internally inconsistent text is literally true that’s a different matter. You’re placing your claims in the realm of science and they can (and are!) found wanting.

    But saying “God did the following miraculous thing, once” is a claim which by definition places itself in the realm of faith. There’s a pretty extensive literature on that particular question, and it’s not intellectually honest to pretend that it’s solved.

  169. AM:

    Those challenges are still up on my blog, though I haven’t looked at them for a while.

    There are additional responses – two comments representing a single posting – on the “Preliminary responses…” post. It might behoove you to read it, because I think your challenge is based on a faulty premise and a far more sweeping interpretation of what is meant by “scientific question” than is warranted.

    As for the rest…

    Quote me to that effect. Verbatim quote, not alleged paraphrases or summing up.

    That’s absurd. As absurd as it would be for me to say “Find a verbatim quote by Dawkins stating that science solves the virgin birth problem.” Such a thing isn’t to be found. It’s very common to summarize and paraphrase positions that are expressed across a broad spectrum of sayings or writings.

    Having said that, I’ll play along if you’ll answer one easy, yes or no question:

    1. Do you think miracle claims deserve legitimacy as empirical events as believed by a majority (61%) of Americans?

  170. “There’s no physical evidence for a virgin giving birth or walking corpses because there’s very little reason to believe a virgin has ever given birth or a corpse walked, and every reason to believe that both have never happened.”

    oops, the clauses need switched:

    There’s very little reason to believe a virgin has ever given birth or a corpse walked and every reason to believe that both have never happened, because there’s no physical evidence for either.

    And as far as corpses walking, I have chemistry and physics on my side as well.

  171. @ gillt

    You’re right of course, that there’s no reason to believe those miracles happened because of the lack of evidence. However, McCarthy finds this unpersuasive, because to him, science is only science when it explains something. Science is not science when it looks for or asks for evidence.

  172. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Hiding behind history doesn’t change the probability of something approaching zero because every second that goes by and a virgin doesn’t give birth gillt, of course

    Well, that’s just fine and ducky, but that’s not what people who believe in The Virgin Birth of Jesus happen to believe. They believe it happened exactly once in the entire history of the human species. They believe it is a unique event, they believe it happened through other than natural means.

    Of course, you don’t want to deal with what those people actually believe, you want to modify it into something you can discount and mock pretending to do so on the basis of science and, or mathematics. Only none of you can actually say how science or mathematics can address what is believed, so the people who believe it are correct when they point out that your “refutation” has nothing to do with what they believe.

    If you think your mockery is going to be more effective than Voltaire-Russell, you’ve got quite the ego on you.

    “Find a verbatim quote by Dawkins stating that science solves the virgin birth problem.” J.C. Samuelson

    I never said that’s what he said. I said that he proposed applying science to something which clearly can’t be studied by science due to there being no physical evidence, etc (see above) available.

    You said at 155 ” You’ve complained rather bitterly toward non-accommodationists who do not give allowances for religion at the table of empirical truth, yet now seem to be substantially agreeing with them. ”

    Produce quotes from what I’ve said here or elsewhere that constitutes “bitter” complaints that “non-accommodationists” “do not give allowances for religion at the table of empirical truth”.

    I assume you can back up your assertion, since I’ve never said anything like that. It should be easy enough to find them, if they’re there. I’ve only been posting comments here since the beginning of June.

    —- to him, science is only science when it explains something. Science is not science when it looks for or asks for evidence.

    How ridiculous. Science frequently has null results and those are important. I thought everyone knew that. However, you have to actually do more than make assertions based on your opinions for it to count as science. You, gillt, Sorbet, don’t seem to understand that. Which isn’t surprising to me anymore.

    So, how do you propose to debunk The Virgin Birth with science, without methodolgy or evidence or any means of coming up with a probability of it happening?

    More generally, I can see other than continuing to attribute things to me I’ve never said, you seem to be constructing more elaborate fallacies to attribute to me.

    In your response at my blog, you make a large error. ” But notice also that your challenge requires a putative belief in the virgin birth as a miraculous event in history to presuppose that a miracle occurred; for there can be no scientific explanation of something that never happened. ”

    First, I don’t require anything except that you deal with the three criteria contained in the belief. In order to confirm or refute a proposition, you have to deal with the proposition. I didn’t set those criteria and if you or anyone doesn’t like them, that’s just tough.

    —– From my perspective, evidence-seeking itself is also a scientific activity. And, of course, I interpret the statement that miracles are “scientific questions” in that light. To me, this interpretation is at least as reasonable and in keeping with the principles of science as yours. JCS

    But the evidence has to actually be evidence and not just an assertion of opinion, which is what you are doing. It’s a contest between your opinion that the miracle is impossible and the belief of other people that it is possible. You don’t have any more evidence for your position than they do. If you think they couldn’t fail to be impressed with your opinion, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

    —- To be sure (and as I conceded earlier), the ultimate goal of science is to render the universe comprehensible by finding explanations. JCS

    I don’t think that is a realistic goal of science because we can never know how complete our knowledge of the universe will be. I doubt we’ve got all that long to “render the universe comprehensible” because we’re hurtling towards making our planet uninhabitable. And even if we had a long time yet, as a species, that goal is absurdly grandiose. I think science, as it actually exists, had better just try to come up with reliable but incomplete knowledge about the subjects it can study with the tools it actually has at hand and not in some epistemological wonderland of unavailable, proposed possibilities.

    I’ll go through the rest of it a few times, but it looks like tire spinning to me. As you have not come up with a methodology, I’m going to have to continue to maintain that The Virgin Birth of Jesus can’t be addressed by science and that Dawkins is full of flannel.

  173. As I’ve said since the get go, McCarthy has a Mickey Mouse understanding of science.

    I don’t agree with everything Huxley says, but this quote is pertinent to a scientific way of knowing: “In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”

  174. Anthony McCarthy

    At any rate, it’s not about the First Amendment

    I’d never held that blog owners editing their blogs is about The First Amendment. Here’s a little of what I posted last October 18th, which I’d proposed as “Don’t talk like a sexist prat day”.

    Whenever you propose something like this you can count on two things happening. The first is the invocation of “freedom of speech” or “The First Amendment”. I’m happy to report to you that we are not bound in our personal lives to uphold the “speech rights” of bigots. As I never tire of pointing out, we are not the government. You’d think the left has been out of power long enough to not suffer from that mistaken idea.

    http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/2008_10_01_archive.html#5662085637375139729

    People who choose to post comments on blogs should realize they don’t do so on the basis of rights but on the contingent permission of the owners, who has the right to remove them if they choose to.

    That PZ doesn’t have the class to just delete things without ridiculing the people he deletes, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a right to do it. It just means that people should know he’ll use them that way if they risk disagreeing with him or his fan club.

  175. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, I’m not very concerned with your opinion of me.

    “In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”

    Which Huxley would that be, Thomas, Julian or Aldous? I think it’s massively ironic for you to resort to it since you insist on imposing ideological blinders on reason and you can’t stand it when people point out that your chosen ideological position isn’t founded in absolute evidence.

  176. PhysicistDave

    J. C. Samuelson wrote:
    >McCarthy finds this unpersuasive, because to him, science is only science when it explains something. Science is not science when it looks for or asks for evidence.

    It’s worse than that, J.C. Everyone, including McCarthy, accepts that science proves certain things are impossible because extraordinarily well-established scientific laws say they are impossible.

    Even OJ’s lawyers did not claim that he was innocent because the DNA match was not real but simply a “miracle.” They accepted the reality of DNA matching but claimed mundane human error or foul play, not a suspension of scientific law.

    What we are dealing with in the case of Christians in the US is a social norm that they managed to impose on most people for a very long time that said that if the True Believers pronounced the magic words “miracle,” “faith,” and “religion,” then the rest of us would be committing a social faux pas if we continued to mention that their religion was proven false beyond a reasonable doubt by science.

    Of course, the True Believers are not too consistent about this: they are willing to ridicule the unscientific aspects of others’ faiths (the Voodoo belief in zombies, New Agers belief in “pyramid power,” etc.) along with everyone else.

    There is no issue of logic or philosophy here: it is just a matter of the social pressure that Christians were able to exert successfully for such a long time to prevent non-Christians from mentioning certain quite obvious truths about Christianity.

    The claims that “New Atheists” are “militant,” “shrill,” etc. boils down to noting that we New Atheists are no longer willing to abide by that code of silence that Christians managed to erect as a rule for polite conduct to protect Christian nonsense from the ridicule it so richly deserves.

    (I wrote a longer post to this effect responding to Anthony – too long, it seems, as it is still “awaiting moderation.”)

    Dave

  177. Anthony McCarthy

    —- If you dislike it so much, edit the article yourself. As you said, Wikipedia needs people of higher objectivity. Sorbet at 161

    Well, that’s the problem. When I read a reference book I don’t want it to represent what the authors and editors like or dislike, I want something closer to objective reality. I don’t trust Wikipedia to give that because too many of its articles are slanted by people with an agenda. I’ve seen hardly a single topic of interest to “skepics” or new atheists which don’t betray a political agenda.

    Though there are some articles that I know are reliable, I only know that about subjects I’m fairly familiar with already.

  178. Anthony McCarthy

    PhysicistDave, I’ve said here and at my own blog numerous times I don’t believe in The Virgin Birth as an historical event, I think it was a literary allegory. I don’t happen to be a Christian either. Both JCS and gillt know that, though both like to pretend they don’t know it.

    I was only arguing with the absurd idea that you can apply science or math to that and the Resurrection of Jesus as those are actually stated in the respective gospels and believed in by Christians. As defined and believed, neither can be subjected to science or probability.

  179. PhysicistDave

    Anthony,

    For what it’s worth, when I read his books, I was horrified by some of Sam Harris’s comments about Moslems that you have alluded to.

    I think Sam is basically a good guy, but I also think he used the understandable anxiety about Islam in the wake of 9/11 to engage in some horribly unjustified Moslem-bashing to prop up his own position.

    He was wrong to do that.

    Sam and I both count as “New Atheists”: i.e., we are both unwilling to abide by the old rule that religion is off-limits to public criticism from scientists when its beliefs have been proven false by science.

    But that doesn’t mean I approve of everything Sam says or thinks (or vice versa, of course). And when I think he or other New Atheists are wrong, I am happy to publicly criticize them, just as I am happy to publicly criticize Christianity.

    All the best,

    Dave

  180. PhysicistDave

    Anthony wrote to me:
    > I’ve said here and at my own blog numerous times I don’t believe in The Virgin Birth as an historical event, I think it was a literary allegory. I don’t happen to be a Christian either.

    I think if you read through carefully everything I have posted to you, I did not actually say you were a Christian (at least that is my recollection).

    However, it is certainly true that the point you tried to make is often made by Christians, and I did allude to that well-known fact.

    I have tried to address the point you were trying to make rather than your particular religious affiliation or lack thereof.

    And, I think I have shown that your point just does not hold up.

    You also wrote:
    > I was only arguing with the absurd idea that you can apply science or math to that and the Resurrection of Jesus as those are actually stated in the respective gospels and believed in by Christians.

    It is your statement that is absurd.

    You *can* apply science to the Virgin Birth and Resurrection, taken as actual physical events, for precisely the same reasons you can apply science to (supposed) physical phenomena such as astrology, pyramid power, OJ’s DNA match, carbon 14 data, Voodoo zombies, Neanderthal DNA, etc.

    The traditional Christian claim is that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection actually *physically* happened.

    The only reason not to judge those supposed physical events by the same criteria we apply to other physical events is that their “miraculous,” faith-based,” “religious” nature somehow puts them in a different category.

