A Reply to Sam Harris Regarding Unscientific America

By Chris Mooney | September 15, 2009 10:49 am

I have always deeply admired the way Sam Harris argues a point with passion. I happen to disagree with him about Francis Collins, but I have to credit the force of Harris’s take-no-prisoners approach with regard to all forms of “faith”–even when I think it goes too far.

In the process of taking on Collins, Harris also argues against us and against Unscientific America–and for some time, I have been meaning to answer him on this. Life intervened until now; but I trust it is not too late.

Harris quotes one of our book’s passages in which we argue that if we can depolarize the science versus religion battle, we can likely broaden public acceptance of evolution. It’s an argument, Harris says, “that, I fear, most people would accept.” Unlike many New Atheists, then, Harris implicitly realizes the obvious and, indeed, commonsensical force of our argument–even though he rejects it.

Why does Harris reject our case? Let’s run through:

The first thing to notice is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum are confused about the nature of the problem. The goal is not to get more Americans to merely accept the truth of evolution (or any other scientific theory); the goal is to get them to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make a belief in evolution obligatory. Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying problem; the problem is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas occluded by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, etc. Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them.

I agree with Harris about the importance of not only knowing the truth about evolution, but knowing something about critical thinking and the scientific method (which is after all how we know that evolution is good science in the first place). Yet it isn’t a lie that, as we write in the book, “A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth.” This statement is factually true. Harris may think these people are wrong, but he can’t claim they don’t exist.

Furthermore, insofar as Harris thinks these people wrong, his disagreement with them is philosophical or theological in nature–not scientific. That’s also fine: But we’re talking about the promotion of science, not an atheistic worldview, in our book.

Harris continues:

While it is invariably advertised as an expression of “respect” for people of faith, this accommodationism is nothing more than naked condescension, motivated by fear. Mooney and Kirshenbaum assure us that people will choose religion over science, no matter how good a case is made against religion. In certain contexts, this fear is probably warranted. I wouldn’t be eager to spell out the irrationality of Islam while standing in the Great Mosque in Mecca. But let’s be honest about how Mooney and Kirshenbaum view public discourse in the United States: watch what you say, or the Christian mob will burn down the library of Alexandria all over again.

There is a bit of bravado here. The point is not to watch what you say, but to understand the context in which you are trying to communicate—and to recognize that most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments. No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen. Giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way is the only common sense approach if you want to change minds, or change the culture. In this sense, what is derided as “accommodationism” is actually an extremely important position between two poles on the intellectual spectrum, a position where many people will want to reside–right or wrong.

Harris again:

By comparison, the “combativeness” of the “New Atheists” seems entirely collegial. We merely assume that our fellow Homo sapiens possess the requisite intelligence and emotional maturity to respond to rational argument, satire, and ridicule on the subject of religion—just as they respond to these discursive pressures on all other subjects. Of course, we could be wrong. But let’s admit which side in this debate currently views our neighbors as dangerous children and which views them as adults who might prefer not to be utterly mistaken about the nature of reality.

I strongly question the “collegiality” claim, but that’s another story. As for Harris, it seems to me he is simply being an idealist. There are worse things to be, of course. But the reality is that people don’t want to give up their beliefs, and will fight to hold on to them, dismissing many or all direct assaults. This is human nature. We need a narrative, an internal sense of who we are—and once we’ve got one, we fiercely protect it. (Also be sure to read Jean Kazez on whether ridicule works at changing minds.)

We don’t view our neighbors as “dangerous children,” then; we view all humans as members of a species know for fiercely clinging to its own beliefs. That includes, most emphatically, the New Atheists. But that’s another post…..

Comments (143)

  1. We merely assume that our fellow Homo sapiens possess the requisite intelligence and emotional maturity to respond to rational argument, satire, and ridicule on the subject of religion

    I would think that if H. sapiens possesses the requisite intelligence and emotional maturity to respond to rational argument, – and if Harris, et al are capable of constructing a compelling case through rational argument, there would be no need to get folks to “respond” to ridicule.

    And, if Harris likes the honesty bit, he’d hope that people wouldn’t respond to ridicule by running from the position they hold after rationally considering his rational argument.

    How’s that for “collegial”?

  2. Anthony McCarthy

    I don’t know why but I couldn’t get on the Harris link.

    I’m thinking about the effect of merely disagreeing with new atheists without mocking them. Collectively, they’re about as thin skinned as any other cult, just look at how they’ve been going on about UA. Can you imagine if the book had used ridicule as well as rational argument with a level of citations rare in new atheist “scholarship”?

  3. gillt

    Mooney said: “‘A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth.’ This statement is factually true.”

    Hold on. What statement is factually true?

    Could it be that Mooney is confusing a fact for someone’s self-assessment of their own beliefs? If so, then this is PR not journalism.

    Right or wrong, at least Harris is dealing with the claims.

  4. andrew

    Sam, he called you an Idealist! I hope you’re not just going to sit and take that!

    So Chris, you’re going to stay on this sinking ship, eh?

    ““A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth.””

    Does he, or anyone for that matter, doubt this? (except for the ‘A great many scientists’ part, which as we all know, scientist are much, much more likely to be non-religious.) As someone else has said, just because someone can be married AND an adulterer and have no sense of internal contradiction doesn’t make it correct. Surely you understand this doesn’t score you any points.

    Why are you arguing with Sam? Don’t you know people don’t want to give up their beliefs, and will fight to hold on to them? This is Human Nature! Aren’t you concerned for Sam’s feelings? Maybe he’s right and maybe he’s wrong, but don’t you think it’s mean and futile?

    “…most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments. No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen.”

    It has happened and will continue to happen!

    If you’re, as you claim to be, non-religious, then I find your writing very defeatist, and your argument against argumentation bizarre.

    I ‘believe’ that all bad ideas should be argued against, not just scientific ones. And just because someone is emotionally invest in a particular bad idea is NOT a reason to avoid arguing against it… probably just the opposite!

  5. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, tried it on my brother’s computer this time and I got this message: “This web site has been blocked because it matches the following forbidden category: Racism.”

    Somehow, my jaw didn’t drop.

  6. andrew

    @Anthony
    “I’m thinking about the effect of merely disagreeing with new atheists without mocking them. Collectively, they’re about as thin skinned as any other cult, just look at how they’ve been going on about UA. Can you imagine if the book had used ridicule as well as rational argument with a level of citations rare in new atheist “scholarship”?”

    Interesting. By ‘new atheists’ do you mean Dawkins/Harris/Dennett… or atheists of the 21st century, or people who agree with Dawkins/Harris/Dennett?

    Thin skinned? Cult?!? Really? Is THAT a reasoned response? I’ve never heard them whine about anything, although I have heard them take peoples arguments and demolish them… is that what you mean? Did Sam’s response come across as anything other than well thought out and reasoned to you? They have been ‘going on’ about UA because they have a fundamental disagreement.

    Another one that doesn’t like argumentation!

  7. andrew

    @Anthony

    What race would that be? Are you in Saudi Arabia or Iran perhaps?

  8. Philosopher

    Chris,

    Thanks for continuing to make a very practicle and what I believe necessary argument for a middle ground. It seems the new atheists ignore the evidence of human nature to make their argument. Like it or not we are not rational beings by nature. We must discipline ourselves to think rationally. No matter how much they argue, the new atheists will not change that nature. By refusing to accept this fact, they alienate the general public and further remove their research and study from the minds of practical Americans going to work and taking care of their families.

  9. Woody Tanaka

    “Unlike many New Atheists, then, Harris implicitly realizes the obvious and, indeed, commonsensical force of our argument–even though he rejects it.”

    I don’t think so. I think he is essentially saying that you have the issue wrong. The issue isn’t about the content of belief, but about the method whereby that content is generated.

    “Giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way is the only common sense approach if you want to change minds, or change the culture.”

    But you aren’t providing them with “stopping points along the way,” but merely different “stopping points.” What you are proposing will not change minds or culture, but permit some of them to tack “I believe in evolution” onto a self-description which would read — if they are honest — “I think irrationally.” The only solution worth pursuing is to change the thinking to a rational basis.

    You are merely giving them a salve for something which actully COULD change minds and culture: their intellectual distress at trying to think rationally on the one hand and irrationally/superstitiously/religously on the other. If you are going to change minds and culture, you actually have to do it, you can’t just pretend. Getting fundamentalists to profess belief in evolution while not rejecting irrational/superstitious/religious thought patterns is not (or, at least, should not be) an end to itself.

    “Harris may think these people are wrong, but he can’t claim they don’t exist.”

    He doesn’t. In fact, in the next paragraph after that which you quote, he begins a major discussion on them:

    “Finally, we come to the kernel of confusion that has been the subject of this essay—the irrelevant claim that ‘a great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction.’ The fact that certain people can reason poorly with a clear conscience—or can do so while saying that they have a clear conscience—proves absolutely nothing about the compatibility of specific ideas, goals, and modes of thought. It is possible to be wrong and to not know it (we call this ‘ignorance’). It is possible to be wrong and to know it, but to be reluctant to incur the social cost of admitting this publicly (we call this ‘hypocrisy’). And it may also be possible to be wrong, to dimly glimpse this fact, but to allow the fear of being wrong to increase one’s commitment to one’s erroneous beliefs (we call this ‘self-deception’). It seems clear that these frames of mind do an unusual amount of work in the service of religion.”

  10. Anthony McCarthy

    I mean new atheists, not normal atheists who don’t buy the new atheist program outlined by Harris, Dawkins Hitchens, PZ etc. As one of the identified tactic of the new atheists is denial of anything and everything their opponents say, as well as an odd inability to be able to read supporting material in the arguments of their opponents, I am within the range of absolute certainty of how the Harrisites will go on this.

    — What race would that be? Are you in Saudi Arabia or Iran perhaps? andrew

    How would I know? I didn’t write the filter software and it didn’t give a report.

  11. gillt

    Mooney: “Harris may think these people are wrong, but he can’t claim they don’t exist.”

    lol, Harris never claimed this in his article or anywhere else. Especially since Harris addresses the “religious scientist” non-argument in the very same article from which Mooney quoted but obviously didn’t read.

    I award you know points and may God have mercy on your soul.

  12. gillt

    I say anyone who divides groups into “normal” and “other” forfeits respect.

  13. Anthony McCarthy

    – Could it be that Mooney is confusing a fact for someone’s self-assessment of their own beliefs? If so, then this is PR not journalism. gillt

    Oh, clearly we can’t allow self-assessment of ones own beliefs. Can we.

    In absence of objective evidence to the contrary a person’s stated judgement of their own experience is the best evidence of that experience.

    Who are you proposing as a better judge of their beliefs? The obviously un-disintersted Sam Harris? You, gillt, yourself?

  14. Anthony McCarthy

    My self-assessment of my own experience is that I have been happily without gillt’s respect for going on four months now.

  15. andrew

    @Philosopher
    “It seems the new atheists ignore the evidence of human nature to make their argument. Like it or not we are not rational beings by nature. ”

    Human Nature causes people to kill, steal, overeat, rape… can we not argue against our lower selves. This is what reasonable people call the NATURALISTIC FALLACY. Strange for someone named Philosopher to make such a obvious mistake.

