New Statesman on Accommodationism

By Chris Mooney | November 5, 2009 10:44 am

There is a middle-of-the-road report on the “new atheist”/”accommodationist” argument in The New Statesman, which, it seems to me, gives a pretty fair account of the dispute. Frankly, I am surprised that there has not been more objective media coverage of this very significant rift; if Lingua Franca magazine were still around, that would be an appropriate place for it, but where are other appropriate outlets, like the Chronicle of Higher Education?

Anyways, I didn’t speak with the New Statesman author, but it seems Barbara Forrest did:

Forrest argues that new atheists should respect the personal nature of faith, and nurture a sense of humility by recognising that scientific evidence does not rule out existence of the divine. They should accept that there is a wide range of views, she says, and stop insisting that everyone follow the “one true way” of atheism. Failing to do so only turns people off in droves.

Yet it seems unlikely that the new atheists have been this damaging. They have been an identifiable group and social force for five years only – starting with Harris’s The End of Faith in 2004, which was followed by Dawkins’s The God Delusion in 2006. More significantly, polls indicate that the proportion of the US public that subscribes to a creationist account of human origins has remained relatively constant for the past 25 years, hovering around 45 per cent. The previous era, which advocated greater respect for religion, does not seem to have won over hearts or minds. So who is to say that taking the opposite approach will drive anyone away?

I want to comment on this, because I think it contains some pretty big misconceptions about the nature of public opinion, and how we might detect changes therein.

We know there is a strong and unwavering subset of the public that embraces creationism, and that it is deeply entrenched, and has been for decades. That’s not in dispute. But there is a lot of questionable thinking about how the New Atheism, a very young movement, may or may not have affected this.

First, I don’t know to what extent that part of the population that embraces creationism views the New Atheism as something distinctly “different” from what came before. After all, creationists and the religious right were denouncing “secular humanists” long before the New Atheism came along. Creationist leaders are surely aware of the New Atheism, but for the creationist rank-and-file, who have long considered evolutionary science to be the equivalent an atheist plot (and have been told this repeatedly by said leaders), it is not clear to me that they will find any news here, much less change their views dramatically on that basis.

Therefore, even assuming that the New Atheists are having an impact somewhere, it is hardly obvious that the creationist ranks are the place where we would expect to detect it. For my part, I’m far more worried about alienation of the middle, and the thwarting of coalitions that might combat the creationists, as a result of the New Atheism.

Secondly, I find it highly dubious to judge past strategies to be a failure based on the lack of movement in the creationist polling numbers cited above.

In a longstanding culture war situation, like the one we have over the teaching of evolution, you often have to run to stand still. And in the “previous era,” at least one kind of undeniable stride was made that has nothing to do with polling numbers–namely, we won the court cases and got the legal precedents when it really counted. Moreover, in the courtroom, e.g., the Dover trial, “accommodationism” was the triumphant strategy.

These court victories don’t mean that the creationist numbers went down; they just mean the creationists didn’t get a stronger foothold in our schools–which itself was a pretty big achievement.

Throughout all of this, there has been a longstanding perception in much of America that science and religion are inimical to one another, and contradictory. This is a perception that the creationists have fanned for a long time (hence the “secular humanism” business), and that the New Atheists now also explicitly support. In a sense, it works to the advantage of both groups, at the expense to of the middle.

This “conflict narrative” or “conflict thesis” also happens to be a historically misinformed perspective, in my view, and one that is questionable on other fronts as well–but I think it is a dominant perception, and constantly reinforced by the mass media.

For those of us critical of the New Atheists, then, it is not because we think they have emerged and dramatically upset the culture war stalemate over the teaching of evolution in some way. Rather, it is because they are likely alienate the middle ground and aren’t a constructive response, in the present moment, to the need to defuse longstanding tensions over science and religion in America.

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Comments (294)

  1. John Kwok

    Chris,

    While yours is an intriguing commentary on the New Statesman’s author, I find his to be the best, most succinct, summary I have seen of the whole “accomodationist” debate. Am surprised that he didn’t consult with others, most notably Genie Scott and Ken Miller before writing his essay.

    Anyway, did you see this too in the same issue of the New Statesman, especially since a certain “friend” of ours is so prominently mentioned:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-god-blog/2009/11/belief-religion-science-ruling

    Appreciatively yours,

    John

    P. S. You should have written “anyway”, not “anyways”, but that’s just my slight editorial comment of the day.

  2. Svaals

    Well said. The viewpoint taken by both camps that science and faith are incompatible is convenient for both groups, but certainly not right. By trying to make the question “science or faith?”, a lot of people in the middle are forced to make a choice they are uncomfortable making. The more offensive and demanding the rhetoric becomes, the more the people in the middle view the offenders as “wrong” and the others as “right”.

    By offending the middle, you’re essentially saying to moderates “You’re not a scientist and we don’t want you”. The way to sway the public opinion in the middle is to remain reasonable and calm, which are qualities that scientists should already demonstrate. Even if you can’t “win” the public opinion, as long as you don’t do anything to cause a loss, you’re maintaining the support of moderates, which will always be necessary in translating science from the bench to the classroom or government.

  3. Sorbet

    The New Statesman summary is one I like since it clearly describes the agreements and disagreements the author has with the New Atheists.

  4. gillt

    Mooney: “For my part, I’m far more worried about alienation of the middle, and the thwarting of coalitions that might combat the creationists, as a result of the New Atheism. […]
    Rather, it is because they are likely alienate the middle ground and aren’t a constructive response, in the present moment, to the need to defuse longstanding tensions over science and religion in America”

    Your concern is noted, but based on what is known it’s as equally valid to say that it’s too early to tell if the NAs have had any affect, positive or negative, on this poorly-defined middle ground. Also, it’s just as likely that NAs are having a positive impact. Voicing concerns is one thing, showing us why is another. (speaking of which, whatever happened to Testimony Tom Johnson?)

    Mooney: “Secondly, I find it highly dubious to judge past strategies to be a failure based on the lack of movement in the creationist polling numbers cited above.”

    If past strategies haven’t significantly swayed either creationist or more importantly the general public’s acceptance of evolution, which it hasn’t, then past strategies are a failure or inadequate. If the goal is to change public opinion, you cannot possibly define past strategies as successful.

    Mooney: “Moreover, in the courtroom, e.g., the Dover trial, “accommodationism” was the triumphant strategy.”

    You don’t find it a bit worrying that non-scientists, namely judges, get to decide what is and isn’t science, or can be taught as science in a classroom? It’s a decision that’s better left to the experts.

  5. Jon

    You don’t find it a bit worrying that non-scientists, namely judges, get to decide what is and isn’t science, or can be taught as science in a classroom? It’s a decision that’s better left to the experts.

    Do only scientists “own” science and how its taught? Educators don’t? Philosophers? Jurists? If you’re a Phd in science you have exclusive rights on that? That strikes me as exactly wrong.

  6. gillt

    Science isn’t a democratic process Jon. Are you arguing that the experts are not in the best position to decided these things?

    I suggest scientists (and philosophers of science) are in the best position to decide what is and isn’t science. Judges are neither. Educators can surely take up the important job of figuring out how it is taught. Joe the plumber is not qualified; so no, the majority of jurists are out.

  7. bob

    It’s flabbergasting that people are still confused about this. Of course science doesn’t rule out the divine! It doesn’t rule out *anything* supernatural. I hope Barbara Forrest respects unicorns, aliens, Bigfoot, ghosts, pixies, and titans, lest we drive away people in droves.

    Mooney’s concern trolling fails for the same reason. “We don’t know that the new atheists aren’t hurting the cause, so we need to respect the people (“accommodationalists”) who believe they are.” Why? What evidence is there to suspect that an accommodating stance will help (or hurt) matters? The data being cited here seems to indicate that *nothing* drastically affects the numbers. So, your point is, “we can’t figure out what to do, so thus you should do what I do”?

  8. Paul W.

    Forrest argues that new atheists should respect the personal nature of faith, and nurture a sense of humility by recognising that scientific evidence does not rule out existence of the divine.

    Hyeesh, yet agan with your beloved Straw Man #1, Chris?

    EVERY> prominent “New Atheist” and almost all non-prominent ones agree
    science cannot definitively disprove the existence of the divine. They do
    generally agree that science casts grave doubt on the common kind of God
    that the overwhelming majority of religious people believes in. (An interventionist,
    usually personal God.)

    The NA’s think that the old reasons for believing in God have been pretty
    well debunked by science explaining the things God was supposed to explain,
    such that it’s a failed hypothesis, and that most popular concepts of
    God and the supernatural are either incoherent or contradicted by the available
    evidence. (They also acknowledge that religious people can be good scientists,
    so long as they compartmentalize their beliefs and either study things
    that happen not to conflict with their religious beliefs, or adopt methodological
    naturalism as a professional stance.)

    And you believe that, too, I’ll wager. You like to pretend that the NA’s
    believe in a simplistic notion of the conflict between science and religion, when
    in fact they believe pretty much what you do, as a scientifically inclined
    atheist, and for the same reasons.

    Do correct me if I’m wrong, please.

    This point has been made scores of times and you’ve never bothered to disabuse
    us NA’s. Your misrepresenting and stonewallingfor years is pathetic.

    They should accept that there is a wide range of views, she says, and stop insisting that everyone follow the “one true way” of atheism. Failing to do so only turns people off in droves.

    And, inevitably, there’s your beloved straw man #2.

    The NA’s do accept, and have always accepted, that there is a wide range
    of views, and that people have a right to their personal views.

    Recognizing that does not impose an obligation to be silent about
    differences of opinion about religion, or whether science and religion
    conflict.

    The NA’s do generally accept that there’s a downside to being vocal about
    these things—that in fact, you may be right that there’ll be a backlash against
    science if the conflicts between science and religion are out in the open.
    (Presumably you are right to some extent—we know that.
    The question is whether it’s worth it, and for what goals on what timescales.)

    They are guessing that the backlash isn’t as severe as you assume, and that
    it’s outweighed by the benefits. You add nothing to the discussion that
    helps us evaluate that tradeoff differently.

    We are all accommodationists to a greater extent than you acknowledge, and
    always have been.

    We also have different goal priorities than yours, and different strategies. We
    think that bringing atheism out of the closet and countering knee-jerk
    respect for religion and “faith” is a good thing in itself. We also think that in
    the long run, that’s a good way to increase acceptance and appreciation of
    science in general.

    Until you address Overton Window arguments and show that your
    accommodationist arguments are actually stronger, you are talking past the
    New Atheists, not to them, apparently to convince uninformed people in the
    middle. (By distracting them from the fact that New Atheists’s views are
    more sensible than you admit, and the fact that their strategies make sense
    too—at a minimum more sense than you ever dare to acknowledge.)

    And that is why so many people despise you, including former supporters
    like me. You’re a shameless deceptive propagandist who manufactures
    disagreement with people you actually agree with to avoid an
    honest discussion of goals and strategies.

    Pretty shameful, Chris. But it stopped being surprising a year or so ago.

  9. One thing that might help in developing a middle ground between these two polarized camps is to give more attention to the various middle positions between pure atheism (New or otherwise) and “creationism.”

    When the media talk of “creationism,” they almost always mean the most extreme form, called Young Earth Creationism in those circles where different kinds of creation doctrine are discussed — the idea that the Earth was created 6000 years ago, in a week. There are many other forms, and someone in the unclaimed middle often believes in one or another of them.

    Intelligent Design, for instance, is incompatible with Young Earth Creationism; it believes in an ancient Earth and the common descent of all life.

    Then there’s Appearance of Age theory, which claims the universe is young but made to look old, supplied with a “back story.” This puts an impenetrable wall between theology and science, with the express purpose of letting each ignore the other.

    Then there’s the Day-Age theory and its many relatives, which take the Genesis creation account as in one way or another metaphorical. The Catholic church has been taking Genesis metaphorically since the time of St. Augustine, c. 500 AD.

    And so on.

    Anyone Abrahamic theist — Jewish, Christian, Moslem — is a creationist in some sense, believing God created the universe. There are lots of ways of combining that belief with current scientific theory.

  10. Jon

    I suggest scientists (and philosophers of science) are in the best position to decide what is and isn’t science. Judges are neither.

    Scientists may not know philosophy of science, or history of science. Philosophers of science may not agree with each other. A jurist’s job is to figure out what the law dictates, which may involve determining a legal definition of science, about which the experts may disagree. I suggest that judges are for the most part competent to do this. It looks like they were in the Dover case. A dictatorship of “experts” is not really democracy.

    Of course science doesn’t rule out the divine!… I hope Barbara Forrest respects unicorns, aliens…

    As usual, a New Atheist is junking Spinoza, Karl Jaspers, ghosties, and seance mediums in the same bin. After all, if you don’t have the slightest interest in Spinoza or Jaspers, it makes no difference (not a scientist? Then who the f*** cares?)

  11. John Kwok

    @ Earl –

    Intelligent Design creationism is as much a part of creationism as is Young Earth Creationism. Read Robert Pennock’s “Tower of Babel” or the updated, recent edition of Ronald Numbers’s “The Creationists” or Eugenie Scott’s “Evolution and Creationism” which should illustrate to you how and why Intelligent Design is viewed correctly by many of its supporters – as well as detractors – as an “evolved” form of creationism. Moreover, Intelligent Design creationism has been shown by philosopher Barbara Forrest and biologist – and fellow conservative – Paul Gross to be at the core of the Discovery Institute’s crypto-Fascist agenda for the United States, which they demonstrated in their book, “Creationsm’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”.

  12. Michael

    Scientists are best qualified to determine what ‘science’ is, but being scientists and being human, they can be, and often are, wrong. The real beauty of science over religion is that, over time, science is self-correcting. Religion is not. If a vote is required, it’s not science. It may be democracy, but it’s not science.

    We must keep in mind that ‘science’ is not ‘truth’. Science is the search for truth, as far as we humans are able to understand that truth. The scientific method is the engine of that search. The results from the scientific method are called ‘theories’. All of known science is theory. All valid theories can be proven wrong — if not, it’s not a theory, but rather a belief based on faith. These beliefs can be stronger than any scientific theory, no matter how well established that theory is, but these beliefs are not ‘science’.

    We currently have a kind of cultural war over where theory and belief collide, and it’s a nasty, messy thing to behold.

    But it has forever been such…

  13. Paul W.

    Jon @ 10,

    Nice Courtier’s Reply.

    Is there some particular wisdom from Spinoza or Jaspers we should be more appreciative of?

    Keeping in mind, of course, that the “New” atheists are generally pretty explicit about not arguing with oddball nearly-vacuous theology like Spinoza’s.

  14. Jon

    The scientific method is the engine of that search.

    THE engine for searching for the truth? I would grant it is the best engine for searching for *certain* kinds of truths. But it’s not THE engine for ALL kinds of truths.

  15. Jon

    not arguing with oddball nearly-vacuous theology like Spinoza’s.

    Sneering and name calling as philosophical method. As I’ve said before, discussing philosophy with New Atheists is like discussing it with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

  16. Jon

    Is there some particular wisdom from Spinoza or Jaspers we should be more appreciative of?

    There’s all sorts of stuff you guys should be more appreciative of. I suggest starting with Isaiah Berlin’s *Divorce Between the Sciences and Humanities*:

    http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/published_works/ac/divorce.pdf

  17. gillt

    Jon: “Do only scientists “own” science and how its taught?”

    What does that even mean? You don’t own methodologies.

    Jon: “Scientists may not know philosophy of science, or history of science. Philosophers of science may not agree with each other. A jurist’s job is to figure out what the law dictates, which may involve determining a legal definition of science, about which the experts may disagree. I suggest that judges are for the most part competent to do this. It looks like they were in the Dover case. A dictatorship of “experts” is not really democracy.”

    You still seem to be laboring under the gross misconception that science is a democratic process that needs judges and juries to put to a vote the differences between actual science and pseudoscience. Do you care to address this claim?

    The judge in the Dover trial got it right not because he was equipped to debunk the garbage the IDiots threw at him, but because he put his trust in the conclusions among many scientists that ID is a failed hypothesis.

  18. Sorbet

    I agree that scientists are in the best position of deciding what is science. That is why the Dover judgement crucially relied on the testimony of bona fide scientists like Ken Miller.

    I personally think that Chris’s view that the Dover win relied on accommodationism is as misguided as the contention that it was a victory for atheism.

    The Dover trial was simply about illustrating that ID is not science, a notion that has nothing explicitly to do with either accommodationism or atheism.

  19. Luke Vogel

    As you may expect, Coyne has a blog up on this exact thing, amusingly with nearly the exact title.

    >”I am surprised that there has not been more objective media coverage of this very significant rift””For my part, I’m far more worried about alienation of the middle, and the thwarting of coalitions that might combat the creationists, as a result of the New Atheism.””Dan seems like a nice guy, and is no intellectual slouch, but this one he phoned in.

    And I guess I’m tired of the debates myself. I’m posting this only because I was intereviewed for the piece, as were several other participants.”<

    That has become common fare for Coyne. Absolutely pointless and within a week, if he sticks with the game plain, shown to be basically meaningless because he will find a reason to post again on what he claims he hates to talk about so much and will, no matter the argument or caliber of person, will say this was beneath them or more of the same.

  20. Paul W.

    I’d said not arguing with oddball nearly-vacuous theology like Spinoza’s.

    Sneering and name calling as philosophical method Jon sneered.

    Sorry if it sounded that way, and maybe I was too terse or blunt or something.

    When I refer to Spinoza’s theological views as “oddball” I mean that they are not representative of religion in its natural form, or any significant contingent of clearly religious people. And when I say that it’s nearly-vacuous, I mean that it doesn’t make much in the way of truth claims, as all popular religions do.

    My view of religion as a natural phenomenon is pretty close to Pascal Boyer’s in Religion Explained, which you should read if you haven’t.

    In that view, rarefied academic theology is a different thing from the central sense of “religion.” Religion is generally about truth claims, and rarefied theology is largely a way of avoiding falsification of those claims. (E.g., theodicy.)

    Please don’t assume I don’t appreciate the humanities, or philosophy in particular, or even Spinoza. (I’ve studied philosophy very seriously at both graduate and undergraduate levels, for example, and almost became a philosopher like half my friends are.)

    I’m not going to read a 30-page paper by Berlin right now, a least not without some hint as to what you think is valuable. (And that it’s something that I don’t already know.)

    You seem to be pretty quick to assume that New Atheists are philistines and only out to jeer and sneer.

    You strike me as a knee-jerk anti-New atheists who is no better, and no better informed.

  21. Luke Vogel

    Let me just clarify a couple point from my last post.

    When I said “stayed silent” I am speaking specifically about issues surrounding “new atheism”. Also, the “two-fold” thinking is; that all other approaches have “failed” (“EVERYONE” has failed as Coyne put’s it), and what we are doing now is “working”, “just look at the number of people “coming out” etc. (“we’ve made more progress in two years than decades of niceness” – Dawkins at AAI 07).

  22. John Kwok

    Sorbet,

    I agree wholeheartedly with this observation of yours:

    “The Dover trial was simply about illustrating that ID is not science, a notion that has nothing explicitly to do with either accommodationism or atheism”

    What led Judge John Jones to make his historic, precedent-setting (if legally only informally, but one that’s been relied on elsewhere around the country), were the scientific merits of modern evolutionary theory and Intelligent Design creationism, not, as Chris has noted, whether one side was more “accomodationist” than other. Indeed, if one reads the Dover testimony carefully, the trial itself wasn’t one devoted at all to accomodationism, but instead, on carefully weighing the scientific and related evidence which clearly demonstrated that Intelligent Design was merely religiously-derived pseudoscientific nonsense (Though in light of the nefarious activities of Intelligent Design’s primary “think tank”, the Seattle, WA-based Discovery Institute, I would go further to assert that Intelligent Design – and other “flavors” of – creationism is, quite simply, mendacious intellectual pornography.).

    Appreciatively yours,

    John

  23. Anthony McCarthy

    — I suggest scientists (and philosophers of science) are in the best position to decide what is and isn’t science. Judges are neither. Educators can surely take up the important job of figuring out how it is taught. Joe the plumber is not qualified; so no, the majority of jurists are out. gillt

    Ah, how nice. But down here below Olympus, Judges get to decide on education policy and what constitutes a violation of the separation of church and state. And the rest of government has a hand in it too.

    I’m curious as to how you would legally implement the verdict of scientists (and philosophers of science) on the question of what can be taught in public schools. Within the constitutional framework we use to administer those institutions.

    You do realize that is an issue in this, don’t you? Or did you think the power of science was such that it’s fiat was sufficient. I seem to recall Einstein talking about the necessity of bringing science to the village square so The People could decide policies around it. Or is that too vulgar and plebeian for today’s scientists.

  24. Kirk

    Intellegent Design most emphatically does not allow “common descent of all life”. Behe and Demski completely reject separation into distinct species by natural selection with a firehose of nonsensical FUD re: information theory, genetic drift. It’s creationism pure and simple.

  25. Anthony McCarthy

    — As usual, a New Atheist is junking Spinoza, Karl Jaspers, ghosties, and seance mediums in the same bin. After all, if you don’t have the slightest interest in Spinoza or Jaspers, it makes no difference (not a scientist? Then who the f*** cares?) Jon

    You don’ t just have to be a scientist, you have to be a new atheist scientist.

  26. bilbo

    You don’t find it a bit worrying that non-scientists, namely judges, get to decide what is and isn’t science, or can be taught as science in a classroom?

    Welcome to the real world of education, gillt, where most school boards are elected non-educators (or scientists) from the public realm. If that’s what you’re upset about, attacking religion isn’t going to help much.

  27. Anthony McCarthy

    I forgot to point out that it’s always so interesting to see the more callow new atheists make their list of supernatural entities because they almost inevitably don’t seem to realize what the difference between the alleged natural and the supernatural would consist of.

    As I suspect the list might come from that long one that Carl Sagan had in his Demon book, it’s interesting to note that just about no one fervently believed in aliens like Sagan did, he just didn’t think they’d gotten here yet.

  28. bilbo

    Scientists may not know philosophy of science..

    Just look at all the scientists posing as philosophers in this whole “science vs. religion” debate – especially those that pretend they’re the first person in history to ever examine religion from a philosophical perspective. That should be proof enough.

  29. gillt

    McCarthy: “I forgot to point out that it’s always so interesting to see the more callow new atheists make their list of supernatural entities because they almost inevitably don’t seem to realize what the difference between the alleged natural and the supernatural would consist of.”

    Nor do you or at least you’ve failed to ever explain it to anyone here.

  30. bilbo

    That has become common fare for Coyne. Absolutely pointless and within a week, if he sticks with the game plain, shown to be basically meaningless because he will find a reason to post again on what he claims he hates to talk about so much and will, no matter the argument or caliber of person, will say this was beneath them or more of the same.

    The fact that Coyne dismisses literally every argument contrary to his at face value, regardless of topic, should tell everyone that he’s just blowing a lot of hot air and stroking his ego.

    Think about it. When was the last time you heard Jerry Coyne say something like “you know, I disagree with Person A, but they brought up an interesting point?” Never – because it’s never happened. Jerry starts all discussion instead with “Person A is a woolly-headed idiot, and now I’ll tell you why every word out of their mouth is fundamentally wrong.” His stock in this debate is more about his ego than a sincere drive to further science. Otherwise, why would he purposefully stalemate discussion?

  31. gillt

    bilbo: “Just look at all the scientists posing as philosophers in this whole “science vs. religion” debate – especially those that pretend they’re the first person in history to ever examine religion from a philosophical perspective. That should be proof enough.”

    I ask myself the same question: “Look at all the hobbits and piano teachers posing as philosophers here.”

  32. Sorbet

    McCarthy, in the usual context of your misrepresentation, I would like to see an exact quote from Sagan that says he “believed in aliens”. As usual you are tossing around examples out of context and without clear references. There are a lot of reasonable scientists who believe in the possibility of life in the universe for very clear scientific reasons. But of course, with your dense ignorance of exobiology (link), you wouldn’t know.

  33. Jon

    …especially those that pretend they’re the first person in history to ever examine religion from a philosophical perspective

    Usually when you do research or a study, you first ask “has anyone else made a contribution on this?” Overlooking existing work is often a sign of incompetence.

  34. Sorbet

    And from his record one gets the feeling that McCarthy is both a retired piano teacher AND a hobbit.

  35. bilbo

    Overlooking existing work is often a sign of incompetence.

    Bingo, Jon. Before I knew or cared anything about New Atheists, I got a bit uneasy when I saw them dismissing a couple of centuries of philosophical debate on superficial grounds and attempting to start it all over. That’s always the first sign of a BS ideology, whether God is involved or not.

  36. gillt

    You haven’t been paying much attention bilbo.

    The NAs don’t dismiss a couple centuries of philosophy, they reject a couple centuries of religious apologetic theology on the grounds that a couple centuries of better philosophy has already refuted it.

  37. Paul W.

    Just look at all the scientists posing as philosophers in this whole “science vs. religion” debate – especially those that pretend they’re the first person in history to ever examine religion from a philosophical perspective. That should be proof enough.

    I dunno. Seems to me these “scientists posing as philosophers” are mostly rehashing mainstream views in the philosophy community, without claiming to be very original.

    Most philosophers are atheists, and most think there are good philosophical reasons to be atheists, and that most modern theology is interesting in the way that phrenology is interesting.

    Seems to me that there are a lot of anti-New Atheists citing distinctly minority views (such as Forrest’s) as though they were the received view in the philosophy community.

    Chris does it all the time, ridiculously condescending to, e.g., Dawkins for “philosophizing” when Dawkins is saying things that are unremarkable to philosophers, and particularly to philosophers of science, but surprising to laypeople. And Chris, apparently.

    Dawkins does oversimplify a bit here and there, and is sloppy sometimes but by and large he’s saying things that are boringly well-known among philosophers. (Not too bad for a pop bestseller.)

    Most philosophers think that Hume and Kant killed most of the popular arguments for God a couple of hundred years ago, and that Darwin killed the last remaining major argument.

    Since then it’s been mostly screwy folks like Plantinga trying to wriggle out of it, and revive dead arguments, and a few atheists running along behind them cleaning up their mess. Most philosophers just don’t find that very interesting, because it’s pretty obvious why you should be a nontheist of some sort, and the arguments pro and con theism are mostly of historic interest.

  38. Tom Johnson

    I’m not dead, gillt….nor am I easily chased off by snippy blog trolls. Unlike yourself, I just tend to have a real job that prevents me from posting useless comments on 15 different blogs all day long, none of which add anything to the discussion.

    Chris said: Therefore, even assuming that the New Atheists are having an impact somewhere, it is hardly obvious that the creationist ranks are the place where we would expect to detect it. For my part, I’m far more worried about alienation of the middle, and the thwarting of coalitions that might combat the creationists, as a result of the New Atheism.

    I agree 100%. For any of us that have ever spoken with a hardcore creationist, it should be pretty clear that confrontational tactics work just about as well as trying to make friends. In other words, you won’t be changing too many minds unless you’re wholeheartedly agreeing with them (which, strangely enough, also applies well to New Atheists. Hmm…).

    Thwarting religious coalitions that try to combat creationism by calling them “enablers” is something that I’m terribly worried about. I say enablers, but I think PZ called them something akin to mentally disturbed murderers once. Why not work with those groups, especially if their outlook on evolution is the same as ours?

  39. gillt

    Jon: “A dictatorship of “experts” is not really democracy.”

    Are you being clever or do you really believe theories are arrived at by a consensus.

    The judge in the Dover trial got it right not because he was equipped to debunk the garbage the IDiots threw at him, but because he put his trust in the conclusions among many scientists that ID is a failed hypothesis.

  40. bilbo

    gillt and Paul:

    I might be mistaken, but did you two just imply that arguments about the existence of God (those that attempt to give God credence) are not part of philosophy?

    Please tell me you didn’t.

  41. Paul W.

    bilbo says

    Bingo, Jon. Before I knew or cared anything about New Atheists, I got a bit uneasy when I saw them dismissing a couple of centuries of philosophical debate on superficial grounds and attempting to start it all over.

    IMHO it’s clearly apologists for religion who are dismissing a couple of centuries of philosophy. They act as though Hume and Kant and then Darwin hadn’t pretty well crushed the traditional arguments for belief in God, leaving theism with no real support.

    The New Atheists are mostly popularizing long-settled philosophy.

    That strikes me as a good thing.

  42. gillt

    Well gosh bilbo, traditional argument for god get brought up in philosophy of history departments all the time. Is that what your asking? For example, my medieval philosophy professor in college wrote a book on Scotus.

  43. Paul W.

    Bilbo,

    No, I didn’t say pro/con-theism arguments aren’t part of philosophy. Just that it’s a dead issue to the bulk of philosophers, who are atheists, don’t find atheism controversial, and think that the continuing arguments for God are ridiculous. (Like Plantinga’s.)

    God is dead. Spread the word.

  44. Jon

    Actually, the long settled philosophy is the liberal position for religious liberty: that “it is impossible to prove a negative” (eg, there’s no way to prove that God, in some form, does not exist). This is why it’s been traditionally a matter of personal conscience.

  45. Jon

    Those philosophers are “in bulk” not aggressive, proselytizing atheists either. They don’t run around insulting religious adherents, saying “continuing arguments for God are ridiculous,” etc.

    (Bertrand Russell disciples aside, of course.)

  46. bilbo

    Darwin “crushed” traditional philosophical arguments for God? Please do enlighten us!

    And if Kant also “crushed” theism, why exactly did he (a theist, might I add) give several arguments for the existence of a God in addition to those against it? I’m not saying those arguments were correct, but it sounds like you’re playing the old cherry-picking game when it comes to philosophy here. That’s a fun game to play, but it’s exactly what I mean when New Atheists are gigantic poseurs when it comes to being familiar with thee history of philosophical debate on this issue: critical analysis gets thrown out the window in lieu of hasty, predetermined assumptions of merit.

  47. Paul W.

    Jon,

    Gimme a break. It’s easy to prove lots of negatives. And if your concept of God is any sort of traditional theistic one, it’s pretty easy to show that there’s good reason to disbelieve it.

    For example, the bulk of philosophers agree that the Problem of Evil kills the traditional 3-omni God stone dead.

    Theologians and a few apologist “philosophers” engage in theodicy to avoid admitting that. There’s a reason why they can’t agree on the solution to the Problem of Evil, after hundreds of years. There is no solution that actually makes sense, and the apologists disagree about which faux solution does the least violence to cherished (and otherwise-agreed-on) principles.

    Theodicy is like phrenology. It’s bullshit and the overwhelming bulk of philosophers knows that. So traditional orthodox theism—overwhelmingly the majority religion among U.S. laypeople—is right out the window.

  48. Skeptic

    Bilbo, proofs or refutations of God’s existence fall squarely in the domain of science whenever God is invoked as an active interventionist in the world who manipulates physical phenomena, eg. the erection and the virgin birth. Otherwise you are right, it’s a philosophical question which can be argued for days on end.

  49. gillt

    Tom: “15 different blogs all day long, none of which add anything to the discussion.”

    haha, I think you may have me confused with someone else.

  50. gillt

    Jon: “Those philosophers are “in bulk” not aggressive, proselytizing atheists either. They don’t run around insulting religious adherents, saying “continuing arguments for God are ridiculous,” etc.”

    Well at least Jon you always have the “Argument from Tone” to fall back on whenever you want to change the subject.

  51. bilbo

    Theodicy is like phrenology. It’s bullshit and the overwhelming bulk of philosophers knows that. So traditional orthodox theism—overwhelmingly the majority religion among U.S. laypeople—is right out the window.

    There’s the sentiment I was thinking you’d eventually espouse, Paul. You need not say anything further, because that suggests that you judge the merit of arguments based solely on their source (hint: not good philosophy). I suggest you read Skeptic’s reply for a much more levelheaded approach.