    But “miraculous,” faith-based,” “religious” are just words: they cannot alter physical reality.

    Science says that human males cannot be born by parthenogenesis (the Y chromosome problem). Everyone accepts that in normal life.

    You have given no reason to exempt Christian beliefs from that normal pattern of judging – except, as everyone knows, we have a social norm that says that Christians can cry “miraculous,” faith-based,” “religious,” and then science must back off.

    That is simply a social game, verbal voodoo.

    If you want anyone to take seriously your claim that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are exempt form the normal judgments of science, please give some actual *reason* for that special exemption.

    Dave

  181. PhysicistDave

    Anthony,

    Perhaps I can make my question to you a bit clearer and more specific.

    As you know, there were various claims floating around the ancient world that various guys (Alexander the Great is one well-known example) were the product of a divinely-orchestrated conception without benefit of a human male.

    Not everyone believed the claim about Alexander, of course, but then we also know that some early Christians (Ebionites) did not believe the Virgin Birth claim about Jesus either. Indeed, only two of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament even mention the Virgin Birth, and the earliest books, the authentic letters of Paul, do not mention it at all.

    Few people suspend judgment about Alexander: science shows that Olympias could not have conceived a male via parthenogenesis (Y chromosome problem). Ergo, she did not: science proves that Alexander was conceived the old-fashioned way.

    Do you agree that science shows that the claim that Alexander had no biological, human father is false?

    If you do, why do you treat the Christian Virgin Birth as any different from the supposed divine conception of Alexander?

    Please note: I am *not* claiming that the Virgin Birth story about Christ was derived form the Alexander myth. I am merely asking whether you think science applies to one case but not the other.

    Similarly, if a contemporary human woman claimed that she was pregnant with a male child but that this was due to divine intervention without any contribution from a human male, would you agree that science shows that this could not actually happen and that that woman would be mistaken or lying?

    If you do agree, why not apply the same criterion to the supposed Virgin Birth of Jesus?

    I am truly bemused by your position on this. As far as I can tell, the only possible explanation for your position is simply that our social norms say that we are being nasty (“militant,” “shrill” etc.) if we point out that science proves that the Virgin Birth did not happen.

    I think my four questions above are straightforward and not loaded. If you can answer them, and explain your reasons for your answers if your answers differ from the obvious answers that defer to modern science, perhaps the rest of us can understand your point.

    Dave

  182. Anthony McCarthy

    — But “miraculous,” faith-based,” “religious” are just words: they cannot alter physical reality.

    Which isn’t a scientific belief, it’s a philosophical belief. Just as the belief that miracles can be performed through supernatural intervention is a religious belief and not a scientific one.

    The actual belief in The Virgin Birth doesn’t claim it to have happened through parthenogenesis, it specifically claims it didn’t. To bring that into the attempt to “debunk” the belief is illogical, and by that I mean it violates the most basic rules of logic and rhetoric. You can debunk all kinds of “virgin birth” scenarios but anyone who is inclined to believe in the Christian belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus would be entirely within the rules of both logic and rhetorical discourse to point out that you’ve not yet damaged WHAT THEY BELIEVE.

    You do actually have to have some material evidence in order to arrive at a scientific assertion about what happens in the physical universe. As I understand things, string theory is discounted as reality by quite a few physicists on that ground. I’m finding what Lawrence Krauss has been saying about black holes to be rather fascinating too. And not just for what it means for physics. If the evidence turns out to be that he is right or if it remains inconclusive, I think unless scientists are very careful in explaining how they might have gotten that wrong it could be far more damaging to the reputation of science than anything religion can do to it. I think the popular misunderstanding of science as the key to knowing everything could end up damaging it quite badly.

    And there’s absolutely no need to be condescending. I’m not impressed by that. I think you, as gillt and JCS and a number of others are making a basic mistake between your opinion and logical coherence.

  183. I’ve had a number of long comments held up. I’m posting the last part of this thread at my blog. If you want to see what I said, you can see it there.

  184. PhysicistDave

    Anthony,

    I went to your blog.

    You have declined to answer my rather straightforward four questions that would give us a better idea of where you are coming from.

    You wrote to me on your blog:
    >And there’s absolutely no need to be condescending. I’m not impressed by that. I think you, as gillt and JCS and a number of others are making a basic mistake between your opinion and logical coherence.

    I don’t know what you are specifically referring to, but I frankly suspect that it is impossible to avoid being what you call “condescending” in dealing with you.

    I looked over your old blog at your suggestion.

    As others here had already mentioned earlier, I found your ignorance of science to be simply breathtaking.

    It’s probably a waste of time to go into much detail about that. The one point relevant to this discussion is your repeated belief that science can only reach a conclusion about a particular event if it has detailed empirical data on that event.

    That is ludicrously, hysterically false.

    That is not how science works.

    The enormous intellectual power of science is that we can and do develop very powerful general theories which we can apply with very high confidence to a specific event *without* making detailed measurements on that event to be sure it obeys the laws we have already established: the power of science is that those laws are already established and do not need to be tested in every specific case.

    That is why general laws of science can and do disprove the Virgin Birth.

    I know you do not believe that. Fine – you thereby show your incredible ignorance of science..

    You wrote:
    >You can debunk all kinds of “virgin birth” scenarios but anyone who is inclined to believe in the Christian belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus would be entirely within the rules of both logic and rhetorical discourse to point out that you’ve not yet damaged WHAT THEY BELIEVE.

    I have no desire to challenge your perception of the rules of “rhetorical discourse,” since I do not acknowledge such rules..

    And, in the case of traditional (Nicene) Christians, it is certainly true that science is not likely to damage, as you put it, “WHAT THEY BELIEVE” (the all caps certainly helps make your point).

    But what you write does not address the fact, that, by the normal rules of science, and, indeed, of common sense outside of religion, science does prove the Virgin Birth did not happen.

    It is clear that you do not care about science (you have several posts on your old blog explaining that in verbose detail).

    Cool.

    If you wish us to understand you better, you might try answering my four questions from my previous post.

    But, somehow, I do not think you wish to be understood better.

    Dave

  185. Sorbet

    Well, many people do believe that it was a historical event; that’s the entire problem. But the real problem is that, according to you, such events should be automatically declared beyond the reach of science and science shouldn’t even attempt to ask questions or challenge them. Sorry, but that’s not the way rationality and science work and you seem to have a limited understanding of the scientific method. And Dave’s question about the analogy between JC and Alexander is pertinent.

  186. Marc

    You don’t understand logic Dave, so it’s better that you stop embarassing yourself. I could say that to Sorbet and gillt too; your inability to even comprehend what others are saying to you is pretty amazing.

    When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science. Now in your view that makes them false by definition. However, it actually just makes them untestable.

    Now you’re completely free to do as I do and conclude that you don’t accept these arguments – but they cannot be falsified, especially for things which are claimed to have happened once in the distant past and which lack any physical evidence one way or another. No degree of online assertion, and no degree of name-calling and mockery, will change that. Christians don’t believe that resurrection is a daily occurrence.

    Understanding science includes understanding the limits of the scientific method, and I’m not seeing much evidence of that here.

  187. I’m not going to try to post a long answer here for now. I might get back to this on my own blog later today.

    JCS, you didn’t even come up with an explanation of HOW you could address The Virgin Birth with science or math in your response, you’re just finding more elaborate ways to assert that it’s possible without actually addressing it with science. It’s not even a plan, it’s just a repetition of your ideology.

    If you didn’t intend to be condescending Dave, you certainly gave that impression to me. Parthenogenesis isn’t part of the belief. Re-reading the two gospels, I’d say they would rather definitively exclude that as a possible explanation. Bringing it up as a scientific point in a proposed debunking isn’t science, it’s a violation of logic and the rules of rhetoric. As I pointed out, anyone who believes it would be upholding both logic and the basic rules of that kind of argument by saying it is irrelevant to their position. You might not like that but other than an appeal to the opinion of your side, you’ll find it won’t get you anywhere with people who can understand what’s going on in the argument.

  188. Sorbet

    Marc, the chemical origin of life likely happened only once in the past. So did the Cambrian explosion. So did the “oxygen catastrophe”. It sometimes almost seems miraculous that such unlikely events could happen. Does it mean they are beyond physical or scientific investigation? I suspect it’s you and McCarthy who lack an understanding of the scientific method; science proceeds as much through indirect experimentation and explanation based on current knowledge as direct investigation.

    Plus, it’s very convenient to place an event beyond the purview of science by saying that it happened only once. Then I could make up any story, claim it happened only once, and expect it to be taken seriously. How about the time my neighbor’s grandfather quipped he was transported to Mars by an angel. Happened only once, seems miraculous. Take it seriously?

    And I am still waiting for an explanation of how a human female reproducing asexually or a human coming back to life after being dead for a while do not involve elements of physical reality.

  189. gillt

    Marc bloviates: “When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science. Now in your view that makes them false by definition. However, it actually just makes them untestable.”

    This is a wonderful example before us of religious dogmatic thinking.

    Marc, your rhetoric is divorced from reality. When you invoke a miracle that is in any affects the perceivable world it is open to scientific scrutiny, period. Science doesn’t care whether you or not you’ve cordoned off part of reality to protect your delusions. It has already weighed in and found your beliefs vacuous.

    Merely insisting otherwise with no argument no reason no but by simply declaring it beyond the testable is the exact type of trenchant arrogance and willful ignorance that deserves ridicule. You are an unreasonable person with unsupportable arguments. It’s a complete waste of everyone’s time to engage this behavior in any form other than mockery.

  190. Anthony McCarthy

    Marc, welcome to the set of people gillt attacks without dealing with what you say. It’s far from an empty set.

    Apparently for the new atheists just asserting that you can test an idea is all you need to do. No, that’s not precise, it’s what THEY need to do. The old rules of proof in their specialized extended version apply to you and me and everyone who doesn’t buy their position.

    The most important thing I’ve learned in these discussion is, as you point out, you seem to be able to have a career in science, real or imaginary, while either being ignorant of logic or holding ourself to be above it. That’s been quite a revelation to me.

  191. gillt

    McCarthy: “…your chosen ideological position isn’t founded in absolute evidence.”

    Hahha, what’s my chosen ideological position, pray tell? I spend most of my time here peeling back your arrogance to reveal a seeping ignorance and emotional aversion to science, but that isn’t much of an ideology. Though it is definitely based on evidence.

    And what does “absolute” evidence refer to? Aren’t you overextending yourself a bit? Unlike your superstitious beliefs, science doesn’t deal with absolutes; truths are tenuous. (more evidence to the above, I might add).

    Do I misrepresent your emotional investment in arguments you don’t claim to actually believe in when I say it sounds disingenuous?

    Is your defense of belief in belief a mealy-mouthed argument for the status quo of the continuation of science illiteracy in this country?

  192. John Kwok

    @ PhysicistDave (@ 167) –

    Yours is an observation of breathtaking inanity. For mere amusement, you can look at PZ’s laughable comment posted on 7/13/09 in which he lists every conceivable award he’ll never win. You were saying about my behavior….

  193. gillt

    The only logic between Marc and McCarthy is a shared, internal, built-in logic applied to their belief-system. They make the mistake of confusing this inward-looking logic as objective.

  194. Anthony McCarthy

    —- I spend most of my time here peeling back your arrogance to reveal a seeping ignorance and emotional aversion to science, but that isn’t much of an ideology. Though it is definitely based on evidence. gillt

    “Peeling back your arrogance” = Not kow towing to the ideologies of scientism, materialism, naturalism….

