Congratulations To ScienceBlogs

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 22, 2009 3:48 pm

The borg just gained a lot more balance! We’re looking forward to reading David Sloan Wilson’s Evolution For Everyone. Go check out his introductory post. Here’s an excerpt:

As someone who is seriously committed to studying religion from a scientific and evolutionary perspective, I’m here to say that the new atheists can’t bring themselves to accept the facts about religion as a human construction. Read my six-part series on “Atheism as a Stealth Religion”, now archived on my ScienceBlog site, for more. Even better, start acquainting yourself with the emerging field of evolutionary religious studies, whose members are more serious about holding each other accountable for what they say about religion.


Comments (48)

  1. Anthony McCarthy

    Nice thing to see after a particularly difficult session with a student.

  2. It seems like Sloan Wilson’s own view of religion paints himself in a rather ‘new atheist’ light.
    “If theism refers to a belief in supernatural agents capable of intervening in natural processes, then I am 100% an atheist and proud of it.”
    His personal arguments with the new atheists are not of matters of epistemological compatibility, rather they are questions of whether it is worth studying religion as an evolutionary advantageous structure for historical groups. Even with that narrow question I suspect he won’t encounter too much dissent. While, to date, the new atheists have tended to look at religion as a truth claim rather than a useful structure, that doesn’t mean that that separate question of evolutionary advantage is not worth examining in itself.

  3. Sorbet

    So Wilson wants to study religion as a product of evolution? That’s very similar to what evolutionary psychologists like Dennett want to do, and it’s something E O Wilson has been strongly encouraging for a while now. And his contention that new atheists deny religion as being a human construction is also odd, since Dennett and others have again been saying precisely that religion is a human construction which evolved. Strange.

  4. Luke Vogel

    Yes, it’s great to see David move over to ScienceBlogs. He’s a great science communicator and advocate for science and reason. I’ve seen him lecture here in Albany at the State Museum a couple times for the Darwin birthday lecture series held each year. He’s also a real fighter and can be quite aggressive, a true veteran of the science wars.

    Here’s a few things PZ Myer’s put up on David worth noting, first from yesterday:

    >>”He’s a very big name in evolution, and I’ve commented on his work before: I think he’s provocative and interesting, but disagree strongly with him on some parts of his ideas about religion.”<>”David Sloan Wilson. The first part of his talk [Beyond Belief 2] I found to be a wonderful discussion of the importance of multiple levels of selection, and I think he made a persuasive case for group selection (but then, I’m already partial to the idea anyway). Then at the end he made his arguments for the scientific evaluation of religion, and I loved it, but not because I agreed with him — but because he was so vigorously confrontational, strongly chewing out both Dennett and Harris (who were right there in the audience), and taking a few swings at Dawkins (who is not here, so Wilson abstained from going on at length). That’s what I like to see at these meetings, an unapologetic airing of grievances that will prompt uncompromising responses. Fabulous! It was like getting a ringside seat at a prize fight!”<<

    Obviously, PZ greatly dislikes David's approach to religion aspects, but that's hardly worth pointing out because I'm sure it will be – at least I'm hoping for a fresh battle!

    It's well worth reading his Truth and Reconciliation for Group Selection series.

    I guess he intends to bring those over to ScienceBlogs as well.

    I'm glad to see the Atheism as a Stealth Religion may take on some new legs (we all know how much we just hate all things Richard Dawkins and burn him in effigy at our nightly gatherings at the Templeton Foundation). The series is still up on Huff and the first couple post got nearly 500 comments (if you want to join in the potential new battle, go and read some of the old one).

    As you may notice from his Evolution for Everyone, the series is a 6 parter. I will say that even though there are many things I do find enlightening in his series, I also have some concerns.

  5. bob

    Wow, just like what Dennett, a ZOMG NEW ATHEIST, says. Yet another snarky manufactroversy from the experts.

  6. ponderingfool

    Can the focus be on promoting scientific literacy not a match between how vocal atheists should be or not be? Superfreakonomics type assaults on trying to deal with dramatic climate change, vaccination foes, faith-based medicine pushers, etc. how should we all be countering them? These groups aren’t being civil, don’t care about atheists, and are literally endangering us and our progeny.

  7. Marion Delgado

    The main good news here is perhaps this can cease being such a personal conflict.

  8. Luke Vogel

    I apologize for doing this, but I am going to quote myself from the other post on “Counterproductive….”

    I am doing this because I want it read and I don’t want to repeat it and it’s probably going to be lost on the other site (it’s #176). I do this because I think it’s important and I’m getting tired of getting bogged down in stupid debates.

    So, here is *part* of my comment (don’t worry, there’s plenty of criticism to go around). Even though I refer to the other post, it is mainly a *general* statement about my concerns, which should start to be many of our concerns.

    >>>”Chris Mooney and Sheril, if you read this, some of the criticism coming your way is deserved. Even with this post, even though I do understand the point made, you must realize that you are under many microscopes. Knowing that, which I’d hope by now you would, you must take special care, because you *know* the concern of anecdotal evidence is legitimate. You must use better foresight.

    If you continue to support your claims which you have outlined several times, including in UA with regards to certain “new atheism” (doesn’t necessarily have to be tightly focused on that label either) approaches and what it means in the larger picture (which I favor you doing) – you will be, and rightly so – *held to a higher standard*.

    You can *not* continue to appear to trivialize what are important aspects of these debates. A title like that on your blog is going to draw a lot of attention, and you need to support such a claim, which even though your point is well taken, it deviates a bit from the provocative title, consider this further when names are involved in this anecdotal piece of evidence, such as PZ and Richard (you should be concerned further when a good look at the conversation, which I have now done, gives no greater credence to this story, in fact it appears weaker and even I question the veracity of Tom Johnson’s story and with damn good reason – if you wish to email him and get some of back story and do a little leg work, great, you can let us know how that goes – but why do I fear that you fear doing that?)

