Steve Benen on UA

By Chris Mooney | August 8, 2009 4:56 pm

Over at the Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal” blog, Steve Benen has given us a thumbs up, and correctly observes that “it doesn’t matter whether the typical American has memorized the periodic table or can explain string theory; what matters is whether the typical American appreciates the role of science in modern life, and places a high value on scientific inquiry and integrity.”

Then lots of comments ensued, and I found particularly revealing this one, from “Hannah”:

I will say, once again, that it’s insulting to continually read from progressive commenters here and other places that I must be a “crazy” who believes in “fairy tales”, etc. because I am a Christian. For the record, I have a degree in science (from a highly-regarded state university known for its science programs), have worked as a research assistant, am always trying to learn more about the natural world. The Christian denomination I belong to and many others are not like the fundies, and in fact are appalled at what those folks are doing. Many of us speak out against their un-Christian and other actions that harm their children (re education), the country and the world.

It seems to me that Hannah is our ally in the cause of better public acceptance of science–and I for one, am glad for it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Unscientific America

Comments (178)

  1. Silver Fox

    As I write this the Firedoglake Book Salon is discussing Unscientific America. It is being hosted by Dr. Free Ride (Janet Stemwedel) and Chris is in attending.

  2. Silver Fox

    Forgot to mention, Dr. Free Ride (Janet) is the blogmaster at Adventures in Ethics and Science.

  3. Thiago

    She’s obviously an ally in the cause of better public acceptance of science, and I am also glad for it. But it doesn’t mean her (I’m assuming “Hannah” is a girl) beliefs cannot be criticized, or put under scientific scrutiny (when they’re factual claims).
    Frankly, I don’t see why it is so hard for “new-atheists” to acknowledge that thoughtful believers who support science are indeed allies and for “acommodationists” to understand that to acknowledge this doesn’t mean that moderate beliefs should be shielded from (reasonable) criticism by atheists.

  4. “Hannah” may have a science degree, ascribe to factual accounts of how our universe developed and think that the likes of Lowe and McLeory are completely off their rockers. But that doesn’t change the fact that as a devoted Christian she would need to embrace rather unscientific ideas and she’s more concerned about defending them from ardent atheists than anything else.

    While she says that she opposes what the fundamentalists are doing to education in the U.S., what is she doing to stop them? Does she go to school board meetings? Write op-ed columns urging people not to let fundamentalists push theology into science class?

    An ally that doesn’t actually care to help you and worries more about defending her religious views than allowing the public to learn proper science is no ally at all.

  5. Marc

    Oddly enough – whenever proof is presented about how it backfires to attack people’s religion – somehow it doesn’t count. It’s the refusal by the Pharyngula crowd to even acknowledge that better *tactics* might be a good idea that’s the truly bizarre bit – along with the relentless petty attacks on the authors, which actually prove their point about the NA online crowd.

    I’ve worked with evangelicals concerned about addressing climate change as a religious duty and had to deal with atheist libertarians who are religiously convinced that climate change is a hoax. So I don’t even buy the premise that atheist = science-friendly.

  6. “it’s the refusal by the Pharyngula crowd to even acknowledge that better *tactics* might be a good idea that’s the truly bizarre bit”

    First and foremost, keep in mind that Pharyngula caters to very passionate atheists. Believe it or not, they need a place where they can vent and be able to dissect creationism and other forms of pseudoscience with as much disdain as they want. Certainly, most of them would be a lot more civilized in public interactions but their point would remain the same. When you place religion and “respect for religious opinions” above the need to teach actual, factual science, you risk jeopardizing scientific literacy.

    As for “better tactics,” we don’t really have any. A sensitive enough religious crowd sees even the slightest critique of their views as obnoxiousness and disrespect. How do you try to sway people tho think it’s their duty to convert the world of their anti-scientific or quasi-spiritual views without offending them? Contradict them once and you’re instantly one of those evil new atheists “who doesn’t understand how to respect other ideas.”

    Just saying “better tactics” isn’t enough. Even worse is having a tactic shown to be totally ineffective, calling it a better one and demanding everyone use it.

  7. Erasmussimo

    Greg Fish, I’m an atheist and I don’t go to school board meetings nor do I write op-ed columns urging people not to let fundamentalists into science class. I suppose that I’m dispensable, too?

  8. Timothy Chase

    Marc says in 5, “I’ve worked with evangelicals concerned about addressing climate change as a religious duty and had to deal with atheist libertarians who are religiously convinced that climate change is a hoax. So I don’t even buy the premise that atheist = science-friendly.”

    I wouldn’t be too surprised if the libertarian atheists you are speaking of largely denied special relativity, general relativity and quantum mechanics on the grounds that these theories are philosophically incorrect (i.e., violated their understanding of metaphysics and logic). And no doubt climate science would be the greatest abomination — but basically because of its presumed economic and political implications. I may have disagreed with them, particularly when it came to the fundamental theories of physics, but that was my crowd at one time. For about thirteen years.

  9. Yo, what proof Marc? Failing to provide any yourself, we can only assume you are, yes, bloviating. I’ll acknowledge, as does PZ, that a plurality of tactics are a good idea. It’s the accomodationists who argue for a party line, single, centrist voice.

    How else can I put it–Hannah believes in fairy tales. She confuses criticisms of her person with criticism of her zany beliefs. The fact that she is (or was) a scientist makes her more a target of criticism, not less. Perhaps instead of tsk-tsking us mean atheists, she outline her god so we have something to work with.

  10. The problem is definition of science itself. For instance neo-darwinism (aka random mutation and natural selection hypothesis) is considered as “science” and those who believe in randomness of evolutionary process are equally considered as “scientists”.

    One the other hand Popper once ridiculed darwinism for it’s circular reasoning and rejected it as “science” (he later changed his opinion, but neverthenless he never attacked chemistry or physics on the ground of “circular reasoning”.)

    There were and are also many prominent scholars who are world-wide recognized scientists who dismiss neodarwinian model of evolution (-not the evolution itself!) like Lynn Margulis.

    Consequently I do not see reason why it is taken for granted that Dawkins and Myers represent “real science” and those who oppose them (like Margulis) should stand on “unscientific” grounds. Not to speak about great scholars of the 20th century who dismissed “neodarwinian scinece” be it professors Wilhelm Troll, Adolf Portmann, Richard Goldshcmidt and many others:

    http://cadra.wordpress.com/

  11. This has been going on long enough so I think what we’re seeing is a concerted effort by some professional atheists, Myers, Harris, Benson, etc. to protect their meal ticket by encouraging their devoted fans to bad mouth Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, damage sales of their book and to make them seem tainted in general mid-brow culture. It’s an effort to staunch criticism which the new atheist fad can’t sustain.

    Much of the new atheist backlash is based in their ignorance of the book, it’s clear a lot of those criticizing it on the blogs haven’t read it but they’ve read the new atheist criticism of it on blogs or blog threads. It’s not about the book or the authors it’s about the conformity to a common received standard POV that is what the new atheism has as its goal. It’s not a desire for people to have a deeper understanding of the issues involved, it’s about evoking an emotional reaction similar to what you can see in a more extreme forms in the goons showing up to harass Democratic members of congress at healthcare town meetings.

  12. Peter Beattie

    » Thiago:
    Frankly, I don’t see why it is so hard for “new-atheists” to acknowledge that thoughtful believers who support science are indeed allies

    Who doesn’t acknowledge that? As far as the science is concerned, all of the Shrill and Strident Atheists have made it clear that believers who support science are welcome and appreciated. For example:

    PZ (on Ken Miller):
    [O]n the topic of evolution, he’s solidly in the Blue Zone of Friends.

    Coyne:
    Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design.

  13. —- So I don’t even buy the premise that atheist = science-friendly. Marc

    I’d agree if you said that ” … don’t even buy the premise that atheism is guaranteed to equal science-friendly”. You can see in the comments made by many of the new atheists here and at new atheist blogs that they’re certainly hostile to reason and skepticism, when they’re the object of either. A lot of them remind me of the devotees of Ayn Rand or other cultists.

    — mean atheists gillt

    What is this “mean”, “meanie”, stuff? I’ve been seeing new atheists using it continually over the past three years. I’m not upset about new atheists being mean, I’m annoyed that they’re obnoxious and their program is counter-productive.

  14. Marc

    If you read over these threads you can see that fundamentalists aren’t even part of the conversation. They probably assume that the New Atheists are possessed by demons and just pray for them. So the folks being antagonized by the NA crowd are fellow atheists and agnostics, people who don’t like online bullies (is that enough of a hint for you?), and liberal to moderate religious people.

    gillt: you have to understand *what someone believes* before you have even a hope of changing their mind, and I see no evidence that you have any clue about non-fundamentalist religions. If you can’t bother to attempt such an understanding, which is the case, then you can repeat your insults endlessly but you will achieve nothing.

    Even if you believe that something is silly, you also have to choose how to address it in a way that has the faintest hope of changing someone’s mind. I think homeopathy is obviously false, but when it comes up I choose not to tell people that they’re delusional, believe in fairy tales, and might as well be visiting witch doctors. Strangely enough, my chosen tactics tends to actually lead to conversation. The alternative is what we see on all of these threads.

  15. Erasmussimo

    gillt, you point out that Hannah believes in fairy tales. OK, I can accept that. And you, of course, never eat candy, ice cream, pizza, hamburgers, or fast food because you do not believe the fairy tale that these foods are healthy. All of your political opinions are based on thorough research into the problem, because you are a flawless rationalist and do not come to conclusions without extensive consideration of the issues. There is no correlation between your political beliefs and those of any political tribe (conservative, liberal, libertarian, etc) because you consider each issue separately and never, never allow tribal identity to influence your thinking. You exercise like your doctor advises, every week, without ever missing a beat. You do not take stimulants like coffee or chocolate, because caffeine is unhealthy. The only alcohol you drink is red wine, in small amounts. You never drive faster than the speed limit, and you always slow down when it rains. You freely acknowledge that you are probably only mediocre in bed, nor particularly handsome. You brush your teeth after every meal. You like to think that you are smart, but you know full well that there are zillions of people who are smarter and better educated than you. You have never exaggerated your skills or experience in your resume or job interviews, but instead have offered a rigorously objective assessment of your talents, based only upon the evidence. And you never, ever, use a new piece of software without reading the manual first.

    You do these things because you are a perfect rationalist, untainted with the silly superstitions that inferior people like Hannah embrace.

  16. Walker

    While she says that she opposes what the fundamentalists are doing to education in the U.S., what is she doing to stop them? Does she go to school board meetings? Write op-ed columns urging people not to let fundamentalists push theology into science class?

    Where have I heard this stuff before?

    Oh yes, these were the type of accusations that conservatives leveled at liberals around 2001-2003. You were a traitor to America unless you publically denounced each and every Muslim atrocity.

    You are not helping your side Greg.

  17. Walker


    How else can I put it–Hannah believes in fairy tales. She confuses criticisms of her person with criticism of her zany beliefs. The fact that she is (or was) a scientist makes her more a target of criticism, not less. Perhaps instead of tsk-tsking us mean atheists, she outline her god so we have something to work with.

    As soon as the atheists outline the “scientific reasons” why they believe in the fairy tale of metaphysical naturalism.

    I have read the arguments on RationalWiki. Talk about unscientific bunkum.

  18. “As soon as the atheists outline the “scientific reasons” why they believe in the fairy tale of metaphysical naturalism.”

    “the fairy tale of metaphysical naturalism.” Indeed. And with statements like that, we see two disparate ideologies converge into irrational pablum: The academic post-modernist and his unlikely ally the religious believer–equals their rejection of science. One thinks science is just another social construct, like libertarianism or Buddhism, (a tactic since adopted by think tanks) the other is a true reactionary, close-minded toward any challenge to his faith. Both reject science based on a lack of critical thinking skills and a crippled understanding of how to think scientifically about our bodies, the earth and the universe.

    I read it and my opinion, CM & SK only pay lip service to this in their book. Even if you think the New Atheists hurt the cause, devoting (wasting) an entire chapter of a thin book on why, is grossly out of proportion to the huge and trenchant anti-science forces at work–from the think-tank to the pulpit– in this country. I suppose the NAs should feel flattered that they’re allowed similar page-space to all of religion and all of politics in UA, but the fact that chapter 8 even exists, seems more like satisfying a personal vendetta than a balanced engagement with the issues.

    To answer your question: because there is zero empirical/objective evidence for supernaturalism. Now, all we’re left with is the physical world and the predictive models we employ. Supernaturalim is an additive, an as yet to be justified one, and in my opinion hopelessly superfluous.

  19. “All of your political opinions are based on thorough research into the problem, because you are a flawless rationalist and do not come to conclusions without extensive consideration of the issues.”

    What a waste of time. I criticized a belief, vague as it was, and you decide to get personal by saying I’m full of contradictions and irrational behavior, therefore implying I shouldn’t be criticizing another’s beliefs. You argue like a child.

  20. “gillt: you have to understand *what someone believes* before you have even a hope of changing their mind, and I see no evidence that you have any clue about non-fundamentalist religions. If you can’t bother to attempt such an understanding, which is the case, then you can repeat your insults endlessly but you will achieve nothing.”

    I have and will continue to admit that playing nice works some of the time, despite the fact, as I’ve mentioned before, accomodationists, the strident ones, can’t bring themselves adopt the same plurality of methods.

  21. —- One thinks science is just another social construct gillt

    What in human culture isn’t a social construct? What part of intellectual culture isn’t the product of an agreed method or a priori set of ideas and procedures or founded in principles accepted as given? Science is a social construct, its reliance on the corrective proceedures of review and agreement makes it exactly a social construct.

    — Both reject science based on a lack of critical thinking skills and a crippled understanding of how to think scientifically about our bodies, the earth and the universe. gillt

    What is clear in the new atheism is that the rejection of critical thinking skills and understanding of the limits we all work in is hardly limited to religious or other metaphysical dogmatists.

    There is zero empirical or objective evidence for the idea that people have civil rights, there is zero empirical or objective evidence that an individual has the moral responsibility to treat other people as if they have rights. There is no empirical or objective evidence that human science addresses the entirety of the actual universe, there isn’t even any empirical or objective evidence that our science won’t be the decisive factor which leads to our extinction. From the way things are going, I’d guess it just might be that. Or it just might be a contributing factor that saves us from ourselves. But without “additives” such as the metaphysical concepts of inherent rights, of the moral limits on selfishness and other entirely unobjective and empirically undemonstrated holdings, science will continue to serve what it largely does now and we will become extinct.

  22. “…we will become extinct.”

    Whatever lead you to think I’m interested in your ranting and raving?

    civil rights are a social construct. They vary from culture to culture…scientific truth does not–it is universal. Science is not a social construct like all the rest because of its methodology. Why is that so hard for you to accept?

  23. Erasmussimo

    Gillt responds to my #14 as follows:

    What a waste of time. I criticized a belief, vague as it was, and you decide to get personal by saying I’m full of contradictions and irrational behavior, therefore implying I shouldn’t be criticizing another’s beliefs. You argue like a child.

