What Would Bridge the New Atheist/Accommodationist Divide?

By Chris Mooney | October 28, 2009 9:27 am

This question was raised for me by a comment by Luke Vogel, as follows:

I have expressed my concerns at length, I do wish we, perhaps with a blog post by the Intersection, that I (we) can return to defining and defending and idea of “accomodationism” since I had begun the process, which includes highlighting the paper by Austin Dacey which gave us the terms as used now in the science and religion debates. I think this focus can highlight our complete agreements with people like Sean Carroll, Lawrence Krauss, Michael Shermer and many others, while also recognizing the primary concerns that are shared by all of us that seem so intensely interested in what happens at The Intersection.

Huh.

From my own perspective, I partly translate this as follows: Is there any way to get back to a productive discussion over the merits of “accommodationism,” or the lack thereof?

It would be interesting to hear what the New Atheists would say; but I think we are a long way from seeing this happen. The problem is that there does not even appear to be an understanding of basic terms and positions–a problem compounded by a concomitant lack of civil discourse or good will. Both sides, I’m sure, consider themselves to have big grievances that have not been addressed; so any additional comment just fans the flames.

How could this change? Well, first of all, I’m highly skeptical that it can. But if I were to suggest the conditions in which it might, I would say that a serious dialogue cannot resume without an end of name calling, ad hominem attacks, and extensive misrepresentation of positions. If there is no interest in getting basic views right, understanding them, or admitting those views are based on evidence and not unreasonable, there is no way a two-way dialogue can be had.

So that’s my own take, but there are two sides here. It might be fruitful if some New Atheists would respond with their own take on Vogel’s question, if only to see how broad the gap really is between two groups of people who, after all, probably share well over 95 percent of their intellectual DNA.

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Comments (194)

Links to this Post

  1. Militant Accomodationism – Moth Eyes | October 29, 2009
  1. bilbo

    Can we add “getting past superficial judgments of character” to that list of things that need to happen to foster useful dialogue? One thing I’ve noticed both here and on the NA blogs is that a comment from either side gets judged primarily on the basis of its source rather than its merit. If something gets said by Jerry Coyne here, it’s met with “well, we all know he’s an idiot….”. The same goes in the opposite direction if Chris is mentioned on an NA blog. If we’re all so intellectual, we should all know that doing this kind of thing is silly and shallow and gets us nowhere (myself included). Just a thought.

  2. peter

    “It might be fruitful if some New Atheists”

    to clear up things first, what do you mean by “new” atheist.
    I have been an atheist since i turned 16, that was 44 years ago, and I find nothing new about the “new” atheists except a tendency to speak out about the devastating role religion can play in education, politics and the cultural live.

  3. Sorbet

    Bilbo; well said. Let’s stop trashing something just because it comes from Dawkins or Coyne or Chris or whoever else and focus on the specific substance.

  4. Karl

    Atheists can share only one thing in common, a disbelief in gods. Saying there is a divide expresses nothing more than saying there’s a divide in beliefs between people who live in the same city. Just because they share one minor aspect, it has absolutely no bearing on any other part of their life.

  5. bilbo

    One more thing:

    In the 15 or so posts I’ve read on this subject from Chris, Jerry, Jason, and others, I don’t really ever see the hallmarks of a good, true “discussion.” In other words, I never hear anyone say something along the lines of “you know, Chris Mooney has a point. BUT…..”. Instead it’s always “Jason Rosenhouse DESTROYS Chris Mooney’s legitimacy on accommodationism!!!!”

    I don’t really get the vibe that both sides really want to work towards some common goal here (and simply differ in their ways of approaching it), like you expect to see in a real debate or discussion. Instead, the focus of the whole exchange seems to be more about destroying the other side’s credibility, or that the “debate” will be won by the side with the most quipping points. And that’s just not fruitful.

  6. From my own perspective, I partly translate this post as follows: Naturally I would love nothing better than to sign a peace treaty, but since the enemy are unrepentant warmongers, that’s just impossible. What else can I possibly do?

    ps–I couldn’t help but notice that in your excoriation of the incivility and misrepresentations dominating this discourse, you somehow failed to include the example of a certain book which had a whole chapter dedicated to denouncing the “New Atheists” using–dare I say–misrepresentation of events and positions. *GASP*

  7. JEM

    Chris says : “we probably share well over 95 percent of their intellectual DNA”

    Bilbo says: Instead it’s always “Jason Rosenhouse DESTROYS Chris Mooney’s legitimacy on accommodationism!!!!”

    I say: Civil wars are always personal and bloody.

  8. Guy

    As just an observer an not an atheists (I’m an agnostic), I would recommend just leaving it be. You can agree to disagree with the non-accommodates and go about communicating science in your own way. People with a religious shtick are more likely to listen to you than someone who constantly puts them down(PZ, Coyne, Dawkins, etc.) They have their audience (people who despise religion) and you have yours. I wouldn’t waste my time on people who are set in their ways. Nothing good can come of it.

  9. Davo

    Guy, well said. I too would argue that we need both approaches and that as you indicated, there are audiences for both approaches. Thus this debate does become pointless after a while since everyone seems to want to find a “either/or” solution whereas the solution is always going to be “and”

  10. Jon

    what do you mean by “new” atheist.

    Maybe we should change it to “movement atheism.”

    By the way, the term new atheism was coined in this 2006 Wired article. I think the term works. I don’t see anyone in these threads discussing Camus, it’s Dawkins and Myers.

  11. bob

    I see you learned from the “framing” flap awhile back. That time, you tried to make first-principles (so to speak) definitions, people dared to disagree with you (that they were good/useful definitions), and you got frustrated and quit. This time, you decided to quit from the get-go. Maybe next time, you won’t even put up a blog post about it. At least then, you wouldn’t perpetuate the argument by childishly blaming the people you’re arguing against for everything.

  12. Anthony McCarthy

    If it’s new atheists, I don’t think there is any possibility of cooperation with them because their program precludes it. As with the hard core of religious puritans, the best thing to do is to work around them and to try to isolate their influence. You don’t need them to succeed in the important work of protecting the environment, civil rights, the public schools and the wall of separation, you need a working majority of the voters, the new atheists would only work to drive that winning margin away or to divide it.

    The rational agenda of doing what needs to be done can’t reach accommodation with fanaticism. Trying to work with them will defeat that agenda.

  13. bilbo

    Predictably, I’m seeing a lot of angry “Mooney, you stupid moron”-type responses and not too much in the way of substance.

    Guy hit the mark, though. Well said.

  14. Luke Vogel

    This is not really what I expected to wake up to this morning, will I become the next Tom Johnson of comment focus. Huh.

    I’ll quickly add a disclaimer of sorts:

    Let me state up front that in several of my recent post I have offered sharp criticisms of Chris and Sheril, primarily with the Tom incident, though at times expressing overall concerns. I think I have been mainly fair and my skepticism can partly be seen as my advocacy for open honest debate even when disagreements are salient and the subject matter includes religion. Second, as a statement of my overall comment history, I’m no saint and have at times allowed my own emotionalism to override my intellectual concerns, thus hindering my own arguments. I make no bones about being less than perfect in style or argument, but still fell I may have something to add. So, I welcome what I see as a challenge presented to me by Chris and Sheril.

    As one may expect, I have a few thoughts to add to mainly outline and explain my quote in the blog. However, I will break it up into at least two post. I will focus primarily on what I had said in the quote, then add a bit to what I think Chris has said.

    My first post related to my quoted comment will highlight the first sentence (it is a two sentence quote). Again, let me stress I’m just a regular guy here who’s been paying very close attention to the debates for a few years now and can with all sincerity say I have often been divided in my thoughts about ‘approach’, ‘advocacy’ and personal feelings with regards to the larger issues at hand.

    So, let me get a coffee in me and return with defining and defending “accomodationism”. Which, if I am lucky, no one will be happy with.

  15. Skeptic

    -If it’s new atheists, I don’t think there is any possibility of cooperation with them because their program precludes it.

    Exhibit A of someone precluding exactly the kind of agreement that Chris is suggesting. Sad.

  16. Anthony McCarthy

    Skeptic, is there a record of calls by prominent or even relatively obscure new atheists proposing to work with religious believers? Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, PZ? They’re going to work with a source of ignorance and evil? Would they risk their fan base with that kind of a call?

  17. bilbo

    The fact that a “fan base” even exists in this kind of discussion (for either side) precludes anything useful coming out of it. As long as there are “fans” on either side buying/reading books, each side will be tempted to play to its sidelines and fuel controversy – not good if we’re seeking useful outcomes.

  18. gillt

    Of course McCarthy, Richard Dawkins talks about working and more importantly has worked with religious leaders to foster science education. But thanks for having an uninformed opinion; for that you remain dependable.

  19. Skeptic

    But Anthony, there are people here who call themselves NAs who seem more willing to work with the religious. Also, Dawkins himself has said that he has no problem working with prominent religious clergymen like Bishop Harris of Oxford. In fact in his latest book he copies an open letter that he and Bishop Harris wrote together to encourage the teaching of evolution and to divorce it from creationism. As Chris wrote before, let’s not paint our opponents in black and white and emphasize cases where they have been willing to work with us. Given their specific writings, I also think that this is more likely with Dawkins and Harris and less likely with Hitchens and Myers.

  20. Sorbet

    True, Dawkins does cite this and other examples in his book and has repeatedly emphasized his agreements with theologians, as anyone who bothers to dip into his interviews and writings will find out. In “The Root of All Evil” for instance there is an entire section devoted to interviews with religious people with whom Dawkins generously agrees. In fact he says that their words are “music to his ears” and he sincerely means it.

    McCarthy seems to reflect exactly the kind of view that Chris is discouraging; a myopic, generalized and uninformed view based on personal dislike leading to an unwillingness to work with the other side.

  21. bilbo

    True points, Sorbet and Skeptic. But there are also those on the NA side of the world who are more than willing to simply crush religion and the scientists that work with religion altogether. We can’t broadbrush, but that goes two ways.

  22. Chris, Maybe you should book at cheap hotels in Copenhagen and use the savings to hire a psychiatrist…not for yourself, but to look into the amount of intensity that surrounds this debate. I personally find it baffling as well as fascinating. What is going on here? Somebody really ought to delve into it.

  23. Accommodationism: those that believe that activist atheists should stop criticizing religion in public, esp. when dealing with areas of science communication. This “should” can be a strategic should, i.e., does not necessarily imply “shut up” except on a romanticized reading.

    Brute force compatibility: two domains of belief are sincerely held, are potentially in a state of equilibrium (i.e., not crowding one another out), and can be believed simultaneously.

    Epistemic compatibility: both domains of belief are justified ways of knowing, and they can be justifiably believed simultaneously without dissonance.

  24. Tom Johnson

    Benjamin: Your definition of accommodationism – “those that believe that activist atheists should stop criticizing religion in public, esp. when dealing with areas of science communication” – is what I typically think of the term as meaning. But then I’ll still get called an “accommodationist” even though I’m willing to tell the religious I disagree with them without resorting to vitriol/rhetoric to do so.

    Even though the accommodationism debate started as something entirely different, do you think it’s boiled down to a petty argument about tone? That’s what I see most forms of the debate taking recently, at least.

  25. Jon

    Some of it, Jean, is just the nature of writing on the Intertubes. PZ Myers cut his teeth writing on USENET where yelling was a way of life. (Back in the day, some people would jokingly write at the top of their posts, “Jane, you ignorant sl*t.”)

  26. Tom Johnson

    That’s a great point, Jon. I get a feeling if we were seeing this take place somewhere besides the Internet (say, in peer-reviewed journals), it would be a much more productive discussion…

  27. Jon

    (For the uninitiated: It’s an old SNL reference.)

  28. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Richard Dawkins talks about working and more importantly has worked with religious leaders to foster science education. gillt

    Yeah, I’ve heard him talk out of both sides of his mouth on occasion too. Seems there was a go around here recently about Dawkins’ more conciliatory tone. Funny, I don’t remember you or Sorbet agreeing with what Chris Mooney wrote on that occasion. I seem to recall I said that no one should expect it to last.

    Working with religious leaders while he’s working to wipe out religion, which he seems to be quite confident that he’s going to do. Some accomodation. And how long does it last before the other shoe drops and he says the opposite. Has he gone to the mat with Harris over this? Hitchens? or his good pal, PZ?

  29. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorry, Skeptic, I left you out. Did you participate in the recent threads about Dawkins’ more moderate tone? If I didn’t have such a busy day I’d go look.

  30. foolfodder

    Chris, maybe you could respond to Janet D. Stemwedel’s point that there needs to be a discussion of the goals of the people on each side of the debate: http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2009/07/unscientific_america_are_scien.php and Ophelia Benson’s questions: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=2841 ?

  31. SJ

    I find it interesting that nearly all the issues with scientific illiteracy seem to be couched in the problems that religion poses for science. Yet at least three threats to science – ones that probably have more impact on people’s lives than evolution – have nothing to do with religion. That is: climate change, anti-vaxers, other medical woo (chiropractic, homeopathic, naturopathic). Even if we could make everyone an atheist with a wave of a magic wand we would not end scientific illiteracy.

  32. Jon

    When I talk about conducting dialog on serious issues like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would, as opposed to Plato, I mean it. In a lot of way this medium favors Triumph the ICD. I can just sail in ahead of everyone else and drop in sarcastic one liners, LOLs, and ZOMGs and shout down whoever posts.

    On the other hand, to this day, I don’t know if anyone ever read any of the Isaiah Berlin essays I linked to. For instance this one: http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/published_works/ac/divorce.pdf

    Reading and actually wrestling with issues like a thoughtful human is too much like work. It’s much more fun to shout people down and be a kind of miniature version of Bill O’Reilly, being famous to 15 people for 15 seconds, etc.

  33. Tom Johnson

    What Jon said. Literally.

  34. gillt

    I have Jon and there’s a lot here to discuss. For starters, is there any merit in following in the tradition of Voltaire, as Berlin describes him? This need not only apply certain religious beliefs but in some examples SJ mentions as well.

    Voltaire is the central figure of the Enlightenment, because he
    accepted its basic principles and used all his incomparable wit and
    energy and literary skill and brilliant malice to propagate these principles
    and spread havoc in the enemy’s camp. Ridicule kills more
    surely than savage indignation: and Voltaire probably did more for
    the triumph of civilised values than any writer who ever lived.

  35. Sorbet

    Vintage McCarthy; when someone actually offers a reconciling viewpoint he is “talking out of both sides of his mouth”. And McCarthy has not even bothered to look up the references that were cited. I would have to look really hard for a better example of resistance to acquiring knowledge.

  36. Chris Mooney

    I really want to thank everyone for the tone here, which really helps us talk. If this keeps up, I may start commenting on my comments threads more!

    To that end, I’ll do one reply–testing the waters here.

    # 6 writes:

    “ps–I couldn’t help but notice that in your excoriation of the incivility and misrepresentations dominating this discourse, you somehow failed to include the example of a certain book which had a whole chapter dedicated to denouncing the “New Atheists” using–dare I say–misrepresentation of events and positions. *GASP*”

    There are many such charges of misrepresentation, perhaps; but that doesn’t make them valid. I have actually corrected a valid charge: It was probably not right to have suggested, on p. 110, that Richard Dawkins thinks science “entirely preclude[s]” God’s existence. That’s a bit too strong. This was an inadvertent mistake, not a deliberate one, and it is being fixed for subsequent printings.

    I believe we have been much more seriously misrepresented than this, however, with far less responsiveness than I have shown. See for example here:
    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/10/on_false_equivalences.php

    My position has never been for atheists to “shut up,” I have repeatedly clarified the point, yet the accusations never end….

  37. Skeptic

    Hi Anthony, I would definitely suggest you to look up these references and then make up your mind. Dawkins has made a genuine effort in those cases to bridge the divide and is highly respected by Bishop Harris who has even reviewed “The Greatest Show on Earth”? Have you read this book yet? I would definitely recommend it as well as John Kwok’s review of it on Amazon.

  38. Skeptic

    Here’s the video with the Bishop of Oxford by the way. People can see this and make up their minds about Dawkins’s attitude, which I personally found quite accommodating (of course they are disagreements, but I think one would be very hard pressed to call Dawkins rude or obnoxious here)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ0WinCWtLs

  39. Steve M

    I agree with Peter, who asked what was meant by the term “new atheist”? Like Peter, I rejected the notion of a supernatural creator as a young teenager… nearly 50 years ago. If the meaning of “new atheist” defines those of us who are increasingly vocal about our support of a reality based existence, the value of a science education and who are openly critical of the damaging mythologies that pervade US society – then count me in.
    The real problem with accommodationism is similar to what Sam Harris says about the role of religious moderates, essentially acting as facilitators for the actions of militant fundamentalists.
    Sure, there are plenty of moderate Christians who fully accept biological evolution and reject a 6000 year old earth. However, many will roll there eyes to the heavens and remain mute when challenged to defend the concept of “original sin” or “virgin birth” giving tacit approval to the continued acceptance and propagation of all these ancient myths and institutions.
    Finally, SJ attempts to shift the blame from “pure” religious acceptance to other silly, widely held beliefs. What I have discovered studying religious, mostly Christian, news websites and literature for a number of years, is that the strong anti-government and anti-science rhetoric is very much a part of the overall
    pattern of the religious. There’s very little difference between a belief in “holy water” and using homeopathic remedies or believing our nation is headed towards godless socialism and rejecting vaccines that are promoted by government agencies. Religious belief is toxic to scientific literacy and a hinderance to modern society. I’d like to know what percentage of atheists are anti-vaxing, homeopathic using climate change deniers?

  40. Tom Johnson

    Steve M.:

    You said (emphasis mine), “The real problem with accommodationism is similar to what Sam Harris says about the role of religious moderates, essentially acting as facilitators for the actions of militant fundamentalists.”

    But…reality often says otherwise. For example, we just had a 300-plus comment storm about my anecdote of working with moderate religious groups who specifically seek to work against, creationism, suppression of women’s rights, science denial, and so on. Clearly, these religious moderates are doing the direct opposite of “enabling” fundamentalism. In fact, they’re combating it.

    So where does that leave us? Sam Harris is using a broad brush to paint religion as something homogeneous and easy to debunk in the name of fundamentalism. In the opposite direction, we often paint all New Atheists as Sam Harris, when that’s also clearly not true.

    The more I get involved in these discussions, the more I see that both sides are easy to stereotype and broadbrush in order to make their arguments easy. We need to look at reality here, not the reality we wish we had.

  41. Physicalist

    Is there any way to get back to a productive discussion over the merits of “accommodationism,” or the lack thereof?

    If this is actually a discussion you want to have, then then the most productive thing you could do would be to state clearly the position you want to defend, and present arguments in support of that position.

    Trust me, the scientists and philosophers who oppose your position won’t be able to refrain from responding to your arguments; it is in our DNA.

    The problem, as we see it, is that you present no clear arguments at all. Instead you merely call the actions of outspoken atheists “counter-productive,” and you ignore the substance of their ideas.

    If you hold up your end of the discussion, people on the other side will definitely hold up theirs. You may have to ignore some name-calling in the process, but so what? Complaining about such things does nothing to move the debate forward. (Imagine if biologists spent all their time complaining about how nasty creationists were and none actually presenting the evidence for evolution and against creation.) It’s the evidence that matters, so let’s hear it.

    If you’ve got a case to make, then make it. As I recall, Ophelia Benson assembled a list of questions she’d like answered. One of those was the question of what precisely you think Coyne did wrong in his book review of Miller and Giberson, and what he ought to have done differently.

    If you can’t respond to such straightforward questions, then you are either unwilling or unable to participate in an intellectual debate on these topics. And if that’s the case, then you definitely should move on to some other issue that you can actually contribute to.

  42. Sorbet

    Tom, if you actually read Harris’s book carefully, you will notice he says that we need the moderates to criticize the fundamentalists more and be more visible. I think this is true of any human endeavor and it makes sense. Chris has also appealed to the moderates here to make their voice known; it’s true that if the moderates stay silent for too long, they do appear as tacitly endorsing what the more vocal proponents are saying.

  43. gillt

    The argument that Harris and many other vocal atheists have against moderate believers is that by condoning religious faith as a virtue they incidentally offer intellectual cover for fundamentalist beliefs. Moderates may certainly disagree with specific fundamentalists beliefs and there find common ground with secularists, but where does one draw the line between a moderate and fundamentalist belief? No to Great Flood; yes to resurrection from the dead?

    I think self-described moderates and those arguing on their behalf would offer a practical metric on whether the belief blatantly contradicts or rejects science. But that doesn’t get around the first *bad* argument that belief in belief is or should be a societal value.

  44. magistramorous

    @ 40. Tom Johnson: Best comment yet. These religious moderates are doing a much better job of combating fundamentalism than skeptics like me. Atheists, skeptics, and other fringe groups have always been outnumbered and underfunded in this country. Maybe that will eventually change, but not for a long time. Those who criticize religion for the amount of power it holds over people somehow fail to realize that such power may be wielded for the betterment of humanity, even though all religions, in my view, are largely based on delusions.

