When Stating The Obvious Is Most Important

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 3, 2009 11:40 am

Ken Miller has composed a thought-provoking essay about our book entitled, Unscientific America? A Few Thoughts on a Book and its Critics. He begins by considering some central themes:

..In an age when traditional media like newspapers and television have been shedding their science journalists, there can be little doubt that their core thesis is spot on.  As they note, to make matters even worse, the scientific community itself harbors ingrained prejudices and resentments against those whom, like Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould, some regard as mere “popularizers” of the discipline.

And is justly critical on certain points as well:

To be sure, there are problems with this book.  It’s a lightweight – just 132 pages.  It’s too glib – solving science illiteracy and scientific underemployment at a stroke is more than a bit of a stretch.  And the demotion of Pluto from planetary status misfires as an example of scientific illiteracy.

However, most notably, Miller provides perspective on Chapter 8 and the controversy that has ensued over science and religion:

..Myers and his supporters have reacted to these 12 pages of Unscientific America with extraordinary levels of outrage (see, for example, Myers’ final response to the book).  Having read much of their criticism, I reread the book and the offending chapter to search for slander and personal attacks that could merit such outrage.  But I couldn’t find them.  In fact, I couldn’t find anything personal about Myers, Dawkins, or any of the other so-called “new atheists.”  Instead, Mooney and Kirshenbaum make the rather unremarkable point that Myers’ actions in desecrating that communion host were “incredibly destructive and unnecessary.”  They further observe that such events set “the cause backward by exacerbating tensions between the scientific community and many American Christians.”  This assessment seems to me to be exactly right.

Here’s the crucial part:

While Myers and others may advance the argument that religious faith is the arch-enemy of scientific rationalism, this doesn’t imply that insult and ridicule are appropriate tools with which to defend science. Similarly, the blunt tactics of such folks are no reason to reject the “new atheists” as advocates for science, as Unscientific America seems to do, and as others have explicitly suggested.  Scientific rationality is too important a cause to limit participation in its defense.  We need each and every voice in our society to speak up for science, no exceptions.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum are right that the tactics of bloggers like Myers have surely reinforced creationist claims about the nature of the scientific enterprise.  It is for that reason that the producers of Ben Stein’s notorious anti-evolution movie “Expelled” were delighted to feature PZ Myers in that film.  Myers’ anti-religious views made a perfect foil for the scientific and historical nonsense dished up by “Expelled,” and that’s the unremarkable point highlighted by Mooney and Kirshenbaum.  They had the nerve to point that out, and that’s why we’ve got a brawl in the scientific blogosphere.  It’s a brawl, unfortunately, that will only serve to weaken the public case for science, no matter who hangs in there for the last word.

Miller understands why it’s necessary to move the book’s message into the public consciousness and as he explains, ‘there are times when stating the obvious is the most important thing one can do.’ Read the full article here.

MORE ABOUT: Ken Miller

Comments (139)

  1. Observer

    Although I’m a regular reader of Pharyngula, Miller’s comments quoted here strike me as cogent and balanced. They are considerably better than his response to Sam Harris in the NYT, which completely failed to address the arguments that Harris advanced, and significanly misrepresented what Harris had to say.

    I don’t agree, however, that the brawl “will only serve to weaken the public case for science.” For one thing, the impact of the blogosphere on the greater public consciousness regarding science is probably pretty minimal. For another, science, in a sense, is all about the brawl. Letting the public see that science, or in this case perhaps philosphy of science, is a lively, vigorous, often contentious endeavor is not a negative, it’s a plus.

  2. ShowsOn

    Where is the evidence that supports this claim?
    “Mooney and Kirshenbaum are right that the tactics of bloggers like Myers have surely reinforced creationist claims about the nature of the scientific enterprise.”

    More likely, a creationist wouldn’t give critical thought to anything Myers writes, if they did, they wouldn’t be a creatonist.

  3. Observer

    I’d also like to note that, while Miller presumably does not agree with the “new atheist” critique of himself, he does appear to generally agree with the “new atheist” critique of UA. Much of the anger from the “new atheists” seems to come from the perception that they’re being told to shut up, a charge that the authors deny. Here we find even Miller stating that M & K seem to be rejecting the “new atheists” as advocates for science.

    In addition, Miller echoes the critiques offers by Myers and Coyne regarding UA’s faults. When Myers and Coyne make the same criticism, they’re shrill and nasty, but when Miller makes them, he’s “justly critical.” A curious double standard.

  4. Observer, yes, if you’re looking to the substance of things. But M/K are looking for a fresh infusion of postcount++, so real or imaginary tone is what’s shakin’.

    Favorite Miller: “It’s a brawl, unfortunately, that will only serve to weaken the public case for science, no matter who hangs in there for the last word.”

    That’s an interesting opinion. I read in a book somewhere that the aloofness of science from the public discourse was a significant cause of scientific illiteracy. I forget what it was… I think it was called Nonsciencey USA or something like that. Can anyone help me out on this one?

  5. Dave C

    So since you took the time to post this, I’m assuming that your response to Jason Rosenhouse’s polite, well-reasoned critique of Chapter 8 will be next. Right?

  6. Miller doesn’t go for your scapegoating, then, does he?

    It’s one thing to note that Myers’ action was unnecessarily offensive and quite another to write as if it were more than a footnote in the silliness that often is the web.

    While I might disagree with some details, I find what Miller wrote to, on the whole, be quite a fair commentary on the imbroglio.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  7. Sorbet

    Miller’s criticism is right on spot. I also thought that the biggest problem with the book is that it’s lightweight and glib and lacks intellectual sophistication, and of course, as Miller notes, the Pluto example is a really lame and flippant example to illustrate the problems with scientific communication and illiteracy.

    While one may or may not agree with what Miller says about Myers and “Expelled”, one has to note that Ben Stiller’s quip in the movie that included Myers was more kooky and ridiculous than almost anything that Myers has said or done.

    “When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. 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 … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.”

    This is beyond anything that Myers or anyone else has said. It should also be noted that Ben Stein would have uttered this nonsense even if there had been another scientist in Myers’s place.

  8. Skeptic

    Again, Miller simply has an opinion but provides no objective evidence that the so-called “New Atheists” are actually hampering science communication and are harming the cause of science. For instance, where are the statistics that show that Richard Dawkins has turned more people away from science than toward it?

  9. laserboy

    I would call that review “Damming with faint praise”

  10. To 3 and 7 who, like others, are asking over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over for “objective evidence”: please. This is not a chemistry experiment.

    Try to see all this debate as a social science one. You wouldn’t ask for objective evidence in an History seminar, aren’t you? If somebody was telling you that the lack of Historical knowledge was a huge problem for the future of the American society, and if you were intuitively in agreement with that statement, you would be willing to search for solutions, aren’t you?

  11. Observer

    Sorbet @8,

    While Ben Stiller deserves whatever scorn can be heaped upon him for making “Night at the Museum,” your target is actually Ben Stein ;)

  12. Um, Pascal, yes, you would ask for evidence if you were in a social science seminar — and you’d be right to, since it’s a social science question.

  13. John Kwok

    Not surprisingly I agree with Ken’s take on Chris and Sheril’s book, which is why I will be donating my review copy to the Stuyvesant High School library once classes are back in session next month. However, I wish Ken would have gone further to criticize them for invoking Carl Sagan.

  14. Marc

    No evidence will satisfy, of course, because the question is not posed in good faith. You’ve been told repeatedly by people that they’re personally put off by the intolerance and the attitude. You’ve been given social science links on how confrontational approaches make people dig in and make them less likely to change. The fundamentalists use the words of folks like Dawkins in their recruiting materials, etc. etc. The approach is contrary to what people use in marketing and what churches use in prosletyzing – and both of these groups care very much about effectiveness. Fringe cases like the nut yelling about hell on the streetcorner stick out because they’re rare.

    Is there some evidence that attacking someone’s religious beliefs as superstitious twaddle is an effective way to change their mind? Or is the game only allowed to be played in one direction?

    Chad Orzel had a good comment on this point

    (taken from http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2008/04/the_cost_of_not_framing.php)
    ————————————————————-
    “”Science Avenger” I too waited patiently to hear an answer to RJs original request for specific examples of what PZ and Dawkins do that warrants such offense at what they say, and as usual, we got squat.
    ———————————————-
    And you’ll continue to get nothing.

    This is what I think of as the “You haven’t read the right Heinlein” game, from my days on Usenet. People would turn up, and comment that they didn’t like some book by Heinlein, only to be told “No, no– that’s not the one you should read, you should read this other book.” And when the original poster didn’t like that one, either, there was another one, and another one, and another one… The man wrote a whole lot of books, so this could go on for quite a long time.

    The same bullshit game has been going on with Mooney and Nisbet and “framing.” They write a perfectly clear post, and people make a big show of not understanding it. They follow up with another perfectly clear post, and it’s still somehow mystifying. They give examples, and the examples aren’t specific enough. They give more examples, and those don’t apply for some reason. And on, and on, and on.

    The game never ends. I’m sure the Hoofnagles have a card for it when this crap is pulled by global warming denialists– it’s the same pathetic routine. No mountain of proof, no list of examples will ever suffice, and at the end of the day, the person being beseiged has spent hours battling picayune objections, but still “hasn’t given any evidence to support the claim.”

    The only way to avoid losing is not to play. So feel free to skip right to the part where you tell everyone I’m an irrational meanie who hates Myers and Dawkins for no good reason, and stop wasting my time.”
    ———————————————————————————————-

  15. Physicalist

    Well, Miller (and perhaps Chris and Sheril) might get some clues regarding why the attack on Myers merits outrage from Jason Rosenhouse:

    I’d say there’s a big difference between hurling profanity at religious believers generally, and hurling it only at the small subset making death threats. Wouldn’t you?

    I know I would. Would Chris and Sheril?

    I’ll also repeat the point I made there, which is that in intellectually responsible circles we don’t ignore the justification for our opponents’ claims and actions. The book neglects completely the motivation behind Myers’ obtaining and disposing of the wafer. Here’s the sum total of the book’s account:

    Myers was staggered and disgusted by all the hoopla over a “frackin cracker.”

    This is intellectually dishonest, because it ignores the fact that Myers was outraged that a person was being attacked by people who think that a wafer is a god. They were accusing Cook of kidnapping and hate crimes, and threatening him with expulsion, violence, and death. This is completely obscured by the above dismissive gloss.

    This is what makes your attack personal: you are attacking the action while dishonestly ignoring the justification for that action. In intellectually responsible circles, it is extremely offensive (uncivil, if you like) to misrepresent or ignore someone’s reasoning, more offensive by far than mere profanity.

    How would you feel if someone included a book chapter arguing that Mooney and Kirshenbaum have blamed the problem of scientific illiteracy on atheist scientists? “Don’t they realize that most scientists are atheists? What fools they are for alienating the scientific community,” . . . etc. etc.

    Wouldn’t you fell that such an author would have an obligation to address your arguments, the justification you offer for writing your book and making your claims? I’m afraid that in Chapter 8 (and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere in the book) you two failed to do this.

    So, yes. Thoughtful people are outraged. Or at least disappointed.

  16. John Kwok

    @ Physicalist –

    PZ’s conduct was unworthy of a tenured college or university professor. He went way over the line with
    “CrackerGate”, and Chris, Sheril and Ken Miller are correct to condemn his behavior. I would go further and say that was vintage PZ, with regards to his blatant – and all too frequent – efforts at anti-religious bigotry.