  52. Jon

    No, it’s just that they don’t think theism is the root problem of society’s ills, the way the atheists do. It’s not their life’s crusade.

  53. Jon

    I should clarify: “the way the new atheists do.”

  54. Paul W.

    Jon,

    Where’d that goalpost go?

    It sounds like you acknowledge that

    1) most philosophers are atheists,

    2) most philosophers think it’s irrational to be a theist in any conventional sense, and

    3) most philosophers think it’s rational to be an atheist in at least the sense of actively disbelieving in a personal or supernatural “God”?

    OK, for the record, does anybody here actually disbelieve me about points 1-3 above? (Does anybody who personally knows a few professional philosophers?)

    And doesn’t that make Chris pretty… um… disingenous for making it sound like Barbara Forrest and Rob Pennock are representative of a received view in philosophy, while calling Dawkins philosophically naive, etc.?

    Do a poll, Chris, and find out whether the received view in philosophy is closer to what you say or to what Dawkins says. Then we can talk about who’s out of bounds talking philosophy.

    Betcha won’t, because you know the answer already, and you just don’t want other people to.

  55. Tom Johnson

    Glad you clarified yourself there, Jon. I was about jump on you because I’m an atheist but hardly think theism is the root problem of society’s ills. I mean, just look at all the bigotry, hate, and immaturity a lot of the atheist commenters here espouse. I thought rejecting theism was supposed to rid one of all that?

  56. gillt

    Jon, let’s get back to why you think judges and juries are in a better position than scientists to decide what kind of science is allowed into the classroom.

  57. Jon
  58. bilbo

    OK, for the record, does anybody here actually disbelieve me about points 1-3 above? (Does anybody who personally knows a few professional philosophers?)

    Actually, Paul, out of all the professional philosophers I know (by “professional,” I assume you mean practicing, publishing philosophers in academia), the atheist ones are in the minority. That doesn’t mean the non-atheist philosophers I know are all devoted theists (some are deists), nor does it mean they aren’t critical of some theological arguments…

  59. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Are these philosophers at secular institutions, or religious schools, or what?

    If the former, that’s weird. I know philosophers at a half dozen schools, and they all tell me their departments are majority atheist, and that it’s an open secret that philosophers are mostly atheists.

  60. Tom Johnson

    The irony of the New Atheism – this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism – is too much for me.

    Thanks for the Wired piece, Jon. The above quote from it is quite true. New Atheism appears to be born-again fundamentalists who have simply stripped God from their fundamentalism.

  61. bilbo

    All of them are at public universities, Paul. Something tells me neither you nor I have a good sampling of the whole, however, and the truth likely lies somewhere between what we’re saying.

  62. Paul W.

    Tom,

    Do you have any idea what the word “fundamentalist” actually means, aside from “too vocal for my taste”?

    Please explain how the new atheists are actually fundamentalists.

    That should be entertaining.

  63. Paul W.

    By the way, Tom, I’ll happily admit to being a fundamentalist as soon as you admit to being a Nazi.

  64. Jon

    OK, for the record, does anybody here actually disbelieve me about points 1-3 above?

    I don’t disbelieve it. In fact, I bet *most* people in the academy are atheists.

    Does that mean that atheism is “The One True Way”?

    Absolutely not. There are plenty of philosophers that are taken very seriously who are theist (Charles Taylor, for instance, who Terry Eagleton frequently cites in his latest book).

    Someone upthread that science is not a democracy. Philosophy is not a democracy either. You don’t get to settled answers by vote. You get where you’re going by deliberation, academic process, and respect for difficult questions, which frequently aren’t settled. Philosophers’ deliberation isn’t over on religion, no matter how much shouting the New Atheists do.

  65. Paul W.

    I gather from context that among the anti-New Atheists “fundamentalist” is a synonym for “uppity.”

  66. gillt

    What principles do NAs hold a fundamentalist view toward Tom?

  67. Sorbet

    However, unlike philosophy science has a much more foolproof method for determining the truth, so scientists can actually get somewhere and be shielded from popular consensus.

  68. gillt

    Jon: “Someone upthread that science is not a democracy. Philosophy is not a democracy either. You don’t get to settled answers by vote.’

    Hahah, you’re the one who said judges and juries are in a better position than scientists to decide what kind of science is allowed into the classroom.

    Jon: “A jurist’s job is to figure out what the law dictates, which may involve determining a legal definition of science, about which the experts may disagree. I suggest that judges are for the most part competent to do this.”

    Please try and keep up with yourself.

  69. Paul W.

    Jon, if you keep moving the goalposts like that, you’ll strain yourself bad.

    I was not making an argument from authority, BTW, I was refuting one.

    I fully agree that the majority of philosophers being atheists and thinking it’s the rational thing does NOT make it true. Of course not.

    What it does do is soundly refute one of Chris’s favorite straw men.

    Chris habitually quotes Forrest or Pennock, or just makes a bland assertion, to make it sound like philosophers generally disagree with people like Dawkins on such points.

    By and large THEY DON’T, as you acknowledge, but Chris has refused to do for years on end.

    If Chris makes an argument from authority about this, he loses bigin any fair fight. Chris is being philosophically naive—no, sorry, dishonest—when he uses such straw men and dares to condescend to Dawkins about philosophy of science and religion. That’s some serious chutzpah there.

    RIGHT?

    Of course, he’s not trying to fight fair; quite the opposite. He’s trying to score cheap points by systematic misrepresentation of his opponents.

  70. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Nor do you or at least you’ve failed to ever explain it to anyone here. gillt

    Well, I can tell you for certain that “aliens (as well as unicorns and bigfoot)” and other proposed though undocumented animals wouldn’t qualify as supernatural. Not unless you think Dawkins and Dennett as well as Sagan have written with childlike faith in the existence of something supernatural and in the case of two big D’s, have made quite positive statements about their biology.

    Sorbet, I wonder if you haven’t made a “mistake” and some of these posts using another name might not be you as happened here the other day.

  71. Anthony McCarthy

    The question of scientists being “shielded” from public consensus is kind of interesting considering the only legitimate issues in the new atheists’ proposed war between religion and science are public education and public funding. Both of which ultimately depend on public support.

  72. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Ask noted evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson why he refers to Atheism – especially in its New Atheist guise – as a “stealth religion”. Or better yet, you can read his Huffington Post posts which he has kindly reposted here at his new Science Blogs site:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolution/

    Once you read and start comprehending what Wilson has written, then maybe you’ll understand why those of us like Tom Johnson and I regard the New Atheists – I prefer the term “Militant Atheists” – as Fundamentalist religious zealots who are not so dissimilar from the very Fundamentalist Xians, Muslims and others whom they have been right to criticize.

  73. Paul W.

    I don’t disbelieve it. In fact, I bet *most* people in the academy are atheists.

    Actually, they’re not. Only at the better schools, and/or in departments like physics, biology, and philosophy where people think a lot about cosmology, human origins, and/or arguments for God.

    Professors of education and business, for example, are mostly theists.

  74. Tom Johnson

    Tom,

    Do you have any idea what the word “fundamentalist” actually means, aside from “too vocal for my taste”?

    Please explain how the new atheists are actually fundamentalists.

    That should be entertaining.

    George Marsden defines “fundamentalism” by way of a book published at Oxford as “strict adherence to a set of basic principles, often as a reaction to perceived compromises on social and political issues….fundamentalist groups often arise by separating from a larger group of adherents by marginalizing the middle and taking a decidedly more extreme approach to the issue at hand.”

    Now, let’s take a look at the New Atheism’s basic tenets:

    1.) A primary goal of the New Atheism is to criticize those who seek “compromise” in the culture war between science and religion (see “often as a reaction to perceived compromises on social and political issues”). Examples: Jerry Coyne’s label of “faithiest,” Dawkins’ multiple discussions on how moderates “enable” creationism, PZ Myers equating those pushing compromise to enabling murder.

    2.) The New Atheism rarely gives even partial credence to critical assessments of its principles and never, ever admits fault. (see “strict adherence to a set of basic principles.”). Example: you may prove me wrong on this point by thumbing through the NA blogosphere and finding me ten (that’s right, just 10 out of thousands of posts) examples where a new atheist has admitted fault in an argument and conceded defeat on a point).

    3.) The New Atheism makes it a goal to alienate more “moderate” atheists and brand them as enablers, thus making the New Atheism reside along the extreme end of a spectrum of opinion on God/gods. (see: “fundamentalist groups often arise by separating from a larger group of adherents by marginalizing the middle and taking a decidedly more extreme approach to the issue at hand.). Examples: Jerry Coyne’s “faithiest” label (meant solely to marginalize atheists seeking compromise), multiple bloggers’ attacks on the intellectual integrity of “moderate” atheists, etc. etc. etc.

    Shall I continue? You, in fact, seem to be the one misconstruing what “fundamentalist” means, Paul, by tying it to religion. The truth is very, very far from that. Fundamentalists needn’t apply to God or violence to hold the label.

  75. Jon

    However, unlike philosophy science has a much more foolproof method for determining the truth

    More or less–about the questions it deals with.

    Questions regarding the physical world, it does fine. But questions of meaning, teleology, metaphysics were deliberately excluded when science was developed. This is why the Dover decision came out the way it did. Intelligent design violated the principles on which science was built, back in the day. Does that mean questions of meaning, teleology, metaphysics are all answered by science? New Atheists want a monopoly “Yes” answer on that. But they don’t have one. There are plenty of other opinions that legitimately compete with them on those questions, whether they like it or not.

  76. gillt

    McCarthy: “Well, I can tell you for certain that “aliens (as well as unicorns and bigfoot)” and other proposed though undocumented animals wouldn’t qualify as supernatural.”

    At the risk of taking you far too seriously, have you ever hear of Shermer’s Last Law? “Any sufficiently advanced ETI is indistinguishable from God.”

    This of course is a variation on Arthur Clarke’s 3rd Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    Btw., Dawkins often uses fairies as examples of the supernatural, not bigfoot.

  77. Andreas

    The big problem with the New Atheist movement is in my view, that they are creating their own enemy. Just as right wing fundamentalists in Israel is Hamas best recruiters, so is PZ and Dawkins the best way to divert moderate believers into intellectual suicide.

  78. Anthony McCarthy

    1) most philosophers are atheists,

    2) most philosophers think it’s irrational to be a theist in any conventional sense, and

    3) most philosophers think it’s rational to be an atheist in at least the sense of actively disbelieving in a personal or supernatural “God”? Paul W

    When you say “most philosophers” I’d assume you mean people who teach in philosophy departments in universities today.

    This is rather amusing considering the declaration that science isn’t a democracy (echoing the integralist Catholics of the 20th century).

    What are we to do with such poll results? Banish religious philosophers as well as scientists?

    About the only interesting thing that I can imagine you might learn from a poll like this would be how prevalent the irrationalities of fundamentalism might have become among professional philosophers. I’d guess most philosophers would know better than get into the quagmire guaranteed to result when you try to emulsify the issues of belief with the exigencies of reason. But that would be just a guess.

  79. Anthony McCarthy

    Dawkins often uses fairies as examples of the supernatural, not bigfoot.

    Your cohort bob as well as numerous other blog atheists don’t seem to be as aware of that, and anywhy you know very well it is “aliens” he has written about.

    You know, it’s quite possible that it takes so long for life to arise in the universe that our line might be the first, and to date, only example of life in the entire universe. So, Arthur C. Clarke notwithstanding, anything that is said about “them” could be, in fact, superstition.

    Arthur C. Clarke, gillt? Arthur C. Clarke?

  80. Paul W.

    Tom,

    Sorry, that’s a crappy definition of “fundamentalist.” There are better words for that. (Like “hard-liner.”)

    Not what “fundamentalist” originally meant (e.g., adhering to a particular set of “fundamental” Christian doctrines) or what it was responsibly generalized to mean by analogy (by e.g., Martin Marty and the “Fundamentalism Project.”)

    Like I said, it appears to mean “uppity” if it means anything at all. (Besides maybe “I don’t like you.”)

    If you really think that’s an appropriate term, I’d counter that “appeaser” and “Neville Chamberlain Atheist” are at least as appropriate terms for accommodationists.

    Seriously. You don’t want to go there.

    Note that you wouldn’t call Winson Churchill a “fundamentalist”—you’d call him a “hard-liner.” But you would call Neville Chamberlain an appeaser because he was one.

    Similarly, you could correctly call me a hard-liner (because I really sorta am) and you an appeaser (because you really sorta are).

    But let’s not go there, either, because really that would be gratuitously loaded. How about we stick to “New Atheist” (however lame that term is) and “accommodationist” (likewise) for now?

  81. Tom Johnson

    So Paul, you just dismissed my definition of “fundamentalist” (coming from a respected scholar) on the basis of “I don’t like it?” I’ll also add that the Oxford English Dictionary mentions that the word has been popularized to apply to any group, not just religion, and reflects the definition I posted.

    So which is it: evidence (from the fucking dictionary) or a personal opinion? I thought the whole goal of this freethinking thing was to live by evidence, and to alter an opinion when the evidence refutes you.

    I guess that all just sounds good on paper. “Screw objectivity. I’ve got a blog fight to win.” Typical.

  82. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Note that you wouldn’t call Winson Churchill a “fundamentalist”—you’d call him a “hard-liner.” But you would call Neville Chamberlain an appeaser because he was one. Paul W

    I wouldn’t make an absurdly false analogy between the new atheist fad and Britain in the late 1930s.

  83. gillt

    Tom makes a list:

    1. Primary goals are for Accomodationist like Mooney and Rosenau. NAs are committed to no such thing as one primary goal.

    2. See, you back off of fundamentalist accusations all by yourself!

    3. So, um, this sounds just like #1. The power of three is a strong temptation isn’t it.

  84. Paul W.

    The New Atheism rarely gives even partial credence to critical assessments of its principles and never, ever admits fault.

    That’s just rich.

    The New Atheists generally do acknowledge the actual points and arguments the other side makes, though not as often as perhaps they should. (Who does?)

    So far as I know, no New Atheist denies the explicit point Chris is so fond of, that science can’t (strictly) disprove the existence of (anything somebody might call) God. They often acknowledge that, and go on to correct Chris’s implicit misrepresentation of what they ARE claiming. (And Chris, of course, continues to misrepresent the disagreement. Every damn time.)

    So far as I know, no New Atheist denies that Chris has a point about possible backlash—everybody knows that uppity atheists piss some people off, and nobody denies it. The question is whether it’s worth it—an issue Chris studiously avoids, except to confidently assert that it isn’t.

    But look at accommodationists like Chris, or Genie Scott.

    When have you ever heard them acknowledge even the existence of Overton arguments against their preferred strategies?

    Not once, I’m pretty sure. They’ve stonewalled about this for YEARS AND YEARS, despite the issue being raised scores and scores of times. They never, ever give even an inch.

    (Who’s the fundamentalist, then?)

    When have you ever heard them acknowledge that more philosophers agree with the “philosophically naive” out-of-bounds Dawkins than agree with them?

    Not once, I’m pretty sure. They make a (bogus) argument from authority, of all things, and never, ever admit that it’s even a little bit wrong.

    Gimme a break.

    If anybody in this discussion is a fundamentalist in your overly broad sense, It is Chris Mooney.

    But he’s not a fundamentalist, either—he’s a dishonest propagandist. There’s a difference.

  85. Jon

    You don’t want to block the new atheist Winson Churchills bringing on our atheist new world order. What do little matters of tone, dialog, and deafening culture wars matter when we’re on our way to our future religion-free utopia?

  86. Tom Johnson

    What do little matters of tone, dialog, and deafening culture wars matter when we’re on our way to our future religion-free utopia?

    Precisely. I assume all the hate and bitterness I see the NAs espouse will just disappear once religion is gone, because I’d hate to see a “utopia” colonized by people as hateful as them.

  87. Paul W.

    I wouldn’t make an absurdly false analogy between the new atheist fad and Britain in the late 1930s.

    Of course not. I agree it sheds more heat that light. That’s part of my point.

    The term “fundamentalist” has become an epithet with no useful content since the 1930’s, too. It, too, used to actually mean something.

    If you can “correctly” call me a fundamentalist, I can “correctly” call you an appeaser. Let’s not, OK?

    Funny how the people who say the New Atheists are name-callers are not shy about name-calling themselves. They just think it’s okay when they tar people with a rather broad brush.

  88. bilbo

    Paul, if it takes you five posts to try and explain why the word “fundamentalist” doesn’t apply to New Atheists (while everyone else just posts the definition of the word that plaining shows that it does), then you’re probably fighting a losing battle.

  89. Jon

    I think “fundamentalist” fits fine, as in “market fundamentalist” (it doesn’t have to be religion). I’m also fine with debating the details too. I don’t use the word “fundamentalist” to dismiss legitimate debate. I’m not a “fundamentalist” accommodationist ; ).

  90. Paul W.

    Jon,

    Jeez, that’s mighty white of you.

    I suppose you won’t mind if I call you an appeaser, since I don’t mean anything different by it than “accommodationist.”

    And I’m sure that in this context, you’re entirely blind to the religious sense of “fundamentalism.”

    And of course, nobody could misunderstand you as comparing atheist relatively-hard-liners to religious fundamentalists. So you needn’t worry about that.

    Oh, and by the way, when I call you a Nazi, I’m sure it’s obvious that I don’t mean you’re a Nazi, and I mean no disrespect.

  91. Sorbet

    -Well, I can tell you for certain that “aliens (as well as unicorns and bigfoot)” and other proposed though undocumented animals wouldn’t qualify as supernatural.

    Only you can fail to distinguish between microbial life on another planet and mythical creatures like unicorns and bigfoot. The first one is a possibility backed by scientific understanding while the latter are fiction (as of now)

  92. Paul W.

    Bilbo,

    I’m not sure what point you’re making about my statement about theodicy, and especially unsure as to the argument.

    I’m not alone in thinking theodicy is generally bullshit. Many theologians think so too. (Even theologians who do theodicy think that most theodicy except their own is not just wrong but bullshit. It’s that kind of field.) A couple of my friends are theologically liberal protestant ministers who’d be the first to acknowledge that most theodicy is just flat awful in one or more of several common ways.

    And I really don’t know why you think I just look at the source. It’s not like I’ve never seriously looked at theodicy.

    Have you?

  93. Jon

    Jeez, that’s mighty white of you.

    I bet most of us are white here. Middle class too.

    By the way, that’s something else the New Atheists never think about, is economic class or education levels. Because after all, it’s much more *fun* to make fun of people who aren’t educated than to actually understand where they’re at (which would mean not disparaging the religion they were born into, and may play an important role in their lives). But that’s OK, because our political opponents can do that, and exploitatively distract them from the issues they need to understand.

  94. Paul W.

    You don’t want to block the new atheist Winson Churchills bringing on our atheist new world order. What do little matters of tone, dialog, and deafening culture wars matter when we’re on our way to our future religion-free utopia?

    Well, that wasn’t what I was saying, but now that you mention it… HEY, COOL!

    (And I’m sure the culture wars will stop on a dime if those darned atheists just shut up.)

  95. Jon

    Jeez, that’s mighty white of you.

    I bet most of us are white here. Middle cl@ss too.

    By the way, that’s something else the New Atheists never think about, is economic cl@ss or education levels. Because after all, it’s much more *fun* to make fun of people who aren’t educated than to actually understand where they’re at (which would mean not disparaging the religion they were born into, and may play an important role in their lives). But that’s OK, because our political opponents can do that, and exploitatively distract them from the issues they need to understand.

  96. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    All of them are at public universities, Paul. Something tells me neither you nor I have a good sampling of the whole, however, and the truth likely lies somewhere between what we’re saying.

    Interesting. Care to quiz your friends as to whether they think they’re in the minority?

    I’ve discussed it with all my philosopher friends over the years, because it’s an interesting subject to me (or was when I considered doing a philosophy Ph.D.), and their unanimous impression was that atheist were clearly in the majority.

    That may be biased because they’re mostly philosophers of science and/or psychology, but they thought it was the norm in most areas of philosophy except maybe philosophy of religion and maybe ethics. (Both sometimes described as non-representative “ghettoes” in philosophy.)

  97. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Darwin “crushed” traditional philosophical arguments for God? Please do enlighten us!

    That’s not what I was saying. I was saying that Kant and Hume did most of it. They pretty well trashed most of the traditional arguments for God (ontological, cosmological, etc.) 200 years ago.

    One of the few arguments Kant left standing in the Critique of Pure Reason was the argument from morality. (“By the stars above me and the moral law within me [I know there’s a God].”)

    Darwin explained where morality could come from without god, kicking the last major leg out from under theism. Kant hadn’t imagined that explanation, or even that there could be such an explanation, which is pretty forgivable given that Darwin didn’t exist yet.

  98. Jon

    I’ve discussed it with all my philosopher friends over the years, because it’s an interesting subject to me (or was when I considered doing a philosophy Ph.D.), and their unanimous impression was that atheist were clearly in the majority.

    Again, I don’t doubt that they’re atheist. But you could look at the whole of Anglo-American philosophy and see it as a kind of “ghetto”, of a sort. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a pretty big difference between Hume and Kant–the Germans and English have markedly different philosophical traditions.

  99. bilbo

    One of the few arguments Kant left standing in the Critique of Pure Reason was the argument from morality. (”By the stars above me and the moral law within me [I know there’s a God].”)

    Darwin explained where morality could come from without god, kicking the last major leg out from under theism

    1.) Kant’s “argument from morality” was not his only argument ‘left standing.’

    2.) Please illustrate for us how Darwin showed morality could come without God. I assume you mean “Darwin laid the foundations for evolution; others took evolution and have used it to try and explain morality; I agree with those people; therefore, it was Darwin who did this and I’ll say it because framing it this way sounds more solid.) I know I’m being snippy. Sue me – we’re both being snippy here.

  100. bilbo

    Paul:

    I can’t help but notice that with everything Tom, Jon, or myself says, you’re forced to reframe a rather absolutist statement and make it refelct mroe of reality. Make your statements more realistic and less broadbrushing to begin with, and you can avoid all of this silliness.

  101. Anthony McCarthy

    — I suppose you won’t mind if I call you an appeaser, since I don’t mean anything different by it than “accommodationist.” Paul W

    Who do you accuse anyone here of appeasing and does the alterntive of this “appeasement” consist of? Is it stereotyping, assigning vicarious guilt, falsely accusing groups of practices and ideas that they oppose….. , because I can think of an analogy from the 1930s for that. Several of them.

    -Well, I can tell you for certain that “aliens (as well as unicorns and bigfoot)” and other proposed though undocumented animals wouldn’t qualify as supernatural.

    Only you can fail to distinguish between microbial life on another planet and mythical creatures like unicorns and bigfoot. The first one is a possibility backed by scientific understanding while the latter are fiction (as of now) Sorbet

    You need to consult a dictionary, Sorbet. As of today the evidence of microbial life on another planet is as unverified as unicorns or bigfoot.

    — Darwin explained where morality could come from without god, kicking the last major leg out from under theism. Paul W.

    Well, any naturalistic attempt to explain morality wouldn’t be an argument that morality was something that people should practice instead of an immoral alternative. A scientific argument like that wouldn’t be more than an attempt to theorize where a behavior might have arisen, it wouldn’t produce an argument that the behavior was moral, that it should be the behavior that is engaged in. So, the idea is just tail chasing. I don’t think you could draw the morality of Hillel or Jesus from an explanation based in natural selection or self-interest.

    An allegedly Darwinian explanation of the “origin” of morality would be going way past any physical evidence available and so would be unfounded speculation, not science. And it wouldn’t be much more supported than the assertion that the propensity to act in the way proposed was placed there as a tendency by a God.

    Darwin had some ideas that weren’t very good as well as some very good ones. He believed that mass vaccination would have a dysgenic effect on the population as a whole due to the unfit reproducing, for example. One of his ideas which I am glad hasn’t been followed up on.

  102. Paul W.

    Bilbo,

    I can’t help but notice that with everything Tom, Jon, or myself says, you’re forced to reframe a rather absolutist statement and make it refelct mroe of reality. Make your statements more realistic and less broadbrushing to begin with, and you can avoid all of this silliness.

    I can’t help but notice the inaccuracy and the irony here.

    *snicker*

  103. bilbo

    Spoken like a true troll.

  104. Stu Jordan

    Chris, you hit the nail on the head. It’s the still tolerant but non-atheist people in the middle who really count in this quest for allies on the political front. And that’s the front that really counts today, just as “the Church” did in the Middle Ages. It would be ironic and sad if in the quest for a more secular society, the new atheists actually pushed those people in the middle into a more reactionary stance. However, I’m inclined to agree with what you imply, that this current fuss will die out on the big stage, and these issues return to their plodding normal pace. Besides, why insult people just becuase some of us have a different view of ultimate causation. Today, church-state separatin will suffice, and most of the tolerant religious support that.

  105. Anthony McCarthy

    Paul W. was sent because the regular trolls weren’t getting the job done.

  106. Sorbet

    -You need to consult a dictionary, Sorbet.
    Right after you consult a basic science textbook that can help you distinguish between the probability of microbial single-celled life being found on another planet and a unicorn romping around being discovered on it.

    -Paul W. was sent because the regular trolls weren’t getting the job done.
    That’s right. Because the regular trolls can never match the awesome trolldom of McCarthy, the greatest troll in residence here. Naturally we need help.

  107. Paul W.

    Damn, the trolls are so bad around here, even the trolls have trolls.

  108. Anthony McCarthy

    —- a basic science textbook that can help you distinguish between the probability of microbial single-celled life being found on another planet and a unicorn romping around being discovered on it. Sorbet

    Maybe you’d better look at a probability textbook while you’re at it. You do actually have to know something about reality in order to come up with a probability, unless you’re just doing it by the seat of your pants, which is what a lot of the new atheist “logic” actually is. You can’t even work out a probability that this is the only planet on which life has yet developed.

    I keep pointing it out to you, Sorbet, that you are the troll on this blog. As I would be at Coyne’s or PZ’s, though I choose not to go places like that. If the owners of this blog would like me to stop commenting I have told them to let me know and I will.

  109. J.J.E.

    The beloved middle ground. If only we let the legion of moderates take their rightful place at the helm of religious discourse, everything would be so much better! We could live and let live. And the religious people would finally allow us to teach truth (evolution and climate change) and have civil rights (gay marriage) unmolested.

    If only that were true. Cue the “moderate” Catholic church:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aCCZtb1cX4

    The potential “moderates” need to forced to choose between superstition and science between bigotry and civil rights. Unless the status quo is challenged, they won’t bother to change. And right now, the moderate are happy with “There are two opinions about evolution, but for my part I choose evolution”. But they don’t marginalize their radical brethren they don’t prevent Dovers or Texas SBOEs. They just “tut tut” after the fact and go about their lives as normal. Nobody is putting them in the hotseat or making them take a stand. Not the liberal religious people, and certainly not the conservative ones. Chris, your argument for coddling the middle has no advocate.

    Frankly, if the New Atheists can embarrass the moderates enough for them all to come out en masse and say “That’s not me! I LOVE evolution! I think people SHOULD be able to marry the ones they love!” that’s great. This forces them to consider the issue and take a stand.

    Right now they aren’t, and frankly, people like you aren’t encouraging them to do so. Basically, put up or shut up. At least people like Carl Safina (with whom I disagree very strongly on many issues and admire on many others) is out there in the field actively advocating for the kind of change required rather than simply using their high-profile media perch to be a the gadfly of activists using the other strategy.

    And, in your previous accommodationist thread, I posed some questions of you and offered my own response. You never replied or acknowledged it. Again:

    1) How would you know if your strategy is wrong?;
    2) How do you change what is acceptable opinion, and do you reject Overton strategies about changing opinion? If so, why?

    This is a good combination of the concepts involved argued from a few perspectives which have relevance for you (Republican strategies & anti-environmentalism, just to name two):

    http://www.reclaimthemedia.org/grassroots_media/well_paid_assholes_with_opinio%3D5090

  110. bilbo

    My my, JJE. That’s quite the – and I dare say it – sermon. And believe me, it’s got a lot of really sexy stuff in it: wishy-washy moderates who (apparently) don’t really give a rat’s ass about evolution/civil rights/etc., an odd reincarnation of the oft-demonized “liberal media” as a conspirator against New Atheism, the role of New Atheism as an unfallable Superman, and a world where shouting pejoratives solves literally every problem known to humanity.

    Damn. I wish I lived in that world. There would hardly be a “controversy” about accommodationism if that planet was real.

  111. bilbo

    Ooh, one more thing, JJE. You talk about how “embarrassing” others with pejoratives, mocking and the like will change the world, and you specifically use “civil rights” as an example of one of those things that could be changed.

    Refresh my memory here, because it’s a little muddy. Back during the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th Century, what tactics did activists use to get their message across? Did they preach tolerance and respect (emphasis on that word) while firmly stating their message, or did they change the overall philosophy of the nation by calling white people “deluded fuckwits,” telling them to go “fuck off,” and rejecting their help (because they were “the other side” and had to choose)? Which one of those was it again that was used in the mainstream activism and worked so well to change our social and political climate?

    Yeah. That’s what I thought.

  112. But what about the moderate creationists? We need to respect their personal beliefs too. We don’t want to alienate them by telling them evolution is true. It could cause their faces to melt off.

  113. Anthony McCarthy

    —- The beloved middle ground. If only we let the legion of moderates take their rightful place at the helm of religious discourse, everything would be so much better! We could live and let live. And the religious people would finally allow us to teach truth (evolution and climate change) and have civil rights (gay marriage) unmolested.

    JJE, moderation on the gay marriage issue isn’t found there, it’s found in the religious leaders and others who have actively supported every step of the effort to get gay rights in places like Maine, my home state. I can assure you they did it before Sam Harris was ever known beyond his own small circle and that his predecessors had nothing to do with their support for the difficult to pass civil rights efforts here.

    http://kennebecjournal.mainetoday.com/news/local/5605181.html

    You say that “the religious people would finally allow “us” to teach….”, as if no religious people taught evolution or would be gay people who would want to get married unmolested, not to mention religious people who actively support both. Most of the lesbians and gay men I know are religious. You’ve been one of the more rational atheists in these discussions so I’m wondering why you’ve let your reason lapse in this instance.

  114. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and for the record, there are many Catholics who voted to keep same-sex marriage in Maine, there was an ad featuring an elderly Catholic woman who spoke in favor of it. I know of one of the people who counted the collection who refused to have anything to do with the collection that was taken up in defiance of tax exemption in their church, I believe they’ve resigned their volunteer position. My mother has said that she was so disgusted by Bishop Malone and his lackey Mark Mutty’s support of a dishonest campaign that she would not be giving money that could go to them from now on.

  115. J.J.E.

    Anthony, I apologize for being sloppy using language. Of COURSE there are religious people who aren’t bigots and of COURSE the majority of teachers of any stripe are religious, simply because atheists are so outnumbered. So, let me go ahead and take a step back to repeat it. I mispoke and I was wrong. BUT (you knew it was coming…)

    But, I am convinced (by the data) that religion is the driving impetus behind gay bigotry and opposition to evolution. Let me put this in set notation now since people take offense so easily if plain language goes astray.

    First, some conventions:

    ^ = intersection operator; v = union operator; c = “is a subset of” operator, ‘ = complement operator.

    Consider a universe of possibilities U. For the sake of discussion, U can be divided into Religious (R) and Non-religious (N). So, U = R v N; R = N'; N = R’

    Next, let B be the set of Bigots in terms of homosexuality. B c U (obviously).

    Now I will acknowledge that (B^N) > 0. (Bigots are everywhere, not just among the religious). And obviously, (B^R) > 0.