    “Emotional aversion to science” = Recognizing that like all human activities, science exists within limits, in the case of science, self imposed limits necessary to find reliable information about very specific and limited topics.

    I think I’ve just answered the “ideology” stuff in your latest expectoration.

    Scientific literacy won’t be furthered by the glaring logical deficit in the new atheism and its ideological cousins. As I said above, the ability to sustain a career in science while being illogical has been kind of startling.

    I would like to point out the huge problem that scientism holds for real science in face of the possible confirmation of Krauss’s recent work on black holes mentioned at 183. If the popular understanding of physics has to deal with that the political reaction could be like a tsunami. Of all the sciences, physics is the one most people assume is solidly reliable. The assertions made about the “completeness” of its knowledge being at hand could turn out to be seriously damaging to science as popularly understood. I’d think it could lead to many a new atheist losing their childlike faith in it. The creationism industry would be absolutely gleeful, since they don’t care about science at all.

  195. Sorbet

    “As I said above, the ability to sustain a career in science while being illogical has been kind of startling”

    Sure, since you don’t understand logic yourself it’s now convenient to blame scientists as being illogical. After all, people like Jerry Coyne who have taught at places like Chicago and published in peer-reviewed journals must have had to abandon logic in order to achieve such success. So true.

    “science exists within limits, in the case of science”

    Quite true. And therefore it seeks to debunk physical phenomena like human asexual reproduction and bodily resurrection precisely within those limits (by the way the second part of your statement is redundant)

  196. Sorbet

    Add “illogical” to the lexicon of phrases McCarthy reserves for people who disagree with him or who point out the flaws in his thinking.

  197. @ PhysicistDave:

    It’s worse than that, J.C. Everyone, including McCarthy, accepts that science proves certain things are impossible because extraordinarily well-established scientific laws say they are impossible.

    Of course he does. A prime example is the creation myth, which is a miraculous claim he rejects because of the science supporting evolution. Yet for some odd reason he feels it’s important to defend others literal beliefs with respect to miracles on the basis that miracles are supposed to occur “outside” or “above” nature or some such, as if saying so lifts them out of the purview of science.

    @ AM:

    When I read a reference book I don’t want it to represent what the authors and editors like or dislike, I want something closer to objective reality.

    So if you think an article has a POV slant, edit it to correct the problem. That’s the point – you can help correct the very problem you complain about!

    One of the most frustrating aspects of complaints about bias is that those who complain loudest are often those who are least inclined to participate in fixing the problem. When it comes to mainstream media sources owned by corporations, it’s a lot harder to do (but not impossible) which perhaps gives the complaint some validity.

    With Wikipedia, the complaints lose their force almost completely. If you don’t think an article contains a minimally biased, accurate representation of the subject matter, you can at any time decide to solve the problem. There’s no excuse for whining. Last year, for example, I corrected the article on Lori Lipman Brown because it was obviously written by someone who disliked her and her beliefs and/or politics (you can see the main part of originally objectionable material on the discussion page, where I detailed some of the changes I was making). Took me about an hour of minimal research and writing.

    No reason you can’t do the same with articles you think are slanted, skewed, or otherwise faulty.

    I don’t happen to be a Christian either. Both JCS and gillt know that, though both like to pretend they don’t know it.

    Quite the contrary, Anthony. I do know it, and haven’t pretended otherwise. In fact, I explicitly denied that I thought you were a Christian on another thread here (though at the moment I can’t remember which – we’ve had exchanges on several posts here).

    With respect to your challenge, you have explicitly asked that the belief be addressed “as it is believed by those who believe it.” You can hardly expect anyone to address a miracle claim “as it is believed by those who believe it” by talking about what you believe, because your beliefs aren’t relevant to the challenge as you’ve presented it.

    I’m starting to wonder if you’re paying attention to your own arguments, because there is a degree of incoherence and/or inconsistency to your stated position(s) that makes addressing them difficult.

    You do actually have to have some material evidence in order to arrive at a scientific assertion about what happens in the physical universe. As I understand things, string theory is discounted as reality by quite a few physicists on that ground. I’m finding what Lawrence Krauss has been saying about black holes to be rather fascinating too. And not just for what it means for physics. If the evidence turns out to be that he is right or if it remains inconclusive, I think unless scientists are very careful in explaining how they might have gotten that wrong it could be far more damaging to the reputation of science than anything religion can do to it.

    Sophistry and lucidity in the same paragraph. Your first sentence implicitly condemns as non-science the work planned at the LHC (which, by the way, is related to string theory), and that already done by both Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss since virtually all of it is theoretical. Yet you go on to seemingly acknowledge that science can be speculative and theoretical without evidence when you commend “what Lawrence Krauss has been saying about black holes” as fascinating.

    Science is not merely the conclusions, but the process that leads thereto.

    As for the latter part of the paragraph, science already suffers from the lack of understanding among the lay public that science is completely and utterly contingent upon evidence, and the appreciation that this is a strength, not a weakness. When science gets an answer wrong, it is commonly held up as weakness, when actually this is a symptom of its strength. Whatever the resolution may be to the cosmological issues you mention, it will be no more damaging to science than when the Ptolemaic system was superseded by the Copernican.

    The “fix” to this problem isn’t to “fix” science to make it appear right more often (or prevent it from being wrong), but to communicate effectively regarding the strength of its necessary contingencies.

    @ Marc

    When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science. Now in your view that makes them false by definition. However, it actually just makes them untestable.

    Utterly false, at least with respect to miracle claims that are alleged to have manifested with material effect. The virgin birth is not claimed to have occurred in some alternate reality (e.g., heaven). It is alleged by those who believe it to have happened here on Earth, in the physical universe, to a physical being. Thus, science need not be mute, because a well-known biological process is alleged to have been subverted, suspended, or otherwise violated.

    Christians don’t believe that resurrection is a daily occurrence

    The Big Bang is not a daily occurrence either, but scientists do study its effect. Your point?

  198. —- After all, people like Jerry Coyne who have taught at places like Chicago and published in peer-reviewed journals must have had to abandon logic in order to achieve such success. Sorbet

    Yeah, it was Jerry’s use of “ad hominem” that sort of tipped me off, though his illogical assertions citing Plato had sort of made me conclude the guy was a logical lightweight. And as to The U. of Chicago, I learned about the ability to sustain a career in the dismal “science” from the “Neo-Classical” school of economics from that same institution.

    Do you really want to live with the consequences of that kind of proof by appeal to authority in this case? Because I’m sure it could lead all kinds of places you wouldn’t like.

    I’m not going to go round the revolving door of pseudo-science re, The Virgin Birth anymore. Anything that is productive about that has already been said. Needless to say, as with “ID” it’s only a problem when you irrationally assert that you can turn it into science. Though observing the habits of thought that keep the new atheists stuck in the mud and desperate to pull other people in is moderately productive.

  199. Marc,

    “When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science. Now in your view that makes them false by definition. However, it actually just makes them untestable.”

    You are likely correct that the usual definitions of both terms intend to be put outside of scientific analysis. And since we are dealing with their literal definitions, there is no escaping the fact that they are to be made true or false in an epistemic sense (not, say, in some therapeutic sense). But peoples’ intentions in their meanings do not necessarily have any normative power. Just as we reject the ontological argument for the existence of god(s), we can reject formulations of faith and miracles as either begging the question (if taken at their most powerful) or demonstrably mistaken (if taken at their weakest).

  200. Sorbet

    So now you an expert in economics too? Maybe you should walk up to the economics dept at Chicago and hold a seminar to educate everyone there with your erudite views. I am sure they will bow down before you once you liberally dispense your wisdom.

    “Needless to say, as with “ID” it’s only a problem when you irrationally assert that you can turn it into science”

    You are right that it’s a problem, precisely when science questions it.

  201. Sorbet

    I am not citing proof by authority. I was only giving an example in response to your irrational statement that scientists who sustain productive careers in science are illogical.

  202. Anything that is productive about that has already been said.

    By which you mean to recuse yourself from further discussion of anything regarding miracles that disagrees with your position.

  203. — to your irrational statement that scientists who sustain productive careers in science are illogical. Sorbet

    I think what we see here is the new atheist tactic of attributing an all or nothing holding to their opponents when they have never held that.

    I said that it was a surprise to me to see the extent to which it is possible for someone to maintain a successful career as a scientist while having huge holes in their grasp of logic. It was a surprise because I’ve known many scientists who have a masterful grasp of logic, Richard Lewontin being one of those. I’ll have to think of how that might relate to his relatively well known point about Dawkins’ confusion about sets and their elements later.

    As to the people posting comments here, many of whom claim to have careers as scientists, their understanding of as basic a part of logical discourse as the requirement to deal with a proposition as it is proposed instead of a conveniently rewritten version of it, is rather shocking.

    I think science would be a lot more secure if it required more rigorous training in logic and traditional rhetoric in order to get a bachelors degree. And it should also make certain that those budding scientists actually understand what science can and can’t do and what it was invented to produce. I’m pretty shocked to see how little they understand even that much. Specialization is necessary but if you don’t understand those things it will catch up with science eventually. Sort of like that shocking lapse of peer review gillt trumpeted here a few weeks back.

  204. — By which you mean to recuse yourself from further discussion of anything regarding miracles that disagrees with your position. JCS

    No, by which I mean it’s a waste of time to argue issues that have been raised already. You didn’t produce an explanation of how you would come to a conclusion for or against The Virgin Birth with science or probability. You made assertions based in ideology that don’t address that part of the challenge I made for those who held it was a “scientific question” to demonstrate that by proposing specific methods or by showing the math behind its probability. Apparently no one has been able to back up Dawkins and the rest of the new atheists faith that science can do what it clearly can’t.

    That’s as far as the point can go. The exigencies of science require demonstration of assertions. I didn’t expect to convince anyone whose mind is made up, I was just challenging you guys to back up your “scientific” assertions. And you didn’t.

  205. Matt Penfold

    Am I right in thinking McCarthy is saying that because people claim the virgin birth is a miracle and that it only happened once it is beyond the ability of science to study ?

    He is wrong to claim that the virgin birth supposedly happened only once. In Christianity yes, but Christianity is not the only religion to claim a virgin birth. If we grant Christianity’s claim for a virgin birth exemption from scientific scrutiny we must grant it to all such claims. Further, since we have no way of telling what it really a miracle we must grant to any claim for a miracle. Anthropologists estimate there are, or have been, some 10,000 religions. All of those must be granted the rights to claim miracles if we grant the right to Christianity. Some no doubt will claim for miracles that are incompatible with claims from other religions. Still, we must allow those as well it seems. Do we restrict the right to claim miracles to religion with a certain number of followers, or can people make up their own religion, and claim exemption from scientific scrutiny for any miracles they posit ? I can see it all getting very complicated.

  206. So now you an expert in economics too?

    Sorbet, go read about the real economy of Chile after the Chicago Boys collaborated with the Pinochet government. On an objective analysis of what happened to the pension system, for example. You see, I did something you apparently find mysterious and occult, I read the news reporting about it. And that’s just one of the more spectacular real world disasters wrought by “Neo-classical” economics in the Chicago style.

    Are you really sticking up for economics as a “science”? I wonder what a, say, physicist would say about their candid opinion of economics as “science”. How about you, Dave?

  207. @ Matt Penfold,

    Am I right in thinking McCarthy is saying that because people claim the virgin birth is a miracle and that it only happened once it is beyond the ability of science to study ?

    Yes. That’s his position exactly.

    @ AM (in general):

    The way you present science, Anthony, allows virtually any claim to be considered equally valid.