    You criticize a belief because it is irrational. You’re right, it *is* irrational. However, you are in no position to criticize irrational beliefs, because you surely have your own irrational beliefs. Human beings are NOT perfect rationalists. Human beings — ALL human beings — hold irrational beliefs. Hence, to criticize another human being’s beliefs *solely* because they are irrational is necessarily hypocritical. Criticize actions, not beliefs. Hannah is doing no harmful actions, hence you have no basis to criticize her.

  24. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, science wouldn’t work if it wasn’t the product of agreement among scientists, it builds on ideas that scientists have accepted.

    As to its universality, I thought that was the problem that the new atheism gives as the reason for its existence, that science is NOT UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED.

    You doubt that we could become extinct from the combined products of science, technology and selfishness? What are you, a global warming denialist?

  25. Mel

    A question to consider:
    Consider if large studies found that, with vanishingly small p-values, that the New Atheist approach to those of other religious positions, as seems intuitively obvious, does little more than anger, provoke, annoy, and hurt people, and in the process hurt the cause of encouragement of science education and acceptance of science. Given this, does anyone see it as likely that New Atheists such as gilt, Myers, Harris, Dawkins, and so on will actually change their approach and treatment of those who don’t believe as they do?

    I ask this honestly, and I am curious as to the answers, especially given how often I have seen people on these threads disregard criticism of the New Atheist approach for lack of evidence. Given the emotion that seems behind much of the New Atheist posts, I question whether or not such an empirical finding would actually provoke a reconsideration, but that is merely my take. I want to know what others things, particularly the New Atheists who have been posting here.

  26. That’s hilarious Erasmussimo. You tell me I can’t criticize the irrational because I’m not a perfect rationalist? Do you even believe in what you write?

    When Bill Maher rants against Western Medicine because he doesn’t believe in it, or when George Will tries to debunk Climate Change because he’s believes it’s not true, we should all keep our mouths shut lest we sound like hypocrites? When Hannah says she’s a scientist who believes in an unseen, all-powerful man-god who rose from the dead and was born of a virgin, all based on ancient and spotty texts, I’m supposed to respect this unfounded belief why? And please don’t confuse this with her right to believe.

    If Hannah believes in a denomination of Christianity then she attaches a fairy tale to her belief system. I’m only pointing out the obvious here. Beliefs that are grounded in irrationalities aren’t immune to criticism by others who hold other irrationalities. Yours is a sleazy tactic to protect irrational ideas from criticism.

  27. Mel

    Anthony McCarthy,

    Would you agree, though, that even if science is a social construct, that it still manages to be a social construct that produces more secure knowledge of the objective universe than is systematically obtained via other constructs? I ask this with full awareness that the human mind did not evolve to have a fully objective understanding of the universe, and thus acknowledge that the knowledge obtained by science is not fully objective, nor can it be. Further, isn’t it a critical detail that the purpose of science as a socially constructed human activity is to generate more or less objective knowledge about the universe, while the purpose of other social constructs and socially constructed human activities is not (something I think the New Atheists and many others tend to miss with these issues)?

  28. “As to its universality, I thought that was the problem that the new atheism gives as the reason for its existence, that science is NOT UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED.”

    As usual McCarthy goes out of his way to misinterpret what others say for his own personal enjoyment.

    McCarthy, most of your arguments are argued in bad faith. You admit as much when you say you’ll stoop to whatever imagined levels of dishonesty you assign to New Atheists. And since anyone who disagrees with you is a New Atheist, why bother arguing with you when you’ve admitted your capable of dishonest tactics?

  29. “I ask this honestly, and I am curious as to the answers, especially given how often I have seen people on these threads disregard criticism of the New Atheist approach for lack of evidence. Given the emotion that seems behind much of the New Atheist posts, I question whether or not such an empirical finding would actually provoke a reconsideration, but that is merely my take. I want to know what others things, particularly the New Atheists who have been posting here.”

    No Mel, you I don’t believe you’re asking in good faith, since you feel the need to tell us how your personal experience has already pushed you in one direction prior to actually doing the necessary experiment you just outlined. What you are leaning toward is confirmation bias.

  30. — Would you agree, though, that even if science is a social construct, that it still manages to be a social construct that produces more secure knowledge of the objective universe than is systematically obtained via other constructs? Mel

    It is capable of producing more reliable information about those things in the material universe which are susceptible to its methods. It doesn’t always do that and, I’d guess, is generally most successful when it limits its focus to relatively specific and successfully reducible phenomena. When there are phenomena that aren’t sufficiently reducible its reliability isn’t as certain.

    The mechanisms of review that have gradually developed as part of science are intrinsic to its reliability. I hadn’t thought of it before now but it might have a similar function to judicial review, though, as the recent Supreme Court has shown, when there is a lax review procedure or an unwillingness to make a serious effort, the presence of a formal mechanism of review isn’t, in itself, a guarantee. Like all human systems, it’s dependent on a sense of morality and earnestness. Neither of which are the product of objective and empirically verifiable foundations. As in that example that gillt came up with, the curious mention of the supernatural in a paper that almost made it to the official publication stage AFTER it was allegedly reviewed, it’s possible for scientists to violate their own moral code.

  31. Thiago

    @ 11 Peter Beattie
    “Who doesn’t acknowledge that? As far as the science is concerned, all of the Shrill and Strident Atheists have made it clear that believers who support science are welcome and appreciated.”

    This is not about Myers and Coyne per se, I know they acknowledge it. I suppose I should have been clearer but what I meant by “new-atheists” are not one or two famous bloggers, but a whole bunch of people who comment on those blogs and who declare themselves atheists. Go to the comment thread on P. Z.’s comment and you’ll see a lot of people who are not as fast as Myers or Coyne in acknowledging moderate science suporting believers such as Miller as friends. From the second comment:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/the_dilemma_of_the_anti-creati.php#comment-1824828
    “In terms of the evolution debate, Miller, Francis Collins, et al, straddle the line between “Friends” and “Embarrassing Allies.[...]”

    Anyway, I stand by the second part of my comment: It’s not just about atheists acknowledging moderate science suporting believers as friends, but also about acommodationists understanding that to acknowledge this one need not shut all criticism to religion.

  32. McCarthy isn’t really in a position to say what is and isn’t amenable to scientific scrutiny. Anyone who’s followed this thread over the past month can see how deep his confusion over scientific thinking runs.

    For example, doing science or thinking scientifically is in no way dependent on a sense of morality. Pure word salad.

  33. gillt, what did I say that’s not true? If you expect me to genuflect and kiss your ring you’re going to have a long wait.

  34. For example, doing science or thinking scientifically is in no way dependent on a sense of morality. Pure word salad.

    Try reading.

  35. Doing science isn’t dependent on a sense of honesty? It isn’t dependent on a sense of responsible review? You forgetting that example I mentioned above that you made so much of?

    You seem to have some superstitious notion that science has some kind of existence independent of human minds, that it exists in some disembodied perfection someplace that isn’t conditioned by human emotions and susceptible to short comings. How very metaphysical of you.

  36. Erasmussimo

    Gillt, you confuse an important distinction. I can criticize Mr. Will’s claims regarding climate change by attacking the claims themselves; I have no need to criticize Mr. Will himself, and in fact any attack on Mr. Will is a digression from the real issue. So let’s be clear here: it’s perfectly fair and reasonable to attack ideas; it’s not reasonable to attack people. So if you want to argue against a belief in God, be my guest. But if you chose to argue that the people who believe in God are irrational, you must yourself be free of irrationality, lest you commit hypocrisy — which I believe you are doing in this case.

    So again, feel free to argue the issues. But arguing personalities is a two-way street: if you want to attack Hannah’s personality, then you’d better be prepared to have people attack your personality. Fair’s fair.

  37. Mel @ 24,

    Yes, some of them probably would, myself included. But I’m not a “new atheist”, I’m a quietist.

  38. Gillt,

    I think Anthony has a point, if we replace “morality” with “scientific prudential standards” and so on. But he made this point only after basically admitting to Mel that the “social construct” business is an unhelpful line of argument, since there’s a difference in reliability.

  39. Benjamin S. Nelson, I didn’t admit that the it was an unhelpful line of argument, I don’t think it matters if it’s helpful or not, it’s an inescapable fact that science is a social construct. That is one of the inherent parts of its process, it’s also the location of possible problems, as gillt’s example of review breakdown shows. It’s also inherent to its stability that it agrees on the prior reliability of a body of knowledge. And, as that body of knowledge is, itself, subject to being overturned by review, the inertia of the commonly held viewpoint can hamper progress. I don’t think that anything would be helped by denying the reality of its being a social construct, but it wouldn’t matter if it did since that’s the reality of it.

    Science isn’t so different from the law as some would like to think.

  40. Yes Eras, and when Hannah declares her belief in a sect of Christianity, as I mentioned previously, I can criticize beliefs specific to all Christianity, which I did. For your standards to work, Hannah would have had to say, “I have a belief.” and for me to respond “you’re belief is irrational!” We all know that’s not how it played out.

    Additionally, I repeat: I reject your premise that one must attain some impossible standard of rationality, in other words become a computer program, to comment on irrationality.

  41. I’d guess that gillt’s method is at least 80% personal attacks and about 15% doctrinal assertions. His preferred doctrine, that is.

    Now watch to see him complain about a personal attack.

  42. Erasmussimo

    ***IF*** you were talking directly to Hannah, then you might be justified in using the shorthand of “her beliefs”. However, you’re not talking TO Hannah, you’re talking ABOUT Hannah:

    The fact that she is (or was) a scientist makes her more a target of criticism, not less.

    You’re targeting Hannah as a person, not Hannah’s ideas.

    I reject your premise that one must attain some impossible standard of rationality, in other words become a computer program, to comment on irrationality.

    Ah, then you have misunderstood my premise, which is that, before you criticize a personality flaw in another person, you’d better make sure that the same flaw isn’t part of your own makeup.

    Again I emphasize: the difference is between the PERSON and the IDEA. Criticize the latter but not the former.

  43. McCarthy: “Doing science isn’t dependent on a sense of honesty?”

    McCarthy: “Like all human systems, [science] is dependent on a sense of morality…”

    Science is morally neutral. It is not a moral system nor does it rely on a moral system. And the tentative truths arrived at by science are independent of a moral system. Rather, moral systems ought be informed by science, not the other way around.

    Science is not dependent on the morality or rationality the scientist. Science depends on the repeatability of data and falsification of the hypothesis. Oftentimes science is a whole lot of negative results adding up to an agreed-upon degree of accuracy, allowing us to make truth predictions, always tentative, about the world.

    What other social construct relies on falsificationism?

  44. Anthony, fine. But my ears are a social construct, and so is the moon, because any thought is tainted with intention, and almost every meaningful utterance is social.

    So I think “the moon” and I intend to speak of the moon, which I mean to refer to that fat round thing in the sky that I think is a big rock. If it turns out that on closer inspection the “moon” is actually a block of round cheese, and is only the size of a dime, I am well within my rights to say in reference to the block of cheese, “that’s not the moon, then”, despite the fact that I’ve spent the past twenty years babbling falsely with stories about how men have walked on the moon. Also, I’m also permitted to change my meaning, to use the words “the moon” to talk about the ball of cheese. It’s up to me. With so much control in my hands, I can’t help but say that semantics is constructive, and usually social. (And something even more obviously constructive happens in the process of explication.) So it’s an inescapable fact that science, which is a less extreme case than the moon, is a social construct in that sense.

    The question is, what does that contribute to the present discussion? Gillt’s claim was the poststructuralism (she used the word postmodernism) is nonsense; she appealed to methodology. You agree that science is reliable, nonsense is not. (The canonical body of beliefs that we call scientific have a mind-to-fit-world direction of fit, while the canonical body of beliefs that we call superstition has a world-to-fit-mind direction of fit, to use modern pragmatist jargon.) And you do so, surprisingly, in order to show us how science is — a socially embedded methodology. Evidently we can all agree, though we might not all agree we agree.

    In any case, emphasizing the interesting ways that science depends upon integrity and duty and so on, is all absolutely to the good. But whither poststructuralism?

  45. Eras, you are correct. My sentence should have said “The fact that she is (or was) a scientist makes her **beliefs** more a target of criticism, not less.

    If I address Hannah, it’s because she would have to answer for her beliefs not because I think Hannah’s any more irrational than the rest of us. How would I know that?

    It was her free choice to publicly mention what she believes in and now that she wants protection against public criticism seems to me a double standard. You defending her irrational beliefs on the grounds that we are all irrational is unconvincing.

    That she’s emotionally invested in her beliefs and may confuse this for a personal attack is not my problem though unless I’m trying to convince her of something. Then we can argue tactics.

  46. Well it’s certainly true that McCarthy engages in a degree of relativism that offends the intellect. More so, because he applies only when it suits him.

    For what it’s worth, I always attributed post-structuralism to lit crit and post-modernism to a more general theory of culture.

  47. Anthony McCarthy

    I’ll point out that when I said that at #28 I was talking about review, as part of the law and of science. What would happen if scientists couldn’t depend on the honesty of those in the peer review process or on their having actually read what they pass for publication, as seems happened in that example. If science couldn’t depend on the honesty and integrity of the PEOPLE who actually did that then they couldn’t assume that published information was reliable. They would be taking a gamble in trying to build on that or taking it into consideration, would they point out in their publication that they weren’t confident in the integrity of the information they were using? How about the reliability of their equipment or on those who calibrate that equipment? What if they couldn’t depend on that?

    You could say, well, they could verify, ignoring the real impossibility of them doing that, especially if the research was very expensive and difficult to do. No one has the ability to verify everything they need, no one has the time or resources to do that. I wonder if anything could change if they had to rely on that resort instead of the moral integrity of their colleagues.

    And that doesn’t get to a more basic level of morality, the assertion that what’s true has greater value than, say, what’s more profitable or likely to enhance the career of a scientist. Not everything produced as science and accepted as science is true, fraud and error are parts of what will be accepted as constituting science at any one time. That’s especially true in those “sciences” that lend themselves to that, the behavioral and social sciences, certainly. Why should the truth be valued? Because it produces a bad outcome for someone? Who? The researcher, their colleagues, people half-way around the world who have no direct effect on the researcher? But that’s not a consequence that’s peculiar to false science. This is the week of the only uses of atomic bombs in war. There haven’t been any worse effects of science discovering the truth than those acts, but the choice of science is for the truth over even those real life results. Valuing the truths of physics and chemistry required to make the bomb more even than the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people is a moral stand. I don’t necessarily think it’s the right decision but it is a moral decision.

    —- You agree that science is reliable, nonsense is not. Benj. S. Nelson

    NO, absolutely not. I said that science COULD produce reliable information about a limited number of topics and only under certain, often entirely unavailable circumstances. There isn’t any such thing as “science” any more than there is any such thing as “religion” as a uniform, unvaried and undifferentiated entity. There are a lot of activities and documents and other entities that are glued together so we can talk about “science” or “religion” but that’s not something that’s real.