    Lastly, let me say that even though I am supportive and see no reason not to be of your overall concerns and approaches – though we can disagree and I am certainly more aggressive than you may like – but I do think there is a *great* deal to be weary of with the “new atheism” without question and I’ve pointed that out in various venues – *however*, you can not pretend the people you target so generally at times are stupid and not deserving of their ‘following’ (even while recognizing problems). You must be more vigorous and thoughtful, they deserve that much – and we know that.

    I would add that my comments to Chris and Sheril really should go to others I see who support them on a regular basis.”<<<

  9. Luke Vogel

    I want to add to that, to possibly bring part of this point home, and I’m going to stick with reference to the other blog post; Counterproductive Attacks on Religion–Exhibit A.

    After reading the comments, and perhaps taking in what I have said (which I hope I have communicated how supportive I am of your overall agenda) let me ask you a question.

    Read the story again, think about the concerns expressed. Now, imagine it was you, Chris and Sheril, mentioned in a story that is then used like it is here. Would you think the concerns are legitimate, would you want the blogger to hold a *higher standard*, well, of course you would.

  10. bilbo

    Which ‘story’ are you referring to, Luke? The one in this post or the previous one?

  11. Luke Vogel


    A post I had written has not shown up. I posted it on the Counterproductive… thread and parts of it here. That post of mine, #8, is a follow up to the one before it, which is not there. It was posted shortly before that one went up.

    I’m not sure of the problem.

  12. Luke Vogel

    oh wait, there it is…. nm :) The awaiting moderation got us again!

  13. Tom Johnson

    Luke, thanks for the link to the (highly debated) David Sloan Wilson post on “atheism as a stealth religion.”

    At risk of bringing the debate here, I’ll make a point that I think ties into the previous thread from Chris: Wilson is correct when he says this a war being fought in books.

    That sounds silly, but it’s an important point. Both “sides” in the mini-war going on in the atheism camp declare their position as one of wanting to promote science. But are we REALLY promoting science to begin with if all we’re doing is waxing poetic about what we think (because neither side has a speck of clear data) the best way to do it is in our books and on our blogs? I’m not saying the discussion isn’t important (let me make that abundantly clear), but I simply see a bunch of people in this fight who have a lot of experience talking about promoting science but not very much experience actually DOING it.

    Take my comment that got posted by Chris as an example. I understand that it’s anecdotal (I think I’ve reiterated that point 17 times now without any effect), but look at all the people who said it simply couldn’t have happened. Why not? I’m curious. How many of you in the NA blogosphere and in our supposedly-ignorant faithiest realm actually get out in the public promoting science (outside of the classroom) on a regular basis? Outside of quoting the same poll over and over and over again about how few people accept evolution and following your favorite blog to the point of blind allegiance, how many of you made your mind up about which approach is best using what you see going on around you when you’re promoting science? I don’t want you to try and extrapolate this to the larger issue – I want to know what works for YOU. This question is for everyone.

  14. Luke Vogel

    oh wait, it’s gone, sorry :(

    I honestly don’t know what’s going on. Anyway, I just tried to post another post where I put together Tom’s statements. Not sure what will happen, should wait and see.

    To sum it up though, Tom goes further than you may realize (may help to take it all in at once). His superiors at the well-known research university are in on it with his colleagues, and its happened more than once obviously (events – plural) – its referred to as a game they play to see who can be the most rude and abrasive while mocking the religious to their *face* and even quote Coyne and PZ while doing all this, at, yes, conservation events for a well-known research university. And why won’t he reveal his “true identity”(?), because PZ and Coyne may drag his reputation through the mud and his research record may get smeared.

  15. Tom Johnson

    Is something up with moderation? I keep getting Luke’s posts but not the posts from whom he’s responding to.

    Whatever the cause, Luke is relating my story correctly. And although it requires you taking me at my word, I’m not making this story or my profession up. I’m not revealing my identity because I don’t want my name/reputation as a scientist smeared across the internet. My pseudonym was smeared the second my comment was posted (and not just on this blog), in fact, so there’s your proof if you say that wouldn’t happen.

    Luke is also correct that the scientists regarded as “superiors” in this case are involved in the actions in question. I have, in fact, confronted them about it professionally but have been laughed at, called ‘ignorant,’ a ‘religion sympathizer,’ and told that I don’t understand evolution – all based simply on the fact that I hold the opinion that we can work with the religious without sacrificing/modifying our science.

    All of this, of course, will undoubtedly be denounced as another lie by the NA blogosphere. That seems to be the only counter I’ve heard.

  16. Luke Vogel

    Look, Tom, I’m ok with this. But, even that one paragraph of mine which sums up your story is really, really hard to believe. You must realize that? Now, I’m not sure what to say, I’m not going to do anything, I’m not going to call you a liar. But, Tom, seriously.

    Something like what you’re describing is wild, wild stuff. If you got that on tape and gave it to your local news it would be international, no question about it. You’re talking about scientist at a well-known research university (including superiors) at conservation events mocking religious people to their faces in rude an abusive ways.

    All that happens is they don’t get the cooperation one may expect by not doing it? Uh, please. Honestly, you don’t see how hard this is to believe? I mean, why wouldn’t you tape such a thing, no one has made a record of scientist from a well-known research university openly mocking people abusively in public because of their religious beliefs?

    How many people are we talking about working with you? Forget, I don’t want to know. This is conservation events? I mean I know a little about conservation events, so I can try to imagine this happening – are you at zoos, out in prairie, at museums , local parks, national parks, at all these places with a usual gathering these things have? And what happens, someone says god bless you and this pack of rabid scientist attack. I mean, there can be scientist form other areas, local people, independent researches, politicians etc. etc., well you know that.

    Anyways…. Exhibit A? Chris, Sheril, really?