  45. Jon

    gillt: For starters, is there any merit in following in the tradition of Voltaire, as Berlin describes him?

    Yes, but the main point of the essay is to highlight two different ways of thinking, Voltaire’s and Vico’s, each with certain virtues, you might say. But I can’t help reading Berlin’s discussion of Vico without thinking that the NA’s would dismiss it as “woo” in about two seconds, coming as it does dangerously close to saying good things about religion (which tends to provoke a certain kind of reflexive response from NA’s…).

  46. Chris -

    On page 97 of your book you and Sheril wrote:

    The most outspoken New Atheists publicly eviscerate believers, call them delusional and irrational, (“demented fuckwits,&rquo;) as Myers put it in the Webster Cook case), and in some case do not spare more liberal religionists, or even more conciliatory fellow scientists and atheists from witherin denunciation.

    Here’s what P.Z. actually wrote:

    That’s right. Crazy Christian fanatics right here in our own country have been threatening to kill a young man over a cracker. This is insane. These people are demented fuckwits.

    This comes after a long list of extraordinarily hyperbolic reactions to what Webster Cook did. So Myers did not, contrary to what you plainly state, refer to believers as demented fuckwits. He was referring only to the people who were making death threats. That is completely unambiguous.

    This is just one example. There are many others, both from the book and from your numerous blog posts on this subject. Your little martyr act would be a lot easier to take if you weren’t so guilty yourself of misrepresenting your opponent’s positions and of relying on dishonest rhetoric over solid argumentation.

  47. Tom, if that’s so, then you’re not an accommodationist and people are falsely accusing you of being one.

    However, it depends quite a bit on how you define things like “tone”, “vitriol”, “civility”, and so on, which (if we are to have mere “manners”) are defined ad hoc. If you can’t describe these things relative to some explicit public reference to standards of behavior in reasonable debate (“etiquette”), then these things get defined through casuistry, which means there will be no possibility of any resolution.

    It’s instructive to look at a counterexample. Someone recently claimed that “The message received is the message sent” (or vice-versa — I don’t recall). The idea is that if somebody feels threatened by what you say, then what you have said is threatening, has the wrong tone, vitriolic, strident, shrill, uncivil, uncouth, etc. The person who advocated this view then stomped off in a snit when their platitude was rejected, since it is (in my view) dangerous unreasonable nonsense and makes honest debates impossible. However, it is at least a step above the circus of casuistry that is more typical when these sorts of things come up.

  48. Tom Johnson

    Benjamin, Sorbet, et al.:

    I think magistramorous framed his/her response in the best way possible:

    “Those who criticize religion for the amount of power it holds over people somehow fail to realize that such power may be wielded for the betterment of humanity, even though all religions, in my view, are largely based on delusions.”

    Here is someone who clearly isn’t a buddy to religion but who also understands the role that religion itself can play in combating things like creationism that, despite our differences, is a threat to both atheism and religion moderatism. In other words, it’s OK to disagree with the religious (even strongly) while still agreeing that they have value and worth (and a role to play) in this issue. Some may call that being too idealist. If so, then fine.

    The problem that I see is that all too often, anti-accommodationists get on a “seek-and-destroy” mission where religious moderates are marginalized and demonized as equivalent to creationists. But in reality, we all know that they could be a valuable ally in the a fight that we both share a common enemy in. At the risk of sounding too simplisitc, we can recruit their help without becoming their buddies, too. Doing that, however, is going to take some maturity on our part and theirs.

  49. TB

    @ 23. Benjamin S. Nelson

    “Accommodationism: those that believe that activist atheists should stop criticizing religion in public, esp. when dealing with areas of science communication. This “should” can be a strategic should, i.e., does not necessarily imply “shut up” except on a romanticized reading.”

    I think that might be too negative. How about: Accommodationism: Those who believe they can work strategically with religious believers to advance science and science education, especially among religious believers

  50. TB

    @ 26. Tom Johnson

    Absolutely. Some of this – maybe much of it – has to be put down to blog ego trips and cults of personality. In person, many of these people are reportedly very civil. Sometimes I imagine what would happen if some online rants were delivered in person…

  51. Tom Johnson

    I agree, TB. I see the same kind of behavior on blog posts/comments about accommodationism as I see in blog posts/comments about political views, sports teams, etc. Hyperbole and ego-stroking reign over levelheaded discussion on the internet, and I haven’t seen much to suggest that this situation is any different.

  52. Anthony McCarthy

    — Vintage McCarthy; when someone actually offers a reconciling viewpoint he is “talking out of both sides of his mouth”.’ Sorb

    I’m confused, Sorbet. Weren’t you one of the ones who just last week or so were angrily denying that Dawkins was being conciliatory? I’d go look now but I’ve got a student coming in a while.

    It’s as big a waste of time trying to work on the new atheists on this area as it is the coal industry on global warming. If you take away the vicarious guilt, the categorical thinking, the blanket sterotyping, etc. There won’t be any new atheism left to the new atheism. That’s what makes them new atheists.

  53. TB

    @ 46. Jason Rosenhouse

    I think that, when getting up a good head of steam, we can see the unreasonable broad brush come out:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/05/modern_day_isaacs.php

    “I have to say something that is heartfelt, and is also meant to offend. I do not absolve you mealy-mouthed moderates, I do not regard your beliefs as harmless. If Colleen Hauser or Leilani Neumann were in your church, you’d tell them to get medical care, but you’d also validate their belief in prayers. You would provide the soothing background muzak that says prayer is good, prayer is virtuous, prayer will connect you to the great lord who can do anything, prayer will give you solace in your time of worry. You would not raise your voice to say that prayer is useless, prayer is self-defeating, that while prayer might make you feel better while your child is suffering, that is no virtue. You pray yourselves. You think it is a noble and generous act for your representatives to prowl the corridors of hospitals, preying on the desperation of the sick. You abase yourselves before false hopes, and sacrifice human dignity on an altar built from the bones of the dead. You would spread the poison, piously excusing yourselves because you only want to administer sub-lethal doses.
    You are Abraham’s enablers. I hope you all feel a small tremor of guilt when you sit your own children down at bedtime to beg a nonexistent being for aid, when you plant the seed of futile supplication and surrender to delusions in their trusting minds. Damn you all.”

    That’s pretty unambiguous. It’s also what made me stop reading pharyngula.

    I’m not bringing this up to debate, but rather to make a point: All believers are not responsible for the actions of a few, in the same way Sorbet is correct that all atheists are not responsible for the actions of a few. Maybe accepting that is the place to start.

  54. Anthony McCarthy

    even though all religions, in my view, are largely based on delusions.”

    I’m going to shock some people by agreeing that large parts of religion are based on delusions. But so are large parts of all of human culture. Including large amounts of what get called science. I would exclude mathematics from that, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t something delusional about some aspect of it.

  55. Tom Johnson

    Or, for a less vitriolic but an equally broadbrushing example from Jerry Coyne:

    “Religious “moderates” are enablers of religious extremists.”

    The purpose of these statements is clear: people with a preconceived notion of religion lap this stuff up, with no consideration of the larger issue in mind. It’s playing to the sidelines, getting a rise out of the Peanut Gallery, getting a few more blog views. It’s literally the same tactics we’re seeing in the political arena with conservative shock-jocks decrying all liberals with a stereotypical broadbrush. A lot of people won’t like me saying that, but let’s face it: they’re doing the same thing.

  56. bilbo

    “All believers are not responsible for the actions of a few, in the same way Sorbet is correct that all atheists are not responsible for the actions of a few. Maybe accepting that is the place to start.”

    Bingo. That’s the same logic as saying that it’s every conservative’s fault when an abortion clinic is bombed. It’s the same logic as saying it was every liberal’s fault that Bill Clinton cheated on his wife in the White House. It’s the same logic as saying it’s all my fault the Steelers played a bad game because I’m a rabid Steelers fan. That’s silly, and it’s frankly terrible to see those who preach logic and reason using the old “guilt by association” fallacy to have to justify an argument.

    But we digress, right? What can we do to get dialogue going in this debate? Until we can stop that kind of purposeful broadbrushing (by both sides) – nothing.

  57. Tom, if part of the problem is faith itself, as Harris believes, then you’ll probably have a hard time finding that kind of emphasis. If the purpose of faith is in some sense to shut down arguments, and the crisis in contemporary democracies comes from a mass belief in the triviality of honest debate (South Park style), then I’m not sure the opportunities for cooperation will be easy to find. It would require exceptional leadership and extraordinary people. Sure enough, this fits Harris’ and Dawkins’ avowed project, i.e., to have people “raise their game”.

    The accommodationist would take these difficulties as an argument in his/her favor when they advocate a “baby steps” approach, which they might think of as admitting more opportunities for cooperation. But they do so at the risk of missing the broader goal, i.e., a culture of enlightenment, which is a common end for various progressive activists, and which (according to Harris) is threatened by faith itself. Without an appeal to some ideal like a reality-based community or culture of reason, there can be no lasting coherence within the base, no lasting solidarity, and hence no real power to do anything substantial at all.

    TB, I can see why you might suggest that, but to do that would be to set up a false dichotomy — or at least it wouldn’t be making the distinction on the basis of what people like the Four Horsemen believe. It might describe the attitude of internet trolls and Tom’s fiesty colleagues, but while they share anti-accommodationism in common with the movement atheists, they’re also a distinct subclass of their own.

    The way I set it up, I think I’m being fair to Chris’s perspective, as it has been publicly articulated in his rejoinders to Harris etc. But if we used your formulation, it wouldn’t be fair to Dawkins et al.

  58. TB

    @ 42. Sorbet
    “Tom, if you actually read Harris’s book carefully, you will notice he says that we need the moderates to criticize the fundamentalists more and be more visible. I think this is true of any human endeavor and it makes sense. Chris has also appealed to the moderates here to make their voice known; it’s true that if the moderates stay silent for too long, they do appear as tacitly endorsing what the more vocal proponents are saying.”

    That’s true, but we should also acknowledge that moderates have stood up against fundamentalism – in the Dover trial for example and in Iran recently. Of course, it’s less dangerous to do so in Dover than in Iran. I imagine it’s very chilling when you have to weigh the benefits of speaking out versus the safety of relatives in your home country if you do.

  59. Anthony McCarthy

    I can’t resist analyzing this passage.

    —– You would not raise your voice to say that prayer is useless, prayer is self-defeating, that while prayer might make you feel better while your child is suffering, that is no virtue.

    Dawkins forbid anyone might be comforted while their child is suffering. I wonder if he would say the same thing if was the result of Rational Emotive Therapy or a prescription drug or a shot of whiskey taken neat on ice. I think given those alternatives, I might go with the prayer as the least likely to have unfortunate side effects.

    Exactly where does the lack of virtue arise? That the child isn’t going to be made better? A neighborly shoulder to cry on wouldn’t do that either, you saying that providing one carries no virtue?

    —- You pray yourselves.

    Gee, PZ, is it all right to say “I hope your kid recovers,” “maybe the test will turn out negative,” “let’s hope for the best,”?

    —- You think it is a noble and generous act for your representatives to prowl the corridors of hospitals,

    Is it all right if its one of the many hospitals founded and administered by a church or other religious entity? Or are they supposed to keep out of the corridors at those as well as public hospitals? And, uh, what if it was one of those instances where a religious institution provided free treatment for someone who didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford to pay? There are a heck of a lot of those instances in the United States, though many religious organizations have, in fact, pushed for national health insurance, many of them favor single payer.

    — preying on the desperation of the sick.

    Is that “preying” as in “praying” or “preying” as in “preying? How about if the “praying” is welcomed by the sick? Is that still “preying”?

    —- You abase yourselves before false hopes, and sacrifice human dignity on an altar built from the bones of the dead.

    You should be ticketed for purple prose.

    I’m interested in this “an altar built from the bones of the dead,” line in the context of medical practice. Considering how much of the training of doctors and what they’ve learned is gained from working on cadavers.

    What if the kid gets better? If they were in the hospital getting treated the prayer didn’t have anything to do with denial of treatment. What if the only result of the praying was that the parents and other loved ones felt better for a time and were able to cope better?

  60. Marion Delgado

    If New Atheists as a term is a sticking point, go with “Brights.”

    People like Dennett et al. coined it, so they can’t play a persecution game over terms if you use it.

    The pretend vapors over “New Atheists” is the least convincing part of the entire dispute.

  61. Sorbet

    -I’m confused, Sorbet.
    I know.
    Go look.

    -the blanket sterotyping
    Thanks for describing your essential feature.

  62. Anthony McCarthy

    I’m also wondering. If they were able to do a legitimate prayer study (which I doubt can be done) and it showed a statistically significant number of the “prayed over” had a better outcome, wouldn’t you have to retract your condemnation of prayer? Not that I’m really expecting hell to freeze over at any point.

  63. Sorbet

    -I’m going to shock some people by agreeing that large parts of religion are based on delusions. But so are large parts of all of human culture. Including large amounts of what get called science.

    Absolutely true. I would go further and say that absolutely EVERYTHING, including every single comment on this blog, is based on a delusion. In fact I would argue that your view that everything is based on delusions is itself based on a delusion.

  64. Sorbet

    -wouldn’t you have to retract your condemnation of prayer?

    I would indeed if it was statistically significant and repeatable in controlled experiments. I would also retract my objections to astrology and homeopathy if these were also demonstrated to be statistically significant by rigorous testing. So would most sensible scientists.

  65. Anthony McCarthy

    “Brights.”

    I can’t say it without being sarcastic. Anyone who could come up with that idea could think they were doing something bright have provided the terms refutation in the act of suggesting the name.

    -the blanket sterotyping
    Thanks for describing your essential feature. Sorbet

    No, I’m only doing what I have always said I would, applying the new atheist code of conduct to them in order to avoid accepting a double standard. If they didn’t do it I wouldn’t make statements in that form about new atheists. Not least, for the reason they wouldn’t apply anymore. But as I said above, I’m not expecting ice in hell any day soon.

  66. Sorbet

    Anthony McCarthy is an exquisitely crafted example of the kind of dialogue that Chris deems harmful to the debate. He has indulged in blanket stereotyping an infinite number of times and simply assumes that the other side is not going to be conciliatory. Then when shown evidence of reconciliation he ignores it and says that the other side is talking out of both sides of its mouth. There is no better specimen of the kind of divisive attitudes that Chris described in his post.

  67. Sorbet

    -No, I’m only doing what I have always said I would, applying the new atheist code of conduct to them in order to avoid accepting a double standard
    Good effort! Although I hope you know that you cannot help but indulge in a double standard, don’t you?

  68. ponderingfool

    At the end of the day the new atheists as I read them want no special treatment of religion. Bill Maher and Jenny McCarthy get ripped to shreds for their crazy anti-scientific beliefs against vaccines then anti-scientific beliefs based on religion should also be ripped apart. Equal treatment regardless if religion is involved and no favoring of mainstream Christianity over other faiths. Should biologists hold back on criticism of Pope Pius XII’s doctrine that modern humans have a single individual as an ancestor (Adam) and not an ancestral population? The very act of questioning to some is uncivil and insulting to some Catholics (others welcome the questions) as it calls into question their very religious beliefs as according to Pius XII the individual Adam is required for original sin (I know other faiths have different views but that is not the position of the Catholic Church). The position of the “new atheists” is not to hold back even it means upsetting Catholics who generally are supportive of evolution overall.

    Broadbrushes are used by everyone. Chris in addressing criticism of Unscientific America focussed on certain critics and labeled them as on the extreme & representative of all the critics, while not spending time addressing the issues Dr. Free Ride, The Mad Biologist, etc. brought up. The writers of SuperFreakonomics have done the same. It is a good communication strategy. It is the same of calling Fox News Faux News. Larry Moran does the same when he talks about supporters of the three domain hypothesis. It is framing and it works. Should we ideally rise above it? Yes. Not easy to do. Everyone mentioned is stakeholder in a certain viewpoint which they view as important.

    My understanding from the reading Chris Mooney’s writings is that with regards to human caused dramatic climate change we are running out of time to act and we don’t have time to educate. We need to get people motivated to act now and the best way to achieve that is by framing. Nisbet on what framing is:”That’s the power and influence of framing when it resonates with an individual’s social identity. It plays on human nature by allowing a citizen to make up their minds in the absence of knowledge, and importantly, to articulate an opinion. It’s definitely not the scientific or democratic ideal, but it’s how things work in society.”

    As Dr. FreeRide noted people have different goals. With that comes different strategies. I appreciate the differences. Pragmatists and idealists. You need the former to get things done and the latter to challenge the pragmatists to try for more. Too many idealists rallying around a pragmatist gets you the Democrats’ approach to health care.

  69. Anthony McCarthy

    — I would go further and say that absolutely EVERYTHING, including every single comment on this blog, is based on a delusion. In fact I would argue that your view that everything is based on delusions is itself based on a delusion. Sorbet

    You mean you don’t accept the integrity of mathematics? And they’re so careful to get it right. I didn’t say that everything is based on delusions so you are, as often, misquoting me. Only “large parts” of human culture are based on delusions.

  70. Anthony McCarthy

    Ponderingfool, if you think that Catholics have refrained from criticizing Pius XII, XI, X, or IX, you aren’t very familiar with modern Catholics. They’ve also been critical of all the other popes of the recent centuries, even John Paul I. You might want to read Fr. Richard McBrien’s book The Popes. Or more salaciously, La Popessa a biography of Pius XII’s “housekeeper” who was practically a co-pope. You might want to concentrate on his career in Germany which is a lot more scandalous than Adam’s rib.

    I was in Sunday school during the last part of Pius XII’s reign, I remember discussing evolution as a fact with nuns in full habit.

  71. ponderingfool

    Anthony the position of the Catholic Church is still one of Adam as the sole ancestor. Catholics being critical of the Pope and the Church I know full well, hence the use of SOME Catholics get upset with the questioning of the Church. I know Catholics who are pro-choice, doesn’t make the Catholic Church pro-choice. I know Mormons that are not concerned about legal same-sex marriages., doesn’t mean the Church of Latter Day Saints is not opposed to same-sex marriages (even though the LDS Church already views legal marriages to be different from Church sealed ones).

  72. Tom Johnson

    “Broadbrushes are used by everyone. It is a good communication strategy.”

    Exactly. So is hyperbole. But neither necessarily reflect reality.

    If accommodationism is the vitally important issue both sides are making it out to be, don’t you think it deserves a candid discussion of the facts of the matter and not whichever unrealistic broadbrush suits the current moment?

  73. ponderingfool

    If accommodationism is the vitally important issue both sides are making it out to be, don’t you think it deserves a candid discussion of the facts of the matter and not whichever unrealistic broadbrush suits the current moment?
    ***********
    Hey I agree but is that an effective communication strategy? Depends on the desired outcome and timeframe. Long-term probably that is best. Short-term, best to go with the cognitive shortcuts to get people to “make up their minds in the absence of knowledge, and importantly, to articulate an opinion. It’s definitely not the scientific or democratic ideal, but it’s how things work in society.”

  74. Tom Johnson

    No offense to you, ponderingfool, but I’m not sure if ‘cognitive shortcuts’ are the way to go when discussing how we can change how people think about big issues. That should hold especially true in an issue like this, where it’s pretty clear that such shortcuts on both sides have only muddied the waters.

  75. ponderingfool

    Tom I agree the main problem with framing is that you can get into a muddled situation if both sides are framing well that waters are muddled for the masses and the competing interests are more entrenched than before. The problem is if you are the one to pull out first from framing, you may loose. Once you start going down that path it is hard to pull-out. Why is Chris debating the Coynes, PZs, etc. of the world and not the Dr. Free Rides and Mad Biologists? Wouldn’t that have raised the level of debate above vitriolic exchanges? I would think so.

  76. Luke Vogel

    I just got settled back in after a fairly insane day. Pretty interesting conversation so far, I was hoping to have a post up about defining and defending “accomodationism”, but that’s the way it goes. Maybe later or tomorrow (I know, right, who cares).

    I like that there’s not only questions of what is “accomodationism”, its possible worth and evidences for claims, but also comments concerning the term “new atheism” and how it’s applied.

    *Jason Rosenhouse*,

    Great post. Right to the point, well presented and concise. Recently I’ve alluded to what I think is part of a larger problem, though not with that specific blunder (thank you for bringing that to our attention). That is clearly a mistake (if verified, which I’m guessing it will be after I take a look myself), to me it’s fairly careless – but more than that it works to besmirch someone for the sake of an argument over what is supposed to be about honest discourse and concern for scientific literacy. This goes back to what I highlighted several times just in the past few days, you can *not* trivialize this situation and act like these are stupid people undeserving of their reputation (done even while recognizing their influence, which is partly the cause for the concern and critique). It is the type of thing you call the guy up and say, hey, I’m sorry. Then, stop doing it.