  17. Observer

    Marc,

    I don’t think you’re an irrational meanie who hates Dawkins and myers for no good reason. I just think you don’t make a very compelling or deep case that they make a net negative in turning people onto science. We have anectdotal evidence from their respective websites of people claiming to be moved from religious fundamentalism toward science by their writings. Do these people outnumber those they’ve turned away? Or vice/versa? Do people turned away by them turn away from science in general, or do they turn toward a view of science embraced by Miller, Collins, or any of several other theistic scientists who vigorously argue the oppostite of what Myers and Dawkins do? After all, the “new atheist” scientists aren’t the only alternative available to the religiously minded.

    These are just some of the questions I would think need to be addressed in an argument that “new atheist” scientists were bad for science. I’ve read no reviews that suggest that UA’s Chapter 8 addresses any of these. I’ve certainly read nothing on this blog’s comments suggesting any willingness on the part of UA’s several defenders to engage in discussion of these issues. In fact, to even ask these quesion on this blog is to get immediately labled as part of the ‘borg collective,’ a bit of irony that I assure you isn’t lost on many of the lukers.

    People are trying to engage you in discussion. Some of us are perhaps trying ineptly, but we are trying. Your steadfast refusal to engage is frustrating to put it mildly.

  18. Peter Beattie

    » Ken Miller:
    As a result, Myers and his supporters have reacted to these 12 pages of Unscientific America with extraordinary levels of outrage (see, for example, Myers’ final response to the book).

    Extraordinary levels of outrage? Where? Not in PZ’s piece, certainly. There is not even an ordinary level of outrage in that piece. Could it be that, when it comes to PZ, certain people are certifiably delusional?

  19. Peter Beattie

    » John Kwok:
    He went way over the line with “CrackerGate”

    And what is that line?

  20. Marc, just to touch on the subject of good faith. I have indeed had some thoughtful and impressive exchanges with respect to evidence on this blog. They lead to mixed and tentative conclusions.

    Unfortunately, none of these discussions have fruitfully appealed to the contents of UA for help — and to the best of my memory, none of them have involved you making any contributions by any epistemic standard. (TB, by contrast, did.) I think I can fairly assume that everyone’s attitude towards the distribution of good faith in this thread will reflect that.

  21. Sorbet

    Extraordinary degree of outrage? First of all, no. But even if that were true, mischaracterization of a position and a failure to note the events that provoked that position should evoke considerable outrage. How much ink has been spilt in dissecting the actual actions constituting “Crackergate”? Infinite. How much ink has been spilt discussing the ridiculous events that led up to it in the first place? Infinitesimal.

    Here’s the irony of this whole situation. While the New Atheists occupied only one chapter of M&K’s book, their shrill discussion of it on this blog for several weeks now has overshadowed almost everything else in their book which was far more relevant to the science communication debate. I find it sad that they have shot themselves in their own collective foot so massively.

  22. Benjamin: Um, Pascal, yes, you would ask for evidence if you were in a social science seminar — and you’d be right to, since it’s a social science question.

    I am guessing you realize that when people, since a few weeks on this blog, are asking over and over and over and over that they want “evidence”, readers are hearing “evidence” in a scientific way: like, evidence that water is becoming ice at zero Celsius, for example. If, however, you are using “evidence” the way social science is using it, this is not at all the same thing and you should be more precise as what kind of evidence would be satisfying for you.

    And also, why. Because this book is about the fact that we need more “connections” between science and society. Debate on this blog is (or should be) about solutions, some you may like, some you may not, some realistic, some more difficult. This is not what I’m reading at all, in the larger part of the comments of July posts.

  23. Pascal, it doesn’t do anyone well to assume that everyone has the same epistemic standards. You have to look to individuals if you want to make a rational critique. I’ve been perfectly consistent and entirely explicit on matters of epistemology. Indeed, I differ epistemically from others who I otherwise politically agree with. The most recent case is at B&W where TB has gotten himself into a bit of trouble. But I’ve been at pains to make similar remarks here, when I am confident that I am not simply giving answers to a question about standards of knowledge that nobody bothered to ask.

    Still, not everyone appreciates the value of a good old fashioned epistemic standoff, and perhaps they can be forgiven for not making everything explicit. And if we like, we could admit this and still criticize people for being in violation of some epistemic standard. But such attempts are forthcoming. Indeed, it pays to remark that attempts to show such conflicts — comparing secular activists to global climate change denial, for instance — have been almost immediately retracted or qualified into meaninglessness when they arise.

    There is one thing on which we can agree about in the abstract: reactionaries do not care about evidence, nor about rebutting claims or exchanging reasons for reasons. They just go on merrily as they had before. That is their M.O. There are no retractions on Fox News.

    So, for example, some random user rode into town shouting that there’s no evidence in social psychology that threats can be used productively, despite the fact that I explicitly cited and drew emphasis to Lavine et al’s study of the use of credible threats (in that case, through the medium of television) wrt the authoritarian personality. Extremely important. Extremely ignored. Then I’m accused of generalizing to show that other evidence in social psychology concerning an accommodating attitude can be dismissed; ignoring my prior emphasis upon “prime facie” evidence which would make such an accusation a non-starter. Again important, again ignored. TB is the exceptional case, since we had a bit of a productive back-and-forth, which drew upon the links that Marc mentioned above; one might almost miss that while he cites the relevant links (much of it self-help book stuff — not that I criticized) was busy ignoring the heady details of that argument for whatever cannonfodder he could find. A familiar pattern arises: important, :. ignored.

    Why do we need evidence? Because when people engage in argument that is pathologically unable and unwilling to go beyond their intuitions, it is unproductive. For there is no hope of a Peircean omega point of common agreement that we’ll reach someday unless we first posit that people involved are reasons-responsive. This is a microcosm of the problem of the American national debates, as I’m sure everyone will readily recognize. Also because social science illiteracy matters — more than natural science, I think. Especially when one is engaged in a critical project that seeks to arrive at socially informed conclusions and recommendations for policy. And on that note, I could talk about my problems with some of their solutions, and the policy recommendations I think they didn’t spend enough time on (PR for tenure), but this post is long enough already, and you never know whether or not it will be shuffled out of moderation and into the trash bin.

  24. (The “he” in the closing sentence of the second to last paragraph is meant to refer to Mark, not to TB. Forgive my pronouns.)

  25. Sven DiMilo

    Miller’s summary of the Krackergate events is even more misleading than the one in UA

    Myers and friends have advanced their arguments in ways that don’t so much challenge believers as belittle and insult them. As a case in point, they describe an episode last year in which Myers obtained a consecrated communion host from a Catholic mass and then polled his readers on the best way to desecrate it. Not surprisingly, Myers’ stunt outraged some Catholics – exactly as the blogger had hoped.

    That strikes me as disingenuous.

  26. Tristan Croll

    Marc asks:

    “Is there some evidence that attacking someone’s religious beliefs as superstitious twaddle is an effective way to change their mind? Or is the game only allowed to be played in one direction?”

    Is there any evidence that any approach will change the minds of more than a tiny fraction of the strongly religious? If there is, I have yet to come across it.

    I’m going to describe my approach, because from what I’ve seen and read it’s pretty much the same as that taken by PZ, Dawkins et al.

    Everything I’ve seen tells me that the vast majority of strongly religious adults are already lost forever – so firmly wedded to their beliefs that nothing will ever change their minds. Children, adolescents and many of the “apatheistic” young adults, on the other hand, are still for the most part flexible enough to be reachable.

    So, why go after the “unreachable” adults? Simple. Because they’re currently the de facto role models for legions of impressionable young minds – many of whom are watching. So, I show my clear, forthright contempt for those role models, but more importantly try to clearly convey why they’re contemptible: their hypocrisy, their complete divorce from reality, their wilful lying and, all too often, their utter betrayal of the very “Biblical morals” they claim to hold so dear. This is never going to convince them of anything, but – the Internet being first and foremost a very public arena – it helps to illustrate to anyone watching that these are not role models to follow.

    That, I think, is the major service that the “New Atheists,” whether hyper-popular blogger or relatively obscure forum debater, perform.

  27. Physicalist

    Yes, Miller’s gloss on Crackergate is dishonest. But at least he rejects the “shut up!” theme of UA:

    Similarly, the blunt tactics of such folks are no reason to reject the “new atheists” as advocates for science, as Unscientific America seems to do. . . Scientific rationality is too important a cause to limit participation in its defense.

    Credit where credit’s due: Miller got that one right.

  28. John Kwok

    @ Peter and Sven –

    Ken’s recent remarks emphasize how PZ went “over the line” by hoping that the act of wafer desecration would enrage some devout Catholics – which it did – as PZ intended in his pathetic little exercise in anti-religious bigotry.

  29. — Myers and friends have advanced their arguments in ways that don’t so much challenge believers as belittle and insult them. As a case in point, they describe an episode last year in which Myers obtained a consecrated communion host from a Catholic mass and then polled his readers on the best way to desecrate it. Not surprisingly, Myers’ stunt outraged some Catholics – exactly as the blogger had hoped. Miller

    That strikes me as disingenuous. Sven

    Why? PZ’s excuse was that Webster Cook had been roughed up and allegedly his life threatened over his treatment of a consecrated host. You could only find Miller’s statement disingenuous if you figure PZ didn’t think his publicized “great desecration” would be taken any better.

    I think he did it as a publicity stunt that depended on outraging Catholics, there isn’t any reason for him to have done it except for that. I think your assertion of finding it disingenuous is disingenuous. You’d have to think PZ is unable to make the analogy between two acts of desecration, the one Cook did and the one that he did with full before hand publicity.

    I’m still not convinced that his story of how the host came into his possession is credible, I think it was probably a faked stunt.

    Now watch as those who have repeated “where’s the evidence” about Unscientific America’s arguments insist on the authenticity of PZ’s great stunt.

    What evidence could be presented that would be conclusive to the new atheists? A number of us have asserted the belief that there is no level of verification that the new atheists would accept, just as biblical fundmentalists reject the mountains of verification that evolution happened. If there is some level of verification that can get you to concede the point, what is it?

  30. @Benjamin: I fail to see what your answer has anything to do with the subject of this book, or today Sheril’s post.

  31. Jennifer B. Phillips

    Peter Beattie @19, My thoughts exactly. PZ’s linked-to post reiterates the personal grudges that appear to underlie the chapter(s) discussing Pharyngula, and the fact that these motivations are the reason he has not specifically critiqued the content of these chapters. The remainder of the post recaps his substantive criticisms of the rest of the book. Period. He sounds mildly annoyed, perhaps slightly fed up with all the nonsense, but I’m failing to see anything like “outrage” there. As an alternative to your theory of delusion, however, I can offer the possibility that someone, somewhere in the 287 comments on that thread, might have said something outrageous. As we have recently learned, the words of a commenter on a blog are just as representative of the blog content as the words of the blogger himself. At least when the blog in question is Pharyngula.

  32. ndt

    Marc Says:
    August 3rd, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    No evidence will satisfy, of course, because the question is not posed in good faith. You’ve been told repeatedly by people that they’re personally put off by the intolerance and the attitude. You’ve been given social science links on how confrontational approaches make people dig in and make them less likely to change. The fundamentalists use the words of folks like Dawkins in their recruiting materials, etc. etc

    And thirty years ago, the fundamentalists were using the words of Sagan in their recruiting materials. And they currently use the words of Gould to support their creationist claims.