  17. Tom Johnson

    I see the Eternal Doubt Machine’s cogs keep on a-turnin’. And its fuel seems to be anecdotal evidence that contradicts ones own opinons which, strangely enough, they can’t seem to back up with any more evidence than I can mine.

    All jest aside, Luke, why do you think that’s so unbelievable? Here we have a community of New Atheist bloggers (many of them whom are scientists and some of whom are scientists at major research universities) whose entire modus operandi is to openly mock religous believers. PZ Myers organized an invasion of the Creation Museum (which I don’t really oppose) and rode a triceratops statuary. PZ Meyers also publicly tells religious scientists to “fuck off” – making the language used by my colleagues tame. Jerry Coyne and the whole lot VERY publicly called for Francis Collins’ resignation from the NIH directorship. I don’t care if you agree with those actions or not – you can look at those and call a few scientists laughing and mocking the faithful at picnics and conferences UNBELIEVABLE???!!! That’s either the biggest overstatement of the year or the biggest double-standard I’ve ever heard in my entire life. What did you think would happen when readers see their favorite bloggers doing those things? Seriously, what do you think? I want to know.

    “Something like what you’re describing is wild, wild stuff.”

    Actually, it’s far from wild, but it’s still upsetting. I don’t have an angry mob following me around at outreach events hurling tomatoes at believers, like you seem to believe for some reason. Our events are usually one to two people besides myself (one of them the “supervisor” of the outreach program) speaking to a group of 100 or so believers. Many of our events (or at least they used to be until the mockery started) were those organized by religious progressives who had asked us to attend because we promote our outreach program to groups outside of science.

    “And what happens, someone says god bless you and this pack of rabid scientist attack”

    Hardly – again you’re characterizing this as one big, overblown, hyperbolic distortion of what I related (in much greater detail than the snippet Chris posted on the blog, in fact). Many times, we’ll get in a discussion about how useful it is for scientists to work together with faith-based groups (one-on-one, not to a group of 5000 people). I’ll often agree with the believers that scientists can work with the faithful as long as differences are acknowledged and common goals are focused on (and, always, science is not weakened). When my collegaues are involved, however, they usually explain to the progressives that the REAL way to promote science is to quash religion (which, ironically, makes me wonder why my colleagues even go with me). Of course, this gets believers quite offended – ESPECIALLY when the goal of their event is to promote science in the faith-based world and theri being told that they’re stupid for trying. On more than one occasion, my supervisor has told an obviously offended believer that “the truth is supposed to be offensive, because you’re wrong.” That would usually be the part where the dialogue ends. I’ll also note that he frequently does this to obviously-religious students in his office who have come for advising. (Again – you’ll only call me a liar on this, but I”ll tend to accept what I’ve experienced in my own life over what you tell me I cannot).

    “All that happens is they don’t get the cooperation one may expect by not doing it?”

    More hyperbole stated by you and not by me. Most of the time,the reaction is one of shock, followed by surprisingly rational responses and subsequent intellectual wall-raising to further discussion. I’ve had groups of people just simply walk away from us when mocked. I’ve seen believers get rather angry…and then walk away. I have seen no case do date where a believer has stayed and carried on levelheaded discussion after the mockery starts. The mockery is usually the point where dialogue ends. Again – I don’t see why that’s so unpredictable given that, when I mock people for any other reason, one of those outcomes usually occurs.

    Perhaps the most unbelievable part to you would be that I’m an evolutionary biologist working at a major research university who actively engages with the public in outreach events – even believers. I can understand why so few of them do, especially when they get slandered and attacked for simply stating and opinion and sharing experiences. Until I can somehow get a professional production crew to videotape them wearing their names, professions, and social security numbers on their shirts so you can corroborate my statement (and even then, you’d try to debunk it), I can see you have no interest than doing anything but fueling some silly vendetta against Chris and Sheril, or anyone else the New Atheist bloglords decide to criticize tomorrow.

    Trust me – this whole blog exchange here has taught me that ‘New Atheists’ aren’t much different than the ones I know personally. And that’s hardly unbelievable.

  18. Tom Johnson

    Quick addendum: I said this on the other thread, and I will here. If the issue about whether or not I’m an evolutionary biologist at a major research university is as so incredibly relevant as everyone seems to say it is, Chris and/or Sheril can wrangle up my email from this post and I will gladly corroborate that evidence to them (but, of course, then they’ll just get accused of lying and the whole death-spiral of unfounded accusations will continue).

    In light of the very harsh responses I’ve gotten and the smear-fest over on EvolutionBlog (before anyone even knew that ‘Tom Johnson’ is a pseudonym), however, I’ll be keeping my identity anonymous by not posting it freely for all the trolls to defame.

  19. Luke Vogel


    I wont go back over any of my comments (some of which I still don’t know if they’ll see the light of day). I’ve been clear enough I think (or reasonably so), and I think exceedingly fair to the issue we are discussing now and spread my criticism widely – while continuing to voice my support for Chris and Sheril.

    However, I think you’re overstating the concern of the complaints while underplaying the potential of giving the story as fully expressed at least a modicum of legitimacy.

    I mean, forget what the critics knew – did Chris know you were using a pseudonym before he posted? Chris tells his readers: “…a scientist named Tom Johnson…”

    I’ll say it again, I support Chris and Sheril on their concerns, but someone ought to wake them up to the fact that religious criticism is ok. I wholeheartedly agree there are things we need to do better – as noted I support David Sloan Wilson’s efforts also and that’s because I think he does a damn fine job. To be blunt, I think “new atheist” can be naive to advocate as Dawkins does, not only ridicule and contempt, but to keep turning up the volume of ridicule and contempt. Clearly, as Dawkins has said, he (they) believe they are making “progress” with their approach and want to tweak it even more in a direction Chris, Sheril and I may find very unhelpful. Dawkins said point blank in his discussion of why he is “hostile” that “we’ve” made more progress now than decades of playing nice. That is echoed by Coyne who adds confidently that the data show we all have failed in the past, and he clearly supports and forwards Dawkins’ approach (it’s obvious he finds Richard to be a mentor and that’s fine – as I noted, Richard is an intellectual hero of mine).