    Science can give you absolutely no reliable information about anything beyond its reach, it can’t give you much about things it can’t deal with rigorously. It can’t tell you most of what you can use about history, the law, the arts, religion, ethics, etc. Science can only tell you anything reliable about those parts of the material universe that are susceptible to its methods. It can’t even tell you a lot about what might be susceptible to its methods some day, any statements made by scientists about those things are guesses. That doesn’t stop people from depending on what they say as if it was science. The part that authority plays in science in the real world, where it has any real existence, in the hands and minds of people is as much “science” as even the doctrine of validity by falsifiability or naturalism, both of which weren’t known before they were proposed by authorities and adopted as the present day faith of many if not most scientists. There isn’t any way of knowing if or when they will be overtaken by other doctrines.

    Pretending that science isn’t entrenched in human culture is silly, a denial of reality.

  48. Anthony McCarthy

    — Well it’s certainly true that McCarthy engages in a degree of relativism that offends the intellect. More so, because he applies only when it suits him. gillt

    Be specific, gillt, document this great sin against consistency. With my own words, not with distortions of them.

    Few people here make more unsupported personal attacks than gillt.

  49. NewEnglandBob

    11. Anthony McCarthy

    Or it is just simply that M & K wrote an article that is a piece of junk. It has been shown to be the case.

  50. Mel

    @gilt

    Thank you for your reply to my question. Given your hostility, I think I understand how you would answer it. Given also your stand against Hannah, I feel sorry for those who might end up having to work under you or with you if you are so primed to attack anyone for holding or at least mentioning that they hold beliefs that are not yours. I work and have worked with a great many people with beliefs very different from mine. We respect each other, accept that we don’t believe the same way, and work together in peace as friends and colleagues to generate good science. I am sorry you don’t understand how good a situation that is.

    @ Benjamin S. Nelson
    I do suspect that some might, and that their pugnacity is purely in good faith. I question whether most would, though. I asked in part to get a sense of the divide. And pardon my ignorance, but I am not familiar with quietism.

    @Anthony McCarthy
    Thank you for some interesting food for thought. An irony of working in science is that most scientists don’t think about these issues at all. Most of us are simply too busy to think much about these issues or the place of science in society. Unfortunately, most advisers don’t even take time to formally introduce their grad students to things like Platt’s strong inference and the formal inductive logic that we usually operate under. It is sad that so much of what we do in science, we do without thinking through at least the first several years of our careers.

  51. McCarthy: “You could say, well, they could verify, ignoring the real impossibility of them doing that, especially if the research was very expensive and difficult to do.

    Verifying IS what I’m saying. Is this really your view of things? That some experiments are so expensive or difficult or whatever others just take the scientists at their word?

    McCarthy: “No one has the ability to verify everything they need, no one has the time or resources to do that.”

    This is patently false and laughable. Scientists rerun others’ experiments all the time; it’s how scientific knowledge progresses, by building on experimental design, and for that one must be able to reproduce the results of said experiment, outlined in the methods section of journal publications. Science wouldn’t work if what you say were true. We don’t need a reliance on honesty, all data must be reproducible, otherwise it’s unreliable and needs to be challenged. Scientists have made careers out of challenging and overturning long-held hypothesis.

    McCarthy: ” I wonder if anything could change if they had to rely on that resort instead of the moral integrity of their colleagues.”

    And I continue to wonder if you know what you’re talking about.

  52. Mel, do you have something else going for you besides calling me a big meanie (see McCarthy!) and feeling the need to patronize me by pitying me?

    As to your experiment, I would hope I would have the integrity to stand by my word and go where the evidence leads. I’m not sure if I’d change my tactics but at least admit that my tactics aren’t the best of all possible tactics. Does that answer your question? However, if stridency and mockery proved successful at least part of the time, would the accomodationists and fatheists stop insisting there’s only one correct way to address the public?

  53. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, is dishonesty so ingrained in you that you really believe that no one understands what I meant about the impossibility of someone verifying everything they need, which I’m certain no one has ever done. And that’s not to mention deriving proofs for the math they use.

    For the masses of data that I know you haven’t verified, how could you be certain that it was reproducible unless you took that on faith? Be very specific on that point, unless you have reproduced every piece of information, all of the mathematical proofs you rely on, how do you know that it is valid except on the basis of believing in the integrity of others?

    NOT that I’m going to wait up nights expecting you to answer since you can’t stand to face the truth about your faith, which isn’t in science but in scientism.

  54. Mel

    @gilt

    Thank you for your honest answer.

    I frankly haven’t seen many in what you call the accomodationist camp say that there is only one way, only that it seems that mockery and stridency really don’t usually work (ask around, and look through history – it is good for starting fights and wars, but little else it seems). As for myself, I would not be inclined, if a finding such as the one your put forth as the inverse of what I put forth, to still not use mockery and stridency purely out of ethical and moral reasons. I don’t simply want to win conflicts, but be able to look myself in the mirror the next day and not have to worry about making my grandmother ashamed of me. After all, efficacy of a tactic can never, never, never be the only consideration. Lest we forget, killing the opposition is always a viable tactic, and if you kill enough of them, you don’t have to worry about every having to face opposition again, but that doesn’t provide justification. (be mindful that I am not drawing a true parallel, but only putting forth an extreme example that we could, I hope, agree on). Speaking of evidence, my experience is that being tolerant of religious differences and empathic to the feelings of others leads to far more productive harmony than does stridency (I know from being on both sides of strident attack). I consider that good evidence for myself as a guide for future actions. You might try it. If nothing else, not going out looking for a fight helps to relieve some of life’s tension.

    Again, I thank you for your honesty.

  55. Marion Delgado

    It’s certainly not just Pharyngula, and it’s not really just Intersection, either.

    My take is that it’s possible we can use this very conflict to test out how to reach out to people while still respecting that you don’t agree with them on everything, and apply it to the Science Problem.

    I think the “Brights” don’t REALLY want to stand in relation to, e.g., the NCSE in the same way that Falwell stood w/r/t the ecumenical movement in religion.

    e hear a lot of talk about the ecumenical movement
    they say that we should get together and all be one big family
    Catholic, Protestant and Jew, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu
    I guess they want the devil too
    in the ecumenical movement

  56. “…and not have to worry about making my grandmother ashamed of me.”

    Guilt is a powerful self-censuring emotion I suppose. But that doesn’t mean your tactic is correct, and it certainly doesn’t mean those who aren’t overly concerned with their or your grandmother’s opinions on etiquette need to feel ashamed for speaking out about what they see as a huge problem.

    I’m more interested in my own job security and the future of science in America than I am in peoples delicate sensibilities. If we’re talking about personal experience, then in my experience the religious are far too easily offended, and so I’m not interested in a tactic that plays into the martyr card employed by the Religious Right in this country.

    I’d argue that people like Myers and Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens are necessary to move the debate away from an automatic deference according to and demanded by the Christians in this country. So long as fundamentalist atheists are not acting like religious fundamentalists, they are helping not hurting.

  57. Mel

    But I would disagree with you that fundamentalist atheists are not acting like religious fundamentalists. I have had dealings with both, and I see a lot of parallels in their attitudes and actions toward others, and I think both are harmful, and both make their respective broader communities look less appealing to a broader public (seriously, if you want broader respect for atheism like I do, PZ Myers, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins are not the people who will do the job).

    I find it very interesting and perhaps telling that you think my allusion to making my grandmother proud goes to guilt. I kinda figured you would miss the point and take use that as a line of attack. Oh well, I figured I would give you the benefit of the doubt. Silly me.

    I am a scientist, too, and I do worry about job security, but people like PZ Myers and you worry me a great deal as well religious fundamentalists. Sometimes even more so because I run into them more often, and they seem to cause more internal trouble. I also have to worry about what they will provoke from society at large.

    Interesting that you jump from “the religious” to “the Religious Right”. You realize that they are not the same, right? You do realize that most religious people are not a member of the Religious Right, and a great many would not consider themselves on the right of any issue. There are 52,000 Christian denominations and thousands of distinct religions. They are not the same, and it is an irrational position to lump them together. So, too, is it to not be mindful that people are easily offended by people wishing to be offensive and do so by attacking what is deeply meaningful to them, regardless of what that is. Have you tried to model the other person? To see things from their side? It is very helpful, and can lead to much better outcomes of interactions.

    As for me, I generally try to not offend people who are important to me, even when we disagree. After all, it is possible to disagree and discuss and even sometimes to persuade without being offensive. To jump straight to being offensive, and then mock the other person for being offended is really not helpful, and generally just helps to make enemies. I am sure you disagree, though.

  58. Marion Delgado

    BTW I agree, go Hannah!

    Also, it would interest me to know if people think, e.g., the Ayn Rand Institute is more rational than Hannah? Like the former Albanian constitution, it specifically bans religion and mandates atheism. It could be this group of self-proclaimed atheist defenders of rationality have a different definition of it in mind than I do, is all I can say.

  59. Anthony,

    I can reply to just about everything you said, except “The part that authority plays in science in the real world, where it has any real existence, in the hands and minds of people is as much “science” as even the doctrine of validity by falsifiability or naturalism”. That would require an essay to treat fairly. My comment (below) is already overlong, and nobody knows whether or not it will make it past our gatekeepers.

    We don’t disagree about the heterogeneity of science. In fact, my parenthetical remark emphasized just how weak a definition of science I’m willing to play along with for time-being: “The canonical body of beliefs that we call scientific have a mind-to-fit-world direction of fit”. So pick your favorite body of scientific beliefs, using whatever criteria are your favorites (in your case, the baffling choice of reductionism), and use that. So long as you exclude witchcraft, astrology, and alchemy, your definition will probably suffice. I’m only interested in making a point about where the conversation is at, and am not interested in crafting a tight and tidy definition of scientific activity. However, note that this relaxed attitude cuts both ways. You don’t get to say science is heterogeneous and then focus on “rigorous” science as the only legitimate object of discussion, as you do in the second section of your post. Consequently, I would strongly disagree with the claim that “It can’t tell you most of what you can use about history, the law, the arts, religion, ethics, etc.”

    There is a normative component to science, yes. However, the analogy to law is more apt than a breezy equation of science and morality. Doing the latter will get you into trouble, for the following reason. Just about every sane person (i.e., not moral realists) agrees that morality is a projection: we remake the world to fit our minds, as opposed to the opposite. So we say “Killing is wrong” and present it as if it were a fact about the world first and foremost. But actually, it’s a speech act first and foremost. Oh, sure, for the sake of avoiding confusion in children and simpletons we just say “It just is”, “justice just is”, and whatever, but that’s so that we can get along without having to explain ourselves like adults.

    To press the case for morality, you emphasize the degree to which trust plays a factor in peer review. But where does trust come from, the social system or the virtues of persons? Well, the system, of course. In a system that is based on reputation, peer review is the ultimate gamble: the risk of embarressment is devastating to one’s career, but also, you never know who is going to be reading and criticizing you next. So you have to work your hardest at coming across as reasonable as you think you’ll get away with. When there are norms that promise high punishments for falsifying data (say), that serves as a quick replacement for “calibrating” our social trust. This is all a prudential picture, not a moral one.

    Granted, if the pursuit of truth were to be the highest moral aim, then science would surely be morality. And in that case, the incompatibility between science and religion would be assured. Science would occupy both the epistemic and moral magesteria. And this does not strike me as an implication you would favor.

    It is correct to say that the claim “that science isn’t entrenched in human culture is silly, a denial of reality”. Luckily, it appears that nobody does. We just think certain beliefs and activities are made to fit the world, and some fit the mind.

  60. Erasmussimo

    Gillt, fair enough. Of course, whether the lady has made public comment does not change the basic rule of good argumentation that we attack the idea, not the person.

  61. Mel, by “quietism” I mean secular quietism.

    Quietism in the sense that public debates about god(s), strictly speaking, cannot be taken literally. They are purely for the sake of recreation, indoctrination, and/or therapy. I think that all missionaries that claim to be speaking the Divine Word are clowns, soldiers, or jerks.

    Secular in the sense that, if there is a god(s), the connection to him/them is personal, not public or communal. The secular quietist is a protestant, with the caveat that all honest protestants stay home on Sundays.

    Some quietists are atheists, some are not. Either way, for them, the best way to answer the question, “Have you found Jesus?” or “Do you believe in God?” is, “That’s between me and Him.”

  62. Mel, one more thing: please define “fundamentalist atheism”.

  63. tomh

    @ #55
    people like PZ Myers and you worry me a great deal as well religious fundamentalists. Sometimes even more so because I run into them more often…”

    You’re kidding, right? Let’s see, religious fundamentalists try to subvert the public schools, substituting the Bible for science, some of them bomb abortion clinics and gay bars, or even murder abortion doctors; fundamentalism spawns people like Fred Phelps and R.J. Rushdooney (“democracy is a heresy against God”), some fundamentalists destroy the lives of children by substituting prayer for medical care, they would all like to eliminate separation of church and state; the list goes on and on, this is just the tip of the iceberg. People like Myers or Dawkins, or whoever, write a few books and make comments on blogs. Yet Myers and his ilk worry you more than religious fundamentalists? Somehow I think you need to examine your priorities.

  64. tomh

    @ #55
    people like PZ Myers and you worry me a great deal as well religious fundamentalists. Sometimes even more so because I run into them more often…”

    You’re kidding, right? Let’s see, religious fundamentalists try to subvert the public schools, substituting the Bible for science, some of them bomb abortion clinics and gay bars, or even murder abortion doctors; fundamentalism spawns people like Fred Phelps and R.J. Rushdooney (“democracy is a heresy against God”), some fundamentalists destroy the lives of children by substituting prayer for medical care, they would all like to eliminate separation of church and state; the list goes on and on, this is just the tip of the iceberg. People like Myers or Dawkins, or whoever, write a few books and make comments on blogs. Yet Myers and his ilk worry you more than religious fundamentalists? Somehow I think you need to examine your priorities.

  65. Marc

    That’s easy Benjamin: a fundamentalist atheist is certain that they have the answers to religious questions, that a simple set of rules can be used to deduce them, and that anyone who disagrees is deluded in addition to being wrong – and that others need to be converted to their point of view through aggressive advocacy. I’d add in obvious points from these discussions – a lack of interest in other points of view, bimodal thinking, and an apparent unwillingness to grant even the most trivial points as a sign of weakness. Claiming that atheists can’t be akin to fundamentalists is equivalent to claiming that only whites can be racists – you can construct an argument if you tangle yourself in knots, but it isn’t convincing.

    I see strong parallels between the new atheists and fundamentalists, which is a significant reason why they make me so uncomfortable. Fanatics have a poor track record.

  66. Observer

    If Hanna is supposed to be evidence that “new atheists” drive people away from science, she is pretty poor evidence, since she obviously hasn’t been driven away. She is clearly offended, but I see no indication that she equates the “new atheist” attitude with science or scientists in general. I’m not trying to suggest that “new atheists” are necessarily good for science, I’m only trying to point out that showing that people are offended by them is not automatically evidence of a negative impact of “new atheists” on science literacy.