    You see, even though the argument is worth presenting and can be defended in the broader scope of scientific literacy, public concern and rational discourse, it non-the-less fails a valuable test of a certainly level of rigorousness and appears dishonest. I hope to someone who’s read my comments (at least more than a couple) that that may appear to be a familiar concern of mine leading to an argument I’ve made.

    However, I still support Chris and Sheril, and I think that not only is there an argument to be made and reason to make it – however ignoring what are obviously sincere concerns by others then complain of misrepresentation will not cut it, it’s something I can not defend by anyone.

    I will say again, Chris and Sheril are obviously under a fairly intense microscope (rightly, and wrongly in some cases – but when it comes to this particular debate, it’s going to happen – be thankful Chris and Sheril, you have everyone’s attention). There are areas where I think a double standard is applied and petty complaints are being blown out of proportion. In that way, there has clearly, in my opinion, been misrepresentation. I’ll outline a what I think are important ones later, but we can see something like the dialogue that Sean Carroll came on board with that not having a clear understanding leads to reading past the argument and misrepresentation. The problem then is what Jerry Coyne and others have outlined, which is, what is the extent of the argument – this has lead to others, including Coyne and Blackford to define the lines of debate. A grave failure of foresight in my opinion.

    This stuff matters and it cuts both ways. I recall quite clearly my concerns about there fairly terrible misquoting of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and others by Jonathan Miller in his “Brief History of Disbelief”, Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion and by others as well. The misquoting is done to forward and argument, and what it very unfortunate is the source material is readily available, but there has become what appears to be a “file drawer effect” taking place for many “atheist” website’s an other materials now.

    As an example, Richard in TGD [pg. 43] has John Adams saying; “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”

    That sounds very forceful, and in fact Adams did say, but the quote is wildly out of context. The problem here, as in those from Miller, is that it’s unnecessary. There was an argument to be made, the clear sourse material is available, there’s little excuse to be made.

    This is a textbook example. The full quote by Adams of course is:

    >”Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!!’ But in this exclamation, I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in public company—I mean hell.”"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”<

    I may return to this stuff later. This is not an exercise in gotcha or making something bigger than it needs to be (though, little attention was paid to these and if you Google the quotes, it is a mess of self-referencing, even wikipedia references Miller's series). It is about honest discourse and further to what means we take for our goals.

    I'm glad Ophelia Benson's questions have been posted here. They are from July, 2009 [see post #30 - foolfodder]. Something asked which leads to the Daily Kos (question 7) conversation is part of a larger concern of mine. However, Ophelia overstates her case, she says; "You admitted on Daily Kos that you got Dawkins wrong in your book. Are you thoroughly confident that you haven't made other such mistakes, in the book and on your blog?" What Ophelia is referring to is an exchange where Chris responds directly to PZ Myers [by ChrisMooney on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 01:35:59 PM PDT]. What did he admit to getting wrong? Well, Chris restates the error and correction on this thread, Chris Mooney post #36. However, Ophelia underlining concern expressed in her question within question #7 are valid and part of my concerns as well.

    However, the part that concerns me is not corrected nor should be, in fact, I can't tell if Ophelia understands the context of the argument. Especially considering her comments elsewhere. What is PZ actually trying to correct in his Kos post. Well, it's the generalization, assigning to others what is not their argument. In this case Chris statement of; "New Atheists often seek to collapse the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism." This problem has been most recently been expressed by Massimo Pigliucci and created a small smattering of responses, though I haven't seen a response from PZ, I would be interested to see his thinking on this if anyone can point me in the right direction. Of course, later in that same Kos conversation PZ jumps in to say to Chris: "If it is totally not worth fighting over, then why does your book do a hatchet job on atheists?" Hmmm.

    Enough for now (I know, right, who gives a flying f**k)

  77. MadScientist

    “Does the question make sense?” is the first question to answer, and I believe the answer is “no”. What gap is there to bridge, and what comes of bridging such a gap? There are many things which are just not worth doing.

  78. Anthony McCarthy

    Anthony the position of the Catholic Church is still one of Adam as the sole ancestor.

    I haven’t read anything about this question since the 1970s, when Paul IV was certainly not pushing that line.

    From the confusing things online, many of them prominently by ultra-conservative Catholic organizations that I wouldn’t consider reliable, it’s like a lot of “official” Catholic positions, very complex and very confusing. And I’m not surprised if this latest Pope is trying to move the calendar backward, it’s what he does.

    I did read an article about Fr. George Coyne (ironic, huh) being sacked from the Papal Observatory for publicly disagreeing with some Vatican big wig on the topic of ID, which will show you that there isn’t any one “Catholic” position.

    I was never taught that Adam and Eve were more than an allegorical explanation by pre-scientific people of how the human species began. I was never told that Genesis was literally true, neither history nor science when I was growing up as a Catholic. There might have been others who were but in my parish in Maine we were never taught that. I’ve never heard of ID being taught in a science classroom in a Catholic school and I’d be surprised if it would be, though I have no doubt that something like that might be taught in a religion class, which is an entirely different matter.

    I’d always figured that I didn’t freak out when I found out about evolution because religion had never been presented to me as being in conflict with it, not even in the 50s or 6os.

    You have any stories about the suppression of scientific evolution at Catholic universities? Because I’ve never heard of that happening and there would be a huge row if it was tried.

    If you don’t think that Catholics criticize the Pope or that there is any one “Catholic” position, you should read this recent column by James Carroll.

    That respectful mutuality is now betrayed, but only partly so. The affirmative spirit lives on outside the Catholic Church – notably among Canterbury’s affiliates – but it is alive inside Catholicism, too. Nothing defines the ongoing triumph of Vatican II more clearly than the way the Catholic people – who are the church – are taking this latest demonstration of the Vatican’s rampant fallibility. Rome has spoken. Now, let the conversation begin.

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/10/26/from_vatican_a_tainted_olive_branch/

  79. Luke Vogel

    Wow, I just wrote a fairly long post and I think it’s in moderation, though I’m hoping it’s making its way to hell. I had saved what I wrote on notepad in case my computer sucked the life out of everything before posting, and let me tell ya, I really need to start proof reading. If you do decide to read it, I apologize. It would take five minutes to straighten it out, but reposting that monster seems crazy. What a day….

  80. Sorbet

    -You mean you don’t accept the integrity of mathematics?
    Quantum mechanics indicates that reality is observer-created. Therefore everything in a way is a delusion. Therefore I don’t regard science and religion to be that different as both depend on the imagination of the protagonist.

  81. Tom Johnson

    “What gap is there to bridge?”

    Well, for starters….

    Chris Mooney: “In the real world, it is vastly more important to build bridges with those who might be different from ourselves so as to achieve shared goals, than to score intellectual points when only a small and relatively homogenous intellectual group is even keeping track of those points.”

    PZ Myers: “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before (religion)…Those people can just fuck off.

    I would consider that a slight gap. (And yes, I know Chris and PZ aren’t the only “big” names on either side. This is an example only, for effect.)

    “What comes of bridging such a gap? There are many things which are just not worth doing.”

    Well, we have 2 sides – one saying we should work with the religious, the other telling the religious to fuck off – and both sides are representing science advocacy (one of them is even a practicing scientist!). From the simple standpoint of someone on the outside looking in, seeing infighting about something that’s as mindnumbingly correct as scientific knowledge is fairly pathetic for us all. And “not worth doing?” Really? Does that even need an explanation?

  82. bob

    So … no actual replies to Jason Rosenhouse’s points, then? I guess pointing out how Mooney blatantly misrepresented *someone else* somehow counts as misrepresenting *him*. Interesting.

    If only Jason’s tone were better, we might hear from Reverend Mooney again. Unfortunately, I don’t think he actually meant that “tone” is a problem, rather “people not agreeing with me.”

  83. bilbo

    Forgive me if I’m mistaken, bob, but it sounded a lot like Jason was arguing over quite the triviality there, and one that probably doesn’t even garner a response because it’s so silly. In essence, he was saying:

    “You said that PZ said THIS about believers, but he really just meant some believers even though you said he meant all believers even though you never really said that you meant all believers and I just interpreted it that you meant all believers so I could come troll your blog post about something totally unrelated.

    So THERE! Your entire book sucks!”

    Seriously. Is it possible for grown men with Ph.D.s to not act like fifth-grade douchebags?

  84. Luke Vogel

    bob,

    >”So … no actual replies to Jason Rosenhouse’s points, then? I guess pointing out how Mooney blatantly misrepresented *someone else* somehow counts as misrepresenting *him*. Interesting.”<

    Actually, I did, in my long post which I think is still in moderation. I dumped my notepad version already. Mine is not the best written comment (I've had a very long day), but I cover a lot of ground and comment directly on Jason's post. I thank him for letting us know, and used it as an example to elaborate on points I've made the past few days. It's a sloppy blunder that Chris and Sheril made and even though they may not like how it's phrased, they, in my opinion owe PZ an apology.

    It was Sheril that called on PZ to apologize to Nisbet after Matt recommended PZ "lay low" with regards to Expelled (that Stein masterpiece). PZ turned around and said, F**k you, Matt. PZ not only didn't lay low, but ended up getting expelled from Expelled causing a minor publicity problem for the nasty piece of propaganda. Well, Sheril, Chris, it's time to apologize.

    I read my long post that's in moderation in notepad before dumping and made a few audible groans after seeing easy to spot mistakes, like a few missed words, a couple jumbled sentences etc. Ah well.

  85. bilbo

    Seriously, Luke and bob. Jason’s argument sounds like a “is that what you meant?!” argument my middle school girlfriend used to argue with me about. It’s an argument of minutae hinging on how Jason interpreted a quote. It’s ambiguously worded and open to interpretation, but hardly misrepresentative.

    And it hardly does anything to the credibility of that book. If NAs are going to get angry about getting their own silliness quoted back in another form of media, then they can stop spouting the silliness. It’s not hard.

  86. Luke Vogel

    Lets take a closer look, since we may anticipate a reply.

    Chris and Sheril wrote:

    >”The most outspoken New Atheists publicly eviscerate believers, call them delusional and irrational, (“demented fuckwits,&rquo;) as Myers put it in the Webster Cook case), and in some case do not spare more liberal religionists, or even more conciliatory fellow scientists and atheists from witherin denunciation.”"Norman Levitt was a great man, a leonine defender of science against the trendy pablum advanced under the guise of post-modern critique. This defense was most famously advanced in Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, co-authored with the indomitable Paul Gross.”<

    I'd also recommend Mike Shermer's: "Farewell to Norman Jay Levitt (1943-2009)" over on SkepticBlog.

    Damn, another great one gone… Yay, we had a great one… Life is just to short for my liking, especially for people I like.

  87. Luke Vogel

    bilbo,

    >”Jason’s argument sounds like a “is that what you meant?!” argument my middle school girlfriend used to argue with me about. It’s an argument of minutae hinging on how Jason interpreted a quote. It’s ambiguously worded and open to interpretation, but hardly misrepresentative.”<

    Sorry, bilbo, I have to disagree. I have yet another post in moderation where I once again talk about it. So, I have two in moderation where I explain my position on Jason's post. I will say quickly that not only is Jason right in pointing it out, and the timing seems appropriate seeing we're talking about building bridges, but it's also important. It is something to face up to.

    Anyway, for more on my take , see or not see my other post after moderation. I'll post to say where they are.

  88. Chris, you can’t even offer an olive branch without finding a way to insult those you disagree with. And this olive branch is many months overdue.

    I and many of the other “New Atheists” often had little problem getting along with the “Accommodationists” and just agreeing to disagree. I personally think having both sides represented as well as a wide spectrum in between is beneficial to all our shared goals. The only time I’ve ever criticized the “Accommodationist” position in print was in response to your specific attacks on the “New Atheists,” which I regarded as misrepresenting our position, presenting your opinion as if it were fact, and effectively telling “New Atheists” to shut up. I have plenty of room in my philosophy to tolerate and accommodate the “Accommodationists.” But I honestly do not see the same willingness to tolerate the “New Atheists” by the “Accommodationists” or at least you, Chris, in particular.

    Despite your insistence that you’re not telling “New Atheists” to shut up, it seems as though that’s precisely what you’re saying. And while I certainly encourage harsher and more outspoken criticism of religion, I personally have no interest in telling the “Accommodationists” what to do. I was a regular reader of this blog prior to your emphasis on this issue and I never objected to what you were doing or how you were doing it. But I felt personally slighted when you made such a big deal out of attacking the “New Atheists.” And that easily could have been avoided with rational discourse instead of childish name-calling that seems to have originated with the now notorious chapter in your book.

    So if you’re really serious about ending this unnecessary feud, in which you personally helped escalate, I’m more than willing to move on. But if you’re just going to use this as an excuse to blame the feud on those darned, irrational and uncompromising “New Atheists,” it does nobody any good and only benefits our common enemies.

  89. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Quantum mechanics indicates that reality is observer-created. Sorbet

    I know, I posted a long quote here from Eddington that made that point last month. It was part of an argument about the fact that it’s impossible for us to escape relying on our personal experience, as I recall. Which this fact makes an inescapable conclusion. It’s funny but I don’t remember you being very happy with this the other week, here.

    — Therefore everything in a way is a delusion. Sorbet

    You have an idiosyncratic way of defining “delusion”. Which I think gillt was accusing one of your opponents here of the other day. You might want to consult a reliable dictionary as a belief has to be false in order to be delusional. In light of your first sentence, that should be “apparently false”.

    — Therefore I don’t regard science and religion to be that different as both depend on the imagination of the protagonist.

    Why, Sorbet, you’re sounding almost like a religious liberal. You leave out one big difference, though. Science can only deal with the physical universe. It’s not able to deal with anything else or it ceases to be scientific. Its methods include being exclusive of anything but its intended subject matter. While it’s tempting to point out that the exclusive reliance on the methods of science would lead to cutting out other possibilities and result in an inescapable materialism that isn’t necessarily correct, I don’t want to try the patience of anyone else. Only, the self-imposed blinders might, possibly, lead such a materialist to refuse to acknowledge other people had the right to set their own field of consideration to include their personal experience, history, and other parts of human life.

  90. magistramorous

    @ 77. Sorbet:
    1. It’s no longer widely believed that expectations control the outcome of quantum mechanics experiments, so it would be a stretch to say this science shows that reality is “observer-created.” Check out the philosopher’s comments on the film “What the Bleep do we Know” in the bonus features section for more info. He says that quantum physicists have moved away from the consciousness-causes-outcome paradigm and have embraced a more mechanistic one. And, even if you count, say, double-slit experiment results as observer-created reality, that doesn’t mean that all reality is observer-created.
    2. If everything is a delusion, then really nothing is a delusion. :)

  91. Bruce Gorton

    bilbo Says:
    October 28th, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Jason’s quote clearly demonstrates that PZ Myers was talking about specific religious fanatics who were engaged in specific behaviour while Mooney made it look like PZ was talking about all religious people.

    There is a huge difference between the two.

    And it raises a serious issue with Chris’ book that has been brought up more than once – that it just doesn’t pass muster on the basic facts, and was overall derailed by character assassination. It is a running theme in the reviews of the book that it is light on its research and undermined by the chapter on the new atheists – which appears to be more sour grapes than anything.

    What is worse is it actually casts doubt on his previous book on the anti-science positions of the Republican Party. That book was an attack book, and the “attack” in this latest one falls apart on investigation. How much of that book was wrong, but got past our critical thinking facilties because we agreed with it? It is a painful question to ask.

  92. Bruce Gorton

    TB Says:
    October 28th, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Not quite. PZ quite clearly points out that moderate Christians would still encourage prayer as a means of directly appealing to God – which, no matter how moderate the church, is a part of the religion so they pretty clearly would.

    The overall post is a criticism of the Christian belief in prayer – which he holds in extreme cases leads to people taking prayer instead of medicine. The exact same criticism is frequently applied to practitioners of homeopathy – which though harmless (It is water after all) can lead to people drinking the water rather than taking the medicine they actually need.

    Moderate believers in homeopathy will say “But it is complementary medicine, you are supposed to take it with the medicine” but you will always get people who end up doing it instead – mainly because chemo, for example, has pretty nasty side effects.

  93. magistramorous

    @ 54. Anthony McCarthy: You bring up a good point. Perhaps it’s not enough to object to something purely on the basis that it’s a delusion. Some delusions might be helpful in some way(s). Still, I can’t help but think about the economic delusions that people had and the crisis they led us to. Sure, people were very happy for a while, seeing their homes, stocks, etc. go up in value, but, as we’ve all learned, it’s better, in this case at least, to not be delusional. If only people hadn’t assumed the good times would last forever, they would have saved for the rainy day that everyone, deep down inside, knew would eventually come and we’d all be better off today.

  94. Bruce Gorton

    Tom Johnson Says:
    October 28th, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Talking about misrepresentations…

    If anybody is interested here is the article that quote was mined from.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/a_little_sympathy_for_the_snoo.php

    The edifice he is talking about is actually Ken Ham’s Creation Museum – not religion.

  95. Tristan Croll

    What PZ wrote:

    “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before a grandiose monument to lies, an institution that is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and ultimately anti-human, in a place where children are being actively miseducated, an edifice dedicated to an abiding intellectual evil, and choose to complain about how those ghastly atheists are ruining everything.

    Those people can just fuck off.”

    What Tom Johnson chose to quote:

    “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before (religion)…Those people can just fuck off.”

    Tom, you may not have deserved everything that was said with regards to the anecdote that was posted the other day, but you sure as hell deserve all the invective that’s coming your way when people wake up and read that little gem.

    With that, you’ve demonstrated clearly that you are not a person to be trusted. And you claim to be a scientist? You, sir, disgust me.

  96. Bloody hell, Bruce, that is quite staggering.
    Tom, have you taken that PZ quote second hand from somewhere else, for instance a creationist site, because it really looks like someone has simple replaced the section about the creation museum with the single word (religion). There’s no way this was an innocent mistake. To call it a misrepresentation or even a quote mine is being charitable.
    Look at what you wrote
    Tom Johnson, October 28th, 2009 at 10:25 pm, quoting PZ Myers:
    “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before (religion)…Those people can just fuck off.”
    Now look at the original, unaltered statement from PZ Myers:
    “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before a grandiose monument to lies, an institution that is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and ultimately anti-human, in a place where children are being actively miseducated, an edifice dedicated to an abiding intellectual evil, and choose to complain about how those ghastly atheists are ruining everything.
    Those people can just fuck off.”
    I think we deserve an explanation.

  97. Tom Johnson

    Apologies for the PZ quote. You’re absolutely correct – it would help if I read things in context.

    That said, however, I could easily substitute any number of quotes where PZ is bashing religion as a whole (which was the intent of my original post). It’s no secret what his opinion his.

    Again, my sincerist apologies for misusing that quote. Since this is a post about building bridges, I hope I can expect some maturity and reciprocation from the other side…

  98. Sorbet

    Anthony, I would argue that science is just another way of explaining the world, just like religion. Fundamentally there’s not much difference between the two. Therefore religious explanations should be taken as seriously as scientific ones.

  99. Tom, just to clarify things here, are you saying that the quote is not second-hand?
    In other words that it was you who replaced the section about the creation museum with “(religion)”?

  100. Tom Johnson

    Anyone else notice that, although Jason posted a select couple of sentences from PZs “cracker” post that seems to make Chris and Sheril clearly look stupid, when you actually read the whole post in context, “demented fuckwits” comes after a long, rambling, hard-to-follow diatribe against not just death threat hurlers but: 1.) local Catholics, 2.) a local priest, 3.) Bill Donohue, 4.) John Hitt, and 4.) Catholics, in general. There are clearly two ways to read into that post, and it’s really inconsequential and hair-splitting in the end to argue.

    Why? Because right after he uses “demented fuckwits,” PZ calls religion “a culture of deluded lunatics.” Chris and Sheril misrepresenting a position? Really? Even if Jason is right, they were a little too general, but they’ve hardly misrepresented a psoition here.

    No/

  101. Tom Johnson

    Sigmund,

    ‘Twas a second-hand quote from another blog that I failed to follow-up by checking PZs “real” post in context. Again – my apologies. And again – I could easily replace that with another, in-context PZ quote and my original point would stand.

  102. Luke Vogel

    Ok, it appears two of moderated comments have been posted (not that anyone gives a rats ass, but…) and since they end up falling fairly far back in the list I’ll point the way. Post # 86, which is mainly on Jason’s post, and my much longer # 76, where I take a crack at “both” sides.

    What is a bit disappointing is that I’ve yet to start doing what I found as a challenge by Chris and Sheril to do and what my quote from Chris alludes to. In other words, do to no fault of the “new atheist(m)” there’s been little progress made to move forward.

    Something that tends to bother me is in post to which I start out with the ideas that are quoted by Chris in the initial blogpost I made quite clear that perspective needs to be maintained. That certain important aspect must be kept in mind.