    You see, a positive claim is being made about the progresses Richard recognizes which largely stems from people “coming out”, that’s out as “atheist” and critics of religion. These debates like yesterday, well the one about evidence and claims about “new atheist” are important and somewhat complex. However, the ones being criticized by “us” (“we” who are voicing concern over “new atheism” as well as the problems recognized by everyone it seems who are interested in more scientifically literate societies – and hopefully more “humanistic”) , see themselves as victims of not only religious backlash and criticism, but from what they term to broadly as “accomodationism”.

    However, that’s ok, they are up for the fight because they see themselves making progress and that efforts before the “new atheism” failed, everyone failed. Not only that (which they can rightfully claim to a reasonable degree), but for all of those that found themselves once religious and then suddenly “atheistic”, its something you want to shout from the rooftops and fight what you feel has been holding you down. All of these elements I have expressed above have come together for many people and we must be wise to this.

  20. Anthony McCarthy

    I don’t go to Jason Rosenhouses’ blog very often, he having made it clear he doesn’t welcome me, but it wasn’t too surprising to see the smear against Tom Johnson there when I went to check it out today.

    The shifting levels of proof demanded, the double standard the new atheists insist on practicing, their reliance on spreading dishonest rumors around the new atheist blogosphere are all things people who take them on have to realize they will run up against. Those and many other plainly dirty tactics are what you learn to expect. They play this as what it is, a political game, while demanding their opponents match the requirements of scientific levels of verification and coherence. It’s exactly what the political left faces in the far right, it’s a mistake to try to rise above the level of political struggle because that insures your side will be at a severe disadvantage.

    This is a political fight just as the fight to keep science classrooms free of extraneous influences, religious, political, bigoted, etc. You’ve got to fight the fight on the ground it rests on, you can’t shift the fight to another ground single handed. And they’re not about to give up their preferred tactics.

  21. Folks,
    A reminder that comments are automatically held in moderation for a number of reasons until we have a chance to check them, but most everything eventually gets through. Right now I am traveling in California so approval may be delayed.

  22. Tom Johnson

    “I’ll say it again, I support Chris and Sheril on their concerns, but someone ought to wake them up to the fact that religious criticism is ok.”

    I’ll actually agree with you about the latter part of that phrase, although I don’t think Chris and Sheril need much waking up to it. Before my comment was ever posted, I was having a lengthy dicussion with Anna K. about this and said something similar. I’m all for religious criticism. I’ll even tell religious people at our events that I disagree with them on things like the origins of life and the existence of God (most of the faithful we work with wholly accept evolution). I’ll do it to their face, even – I don’t run around hugging them and agreeing with them. BUT (and this is a huge ‘but’) I don’t do it with mockery, a forced guffaw, or pejoratives as my colleagues do. The difference I have noticed between my approach and theirs is that I usually (emphasis on that word) get some decent dialogue out of believers, not just about science but about metaphysical issues as well, while my colleagues get relatively nothing but the self-satisfaction of verbally slapping someone around. Again, that’s my personal observation. It can always be different with different people/situations.

    But it’s your last paragraph, Luke, that’s showing why you and I disagree. Read that paragraph again – are you REALLY talking about science at all?? Of course not! You’re talking exclusively about why it’s justified to attack the religious (“its something you want to shout from the rooftops and fight what you feel has been holding you down”). Your argument is, in essence, “kill religion first and worry about science later.” And that’s fine – but don’t use promoting science as the standard you proudly wave while, in reality, your motivations run much deeper. Then you’re not waving that standard but cowering behind it.

    I’m all for atheists banding together under a common cause, but I”d love for that common cause to be a pride of my worldview rather than hate for someone else’s. I pointed the gun of religion for too many years at other belief/unbelief systems, and I didn’t become an atheist just to take that gun and point it back at religion. I became an atheist because atheism took that gun away. Let’s fight mindless forms of fundamentalist religion, yes, but let’s fight them with REAL intelligence and reason – not hatred and bigotry disguised as those things. And more than anything else, let’s not call this promoting science unless that’s really, honeslty what we won’t to do.

  23. Tom Johnson

    Forgive the terrible misspellings in my last sentence. I tried.

  24. gillt

    Tom: “If the issue about whether or not I’m an evolutionary biologist at a major research university is as so incredibly relevant as everyone seems to say it is, Chris and/or Sheril can wrangle up my email from this post and I will gladly corroborate that evidence to them (but, of course, then they’ll just get accused of lying and the whole death-spiral of unfounded accusations will continue).”

    Evo Biologist or Yoga Instructor, it wouldn’t matter Tom.

    Can either Chris or Sheril say whether they checked to see who Tom was before quoting his story? This is a journalism 101 basic, and Mooney is a journalist. Is it really too much to ask as McCarthy and bilbo and Vogel keep insisting?

    And Tom’s correct, Mooney’s post would still only rise to the level of “he said she said,” followed by a hundred responses among those on the other side of the debate questioning the reasonableness of Tom’s account. And why shouldn’t they question it?

  25. Anthony McCarthy

    — This is a journalism 101 basic, and Mooney is a journalist. Is it really too much to ask as McCarthy and bilbo and Vogel keep insisting? gillt

    Is it really too much for gillt to understand there is a difference between reporting and advocacy? No, make that for gillt to be honest about something he understands perfectly well.

    This is a blog, it is owned by two people. Bloggers get to decide what their content is going to consist of. When they write for a journal, their editors and publishers get a voice in that content, if they don’t like what is written, they aren’t required to publish it.