    I also think it’s funny that Hanna has no problem expressing smug disdain for other people’s religion (note that the fundamentalists are, in her opinion, not true Christians), but gets mightily offended when anybody is critical of hers.

  67. Mel

    @Benjamin Nelson

    Thank you for the description of quietism. I rather like and agree with the concept. It reminds me a bit of Quakerism (and a bit of my own Unitarian Universalism).

    I think I agree largely with Marc’s take on what “fundamentalist atheism” is. In general, I would say that fundamentalism no matter of what religious position or tradition is always defined by certainty in a particular narrow version of a what is actually quite a broad spectrum within the religious position or tradition from which it has emerged, a strong in-group – out-group dynamic defined by adherence or lack of adherence to that narrow version, close-mindedness to other positions, and a stated goal of proselytization of that narrow version. I think that there are many New Atheists who really do display mental parallels with fundamentalists of other religious positions or traditions, and their versions of atheism really can be called fundamentalist. I do want to point out, though, that I used the term “fundamentalist atheist” after gilt did and really because she did. While I have used the term before, I tend to use the term “evangelical atheist” instead because I tend to think it fits a bit better, but I recognize that both descriptors generally carry a pejorative connotation, so I prefer to try to make myself primarily use the term “New Atheist”. I don’t know if that is relevant to this discussion, but there it is.

  68. Mel

    @Observer

    I think the issue with Hannah is that she is someone who is manifestly on the side of science being a scientist and all, and yet she is offended and attacked by those who claim to be defending science. In no way does that make sense. You don’t shoot your allies. The issue with driving people away comes not with people like her who already have a commitment to science, but those out there to whom their faith is important, and have been exposed to stereotypical ideas that scientists are all hard core atheists, and that science compels atheism, and that there can be no personal accommodation between science and religion. To the extent that New Atheists provide a sufficient justification and confirmation of this stereotype, we will lose from science and from support for science those to whom their religious beliefs really are very, very important. That is the issue.

  69. “I do want to point out, though, that I used the term “fundamentalist atheist” after gilt did.”

    Don’t dishonest Mel, I used the term fundamentalist atheist precisely because I reject it, by pointing out how if fails to compare to fundamentalist religious behavior.

    You use the term because you actually by into it.

  70. “Greg Fish, I’m an atheist and I don’t go to school board meetings nor do I write op-ed columns urging people not to let fundamentalists into science class. I suppose that I’m dispensable, too?”

    Dispensable isn’t even in the realm of the verbage I used. I simply pointed out that someone who isn’t actually helping can’t be considered an ally.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist or not. If you’re not willing to support science education, how would you be an ally in a campaign to improve scientific literacy? You would basically be a bystander.

  71. Mel

    Gilt, I wasn’t being dishonest. I used it in response to your use of it. I was a bit surprised that you used it, but I tend to reflect language usage when I am replying to a given point. And really, when looked at objectively, there is a particular movement version of atheism that behaves very much like any other type of fundamentalism.

    Thank you, by the way, for telling me what I believe. I appreciate that.

  72. gillt

    Mel: “I find it very interesting and perhaps telling that you think my allusion to making my grandmother proud goes to guilt. I kinda figured you would miss the point and take use that as a line of attack. Oh well, I figured I would give you the benefit of the doubt. Silly me.”

    Did read that wrong? What’s the point I missed about you being ashamed in front of your grandmother?

    Mel: “I am a scientist, too, and I do worry about job security, but people like PZ Myers and you worry me a great deal as well religious fundamentalists. Sometimes even more so because I run into them more often, and they seem to cause more internal trouble.”

    Yes that’s right, the “New” atheist, who have been around for a fraction of the time, have caused more harm to science than all the creationists and religious right combined. That specious comment deserves far more ridicule than I’m capable of giving it.

    Mel: “I also have to worry about what they will provoke from society at large.”

    Provoke? Wow, that sounds like a veiled threat. Have you forgotten that atheists are quite possibly the most despised and mistrusted group in American society and long before the new atheists came around? Forgive me if I don’t share your worry of further provocation.

    Mel: “Interesting that you jump from “the religious” to “the Religious Right”. You realize that they are not the same, right? You do realize that most religious people are not a member of the Religious Right, and a great many would not consider themselves on the right of any issue…and so on.”

    I’m sorry you misunderstood me.

    Mel: “Have you tried to model the other person? To see things from their side? It is very helpful, and can lead to much better outcomes of interactions.”

    Like how it must feel to believe in an invisible, all-powerful god who watches our every move? Santa Clause comes to mind, but I eventually grew out of it. I was also raised Catholic, and in turn grew out of it. As ridiculous as it sounds, has a Christian tried to model an atheist? What’s with your double standard?

    Mel: “To jump straight to being offensive, and then mock the other person for being offended is really not helpful, and generally just helps to make enemies.”

    I welcome a discussion on tactics, but spare me the condescending lecture.

    Mel: “I am sure you disagree, though.”

    I’m sure I do :)

  73. Another Josh S

    @Observer
    “I also think it’s funny that Hanna has no problem expressing smug disdain for other people’s religion (note that the fundamentalists are, in her opinion, not true Christians), but gets mightily offended when anybody is critical of hers.”

    Not really:
    (1) She never says that fundamentalists are not “true Christians”. She says they are a different denomination who have completely different beliefs (especially when it comes to science).

    (2) She’s not offended that people are being critical of her religion (at least as far I can tell). She’s offended that people assume that she is crazy because she is religious.

    Often, the New Atheists treat faith as if it’s a liability. As if somehow her faith prevents her from doing science properly. This is simply not the case. (Or at least in general; obviously I can’t comment on Hannah specifically.)

  74. Mel

    Thanks gilt, I can see you aren’t interested in any dialog.

  75. Mel and Marc,

    (I see that we’re leaving out the “literal adoption of scripture” criterion that is standard to discussions of “fundamentalism”. But I’m willing to go along for the ride.)

    Then the next question must be: who, in your opinions, is an atheist fundamentalist?

    Surely not Dawkins. Dawkins acknowledges a broad spectrum of belief through the use of a seven-point scale — remarkably, he is at pains to make a seven-point scale, despite the fact that survey data was often more monochronomic, which goes to show how at pains he is to make the right distinctions. Further, he himself adopts a position that falls short of absolute certainty, 6/7. Further, he thinks of himself as a fellow traveller with pantheists like Spinoza; also, he adopts a working definition of religion that is confined to theistic religions, omitting (say) Unitarian Universalism or Buddhism; which indicates that he does not have a rigid in-group/out-group distinction that follows clear bipolar lines. Finally, he engages extensively with famous philosophical arguments for theism, and so cannot be closed-minded, since the very idea of a closed mind (cf. Adorno and Rokeach) presupposes a simplistic and unjustifiable interpretation of the beliefs that others hold.

    He is, however, an activist about secularism — no doubt about that. So in that sense he engages in proselytization, because he advocates secularism as a lifestyle choice, and unapologetically so. Moreover, he does quite clearly think that theists are delusional — the meaning of “delusion” here being to have a belief that is overwhelmingly contradicted by evidence. If Dawkins turns out to be an atheist fundamentalist, or an atheist evangelical, it must be because of these two things. Is that fair to say?

  76. Wowbagger

    Benjamin S Nelson,

    I suspect that the term ‘fundamentalist atheist’ is – technically – a misnomer; it seems to get used to refer to atheists who behave like fundamentalists, rather than in the sense that their beliefs are strictly literal.

    Realistically, all atheists are ‘fundamentalist atheists’, since the one fundamental of atheism is to lack a belief in gods. If you aren’t a fundamentalist atheists you can’t be an atheist at all. Is sometheist a word? Because that’s what a non-fundamentalist atheist is.

    But, while I don’t agree with the use of the term – it’s mostly used as an insult, as often as not by liberal Christians trying to distance themselves from their more biblically inflexible brothers-and-sisters-in-faith – but if I’ve learned one thing from internet debating, it’s that the meanings of words and expressions change, and you can’t do a lot to stop it.

  77. Observer

    Another Josh S.

    You’re correct, Hannah didn’t use the term “true Christian.” Actually what she called fundamentalists was “un-Christian.” That may not be the same as asserting that they are not “true Christians,” though I think it’s an extremely slight distinction. It’s certainly considerably more than simply pointing out that they are a “different denomination who (has) completely different beliefs.” I don’t see how you can read her statement without seeing that she is making a distinction between a right form of Christianity (hers) and a wrong form.

    Hannah also complains about being called “crazy” and told her beliefs are “fairy tales.” I would be the first to admit that plenty of atheists, particularly on internet forums, can be smug jerks. Obviously none of us can know precisely what he believes, but asserting that certain religious beliefs are “fairy tales,” is in no way less smug than asserting that asserting that certain religious beliefs are un-Christian. Also, while calling Hannah crazy is obviously an attack on her person, and not something I would condone, calling beliefs “fairly tales” is an attack on her ideas. I think her ire at this supports my claim that what she is taking offense at is criticism of her religion.

    Your assertion that “often, the New Atheists” treat faith as a liability” is true in a very broad sense, in that most of them argue to some degree about various dangers of faith, but it isn’t true with regard to the practice of science. That people can do good science and still be hold to a religious faith is something that has been stipulated by every “New Atheist” writer that I can think of. They bring this up so frequently, in fact, that it astonishes me that anybody would still think this is part of their argument against compatibility.

  78. —- You don’t get to say science is heterogeneous and then focus on “rigorous” science as the only legitimate object of discussion, as you do in the second section of your post. Benj. S. Nelson

    I didn’t say rigorous science was the only legitimate object of discussion, I said that if you want to claim the reliability of rigorous science for the entire range of what is called science you aren’t being honest. I generally don’t call the social sciences, taken as a group, “science”, because the standards within those professions aren’t rigorous. But I don’t own the language any more than the new atheists do. Which is why when you want to be rigorously honest about the situation you have to write long answers dealing with things in a lot more detail than is necessary. Unfortunately, lots of scientists and ersatz scientists either don’t take the bother or find it in their professional interest to not distinguish between different levels of rigor and the resulting chances of what they produce being reliable. But don’t blame me for pointing out that is the real situation.

    —- Consequently, I would strongly disagree with the claim that “It can’t tell you most of what you can use about history, the law, the arts, religion, ethics, etc.” Benj. S. Nelson

    Science can inform any of those fields, the results will depend on the reliability of the information that the “science” provides. But science can’t tell you much about the actual product of those fields which also use methods and consult information that is too complex to be treated scientifically. You can pretend that science can produce all kinds of data in them, economics seems to be going that way and I’ve read more than one economist complaining about the fad of economists pretending they’re biologists, of the evo-psy type. I’m deeply concerned the extent to which “cognitive science” in its most fantastically unfounded forms is already proposing to insert itself into the law, “cognitive law” is already establishing university departments at universities, I expect the results will be anything but beneficial and an affirmation of inherent rights.

    — Just about every sane person (i.e., not moral realists) agrees that morality is a projection: we remake the world to fit our minds, as opposed to the opposite. Benj. S. Nelson

    I would assume you don’t think that science “remakes” the world to fit our minds. But that’s not true, any organization of material or data, any systematization requires abstraction to some extent. You don’t consider the whole, you sample, you throw out what you decide are outliers, etc. And on a more fundamental level you structure the world into what is congenial for your mind to fathom. What you lose in that process can be unimportant (though still extant) or it can be very important and equally extant. You do remake the world to fit your mind in much of science. Eddington pointed out the extent to which that became evident in physics in the 20th century, it became necessary to take it into account because they came up against that fact. In The Philosophy of Physical Science he said,

    ” Eighteen years ago I was responsible for a remark which has often been quoted”

    ‘ It is one thing for the human mind to extract from the phenomena of nature the laws which it has itself put into them; it may be a far harder thing to extract laws over which it has had no control. It is even possible that laws which have not their origin in the mind may be irrational, and we can never succeed in formulating them.’

    This seems to be coming true, though not in the way that then suggested itself. I had in mind the phenomena of quanta and atomic physics, which at that time completely baffled our efforts to formulate a rational system of law. It was already apparent that the principal laws of molar physics were mind-made — the result of the sensory and intellectual equipment through which we derive our observational knowledge — and were not laws of governance of the objective universe. That suggestion was that in quantum theory we for the first time came up against the true laws of governance of the objective universe. If so, the task was presumably much more difficult than merely rediscovering our own frame of thought.

    Since then microscopic physics has made great progress, and its laws have turned out to be comprehensible to the mind; but, as I have endeavoured to show, it also turns out that they have been imposed by the mind — by our forms of thought — in the same way that the molar laws are imposed… ”

    Hope I didn’t make too many typos.

    You’d have to read the entire book, which I’d recommend if you want to think about the epistemology of science, Eddington was a lot more insightful than we were taught back in the 1960s. I think his work was marginalized because he wasn’t an atheist and was open to acknowledge the limits of materialism. I think what he said in his late writings on those topics are more useful than a lot of the more accepted and acceptable philosophy that was current and still is. Reading him for the first time over the past two months has been a revelation.

    It’s not only in subatomic physics that the structure of knowledge is conditioned by our minds and our expectations. As I said, the entirety of human culture is conditioned by our minds and by the social milieu in which it exists. You might not like that but unless you think there is some pure and chaste thing out there, independent of us, “science” which we derive our reasoned revelations from, you can’t escape from those facts. Making believe that it exists, as the devotees of various forms of scientism do, could lead a cruel person to make a joke about them drinking its revelation as it pours out from some celestial teapot, with a mention of Bertrand Russell thrown in for good measure.

    Or you could just make some inaccurate if not entirely untruthful assertion to dismiss it, as I’m sure one of the participants in this discussion will soon.

    I won’t deal with your subsequent discussion of the morality of science because I don’t have the time this morning, needless to say I think you are about entirely wrong.

  79. — Realistically, all atheists are ‘fundamentalist atheists’, since the one fundamental of atheism is to lack a belief in gods. If you aren’t a fundamentalist atheists you can’t be an atheist at all. wowbagger

    Let me speak up on behalf of the liberal atheists who aren’t fundamentalists anymore than religious liberals are. The difference is in honesty and in subsequent arrogance and behavior. A liberal atheist says ” I believe there isn’t any god” an atheist fundamentalist starts out by asserting that god is a myth and that anyone who believes there is a god has no right to be considered fully rational, they are intellectually damned and should be shunned. But there are degrees in how obnoxiously forms of fundamentalism manifest themselves. New atheism is just the most extreme form of that kind of fundamentalism.

  80. Observer

    Mel,

    I agree with your general point, “you don’t shoot your allies.” I think, however, that that is exactly what is being done to the ‘new atheists’ in UA and on the various threads in this blog.
    It seems to me (and I’d love to be proven wrong) that there is very little appreciation for the level and intensity of pro-science activism by the NAs. Now it may be that the NAs are not politically expedient when it comes to reaching out to a certain type of religious person, but I’m not convinced that their effect on religious fundamentalists is as simple as you seem to be making it out to be.