    ” We must discipline ourselves to think rationally.”

    So were allowed to discipline ourselves to think rationally, but we’re not allowed to point out when others don’t?

    “No matter how much they argue, the new atheists will not change that nature. By refusing to accept this fact, they alienate the general public and further remove their research and study from the minds of practical Americans going to work and taking care of their families.”

    You may not like these atheists, but nowhere, ever, has anyone claimed to want to change human nature. That may be one of the strangest statements I’ve ever heard.

  16. andrew

    “I mean new atheists, not normal atheists who don’t buy the new atheist program outlined by Harris, Dawkins Hitchens, PZ etc.”

    Yes, I’m asking you about the term New Atheists. Please don’t use it in your definition.

    “Yes the new atheists are the new atheists, not the normal atheists” ??????

    “Atheist Program”?????

    You’re starting to creep me out now. I consider myself a ‘normal’ atheists and I’m unfamiliar with any formal atheist ‘Programs’. Does it happen to coincide with the Obama’s ‘Socialist Program’?

  17. Sorbet

    -A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth

    “A great many” is incorrect. 10% of NAS members for instance and an equivalent percentage of members of the Royal Society are not a great many. Plus, the word “God” would have to be clearly defined because not everyone among that 10% believes in an interventionist God of the kind that most people refer to. Most believe in the Einsteinian version of God. Plus as noted before, neither of these statements is of course any argument for the validity of God or religious beliefs per se; it only says that a minority of people can sustain mutually contradictory views borne of mutually contradictory methodology in their minds.

    -No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen
    But why enumerate this point? It seems to be one on which both you and Harris agree, that rational debate is not going to convince the fundamentalists. Where you differ is in thinking that moderate and gentle persuasion will actually keep these forces at bay. They won’t. Aggressive stances won’t convert fundamentalists and nobody hopes they will, but aggressive stances will hold them at bay by displaying the naked inanity of their beliefs. It’s like managing HIV; aggressive cocktail therapy won’t cure the disease as everyone knows, but it will at least contain it and stop it from spreading.

  18. andrew

    ” What race would that be? Are you in Saudi Arabia or Iran perhaps? andrew

    How would I know? I didn’t write the filter software and it didn’t give a report.”

    You don’t know what country you’re currently in or you don’t understand rhetorical questions? (FYI: Religions, philosophies, ideas or not races. Just as if I say I hate Structuralism or Logical Positivism, doesn’t make me a racist)

  19. andrew

    This site needs an Edit feature…

    “FYI: Religions, philosophies, ideas are not races.”

  20. gillt

    McCarthy: “Oh, clearly we can’t allow self-assessment of ones own beliefs. Can we. ”

    Epic FAIL McCarthy. An objective position does not take self-assessment at face value. That would make you credulous and biased.

    McCarthy: “In absence of objective evidence to the contrary a person’s stated judgement of their own experience is the best evidence of that experience.”

    That’s actually a better question. Naive, but it shows progress. You simply don’t factor in their personal assessment of their own claims. It’s not relevant. You look at the claims to decide whether they compliment or contradict.

  21. andrew

    Just out of curiosity, what would be the ‘middle ground’ between astrology and astronomy?

    And to end this entire debate with the words of a great 20th century philosopher…

    “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
    The Dude

  22. magistramorous

    Mr. Mooney, I could not agree with you more. It took many years for me to lose my faith and such is true for many of the New Atheists, including Bill Maher. It also took many years to fully accept evolution, after countless hours of watching science programs, reading, thinking, etc. It is understandable why someone who didn’t have that background would believe otherwise.

  23. Stephen Friberg

    It always is refreshing to read Mooney and Kirshenbaum.

    To the point of the discussion: I do admire the passion of Harris. But, I don’t think that reason is one of his strong points. Nor is it a strong point for new atheism in general, and I’m echoing a criticism of new atheism that is widely voiced.

    Let me see if I can make my case (I can already hear the snarky comments in reply).

    The central point of new atheism is that God doesn’t exist, so religion is in error. If God does exist, then the whole project falls apart. So, atheism in general is unstable, resting as it does on a single central assumption. This may explain why atheists resist reasoned discussion on this point.

    The evidence of the existence of God is, perhaps we can say, twofold. One is nature. The amazing fecundity of nature that Dawkins carries on so much about is a profound and deeply convincing demonstration of the underlying complexity of creation and shows that there must be something responsible for that creation. Scientists call it the laws of nature, and don’t doubt that it exists. Religion calls it God. Neither understands it in considerable depth, rather both only know that it exists.

    The other is revelation and, to a lesser extent, inspiration. Revelation – the creative word – is at the heart of modern great religions and probably of ancient religion as well. Revelation can shape and change the world, as any objective student of religion knows well. If revelation is understood as being historical – i.e., something that happens at a given time and place – them all the dynamics of religion become clear. Its growth and decay into superstitious practices alike become the object of study and understanding, not of contemptuous disregard.

    The failure of the new atheists to bring a reasoned and objective lens to these two topics, as well as their failure to examine how our ideas of God are shaped by our experience with the powers of the mind (basically, our ideas of gods or of God are extrapolations from our experiences with the tremendous capabilities of the mind) is what – to my scientific mind – marks out much of the new atheism as a desert of reason.

    Steve F.

  24. Gee, 10% of the NAS, a group which is self-selecting — according to Richard Feynman that was a contributing factor in his decision to leave it. Even at PZ’s site they were throwing around the claim of 60% of American scientists were atheists a couple of years back, which would mean there are 40% to drum out of science . Freeing up a lot of jobs for people who apparently couldn’t get them through competition? Though, given the penchant the new atheists have to fudge statistics quite astoundingly, claiming wildly out of range figures to their benefit, I’d guess that’s probably way too high. I’d want to read what the actual questions and answers were on any survey before I’d trust any such statement even about a group as small as the NAS, which isn’t a representative sample of professional scientists. I’m a skeptic when it comes to opinion surveys and polling.

    I wonder why that statistic should be any more of an indication of disability inhibiting the religious from the practice of science than the far more reliable statistics on the representation of gender and ethnicity. Which can be quite disturbing. Maybe science is partly responsible for creating an atmosphere that isn’t welcoming to all conditions of life. I would think the relatively recent attempts at outreach to underrepresented groups might show that many in science are aware of that effect.

    I wouldn’t care if it was 100% of scientists who are febrile new atheists, though I think they’d probably not get much done, given that level of emotional excitement. Scientists’ ideas about science carry the authority of expertise, their ideas outside of science aren’t any more valid than those of other people.

    andrew@18, I can play that game but it’s not very interesting and you don’t seem very adept at it. So I’ll pass. I reported what happened when I tried the link to Harris’ site, it turned up that result on my brother’s account. Which, on reflection, doesn’t surprise me one bit.

    gillt, it’s no fun fighting with you when you begin by distorting what was said. It takes three or four comments just to deal with your prevarication.

  25. Steve,

    - Not “assumption”, inductive conclusion. I am not a new atheist, but would be happy to discuss whatever you like, so long as it doesn’t descend into the abusive silliness of untenable generalizations.
    - If atheism is unstable, by that logic, so is theism.
    - Depth is relative. The scientists don’t understand everything, but they do understand things at a considerably greater depth than the religious.
    - Scientists doubt laws of nature when the evidence demands it. They overturned the whole of determinism due to the results of quantum mechanics!
    - The only thing that God and the laws of nature have in common that is self-evident is that both are claimed to exist. Why is this significant? What “lens” would you put these matters under, what questions are left unresolved?
    - What is the difference between putting something in its place and contemptuous disregard? PZ Myers considers the Bible a great work of literature, Chris Hitchens takes his shoes off in the mosque, etc. The religions are still false.
    - Have you read any book by any new atheist? Dawkins spends a number of chapters on exactly the topics you mention in your last paragraph.

  26. —- what would be the ‘middle ground’ between astrology and astronomy?

    A plausible explanation of how the claimed effects of astrology occur, which is testable with the regular tools of science? Or testable, verifiable predictions using the methods of astrology?

    Who is proposing that kind of middle ground between science and religion? We’re back to the rote repetition of the fabricated charge that people here are proposing that science accommodate religion within science when no one has done that. Please forgive me for restating the bleedin’ obvious, but science can’t accommodate anything which doesn’t fall within the rather narrow requirements of subject and methods of science, the material universe which is observed, quantified, analyzed, and which stands up to peer review. Religion doesn’t have that restriction, it has and regularly does learn from science, as do history, politics, industry, business, etc.

    Quote the authors or those who have supported them who have demanded that science violate its requirements. Real, verbatim quotes that say exactly what is charged, with citations so they can be checked for accuracy and context.

    There’s the world of difference between dropping foolish invective and wrecking science.

  27. gillt

    Sigh, I’m all out of snark today, but your comment rightly deserves a fair does of it. For example, trying to pass your own incredulity off–”Neither understands it in considerable depth, rather both only know that it exists”–as the measure of modern scientific knowledge.

    I’m curious though, when you said natural laws, were you referring to Newton’s laws or Einstein’s laws as examples, because I believe those to be scientific laws.

  28. gillt

    McCarthy: “Quote the authors or those who have supported them who have demanded that science violate its requirements. Real, verbatim quotes that say exactly what is charged, with citations so they can be checked for accuracy and context.”

    Always holding others to standards you wouldn’t dare dream of applying to yourself. What a gas!

  29. Chris

    “Harris quotes one of our book’s passages in which we argue that if we can depolarize the science versus religion battle, we can likely broaden public acceptance of evolution. It’s an argument, Harris says, “that, I fear, most people would accept.” Unlike many New Atheists, then, Harris implicitly realizes the obvious and, indeed, commonsensical force of our argument–even though he rejects it.”

    Ouch, no – that’s not what Harris said at all. Saying that most people would accept your claim is not the same thing as saying that your claim has force. Yikes.

  30. 26. gillt Says

    Well, obviously, he’s saying it can’t be done. Only he doesn’t want to admit that so he starts flinging lies.

  31. Cain

    @23 Stephan Friberg
    Sir, you’ve built your argument on a foundation of straw.

    Atheism makes no claims, it has no central point. Atheism merely acknowledges that the claims of the theist are positive claims about the nature of the universe, and like all positive claims, must be defended by its supporters with evidence and logic. It is not up to me to disprove that God exists anymore than it is up to you to disprove that the FSM exists. Until I bring evidence, you are, justifiably, an atheist in respect to the FSM. Likewise, until theists bring evidence, agnostic atheism seems the only rational position.

    You should be commended for attempting to provide this evidence in your next paragraphs, unfortunately, both your attempts fall short of the mark. In reverse order:

    Revelation is by definition subjective. I don’t doubt that people have had experiences that convinces them of the truth of some religion but to everyone else in the world those experiences are just anecdotes. As the mantra that has been beaten in to all of our heads goes “The plural of anecdote is not data”. You cannot reasonably expect me to accept your claims based on experiences only you have had anymore than I could expect you to believe a claim that I was abducted by aliens. Regardless of my certainty, you will have to wait until I bring an ashtray back from Alpha Centauri.