    Journalists who are advocating a position, as SK and CM clearly are doing in this blog, aren’t acting as REPORTERS, they’re acting as advocates of a position. If they were acting as reporters the requirements are that they discover facts, verify those facts and publish those facts, regardless of the outcome. That is reporting. This is advocacy in which arguments in support of a position are made, the requirements for that and the intended results are not the same. And when the people advocating a position are honest about it, that’s fulfilled the most basic requirement.

    And none of the above are answerable to gillt on what they choose to do.

    Let me ask you, gillt, since he’s been working as a journalist for decades, do you hold Christopher Hitchens to the same level of journalistic practice? I didn’t think so.

  26. John Kwok


    Am glad you’ve been chiming in here, but am also not surprised by the risible, quite inane, reception you’ve received over at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog. It is ironic that those who call themselves “Atheists” – and here I am referring to the “New Atheist” crowd, who, IMHO, deserve to be dubbed “Militant Atheists” – are acting in accordance with what David Sloan Wilson has been saying for a few years now in referring to Atheism as a “stealth religion”. Paradoxically, there has been far more “religious fervor” that I have seen from militant atheists than what I heard from or read by the likes of Ken Miller, Guy Consolmagno (Jesuit brother who is a noted planetary scientist and the Vatican Astronomer.) and Mike Rosenzweig, among others.

    Given such fervor, I believe that these atheists are merely “painting the kettle black” in their frequent condemnations of organized religion.

  27. gillt

    Answering your own questions again McCarthy? I hesitate in even responding because you appear to be doing fine talking to yourself.

    McCarthy: “This is advocacy in which arguments in support of a position are made, the requirements for that and the intended results are not the same.”

    You say they’re not the same but you don’t say what the requirements are. So what are the requirements for advocacy? Don’t say honesty again because that would only prove you’ve ignored everything being said.

  28. Anthony McCarthy

    Reporting is one form of journalism, advocacy is another. The goal of reporting is to discover, document and publish facts, the purpose of advocacy is to make a case promoting a point of view. You might pretend to not understand that or to like it but those are two different forms of journalism, the people who do both are called journalists.

    A reporter wouldn’t start off with the intention when doing a story of documenting why evolutionary science is to be preferred to ID, for example, while there’s no problem with an advocate doing that.

    Do you hold Christopher Hitchens to the same requirements that you are holding Chris Mooney to? Because you should hustle yourself over to the new atheist blogs and give him a piece of your mind on many different fronts if you are practicing a single, instead of your typical double standard on this matter. Pardon me if I don’t hustle over there to see you (not) do it.

  29. gillt

    Your example about science and ID has nothing to do with what anyone is talking about. The only Hitchen’s I’ve read is “God is Not Great” which bases it’s polemic on his own personal experience and text from various Holy Books. So again, unless Hitchen’s wrote something else that you’re referring to you’ve given another bad example. Your third fail is your attempt to place “advocacy” on the same level of respectability as “reporting” by insisting they’re both equally legitimate forms of journalism. This is disingenuous. What Mooney did is what The Onion if famous for mocking with their “Area Man” headlines.

    Area Man mistakes blog post for reality.

  30. Luke Vogel

    I will respond to Tom, bilbo and Anthony in my next post, but I want to get a few things out.

    Are all comments in? Wow, to wake up and suddenly see long thoughtful comments suddenly appear that would have related to continued dialogue is strange as hell. It’s like having a forced reading past ourselves without anything to actually read. I don’t even know how I should continue here. Should we all say when we have a post in moderation and give brief a brief synopsis, something I actually had done!?

    This is a really big problem for me, honestly. I spent quite a bit time two days ago writing up near essay style post (though If I was shooting for publishing a piece they would have greatly refined, I do keep in mind this is comments on blog in conversation). I woke to find it’s likely that only a few people actually caught my full conversation which I thought I was having, but instead the reply’s relied on my shorter, instantly posted comments.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not on some self important trip, far from it. Even though I do use my real name and I have given my location, I can tell you I’m just a regular guy, not a practicing scientist or philosopher. I have deep interest in the forwarding of science and reason going back nearly two decades now, which includes supporting organization like CFI (and have been a reader of two of their journals for over 15 years), the Skeptic’s Society, NCSE and others if I can in some way, for a while my local humanist society (CDHS – the first nationally known secular humanist society). In complete honesty I can tell you that I deliberately moved away from CDHS because of the inane debates on “atheist” activism (long story). What’s happening at CFI now hopefully will blow over, I read Lindsay’s blog yesterday (he is now CEO of CFI) and it’s defense of a charge of “fundamental” atheism (a charge I personally have *never* made), but in my opinion telling for what he did not say (that’s another story, but important – because I think he and Flynn are deliberately ignoring what the real concerns are and it is my opinion they are being myopic – yes the “new generation” wants to advocate “atheism” but changing the CSH slogan to “beyond atheism” misses the point, all I can is Ha!, obvious compromise and lame).

    Anyway, more about me (hehe). I expressed several times my support of Chris and Sheril, in not only their overall “agenda” (hate saying it like that – but, forwarding science and reason etc. etc.), but in also their open concerns of “new atheism”. I applaud their *courage* to expresses their concerns openly and directly (even while offering my criticisms of them and my hope they *hold themselves to a higher standard* – I think if they do there is more support out here then they can imagine from “vociferous humanist/atheist” and moderate religionist alike). Since I’ve said much of this in a few ways, I’ll leave it there.