    In the last year I’ve had an opportunity to see lectures by Ken Miller and Richard Dawkins. Both lectures were excellent. Now, Dawkins lecture was about evolution, not atheism, but I was struck by how very fired-up his audience seemed to be. He was creating an audience of pro-science activists. In comparison, Miller’s audience was more sedate. Curiously, Dawkins’s audience also seemed to have more religious fundamentalists in it, drawn, I presume, by his reputation as an atheist. In contrast, Miller seemed more to be “preaching to the choir.” I believe the fundamentalists who came to the Dawkins lecture were probably exposed to real arguments for evolution for the first time. I doubt any of them were actually swayed, but I think it very possible that they were “softened up” to be open to more religion-friendly arguments of somebody like Miller. There are times when confrontation is more effective, and times when a gentler form of persuasion are more effective, but the approaches are not necessarily exclusive of one another. They can also be complimentary. Frankly, I think Dawkins and Miller provide the best “one-two” punch in science.

    I’d like to address your point that NAs feed the stereotype that science leads to atheism. To the degree that this is true, it means that the atheists are politically inexpedient. However, let’s not pretend that even religious scientists like Miller are acceptible to the fundamentalist set. They view apostacy even more harshly than atheism. I think your concern is primarily about the impact of the NAs on what might be described as a “moderate middle” of religious people.

    The assertion seems to be that the NAs are causing problems when it comes to reaching out to religious people, and the question seems to be what is to be done about them. I would submit that there is something very wrong with the question. The NA’s represent one side of an epistemological debate about the compatability of faith and empiricism which, even if you disagree with their arguments, is not trivial. The debate will not go away simply because it is politically inopportune in the USA. Further, to stall the traffic of ideas for the sake of politics would be a far greater danger to science than anything the NAs are doing.

    If the goal is to have religious people see that one can be both religious and a scientist, then it is the responsibility of religious scientists to step forward and argue their case, it’s not the responsibility of the NAs to mute their own arguments.

  81. —- In comparison, Miller’s audience was more sedate. Observer

    I’ve never heard Miller but judging by the things I’ve read by him and Dawkins, I think it’s like the difference between Miller’s less flamboyant style and Dawkins’, well, let’s just say his style. I’ve been struck by Dawkins’ dependence on his simple writing skill as opposed to the actual quality of his ideas going back to my first becoming aware of him. And I think, like other fundamentalists, his success is based in the habit of presenting extreme simplifications of reality. I doubt he’d get the reaction he does if he didn’t do that, and what he does in biology he also does in matters of religion. Dare I mention “memes” again?

    It’s a lot like the difference in audience size between the mega-churches and the liberal Christians. The liberal Christians don’t present a black and white, falsely historical and easily swallowed version of Christianity, certainly not in the post-WWII period. They don’t go for the lowest common denominator, they present moral exigencies that aren’t easy for large numbers of people to fulfill. The fundamentalists don’t do any of that, they say it’s all there, literally set down in the Bible (even as they ignore huge parts of the more difficult requirements) and unless you’re gay, etc. it’s easy to do. I once heard a Unitarian-Universalist say, “It’s a lot easier to praise the Lord than it is to follow him”. It’s a lot easier to say, it’s all in the genes than it is to look at the extreme complexity of genetic expression in real organisms and those organisms in their environment and the vast uncertainties involved with those. I’d guess that your average Dawkins fan, without much of a science background, wouldn’t have a particularly developed knowledge of what’s known about genetics or evolutionary biology. I’m certain most of his new atheist fan base has a very superficial knowledge of religion because if they didn’t they wouldn’t respect what he’s said about it. And memes?

    I think that the analysis of the new atheism as fundamentalism is more in line with reality than the idea that it’s a manifestation of intellectual progress.

  82. Sorbet

    “And I think, like other fundamentalists, his success is based in the habit of presenting extreme simplifications of reality”

    Sure, his extreme simplifications of biology and evolution detailed in books like “The Extended Phenotype” have deceived and tortured the hundreds of thousands who have read them for so long. What enviable insight!

  83. Sorbet

    Sorry Hannah, but the virgin birth or the resurrection (if you believe in those) are as close to a fairy tale as are pixie dust, the demon at the bottom of the ocean and the talking snake. And we respectfully will continue calling all of these fairy tales, there’s nothing “fundie” nor anything belittling about calling them that.

  84. NewEnglandBob

    Look at the “Town Meetings” around the US.

    THAT is the real “Unscientific America”.

    These are the right wing and fundies who are liars and hate spewers and ignorant theists who are the REAL problem in the US.

    Is M & K going to blame all that on the “New Atheists”? That is what the book should have been about.

  85. gillt

    McCarthy: ” For the masses of data that I know you haven’t verified, how could you be certain that it was reproducible unless you took that on FAITH? Be very specific on that point, unless you have reproduced every piece of information, all of the mathematical proofs you rely on, how do you know that it is valid except on the basis of believing in the integrity of others?” (my emphasis added)

    See, here’s a perfect example of twisting of words and their meaning that McCarthy employs every single day on this blog.

    You see, he wants me, a scientist, to admit that I do my research on FAITH, so he can say “A-HA, you’re just as irrational as the religious: you’re a New Atheist who believes in scientism!”

    The empirically proven trust I have for the methods of science and established principles of mitosis, tumorogenesis and apoptosis upon which my research relies does not require me to re-verify the same fundamental observations every time I design a new experiment. The “faith” I have in science therefore is NOT the same thing a believer has in an invisible, all-powerful man-god. To insinuate otherwise is sophism.

    This is the problem engaging with someone who argues in bad faith. McCarthy’s is only interested in trolling for attention.

    McCarthy: “NOT that I’m going to wait up nights expecting you to answer since you can’t stand to face the truth about your faith, which isn’t in science but in scientism.”

    Thank you for making my point.

  86. Anthony,

    I’m having a hard time seeing how you connect these latest remarks with your comments on reliability. Whatever their faults, surely the social sciences when at their best are more reliable than religion. And whatever their reliability, it’s pretty obvious that they can tell us quite a bit about what we can use in that lineup of subjects you mentioned. Some outliers might deserve a less-than-science reputation, be they unintelligible and reliable (QM), or intelligible but only semi-reliable (classical economics). But that doesn’t help serve the point, which is for the time-being about science in relation to the cultural activities of morality and religion.

    My comments about direction-of-fit are not meant to be about abduction, nor communicative rationality, nor about the need for conceptual schemes, since those are all proximate methods that don’t get right to the core of science. The final goal of science is to make our beliefs fit the facts — that is what we intend to do. And sure enough, it’s reliable, which we take to be vindication of that activity. So long as we think of certain kinds of goal-seeking as sharing ‘a method’, then everyone gets to agree.

    “I won’t deal with your subsequent discussion of the morality of science because I don’t have the time this morning, needless to say I think you are about entirely wrong.”

    Ahem; good to know.

    Do you at least acknowledge the distinction between morality and prudence, and how one is more fact-fitting than the other? Because that really settles the matter.

  87. —- You see, he wants me, a scientist, to admit that I do my research on FAITH, so he can say “A-HA, you’re just as irrational as the religious: you’re a New Atheist who believes in scientism!” gillt

    You are an adherent of scientism, which is irrational. But that has nothing to do with the necessity of your accepting assertions that you haven’t verified empirically or by any means other than your choice to believe that they are reliable due to who has asserted them and a community you identify with has accepted them. That’s not a practice specific to new atheists, it’s true of even normal atheists. What’s different is that you deny that you do it, just as religious fundamentalists deny that their beliefs are founded in something other than what they pretend they are.

    You seem to think that your identity as a “scientist” carries some kind of mystical protection against the limiting conditions of being a human being, but it doesn’t. You are obviously appealing to like minded people to agree instead of facing the reality. And it frustrates you that not everyone is willing to play along.

    As to my saying “A-ha”, that could be done whether or not you admit that what you’ve said amounts to a fundamentalist faith.

    — “The Extended Phenotype” Sorbet

    I’ll bet you that the large majority of Dawkins’ fans have never cracked that one open, certainly fewer than read his other books. I’d like to know the percentage of the readers of The God Delusion ever read even the Selfish Genes book, nevermind The Extended Phenotype. From my discussions with the Dawkins fan club, a lot of them don’t seem to have even read TGD.

  88. Oh, and as to my “trolling” here, as has been pointed out, you, Sorbet, NEB, etc. would be the trolls here, I’d think. You think you own everything, another habit of fundamentalists.

  89. gillt

    NEB: “That is what the book should have been about.”

    I agree, but at some point the conversation needs to move on (though I doubt this will be the venue for it). Perhaps it’s enough to say the book doesn’t meet the challenge. After reading it, CM/SK’s attempts at identifying the problem were hit and miss and their attempts at offering solutions, inadequate.

  90. Mel

    @Benjamin

    While textual literalism does tend to be a characteristic of fundamentalists in religious traditions with textual foundation, not all religions do. And yet non-textual religions have fundamentalists, so literalism can’t be a crucial part of fundamentalism. That is how I see it, at least.

    I think the question of who might legitimately be regarded as a fundamentalist atheist has to be taken on a case by case basis. I think PZ Myers and Sam Harris are, and, yes, I think Richard Dawkins does. I know what he has written and what he says he thinks, but his behavior is very much in line with fundamentalism (pointing out that he uses a strawman definition of “religion” that conflates a large, heterogeneous cultural and sociological phenomenon with a particular formulation of a particular theological position doesn’t help). I have met the man. I was at a dinner with him, and I got to see the out of nowhere, apropos of nothing snide remarks about religion, I got to see the completely un-informed conclusions about religious people, and I got to see how he reacted when he found out one of the people at the dinner was religious (he proceeded to ignore what the person said and answered thoughtful questions with snide, route formulations that made it clear that the man, a distinguished law professor whose main area of focus is on the separation of church and state with emphasis on the legal basis of keeping ID out of schools). I understand all the protestations about how reasonable Dawkins and others are, but they don’t carry that reason over into their behavior. And, really, going into how he defines those who don’t hold his theological position as automatically delusional does not help to defend him. No matter how innocent that might be made out to be, the truth of the matter, again, having met the man, and having spoken to many New Atheists, calling others delusional ends up just being a basis for dismissing them (Much the same as how fundamentalist Christians will use the excuse that they don’t have to listen to non-fundamentalist Christians because they aren’t “Biblical”).

    @Observer

    I agree with McCarthy, the fire probably comes more from Dawkins being more dynamic. The man gives fantastic talks, and there are few who are better writers. Yes, I will agree that he does tend to leave some complexity aside, though, but that tends to be necessary in giving public talks. Also, I don’t think it can be discounted that Dawkins has really intense fans who come to his talks, and their excitement is infectious at the talk. However, I don’t think that this is really the issue. Most people don’t go to science talks, after all. The problem with Dawkins that is that he ends up being a figure that can be held up as confirming stereotypes of scientists, and thereby used as a boogeyman to convince people on the knife’s edge to stay away from science. This has been pointed out to him, and he doesn’t care, which is a problem, too.

    I get what you are saying about not shooting the NA’s, either. I am not meaning to shoot them. I think there is a difference between trying to tell someone,”stop being a jerk, you aren’t helping” and telling them,”shut up, you’re a delusional idiot”. My point is and always has been the former. I think their obnoxiousness hurts the cause of science, and not their theological position, after all. Leave behind the obnoxiousness and disdain for non-New Atheists and all would be well.

  91. – These are the right wing and fundies who are liars and hate spewers and ignorant theists who are the REAL problem in the US. NEB

    What evidence do you have that they’re all “theists”? I believe you are among those who have critisized the authors of this blog, asserting they’ve made unsupported statements and here you’ve made a rather huge one, yourself.

    You haven’t given any evidence that the thugs disrupting the town halls are theists, I’d say they were obviously Mammonists. A worshiper of Mammon can’t be a Christian, not if the definition of one is a person who seriously practices what Jesus taught. Though they can certainly be a “christian”.

  92. Sorbet

    You think you own everything, another habit of fundamentalists

    Unlike you, who only thinks he owns this blog (in case you do, you don’t. It belongs to Chris and Sheril)

  93. Mel, I think it is important to distinguish “jerks” from “fundamentalists”. Fundamentalists are often jerks, but that doesn’t necessarily go both ways. So maybe Dawkins is a mean drunk at academic dinner parties. That doesn’t make him fundamentalist.

    I worry more about your views about “delusion” because we are at risk of losing grip on the meaning of the word. It has a meaning besides the pejorative one — its technical meaning is extremely important to Dawkins’ case. Delusion is the persistence of certain beliefs, such that they are preserved in order to fulfill one’s wishes, and the persistence of such beliefs in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It’s not just a blanket word to talk about those dummies over there, it’s an epistemic term.

    But there’s still the pejorative connotation, so we would be right to feel uncomfortable for wielding the term. Indeed, delusion is not a class of beliefs that we encounter in most discussions. For in most discussions we assume a great deal of charity and generosity in our interpretations of others, and we don’t posit delusion if we don’t have to. But this is a case where the evidence really doesn’t look good — the strongest arguments for the existence of god(s) really have gone with the wind. Since his conclusions involve dispatching with these arguments, it’s not an automatic dismissal, but a considered one. If you take umbrage with use the term “delusion” in this case, then you have to show why it doesn’t apply.

    One might say, for instance, that there is not sufficient evidence to decisively and forever reject the God hypothesis. We have yet to invent the godomotor with which we might find traces of Divine Grace in the stars and the earth, though in principle we might. That, of course, is Dawkins’ reason for being only a 6/7 atheist: can’t really really know whether or not god(s) exist, but might as well act as though there isn’t one. So one might argue that the word “delusion” is only applicable to 1/7 theists if we are coming from a 7/7 atheism stance, and thereby criticize Dawkins for playing a game of “bait-and-switch”. Well, fine. But that is a far more fair criticism of Dawkins — and therefore, more harmful to him. Calling him a “fundamentalist”, on the other hand, strains credulity, unless we’re given defensible reasons for making the claim, which I haven’t yet seen.

    I don’t believe you are being fair by interpreting his idiosyncratic and technicalized term “religion” as a prelude to a strawman argument. Strawman arguments are characterized by the fact that nobody holds the position being criticized, and is especially pernicious when it is being falsely attributed to a wide audience. Dawkins fails both tests for Strawmanhood: for some people are, in fact, doctrinal theists, they are real, they do exist, they have power. Moreover, Dawkins is fine with other forms of religion under other construals (though he scarcely sees the need for the term “religion” in those cases), examples being pantheism and Taoism. This doesn’t sound either narrow, or exclusive, and certainly doesn’t sound like a misrepresentation of all religion under all the forms we might define the word.

  94. Mel

    Dawkins was very clear that he felt his religious position entitled him to his behavior, and that it was his religious position that compelled his obnoxious behavior. His behavior was very much of a kind I have observed in fundamentalists. In person, he shows no consideration or respect for those who do not agree with him position. To him, his position is absolutely correct, and he makes that clear. If there is give in his position, it does not show up when he actually confronts the world. I was very disappointed in this, as I found him to be very hard line and inflexible, in addition to being less thoughtful than I had expected (he openly declared that Martin Luther King’s activism could not have in any way have been motivated or informed by his religious beliefs, which flies in the face of all historical evidence).