    I listed several of these – (1) including the idea that “new atheist” are making claims of progress, (2) that there are many that are new and want to speak out (Chris should be very attuned to this seeing he was an aggressively vocal young lad out to change the world with “atheism”), (3) we must approach this with something closer to surgical precision than a hatchet job (without resorting to pettiness (as “new atheist” have mastered, speaking to generally I know, don’t gasp and hit that keyboard), (4) we are speaking directly with extremely intelligent people and when it comes to Dawkins, Coyne, PZ etc. that means intelligent, thoughtful, caring professionals with experience in debate (5) Chris and Sheril are and will be placed under an intense microscope in criticism (6) and extremely importantly is to keep in mind that we do in fact share 95% of our intellectual DNA with “new atheism” which should at times help with perspective.

    That last one goes for the religious amongst us also since our primary concern here is fostering science and reason (generally speaking). And that’s no small thing, in many ways the way the “accomodationist” sees this is much larger than the “new atheist” approach (which has primarily focused, for obvious reason, on “atheistic” advocacy, religion and a only limited scope of scientific domains). In this respect we share a great deal with Harris’ reason project, to see past “atheistic” advocacy and to foster reason and scientific literacy, though we are looking at the broader societal concerns in many respects and in doing so wish to cultivate rigorous across the board cooperation. Which in my opinion demands some accommodation and rightful activism.

    We must move with greater foresight and with increased sensibility to the fact certain cultural barriers are in place (very much including religious) that are profoundly unhelpful, to break them we are applying more then Lawrence Krauss’ “sciensualism”, though that can help, but it’s just to damn hard to say – or like Kurtz’s, “eupraxsophy”, yes, nice idea but.., we are in essence saying we want it both ways, but want to openly recognize “a right time and place, with the right attitude” approach at times. This is misrepresented as being dishonest and fosters a gag order, this is not true and a terribly sophomoric interpretation. Will mistakes be made, sure, does anyone have all the right answers, no.

  103. Which blog?
    I can’t find it the usual way, by pasting the phrase in quotes into google.
    I believe you Tom, but its best to clear up the ambiguities for others reading this post who might otherwise come to the wrong conclusion.
    Just post a link to where you found the original, disgracefully malicious, quote.

  104. Anthony McCarthy

    — “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before (religion)…Those people can just fuck off.” Tristan Croll

    I have zero sympathy for people who distort what other people say and lie about them having said it. There’s nothing intelligent about doing that, though it seems to work with a lot of the new atheists just like it does for the lower levels of the creationist cult.

  105. Anthony McCarthy

    — I would argue that science is just another way of explaining the world, just like religion. Fundamentally there’s not much difference between the two. Therefore religious explanations should be taken as seriously as scientific ones. Sorbet

    Ignoring that science is restricted to the material universe that it can study, whereas religion, taken as if it was all one thing, isn’t restricted in that way, is no way to proceed. The conclusions reached in may cases by religion won’t be the same kinds of conclusions that science reaches, there’s no reason to think they will be. That’s one of the reasons that there has to be a wall of separation between church and state but that there shouldn’t be one between science and state.

  106. Tom Johnson

    Sorbet, Luke Vogel, gillt, Sven DiMilo, Constant Mews, Bruce Gorton, disappointed..again, Jason Rosenhouse, Russell Blackford, Sigmund, Matt Penfold, and others:

    Since all of you exhibited such seemingly-genuine, great concern over Chris’s posting of my anecdote as an “exhibit” in this debate, you’ve got another chance to voice it. Jerry Coyne has a post here using similar anecdotal claims about the efficacy of New Atheism (for you titillation, he even uses the word “exhibit”.) If your interest is really in holding this debate to the highest possible evidentiary standards (regardless of position), I’ll be expecting you to go criticize Jerry for stooping to Chris’s level and posting this. If your interest was expressly in furthering a personal vendetta against Chris and trying to gain points for your “side”, then I’ll expect you to not. Call me petty, but I’ll be interested in seeing which (if any) of you actually do, especially after hearing so many of you talk about how you only care “about the evidence.”

    Since this post is all about building bridges, holding both sides accountable to the same empirical standards (and not letting those standards wax and wane on a person-to-person basis) would be an excellent place to start. I hope you’ll prove that your interest in this is based on evidence and not simply personal vendetta.

  107. Tom Johnson

    “I believe you Tom, but its best to clear up the ambiguities for others reading this post who might otherwise come to the wrong conclusion.”

    Two apologies from me should be more than enough to clear up the ambiguities for others reading this post. It’s done, Sigmund. I made a mistake by posting a second-hand quote without checking its original source (there’s a third!). Grow up.

  108. Tom, why the invective?
    I said I believed you!
    Throwing insults around at those of us who are on your side is only going to make people more suspicious.
    Just post the link to the blog you got the malicious quote from and put this matter to rest, once and for all.

  109. Luke Vogel

    Tom Johnson, @108

    >”Luke Vogel [snip] Since all of you exhibited such seemingly-genuine, great concern over Chris’s posting of my anecdote as an “exhibit” in this debate, you’ve got another chance to voice it. Jerry Coyne has a post here using similar anecdotal claims about the efficacy of New Atheism (for you titillation, he even uses the word “exhibit”.) If your interest is really in holding this debate to the highest possible evidentiary standards (regardless of position), I’ll be expecting you to go criticize Jerry for stooping to Chris’s level and posting this.”<

    Tom, let me say this again, and I mean this with all my heart. I am an "accomodationist", I would like at some point to actually outline the definitions and defenses which I said I would so, but other things are coming up. I am also a harsh critic of certain "new atheism" approaches, I try not to broad brush (I've explained myself fairly clearly here, or tried to, I want to more in an actual two part response to what Chris quoted me as saying). There is little doubt all of share us many goals in common and to me the debates are far to "gotcha" and painted black and white.

    However, that post by Jerry Coyne no way reflects my criticism of what happened with your quote. I am almost sorry to have to say that. He has been given permission to share a personal correspondence, something he highlights right up front. In fact, what you're doing is exactly what came up in the other threads, we are seeing a conversation story. I had criticized that tactic and pointed exclusively to this happening with regards to Chris' mistakenly taking an anonymous comment from a blog as Exhibit A when it was *no* such thing. The distinctions are clear, and I think you trivialize the situation now by forwarding that argument.

    There are in fact a few things said in Coyne's piece which I think could be criticized, but I knew and got (even the other threads) the conversion stories ( a tactic mastered and loved by religious, and the more fundamentalist the more they parade the conversion stories). You see what's happened, as I nearly predicted, "we" came out once again looking like the negative, pointing our fingers without openly acknowledging the faults in the approach, and Coyne turns around sharing a very positive story personal story shared in a personal exchange about someone leaving dogma behind and accepting scientific understanding, trying to become scientifically literate. Damnit Tom, don't you get it!!

  110. bob

    Tom Johnson’s sorta mea culpa at #98 nicely demonstrates the problem here. “I guess I was technically completely wrong, but I still had a point! Don’t be mean to me, even though I blatantly cherry-picked something out of context to prove my point and make someone look terrible. Also, I can’t be bothered to actually find real evidence to support my point, since I find it self-evident and you should too.”

    Nicely done, pal. Exactly like what Mooney does … all the problems with his book can be chalked up to: (i) people misrepresenting it, (ii) people not liking it, or (iii) people having bad tones. What a farce.

  111. Luke Vogel

    Sorry, my last post, #110, was actually a response to Tom’s post #107. Sorry, Tom. I think many of us will have to agree to disagree, but going from being sloppy (referring to the Intersection Exhibit A blog post) to the ridiculous certainly doesn’t help.

  112. gillt

    Tom: “That said, however, I could easily substitute any number of quotes where PZ is bashing religion as a whole (which was the intent of my original post). It’s no secret what his opinion his.”

    Promises, promises. If it’s so easy then why didn’t you come up with the quotes yourself the first time since you’re so positive PZ said what you say he did? After borrowing someone else’s words to make your points for you and being shown they were wrong, don’t you think you should do the decent thing and hunt down your own quotes since you’re still sticking to your guns?

    One commenter said: “What is worse is it actually casts doubt on his previous book on the anti-science positions of the Republican Party. That book was an attack book, and the “attack” in this latest one falls apart on investigation. How much of that book was wrong, but got past our critical thinking facilties because we agreed with it? It is a painful question to ask.”

    I worry about this too. I nodded in agreement all the way through the breezy Republican War on Science. Wondering whether my preconceived liberal scientist notions hindered healthy skepticism is a blow to the ego.

  113. TB

    No replies to Rosenhouse?

    @ 53.: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/10/28/what-would-bridge-the-nasty-new-atheistaccommodationist-divide/#comment-34496

    Bilbo at 85. is exactly right.

    And 93. Bruce Gorton, I absolutely, 100% disagree with you that anyone who prays is also justifying the actions of someone who chooses to pray rather than get their kid to a doctor.

  114. TB

    @ 110. Luke Vogel Says:

    “Tom, let me say this again, and I mean this with all my heart. I am an “accomodationist”, ”

    No offense, but I’m not entirely sure what your opinion is. It’s kind of all over the place.

  115. Anthony McCarthy

    There comes a time in the never ending demands of the new atheist trolls where you have to just face the fact that one of their tactics is to waste your time with repetition. It’s hard to leave their lies unanswered and their regurgitation of stuff you’d already answered without a response but eventually you have to because, face it, if they had more to work with they’d use that.

    Next someone will tell me I should take my own advice, which I already know I should.

  116. Anthony McCarthy

    — Bruce Gorton, I absolutely, 100% disagree with you that anyone who prays is also justifying the actions of someone who chooses to pray rather than get their kid to a doctor. TB

    You wonder why they don’t hold anyone who buys insurance responsible for those who are denied treatment because they don’t have insurance, or those who charge people who don’t have insurance. They’re enabling the present system in ways the majority of religious people who have made it a crime in many places for a parent to deprive their child of needed medical care don’t enable that.

  117. TB

    @ 107. Tom Johnson

    Doesn’t look like anyone has taken you up on it yet.

  118. Sorbet

    Anthony, I agree. I would argue that in principle, therefore, antibiotics and prayer are equally valid ways of treating the sick.

  119. gillt

    Tom: “(for you titillation, he even uses the word “exhibit”.)

    Was that a squeal of vindication?

    It appears Coyne is playing along in the general mocking of Mooney for using the word. In other words, I doubt the use of “exhibit” was meant to be taken literally, Tom.

  120. bob

    A tu quoque, then? That’s the best response from the Mooney sycophants? It’s not even a valid comparison, since Coyne obviously did it to mock Mooney’s use of anecdotes. (Nice work on missing that clear-as-day point, by the way. In fact, I have trouble believing that you honestly did miss it.)

  121. TB

    @ 121. bob

    From the commentors I saw when I looked, they weren’t taking it as a mocking post. They welcomed it, didn’t question and reflected how it mirrored their own experience. Very nice work missing that though.

  122. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Anthony, I agree. I would argue that in principle, therefore, antibiotics and prayer are equally valid ways of treating the sick. Sorbet

    I just got done writing a long response to another new atheist troll at another blog about their tactic of altering what their opponents say because they can’t refute what they actually did say.

    Quote me saying that prayer was treatment of sickness.

    I’ve got to start collecting these to document patterns and compare to other species of fundamentalists.

    I know the other day when someone said “tu quoque” that some new atheist troll would look it up and repeat it, inappropriately.

  123. Tom Johnson

    “@ 107. Tom Johnson

    Doesn’t look like anyone has taken you up on it yet.”

    I figured as much, TB. I’ve seen a few rambling justifications of why Jerry Coyne gets a free pass on anecdotes while Chris gets treated like a criminal, though. That, at least, is something you can bank on: tribalism.

    It only supports what I had an inkling of the other day – the uproar was less about evidence and more about some twisted vendetta against Mooney.

  124. Anthony McCarthy

    —- since Coyne obviously did it to mock Mooney’s use of anecdotes bob

    I know this one too, it’s the “everyone knew it was satire,” ruse.

  125. bilbo

    I notice after his angry, scolding rebuke to Chris the other day about the use of an anecdote, Russell Blackford is offering glowing praise in support of Jerry Coyne doing, literally, the exact same thing. Why would someone who touts their use of logic and reason contradict their standards like this, you ask? Because it’s fine to alter your empirical standards when you agree with someone!

    Screw objectivity. We’re fighting a culture war here! *facedesk*

  126. bob

    I’m out. I refuse to get dragged down by McCarthy’s ignorance yet again. This was a textbook tu quoque, you dolt. The charge was: “Mooney did something wrong.” The only response offered was: “New Atheists do it, too!” And, as for your second idiotic comment, what about my response was a “ruse”? He called the post “Exhibit B” for crying out loud! How much clearer did you want him to be?

    You all have fun talking about how bad my tone is, m’kay?

  127. TB

    @ 127 bob

    “The only response offered was: “New Atheists do it, too!” ”

    No, actually the response was if Mooney did something wrong and was criticized for it, then those who are criticizing Mooney should be consistent and criticize Coyne as well.

    Personally, I really have no problem with either of them posting that stuff up on their blog. It’s a BLOG. So technically, tu quoque = no. However, if those who did the criticizing here aren’t also criticizing there, then hypocrisy = yes!

  128. TB

    @124 Tom

    Absolutely. I don’t even bother with the more obvious trolls.

  129. bilbo

    “Bruce Gorton, I absolutely, 100% disagree with you that anyone who prays is also justifying the actions of someone who chooses to pray rather than get their kid to a doctor.”

    Who knew that all I had to do to combat religious fundamentalism was b*tch at my science-loving, religious-moderate nurse of a grandmother?

    This New Atheism stuff is easy!!!

  130. Sorbet

    Only the delusional McCarthy could have a sense of logic that is so pathologically warped that it makes him believe that religious belief and scientific investigations are both “equivalent” delusions. This could only come from a man who has not actually done science for a day in his life since high school.

    P.S. If you did not realize it, the last few comments I was actually parodying you.

  131. Sorbet

    For those who want evidence of McCarthy’s ignorance about current research and his hubris in spite of this ignorance, take a look at the threads of July 17 and August 25 where clueless McCarthy spews forth on male promiscuity and exobiology. The reader can judge for himself McCarthy’s prattle-spit.

  132. Anthony McCarthy

    Maybe I should follow TB’s example and ignore the obvious trolls. Probably be good for my reputation. Trying to keep a straight face in light of the great “gigolo debate” was harder than trying to tease out some of the more obscure areas of scientific epistemology too.

  133. Anthony McCarthy

    But reading this at 131

    Only the delusional McCarthy could have a sense of logic that is so pathologically warped that it makes him believe that religious belief and scientific investigations are both “equivalent” delusions.

    I’ll repost this comment from further up the thread.

    106. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 8:55 am

    — I would argue that science is just another way of explaining the world, just like religion. Fundamentally there’s not much difference between the two. Therefore religious explanations should be taken as seriously as scientific ones. Sorbet

    Ignoring that science is restricted to the material universe that it can study, whereas religion, taken as if it was all one thing, isn’t restricted in that way, is no way to proceed. The conclusions reached in may cases by religion won’t be the same kinds of conclusions that science reaches, there’s no reason to think they will be. That’s one of the reasons that there has to be a wall of separation between church and state but that there shouldn’t be one between science and state.

  134. J.J.E.

    Chris, what would convince you that your position that “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar” strategy is wrong?

    The real problem in this debate is that the goals are not mutually exclusive if Chris is right. If Chris is right, that doesn’t argue for moderating the dialogue from the perspective of atheists, because their goal (when wearing their “new” atheist hats) isn’t to attract flies (i.e. promote evolution to the religious) but to offer a critique of religion and elevate atheists within society.

    On the other hand, if Chris is wrong, he not only fails at his own goal (by definition if Chris is wrong) but also hinders the critique of religion. Again, to use the civil rights movement analogy, the “attract more flies with honey than vinegar” has never worked. Despised minorities have invariably had to engage in civil disobedience, protest, criticism, and passionate rejection of the cherished ideals of the forces holding them back. These vocal strategies are not used in order to reform reprobates or attract the “moderate racists/sexists/homophobes” but to highlight the injustices of the oppressors, show the flaws in their thinking and justifications, marginalize the reprobates, and force the issue onto the minds of the public. And in each movement, the activists have always been demonized (MLK was called “un-American” for just one example).

    Now, whether this dynamic can apply to atheism is up to debate. And I would name this aspect as one of my responses to the reciprocal challenge “how would you know you’re wrong?”.

    So how about it Chris? How would you know you’re wrong? And how do you respond to Overton window arguments? And why do you place your argument regarding scientific literacy in a dichotomy with the atheists’ critique of religion?

  135. bilbo

    “Despised minorities have invariably had to engage in civil disobedience, protest, criticism, and passionate rejection of the cherished ideals of the forces holding them back. These vocal strategies are not used in order to reform reprobates or attract the “moderate racists/sexists/homophobes” but to highlight the injustices of the oppressors, show the flaws in their thinking and justifications, marginalize the reprobates, and force the issue onto the minds of the public.

    Now, whether this dynamic can apply to atheism is up to debate.”

    Damn straight. I’m an atheist living in a region of the country with insane amounts of fundamentalists around, and even I think comapring atheist activism to the Civil Rights Movement and/or Gay Rights is one of the hands-down silliest things I’ve ever heard. We don’t have to take a piss somewhere different than the faithful, do we? (If we can’t, then I’ve been missing something). What “rights” do we have suppressed? The right to not believe in something? I understand that there are a lot of atheists who “feel” suppressed, but as Jerry Coyne’s post just showed, it’s not hard to break those chains….and we don’t have laws in place that legally restrict us from doing it.

    But hey, if we’re gonna compare New Atheism to the Civil Rights Movement, let’s continue. When African-Americans were suppressed and decided to speak out (successfully), how did they do it? Did they say “y’know, if we could just get rid of the white race altogether, we’d be better off?” As we’re watching homosexuals (slowly) gain more rights in our nation, how are they doing it? By trying to snuff out heterosexuality? By mocking how silly and outdated heterosexual intercourse is? Or hey, when women wanted to gain the right to vote, did they do it by trying to ban the right for men to vote?

    Man, if only African-Americans, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and Gay Rights groups could buck up and start hating the people they disagree with instead of promoting why they’re right, maybe they’d get somewhere one day…

  136. Roadtripper

    “So how about it Chris? How would you know you’re wrong?”

    It’s kind of a moot point, isn’t it? His errors have been pointed out, repeatedly. The man is convinced he’s RIGHT and he’s not going to budge. He’s a complete write-off, not worth arguing with any more.

  137. Anthony McCarthy

    JJE, other than in topics like evolution which conflicts with their religion, is there any evidence that even quite backwards fundamentalists are scientifically illiterate? Not all subjects and topics in science are evolution related. And there is no reason to believe that religious liberals are in any way less scientifically literate than atheists.

    I, on the other hand, am seeing little evidence that, generally, the new atheists are all that conversant with science. A lot of them seem to have learned most of what they know from watching cable TV. They certainly seem to have little knowledge about what science is and what it can do and what it can’t. A lot of them seem to think it’s some kind of dogmatic authority that can’t be questioned.

    I’ve been seeing this “Overton window” argued a lot recently. I wasn’t familiar with it and read a bit about it, where’s the verification that it’s right? And what’s the agreed upon idea that is being pushed? If you want science taught, concentrate on getting supporters of a liberal education elected to school boards and appointed to state and federal positions dealing with education. But as long as people are watching junk on TV or online you can try all you want and they’re still not going to learn anything. I think teaching them democratic civics is more important to most of them and to all of us than their knowing about topics that they’ll never need to know or to act on when voting.

  138. bilbo

    ““So how about it Chris? How would you know you’re wrong?”

    It’s kind of a moot point, isn’t it? His errors have been pointed out, repeatedly. The man is convinced he’s RIGHT and he’s not going to budge. He’s a complete write-off, not worth arguing with any more.”

    Then explain why you’re still here posting, Roadtripper. If someone’s a “complete write-off,” they usuaally don’t get my attention.

  139. Sorbet

    -They certainly seem to have little knowledge about what science is and what it can do and what it can’t

    And this comes from a man who has never actually done or published science? Priceless!

  140. Sorbet

    -Maybe I should follow TB’s example and ignore the obvious trolls
    That’s what you said last time. But only a troll finds it hard to keep himself from having the last word.

  141. Sorbet

    -Trying to keep a straight face in light of the great “gigolo debate”
    Oh, you mean the one where you did not even look up the reference which was cited and still held forth on it?

  142. Sorbet

    -That’s one of the reasons that there has to be a wall of separation between church and state but that there shouldn’t be one between science and state.

    I completely agree with you there.

  143. Anthony McCarthy

    -Trying to keep a straight face in light of the great “gigolo debate”
    Oh, you mean the one where you did not even look up the reference which was cited and still held forth on it?

    I’ll only go into pointing out the absurdities and irrationalities of your arguments on that occasion if there is unanimous permission granted, which I have every confidence there won’t be. Why don’t you be a good troll and provide a link to the thread that contained that argument so they can see who made the more sense if they want to.

  144. Skeptic

    I clearly replied to your cute little mathematical argument and you never bothered to acknowledge it and instead in typical fashion kept harping on. And I could never compete with you in trolliness, so you better bolster your reputation further and provide a link yourself.