    One quick note before finishing on “accomodationism”, I would like to say I was up till very early in the morning reading Coyne’s review of UA and the post by the Intersection which was “A Trio of Responses to Jerry Coyne’s Attack…” and dutifully read each link by Rosenau, Marcus and who ever else *in full*. It would appear Rosenau’s review (then I read his review of Coyne’s review) of the *lightness* of UA mirror’s mine a bit and is actually closer to what Coyne is arguing than he may realize, this was pointed out in a few comments on his blog. However, it is nearly *painfully* obvious that Coyne does in fact misrepresent UA (which read and did like – another needed public statement in and on today’s U.S. society). I also wrote a piece on “Counterproductive…” blog about how it not only appears Wright is right in his claims of misrepresentation but as I point out Coyne actually deepens the would by misrepresenting Wrights original points on misrepresenting (I outline the first point). With that said, Coyne makes several valid and needed to be said points, which leads nicely into my close.

    I also had mentioned where the “accomodationism” comes from and the charge of “accomodationist” in a post on “Counterproductive….” blog (which was held in moderation for a very long time – which helps to explain why I appeared to have a two weird conversations which is neither mine nor their fault I realize now, and I apologize for getting out of line with gillt). It’s important to take note of how the conversation is actually framed (there’s that awful word which everyone does but since it’s used by a “critic” its poison meaning “lie” instead of supporting “truth” – oh how this shiat has become frustrating). The best way to understand is to see what this stuff means, instead as I saw Chris do, allow others to decide how you are expressing yourself. Again, before proceeding, it’s important to remind ourselves of shared goals, not just with religious people but also with most of the “new atheist” movement. I realize some of the regular commenter’s here are religious, that’s great in my opinion – we can prove something together that is extremely important, and not just being allies as critics. Think of it this way, I, Chris Mooney, and many others here are “atheist” criticizing “atheist” (which inherently presents many gray areas, especially as I wholeheartedly support religious criticism – we are also labeled “accomodationist”, “apologetist” , not really atheist but, “atheist, but…”). If you have read some of the comments by Russell Blackford on this blog, he clearly makes valid points then retreats into “you just don’t get it” mode, a virtual house of cards. With that said, it is obvious that less than honest religionist have tagged along on occasion to take advantage of us “atheist”, to highlight disagreements and in *fact* have matters much worse. They are rightly called out and I have no problem turning around and biting you harder then any “new atheist”.

    So, what is “accomodationism” and “accomodationist” and why do I think I am one on many issues and in the greater scheme of things.

    Let me start with something provocative and recently said by Paul Kurtz which is not about “fundamentalism”. It appears some of what is happening and tone used would suggest some “atheist” are behaving as they do because they have been bruised by religion. I have made many points of where in some of Coyne’s arguments he appears much less objective than he may think and is acting burned and irrationally defensive. This however does not take away from the atrocious behavior of certain religious organization and religious individuals on many levels. In that way we have all been “bruised”, and *obviously* someone like Kurtz *knows* this, not only that but he and others saying what I am have defended ourselves against claims of being *fundamentalist* for decades (hence again, more evidence to me that Lindsay is purposefully glancing over important issues and now will allow this to be Kurtz centered and open season on the “old man” and his cognitive abilities, shame on you, shame – Lindsay, if you don’t recognize something bordering on “dogmatism” going on, you are either blind or not paying attention beyond you self sealed inner sanctum with certain very persuasive “newb’s” — lets get that new generation in at *all cost*).

    Here’s how the coiner of the terms (for the discussion of science and religion) “accomodationism”” and “accomodationist”, Austin Dacey, defines the terms. First, lets not things get out of control, this is all *very* new, like just a couple years.

    Read Austin Dacey’s essay ; “Evolution Education and the Science-Religion Conflict: Dispatches from a Philosophical Correspondent”

    I would link but the links screw up my post, Just copy/paste that title in google, the “Scribd” website will be first, they’re copy of the essay is fine, word for word, if you want the PDF, just look at the google list.

    Dacey writes; >>> “I have a name for the broad thesis that there exist important conflicts between science and religion: I call it “agonism”. Those who accept “agonism” — and also wish to publicly discuss such conflicts—are “agonists”. The view that there exist no important conflicts between science and religion I call “*accommodationism*”. Those who either recognize no conflicts between religion and science, or who recognize such conflicts but are disinclined to discuss them publicly, I call “*accommodationists*.” < <>” but the divide is between “accommodationists” and “exclusivists”.<>“God is an essence we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world.”<>”Let us be content, therefore, to believe him to be a spirit, that is, an essence we know nothing of, in which originally and necessarily reside all energy, all power, all capacity, all activity, all wisdom, all goodness.”<<>“They all believe that great principle which has produced this boundless universe. Newtons universe, and Hershells universe, came down to this little Ball, to be spit-upon by Jews; and untill this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there can never be any liberal science in the world” <<> “So, Sean: It really does depend what you mean by “religion.” If we’re talking about the kind of religion that compels a person to reject evolution, to question the age of the Earth, then that religion is most emphatically not compatible with science.<<>”“accomodationism” — the rhetorical strategy on the part of some pro-science people and organizations to paper over conflicts between science and religion so that religious believers can be more comfortable accepting the truth of evolution and other scientific ideas.”<<

    I have to leave it there right now… have things to do

    To be continued…..

  31. Luke Vogel

    I have a long post in moderation right now.

  32. bilbo

    “Journalists who are advocating a position, as SK and CM clearly are doing in this blog, aren’t acting as REPORTERS, they’re acting as advocates of a position.”

    I was about to write the exact same thing, Andrew. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding by some otherwise intelligent people here about what a blog is versus a news article – the nature of our times, I guess. Too many people seem to try to take and take blog posts as news articles these days. And I agree: if gillt and others hold blog posts to true journalistic standards, they’ve been missing some great chances to rant about it on some other blogs they also frequent.

    Tom Johnson seems to have a point about his simple little personal experience threatening some people…or at least their ideology. Why else would so many people mount such an incredible attack against its intergity if it did not? Or, as he said, if it was really that “silly.” There seem to be quite a few people that are trembling over this….