    Given how loaded a term “delusion” is, and given that it is so often used without any consideration fro its emotional load and pejorative connotations, I would say it is best not to use it. Yes, it has the technical meaning you give, but that is irrelevant to its impact in conversation outside of a highly technical context limited to participants only using it in its technical sense. To use the term and then to be surprised that people who hold beliefs you define as delusions are insulted and tune you out as a consequence is really delusional in and of itself (not to mention incredibly condescending). To then hide behind the technical definition of the term is dishonest. I continue to be surprised at the lack of comprehension about this.

    I also continue to find it strange that the language of science and evidence are used in regard to a philosophical question. Science can say nothing about the existence or non-existence of a deity (in a general sense – if we formulate a view of a deity that is straight-jacketed precisely to make it testable, then it can be, but most would argue that would be cheating) because it is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

    That Dawkins does not consider religions that are non-theist to be religions is irrelevant to the fact that they are religions. He is using the term incorrectly, in a way that almost seems deliberately formulated to cause broader confusion (strange given how precise much of his actual scientific work has been in its terminology), as are many of his followers who continually make the mistake of conflating religion and theism (and, I would point out, a particular type of theism).

    You are correct, though, I did use the term “strawman” incorrectly. I am writing these on the fly, and make mistakes. My apologies.

  95. gillt

    Mel: “Science can say nothing about the existence or non-existence of a deity”

    If the existence of a deity is of a moral or aesthetic nature then I’ll grant you your unsupported assertion. If, however, the existence of a deity pertains to a fact-like matter, your assertion remains unsupported.

    At this point, McCarthy will swoop in to accuse me of scientism and declare victory. That’s how these things typically play out.

  96. Suffice it to say, I see a difference between being a fundamentalist and being obnoxious. Fundamentalism is surely a term we use to talk about the ways people think, insofar as those thoughts relate to how they behave in public social settings.

    The behavior itself may be obnoxious, but taken alone, that’s just in the eye of the beholder. It is either excusable or not depending on the conversational norms we think are best, but not germane in either way, unless it connects with his beliefs. I’m not in the business of apologizing for somebody else’s dinner party spats (though maybe now I’ll know enough to turn down the chance to dine with Dawkins if I’m ever offered one). So you might condemn him as a missionary atheist — perhaps that’s a close cousin to what you meant by evangelical. But then we would be only in a place to call him a soldier, clown, or jerk, which is all about behavior alone. In just the same way, it seems right to be able to say that a person is a liberal Christian missionary without then going on to say that they’re a fundamentalist.

    For my part, all I can say I know about the man is that he’s an activist about the things he believes in — and of course it would be both hurtful and abusive to condemn someone just because they’re straight up about their beliefs. And his beliefs don’t have the fundamentalist shine to them, as I think I’ve shown, for just about all your criteria offered. So I don’t yet see the belief-behavior connection, especially as it bears on the public Dawkins, dealing with his written works, which is the only way I know him.

    The word “delusion” remains a sore spot. It functions as a pejorative, but unavoidably so. Nobody likes being told that they’re suffering from a delusion — people are upset at being told that their fantasies are not real. The point is that it’s not an empty pejorative, a stand-in for ‘those dummies over there’. He thinks that he has enough justified certainty to apply the term (6/7); we might say it can only be applied at a higher standard of justification (7/7), given how it will upset people so much. But then it’s a question of values. If you value truth, you’ll upset people and hope they can get over it. If you value getting along with your neighbors, you’ll let them live out the fantasy. So is that what makes or breaks the case?

  97. One last item: philosophy and science. There is surely a shallow sense in which the stuff we canonically call philosophy is distinct from the canonical stuff we call science, but on a deeper level, we cannot support any such distinction. Historically, successful philosophy just ends up being science, and new science is indistinguishable from philosophy.

  98. Sorbet

    Science can say nothing about the existence or non-existence of a deity

    Gillt said it. Unfortunately most religious people, when they say the word “deity”, mean a being who physically engages with their lives. In such a case this deity opens up himself/herself to scientific investigation, and most commonly refutation.

  99. Mel

    “In such a case this deity opens up himself/herself to scientific investigation, and most commonly refutation.”

    I would disagree with this in a sense. Most people don’t care about evidence for or against the particulars of their religious belief. You can refute all you want and declare a god as a little old lady believes in that god to be lacking in evidence and thus improper, and she will ignore you and go on believing as she pleases. You may complain about a double standard, and you would be right. Still, the fact of the matter is that scientific validation is not the only kind of validation that makes a belief worthwhile to a person, and you seem to be assuming that a belief must be empirically grounded and scientifically valid to justify holding it. Sure, to you that might be the case, but others are not you. This might be infuriating (indeed it is quite often), but that doesn’t change anything. Different people have different standards for belief, and even the same person may have different standards for belief for different modes or areas of their life. Does this make perfectly logical sense? In a sense yes, but largely now. Welcome to the human race.

  100. Mel

    @Benjamin

    He still acts like a fundamentalist, and despite his protestations at times, I see little give or flexibility in his thought. Dawkins is certain of his position, and shows narrow-minded and often ignorant contempt of other religious positions. Does he fully fit the definition of a fundamentalist? I don’t know. I think he is toward that end of the continuum.

    And don’t let my description of the dinner dissuade you. If you get an opportunity to meet and eat with him, it is worthwhile. Yes, he is a bit of a jerk, but an odd jerk. He vacillated quite quickly between being urbane and polite and being quite uncivil and unpleasant. It is enough to cause whiplash. Still, he is worth meeting.

    I don’t quite agree with you on philosophy and science. There is a deep connection, but philosophy is a larger field that bears on issue that are simply beyond science. I think the two can very much inform each other, and should do so more often than they do. Certainly science students need a firmer grounding and exposure to philosophy than they get, and I think it would be very helpful to them (it was for me), but it can only go so far. What is philosophically valid is not necessarily scientifically valid, though I don’t the reverse is true, for instance. In any case, there needs to be more dialog. The difficult thing will be getting more scientists to accept that philosophers have something valid to say, and I have found that there tends to be a tendency to simply dismiss philosophy out of hand among scientists (I think it might be a relic of how vehemently Popper decided he understood science better than did scientists). I am trying for my part. There is a philosopher on my research advisory committee after all!

  101. Sorbet

    The fact of the matter is that scientific validation is not the only kind of validation that makes a belief worthwhile to a person

    While I agree with you that scientific validation doesn’t cut it for many religious people and that they employ other “systems” to validate their own beliefs, there’s a problem of cognitive dissonance here which such people would then have to agree with. The problem is that the same religious people for whom lack of science-like validation is meaningless would use very similar science-like validation when it comes to assessing things in their daily lives. For instance consider the various levels of rigorous and rational thinking many religious people would employ when they try to judge the veracity of things they read in the paper. These people are in fact quite intelligent and rational when it comes to evidence-based thinking in validating ordinary things, but somehow declare such thinking inadequate when applied to religious thinking.

    In fact that’s what makes religion special and remarkable; it somehow forces a suspension of critical thinking in intelligent people who would otherwise apply various shades of it in their daily life. From a psychological, evolutionary and anthropological viewpoint I find this fact utterly interesting.

  102. Mel,

    I suppose we’ll leave the fundamentalism issue at that. Though I have to mention one last thing about Dawkins’ technical sense of religion: it is Spinoza’s. To quote Baruch’s Ethics, Part 3, On the Nature and Origin of the Emotions (Proposition 37, Note 1): “Whatever we desire to do of which we are the cause, in so far as we have the idea of God or in so far as we know God, I refer to Religion”. But then again, Spinoza wasn’t himself terribly popular as far as the churches were concerned.

    On philosophy and science. I do think you have the right idea, and I think we’re not very far apart. We can say that philosophy and science are continuous without meaning they’re the same thing; that would be a mistake. But scientific activity, epistemology, analytic ontology, and history/philosophy of science are so intertwined that when we dabble in each of these fields, they inevitably must dabble in the others as well. And when we don’t do more than just dabble, they end up with dogmas that have very real effects on the culture of research. The Europeans have well understood this, evidently they so take it for granted that when they use the term “methodology”, it is meant to include epistemic assumptions.

    In this case, we have a domain of things that are verifiable in principle (either directly or indirectly), and if they are said to exist, then god(s) must be among those things. It is no objection to say that “this is philosophy”: well, sure it’s speculative, but how is this meant to be distinct from what science can talk about? Science begins with speculation and searching, so there it is. When you play with hypotheticals, build theories, and the like, you’re doing philosophy; albeit with care for empirical implications to an extent that exhausts the people in the philosophy departments who are too lazy to leave the armchair.

  103. @sorbet 101:

    In fact that’s what makes religion special and remarkable; it somehow forces a suspension of critical thinking in intelligent people who would otherwise apply various shades of it in their daily life. From a psychological, evolutionary and anthropological viewpoint I find this fact utterly interesting.

    Sorbet,
    I have to respectfully ask you to consider an alternate hypothesis – religion doesn’t so much force a suspension of critical thinking, as it provides a framework to address certain universal humanquestions which science, at least at present, remains unable to fully address. Religion, all religion, speaks to why humans are here (which is a different matter then how we got here, where evolution is the best guide). Religion provides a path ( but certainly not the only path – athesist have a path to all these things as well) to hope, reconcilliation, forgiveness, and inner peace, all of which are pyschological phenomina to be sure, but are not things that can (yet) be tested in controlled, double blind studies. Religious people, properlay educated, can and do think critically about these issues, its just that the outputs of that thought aren’t scientifcially investigatable facts.

  104. Jon

    Historically, successful philosophy just ends up being science, and new science is indistinguishable from philosophy.

    All sorts of assumptions here. Just one: What is “success”? You mean popularly adopted? Platonism had all sorts of success, but no one ever scientifically established the existence of the forms.

  105. Science can find only those things that it can look for. You would assume that a God working in the material universe would have to have a consistent if not uniform effect, which would have two problems for the hair-brained attempt to apply “science” to that question.

    First, if the effect was consistent it would look exactly like what we take to be a natural phenomenon, explained or unexplained, and so would seem to not be the result of divine volition. It’s possible that the normal operation of the universe IS the result of divine volition. You couldn’t disprove anyone’s belief if it took that form.

    If it wasn’t consistent, which would seem possible, from our experience of the effects of human volition, you wouldn’t find any kind of consistent pattern and it would escape science altogether.

    —- At this point, McCarthy will swoop in to accuse me of scientism and declare victory. That’s how these things typically play out. gillt

    “Victory”. When have I declared “victory”, gillt? Threads and comment numbers if not actual, accurate quotes. Not like the quote you used rather deceptively at 43 above. I’m wondering what “victory” in this context would consist of, though it hadn’t crossed my mind until I read your comment.

    Maybe that’s why you get so worked up, it’s like a game of marbles to you and you don’t want to risk losing any more of yours.

  106. Not assumptions, premises. No, not popularity, reliability.

    Examples.

    Both computationalist and connectivist approaches in cognitive science. (You can find the first inklings of connectivist thought in associationism.) Chomsky’s revolution was a reaction to classical empiricism’s anti-nativist conclusions; he thought himself as a Cartesian of a sort. Fodor is a complete philosopher: see language of thought. Berkeley’s theory of vision, generally well regarded by those that study optics for its critique of the ancient principle, was grounded in points he wanted to make in favor of his heterogeneity thesis, which props up his idealism. Rewind a few millenia: atomism, Lucretius. Aristotle was a central foil to most thinkers during the period of rapid-discovery science, esp. the principle of teleology, assaulted first in astronomy by Galileo, then in biology by Darwin. Kant’s early paper positing a nebular hypothesis for astrophysical bodies. There are others, these are just off the top of my head.

    New science that hasn’t yet left philosophy: for a contemporary case, see sociology. For a historical case, the pre-rapid discovery science was referred to as natural philosophy.

  107. Anthony, the only thing that Dawkins has to assume is that God created the universe, and investigations have to go from there. If He’s assumed to be an activist God, then we’d need some appropriately grand theory to make sense of the errant patterns that we attribute to Him. But science is theory-laden, ho-hum; that’s standard. So it’s certainly not “escaping science altogether”. Hence the continuity of philosophy and science.

    Also, the “atheist faith” charge is the result of confusion about the atheist’s emotional states. The atheist is not faithful of non-existence of God, they are apathetic or unmotivated to believe.

  108. Sorbet

    “It’s possible that the normal operation of the universe IS the result of divine volition. You couldn’t disprove anyone’s belief if it took that form.”

    If you accept this, then you will have to accept all explanations which posit their own God as equivalent to each other, since all of them are disprovable. So if the normal operation of the universe IS the result of divine intervention, whose divine intervention is it? Vishnu? Yahweh? Jesus? FSM? The jubjub at the bottom of the ocean? Fairies? Unicorns? Every powerful entity ever postulated in every children’s fairy tale book?

    Are all these Gods behind the universe’s functioning? How would you decide which one of them is the real one? If I posit that my neighbor’s dead grandfather’s spirit is responsible for the normal functioning of the universe, that claim is as good as any of the other ones since none of them are subject to scientific scrutiny? Would you regard this as equivalent to the others?

    Also this kind of reasoning is what enables people to get away with the “anything goes” argument.

  109. gillt

    McCarthy: “Science can find only those things that it can look for.”

    What a quaint tautology you’ve got there. Hm, I guess then Mr. Anthony-Decider-McCarthy will tell all us pesky scientists what we can and cannot look for.

    “You would assume that a God working in the material universe would have to have a consistent if not uniform effect…if it wasn’t consistent…you wouldn’t find any kind of consistent pattern and it would escape science altogether.”

    But of course he does, because he’s the Decider! And like all good deciders, he does it based on further unfounded assertions and convenient assumptions and half-baked brain droppings.

    McCarthy: “It’s possible that the normal operation of the universe IS the result of divine volition. You couldn’t disprove anyone’s belief if it took that form. ”

    Don’t have to; I would just say if you want this outlandish idea considered thoughtfully prove it, and you would waffle and sputter and nothing would be gained.

    McCarthy: “When have I declared “victory””

    You haven’t. I was being facetious. You accused me of scientism, so I thought one good miss-attribution deserves another. Personally, I think you’re pretty far from anything resembling a victory.

    McCarthy: “Not like the quote you used rather deceptively at 43 above.”

    I quoted either your entire sentence or the main clause. The original quotes where you lazily confuse honesty with morality:

    McCarthy: “Doing science isn’t dependent on a sense of honesty?”

    McCarthy: “Like all human systems, [science] is dependent on a sense of morality…”

  110. Sorbet, I’ve got no problem with the idea that God doesn’t particularly mind diversity, I’m a universalist. I don’t believe there is one true religion, all religions are man made, as is all science and every single other aspect of human culture. Only someone entirely ignorant of the diversity of human culture would be surprised at the diversity of its interpretations of the religious experiences. Are you bothered by diversity within science, especially the so-called sciences, philosophy, different systems of thinking in just about every other aspect of human culture? Even diversity in atheism and agnosticism.