    Second, nature is only evidence that nature exists. The very fact that you call it creation shows your bias. I agree that there must be an explanation for nature and existence but the leap to an intelligent being as the responsible agent can not be made by using “a reasoned and objective lens” as you called it. Nature is only evidence that nature exists. You are right that she has deep and dark mysteries but I would be careful saying that it is in those mysteries that God lives. I can’t think of a bet that’s been a loser more often or more consistently.

    High Regards

  32. Rules For

    Stephen Friberg:
    The central point of new atheism is not “that God doesn’t exist.” It’s that ideas should only be believed to the extent that reason and evidence support them – and the vast majority of religious beliefs are cartoonishly over the line on this point. Another main point is that ideas shouldn’t receive special insulation from reasonable criticism just because they’re labelled “religious.”
    I state that these are the central points of new atheism because the movement started with Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith, and these were his book’s central tenets.

  33. Update: The number of gillt’s habitual attempts to cloud the issue when the new atheists are pressed to back up their false charges is now number 28, at least when I typed this.

    And also, we have yet to have andrew or gillt back up the false charge.

  34. gillt

    McCarthy, rare are the times when I can tell what you’re getting at. What, in your frantic mind, is the issue I’m clouding? Also, what is this false charge you blame me for not backing up? Why would I back a false charge, anyway?

    I think your confused and thus confusing.

  35. — ideas should only be believed to the extent that reason and evidence support them Rules For

    This again.

    Prove that “ideas should only be believed to the extent that reason and evidence support them” with reason and evidence. Don’t mistake experience with reason and evidence in the process.

    How do you support the idea that all people have the right to due process under the law and the right to equality under the law?

    I don’t hold with deriving proofs of the existence of God anymore than I do with proofs of the existence of existence or any number of other things that can’t be supported with pure reason or with evidence. But if you’re going to make that kind of blanket statement, you’re going to have to do either without believing a heck of a lot of stuff that you do believe, or you are going to live continually in violation of your own ethical code.

  36. McCarthy, rare are the times when I can tell what you’re getting at. What, in your frantic mind, is the issue I’m clouding?

    I’m getting at the demand that andrew back up the charge he made. You did quote the demand in its entirety.

    I’ve never accused you of being stupid, just monumentally and rather absurdly dishonest. Considering how often you deny things that can be checked very easily by scrolling up a few comments.

  37. Wowbagger

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    I’ve never accused you of being stupid, just monumentally and rather absurdly dishonest.</blockquote

    Does anyone else wonder if Anthony McCarthy lives in a big glass house with about five dozen strawmen for company?

  38. Stephen Friberg

    Hi Folks!

    Thanks for the comments!

    Benjamin Nelson, I don’t understand why theism is unstable by the same regards. Theism, usually described, is the idea that God created the world and then let it run by itself. It is agnostic, pretty much, with respect to religion. The evidence that the world is continuing to run seems to be an indicator of stability

    Depth is an interesting concept. I understand quantum optics in depth, but not chemistry. So scientific depth is about specialization. Wisdom, how cultures thrive, the release of powerful new modes of considering the universe, moral issue, etc., have a different “metric” of depth. Offhand, I would say that new atheism mistakes a litany of scientific facts – evolution, etc – as depth whereas it is the scientific method – thinking through to understanding – that is deep. This is the “metric” of depth that religion has that is similar to that of science.

    The questioning and doubting aspect of scientific investigation, I think obvious, apply to religion as well. Otherwise, how can any understanding of revelation be gained? The point is not that science and religion are opposed, i.e., it is not that science investigates to gain understanding but religion doesn’t, rather it is that valid religion in a positive and creative stage involves the same criticality as science. How could religion be said to be engaged with reality otherwise? How could it change the world?

    Writings of the new atheists? Wish I had a lot of time for discussion. First of all, the positive. Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and others have, in my humble opinion, revitalized theology by rephrasing the time-honored theological questions – does God exist, what is the nature of good and evil, etc., – in modern languages, using modern and scientific ideas. Their questions and the language they have invented to ask them elbow aside the musty musings of much of modern theological language.

    The negative? Basically, they download their answers from the intelligent design playbook. Dawkins, for example, argues that because intelligent design is obviously false, belief in God is false. Generalizing, both the intelligent design people and the new atheists are what we call literalists; they take spiritual terminology and descriptions to be literal truths. Dawkins wants God to be a literal entity. By the same token, the “light” of understanding should have a wavelength.

    Rules writes “The central point of new atheism is not that God doesn’t exist. It’s that ideas should only be believed to the extent that reason and evidence support them – and the vast majority of religious beliefs are cartoonishly over the line on this point.” It is true that Harris is open to atheistic Buddhism, but that doesn’t mean that atheism involves an acceptance of God. But yes, the criticism that religious beliefs tend to not involve reason is, in many cases, true. Unfortunately Harris draws the conclusion (at least he hasn’t indicated that he thinks otherwise) that ALL religious beliefs are over the line. This is certainly not a conclusion compatible with the rules of scientific investigation, which says that you need to investigate before drawing your conclusion. Science hold that you need data points.

    Cain, you write “Atheism makes no claims, it has no central point.” Probably, you mean agnosticism here, not atheism. You also say that revelation is relative. Not the type of revelation that Christ revealed, or Muhammad, or Buddha, or Baha’u'llah. Each, like the writings of Plato or the teaching of Confucius, has left a distinct and very real footprint in history and in our current thinking. Certainly, many people’s interpretations of them have been relative, but when civilizations are built on revelation, it means that there is something substantive there. It is not the same as material reality – Christ didn’t invent cell phones – but the concept of love and unity that he taught allowed many people to move behind the limits of purely tribal thinking. These kinds of results – the power of great ideas and concepts – are also real, and thus are rooted in reality, but in a reality that is rooted in people, not things.

    Thanks, all.
    Stephen

  39. gillt

    haha, I simply pointed out that you use one supremely lazy standard for yourself and a different standard for those with whom you disagree. I couldn’t care less what andrew said, except when you decide that I should answer for him.

    Unless wait, your generalizing what one person you disagree with said to something everyone you disagree with says, then yes, I must be behaving in a obfuscatory and dishonest manner.

    With bated breath I await your carelessly thought out and predictable response McCarthy.

  40. Wowbagger

    Christ didn’t invent cell phones – but the concept of love and unity that he taught allowed many people to move behind the limits of purely tribal thinking.

    But he could have done just that without needing a god at all. If the concepts themselves are the valuable aspect of Jesus’ existence, he didn’t need to be divine at all – just insightful.

    What do we need gods for?

    ‘These kinds of results – the power of great ideas and concepts – are also real, and thus are rooted in reality, but in a reality that is rooted in people, not things or gods.’

  41. —- I simply pointed out that you use one supremely lazy standard for yourself and a different standard for those with whom you disagree. gillt

    You didn’t point anything out, you asserted that was the case when you didn’t demonstrate it either with evidence or reason, observe and learn, Rules For.

    This is standard gillt practice, relying on the assumption that people reading it will either be too uninterested or otherwise disinclined to see that he has, in fact, lied. And that’s only one form of mendacity that you grow to expect with gillt.

    —- I couldn’t care less what andrew said

    You don’t care what anyone says, you’re asserting an ideological dogma not investigating ideas and arguments. You’re a cultist, I’ve never expected you to do anything as honest as caring about an idea or about accuracy in the written record.

    gillt, when put on the spot, habitually tries to brazen it out with a posture of condescension as he anticipates his fellow neo-aths to likewise ignore the record and join him in obfuscation.

  42. What do we need gods for?

    Don’t know but likely for a lot more than they would need you for. Yet you expect your edification is the point of it for them.

  43. Sorbet

    -What do we need gods for?
    Of course, what do we need Gods for when we have McCarthy to pray to! We can only wait with bated breath until he infuses all of us with (jazzhands!) *other ways of knowing*

    -I simply pointed out that you use one supremely lazy standard for yourself
    That standard involves not detaching his posterior from his couch to actually open a book and divining everything by armchair speculation alone. Whether it’s exobiology, epigenetics, evo pysch or the history and practice of science. The standard practice is to ambush the other person with diverse and unrelated questions while being unable to actually look up something himself.

  44. ShowsOn

    [The point is not to watch what you say, but to understand the context in which you are trying to communicate—and to recognize that most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments.]

    Which makes Sam Harris’ point perfectly. This theoretical person’s religion is getting in the way of them accepting reasoned arguments.

  45. Stephen,

    In your first comment, you regarded atheism as centered around a single “assumption” which may or may not prove true, and without which must collapse. That “assumption” is the non-existence of god(s). But even if it were an assumption, then what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If it turns out there are no god(s), then theism collapses; that, after all, is its central posit.

    If you mean to be talking about not just theism, but religion, and then go on to suggest that religion has other bases (i.e., providing life meaning), then that is a separate argument; an argument that the new atheists reply to on humanist grounds. In which case it would be incorrect to say that “new atheism” rests upon a single judgment, namely that against god(s).

    Scientific depth does involve specialization, I would agree, but it also seems to involve concilience. The disciplines have a way to bleeding into each other as they mature. Even if they don’t completely reduce into each others’s terms (what would be the point of that?), we find that the number of bridges and intersections between them growing and inter-supporting. You don’t find this between the natural sciences and the posits of theology — you don’t even find it between different forms of theology. Moreover, the sheer number of the discoveries of natural science are greater than those of theology. In these ways, we have understood a great deal about creation through science, while theology seems to stagnate at best, and contradict itself at worst.

    You want to focus on a different sense of depth, not of knowledge of creation, but instead in terms of the understanding (or philosophy). I don’t think this works either. Science and religion do admittedly share philosophy in common. But while the most mediocre science is saturated with philosophy, religion only interacts with philosophy when it is at its best.

    Since you’ve presumably read Dawkins, I’ll gently remind you that he is perfectly willing to view religion on terms of allegory as well as literal. He rejects it on that basis as well. I believe the same sentiment applies to the rest of the new atheists (though I am least familiar with Dennett and Harris here).

    Finally, of course we don’t all have infinite time for discussion, and I understand that — but I don’t want it be said that I left it, or resisted reasoned discussion on any of the points raised.

  46. Stephen Friberg

    Hi Wowbagger (cool name):

    You write “But he [Christ] could have done just that without needing a god at all. If the concepts themselves are the valuable aspect of Jesus’ existence, he didn’t need to be divine at all – just insightful. What do we need gods for?”

    Obviously the right question. The answers are interesting. One compatible with the thinking of believers and non-believers alike is that if His words were to effect change – and we are talking about major change here – He has to connect with His listeners, and language of gods and God was current at the time.

    Another answer is how people interpret and cloak some significant event with meaning. Consider, for example, the concept of Christ as the sacrificial lamb or as having a divine father and a human mother. Both invoke widespread traditions of Christ’s time.