    In absolute terms, it should be obvious that (B^N) << (B^R). In other words, the total number of religious bigots is much greater than the total number of Non-religious bigots.

    However, I also contend that (N^B)/(N-B) << (R^B)/(R-B). In other words, the ratio of bigoted non-religios to non bigoted ones is much smaller than the than ratio for religious people.

    I looked it up, but I couldn't find any results that actually included godless. The best I could find were unaffiliated and/or by how often people attend services. Here are those results:

    Claimed affiliation:
    Protestant: 2.41 (2.70)
    Catholic: 0.96 (1.22)
    Unaffiliated: 0.57 (0.67)

    Attend services:
    Weekly+: 3.23 (3.55)
    Monthly/Annually: 0.94 (1.13)
    Seldom/never: 0.70 (0.85)

    Basically, any number above 1 means the bigots outnumber the tolerant. The number in parentheses are when I throw the "don't know" people into the "bigot" category, as there does appear to be a gay Bradley effect going on (the voting was worse than predicted by the polling by maybe 3% or so).

    It is clear that there is a relationship between religion and accepting gay marriage. The only question is the following is:

    1) Does religion cause bigotry?;
    2a) Does bigotry cause religion?
    2b) Do bigots prefer religion?;
    2c) Do tolerant people avoid religion?;
    3) Does a third factor cause both?

    I'm pretty sure it isn't 2a or 2b. 2c is more interesting, but I also think it isn't likely to be very important. I'm of the opinion that it is a combination of 1 & 3. Clearly some religion (the Catholic & Mormon efforts) do push bigotry. But I also think that #3 is also a factor for too many speculative reasons to go into here now. But I think that education/rationality correlations have something to do with weakening religion (though not necessarily with atheism until you get REALLY over educated).

  116. bilbo

    Don’t tell them that, Anthony!!! Learning that all Catholics (or all members of any religous group, for that matter) don’t think exactly alike might blow their minds!!! We need to keep the world as simplistic as possible so our arguments will still hold water!

  117. bob

    Aw, it looks like I’m not allowed to ask bilbo if he’s the same bilbo that just made a jerk out of himself and got banned at PZ’s blog. I guess we’re not allowed to criticize the Mooney sycophants anymore? I know there’s not that many of them, and they do need some help in the credibility dept, but come on! Sheesh. Speaking of banning, I hope I’m banned … it will encourage me not to torture my brain by skimming the comments here.

  118. J.J. E.

    So, I posted several detailed followups, but they got deleted without posting because they contained computer code. Anyway, I’m going to post the statistical results to my own blog. If you trust me, no need to click. If you don’t click through and you can even run the code for yourself.

    Here is the “safe” preview: http://preview.tinyurl.com/religion-marriage-jje

    To make a long story short, for disapproval of gay marriage:

    Affiliation: Prot >> Cath >> Un
    Frequency of attendance: Week >> Month > Seldom

    All of these differences are statistically significant at the 5% level. And all but one are VERY significant at the p < 0.01% level.

    Survey data taken from Pewforum dot org slash docs slash ?DocID=481

  119. J.J. E.

    So, I posted several detailed followups, but they got deleted without posting because they contained computer code. Anyway, I’m going to post the statistical results to my own blog. If you trust me, no need to click. If you don’t click through and you can even run the code for yourself.

    You can see my post at tinyurl with the tag religion-marriage-jje

    To make a long story short, for disapproval of gay marriage:

    Affiliation: Prot >> Cath >> Un
    Frequency of attendance: Week >> Month > Seldom

    All of these differences are statistically significant at the 5% level. And all but one are VERY significant at the p < 0.01% level.

    Survey data taken from Pewforum dot org slash docs slash ?DocID=481

  120. J.J. E.

    Everything I’m posting is getting filtered. I have no idea, other than I tried to post some statistics in R, and now I can’t even post URLs.

  121. J.J.E.

    Everything I’m posting is getting filtered. I have no idea, other than I tried to post some statistics in R, and now I can’t even post URLs.

  122. J.J.E.

    One more try. If you go to that site called Tiny URL, you can append this tag to get to my full post if you want proof of the numbers above and my data source (which is from Pew). If you take my word for the stats, no need to go there, though.

    The tag is “religion-marriage-jje”. Just do the tiny url thing, and you’ll get there.

  123. Sorbet

    -Maybe you’d better look at a probability textbook while you’re at it.

    How about first you learn the basic laws of physics and chemistry, and then also the laws of probability? You have never understood the way science makes educated guesses based on prior knowledge, so I don’t expect you to; THAT probability we can surely calculate. You definitely need to get your brain checked if you think that bacteria on another planet have the same probability of existing as half man-half horse beings running around. But I know you won’t. Trolls usually don’t.

  124. bilbo

    I’m secretly planning for my departure to my half-man half-horse home planet, Sorbet. How dare you mock us!

  125. bilbo

    bob:

    are you senile or something? No one’s holding a gun to your head to read all this “brain torture.”

    Apparently no one’s banning you, either. I’m confused.

  126. Robert Landbeck

    The only reason ‘accommodation’ is even discussed is that is is ‘presumed’ by both side of this argument that it is impossible for any theistic religious conception to comform to a process of scrutiny that science provides. To understand just how self limiting ‘presumption’ founded upon ignorance and prejudice can be, what science and religion have agreed was not possible, may now be all too inevitable, which could leave ‘tradition’ staring into the abyss and humble all secular, atheist, scientific speculation. Quoting a review of The Final Freedoms:

    “Using a synthesis of scriptural material from the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha , The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag Hammadi Library, and some of the worlds great poetry, it describes and teaches a single moral LAW, a single moral principle, and offers the promise of its own proof; one in which the reality of God responds directly to an act of perfect faith with a individual intervention into the natural world; correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries. Intended to be understood metaphorically, where ‘death’ is ignorance and ‘Life’ is knowledge, this experience, personal encounter of transcendent power and moral purpose is the ‘Resurrection’, and justification for faith, providing a new, active moral foundation to reason itself.”

    “Here then is the first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged. This new teaching delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition, that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable and ‘extraordinary’ evidence based truth embodied in action. For the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must now measure for itself, the reality of a new moral tenet, not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof for its belief.”

    Revolutionary stuff for those with the moral courage to test and be tested by this new teaching.
    More info at http://www.energon.org.uk

  127. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorbet, you brought up probability of life arising on other planets. Probability is a mathematical discipline, one that even physics and chemistry make recourse. How you come up with a range of probability of events that are only known to have happened here happening in other places is for you to explain, SINCE YOU ARE THE ONE WHO MADE A STATEMENT ASSERTING IT.

    I’ve got my hands full this afternoon, I’ll try to respond more later.

  128. Sorbet

    Yes, but probability is also based on prior knowledge. Our prior knowledge dictates that the probability of single-celled life existing on other planets is greater than the probability of full-fledged, hybrid, multicellular mammals existing there. The reason is that single-celled architectures are much more robust and survivable in many diverse environments compared to multicellular beings. This much we know for sure from earth.

    Bilbo, feel free to invade!

  129. J.J.E.

    I didn’t read all of the 50 posts since he posted it, but this is what Paul said a ways up thread:

    “strict adherence to a set of basic principles, often as a reaction to perceived compromises on social and political issues….fundamentalist groups often arise by separating from a larger group of adherents by marginalizing the middle and taking a decidedly more extreme approach to the issue at hand.”

    That’s a terrible conventional meaning of fundamentalist for two reasons.

    1) It applies to almost a lot of notable political and social movements that people don’t typically associate with fundamentalism, especially civil rights issues. Take a look at the Jim Crow south where you had the “separate but equal” position sitting between KKK and lynchings on one side and full civil rights on the other. I think it is fair to say that MLK separated from the larger group and marginalized the “separate but equal” middle ground. Obviously his was a reaction to what he perceived as unacceptable compromises on social and political issues…
    2) It contradicts the dogmatic aspect and religious connotations that are already established. If you want to push a new understanding of the word (one that would necessarily include MLK JR), give it your best shot. I for one reject the new (and uncommon usage). Time will tell. But right now, it ain’t there yet.

    Anyway, if you want to argue about whether NAs adherel to dogma, be my guest. You might try listing their doctrines and what dogmas are present therein. I don’t predict that argument will be viable, but you must first win that battle before moving into the “fundamentalist” defense.

    Good luck.

  130. Tom Johnson

    J.J.E.:

    That whole post about trying to mathematically tie bigotry to religion is a joke, right? I hope so, because it’s a good one.

    Look at the definition of “bigot:” a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance (courtesy of Mr. Webster)

    How, then, is New Atheism not bigoted? I’ll point you to the fact that many NA figureheads (if you can call them that) loudly boast about being intolerant. If you’re talking about a single type of bigotry (e.g. towards homosexuality, etc.), then I get it. But bigotry, by its pure definition, is everywhere. Religion is certainly no precursor to it.

  131. Anthony McCarthy

    — Yes, but probability is also based on prior knowledge. Sor

    Yeah, I know. I told you that above as well as other times.

    — Our prior knowledge dictates that the probability of single-celled life existing on other planets is greater than the probability of full-fledged, hybrid, multicellular mammals existing there. Sor

    No, our prior knowledge doesn’t dictate anything like that. It says that single-celled life exited here before multi-cellular organisms evolved, which has nothing to do with how probable it that they would have arisen on any other planet independent of life arising here. And as far as our prior knowledge is concerned, the only model we have has as 100% probability of multi-cellular life developing from single-cell organisms. Which also has nothing to do with the probability that either of them has ever happened anywhere else, which is unknown.

    This is a really interesting thing, the would be hard headed empiricists going all gooey and woolly minded over ETs and me having to point out that our evidential resources on that question are entirely missing. Unless you want to start citing people who have been taken for some rather wild times in flying saucers, you are purporting to be able to come to conclusions about those questions based on absolutely nothing.

  132. Tom Johnson

    That’s a terrible conventional meaning of fundamentalist for two reasons.

    I’m sorry, J.J.E., if the definition that I provided (from the dictionary and from a scholar in the field) doesn’t fit your pigeonholed characterization of it, then fine. But your “two reasons” essentially say I”m misguided only because I didn’t say “only a religious person can be a fundamentalist.” There’s a driving passion among many atheists to redefine negative labels to a point where they are exempt from being classed under them by default, and you’re falling victim to that passion here. Your posts, along with Paul’s, are treading dangerously close to the territory where an atheist can say the same intolerant things as a theist, display the same hatred (focused in the opposite direction), shirk the same morals, yet be exempt from the consequences and criticism those pathetic actions engender simply because they’re not religious. I’m sorry, but I will need much better justification before I’ll believe that consequences for subhuman actions apply only to the religious, while atheists can be expected to get carte blanche. That sentiment, in itself, is a characteristic of fundamentalism.

  133. Paul W.

    Anthony,

    Who do you accuse anyone here of appeasing and does the alterntive of this “appeasement” consist of? Is it stereotyping, assigning vicarious guilt, falsely accusing groups of practices and ideas that they oppose….. , because I can think of an analogy from the 1930s for that. Several of them.

    Reread what I wrote.

    I do think that parts of M & K’s preferred strategy count as appeasement of religious sensibilities. They advocate self-censorship to avoid offending people, to foster cooperation on things they think are more important. That is a kind of appeasement.

    Which is not necessarily a bad thing, which is why I’m happy to use the less loaded term “accommodation.” I think it’s simplistic to think that appeasement is always a bad thing, and I think that using terms like “appeaser” without the kind of explanation I just gave is unnecessarily and unproductively inflammatory. It’s also somewhat unfair unless the intent is to communicate that the person is making a bad, shortsighted choice of strategy.

    Likewise, I think that you can make a (strained) argument that anybody taking a relatively hard line about any principle can be “correctly” called a “fundamentalist” in some weak sense. But it’s incorrect in a more important sense—-except among religious fundamentalists speaking among themselves, it pretty clearly implies taking a hard line for bad reasons. It is unnecessarily and incorrectly pejorative, unless your intent is exactly to condemn the person you’re talking about as unreasonable.

    And that’s usually pointless name-calling, which is something Mooney and Kirschenbaum at least seem to say is a bad thing.

    In some contexts, calling somebody a fundamentalist may in fact not imply those things and may not be an insult—as somebody already said, you may call somebody a “free market fundamentalist” and if you’re one of them, too, or not too different, that may be okay. But coming from somebody on “the other side” (say, a socialist) it likely is an insult, and even if it’s not meant that way, it’s a reasonable guess that it’s meant as a casually condescending epithet.

    If you want to avoid offendign somebody that way, and aren’t making clear exactly what you do and don’t mean, you shouldn’t casually say that sort of thing.

    Here’s a less loaded example. My wife follows some fairly strict dietary rules, and to some extent imposes them on me because it’s too much trouble to give us both exactly what we want all the time. In some sense, I think that’s unreasonable—I don’t agree with her rationale for drawing the lines exactly where she does and being quite so strict about them. On the other hand, I just don’t care very much about that—-I am generally very happy with what we buy, cook and eat. And she appeases me about some things where I take a harder line than her, so it’s well worth it.

    I’m not certainly not going to flatly tell my wife that she’s a food fundamentalist and that I’m appeasing her, even if it is literally true in the sense I just explained. The obvious connotations are more important than the strict, minimal denotations.

    So shuddup with the “fundamentalist atheist” crud if you don’t want Mooney to be called an appeaser, or even a fundamentalist appeaser. (New Atheists in fact generally do a certain amount of accommodating of religion in many contexts. Mooney takes a harder line about accommodating the religious, so I guess he’s the fundamentalist on that point.)

    BTW, note that of course, I’m not really telling anybody to shut up. Oh, no, of course not. I’m just saying that I think they should shut up if they don’t want the predictaable consequences of saying what they keep saying. :-)

  134. Sorbet

    -It says that single-celled life exited here before multi-cellular organisms evolved, which has nothing to do with how probable it that they would have arisen on any other planet independent of life arising here.

    That’s not the point I was trying to make, which as usual as flown on top of your point head. The point is that microbes on earth have been found in environments that are almost as extreme as possible envuironments on other planets. The last time I checked though, unicorns were not found even in ambient environments. In any case, I am a little bored of pointing out your infinite depths of ignorance regarding exobiology in which you don’t seem to have read even one bit of contemporary research on the topic and yet want to gleefully dribble your spittle over the subject. That’s almost as bad as Ann Coulter sounding on about evolution.

    For those wanting to know how much you don’t know, I will refer them to this thread where you are as unaware of the dozens of studies I cited as a sponge with bipolar disorder.

  135. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorbet, those environments where microorganisms have been found have all been on EARTH! If and when some are found on another planet or if some are found which are clearly not part of the line of life that we are a part of you will have ONE other example of “other life”. Which may or may not tell you the first thing about the second example of “other life” that might come your way. What if you find that these others are so other that they are nothing like our line?

    All the hoopy stuff that you can come up with might be swell and good and give you some real thrills but until you have some, you know, actual evidence of “other life” you don’t have any idea if your ideas about that are real or really off the mark. On this day in November, 2009 anything anyone says about it is what goes by the technical term “a guess”.

    Sorry dear, that’s called reality. As to who has more in common with Ann Coulter, you seem to know about as much about politics as you do logic.

  136. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Paul, if it takes you five posts to try and explain why the word “fundamentalist” doesn’t apply to New Atheists (while everyone else just posts the definition of the word that plaining shows that it does), then you’re probably fighting a losing battle.

    Or perhaps some people I’m talking to are a wee bit slow?

    Appease
    1. to bring to a state of peace, quiet, ease, calm, or contentment; pacify; soothe: to appease an angry king.
    2. to satisfy, allay, or relieve; assuage: The fruit appeased his hunger.
    3. to yield or concede to the belligerent demands of (a nation, group, person, etc.) in a conciliatory effort, sometimes at the expense of justice or other principles.

    I guess by the standards prevailing here, Mooney really IS PLAINLY an appeaser, so it’s okay to call him that. Heck, he’s an appeaser in all three senses here, so he’s more plainly an appeaser than I am a fundamentalist.

    Oh, and I just learned a dictionary definition for another word. I can’t wait to try it on “a dark-skinned person, especially a person of, or primarily of, Negro descent” when she gets home.

    I’m sure that’s gonna go over real well.

    (Better than “vegetarian fundamentalist” did, I hope. For some reason, she assumed it implied something bad. Go figure.)

  137. J.J.E.

    @ Tom (whom I inadvertently called Paul above, my bad)

    O.K. First things first. I am arguing that people who reject civil rights for gays are bigoted, not that being religious equal being bigoted. Read more carefully. In fact, the specific term “bigot” isn’t required for my argument, especially since I apply the same reasoning to acceptance of evolution, which is clearly not bigotry. So, substitute your preferred word for “bigotry” so we can move on from this silly pedantry and arguing over definitions which don’t actually bear on the issues such as “approving of gay marriage” or “accepting evolution”.

    Being religious is highly significantly associated with rejection of evolution and rejecting gay marriage, for just two examples. You can call it something other than bigotry and it doesn’t change my argument. So, if you object to bigotry, I’ll let you win that little battle so we can actually discuss my argument instead of getting mired in dictionary poetry slams.

    Also, from your post containing more pedantry about “fundamentalist” (this time anti-pedantry because you are simply wrong): “from a scholar in the field” “Your posts, along with Paul’s, are treading dangerously…” “can say anything”

    New Atheists are no more fundamentalist than your typical film critic, movie critic, politician or social activist. Just because somebody makes an argument with force and defends their perspective vigorously does NOT make them a fundamentalist. Again, film critics, movie critics, politicians, and social activists aren’t typically called “fundamentalist” unless they exhibit devotion to dogmas (typically, but not always religious in nature). MLK Jr’s views on civil rights were not fundamentalist in nature, though he fits your definition of “fundamentalist” to a T. Also, as a matter of language and linguistics, definitions of words are dictated by usage of the community of language speakers, not by some arbitrary “scholar”. Drop the arguments from authority.

    In any event, all of the so-called New Atheists have given conditions upon which they’d change their opinions about the existence of powerful intelligences (i.e. deities). So, there are no “fundamentals” underlying your accusation that NAs are fundamentalist. The simple inability to change someone’s mind is not an indicator if dogma, especially if evidence is lacking. If somebody has adduced a lot of evidence in support of one position and has pointed out even more evidence that is inconsistent with the alternative position, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the first position is a fundamentalist one if no evidence can be found for the second. And NAs are actually very respectful of theists (though not of their opinions) because they are actively engaging them, trying to tell them about the evidence. (Accommodationists appear to be patronizing theists, though that’s only my impression. If a given accommodationist claims not to be I won’t press the issue.)

    Sometimes these arguments work and a theist will abandon god (yay!). And sometimes they will kinda work and the theist will lay down their old god and follow a more deist version which atheists typically admit to being unable to speak about (yay Quakers?). But in these arguments, a third (and probably more common) outcome is that the religious person fails to budge at all despite proclaiming to believe in the same evidence as the atheist. That’s adherence to dogma.

    Basically, if some god-type dude does come down to earth and do 1/100th of the things he did in any of 100 bibles, I’d be quite willing to reconsider atheism as being a poor explanation of our observations. Dawkins and Harris and Coyne have said similar things. But what evidence could possibly convince theists that they are wrong? And you are calling atheists “fundamentalist”?

    And a 3rd time because my point was ignored the first time. I’ll adopt the term fundamentalist (but only in scare quotes) the moment you can defend MLK Jr as being fundamentalist. Because, if your definition is any good, it would have to apply to him too.

  138. Sorbet

    And how does that affect relative probabilities of unicorns vs bacteria? That’s why we are only talking about probabilities. You may not know this, but scientists routinely make best guesses based on degrees of certainty. Also, tomorrow you might say that the laws of physics may not apply in some as yet undiscovered part of the universe because we only have knowledge of their operation on earth and in the observable universe. Even you would not be so dense as to make this statement. Think McCarthy, think.

  139. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Am still looking forward to reading your reply to these comments of mine posted here a few days ago:

    “Ask noted evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson why he refers to Atheism – especially in its New Atheist guise – as a “stealth religion”. Or better yet, you can read his Huffington Post posts which he has kindly reposted here at his new Science Blogs site:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolution/

    Once you read and start comprehending what Wilson has written, then maybe you’ll understand why those of us like Tom Johnson and I regard the New Atheists – I prefer the term ‘Militant Atheists’ – as Fundamentalist religious zealots who are not so dissimilar from the very Fundamentalist Xians, Muslims and others whom they have been right to criticize.”

    I don’t think you are capable of offering some reasonable commentary, but here’s hoping

  140. Sorbet

    Maybe you also want to say that a newly discovered species of flatworm may not obey the laws of evolution since our evidence only consists of creatures already discovered?

  141. Anthony McCarthy

    Bacteria on earth, are 100% probable, unicorns on Earth, far less so but the numbers are impossible to figure. If they were not defined as physically existing animals their probability would be as unknown as your bacteria from planet x-10^n.

    If there is a flatworm discovered which do not “obey the laws of evolution”, then the “laws of evolution” clearly would be inadequate and would have to be changed. Considering how long a period of time evolution has been in constant operation and the many trillions or more organisms, their births, lives and reproduction that constitute evolution, the environments behaviors and chance happenings that impinge on evolution, writing “laws of evolution” 150 years of limited scientist hours into the study of it is prone to being of ephemeral and temporary validity. The life’s work of a number of the bright lights of the new atheism would seem to be a denial of that obvious state of affairs.

  142. Anthony McCarthy

    — Being religious is highly significantly associated with rejection of evolution and rejecting gay marriage, for just two examples . JJE

    Being a scientist used to be significantly associated with being male and in the United States and Europe being white. Being a member of organized “skepticism” also had those features at one time, to an extent I believe both are still true. There was a time being a Darwinian evolutionist was significantly associated with being a eugenicist (I tried to find significant anti-eugenics viewpoints in early Darwinians and came up just about blank until after WWII. As I’ve always said, if someone can give me the citations I’d love to have them.)

    There has been significant support for evolution by religious people from the start, there has been significant religious involvement with the struggle for gay rights since the beginning. As the link I provided to you shows, that is still the case. There are more religious people involved in the gay rights movement in the United States than there are atheists.

  143. J.J.E.

    First, regarding eugenics. I’m not 100% sure what you’re getting at there, but I’ll take a go at it. I’ll try to interpret your charitably, but I’ll probably get you wrong somewhere. Eugenics is frequently regarded as morally repugnant* today, sure. And I agree. But it was also a fairly technical proposal based on genetics that is a completely plausible idea from a biological (not moral*) perspective. Otherwise, domestication of human crops and livestock and pets wouldn’t work so darned well. Anyway, many (if not most) of the founders and early practitioners of popgen were either sympathetic to or actively engaged in promoting eugenics. I’m not so sure about other biologists, but for the sake of argument, let’s say they were too.

    O.K. so what does that mean? I think it is important to distinguish between being right and wrong on an issue of fact and making a moral* or immoral* decision. Eugenicists are right that it is easy to genetically manipulate mammals, plants, etc. ad nauseum to fit very specific purposes. That was known as of Darwin’s time and earlier. There is no reason to think that people should be any different. After all, we have chromosomes, basically the same gene complement, a lot of segregating variation, etc. It would take special pleading to say that eugenics is impossible.

    Now comes the crux. Is it desirable? I say no, but many biologists a century ago disagreed. The question is a moral* one. Where did this moral* decision come from? As far as I can tell, it didn’t come from science. It seems to have come from the same culture that made a side show of Saartjie Baartman, still maintained miscegenation laws, was composed of people whose living memory still recalled a day where slavery was common, and ranked the peoples of the world according to a continuum from chimpanzees to white people.

    These views are ones that were widely popular among non-geneticists. Since eugenics was a mixture of policy preferences (with moral* repercussions) and genetic theory (with purely scientific consequences) it can be easily understood why eugenics was basically relegated to elite white people, especially scientists educated to understand the theoretical aspects. So, your analogy doesn’t impeach science or evolution (which of course you agree with). Now to come to your point. If I make this argument for science, can a similar one be made for religion? As I understand your argument, your analogy is meant to suggest that one ought not argue for the end of a way of thinking just because it may have many undesirable aspects at any given time. If science can outgrow eugenics, can’t religion outgrow gay bigotry or anti-evolution?

    Well, the first answer is, as I indicated above, I don’t think the policy prescriptions for eugenics grew out of a scientific way of thinking. I think it grew out of a Victorian colonial mindset that already had a hierarchy of good people/bad people, and was trying to co-opt a very viable biological phenomenon (selective breeding and domestication) for its immoral* prescriptions. So on that score, I think the analogy isn’t a very good one between science/eugenics and religion/anti-X (where X is homosexuality or evolution etc).

    Anthony, with religion we’re not talking about a very theoretical idea from first principles, where we have to be careful about orienting the arrow of causation very much. The arguments, when they are made, are frequently made from an explicitly and self-consciously religious perspective. Just dig into the details of the high profile cases.

    Evolution:
    Kizmiller v. Dover
    Epperson v. Arkansas
    Daniel v. Waters
    Hendren v. Campbell
    McLean v. Arkansas

    In the case where the religious source of the argument was least obvious (Kitzmiller v. Dover) it was established unequivocally that the material in question was lifted directly from a Christian creation science manuscript.

    Now, with marriage equality, we can see the same thing. In Proposition 8 in 2008 in CA and in Question 1 in 2009 in ME, the biggest single organized boost of funding for those campaigns derived from organized Mormon efforts and organized Catholic efforts respectively.

    For evolution, it is both morally* and scientifically wrong to push creationism. For marriage equality it is morally* wrong, and there really is no scientific slant to it for most of the debate. It is my contention that for these issues, it is religion that is pushing the morally* bad perspectives (imposing religious prescriptions on other) and sometimes pushes a scientifically bad one to fulfill the first goal.

    In contrast, for eugenics, the eugenicists were right that forced breeding programs for people could change our genetic composition. But it is far from clear that their motivation to ACTUALLY propose that such things be undertaken came from science. Instead, it seems rather more parsimonious that such policy prescriptions are rather straightforward outgrowth of Victorian era social sensibilities that operated in all areas of life, not just science.

    * Moral: I’m making the assumption that you and I both agree that the following are unacceptable in some moral sense: eugenics, forcing indoctrination of religious beliefs on others (i.e. teaching creation and obstructing gay civil rights). As such, I haven’t bothered to rigorously back up this contention. I don’t and won’t engage anyone who doesn’t agree in this thread. That’s another discussion for another time. We’re already pretty far afield here.

  144. Paul W.

    John,

    If you have an argument, make it. Failing that, give a link to a something specific by Wilson that’s particularly worth reading, not his whole web site.

    I’ve read plenty of Wilson.

    I think referring to the “New Atheists” as fundamentalists or “militant” is ridiculous.

    Do you refer to MLK as a “militant”? Malcolm X?

    The New Atheists are only “militant” in the weak, misleading sense that MLK was. (Note that he had some disparaging things to say about accommodationists, too.) We are NOT actually militant in the plain sense that Malcolm X was.

    If you refer to the NA’s as fundamentalist or militant, you’re basically just saying they’re too outspoken and not inclined to defer to your strategies, and you don’t like them.

    I am sick of you fundamentalist accommodationists taking such a militant stance against the New Atheists.

    But really, I don’ t think you’re fundamentalists and militants.

    On the other other hand, if you insist on such BS overheated rhetoric, I might refer to Mooney as a dishonest propagandist and you as a dumbass.

  145. J.J.E.

    @ Anthony

    If all of those good things about Christian religion come to dominate and it becomes predominantly deist and/or philosophical in nature, I’ll not object to it any more than I do for Buddhism. If the examplars you keep pulling out eventually win and quit the material battlefied en masse and join their more tolerant brethren you keep mentioning, my argument is over. They haven’t, so I continue. :-D

  146. J.J.E.

    @ John Kwok

    What are the dogmas of New Atheism? What separates a “Militant Fundamentalist Extremist Dogmatic New Atheist” from the run of the mill atheist who disagrees with accommodationists but doesn’t feel like arguing the case in public?

    A related question. Can someone be an activist for a social movement without being dogmatic, fundamentalist, or part of a “stealth religion”? If so, how would an atheist activist look? If not, why not?

  147. J.J.E.

    @ Bilbo

    “Ooh, one more thing, JJE. You talk about how “embarrassing” others with pejoratives, mocking and the like will change the world, and you specifically use “civil rights” as an example of one of those things that could be changed.”

    And the post preceding it. Do a quick text search on the page for “pejoratives” and “mocking”, etc. Then get back to me when you can actually address the substance of a post.

    And on the larger issue of the wishy washy middle… Quite frankly, I don’t see how a proponent of the “separate but equal doctrine” (the wish washy middle of civil rights) who understood MLK Jr’s argument and was persuaded by it couldn’t go away embarrassed. Or do you think that MLK Jr should have shied away from embarrassing such people?

  148. Paul W.

    Oh, and if we’re talking about fundamentalism in the weak sense of adhering to dogma, I’d say Mooney has to count as a fundamentalist way more than any of the New Atheists he criticizes.

    Just try to count the times he’s quoted Forrest or Pennock or Genie Scott about the compatibility of science and religion without ever addressing the scores of refutations that have been offered.

    The New Atheists are pretty consistently willing to argue their case and refute his with counterarguments and counterexamples.

    Mooney just keeps repeating dogma. He’s never once seriously addressed substantive objections to his two main dogmatic straw men.

    Not once.

    Funny, that.

    Please, oh please do correct me if I’m wrong. Show me some place—even one place—that Mooney has made an actual substantive argument for compatibility of science and religion in any sense that the New Atheists actually disagree with.

    Show me some place—even one place—that Mooney has substantively addressed Overton counterarguments against his preferred strategy, or even straightforward counterexamples like the rise of the religious right in his lifetime.

    Anyone? Anyone?

    I didn’t think so. I’ve asked over and over here, and Mooney’s loyalists very consistently shy away from the actual substantive disagreements and resort to arguments from authority, or just trollish snark, or at best change the subject.

    I bet $20 you will never ever even see Mooney use the word “Overton.” He’s spent years avoiding it despite the issue being raised scores of times here and in various other blogs.

    Instead he repeats the same dogmas despite the frequent refutations.

    Mooney is a fundamentalist appeaser in a MUCH STRONGER sense than any of the “New Atheists” are fundamentalists, or that the “New Atheism” is a “stealth religion.”

    In fact, what Dennett calls “belief in belief” really is a stealth religion in Wilson’s sense (and the New Atheism is not anymore than just about any belief or disbelief people are willing to argue for) but Dennett has enough class not to resort to a loaded epithet like that. Instead, he clearly describes what he’s talking about and makes an argument for his position.

    Hyeesh, you guys. What a bunch of dogmatic trolls.

  149. Paul W.

    And on the larger issue of the wishy washy middle… Quite frankly, I don’t see how a proponent of the “separate but equal doctrine” (the wish washy middle of civil rights) who understood MLK Jr’s argument and was persuaded by it couldn’t go away embarrassed. Or do you think that MLK Jr should have shied away from embarrassing such people?

    Obviously they do. They’d be hypocrites otherwise, and they’d never be hypocrites, would they?

    Heck, MLK was a militant non-stealth religionist. (Horrors!) He slagged the white liberal moderates unforgivably.

    Not the kind of person the anti-New Atheists could ever respect, no sirree bob, not for a second.

  150. Paul W.

    BTW, I think it’s worth noting that Martin Luther King often advocated taking blatantly illegal actions to further his cause. Non-violent, but blatantly illegal.

    The New Atheists generally don’t.

    Who’s the militant?

  151. Paul W.

    And Chris and Sheril, advocates of civility that you are, shouldn’t you crack down on the inflammatory name-calling by your own partisans on your own blog?