    As I believe I’ve pointed out to you before, unicorns weren’t supposed to be supernatural but were supposed to be actual animals. FSM is, I believe, trade marked or copyrighted or both so I really don’t think that qualifies either.

    I’m afraid that it doesn’t matter whether or not you don’t like it, in a democracy all of those things are “anything goes”.

    — If He’s assumed to be an activist God, then we’d need some appropriately grand theory to make sense of the errant patterns that we attribute to Him. BSN

    I don’t think we need it. Science needs to keep to its only possible subject matter, the aspects of the material universe that can be addressed with science. That is unless “science” wants to make a mess of it. Anyone who said, “God made the universe as it actually is” would hold a belief that is untouchable by science. I’m not especially surprised that we don’t understand the entire picture since we don’t and won’t understand more than a small part of it.

    When religious people assert things that are unfounded in evidence aren’t making a unique kind of error. Anyone can assert things that are unfounded for anti-religious, philosophical, and other reasons. Look at how much of what Dawkins has said that is unfounded and, I’m fully confident, which will be thrown on the ash heap where soc-sci ideas that go out of style go. The problem isn’t religion and it isn’t philosophy and it isn’t science, it’s that ideas that are unfounded are unfounded. Pretending that it’s universally practiced by religion and only religion is false, unfounded, a superstition based in bigotry.

    — The atheist is not faithful of non-existence of God, they are apathetic or unmotivated to believe. BSN

    Denying it doesn’t make it any less obvious to the rest of us. If you want to see who has been emotional about asserting the non-existence of God, the new atheist blogs are full of enraged, angry and fanatical assertions of its dogmas and denunciations of people who don’t share that faith. Other than Erasmusissimo, there have been few overt atheists here who have expressed a calm atheism. A lot of the reaction I’ve gotten here and elsewhere from new atheists has been, not to mince words, unhinged. No, the new atheists have more than fulfilled the requirements of a fundamentalist faith and I don’t think you’re going to convince many that they aren’t seeing what they have seen, over and over again.

  111. Jon

    Not assumptions, premises. No, not popularity, reliability.

    Who decides what’s “reliable”? On what basis? There are tons of questions that are still ripe for dispute by thoughtful people, which is why Plato is still taught in college. This is why the humanities aren’t replaced by science. You can still go back to the *locus classicus* for certain discussions and get something out of them. And questions of value aren’t necessarily resolved by science–soemtimes just the opposite. Sometimes they’re even obscured by questions of science.

  112. Jon

    So if the normal operation of the universe IS the result of divine intervention, whose divine intervention is it?

    You could do some actual empirical work and find out how people resolved these things when different systems found themselves side by side. E. g., people might have just surmised that the different systems just were different ways of describing the same things. India actually has had a lot of systems living side by side: Hinduism, Islam, atheism, Buddhism, etc. How did they handle it?

    Or, you could just keep yakking from your new atheist armchair about fairy tales, etc.

  113. Maybe it’s time to challenge the new atheists to document the atrocities that result from the huge numbers of people who are devotees of fairy lore. As to unicorns, I don’t think there has been a call to set aside any preserves for them, have there? For all the wind they expend over those things you wonder why you don’t hear more about the dangers of them. And, if my comment in moderation doesn’t come through, unicorns are supposed to be actual animals, not supernatural.

  114. Sorbet

    Jon, hats off to you for responding with a meaningless example. I have several friends from India and so am well aware of the competing claims and beliefs that exist in the Indian subcontinent. Just because such systems can empirically exist side by side does not mean any one of them has a connection with reality. My point, and it seems to have sailed over your head, is that once someone says something like “the normal working of the universe could be because of a divine creator” then anything is up for grabs. Plus, the question then begs itself; “Who created this creator”? Again, we seem to toss out the tired old canard, a variation of of “You cannot DISPROVE the existence of God. Therefore I win!” So now, if you will please yak from your accommodationist armchair.

    And Anthony, you really must give me the address of the zoo with the unicorn.

  115. Sorbet, what is this fixation about winning you guys have?

    You’re the one who keeps bringing up unicorns. Someday I’m going to have to try to track down the origin of that list that seems to be the ubiquitous resort of new atheism at that place in the discussion. It’s unvaried enough that a common origin, a sort of neo-atheist Q document, is the simplest explanation.

    So, exactly where have the fairy folk run amok?

  116. Jon

    I have several friends from India and so am well aware of the competing claims and beliefs that exist in the Indian subcontinent.

    Then you should ask them how they view several competing views. How can they all be right? How does one school deal with the others? Do schools just ignore peoples’ substantial arguments and say they’re ridiculously silly?

    Just because such systems can empirically exist side by side does not mean any one of them has a connection with reality.

    It must feel good to pat yourself on the back all the time and say that folks like you are the only people in history with a “connection with reality.”

    Meanwhile, lots of philosophers have said that the material reality as it appears to you actually deceives. See Plato’s Republic, and yes, several Indian schools of philosophy. See Keith Ward:

    http://philosophybites.com/2009/02/keith-ward-on-idealism-in-eastern-and-western-philosophy.html

  117. Jon

    Ben Nelson: Not assumptions, premises. No, not popularity, reliability.

    Who decides what’s “reliable”? On what basis? There are tons of questions that are still ripe for dispute by thoughtful people, which is why Plato is still taught in college. This is why the humanities aren’t replaced by science. You can still go back to the locus classicus for certain discussions and get something out of them. And questions of value aren’t necessarily resolved by science–soemtimes just the opposite. Sometimes they’re even obscured by questions of science.

  118. gillt

    McCarthy: “Science can find only those things that it can look for.”

    What a quaint tautology you’ve got there. Hm, I guess then Mr. Anthony-The Decider-McCarthy will tell all us pesky scientists what we can and cannot look for.

  119. gillt

    McCarthy: “It’s possible that the normal operation of the universe IS the result of divine volition. You couldn’t disprove anyone’s belief if it took that form. ”

    Don’t have to; I would just say if you want this outlandish idea considered thoughtfully prove it, and you would waffle and sputter and nothing would be gained.

  120. gillt

    McCarthy: “You would assume that a God working in the material universe would have to have a consistent if not uniform effect…if it wasn’t consistent…you wouldn’t find any kind of consistent pattern and it would escape science altogether.”

    Why would McCarthy assume these things…because he’s The Decider! What a fun game! McCarthy makes an unfounded assertion, a convenient assumption and a half-baked brain dropping then asks us to disprove it. Like a child, he makes up the rules then starts whining when no one plays along with his childish game.

  121. gillt as always goes for the distracting personal dig instead of making a substantial argument. Should tell you other new atheists something about the intellectual depth of your position.

    gillt, you going to tell us by what scientific methodology you would go about dispelling the idea that the natural order of things is in accordance with the will of God? Go on, tell us how it can be done.

  122. Sorbet

    Ah, “neo-atheist”; just when you thought one moniker couldn’t be misused enough, McCarthy comes marching in with another. But it means nothing since the core arguments stay the same. Your question about the fairy folk is another nice deflection. The point I was making was that saying that “all of the normal workings of the world could have a divine origin, and this fact is not disprovable” simply means you are hiding under the skirts of whatever divine creator you happen to believe in. It neither actually explains anything nor promotes critical inquiry.

    Jon, we go back again to the whole problem of empirical vs philosophical cognitive dissonance, a point which the neo-accommodationists never tired of bringing up. Again, just because many people can co-exist peacefully with each other and have divergent philosophies hardly means that any of those philosophies says something real about the world. And who says that all these people in India think that the beliefs of their compatriots are as valid as their own? Do you think that a Hindu really thinks that his fellow Muslim’s beliefs hold the same monopoly on truth as his own? Of course not. Having a continent on which so many different beliefs co-exist only says something about cultural and religious tolerance and plurality, not about the validity of the beliefs themselves.

  123. Sorbet

    “the natural order of things is in accordance with the will of God?”

    Sure. Then are you willing to agree that God aborts babies spontaneously, kills his most pious followers in car accidents and otherwise takes people who never hurt anyone away from their loved ones. Surely the natural order of things proves God’s more-than-occasional malevolence beyond a shade of doubt.

  124. Jon

    Having a continent on which so many different beliefs co-exist only says something about cultural and religious tolerance and plurality, not about the validity of the beliefs themselves.

    No, but my point was that they have a lot of experience with diverse views. If “they can’t all be right”, what happened? Did people find their opponents stoopid and completely absurd and have shouting matches in the public square? Did they find points of commonality? When they disagreed, how was that handled? What role did empiricism play? What role did symbols play as an expression of values, commitments, beliefs?

    These are interesting questions to ask when we are dealing with matters that have no universally discernable “right” resolution, in the manner of “does two plus two equals four”, or “do all bodies fall at the same rate in a vacuum?”

  125. —- Ah, “neo-atheist”; just when you thought one moniker couldn’t be misused enough, McCarthy comes marching in with another. Sorbet

    You’re right, for once. I generally don’t use that except for the most obnoxious new atheists and only after considerably long periods of obnoxious and bigoted behavior and then only while telling them what they have to have proven themselves to be in terms that we’ve been asked to not use here. Though I’m only human, a condition the new atheists think their lip service to “science” and “reason” immunizes them from. I generally use it when I do because I know they don’t like it.

    You brow beat your fellow new atheists about their use of “new atheist” yet? Or am I right that it’s only when other people use it that you whine and snivel and try to suppress it in online reference works that are insufficiently edited and administered.

    — Sure. Then are you willing to agree that God aborts babies spontaneously, kills his most pious followers in car accidents and otherwise takes people who never hurt anyone away from their loved ones. Surely the natural order of things proves God’s more-than-occasional malevolence beyond a shade of doubt. Sorbet

    I have pointed out the rates of natural abortion many times in arguing with those who want to nationalize women’s bodies and the curious fact that so many who want to do that to prevent elective abortions have no problem with miscarriage, still birth, birth defects, etc. due to environmental pollution or the appalling system of providing assistance to poor people and national health care. Other than that I have no insight into why it might happen. You’re a libertarian, aren’t you? How are you on the federal government imposing stricter rules against environmental pollution, food additives, encouragement of better nutrition being available to mothers and children, universal health care, etc? What does the libertarian stand on those tell us about the malevolence in the form of indifference of that political ideology?

    Car crashes are a complex series of events, however, none of them don’t involve human volition so I don’t think blaming God is the first resort we have in explaining them. There are some theologians who think the pain of life is what we experience as a result of our free will. I don’t have any insight into that one either.

    As to God’s malevolence, if God really wanted to be cruel, I doubt things would be like they are, they’d be much worse. We seem to be responsible for such a good part of the pain we experience that I think it’s almost miraculous that we have some kind of limit to how much we have been able to achieve thus far. Though science in the hands of humanity has certainly magnified the amount of pain we’ve been able to inflict on sentient beings. Maybe those theologians who believe in original sin and the necessity of salvation are on to something, though being human, I’d guess they wouldn’t have it exactly right.

    Most thoughtful religious people would know that they really aren’t going to understand God’s thoughts or ways which are, after all, not human ways. That’s something that was known thousands of years ago and was written rather explicitly in at least two scriptural traditions I’m aware of. Unlike the new atheist’s insane optimism about the possibility of our understanding of any aspect of life to be more than fragmentary, the more thoughtful religious believers are aware of our limits.

  126. —- No, but my point was that they have a lot of experience with diverse views. If “they can’t all be right”, what happened? Did people find their opponents stoopid and completely absurd and have shouting matches in the public square? Jon

    You could also point out that doctrinal strife is hardly prevented by atheism. There have been few nastier series of feuds than between many organized groups with atheism as one of their central principles. Look at the various sects of anarchists and communists, which have been known to become rather savagely violent and seldom have coexisted amicably and in perfect friendship. Even internally, the political uses to which adherence to doctrine, denunciation, purging, even up to and including killing, is a constant feature of organized atheist groups and groups where atheists have predominated.

  127. Sorbet

    Ah, Anthony comes marching in with a variation of the “Stalin was an atheist” canard, blatantly and characteristically ignoring the overwhelmingly larger number of cases where atheists have co-existed in peace together. Talk about cherry-picking, another McCarthy specialty. And please give me examples of a “series of feuds” where “adherents of atheism” have killed each other because of their atheism. Evidence in the absence of a causal relationship is merely an uninformed personal opinion.

    “There have been few nastier series of feuds than between many organized groups with atheism as one of their central principles”

    A little something called “The Inquisition” involving protestants, catholics and jews comes to mind.

  128. Jon

    Ben Nelson: Not assumptions, premises. No, not popularity, reliability.

    Who decides what’s “reliable”? On what basis? There are tons of questions that are still fruitful for dispute by thoughtful people, which is why Plato is still taught in college. This is why the humanities aren’t replaced by science. You can still go back to the locus classicus for certain discussions and get something out of them. And questions of value aren’t necessarily resolved by science–sometimes just the opposite. Sometimes they’re even obscured by questions of science.

  129. Sorbet, I was actually thinking about various groups of anarchists and communists and the such in the United States, though Trotsky and Stalin are an especially interesting study in themselves.

    You’ve never explained how when the new atheists pick things to quote or cite they aren’t “cherry picking” but whenever their opponents do it magically turns into that relatively recent charge of intellectual dishonesty.

    “The Inquisition”, by body count The Inquisition is almost certainly a lesser manifestation of crime than any of the purges of any of the large officially atheist regimes of the 20th century and, unfortunately, 21st centuries. I’m not sure but might look at what’s known about that wonderful manifestation of reason, the “Committee of Public Safety” in that regard as well.

  130. gillt

    I suppose I can repeat this since McCarthy refuses to address the point:

    McCarthy: “It’s possible that the normal operation of the universe IS the result of divine volition. You couldn’t disprove anyone’s belief if it took that form. ”

    Don’t have to; I would just say if you want this outlandish idea considered thoughtfully prove it, and you would waffle and sputter and nothing would be gained.

  131. gillt

    Again, McCarthy doesn’t understand the concept of groundless statement testing. If you, McCarthy have a wholly unsupported assertion to make concerning the perceived universe make your case!

    You keep avoiding, changing the subject, and otherwise chickening out of the challenge. You know why too, don’t you. It’s because your spouting nonsense, and you know it. All you have going for you is sophism, speculation and uninformed conjecture. As a self-appointed defender of other people’s beliefs, you’re doing a lousy job.

  132. gillt, if you want people to stop believing what they do you’re not going to do that without dealing with what they believe. It’s a matter of complete indifference to me if they do or don’t. I don’t even especially care if you are as deluded a devotee to the superstition of scientism as you constantly prove yourself to be. It’s when you try to impose your superstition on the rest of us that I’ve got something to say about it just as when the flip side of that counterfeit coin tries to impose their fundamentalism on the rest of us.