  145. Sorbet

    McCarthy I clearly replied to your cute little mathematical argument and you never bothered to acknowledge it and instead in typical fashion kept harping on. And I could never compete with you in trolliness, so you better bolster your reputation further and provide a link yourself.
    (The above was an accidental typo, a name I use on another blog where I have to deal with a troll similar to you; this is not the same as the other “Skeptic” who occasionally comments here)

  146. bilbo

    One must fight trolls by trolling? That’s a new one…

  147. TB

    @ 135. J.J.E.

    First, the Overton window is not a justification for attacking someone. What’s happening is more indirect communication in the “bread and circuses” variation – it’s fun to root for the lions! (Please note: I don’t intend the analogy to extend to the idea of actually killing Christians in the colosseum. It’s just a convenient analogy. Also please note that, knowing people from the Detroit area, it really isn’t very fun to root for the Lions right now).

    Seriously, if this is an Overton window, can you tell me the steps to the endgame? Because all you seem to have right now is one step: Religion=bad. That’s not a strategy incorporating an Overton window, that’s a strident, unyielding message.

    “And why do you place your argument regarding scientific literacy in a dichotomy with the atheists’ critique of religion?”

    This is actually a good question. Here’s how I look at it.

    Let’s say two people settle by a stream. The person downstream has the intention of farming and using water from the stream to water his crops.
    Meanwhile, the person upstream builds a chemical plant and uses the stream to dispose of waste. That chemical waste flows downstream and gets into the crops, making them inedible.

    By itself, the chemical plant is successful, just as you could rightly point out that the intended audience of some atheists love what they do. But the runoff from that chemical plant affects the farmer downstream. When the farmer complains, it’s not adequate for the plant owner to say that the farmer is telling him to go out of business (or shut up). No, the farmer is simply pointing out that the activities of the chemical plant – as they are now – are interfering with the farmer’s ability to grow crops.

    That’s what’s happening with the message some atheists promote: “Science must destroy religion” vs. “Religion does not have to be in conflict with science.” It’s not very nuanced, but then politics frequently isn’t. And this is definitely in the political arena.

    It may cost the chemical plant owner more money to dispose of his waste in such a way that everyone can use the stream. It may make it more difficult for him to produce his chemicals, but too bad. He doesn’t own the stream.

    In the same way, some atheists don’t own science.

    And one more thought about Overton windows – that’s a wedge strategy. It expands the range of possibilities with the intent of getting formerly unappealing ideas accepted by comparing them to something worse. It’s purpose is to convince just enough of those willing to be convinced to change their position. But its flaw is also its strength – it relies on the idea that people willing to compromise in some sense will always be willing to compromise.

    It’s a foul basterdization of the idea of compromise. At some point, there’s a line people won’t cross and that’s where the Overton window fails and drives a wedge.

  148. J.J.E.

    @AM

    MOST people, well educated or otherwise, are basically scientifically illiterate. Science requires training and aptitude just like medicine and law. They are ignorant, not stupid. It is a rare layman that isn’t scientifically illiterate, but that’s O.K. It is also a rare layman that isn’t illiterate about the practice of law. Both classes of people can parrot the basics of each (basic familiarity) but are illiterate. Those backwards religious laymen have to have an additional amount of dogma piled on top that doesn’t help the issue.

    And as far as “new “atheists, the Wired Magazine article that coined that usage was explicitly referring to Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens based on their publications. You could probably also add Myers, Stenger, and Coyne to the pile (PZ because of his high profile blog not because of his publications). PZ Myers will have a book coming out soon and Russell Blackford’s just came out, so I think they’re be legit members. Just for the hell of it, let’s toss Mill Maher in for kicks because of his movie. (Remember, the Wired article crowned the 1st 4 because of their high profile media.) In any event, in this whole pile, I can only spot 3 people who aren’t scientists: Blackford, Maher, and Hitchens. And really, I would only count Maher and Hitchens as suspect, as Blackford seems to have a more than layman (but less than professional) understanding of science.

    So, no, I think I fully disagree with your full post for the reasons I adduce above. I think laymen are ignorant of science by definition. That’s no badge of shame, I’m a layman on tons of things, though science isn’t one of them. And, by dint of the criteria used to tag “new” atheists, it seems that it is composed mostly of scientists. Of course, if you want focus on the followers of “new” atheists, I’ll grant that a lot of them are laymen and therefore likely to be illiterate.

  149. Anthony McCarthy

    The above was an accidental typo

    Um, hum. I see.

  150. Anthony McCarthy

    JJE, I’m not so sure that Harris belongs in the category of “scientist” does he? Though that’s not that interesting an issue to me.

    What does it mean to “scientifically literate”? We talk about “science” a lot like we talk about “religion” as if it was one real entity, when it isn’t. Even an accomplished and lauded scientist only knows a small part of science, once they get outside of their specialty they might not know much more than anyone in any other line of work. Sometimes they can be shockingly ignorant or bizarrely misinformed about it. Among other things, this means that even for professional scientists they have to choose what they will study and learn, they have to be selective. There isn’t any alternative to that choice.

    For non-scientists, science can be useful, just as math certainly is. A knowledge of physics, electronics, chemistry, etc. is often useful for their work or their private life. A knowledge of their own bodies, nutrition, medical knowledge, infection, reproduction, can help them avoid problems and preserve their and other peoples’ health. They might need a knowledge of science around agriculture. And they might derive a lot of satisfaction from knowing about the world and the universe. So it’s desirable for them to have some science education in school. It’s certainly desirable if they are going to be active in politics because science is so useful when it’s good science and so potentially destructive when it’s bad science that they should have some ability to understand how to deal with both.

    Since it serves the majority of The People in the United States, science literacy as taught in the public schools should focus on what will be most generally useful for all of the students, with enough information given so that they can pursue further study and maybe a career in science when they are adults. I would include the clearly missing information of what science is for, what it can do and, perhaps most importantly, what it can’t do.

    I think it’s ironic that the alpha and omega of science in these discussions is usually evolution, among the topics of science made elective for most students. I wouldn’t be surprised if three quarters or more of students never have a need to have any knowledge of evolution in their lives or that their children will. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the professional scientists in the world never have a need for the topic in their work. Clearly evolution shouldn’t be the one and only topic discussed when the topic is science literacy. Not if the focus is on what’s useful for the most students. It should be part of the biology curriculum in high schools but, given the limits and exigencies of science education, it shouldn’t be allowed to drive the entire effort.

    As to “new atheist”, I’ve explained my use of it. Most of the atheists I know don’t agree with the obnoxious agenda of the new atheists, they don’t want to be associated with people who have announced their intention of being obnoxious and bigoted. I use the term for the benefit of normal atheists, not for the new atheists who don’t deserve to set that agenda either.

  151. Paul W.

    I’ll bet Chris won’t come anywhere near telling us what would convince him he is wrong.

    Far short of that, it would be huge progress if Chris would acknowledge what makes his simplistic arguments wrong—that is, even if he’s right at the bottom line, he has never addressed the weaknesses of his arguments, even though they’ve been pointed out scores and scores (hundreds?) of times) times in other blogs an comments on his own blog. For years.

    Chris has two major straw men that he refuses to admit are straw men:

    1. That the New Atheists don’t understand the difference between naturalism and methodological naturalism, and erroneously cross the line from the latter to the former, making their general critiques of religion invalid.

    2. That the “New Atheists” don’t understand his catch-more-flies-with-honey argument, or are so juvenile and irresponsible as to ignore it and blurt out their inconvenient opinions. He falsely expresses mystification as to how anybody could disagree with such an obvious intuition, when he knows full well that even if he is ultimately right it is nowhere near that simple or obvious.

    As far as I know, every “New Atheist” agrees with Chris that strictly speaking, science can’t make a good case against the existence of every kind of “God,” or refute everything that’s arguably a “religion.” Nobody is making that argument, and yet Chris rides the dead horse for years.

    Every “New Atheist” knows that you can’t disprove Deism, but maintains that you can find pretty good evidence that almost all religion that more than a few people actually believes is contradicted by at least some scientific knowledge, and that religion in general systematically tends toward falsity.

    (See, for example, many NA’s comments on Deism, and Dawkins’ comments on Karen Armstrong—her rarefied conception of “God” is hard to distinguish from atheism and hard to argue against.)

    As far as the varieties of naturalism debate goes, critics of the New Atheists like to say that science can’t study the supernatural, as though that’s a well-known fact. It’s not, and that’s begging the question. The dominant NA position is that the common kinds of “supernatural” phenomena that people actually believe in and care about would in fact be amenable to scientific study if they actually existed. The New Atheists maintain that if something has systematic observable effects, it’s “natural” for the purposes of science. The meaning of “supernatural” simply isn’t the complement of “natural,” and never has been. Read Boyer on the central senses of the word “supernatural” as exhibited in natural religion. Scientifically irrefutable supernaturalism is an exceptional, unnatural response to modern science threatening traditional “supernatural” beliefs.

    Anti-New Atheists like to use the Courtier’s reply and say that the New Atheists don’t understand sophisticated theology. That’s mostly bullshit, and mostly irrelevant. First, the NA’s are admittedly only talking about the kind of religion significant numbers of people believe in, which make interesting claims about the world. (Interventionist gods and morally authoritative gods, especially.) Second, the really tiny number of people who believe in a truly irrefutable Deist or Armstrong- or Spinoza-esque “God” just aren’t important unless they either become numerous or start making much better arguments. (E.g., seriously addressing the subtler issues of naturalism touched on above.)

    Anti-New Atheists like to argue that the substantive beliefs of religion aren’t the important thing about religion, or aren’t always. Fine, not absolutely always. You win. But religion as a common, enduring, socially important phenomenon is generally not like that. Religion as a “natural kind” of thing makes claims about the world—read Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer to see what I mean—and modern irrefutable theology is mostly a bizarre academic exercise that has little to do with wild-type religion. The overwhelming majority of religious people believe in religion not theology. (Or, if you prefer, folk theology, not rarefied academic theology; the latter has almost nothing to do with the former, even in the heads of many of the practitioners of the latter.)

    New Atheists have always unanimously agreed with Chris that science and religion are “compatible” in the only sense that Chris has ever actually argued for. Chris never actually argues against the kind of conflict the New Atheists are actually talking about. He systematically misrepresents the disagreement, by (1) failing to acknowledge that the New Atheists systematically agree with his only real claim about compatibility, (2) making it sound as if they don’t, and (3) making lame arguments for a different point as if they were relevant, and (4) expressing mystification that anybody could disagree with him when in fact they don’t and never did, and he’s been fully aware of that for years now.

    In support of this he makes “arguments” from authority—e.g., pointing to Genie Scott making the same lame, irrelevant argument that was refuted soundly by several NA’s years ago and numerous times since, or quoting a nonrepresentative philosopher such as Rob Pennock, as though they were representative of a dominant view among professional philosophers.

    (I’ve got news for you. Even philosophers in his own department mostly didn’t agree with Pennock on the points relevant here when he published Tower of Babel, nor do most philosophers of science. For Mooney to quote him as though it settled something and proceed to condescend about scientists and philosophers of science like Dennett about philosophy of science is just ridiculous. If we’re going to make philosophy of science arguments from authority, Mooney will lose decisively.)

    (Often it seems that Chris likes to refer us to those folks, and let them make the lame arguments, because he can’t make the arguments himself with a straight face. I, for one, don’t believe that Chris really believes that science and religion are compatible in any sense that the New Atheists don’t.)

    With respect to the second point—the catch-more-flies-with-honey strategy—the New Atheists have always understood that point, and taken it seriously. They choose a different strategy for two reasons:

    (1) they’re promoting atheism as well as science education, and if there’s some conflict between those two goals, they may make different tradeoffs than people like Mooney, and do so rationally. (A point made by Dr. Free Ride in a mixed review that Mooney likes to make out as positive.)

    (2) even with respect to the same goal, they have a valid argument going the other way, namely the Overton Window argument.

    Perhaps the Overton Window argument is ultimately not as strong as the With-Honey argument, and Chris is ultimately right not only about his strategic recommendation, but Chris systematically avoids even trying to win the argument. Instead he pretends that there is no serious counterargument to his position, and no counterexamples to his simplistic own argument.

    Even some of Chris’s most loyal defenders here (such as Anthony and Jon) have done something that Chris himself has refused to do for years on end—they’ve acknowledged that there is a counterargument being made, and that it’s at least a little bit interesting.

    I’m not arguing here for the New Atheist position. (That science and religion are incompatible and that Overton arguments are strong enough to affect a rational choice of strategy.) I’m only pointing out that Chris’s arguments are irrelevant and/or unsound, and that there are interesting issues he refuses to address.

    A single counterexample to Chris’s strategic generalizations is sufficient to show that his With-Honey argument is unsound. The rise of the Religious Right in his lifetime—with all the vitriol and scorned heaped upon liberals—-sufficient to do that, at least. (The “Will and Grace” effect is pretty interesting, too.)

    (The current troubles the Republicans are having demonstrate that Overton strategies are dangerous—I think that would be an interesting discussion—but the electoral effectiveness of those strategies for decades is a compelling example of the invalidity of Chris’s model of politics and rhetoric. We can argue about when and for how long Overton strategies work, and how that likely applies to the New Atheism, but first Chris should acknowledge that there are counterexamples to his generalizations, and a more interesting argument to be had.)

    Please, folks, don’t “refute” me with a quote mine of some unrepresentative statement by one of the New Atheists, or worse, from one of their more pissed-off or juvenile commenters. Please, please, puhleez address the substantive points made by the major figures that Chris repeatedly criticizes, and Chris’s more thoughtful commenters here, for years.

  152. Paul W.

    Anthony,

    I’ve been seeing this “Overton window” argued a lot recently. I wasn’t familiar with it and read a bit about it, where’s the verification that it’s right? And what’s the agreed upon idea that is being pushed?

    I have a longer post awaiting moderation, but for the moment,

    Congratulations! Like Jon, you’ve just done something Chris has refused to do for about three years—to acknowledge a major argument made countless times for years gainst one of his two main points.

    Your questions are excellent, and the fact that you’ve don’t already know about Overton shows that you’ve been reading way too much Mooney and not nearly enough of his critics. Mooney has been doing an excellent job of diverting your attention from what the New Atheists are actually saying, and getting you to take his beloved straw man as realistic.

  153. TB

    @ 151. Paul W.

    I’d like to hear the spectrum of positions that you feel makes all this an exercise in an Overton window.

    The earliest rational for Overton that I found, here http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2007/02/14/thank-you-richard-dawkins/

    mistakes the idea of increased media presence with the kinds of incremental policy positions that Overton really addresses. You need more than one increment … religion —> no religion … to make this claim. I think you’re mistaking a media push for a policy strategy, but I’m interested to hear what you have to say.

    That said, even if you do convince me that this is an instance of Overton window strategy, it’s still not justification for polluting the stream : http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/10/28/what-would-bridge-the-nasty-new-atheistaccommodationist-divide/#comment-34682

    Nor does it negate any of the criticism some atheists have gotten from Mooney etc.

  154. TB

    To be precise (can you tell this is kind of nagging at me?), a strategy incorporating an overton window involves a current window “A” and desired window includes “B, C, D.” Overton Window strategy, advocate “D” which allows “B” and “C” to not only become compromise positions, but possibly serve as an eventual bridge to “D.”

    So my question here is, what is “B” and “C?” And, who is advocating for “B” and “C” as a compromise to “D?”

    Incremental change doesn’t mean what the post at cosmicvariance thinks it does (some of that is tearing down a strawman) IMHO. For instance, Carl Sagan long ago held an esteemed media position – his absence left a vacuum but that window was already open, just empty. The atheism/religion debate has been around forever (Remember, god exists, two falls to a submission). And rude, in-your-face punditry has been around for a long time.

    I need to hear the policy steps you think defines all this as an Overton window exercise. I want to know the increments from religion to no religion. And by increments, I don’t mean simply increasing the numbers of the non-religious. That’s recruiting, not policy.

  155. Anthony McCarthy

    Paul W. I’ve read two of Chris Mooney’s books, both were very good and valuable.

    My criticism of the new atheists started with reading Harris, then the new atheist Dawkins (having been familar with the Sociobiologist Dawkins for thirty five years), then I found out that Dennett was among their number, having read him before too. I’ve been all too familiar with Hitchens for about thirty years. Since then becoming familar with PZ, Coyne and a number of the lesser Brights of the new atheism. I’m afraid that Chris Mooney hasn’t been nearly as influential on my view of the new atheists as he has been on the Republican war against science, for which book I will always be grateful.

    I’m not interested in the agenda of convincing people about religion, I think people believe what they do about religion based on one of two things, their superficial and ill considered opinion or their deeply felt and life changing experience. I have no interest in the belief, or disbelief that results from the former and have no idea how to transfer personal experience to the latter. I have no idea how to convince people about those things so I stick with trying to reason out those things that can be reasoned out.

    The point about the Overton Window idea is not part of what I think is that important in so far as religion goes and I’ve said what the major obstacle I see to any kind of education is, the malignant and life eating entertainment that is the circus given by a late stage empire to quell The People.

    While I might not agree with Chris Mooney on every point, I agree with him on a lot and am disinclined to listen to unfounded and exaggerated attacks on him or Sherill Kirschenbaum founded in distortions of their book and sent their way by professional new atheists.

    I notice, for those who object to the phrase “new atheist” that there’s a book of that title coming out, which I’ve seen advertised on blog threads. I hope you are all going to go give the author and his publisher a piece of your mind on their use of the term.

  156. Paul W.

    TB,

    While it’s often talked about in terms of policy prescriptions, the Overton Window idea is more centrally about a spectrum of opinion; a spectrum of opinions about what’s a good policy is just one instance of that, and it’s usually mediated by a more fundamental spectrum of opinions on issues that affect policy choices.

    For example, opinion as to whether a more socialistic health care system is predictably going to be less efficient or violate important property rights affects the choice of health care policies, opinion as to the morality and workability of teen abstinence affects the choice of sex ed policies, etc.

    And consider attitudes toward homosexuality vs. the specific policy choice of legalizing gay marriage. The former has way more gradations than the latter, and you want to slide the Overton window until you get a tipping point on an almost binary policy choice. The real action is in moving the Overton window, bit by bit across a spectrum, but it pays off in an up-or-down way.

    Similarly, the choice of biology education policies is affected by a spectrum of beliefs ranging from thinking that evolution is clearly true and ID is not only wrong but unscientific and religious to thinking that evolution is junk science and Flood Geology is not only true but scientifically well supported irrespective of religion.

    Similarly, people’s attitudes toward religion and atheism vary through many gradations, and that affects a narrower range of policy choices about science education, sex ed, etc.

    BTW, I do not claim to have a fabulous knock-down argument showing that Overton concerns simply outweigh More-Flies-with-Honey concerns. I don’t think it’s that simple.

    For the moment, I’m mostly trying to get everyone to acknowledge that Chris has failed to demonstrate the opposite—that honey-for-flies is the only good strategy, ever—and that his representations of the controversy are simplistic and unfair.

    He is the one making the strong claim that the New Atheists are wrong about naturalism doing it all wrong rhetorically.

    Chris keeps attacking the same two big straw men, and it got really old a long time ago.

    If he wants a bridge between accomodationists and New Atheists—the subject of this thread, remember—he at least has to acknowledge that. He ought to demonstrate basic respect for people by engaging their actual positions and arguments instead of talking past them to people who don’t know any better.

    And frankly, I’d be interested in arguing the strengths and weaknesses of Overton arguments, but only if Chris shows some sign of being willing to seriously address the issues. Many people have wasted a lot of time commenting seriously on his blog, only to be ignored and misrepresented ad nauseam. (Most of them give up after a while.) Screw that.

  157. Paul W.

    TB,

    My long post that was in moderation came through… it’s a few posts up. That may (or may not) clarify my position.

  158. foolfodder

    Great posts Paul W.

  159. Roadtripper

    Bilbo #139: “Then explain why you’re still here posting, Roadtripper. If someone’s a “complete write-off,” they usuaally don’t get my attention.”

    There are still, in fact, some comments here worth reading, despite what I think of the blog as a whole. Yours aren’t among them. I thought my post made it clear that I wasn’t talking to Mooney, or to you, for that matter. Read for comprehension much?

    Rt

  160. Paul W.

    Anthony,

    I’m not interested in the agenda of convincing people about religion,

    Fine! Don’t!

    (That was easy.)

    I think people believe what they do about religion based on one of two things, their superficial and ill considered opinion or their deeply felt and life changing experience. I have no interest in the belief, or disbelief that results from the former and have no idea how to transfer personal experience to the latter. I have no idea how to convince people about those things so I stick with trying to reason out those things that can be reasoned out.

    Whatever. Why should I care what you think about why people believe what they do, or your question-begging assertions of what can or can’t be reasoned out?

    No, wait, don’t answer that. I don’t care.