    Don’t you get it? When your opponents are liars, nothing you say matters to them. They will lie about whatever you say.

  33. Well, Pascal, that would be because your remarks are the subject of my post. So I must be confused. Are you suggesting your own remarks are irrelevant and to be ignored?

  34. All this is is an argument from authority. Sure, Miller is a respected scientist who is a great critic of creationism (at least when to the extent that it’s taught in schools). But like M&K, he is merely declaring his opinion as fact. Like them, he can’t back it up with any statistical data. He simply finds the methods of those who bluntly and unapologetically point out where the religious distasteful to his own personal sensibilities. Now that’s fine. Not every has to agree. But if you’re going to make a specific measurable claim that such tactics turn more off from science than not, you have to back it up. And I’d love to see them try, because I honestly don’t think M&K as well as Miller will like the findings of a well done study on the matter.

    And as for Crackergate, I fail to see how throwing away a Trisket is crossing some line of integrity. As Myers said, “IT’S A FRAKKIN’ CRACKER!” You know it’s just a cracker. I know it’s just a cracker. Transubstantiation is indeed a scientific claim, and one that is scientifically impossible. No one in the Catholic Church pressed kidnapping charges against Myers (though I’d love to see that trial play out!!!) So where’s the problem?

  35. Oops. Left out 2 words. I meant to say:

    He simply finds the methods of those who bluntly and unapologetically point out where the religious ARE WRONG distasteful to his own personal sensibilities.

  36. JoshS

    Why? PZ’s excuse was that Webster Cook had been roughed up and allegedly his life threatened over his treatment of a consecrated host.

    That’s low, even for you. The kid “allegedly” had his life threatened (this is a question, in McCarthy’s mind), but the sacred status of the “consecrated host” (which is not questioned, in McCarthy’s mind, and certainly not problematized in his writing) is a given. What is wrong with you?

  37. Peter Beattie

    » John Kwok:
    PZ went “over the line” by hoping that the act of wafer desecration would enrage some devout Catholics

    Where did PZ say that? Please just give a quote if you can.

  38. Peter Beattie

    » JoshS:
    What is wrong with you?

    Indeed. Magic spells good, death threats ditto, puncturing somebody’s vacuous ideology baaad.

  39. Oh, hit the wrong key, I hit the U instead of the I.

    Marc is right, there is no level of evidence that will persuade the fans of Dawkins and PZ that they are bad for the promotion of science. That’s where the new atheism takes on the aspect of a cult, holding itself and its leadership to different standard than others are held to.

    It’s because, while holding themselves in their heroes to the standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they don’t even require proof by a preponderance of the evidence to condemn their opponents. In the case of something called “religion” they don’t even have to demonstrate that their charge is relevant to any specific individual. Group guilt is their standard of proof by religion, explicitly so. People who are religious and vigorously reject the practices and beliefs of fundamentalists are held to be guilty of encouraging them by the new atheism.

  40. Observer

    Anthony McCarthy,

    Let’s see if I get this straight. “New Atheists” argue for the “group guilt” of religion. All of them? Without individual exception? They are all EQUALLY guilty of this? Wow. Good thing you don’t adopt the same approach.

  41. Skeptic

    they don’t even have to demonstrate that their charge is relevant to any specific individual

    Have you read the books? There are hundreds of individual charges in there

  42. Skeptic

    The evidence is actually easy to locate. Just conduct a couple of surveys asking people if Dawkins overall writings and attitude has turned them toward or away from science.

  43. Observer, the vicarious and undifferentiated blaming of religious believers, including liberal religious people for ‘creating an atmosphere in which fundamentalism can thrive’ is one of the distinguishing aspects of new atheism. I don’t think I’d ever have commented on the phenomenon once if they didn’t practice that double standard. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Myers, etc. have all asserted essentially that position. Are you denying that idea isn’t prevalent as statement and practice among the new atheists?

    Atheists who reject that standard aren’t atheists I’d consider “new atheists”.

    And as I tell you guys all the time, I submit all bigots to the standard they reserve for their opponents because to not do that allows them to rig the rules in their favor.

    Skeptic, you’re rather credulous about the evidentiary value of surveys, I’m considerably more skeptical of them. I’m absolutely certain that the new atheists who maintain the same superstition as some of the most benighted religious fundamentalists that religion and science are incompatible have some influence, they’ve been thanked by some of them for making their job easier. However, I’ve pointed out from the beginning that there are religious fundamentalists who either have training or careers in science even as they are religious fundamentalists, so you can be a religious fundamentalist and a scientist at the same time. The point being that the situation in real life isn’t a simple either/or proposition, it’s a lot more complex and nuanced, I’d suspect sufficiently so much so that the kind of survey you propose would be totally useless.

    As to the “hundreds of individual charges” in the books, there are billions of religious believers in the world, hundreds of millions in the United States alone. Even “hundreds of millions of individual charges” wouldn’t make a single person who wasn’t “guilty” as charged responsible for them, especially if they specifically and vigorously rejected them.
    If the Dawkins-Harris standard of justice was applied to science, they’d be culpable for some pretty awful stuff, crimes rivaling the worst of those committed by religious figures. By that standard, Dawkins would have to answer for eugenics and “race science”. Would you like that standard applied to him?

  44. @ 41,42,43, I’ve posted a long answer that’s in moderation at my blog.

  45. Skeptic

    It’s not me who is credulous but you. Could you please find one instance where Dawkins argues in favor of eugenics explicitly? One should be enough. As for surveys, arguing about their pros and cons is a different issue. Care has to be taken of course in conducting them. But that does not mean that they cannot be conducted and they can certainly help. It’s not like nobody argues on the basis of any surveys anymore; one simply has to interpret them well, using the pertinent statistical tools like p values, confidence levels etc.

  46. Woody Tanaka

    “Try to see all this debate as a social science one. You wouldn’t ask for objective evidence in an History seminar, aren’t you? If somebody was telling you that the lack of Historical knowledge was a huge problem for the future of the American society, and if you were intuitively in agreement with that statement, you would be willing to search for solutions, aren’t you?”

    But if someone said that lack of Historical knowledge of Botswana was a huge problem for the future of the American society, anyone who would “search for solutions” before determining objectively if the statement is true is a fool.

  47. Skeptic

    Also, the fundamentalists were never the group who were supposed to get convinced by Dawkins etc. So that point is not really relevant.

  48. Skeptic

    And you erect a fine straw man by automatically assigning anyone who asks for evidence (or anyone who disagrees with you for that matter) as a Dawkins or PZ fan or a “New Atheist”. Then you can punch that bundle of straw till kingdom come. Also, you call these people “bigots” without really providing evidence. Do you realise how intolerant such an attitude is?

  49. Woody Tanaka

    “PZ’s conduct was unworthy of a tenured college or university professor. ”

    baloney. PZ’s conduct is exactly why we have tenure; so that thoughtful people can do what they believe is the right thing, even if it is politically unpopular.

  50. llewelly

    It is for that reason that the producers of Ben Stein’s notorious anti-evolution movie ”Expelled” were delighted to feature PZ Myers in that film.

    And that worked out so well for that multi-billion dollar blockbuster, didn’t it?

  51. Sorbet

    C & S, you know what to do in the paperback:

    1. Get rid of the Pluto example or demote it to a lesser place
    2. Make the volume more intellectually rigorous and sophsiticated and less glib and lightweight, something along the lines of “The Republican War on Science”

    Sorry, but I also find it amusing that when dozens of other commenters pointed out these problems with the book you paid no heed, but when Miller points them out you call him “justly critical”. Heh.

  52. — Could you please find one instance where Dawkins argues in favor of eugenics explicitly? “Skeptic”

    I didn’t say he had, I’m saying by the standard of vicarious responsibility that he promotes he should be held responsible for it.

    I didn’t think that the idea that people should be willing to accept the standard of judgment they promote for other people was that difficult to comprehend. Apparently it is for fundamentalists.

  53. Skeptic

    And where is this double standard? Could you point out paragrphs or page numbers? When did Dawkins or Harris tell someone to shut up?

  54. — And you erect a fine straw man by automatically assigning anyone who asks for evidence (or anyone who disagrees with you for that matter) as a Dawkins or PZ fan or a “New Atheist”. “Skeptic”

    I guess from now on “straw man” is a marker that a new atheist is going to evade the argument.
    I asked you what kind of evidence would convince you and you came up with a bogus standard. One that is impractical and which would almost certainly produce worthless “data”. And I said that it would almost certainly be a distortion of a more complex reality.

    You assume that to be politically significant that Dawkins and PZ would have to have turned off a majority of the population to science. Which isn’t the case. In order to be politically significant it wouldn’t have to be more than an effective margin for an “anti-science” candidate. You can be rabidly anti-science in matters of evolutionary science or climate change and be completely in favor of it re weapons development and petro-chemistry. The ID industry is dependent on the repute of science, they wouldn’t be trying to pass it off as science if they didn’t respect science. Or, at least, want to claim the standard of reliability the accept that science brings with it.

  55. Peter Beattie

    » Anthony McCarthy:
    Marc is right, there is no level of evidence that will persuade the fans of Dawkins and PZ that they are bad for the promotion of science.

    If only you could point to something remotely comparable to RD.net’s Converts’ Corner, that would at least be some evidence. If and when you have that, we’ll be happy to talk about it.

  56. TTT

    Marc @ 15: Ch*d Orz*l had a good comment on this point

    No he didn’t. His attitude was basically “M**ney and N*sbet have been saying this for a whole year now, so it’s as clearly proven as global warming or the world being round and anybody who asks for more evidence must be nuts.” Faddish impatience isn’t evidence.

    As for the original post’s comments–yes, by all means, let’s talk some more about “Expelled,” which M**ney and N*sbet both proclaimed to have been a huge success because… uhh… because of some random trivia and talking points they got straight from the producers, apparently. It was a huge box office flop and got beat by “Religulous,” but apparently Bill Maher’s producers aren’t as good at “communicating” their spin….

  57. TTT

    And THAT’S interesting. After having had several of my posts get sucked past the moderation event horizon into oblivion, I try blotching the n*mes of some of our hosts’ fri*nds instead of sp*lling them out completely, and posts of the exact same length and tone and content sail through without a problem. I guess if I’d just deconstructed “T*rry E*gl*ton” instead of the full-named version, that woulda been allowed too.

  58. Well, Pascal, that would be because your remarks are the subject of my post. So I must be confused. Are you suggesting your own remarks are irrelevant and to be ignored?

    Simply this: My remark was that scientific evidence (let’s say, a chemistry experiment) and what social scientists (let’s say, historians), are calling evidence, are not the same thing, and this is why all this debate about evidence does not serve neither the debate on this book, or the actual Sheril’s post. I fail to see where your answer add anything to my remark, this post or this book.

    Anyway, you are not alone. I see that since my last visit, last night, the comments have been, once again, on the same tireless subject.

  59. ShowsOn

    [My remark was that scientific evidence (let’s say, a chemistry experiment) and what social scientists (let’s say, historians), are calling evidence, are not the same thing, and this is why all this debate about evidence does not serve neither the debate on this book,]

    I find this hard to accept. If I made the claim “there are more left handed than right handed people”, I should be expected to back that up with evidence.