    Notice that the New Atheists have generally been accommodating you lately by referring to you as accommodationists rather than by the technically correct term appeasers.

    They’ve compliantly adopted the new, less-inflammatory term, because they’re not just out to uncivilly call people names.

    Please tell your sycophants to civilly return the favor.

  152. Anthony McCarthy

    JJE I don’t think you quite got my point, which certainly wasn’t to impeach the science of evolution, though the effort would have included the wounding of most of the prominent names in evolution, including Charles Darwin. Though I bring him up with great reluctance because it’s a rare occasion when one is allowed to criticize that sacred cow, no matter how many facts you back it up with.

    My point was that your association of religion and two aspects of backwards, benighted thinking was entirely too broad and unjust. You are over-generalizing, though I basically disagree with your characterization of eugenics and those close to Darwin.

    — Well, the first answer is, as I indicated above, I don’t think the policy prescriptions for eugenics grew out of a scientific way of thinking.

    It grew directly out of Francis Galton’s reading of The Origin of Species, as he stated in his memoire. And the encouragement of his cousin, confidant, co-scientist Charles Darwin for the first work leading to organized eugenics, Hereditary Genius, couldn’t have more definitively tied eugenics with science, CD’s scientific bona fides couldn’t be more definitive. My reading of his mild disagreement in later years wasn’t about the theory or even the practice, I suspect it had more to do with C.D.’s queasiness about contraception and the fire storm that promoting it would have caused. Read The Descent of Man, taking the numerous demurrals for what they are and see what is actually advocated.

    The temptation with the strongest proponents of natural selection is to see selection in terms of advancement, even a relatively weak proponent as Thomas Huxley seems to have assumed large parts of its conclusions in so far as race is concerned.

    But, more generally, my point is that there are more valid associations than the one you advocate. “Science” is practiced by a relatively small number of people who tend to have similar training and presumptions, its methods are far more fixed and the area it concerns itself with is small related to that which “religion” encompasses. It’s far easier to make a reasonable (if not necessarily valid) generalization about “science” or “skepticism” than it is “religion”. There are, of course, benighted religious people, there are also very enlightened ones. There are really awful scientists and “skeptics”, but there are also very reasonable ones.

    — If all of those good things about Christian religion come to dominate and it becomes predominantly deist and/or philosophical in nature, I’ll not object to it any more than I do for Buddhism. JJE

    I can assure you that the religious supporters of gay rights I’ve encountered are far from deists, some of them take the justice tradition of “Abrahamic” religion very seriously.

    I’m not sure what your point is in so far as Buddhism is. I’ve studied Buddhism, I’ve credited it with my actually becoming a believer after it turned me into a quite contented agnostic. It killed off the last internal idol I had. Buddhist tradition is hardly uniformly gay friendly, the Dali Lamma has expressly condemned sexual practices associated with gay sex.

    Paul W. You win the gillt award for disingenuous commenting this week.

    — I bet $20 you will never ever even see Mooney use the word “Overton.” He’s spent years avoiding it despite the issue being raised scores of times here and in various other blogs. Paul W

    Why should he if he doesn’t want to? I didn’t see any evidence to support the general validity of the idea or the applicability of it to the new atheist program. Maybe he figures it’s just another one of those transient fads that sciencey faddists seem to like because they’ve got a surname attached.

  153. Paul W.

    Wow, Anthony, you take the cake.

    First you make the contentless accusation that I win the disingenuous commenting award, then you turn right around and evade my point.

    Why should Mooney address the Overton issue?

    Really because it’s an interesting and important issue, but he should address it even if it’s not because it IS AN ISSUE THAT HAS BEEN RAISED DOZENS OF TIMES OVER A PERIOD OF YEARS, and
    HE HAS DODGED IT EVERY TIME.

    If it’s so easily dismissed, he should damn well dismiss it himself. Anything else is disingenous, because he proceeds to claim mystification as to why anybody disagrees with him.

    And that’s plainly false. He knows very well, and has known for years, that many of his critics rightly or wrongly do in fact take the argument seriously.

    He owes them a rebuttal, and if it’s so easy to rebut, he definitely should do so. He should NOT imply that no counterargument has been made. For years.

    That is the height of disingenuousness, and you equal it. We went through this in the last accommodationist thread, and you not only dodged my questions but bragged about it.

    You’re just a troll, Anthony.

    (And when you deny it on the grounds that you agree with the blogger, you demonstrate your usual blowhard lack of clues. Hint: the practice of trolling and the term “troll” predate blogs.)

  154. Anthony McCarthy

    Paul W. I’m not especially worried about a new atheist troll calling me a troll. No more than I’d imagine Chris Mooney is concerned about what they assume is their right to set HIS agenda.

  155. Sorbet

    And how does that affect relative probabilities of unicorns vs bacteria? That’s why we are only talking about probabilities. You may not know this, but scientists routinely make best guesses based on degrees of certainty. Also, tomorrow you might say that the laws of physics may not apply in some as yet undiscovered part of the universe because we only have knowledge of their operation on earth and in the observable universe. Even you would not be so dense as to make this statement. Think McCarthy, think.

    Would you also contend that atoms may not exist in some place in the universe just because our only evidence for them is based on the observable universe?

    You are just a troll since you always sideline the actual arguments. Plus, you are completely ignorant of current research in exobiology. If not, some references.

  156. Anthony McCarthy

    “the laws of physics”. You think you’ve got a perfect set of those right now? I’d like to know how many physicists think that.

    If you can’t understand that what we know of biology, based solely on the life on Earth, may have nothing to do with even a single other kind of “other life”, you have a remarkably shallow view of it. We don’t even know if there is life anywhere else, we like to think there is life all over the universe but we DON’T KNOW THAT TODAY. I’d love to find out there was some form of life better than our species, wiser, more ethical, …. no doubt with single payer healthcare. But much as I would like to know that, WE DON’T KNOW THAT.

    If I had to guess, I’d guess that life being far more variable than atoms or simple molecules would be far more varied, far less predictable and probably far less uniform in their biology and lives.

    We’ve been over exobiology not having the first example of “other life” to compare to their conjectures, the distance to the first possibility of “other life”, not to mention subsequent possible locations for it, and unless physics finds something that essentially overturns present day understanding of those “laws of physics” you think are comprehensively known, it’s extremely improbable that our species is ever going to have those examples. Today, exobiology looks like it might be perpetually stuck in in a state of premature conjecture.

    Even if I was a troll, I don’t think I’d qualify as “just a troll”. I do strive to say something interesting and on topic. And it’s an odd blog troll who generally agrees with the owner of the blog. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced one of those. Is New England Bob Coyne’s blog troll?

  157. Paul W.

    Anthony,

    I’m likewise not especially concerned that a shallow blowhard anti-New Atheist troll calls me a troll.

    We are not trying set HIS agenda—he’s trying to set ours!

    If he constantly avoids addressing both the factual and the strategic issues that we tell him are important in how we set our agenda, and proceeds to condescend to us erroneously about both facts and strategy, well…

    He shouldn’t be surprised if we call him a dishonest propagandist, and proceed to ignore his disingenuous “advice.” He should stop whining about how what he says gets no traction with us, and be unsurprised if we keep saying he’s both dishonest and a whiner. Like you.

  158. Anthony McCarthy

    Paul I’m laughing too hard to whine.

  159. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that today is April Fool’s Day in light of your breathtakingly inane remarks, of which the most hysterical have to be these:

    “I think referring to the ‘New Atheists’ as fundamentalists or “militant” is ridiculous.”

    “Do you refer to MLK as a ‘militant’? Malcolm X?”

    “The New Atheists are only ‘militant’ in the weak, misleading sense that MLK was. (Note that he had some disparaging things to say about accommodationists, too.) We are NOT actually militant in the plain sense that Malcolm X was.”

    Au contraire, you ARE as “militant” as “Malcolm X was prior to his hajj to Mecca. How? Why? Just look at the risible comments from the likes of Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers and David Dennett, among others, attacking Obama for having the temerity to pick Francis Collins as the head of NIH, not withstanding the fact that regardless of Collins’s own personal religious beliefs, at no time did Collins conflate his religious thinking with his administrative and scientific responsibilities as the director of the Human Genome Project. Instead, they opted to raise a veritable “tempest in the teapot” which was rejected for sound reasons by the likes of Ken Miller among others. IMHO their behavior merely reinforced David Sloan Wilson’s sad, but true, observation that atheism – or rather, in this case, “Militant Atheism” – is merely a “stealth religion”.

  160. Paul W.

    Excuse me, John, you’re seriously comparing New Atheists to pre-Hajj Malcolm X because of some “risible comments”?

    Holy cow. A little harsh rhetoric about some ideas is worse than advocating not just criminal acts but physical violence.

    When was the last time you heard a New Atheist saying that it would be justified to shoot Christians?

    More importantly, on what planet do you spend most of your time?

  161. benjdm

    Secondly, I find it highly dubious to judge past strategies to be a failure based on the lack of movement in the creationist polling numbers cited above.

    Holy cow. Even I didn’t think that you were this accomodationist. You consider keeping creationist belief steady at 45% not to be a failure? You hope that people listening to the ideas in your book will keep the status quo?

  162. Paul W.

    Risible comments.

    *snicker*

    Yeah, I just keep thinking of the atrocities of people who disagree with other people and resort risible comments. You know, things like rational criticism and—dare I admit it—sarcasm, irony and most militant of all, outright mockery.

    The horror, the horror.

    I can’t help being reminded of Jonathan Swift and his Reign of Terror (TM).

    Given that some (not all) New Atheists object to affirmative action hires of evangelical Christians to top science posts, I guess they’re, well, violent terrorists out to impose their dogma on us by force.

    I hope the secret service is keeping an eye on folks like P.Z. and Jerry because surely, if they mock someone like Francis Collins (and his I-saw-a-triple-waterfall proof of the Trinity), they must be a hairsbreadth away from assassinating somebody who’d put in him in charge of research that he has clear theological reasons for rejecting.

    Probably they’re already conspiring to assassinate Obama. Heck, they’ve probably already done it and we just haven’t heard yet… I mean, where else could their *GASP* risible comments possibly lead?!!!??!!!11!

  163. Luke Vogel

    Paul W.

    “Why should Mooney address the Overton issue?

    Really because it’s an interesting and important issue, but he should address it even if it’s not because it IS AN ISSUE THAT HAS BEEN RAISED DOZENS OF TIMES OVER A PERIOD OF YEARS, and
    HE HAS DODGED IT EVERY TIME.”

    You’re a nutjob, Paul W. I would hope you’d agree. But, give me your best shot, because you’re nuts and it needs to be said.

  164. Luke Vogel

    John Kwok @ 159

    “Au contraire, you ARE as “militant” as “Malcolm X was prior to his hajj to Mecca. How? Why? Just look at the risible comments from the likes of Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers and David Dennett, among others, attacking Obama for having the temerity to pick Francis Collins as the head of NIH…”

    That’s crazy talk. There’s nothing they’ve said that could possilby justify this claim.

    It would actually be Little before becoming X that is comparable. He was anti-religious and earned his nickname “Satan” as Little. The time between Little and Mecca was an insane X who talked about the “white devil” and ok’d violence.

    You really ought to just apologize for saying what you have, I don’t know to who, maybe just to this insane environment of comments.

    You all deserve each other.

    BTW, even Nisbett, who supported the idea of a possible Collins NIH appointment has been very skeptical. Shermer chimed in the LA Times that there may be cause for concern not just because of Collins’ religious beliefs, but because he is an evangelical.

    As Shermer puts it:

    “I have two reasons for believing that there is a non-trivial chance that his religious convictions will influence his decisions as a policymaker for science.

    One, the very nature of being an evangelical Christian — which Collins self-identifies as — means that you should evangelize for the Lord…

    The whole point of being an evangelical Christian is to love the Lord openly and try to bring to Christ as many people as possible; otherwise you wouldn’t be an evangelical.”

  165. Luke Vogel

    John Kwok @ 159

    (I have a post to you in moderation). I want to add to it that it’s also disgraceful how you’ve used David Wilson’s argument. I think David makes some excellent points but you just absolutely pollute his arguments.

  166. Paul W.

    Excuse me, Luke.

    You’re saying it’s not just normal civil discourse to address the issues that the people who disagree with you think are important?

    That you think it’s reasonable to dodge the questions for years on end, and that I’m a nutjob for pointing it out?

    Do you seriously think that

    1) I’m out of bounds for saying that Mooney argues against a different sense of “incompatibility” than what the New Atheists are saying, or

    2) that Mooney avoids the major objections to his preferred strategy that have been frequently raised by his critics, or that

    3) Mooney writes as though this didn’t happen, implying that his critics disagree with his perfectly resonable points (and I’d agree, many of his points are reasonable, up to a point) for no good reason.

    Please, if I’m a nutjob, explain what I’m saying that is nutty. No broad brush, please.

  167. Paul W.

    Also, Luke, I’m kinda curious about the timing of your calling me a nutjob.

    John Kwok just seriously claimed that the New Atheists are as militant as Malcolm X before his Hajj (i.e., before converting from Nation of Islam to Sunni)?

    And yet it’s me that you choose to call a nutjob. Odd.

    Do you think it’s sane to claim that some generally pacifistic guys being vocal about their disagreement with other peoples’ beliefs, and eschewing not just violence but criminal civil disobedience are really comparable to Malcolm X when he justified not just civil disobedience but violence against white people in the service of separatist, admittedly racist religion?

    (Now, I’d be the first to admit that black folks in the 1960’s had better reason to be militant than atheists now, and that that mostly accounts for atheist not, in fact, being militant in the literal sense—e.g., taking up arms, you know, like a militia or something and taking military-type actions. I’m not slagging Malcolm X, BTW. I’m just saying that the New Atheists are plenty reasonable enough to know that they would not be justified in being militant in that sense, and to therefore not in fact be militant in that sense, as Malcolm X avowedly was.)

    So, is John a nutjob? Or just me?

  168. J.J.E.

    @ Anthony

    “[Eugenics] grew directly out of Francis Galton’s reading of The Origin of Species”

    I addressed this. There is nothing scientific whatsoever that make policy prescriptions. That’s my entire point. Galton’s policy predilection was pre-existing. All it needed was a mechanism. Just like for Truman using the bomb. One might say his desire to bomb the Axis powers came directly own of the scientific knowledge his advisors gave him about physics, but that would be wrong. It wasn’t physics that advocated anything.

    That’s my whole point. Scientists for quite a long time have defined science as a method of coming to organize observations about the world into frameworks and to make predictions about observation yet to be collected. It is, as you say, a limited endeavor. Scientific conclusions may be called to support someone’s agenda, whether it be a good, bad, or indifferent agenda. Climate science does not create the urgency for curbing global warming among scientists, it only informs the scientists about the natural world. Genetics did not create the urgency for shaping human populations, it only informed them about the possibilities of the genetics of controlled breeding. Thus is it always with science and why ethics classes are more and more common courses for PhD programs in the sciences. Because learning science alone isn’t enough to have a well-developed appreciation for what policies to pursue in light of scientific knowledge.

    – Regarding Buddhism. Living in a Buddhist nation for several years now, I can confidently claim that I’ve been approached by Christians (missionaries as well as regular people on the street) more often than Buddhits to spread their perspectives. In other words, 0 times for Buddhists and dozens of times for Christians.

    And also, the acceptance of evolution here is hindered only by ignorance. People either accept it or “don’t know”. There is very little rejecti0n at all, except of course in the growing Christian population. Most of the rejection of evolution (which is pretty low) seems to have been inserted from outside by the Christian invaders.

    My argument has never been that religion is an unequivocally and universally poisonous thing that causes only problems. My contentions are the following:

    1) Traditions as a persistent reservoir of many things, including BAD CULTURE.
    Abbrahamic faiths writ large serve as reservoirs of opposition to ideals that I value like education of evolution and tolerance of sexual orientation. They are also reservoirs of compassion, good education, and tolerance. However, there are secular avenues to achieve those, so I see no unique value added from religion. You can take secular incarnations of most things a la carte. With religion, you have to take the whole dish and then pick out the onions and homophobia from the otherwise nice Gospel meatloaf (actually, I like onions);

    2) Faith and science “incompatible”.
    AFs also teach ways of thinking that must be given special treatment if a scientific outlook is to be achieved. In other words, the “sophisticated” believer must learn that not only must he take his religion on faith, but that belief must be carefully circumscribed so as not to overlap with legitimate science. This imposes an additional burden that isn’t present in rational skepticism where propositions without evidence (gods & their doctrines) aren’t considered until evidence is adduced. This is the sense of “incompatible” that is bandied about. Basically, Christians can be good scientists if their Christianity is inserted into a well-developed scientific outlook (Collins) or if they broaden their horizons to question everything EXCEPT god (Miller). Again, the atheist has no special rule about what faith means, about separate magisteria, etc. The atheist can treat any claim skeptically, and comes to the conclusion that the evidence for Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity are all equally lacking and don’t merit an investment of belief until evidence is forthcoming. As such, the cooky writings of said faiths (floods, creation, resurrection, transubstantiation, virgin births, immaculate conceptions, parting seas, halting the revolution of the earth, viewing the whole world from one point, original sin, grace of God, Jesus as savior) don’t have to be examined at any level until evidence is forthcoming. And they don’t have to worry about evaluating competing faiths, because they have no evidence either.

    3) Faith uniquely impels destructive beliefs.
    Condom use (millions of AIDS sufferers in Africa because of the Catholic church), suicide bombings (Islam), Killeen (Islam again), Abortion killers (Christianity), anti-gay activism (Mormons & Catholics), gay murder (Iran and the Muslim world more generally), anti-evolution (Christianity & Islam).

    Now, for everything above, there is another side of compassion and rationality. Some of my friends fit into that category. But frankly, religion does such a good job of producing doctrine specific problems (you won’t see condom use or evolution education questioned in Buddhist communities but Christianity does) that I have to wonder, why bother defending religion?

    It is a fact that religion in the U.S. is significantly (very significantly, if you followed my post) associated with anti-evolutionism and homophobia. And one can pull these reasons directly out of the bible and/or denominational traditions. When the dust settles and we actually look at the opposition to evolution and gay rights, you will find Jesus smiling back at you. From the Mormon Prop 8 to the Catholic Q1 to the fundangelical efforts against evolution and beyond. (Catholic opposition to contraception is particularly egregious.) These are facts with fairly well-placed arrows of causation.

    I guess my question is Anthony is, when will Christianity (and Islam etc) be more like the good parts you point out? If you answer only one more question, I prefer you to answer this one. When will it stop pushing the terrible things it currently does? Like I said, the day it does is the day I keep my criticisms to myself. I’m inspired to criticize not just because of the ridiculous claims religion makes, but because it causes so much suffering and evil in the world.

  169. Sorbet

    Let’s start with basics. Do you think matter in unobserved parts of the universe may not consist of atoms because atoms are related only to matter that we have studied on earth and in the observable universe?

    By the way, one definition of a troll is one who uses a certain blog as a platform to incessantly voice his views. Based on word count and frequency of commenting, I think you would fit the definition.

  170. J.J.E.

    @ Sorbet

    No. It is not a matter of volume, which is essentially what you are claiming. (Unless think people incessantly voice OTHER peoples’ views.)

    Actually, high volume, incessant, voicing of ones view in the comments of a blog might be considered something, but it ain’t trolling. If the views are intelligent and in agreement with the blog owner, they may be highly valued by the community as a whole. If they are intelligent and disagree with the blogger, then they may also be considered valuable as a foil to blogger, and might make the community more interactive and explore more ideas.

    You get the idea.

    Trolling is usually identified with the goal of baiting for emotional responses, which is why the explicit term “troll” was used. Used as a verb, the traditional (non-internet) definition of that word is “to fish by trailing a baited line along behind a boat”. And the term trolling was chosen for the internet-related word explicitly to mimic that sense.

    You are defining “high volume discussion” or even “monopolizing discussion”. But trolling isn’t what you’re describing.

  171. Anthony McCarthy

    First a minor point, eugenics arose before Galton and the others knew about Mendel’s work, I’m not entirely certain that Galton ever knew about him but wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. I expect that could be found out. He almost certainly didn’t know about Mendel up to at least the end of the 19th century.

    Have you read The Descent of Man because there is a lot of obviously policy prescription in it, made with all kinds of cover, it is a truly awful book. And it’s clear that Darwin, and even more clearly the sources he quotes, is fully aware of the conclusions about political and social policies that would constitute applying the concept of natural selection to human societies. Given that Darwin, himself, cited Malthus as his lightening bolt of inspiration, you can only deny the political aspects of it by being willfully negligent.

    As to the laws that were passed, etc. science is supposed to inform public policy, it is supposed to be used. It has been used since the inception science by governments, a good part of the inspiration of science and its development was exactly due to the requests of rulers and often scientists developed ideas and products and marketed them to rulers and governments. That the awful ideas are often eagerly taken up for the worst ends is not a novel idea. Science isn’t some pure, pristine enterprise, it can be as sordid in reality as religion. In fact, in theocratic regimes (which I’d include North Korea to be among) it can serve religious fanaticism just as easily as it has officially atheistic regimes and allegedly democratic ones.

    But in the case of eugenics, which, though near to it, should be distinguished from the even worse applications of bad science, it was a faith in the overriding potency of natural selection which was its direct inspiration. Galton and then Leonard Darwin, Charles’ son, believed they were involved in applied science that would better the human species. Both of them cited Charles Darwin’s ideas of natural selection and neither could have been unaware of C.D.’s citation of the breeding of farm animals and the “betterment” of varieties and herds through selective breeding in support of his ideas of natural selection and the adoption of Spenser’s concept that superior “stock” results from weeding out the inferior, “survival of the fittest”.

    So, you see, the idea of eugenics can’t be removed from the concept of natural selection or the citation of commercial animal husbandry. Like it or not eugenics sprang from science, that is both historically and theoretically a fact. It sustained itself with the acceptance by scientists. Its being attractive to ruling and powerful elites (who unsurprisingly believed themselves and their folks to be paragons of fitness) was intentional from the start. The eugenicists were scientists who meant their ideas to be applied from the start.

    It was history, the results of giving eugenics the test of time, that has led to its disrepute. Though it survives as the scientific racism promoted even today still shows. A scientific idea about human society has to stand or fall on the actual observation of the results. I mentioned Darwin’s idea that mass vaccination would have an inevitable dysgenic effect on the population as a whole [Descent of Man]. He thought providing mass medical care and food relief would have those effects too. He couldn’t possibly have stated it more clearly, though he appended a rather weak demurral advocating people give the aid even though it would lead to bad results. I’ve read that in the end of his life, as he could hardly have avoided knowing about the racial policies of the Nazis, that Leonard Darwin (head of the British Eugenics Society) was extremely pessimistic about the future of the human species due to the increase in inferior stock. His pessimism was the result of scientific faith in the force of natural selection and the inability of human reason, ethics, and, yes, science, as superior means of solving human problems. I’ve found that scientists can have some of the strongest faith in their ideas, even when those are bad ideas.

    —- When the dust settles and we actually look at the opposition to evolution and gay rights, you will find Jesus smiling back at you. From the Mormon Prop 8 to the Catholic Q1 to the fundangelical efforts against evolution and beyond. (Catholic opposition to contraception is particularly egregious.) These are facts with fairly well-placed arrows of causation. JJE

    Jesus never mentioned gay sex even once, the citations allegedly by Paul are, in the original, ambiguous and very likely were about temple prostitution, though later translators were probably quite ignorant of that. So, it’s not Jesus who is smiling back, it’s more like the false prophets he warned about. I don’t happen to be a Christian but I do actually think Jesus had some excellent ideas, among them that prostitutes and tax collectors would find salvation before the equivalent of our religious fundamentalists of his time and place.

    As I pointed out, it’s not only religion but sciene that can be used for bad ends. I can assure the “science” of psychology has been pretty oppressive to gay people, at times brutally so. A couple of years back there was a “study” being promoted here (it made 60 Minutes) that more or less says that being gay is a birth defect caused by a toxic reaction to second and subsequent male pregnancies. There is “science” that purports to show that gay men have brains that “differ” from “normal” brains. In practice, as women also know, “differing” from the “straight male brain” means there’s something wrong with yours. Well, we’re finding out a lot of problems with this “science”, among them that the sacred brain scans likely don’t show what is alleged, when those aren’t totally bogus to begin with, and that most unscientifically, the generally small differences aren’t meaningful or fixed for all time in their expression.

    This is turning into a long comment, I could go on and on about the “scientific” “study” of “gay men”. I will tell you that I’m extremely skeptical about the actual existence of “gay men” or “straight men” as distinct, human entities. I’m extremely skeptical about alleged differences in “female and male brains”. I’m very skeptical partly due to the clear trend for the “science” to serve the same elites and the same a priori predilections that dubious religion does.

    I don’t think you have an appreciation to know how radically freeing religion can be, if its done honestly and without self-interest. I think Jesus knew that, I’m not as certain about Paul. I’m absolutely certain that Ratzinger doesn’t and wouldn’t like the idea if he did.

  172. Paul W.

    Luke,

    I see that you do think what John said about New Atheists and Malcolm X was crazy talk; I guess that post was held up in moderation or something. Okay.

    I still wonder what in particular I say that you think is nutty.

  173. Paul W.

    Since L’Affaire Collins has been brought up…

    First, let me say that I suspect that the other accommodationists here do recognized that Kwok was talking garbage on this, and that the NA’s are not militant in the plain sense that Malcolm X was, pre-Haj. I don’t want to beat up on a straw man.

    But I’d also like to point out that the Collins affair seems to me to show just how moderate the NA’s actually are, and not militant in any useful sense that’s different from daring to take an unpopular stance like pretty much any advocate for any position.

    I read several NA responses to the Collins appointment and several things struck me.

    The NA’s were generally careful to say that Collins is a good scientist and (more relevantly) has the right general kinds of skills and experience. (There was some minor quibbling about that, but the objection was not to Collins as a scientist or as a bureaucrat).

    This is nice example of how the NA’s do emphatically agree with the accommodationists that theists can be good scientists. Of course they can. Nobody is claiming that science and religion conflict in a way that precludes that.

    Some commenter at Pharyngula suggested that somebody like Dawkins would be a better choice, and various people including PZ himself said no way. Dawkins would be a bad choice for the job because the NIH shouldn’t be endorsing either view or giving a lightning rod from either side a bully pulpit. Further, as P.Z. and others noted, Dawkins does not have the qualifications for the job and Collins does.
    Collins has shown that he can handle that kind of responsibility in the administration of science funding and overseeing.

    The major objection to Collins from the NA’s was that it appeared he was getting the job for the wrong reasons, as an affirmative action hire to make an evangelical a token representative of the science community, to promote the idea of the compatibility of science and religion. We didn’t much like the idea of Collins being given a bully pulpit precisely because he does use whatever pulpit he’s got to promote an idiosyncratic minority view which we consider to be false, loaded, and unfair to many legitimate scientists.

    Nobody on either side seemed to think Collins was being appointed because he was the best guy for the job, even if in fact he was a plenty good guy for the job. That was not what the anti-New Atheists liked about the appointment, and it was reasonable for the NA’s to object to Collins being appointed on such grounds.

    One other (less common) objection to Collins hit home with—it was the first thing I thought of when I heard about the appointment. Collins is an example of somebody who can usually, but not always, compartmentalize his theological and scientific views, and proceed to do fine science even though some of his views are antiscientific.

    We wouldn’t object to Collins running the Human Genome Project. His theological views were not likely to be relevant or affect his performance, given the specifics of that job at that time. No problem.

    On the other hand, overseeing a more general science-funding and science-overseeing bureaucracy is different, because some of the science being done directly contradicts Collins’s stated theology.

    Collins thinks that morality is not a natural phenomenon and can’t be explained in scientific or specifically evolutionary terms. He is therefore the wrong person for a job that funds and oversees research on non-human and human morality, which is part of the new job.

    I think that’s clearly right. He is prima facie the wrong guy for the job because if he acted on his publicly stated and argued positions, he would be against some of the scientific research he oversees on theological grounds.

    Most if not all NA’s agreed that that was a legitimate concern, but they also basically agreed to do nothing about it, and hope that Collins kept his theology compartmentalized away from his scientific job responsibilities even though he’s published a book saying that he doesn’t.

    Most people figure that he wouldn’t dare actually screw with research funding or evaluation for those things he publicly disses, or that there’d be enough institutional resistance he wouldn’t do much harm. Probably.

    So the NA’s basically agreed to grumble a bit and then let it go.

    They did not behave like the serious militants that Kwok fantasizes they are. They didn’t say that it would be justified to shoot Collins to protect ethology or anything remotely like that.

    They didn’t even behave like “militants” in the weak sense it’s often claimed that they are—the sense that would cover most political activists for any cause at all.

    They didn’t organize a protest march, and picket Collins.

    They didn’t organize a letter-writing campaign to get the decision reversed.

    They didn’t even suggest that anybody should write letters to anybody complaining.
    (IIRC. Maybe somebody somewhere did, but it wasn’t common. Most NA’s just grumbled a little and let it go.)

    They just publicly complained about a few ideas they disagree with, and a political strategy they disagree with, and a particular instance of that strategy in action.

    And they get called militants.

    Contrast this to, say, Mooney and Kirschenbaum’s actions trying to get a presidential science debate going. They really did try to make a political event happen, and drum up and organize support for it.

    Clearly, that’s more militant, except that you wouldn’t call it that, and neither would I, because we don’t mind them taking such actions for such goals.

    I think it’s pretty clear that “militant” has just become an epithet for people who publicly disagree with you, even if they don’t take any particular action or organize resistance.

    How lame.

    And the anti-NA crowd complains about name calling? Gimme a break.

  174. John Kwok

    @ Luke,

    I have no need to apologize when it’s been Militant Atheists like PZ Myers for example, who have indulged in rather absurd, quite disgraceful behavior that’s really worse than the hate-mongering against whites which Malcolm X said before he switched his loyalties from the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam in response to his hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. You can’t honestly tell me that “CrackerGate” isn’t worse than Malcolm X’s venomous pre-hajj rhetoric, when it’s become the subject of ample harsh discussion by many, not only “accomodationists”, both here and elsewhere online.

    Nor do I think I need to apologize for misappropriating Wilson’s words.

    Respectfully yours,

    John Kwok

  175. John Kwok

    Paul W. –

    Apparently you’ve forgotten what PZ Myers said about Francis Collins which Miller referred to in his 7/29/09 New York Times letter to the editor condemning the harsh attacks on Collins made by the likes of Sam Harris and PZ Myers (whom Ken referred to in third person as a “leading science blogger”).

    You can read the entire text of Ken’s letter here:

    http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/collins/times-letter.html

    But it is especially worth noting that Myers, contrary to defending Collins’s qualifications to be head of NIH, referred to Collins as a “clown” and a “flaming idjit.” I concur completely with Ken’s terse observation of Myers’s absurd online behavior against Collins, “When reason has such defenders, Heaven help us.”

    Why was Collins a suitable appointment by the Obama administration (A choice that I believe was strongly urged by MIT biologist Eric Lander, co-chairperson of the President’s Council of Science and Technology advisory panel. In the interest of full disclosure, Lander worked closely with Collins for years in his capacity as head of the MIT Whitehead Institute team which successfully sequenced the human genome, even in spite of unexpected competition from Craig Venter’s Celera Genomics team.)? Ken Miller does an admirable job reminding us of Collins’s qualifications:

    “The disconnect from reality in such attacks is striking. Dr. Collins’s visionary work on cystic fibrosis set the stage for the Human Genome Project, which he then led to a magnificent conclusion – not just ahead of time and under budget, but as a model for cutting-edge collaborative research.”