    But there is a deeper answer too. And that has to do with spiritual reality. Let me explain what I mean. I’ve got a 15 year old son, and I’m teaching him that service to humanity, not just service to his own needs or his own family’s status, leads to an understanding of spiritual reality and the spiritual world is the true world. High ideals and noble work are different than selfish pursuits.

    And yes, it’s a reality. When a generation of Englishmen 200 years ago decided that profiteering by slaveholding was wrong and stopped the English involvement in the slave trade, it led to the freeing of the slaves and to civil rights movement. The result, so at odds with Social Darwinist understandings, speaks of a reality that is different than the material reality of a factory or a workshop or a physics laboratory. It is a reality of the world of men and women and of the mind and its power to affect change and modify society.

    What does this mean about the existence – or lack thereof – of God? What it establishes, and incontrovertibly, I think, is that the world of the mind and its powers is as real as the world of material existence. Mind exists.

    The next step is logical, but challenging to those raised on a strict diet of secularism. In the same way that I can draw inferences from my experience with lasers and atoms in my laboratory to a belief that there is a whole universe out there made out of atoms (and, yes, it turns out that there are interstellar lasers), I can draw by similar inference to the view that mind is real. In other words, the universe contains intelligence and all the creative potential that intelligence entails.

    Sure, extrapolation from experience, you might say. It is logical in the case of science. We assume that star stuff in Andromeda is that the same as star stuff in the sun. And we can test it by spectroscopic signatures. So, how do we test it for the case of intelligence? I.e., yes I agree that intelligence is real, but how do I know it can be written BIG as the existence of God? The answer, of course, is needed and as I explained earlier it is found in nature and in revelation.

    BTW, once you get the idea that it is logical for people to view reality as made from mind-stuff, rather than just material stuff, it explains the ideas of divine trees, sacred groves, gods, even God. Of course, it doesn’t say whether any particular idea is good or correct.

    Stephen

  47. Marion Delgado

    Hitchens and Harris believe in the MidEast, God was a realtor.

    The ideology of most of the New Atheists is to throw their lot in with people who believe in corporate personhood, magical markets, and a reified capitalism which has hands, however invisibe.

    At least Myers and Dawkins aren’t Randroid-lites. Of the irrational faiths that cause problems, I would say on my list market fundamentalism* is worse than all the others put together. Then would come religious fundamentalism that’s got state power, cf. the Taliban, Khomeini, then ethnic supremacism – the Zionist movement and the Bell Curve, climate science denialism, vaccine panic mongering, AIDS denialism… by the time you arrive at people who simply believe in intelligent design, your harm level is about the same as UFO believers. And theistic evolutionists? What is it Jefferson used to say, that he didn’t care if someone believed in no gods or many, it neither picked his pocket nor breaks his leg.

    *It’s not the Taliban that made Afghans illiterate and medically backwards, drove women out of colleges and government and elections, etc. It’s the Iranian/Pakistani/American effort to damage the USSR by destroying Afghanistan that did that. And the ultimate goal was a combination of resource securing and market fundamentalism (called then anticommunism). Sure, jingos and warmongers prefer you call that their love of freedom – religious fundamentalists want you to call their intolerance love of God, or love of humanity.

  48. — religion only interacts with philosophy when it is at its best.

    OK, so now that you’ve established that you actually don’t know anything about religion,….

    43. Sorbet. You are eminently ignorable, having only the distinction of being slightly less honest than gillt.

  49. Sorbet

    -You are eminently ignorable
    And it’s clear that you have completely ignored me in the past few comment threads…LOL! And you hear the old adage of people in glass houses…never mind, you are beyond knowledge-acquisition.

  50. Marion Delgado

    There is no such thing as “the naturalistic fallacy.” When something has a sliding scale of worth depending on circumstances, it’s not a law that it’s always invalid. Wanting to work with nature instead of against it is a heuristic – a rule of thumb – that’s given people good results in most, but not all situations. It’s why we don’t make lambs eat steak and feed cats nothing but hay.

    It’s an omnibus term of abuse for people who believe in synergistic effects of medicinal substances, for others who believe people have adapted to their environment and are likeier to be healthy eating and living in ways they’re suited to, people who’ve noted the largely inferior or toxic nature of cheap and adulterated food, and the less pleasing smells and tastes of factory food, etc. It’s typically used by making the most extreme users of the term “natural” stand for everyone else.

    It’s flip side is “the technologist partnered with the capitalist are always right, and anyone who disagrees is a silly superstitious hippie peasant.” Even when all our meals are frozen dinners that say “Less Chinese smokestack melamine protein substitute! More GMO cockroach meat!” on the label, the sneer merchants will be able to attack people who say it’s not wholesome or natural by saying that’s a fallacy, and show them paid-for research that proves they’ve never been better off.

  51. Sorbet

    -What does this mean about the existence – or lack thereof – of God? What it establishes, and incontrovertibly, I think, is that the world of the mind and its powers is as real as the world of material existence. Mind exists
    But is there a sound reason to believe that the world of the mind has nothing to do with the world of material existence? After all our minds, thoughts and actions are ultimately based on the laws of physics and chemistry. Occam’s Razor would dictate that an explanation of the mind would ultimately be contingent on an application of these laws. Note that I am not arguing in favor of a strictly reductionist approach. Emergent phenomena are now well-understood and accepted; however even these have a deep and ultimate connection to the basic laws that govern the universe.

  52. John Kwok

    @ Stephen,

    Welcome to the party. But on a more serious note, vertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero has cited a figure of 56% of all evolutionary biologists regard themselves as religious (It may be listed in his book, “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters”.).

  53. ARWallace

    Harris’ black and white view of religion and science coupled with his hate of relgion and fanatical followers makes him as great a danger to society as Pat Robertson.

    Keep writing Mooney.

  54. YME

    I hate the term “new Atheists” or “new Atheism,” Its not like Atheists are new at all. In fact, Atheism is older than religion. The only thing you can claim to be new about Atheism, is the fact that less of us are willing to look the other way. More have come out of the closet and even more are standing proudly. But people like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are no where near new. They may have new technology but no where near new tatics at spreading their ideas and knowledge. Try Ingersoll, Stanton, and Voltair. A different time, but the same goal. Not much has change when it comes to the lack of belief in all gods and goddesses.

    Btw, Harris is my least favorite out of all the people I have mentioned. Not a big fan at all, and yes, I am an Atheist. I don’t care much for Hitches either. Yes, I agree with them on many points when it comes to religion, especially the most popular religions. However, that’s about the extent that Atheistism goes. I think that’s why so many believers have such a hard time grasping that a “program” or anything close to what a religion or cult would use, wouldnt’work with Atheism.

  55. Marion Delgado

    Steven Friberg:

    How does a book like Unscientific America make you feel about cases like the Dover vs. Kitzmiller civil suit in Pennsylvania, or the current John Freshwater termination battle in Ohio? How does a book like The God Delusion make you feel? Or Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True?”

    You seem to be a believer, as many, probably most of us here are not, so it’s interesting to me to get your reaction.

  56. Sorbet

    -Harris’ black and white view of religion and science coupled with his hate of relgion and fanatical followers makes him as great a danger to society as Pat Robertson.
    And that comparison is the ultimate epitome of black and white. I personally would also berate anyone who compared Mooney to Chamberlain. The only thing that’s remaining is Godwin.

  57. “The point is not to watch what you say, but to understand the context in which you are trying to communicate—and to recognize that most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments. No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen. Giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way is the only common sense approach if you want to change minds, or change the culture.”

    I think Chris is giving away his hand here. Harris is right. This is about M&K just trying to get converts who will say they accept evolution. Chris is himself an atheist, and I surmise that if asked about it, he’d say he has good reason for his atheistic position. But his position condescendingly says that while you and I might be able to understand the full atheistic ramifications of science, some people aren’t as smart as us, so we need to feed them science-lite first to ween them off religion slowly to a less true middle ground. Then once they reach science OT Level III, we can tell them the full truth about Xenu–err, I mean we can eventually get them to embrace full science a lot easier once we’ve gotten them to this bogus middle ground position we originally told them was correct.

    It’s just a strategy, a deceptive tactic for manipulating people in order to convert them to our way of thinking. But that’s not what scientific-minded people should do; that’s what the cranks do. We’re better than that. We should be teaching people critical thinking and have enough confidence in our scientific conclusions for critical thinkers to embrace it on their own. Even if we assumed that M&K’s tactic was more effective at getting more evolution converts than just being honest with people by admitting the atheistic implications of science, I’d still prefer honesty to Chris’ “giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way.”

  58. Wowbagger

    I asked: ‘What do we need gods for?’

    McCarthy’s reply:

    Don’t know but likely for a lot more than they would need you for. Yet you expect your edification is the point of it for them.

    I’m disappointed, Anthony. I’d have though with your awesome and unmatched insight and intellect – not to mention your woo-powered ‘other ways of knowing’ (jazz hands!) you might have been able to come up with something better than that inane, rambling non-answer.

    Stephen Friberg

    Once again, everything you’ve described is perfectly explicable sans divine influence. Other religions have martyr figures; why not accept their cosmology as true? The same can be said about your concept of ‘mind-stuff’ – humans have proposed hundreds (if not thousands) of wildly different, mutually exclusive and contradictory god-concepts over the years – which one do we accept?

  59. Matti K.

    It is reasonable for an individual to argue an discuss his/her accommodationist views. That’s what Collins and Miller, for example, are doing, and no one is trying to shut them up. These arguments, however, are free game for counterarguments. It is a waste of time to argue about the strategic dismerits of these counterarguments, since in a free society one cannot prevent anyone from speaking out. Moreover, accommodationist views are a minority among working scientists. There is nothing political journalists like Mr. Mooney can do to hide this fact from the religious majority.

  60. Thinking some more about this:

    — ideas should only be believed to the extent that reason and evidence support them Rules For

    You’re making one of the most common mistakes made these days by those who truly believe they are thinking scientifically and in line with the rules of logic but who haven’t thought their position through. You are making a demand that is in its essence an assertion of a moral judgment. Your demand that everything be ruled by reason and evidence is, in itself, something that can’t be supported by reason and evidence unaided by subjective judgement. Eddington pointed that out several times, he said that “ought’ is outside natural law”. You can’t support any moral judgment solely on the basis of evidence and reason. He pointed out that you couldn’t even assert the relative values of the right verses the wrong answer in an arithmetic problem solely on the basis of science.

    He also said, “Dismiss the idea that natural laws may swallow up religion; it cannot even tackle the multiplication table single-handed.” I’d give his whole argument here but I’m afraid the heads of several of the trolls might explode and I don’t think I ought to risk that, though I couldn’t support that decision on the basis of pure reason and evidence.

    — I hate the term “new Atheists” or “new Atheism,” Its not like Atheists are new at all. YME

    I don’t use it to please new atheists, I use it to please atheists who don’t practice the same kinds of bigotry and who don’t assert the ideological garbage that the new atheist fad does. If normal atheists want to come up with a better term and can get it used I’ll switch to that.