    The point about the Overton Window idea is not part of what I think is that important in so far as religion goes

    Opinions vary, obviously. You may not think it’s important, but a whole lot of “New Atheists” clearly do (rightly or wrongly) think it’s important—and that’s something Chris avoids acknowledging, then feigns ignorance as to why people persist in disagreeing with him.

    That was my point. Do you actually disagree with any of those specific points, or are you just being evasive and taking random potshots?

    1. Am I wrong that a bunch of “New Atheists”, rightly or wrongly, do in fact take Overton arguments quite seriously?

    2. Am I wrong in thinking Chris has ducked that issue for at least a couple of years, despite it being raised over and over again by sincere critics on several blogs and in comments on his own blog?

    3. Am I wrong that it’s disingenuous of Chris to write as though he has no idea how anybody could disagree with his admittedly intuitive “more flies with honey” prescriptions?

    4. If Chris has a knock-down argument that Overton effects are unimportant and Overton strategies are bad, shouldn’t he should say so, rather than stonewall for years on end?

    5. Likewise, about naturalism, he should address the sense of “incompatibility” that the New Atheists are actually claiming, doncha think?

    6. Shouldn’t he stop making irrelevant arguments about a different, weaker kind of compatibility, and acting as though it settled something?

    7. Am I wrong in saying that’s a problem if Chris sincerely wants a “bridge” to the New Atheists—that he should honestly address their actual positions, arguments and goals?

    I was addressing the topic of the thread, and you’re self-indulgently telling us you don’t care
    about the topic of the thread.
    Gee, thanks, Anthony; we really needed your input on that!

    Seriously, thanks for giving me an excuse to hammer on some specific points, but if you’re not interested in the subject, well, your apathy has been noted, and you can go away now. Your job here is done.

    While I might not agree with Chris Mooney on every point, I agree with him on a lot and am disinclined to listen to unfounded and exaggerated attacks on him or Sherill Kirschenbaum founded in distortions of their book and sent their way by professional new atheists.

    Whatever, dude. Chris asked, and I’m callin’ ‘em like I see them. If you think Chris shouldn’t have asked because our opinions are worthless, tell HIM that.

    Really nice deflecting, dude. (Where’d you learn that, I wonder?)

  161. Paul W.

    TB,

    By the way, Sean’s blog post may have been the first on the subject to explicitly cite Overton, but the idea was around long before that.

    In particular, people had compared the “appeasement” policy of the accommodationists to the Democrat’s disastrous centrism, and the aggressive policy of the New Atheists (by whatever name) to the Republicans’ very successful galvanizing of their base and shifting of the center of opinion. Overton himself may not have been referenced, but the idea was.

    (It’s not like Overton really invented the idea—though it’s nice for progressives to have a right-winger to cite on that so it doesn’t sound like something they conveniently made up. The issues of short-term appeasement vs. long-term major change have been around for a long, long time—I think I ran across it reading Cicero, come to think of it—and the conflict between liberals and left radicals is one I’ve been witness to for decades, up close and personal. Both sides have good points, and both strategies have risks and benefits.)

  162. TB

    Well, this is an opus. I think, though, you oversold the content. Let me dive in here:

    152. Paul W. Says:
    October 30th, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    TB: (I’m snipping what I think is snark. If i delete something important, it’s inadvertant)

    Paul W. Says: Chris has two major straw men that he refuses to admit are straw men:
    1. That the New Atheists don’t understand the difference between naturalism and methodological naturalism, and erroneously cross the line from the latter to the former, making their general critiques of religion invalid.

    TB: If you don’t like Chris’ critiques, you can find really good ones at http://dododreams.blogspot.com/

    I highly recommend it.

    Paul W. Says: 2. That the “New Atheists” don’t understand his catch-more-flies-with-honey argument, or are so juvenile and irresponsible as to ignore it and blurt out their inconvenient opinions. He falsely expresses mystification as to how anybody could disagree with such an obvious intuition, when he knows full well that even if he is ultimately right it is nowhere near that simple or obvious.

    TB: It’s not really a catch-more-flies-with-honey argument. I refer you to my example of the two people using the same stream analogy in comment 148

    Paul W. Says: As far as I know, every “New Atheist” agrees with Chris that strictly speaking, science can’t make a good case against the existence of every kind of “God,” or refute everything that’s arguably a “religion.” Nobody is making that argument, and yet Chris rides the dead horse for years.
    Every “New Atheist” knows that you can’t disprove Deism, but maintains that you can find pretty good evidence that almost all religion that more than a few people actually believes is contradicted by at least some scientific knowledge, and that religion in general systematically tends toward falsity.
    (See, for example, many NA’s comments on Deism, and Dawkins’ comments on Karen Armstrong—her rarefied conception of “God” is hard to distinguish from atheism and hard to argue against.)

    TB: Lots of philosophical assumptions here I’m not going to bother to address. You could try http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/

    Paul W. Says: As far as the varieties of naturalism debate goes, critics of the New Atheists like to say that science can’t study the supernatural, as though that’s a well-known fact. It’s not, and that’s begging the question. The dominant NA position is that the common kinds of “supernatural” phenomena that people actually believe in and care about would in fact be amenable to scientific study if they actually existed. The New Atheists maintain that if something has systematic observable effects, it’s “natural” for the purposes of science. The meaning of “supernatural” simply isn’t the complement of “natural,” and never has been. Read Boyer on the central senses of the word “supernatural” as exhibited in natural religion. Scientifically irrefutable supernaturalism is an exceptional, unnatural response to modern science threatening traditional “supernatural” beliefs.

    TB: OK, good, here’s some meat. If something has systematic observable effects, it’s natural. Period. By definition of the word, supernatural is “Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.” We’re not going to redefine natural and supernatural so the idea that there’s a problem with that part is a strawman.
    However, you are making the same mistake as a few others in thinking that science can experiment, observe and test in the laboratory something that is NOT in the realm of the natural. You can’t control a supernatural being. You don’t know if or how that being, for instance, would answer prayers. Is it better to give people what they want or is it better not to answer and for them to rely on themselves and not on the power of a supernatural being? Why does a supernatural being allow suffering in the world? Could Jesus be a fallible man steeped in the culture of his time but also be the son of God? These are philosophical questions out the epistemic reach of science. I think the most that science can say, is that if a supernatural being affects the natural world today, it is doing so in ways indistinguishable from variations you could expect in the natural world. That’s an honest assessment.
    Consider this: If a statue of a holy person suddenly has what appears to be tears appear on it, we can certainly study that phenomena. We can probably find a natural cause for that moisture – maybe humidity coupled with a deteriorating roof above it. But we can’t say whether a supernatural entity also had a hand in it or not. We can’t refute the notion that the building was designed that way and the stature placed in that spot so that in time those tears would appear. We can doubt, we can point to the natural explanation, but that’s about it.

    Paul W. Says: Anti-New Atheists like to use the Courtier’s reply and say that the New Atheists don’t understand sophisticated theology. That’s mostly bullshit, and mostly irrelevant.

    TB: Well, no, not if you make basic mistakes about philosophy and the natural world.

    Paul W. Says: First, the NA’s are admittedly only talking about the kind of religion significant numbers of people believe in, which make interesting claims about the world. (Interventionist gods and morally authoritative gods, especially.) Second, the really tiny number of people who believe in a truly irrefutable Deist or Armstrong- or Spinoza-esque “God” just aren’t important unless they either become numerous or start making much better arguments. (E.g., seriously addressing the subtler issues of naturalism touched on above.)

    TB: No, they’re not. Up thread at coment 53 there’s a direct quote of a NA (PZ) who pretty much curses anyone who prays. There may be plenty of claims or acknowledgment that of course science can’t disprove “a truly irrefutable Deist or Armstrong- or Spinoza-esque “God” ,” but I simply don’t believe that they believe that.

    I don’t believe they think there is a line that science can’t cross. For instance: “… critics of the New Atheists like to say that science can’t study the supernatural, as though that’s a well-known fact. It’s not, and that’s begging the question.”

    Paul W.: Anti-New Atheists like to argue that the substantive beliefs of religion aren’t the important thing about religion, or aren’t always. Fine, not absolutely always. You win.

    TB: I don’t understand what you mean about “substantive beliefs.” I would say a 6,000 year old earth is a pretty substantive belief, but I guess you’re not talking about that.

    Paul W.: But religion as a common, enduring, socially important phenomenon is generally not like that. Religion as a “natural kind” of thing makes claims about the world—read Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer to see what I mean—and modern irrefutable theology is mostly a bizarre academic exercise that has little to do with wild-type religion. The overwhelming majority of religious people believe in religion not theology. (Or, if you prefer, folk theology, not rarefied academic theology; the latter has almost nothing to do with the former, even in the heads of many of the practitioners of the latter.)

    TB: Oh! You’re making the point that most people don’t study the theology of the religion they believe in enough. Yeah, you’re right, in the same way people don’t study science enough. Winter is not coming here in the U.S. because the sun is getting farther from the earth in its orbit.
    That’s why we try to focus on learned people to define what we’re talking about. Otherwise, we’re like Jay Leno embarrassing people on the street about basic facts. We can agree on that, right?

    Paul W.: New Atheists have always unanimously agreed with Chris that science and religion are “compatible” in the only sense that Chris has ever actually argued for.

    TB: Oh no they have not all done that. Over at Thoughts from Kansas, I had a commenter hold up Eugenie Scott’s statement about religion being compatible epistemically as an example of accomodationism, and days later Dawkins said essentially the very same thing as Scott.
    If anything, let’s simply drop the Everyones and nobodies, OK? You agree that you don’t speak for the Everyones and nobodies and I won’t hold their errors against you.

    Paul W.: Chris never actually argues against the kind of conflict the New Atheists are actually talking about. He systematically misrepresents the disagreement, by (1) failing to acknowledge that the New Atheists systematically agree with his only real claim about compatibility, (2) making it sound as if they don’t, and (3) making lame arguments for a different point as if they were relevant, and (4) expressing mystification that anybody could disagree with him when in fact they don’t and never did, and he’s been fully aware of that for years now.
    In support of this he makes “arguments” from authority—e.g., pointing to Genie Scott making the same lame, irrelevant argument that was refuted soundly by several NA’s years ago and numerous times since,

    TB: This is all too vague. What Scott argument?

    Paul W.: or quoting a nonrepresentative philosopher such as Rob Pennock, as though they were representative of a dominant view among professional philosophers.

    TB: Pennock is recognized in one of the most important science-related trials of our generation as an expert witness in philosophy of science. Refute. That.

    Paul W.: With respect to the second point—the catch-more-flies-with-honey strategy—the New Atheists have always understood that point, and taken it seriously. They choose a different strategy for two reasons:
    (1) they’re promoting atheism as well as science education, and if there’s some conflict between those two goals, they may make different tradeoffs than people like Mooney, and do so rationally. (A point made by Dr. Free Ride in a mixed review that Mooney likes to make out as positive.)

    TB: I address this with my two people/one stream analogy at comment 148. Simply stating that there are two different goals and different tradeoffs does not adequately justify the problem that results.

    Paul W.: (2) even with respect to the same goal, they have a valid argument going the other way, namely the Overton Window argument.
    Perhaps the Overton Window argument is ultimately not as strong as the With-Honey argument, and Chris is ultimately right not only about his strategic recommendation, but Chris systematically avoids even trying to win the argument. Instead he pretends that there is no serious counterargument to his position, and no counterexamples to his simplistic own argument.

    TB: OK, let’s hear how some atheists are applying the Overton Window strategy.

    (snipping a lot of stuff)

    Paul W.: (The current troubles the Republicans are having demonstrate that Overton strategies are dangerous—I think that would be an interesting discussion—but the electoral effectiveness of those strategies for decades is a compelling example of the invalidity of Chris’s model of politics and rhetoric. We can argue about when and for how long Overton strategies work, and how that likely applies to the New Atheism, but first Chris should acknowledge that there are counterexamples to his generalizations, and a more interesting argument to be had.)

    TB: Interesting, but doesn’t describe how an Overton strategy.

    (more snipping)

    157. Paul W. Says:

    (more snipping)

    Paul W. Says:Similarly, the choice of biology education policies is affected by a spectrum of beliefs ranging from thinking that evolution is clearly true and ID is not only wrong but unscientific and religious to thinking that evolution is junk science and Flood Geology is not only true but scientifically well supported irrespective of religion.
    Similarly, people’s attitudes toward religion and atheism vary through many gradations, and that affects a narrower range of policy choices about science education, sex ed, etc.
    BTW, I do not claim to have a fabulous knock-down argument showing that Overton concerns simply outweigh More-Flies-with-Honey concerns. I don’t think it’s that simple.

    TB: OK, you don’t have anything that describes a strategy that resembles the Overton Window. Here’s one that could be described:

    A) Religion especially as practiced through large, age-old religious institutions is desireable
    B) Religion practiced through relatively newer, smaller institutions that question old practices and beliefs is desirable, especially as it applies to science.
    C) Religion still practiced, but in looser organizations.
    D) Deism with no formal organization.
    E) Agnosticism
    F) Atheism
    In order to move people from A, advocate F while encouraging movement down the line from A.

    But that’s not what appears is happening. Instead, we seem to see:
    A, B, C and accomodationist E1 and F1 = bad
    D = dismissed as irrelevant
    E = tolorated at best
    non-accomodationist F2 = good
    All or nothing is not an Overton Window strategy.

    (snip)

    Paul W. Says: By the way, Sean’s blog post may have been the first on the subject to explicitly cite Overton, but the idea was around long before that.

    TB: That’s just the earliest reference I found. Really, it doesn’t matter since you haven’t detailed a strategy

    Paul W. Says: In particular, people had compared the “appeasement” policy of the accommodationists to the Democrat’s disastrous centrism, and the aggressive policy of the New Atheists (by whatever name) to the Republicans’ very successful galvanizing of their base and shifting of the center of opinion. Overton himself may not have been referenced, but the idea was.

    (snip)

    TB: I ‘d really be interested in seeing the concerns I raised in comment number 155 addressed.

  163. TB

    Long reply with some links is in moderation

  164. J.J.E.

    I’m going to sit back and watch the replies that are probably forthcoming (or in moderation) before jumping back into the fray. Much of what I have to say is largely redundant with (and at times less well expressed) than some of the comments above. I feel that my thoughts are adequately being expressed by others, so no need to bog down the blog with redundant comments. Plus, it’s sunny on this side of the globe and I want to take the dogs for a walk. ;-)

  165. Anthony McCarthy

    Paul W. I think this was my first comment on this thread.

    12. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    October 28th, 2009 at 10:40 am

    If it’s new atheists, I don’t think there is any possibility of cooperation with them because their program precludes it. As with the hard core of religious puritans, the best thing to do is to work around them and to try to isolate their influence. You don’t need them to succeed in the important work of protecting the environment, civil rights, the public schools and the wall of separation, you need a working majority of the voters, the new atheists would only work to drive that winning margin away or to divide it.

    The rational agenda of doing what needs to be done can’t reach accommodation with fanaticism. Trying to work with them will defeat that agenda.

    As to your

    1. I don’t take the new atheists seriously, on their own terms. I only take them seriously in so far as they can cause political damage to democratic politics and the effort to promote the use of science in important areas of policy, one of those being the teaching of science in science classes in public schools.

    2. Chris Mooney is able to decide how he will best address the never ending dodges and ideological maneuverings of the new atheist fad. I am certain he’s given many responses on many of the issues brought up around the unrealistic AND SHIFTING program of the new atheists, I’ve watched him do it for several years now. But, as noted elsewhere, you can answer one of their points only to have them deny you’ve addressed them for lack of sufficient evidence or some other dodge. Maybe he’s realizing it’s merely tactical and not substantial arguments they’re making to him.

    3. You’re putting words in his mouth. Putting words in his mouth is disingenuous.

    4. Good God, man. What do you think he’s been doing. That you don’t like the responses doesn’t mean they haven’t been given.

    5. The new atheists are able to make all kinds of categorical assertions, without any substantial basis, and to assert that you haven’t addressed them in opposition. That’s what fundamentalists do. I’m wondering how many working scientists have ever seriously considered philosophical naturalism, doubting that one in a hundred has. A lot of the new atheists don’t seem to have much of a clue about the methodical naturalism inherent to the practice of science. It’s like a lab procedure, it’s a method to use to get a result, or to try to get a result. The demand to extend it past that into being a rigid mental process in the whole of life is absurdly unfounded and unlikely to succeed.

    6. I don’t think you’re the best judge of what Chris Mooney decides to talk about. If I was a whiny new atheist I’d accuse of of “telling him to shut up” at this point.

    7. As you can see above, my advice is to stop trying to make bridges to the new atheists and to work around them as best we can, that’s still my advice.

  166. Anthony McCarthy

    Paul W. my lengthy reply to you seems to have disappeared, perhaps temporarily. Until then you can read my first reply to Chris Mooney’s question at #12 above.

  167. Anthony McCarthy

    It seems to have reappeared on the screen, though still marked as in moderation. I suspect the software is playing tricks in honor of the day.

  168. Anthony McCarthy

    I don’t know if he’d welcome my saying it but TB’s last response is quite fine.

  169. Paul W.

    TB,

    Sorry I’ve been away a few days. I will try to address your long post soon. (It’ll have to be piecemeal, though.) I may do that in the more recent thread about the New Statesman article, which is essentially a continuation of the same subject.

    As for Anthony’s posts, hyeesh.

    Fine, Anthony, you’ve made it clear that you’re so anti-NA that you won’t deign to seriously address serious points because we’re just not worth it. Same to ya.

  170. Paul W.

    A quick one for TB:

    I don’t understand your objection to my referring to the NA’s as having an Overton strategy. Are you familiar with Overton’s tug-of-war metaphor?

    The basic idea is that for an Overton strategy to work, people on your end of the rope don’t have to agree as to what’s an acceptable final position of the rope, as long as they’re pulling in the same direction along something that’s more or less a spectrum.

    (For example, no-government libertarians can be useful tools of the right even if they never get what they want and consider mainstream conservatives far too fiscally liberal. As long as they’re pulling some people’s opinion in their direction, and bashing liberals, they help shift the window by a kind of trickle-down effect. The basic point there—one that escapes Chris—is that there isn’t really one “middle” you need to target, like the centrist democrats have—you have to keep pulling whoever you can in your general direction, and they in turn will pull people toward them a less extreme and more generally acceptable opinion.)

  171. Paul W.

    TB,

    Another quickie re Overton windows, specifically eias applied to atheism.

    I agree that the Republicans have gotten themselves in a huge pickle by playing to their flaky extreme base, and polarizing themselves out of a majority.

    I don’t think that atheism is likely to go that route. Most atheists just don’t care enough to be extreme culture warriors, and never will. If atheism becomes an fairly accepted mainstream view, but still a distinct minority view (like, say, Judaism), that’ll be enough for most atheists and they won’t find it worth talking about.

    (Kind of like Britain over the last couple of decades—religion there got watered down enough on average, and being an atheist became publicly acceptable enough, that most atheists just don’t see the point in going on about it, except as a response to power grabs by religionists.)

  172. Paul W.

    TB,

    Was there some particular critique on John Pieret’s blog you wanted to address?

    (I’ve read John on this general subject a few times and never been much swayed, so I’m
    not inclined to go hunting through his blog for something interesting.)

  173. Paul W.

    TB,

    Re your stream analogy: it seems like a pretty odd and loaded analogy to me.

    It seems a bit bizarre to liken free public speech about a difference of opinion to poisoning a stream running through someone else’s property.

    New Atheists do generally understand that there will be a backlash to their coming out of the closet and exercizing their right to fre speech.

    They tend to disagree about the severity of the backlash—how poisonous is it, really—and the long-term consequences.

    We could work your analogy the other way. Atheists keeping mum and playing nice with religion are allowing toxic religion to permeate the shared environment, etc.

    Neither way of working the analogy seems particularly useful to me. It comes down to differences in goals and strategies, and they need to be taken seriously on their own terms, not simplistically analogized to something else.

  174. Paul W.

    TB,

    is recognized in one of the most important science-related trials of our generation as an expert witness in philosophy of science. Refute. That.

    What’s to refute? I never said that Pennock wasn’t a philosopher of science, or didn’t testify at Dover.

    Pennock was denied tenure at Texas. (After publishing Tower of Babel, IIRC.) Apparently, not all philosophers are as impressed with him as you seem to think I should be.

    Refute. That. Indeed.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like and respect Rob Pennock. (I’ve had him over to dinner, too.)

    On the other hand, on the specific point in question, I disagree with him, and so do many philosophers of science. (All the ones I know, and I know a fair number.)

    All the (other) philosophers of science I know disagree with Pennock’s simplistic concept of the supernatural and whether science is in its scope—and so do many philsophers of science who are more prominent and widely respected in philosophy than Pennock.

    That doesn’t settle anything of course—it’s just a counter-argument from authority, not worth much. And that’s my point exactly. Quoting simplistic dictums from Forrest and Pennock doesn’t settle anything, and if we’re going to make arguments from authority, you will lose big.

    So let’s not.