    When Miller writes: “Mooney and Kirshenbaum are right that the tactics of bloggers like Myers have surely reinforced creationist claims about the nature of the scientific enterprise.”

    Why shouldn’t we expect that statement to be backed up with some evidence? Instead it is just left asserted, with nothing to support it. Since it is unsupported, why should I believe it?

  60. John Kwok

    @ ShowsOn –

    You’ve missed then what Ken Ham and his ilk have been saying, “BELIEF IN EVOLUTION EQUALS DENIAL OF GOD”. That’s just a shorthand version of what Ken wrote regards to Militant Atheist bloggers like Myers.

  61. John Kwok

    @ Woody Tanaka –

    PZ’s conduct would be considered outrageous if he did it as a Brown University professor of biology. Why? It contradicts Brown’s tolerance for ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Am certain Brown’s president would have demanded his resignation, and she would have been supported by the faculty senate.

  62. Skeptic

    “I guess from now on “straw man” is a marker that a new atheist is going to evade the argument”

    Translation: This is what I will continue to say since I don’t actually understand what “straw man” means.

    “I asked you what kind of evidence would convince you and you came up with a bogus standard. One that is impractical and which would almost certainly produce worthless “data”

    Translation: Standards- bogus when they could refute my beliefs, perfectly acceptable when applied to most other things. I can trust surveys in other cases, but not when they could contradict my claims.

    “You assume that to be politically significant that Dawkins and PZ would have to have turned off a majority of the population to science.”

    I would say this is another straw man but it would be pointless since for you straw men are just grand New Atheist excuses. I never said “majority” nor did I say Dawkins would have to be “politically significant”. All we need to do is have some reasonable surveys and ask people if overall they think Dawkins is helping or harming the cause of science. If this concept is so hard for you to grasp then you need to relearn the definition of the word “evidence”.

  63. Sorbet

    Ah, McCarthy and his lack of comprehension of the phrase “straw man” surface again. How gratifying.

  64. Sorbet

    @Kwok: Brown’s president would have demanded his resignation, and she would have been supported by the faculty senate.

    So what? That is hardly an argument that Brown is somehow morally “superior” to Morrison. I am pretty sure Chomsky would not have been tolerated at Harvard, but I am not saying that Harvard is morally inferior to MIT. So what’s your point exactly?

  65. —- All we need to do is have some reasonable surveys and ask people if overall they think Dawkins is helping or harming the cause of science. Skeptic

    Skeptic, you should change your name to “Credulous”. How would you know if the people you were surveying had any idea of whether or not their belief was true? You’d just be asking them to state an opinion, which like other things, everyone has one but you don’t necessarily want to display it. I’ve got to say that the faith in opinion polling is one of the more telling logical lapses in the new atheism. Considering that most of it doesn’t even hold up to the lax methodological pretensions of that “science”.

    I used to know what “straw man” meant before I started seeing how people used it on the blogs. But blog debate doesn’t seem to follow the old rules of rhetoric and debate, throwing terms like that around any old way seems to suffice for that.

    As to what my religious beliefs are, I’ve never stated them here, other than to tell you what I don’t believe in.

  66. — Ah, McCarthy and his lack of comprehension of the phrase “straw man” surface again. How gratifying. Sorbet

    Look at my answer at 65, explain how that constitutes a “weak or imaginary opposition set up only to be easily confuted”. Either that or give us your definition of a “straw man”, an invitation I’ll extend to Skeptic as well since you seem to be using a novel definition of the term. I’d at least like to have some set definition from the new atheists so they can’t do what they generally seem to, use traditional terms of debate and logic with no fixed meaning, the easier to pull them out of their hat at will.

  67. Pascal,

    Thank you for the clarification. I think I may have misread you earlier. However, I’ve touched on many themes that are salient to your stated concerns.

    “If, however, you are using “evidence” the way social science is using it, this is not at all the same thing and you should be more precise as what kind of evidence would be satisfying for you.”

    Any relevant evidence will suffice: sociological or social psychological or argumentative. But the process of debate is incremental, and you have to accept the inevitability of debate. Moreover, people have to stop trivializing debate with unsubstantiated and uncharitable assertions to the effect that people are playing fast and loose with standards for evidence. And people have to be intellectually responsive and responsible, accepting that some evidence is prime facie (on the face of it), some is more substantive, and some reasons (i.e., appeals to intuition, common sense, or to use Sheril’s phrase, “The Obvious”) might not count as evidence at all, but only (at best) guide the discussion in some direction.

    “and this is why all this debate about evidence does not serve neither the debate on this book, or the actual Sheril’s post.”

    No. Standards of evidence are central to whether or not we reject the footnotes, say, in Chapter 8 of UA. Also, it responds directly to your stated concern. Though it is true that I do not have any comment on Sheril’s post, except what I’ve already said; still it applies to the sum of all posts on this blog over the past month.

  68. Skeptic

    McCarthy, how do you know people have any idea of what they are saying in any survey? If you really believe that such a survey would be worthless, then you must believe that all surveys are worthless. Which means that henceforth you should not cite any survey as any kind of evidence for what you are saying. And it also must mean that you believe that Pew’s entire existence has been meaningless.

    And your definition of straw man is the same as ours. I never said “majority” or “political support”. These are precisely imaginary oppositions set up by you so you could then confute them. Similarly your denoting anyone who disagrees with you as a PZ “fanboy” is an equally dishonest straw man.

  69. TTT

    Kwok: You’ve missed then what Ken Ham and his ilk have been saying, “BELIEF IN EVOLUTION EQUALS DENIAL OF GOD”.

    They’ve been saying that for a hundred years and more, irrespective of anything any scientist ever did since the day Darwin published.

    I can’t believe you would seriously suggest that YECs at one point weren’t inherently bitterly hostile to science and only became so because of an Internet stunt PZ pulled the day before yesterday. Please tell me I just read you wrong. Because if not, it reminds me of the rationalizations of libertarian economists who insist an unregulated free market is the best way to protect wildlife, because the people who believe eating tiger eyeballs will give them better vision are rational enough to plot future consumption on a textbook supply-and-demand curve.

  70. TTT

    You’ve missed then what K*n H*m and his ilk have been saying, “BELIEF IN EVOLUTION EQUALS DENIAL OF GOD”.

    They’ve been saying that for a hundred years and more.

    I can’t believe you would seriously suggest that YECs at one point weren’t inherently bitterly hostile to science and only became so because of an Internet stunt the day before yesterday. It reminds me of the economists who insist an unregulated free market is the best way to protect wildlife, because people who believe eating tiger eyeballs will give them better vision are rational enough to plot consumption on a textbook supply-and-demand curve.

  71. Skeptic, actually, I am skeptical about the value of opinion polling, especially as conducted on behalf of the media in the United States, here are two excerpts from a piece I wrote three years ago.

    — If I could do it, opinion polling would be banned in the United States. You might be shocked to hear someone on the left say that, someone who just posted a piece about free speech. But not even free speech absolutists favor all speech, deceptive advertising of dangerous products is an example. As practiced by the media, opinion polling is one of those products. It is a danger to democracy.

    — Polls divert us from the facts, they prevent us from finding the truth. Nowhere is this clearer than polls of the general public on questions requiring scientific or historical information. When facts are required for an opinion to matter, entirely uninformed opinions are better called guesses or, more literally, prejudice. What someone who couldn’t give a two sentence definition of natural selection thinks about “Darwinian Evolution” might be interesting to a marketing campaign, as fact it is less than worthless. I wonder how many people who would give you a ready opinion on the alleged greatness of Columbus could tell you much beyond 1492 and the names of the boats. I wonder if a lot of them could tell you that much. If the media spent its time on facts instead of fancies, people might know.

    http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/2006/06/polls-if-i-could-do-it-opinion-polling.html

    Only people who are fanboys of PZ are his fanboys, you don’t constitute the set of all people who I disagree with.

  72. Skeptic

    It seems to me that you are necessarily focusing on the relatively uninformed populace. Those are not the folks I am talking about. If you ask a question like “Do you think Richard Dawkins has driven away more people from science than has attracted them to it”, I am pretty sure the people who would answer in the first place would be rather well-informed about his writings and opinions. I don’t see a good reason to reject the results of such a poll out of hand.

  73. Observer

    Anthony McCarthy,

    An argument somewhat resembling what you describe is, of course, the central thesis of Sam Harris’s book, although what you describe is a charicature of it. That argument is also found in lesser degrees in some of the other “new atheist” writers. Arguing, as Harris does, that a deference to a particular kind of faith enables fundamentalism, is not the same as assessing collective guilt. However, I will agree that on the atheist blogosphere the attitude you describe is fairly widespread. My objection to your statement is simply that up until you clarified, your operative definition of “new atheist” has pretty much been anybody who dares ask questions or express disagreements with your dogmatic and often unsupported assertions.

    I can see circumstances in which the “new atheists” are bad for science, and also circumstances in which they have been good. I can say the same for people like Collins and Miller. Assuming that Collins and Miller exemplify one possible approach to bringing science to the public, and “new atheists” represent another, I think it’s a great mistake to view either approach in isolation. Reaching the public is not a “one size fits all” problem. Even Miller seems to understand this, based on the way he is quoted in this thread.

  74. John Kwok

    @ Sorbet –

    My point is that there are many people who would have condemned PZ if they were aware of his trangression. Now, thanks to Chris and Sheril, more people are aware, and, I believe, more people will reject his blatantly zealous anti-religious bigotry (which, ironically, almost has a religious fervor to it).

    I’m not speaking for Harvard or MIT. I am, however, a Brown alumnus and I think I have an excellent idea as to how PZ’s stunt would have gone over if he had done it at Brown. Bottom line, there would have been ample outrage, and Dr. Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, would have been the first among many to demand PZ’s resignation as a Brown University professor.

  75. — It seems to me that you are necessarily focusing on the relatively uninformed populace. Those are not the folks I am talking about. Skeptic

    Oh, so you’re proposing a poll that would start out with an express intent of NOT having a representative cross section of the public. And you’re asserting that this poll is going to tell you exactly what about the public?

    — Arguing, as Harris does, that a deference to a particular kind of faith enables fundamentalism, is not the same as assessing collective guilt. Observer

    Just as an example, “Arguing that a defense of natural selection enables eugenics, is not the same thing as assessing collective guilt.”

    There, you see how it works when people hold other areas of life to that standard.

    —- My objection to your statement is simply that up until you clarified, your operative definition of “new atheist” has pretty much been anybody who dares ask questions or express disagreements with your dogmatic and often unsupported assertions. Observer

    No, a new atheist is someone who

    – lumps all religious believers into one, undifferentiated category of culpability through the practice of a double standard, t

    – holds that their religious belief, which is what atheism is, is the equivalent of fact when it isn’t,

    – who claims permission to make any kind of negative and even untrue characterization of any religious believer, or agnostic or even normal atheist who doesn’t share their ideology.

    There are any number of atheists who disagree with me on many things but who are not new atheists.

  76. Sorbet

    @75 I don’t deny that Brown would have done that. But I cannot help but think that you believe that such an action makes Brown somehow morally superior to others who would not have done it. If that is not what you mean then I don’t think there is any debate.

  77. tomh

    Dr. Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, would have been the first among many to demand PZ’s resignation as a Brown University professor.

    Completely false. There would have been no such demand. Just another unsupported, fantasy-driven assertion.