    As has been pointed out here before, Jerry Coyne and Jason Rosenhouse have used it within the past few months, in print, there to be seen. I’ve seen many other new atheists use it, some of whom now seem to be trying to suppress its use. I know normal atheists who use it so they can distance themselves from a bunch of fad-driven, narrow-minded bigots.

    — your awesome and unmatched insight and intellect Wowbagger

    Stop. You’ll turn my head.

    If you think what I’ve said is terrifyingly intellectual, you should read some of that recent religious philosophy that B.S. Nelson was asserting was of marginal importance. One of my theologian blog friends couldn’t believe how worked up new atheists got over a long but rather unstartlingly simple argument I made in my last regular blog post. He said it wasn’t anything he’d expect a first semester freshman in a good seminary couldn’t sail through.

    – Occam’s Razor Sorbet

    I’m going to have to keep track of it, now. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the phrase “Occam’s razor” used in a blog comment when it wasn’t part of an assertion that showed the user had little idea of what it meant or what it’s limited use was. Occam was a very religious Franciscan philosopher, not the make believe proto-atheist you guys like to pretend he was.

    - jazz hands!,

    you too, Wowzie? I don’t know where Sorbet came up with this one but I’m not a jazz musician, much as I might regret that. Maybe he got it in the same place he got the lie that I’ve denied the validity of epigenetics, a charge I’ve refuted to him at least two times before now, with evidence and reason.

    If you think I’m going to cringe and fold at name calling, I’m not under any illusion that this is an elementary school playground.

    Am I really supposed to get upset when people calling themselves “Wowbagger” and “Sorbet” call me names?

  61. John Kwok

    @ Matti K. -

    Only in your wildest dreams do “religious views” appear to be prevalent within the minority of working scientists. That apparently isn’t so judging by the interest that the ongoing “accomodationist debate” inspired a technical session at this year’s 9th North American Paleontological Convention last June on the campus of the University of Cincinnati in which eminent marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson criticized Dawkins – and, if I’m not mistaken – both Coyne and Myers too. Moreover, that session was chaired by invertebrate paleontologist Lisa Park, a devout Protestant Christian, and also featured a talk presented by another devout Protestant Christian, noted vertebrate paleontologist Petetr Dodson (Earlier, that very morning, Ken Miller spoke at a session on creationism which also featured a talk by NCSE’s Genie Scott.).

    As I noted earlier, yesterday, invertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero – who is himself, a skeptic and presumably, an atheist too – has cited a poll result of 56% of all evolutionary biologists are those who are religiously devout. The only poll results I have seen that demonstrate the veracity of your observation that a minority of scientists hold religious views, are those of National Academy of Sciences members. But these polls don’t suggest that NAS members tend to be “New Atheist” in their “religious” orientation either; an observation that I am sure that you and your fellow Pharyngulites fervently wish to be true.

  62. Sorbet

    -Occam was a very religious Franciscan philosopher, not the make believe proto-atheist you guys like to pretend he was
    Occam may have been religious, but his Razor wasn’t. Newton was religious, but gravitation isn’t. Uncle Anthony still has to come to terms with simple distinctions. Since he has never used Occam’s Razor in his life it’s not surprising he doesn’t know about it.
    -I’m not a jazz musician
    Now he is really losing it. Doesn’t seem to understand what jazzhands means. Colloquial usage seems to escape you as fecundly as science it seems.
    -Am I really supposed to get upset when people calling themselves “Wowbagger” and “Sorbet” call me names?
    No, technically you should only get upset when you parade your ignorance. But it’s been Ignorance 6, McCarthy 0 all along so it will continue.

  63. — Colloquial usage seems to escape you as fecundly as science it seems.

    Do yourself a favor, buy a dictionary.

  64. Sorbet

    Here, let me simplify it for your understanding- Colloquial usage seems to escape you with as much untrammeled fecundity as science it seems.
    And the part about the dictionary must have been a “note to myself” I presume.

  65. Sorbet

    @Kwok: Actually the NAS poll indicates that biologists as a whole are the least religious. Here are the actual words from the original Nature article:

    “We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality)”

    Look it up.

  66. Sorbet

    Kwok, actually the NAS poll found that biological scientists are the least religious. Here are the actual words from the original Nature article.

    “We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality).”

    Look it up

  67. Sorbet

    Sorry, comment submitted twice

  68. Colloquial usage seems to escape you with as much untrammeled fecundity as science it seems.

    Work on your reading skills first.

  69. Here we have the best minds of the new atheism at work, it’s a good opportunity to take a close look at how it goes wrong. From the blog post from “Skepacabra”.

    “I surmise that if asked about it, he’d say he has good reason for his atheistic position. But his argument condescendingly says that while you and I might be able to understand the full atheistic ramifications of science, some people aren’t as smart as us, so we need to feed them science-lite first to ween them off religion slowly to a less true middle ground.”

    Here we have the arrogance of new atheism in full view. They, not Chris Mooney, are the ones who hold that anything but their version of scientism is the manifestation of ignorance. They just can’t believe that anyone who is an atheist can’t look at their belief objectively and realize that it isn’t a law of nature or science or logic or anything else, it’s a personal belief, a position held personally. And it’s most telling that they can’t believe that anyone could really respect someone else who comes to a different conclusion.

    That arrogance is the real motivation of both the new atheism and the pesudo-skepticism that preceded it in pop culture. They’re a bunch of frat boys (of both gender) motivated by clique behavior and the status they assign themselves due to their in-group status. Which is why normal atheist, real skeptics and most other people are happy to differ with them.

    The reaction to UA is the anger of a clique whose self-image has been violated by an outsider, not to mention the professional NAs who are afraid the value of their lunch ticket is being undermined.

    “Skepacabra”. That supposed to be some magic charm of the “skeptics” or is it their club’s password? Sorry, just thought I’d try out a bit of that ridicule that Harris and his pals think is a good replacement for intellectual engagement.

  70. Sorbet

    -fecundity
    Get a dictionary first Doc

  71. John Kwok

    @ Sorbet -

    You’re conflating polls. The number I cited is from an earlier poll that was conducted only of evolutionary biologists. I wasn’t referring to the NAS poll when I said that 56% of evolutionary biologists are religiously devout.

    Anthony McCarthy is absolutely right in his condemnation of the condescending arrogance shown by Skepacabra, you and your fellow Pharyngulites. But what more can I expect from those whose arguments are replete in their breathtaking inanity?

  72. Sorbet

    Kwok I would need a reference for that 56%. If it’s really in Prothero’s book (which I have) I could easily look it up this evening. Wait for my response till tomorrow. Meanwhile the NAS poll stands and speaks for itself.

    And if you think being critical and not being gentle and mellifluous is being condescending and arrogant, then you need to become a little more hardened toward speaking the truth. An IDiot is a luddite and no amount of cozy fraternizing and bon homie can mask this fact.

  73. — become a little more hardened toward speaking the truth. Sorbet

    This from someone who repeats lies they’ve seen refuted, and then repeats them again. And then repeats the process.

  74. Sorbet

    McCarthy, you are drowning in your lies and dishonesty so much that you would not recognize the truth if it tried to grab you out of the sea of mendacity and madly shook you by the collar (witness your prevarications on exobiology, evo psych, the history of science and epigenetics).

    But enough of talking about lies. Let’s look at the truth for a change. I actually dug up some references and there are some differences. Firstly, Prothero (whose book on the whole is excellent) does not say “56% of evolutionary biologists” but “about 50% of all active scientists“. That’s a big difference there. Plus the actual number turns out to be closer to 40% than 50% as reported in Prothero’s reference cited below.

    Prothero bases his statement on a 1997 Nature study by Larson and Witham (Nature 386, 435-436, 1997). However their latest and more comprehensive study is from 1998 (Nature, 394, 313) in which they clearly say that:

    Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%

    I don’t know about others but I would trust a more recent and more comprehensive study over an older and limited one.

  75. gillt

    The hard(er) the science the softer the faith, from Sociologists to Physicists. I wonder why that is.

  76. Helioprogenus

    You cannot be serious. Grouping New atheists in the same category as superstitious believers of religion or spirituality is just plain incorrect. As much as you may convince yourselves that New Atheism is no different than other belief systems, you are wrong. New Atheism is simply based on rationalism. Faith is the problem, not radical atheism.

    Accomodationists, in their attempts at inclusiveness, are blinded by the erroneous logic they use to explain the intersection of science and religion. The truth is when these two concepts intersect, the rational and empirical concept will win, and religion will lose. Although many people will hold on to their faith with tooth and claw, it doesn’t help us to pretend that those beliefs are valid. Some people like to call out the facts, without sugarcoating them in useless dances.

    It is true that there are many scientists willing to compartmentalize their belief structures, and can still function efficiently within the constraints of science. Yet, it doesn’t mean they’re correct in their assumptions. There were many scientists in the 19th century that believed in the superiority of races, and we know now that they were wrong. They used their prejudices without objective reasoning. In the last hundred years, we’ve come a long way, and it takes consistent work to remain as objective and bias free as possible. Including beliefs and faiths that cannot be falsified remains in the realm of bias and subjectivity. The power of indoctrination that religious memes can dictate is not lost among those of us who like to dwell in reality. Instead of chasing false demons demons, it’s better to demonstrate to the uneducated masses through education and objective bias. The real threat is not this imagined New Atheist who happens to be just an extreme form of believer, but it’s the power of religion to publicly dictate policy.

    Further, the attempt to categorize New Atheists into the shrill category shows the basic misunderstanding of all accomodationists. Every atheist is different from the other. Not having a belief in something does not make a cohesive single-minded group. I’m pretty sure that nobody here believes in dragons, but you can’t link us all into a neat little group and assume there’s no variation. There are atheists among us that believe the only way to fight mysticism and religion is head on, and shooting straight. There are others that like to avoid polemics and attempt to play ignorance softly. A third faction believes that not only do you have to play softly, but allow the misguided to retain their irrational beliefs, and in fact, in some instances, support it, to educate them.

  77. I wish I could find that quote from Richard Feynman about quitting the NAS because he didn’t see the point in an organization that spent most of its time deciding who to let in and who to leave out. I wonder if that old Nova program where he talked about that has a transcript available online.

    I wonder how many physicial scientists in the NAS buy evo-psy and memes.

  78. Sorbet

    Yes! It’s a conspiracy!! (latest McCarthy brainwave). Let me help out a bit. You can find that quote in the book “Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track”. There’s also a YouTube link where he says it. You are welcome:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEUcmKDaklY

  79. gillt

    Of course Feynman wouldn’t characterize the NAS as an “organization that spent most of its time deciding who to let in and who to leave out,” because he made a habit of saying smart, accurate things.

  80. Wowbagger

    McCarthy’s stooping to criticise people for their choice of username? That’s just sad.