    A person could claim, for example, that there is a gigantic gold nugget buried in his back yard by God, and according to you, this is not a claim science can address because there is no physical evidence of either a gigantic gold nugget or of God.

    Meanwhile, it’s readily apparent to the rest of us that a scientist could easily perform a series of tests on that person’s back yard to determine if there is any evidence of an anomolous formation of gold buried there. Assuming evidence is not found, science can rule the claim false. That the believer may fail to be persuaded of the non-existence of a gold nugget from God by a scientific ruling has nothing whatsoever to do with whether science can address the claim or not.

    You don’t get to choose by fiat which claims can be addressed by science and which ones can’t be.

  208. Matt, go back it up at my blog. Put up a logically sound method or demonstration of probability and I’ll put the announcement of it in the largest type face available.

  209. Matt Penfold

    Matt, go back it up at my blog. Put up a logically sound method or demonstration of probability and I’ll put the announcement of it in the largest type face available.

    I see you will not answer the points I raised.

    If you think that believing Jesus was really the result of a virgin birth is not an empirical claim then you are even more deluded than I thought you were.

    Further you seem to accept it happened more than once, unless you only allow Christians to claim miracles happen.

    I do not visit your blog. I did once, after you told me you had posted evidence of Richard Dawkins being uncivil. There was no evidence.

  210. — A person could claim, for example, that there is a gigantic gold nugget buried in his back yard by God, and according to you, this is not a claim science can address because there is no physical evidence of either a gigantic gold nugget or of God….

    … You don’t get to choose by fiat which claims can be addressed by science and which ones can’t be. JCS

    Now I am going to have to say you are being willfully dishonest. That isn’t anything like what I’ve said. There is no physical evidence in the issue of The Virgin Birth of Jesus which is why I said that particular belief couldn’t be addressed by science. And you know that since that’s the first thing I said in the challenge that you haven’t met but have clearly read. I said if there was physical evidence you COULD possibly address it with science but that in the absence of physical evidence the nature of what is actually believed as constituting TVB precluded you from testing the belief scientifically.

    Why would you so clearly misrepresent what I was saying about that, a point which I seem to recall we discussed several times? About the only reason I can think of is that you’re hoping to influence people who haven’t followed what I’d said or those for whom that point is too subtle. Well, I’m not under any obligation to put up with people distorting what I said.

  211. Sorbet

    McCarthy, if you are talking about Naomi Klein, the woman needs to have her brain checked. You seem to have fallen prey to the common misconception that the Chicago boys were more or less directly responsible for the excesses in Chile. Here are two links (among many) that debunk this widely believed myth as well as Klein’s obfuscation:
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/bp/html/bp102/bp102index.html
    http://www.reason.com/news/show/128903.html

  212. Matt Penfold

    There is no physical evidence in the issue of The Virgin Birth of Jesus which is why I said that particular belief couldn’t be addressed by science

    Only you are wrong. There is.

    Mammals do not go in for virgin births. Not once in recorded history has there been a documented example that stands up to scrutiny. It is not as though we lack data. You would have thought farmers would notice if a cow or sheep became pregnant without being inseminated either by a male, or artificially. Indeed if was considered even slightly possible there would be huge amount of research underway to find out how.

    You cannot just take stuff from a holy book, that has been subject to all kinds of alterations and mistranslations, and claim it in anyway represents a factual event. Not when the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly against it.

    Some YECs claim their god created the Earth some 6000 years ago, and then faked the evidence to make it look old. They claim that was a miracle. There is no evidence that they are not right, if we follow your logic.

  213. Sorbet, if you’re citing the Cato Institute as a credible and objective source of information about economics, you’re hopeless. On any given issue I could have told you what they’d say about it twenty years in advance.

  214. Sorbet

    “As to the people posting comments here, many of whom claim to have careers as scientists, their understanding of as basic a part of logical discourse as the requirement to deal with a proposition as it is proposed instead of a conveniently rewritten version of it, is rather shocking”

    We are, all of us, dealing with the proposition as it is proposed. In fact we, not you, are the ones who are taking the virgin birth to mean what people say it means. And we are saying that as it is proposed it lands squarely in the domain of rational scientific inquiry, whether you like it or not. And you go on ranting about physical evidence when all of us are trying to tell you that physical evidence in science is often indirect and comes from sources other than the original source.

    I don’t know what it will take for you to educate yourself about some the basic rudiments of science.

  215. Sorbet

    McCarthy, instead of ad hominem, why don’t you talk about substance. Here’s another link:
    http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=69067f1c-d089-474b-a8a0-945d1deb420b
    And this is The New Republic, not exactly a Republican bastion.

  216. — I do not visit your blog. I did once, after you told me you had posted evidence of Richard Dawkins being uncivil. There was no evidence. Matt Penfold

    Matt, I started the blog in a futile attempt to get your ravings about me “lying” some place where it wouldn’t bother people trying to follow the topic of Chris Mooney’s post. I don’t have time to go back to about June 6th to find where I first pointed out to you that I’d begun the blog but I’m sure that was my intention. It was to provide you with a place to vent harmlessly and for me to answer you. Needless to say, you didn’t back up your assertions any better than gillt, sorbet, or several other new atheists have. Among other things, I have always said it was a dishonest fad.

  217. And this is The New Republic, not exactly a Republican bastion.

    Good grief. You obviously don’t do the leftist political blogs, do you. I’m only one of a number of people who have called it “The New Republican”, that’s when I wasn’t pointing out that TNR could stand for either that rag or The National Review, and it often didn’t matter which one.

    Look at what happened to people trying to survive on pensions in Chile in the aftermath of the Chicago Boys applying their theories to the Chilean economy under the Pinochet junta.

    You might want to consider that about the only idea Milton Friedman ever had that has been successful was during the period he worked for the federal government and was one of those who came up with with holding taxes. I recall the obit they ran in The Guardian mentioned it.

    So, are you asserting that economics is a science? I’d really like a yes or no answer to that one.

  218. Sorbet

    No, I don’t do leftist political blogs because I want to try to preserve a moderate centrist mentality as much as possible. Pinochet was a dictator and he brutally oppressed people; that has nothing to do with a particular economic philosophy and has happened in all kinds of economic systems (although admittedly empirically more under socialist governments). Economics is a science, but it’s not a science like physics. That does not mean math or scientific rationales don’t hold true in it. Notwithstanding all its limitations, game theory has been modestly successfuly in the science.

  219. @ AM:

    I said if there was physical evidence you COULD possibly address it with science…

    Which squares EXACTLY with Dawkins’ assertion on pg. 59 of TGD! As a reminder, “Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question with a definite answer in principle: yes or no.”

    This is an entirely contingent response, just as you have finally given. And no, you have NOT said that previously that I recall. If you have, please point it out because the whole of this argument we’ve been having is predicated on the notion that you consider miracles impossible for science to study, period, because a) it happened once, and b) miracles suspend the rules of nature.

    It also squares just fine what I’ve been saying. An excerpt from my more recent response on your blog:

    “When someone like me suggests that a miracle is a scientific question, it’s a reference to science in its evidence-seeking role. Not merely so, but certainly as a necessary step toward the provisional sort of acceptance that commends itself to continued seeking. Thus, an assertion that a miracle is a scientific question should not be considered a sweeping claim that science offers an explanation. Not even a naturalistic one.”

    To paraphrase, first there must be evidence that an event actually occurred. That is the “scientific question” with respect to miracles: Is there evidence that a miracle occurred? The answer is no. Ergo, the virgin birth is a false claim. Thus, it’s my feeling that your challenge has a faulty premise. If you think otherwise, nothing is stopping you from commenting on your own blog.

    Or, if you prefer, I can stick the post in here since you seem to feel more comfortable commenting here.

    Now I am going to have to say you are being willfully dishonest…Why would you so clearly misrepresent what I was saying about that, a point which I seem to recall we discussed several times? About the only reason I can think of is that you’re hoping to influence people who haven’t followed what I’d said or those for whom that point is too subtle. Well, I’m not under any obligation to put up with people distorting what I said.

    Ah. Now it comes to casting aspersions on my character? Good grief. Anyone is free to read anything either of us wrote. In fact, anyone feeling masochistic can click here to find the threads we’ve had exchanges on here, or head over to your blog. And, for one example that might have contributed to my apparent misapprehension of your position, re-read your comment here in which you wrote:

    But, like the issue of trying to apply probability and science where it’s impossible to make them go, none of you guys have been able to answer it. [Emphasis added]

    Or this one, in which you wrote:

    I was talking about the error of asserting that science and probability could do what they specifically can’t. [Emphasis added]

    And you have said that the reason science can’t address it isn’t a lack of evidence. According to you:

    …since it happened exactly once in history and is said by those who believe it that that is the only time it ever will happen in that way, that it couldn’t be part of the subject matter of science.

    Needless to say, this contradicts what you’re saying now, so perhaps it’s not the result of dishonesty on my part but inconsistency on yours. And in fairness, at times I have failed to be as clear as I possibly could’ve been, but I have not accused you of dishonestly misrepresenting my position either.

  220. Marc

    Matt: funny that you mention the idea that the universe could be young but made to appear old. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos_hypothesis).

    I actually use that as an example – when I’m teaching about the age of the Earth – of the sort of thing that I can’t rule out using science. However, I’m not worried about people holding it up as an alternate explanation. Why? Because it requires a deceitful God, and religious people tend to find that idea repulsive. So you can emphasize the nature of scientific inquiry (if I assume that these simple rules apply, then I conclude that) and trace through how we know the actual age of the Earth. People can see very clearly that a young-earth is untenable once they understand what is required to accept it.

    The same approach falls apart in the case of Jesus because, unlike the age of the Earth, we lack direct evidence (e.g. DNA) and the claim is being made as a matter of faith. Mind you, there are well-established Christian traditions which read miracle stories as metaphors; Thomas Jefferson took his scissors and glue-pot and made a revised Bible by cutting out all elements contrary to established scientific fact (including the resurrection!) The point here is that people will accept the authority of science in one case – but not the other – because it fits well with other basic beliefs that they have, not because one can prove things in some absolute sense.

    Sorbet: libertarianism (via Cato) is a good example of why I have such deep reservations about the New Athiest project. It’s a free market cult based on an extrapolation of simple axioms masquerading as science into a complex human endeavor (e.g. economics). The denialist response of libertarians to science on the topic of climate change has been a real obstacle – and, to me, has completely discredited it as a political philosophy. I see it as one of the best current examples of how scientific illiteracy and irrationality can be centered in a non-religious context.

  221. —- Pinochet was a dictator and he brutally oppressed people; that has nothing to do with a particular economic philosophy and has happened in all kinds of economic systems

    My, my. If it didn’t have anything to do with the economic philosophy the Pinochet junta didn’t lose any time in accepting the Chicago Boys’ offer to arrange that sector of the government.

    — (although admittedly empirically more under socialist governments). Sorbet

    Considering it was the ELECTED! Socialist President of Chile who the junta murdered because of his plans for economic reform, and not just him but thousands of other people, I
    have to conclude you’re not particularly well informed on this issue.

    Economics is a science

    Uh, huh. I see. I wonder why all of the scientists have gone quiet when asked that question.

    I forgot to ask, what did you think of Jeff Rosen’s hatchet job on Judge Sotomayor using anonymous sources? As an example of The New Republic’s “moderate centrist mentality”?

    I’ve got to be away the rest of today. Which is why I won’t be answering any more of these things.

  222. I see Kwok and McCarthy are still here post Kook fight.

    Does this mean they triumphed over JAD and Jamshed in the Grand Kook Cage match?