  78. Screechy Monkey

    I have a question for Anthony McCarthy about the whole “was it a ‘real’ consecrated host” thing: do you think it matters, and why?

    Personally, I don’t care. The “point” of Crackergate was the irrational and inappopriate reaction of the Donahue-esque lunatic fringe; if they had that reaction to what was not, in fact, a “real” host, that doesn’t diminish the point one bit.

    I figure it probably was a real host, because I can only think of three reasons why someone would desecrate a fake one: (1) to reveal it after the fact, as some kind of argument about how the faithful couldn’t tell the different; (2) because they weren’t able to obtain a real one; or (3) out of some fear of divine consequences.

    (1) we can eliminate, because PZ has yet to step forward and say “aha, fooled you!” which surely he would have done by now.

    (2) seems implausible to me because, based on my personal experience and that of many other commenters, it simply isn’t that hard to get one’s hands on a “real” host.

    (3), of course, was an argument frequently made by visitors to Pharyngula during Crackergate: “it’s a fake cracker, because PZ wouldn’t dare do it to a real one!!!111″ You, Anthony, don’t seem the type to make that argument. Would you not agree with me that it’s highly implausible that PZ would have said and done all the “blasphemous” things he has over the years yet balk at this?

    So basically, I “conclude” it was a real host because I consider it an unimportant point, and I can’t conceive of a plausible reason for PZ to have lied about it. Does this make me a PZ acolyte or fanclub member or whatever your preferred term is now, or say something devastating about my standards for evidence? To me, it’s like having a friend in another state tell me it rained yesterday where he is — I don’t go check with the weather service to confirm it.

  79. —- I have a question for Anthony McCarthy about the whole “was it a ‘real’ consecrated host” thing: do you think it matters, and why? Screechy Monkey

    That depends on what you mean by it mattering. First, it’s Catholics who get to decide if a host has been consecrated and so becomes a real, consecrated host. That’s not open to question by an outsider, they get to decide that. It clearly matters to Catholics who believe in transubstantiation or even those who just consider the act in some way spiritually or culturally important. That means it matters. It clearly mattered to those who roughed up Webster Cook and who, perhaps, threatened him over his desecration of it. The potential for his stunt to provoke that kind of reaction makes it matter just as the publication of those Danish cartoons matter due to their provocation of a reaction that got people killed, as Myers discussed in his blog. It doesn’t matter whether or not you or someone who isn’t an adherent of Islam considered the reaction irrational, it got that reaction and the republication of them was done with that history being widely shown in the media, perhaps by the same outlets as then republished them. In the same way PZ’s “great desecration”, even if he used an ersatz host, could have been expected to risk a violent or at least angry reaction, since he used Cook’s experience as an excuse.

    — (2) seems implausible to me because, based on my personal experience and that of many other commenters, it simply isn’t that hard to get one’s hands on a “real” host. Screechy Monkey

    I have never heard of an observant Catholic treating a consecrated host like that in about sixty years of growing up in an observant Catholic family and knowing many hundreds of Catholics of all kinds. An observant Catholic is taught that it’s a serious sin to do anything with a host but eat it. I know more than one Catholic who abhored the neo-medieval, though official, ritual of “exposure” of a consecrated host for forty hours as an abuse of the sacrament. It was just that claim, that it had been kept by an observant Catholic and sent to him after the guy became apostate that I didn’t believe.

    I didn’t doubt it was real until I read how he alleges it came into his possession. Then I found out that you could buy communion wafers online and looking at the photo PZ had posted, it looked to me as if it could have easily been faked in other ways. The simplest explanation is that he faked it and destroyed the evidence.

    After expressing that doubt and getting a reaction from PZ, here, as well as a number of his admirers, I decided to see what would happen if that mild level of skeptical examination was put to the claim that it was genuine. Needless to say, PZ’s fans weren’t happy when I applied skepticism to his claim and THEY made it clear that it mattered deeply to them that its authenticity not be questioned. Which is why I continued it at length. A lot of the claims made about them were absurd and clearly based on invention from their spontaneous googling during that blog argument.

    I said all along that I didn’t doubt that one of his fans would steal a consecrated host and send it to him. And it would have been theft by deception since neither a priest nor a Eucharistic minister would have given a host to someone who didn’t intend to eat it, I believe they could have been excommunicated for knowingly doing that. It was when PZ got a bit fancy about claiming it wasn’t stolen that I became suspicious.

    So, clearly it does matter in different ways. As to it mattering because transubstantiation is true, I have no way of knowing that. Catholics might be right about that, I don’t have any way of knowing that even though I don’t happen to believe it. I think the story of the Last Supper has a different meaning but I could be wrong about that.

    I do think it matters greatly if someone pulls a stunt that they know could hurt people and make them angry without a good reason. I don’t think Webster Cook had a good reason to and, given his request to his fans that they risk provoking a violent reaction in the same way Cook said he experienced, I don’t believe Myers’ “reason” for doing what he did. If he was willing to risk the safety of his fans for his publicity stunt, it’s an action on about the same level of what Donohue, very predictably, said.

    So you see, real or not, the critical and skeptical analysis of PZ’s great publicity stunt can reveal quite a lot about the actions of those involved, so it does matter in that sense.

  80. Screechy Monkey

    I’m not trying to be thick here, but I really don’t think you’ve explained why it matters. Your criticism that PZ might have provoked a violent, Danish-cartoon style reaction would be equally valid (or invalid) whether it was a “real” host or not — the point is that PZ claimed it was, and some people believed him and reacted accordingly.

    As to PZ’s claim that it wasn’t “stolen,” I think PZ has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t agree with your “theft by deception” argument. So if you’re interpreting his “it wasn’t stolen” comments to imply that a priest gave someone a host knowing what would happen to it, I think that’s unfounded.

    It simply isn’t that difficult to get a host. Years ago I was the best man at a Catholic wedding. Communion was offered during the ceremony; those of us in the wedding party were all told to approach the priest in turn, and a host was offered to anyone who chose to take it. Those of us who didn’t simply folded our hands. But if I had been so inclined, I could have taken it and discretely pocketed it. Nobody asked if I was Catholic or even a Christian.

    Indeed, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an evangelical Protestant, was given communion at a Catholic funeral earlier this year. There was a minor controversy because some people claimed the video of the ceremony showed the PM pocketing it. (The PM insists he did consume it)

  81. If someone checks a book out of the library with the intention of driving a nail through it or destroying it in some way, they’ve been handed it by the library employee but they’re stealing it. A consecrated host is to be eaten, the priest says “Take this and it it,” that’s the condition under which it’s given, it’s not supposed to be given to someone who doesn’t intend to eat it, it’s not even supposed to be given to someone who is known to not be approved to eat it. People have been denied communion. If Webster Cook took it with the intention of doing something other than eating it, he was taking something that wouldn’t have been given to him if he hadn’t pretended to be receiving communion. It’s just the same as the the people who gave money to Bernie Madoff for him to invest. He used it for other purposes and it was theft.

    I don’t think a Catholic priest would have invited a non-Catholic to receive communion, except for a few other denominations, though my memory of that is hazy. I’d have to check the most recent rules. I do believe that a priest could be defrocked and excommunicated if he knowingly gave communion to someone who didn’t intend to eat it, certainly to someone who might desecrate it.

    PZ, purporting to be protesting death threats made against Cook, asked his groupies to risk possible violence or, as he alleged, endangering their lives in order for him to pull off his stunt. That isn’t up for debate, that happened just as his using a page of a Quran was after PZ wrote about the violence that those Danish cartoons had caused. All in all, it was a grossly irresponsible thing to do, whether or not the white circle in his photo was what he claimed it was or a piece of paper cut out by him earlier. His intention to provoke an angry and possibly violent response was also clear.

    The reaction of PZ’s fans proves that to them it wasn’t “just a cracker”, they need it to have been consecrated. Which is ironic though less important than the moral issues that don’t depend on believing in transubstantiation. He violated his own stated values by doing what he did.

  82. Need more coffee, that should read:

    A consecrated host is to be eaten, the priest says “Take this and eat it,” during the consecration, right before communion is given.

  83. Woody Tanaka

    @ John Kwok:

    “PZ’s conduct would be considered outrageous if he did it as a Brown University professor of biology. Why? It contradicts Brown’s tolerance for ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Am certain Brown’s president would have demanded his resignation, and she would have been supported by the faculty senate.”

    If true, that would merely be a mark against Brown (and a big one at that), not an indictment of PZ’s acts, his reasoning, or the proper role of tenure here.

  84. Curious

    I have to say I second the part about the wafer. I was also at a Catholic wedding and the priest offered communion to all who were interested, including people from other countries and religions. At least a few of them pocketed the host absent-mindedly (not with the intention of causing outrage). There were other priests present who did not seem to mind one bit, so it did not seem like he was uncomfortable doing it. And this was a pretty well-attended and respected church in downtown, so one would expect the priests knew what they were doing. So basically yes, it’s very much possible that Myers didn’t have a lot of trouble obtaining such a cracker.

  85. Observer

    Anthony McCarthy,

    -“arguing that defense of natural selection enables eugenics is not the same thing as assessing collective guilt.”

    As a matter of fact, it isn’t. It may or may not be a valid argument, but one would have to examine the argument to determine that. But there is no double standard here.

    Your “collective guilt” accusation is a bogus representation of what Harris argues. It also not what Jerry Coyne argues, what Richard Dawkins argues, or Christopher Hitchens argues. Is it something PZ argues? Certainly not in any formal sense, though I can see how some of his rhetoric may lead some people to think he harbors such an opinion. Where I do see this attitude expressed is in the comment section of Pharyngula. I also see some very good arguments there, which you will fail to address because you consistently make the same error you accuse “new atheists” of doing: lump everybody into one undifferentiated group.

    Since it’s clearly futile to pursue the debate as to whether “new athiests” are ‘good for science,’ perpaps it would be better to discuss how you might approach them in order to further the cause of science literacy. I’m directing the word “you” to Anthony McCarthy, John Kwock, Mooney and Kirshenbaum, and others who believe that the “new atheists” aren’t. Obviously a many of us here don’t agree with the premise. Here are a few of my opinions.

    1)Drop the phrase “new atheist.” It’s not a term any of them use for themselves, and is really just your way of saying ‘dirty f*****g’ hippies.’ At its best is painting with an overly broad brush, at its worst its poisioning the well.

    2)Quit implying that you want them to shut up. Yes, even Ken Miller thinks you’re saying that. They’re obviously not going to do that, and you’re only making matters worse when you imply it.

    2)Make some effort to distinguish between their arguments or actions regarding the intersection of religion and science and their arguments and actions regarding society and politics. If you think they’re doing something bigoted, by all means criticize it. That’s right and proper. In the meantime, however, you’re failing to address important arguments. When Sam Harris criticized the appointment of Collins, many of you jumped on the badwagon, but nobody actually addressed the arguments he made regarding Collins’s statements. When the discussion heated up on Jerry Coyne’s blog regarding the compatibility of science and religion, many of you kept pointing to religious scientists, but you failed to recognize that he was discussing epistemological compatibility. Until you learn to distinguish between “tone” and arguments, the tone is only going to get harsher.

    3)Eliminate the double standard whereby religious scientists are encouraged to use their science or status as scientists to proselytize their faith, but atheists scientists are condemned for using the same to argue for their ideology.