    You are interesting as a specimen of intellectual dishonesty but not of much else.

  133. Oh, and I will point out that you haven’t shown by what scientific method you’d dispel the belief that the natural order of the universe isn’t a manifestation of the will of God, you’ve just denied that you’re responsible to do that. Given such a method’s obvious utility to your ideology, your failure is a tacit admission that science can’t do that.

  134. Sorbet

    “superstition of scientism ”

    Haha. Nothing like starting the day with a good joke.

    As for the Inquisition and communism, please give me examples where people have committed crimes explicitly in the name of atheism, and let’s see if they outnumber the crimes committed explicitly in the name of religion.

  135. Oh, now in the ever shifting sands of argument, its the game of “in the name of” from the “rationalists”. I don’t know, can you provide the quotes from anyone killing someone in the name of “religion”? That might be a good place to start. I don’t recall ever reading about someone killing someone in the name of that blanket, artificial, abstraction. I also doubt that many people have really been killed with the motive being religion or atheism, those were almost certainly covers for much more mundane and less “idealistic” motives, or simple sadism of the kind that Christopher Hitchens likes to contemplate so vilely.

  136. gillt

    You’re not a very good listener are you McCarthy.

    I don’t have to disprove your superstitions. It falls on you to make the case for it. It has nothing to do with me.

    McCarthy: “Given such a method’s obvious utility to your ideology, your failure is a tacit admission that science can’t do that.”

    See what I said about you claiming premature victory?

  137. gillt

    Again, McCarthy as the self-proclaimed defender of other people’s beliefs. I hope you’re at least being compensated for this unasked for public service you provide.

  138. Sorbet

    Ummm…are you listening to what you are saying or do you have a knack for ignoring the obvious? The 19 9/11 hijackers were clear they were killing in the name of explicit words in the Quran. So were the scores of Christians who massacred the Jews since time immemorial. It’s hardly a “blanket, artificial abstraction”. In fact people who kill in the name of religion have always been honest about their motives, that much we can say for certain.

  139. Sorbet

    Again and again McCarthy blatantly demonstrates a laughable ignorance of not just science but the nature of proof itself. He still does not understand that the burden of proof is on the one who asserts something (my other comment regarding your obvious ignorance of history and those who have explicitly killed in the name of religion is in moderation)

  140. gillt

    I’ve grown bored kicking McCarthy around until he sounds like a broken record. Perhaps Mooney could comment on the Op-ed he recently published, explaining ythe logic behind chastising Dawkins, a Brit, for writing a popular science book on the basis it won’t convince any American creationists.

  141. Sorbet

    Not to mention responding to the Sam Harris piece and the Coyne review in science. I would really like to hear the authors’s views about negative reviews. Reading postings about positive reviews gets reptitive after a while.

  142. Sorbet

    My two responses to McCarthy’s ignorance are in moderation

  143. gillt

    Sorbet, many of mine as well. If the moderators want their comment section resembling all the vocabulary of a preschool essay they’re well on their way. In the name of civility, mind you.

  144. The gillt-Sorbet mutual admiration society meeting seems to be in full swing.

    — I don’t have to disprove …. gillt

    I never said you had to disprove anything, I said you couldn’t. Which you would have to if your classification of something as “superstition” was to be valid. Or are you going to add “superstition” to the long list of words and terms you have to distort in order to sustain your superstition, gillt?

    Kick me around? Did your entire emotional development cease in grade school?

  145. gillt

    Well, you do sound a little bruised and battered, McCarthy, or did I mistake you talking yourself in circles for the past couple of posts as something other than a pre-existing condition?

  146. gillt

    Exactly right, McCarthy! I call things that have no evidence (and claim not to require it) in the perceived world yet stubbornly insist otherwise, fairy tales and superstitions! When enough people believe in them, they become cults and when they gain tax exempt status in the US, religion.

    You know, I think we might be getting somewhere.

  147. Sorbet

    McCarthy, you can go on living in your fairy tale world where you take every fantastic and wacky propsition seriously simply because “science cannot disprove it”. Meanwhile some us still want to live in the real world and call a spade a spade. Go ahead, indulge.

  148. Sorbet, what does my “fairy tale world” consist of? What “fantastic and wacky proposition” have I taken? Name them.

    The real world includes the fact that science isn’t more than it is, and it’s not able to do more than it can, that it’s a human invention, just as religion and every other part of human culture is, it’s an attempt to explain human experience and we have no evidence that its meaning extends past us.

    The reason you’re upset is because I have undermined your cultural assumptions in the same way that biblical fundamentalists get upset when theirs are undermined. Just as gillt did back when I wondered if the narrow-minded, exclusive, materialism of so many scientists isn’t motivated by the personal edification scientists get from a study that gains them respect, status and a higher income than they’d get from some other profession. Gillt got angry because I proposed the idea that scientists are mere humans instead of the higher beings that you guys like to pretend they are.

    And it’s been both interesting and fun to find out what happens to the “rationalists” when you overturn their cozy armchair.

  149. gillt

    To armchair philosopher and theologian we can add to McCarthy’s sad little resume armchair postmodernist.

    Actually, I was never angry. I only pointed out, repeatedly doggedly, and over many weeks, how clueless you are whenever you type something about science. There’s a name for people like you who refuse to learn, but it gets moderated indefinitely on this blog.

  150. Sorbet

    I am not upset at all. On the contrary now I understand how people like you who have a fuzzy understanding of science greatly harm the debate. The wacky proposition that “the normal workings of our world could be because of a divine creator” is roughly equivalent to saying that “there are advanced human beings with silicon brains on planet XYZ 3 billion light years away which fail to be detected by our methods because the moment we try to observe them they vanish in a cloud of pixie dust”. Granted, both these scenarios cannot be disproved by science, but that is precisely why we don’t take them (and countless other things that cannot be disproved by science) seriously and don’t spend the precious years of our life poring over their minute non-existent details. Of course when I say we I don’t mean you.

    And seriously, your statements above seem to put you squarely in the admirable post-modernist camp for whom science is “just one way of knowing about the world” and therefore it is no more important than other ways, like religion for instance. I am sure the fundamentalists would be eager to welcome you as one of their own.

  151. — I was never angry. gillt
    — I am not upset at all. Sorbet

    Uh, huh. I see.

    “Post modernist”. Never without a meaningless cliche handy are you guys. Keep whistling to each other, it won’t get you out of the dark but maybe you can keep convincing yourselves.

  152. Sorbet

    Ah, another word which McCarthy claims belongs to the great atheist conspiracy because he does not understand it. Add “cliche” to “straw man”.

  153. I’ve never seen a coherent, single definition for “post modernist”. It seems to mean pretty much whatever the person using it wants it to mean.

  154. Sorbet

    You got it. Post modernists claim the validity of pretty much anything that they come up with. Reminds me of a certain commenter here.

  155. Oh, Sorbet, there’s a difference between advocating the validity of something and pointing out what it isn’t possible to know scientifically. That you make two mistakes in that regard is of no surprise to me. First, just because you can’t disprove something with science DOESN’T reqire belief. Which is a relief since there is so, so very much that you can’t disprove with science. The second is that you REQUIRE science and absolute evidence BEFORE you believe something. Which is also fortunate since there is much which is reliable and vitally useful, which science also can not touch, including the very foundations of mathematics and science. Those are the two huge consequences of believing in the superstition of scientism, it’s fortunate that such a large part of humanity used to not believe in its absurdity. It’s going to be a disaster that so many now do.

  156. Sorbet

    But that hardly means the opposite, namely that you cling with your life to things that science cannot disprove, like the religious do. Do you or do you not understand this? And by the way, in our daily lives we don’t always demand absolute evidence to believe something, just reasonable evidence. Otherwise we won’t believe almost anything at all. That you are making the same mistake again and again is of no surprise to me.

  157. Name specifically what I’m clinging to that science cannot disprove. When you’ve done that I’ll provide you with a list of things that science cannot disprove that are widespread beliefs among atheists, large swaths of the professional product of Richard Dawkins among them.

  158. Sorbet

    Having short term memory loss, aren’t we? You yourself kept on parroting your fondness for asserting that “the normal workings of the universe may be because of a creator”. In any case there are countless other believers who believe this kind of stuff; it’s mostly called religion. And I look forward to your list.

  159. — You yourself kept on parroting your fondness for asserting that “the normal workings of the universe may be because of a creator”. Sorbet

    Is this the list you promised? One item, and not one I’ve even voiced acceptance of? I’m actually more agnostic on the idea, since I don’t see any way of verifying it or what difference it would make to my activities. I’ve asserted the reality that science couldn’t refute that idea if a religious believer asserts it, and I’d imagine anyone who believed that God created the universe would if they thought about it. I’m sure you’re not happy with that because it’s not really about accuracy in dealing with the natural universe with you, it’s about your club coming out on top.

    Let’s begin with materialism, the default ideology of the new atheists and atheists going back to the origin of the Carvarka school of Indian philosophy. I’ll up you with the various species of naturalism that caused so much infuriated assertion by the new atheist trolls here in recent weeks. Oh, and, memes, which are believed in so fully by many a new atheist, and which are such nonsense that at times even their inventor seems less than pleased with his invention. Add on the Just So stories of evo-psy, and whatever Daniel Dennett’s going to be publishing on those two hobby horses of his.

    gillt, I’m sure you can find isolated new atheists who are less than enthusiastic about one or more of those, though I doubt materialism will be one of those. Do your best but I’m quite confident that most of those are majority opinions among new atheists.

  160. Sorbet

    Materialism is a useful philosophy because it works, because it allows us to make testable and falsifiable propositions about the universe. The predictions of materialism are disprovable in principle, if not always in practice. So are memes. It’s you who wants to come out at the top by trying to prove that science loses in some way because it cannot disprove certain things. All you are doing in the process is making lame statements that don’t really make a lot of sense. Have you heard about the guy who was told to stop digging when he was in a deep hole?

  161. Materialism is not useful in any sense, it doesn’t have any role in making testable, falsifiable propositions about the universe. Materialism doesn’t make predictions, it asserts the non-existence of anything that isn’t matter. It’s quite possible for non-materialists to do science, Galileo, among them, even Newton as well as countless others who have produced real science and all without that ideological straight jacket. I think you are mistaking materialism with science, which is pretty much in keeping for you guys.

    Memes. How hilarious. Cultural entities that are supposed to be like genes, only they’re nothing like genes (blending “inheritance” for a start) , which are widely seen as being superfluous because they don’t explain anything that couldn’t be explained without them and which are widely rejected by most serious thinkers in that area. Don’t worry, I think you’ll always have Dennett and Blackmore and a handful of such seriously deep thinkers on your side. You might want to look up Blackmore’s PhD work, a real model of that kind of ‘science’, which is way too little known.

  162. Oh, and I forgot to add the final irony, memes aren’t part of the material universe, they have no material existence. Under the doctrine of materialism, they aren’t real.

  163. Sorbet

    And that’s why we should not take them seriously. Unlike others, we are not afraid to call out NAs who might believe in those.

  164. Sorbet

    “Materialism is not useful in any sense, it doesn’t have any role in making testable, falsifiable propositions about the universe”

    Your woeful ignorance of science could not be clearer. Next time you fly in an airplane, keep reapeating to yourself “Materialism is not useful in any sense”. Then you should not fear when the plance crashes. Since it’s…immaterial.

  165. Sorbet, you do know that anyone with any knowlege isn’t impressed by your ham-fisted attempts at twisting the meanings of words out of any coherent meaning. I’d suggest you look up “materialism” in a good reference work, not Wikipedia or other non-professionally edited ‘work’ which leaves itself to polemical distortion. But I’ll only suggest it knowing that you have no interest in accuracy or the truth so you won’t make an honest attempt.

    Where’s that list you said was in moderation? Was that one item, which wasn’t applicable, it?

  166. Sorbet

    I am still waiting for your list McCarthy. You need to produce it since you were the one who made those wonderful assertions.

    But here’s the definition:
    The philosophy of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter, and is considered a form of physicalism. Fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance

    A perfectly useful definition which has worked and made possible all those necessities and luxuries of life (including your piano) which you take for granted.

    not Wikipedia or other non-professionally edited ‘work’ which leaves itself to polemical distortion

    Sour Grapes, meet Fox.

  167. Sorbet

    Comment in moderation. The point is that based on everything we know materialism is the most plausible philosophy to believe in, even if it’s not perfect. Unlike your black and white beliefs scientists actually believe in shades of certainty.

  168. — Unlike your black and white beliefs

    My “black and white beliefs”. Have you ever said anything that wasn’t clueless?

    — scientists actually believe in shades of certainty.

    I doubt you have ever been uncertain of anything. It’s like the “skeptics” who are always absolutely certain about what other people should think.

  169. Sorbet

    My “black and white beliefs”. Have you ever said anything that wasn’t clueless?

    Translation: I don’t actually know what you are talking about in spite of the fact that “black and white” is terminology I should be familiar with, so to hide my ignorance I will just call you clueless.

    I doubt you have ever been uncertain of anything.

    I am pretty uncertain of many things, and science always will be. It’s people like you smitten with The Infallibility Delusion who think thery know everything for certain and who think this is a weakness of science.

  170. Sorbet

    It’s like the “skeptics” who are always absolutely certain about what other people should think.

    I actually like it when you refer to yourself in your criticism of others

  171. — Translation: I don’t actually know…. Sorbet

    I guess you’re answering that question about your cluelessness in the affirmative, in a rather clueless manner. I don’t get tired I have no problem keeping this up. And you’re not very good at it. My four year old great nephew can make a better comeback than you have.

  172. Sorbet

    I pity your four year old nephew. I hope someone rescues him soon. You still don’t show any understanding of nuance and gray shades of certainty, let alone your own failures with black and white thinking.

  173. Sorbet clearly no one rescued you. As always, it’s so gratifying to have the new atheist concept of “reason” so clearly debunked by their own attempts. You, gillt, Peter, devolve into the pure state of new atheism, increasingly unhinged anger and wildly flung garbage.

  174. Sorbet

    More self-delusion from McCarthy since he cannot muster any arguments to debunk others’. Ever heard of the story about the Fox and the Sour Grapes?

    Still waiting for your list, but since you are only interested in ad hominem attacks now I don’t expect it.

  175. Ah, the never ending demand for further evidence, one of the primary tactics of the fundamentalists, biblical and atheistical, followed by denial that it’s been presented.

    I’m only going to talk about instead of to Sorbet from now on because he’s only a time wasting fundy troll.

  176. Sorbet

    Ah, the never ending derision toward the little thing called evidence that could only be the mainstay of fundies and McCarthy.

    I’m only going to talk about instead of to McCarthy from now on because he’s only a time wasting fundy troll. No list yet.

  177. Take my advice, try out the Eliza that I linked to above. Just like a mirror version of the Sorbet chatterbox.

  178. Sorbet

    I did. It said “You are a machine, an impostor! Your name is Anthony ‘Joe’ McCarthy!”. Was kinda fun.

    No list yet from the impostor by the way.

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About Chris Mooney

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

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