  81. —- Of course Feynman wouldn’t characterize the NAS as an “organization that spent most of its time deciding who to let in and who to leave out,” because he made a habit of saying smart, accurate things. gillt

    “There were, though, irritations associated with his growing fame. One of his most annoying encounters, to Feynman himself, was with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which elected him a member in April, 1954. He had never heard of the organization, which made no significant contribution to science, published what he discovered to be, when he looked at it, a distinctly second-rate journal, and seemed to be nothing more than an honorary society, which existed chiefly for the incestuous purpose of deciding who else was grand enough to be allowed to join its ranks. He was persuaded that by refusing to accept membership he would embarrass many of his friends, and taht it was better to accept quietly. But when he went along to a meeting of the society, giving them a fari chance, it was deeply depressing. The main topic of conversation was who else should be elected to this honorary society, while the experiments that were reported were, in many cases, usually unscientific. Feynman was particularly unimpressed by an experiment in which rats had been observed drowning, with their efforts to survive being timed and monitored-a cruel and needless experiment with no scientific value.(15) He eventually resigned from the NAS, but without making a great deal of fuss…”

    “Richard Feynman A Life In Science” by John and Mary Gribbon, Penguin Books, N.Y., 1997, pp. 148-149:

  82. —- Of course Feynman wouldn’t characterize the NAS as an “organization that spent most of its time deciding who to let in and who to leave out,” because he made a habit of saying smart, accurate things. gillt

    ” When I was in high school, one of the first honors I got was to be a member of the Arista, which is a group of kids who got good grades — hmm? Everybody wanted to be a member of the Arista. And when I got into the Arista, I discovered that what they did in their meetings was to sit around to discuss who else was [in a lofty tone of voice] worthy to join this wonderful group that we are. Okay? So we sat around trying to decide who it was who would get to be allowed into this Arista. This kind of thing bothers me psychologically for one or another reason I don’t understand myself. Honors — and from that day to this — always bothered me.

    I had trouble when I became a member of the National Academy of Science, and I had ultimately to resign. Because there was another organization, most of whose time was spent in choosing who was illustrious enough to be allowed to join us in our organization. Including such questions as ‘We physicists have to stick together, because there’s a very good chemist that they’re trying to get in, and we haven’t got enough room for so-and-so.’ What’s the matter with chemists? The whole thing was rotten, because the purpose was mostly to decide who could have this honor. Okay? I don’t like honors.”

    From a 1981 BBC interview, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

  83. 81. Wowbagger Says:
    September 16th, 2009 at 6:49 pm McCarthy’s stooping to criticise people for their choice of username? That’s just sad. Wowbagger

    For those who might want to know how I hurt Wowbagger’s delicate moral sensibilities, here’s what I said.

    ” Am I really supposed to get upset when people calling themselves “Wowbagger” and “Sorbet” call me names? “

  84. Wowbagger

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    For those who might want to know how I hurt Wowbagger’s delicate moral sensibilities, here’s what I said: “Am I really supposed to get upset when people calling themselves “Wowbagger” and “Sorbet” call me names?”

    How short your memory is, Anthony – or how poor your eyesight. I was referring to what you wrote in this post, currently #71, last paragraph:

    “Skepacabra”. That supposed to be some magic charm of the “skeptics” or is it their club’s password? Sorry, just thought I’d try out a bit of that ridicule that Harris and his pals think is a good replacement for intellectual engagement.

    I do love the smell of petard in the morning.

    Now, to sit back in anticipation of the flurry of handwaving, tapdancing and blustering equivocation that occurs whenever someone provides yet another illustration of the prevarication, mendacity and rank dishonesty of one Anthony McCarthy.

    That is, if he doesn’t decide to claim Chris and Sheril have modified his posts like he lied about PZ Myers doing.

  85. I think it’s the not very rare eclipse of the gillt. Only it’s interesting because he disappears when the light’s on him and returns when he’s in shadow again.

  86. Oh, so it was sympathetic sniveling you were doing.

    — I do love the smell of petard in the morning.

    You’re a regular M. Petomaine.

  87. Wowbagger

    Oh, so it was sympathetic sniveling you were doing.

    Nice try, but I’ve got my irony meter set to ‘Anthony McCarthy’ level for tolerance to hypocrisy. I learned that lesson early on; some of the fuses are the very devil to replace.

    Why I am not surprised you don’t grasp the concept of empathy any better than you grasp the concept of science or intellectual honesty?

    You’re a regular M. Petomaine.

    Says the man whose every exhalation is intellectual flatus.

  88. Stephen Friberg

    Hi Marion Delgado:

    You kindly asked “How does a book like “Unscientific America” make you feel about cases like the Dover vs. Kitzmiller civil suit in Pennsylvania, or the current John Freshwater termination battle in Ohio? How does a book like “The God Delusion” make you feel? Or Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is true?” You seem to be a believer, as many, probably most of us here are not, so it’s interesting to me to get your reaction.”

    Yes, I’m believer, a Baha’i in fact, as well as a scientist. I’m probably overeducated on the relationship between science and religion, as it has been at the core of my interests for over 30 years. I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan and have read widely the history of science and religion, and I don’t share the usual prejudices against Islam, meaning that I know a bit more about the historical roots of the modern conflicts than most people do and I have had a chance to look at them from outside a typical western perspective.

    My feelings about Dover vs. Kitzmiller are probably the same as yours. I was delighted by the way it turned out. But I also know that creationism is rooted in a hatred and distrust of Social Darwinism and the high-handedness of Dawkin’s 19th century predecessors.

    Freshwater and others like him are not going to go away, no doubt about it, as long as contention and contempt continue to animate large numbers of people when it comes to the relationship between science and religion. A similar situation exists with respect to different religions or different sects in religion.

    I’ve been struggling to understand the larger implications of Harris’s (and later Dawkins’) work. Neither wrote as scientists, but as impassioned believers. Because I’m a product of a secular upbringing and education, I know well their prejudices and their sense of superiority from a lifetime of experience.

    My conclusions are several. On one hand, they are the reactionary furor in response to increasing acceptance of the validity of religion in academic and intellectual circles that has been underway the last 50 years. With the demise of logical positivism in the 50s, the sociological analyses of religion by Kuhn (the “paradigm shift” perspective) and others since the 60s, and with the failure of religion to disappear, such a reaction should be expected. It also explains much of the unfocused and uninformed anger of the new atheists and their followers – they are reacting to broad changes in society much as did the fundamentalists before them, and they are channeling it into very Protestant-like expressions of self-righteousness, this time sanctified by scientific — as opposed to Christian — concepts of self purity.

    On the other hand, Dawkins’ especially has reanimated the discussion of the eternal theological questions – why do we exist, what is our purpose – and has done so in a modern way using modern concepts. The latter is potentially a hugely important contribution and will outlive the dogmatism and emotionalism that now characterizes new atheism. Of course, there are the very worrisome aspects to their thoughts that could lead to a revival of the massive cruelty and destructiveness of 19th and 20th century secularism.

    I haven’t figured out Jerry Coyne yet. Unlike Harris and Dawkins, he is a scientist, but his “accomodationist” thing looks like a cold-blooded political calculation – a positioning tactic and a power play along the lines of what Hitchens has done. I’m having a hard time believing that a thoughtful, sincere, or reasonably well-read person would buy into such a purely political stance.

    Hope this addresses your questions.

    Stephen

  89. gillt

    Then I stand corrected: Feynman said something I disagree with, something hyperbolic and petulant. I’ve criticized PNAS before for it’s publishing cronyism, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call NAS a club mostly concerned with membership.

    And yes, I did disappear to live not in front of the computer for a while. I don’t suppose that’s too much to ask of McCarthy is it?

  90. Sorbet

    Feynman was admittedly unusually sensitive when it came to such things so I wouldn’t take his word as the norm here. I think he did have a point (it’s not like the NAS is completely devoid of politics or favoritism) but there’s no reason to believe that members of the NAS are some kind of cultists who want to keep others out. As usual McCarthy wants to generalize based on one data point.

    In any case, that was not the main point. McCarthy was trying to state the Feynman fact as some kind of analogy for NAS members possibly keeping religious scientists with otherwise authoritative credentials out. That’s pretty paranoid. There is not an iota of reason to believe any such thing in the absence of evidence.

  91. —- I haven’t figured out Jerry Coyne yet.

    Took me a little while to figure it out. Think of William Schockely.

    When he has to keep it to himself under professional restraints, he seems smart.
    When he’s free to vent his bigotry, he doesn’t.

    The neo-ath trolls here show how bad that can get.

  92. Wowbagger

    Stephen Friberg wrote:

    But I also know that creationism is rooted in a hatred and distrust of Social Darwinism…

    This strikes me as an odd thing to say – since both creationism and social darwinism stem from the refusal to accept reality because it interferes with beliefs (though not necessarily religious in nature) that people choose to hold: that god created the earth and everything on it (to a greater or lesser extent) and a particular socioethnic group is superior to another respectively.

    And – while I don’t have any particular data to draw on to support this; I’m happy to see anything contradictory – it seems to me that the people who are creationists are likely to also be the same people who consider the colour of their skin to make them superior to those who have different coloured skin. Demographics would seem to support this, particularly in the ‘Old South’ and/or the Bible Belt of the United States.

    Considering that support for slavery was often from strongly bible-citing Christians it seems unlikely that the same people who take old testament teachings literally are going to accept the parts of Genesis that describe creation but be sufficiently liberal-minded enough to ignore the parts (both of Genesis and other OT books) that are usually used to justify racial superiority and the subsequent slavery.

    Then again, the use of the term ‘Social Darwinism’ itself is almost always intended to slur Darwin by association; those using it almost always have an anti-evolution agenda.

  93. As usual, Sorbet wants to pretend an unrepresentative sample can stand for a far larger group. What’s known as upholding science among the new atheists.

    gillt, considering how often you say stuff that’s false, you might want to consider sitting corrected.

  94. John Kwok

    @ Sorbet -

    The NAS poll which you cite was conducted only of its members, including, if I’m not mistaken, its foreign associates. I’ve seen several different permutations of it posted elsewhere online.

    I had asked Don Prothero and I think he told me that he does cite in his book, the poll figure about evolutionary biologists who are religiously devout.

  95. Wowbagger

    As usual, Sorbet wants to pretend an unrepresentative sample can stand for a far larger group.

    Damn you, McCarthy – do you have shares in an irony meter component manufacturing company?

  96. #70 @Anthony McCarthy

    How you can apply such dishonesty and then dishonest to yourself about your own dishonesty is worthy of the Discovery Institute. Chris’ specifically says his goal is “giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way.” Those are HIS WORDS! So I’m asking, along the way TO WHAT? Along the way to a more logically consistent position like that of the scare quotes “New Atheists”?

    I said:
    “It’s just a strategy, a deceptive tactic for manipulating people in order to convert them to our way of thinking. But that’s not what scientific-minded people should do; that’s what the cranks do. We’re better than that. We should be teaching people critical thinking and have enough confidence in our scientific conclusions for critical thinkers to embrace it on their own. Even if we assumed that M&K’s tactic was more effective at getting more evolution converts than just being honest with people by admitting the atheistic implications of science, I’d still prefer honesty to Chris’ ‘giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way.’ ”

    So how can you possibly read what I wrote and conclude:
    “They, not Chris Mooney, are the ones who hold that anything but their version of scientism is the manifestation of ignorance. They just can’t believe that anyone who is an atheist can’t look at their belief objectively and realize that it isn’t a law of nature or science or logic or anything else, it’s a personal belief, a position held personally.”