    “The suspicion that Dr. Collins’s faith would lead him to suppress research is sharply contradicted by his administration of the genome project and the profound scientific curiosity that has marked his entire career.”

    “Francis Collins is a remarkable scientist and a visionary administrator.”

    “He is exactly the right person to head the N.I.H.”

    If nothing else, Ken Miller’s terse, but most profound, set of observations in The New York Times should suggest to anyone that the real “nutjobs” are not accomodationist “trolls” like Anthony McCarthy and myself, but rather, instead, the teeming horde of Pharyngulite trolls posting here and elsewhere online who refuse to accept that anything that Myers, Harris or Dawkins or Coyne have written or said in public could be construed correctly as unacceptable by others, especially by such prominent “acoomodationists” like Ken Miller.

  176. Paul W.

    John,

    Are you sure that’s what you’re so worked up about? Or are you still mad at him for publicizing your attempt to extort a Leica camera from him?

    Your non-response to the issues Luke raises is a perfect example of why pretty much everybody (accommodationists included) thinks you’re a kook.

    Recall that PZ was responding to death threats by Catholics against Webster Cook. Actual threats of physical violence unto death. And he chose to disrespect a sacred cracker.

    I was one of the first people to object to PZ’s plan, by the way. I was one of the people who thought it was borderline illegal, involving obtaining a “freely given” cracker under false pretenses. I didn’t think that PZ should so so far as to arguably break a law, committing petty theft as an act of civil disobedience.

    But that’s what it was. Whether it was technically illegal or not, it was an act of civil disobedience to norms if not laws, protesting a truly militant reaction against Webster Cook.

    PZ was kinda like MLK, that militant who advocated and organized minor lawbreaking to make a point, but quite unlike Malcolm Little, who condoned actual violence.

    PZ was non-violently “disobediently” protesting truly militant Catholics’ actions—people who threatened Cook with death, and others who actually tried to get him expelled from his university. IMHO, it was a measured, non-escalating response. (But I still objected to it on the grounds that it was likely to be perceived differently, by kooks like you.)

    The people threatening or taking action against Cook are the ones PZ referred to as fanatics and wackaloons. (Not all Catholics and certainly not all religious people, as Mooney likes to imply by quote-mining PZ.)

    And PZ was right. Those people, including the foaming-at-the-mouth Bill Donahue, are fanatics and wackaloons. As Anthony is fond of pointing out, there’s a lot of variation among Catholics. Many Catholics agree that Donahue and the death-threatening idiots are in fact fanatics and wackaloons, don’t they?

  177. Paul W.

    John,

    I think you’re missing the NA point about compartmentalization. The point is that you can be a “clown” and a “flaming idjit” in some respects and still a competent scientist and/or administrator.

    PZ has made that clear over and over again.

    And I think any reasonable person would have to agree. Most religious people find certain aspects of other people’s religions goofy, and yet most acknowledge that usually it doesn’t matter for other purposes.

    For example, many protestants believe that it’s silly to think that a priest can actually bring down the holy spirit (or however the story goes) to transform a cracker into the literal body and blood of Christ.
    Most nonetheless think that a Catholic can be a fine scientist or adminstrator, so long as they keep that goofy belief out of their science—e.g., don’t go around trying to find scientific ways to prove that the cracker’s “essence” has been so transformed.

    So what you’re criticizing the NA’s for is a very common belief among run-of-the-mill theists, particularly science-friendly theologically liberal ones. And it’s almost universal among accommodationists!

    They recognize that many religious beliefs are just false—given the contradictions, that has to be true, even if you don’t say which particular ones are false—and also recognize that in other regards the people who hold them often function quite normally.

    Put the shoe on the other foot. You think that PZ is a kooky militant New Atheist, right? You think he lacks perspective and is not quite right in the head, don’t you? You’re happy to call him unflattering names.

    Would you infer from that that his scientific work on zebrafish development is bad? I wouldn’t think so.

    Why do you think the NA’s can’t see things similarly, when they say so all the time?

    I for one think that Francis Collins is a flaming idjit for the purpose of discussing religous beliefs, but I have no doubt that he’s a competent scientist and adminstrator.

    Are you telling me that I can’t hold both beliefs simultaneously? Are you telling me that I don’t?

    And by the way, I really am not impressed by quotations or links to Ken Miller. Ken Miller is another person who I think is a fine scientist, but who holds some kooky theological and philosophical views. That’s common.

  178. J.J.E.

    @ Anthony McCarthy

    The first part of your most recent comment to me I can sink my teeth into. The second part, not so much because I think you followed a tangent that was initiated by a tongue-in-cheek comment I made about Jesus. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t making a specific claim about Christ, just the religion as a whole. Apparently I shouldn’t try to be cute.

    Regarding eugenics (the substantive part) I guess we’re at an impasse. Science, to me, is BY DEFINITION something that doesn’t make ought statements. And I really like that definition. I’m up-front about this definition, so it isn’t a No True Scotsman. This is the way I think science SHOULD be defined. Your treatment of the topic indicates that you think that the dependence of policy on science and the proposal of policy by scientists questions that premise.

    All I can say is I don’t think that’s a fruitful definition and you are welcome to disagree, though I’m surprised you do. You see, if science gets into the business of “ought” (as it surely must if you are claiming that policy prescriptions are indistinguishable from science), then you have more or less shattered the foundations of Gould’s and Eugenie Scott’s claims that science doesn’t inform religion except in trivial ways. Interestingly, you’ve attacked their premise from a decidedly unexpected direction.

    I think science informs religion from time to time because religion is constantly straying over into the material magisterium (YEC for example). I don’t think science should get involved in the non-material aspects, but when religion sneaks into material claims (homosexual behavior is “unnatural”, contraception doesn’t work, YEC, etc.) I’m happy to smack them. (Secular ethics and secular philosophy are different matters… They can and should get into “ought” questions. But they aren’t science.) But you just suggested that science MUST be viewed in such a way that it is involved in those non-material/philosophical areas. To put it mildly, I’m a bit surprised you would say such a thing.

    This is not to deny that scientists don’t engage in philosophizing or prescribing policy or that philosophers or theologians don’t get involved in science. But frankly I’m surprised by your assertion that science must be viewed as indistinguishable from “ought” perspectives, which you must do if you are to claim that “Like it or not eugenics sprang from science”.

    Perhaps you didn’t engage my points about eugenics as alternately a theoretical construct or a policy prescription. You are welcome to define science as including any policy pushed by scientists or policies to which science is adduced. However, you’re pretty much calling all of telecom, internet, industrial, etc. policy an outgrowth of science, which seems odd. If we fail to halt global warming and the seas rise 20 feet, will you call that an outgrowth of science? If we DO halt global warming and things get better, will THAT be an outgrowth of science? I’d say no. It is an outgrowth of policy informed by culture that reviewed the scientific evidence, weighed the tradeoffs, and made a decision based on values. (For the record, I think we value short-term priorities too highly, and that makes us likely to make bad Global Warming policy decisions.)

    My point is that, such mixtures need not even be made if you simply forbid a proper definition of science to include non-material concerns, such as “ought”. Science can tell you HOW to do eugenics WHAT the consequences likely will be and may even give STRATEGIES for implementation. Very true. But it never says that Parliament or Congress SHOULD use their elected positions to implement eugenics, no matter how many geneticists testify. Watching the global warming debate should have taught us that much, at least.

    Finally regarding the last part of your comment (that doesn’t deal with Jesus). Quite a bit of psychology quite frankly isn’t even pretending to be science, especially since it deals with personal ideas of what a healthy psyche “ought” to be. However, a lot of the observational aspects of psychology DO attempt to be scientific. And in those aspects, I agree with you, basically, it is full of suckage. All too often the statistics are poorly done, the designs aren’t well controlled, and the conclusions aren’t merited by the data. But again, what you do with OUGHT isn’t the science part. The poor prediction, large variance in estimates, poor replication, etc that inform policy ARE science. And it is regrettable that people put as much faith in psychology as they do. But it isn’t science’s “fault”. It is the fault of the people that act on science of dubious quality. By definition. And I want to keep it that way.

    I’ll testify in front of Congress if I’m ever called to do so. (I’m a scientist.) But if my words are ever to be used to advocate policy, I do so only with the full admission that these are MY values. Science doesn’t inform that. But science can inform likely consequences of my actions/inaction, etc. And those CONSEQUENCES can feed into my values. But the decisions are proximally based on my values, not science.

    I’m retreating to my magisterium. When religion does the same, I’ll have a lot less to say about it (as a scientist, at least).

  179. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Thanks for proving you are a merely delusional Pharyngulite simply for bringing my effort to “extort” from PZ some expensive Leica photographic equipment. But then again, you refuse to admit the truth even after I have posted here – and elsewhere – on numerous occasions that I told PZ I was joking and yet, apparently you, he and a few of his most zealous Pharyngulites still insist I wasn’t (Apparently his two closest friends online – and in person – Greg Laden and Mike Haubrich have realized by now that I was kidding or else they would have brought this up with me again and again.). Not only have I told PZ this, but more importantly, have informed others, starting of course with my friend Ken Miller.

    Not only Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, but others too have been quite critical in their assessment of PZ Myer’s juvenile antics with regards to CrackerGate. No need for me to waste my time – as well as others – in posting my substantial objections here since you can find them if you opt to search through the Intersection’s archives.

    But, in closing, let me again note that what Ken Miller said in his published 7/29/09 New York Times letter to the editor was fair and right on the mark with regards to how ridiculous, your “Messiah” PZ Myers and his fellow prominent Militant Atheists have been in their vehement criticisms of eminent molecular biologist Francis Collins and his truly first class administrative duties on behalf of science and, of course, his exceptional scientific research. I find it rather sad that a mediocre scientist like Myers – and he IS mediocre since he admitted to me in a private e-mail exchange that he’s no where nearly as fine an evolutionary developmental biologist as his distinguished colleage Sean B. Carroll – can stoop as low as he has done over at his blog in engaging in extensive character assassination of people like Francis Collins or even Ken Miller (whom he dubbed a “creationist” back in September 2006 at Pharyngula. If you scroll upward here, you will find my link to Myers’s absurd bit of commentary aimed at Ken.).

  180. Anthony McCarthy

    —- I guess we’re at an impasse. Science, to me, is BY DEFINITION something that doesn’t make ought statements.

    Absolutely agreed, as I’ve said here a number of times to the devotees of scientism. However, you can’t escape the fact that as soon as application comes into the picture, as it almost always does with science, the attempt is the result of someone’s judgment that something “ought” to happen. The extent to which you can separate what science can actually tell you and these applications are no less complex and ultimately separable from “science” than a scientist’s belief in religion or the new atheism. Where does one begin and the other end? I’d draw a bright line but most of the new atheists and fundamentalist of religion don’t seem to.

    Science doesn’t inform the moral judgment of religion but it can profoundly inform the implementation of moral judgment and it can inform belief, though not in any uniform or universal manner. As with the preceding point, the new atheism seems to assume that science not only informs their moral dogmas but that their moral dogmas are what constitutes science.

    As to psychology and its status as science. My experience with asserting the pseudo-scientific content of much of the behavioral sciences has been met with furious, vituperative and often irrational assertions that those are as legitimate science as biology or physics. Evo-psy certainly believes itself to be science.

  181. Paul W.

    BTW, John,

    I think that Harris’s op ed was better than Miller’s response to it. Anybody actually interested in the subject should read it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/opinion/27harris.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1

    Note that Miller doesn’t actually address the concerns Harris raises. He just accuses Harris as criticizing Collins because he “is a Christian.”

    That’s avoiding the point, just as you do.

    The point is that Collins publicly argues that certain important aspects of the human mind are not natural phenomena, and he’s charged with overseeing research finding natural bases for those things.

    That’s a conflict, isn’t it?

    I agree with Miller and most commenters that it’s not an overriding concern, as I think most New Atheists do.

    Notice that while Harris grumbled publicly about why Collins was not really so ideal, he didn’t do anything militant about it.

    He didn’t say to shoot Collins, or Obama.

    He didn’t even demand that Collins NOT be appointed.

    He didn’t circulate a petition requesting that Obama reconsider the appointment.

    Now, seriously, what kind of militant is that—somebody who won’t even circulate a freaking petition?

    Sorry, that’s just not militancy, and you’re just crazy if you think it is.

    What you call militant is just saying things you don’t like.

    By that standard, just about anybody who voices an opinion is militant to somebody, especially everybody who’s ever commented on this blog, which is patently ridiculous.

  182. John Kwok

    Paul W. –

    Just to save you the trouble of looking, especially since I had posted the link to PZ’s blog entry at another recent Intersection thread, here it is:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/09/ken_miller_creationist.php

    Just a merely priceless example of Myers’s inane, often juvenile, online behavior which reached its nadir when Myers opted to practice “CrackerGate”.

  183. John Kwok

    Paul W. –

    You are conflating what Francis Collins has said as a devout Christian in response to questions he’s received with what his actual record as both a scientific administrator and respected molecular biologist have demonstrated. I’m not impressed with Harris’s reasoning, only because I find Ken’s more compelling (In the interest of full disclosure I’m a Deist, a conservative with strong libertarian leanings, and a fellow alumnus of Ken’s undergraduate alma mater, who had the privilege of assisting Ken as an upperclassman during Ken’s very first debate against a creationist quite a few years ago.). That doesn’t mean that I endorse every philosophical point of view which Ken has taken, but in this instance I certainly agree wholeheartedly with his terse, harsh, and accurate, assessment of the criticisms aimed at Collins from the likes of Myers, Coyne, Harris, Dennett and others of their fellow Militant Atheist ilk.

  184. J.J.E.

    “Science doesn’t inform the moral judgment of religion but it can profoundly inform the implementation of moral judgment and it can inform belief, though not in any uniform or universal manner.”

    Agreed.

    “As with the preceding point, the new atheism seems to assume that science not only informs their moral dogmas but that their moral dogmas are what constitutes science.”

    And perhaps after several pages, we finally come to the point where we roughly agree (at least on the big picture things) about everything except one fundamental issue. We both agree that science shouldn’t aspire to morality* (though those seeking to make moral decisions may query science for information) and we agree that religion shouldn’t make material claims+. Basically, we both wish Gould were right about NOMA and we both realize he isn’t.

    I think how we interpret who transgress the NOMA target is how we differ.

    This is where our conversation comes into alignment with the conversation upthread regarding fundamentalism. I’ll ignore the semantic lucubration about “fundamentalism” and will focus instead on a more concrete target: dogma. We can all agree that most religious people (by numbers anyway) adhere to at least minor dogmas that are unique to their religion#. Whether it be Moses’ messages from God or Jesus’ claim to divinity or Mohammed’s status as a prophet etc., there are certain things that must be taken without question for most believers.

    And I also trust that you’ll admit that, regarding atheism, you’ll basically concede that people like Chris Mooney and Genie Scott aren’t dogmatic in terms of atheism, right#?

    Now to the crux of the matter. Religion is unarguably one of the most powerful social and cultural forces in human history. And many people can demonstrate that such power can be abused. And many reasonable people can adduce evidence that a decrease in religion would lead to a more harmonious society (while at the same time realizing that they could be wrong). Such people might even consider trying to share their ideas regarding such issues.

    Here are the questions: How much room would Anthony McCarthy allow for atheist activism before considering such action to be symptomatic of dogma? How far is too far? And how is “far” defined? Is it the content of arguments? Tenacity of argumentation? Rhetorical tone of the arguments? I’ll grant that you can productively define dogma using some combination of some (not all) of the ideas above. But I think you and I will differ quite a bit on that specific recipe.

    * except in the trivial sense that science will some day try study the human brain in a material sense in order to understand how humans experience various emotions, senses, thoughts, etc.

    + except in the trivial sense that religion records history and tradition.

    # Everyone has dogma in some aspect of their life. I’m ignoring everything but religious and/or atheism dogma.

  185. Anthony McCarthy

    — How much room would Anthony McCarthy allow for atheist activism before considering such action to be symptomatic of dogma?

    Luckily for him and the world at large, he isn’t in charge of such things. He has no power to allow of disallow only to object when necessary.

    — How far is too far? And how is “far” defined?

    I will object to lies, to assignment of vicarious blame, to stereotyping, to distortions and other manifestations of dishonesty and bigotry. I will also object to scientism and the assertions that atheists own science and that religious people are ignorant or mentally ill because of their being religious. I will object most strongly to the assertion that killing tens of millions of people in a nuclear first strike or killing people for what they think, absent any action, could be justifiable or that it is child abuse to expose children to religion.

    I will also object to distortions of science or religion but that’s not the same thing as targeting people.

    — Is it the content of arguments? Tenacity of argumentation? Rhetorical tone of the arguments? I’ll grant that you can productively define dogma using some combination of some (not all) of the ideas above. But I think you and I will differ quite a bit on that specific recipe.

    A lot of that is taken care of in the last answer. I have no problem with atheists voicing their opinions or ideas, I have no problem with anyone telling the unpleasant truth about anything, I don’t have any problem with doing so with rigor and even some vigor. Though I will object to people risking political progress or justice or social tranquility pointlessly and counterproductively.

    Reality is real, our opinions and even many of our “truths” are transient. People and other living things are more important than either, you don’t get more real than life and death. Not in this life, anyway.

  186. J.J.E.

    Well, I’ve been up for nearly 24 hours, and I won’t get to a full reply today. (I’m behind a deadline by several days.) Thanks for reading this far!

    Anyway, here is where I envision any remaining discourse/disagreements:

    * stereotyping (I agree at face value, but one man’s stereotype is the complement of another man’s “exception to the rule”);
    * nuclear first strike? Is this something that Hitch said or something?
    * child abuse (Madeline Neumann is on a part of a continuum that certainly constitutes child abuse; where do you define where child abuse stops? I can’t answer this simply)

    That’s enough for now. Just a signpost in case I come back to this. No need to reply, as you’ve caught up. But I have to get back to my deadline. Thanks for chatting!

  187. Paul W.

    John,

    About Harris vs. Collins, I think you’re missing the big picture.

    Collins is not a creationist full stop, but he is a creationist with respect to Harris’s scientific area. He’s a neuroscientist interested in things like the mechanics and evolution of morality, among other things.

    Collins explains those as the products of a specific special creation by God, and says they are unexplainable in evolutinary terms.

    He is a flaming idjit with respect to that subject, don’t you agree?

    For the most part, that doesn’t make him objectionable as a manager of the Human Genome Project because his views on the genes affecting morality are unlikely to affect his job performance.

    Things are not so clear when you give him a job overseeing research by people like Marc Hauser, Paul Bloom, etc. He has very publicly and emphatically said that the kind of research they do is doomed to failure, because science can’t explain those things.

    That’s a problem.

    The problem, specifically, is that NOMA is false and that this is one of the areas in which it’s not even approximately true. Collins has clomped into Harris’s scientific turf and stomped on it with both feet.

    Of course he doesn’t come out and state the implications of his claim that these things aren’t natural. He doesn’t say that Paul Bloom or Marc Hauser is full of shit. But that’s the obvious implication of very clear statements he’s made in his book.

    And that’s worth objecting to.

    Would you put somebody who’s a creationist with regard to, say, the digestive system in charge of biomedical research on nutrition? I don’t think so.

    Why would you put somebody who’s a creationist with regard to the moral sense in charge of research on emotional and moral development? Isn’t that a conflict?

    If I recall correctly, Ken Miller is a creationist with regard to some of that sort of thing, too.

    Please, don’t quote me out of context and say that I said that Collins and Miller are creationists. I didn’t, in the general, quite loaded sense. But they are not NOMA-respecting Deists, either.

    They do buy certain parts of the Genesis story as factually true in a way that contradicts current science. Uh oh.

    Are we supposed to give them a free pass on that because they’re Christians? Does the fact that it’s their religious views that lead them to make fact claims about that scientific area get them off the hook, and make it not okay for scientists to criticize them?

    Obviously not. That reasoning would mean that it’s okay to appoint a full-blown creationist to oversee research in evolutionary biology, because to do otherwise would be picking on them because they’re Christians.

    Harris isn’t picking on Collins simply because he’s a Christian, as Miller clearly implies. He’s picking on him because his particular Christian beliefs—which not all Christians share—lead him to overstep his expertise and make bullshit pronouncements about particular areas of science.

    I think most New Atheists are like me about this. They don’t think Collins will do a lot of damage because of these particular things about which he certainly is a clown and a flaming idjit.

    One reason to be fairly confident he won’t is because he’s been put on notice. He is prima facie the wrong kind of person to oversee that kind of research, and he’d better toe the methodological naturalist line in performing his job, even though he clearly doesn’t in his public writings.

    The underlying problem here is one that the anti-New Atheist accommodationists love to sweep under the rug and pretend the New Atheists are ranting about nothing.

    The problem is that while yes, prominent scientists like Collins and Miller do illustrate that religious people can do good science, they also illustrate the New Atheists’ point that NOMA is bullshit in practice.

    And clearly, the anti-New Atheists want the New Atheists to shut up about the obvious violations of NOMA by the people they want to play kissyface with.

    I think we all respect Collins and especially Miller as scientists. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out that they have certain antiscientific views that need to be opposed sometimes.

    If you think Harris should shut up about that, you’re nuts. He’s a scientist defending his turf from people who’ve attacked it, and the fact that they’re doing it for theological reasons is no excuse, anymore than it’s an excuse for young-earth creationism.

    Mooney et al. like to make it sound like they’re doing what’s best for science, as though that’s a simple thing.

    In fact, this is a good example of how they are literally appeasers in a way that is arguably bad.

    They are willing to forgo defending science in general in order to defend the teaching of evolutionary biology up to a certain point, but stopping short of its most interesting applications.

    That is an understandably hard pill for many of us to swallow. In my own view, the most interesting fact about evolution is that it created the human mind, moral sense included. That’s maybe the most interesting fact in all of science.

    But it’s the one we’re supposed to soft-pedal and compromise about.

    If you want us to be more compromising, you’ve got to make better arguments. You’ve got to stop pretending that NOMA works, and that your favorite example scientists don’t violate it in a big way.

    And you’ve got to give us a long-term strategy. If we can’t defend the most interesting and important science now, because we sacrifice it for more basic science literacy, when do we get to defend those things.

    What is the long-term plan that results in the kind of science literacy we really want—the kind where people recognize that science is a better explainer of things like morality than religion?

    So far as I know, you guys don’t have a road map for getting there. You just want us to give up our goals for now, with no confidence that they’ll ever even be back on the table.

    Sorry, no deal.

  188. bilbo

    I think you’re missing the NA point about compartmentalization. The point is that you can be a “clown” and a “flaming idjit” in some respects and still a competent scientist and/or administrator.

    Paul:

    That same statement holds very true for atheists, as well as scientists/administrators (and yes, this is coming from another atheist). Your tendency to vehemently defend any and everything PZ Myers has ever said – no matter how childish and silly – is rather embarrassing.

    Atheists need role models…but they don’t need loudmouthed bigots who simply get others to follow them like vigorously-nodding, sycophantic sheep. Grow some balls, man, and think for yourself!

  189. bilbo

    Quite frankly, I don’t see how a proponent of the “separate but equal doctrine” (the wish washy middle of civil rights) who understood MLK Jr’s argument and was persuaded by it couldn’t go away embarrassed. Or do you think that MLK Jr should have shied away from embarrassing such people?

    Wait wait wait wait wait. MLK advanced civil rights by embarrassing others? Let’s take a look at the facts, shall we? What did The Good Reverend say about intolerance?

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

    “The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

    “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

    “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.”

    “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”

    “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

    “Rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”

    King believed in speaking out and being heard on matters that are of the gravest importance to society, and you can find mutliple quotes about the importance of speaking up. But in his world, speaking out and seeking change with angry rhetoric as a primary tactic was the coward’s way. I would agree.

    Of course, as a reverend and as a highly religious man, MLK was just another ‘deluded fuckwit’ in the New Atheists’ world – at best a simpleminded apologetic who deserved to be mocked and ridiculed to the highest degree to show how stupid his view of the world was. What the hell kind of positive change could one of those mentally ill “clowns” (to join a Dawkins and PZ Myers label) bring about, anyway? We all know they’re fucking worthless.

  190. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    If Francis Collins is a “creationist” as you contend, can you explain then this video commentary that’s part of the traveling American Museum of Natural History exhibition on Darwin, in which Collins explains why he accepts evolution as valid science (Others in the same clip include Ken Miller, NCSE’s Eugenie Scott and British Museum invertebrate paleobiologist Richard Fortey):

    http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/darwin/evolution/responses.php

    As for Collins’s personal religious views, I couldn’t care less if he subscribed to the Kwok – Roddenberry Intelligent Design hypothesis (In which I have postulated that primordial Earth was “seeded” with microbes more than 4 Billion Years ago via Klingon scientists aboard a Klingon battlecruiser (or fleet of Klingon battlecruisers) that had travelled backward in time via the same “slingshot” effect discovered by Captain James T. Kirk and his crew aboard the Federation Starfleet heavy cruiser USS Enterprise.):

    “Collins explains those as the products of a specific special creation by God, and says they are unexplainable in evolutinary terms.”

    “He is a flaming idjit with respect to that subject, don’t you agree?”

    By yours and PZ’s breathtakingly inane logic, would you dare suggest too that Ken Miller is a “creationist” simply because he has referred to his acceptance of a “weak” anthropic principle, claiming that the Universe “knew” that we, humanity, were “coming”. This is the same Ken Miller who has said in public that those who subscribe to faiths hostile to science should cease immediately their involvement in such faiths. The same Ken Miller who has also said that, as a scientist, scientific considerations are considered paramount, and there is no instance he can think of where he can – or even should – interject his religious views while conducting scientific research.

    You do a great job Paul in “parroting” my “favorite” Militant Atheist, PZ Myers. Maybe you can learn to be a more effective – and critical – thinker than PZ has demonstrated over at his blog. Otherwise, if you can’t, then you are merely yet another Pharyngulite troll posting here.

    John

  191. bilbo

    ..let me add the following to my last post:

    If MLK were alive today, preaching nonviolence and equality in the name of religion (and the civil rights movement was at the same state it was in at his time), there’s absolutely no doubt PZ Myers would have a post about how ironic it is for a reverend to be preaching nonviolence (with a few pejoratives thrown in for good measure and to gain more comments), Jerry Coyne would call him “woolly-headed” and remind him that Muslims believe in a god and have a violent culture, Russell Blackford would wax poetic and predict how futile his efforts of equality in the name of religion would be, and the commenting sheep of all these bloggers would be adding snarky comments about how ignorant MLK was and patting themselves on their backs because – as we all know – religion and religious people only bring about disaster.

  192. Anthony McCarthy

    —- And clearly, the anti-New Atheists want the New Atheists to shut up about the obvious violations of NOMA by the people they want to play kissyface with.

    Oh, I think at this point I’d miss answering the invective of the new atheists, though trying to pass national healthcare, defending it and expanding it are probably more useful uses for our time.

    I have stated the conditions under which I’ll bother to address the excesses of the new atheists, though it’s not a comprehensive list.

    I always find it amusing when the new atheists resort to talking about Martin Luther King jr and Malcolm X, who were both ministers of religion and both quite devout. It reminds me of when conservatives claim Martin Luther King jr, quite forgetting they and their predecessors spent large amounts of time attacking him while he was alive and dead, fighting tooth and claw making a holiday honoring him in the not too distant past.

  193. bilbo

    I always find it amusing when the new atheists resort to talking about Martin Luther King jr and Malcolm X, who were both ministers of religion and both quite devout

    New Atheist: But everyone knows that you can do good and be a religious person without religion having anything to do with it!

    Levelheaded person: But don’t you often take bad things that are done by religious people but that aren’t directly tied to religion and indict religion because of it? Isn’t that being hypocritical?

    New Atheist: You mindless faithiest fuckwit. You’re just trying to be apologetic.

    Levelheaded person: (slams face into desk repeatedly)

  194. Vindrisi

    While on the subject of the civil rights movement, we need to consider another way that the movement was quite different from the New Atheists: The movement was about getting society to accept the humanity of the black minority and to extend to them the rights and respect that humanity demands. This is very different from what the New Atheists are explicitly about. They demand that the vast majority of humanity, to be recognized as fully human and thus worthy of dignity and respect, instead of hatred and ridicule, must become “fully rational”, that is, to become atheists who see the world as the New Atheists do. It is analogous in some ways to MLK demanding that whites be subject to attacks until they become black. Sure, that is absurd, but so is the New Atheist position if you actually look at the rhetoric of Myers, Harris, and Dawkins (though, strangely, Hitchens explicitly not going from his NPR interview a couple of weeks ago).

  195. bilbo

    I agree, Vindrisi. I get flamed for it every time I say it, but I rarely see a New Atheist promoting atheism and/or a rational outlook of the world. Instead, I see them vilifying the alternative by mocking it, (figuratively) slapping its mother, and quite honestly displaying a remarkable amount of hate and vitriol its way. I can’t think of any analog in any past movement where a position has been successfully advanced by spreading hate about the other side. As MLK himself said, hate only begets more hate. Now going into several years of New Atheist hate campaigns, that’s what I see happening. The debates are still there, but now the vitriol has just been upped on both sides.

  196. Vindrisi

    The debates are still there, but now the vitriol has just been upped on both sides.

    I agree, but I would say that they really aren’t debates at this point, but merely two diametrically opposed groups yelling the same things at each other, never listening to the other side, never trying to learn from the other side, never trying to understand and perhaps reach some sort of reasoned tolerance and acceptance. Indeed, that dynamic even pertains to those two groups in interacting with anyone holding any position at odds with their base positions (as the reactions on both sides to Karen Armstrong’s very thoughtful latest book evidence). It is infuriating, frustrating, and depressing. It is sad that it is reflective of the polarization that has come to characterize most sets of differences in worldview or opinion in the US, if not elsewhere. Unfortunately, it shows not sign of changing any time soon. I guess these dynamics just have to be given time to burn themselves out.

  197. bilbo

    Well said, V – as usual.

    The Karen Armstrong issue has upset me because the NAs have started rejecting, at face value, any discussion in support of religion that does not paint god as the personal, intercessory, buddy-like God of the fundamentalists. Call it “apologetic” or whatever you like – these viewpoints on religion are not new, nor have they been “invented,” as some have suggested, as simple reactions to devastating NA arguments. They’ve in fact been around much longer than the new atheism, and the quashing of discussion by default about these points is a cheap arguing tactic on the NAs part designed to make ALL religion of a highly-personal fundamentalist nature. (It’s really a smart tactic because it makes religion easier to debunk, but it’s not reality).

    All of that probably sounds like I agree with Armstrong, but I don’t. Far from it, in fact. I’d just like to see better arguments, better intelligence, and real discussion on the part of atheists. If we’re sooooo right, why should we have to resort to fifth-rate arguing tactics (that distort reality and reject counterpoints at face value bazsed on predetermined assumptions) to do it?

  198. Paul W.

    Golly, John, thanks for quote-mining me in exactly the way I suggested you not do.

    As I said, of course I don’t think Collins is a “creationist” in the general sense, and I’m well aware that he’s publicly against that sort of things. As I said, he’s not a creationist full stop.

    On the other hand, it is also true that he is a creationist with regard to certain things—namely, aspects of the human mind having to do with morality and religion, which he claims cannot be explained scientifically. (That will be news to scientists like Hauser, Bloom, and Pascal Boyer.)

    He believes those things were created by God in an act of special creation.

    If you don’t like the term “creationist” explicitly restricted in scope with a with-regard-to-X clause, well, too bad. Poor baby.

    Maybe I shouldn’t call him a creationist (with-regard-to-…) even if I make it clear what I mean each and every time that it’s only in a narrow restricted sense, about a particular thing…

    …but hey, if you’re going to go around calling “New Atheists” things like “fundamentalist” and “militant,” screw it.