  223. PhysicistDave

    Marc wrote to me:
    >When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science. Now in your view that makes them false by definition. However, it actually just makes them untestable.

    I do not recall that I said that makes them “false by definition.”

    I think you are bearing false witness.

    No, where you and I differ is in your claim that “When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science.”

    Did you ever heard the old joke:
    A: If a horse is called a porpoise, what is old Bessie over there?
    B: A porpoise?
    A: No. A horse. Calling a horse a “porpoise” does not change the fact that it is still a horse.

    That is the point I have made again and again in this thread. I am well aware that people who “invoke miracles and faith” are indeed *trying* to place “their claims outside the realm of science.”

    But, as I have said, again and again, their use of the magic words “faith” and “miracle” cannot change what actually happened: words do not change physical reality.

    True believers do indeed *try* to place “their claims outside the realm of science,” but they do not succeed. Like it or not, their claims are in fact refuted by science, whether or not they invoke the weasel words “faith,” “miracle,” and “religion.”

    The debate here is a microcosm of the debate between Snow’s two cultures. Do words rule reality or are words trumped by reality? For example, post-modernism, the latest incarnation of the verbalist culture, claims that words make reality: that is why very few scientists have much patience with post-modernism. And post-modernism, after all, is simply the latest form of a view that goes back to the Christian idea that a priest can change a wafer into flesh with some magical words.

    Magical words vs. unyielding physical reality. That is the divide.

    You also wrote:
    >You don’t understand logic Dave, so it’s better that you stop embarassing yourself. I could say that to Sorbet and gillt too; your inability to even comprehend what others are saying to you is pretty amazing.

    Well… let’s see, Marc, my Ph.D. is in physics from Stanford. Where did you say your Ph.D. was from?

    With all due respect, I think I will put up my understanding of logic against yours any time!

    Dave

  224. PhysicistDave

    John Kwok wrote to me:
    >Yours is an observation of breathtaking inanity. For mere amusement, you can look at PZ’s laughable comment posted on 7/13/09 in which he lists every conceivable award he’ll never win. You were saying about my behavior….

    John, I honestly have no idea what you are talking about.

    All I can say is that if you ever showed up in any comment thread in any blog I ran, I would most assuredly delete your comments – not because we disagree, but because your posts are not comprehensible.

    Dave

  225. PhysicistDave

    Marc wrote to me:
    >When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science. Now in your view that makes them false by definition. However, it actually just makes them untestable.

    I do not recall that I said that makes them “false by definition.”

    I think you are bearing false witness.

    No, where you and I differ is in your claim that “When people invoke miracles and faith they are, by definition, placing their claims outside the realm of science.”

    Did you ever heard the old joke:
    A: If a horse is called a porpoise, what is old Bessie over there?
    B: A porpoise?
    A: No. A horse. Calling a horse a “porpoise” does not change the fact that it is still a horse.

    That is the point I have made again and again in this thread. I am well aware that people who “invoke miracles and faith” are indeed *trying* to place “their claims outside the realm of science.”

    But, as I have said, again and again, their use of the magic words “faith” and “miracle” cannot change what actually happened: words do not change physical reality.

    True believers do indeed *try* to place “their claims outside the realm of science,” but they do not succeed. Like it or not, their claims are in fact refuted by science, whether or not they invoke the weasel words “faith,” “miracle,” and “religion.”

    (This is a shortened version of a longer post that is, alas, “awaiting moderation.”)

    Dave

  226. PhysicistDave

    Marc,

    The debate here is a microcosm of the debate between Snow’s two cultures. Do words rule reality or are words trumped by reality? For example, post-modernism, the latest incarnation of the verbalist culture, claims that words make reality: that is why very few scientists have much patience with post-modernism. And post-modernism, after all, is simply the latest form of a view that goes back to the Christian idea that a priest can change a wafer into flesh with some magical words.

    Magical words vs. unyielding physical reality. That is the divide.

    You also wrote:
    >You don’t understand logic Dave, so it’s better that you stop embarassing [sic] yourself. I could say that to Sorbet and gillt too; your inability to even comprehend what others are saying to you is pretty amazing.

    Well… let’s see, Marc, my Ph.D. is in physics from Stanford. Where did you say your Ph.D. was from?

    With all due respect, I think I will put up my understanding of logic against yours any time!

    (This is a shortened version of a longer post that also is, alas, “awaiting moderation.”)

    Dave

  227. AM:

    There is a longer post of mine awaiting moderation that addresses your complaint that I’m being dishonest.

  228. PhysicistDave

    Anthony McCarthy wrote to me:
    > Parthenogenesis isn’t part of the belief. Re-reading the two gospels, I’d say they would rather definitively exclude that as a possible explanation.

    Tony, dear son, do you know any Greek?

    “Parthenogenesis” just *means* “Virgin Birth.”

    Considering that you are the advocate of unbridled verbalism here, you might at least note how words are used and where they come from!

    Dave

  229. PhysicistDave

    Anthony McCarthy wrote to me:
    > If you didn’t intend to be condescending Dave, you certainly gave that impression to me.

    I’m sure you did get that impression, and that is unavoidable.

    That is why the “accommodationist” position advocated by some here can never succeed.

    You present the typical American attitude that “everyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.” To you, someone who vehemently rejects that open, tolerant, democratic opinion is condescending.

    I understand.

    But any honest scientist *must* reject that opinion.

    I have a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford (my wife’s Ph.D. is in biology). I am over a half-century old: I have published various scientific papers and hold several patents. I have worked for many decades on various aspects of science, ranging from pure research to applied work in both military and civilian industry.

    I know enormously more than you not only about the actual content of science but also about scientific process and method.

    I know that, in terms of your oh-so-nice “democratic” ideology, for me to say this is “condescending.”

    Can’t be helped. Science is inherently and fundamentally anti-democratic. As Galileo pointed out, in matters of science, one competent scientist trumps the passionate and heartfelt beliefs of thousands of ordinary individuals.

    In your old blog, you wrote at great length about your fear that science will destroy democracy.

    That fear was well-founded.

    Personally, I have always abhorred democracy: it is the means by which the mediocre many try to impose their beliefs and wills on the intellectually superior few. I sincerely hope science does drive a stake through the heart of democracy, once and for all.

    Again, I know you consider that “condescending.” What you call “condescending” is what science is.

    Dave

  230. Sorbet

    I would like you to provide evidence that the Chicago boys advised Pinochet to murder his population in order to enforce free market policies. If you are trying to make the argument that more people have died under Pinochet’s rule or because of something to do with the Chicago boys compared to those killed by the Fuhrer, the Chairman or the Red Czar then all you are sounding like is a raving conspiracy theorist. At the very least you should provide mountains of evidence; maybe refuting some of the anlyses I pointed to would be a start. Unlike you and Klein, even if I don’t agree with all the tenets of the Chicago school I am not prone to passing extreme and misguided judgements and comparing them to the worst of totalitarian regimes. You need to examine your own knowledge before accusing me of not being well informed. But in any case, since you are an anti-free market socialist anrachist I don’t see the point of arguing with you further. You can cuddle with your issues of The Nation all you want.

  231. Sorbet

    What? McCarthy does not know the meaning of parthenogenesis?! I am shocked! I would have expected that a great humanist who is also an expert in Christian apologetics, exobiology and economics would have no problem mastering Greek and Latin roots.

  232. PhysicistDave

    Anthony wrote to me:
    >Are you really sticking up for economics as a “science”? I wonder what a, say, physicist would say about their candid opinion of economics as “science”. How about you, Dave?

    “Science” is usually used in the USA to refer to “natural science” and no one that I know of thinks that economics is a natural science.

    I actually considered changing fields to econ and had an offer to do a post-doc in econ in Britain after getting my Ph.D. in physics (shoulda taken it – I coulda been one of those “whiz kids” who got rich by wrecking the world financial system!).

    I consider Chicago-school economics to have some real strengths, but I think it suffers from a naïve positivism very much akin to your own naïve views about natural science.

    Ah… now we know where your misconceptions about science come from!

    Dave

  233. PhysicistDave

    Anthony wrote:
    > . And you know that since that’s the first thing I said in the challenge that you haven’t met but have clearly read. I said if there was physical evidence you COULD possibly address it with science but that in the absence of physical evidence the nature of what is actually believed as constituting TVB precluded you from testing the belief scientifically.

    That is your central error, Anthony, and an example of (very) naïve positivism.

    Once a scientific law has been firmly established, we indeed can and do apply it to cases for which we do not have detailed empirical measurements, contrary to your claim.

    Scientists do this all the time, practically every day of their professional lives.

    This is the central point of disagreement, and why no intelligent scientist can take your claim seriously.

    You keep repeating this point, again and again, as if it were self-evidently true and as if your repeating it again and again will actually cause us scientists to believe it.

    It is not an accurate characterization of science.

    You literally do not know what you are talking about.

    If scientists took your view seriously, science as it now exists would be destroyed.

    Dave

  234. PhysicistDave

    Marc wrote:
    >Sorbet: libertarianism (via Cato) is a good example of why I have such deep reservations about the New Athiest project. It’s a free market cult based on an extrapolation of simple axioms masquerading as science into a complex human endeavor (e.g. economics).

    Great Darwin, Marc, do you really believe that the “New Atheist project” is a “free market cult”?

    Chris Hitchens is some weird kind of Trotskyite (who can still shed a tear at the memory of the “Old Man”). PZ Myers proudly calls himself a liberal. Dawkins seems to be vaguely leftist, though I do not know the details of his political views. If Sam Harris is a libertarian, his views on Moslems certainly don’t fit.

    Now, personally, I actually am a militant hard-core, free-market anarchist (“libertarian” if you like, though I consider most “libertarians” to simply be wimpy apologists for established government).

    So, I’ll grant you that there is truly one New Atheist who more or less fits your claim.

    I’d love to say that most New Atheists share my views, but, Marc, young boy, I’ll be hogtied if I can think of even one other example beyond myself.

    Are you just making this up? Or were you just sorta free-associating when you linked Catoite libertarians (they’re the prime example of the pro-establishment “libertarians” I was mentioning) to New Atheists.

    Dave

  235. John Kwok

    @ PhysicistDave –

    Maybe you should be aware. Look here at Comment # 424 from July 12th posted here:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/09/classic-quote-from-pzs-blog-vs-classic-quote-from-realclimate/#more-2387

    Is this rational behavior, or rather, the act of a delusional nut? I would say the latter.

  236. PhysicistDave

    Anthony wrote:
    > I’m finding what Lawrence Krauss has been saying about black holes to be rather fascinating too. And not just for what it means for physics. If the evidence turns out to be that he is right or if it remains inconclusive, I think unless scientists are very careful in explaining how they might have gotten that wrong it could be far more damaging to the reputation of science than anything religion can do to it.

    Whooo boy, you really are out of it, youngster.

    Anthony, back around 1975, when I was an undergraduate, I pointed out the fact that Krauss and his guys are talking about to my own mentor in physics, the late Nobelist Richard Feynman.

    Around 1980, a post-doc at Stanford named Subhash Gupta told me that he had figured out the same thing.

    None of us bothered to publish because, quite frankly, this is very obvious stuff – obvious even to me as a callow young undergrad.

    Also, in practice, it makes essentially no difference — the black hole *almost* forms: the phenomena that everyone talks about -–the accretion disk, the intense X-rays from the accretion disk, etc. – actually do form.

    Yeah, I hope that Krauss and his guys, by finally publishing what so many of us have known for so many decades, will finally squash some of the silly pseudo-science about falling in a black hole and emerging in another universe, etc.