    It’s the accomodationists who lack the confidence in the science to discuss it honestly. The rest of us don’t feel we need to sugar coat the truth. Your straw man is embarrassing, pathetic, and couldn’t misrepresent my position more. You get an F in reading comprehension.

  97. Ichthyic

    Let’s see, Mooney’s most ardent supporters appear to be Anthony McCarthy (no relation to Jenny?), and the Kwokster.

    If that doesn’t tell Chris he’s on shaky ground, he must be living in complete denial.

  98. And now Wowbagger joins Sorbet in the automated misuse of words effort. If anyone wants to get a good idea of how new atheists really regard the truth they could study these three trolls to fact check what they say. Evidence, truth, reason, they’re only PR slogans for the new atheists. Sort of like the ones used by right-wing fundamentalists as they violate them. I haven’t checked the news yet this morning but I’m wondering which far-right Republican has been caught in a sex scandal.

    I wonder if there has been any survey of the physical scientists at the NSA on what they think of evo-psy, other topics in the behavioral sciences. Too bad its the busiest day of my week.

  99. Sorbet

    -As usual, Sorbet wants to pretend an unrepresentative sample can stand for a far larger group

    Please, please tell me how many irony meters you sold?? Your hucksterish, snake oil salesmanship of those meters must have been only slightly better than your complete inability to look up evidence cited by others and indulge in flippant analogies.

    -When he’s free to vent his bigotry, he doesn’t
    LOL! McCarthy’s hypocrisy on display again. As he said before, he would not actually buy Coyne since he wouldn’t want to add to “that bigot’s” income but he would still check it out of his library!

  100. Sorbet

    -Think of William Schockly

    Ah, sounds like the time tested “Obama = Communist” and “healthcare = killing the dead” mudslinging. What a right-wing like hoot! Equating Coyne to eugenics proponent Shockley without no evidence whatsoever is what you have come to expect of ad hominem goo flingers.

    I think Anthony McCarthy is ready to proudly wear the label of the O’Reilly-Limbaugh-Hannity, the Hambaughreilly if you will, of the pseudoscientific cranks!

  101. Sorbet

    -As usual, Sorbet wants to pretend an unrepresentative sample can stand for a far larger group

    I agree. McCarthy’s company must have set new standards for sales every year. And it probably gave out the “Never-look-up-evidence-cited-by-others” machine as a complimentary gift.

  102. — Chris’ specifically says his goal is “giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way.” Those are HIS WORDS! So I’m asking, along the way TO WHAT? Along the way to a more logically consistent position like that of the scare quotes “New Atheists”? Skepacabra

    If it’s yourself that you’re asking, it’s no great wonder that you arrived at that completely predictable and entirely nonexistent location. New atheists are the guardians of logic only in their own mythology. Everything, including science and reason is sacrificed to their anti-religious bigotry. Which is the reason other people don’t much like you.

    Sorbet provides a clear example. I was comparing the bigotry of Coyne with the bigotry of Schockley since those produce similar results in their non-professional production, when they can give their inner bigot full voice. If I’d wanted to accuse Coyne of being a eugenicist I’d have said that.

    Ichthyic, Skepacabra, Sorbet, Wowbagger, gillt….

    ‘d guess Dan S. really doesn’t belong in this group of smear artists. He has pointed out to you guys that I’m a strong supporter of evolution, despite his several disagreements with me. But if he wants to disassociate himself from their practices, he really should point that out himself.

  103. Wowbagger

    And now Wowbagger joins Sorbet in the automated misuse of words effort.

    Care to elaborate (that means expand upon in order to allow what you’ve written to make sense – you know, what you seem to spend most of your posts avoiding in favour of random, ignorant blather interspersed with deranged, paranoid pot-shots at the scary ‘new atheist’ world order that only exists in your mind) on that, with specific examples?

    I haven’t checked the news yet this morning but I’m wondering which far-right Republican has been caught in a sex scandal.

    Er, Anthony? What are you talking about? Were you distracted by something shiny? Are there fairies at the bottom of your garden? Do try and focus. The nice people want to laugh at you for your poorly thought-out commentary; they don’t want to pity you for your mounting psychological problems.

  104. Wow, any attempt to elucidate for your benefit is effort wasted. You want elaboration, look at what I said in comment #41 above.

  105. —- Ah, sounds like the time tested “Obama = Communist” and “healthcare = killing the dead” mudslinging. Sorbet

    As Dan S could tell you, I’m on record as being a gay, socialist, leveler who has been on record for decades as a supporter of single payer health care and who fully supported and still supports President Obama, …. what’s that you’re saying about mudslinging, Sorbet?

    You really, really can’t imagine that someone could be politically and socially progressive and not be a neo-atheist, can you. As I said in comment #70 above.

  106. gillt

    “Let’s see, Mooney’s most ardent supporters appear to be Anthony McCarthy (no relation to Jenny?), and the Kwokster.”

    I don’t think McCarthy truly qualifies as a Mooney supporter. His siding with Chris has always been superficial. (Have you read UA yet McCarthy? It only takes an hour or so sitting in a book store) It’s fairly obvious that McCarthy is simply a crank, a crank given access to the internet.

    Still, who needs enemies with liabilities like those.

  107. Sorbet

    -As Dan S could tell you, I’m on record as being a gay, socialist, leveler
    Who said a gay, socialist leveler could not be given to extremism and ad hominem?

  108. —- Ah, sounds like the time tested “Obama = Communist” and “healthcare = killing the dead” Sorbet

    Sounds like another of the new atheist attempts to promote lies about their adversaries. With you, Sorbet, the attempt has gone from the habitual to the pathological. Even the newbie Ichthyic is parroting you.

  109. Peter Beattie

    It’s really astonishing how reliably you can produce articles without any substance at all when it comes to this topic. The closest you get to actually telling us about one of your ideas is the “more moderate stopping off points along the way” bit. I’d love to learn about these points, but somehow it seems you forgot to give an example. What are they? How can we use them? Why do you think religious people will respond to them?

    The rest, I’m afraid, is just the same old unsupported nonsense with some embarrassing misrepresentations of Harris thrown in.

    Yet it isn’t a lie that, as we write in the book, “A great many scientists believe in God with no sense of internal contradiction, just as many religious believers accept evolution as the correct theory to explain the development, diversity, and inter-relatedness of life on Earth.” This statement is factually true. Harris may think these people are wrong, but he can’t claim they don’t exist.

    Of course, he doesn’t claim that—he openly acknowledges their existence in the article you supposedly read. On the contrary, he says your claim is irrelevant. Which you ignored, as you have been doing since first making it.

    Harris quotes one of our book’s passages in which we argue that if we can depolarize the science versus religion battle, we can likely broaden public acceptance of evolution. It’s an argument, Harris says, “that, I fear, most people would accept.”

    But of course it’s not an argument; it’s simply a claim. And an unsupported one at that. That you’re not embarrased to call this an argument is more than a little troubling.

    Furthermore, insofar as Harris thinks these people wrong, his disagreement with them is philosophical or theological in nature–not scientific.

    And what you stubbornly refuse to understand, or even contemplate, apparently, is the fact that much of the foundations of science are philosophical in nature. I have talked about your philosophical illiteracy elsewhere, so I won’t go over that terrain again.

  110. Sorbet

    -Sounds like another of the new atheist attempts to promote lies about their adversaries
    I would KILL to be let in on McCarthy’s secret. How he sold such high-quality irony meters is surely one of the greatest marketing achievements of all time.
    -the attempt has gone from the habitual to the pathological
    Your past blatherings that usually constitute the bulk of any comment section clearly indicate otherwise.

  111. Sorbet

    -Even the newbie Ichthyic is parroting you.
    Maybe so, but you, sir, are inimitable! Nobody could possibly emulate those depths of irrationality, dishonesty and intolerance.

  112. — Your past blatherings that usually constitute the bulk of any comment section clearly indicate otherwise. Sorbet

    — I think Anthony McCarthy is ready to proudly wear the label of the O’Reilly-Limbaugh-Hannity, the Hambaughreilly if you will Sorbet

    Seems the word “irony” has escaped Sorbet as obviously as the various inflections of “fecund” have.

    Buy yourself a dictionary, Sorbet.

  113. gillt, Sorbet, Wowbagger, now Skep. and Ich. …. The best trolls that the new atheism can spare for this blog, the best evidence of the new atheism’s intellectual vacuity.

  114. Sorbet

    -Seems the word “irony” has escaped Sorbet as obviously as the various inflections of “fecund” have.
    Hmmm…seems I will have to crank up the old McCarthy irony meter even more now. I heard there’s a new Kryptonite-based alloy that they are putting into the newer versions.

    -The best trolls that the new atheism can spare
    Yes, and isn’t it astonishing that you alone are equivalent as a troll to all of us put together and tripled!

  115. Anna K.

    @Stephen Friberg,

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts.

  116. For those who understand the real meaning of irony.

    — Yes, and isn’t it astonishing that you alone are equivalent as a troll to all of us put together and tripled! Sorbet

    Get yourself an up-to-date slang dictionary.

    1. troll
    One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=troll

  117. And to clinch the point re Sorbet

    troll v.,n. 1. [From the Usenet group alt.folklore.urban] To utter a posting on Usenet designed to attract predictable responses or flames; or, the post itself. Derives from the phrase “trolling for newbies”

    See comment # 109 (if the number hasn’t changed).

  118. The Swede

    we view all humans as members of a species know for fiercely clinging to its own beliefs

    And based on this you conclude that the only way to make people embrace a more rational approach is to lie to them.

    Bravo to that condescending attitude. And bravo to proving this point by steadfastly refusing to accept the validity of any opposing view, no matter how factually based. You are a fine example of fiercely clinging to your beliefs.

  119. Sorbet

    Wow. So you do have a dictionary. I am so happy for you! Based on word count and frequency of commenting in the last couple of months, people should be able to figure out who is the greatest troll.

  120. Sorbet

    -clinch the point
    Hahahaha!

  121. --bill

    Echoing Anna K here–

    @Stephen Friberg,

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts.

  122. Anthony McCarthy

    — And based on this you conclude that the only way to make people embrace a more rational approach is to lie to them.

    Bravo to that condescending attitude. The Swede

    That would be as opposed to thinking they are less competent to decide what is worth believing on that kind of question than your exalted self, who, without any doubt, is right?

    Pardon me for not genuflecting.

  123. Stephen Friberg

    Hi Wowbagger (still a cool name):

    I wrote that creationism is partly a response to social Darwinism. You replied “… an odd thing to say – since both creationism and social Darwinism stem from the refusal to accept reality because it interferes with beliefs.”

    Some background on “the survival of the fittest”, i.e., social Darwinism. Like evolution, it predates Darwin, and it can be innocuous or even positive. Competition among start-up companies, for example, is a positive form of social Darwinism.