    4)Harness the friction between between what you call “new atheists” and what they call “accomodationists.” (BTW I hate both terms, as they both share the same faults I mentioned above.) Some of you seem to be afraid that unless science appears harmonious and passionless, the public will shy away from it. I don’t buy that. And even if we wanted science to appear that way, it’s obviously not how things are, and trying to present a false face to the public does them a great disservice. There is a real, legitimate debate as to the compatibility of science and religion. Rather that squelching this debate, I think you should encourage it. Try to get a Miller and a Coyne to debate this publicly. Try to get a Dawkins and a Collins to go head to head. I stronly doubt one side would demolish the other, though wouldn’t it be exciting if one did? Rather, what I suspect would happen is that individuals of a religious bent would see that there is an approach to science that appeals to their personal temper, and individuals inclined toward atheism would get fired up for their side. I’ve said this ad nauseum, but I have to keep on: neither perspective exists in a vaccuum. What truly is “bad for science” is pretending that they should.

  86. Brown is a private university, isn’t it? As such, they get to determine what constitutes acceptable behavior among its employees. That and whatever they negotiated through collective bargaining with the employees is the only ethical issue in this entirely speculative discussion of what would happen if PZ worked there, which he doesn’t. Have they offered him a position?

  87. Woody Tanaka

    “Brown is a private university, isn’t it? As such, they get to determine what constitutes acceptable behavior among its employees.”

    No, they get to determine (subject to federal law and their contracts) what actions they will take against an employee in response to an employee’s behavior. The employee, him or herself and any thinking, rational person gets to decide whether that constitutes *acceptable* behavior. Brown could fire an employee and be legally right but morally wrong.

  88. Skeptic

    “a new atheist is someone who

    – lumps all religious believers into one, undifferentiated category of culpability through the practice of a double standard”

    Another straw man. As Dawkins makes it perfectly clear he does not do this and regards sophisticated theologians like the Archbishop of Canterbury in a separate category. Have you even read The God Delusion carefully?

    “Oh, so you’re proposing a poll that would start out with an express intent of NOT having a representative cross section of the public. And you’re asserting that this poll is going to tell you exactly what about the public? ”

    As you youself said, asking people who haven’t really thought about this would be pointless. So of course, a poll of people who actually know about Dawkins would be representative. I thought this was obvious, but apparently not to you. The question we are asking is “Have people who read Dawkins or listened to him been largely turned on or off science”. Asking this question of people who are familiar with Dawkins should be self-evident.

  89. Woody, if you want to quibble about the term “acceptable” I’ll amend to “behavior that would lead to cause for dismissal”.

    “Morally wrong”. Based on what standard? Would you feel the same way if he desecrated a Torah? Disrupted a sand painting during its use? Trashed a Mandala before its ceremonial destruction? How about if he called on his followers to risk undermining an academic lecture?

    How about if he offended a racial or ethnic minority and very likely, led members of those groups to feel uncomfortable about taking his classes? Morris is a very small campus, students might not have any other sections of those to choose from for required classes. What rights do they have to a reasonable expectation of fair treatment for a public service they pay for?

    It’s not an easy thing to determine, is it. I don’t question his rights to say whatever he wants to or to do what he did as a private citizen, as an employee providing a public accommodation and in accordance with his contract, there are other issues that impinge on that. Almost all employees can be fired for cause, university instructors generally can be.

  90. I missed this earlier:

    — 1)Drop the phrase “new atheist.” It’s not a term any of them use for themselves Observer

    This is, in fact, not true, Among others Coyne and Rosenhouse have used it within the past year. Many others have too.

    I won’t stop using it because I don’t want to insult normal atheists. I’m also not going to play those kinds of word games with you.

  91. Sorbet

    Observer, welcome to McCarthy’s world of misrepresentation and painting everything and everyone with a broad brush. According to McCarthy the law of gravity would have to be necessarily wrong if it were advocated by Richard Dawkins.

  92. Observer

    Anthony McCarthy,

    They have adopted it because their opponents have thrust it upon them, not unlike various ethnic group have taken the epithets that have been directed toward them and morphed them into something like a badge of pride. You may choose to be bigoted if you wish, but it harms your credibility in making that same charge against your opponents.

  93. — They have adopted it because their opponents have thrust it upon them, not unlike various ethnic group have taken the epithets that have been directed toward them and morphed them into something like a badge of pride. Observer

    No one is forced to adopt a term they find insulting or belittling. Since new atheists have used the term for themselves and others who share that ideology as a neutral descriptor, that’s their choice and they have no recourse to having others cite them when they use it.

    Go take it up with those two and the others. I’m really familiar with the instant etymology that you guys come up with at the drop of a hat and I don’t play that game any more.

  94. — Another straw man. As Dawkins makes it perfectly clear he does not do this and regards sophisticated theologians like the Archbishop of Canterbury in a separate category. Skeptic

    Explain your use of “straw man” in this sentence, it is an entirely inappropriate and meaningless use of the phrase, according to its dictionary meaning.

    If you’re trying to say that Dawkins is able to speak out of both sides of his mouth, and more so his fan club, I’ve never doubted that. Just quickly looking at his website, on this page of quotes:

    —http://richarddawkins.net/quotes

    “Religious people split into three main groups when faced with science. I shall label them the “know-nothings”, the “know-alls”, and the “no-contests” RD

    “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” RD

    “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”RD

    And among the other quotes he has on this page are these from Bertrand Russell

    “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”

    “So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.” (Wonder how old Bertie missed those passages about wisdom.)

    And from Ingersoll

    “The inspiration of the bible depends on the ignorance of the person who reads it.”

    Which of those would you think wouldn’t apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury?

    — Have you even read The God Delusion carefully? Skeptic

    I read it once, saw it was a lousy piece of scholarship and didn’t bother to re-read it. I could say the same thing about Harris and Dennett. I didn’t bother with Hitchens since I read his column in The Nation for two decades before deciding that was enough punishment.

    Have you ever read anything by Eddington on religion, or William James or Tillich or Wittgenstein, or Emmanuel Mounier?

  95. Woody Tanaka

    “Woody, if you want to quibble about the term ‘acceptable’ I’ll amend to ‘behavior that would lead to cause for dismissal'”.

    You can amend it, but then you turn what might be an interesting discussion of the morality of an academic institution in the face of public pressure seeking a privileged place for its its ideas into a dry, boring discussion of the legality of an employment action.

    “‘Morally wrong’. Based on what standard?”

    Based on the same standard of thought through which all humans make moral judgment.

    “Would you feel the same way if he desecrated a Torah? Disrupted a sand painting during its use? Trashed a Mandala before its ceremonial destruction?”

    If these things did not belong to someone else, just as with the wafer in this case, then I would feel the exact same way. Things are not sacred, therefore to say someone “desecrated” them is gibberish. An object can be revered, but one person’s reverence is another’s idiocy. In a pluralistic society, if the person owns the thing toward which irreverance is paid, the fact that someone else is offended is the price of admission that the latter person must pay for the freedom of holding and expressing his own beliefs.

    “How about if he called on his followers to risk undermining an academic lecture?”

    That affects another’s “property” in that lecture. He could, however, call on someone to stab a trancript of the lecture or a videotape of it with a nail; that would be okay.

    “How about if he offended a racial or ethnic minority and very likely, led members of those groups to feel uncomfortable about taking his classes?”

    Religious believers are not equivalent to racial or ethnic minorities, so offense to them (presumably on behalf of their race or ethnicity) is not morally the same as offense to a religious believer based on the contents of that belief.

    “Morris is a very small campus, students might not have any other sections of those to choose from for required classes. What rights do they have to a reasonable expectation of fair treatment for a public service they pay for?”

    They have exactly the right to be free of invidious discrimination. They do not have the right to prevent their professor from expressing a belief that a certain religious belief is nonsensical.

    “It’s not an easy thing to determine, is it.”

    Actually, it is quite an easy thing. If the student is not actively discriminated against, the fact that the professor thinks the student’s religious beliefs are nonsensical means nothing. (And, indeed, could be held against the student in the academic context if the student were one to, e.g., cite scripture instead of science.) The fact that the student is offended that the professor feels that way, talks about it outside of the academic setting, and even puts nails through communion wafers means nothing. That’s what free speech is all about.

    “I don’t question his rights to say whatever he wants to or to do what he did as a private citizen, as an employee providing a public accommodation and in accordance with his contract, there are other issues that impinge on that.

    But if his acts are not undertaken in the context of his employment in that public accomodation, as PZ’s were here, then he is acting a private citizen and his status as a professor at a public institution is irrelevant.

    “Almost all employees can be fired for cause, university instructors generally can be.”

    Yes. And the exercise of constitutional rights as a private citizen is not “cause.”

  96. Woody Tanaka

    “‘So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.’ (Wonder how old Bertie missed those passages about wisdom.)”

    Wisdom and intelligence are not the same thing. Hell, even a pop culture piece of fluff like “Forrest Gump” demonstrates that.

  97. John Kwok

    @ Woody –

    I didn’t say that Brown would “fire” PZ. I did say that his acts would have resulted in a request for his resignation, which, I predict, would be supported by both the President and the faculty senate, simply because his act is a gross violation of the racial, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity which the school prides itself for being quite tolerant of.

  98. Skeptic

    Which of those would you think wouldn’t apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury?

    None of these, that’s the point. Look at his interview with the Archbishop where he says that the Bishop’s opinions are like “music to his ears”. Dawkins’s general opinions on faith are quite different from some of the specific ideas which he has. Cherry picking his quotes (which don’t say anything about the Archbishop) to then ignore something that he does say is disingenuous. I am talking specifically about his opinions about people like the Archbishop and you respond with something totally unrelated.

    Have you ever read anything by Eddington on religion, or William James or Tillich or Wittgenstein, or Emmanuel Mounier?

    We are not talking about James or Eddington or Wittgenstein. We are talking about Richard Dawkins. Do you understand this? If so, why bring up completely irrelevant examples? Stick to the topic please.

    And the fact that you never read the God Delusion carefully provides admirable support for anything you say about Dawkins. Congratulations.

  99. Woody Tanaka

    @John Kwok,
    Whether the adverse employment action is deemed a firing or a demand for resignation is irrelevant. (Unless, of course, the subject of the demand had the freedom to reject the demand without repercussions.) Any adverse employment action, given these facts, regardless of the policies the school might pride itself on (as if stomping on freedom of expression might be something in which to be prideful), would constitute a black mark against Brown and not an indictment of PZ’s acts or his reasoning.

    Further, if a school has a policy to protect religious ideas, dogma and thought from ridicule, then that school is run by morons. (Clearly one must protect religious *people* from discrimination; such protection must never extend, however, to relgious *ideas*.)

  100. If you’re looking to “Forrest Gump” as support for your argument, it hardly seems worthwhile to continue discussing things with you, Woody. I wonder what a student of New Testament Greek could tell us about “wisdom” as opposed to “intelligence”. I would suspect that the equivalent of “wisdom” as used in the New Testament has a considerable overlap with the idea of “intelligence” in English.