    You win the loose talk fight. Collins is a creationist!

    Not really. It’s just that you’re a quote mining sleazebag fundamentalist appeaser.

  199. Anthony McCarthy

    — He believes those things were created by God in an act of special creation.

    If it’s the normal processes of evolution, how could it be “an act of special creation”?

    For fanatics, if the facts can’t meet their ends, distort the meaning of words so they can. It’s a sort of alternate linguistic geometry, only one with no real application in reality.

    No one who opposes trying to put religion into science is a creationist, they’re not even an ID proponent.

  200. Sorbet

    Actually in their daily work scientists deal with “ought” all the time, and then set up experiments to verify this. I am always disappointed at how all those grand sweeping claims about the philosophy of science are often not replicated in the daily lab (the same goes for Popper’s falsifiability, which though interesting and important, is not what scientists are looking for in their daily research)

  201. Vindrisi

    Bilbo,

    Do you really think it is a matter of rhetorical tactics on the part of the New Atheists? Sure, I don’t doubt you are right that it is the case for some, but most I have run into (Including Dawkins, whom I have met in person) seem to actually believe their narrow conception of religion is absolutely correct, and anything outside of it is simply either a failure on the part of religious individuals to live up their conception (Harris’ description of non-fundamentalists as merely failed fundamentalists), or else a dodge to get around NA arguments. I have seen too much ignorance of all facets of religion in conversation with New Atheists for it to likely be a tactic. That is one of the scary things about them: they don’t know what they are talking about, they don’t understand it, and they don’t care. That is the exact same thing I see from most creationists: They don’t know anything about evolution, they don’t understand the theory or the evidence, and they don’t care. Your thoughts?

    PS Thanks for the compliment. I have been very impressed with your calm and thoughtfulness in all this, so I do appreciate it.

  202. Paul W.

    Anthony,

    Collins does not believe that the moral sense or the religious impulse is explainable in evolutionary terms. He thinks that God created a soul and stuck it in an ape, and poof, we were moral beings. (And that’s not just his private religious belief—he wrote a book promoting that view.)

    That is a variety of creationism, similar to some IDers belief that god had to stick his fingers into the evolutionary process to create things that evolution couldn’t create alone. It is a kind of ID with respect to certain things that are crucial for orthodox Christian theology—sin, the fall, getting God off the hook for The Problem of Evil, and especially needing Jesus as your personal savior.

    I wouldn’t flatly call Collins a creationist—that would be horribly misleading and inflammatory—but I do think that it is technically correct that he is a creationist with regard to those things.

    I’m not married to the term—it is admittedly counterproductively loaded. (Rather like calling atheists militant or fundamentalist.)

    What I do think is important is that he violates NOMA in a way that implies that a lot of scientific research is invalid, or at least doomed to fail.

  203. Sorbet

    Hi Vindrisi, Harris says it’s funamentalists who view non-fundamentlists as not fundamentalist enough, not he himself. I talked to him on the phone, and his point was that fundamentalists unfortunately might see non-fundamentalists as being liberal with the interpretations of their holy book and not being strict enough. This is on pg. 67 of The End of Faith.

  204. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Why don’t you take a look at the video of Francis Collins explaining why he accepts evolution as valid science at the American Museum of Natural History Darwin exhibition website? Are you afraid that hearing Collins saying what he has said about evolution will alter your perception of him? And if your own Pharyngula-twisted logic has led you to conclude that Collins is indeed a creationist, then how about Ken Miller?

    Again, take a look at this (If you can’t then you’re as moronic as your “Messiah” PZ.):

    http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/darwin/evolution/responses.php

  205. Vindrisi

    Sorbet,

    Thanks for the correction. That makes more sense, and, unlike my mistaken version, is undoubtedly true.

    Oh, and I haven’t been following the exchange between you and Anthony closely, so I might be missing some context, but, as Hume formulated it, his “no is implies and ought” was concerning derivation of moral or ethical dictates from states of nature. As such, given that science does not deal with moral or ethical questions (though they are pertinent to the practice of science by scientists), we scientists don’t deal with Humean oughts in our work. Sure, we do deal with tests of predictions coming from hypothetical models of the phenomena we study, but that is a different sense of ought (unless you are thinking of an experimental ethics lab ;).
    Still, your point about philosophers often having little clue of the realities of scientific practice is spot on. I have read through some philosophy of science, and there is so much that is based on very flawed, overly idealized concepts of how science works that it is really meaningless to scientists. Sure, Popper’s ideas can be helpful in being systematic in your approach to science, but they can only go so far because they don’t fit reality. I find Kuhn much more realistic, mainly because he was in science before changing career paths, but even he misses a good bit. I think it is a problem of philosophers in general: it is too easy to mistake some ideal construct of reality for reality, and it is all to easy to forget this and forge on without connection to reality. And all that is too bad. I have found some exposure to philosophy and philosophy of science in particular to be very, very helpful in my science, and I think requiring incoming grad students to take some philosophy of science would be a good idea (especially having read a number of sloppy and poorly thought out prelim proposals at this point from grad students who were never properly taught how to approach scientific thought in a systematic fashion). However, those problems with philosophers that I mentioned has led most scientists, in my experience, to have a low, dismissive attitude toward philosophy as irrelevant, fatuous, and silly.

  206. Sorbet

    Vindrisi, you are absolutely right and I completely agree. Kuhn, Popper etc. are definitely interesting, but too often I find that people interested in the philosophy of science tend to buy into these sweeping generalizations without actually asking people doing the nitty gritty of science if they actually use these principles in their everyday research (For instance, Popper notwithstanding, in most everyday circumstances scientists are not trying to falsify ideas but to verify them, and sure, while no amount of verification can ideally suffice to “prove” a theory, a large amount of verification usually amounts to enough confidence in a theory to for scientists to consider it generally “true”). At the same time as you note, everyday scientists are also often dismissive of philosophy, whereas at least knowing about this a bit can in my opinion can expand their view of the big picture.

  207. Paul W.

    John, I’m not going to watch a video or read anything long on your recommendation, because of previous disappointments when I’ve done so. I usually find that the the links you provide do not in fact address the issues under discussion.

    I will be way more inclined to do that if you show that you understand my actual claim and give me some reason to think that the video will actually address it—e.g., sketch the argument or provide a good pull quote that shows that Collins really does accept that the human moral sense and religious impulse, specifically, do in fact arise from evolution without an act of special creation.

    I’m sure you can find many videos and whatnot of Collins saying eminently reasonable, evolution-defending and evolution-embracing things.

    Is there something in that video that will expressly contradict the impression I got from his book? If so, please tell me approximately where in the video that occurs.

    (Keep in mind that I’ve already said repeatedly that Collins is not a creationist in any general sense, but does make certain exceptions to naturalistic evolutionism for certain phenomena, notably the moral sense and the religious impulse.)

    Otherwise, I’ll have to guess that you have again provided something nice-sounding but off-point or redundant and unconvincing.

    (This is essentially the same response I gave to a suggestion that I read a 30-page paper by Isaiah Berlin without any specific suggestion why it was relevant or something I didn’t already know.)

    I’m not saying you’re wrong or that the video is irrelevant—just that I need some specifics from you.

    Thanks.

  208. Paul W.

    John,

    By the way, one of the reasons that I’m skeptical of the utility of any information you provide is that you lie about me.

    I am not, as I’ve repeatedly demonstrated here, somebody who reflexively agrees with P.Z. as I’m accused of doing. He’s not my “messiah.”

    As I pointed out recently, twice I was one of the first people to object to his plan for the eucharist stunt. I was also one of the most persistent. The fact that I disagree with Mooney’s characterization of the event doesn’t mean that I always agree with P.Z. or that I agreed with him in that case.

    At Pharyngula, I’m actually known for going against the grain and disagreeing with P.Z. In at least a couple of instances, I’ve been nominated for a Molly (by Molly-winners) precisely for my careful and thorough arguments against things P.Z. said (both factual and strategic).

    People here like to slag my by falsely stating that I’m some kind of P.Z. fanboi who

    (1) agrees with and defends everything P.Z. says, even when I’ve just demonstrated that that’s not true

    (2) agrees with P.Z. on his say-so, even when (a) I’ve given actual arguments that are systematically ignored, and (b) had those views before I ever heard of P.Z. Myers (and at least a decade before the term “New Atheist” was coined.)

    (3) agrees with Overton because the Overton Window has a proper name attached to it (?!?!), when in fact I reasoned similarly before I ever heard of Overton (or PZ or the New Atheism) based on my academic study of the social psychology of the 1970’s and 80’s, and observing political events that just don’t fit into simplistic frameworks like Mooney’s.

    (4) “parrots” various positions and arguments from PZ or other new atheists, when in fact I came to those positions and made those arguments over two decades ago, before atheism was new, while studying psychology, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind at a top-10 philosophy department, and discussing things with professional philosophers friends.

    (5) doesn’t give a damn about more important issues like gay rights, and un-accommodatingly won’t cooperate with religious progressives, when in fact I’ve been an advocate for gay rights and a friend to progressive ministers, going on radio with them and making arguments for gay rights, etc.

    (6) doesn’t listen to anything but the New Atheist noise machine, when in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time than anyone here reading professional journal articles by theistic philosophers and the occasional theologian, and discussing them with both atheistic and theistic philosophers, and the occasional theologian.

    So I’m getting a little tired of people claiming that I make stuff up, then slagging me with accusations that they plainly just made up and most of which I have already demonstrated the falsity of.

    And I’m a little tired of people doing that instead of addressing substantive issues I’ve raised repeatedly—and even proudly saying they won’t, because dogmatic New Atheist fanbois like me aren’t worth the trouble.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more hypocritical bunch of ignorant, unjustifiably condescending, issue-avoiding name-calling trolls.

  209. Paul W.

    John,

    re the Leica incident, maybe you were joking. I’m certainly not sure you weren’t.

    Having observed your behavior and (in my opinion) cluelessness on various blogs, it’s plausible to me that you are kooky enough to mean that seriously.

    I also think, having read your “joking” extortion threat, that even if you were joking, it was a really, really stupid thing to do.

    Many people, including P.Z. clearly think you are a kook. It is far from obvious to them that you are not the kind of kook who would seriously make such a threat, and you should have enough social skills to realize that, however unfair it might be, so you really shouldn’t have gone there without making it very clear that it was a joke.

    One of the major reasons I find it plausible that you are that kooky is that you seem to do some of the bad stuff that you falsely project onto others. In particular, you tend to accuse others of being uncritical fanbois who believe everything P.Z. says (when they demonstrably don’t) and then proceed to behave in the way you just criticized, frequently dropping names (like your high-school English teacher’s), and apparently hero-worshipping people like Ken Miller.

    I like Ken Miller a lot, and respect him a whole lot in most ways, but I will never defer to him on philosophy of science or theology. I know philosophers of science, and I know theologians, and I don’t think he’s a particularly good philosopher of science, or much of a theologian. Quoting Ken Miller cuts zero ice with me—especially when I’ve just given principled reasons for disagreeing with him—and it’s just bizarre how often you seem to be making arguments from authority, and then getting mystified and pissed off when people don’t buy them.

    You seem to think a lot of things are about P.Z. vs. Ken, or something like that. I don’t see the world in remotely that way, as many people who mostly agree with P.Z. don’t, and you seem to be remarkably cognitively impenetrable about what the actual disagreements are, and what people accept as valid arguments, or why so many people dismiss you as a kook. (Hint: making it sound like you peaked in high school does not enhance your credibility.)

  210. Paul W.

    bilbo@58,

    I just belatedly recalled one of the reasons I’m pretty sure that most philosophers are not theists and have no particular respect for theism.

    Theistic philosophers themselves often say so. I’ve read a number of papers papers by theistic philosophers in theist-friendly philosophy journals, like the Notre Dame Journal of Philosophy, and they often start out by acknowledging that they’re going against the mainstream of academic philosophy.

    For example, if you read a paper by Plantinga or a Plantinga-wannabe like Robert Koons, you’ll likely read that the traditional arguments for the existence of God are generally believed to be invalid, in philosophical circles, and certainly not proofs as they were originally presented.

    (Theist philosophers themselves have mostly stopped talking about the Ontological Proof or the Cosmological Proof, instead calling them arguments, admitting that they’re not really proofs but just thought-provoking and suggestive “arguments” which they try to claim shift the burden of proof. Other philosophers generally don’t buy that—they think the arguments are simply invalid, and that a pile of invalid arguments, no matter how big, doesn’t bear any weight.)

    If you read their papers trying to resurrect the old arguments, you’ll likely see that they say that most philosophers think the argument is invalid, but the paper is meant to show that it’s valid after all.

    (See Koons’s attempt to resurrect the Cosmological Argument, using modern modal logic, for example. He claims that by applying modern formal logic you can show that the argument is structurally sound, after all. And in a sense, he’s right, but the problem was never with the internal structure of the argument—it’s always been with the question-begging interpretation of the terms of the axioms. He has a valid logical proof, but it just doesn’t prove what it says he does without question-begging assumptions. Nothing new there except the cute litttle boxes and diamonds in the formal notation. And if you read his ordinary language gloss on it carefully, it becomes clear that they guy is a raving loon who’ll say any damn thing.)

    I was reminded of this by a recent article in the Guardian, in which a philosopher made the point that there are “many” religious philosophers, including deists and even a significant number of theists—but acknowledging that these were distinctly minority positions in philosophy.

    Given that religious philosophers present themselves as an embattled minority—often with a Dangerfieldian complaint that they don’t get much respect—who am I to disagree?

    I’m not making an argument from authority there—just countering one. Maybe the theists are right, or maybe the deists are.

    On the other hand, I’m still pretty positive that they don’t represent a consensus position in philosophy; they wouldn’t write the way they do if they were.

    When Mooney quotes his favored few philosophers to the effect that science and religion aren’t incompatible, as though that settled some live issue, he’s being doubly disingenous. First, it’s not a settled issue with a clear consensus, and second, if you could settle it that way, he still wouldn’t win, and would probably lose.

    I could look for more compelling evidence, but I think that would be pointless. Does anybody here really claim that there’s a consensus in philosophy that goes against what the New Atheists actually claim? (E.g., granting that individual scientists can be religious and do good science.)

    If not, I think it would be better to discuss the actual issue, rather than trying to make arguments from authority or qualifications. If so, I think the burden of proof is on the accommodationists to show that Forrest and Pennock’s relevant statements are actually representative of a philosophical consensus, and that folks like Dennett are somehow unqualified to disagree. (Or that Dawkins should defer to Forrest, rather than agreeing with Dennett on the merits.)

  211. bilbo

    Do you really think it is a matter of rhetorical tactics on the part of the New Atheists? Sure, I don’t doubt you are right that it is the case for some, but most I have run into (Including Dawkins, whom I have met in person) seem to actually believe their narrow conception of religion is absolutely correct, and anything outside of it is simply either a failure on the part of religious individuals to live up their conception (Harris’ description of non-fundamentalists as merely failed fundamentalists), or else a dodge to get around NA arguments

    Vindrisi:

    That is certainly a possibility, but for some reason (and one I can’t back up with evidence) I think it’s more of an arguing tactic on the NAs part than a genuine belief about the nature of things. But you’re right – the whole “apologetic” label is now being given (in a very negative context, might I add) to anyone who doesn’t simply parrot the disgusting tenets of fundamentalist theism. The NAs are acting like there possibly couldn’t be real people who are deists, or real people who are theists but still see the idea of God as metaphorical, allegorical, etc. It seems to be mindblowing to them. So, the easiest way around that argument is to accuse them of lying and/or slap a negative label on them so you can discount whatever they say at face value without an ounce of legitimate thought. As a fellow atheist, I find this a pathetic cop-out and rather shameful on the part of the New Atheists. During my “turn” from theist to atheist, I certainly had to question these characterizations of God and found them much, MUCH more difficult to come to grips with than fundamentalist perceptions. In my opinion, they’re taking an easy way out.

    As you hinted, though, that’s the problem with fundamentalists (God or no God): they find ways to pigeonhole argument and label those involved to where any other view but theirs can be discredited at fault. In other words, they judge an opinion based on predetermined merits stemming simply from source – NOT good logic. It’s a disgrace.

  212. bilbo

    If not, I think it would be better to discuss the actual issue, rather than trying to make arguments from authority or qualifications.

    Not to split hairs or anything, Paul, wasn’t it actually you who first introduced atheist philosophers as an arguing point here? Why, then, am I the one getting lectured about arguments from authority?

  213. Sorbet

    -The NAs are acting like there possibly couldn’t be real people who are deists, or real people who are theists but still see the idea of God as metaphorical, allegorical, etc

    I don’t think it’s that bad. For instance Dawkins has joined forces with Bishop Harris of Oxford and even penned a letter with him and eleven other theologians in support of evolution. The Bishop has even penned a nice review of Dawkins’s new book. The two definitely respect each others’ views.

  214. Paul W.

    Not to split hairs or anything, Paul, wasn’t it actually you who first introduced atheist philosophers as an arguing point here? Why, then, am I the one getting lectured about arguments from authority?

    Actually, I was responding to Mooney’s original post, pointing out that per his usual habit, Mooney was quoting a particular convenient authority, in this case Barbara Forrest, as though her pronouncement on the compatibility of science and religion was authoritative.

    And as I pointed out, the quoted statement by Forrest is, as usual, irrelevant to what Mooney’s critics are actually saying. No “New Atheist” has ever claimed that science can disprove the existence of every possible thing that anybody might consider a “God.” Nobody claims to have a compelling argument against Deism, or a disproof of a thoroughly unfalsifiable God like Miller’s. That’s just not what the New Atheist / accommodationist argument has ever been about, and Mooney knows it, but he keeps condescendingly providing “answers” to seemingly unreasonable criticisms that are not actually being made by anyone. He’s done that pretty consistently for years, always avoiding the actual disagreement.

    (This is one of Chris’s two big straw men, as I have repeatedly pointed out here, and his loyalists have generally managed to change the subject.)

    Any given time, that’d be no big deal, but it’s a pattern. Mooney often cites a few conveniently chosen philosophers, or another authority such as Genie Scott, and then proceeds to write as though what they say is just the simple truth, and anyone disagreeing is unreasonable.

    Sometimes he compounds that (and makes it more clearly an error in the individual instance) by feigning mystification as to how his critics could fail to “get it.”

    He also compounds that unforgivably by writing as though a mere scientist like Dawkins is overstepping the bounds of his expertise when he dares to talk about “philosophical issues” and disagree with a philosopher like Forrest. He makes it sound like there’s a consensus among philosophers that you can’t use science against religion the way Dawkins does in The God Delusion.

    That is a clear argument from authority, even in a particular instance.—You don’t need to see him repeat the sleight of hand to nail that version as an argument from authority.

    When he says Dawkins is not competent to philosophize, and quotes a convenient philosopher like Forrest or Pennock, he’s making a particularly bad argument from authority. Dawkins is not saying anything important that is not a common view among professional philosophers, and isn’t pretending to be. (Which may not be a consensus view, but is just as much a live option among the experts as Pennock’s or Forrest’s.) If he’s doing bad philosophy, so are all those materialist philosophers who do think there are good reasons not to believe in gods, and that evolution is part of that picture. And that’s a lot of philosophers.

    That is disingenous. He knows that the statements he quotes or links to do not actually address the points actually being made by his critics.

    For example, nobody doubts that science and religion are compatible in the sense that some religious people are good scientists—nobody—so Genie Scott’s “argument” (or “empirical proof”) that he links to so approvingly is completely beside the point.

    After two years of having that pointed out by all and sundry, surely Mooney knows he’s not actually addressing the real objections. He knows it’s a dodge to avoid the real arguments, and that he is willfully obscuring the actual bones of contention.

    (And I think it’s pretty obvious why, by now. If he actually argued against the New Atheists about conflicts between science and religion, he’d get trounced.)

    So, just to be clear, I’ll say it yet again:

    I only use arguments from authority to counter arguments from authority. I agree that they’re not very interesting, or shouldn’t be, but a lot of people here seem to love them, in a one-sided way.

    Mooney loves to quote Forrest and Scott. Kwok loves to quote Ken Miller. Sometimes people use Pennock or Judge Jones and get the vapors if a commenter here dares to disagree with such an expert on a point of philosophy. (What is that but an argument from authority?)

    In response I say such arguments are not valid, and it would be better to discuss actual issues BUT if you’re going to make arguments from authority—and apparently people around here can’t help it—you’re not going to win, anyway. There are authorities just as good that disagree, and at least comparable numbers of qualified philosophers on more or less the other side of the issue.

    That’s why Mooney is so fond of critizing Dawkins and Myers, and usually manages to avoid mentioning Dennett when he performs his little sleight of hand. Dennett would clean his clock, and really, Dennett already has, at book length. Breaking the Spell makes it crystal clear that Forrest and Mooney are wrong, with a more careful arguments than Dawkins’s. (As befits a less “pop” book.)

    It would be pretty silly to quote Forrest and try to make Dan Dennett look naive and unqualified. It would be clearly question-begging to say that it’s bad philosophy to use science against religion, and ridiculous to say that Dan Dennett is so appallingly ignorant of philosophy that he’d make such a dumb mistake.

    It would just make it obvious that Mooney has never read Breaking the Spell, or really, that he just acts as though he hasn’t, and has no idea what is valid philosophy of science, or an expert consensus in that field.

    I don’t defer to Dennett, or Sober or Kitcher or anybody, and neither should you. (Much less Dawkins or P.Z.) But neither should we defer to Barbara Forrest or Rob Pennock, much less Ken Miller, as Mooney frequently implies that we should.

  215. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Regarding the Leica incident, a few friends discovered the online comments unbeknowst to me and realize I was joking, using the same kind of humor employed by my high school teacher, the late Frank McCourt, and his actor brother Malachy. I did inform a few others, including of course, Ken Miller that I was joking. As I have noted here beforehand, I did it just to see how silly and stupid PZ would be and he performed well beyond my expectations.

    While I am on the subject of kooks, you’re a rather odd judge of character, supporting someone like PZ who clearly went beyond the pale of reasonable criticism by “performing” CrackerGate. Moreover, I don’t see everything in terms of a “prism” between PZ and Ken. In fact, I have taken Mike Haubrich to task for not criticizing PZ at all when such criticism was warranted (For example, I am referring to the recent episode where PZ insulted some woman in British Columbia, got a nasty e-mail reply from her husband, and PZ retaliated by getting the woman fired from her job. SO WHO IS THE REAL KOOK, Paul? Based on his ongoing track record of pathetic behavior both online and elsewhere, I would have to nominate PZ immediately.).

    Might come as a surprise to you that I’ve posted critical comments here and elsewhere online questioning Ken Miller’s acceptance of a “weak” anthropic principle. So you can’t say that I follow strictly Ken’s line of reasoning (I have asked Mike Haubrich when – if ever – he has criticized PZ, and Mike hasn’t offered any reply, period. But I won’t hold that against him, especially when they have been friends for years. But it is a valid point to raise with Mike especially when I have criticized Ken.).

    Hope you have a chance to view the online commentary from the likes of Francis Collins, Genie Scott, Ken Miller and Richard Fortey at that AMNH Darwin exhibition website. Since you seem more interested in raising questions about my own foibles – both real and imagined – I have to conclude that you refuse to accept the fact that Francis Collins is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a creationist. Nor is Ken Miller, contrary to the inane declaration stated by PZ at Pharyngula more than three years ago.

    Respectfully yours,

    John

  216. bilbo

    I’ll give you that, Sorbet. Dawkins has done several things in recent months that have given me some faith (terrible word choice, I know) in the NAs.

    But that doesn’t belie the fact that there’s a pretty big disconnect between the NA personalities we see in person and the blog personalities of those same people we see online. The bloggers I read would never stoop to the level of respecting a bishop’s views…either that, or all the “fuck off”s and accusations of mental illness, indirect guilt for child molestation and murder, etc. I read from them have some hidden meaning that I fail to grasp. It’s a bit disturbing to me that we hear all the time from the NA blogosphere about how evil all believers are (they’re all either fundamentalists or enablers, remember), and how they deserve zero respect…

    ….but then we see them pulling a 180 in public and showing respect, almost like they’re putting on a mask. That’s a bit scary, and undeniably hypocritical. I would rather see some consistency among those folks than two sides of them: one when they want to get things done, the other when they’re trying to win a blog fight.

  217. John Kwok

    Sorbet,

    Much to his credit, Dawkins seems more willing to join forces with theologians than his American “friends” across the pond. Maybe if they learned to reach out a bit, we might defuse much of the senseless angry rhetoric aimed at both sides here in the United States.

    Appreciatively yours,

    John

  218. Paul W.

    Bilbo,

    I have a much longer comment in moderation, but my short response to your question is:

    I only brought up authorities on “my side” to counter arguments from authority (e.g., Forrest) by Mooney in the original post. (And habitually, for years.)

    Mooney frequently quotes statements like Forrest’s as though they are a consensus view in philosophy—they very much aren’t—and avoids discussing the actual issues raised by the New Atheists.

  219. Paul W.

    Bilbo,

    Another quickie:

    That same statement [that people can be reasonable and smart in general but flaming idjits about particular things] holds very true for atheists, as well as scientists/administrators (and yes, this is coming from another atheist).

    Absolutely!

    Your tendency to vehemently defend any and everything PZ Myers has ever said – no matter how childish and silly – is rather embarrassing.

    Sorry, that’s just not true. I’m well known for disagreeing with PZ on various things, both factual and strategic. (One significant example is in my longer post, in moderation.)

    Your assertions of such simplistic and evident falsehoods are—or should be—embarrassing. You’re not paying attention to what I’m actually saying.

    Disagreeing with Chris doesn’t make me a reflexive PZ fanboi or fanatic. Assuming that I am one suggests that you’re a reflexive Chris fanboi, or a knee-jerk anti-PZ fanatic or something.

    BTW, I was seriously into framing years before Chris was. :-) I studied framing with Lakoff at Berkeley, while hanging with my left/green ecological economist friends, long before Chris ever jumped on the bandwagon. I know whereof I speak, at least to a somewhat greater extent than you’re inclined give me credit for.

    Puhleez don’t assume I’m one-dimensional or one-sided, or stupid. And don’t assume that I reflexively disagree with Chris about everything. I actually think he has some good points, but fails to follow through and really make the rubber meet the road. (E.g., addressing counterexamples and counterarguments.)

  220. Sven DIMilo

    Tom Johnson:

    George Marsden defines “fundamentalism” by way of a book published at Oxford as “strict adherence to a set of basic principles, often as a reaction to perceived compromises on social and political issues….fundamentalist groups often arise by separating from a larger group of adherents by marginalizing the middle and taking a decidedly more extreme approach to the issue at hand.”

    I am having trouble finding the source of this quoted definition. Presumably the Marsden book referenced is Fundamentalism and American Culture–you know, the one with the subtitle “The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925“–but using phrases from the quoted definition to search that book come up empty (either edition).
    The first part is very similar to Wikipedia’s definition, with one slight difference; see if you can pick it up:

    Fundamentalism refers to a belief in a strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), sometimes as a reaction to perceived doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life.

    The part after the ellipsis I can’t track down at all.

    Where’d you get it?

  221. Skeptic

    Interestingly Mooney quotes an apparent consensus view in philosophy and keeps on scolding the NAs for not recognizing that there is no consensus in theology.

  222. Paul W.

    Bilbo,

    The NAs are acting like there possibly couldn’t be real people who are deists, or real people who are theists but still see the idea of God as metaphorical, allegorical, etc. It seems to be mindblowing to them.

    It seems to me that the New Atheist generally readily acknowledge both, and make it clear that they’re not arguing strongly against Deism (or at least certain varieties of deism), or against metaphors and allegories.

    You may object that they talk about “religion” in ways that mostly exclude those things—and that their caveats and qualifications aren’t enough, and they should avoid using the word religion in a broad-brush way without explicitly excluding those things each and every time.

    I think that point of view has some merit.

    On the other hand, it’s reasonable to think that the kinds of “religion” that don’t conflict with science are not clearly religion at all.

    For example, certain varieties of minimalist Buddhism (keeping close to what the Buddha apparently actually said) are not obviously religion at all. It’s some kind of philosophy, but it’s not clear it’s religion. Other kinds of Buddhism, such as the majority Lamaist kind of Buddhism (with all the metaphysics of reincarnation and whatnot) are clearly religious, and are pretty clearly in conflict with science.

    Basically, the New Atheist justification for using the word “religion” the way they do, and saying that science and religion do generally conflict, makes at least some sense on principle.

    The anthropologist Pascal Boyer says some interesting stuff relevant to this in Religion Explained, which I find pretty persuasive.

    In the normal case of folk religions—not rarefied academic theology—cross-culturally, religions tend to have certain things in common. In particular, they make truth claims that purport to explain things. (Origin myths, justifications of the social order, etc.)

    In particular, folk religion does in general make truth claims of particular sorts—about the existence of supernatural entities, where

    1) the relevant sense of “supernatural” is clearly not the complement of “natural” in the sense that “science studies the natural world,” and

    2) truth claims about supernatural events and entities are not in general unfalsifiable, and further

    3) what makes something a claim about the supernatural is definitely not that it is unfalsifiable—more nearly the opposite.

    Supernatural explanations, which are systematically practical explanations of things relevant to human interests are in fact systematically falsifiable in principle.

    Supernatural explanations, like scientific explanations, are generally about real-world phenomena and therefore do imply real-world consequences that at least in principle are subject to falsification. They are prescientific explanations based on some simplistic but intuitively appealing categories that humans find it particularly easy to think in terms of. (And to tell and retell stories about.)

    Modern or postmodern theology is really a different beast from what religion has generally been about for thousands of years. Arguably, theology is not religion in the everyday sense that popular religion has been religion since people began making up explanations.

    Elite theology is basically a reaction to the increasing practical falsifiability of supernatural claims which have always been falsifiable in principle.

    So for example, in normal day-to-day folk religion, it is assumed that prayer is efficiacious, more than randomly often. That’s the point of prayer—it changes things, or has a good chance of doing so.
    When people aren’t entertaining the possibility of empirically testing this received truth, it’s just assumed that religious/supernatural explanations have real-world consequences that are (in our modern terms) falsifiable in principle.

    Theology steps in when people start to actually make observations that conflict with folk religion’s supernatural explanations—when things start to get falsified, or in clear danger of being falsified, theology kicks in. Theology is largely a defense mechanism to avoid falsification, and it is only necessary when things go out of whack and religion stops functioning in its usual folk religion mode. (This can happen when people start doing philosophy, without any unusual empirical observations.)

    Most importantly, unfalsifiable theology is not generally central to the normal functioning of religion—it’s an exceptional phenomenon that kicks in in unusual circumstances, mostly imposed by elites defending the status quo, or as a defense mechanism in the minds of particular conflicted believers, and it is used opportunistically.

    Individual believers usually have inconsistent religious beliefs. They have normal first-order religious beliefs, which are rather like other kinds of explanations of real world phenomena. They may also have high-level abstract theological beliefs that are not well integrated with normal run-of-the-mill religious beliefs.

    Consider, for example, me when I was a Catholic. Like most Catholics, I had a basic day-to-day belief that Jesus and Mary were persons with whom I could communicate. (At least one way.) Jesus and Mary were persons with the usual properties of persons—they can hear and understand human stories and requests, make decisions, relay information to other persons, etc. They’re understandable in the way real-world humans are understandable, and that’s part of their appeal—you can make sense of explanations and stories about such beings, leveraging your everyday understanding of real-world people, and you can tell and re-tell such stories and explanations.

    (Stories and explanations that you can’t understand or can’t remember or can’t retell tend to get lost in the long term. Religion evolves to be memorable, so it evolves to be very similar in crucial ways to normal real-world beliefs.)