    But probably not – bad science fiction is just too much fun.

    And I have always wished I could get my fellow physicists to say “almost black hole,” but the nomenclature is probably too fixed to ever change.

    But, no, Anthony, this will not damage physics at all – we already knew this.

    Anthony, this is what comes of pontificating about science when you actually do not know science!

    Dave

  237. Sorbet

    Marc, the libertarians are improving. Many of them seem to now at least accept the reality of climate change. But right now they are still vociferously arguing against a carbon tax, a perspective that I don’t share with them.

  238. Sorbet

    McCarthy, I never claimed that econ is a “science” like physics or chemistry. But that does not mean there are no scientific and statistical models in econ that work. Of course when they work they usually work to everyone’s detriment but that’s a different matter…

  239. J. J. Ramsey

    PhysicistDave:

    if a contemporary human woman claimed that she was pregnant with a male child but that this was due to divine intervention without any contribution from a human male, would you agree that science shows that this could not actually happen and that that woman would be mistaken or lying?

    Biology can show that it could not happen in the absence of divine intervention, which isn’t too much help since the claim is about a purported divine intervention in the first place. Now you can argue that historically, claims of miraculous divine intervention have either been debunked or been unfeasible to falsify, but that has more to do with sociology or psychology than biology.

    This is a more important point than you might think, since apologists dismiss doubts about miracles as due to a bias supported only by circular reasoning (see here, for example), that is, the very assumption that miracles can’t happen is used as the “proof” that miracles can’t happen. It does not help when atheists actually do beg the question on miracles, especially since it is unnecessary.

  240. — Tony, dear son, do you know any Greek? “Parthenogenesis” just *means* “Virgin Birth.” PhD Dave

    No, nothing condescending there. I have a very strong feeling I’m probably older than you are, I seem to be older than most people these days.

    In your argument, you used the term in the biological sense, including that it can’t produce male offspring, your switcheroo is rather transparently self-serving. If you only meant it to mean “virgin birth” your argument using it would evaporate. If you think I’m going to be confused by that dodge, I learned about that in high school debating in the 1960s. Had you been born yet?

    —– Around 1980, a post-doc at Stanford named Subhash Gupta told me that he had figured out the same thing. PhDDave

    I’ve wondered about what implications it could have for that well known dispute between Eddington and Chandrasekhar in the 1930s, but only in the most general sense. If you look at what I said, I was only wondering what it could mean to the popular reputation of physics if black holes disappeared. My guess is that the popular reputation of physics would suffer a serious blow, considering how sold the public has been on their existence. Just think of how much of sci-fi would become meaningless. If you don’t think it would seriously shake the reputation of science in general, I’d guess you would be seriously wrong.

    What ” misconceptions about science ” are you referring to? That it was invented as a bunch of methods to obtain more reliable information about the material universe? That it can’t study things that can’t be observed, quantified, analyzed and stand up to review? That it can’t address questions which can’t be approached with its tools and methods? That eventually theoretical models have to be supported by evidence from the material universe or they can’t be known to be real? That cultural attitudes found among scientists haven’t superseded the requirements of logic? That story telling without evidence is just story telling? I’m trying to remember what else I’ve said about science. Oh, yes, that it is a human creation that doesn’t have independent existence outside of human minds? That we’ve never observed another species that practices science and it might be peculiar to our species? That, like all the systems and methods and disciplines we invent to try to understand things that all of them work for some purposes and not for others? That all systems are inherently exclusive, otherwise they can’t be systematic? That it can’t accommodate anything outside its subject matter, whether religious, political, racial, ethnic, ideological…. oh, sorry that’s a sore topic with the new atheists for whom it’s all about ideology.

    Or do you mean that I don’t think that just because a person with a PhD in some science makes assertions about things outside of their specialty it’s necessarily more reliable than if some other person says it?

    Give me an account of which of those ideas is misconceived or identify other’s I have stated by left out of that list. NOT that I expect you’ll back up what you said any more than any other new atheist I’ve ever told to back it up when they say things like that.

    — Once a scientific law has been firmly established, we indeed can and do apply it to cases for which we do not have detailed empirical measurements, contrary to your claim.

    Oh, yes, the “law of science” gambit. I wasn’t aware of a “scientific law” that precludes The Virgin Birth. Which one states that? Name it and tell how it precludes what is believed by those who believe TVB.

    —- What? McCarthy does not know the meaning of parthenogenesis?! I am shocked! I would have expected that a great humanist who is also an expert in Christian apologetics, exobiology and economics would have no problem mastering Greek and Latin roots. Sorbet

    Where did you ever get the idea I’m a humanist or that I’ve been practicing Christian apologetics here? I’ll show this to one of my theologian friends and see what he says about it. See what I said to Dave about his semantics juggling in regards to “parthenogenesis”. As to the rest, Freshman level debating tactics, how feeble. First month Freshman at that. You’d never make the varsity forensics team that way, Sorbet.

  241. — Marc, the libertarians are improving. Sorbet

    You familiar with Ron Paul on the topic of evolution?

    —- Many of them seem to now at least accept the reality of climate change. But right now they are still vociferously arguing against a carbon tax, a perspective that I don’t share with them. Sorbet

    Big improvement. At this rate well all be dead before they figure something should be done about it.

    Libertarianism is the political manifestation of people who don’t emotionally develop past the level of pre-socialized two-year-olds.

  242. Sorbet

    As to the rest, Freshman level debating tactics, how feeble. First month Freshman at that

    Yes, that’s what you call it when you yourself cannot comprehend the relevant issues. It’s called “sour grapes” by the way.

    You familiar with Ron Paul
    I am pretty sure Paul was not the one who raised his hand about not believing in evolution.

  243. AM:

    You know, I’ve really allowed myself to get caught up in the corrosive miasma of a silly debate that I’m sure still turns on semantic issues. I don’t really care to continue, partly because I don’t care to be accused of dishonesty (see #220 for the response), and partly because…well, there’s no real point in continuing.

    If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. And, of course, it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

    Best of luck to you.

  244. PhysicistDave

    J. J. Ramsey wrote to me:
    > Biology can show that it could not happen in the absence of divine intervention, which isn’t too much help since the claim is about a purported divine intervention in the first place.

    I thought that I and others had answered that question on this thread again and again.

    I will try one more time.

    The issue is whether someone by merely crying out “miracle” or “faith” or “divine intervention” thereby invalidates a conclusion reached through application of the laws of science.

    If science disproves something in the absence of religious issues, does that disproof change simply because someone now claims that it is a matter of religion?

    I claim that words cannot change reality: merely labeling something a “miracle” or “faith” or “divine intervention” can not take a fantasy and make it real.

    Those, such as McCarthy and Marc, who dispute this are faced with the fact that every result of science could then be trivially disproved: just shout out “No! Science is wrong here too! Miracle! Faith! Divine intervention!” and science loses again.

    Anyone who thinks this is merely a hypothetical possiblity should read the workds of the late Calvinist philosopher John Robbins. Robbins did in fact claim that there were no truths at all except those presented in the Bible.

    By the Marcan/McCarthyite rules, Robbins did indeed thereby disprove all of science.

    One must either give up the idea that someone’s crying out “miracle” or “faith” or “divine intervention” alters a conclusion based on science, or become a Robbinsian. (I think McCarthy is a closet Robbinsian.)

    Dave

  245. PhysicistDave

    J. J. Ramsey,

    After re-reading your post, it occurs to me that perhaps you are simply raising the issue of whether a purported miracle should be considered if and when the miracle-mongers actually offer real evidence for the miracle and are willing to have that evidence evaluated by the same standards of rigor applied in science.

    That point is not under dispute: in that case, it would just be a normal matter of scientific investigation.

    Bit it’s moot: I know of no case where religious believers have offered such a proposal.

    In the case of the Virgin Birth, for example, none of our earliest sources mention it; only two later sources mention it; those two sources disagree with each other (and external historical evidence) on countless points; the Virgin birth story echoes countless pagan myths; etc.

    If the Virgin Birth tale were not accorded special consideration because of the magic words “miracle,” “faith,” etc., it would not even pass the proverbial “laugh test.”

    Scientists do not dispute that a “miracle” with real evidence deserves consideration. The problem rather is countless religionists who demand that the mere fact that a “miracle” is claimed makes the “miracle” plausible when it would not be plausible if it were merely claimed as an odd, unexplained natural event.

    The most important point is that the evidence required depends on the already existing evidence that such things do not normally occur: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – that is a basic principle of science.

    Miracle-mongers want to escape that standard of rigor by claiming that “divine intervention” excuses them from the huge burden of evidence that would weigh down any non-religious person claiming a Virgin birth, Resurrection, etc. simply as unexpected, surprising natural phenomena

    Dave

  246. PhysicistDave

    J. J. Ramsey,

    I wrote an addendum that is “awaiting moderation” that is essentially part of my first post to you. so you might want to wait to read it before responding (if it never escapes “moderation,” I’ll post it in pieces).

    Dave

  247. PhysicistDave

    J. C. Samuelson,

    You wrote to AM:
    > well, there’s no real point in continuing.

    What I think is more interesting here than AM’s behavior (he’s probably an OK guy as a next-door neighbor if you only talk about the weather!) is what it says about the broader issues that Chris and Sheril are interested in.

    AM has been corrected numerous times by some of us who know enormously more about science than he does: I don’t note him ever accepting those corrections or acknowledging that someone who knows more than he is more likely to be right.

    Why?

    I don’t think it is just a personal idiosyncrasy of AM’s. I think it goes to the “belief in belief” that some of the New Atheists have discussed.

    To most Americans, the idea that you are not entitled to an opinion on some subject because you know nothing at all about that subject is, well, unAmerican.

    That’s not all bad: the “experts” are indeed sometimes fools, and even when they are not, the media often pretends there is a consensus among the experts when there is not. I have seen this happen in my own field in superstring theory (for a while, the media treated it as a real theory – it is in fact a very interesting speculation) and also in global warming (we are almost certainly making the climate warmer than it otherwise would be, but the computer modeling, data analyses, etc. are much more complicated than almost anyone in the media allows — all sides want a soundbite instead of the whole messy truth).

    The “belief in belief” lets a healthy skepticism towards experts go completely wild and results in,well, Anthony McCarthy.

    I think the profound issue raised by the New Atheists is not atheism per se but this issue of the all-American “belief in belief.”

    Dave

  248. PhysicistDave

    McCarthy wrote to me:
    >What ” misconceptions about science ” are you referring to? [followed by a long list of his misconceptions]

    I’d say that it is pretty much all wrong, except for the parts that were so confused as to be meaningless.

    But, no, I am not going to waste my time explaining why, because you have proved you will not listen.

    I’ve run into quite a few of you anti-science true believers during the last fifty years, and I have finally learned (from the heroic Richard Dawkins) that it is not my job to get you to understand science.

    You guys take the tack that we Ph.D.s are fools unless we can convince you, to **your** satisfaction, that we are not fools. This of course is impossible since you guys are unwilling to go to the hard work of actually learning something about science.

    This is backwards. We are the scientists. We know science. We do not have to prove something to you know-nothings.

    If anyone has anything to prove, young’n, it is you.

    I am willing on occasion to explain some things I know about science, for free, to non-scientists who are willing to try to learn.

    But I am not willing to tolerate an indefinite stream of verbal abuse from people like you who think that your extreme, unfathomable ignorance of science is a license that justifies your berating me.