    Here’s what I found in an online N.T. dictionary for “sophia”:

    wisdom, broad and full of intelligence; used of the knowledge of very diverse matters

    1. the wisdom which belongs to men
    1. spec. the varied knowledge of things human and divine, acquired by acuteness and experience, and summed up in maxims and proverbs
    2. the science and learning
    3. the act of interpreting dreams and always giving the sagest advice
    4. the intelligence evinced in discovering the meaning of some mysterious number or vision
    5. skill in the management of affairs
    6. devout and proper prudence in intercourse with men not disciples of Christ, skill and discretion in imparting Christian truth
    7. the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living

    So, I think you’re not very wise to make that assertion.

    — You can amend it, but then you turn what might be an interesting discussion of the morality of an academic institution in the face of public pressure seeking a privileged place for its its ideas into a dry, boring discussion of the legality of an employment action. Woody

    As one who finds employment issues interesting, I guess that depends on what you find interesting. I didn’t talk about public pressure, I talked about the issues covered under relevant sections of the contract, which I’d imagine at both Morris and Brown would have been reached as a result of collective bargaining. I can imagine circumstances under which Myers might call for the firing of a university instructor. He’s said that he would try to prevent the hiring of a fundamentalist to his department, as I recall. I’d imagine that he’d opposed, vigorously, William Dembski being hired by his school at the U. of M. M.

    — Actually, it is quite an easy thing. If the student is not actively discriminated against, the fact that the professor thinks the student’s religious beliefs are nonsensical means nothing. Woody

    I’d think that a student who wanted to charge discrimination would have recourse to the full public record of what a teacher had said and did. In that case, you’d find it was hardly an easy issue to deal with.

    — If these things did not belong to someone else, just as with the wafer in this case, then I would feel the exact same way. Woody

    I don’t think the ownership of the “wafer” has been established, if it was, indeed, obtained under false pretenses then a judge might find that it wasn’t PZ’s property, though that hardly has anything to do with my question. How would you view someone buying a Torah under false pretenses so he could desecrate it publicly so as to insult Jews as superstitious faith heads? How about if someone talked someone into giving them one under false pretenses?

  101. tomh

    @ #99
    I didn’t say that Brown would “fire” PZ. I did say that his acts would have resulted in a request for his resignation, which, I predict, would be supported by both the President and the faculty senate, simply because his act is a gross violation of the racial, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity which the school prides itself for being quite tolerant of.

    More fantasy. There would be no demand for any resignation. In addition to the high ideals listed, Brown also upholds the high ideal of free speech.

  102. John Kwok

    @ tomh –

    Brown upholds free speech, but any professor or staff personnel who would indulge in such a blatantly anti-religious act of bigotry would have been subjected to some kind of counseling, and, more likely, in PZ’s case, would have been asked for his resignation.

  103. Sorbet

    Freedom of speech is more important than the psuedosecular concept of “tolerance”. Tolerance is a slippery slope that quickly erodes freedom of speech and action. Simply witness the fatwah against Rushdie or the wanton excesses against Danis cartoons.

  104. Which of those would you think wouldn’t apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury?

    None of these, that’s the point. Look at his interview with the Archbishop where he says that the Bishop’s opinions are like “music to his ears”. Skeptic

    So you think the Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t a Christian? Double-talk is the mother tongue of the new atheism. Every single one of those quotes would apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury as would many others including the ones equating teaching children about religion as child abuse.

    — Cherry picking his quotes Skeptic

    “Cherry picking” is one of the silliest and most often resorted to dodges of the new atheists. No one who quotes someone else couldn’t be accused of “cherry picking”, including you, including the entire pan-atheon of the new atheists.

    Since it was Dawkins who provided the quotes, on a page of “quotes” on his own blog your charge of me cherry picking them is absurd and blatantly dishonest. Did Dawkins “cherry pick” the quotes from other people he posted there?

    I assume by your dodge of my simple question about your having read some rather significant authors on the topic of religion, that you’ve never read them. I’ve read Dawkins, I already told you I had.

  105. the wanton excesses against Danis cartoons.

    I wasn’t aware that Danish cartoons were a covered class under the First Amendment.

    I’m pretty sure you’ll find that an employment contract that has a provision to terminate someone with cause is binding as a condition of holding a job.

  106. tomh

    @ #102
    How would you view someone buying a Torah under false pretenses…

    Since anyone can buy a copy of the Torah, with no conditions attached, it’s impossible to buy one under false pretenses.

  107. tomh

    @ #104
    …in PZ’s case, would have been asked for his resignation.

    You are wrong. He would not have been asked for his resignation.

  108. Sorbet

    Consider that Lehigh University has not asked the odious intelligent design proponent Michael Behe to resign. As much as I disparage the man’s kooky leanings I fully support the university’s decision to let him air his views. Given your stance toward Brown and Myers it seems you would prefer that Lehigh ask Behe to resign. Depressing.

  109. Woody Tanaka

    - “If you’re looking to ‘Forrest Gump’ as support for your argument, it hardly seems worthwhile to continue discussing things with you, Woody.”

    LOL. Yeah, because every thinking person know that NOTHING of value can ever be learned from a piece of fiction…

    – “I would suspect that the equivalent of ‘wisdom’ as used in the New Testament has a considerable overlap with the idea of ‘intelligence’ in English.”

    “Overlap” is not “equivelence.” In other words, wisdom and intelligence are not the same thing. As I said.

    -“Here’s what I found in an online N.T. dictionary for ‘sophia’…”
    “…3. the act of interpreting dreams…”
    “4. the intelligence evinced in discovering the meaning of some mysterious number or vision…”
    “6. …discretion in imparting Christian truth…”

    Any attempt to equate “intelligence” with a word which is used to denote dream interpretation, numerology and evangelism, pretty much proves Russell’s statement.

    -“I didn’t talk about public pressure, I talked about the issues covered under relevant sections of the contract, which I’d imagine at both Morris and Brown would have been reached as a result of collective bargaining.”

    Right. And under any reasonably expected contract, there would be no grounds for firing, and the most likely illegitimate basis would be public outcry from the likes of Donohue.

    -“I can imagine circumstances under which Myers might call for the firing of a university instructor. He’s said that he would try to prevent the hiring of a fundamentalist to his department, as I recall. I’d imagine that he’d opposed, vigorously, William Dembski being hired by his school at the U. of M. M.”

    If he opposed the hiring of a fundamentalist solely because he was a fundamentalist, that would be wrong. If he opposed a fundamentalist because the fundamentalist would pursue religion in the dress of science, that is legit. Given Dembski’s nonsensical ideas, such opposition would be on merit.

    -“I’d think that a student who wanted to charge discrimination would have recourse to the full public record of what a teacher had said and did. In that case, you’d find it was hardly an easy issue to deal with.”

    Still not difficult. The student would have the burden of proving discrimination; not just a propensity toward disliking a certain religion, but discrimination against that particular person. Some of the stuff PZ’s said and done would be relevant, most of it wouldn’t. But that is the risk that everyone takes when they speak. PZ has apparently found that risk acceptable. So long as PZ is not discriminating, there is no problem.

    -“I don’t think the ownership of the ‘wafer’ has been established, if it was, indeed, obtained under false pretenses then a judge might find that it wasn’t PZ’s property, though that hardly has anything to do with my question.”

    There is no evidence that I know of to challenge PZ’s statement of where it came from, so there is no evidence to find false pretenses.

    And even if it were found to be so, that only goes to the improper possession and control of the wafer (for which the real owner would be entited to a couple of pennies in compensation), not to the action taken to it or the speech which the expressive conduct was communicating.

    -“How would you view someone buying a Torah under false pretenses so he could desecrate it publicly so as to insult Jews as superstitious faith heads? How about if someone talked someone into giving them one under false pretenses?”

    Because the Torah is an object, it can’t be “desecrated” as I noted previously. That being cleared up, if one were to obtain a Torah under false pretenses in order to do “bad” things to it, I would have a problem with the false pretenses part, but not the so-called desecration part.

    The property issue is something that the law should handle, whether it is a Torah, a dictionary, a table or any other property. But if some Jewish people were insulted by being portrayed as superstitious faith-heads, that is their problem. There is no right not to be offended.

  110. Woody Tanaka

    @ John Kwok:
    “Brown upholds free speech, but any professor or staff personnel who would indulge in such a blatantly anti-religious act of bigotry would have been subjected to some kind of counseling, and, more likely, in PZ’s case, would have been asked for his resignation.”

    In other words, Brown upholds free speech, except where it doesn’t…

  111. – Since anyone can buy a copy of the Torah, with no conditions attached, it’s impossible to buy one under false pretenses. tomh

    I think you’d find that a Torah scroll is a bit harder to get hold of than that and I doubt observant Jews, especially the very observant, would just sell one to anyone. I’m pretty confident they wouldn’t knowingly sell one to someone who intended to desecrate it. I’m pretty sure even many secular Jews wouldn’t do that.

    — Given your stance toward Brown and Myers it seems you would prefer that Lehigh ask Behe to resign. Sorbet

    My “stance” has nothing to do with any existing situation, it was only to point out that it’s possible to fire a university teacher for cause and that those causes can be determined under a contract with was entered into, freely, by the teacher. As he doesn’t work at Brown, I have no “stance” about his completely fictitious legal rights as an employee there.

    I don’t have an opinion about Behe’s employment at Lehigh, I don’t have one about Myers at Morris. They can both teach there as far as I’m concerned, though I’d avoid taking a course with either of them if I was a student at either university. Either is free to “air his views”, which is a right. Being employed by a specific university isn’t a right, it’s a job.

  112. Sorbet

    “Every single one of those quotes would apply to the Archbishop of Canterbury as would many others including the ones equating teaching children about religion as child abuse. ”

    More evidence that you are not interested in reading or knowing what he actually said about the Archbishop. More evasion, and absolutely no interest in knowing the truth, especially where it can harm your case. Double-talk: perfectly acceptable when making unsubtasntaited claims about fabricated wafers, perfectly unacceptable when fabricated and applied to others.

  113. Skeptic

    McCarthy, your sophisticated dura matter still does not get it, does it? You quote Dawkins’s unfavorable views on religion from his website which achieves nothing since I and others already know about them. It’s you who refuses to accept the other side of the argument, his complimentary views toward sophisticated theologians like the Archbishop. But wait, of course you would not like to read about these views since your stated goal is to paint everything about Dawkins with a broad brush. Talk about bias. Bravo.

  114. — Any attempt to equate “intelligence” with a word which is used to denote dream interpretation, numerology and evangelism, pretty much proves Russell’s statement. Woody

    I think you might just have knocked out a good part of Greek culture, Woody. Including much of not just about all of the philosophy and maybe some of the science.

    You want to consider some of the meanings of “intelligence” in English? Including what was presented as an excuse to invade Iraq.

    — and the most likely illegitimate basis would be public outcry from the likes of Donohue.

    I think you’d find Brown wasn’t greatly influenced by William Donohue. Have you got any evidence of them caving in to that kind of outside pressure?

    — Because the Torah is an object, it can’t be “desecrated” as I noted previously. Woody

    Why did PZ call his act the “Great Desecration” then?

    I think I should have taken the Gump citation as the clincher, Woody.

  115. — It’s you who refuses to accept the other side of the argument, his complimentary views toward sophisticated theologians like the Archbishop. Skeptic

    I acknowledged that he was speaking out of both sides of his mouth. If he’d changed his mind about HIS OWN quotes page at HIS BLOG, he’s able to take it down or revise it. Until he does that anyone is free to assume he stands by what he said there and elsewhere.