    On the other hand, as I learned more theology I also acquired a set of not-really-consistent beliefs, such as that the essence of God was unknowable, and any merely human conception wasn’t right, certain crucial truths are utterly mysterious, and you can’t test God, and so on.

    All things being equal, the first cluster of beliefs—the primary complex of ideas that makes religion work in its normal day-to-day mode—is actually falsifiable. It’s just a model of how some things work, with relatively predictable consequences, such that if you have the right insights and resources, you should be able to test it empirically, if you’re skeptical and motivated enough to do so.

    The second set of beliefs is different. It’s an evolved set of defenses against that falsifiability, partly intentionally designed by canny apologists and partly evolved by trial and error.

    Boyer’s point is that these are quite different psychological and social phenomena. The first kind of belief complex is universal—all religions have it, and all or nearly all cultures have religion.

    The second kind of belief complex is not universal. Not all religions have it, or at least, not all religions have a well-developed theology as opposed to folk religious beliefs. It’s a common but not necessary or universal feature of religion, and it plays a quite different role from normal, first-order folk religious beliefs.

    In that light, it’s just not clear that minimal Buddhism is a religion, although it’s related.

    It’s also not clear that what Karen Armstrong or Joseph Campbell talks about is religion in the usual sense that’s been operative cross-culturally for thousands of years. If your religion doesn’t make any practical truth claims as religions generally have systematically done for thousands of years, and does have an abstract theology, which religions often haven’t, then what the heck is that?

    It’s some kind of anomalous thing, but it’s not clear it’s religion, at least not in the usual sense. It’s an odd corner case.

    Like Boyer and a lot of other anthropologists, I think that Armstrong is about as wrong as she can be when she says that religion has not traditionally been about truth claims, and has been about storytelling and mythos and whatnot. She thinks that ancient folks generally didn’t take stories “literally” the way modern fundamentalists do.

    Yeah, right. Maybe not everybody did—maybe not the theologically sophisticated people who couldn’t anymore—but the first-order (and necessary) function of religion has always been to explain things of practical interest to humans, in humanly understandable ways, and people have generally believed the explanations. (Explanations fail to be explanations if they’re not believed.)

    If there’s a necessary feature of religion (so this story goes, and I pretty much buy it), it’s making truth claims about how the universe works, particularly with regard to things of pressing interest to humans.

    Elite or academic philosophy is something else, so if you have the latter but not the former, what you’ve got is not clearly religion at all.

    And given that extremely few people actually do have unfalsifiable theology except as an add-on to basically falsifiable folk religion it’s pretty reasonable to talk about religions which make truth claims, and mostly ignore “theologies” which don’t.

    That may not be quite fair to people who believe postmodern unfalsifiable religion-like whatchacallit, but arguably they don’t count in two or three senses:

    1) they are just not numerous enough to deserve counting in rough, first-order generalizations, because they’re a rare, anomalous exception to the rule,

    2) they should know that statements about “religion” don’t clearly apply to them—they’re very atypical, and if they don’t know it, they should figure it out, and they should recognize that when people like Dawkins explain their generalizations about “religion,” in more than a sentence or two, they do in fact exclude that odd corner case, and

    3) arguably, they just don’t count semantically. Given what religion has always been, cross culturally for thousand of years, it’s really just not clear that they’re actually religious. And it’s not clear that’s a bad thing. Maybe they should be proud of being “spiritual but not religious” or “sophisticatedly theological but not religious,” or something like that.

    Naturally, because religiosity is widely considered a good thing, many of these people want to be considered religious. They don’t want to get lumped with those awful atheists, by and large.

    Well, too bad. It’s just not clear that people who believe sophisticated unfalsifiable mythic “religion”-as-acknowledged-myth and stuff like that are actually religious. They sorta are, and they sorta aren’t. And it’s not clear that they’re not mostly atheists of an oddly
    “theologically inclined” sort, whether they want to be called that or not.

    I understand if they get frustrated by people excluding them from the group they want to be identified with (the religious) and maybe even including them in a group they don’t want to be identified with (the irreligious), but it’s just not clear that’s false, or more false than the reverse.

    And I think it’s a pretty reasonable first-cut approximation of the truth, if you throw in a few disclaimers.

  223. Tom Johnson

    If we’re in a splitting hairs war, Skeptic, the quote you posted from Wikipedia is a modified version of the one I have from Marsden. And yes – the book you have is the right one. If you’re looking at Google books and searching quotes, however, I assume it’s either on a page you can’t view or is not complete in the edition listed there (the edition on Google is more recent than the one I have).

  224. Tom Johnson

    Edit to my last post. I said Skeptic and meant Sven. Apologies to both of you.

  225. J.J.E.

    “Levelheaded person: But don’t you often take bad things that are done by religious people but that aren’t directly tied to religion and indict religion because of it? Isn’t that being hypocritical?”

    I totally agree! You tell it like it is! Like the Vatican’s opposition to contraception. That’s just a policy choice by a small city state, right? Not a religious decree that has exacerbated a rampaging AIDs epidemic in Africa, clearly not. And of course, the 9/11 hijackers and Nidal Malik Hasan weren’t “true” Muslims. There were motivated by personal issues, not Islam. And Scott Roeder wasn’t a “true” Christian. The Mormon & Catholic organizers against marriage equality in CA and ME weren’t “true” Christians either…

    I’m glad you can clear this up.

  226. bilbo

    That’s a lot of rambling justification for why NAs use a broadbrush to paint religion. I mean, a lot. I only find one thing worth responding to:

    Theology is largely a defense mechanism to avoid falsification, and it is only necessary when things go out of whack and religion stops functioning in its usual folk religion mode

    Whhhaaaaat?! Are you really familiar with theology, or are you using yet another stereotype to mean “Karen Armstrong fighting New Atheists” when you say “theology?” Having several friends who are academic theologians (and trust me, we get in heated discussions a lot), I’ve never seen a single one of them get defensive when challenged and somehow try to recharacterize what religion is. Nor do they try to “avoid falsification.” Rather, they embrace it as something to critically evaluate their viewpoints with! In fact, they seem to characterize religion in a much more realistic way than any NA sympathizer (including you) I’ve heard. In other words, religion is an extremely diverse array of beliefs and has a wld mixture of rational thought with faith that varies incredibly from person to person. Even among members of the same congreation of the same faith, religious belief and thought varies incredibly! To dust the parts of that variability off that don’t fit “folk religion” as defensive or apologetic is mindnumbingly ignorant of religous belief – even if you’re against the lot of it!

  227. Davo

    I think we need to discard this veil that allows us to excuse any religious fanatic that did harm under the name of religion as “not a true believer”. In fact recognizing that all such fanatics profess to faithfully follow the holy books will really enable us to truly make progress and recognize the problems with fundamentalism.

  228. bilbo

    JJE:

    The “appeal to fear” and “guilt by association” fallacies rolled into one big emotional ball of situational indictment! I love it!

    You are onto something, though: focusing your emotions about a specific incident onto a larger, amorphous mischaracterization of a much larger reality is a wonderful (yet primitive) way to cope with the negative emotions those singular events engender. It works so well because it allows you to dump blame off onto a larger scapegoat (like a stereotyped, undefined, emigmatic “religion”) rather than attempting to deal mentally with the intricacies of the situation. A wonderful coping mechanism! If I were your psychiatrist, I would recommend you continue it.

    But since you’re one of the “I use logic” crowd, I would suggest you try another approach: dump the broadbush back in your bigot paint can, psuh those prejudices aside, and analyze singular events critically and place blame in all the places i which it lies – not just solely on the whipping boy of your bigotry.

  229. bilbo

    In fact recognizing that all such fanatics profess to faithfully follow the holy books will really enable us to truly make progress and recognize the problems with fundamentalism.

    Si si, Davo. But we must also realize that not all religion is “fundamentalism” and that there are many religious people who condemn such acts as much as you or I do. We must attack fundamentalism and not waste our efforts criticizing people that actually are fighting a common enemy.

  230. J.J.E.

    bilbo:

    It isn’t “guilt by association”. It is just plain guilt. The leadership of the largest single Christian organization in the world discourages practices that prevent AIDs. Full stop. No nuance. That’s not association. That’s instructions from the top, distributed by the hierarchy to the dioceses in AIDs ravaged Africa.

    Consider the toll: http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-africa.htm

    I don’t think you know what “guilt by association” means. And frankly, it is a despicable argument to imply that such a horrendous reaction to this plague is a “singular event”.

    “If we were to ignore mere anecdotes and singular events like organized opposition to disease prevention and organized opposition to civil rights, it all becomes a very nuanced, difficult problem. Pastor Bob beat his wife, but that’s not religion! That’s pastor Bob! Atheists beat their wives too.”

    That’s more or less equivalent to saying, if we ignore the uninsured, the U.S. has the best health care in the developed world.

    “deal mentally with the intricacies”

    Intricacies? Stop forbidding condom use. Not very intricate.

    “coping mechanism”

    By which I assume you mean avoid dealing with the problem. How, pray tell, would YOU deal with the AIDs epidemic? Abstinence? Prayer? Ignoring it and hoping it will go away? Or classifying it as a “singular event” that doesn’t merit a systematic assessment of where the underlying problems stem from?

  231. Anthony McCarthy

    JJE, please note the section of this comment about Scott Roeder as it’s the clearest problem with what you’ve said.

    — I totally agree! You tell it like it is! Like the Vatican’s opposition to contraception. That’s just a policy choice by a small city state, right? JJE

    Which is rejected by millions and millions of Catholics around the world.

    —- Not a religious decree that has exacerbated a rampaging AIDs epidemic in Africa, clearly not.

    Of course when false information about AIDS is spread and the distribution of condoms is impeded that is a contributing factor to the spread of AIDS. The Catholic hierarchy and other religious groups that do that should be condemned. Just as the secular governments and groups should be condemned as should those who discourage the use of condoms, like the porn industry and irresponsible sex, like the entertainment media, and the commercial sex industry…. I can almost guarantee you that the sex industry has more of an influence favoring the spread of AIDS than the combined forces of religious backwardness. It certainly has in the spread of AIDS here, in my community, and the resurgence of HIV infections in recent years.

    And that doesn’t even get to the role played by commercial profits from the inflated price for drugs that could inhibit the spread of AIDS, another distinctly non-religious factor in the very complex situation which you are over simplifying.

    And all the while, there have been religious groups and individuals, including a number of Catholics, who have provided condoms and information to prevent the spread of HIV. Not that you’d notice from the attention given to them and the nearly complete lack of promotion in the media. A situation that is universally true of most private charitable work.

    —- And of course, the 9/11 hijackers and Nidal Malik Hasan weren’t “true” Muslims. There were motivated by personal issues, not Islam.

    There have been plenty of Muslims who condemned them and, in the case of A. Q. plenty of opposition to that form of Islam. From Muslims. If the stated Islamic intentions of the hijackers, and perhaps Hasan can be nailed to the chests of those who have condemned them, why shouldn’t, for example Hasan’s having scientific training be the responsibility of other scientists? There have been a number of other people involved with Islamic fundamentalist terror who have had educations in science and technology. And why should males be exempted from answering for those acts done by MEN. Odd thing is, just about around the world it’s predominantly MEN who are the perpetrators of violent crime and terrorism yet the same new atheists ignore that association in their never ending campaign of vicarious accusation.

    —- And Scott Roeder wasn’t a “true” Christian.

    Ah, now here we see exactly the hypocrisy and irrationality of the new atheism. You do realize that in your desire to make all Christians culpable for what Scott Roeder did, YOU ARE BLAMING DR. TILLER FOR HIS OWN MURDER, AND HIS FRIENDS, AND HIS FAMILY.
    Dr. Tiller was ushering at his Reformed Lutheran Church when he was murdered. He WAS A CHRISTIAN.

    Please answer that point very clearly and specifically JJE. By your argument, wasn’t Dr. Tiller culpable for his own murder because he was in the act of participating in a Christian religious service as he was murdered? How do you explain that he wasn’t.

    — The Mormon & Catholic organizers against marriage equality in CA and ME weren’t “true” Christians either…

    I’ve shown you that there were religious people involved in the effort to sustain gay marriage in Maine, I’m certain there was a similar effort in CA as there has been support for gay rights right from the beginning when Rilke and Tolstoy and other religious people, supported one of the first gay rights groups in Germany. On only a practical level, if I had to choose between atheists and religious supporters of gay rights, I’d choose the religious ones because there are so many more of them and they aren’t likely to divide the effort through their insulting the majority in the effort.

  232. bilbo

    How, pray tell, would YOU deal with the AIDs epidemic? Abstinence? Prayer? Ignoring it and hoping it will go away? Or classifying it as a “singular event” that doesn’t merit a systematic assessment of where the underlying problems stem from?

    Oh, let me count the ways!! Protest it. Counter the ignorance by educating others or giving time/money/whatever to groups who are actively educating about AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. DO something.

    I will tell you what makes little difference, however. For starters, using something like Catholic perceptions of the AIDS edpidemic to flail indiscriminately against any religion is one of the more worthless ways to approach this. I hate to break it to you, but Muslims won’t find it damning against their religion if you tell them what another religion thinks. They’ll find it disturbing, but since it’s a wholly different religion, it’s not an indictment on them. Let that sink in, JJE the Bigot: one religion is not like the other.

    Know what else probably works a lot less than taking real action against something like the AIDS epidemic? Bitching on the comment sections of blogs, as you do. My mother-in-law is a practicing Catholic and is madder than hell about the Pope’s stance on AIDs. But, she’s writing letters to the Vatician about it expressing her feelings on the subject. She’s joined a group of Catholics (yes, JJE the Bigot, I said a group of Catholics!) who are fighting to promote adequate AIDs education in Africa rather than blindly follow what the Vatican says. You heard me correctly: a religious group is doing expoentially more good and getting more ACTUAL change done that you (a supposedly ‘enlightened,’ more intelligent atheist) ever will, what with all your self-righteous bitching and moaning and silly broadbrushes. That, my bigot friend, is what I find almost as disgusting as the Pope himself.

    There’s nothing I dislike more in this world than a self-righteous person who gets their rocks off screaming about issues that they themselves won’t actually take up action on. Religion need not apply to that one. But bigots do.

  233. Paul W.

    Blaming religion for deaths caused by religion is so unfair.

    It’s like blaming the H1N1 swine flu for swine flu deaths.

    Think about it. Most people exposed the virus either don’t get very sick, or don’t get sick at all! Clearly the virus is not to blame.

    And some strains of the virus not only don’t hurt you, being exposed to them can confer immunity that helps you resist the ones that do. So some strains actually keep you well!

    Obviously, it’s silly to make generalizations about the H1N1 swine flu—there’s too much variation.

    And it’s just ridiculous to blame the swine flu virus for deaths cause by swine flu.

  234. bilbo

    Geez, I hear ya, Paul. Blaming a death on religion where religion was one of several interacting causes is like blaming swine flu for the death of an 80-year old who was killed not just by swine flu but by a weakened immune system and pneumonia.

    But who’s to say we shouldn’t distort reality in lieu of prejudices? You’re silly.

  235. bilbo

    Geez, I hear ya, Paul. Blaming a death on religion where religion was one of several interacting causes is like blaming swine flu for the death of an 80-year old who was killed not just by swine flu but by a weakened immune system and pneumonia.

    But who’s to say we shouldn’t distort reality in lieu of prejudices? You’re silly.

  236. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    I agree that my little exercise in snarky satire doesn’t settle anything.

    What it does demonstrate, though, is that it’s not necessarily ridiculous to blame something for some of its particularly bad consequences just because it doesn’t always, or even usually have those particularly bad consequences.

    The issue of whether religion is a good or bad thing overall (or neutral) isn’t going to be settled by simple arguments like that.

    Depending on what you already think about religion, you could run that sort of simple analogy either way.

    For example, you could say that religion is a good thing overall, like e. coli. We’d be screwed without e. coli, but some variants kill people sometimes.

    I happen to think it’s rather more like flu viruses, which we could do without, but simple analogies are only useful for illuminating some of the various possibilities, and weeding out simplistic arguments by showing that they’re countered by simplistic arguments that are no worse.

  237. Paul W.

    Blaming a death on religion where religion was one of several interacting causes is like blaming swine flu for the death of an 80-year old who was killed not just by swine flu but by a weakened immune system and pneumonia.

    Good example. Notice that in such cases we do generally blame the flu. Not to the degree that we blame H1N1 for killing a healthy child, but we certainly do talk about the flu killing old people with compromised immune systems.

    That is why we push especially hard to get such people immunized against the flu.

    Similarly, maybe we should beespecially concerned about immunizing people against religion if they’re “compromised” already in other ways.

    So, for example, we might go out of our way to blame and resist Islam for its propensity to exacerbate already-bad situations, even if in many circumstances its benign.

  238. John Kwok

    Paul W. –

    Have you tried to look at the AMNH Darwin video featuring Francis Collins’s support of evolution as valid science yet, or are you still clinging to your breathtakingly inane assertion that Collins is a creationist (And if Collins is a “creationist”, would you also nominate as well, devout Roman Catholic biologist Ken Miller or Evangelical Protestant Christian invertebrate palentologist Keith Miller (no relation to Ken, but a stern opponent of creationism in all of its stripes, including Intelligent Design).

    It’s too bad you seem content to resort to innuendos, half-truths and lies in trying to make your points (But that is standard operating procedure I have seen from the likes of PZ Myers and some of his most zealous Pharyngulites.).

  239. Paul W.

    Here’s one way I think the flu virus analogy can be illuminating, and not entirely useless, and this connects up to Overton strategies.

    Flu viruses have many variants. Not only do they mutate, but old variants persist in various reservoirs (other human populations, and especially other species). Then now and then nasty variants manage to break out of their reservoirs and sweep through new populations.

    At the ecological level, the flu effectively has a “memory” for its nasty ruthlessly-self-propagating virulent versions.

    And so does religion. Nasty, vicious, ruthlessly proselytizing fundamentalism is always there. It survives in subpopulations even when it’s mostly being outcompeted by more benign versions of religion.

    It also has an analogue to reservoir species—a reservoir that doesn’t even require it to exist in the human population at all, but enables it to come charging back in.

    That reservoir is scripture.

    Any scriptural religion with barbaric scriptures—like Christianity and Islam—is like a town built on an old plague pit. No matter how healthy the population is, colonized by utterly benign versions of the religion, respect for tradition and scriptures encourages people to dig around, exposing themselves to the dormant biohazards, and getting infected with something truly horrendous.

    That is why I think that respect for religion—especially religions that emphasize respect for tradition and scripture—is terribly destructive.

    Theologically liberal and politically progessive religion always teeters near the top of a long, steep slippery slope. It requires constant vigilance and effort to oppose tendencies to take scripture seriously, while simultaneously maintaining respect for the religion and its tradition.

    By “taking scripture seriously” I don’t just mean literalism. Liberals often complain about scriptural literalism, but literalism isn’t really the problem. It’s just one very extreme version of a far more general and pervasive problem.

    A somewhat less extreme—but more common and more important—problem is inerrantism. A huge fraction of Muslims and U.S. Christians are inerrantists—they believe that their scriptures are divinely inspired and factually true if properly interpreted. (Luckily many U.S. Christians are pretty oblivious to many of the barbarities in the scriptures that they unthinkingly assume are true.)

    A still less extreme but very common and important version of this is the belief that even if the scriptures have some bad old stuff left in by fallible human writers, there’s also a lot of very wise and good stuff in the Bible, such that it’s still relevant and useful to modern societies. There’s divine inspiration in there somewhere, if you literally believe in a conventional god, or some font of cultural wisdom, if you don’t.

    There isn’t, really. There isn’t anything good in the Bible that isn’t already endemic in secular culture, and perfectly able to persist without any religion or respect for scriptures at all. (As certain European countries demonstrate.) You can have utter disdain for scripture and be morally no worse for it.

    That is the truth that is obscured by kowtowing to religion, and refusing to speak up against reverence for tradition and scripture.

    IMHO, this spectrum of views of religious tradition and scripture is an Overton-type spectrum. Its a tug-of-war to set the range of publicly acceptable opinion about religious orthodoxy.

    And like Overton, I don’t think you should silence the “extreme” people further out than you. (Moderate religionists should not want atheists to shut up.)

    We should not all take a moderate, centrist stance that’s just a little more progressive than the mainstream, to avoid alienating “the middle.”

    What I think Overton got mostly right is that there is no center, really, and focusing on the center misses the bigger picture.

    You want people more extreme than yourself to be vocal, because the backlash isn’t usually as bad as it’s made out to be, and there are non-obvious benefits to having those people pulling on your side of the rope. (Even if they’re pretty “far out” and you’d (naively) expect that they’d just alienate the fence-sitting middle and push them the other way.)

    Here’s a couple of reasons why:

    1) The people they’re too far from mostly won’t listen to them anyway. Sure, there’ll be some backlash, but mostly the people who find them flakily far out won’t listen

    2) They will find a self-selected audience of people who can take their point of view seriously, even if they don’t agree with it. For example, very progressive religionists will listen to atheists, and conservative traditionalists will mostly dismiss them without too much harm being done.

    3) Yes, they will provide a convenient target for people on the other end to get worked up about and tar your whole end of the spectrum with a broad brush. So, for example, the conservatives will single out folks like P.Z. Myers and try to make it seem like he’s typical of your ilk

    BUT

    They’re going to do that anyway. If P.Z. Myers didn’t exist, they would have to invent him. And if their preferred target doesn’t say things that are extreme and alarming enough, they’ll simply lie and misrepresent the things he does say as more extreme than they are, and raise the alarm.

    Consider what happened to the Clintons. They were very, very centrist and yielded o almost everything. But the wackaloon right proceeded to just make stuff up to smear them, all day every day, for years on end. And look at what Limbaugh, Beck, et al. say about Obama or tacitly approve of saying about him, despite his shocking and rather disappointing moderateness. (And sometimes worse, defending, perpetuating and even aggravating BushCo’s unconstitutional stuff.) He’s a socialist, a communist, even, and a fascist to boot! Heck, he’s literally unAmerican—he’s a foreign usurper with a vast conspiracy behind him, at the highest levels of government, enabling him to destroy everything we hold dear!

    So folks like P.Z. don’t scare me too much. Sure, there’ll be backlash, but sometimes you have to break some eggs and appeal to the people you can appeal to, and shift them in your direction. And…

    4) Those people will likely not adopt that extreme position. Many people will read P.Z. and not come away P.Z. clones, but many will realize that P.Z. makes some good points, and they’ll shift a bit in his direction. (E.g., realizing that religion is a bit scarier than they’d realized before.), and

    5) Some of those more moderate people will become vocal and pull still-more-moderate people in their direction… and so on, and so on, such that somewhere down the rope, people in the middle are pulled a bit in your direction.
    It’s a trickle-down-effect.

    That is how people like Limbaugh and Beck are so effective at shifting opinion in their direction. They know that people in the center don’t like them, and that people on the left despise them. So what?

    They know that they can pull some susceptible people in their direction, and their views gain currency, and rub off in weakened form on other, somewhat-less-susceptible people. Down the road and down the rope, the center shifts in their direction.

    And sure, there’s a backlash, but what does that backlash amount to? Yes, it will frighten a certain number of liberals enough to galvanize them to action, and there will be some collateral damage to their cause. That’s an acceptable loss.

    But there’s a different kind of backlash that naive, non-Overton strategists worry about unduly, and which doesn’t happen for the most part.

    Limbaugh and Beck make themselves targets and lightning rods, making the right look more kooky and dangerous to anybody in the center, and especially on the left.

    But the people on the left already opposed the right. And the people in the center mostly don’t blame the whole right wing for the excesses of extremist kooks like Limbaugh and Beck. (They also mostly don’t blame all elected republicans for the excesses of the kookiest among them.)

    If we hadn’t been seeing this sort of thing play out for decades already, you might have thought that right-wing blowhard kooks like Limbaugh and Beck would be an embarrassment and a big liability for John McCain.

    But they weren’t. They were only a small embarrassment and a minor liability. The fatal embarrassment was McCain’s foolish choice of a liability like Sarah Palin for VP.

    Why weren’t those guys more of a liability to him? Because voters do not generally assume that a political wing is monolithic. They know that John McCain isn’t Limbaugh or Beck. You can’t really tar McCain effectively with a Limbaugh-Beck kook brush. McCain had to tar himself with the stupid kook brush to get trounced.

    Center-alienating extremists are therefore less of a liability and more of an asset to their “side” than you’d think.

    How does that apply to the New Atheist / accommodationist issue?

    I think it means that the New Atheists are good for the cause, on the whole.

    Sure, Dawkins and P.Z. are going to alienate a lot of religious folks. But so would more “moderate” and “acceptable” people like Paul Kurtz if they ever found a substantial base of readers.

    Your average theologically conservative religionist doesn’t care much about the difference between Myers and Kurtz. All they need to know is that they’re godless and say negative things about religion in general, and about Christianity in particular. It doesn’t much matter how strident they are about it–they’re the enemy, and thats all there is to it, and their actual message matters more than their tone. If they say anti-religion stuff in a moderate way, their opponents will just paraphrase it as necessary to make it clear that they’re the enemy. (After all, Kurtz thinks the religious are deluded, too, even if he’d politely avoid that word.)

    And people in the middle will not assume that Dawkins or P.Z. is representative of their whole end of the spectrum, or a big danger.

    Moderate religious people who think that science and religion are compatible will mostly not listen to P.Z. or Dawkins. They’ll either dismiss them as extremists and pay little attention—except perhaps to tut and tsk about their extremism—but they will not suddenly become anti-science because science is tarred with the Dawkins-Myers extremist brush. If they pay attention to the issue at all, they’ll mostly self-select and choose to listen to Collins, or Miller, or Mooney, or whoever says what they want to hear.

    And theologically liberal progressives aren’t going to be affected much by Dawkins or Myers, either. They’ll dismiss them as theologically unsophisticated loudmouths who are embarrassing but don’t affect their views or strategy.

    In particular, if they actually do take the New Atheists seriously and really reconsider their opinions, that’s fine. Maybe they’ll shift outward on the rope, and have some trickle-down effect on the middle.

    And if they don’t, because the New Atheists are outside their personal windows of acceptable opinion, it’s usually no big deal. They’ll still be more afraid of the religious right than the New Atheists, in part because most of them will not only think that the New Atheists are wrong, but assume that “reasonable people” will see that as well, by and large, and the “annoying New Atheist fad” will pass.

    And that’s just fine.

  240. Anthony McCarthy

    Paul W. your flu virus analogy is about as silly a piece of pseudo-logic as I’ve seen since last weekend’s antics by the anti-health care side in congress and their friends outside the hall.

  241. bilbo

    Similarly, maybe we should beespecially concerned about immunizing people against religion if they’re “compromised” already in other ways.

    I’m failing to see the connection here, Paul, but maybe I’m mistaken. Are you insinuating that, if we took away religion, schitzophrenics who commit murder because “God” told them to would go away also? Would eradicating religion cure schitzophrenia and eliminate the voices those patients hear in their heads? If so, we need to let our medical doctors in on this shocking development!!!

    I’m being facetious, of course, but that almost sounds like what you’re saying. To be more precise, it sounds like if we look at a conflict that has its roots in not just religious identification but economics, land ownership, political disputes, mental condition, etc. etc. etc., you’re saying we can prevent them all be eradicating religon. Forgive me for saying that this is a mindblowingly ignorant way to view things.

    I’ll say the same thing I said to JJE about this issue: if your interest is truly in stopping such conflicts and not about distorting reality to fit prejudices, why are you not focused on and upset about other causal factors as well? A careful examination of that question will reveal whether a person is truly interested in good or is just feigning it to bolster a deep-seated bigotry.

  242. Paul W.

    Anthony,

    Whatever, dude. You got nothin.

  243. bilbo

    Paul, you just said several things that frighten the hell out of me. First:

    What I think Overton got mostly right is that there is no center, really, and focusing on the center misses the bigger picture.

    That’s essentially saying that people have to choose: be a New Atheist or be a religious fundamentalist. Anyone with a fifth-grade knowledge of the world knows how silly and, actually, stupid that statement is. But it’s one I hear those such as yourself reiterate time and time and time again. It’s not that there isn’t a center, because you acknowledge it. But what you and the NAs are trying to do is kill the center so that you can have a perfectly compartmentalized war – religious fundamentalists versus New Atheists – where every person on Earth fits nicely into either side. That’s not only dangerous, but stupid.

    Secondly:

    You can have utter disdain for scripture and be morally no worse for it.

    That is the truth that is obscured by kowtowing to religion, and refusing to speak up against reverence for tradition and scripture.

    What makes this statment so dangerous is that it gives you carte blanche for literally any action you want to take against a religious person. Just like my example above, you remove the middle out a spectrum and lump things into unrealistic categories of “kowtowing” or “speaking up.” By the standards I see NAs promote (and which you have just mirrored), if you’re having a discussion about why you disagree with religion with a believer but are not being scornful, confrontational, and generally nasty, you’re “kowtowing.” If you walk up to a believer, slap them acorss the face and scream “fuck you, you pathetic fucking piece of ignorant shit!”, you’re just “speaking up.” (Before you get upset, what I wrote in quotes is not far from what is posted on some NA blogs).

    What this does is again distills reality down to this oversimplified, highly polarized world where the only way to examine religion without saying it’s true is to be as anasty as possible. How ridiculous is that, and how is it not the very definition of bigotry? It just blows my mind that such intelligent people are willing to act so stupidly and distort reality to that point. But I guess that’s what bigotry does…

  244. J.J.E.

    @Anthony

    I never (lately anyway, your discourse has evolved much for the better in the last year; credit where it is due) disagree with your general values etc. But your latest salvo (as true as it is) pretty much generalizes to:

    “Everything is complicated, general conclusion are almost always over-simplification and I’m unwilling to try to effect general strategies when I can just tackle each issue individually.”

    I tried to paraphrase my take on generalizing your perspective as charitably from my perspective as possible. Of course, it is my take on it, and perhaps you aren’t getting through to me. But that’s the best interpretation of you I can make (with the small caveat that I remove special reference to religion).

    In any event, I agree with the general sentiment behind all of that. That religion is seldom the only factor for the religious people who do bad things (like the Vatican) and bad things are seldom the result of only religious forces. And that I could work to ameliorate the negative impacts of any number of forces.

    However, just because a factor isn’t the sole cause of or even the greatest contributor to a given problem, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of addressing. Given that we more or less agree that religion tends to (and even if I understand you properly, should only) concern spiritual matters, I think I can show you why I argue the way I do. My thinking is thus:

    1) I would like to understand if the claims of religion have unique meaning or truth; Does god exist? Was Christ a deity’s son? Did Muhammad ascend into heaven on a winged steed? Is consciousness immaterial? Did I take the red pill? What is soul and how would I know?

    2) Is religion necessary for being good? Is religion sufficient to be good?

    If I can’t receive answers to #1 that don’t rely only on one’s willingness to agree without evidence and both answers to #2 are “no”, then I think the world could do just fine without religion.

    Basically, given that religion is a spiritual matter that isn’t concerned with trivial earthly concerns like healthcare, running a government, etc, I’m left being only interested in: “Can you demonstrate it?” and “What’s the good purpose of it?”

    I can’t find answers, then even if religion contributes 5% of bad to AIDs or 5% of bad to Darfur or 5% of bad to Iraq, then I say, let’s convince people to abandon it.

    I’m of the opinion that the number is substantially north of 5% though. It is however a mischaracterization to claim I think that all of religion is bad or that bad only comes from religion. I just think that is mostly harmless, relatively irrelevant to material concerns, incapable of demonstrating spiritual concerns, frequently troublesome, and occasionally evil.