    You made quite explicit on your old blog that you will be quite happy to sacrifice science to save your somewhat eccentric political projects. I agree that science threatens your political goals: indeed, I am confident that science will make the sort of “democracy” you yearn for, in the terms you describe it, quite impossible.

    Anthony, I do not think you will like the future human life and culture that will result from the ultimate hegemony of science.

    Not at all.

    Bye, Tony.

    Dave

  249. PhysicistDave

    John Kwok,

    Since you raise the older thread, let me relate the discussion there to the little food fight on this thread.

    Chris’s original post that opened that thread stated:
    >Yes, well, this whole mindset is precisely what we wrote a book against. The blame the public mindset. The it’s not our fault, we’re the smart people mindset.

    Yes, that is indeed my attitude.

    Those of us who have Ph.D.s in real science from real universities, such as PZ and myself, have gone to a great deal of personal time, expense, and work to acquire something of real value – knowledge of natural science, the only large-scale, solid, systematic knowledge humans have ever attained about reality.

    I’m willing to share that thing of value with my fellow human beings for appropriate remuneration – as a professor, a tutor, a researcher in industry, etc.

    I am often even willing to share it for free with my fellow humans when the mood strikes me.

    But *I* went to the trouble to gain that knowledge: I do not owe it to random people to give it to them for free, and I certainly do not owe it to obnoxious people who insist on insulting me, who demand that I prove to their satisfaction that their mistakes in science are indeed mistakes, etc.

    Believe me, PZ and I and most scientists who interact with the general public have gone through such experiences again and again.

    And we are tired of it.

    Yes, ignorance of science is the fault of the public, not our fault. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature can learn basic science if he or she wishes, through the Web, public libraries, etc.

    We are actually willing to help some people, on occasion, if they show some respect for the hard work we have gone through and the knowledge we have acquired.

    But if they insist on treating us with contempt, berating us for our lack of faith or spiritual values or whatever, well, let’em live without science.

    I don’t care about such people. Let them refuse vaccinations, reject scientific medicine, and waste a good fraction of their income on religious charlatans.

    It’s not my problem.

    For a lot of us, this “New Atheist” thing is simply a very personal matter of announcing that we personally are fed up and are not going to take it any longer.

    And that is why we are a bit less than receptive to Chris’s and Sheril’s message.

    You see where we are coming from?

    Dave

  250. —- Yes, that’s what you call it when you yourself cannot comprehend the relevant issues. It’s called “sour grapes” by the way. Sorbet

    Oddly, I don’t feel in any way interested in those grapes you seem to think are in some way yours.

    J.C. Samuelson, I was merely taking seriously the assertions by the new atheists about the supremacy of science over belief and that, by virtue of the superior ability of science to provide reliable information thorough rigorous methods and practices, that belief should die out and science should win. I figured, since the great hero of new atheism, Richard Dawkins and a series of new atheists on several blogs, asserted that TVB of Jesus was a belief that could be disposed of by scientific means, or through mathematical probability, that I’d ask them to rigorously demonstrate that. I’ll give you credit for at least trying to come up with something more than “you’re stupid”. But, as I’m sure you found when trying to get around those three aspects of the belief to address the belief with science, you found it was impossible. Your resort to asserting ideological positions instead of coming up with a methodology or a mathematical demonstration of the probability of it happening, however, doesn’t get science or mathematics any closer to debunking other peoples’ belief.

    P.D. I haven’t berated anyone for a lack of faith, I’ve pointed out that your assertions about the universal applicability of science is clearly an ideological belief. You’ve got faith, you just don’t want to admit it’s faith or that it’s not, in itself, a scientific ideal.

    You, as the other new atheists I’ve encountered can’t deal with someone looking carefully at what you say and testing it for its logical coherence. In the face of that you fall back into a lazy habit of assuming that your opponent has to hold all kinds of extreme positions, you just can’t conceive of someone not agreeing with you because your ideas aren’t as sound as you’d like to think they are. Your lecture at 248 was so entirely off the mark in regards to my position that I’m afraid you’ve created a fictitious version of me for your own comfort, Davey.

    I’m not worried about the ultimate hegemony of science, I don’t think it’s got a prayer of happening because science can’t address huge parts of life that fall outside of its abilities and subject matter, which is matter. As I usually get around to pointing out, science can’t produce or explain the need for the separation of church and state, or in your fantasy future, of ideology and state. It not only can’t be used to produce political equality, it has frequently been used to argue against it. It can’t produce a single civil right unaided by the a priori belief in the inherent rights of people. As seen in our various go rounds, it can’t even produce your scientistic ideology. From the observation of real life, I don’t think science can do more than it actually can, that it is compatible with religion (those religious scientists aren’t a figment of my imagination) or that it is insusceptible to being twisted by an irrational and unreflective ideology. In the end, science is only as honest or good as the people who are doing it.

    You think I’m afraid for beliefs I don’t hold and that I’m afraid of a future I don’t believe will ever happen.

    I’ll have to rely on other people to be more specific about the faults of that list of items about science and to produce the “law of science” that specifically disallows The Virgin Birth for those who believe that happened.

  251. Just got an answer from my theolog pal. He says it would be pretty odd for me to practice “Christian apologetics” given that I don’t hold the requisite beliefs to be a Christian. Though he holds out some hope, he’s not holding his breath. He can’t see that I was doing anything but what I said I was doing.

  252. Sorbet

    Sorry, but that lame excuse does not cut it; you have clearly shown a slavish interested in the grapes. I am starting to get convinced that you just pretend not to be a Christian in order to throw everyone off track and keep on justifying and defending bronze age myths. And the discussion about science as applied to civil right is simply a deflection from the original point that virgin births are resurrections lie within the scientific domain.

  253. Marc

    Dave: one of the dangers of making assumptions about other people on the internet is that you can be badly mistaken. PhD in physics? Good for you. Me? Suffice it to say: Full professor at a major research university, 150+ publications (I prefer the astrophysical journal), 6,000+ citations. I didn’t bring it up because I don’t want to wave my CV around like a weapon in an online discussion. I trust my words to hold up for themselves. I think that you’ve presented repeated evidence that you haven’t thought deeply about the scientific method, its assumptions, and its limitations. And you’re clearly not seeing the dangers of extrapolating scientific approaches to complex areas where clean experiments are extraordinarily difficult.

    I’m not at all surprised that you’re a free market cultist – excuse me, libertarian. The logical structure of the arguments they use – namely, that you can draw conclusions about everything from a handful of simple axioms – is extremely familiar. The rest of us think “I’ve got mine Jack” isn’t a sound basis for a society. It can be fun to get them to dig themselves into a hole arguing for personal nuclear weapons, or against public schools, but I’m not in a malicious mood right now.

    You don’t appear to even understand the arguments that other people are presenting here. I was making the point that it’s entirely possible for people to develop irrational and anti-scientific worldviews without religion, and libertarianism is a very good example. The anti-scientific behavior of libertarians on the subject of climate change has been especially persistent and blatant. I expect them to disagree with the required economic policies, but for some reason it’s so threatening that they adopt creationist denial tactics.

  254. John Kwok

    @ PhysicistDave –

    Maybe a bit of humility might help. I can point to my own degrees earned at Ivy and PAC – 10 institutions, but that really make me better than most people? I don’t think so. It is exactly the sentiment I heard from Columbia University – trained vertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero when he spoke here in New York City back in January. He said the only ones “hung up” with Ph. D. degrees are creationists; in private life, when he is not working as a geology and vertebrate paleobiology professor, he wishes to be known simply as Mr. Prothero.

  255. John Kwok

    @ PhysicistDave –

    While PZ was right to condemn the mistreatment of a student by Catholics, it was inappropriate and quite wrong to respond with “CrackerGate”.

  256. Davo

    Prothero might be unassuming and humble but citing him as proof is proof by authority. Having a PhD. in the sciences from a respected university does not indicate in any way that one is “superior” but it just makes it more likely that such a person is trained in using logic and the scientific method. Accusing him of being illogical needs evidence; the burden of proof is on the accuser here.

  257. AM:

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I take issue with your unwillingness to consider potential faults in your challenge, your interpretation of the assertions that prompted it, and your casual disregard of questions and concerns put to you. It is not I who is trying to “get around” any requirements, it is you and those who feel that the limited nature of science translates into being mute even with respect to its own domain who are trying to “get around” having to give a rigorous account justifying belief. Provided, that is, the claims in question originate with a religious apprehension of the world. Thus, you apparently have what Dave characterized as “belief in belief.”

    That’s your business, of course, and though I find your intransigence frustrating that’s not your problem.

    In essence, I’m agreeing to disagree with you, and do not need your approbation. I find your arguments laced with the hubris of one who is clearly intelligent, generally well-informed, and widely read, yet who casually ignores complex and sometimes subtle distinctions in favor of a more rigid and self-centered estimation of important issues. Your salient points – and there are more than a few – get lost in the fog of pomposity that seems to permeate your writing. While some of this may have something to do with the limited nature of online text communication, it’s not in my interest to continue engaging in a largely fruitless effort.

    A few years ago I’d sworn off these kinds of debates because of their capacity to be draining, and I’m sorry to have allowed myself to be drawn in so easily.

    And yes, that is my own set of “sour grapes.”

  258. — I am starting to get convinced that you just pretend not to be a Christian in order to throw everyone off track and keep on justifying and defending bronze age myths. Sorbet

    Hey, I think they were considerably past “bronze age” by the time the Virgin Birth is supposed to have happened.

    Why do you think I’d be interested in people not thinking I was a Christian if I was one. I was always under the impression that you were supposed to say you were a Christian, to not put your lamp under a bushel, as it were.

    I:
    1. Don’t believe that the Virgin Birth happened, though I respect the rights of anyone who does believe that to believe it.
    2. I don’t belive in vicarious atonement.
    3. I don’t really have any beliefs about the Resurrection, since I’ve never really studied that in depth.
    4. I don’t believe in the sacraments, though I respect peoples’ right to believe what they do.
    5. I think the institutional Christian churches sold out the radical egalitarian agenda attributed to Jesus in the gospels, large numbers of “Christians” seem to pretty much ignore what Jesus said.

    I could go on.

    What you don’t understand are people who don’t insist that everyone has to believe the same things they do.

    The rest of it is just experimenting to see how far from actual science the new atheism is, it gets farther every time we go through these exercises.

    P. Dave , Thinking about what you said some more, I think what I see is that far from upholding the integrity of science, you , as gillt and a number of others are actually peeved that not everyone is sufficiently deferential and respectful to the new caste that a lot of you figure scientists deserve to fill. Obviously, you want to displace the equivalent of the Brahmin caste in modern society, and like the arrogant priest class of the past, you insist on all the rights and privileges due you. Well, prepare yourself for a shocker, not everyone see it the same way.

  259. John Kwok

    @ Davo –

    Where did I say that PhysicistDave was illogical? I didn’t. But rightly or wrongly, there is a longstanding American tradition of being skeptical of authority, and someone with a Ph. D. in physics from Stanford University who insists that one should listen to him because of his credentials than other, equally eminent, scientists like Prothero who do express such humility. Moreover, the contempt and arrogance displayed all too often by “New Atheist” scientists may be a important reason why Darwin’s work isn’t accepted by nearly half of Great Britain’s population. I would submit respectfully that being a more thoughtful, more reflective atheist like, for example, Eugenie Scott and Barbara Forrest, may prove to be the “right approach” eventually, not the all too vocal displays of intolerance demonstrated frequently by “New Atheists” (For this reason alone I believe the term “Militant Atheist” is far more appropriate.).