    Where it got a bad name, and where it played a role in the beginnings of creationism, is its role in the development of late 19th century racism, most dramatically in Germany but more generally in northern Europe. Ernst Haeckel, an eminent German biologist and the popularizer of Darwin in Germany, played a central role in its development. He wrote that that “the Caucasian … has from time immemorial been placed at the head of all the races of men, as the most highly developed and perfect.”

    Especially virulent was eugenics, the widespread practice of putting away those deemed inferior and thus harmful to the fitness of society. Eugenics was started by Francis Galton, Darwin’s son-in-law. Eugenics camps in Germany morphed into concentration camps in World War II.

    The relationship between creationism and social Darwinism is most directly seen in the influence of William Jennings Bryant, the famous populist politician and one-time Secretary of State. He was the lawyer for the creationist side at the Scopes “monkey” trial and a powerful force in the creation of creationism. He strongly opposed Social Darwinism, seeing “Darwinism or Social Darwinism as a great evil force in the world promoting hatreds and conflicts, especially [in] the World War.” (Wikipedia, William Jennings Bryant, accessed Sept. 17, 2009).

    The larger picture has been well-documented by Michael Ruse, the biology philosopher and supporter of evolution, and others. Evolution, before neo-Darwinism finally established its scientific bona fides, was very much of a grab-bag over the last 200 years. It was an all things to all people, quasi-religious, enlightenment-based movement used frequently as a battle axe against religion, especially by people like Thomas Huxley and similar-minded people in the US. Understanding this, while not excusing creationism, can certainly lead to a more complete understanding of where it comes from and what the battle lines are.

  124. Wowbagger

    Stephen Friberg,

    I’m neither a historian (or a scientist, for that matter) but to me it seems far more likely that any creationist opposition to such practices were specifically raised with the purposes of slurring the science of evolution. Linking Darwin’s name to eugenics bearing the misnomer ‘Social Darwinism’ was a calculated ploy, since the Scopes trial was one where the furor surrounding it in the media was far more significant than the outcome of the trial itself.

    The defenders of creationism – as they still do today – needed to find a way to paint evolution in a negative light. That they did so by claiming an opposition to a concept (wholly unrelated to the science being debated) can hardly be considered noble; it was blatant propoganda.

  125. Anthony McCarthy

    —– Eugenics was started by Francis Galton, Darwin’s son-in-law. S. F.

    Galton was actually Darwin’s cousin, though he, himself said that Darwin was an inspiration of his work. In his memoire he published a letter of encouragement that Darwin sent him when he published the seminal work on eugenics,Hereditary Genius. Though he and C. Darwin differed on some points, C. D. cited him favorably in some of his writing. Galton was the first head of the British Eugenics Society, Leonard Darwin, Charles’ son, became the head of it when Galton stepped down. Galton wasn’t a distant figure in Darwin’s inner circle, he and Thomas Huxley were in charge of planning C. Darwin’s funeral.

    It’s a big mistake for the supporters of evolution to ignore those facts because they are facts and the opponents of evolution are well aware of them. And nothing about the character of any of those men has the slightest thing to do with the fact that evolution happened.

  126. Wowbagger

    And nothing about the character of any of those men has the slightest thing to do with the fact that evolution happened.

    Exactly. That people seek to misrepresent science in order to justify their beliefs says nothing about the science itself. It’s like attempting to justify a rejection of the theories of flight and gravity by smearing Newton and the Wright brothers for the fact that gravity allows aeroplanes to drop bombs and kill people.

  127. #103

    Anthony, you can’t even answer a simple freakin’ question. When all you have to defend your ideology is ad hominems and stereotypes of your critics, you’re on shaky ground.

    But I’m a forgiving person, so I’ll give you one more chance. As I said before:
    “Chris’ specifically says his goal is “giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way.” Those are HIS WORDS! So I’m asking, along the way TO WHAT? Along the way to a more logically consistent position like that of the scare quotes “New Atheists”?”

    Now even a creationists can see that your response was just a dodge and didn’t come anywhere near answering the question:
    “If it’s yourself that you’re asking, it’s no great wonder that you arrived at that completely predictable and entirely nonexistent location. New atheists are the guardians of logic only in their own mythology. Everything, including science and reason is sacrificed to their anti-religious bigotry. Which is the reason other people don’t much like you.”

    I’m asking YOU and I don’t claim to be “the guardians of logic.” And if one can be bigoted against an ideology than I guess that makes me an anti-Nazi bigot, an anti-communist bigot, an anti-fascist bigot. Give up the straw man and answer the question. And I guess that makes you an anti-”New Atheist” bigot.

  128. Anthony McCarthy

    You assume that Chris Mooney’s destination is universal atheism because you think that’s the only possible outcome of reason. New atheists are absolutely NOT the epitome of reason, logic and science, so their pie-in-the-sky atheist ideal is a fantasy.

    I have never made any bones about opposing the new atheism just as I oppose other cults which have bigotry as a founding principle. The folly of being fair to fascists and nice to Nazis on principle was the topic of my first major blog piece.

  129. What surprises me is the very small amout of women that take part in Conferences, Interviews and other Public acts where Sam Harris appears. I myself cannot find any weak point in his ways of reasoning but have also hardly been looking for it.

    Apart from the ‘Jeunesse Musical’ in Catalonia, I do not belong to any organization and certainly not to any religious organization.

    That is in fact all. I read (and write) a lot, but Sam Harris’ writings, conferences and speeches etc. are often a relieve if I compare what he writes and says with the nonsense of people that are on the main let’s say ‘basic battlefield for mankind’ if it doesn’t want to start a nuclear war on the main danger: institutional religions.

    With kind regards,

    Jan Arends
    Andreu Sàbat 91
    17257 Torroella de Montgrí (Girona)
    Spain / Catalonia

    Telephone (0034)972757859

  130. AM: “You assume that Chris Mooney’s destination is universal atheism…”

    Do you know what Chris Mooney’s destination is? Presumably he has a destination in mind, otherwise there’s no reason to suggest waypoints.

  131. Anthony McCarthy

    I think you sciency guys might want to work on your reading comprehension

    “we’re talking about the promotion of science, not an atheistic worldview, in our book. Chris Mooney , above, in the post, if you bothered to read it.

  132. “You assume that Chris Mooney’s destination is universal atheism because you think that’s the only possible outcome of reason.”

    No, I assume nothing of the kind. I asked an honest question. And that’s twice now that you’ve refused to answer it.

    “New atheists are absolutely NOT the epitome of reason, logic and science, so their pie-in-the-sky atheist ideal is a fantasy.”

    I never claimed they were. Glad to see you’re that your reading comprehension skills are at least consistent, even if not improved.

    “I have never made any bones about opposing the new atheism just as I oppose other cults which have bigotry as a founding principle. The folly of being fair to fascists and nice to Nazis on principle was the topic of my first major blog piece.”

    And you’ve never made any bones about trite, meaningless ad hominems either. By your definition of bigotry, everyone’s a bigot…except you because being irrationally anti-rationalist doesn’t count as bigotry. So you’ve trivialized the term “bigotry” just like you’ve trivialized the term “cult.” (See: http://www.dangeroustalk.net/a-team/Cults). Want to trivialize the word “rape” too by claiming that I’m raping people by having opinions contrary to your own? Or maybe I’m enslaving people by disagreeing with you. Am I committing a genocide with my words?

  133. Anthony McCarthy

    —- you because being irrationally anti-rationalist Skepacabra

    When was I irrationally anti-rationalist? When I insisted that adatationist ideology wasn’t sufficient to overturn logic and math? When I pointed out that much as you might like it to be able to that science couldn’t violate its own methods and exigencies to dispose of ideas you didn’t like? When I pointed out that since no one had the time to verify literally every last idea they depend on that they take huge masses of their knowledge on the basis of some kind of faith? That there is no evidence of widespread infiltration of the formal literature by religion and that if peer review had broken down to the extent it had that was a far bigger problem in itself because scientific fraud depends on being undetected whereas the point of introducing religion would be explicitly to be noticed? Or a number of other points that are inconvenient to the new atheism?

    Oddly, I’ve also been accused of being hyper-logical on other occasions, by people who didn’t like what I said then.

    I’ve always thought that silly made up rule that the first person to say the word “fascist” loses the argument was very convenient and useful to fascists.

    —– Want to trivialize the word “rape” too Skepacabra

    OK, that goes too far. I won’t put up with your frat boy debating tactics when it comes to something like that. If you jerks can’t defend your cult without lying about what I say I’m not going to feel any need to be polite about it.

  134. Sorbet

    -And that’s twice now that you’ve refused to answer it.
    Watch as he refuses to answer it a million times more. All too familiar pattern of McCarthy skirting the simplest of questions. And watch as he will try to get in the last word even if it takes until the end of time. And of course, watch as he tries to paint himself as the only symbol of rationality and tolerance. We automatically turn into a bigoted cult while McCarthy is the Mother Teresa of reason and moderation.

  135. Anthony McCarthy

    As I said before: “Chris’ specifically says his goal is “giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way.” Those are HIS WORDS! Skepacabra @133

    132. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    September 18th, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I think you sciency guys might want to work on your reading comprehension

    “we’re talking about the promotion of science, not an atheistic worldview, in our book. Chris Mooney , above, in the post, if you bothered to read it.

    Note: IF YOU BOTHERED TO READ IT.

    —- Watch as he refuses to answer it a million times more. Sorbot @ 135

  136. Anthony McCarthy

    Note on the above. It’s a waste of time to give the new atheists evidence, there is no amount of evidence that will shift a fundamentalist from their superstition and irrationality.

  137. Sorbet

    -It’s a waste of time to give the new atheists evidence, there is no amount of evidence that will shift a fundamentalist from their superstition and irrationality.
    NEW! Woo-infused Irony Meters!! Will last until the next wave of mutant-woo surfaces!! Satisfaction guaranteed!!! (Call now and we will add the “Make-you-feel-like-the-only-epitome-of-reason-and-tolerance” machine for FREE!)

  138. Anthony McCarthy

    Another thing, it’s futile to ask a new atheist troll to back up what they say because they’ll come up with some distraction such as Sorbet just did.

  139. Sorbet

    As I said before, all one needs to do is to look up your irrelevant questions and distractions in past threads to find out who the troll is.

  140. Sorbet

    Anyhow, as the troll in residence of this site, you can have the last word. Go ahead, roll!

  141. Anthony McCarthy

    How childish, how unsurprising.

  142. AM: “we’re talking about the promotion of science”

    So M&K are offering stopping points on the way to the promotion of science?

    /snark

    Yes, yes. They want people to accept science. Fine. Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the fact that this avoids confronting the implications of various findings of science with respect to very specific claims believed in by a rather significant number of believers.

    In any case, such avoidance is disingenuous at best and condescending to believers, many of whom are already quite aware of the implications in spite of the smoke & mirrors thrown up by accommodationists. Treating believers with kid gloves is just cultural elitism with a friendly face.

    Does one give “moderate stopping points along the way” to the acceptance of gravity?

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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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