    So, he thinks the Archbishop is an important official in an institution that” is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence”, “teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world”, “has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world”, “depends on the ignorance of the person who reads it” and is a form of child abuse.

    If he doesn’t agree with those things he posted on his own blog, he really should be advised to revise and issue a clarification about his changed opinion. If he did, I’m sure it would be noticed.

  116. Woody Tanaka

    “I think you might just have knocked out a good part of Greek culture, Woody. Including much of not just about all of the philosophy and maybe some of the science.”

    Irrelevant. Russell was talking about intelligence, not Greek culture, philosophy or “some science.” (Although how numerology and dream readings consitute “some science” is another question.)

    “You want to consider some of the meanings of ‘intelligence’ in English? Including what was presented as an excuse to invade Iraq.”

    Why? They’re irrelevant. Russell wasn’t talking about those definitions.

    “I think you’d find Brown wasn’t greatly influenced by William Donohue. Have you got any evidence of them caving in to that kind of outside pressure?”

    I merely pointed out that the most likely illegitimate reason on which they might take action is public pressure. I didn’t say that they would take action, merely that if they did, that would likely be the reason.

    “Why did PZ call his act the ‘Great Desecration’ then?”

    It’s the latest thing from Europe, it’s called “irony.”

  117. — Irrelevant. Russell was talking about intelligence, not Greek culture, Woody

    He was talking about the word “intelligence” not appearing in the New Testament, the original of which was written in Greek. Or did you think it was originally in Elizabethan English like so many of the most ignorant biblical fundamentalists do? I’m pretty sure Russell would have been able to understand the point I made, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t know it when he said that, the more I re-read him the lower my opinion of him goes. Brilliant logician, dishonest polemicist.

    I could argue language with you all day to much the same effect and you’d still be making silly attempts at refutation. You argue exactly like all other fundamentalists because you’re not interested in testing your preconceptions.

    — It’s the latest thing from Europe, it’s called “irony.” Woody

    I think it’s more that good old American tradition, the publicity stunt.

  118. tomh

    @ #113
    I think you’d find that a Torah scroll is a bit harder to get hold of than that and I doubt observant Jews, especially the very observant, would just sell one to anyone.

    What you “think” has no relation to reality. One can buy a Torah scroll any number of places, here, for instance, from a Certified Sofer STaM, with no conditions attached.

  119. Woody Tanaka

    –“He was talking about the word ‘intelligence’ not appearing in the New Testament, the original of which was written in Greek.”

    No, he was talking about the deficiencies of the Gospels as a guide for living. And, regardless, “intelligence” and “wisdom” are not the same thing.

    –“…I’m pretty sure Russell would have been able to understand the point I made, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t know it when he said that…”

    LOL. Such a pity he didn’t have a magnificence such as you to keep him honest…

  120. Woody, I’ve looked in a couple of thesauruses and they both give “intelligence” as a synonymy for “wisdom”. So, it would appear that they can be the same thing. Maybe they used “wisdom” because it scans better than “intelligence”, or maybe because it’s an older word in the language.

    And, as I said, your previous contention would knock out most of ancient Greek learning. Which doesn’t strike me as being either wise or intelligent.

    As to the second attempted riposte, I guess I have more confidence in Russell’s knowledge than you do. He was rather brilliant though not entirely honest, And I really don’t think I’d take him as a guide for living, not based on what his daughter has said about him.

  121. tomh, I wonder what they’d say if you told them you were buying the scroll for an act of anti-Semitic desecration? And that wouldn’t make any difference to my question. You could still obtain one through false pretenses to desecrate as an anti-Semitic act. Would you be as supportive of that as you are PZ’s “great desecration”? Or would that be fine with you?

    Please answer the last question because that was the reason for asking it. Would an act of anti-Semitism be as fine with you as an anti-Catholic act?

  122. Woody Tanaka

    “Wisdom” is often used for “intelligent” but that does not mean they are the same thing, but merely similar, inter-related concepts. (Just as — to take a wholly random selection from Roget’s — “custom” and “addiction” relate to similar, inter-related concepts but are not the same things.)

    “…your previous contention…”

    My only contention is that “wisdom” and “intelligence” are two different things. That bible writers and interpreters would equate “wisdom” with numerology and dream readings simple exemplifies the boundless flexibility of language.

    “I guess I have more confidence in Russell’s knowledge than you do.”

    No, merely less confidence in yours.

    And with that, I will leave you with the last word…

  123. – “Wisdom” is often used for “intelligent” but that does not mean they are the same thing, but merely similar, inter-related concepts. Woody

    I hate to tell you, Woody, but it’s verified use that determines the meanings of a word and not the decree of a blog commentator pulling it out of their hat. As I have said to more than one new atheist, that’s why I’ll go with professional lexicography and factual etymology instead.

    — My only contention is that “wisdom” and “intelligence” are two different things. That bible writers and interpreters would equate “wisdom” with numerology and dream readings simple exemplifies the boundless flexibility of language. Woody

    You’ve got a really selective view of it, which doesn’t surprise me. “Intelligence” in English is used for all kinds of stuff, as in the example you ignored, the lies used as a pretext for Bush to invade Iraq. And look here in the Merriam-Webster under “intelligence” “b Christian Science : the basic eternal quality of divine Mind” . How do you like that?

    And I’ll hold you to that being your last word, though I wouldn’t take that to the dictionary.

  124. Skeptic

    His opinion as expressed on his blog has not changed and does not need to. He simply holds different opinions about people like the Archbishop, and you refuse to see that. I could agree with a general premise and still make room for what I think are exceptions; that happens all the time. If I agree with one particular atheist and disagree with another I am not speaking out of both sides of my mouth.

  125. tomh

    @ #123
    I wonder what they’d say if you told them you were buying the scroll for an act of anti-Semitic desecration?

    Aren’t you the slippery little fellow. First you claim it would be hard to buy a Torah, and when that’s shown to be false you wonder how they would feel about someone desecrating it. Gee, it doesn’t take a mental giant to figure out they wouldn’t like it. So what?

    As for your anti-Semitism canard … anti-Semitism connotes discrimination, either violent or otherwise, against Jewish people. Of course, anyone rational would be against that just as they would be with regard to Catholic people, or Scientologists, or Atheists. But we’re not talking about people, we’re talking about ideas. It’s perfectly acceptable to criticize or even ridicule ideas, whether they are of Jewish origin, or Catholic, or Scientologist, or Atheist. And that’s what Myers did, ridiculed an idea. Something about a cracker, as I recall. Now, you might say it was rude, or insensitive, or hurt people’s feelings but … so what? If someone puts their ideas out in the marketplace they should be prepared to have them ridiculed. If one’s feelings are so easily bruised, don’t put your ideas out in the marketplace.

    Whether religious, or patriotic, or whatever, there is no idea that is, or should be, protected from ridicule. As a veteran, it might hurt my feelings to see someone burn the American flag while shouting anti-American slogans. So what? We should be proud to live in a country where such behavior is not only tolerated but protected, in our most basic legal document, the Constitution, under the rubric of free speech. And we should fight, tooth and nail, at any encroachment on that freedom.

  126. Sorbet

    Unnecessary and unprovoked anti-Semitism vs wafer “desecration” provoked by ridiculous death threats and din. I have to say I call straw man, a McCarthy specialty.

  127. Matti K.

    Sam Harris elaborates on Francis Collins and some comments in UA:

    http://www.reasonproject.org/archive/item/the_strange_case_of_francis_collins/

    Unlike M&K, he seems to value logic more than political correctness.

    I think the next comment is head on:

    “But let’s be honest about how Mooney and Kirshenbaum view public discourse in the United States: watch what you say, or the Christian mob will burn down the library of Alexandria all over again. By comparison, the “combativeness” of the “New Atheists” seems entirely collegial. We merely assume that our fellow Homo sapiens possess the requisite intelligence and emotional maturity to respond to rational argument, satire, and ridicule on the subject of religion—just as they respond to these discursive pressures on all other subjects.”

  128. —- His opinion as expressed on his blog has not changed and does not need to. He simply holds different opinions about people like the Archbishop, and you refuse to see that. Skeptic

    What I see is that Dawkins is able to speak out of both sides of his mouth. Which I’ve never doubted, even before he became the new atheist pope.

    — First you claim it would be hard to buy a Torah, tomh

    No, first I asked if a series of other possible, and far less socially acceptable, anti-religious desecrations would meet with the same approval of you guys. Then the issue of how hard it would be to buy a Torah scroll was raised by one of you.

    The slippery part was avoiding answering my questions by focusing on that aspect of it and that wasn’t done by me.

    Sorbet, never at a loss for an inappropriate buzz word are you. Maybe that’s the real nature of the new atheism, thinking in clichés and stereotypes instead of ideas.

  129. Sorbet

    Yes, unlike the McCarthys who ar oh-so-flexible and unbiased in their thinking.

  130. Skeptic

    What you call speaking out of both sides of your mouth I call holding different opinions on different topics, which is perfectly acceptable.

  131. I’m tempted to mention that sorbet drips and melts away when exposed to strong light, but why bother?

  132. Sorbet

    I’m tempted to mention that sorbet drips and melts away when exposed to strong light, but why bother?

    And I am tempted to mention that McCarthy is in the dark and needs to be shown the light. But why bother and use explicitly religious tones.

  133. tomh

    @ #130
    “Then the issue of how hard it would be to buy a Torah scroll was raised by one of you.”

    Why do you say things that are so obviously untrue? In #113, you said, “I think you’d find that a Torah scroll is a bit harder to get hold of than that and I doubt observant Jews, especially the very observant, would just sell one to anyone.” No one else said it would be hard to buy a Torah scroll, that was you.

  134. Michael Kingsford Gray

    Religious accomdationism is akin to lying to those whom one considers mentally inferior for short-term benefit.

  135. Tomh, look at number 90.

    Michael Kingsford Gray, I don’ t know what you mean by religious accomodationism, but I do know you’re mistake to be looking down on anyone.

  136. tomh

    @ #137
    look at number 90.

    What about it? It says nothing about anyone else claiming it would be hard to buy a Torah. @ #130 you said, ” the issue of how hard it would be to buy a Torah scroll was raised by one of you.” This is obviously false, as no one but you claimed it would be hard to buy a Torah. Why do you make an obviously false statement like this and then just pretend it never happened.

  137. tomh, I only raised the issue of obtaining a Torah under false pretenses for the purpose of desecrating it, someone else raised the issue of difficulty of obtaining one. I am unaware of the casual trafficking of Torah scrolls and expressed doubts as to it being that easy to obtain one. I doubt many of those who might sell them would knowingly sell one to an anti-Semite for the purposes of publicly desecrating one in an anti-Semitic act. I’m not pretending it happened, I’m pointing out that I didn’t raise it, one of you guys did.

    Needless to say, even if that is possible it is still possible for someone to obtain one under false pretenses, as PZ’s alleged “consecrated communion host” was to be used in his publicity stunt.

    So, an act of anti-Semitic desecration of a Torah is OK by you, is it? Or are you continuing the dodging of that question.

  138. Ah, yes, it was you at 108:

    “Since anyone can buy a copy of the Torah, with no conditions attached, it’s impossible to buy one under false pretenses.”

    You do realize that this is a rather vast logical disconnect, I hope. You can buy a container of rat poison with no conditions attached too, but if you’re buying it for the purpose of poisoning a person I don’t think too many people would sell it to you. Though I’m sure some would.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

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

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