  33. bilbo

    Dammit Anthony, I was looking at Tom Johnson’s post in another window about calling you Andrew when I typed that and ended up doing the same damn thing. You need to change your name.

  34. Anthony McCarthy

    — Your example about science and ID has nothing to do with what anyone is talking about. gillt

    Your dodge of pretending that I wasn’t talking about two different forms of journalism is illustrative of your own preferred methods of advocacy, try to shift the argument to different ground.

    Oh, Hitchens has written huge amounts of other stuff, while being paid as a journalist. And I’ve read reams of the stuff from when he wrote for The Nation. It’s not my fault if you’re ignorant of it. And as he is held to be a journalist, by himself as well as others, his choosing to write polemics would be a violation of the standard you want Chris Mooney to follow.

    Now, why don’t you clean your own house before giving others the white glove treatment.

  35. Luke Vogel

    Anthony McCarthy,

    What do you make of Tom’s story? If you have read my post, I think I’m being fair and Tom says I summed it up ok (plus I have a longer post on the other thread with more detail). I say two things that are related. One, I see and agree with Chris sentiment in the blog, Second, I think PZ and others have exaggerated the extent the situation. However, I find the story a bit unlikely and it appears useless to confirm at this point (nearly admittedly so and if you see the facts, that actually makes it harder to believe). For that reason, as I explained (fairly I believe), I think The Intersection (Chris and Sheril) have done a grave disservice to fair minded criticism and providing evidence based argument. It’s as simple as that, you don’t seem to either want to face that fact, or you simply believe the story to be true. The argument about unfairly holding Chris and Sheril to certain standard is very unfortunate, they need to hold themselves to a higher standard (and yes, it does matter that as a scientist and journalist who are very adept at public discourse they should realize this). I think you are right, a double standard has been applied, I can *prove* that – *however* that does not make how The Intersection provided this “evidence” any more reasonable.

  36. Luke Vogel


    Since I don’t know when and if my longer post will appear, and yes I want to respond to each of you that have mentioned me, including Tom, I have to get this quickly out there. I’m honestly taking up a huge part of my day now (with little to show for it – really, can something be done about this “moderation” delay?)

    I don’t think I deserve the comments you directed at me from the other thread. I have tried hard to be fair and have provided a great deal of insight to the story and situation as it has unfolded.

  37. bilbo


    My apologies on the comments on the other thread. You have, for the most part, been quite levelheaded in all of this, and the majority of the abrasive comments are aboutt hose who have denounced Tom’s comments and Chris’s response at face value.

  38. Anthony McCarthy

    What do you make of Tom’s story?

    I matches my experience of both decades of political involvement and it has at the very least, verisimilitude. I thought of my long dead and much beloved Latin teacher who was an atheist of the Bertrand Russell school. When he got bored at meetings he’d pick fights with people who he knew were religious. Though he was wise enough to not cause problems for the group, though I do remember his wife telling him to cut it out once or twice.

    I’ve seen it a lot on blogs when a new atheist is being a jerk and gratuitously insulting other people with similar political identity and disrupting blog threads. It was exactly that which has made me break the habit of a lifetime, as a New Englander, and talk about religion in a mixed group because I think it’s damaging to progressive politics and obnoxious.

    And from what else he’s said, Tom Johnson strikes me as a straight talker, whereas his antagonists here and at Jason R’s blog are tergiversating and dishonest. So, he wins that comparison as well.

  39. Anthony McCarthy

    bilbo, it doesn’t really bother me when people make that mistake. Once on a political blog, a Republican troll was posting comments that were supposed to be from me. I didn’t point out to him that for about six or so comments he’d been posting as “Andrew McCarthy”.

  40. Luke Vogel

    >>”It matches my experience of both decades of political involvement and it has at the very least, verisimilitude.”<<

    I think we may have to agree to disagree. I don't think it holds the appearance of being true, in fact the opposite is the basis to my entire argument as I have laid out, taking Tom's words as they are presented. That's the point, it actually gives the appearance of exaggeration and unlikeness given not only what we can assume for what is a conservation event (though, this is done as a game at multiple events), but from the information provided.

    When you say "matches", this could mean anything, and you appear smart enough to realize I'm smart enough to know that. It does not tell me the situations are similar to what is the actual context of what is under discussion.

  41. Luke Vogel

    Now that I see my larger post up #30 and reading through quickly there are a few things to correct, but for the most part (because really , who gives a rats ass) I’m going to let it sit. However, I may have been to hard on Wilkins, however my overall point I think is valid, and it needed to be said.

    One not on that though, I quoted Wilkins, who is actually reponding to Gould, poorly, as saying: >>”Such as Wilkins claim that; “But likewise, there has never been a “warfare of religion against science”<<

    You see my response above. However, it should also be duly noted that the opposite is also true, in fact that is much of the focus of Flynn's on the issue. The "warfare" approach and the debate with regards to it are part of the larger debate we are in now.

  42. Anthony McCarthy

    I finally went to see Jason Rosenhouse’s blog, always an exercise in diminishing expectations. I see that Matt Penfold and wowbagger have saddled the poor guy with my reputation there.

    Matt seems to never remember that I gave him ample opportunity to document the horrible things I’d said about the Great Brit Hope, Richard Dawkins. He never took the opportunity but he never ceases to assert it. I will restart that blog if you’d care to put your mouth where your mouth is, Matt.

  43. bilbo

    I don’t have as much of a problem with what Jason writes as I do the minions that comment for him. It’s possibly the biggest gap in intellectual ability from post to comment that I’ve ever seen. At least on Pharyngula you come to expect crap coming out of both ends…

  44. Anthony McCarthy

    In the handful of times I’ve gone to Jason’s blog I’ve seen he’s not exactly careful with what he writes. And he isn’t exactly even handed with who he chooses to scold among the people who leave comments on his blog. I asked him to clear up an obvious mathematical misconception among his regulars to absolute silence on his part. Considering that’s his profession you’d think he’d be as interested in people thinking clearly about that as he would in other branches of learning.