    You might want to read Breaking the Spell by Dan Dennett. If things were as simple as Forrest and Pennock and Mooney habitually make them out to be, you could dismiss that whole book with a sentence.

    And that would be a grave question-begging mistake.

    For my money, Dennett is clearly right on the specific point in question, and certainly makes a much better and more thorough argument. Book-length.

    Quoting Forrest or Pennock or Scott on this point is worse than irrelevant—they are hand-picked for their simplistic and politically convenient views on this particular point, which are not representative of a consensus view in philosophy of science as Chris likes to clearly imply.

    (My strong impression is that the majority view goes strongly the other way, and is close to the New Atheist view, but I don’t have survey results to demonstrate that.)

  175. TB

    Paul: “I don’t understand your objection to my referring to the NA’s as having an Overton strategy. Are you familiar with Overton’s tug-of-war metaphor?”
    Tb: No, I need more than just a vague similarity. I think you do too or you wouldn’t be expressing reservations.
    In the end, it’s not that big a deal. It’s probably sufficient to simply point out that whatever the NAs are doing, there’s a very good chance it will end up as a wedge strategy and vague references to Overton is not justification for their behavior.

    Paul: “I don’t think that atheism is likely to go that route. Most atheists just don’t care enough to be extreme culture warriors, and never will. If atheism becomes an fairly accepted mainstream view, but still a distinct minority view (like, say, Judaism), that’ll be enough for most atheists and they won’t find it worth talking about.”
    TB: That may be true, and I’m certainly in favor of atheists being as respected in society as much as any other group. I’m disgusted that people wouldn’t vote for a qualified candidate because that person is an atheist.
    But I don’t believe that’s the intent behind all this. “Science must destroy religion” isn’t about equality. To be fair, it’s also not the opinion of all atheists.

    Paul: “Neither way of working the analogy seems particularly useful to me. It comes down to differences in goals and strategies, and they need to be taken seriously on their own terms, not simplistically analogized to something else.”

    TB: No, it’s a useful example of how different goals can unintentionally overlap. You don’t necessarily have to say the chemical plant is evil either – they could be producing things that benefit the lives of millions.
    The point isn’t that the chemical company is reprehensible, just that in seeking to fulfill their goal it could also inadvertantely interfere with other people’s goals. And, it’s not an easy situation to correct.
    Ironically, your arguments mirror the ones made by some companies that find themselves in just these situations. Complaining is actually infringing on their right to do what they want with their land. Telling them to stop doing one thing is the same as telling them to stop doing everything – putting them out of business (or shutting up or keeping mum). They’re not responsible for what happens off their property.
    And, of course, the most common one – unfortunately used by tobacco companies and climate change deniers – there’s disagreement about the harm that’s being done so it’s ok to keep doing what we’re doing without changing anything.
    No, based on your arguments it’s a strong analogy.
    And trying to turn it the other way? Doesn’t work – that plant is upstream, not downstream ;) But seriously, the analogy it still works even if the farmer is introducing something toxic to the stream that interferes with the chemical plant. He shouldn’t be able to do that either, and his transgression doesn’t justify the plant’s transgression. There’s always someone downstream that you’ve got to respect.
    Equality, not one dominating the other.

    Paul: “Was there some particular critique on John Pieret’s blog you wanted to address?
    (I’ve read John on this general subject a few times and never been much swayed, so I’m
    not inclined to go hunting through his blog for something interesting.)”

    TB: You had so much in your initial posts that I didn’t care to address everything. If you haven’t tried to engage with John you really should. I’m sure he would enjoy the conversation. You may not be swayed, but I’ll bet you’ll learn a lot.

    Paul: “What’s to refute? I never said that Pennock wasn’t a philosopher of science, or didn’t testify at Dover.
    Pennock was denied tenure at Texas. (After publishing Tower of Babel, IIRC.) Apparently, not all philosophers are as impressed with him as you seem to think I should be.
    Refute. That. Indeed.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like and respect Rob Pennock. (I’ve had him over to dinner, too.)
    On the other hand, on the specific point in question, I disagree with him, and so do many philosophers of science. (All the ones I know, and I know a fair number.)
    All the (other) philosophers of science I know disagree with Pennock’s simplistic concept of the supernatural and whether science is in its scope—and so do many philsophers of science who are more prominent and widely respected in philosophy than Pennock.
    That doesn’t settle anything of course—it’s just a counter-argument from authority, not worth much. ”

    TB: No, it’s an ad hominem attack. Vague insinuations against his character. That’s pretty low Paul.

    Paul” And that’s my point exactly. Quoting simplistic dictums from Forrest and Pennock doesn’t settle anything, and if we’re going to make arguments from authority, you will lose big.
    So let’s not.”

    No, let’s go there. Because you missed my point. It’s not just argument from authority, it’s argument from UNCHALLENGED authority. And it’s case law.

    The biggest science-related trial in ages. Everyone saw who was going to be testifying – it was all over the place. And where were all these great philosophers of science when they found out Pennock was going to be spouting his nonsense? Not there Paul. They let him carry the load. When the oppportunity for these pillars of the community came to step forward and leave their mark they were absent.
    If there was that much of a problem with his take on things, they should have stepped forward. Made a fuss. Filed a freaking brief. They did nothing. So now, Pennock isn’t just another philosopher of science, he’s the expert witness in one of the most important science-related cases of our generation. And the line drawn by methodological naturalism is case law.
    So, who’s preparing the legal briefs for the next big trial on the NA’s side? Who’s going to introduce the philosophical idea that science and religion are not compatible? That science can and should address the supernatural? Who’s going to argue in court that only vague deism is the only scientifically acceptable religion? That person – the one getting ready to step in a court of law in the next big science-related trial of the century – bring that person’s arguments to the table.
    Every other of those philosophers can just suck it. If Pennock is wrong and not representative of the philosophy of science then he should not have been the person to testify at Dover. But he did and they let him. And you’re saying – quite baselessly I might add – that these small-minded jerks who enjoy the fruits of his labor took it out on him by denying him tenure for it? Well then that speaks volumes about their gutlessness. They’re not philosophers – they’re parasites.

    (Snip Paul’s hero worship of Dennett)
    More Paul: “Quoting Forrest or Pennock or Scott on this point is worse than irrelevant—they are hand-picked for their simplistic and politically convenient views on this particular point, which are not representative of a consensus view in philosophy of science as Chris likes to clearly imply.”

    It’s too late to say these things are just politically convenient – it’s legal precedent now. Maybe not beyond the boundaries of that court’s authority, but it certainly had far-reaching affects. And it’s the roadmap future trials will likely follow.
    All these other philosophers are free to believe what they want, write their books and make their arguments. But their arguments aren’t the ones that were used to defeat Intelligent Design.

    They’ve got to bring those arguments into court – and win. If they want to say that science can make definitive statements about the supernatural, they have to figure out how to do so without the supernatural then legally being able to make definitive statements about science. In science class. That case was also made at Dover. It lost.

    BTW, if you know Pennock so well I’m sure he wouldn’t mind hearing what an old friend has to say about him on an internet message board. Shall I email him a link to your comment or will you?

  176. TB

    Some final thoughts for Paul:

    - You introduce a lot of vague assertions into your posts – one of which “in support of this he makes “arguments” from authority—e.g., pointing to Genie Scott making the same lame, irrelevant argument that was refuted soundly by several NA’s years ago and numerous times since,” I asked for more details about this, didn’t get any and so I’m simply unable to respond. I’m left wondering what you’re specifically talking about and essentially being asked to take your word for it.
    This kind of vagueness seems – to me – to be an overall appeal to authority. Point to these people approvingly, dismiss others for unclear reasons. No details about why I should accept your points.
    So I introduced a concrete datapoint. One that’s not an argument from authority, that’s an argument from results.
    Pennock is quoted appreciatively not just because of his academic degree or how many fans he as, but because his work proved useful in the real world – in the court of law. Whether or not other philosophers of science agree with him is besides the point. Their work obviously wasn’t useful in the real world in this way, on the topic we’re discussing. Out of all the people who could have testified, Pennock was the one who did and was useful to the judge in his final opinion.

    But you do, I think unintentionally, bring up a different point …

    - Something about your snide remarks about tenure sparked a connection for me. I had to go looking for it but it reminded me of what physicist Lee Smolin said about tenure, that instead of enhancing academic freedom it could be used as cudgel for conformity. He was speaking about string theory, but if your insinuation is true then perhaps there’s a problem in some philosophy of science departments.

    - TB: “(Snip Paul’s hero worship of Dennett)” I got a little heated there, and take back that snide remark. For the record I have no problem with “Breaking the Spell.” I haven’t read it yet, but what I know of it sounds interesting.

    - Finally, one last thought about the Overton Window. It occurs to me that the doubts I have about whether Overton applies to what the NAs are doing, pertains to the difference between the marketplace and the marketplace of ideas.
    It’s a subtle point, but I think Overton operates in the marketplace of ideas as a way of expanding options there. The marketplace, though, is where I see results from the NAs – their products are catering to consumers that are already there. Much in the same way that Hollywood caters to the religious market with films like Narnia. People may be convinced to take up their products or brand, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a communications strategy.
    That also doesn’t take anything away from efforts by NAs, just that I don’t see a strategy like an Overton Window being utilized yet.

  177. Paul W.

    Paul: “I don’t understand your objection to my referring to the NA’s as having an Overton strategy. Are you familiar with Overton’s tug-of-war metaphor?”
    Tb: No, I need more than just a vague similarity. I think you do too or you wouldn’t be expressing reservations.

    Sorry, I don’t think I’m expressing serious reservations, except that I’m not sure I understand you. I am unclear on why you think Overton reasoning doesn’t apply here, or what you think is a criterion for an Overton window that is not being met.

    I (mis-?) understood you to be saying that if the individuals at different points on the “tug of war rope” have a binary judgement of what’s good/bad, it can’t be an Overton situation. I disagree, I think. I gave an example which I thought was uncontroversial, so I thought I’d addressed that.

    That was not an ad hominem attack on Rob Pennock. I stated at the outset that it was an argument from authority just as good as Mooneys i.e., not very. I was pointing out that even if we accept arguments from authority, which we should not Mooney does not win, because there are equally good (ever-so-slightly better IMHO, but that doesn’t much matter) counter-arguments from authority going the other way.

    I would be SO happy to avoid arguments from authority and discuss the actual issue, but Mooney has refused to do that for years, despite me and many others repeatedly telling him that we do not buy his arguments from authority about conflict between science and religion. I alone have explained it to him several times, but he keep quoting or linking to Forrest, Pennock, or Genie Scott making the same fallacious arguments, as though it settled something! He’s also prone to claiming he dealt with such things already, and providing a link to something he wrote previously which dodged the issue.

    If you want to have the actual argument, by all means, let’s go for it.

    But you don’t seem to want to do that. You want to refer to Judge Jones’s decision as though that actually settled something. That is an argument from authority as well,
    unless you actually defend Judge Jones’s reasoning.

    Rob Pennock’s simplistic statement about the overlap between the scope of science and the supernatural does not reflect any consensus in the philosophy of science, and Jones agreeing with it does not help your case. Jones is not a philosopher of science and he was making a judgement in an area in which he’s not an expert. (I’m more of an expert on philosophy of science than Judge Jones is, and that doesn’t count either. It’s all about the arguments.)

    So as I see it, we have an obvious stalemate, expertise-wise. Mooney can quote Pennock or Forrest or Genie Scott, and I can quote Dennett or whoever, and the issue is absolutely unsettled.

    Right?

    Which brings me to my actual point: Chris is being disingenuous when, for years, he approvingly quotes his favorites and acts as though it settled something—especially when he feigns amazement that anybody could fail to agree with him, as he’s done sometimes. He knows that people disagree with him and he knows why—he’s been told many times and many ways that the NA’s think NOMA and anything like it is false, and that supernatural isn’t the same thing as unfalsifiable. He’s read books where the New Atheists clearly explain distinctions he insists on slurring together and why his reasoning is therefore mistaken.

    He’s gotten that from scientists, who he proceeds to say are unqualified to make the argument because they’re not philosophers and he’s gotten it from philosophers who basically agree with those scientist—and he changes the subject.

    E.g., tarring the New Atheists with a broad brush and conveniently failing to acknowledge that Dennett is immune to his “unqualified to do philosophy” criticism of Dawkins, and in fact has written an entire book that refuting one of Mooney’s two major points. It’s all about how science not only can but should and to some extent already does does study religion and the supernatural, religion isn’t intrinsically unfalsifiable, etc.

    If Mooney really believed what he was saying, and was up-front about it, he’d say that Breaking the Spell is misguided and wrong from start to finish.

    But he doesn’t, because it’s not, and he knows he would get his ass kicked around the block by someone extremely well-qualified and able to do it.

    He knows that, but doesn’t want you to, so he prefers to make arguments by assertion or from authority, and carp about Dawkins overstepping the bounds of science.

    And then he has the unmitigated gall to claim that it’s the New Atheists who don’t understand the distinction between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, or the (related) issue of the scope of science vs. the supernatural.

    If you want an example, Chris just gave you one—have a look at the “New Statesman on Accommodationism” thread (more recent than this one).

    He quotes Barbara Forrest saying that the New Atheists need to “[recognize] that scientific evidence does not rule out existence of the divine,” as though they hadn’t all made it crystal clear for years that they DO in fact recognize that in one important sense, and have excellent reasons for disagreeing in another. Issues that Mooney will never, ever address, and probably will continue to avoid even mentioning.

    (I’ll bet you $20 he never even acknowledges the central point of Breaking the Spell, or has the guts to say he thinks it’s wrong, much less actually argue the point.)

    It is Forrest and Mooney who insist on conflating things and then insisting that their critics need to accept a horribly misleading and loaded proposition.

    That is obviously no accident. It’s a strategy. It’s a pattern of deception. Basically, it’s a big old lie.

    Chris rubs salt in the wound by taking the apparent “high road,” with all the talk about how we agree on so much, why can’t we get along, etc.

    Here’s why.

    We can’t get along because Chris never, ever acknowledges what we actually disagree on, or why. He just keeps parading the same two huge straw men and falsely criticizing us for (a) “not getting it” about conflicts between science and religion, and (b) “not getting it” about his strategic reasoning.

    We get it. We got it years ago. He’s quite clearly wrong about the first point, and he’s failed to make his case about the second. (He just keeps grinding the same axes without addressing the flaws in his argument, the main counterargument, and several apparent counterexamples that have been pointed out numerous times over the years.)

    That’s why we don’t much like or respect Chris Mooney anymore. Not because he disagrees with us, but because he habitually and willfully misrepresents both of our two central disagreements, then makes us out to be ornery schmucks.

    BTW, I sincerely do like and respect Rob Pennock, and admire most of his work. I don’t think I’m showing him any disrespect at all by disagreeing with one point of his philosophy, or by pointing out that others like Dennett disagree. I’m sure he knows those things.

    (I would be quite shocked if Pennock took it amiss. Arguing is pretty much what philosophers do for a living, and without disagreement they’d be out of a job. I certainly disagree with Dennett on some things as well. Neither is a useful authority and both are only useful for providing arguments.)

    I don’t see the point of contacting him about this, but feel free if you want to. I’d be delighted to have him involved in the discussion, but I seriously doubt he’d go for it.

    (I wouldn’t claim to have ever been friends with Rob, though I did know him a little a long time ago. He’d probably need some prompting to remember me, which I can provide if you do contact him.)

  178. Paul W.

    No, let’s go there. Because you missed my point. It’s not just argument from authority, it’s argument from UNCHALLENGED authority. And it’s case law.

    Huh? I’m not sure what you mean by unchallenged. Do you mean that the Thomas More Institute for some reason chose not to contradict that particular point in a particular case?

    Or do you mean nobody disagrees?

    Philosophers and scientists have written entire books disagreeing with NOMA-like claims and arguing that science can and even does study religion and the supernatural.

    Dawkins was not there because he wouldn’t have been politically useful—he’s said so himself.

    Sure, Pennock said some conveniently simple things in court, TMI chose not to challenge them, and Judge Jones accepted them.

    So?

    Are you saying that the fact that “it’s case law” makes it true?

    Useful, yes. True, not so much.

  179. Paul W.

    BTW, when I pointed out that Pennock didn’t get tenure, I was not saying I agreed with that decision. I didn’t.

    I was just saying that the argument from Pennock’s authority doesn’t wash with other philosophers, and questioning why, if it doesn’t, it should work for me.

    I have my own reasons for (mostly) agreeing with Pennock and for disagreeing sometimes.

    And I have my own suspicions about a vote or two against him that I don’t like at all. (One of his senior colleagues got tenure, ate his brain, and became an embarrassing raving apologetics kook. I wouldn’t be surprised if he voted against Pennock because Rob’s not Christian enough, in an orthodox sense, and doesn’t agree that science supports Christianity… but I really don’t know.)

  180. Paul W.

    TB:

    I have a longer comment in moderation, but…

    Me:Don’t get me wrong, I like and respect Rob Pennock. (I’ve had him over to dinner, too.)
    On the other hand, on the specific point in question, I disagree with him, and so do many philosophers of science. (All the ones I know, and I know a fair number.)
    All the (other) philosophers of science I know disagree with Pennock’s simplistic concept of the supernatural and whether science is in its scope—and so do many philsophers of science who are more prominent and widely respected in philosophy than Pennock.
    That doesn’t settle anything of course—it’s just a counter-argument from authority, not worth much. ”

    TB: No, it’s an ad hominem attack. Vague insinuations against his character. That’s pretty low Paul.

    No, it is not. I have IN NO WAY impugned Rob Pennock’s character. No way whatsoever. I haven’t impugned him at all.

    I have only said that I disagree with him on a particular point, and a fair number of philosophers do too. That is absolutely normal. Every philosopher believes a few things that most other philosophers don’t, and there is no ad hominem attack there, express or implied.

    It’s pretty low of you to say—not merely insinuate—that I did that.

    Take it back.

  181. TB

    I certainly won’t take it back. You said: “Pennock was denied tenure at Texas. (After publishing Tower of Babel, IIRC.) Apparently, not all philosophers are as impressed with him as you seem to think I should be.”
    And don’t think I didn’t notice that you snipped that from the quote you just highlighted.
    There are a lot of reasons for being denied tenure – just lately there are serious budgetary concerns all over the place that keep qualified people from promotion.
    You’re insinuating that it’s specifically a problem with his philosophical work – not just disagreement (which would be bad enough) but with hints of poor quality and low standards (“simplistic” is the word you used).
    Anyone in a position to know private personnel matters is also aware of the legal morass they could be in if they disclosed them publicly. So I don’t believe you have any special knowledge of the situation, which makes it wild speculation about his professional reputation which speaks to character.
    For the record, Pennock is now an associate professor at MSU.

    And I’m pretty clear about what I mean by unchallenged. If so many philosophers of science disagreed with Pennock, if his work was too simplistic, then they should have stepped forward and protested his inclusion as an expert witness. They should have been the ones to testify. They didn’t. And so the sniping from the safety of academia comes off pretty poorly.
    The fact is, it’s case law on the winning side – the scientific side. Legal precendent.

  182. TB

    Paul

    I’ll look at your longer reply later, but, OK, I accept your explanation regarding the tenure thing and withdraw my criticism. I honestly thought you were going somewhere else with it.

  183. Paul W.

    Fine, TB, if you wanna think I was slagging Rob Pennock, I’m tired of arguing about it.

    For the record, I agree that there are lots of reasons people get denied tenure—ESPECIALLY in philosophy. There are way more qualified people than academic jobs in philosophy.

    I even suggested one possible contributing factor that was reasonably flattering to Rob.

    You may consider it irresponsible speculation, and already said I have no privileged inside knowledge, but my intent was certainly not to smear Rob Pennock—it was to offer an example of how he might have gotten screwed for being reasonable!

    I was making your point that his being denied tenure doesn’t mean he isn’t good. It does mean that not everybody defers to him on matters of philosophy. He is not an authority it’s unreasonable to disagree with, as you seem to make him out to be.

    Sorry, I do think Rob has said some simplistic things about science and the supernatural, and I only bother to say that because those are precisely the things that Mooney wants to use to make his case and I happen to think they’re wrong and I’m happy to explain why.

    It is not off-topic, not malicious, and it’s not even particularly negative.

    Sheesh, is it wrong for me to even disagree with Rob Pennock on a point of philosophy? WTF? You seem to be a Pennock-worshipper in the sense you initially accused me of being a Dennett- worshipper.

    Get over it.

    And I’m pretty clear about what I mean by unchallenged. If so many philosophers of science disagreed with Pennock, if his work was too simplistic, then they should have stepped forward and protested his inclusion as an expert witness.

    Maybe they should have, in some sense, but didn’t. I could speculate, but you’d probably call it irresponsible since I have no inside knowledge.

    The fact is, it’s case law on the winning side – the scientific side. Legal precendent.

    And that’s relevant to my point how? WTF are we arguing about here?

    Are you seriously suggesting that I should take Judge Jones’s word on matters of philosophy over, say, Dan Dennett’s? (Or more to the point, my own assessment of the arguments?)