  260. John Kwok

    @ Davo –

    Just to complete my train of thought here:

    But rightly or wrongly, there is a longstanding American tradition of being skeptical of authority, and someone with a Ph. D. in phsycis from Stanford University who insists that one should listen to him because of his credentials might have a far less receptive audience than other, equally eminent, scientists like Prothero who do express such humility (In fact, having heard many noted scientists for years – especially in the course of my graduate education – the ones who stood out the most were indeed among the most accomplished and who were also the most humble.).

  261. John Kwok

    PS to my last comment –

    Yes, I know I misspelled physics. Sorry about that.

  262. In a comment waiting to come out of moderation, I attribute it to resentment of insufficient deference to the new “scientist” caste they figure is due them from we lower caste types. I think that’s at the bottom of a lot of it.

  263. Sorbet

    “Moreover, the contempt and arrogance displayed all too often by “New Atheist” scientists may be a important reason why Darwin’s work isn’t accepted by nearly half of Great Britain’s population”

    In the absence of evidence this statement can be nothing more than wishful speculation. Let us see; which factor is more responsible for half of Great Britain not accepting evolution, religious dogmatism, simple ignorance, or the small minority of people known as New Atheists. Let me seee…Occam’s Razor says I should not go with “New Atheists”.

    “resentment of insufficient deference”
    Sure! Blame it on the elitist PhDs when you cannot argue logically. Sorry McCarthy, sour grapes again. You need to think of a new excuse.

  264. John Kwok

    @ Sorbet –

    Ultimately the best way of supporting or rejecting my assertion is by some kind of sociological research (A point I have made previously to Peter Beattie incidentally.). But, I have heard several eminent expatriate British historians and philosophers of science express virtually identical views to mine.

  265. Sorbet, why do you think I feel the need of an excuse at all. I’m not embarrassed by anything I’ve said here. I’m not only uppity, I’m shameless about it.

    I don’t mind PhD’s except when they expect me to accept any baloney they want to force onto me and think I owe them deference. They want me to defer to them they can stop with the baloney.

  266. Sorbet

    Ah, good that you finally accepted your uppity elitism. Now keep on calling scientists uppity, the revolutionary underdog that you are. And of course, keep on believing that anybody can make up in a book is always beyond scientific inquiry.

    Kwok, keep up the citations from eminent people! That will make your case very well. Where logic and reason do not work, deference to authority always does. Oh wait, I forget, you don’t defer only to PhDs in physics from Stanford, but eminent British historians and philosophers seem to fully meet your criteria for slavish admiration.

  267. Sorbet, have you considered a career in writing really bad cable TV shows?

  268. Sorbet

    I have, but why bother when I can instead spend time responding to your erudite opinions right here.

  269. It’s your business how you spend your time, just as it is people who practice religion. It’s a free country, despite your dearest hopes.

  270. Sorbet

    You are the one who wants to stop people from being critical and questioning scared cows. I would want to provide them with that freedom.

  271. I’ll leave it to others who might read this to decide which one of us has the more active imagination in regard to their self-image.

  272. Sorbet

    Imagination is not the same as reality

  273. PhysicistDave

    John Kwok wrote to me:
    >Maybe a bit of humility might help.

    Yes, John, a little bit of humility on your part would help, but I doubt anyone on earth will ever see that.

    By the way, John, I have never interacted with you before, as far as I recall, but I ran across your reputation on the Web some time ago on other sites.

    I no longer have any interest in communicating with you: PZ was clearly right to ban you from his blog.

    Dave

  274. PhysicistDave

    Sorbet,

    One humorous thing to keep in mind here: you and I and PZ and Richard Dawkins want nothing at all from Kwok, Marc, and the other McCarthyites here. I certainly do not want them on my side in any debate, so I deeply hope they continue disagreeing with us.

    On the other hand, they do want something from all the New Atheists: they want us to shut up.

    This is a strategic situation they cannot win: as long as PZ, Dawkins, and all the rest of us continue speaking out, as we surely will, the McCarthyites fail to get what they want.

    And since we want nothing at all from them, they lack the power to deny us anything we want.

    It’s kind of sad when one side in a game cannot win and the other side cannot lose.

    On the other hand, they are the ones who are choosing to play such a silly game.

    And their girlish pique is pretty funny.

    Dave

  275. PhysicistDave

    John Kwok,

    Just for the record, I’ll note that I did follow up on your request yesterday to me:
    > Maybe you should be aware. Look here at Comment # 424 from July 12th posted here:
    [snip]
    > Is this rational behavior, or rather, the act of a delusional nut? I would say the latter.

    I read the comment you link to (a comment by PZ Myers).

    PZ’s comment strikes me as perfectly rational behavior by a very bright guy who goes to a great deal of trouble to educate the public about scientific issues and who has become a wee bit irritated trying to deal with people such as Anthony McCarthy (as have I).

    My heart goes out to PZ.

    Honestly, PZ’s post was a mildly sarcastic (but truthful) response to a sarcastic (but I take it truthful) post by you.

    If you can use sarcasm, so can he.

    Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

    A lot of the pro-religion, anti-science folks seem to think that Ph.D.s such as PZ and I are required to be purer than the new-fallen snow no matter what dirt is hurled at us.

    Sorry, but the whole point of the New Atheism is that we intend to give as good as we get: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

    Eminently fair and, I think, eminently sane.

    Your behavior is well-known around the Web; I am surprised PZ tolerated it as long as he did.

    I would have been less generous than he.

    Dave

  276. John Kwok

    @ PhysicistDave –

    You’re praising PZ after he condemned Ken Miller as a “creationist” and did “CrackerGate”? That’s hysterically funny, worthy of note on the Colbert Report.

  277. Mock on, mock on PD, Sorbet, Mock on, mock on, tis all in vain.

    And you ain’t exactly Voltaire, not even Rousseau either.

    Marc answered you best above: you’ve presented repeated evidence that you haven’t thought deeply about the scientific method, its assumptions, and its limitations. And you’re clearly not seeing the dangers of extrapolating scientific approaches to complex areas where clean experiments are extraordinarily difficult.

  278. TTT

    The “New Atheists”‘ shrillness gives all of science a very, very poor reputation in middle America.

    Hogwash. Transparent hogwash. Such thoroughly transparent hogwash that I do not for one second think the reviewer himself sincerely believes it. I also don’t think Chris, Sheril, or any of their defenders sincerely believe it either. It’s just a cheap politicized potshot, in willful denial of basic realities.

    “New Atheists” have been around for, what, 3 years? Before they were around, the lay-public was just as ignorant and hostile to scientists as they are now. The lay-public has been scientifically illiterate forever, because they aren’t scientists. Just like how they aren’t aviation engineers and thus cannot build airplane engines. If the interpersonal behavioral habits of actual aviation engineers were to change for better or for worse, it would have no effect on any random layperson’s ability to build an airplane engine.

    (I know this will break Chris’ & Sheril’s hearts because they hearken back to some wonderful golden age when Carl Sagan turned everybody in the world into some Vulcan quantum physicist, except this actually never happened. Sagan’s time was a “golden age” of science literacy like Howard Cosell’s years were a “golden age” for sportscasting. It’s just rosy-glassed generational snobbery. If anything, things are BETTER now with Dawkins, Myers, etc. around–there are more people and thus a larger potential audience, there are more avenues of communication and education, and our level of actual knowledge in and of itself has increased as well. Then again, Brian Williams could do everything Walter Cronkite ever did, but it just wouldn’t be as teary-eyed romantic from the culture snobs out there.)

  279. Sorbet

    And you have demonstrated that you have not thought about the scientific method at all, so that you cannot even understand that it’s applicable in situations which clearly represent elements of physical reality (even if experiments may not be ‘clean’)

  280. Sorbet, maybe you’d like to answer that list of questions about scientific method I asked P. D. Let’s see the product of your thinking on the subject.

  281. —- The lay-public has been scientifically illiterate forever, because they aren’t scientists. TTT

    Yeah. But you’re not talking about scientific illiteracy if you’re talking about hostility and a bad reputation. Some of the new atheists have achieved quite a bit of hostility and have a bad reputation with other scientists, often within their own field. Pinker would be one example, Dawkins another, and we’re not even talking about their atheist-political stuff there.

    The new atheists are just the johnny-come-latelys of a longer tradition of atheism that loves to insult people in order to feel good about themselves. That’s been going on for more than two centuries. They’ve got a lot more attention for themselves and have tried shackle science to their agenda and antics in a way I don’t remember previous atheists attempting. Largely on the PR campaign putting people with relatively big names in front of their effort.
    Most disastrously of all, for science, is that they’ve hijacked evolution as their great weapon in their war on religious belief. As a result, the public acceptance of evolution is seriously in trouble.

    You don’t have to have 100% of the blame to be a big part of a problem. The new atheists aren’t completely to blame for the trouble acceptance of evolution is having, but they’re a complete disaster for its public acceptance.

  282. Sorbet

    McCarthy, we already answered them; you don’t seem to understand the simple proposition that science can be applied to physical events. That’s not even a kindergarten understanding of science. What more could you not know?

  283. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorbet, where did you answer these questions about my understanding of science:

    What ” misconceptions about science ” are you referring to? That it was invented as a bunch of methods to obtain more reliable information about the material universe? That it can’t study things that can’t be observed, quantified, analyzed and stand up to review? That it can’t address questions which can’t be approached with its tools and methods? That eventually theoretical models have to be supported by evidence from the material universe or they can’t be known to be real? That cultural attitudes found among scientists haven’t superseded the requirements of logic? That story telling without evidence is just story telling? I’m trying to remember what else I’ve said about science. Oh, yes, that it is a human creation that doesn’t have independent existence outside of human minds? That we’ve never observed another species that practices science and it might be peculiar to our species? That, like all the systems and methods and disciplines we invent to try to understand things that all of them work for some purposes and not for others? That all systems are inherently exclusive, otherwise they can’t be systematic? That it can’t accommodate anything outside its subject matter, whether religious, political, racial, ethnic, ideological…. oh, sorry that’s a sore topic with the new atheists for whom it’s all about ideology.
    Or do you mean that I don’t think that just because a person with a PhD in some science makes assertions about things outside of their specialty it’s necessarily more reliable than if some other person says it?

    I think Marc was right, you guys don’t understand the foundations of scientific method. Which would have surprised me before I started looking at new atheist blogs.

  284. Sorbet

    McCarthy,

    Ironically the answer to most of your questions (especially the ones dealing with material applications of science) is “Yes”. That is precisely why science can be applied to the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. Nice that you made my case, thanks. And the point about ideology made me laugh, since your ideological blatherings have graced this and many other comment sections for so long.

  285. TTT

    The new atheists are just the johnny-come-latelys of a longer tradition of atheism that loves to insult people in order to feel good about themselves. That’s been going on for more than two centuries.

    Uh huh.

    You know and I know that you can’t possibly cite any actual evidence comparing the general public’s scientific literacy and/or “non-hostility” 200 years ago versus today. 200 years ago even “scientists” weren’t very scientifically literate, what with how germs hadn’t been discovered, malaria was named after the bad air thought to cause it, and medicine mostly consisted of bleeding.

    Most disastrously of all, for science, is that they’ve hijacked evolution as their great weapon in their war on religious belief. As a result, the public acceptance of evolution is seriously in trouble.

    Evolutionary theory was first published nearly 60 years AFTER you claim these evil people hijacked it. Maybe they were so scientifically literate they actually invented a time machine?

    Your claims show no real knowledge of the history of science. Particularly in America, people have been fighting against the teaching of evolution since schools first started trying it, since Scopes ad infinitum.

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About Chris Mooney

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

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