  45. Luke Vogel

    Tom Johnson,

    Thank you for your rather thoughtful comments on what I have said. I think you make some good points, some I agree with, some I don’t. With that said, I don’t think I’d deviate much from my *general* assessment. I’ve honestly spent quite a bit of time spinning it around in my brain (doesn’t have far to spin, but hey…) and come up with the same thought that it doesn’t all fit together good enough to be presented her by Chris and Sheril the way it was and in fact gives the appearance of at least an embellishment as fully expressed.

    I don’t have much time, but I’ll go through a couple of your responses.

    I said: >>“All that happens is they don’t get the cooperation one may expect by not doing it?”<>”More hyperbole stated by you and not by me. Most of the time,the reaction is one of shock, followed by surprisingly rational responses and subsequent intellectual wall-raising to further discussion.”<>>”But it’s your last paragraph, Luke, that’s showing why you and I disagree. Read that paragraph again – are you REALLY talking about science at all?? Of course not! You’re talking exclusively about why it’s justified to attack the religious (”its something you want to shout from the rooftops and fight what you feel has been holding you down”). Your argument is, in essence, “kill religion first and worry about science later.” And that’s fine – but don’t use promoting science as the standard you proudly wave while, in reality, your motivations run much deeper. Then you’re not waving that standard but cowering behind it.”<<>”Your argument is, in essence, “kill religion first and worry about science later.”<<<

    I said nothing of the kind. However, as aside in these debates one must realize that religionist on a regular basis mock and ridicule scientific understandings. Religionist who have dedicated followers condemn other people on a regular basis. Religionist with followers make claims about acts of nature as punishments. Are scientist to remain quiet on this? No. That is why I'm upset that "both" sides have blurred Stephen J. Gould's meaning with noma.

    People like Sean Carroll and Lawrence Krauss (two extremely well known scientist who seem to be more on the side "we" are coming from, but non-the less see decidedly different approaches taking place – in my opinion false boundaries). Both have sounded like they are differing with "new atheist" at times, then again like they are defending them strongly. This is important to understand, because what both are pointing to with regards to defending "new atheism" is nearly undeniable, that is the beliefs (as Chris Mooney does point out) can conflict horribly with science, and scientist need not only to defend and teach proper science, but also to point out the absolute divide of reality shown through science and the religious beliefs.

    "We", who seem to support Chris and others, realize this I"m sure, since we are *for* better understanding and use of science and reason. Which leads us back again to the questions of the level of ridicule and contempt displayed while using the authority of science, and also to direct claims made by "new atheist". So, we are at an Intersection, and Chris is well placed to be there, but he *must* be more careful, especially when explaining what the problems are and what evidence is available for any claim regarding damage done.

    That's all I have time for right now…. I will continue my long post (with a couple corrections) later also.

  46. Luke Vogel

    I have a post in moderation. Mainly a response to Tom, but also touching on the wider issues at play as well as brief observations of the other conversation taking place here. Read at your own peril!

  47. Chris Mooney

    I just want to thank you (and others) for the long and thoughtful comments. I am reading them, and if I am not in the habit of replying to many of them, it is in part because this habit has gone away during many of the battles over Unscientific America, when I have found that the contributions that I make to blog comment threads haven’t prompted fruitful further responses (often quite the opposite). But I’m glad you’re here, and ask you to be patient with the comment queue, which is automatic.

    I also of course want to heartily thank “Tom” for sharing his story

  48. Tom Johnson

    Luke Vogel:

    Excellent last post. There are too many points to get into (most of which I agree on completely), so I will only highlight a few of the best ones.

    “As aside in these debates one must realize that religionist on a regular basis mock and ridicule scientific understandings. Religionist who have dedicated followers condemn other people on a regular basis. Religionist with followers make claims about acts of nature as punishments. Are scientist to remain quiet on this? No.”

    I think this is the very heart of the ‘debate.’ I am all, 100% for making creationists and religious fundamentalists look silly for their outright rejection of science. I still wouldn’t advocate some of the same language I’ve heard from my colleagues about them, but attacking their stance viciously is, more likely than not, a pefectly acceptible idea. Their whole modus operandi is to undermine science, after all.

    But I think some (note: not all) of the NAs are missing the point here. Religious believers who ask scientists to come to conservation events hosted by the group aren’t trying to undermine science. They’re trying to promote it. They are not fundamentalists (I run into many belivers, in fact, who are out to get creationists just as much as I am). These people do not deserve to be called “ignorant” and chastised for not accepting science….because they accept science!!! The overarching NA argument is (highly distilled) that a religious person is a religious person no matter what, and all of them deserve the same treatment as the most strident creationist regardless of anything else. It doesn’t take long working with the public to realize what a blatant distortion of reality this is. If the NA strategy (as reflected by my colleagues) is to alienate even those believers who want to fight creationism simply because they’re religious, we’re the ones responsible for thinning our ranks from an evolution-promotion perspective. If that’s not the NA attitude, then someone who is a big figure in the NA world needs to come out and say it, because apparently some NAs are taking it the incorrect way.

    “it’s important that Chris and Sheril *hold themselves to a higher standard* and not trivialize issues”

    This has been a big issue with my post: what some guy says should not be taken as evidence of anything. I can understand this but, to hopefully move the discussion in some forward-thinking diirection, what proof should we expect to see? Should we wait 5 to 10 years before the next cohort runs the ranks of science education and they’re polled for us to see what method works and what doesn’t? And should be not doing anything, as some commenters have suggested, in the meantime? What happens to science and its applications in the meantime while we wait for the Pew folks to put out another vague poll for us to attempt to tie causality to? If we can’t trust the words of the actual people who are “in the trenches” applying the science (and not just blogging about it), who can we trust?


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

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


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