    That sure sounds like an argument from authority to me—and an especially bad one.

    I thought we were arguing a point of fact, not a point of law. Was I mistaken?

  184. Paul W.

    TB,

    Oh shit… ignore my last post… I hadn’t seen your retraction yet.

    Sorry.

    No harm, no foul, I hope.

  185. Paul W.

    TB,

    I have a reply in moderation that I posted before I saw your retraction. Please ignore it.

    (I also posted something saying that, but it seems to have disappeared without any notice that it’s in moderation… maybe because I said something like “Oh s***, my mistake.” without censoring the expletive. Sigh.)

  186. TB

    Paul

    Don’t worry about. With all the trolls around here, I may be overly suspicious of people’s intentions.

    I’m crunched with deadlines right now, so I don’t know when I’ll get to reply.

  187. TB

    Paul

    Apologies for taking so long to reply.

    Frankly, one of the things that have kept me from coming back (aside from some very real, killer deadlines) is knowing how much work this thread would take.

    Then I realized that what you’re doing is a kind of modified “gish gallop.” http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=Gish_gallop

    Not that you’re specifically being dishonest in the way discussed at that link, but you’ve thrown a tremendous amount of somewhat unconnected stuff in here.

    And the way to answer is not to worry about refuting everything. I just need to pick one thing and let others make up their minds whether you’re a reliable resource or not.

    So, let’s take a quick look at our recent point of contention – Robert Pennock.

    You’re right about one thing – this is an argument of authority. But that’s because you challenged his authority:

    “quoting a nonrepresentative philosopher such as Rob Pennock, as though they were representative of a dominant view among professional philosophers.”

    Your challenge about why Pennock is being referred to is an argument against his authority. So, my answers were entirely appropriate:

    1) I only pointed out why Pennock and his work can be cited, and why his work should be respected. I made no claim that you or others couldn’t defer to your pet philosopher. However, none of yours were successful in defending science in a court of law. So in terms of this argument from authority, being acknowledged as an expert witness is a pretty big trump card. At the very least, it shows that there’s no problem with Mooney or anyone else referring approvingly to his work.

    2) No one but you in this thread is claiming that Pennock is being used as “representative of a dominant view among professional philosophers.” I missed that the first time around. That’s a strawman.

    3) The only real refutation you’ve given for why Pennock should be disregarded was the tenure example you raised. Not only does it fail, for reasons I’ll explain, but it also goes a long way toward making me think you don’t have any special knowledge of this matter. In fact, I don’t think I even believe you had a meal with Pennock.

    Here’s why: I checked the online cv of a guy and it seems he kicked around a couple of places before getting tenure. I won’t say his name, but one of his initials is P and another is Z.

    That tells me tenure is not the up or down vote of a person or their work(as I suspected), there are many things that go into it. If you were really knowledgeable about these kinds of things, you would have known that and it wouldn’t have been brought up in the first place.

    4) But you did bring it up, and there is where I made a mistake. Based on other threads at this site, I see where I was wrong to accept your explanation for bringing up the tenure issue. Your defense was that “you didn’t agree with the decision.”
    On the surface, that’s nice. But it’s not an explanation or a description for why you brought it up in the first place.
    It doesn’t make any difference that you disagreed with it – No one was accusing you of agreeing with it. And if I had more time and wasn’t so distracted at that point, I probably would have realized that.
    Agreeing or disagreeing wasn’t the issue. The issue is you brought up insinuations about tenure because you found yourself in an argument on authority – an argument you yourself launched. When I pointed out Pennock’s qualifications, you dodged and you wove and all you could come up with was an ad hominem attack. It WAS an ad hominem attack. Baseless and ignorant.

    My mistake was that I was too quick to give you the benefit of the doubt. I won’t make that mistake again.

    So this is how you handle someone doing a kind of “gish gallop.” Pick your battle, refute the specific information and then ask the rest of your audience:

    If you can’t trust him in this specific instance, how can you just take his word for everything else?

  188. Paul W.

    TB,

    Calm down, man. I’m not doing what you say.

    See my latest comment back in the other thread, which may still be in moderation, and the one that’s prior to that, which is.

    I take Pennock seriously. I think he’s a good guy and a smart guy, and that he’s right about most things.

    I also think that if you take some of the things he says too literally—and which Mooney and Kirshenbaum quote out of context—they are wrong, in particular the very flat statement about naturalism, that “when one does science, one is putting aside questions about whether the gods or some supernatural beings had some hand in this.”

    If Pennock means that as flatly and absolutely as it sounds, he is wrong.t

    I hasten to add that I don’t think Pennock actually means it. In context, there are some ambiguities and apparent qualifications. That is important in determing whether Pennock himself is right, and that’s a fine subject to explore, but it is rather off-topic here.

    The important issue is whether that flat claim—interpreted absolutely, as Mooney and Kirshenbaum do to bash and dismiss the New Atheist position on naturalism—is actually true. Or at least, do they have a good argument for it? Something other than an argument from authority.

    (Which incidentally I think they may have gotten wrong—-Pennock may not actually have meant that claim that flatly in that passage. Some surrounding statements seem to contradict it.)

    I claim that
    (1) the claim is false irrespective of who did or didn’t make it, or did or didn’t mean it as an unqualified, absolutist statement.
    (2) the claim is controversial enough among philosophers, and particularly question-begging enough in the way that they use it, that they are personally responsible for having a solid argument for their position, (not from anybody’s authority), which
    (4) they do not.

    If they’re going to bash the New Atheists for that claim, they are responsible for the claim, irrespective of which philosophers agree or disagree—and equally eminent, trustworthy philosophers do in fact disagree, including one of the people they are criticizing so it comes down to the arguments, not authorities.

    If the claim was really unexceptionable among eminent philosophers, it might be forgivable for Mooney and Kirshenbaum to be so trusting of a simple statement from Pennock or Forrest. (It’d still be an error, just a forgivable one.)

    But it is not, and they know it’s not. They knew for at least a year before they used in Chapter 8 that it is at least a controversial claim, and in particular one that begs the question in arguing with the New Atheists. (Especially Dennett, a noted philosopher of science who wrote a whole book on the subject.)

    Worse, they still won’t make the argument, taking into account the main points and arguments of the people they’re criticizing. They act as if no counterargument has been made, and that is simply irresponsible.

    As my post in the other thread says, I suspect that Pennock didn’t mean the claim so flatly, because elsewhere he seems to qualify it in at least two ways. If that’s right, Mooney and Kirshenbaum quote-mined him, likely inadvertently.

  189. Paul W.

    TB,

    It appears that you don’t understand the concept of an argument from authority in its full generality, and this discussion won’t go anywhere until you do.

    You say that after I challenged you on an argument from authority, you replied with an argument “from results” instead.

    That was still an argument from authority. The fact that somebody gets results does not make them right. Lots of people have gotten results, including legal results, who were simply wrong. (Think Jim Crow laws.)

    The only good argument is a sound argument—one with correct premises and demonstrably correct inferences—independent of who says it, or who else believes it.

    Seriously, if you do not understand the standards of rational argument, you are going to continue to misunderstand me—and why I said what I did about Rob Pennock—in a really big way.

    I wasn’t actually dissing Rob. I was saying “if that sort of argument counted—but it doesn’t—then this argument the other way would count too.”

    I was making a reductio ad absurdam argument.

    Let me explain that, since I now guess that you don’t know the philosophical terminology. (And that’s okay, I’m happy to explain if you’re arguing sincerely.)

    A reductio ad absurdam argument is one where you pretend to accept a premise that you don’t actually accept and show that accepting the premise leads to false conclusions.

    If the steps in the argument are valid (and your other premises are correct), that shows that there must be something wrong with the premise you were pretending to accept, or you wouldn’t have gotten those false conclusions.

    The premise I was pretending to accept was that other experts’ opinion of an expert matter as to whether we should trust Rob Pennock.

    Let me be completely clear about that: I do not actually think that is true, and I do not think that we should just accept other people’s judgements of Rob, either way.

    All I meant to say was that if we accept experts’ judgements of Rob’s work as reliable indicators of its quality—and we should not!—then we can argue either way. We can point to philosophers and a judge who agree with him, and think he’s great. Or we can point to philosophers who didn’t think he deserved tenure, and think maybe he’s not so great.

    We’ve proved a contradiction there, which means we screwed up—we should not have accepted the premise that expert judgements of Rob Pennock are decisive. That was my point, not any actual slam against Rob.

    My point was that we should stop worrying about which experts come to which conclusions, because that sort of argument can go either way—and go on forever without reaching a conclusive result.

    We should instead look at the actual arguments people are making, and never accept or reject an argument on the basis of who’s making it.

    We should rule out ad hominem arguments, which attack the person instead of their argument. (Somebody who’s stupid and generally wrong may sometimes get lucky and make a sound argument.)

    We should also rule out arguments from authority, which jump to the conclusion that an argument its conclusion is correct on the basis that somebody we trust said it. Everybody is fallible, and even the smartest people in the world make bad arguments and come to the wrong conclusions, occasionally.

    (Seriously, they do. I’ve made half my scientific reputation on correcting the mistakes of people who are obviously, unquestionably smarter than me. Freaking geniuses, one of which I am unfortunately not. Nobody thinks I’m the smartest guy in the world, but I work hard and methodically at finding mistakes, and now and then I find something that somebody really, really smart screwed up on a particularly bad day, when they were in too much of a hurry to thoroughly think things through. That’s what lots of scientists do—the legwork to fix the mistakes of people smarter than them whose time is too valuable to waste on being really, really careful.)

    So seriously, I wasn’t bashing Rob sincerely—I was showing that it could be done, if we play by your rules, and trying to demonstrate that we therefore shouldn’t play by your rules. We should exclude ad hominem arguments and arguments from authority, and focus on the actual arguments from facts to conclusions without giving anybody more or less credit for who they are or aren’t.

  190. Paul W.

    TB,

    I just noticed I dropped the ball on this:

    You introduce a lot of vague assertions into your posts – one of which “in support of this he makes “arguments” from authority—e.g., pointing to Genie Scott making the same lame, irrelevant argument that was refuted soundly by several NA’s years ago and numerous times since,” I asked for more details about this, didn’t get any and so I’m simply unable to respond. I’m left wondering what you’re specifically talking about and essentially being asked to take your word for it.

    I am sincerely sorry about that.

    Here is a good example of what I’m talking about.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/10/eugenie-scott-powerfully-makes-the-case-for-science-religion-compatibility/

    In that posting, Mooney links to a video of Scott “powerfully” making her “empirical argument” that science and religion are compatible, and expresses mystification as to how anybody could disagree.

    That was roundly hooted at in the New Atheist blogosphere because the point that Scott and Mooney are making is one that the New Atheists have made themselves all along.

    The New Atheists have never denied that some scientists are religious, and they’ve always acknowledged that.

    Their argument has never been about whether such “brute force” compatibility of science and religion is possible. It is dead obvious that it is not only possible but common, and the New Atheists frequently point it out themselves. (Like P.Z. Myers praising Ken Miller as an excellent scientist and popularizer, which he’s done on numerous occasions.)

    The New Atheists have never been talking about “incompatibility” between science and religion in that sense. It is quite obvious that many people can believe many combinations of things, including logically conflicting things—either because they accept the contradictions somehow, more or less, or because they don’t notice the direct contradictions between things they think they know, or because they don’t recognize the implications of things they think, and/or don’t notice conflicts in the implications.

    When Mooney expresses mystification about how people could fail to be persuaded by this supposedly “powerful” argument by Scott, it’s bizarre and actually pretty funny.

    It’s funny because everybody is persuaded, and they always have been, and they’ve told Mooney that over and over again, for literally years now.

    It’s not funny that what Mooney is doing here is clearly a bait-and-switch. He’s pretending that the New Atheists are saying something simple and stupid, such that such a simple argument should persuade them—and he’s pretending to be mystified about why it doesn’t.

    That’s really pretty annoying, because it’s ridiculously condescending about something simple, and he’s the one being simplistic—those silly New Atheists, they just refuse to see the obvious!

    His pretense of mystification makes it really clear that he’s not being honest here, or is being inconceivably irresponsible.

    He knows full well that the New Atheists are making a different, more subtle point, which can’t be refuted by that argument—it’s made clear in all their books, and has been pointed out many times in blog posts and comments on Mooney’s own blog.

    Still, Mooney but chooses to clearly imply that they are making a point that is clearly refuted by that argument, and that they are mysteriously hardheaded such that they just don’t get it, or refuse to admit it, or something bizarre like that.

  191. TB

    OK, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. Note that I am viewing Paul posts through two lenses:

    1) That he’s practicing a kind of “galloping gish,” where the volume of his replies tries to confuse or overwhelms his opponents.
    2) That he’s engaging in behavior I’ll call the “Bilbo shuffle,” named after the guy who spotted it:
    Step 1: Make purposefully vague statement
    Step 2: Get called on it.
    Step 3: After getting called out, determine the direction of argument and reframe/redefine said vague statement a posteriori by using a rambling rationalization.

    So starting with post 189, Paul says: “Calm down, man.” Right away, he begins with a strawman.

    As tempting as it would be to engage Paul on some of the things he brings up, it’s a bad idea. For instance, this:

    “I also think that if you take some of the things he says too literally—and which Mooney and Kirshenbaum quote out of context—they are wrong, in particular the very flat statement about naturalism, that ‘when one does science, one is putting aside questions about whether the gods or some supernatural beings had some hand in this.’
    If Pennock means that as flatly and absolutely as it sounds, he is wrong. …”

    I could bring up the Dover trial transcripts, where there was much testimony from the losing side on how things like astrology should be considered “science,” but I’m not. It’s online and I encourage everyone to read those transcripts.

    But engaging him would take us away from the topic at hand, so it falls into Step 3: “After getting called out, determine the direction of argument and reframe/redefine said vague statement a posteriori by using a rambling rationalization.” (Applause Bilbo! Don’t know why I didn’t see him doing this.)

    OK, more from Paul:

    “It appears that you don’t understand the concept of an argument from authority in its full generality, and this discussion won’t go anywhere until you do.
    You say that after I challenged you on an argument from authority, you replied with an argument “from results” instead.”

    This seems to be on topic, so I’ll reply.

    No, Paul, you didn’t challenged me on an argument from authority, you questioned why Mooney would refer to Pennock. You said “quoting a nonrepresentative philosopher such as Rob Pennock, as though they were representative of a dominant view among professional philosophers.”

    That’s a challenge to his authority and my reply cited his qualifications. (You also threw in a strawman there, which I’ve already pointed out.)

    But let’s quote you in full, shall we?

    “In support of this he (Mooney) makes “arguments” from authority—e.g., pointing to Genie Scott making the same lame, irrelevant argument that was refuted soundly by several NA’s years ago and numerous times since, or quoting a nonrepresentative philosopher such as Rob Pennock, as though they were representative of a dominant view among professional philosophers.”

    Mooney points to what Scott and Pennock have to say – not to Scott or Pennock but their CONTENT. Even you acknowledge that: “same lame, irrelevant argument” or “quoting a nonrepresentative philosopher.” Pointing to their content is not making an argument from authority. Scott and Pennock most certainly have experience in what they’re commenting on, so agreeing with their content is not making an argument from authority.

    So when you say that Mooney is simply making an argument from authority, you’re introducing a strawman you can argue against.

    One that allowed YOU to start an argument from authority: Scott was “refuted soundly by several NA’s years ago and numerous times since.”
    And on Pennock: “Even philosophers in his own department mostly didn’t agree with Pennock on the points relevant here when he published Tower of Babel, nor do most philosophers of science.”

    Those are examples of the “bandwagon” fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandwagon_fallacy

    New Atheists say she’s wrong. Philosophers don’t respect him. That’s what you said! There’s no content there – just vague assertions. Arguments from authority.

    I see what you did there, Paul. You’re the one who made this an argument of authority. And when I pointed out Pennock’s qualifications, you hemmed and hawed and threw out unfounded insinuations about his professional career.

    You did that, Paul. I called you on it. “Step 3: After getting called out, determine the direction of argument and reframe/redefine said vague statement a posteriori by using a rambling rationalization.”

    Now, you go on to make claim after claim after claim in your posts. But I don’t need to address all those – that’s exactly how not to face down a gish gallop. I only have to focus on one thing and call that into question. After that, everything else you’ve written should be looked at with a jaded eye. Scanning your last three posts, I see other strawmen so it’s safe to assume there are even more in there. It’s not worth my time to search those out.

    Write all the verbage you want – I’ll waste no more time on you.

  192. Paul W.

    TB,

    You’re being a bit slow, or a bit dishonest, or a bit paranoid—I think mostly the latter.

    I have two main points, and have always had those same two main points here. You are the one that will not address either of the two main bones of contention:

    1. Whether Mooney consistently strawmans the New Atheist position on the incompatibility between science and religion. Notice that the specific example of Mooney’s post (linked above) praising Scott’s “powerful argument” is a vivid, extreme example of what I’m talking about, and have consistently been talking about. (If you’re not going to address that—which YOU ASKED FOR, and then criticized me for giving you the clear example you wanted—then certainly, by all means, waste no more time on me.)

    2. Whether Mooney consistently strawmans the New Atheists about political strategy, by failing to acknowledge that they aren’t just ignoring his strategic principles—they have counterexamples that make his principles seem clearly insufficient, and they have a counterargument which argues for a different strategy. Mooney clearly and consistently avoids even acknowledging this counterargument, and makes his same strategic argument, then makes the New Atheists out to be simply uncooperative and unreasonable for not following his advice. The New Atheists have explained why they do not follow his advice, over and over again, but he pretends that they have no counterargument.

    You evidently have not been paying attention. I’ve been making those points, and asking for them to be addressed, over and over and over again for several weeks, and the accommodationists here, including you, have CONSISTENTLY REFUSED TO ANSWER EVEN THE MOST BASIC AND IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.

    If anybody’s doing the Gish Gallop here, it is not me. It is you. And you’re doing it right now by fixating on ad hominem arguments and arguments from authority.

    You evidently do not understand what I’ve been saying all along about ad hominems and arguments from authority.

    I regreat that I ever made an ad hominem argument to counter an argument from authority.

    I don’t think that was actually invalid in context—I was explicitly saying that ad hominems and arguments from authority are not what we should be doing, but that if we do go there, there are authorities on both sides and ad hominems to rebut the arguments from authority, so it can go either way, SO WE SHOULDN’T, and should get back to the actual arguments (irrespective of authorites) for the two main bones of contention.

    You are evidently incapable of understanding that reductio ad absurdam argument form, or that it is an argument against what it naively appears to assume.

    I explained it to you, and you still don’t get it, and got all paranoid toward me instead, and that’s just not my fault.

    I find it apalling that you do not understand what an argument from authority is, and when you’re reflexively making one, or that it is invalid.

    That is not my fault either.

    Learn basic logic and civil rhetoric, or please do avoid engaging with me.

    And if by refusing to engage with me you mean refusing to engage with my arguments, but still insulting me and making ad hominem arguments, I will flame your pitiful ass mercilessly, continually pointing out your basic logical errors.

  193. Paul W.

    TB, you so don’t get it.

    When I say that Mooney makes arguments from authority, using simple one-or-two sentence quotes from Forrest or Pennock, I’m being charitable. Maybe he’s not making an argument from authority, and is just using a convenient, nicely-worded quote to make the statement himself.

    But if so, he’s making an argument by flat assertion, with no substantiating point.

    If the point was uncontroversial, that would be okay, but he consistently does this in a way that entirely begs the question at hand—whether the New Atheists are violating a basic rule of science in claiming that science provides evidence against religion.

    When I say that you can’t just accept such flat statements from Forrest or Pennock, I get flamed for being so freaking disrespectful of those wonderful philosophers as to disagree with them.

    Seriously, I do get flamed, pretty consistently, for disagreeing with Mooney’s preferred AUTHORITIES. Maybe Mooney only means to make flat assertions, but clearly I am not the only one here who interprets those quotes as arguments from authority—almost everybody on both sides does, and Mooney has never bothered to disabuse us.

    So perhaps I am mistaken, and was wrong to counter an argument from authority with an ad hominem argument. If so, I sincerely apologize.

    And if Mooney will clarify that he doesn’t mean those quotes as arguments from authority, but rather as simple flat unsubstantiated assertions that he’s just quoting for the nice wording, I will apologize unconditionally and profusely for inferring the wrong structure in his arguments.

    And then I will proceed to criticize his flat assertions just as forcefully, because they are utterly question-begging, and that’s just as bad.

    Mooney is either arguing by authority or simply begging the main question about naturalism.

    Which do you think it is?

    Either way, I want Mooney to substantiate his basic claims about the New Atheists, which I claim are straw men, and not resort to arguments from authority or question-begging.

    He has refused to do that for two years, despite this issue being raised many times by a bunch of people here and elsewhere. He pretends that his invalid argument has never been rebutted and makes it over and over again.

    He is not engaging in civil discourse. Neither are you.

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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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