    I am open to having points #1 & #2 demonstrated however and then I’d revise my entire outlook. I’ve been religious for most of my life. And I saw no problems then. So maybe I can be moved. But faith won’t be sufficient.

    Basically, I take C.S. Lewis seriously, but come to a different conclusion (and my argument extends to all religion, not just Christianity):

    I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (1952, pp. 40-41).

  245. Paul W.

    I’m failing to see the connection here, Paul, but maybe I’m mistaken. Are you insinuating that, if we took away religion, schitzophrenics who commit murder because “God” told them to would go away also?

    Schizophrenics? I don’t know. They definitely are not what I was talking about.

    (At first I went huh? at your comment—I guess you interpreted “compromised” to mean organically mentally ill, which is not at all what I was thinking about. I was thinking more about people who are economically disadvantaged, and stuff like that.)

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some fraction of them were somewhat less likely to commit murder if they didn’t have a handy culturally-sorta-endorsed schema for it.

    Certainly not all, though, and I strongly suspect not most. Many organically defective kooks will find some loony “justification” or other for killing or whatever, and I don’t claim to know what the net effect of religion vs. no religion is on that.

    I’m more interested in more-or-less sane people in the grip of an ideology, whose religion may tip the balance in their political and personal decision making, e.g., to (1) outlaw all abortions, or (2) fly a plane into a building, or (3) massacre people of a different ethnic and religious group, or (4) refuse to vote for an atheist or other non-creligionist for any political office, no matter how well qualified they are otherwise, or (5) choose to study theology rather than science and philosophy because of a mistaken belief that theology studies more interesting things than science can study.

    I am all too well aware that not all problems are caused by religion, and that few are even mostly caused by religion. I have never for a moment thought that if religion were to go away, all our social problems would be solved.

    And I don’t think any of the prominent New Atheists has ever thought that. The only hint of that I know of was the regrettable title of Dawkins’s TV show “The root of all evil?,” which Dawkins didn’t choose, didn’t like, and has expressly contradicted.

    In general, I think that it’s a common straw man that the New Atheists think that atheism will solve all or most or even a big fraction of our problems. My reading (and my own belief) is that religion has good consequences and bad consequences, which often more or less balance out, but than on the whole it tends to make many problems somewhat less tractable by muddying the waters in various ways, and a few problems way less tractable. (Like abortion and gay rights.)

    So if people general gave up on religion, or mostly just de-emphasized it as in Western Europe, a lot of problems would be a little more tractable and yield to still-difficult-but-not-quite-as-difficult solutions.

    So, for example, I think that a lot of religious conflicts are really tribal conflicts, or mostly conflicts over resources, etc., but that religious differences often do help obscure commonalities and entrench differences somewhat.

    I do think that historically, religion has often played a huge role in entrenching injustice. (For example, bible-based condoning of slavery in European colonies, and the religious codification of the caste system in India. Those things are usually primarily economic but religion makes it a whole lot easier to defend an otherwise obviously indefensible line.)

    Modern problems, at least in the West, are usually not as severe or quite so strikingly less tractable due to religion—largely because we’ve mostly de-emphasized religion already, especially very orthodox religion.

    So, for example, I think that the Protestant/Catholic divide in Ireland and parts of Scotland is overwhelmingly about ethnicity and a legacy of colonialism, and only weakly about religion, but religion has made it somewhat easier to define and defend destructive economic and cultural partisanship.

    I’ll say the same thing I said to JJE about this issue: if your interest is truly in stopping such conflicts and not about distorting reality to fit prejudices, why are you not focused on and upset about other causal factors as well?

    Wow. Assume much?

    What on earth makes you think I’m not interested in things like, say, gay rights, ecological economics, etc., or that I have some simplistic model view that religion is the only important factor, or even usually the dominant factor, or always a factor at all? Not everything I say or do is about atheism. Nowhere near it.

    I don’t get where this is coming from except some stereotype of New Atheists? (Which itself I’m guessing is largely wrong, as well as spectacularly wrong applied to me.)

    What you seem to be assuming about me strikes me as like assuming that Sheril doesn’t care about anything but kissing.

  246. Paul W.

    That’s essentially saying that people have to choose: be a New Atheist or be a religious fundamentalist.

    I’ve never said or implied anything remotely like that. More nearly the opposite. You are projecting some seriously weird and seriously wrong misconceptions onto me.

    You apparently assume that I’m dumb as dirt and batshit too. Neither is true, and please give me the benefit of the doubt on that, at least for a while.

    My point about their being no center not that there’s only binary opposition. Quite the reverse.

    It’s that there are many positions along a very long spectrum that are important.

    This is in contrast to the common notion that there is an ideal tipping point at particular place along the spectrum, where it’s optimal to apply force with a single unified message.

    I’m arguing against the idea that it’s good political strategy to have a centrist, accommodationist position and for everybody to toe that line.

    Your criticism would be much better directed at Lakoffian framers like Chris and Sheril and Matt Nisbet!

    I’m saying that you want a bunch of different messages of varying degrees of centrism and extremism, all of which have significant and mostly beneficial effects on different self-selected groups. Points all along the spectrum matter, and no unified message can work as well as a range of views all pulling in the same general direction relative to the center.

    When I have a little more time, I can give an example from my own gay rights activism in cooperation with progressive liberal ministers, but for now, please stop jumping to such bizarre conclusions.

  247. Paul W.

    Me: You can have utter disdain for scripture and be morally no worse for it. That is the truth that is obscured by kowtowing to religion, and refusing to speak up against reverence for tradition and scripture.

    bilbo: What makes this statment so dangerous is that it gives you carte blanche for literally any action you want to take against a religious person. Just like my example above, you remove the middle out a spectrum and lump things into unrealistic categories of “kowtowing” or “speaking up.”

    WHOA! WHOA! You seem to have completely misinterpreted everything I’m saying.

    I have a longer comment in moderation about some other points, but jeez, bilbo, WTF?

    I’m defending pluralism here, not attacking it.

  248. Davo

    However the moderates should speak up; in Islam that’s a big problem. If the moderates keep on being silent then they start becoming complicit. Also, a rather concerning number of believers in even secular Islamic countries like Turkey think that blowing yourself up when your religion is threatened is justified. That’s scary.

  249. bilbo

    Apologies on the hasty generalization, Paul. I too often speak with NAs on this blog that view religious fundamentalists as evil, religious non-fundamentalists as enablers and therefore evil, and atheists who avoid nasty, fifth-grade confrontations with the religious as weak and therefore evil. In other words, anyone who doesn’t deal only in nasty, fifth-grade confrontations with believers is missing the point. Good to hear you don’t fall into that group.

  250. Paul W.

    There’s a bizarre misconception that’s been more or less expressed about me and/or the New Atheists here recently, which I should probably have addressed to nip some misunderstandings in the bud

    Some people apparently think that the New Atheists are seriously trying to argue the whole world into atheism, will not stop until everybody’s an atheist, and are willing to gamble everything for that unachievable goal.

    Apparently, the New Atheists are (supposedly) irresponsibly trying for an unachievable pie-in-sky absolutist goal, and are willing to sacrifice the possibility of a more moderate and reasonable goal in that doomed effort.

    In particular, by failing to shut up when they are advised to, for strategic reasons, and ranting atheistically, they undercut our chances of having a somewhat more liberally religious society, because their absolutinst, hard-line, alienating rants just scare potential allies and drive them in the other direction.

    They do this (apparently it is supposed) because they are so idealistic that they let the quest for their perfect society destroy the chances of actually achieving a better society.

    I don’t think that’s really what’s going on with most New Atheists, and certainly not me.

    I, for one, don’t expect a mostly atheist U.S. in the foreseeable future, certainly not in my lifetime, and that’s not really a goal I strategize for when deciding what to say or not say publicly.

    It’s not about that.

    And when I say scary “extreme” things (like dissing religion in general, rather than just fundamentalism), it’s not because I don’t care about alienating potential allies. I do care, but I think that saying what I actually think is likely to do more harm than good, overall, in moving the U.S. toward a mostly liberally religious status.

    As I sketched above in talking about Overton strategies, speaking out in an “extreme” way often alienates fewer potential allies than you’d think, partly because audiences self-select, and people for whom your message is unlistenably harsh mostly don’t listen or manage to dismiss you as unreasonable and unrepresentative, but no significant threat to them.

    It also has more advantages than you’d think—and in particular it is often beneficial for your less extreme allies’ agenda, even if they find you embarrassing and try to get you to shut up.

    I think most New Atheists don’t expect to atheize the U.S., but do think that atheists being out of the closet will atheize a significant minority and that that will indirectly help theologically liberalize another significant minority.

    We’re more likely to end up with a mostly theistic society like Britain’s than some atheist ideal, much less some “atheist utopia.” (We do not think that even universal atheism would create a utopia. And we don’t think that even majority atheism is in the cards for the foreseeable future anyhow.)

    We think that it’s likely achievable that in the U.S. the majority could be theologically liberal (and more politically progressive) in a few decades, with atheism being a minority position but one which is publicly acceptable, as it is in Britain.

    We also think that we could, like Britain, have a society in which public displays of piety are viewed with extreme skepticism—why should your piety impress me, even if I am religious—and displays of theological conservatism are widely viewed as revealing a lack of sophistication or smarts.

    In order to achieve that, we think it will be useful—not counterproductive, on the whole and in the long run—for atheists to come out, convert some more (reachable) people to atheism, and by having a public presence, increase recognition that atheism is fairly common and that atheists are pretty normal people, even if some of them are obnoxious.

    One inspiration for that is the surprising success of the gay community, over a relatively short period of a few decades, in gaining acceptance among a large segment of the population—-particularly the younger generation—and reducing the incidence and social acceptability of anti-gay sentiments. (Still popular among a signficant minority, but no longer clearly dominant.)

    If atheists are eventually accepted to the degree that gays are already, that will be big progress for us, even if we don’t get to where Britain already is on either front.

    That progress will incur some backlash, and we do recognize that arguing for our own acceptance is a rather different task than arguing for the acceptance of homosexuals—and one that is distinctly more difficult in a certain way.

    In order to actually defend atheism, you have to attack theism, to a significant extent.

    It is often said—and it’s been said recently, here—that this is a really poor analogy. Defending homosexuals (or blacks or whoever) doesn’t require criticizing anybody else. You don’t have to say that heterosexuals are or whites are inferior.

    Actually, though, it’s a better analogy than it seems at first blush.

    When arguing for the moral acceptability of homosexuals, you are implicitly but inevitably arguing for the moral inferiority of homophobes. And if their homophobia is anchored in their religious views—as it typically is—you are also criticizing their religious views.

    Likewise, when you argue that blacks are not inferior to whites, and especially when you make that a moral crusade, as was successfully done, you are inevitably arguing that people who disagree with you—racists—are not just wrong, but morally inferior.

    So here we have two examples where people did in fact argue that other people’s views were both wrong and distinctly inferior to liberals views, and in one case it was largely a matter of criticizing other people’s specifically religious views as both factually incorrect and morally reprehensible.

    Yes, defending atheism is different, but it’s not all that different, and we think it’s likely to work. Progress will be slow, there will be collateral damage, there will be setbacks, and for the foreseeable future there will be a lot of holdouts.

    We think it’s worth it, because it’s really not all that different from what we’ve seen happen with other groups in our own lifetimes.

    Like it or not, we’re going to take our shot, and we think it’s going to work and make things better not just for us, but for society, in the long run.

    We could be wrong, but if you’re going to tell us we’re wrong, and try to change our strategy, you have to take our arguments seriously and show that your arguments outweigh ours.

    You can’t succeed at getting us to shut up—-I mean, convincing us it’s advisable to lay low—if you don’t address major differences of opinion about strategy.

    Ignoring Overton issues and stonewalling about it doesn’t impress us. Trying to shame us into submission “for the greater good” isn’t going to work, because we think we have a better strategy, which is for the greater good in the long run, and clear counterexamples to the advisability of your shortsighted pander-to-the-middle strategy.

    If you try to shame us into playing nice and agreeing with you, we’ll laugh at you.

    And we do.

    We could be wrong, but you guys won’t even seriously address the actual issues and make your case. We will mostly ignore you, and do what we think is best, until you do.

    Get serious, or get laughed at.

  251. Paul W.

    Oops.

    I said: I do care, but I think that saying what I actually think is likely to do more harm than good, overall, in moving the U.S. toward a mostly liberally religious status.

    Of course I meant more good than harm.

  252. bilbo

    Get serious, or get laughed at.

    I take it I must have been serious with you, Paul, because you certainly weren’t doing much laughing over that page and a half sermon.

    If what you were saying is really how you view things, then kudos. Based off of that characterization of what you call ‘new atheism,” I don’t get the feeling you do much telling believers to “fuck off” or tell religious scientists to step down from authority positions simply because they go to church on the weekends. You seem to be able to analyze those kinds of issues without stooping to the typcial middle-school rhetoric that has poisoned the NA blogosphere.

    I use the word “poisoned” above specifically because I think that’s what some of this rhetoric is doing to the atheist “message,” if there is one. Here we are, talking about how atheism frees us from intellectual prisons and liberates us from prejudice and hate, yet so many of our most vocal are out there exemplifying the very attitudes they are decrying. Again, I don’t get the feeling you do that, but I’m talking specifically about the PZ Myers’s of the NA world: people who tell others to “fuck off” because they sit in a church on Sunday, people who call completely innocent theists “child molesters” because they go to a church who is part of an organization that had a few people they’ve never met nor have associated with be guilty of it once, people who dismiss theists who actually share goals with them when it comes to combating creationism etc. (and even go as far to call those people creationists themselves).

    Now, after I’ve said that, a “typical” New Atheist would accuse me of telling atheists to “shut up” (as you have twice now), or they would say that I’m somehow saying we should not speak up against religion. The problem is, I’m not! Let’s criticize religion about the things it’s screwed up on, but let’s not forget that there are plenty of religious people who haven’t done those things, don’t believe them, and even combat the very things we’re fighting. Tell me, Paul, do you really think my Catholic mother-in-law is aiding and abetting murder in Africa because she’s Catholic, even though she’s part of a group of Catholics actively combating that ignorance (because your NA bloggers would say none of that matters simply because she’s a Catholic)? Do you really think members of progressive religious groups whose stated goal is to combat creationism are creationists? Don’t give me a deflecting answer about how there aren’t enough such groups. I want a real answer to both of those questions, not one that deflects into a self-righteous lecture and doesn’t approach the question for miles.

    See, the problem here is that the New Atheism you talk about is vastly different than the New Atheism promoted so loudly in public on the blogosphere. It’s a discrepancy bordering on hilarity. You talked about “shame” earlier. If there’s shame here, it’s that I’m ashamed to be assocated with such a miserable crowd of bigots who have to resort to parlor tricks and insults to get their message across. I always thought atheism was much, much bigger than that. It sounds like you do, too.

  253. Paul W.

    John,

    I’ve already told you what it would take to get me to watch the video. You haven’t cooperated, so don’t expect me to do what you say.

    Given the way you misrepresent what I say, I have no confidence that you understand the point I was making, or have something that actually addresses it.

    I’ve said this before, but you’d have to tell me where in the video Collins specifically addresses my concern, about whether the human moral sense and religious impulse can be explained in naturalistic, evolutionary terms.

    No amount of defending evolution in general, or other particular aspects of evolutionary theory, will address that concern. I’d just guess that he’s oversimplifying and glossing over the particular issue that is crucial to me, and still believes what he said in his book. (Which his theology depends on.)

    If you can’t convince me that you understand my objection, and clearly tell me where to find something specific that addresses it—where in the video, do not expect me to bother following up on your suggestion. You’ve disappointed me with off-point non-answers too often.

    If you again fail to cooperate, and again quote mine, misrepresent, and insult me, you’ll get the same non-cooperation. Buzz off.

    (There’s a name for people who keep repeating the same action, expecting a different result. And yes, I am implying that about you.)

  254. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Clearly you are shifting the goalposts, using a tactic that I find rather distasteful from Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers like Michael Behe and Bill Dembski and their fellow intellectually-challenged sycophants (whom I have referred to sarcastically as members of the Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg Collective).

    I strongly doubt that eminent evolutionary biologist – and American Museum of Natural History curator of invertebrate paleontology – Niles Eldredge, the curator of the Darwin exhibition, would have invited Francis Collins to participate if he thought that Collins was by any stretch of the imagination, a creationist (I say this merely because Eldredge has been a staunch foe of creationists ever since they opted to “quote mine” his and his friend Stephen Jay Gould’s writings on evolution, claiming that their ideas demonstrated that evolution was in “trouble”.).

    You’re not interested in watching Collins’s remarks because you are intellectually lazy, Paul, preferring to have the “truth” spoon-fed to you by the likes of PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris, and even, in his less ecumenical moments, Richard Dawkins.

    As for what Collins has said on that video, he doesn’t qualify it by explaining “whether the human moral sense and religious impulse can be explained in naturalistic, evolutionary terms.”. He does say that, as a devout Christian, he sees no contradition between his religious faith and his recognition as to what is – and what isn’t – valid science, asserting that evolution is the fundamental key principle behind modern biology. I must assume that, like Ken Miller and Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, Collins does put his science first when working as a scientist, with religious considerations – if any – relegated to the “back seat” of his mind
    (I mention both Ken Miller and Guy Consolmagno since they told a World Science Festival audience last June here in New York City that as professional scientists, their scientific principles and worldview easily trumps any religious considerations that they might have.). Moreover, I strongly suspect that if MIT molecular biologist Eric Lander – who serves on Obama’s Council of Science and Technology advisors as co-chairperson – thought that Collins’s religious views would have been an issue, then he would never have recommended him to Obama for consideration as NIH head (I have to presume that Lander did since he has worked closely with Collins while Lander was directing the MIT Whitehead Institute team which sequenced the human genome.).

    Bottom line, Paul, like a creationist, if the facts don’t jive with the truth, just ignore them, especially if they prove to be inconveniently contrary to your philosophical and religious worldviews.

    John

  255. Anthony McCarthy

    JJE, I’m not a fan of C.S. Lewis, either his fiction or his religious writing. I don’t find it intolerably awful, I just don’t find it compelling or generally relevant to my conception of religion, just as I find large stretches of religious writing to be. That’s not much different than people who read large amounts of philosophy or history and take what’s useful and leave the rest. Human beings are incredibly varied, human experience is too vast to have more than a small amount of it encompassed in one human being, and the universe is effectively infinite in terms of the general experience of the human species. An individual has no choice but to construct their understanding out of it by selection. As long as the actions of a person do not impinge on the rights of other people or do damage to other beings or the environment, that person has the right to construct their understanding according to their own lights. There is no such thing as a universal rule that results in a universally valid and solid point of view. Pretending there is one has led to some of the worst (and notably non-religious) bloodshed and horror of the past century and into this one. That quite secular bloodshed, of the kind enthusiastically embraced by Hitchens, Harris and some other new atheists, has nothing to do with religion, anymore than much of the allegedly religious strife of the past had to do with the promotion of the teachings of Jesus or Muhammad. I’d go into the implications of how best to deal with the propensity of people to be able to have their religious identities manipulated by men who embody the opposite of the teachings of either of those prophets but that doesn’t answer your point. It accounts for the difference between Dr. Tiller and his murderer, between violent religious fundamentalism and liberal religion, it also encompasses the difference between ethical humanism and the enthusiastic murder of countless religious people by anti-religious political regimes.

    While I wish you had addressed very specifically the point I made about Dr. Tiller’s religious observance as he was being murdered I’ll dress three points in your answer.

    —- “Everything is complicated, general conclusion are almost always over-simplification and I’m unwilling to try to effect general strategies when I can just tackle each issue individually.”

    Life is complex, especially when you are dealing with the ideas as held by billions of people. If it is something unimportant, like taste in entertainment, the need to be more careful about what you say about, say, pop music, isn’t all that compelling. But religion, like politics, is sufficiently important that it is often necessary to be careful. There is a big difference between someone who believes in free thought and someone who doesn’t, there is a big diffence between someone who believes women own their bodies and lives and someone who believes they should be subjugated by men, there is a huge difference between people who believe in justice and equality and those who believe they have the right to impose their desires and wants on other people. So it’s necessary to make a distinction between the two. This is as true about politics as it is religion, it doesn’t surprise me as both are areas of life that address the larger issues of human experience and action, they both encompass an enormous amount of life that science can’t and doesn’t address.

    1) I would like to understand if the claims of religion have unique meaning or truth; Does god exist?

    I would refer you, again, to Eddington’s writings on the subject, they rather clearly address some of the foundations of your desire that make our desire to know these things likely impossible. I don’t look for unique meaning or truth in these areas because I don’t see any reason to believe that a God would be bound by the same conditions that make the material universe comprehensible to us. Being supernatural, it would make no sense to believe that God would be encompassed by the actions leading to “meaning” or “truth” of the kind by which we can make sense of the natural universe. Eddington is especially interesting on the concept of “existence” which, when you think seriously about it, is an altogether vague and nebulous term. It’s one of the failings of Dawkins on religion that he doesn’t seem to understand that much of the most penetrating theology has understood that the quest for a convincing “exitence of God” list of particulars is irrational if you begin by considering that God is above the natural universe and our general understanding of it.

    Since we are so many and so different as creatures, it doesn’t surprise me that if there is a God concerned with us, that it would be our specific, and also, subjective experience that should be most compelling in our interaction with God. We come to much of our most compelling knowledge of other people in undefinable ways, in ways that the most rigorous science would be unable to touch, why would an infinitely larger and more encompassing being be any more prone to objectification?

    — Was Christ a deity’s son? Did Muhammad ascend into heaven on a winged steed?

    I don’t know, I don’t happen to believe either but in the absence of actions by people who believe that which impinge negatively on other beings and the environment (which aren’t a logical necessity of either belief) I don’t mind of other people do believe it. Since billions do believe it, I’d say you should concentrate on actual harm and its prevention before getting caught up in these.

    —- Is consciousness immaterial? Did I take the red pill? What is soul and how would I know?

    I suspect that you will never know the answer to this. I am certain that today, the answer isn’t known. Large parts of human thought aren’t material, not in any rigorous use of the term. I hadn’t thought of it until recently but the concept of “material”, as spoken of in these discussions, becomes as murky as “existence”. I suspect that we aren’t equipped to navigate the necessary complexity that results of extending the term past its real usefulness to address issues we might want to know about but can’t.

    —- 2) Is religion necessary for being good? Is religion sufficient to be good?

    Almost certainly not (I’ve known very good atheists), and adherence to a formal religion is certainly no guarantee of good behavior. Good will, kindness, fairness, generosity, the abandonment of selfishness, practicing equality, without those religion is useless. Many religious teachers and scriptures say as much. False prophets are warned against, the necessity of actually putting these virtues into practice, the futility of professing them and not practicing them, are all present in the major religious traditions I’ve studied, including Buddhism, its most widely spread scriptures explicitly say so as well as the Jewish prophets (including Jesus) and Islam.

    Scriptures are the product of human beings, the result of our thoughts and our cultures. Possible inspiration isn’t infallible anymore than standards of research of history or the legal practices under various constitutions. That is why fundamentalism is so dangerous, it replaces words on a page for the consultation of our more nuanced minds. They believe they find absolutely reliable standards to prevent errors and evil when they are actually giving up the absolutely essential responsibility to decide for ourselves. The new atheists do the same thing when they make believe that what they take to be “science” can do what it can’t.

  256. Paul W.

    John,

    I’d be delighted to watch the video, if you’ll just tell me where in the video Collins specifically addresses the issue of whether the human moral sense and religious impulse could be products of evolution, or came from an act of special creation by God as he says in his book, which you appear not to have read.

    I have repeatedly said that no, Collins is not a creationist in general, and yes he is actively anti-creationist, and that I have great respect for him as a scientist and manager of science projects, yada yada yada.

    BUT, he does believe in special creation by God of at least one particular thing.

    If you don’t like me saying that while he’s not a creationist in general, he is a creationist with respect to that thing, please explain why.

    But you won’t, because you are an insane troll. Seek professional help.

    From rationalwiki.com:

    John Kwok is an unhinged professional troll who frequents sites he does not like, and complains about their content non-stop. He follows prominent scientists and educators who have refuted creationist and intelligent design proponents’ arguments, mostly to post complaints about what they blog. He causes problems at most places where he has accounts, sometimes even threatening people if they dare try to keep him from posting.

    If you pay John Kwok any attention, he becomes very clingy and demands more of your time. And the more time of yours he gets, the more vengeful he will become when you eventually block him. If you find this troll on your site, it’s best to remove him quickly before he becomes too creepy.

    http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/John_Kwok

  257. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    When you are incapable of making a rational, cogent argument, simply throw lies, distortions and possible – if not probable – half-truths at your opponent. Yes am familiar with your citation, moron (to use PZ’s favorite word), but I recognize that it was writen by some smug, self-righteous Pharyngulite such as yourself.

    Instead of promising me as to what you should do, maybe you ought to just do it and watch the video…. and read what others, like, for example, Ken Miller and Eric Lander have written on behalf of Francis Collins (Oh and BTW, Lander is a distinguished alumnus of our high school alma mater, but even if he wasn’t, I’d still find his judgement about Collins’s fitness to serve as the head of NIH far more credible than anything PZ Myers, Sam Harris or Jerry Coyne have written.).

  258. Paul W.

    John,

    If you’ll just tell me approximately where in the video Collins recants his statement that the human moral sense and religious impulse are the product of special creation, and could not have evolved by naturalistic means, I will watch it.

    I’ll even compromise with you. You don’t have to tell me where exactly in the video he says it, just which third. Is it near the beginning, near the end, or in the middle?

    Failing that, I suggest that everyone should read the page at rationalwiki, especially the part about threats to sue, and the sending of bizarre letters to PZ’s colleagues.

    You, sir, are a kook.

    And I *have* read what Ken Miller and several others say in defense of Collins.

    Funny, I didn’t notice any of them saying that Collins thinks the human moral sense and religious impulse could have evolved, or that he dosn’t believe that they were specially created by God. Did you?

    Get a clue here. Nobody else denies that Collins believes in special creation, by God, of the human soul. It’s utterly unsurprising that he does—he’s an orthodox Christian.

    It is likewise not a secret that Miller believes in miracles. Who would be surprised that an orthodox Christian and particularly a Catholic would believe in miracles, except perhaps you?

  259. bilbo

    Forgive me for not taking the time to read back over this whole exchange, Paul, but was John right? Did you really call Francis Collins a creationist?

    I hope not, because I had you above that. I don’t like Collins very much, but he’s no creationist. And I can say I dislike him without going to the silliest of extremes with my insults. (Calling him a creationist, by the way, is a wonderful example of the “purposefully distorting reality to create a hyperpolarized world” discussion we had earlier about the NAs, and one you vehemently denied).

  260. Sven DiMilo

    If we’re in a splitting hairs war, …the quote you posted from Wikipedia is a modified version of the one I have from Marsden. And yes – the book you have is the right one. If you’re looking at Google books and searching quotes, however, I assume it’s either on a page you can’t view or is not complete in the edition listed there (the edition on Google is more recent than the one I have).

    No, Tom, we’re not in a “splitting hairs war.” Rather, the situation is this: you quoted something and gave only the vaguest of citations (author and place of publication; quite odd, actually) for the source. Interested, I tried to find the quote and its context. I could not, and asked you for a more precise citation (e.g., edition and page number). Your response appears above.

    And so now I’m asking–again–for that precise citation, please.

  261. Sorbet

    I do believe that Collins attributed the sense of morality to a supernatural agency. This is deeply unscientific. I don’t know why people have a problem saying “I don’t know” to things which they…don’t know.

  262. Tom Johnson

    Jesus, Sven. You do like to argue trivialities when it comes to something like this (what does this have to do with the original discussion, anyway?). Forgive me for not having the book in front of me at my desk at work (I have classes to teach and my book’s at home). I’ll try to give you the exact page number you’re so desperately wanting this evening.

    In the meantime, let me ask: why are you freaking about how Marsden defines fundamentalism? I’ll give you several other definitions that virtually mirror his:

    1.) Your Wikipedia quote (but, it’s Wikipedia…)
    2.) From our friend Mr. Webster: a movement of attitude stessing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles (note that this is separate from religious fundamentalism. By that definition, science could almost be called fundamentalism. Why does that seem to freak you out so much?)
    3.) Every grade school child’s favorite online dictionary, Encarta, calls it a “movement with a strict view or doctrine…based on a literal interpretation of and strict adherence to doctrine”

    Given those definitions, I don’t see one could a.) not see the New Atheism as fundamentalism, or b.) not be proud that New Atheism is fundamentalism (don’t so many of you take pride in your strict adherence to principles?)

    Why so up in arms? It’s probably because you have tied fundamentalism solely to religion in your mind, and thus it becomes taboo. Get past that, and you’ll find a whole new world.

  263. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    It’s hysterical how your only option of contending with me is by calling me a “kook” (That’s an assessment that I am sure others, starting with Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, would strongly beg to differ. And I do mention them even though I have strong reservations regarding their book “Unscientific America”.).

    So if I am a “kook”, then it would be reasonable to assume that anyone who supported Francis Collins’s appointment as head of NIH to be “kooks” too, while those who didn’t happen to be sane, “normal” folk. That’s clearly a rather stupid, quite dumb, assessment, but one I would expect from an intellectually-challenged Pharyngulite such as yourself.

    Remember, Paul. You don’t waste time debating issues with those who disagree with you. Just call them “kooks” or worse.

    @ bilbo –

    Paul W. has a strong disconnect with reality IMHO. If you read his comment (@ 198), here is how he responds by suggesting that Collins is indeed a creationist (Am giving the full quote lest he accuses me of quote mining):

    “On the other hand, it is also true that he is a creationist with regard to certain things—namely, aspects of the human mind having to do with morality and religion, which he claims cannot be explained scientifically. (That will be news to scientists like Hauser, Bloom, and Pascal Boyer.)”

    “He believes those things were created by God in an act of special creation.”

    “If you don’t like the term ‘creationist’ explicitly restricted in scope with a with-regard-to-X clause, well, too bad. Poor baby.”

    And then, a short time later, in reply to Anthony McCarthy’s rebuttal that Collins should be considered a creationist, Paul (@202) observes:

    “Collins does not believe that the moral sense or the religious impulse is explainable in evolutionary terms. He thinks that God created a soul and stuck it in an ape, and poof, we were moral beings. (And that’s not just his private religious belief—he wrote a book promoting that view.)”

    “That is a variety of creationism, similar to some IDers belief that god had to stick his fingers into the evolutionary process to create things that evolution couldn’t create alone. It is a kind of ID with respect to certain things that are crucial for orthodox Christian theology—sin, the fall, getting God off the hook for The Problem of Evil, and especially needing Jesus as your personal savior.”

    “I wouldn’t flatly call Collins a creationist—that would be horribly misleading and inflammatory—but I do think that it is technically correct that he is a creationist with regard to those things.”

    “I’m not married to the term—it is admittedly counterproductively loaded. (Rather like calling atheists militant or fundamentalist.)”

    I am not sympathetic at all with Collins’s muddled philosophical thinking, but he does deserve respect from me for his prior excellent record as both a superb scientific administrator and researcher (I will also note that his view is not too dissimilar from what A. R. Wallace thought near the end of his long life. So I wonder whether Paul would call Wallace – who co-discovered Natural Selection independently of Darwin – a creationist too.).

    Elsewhere Paul claims to be an ardent critic of PZ’s posting at Pharyngula but, judging from his intellectual discourse with most posting here – with Tom Johnson being a notable exception – he comes across as an all too willing acolyte of PZ.

    What I do think is important is that he violates NOMA in a way that implies that a lot of scientific research is invalid, or at least doomed to fail.

  264. John Kwok

    @ Sorbet –

    In this respect, as I have noted just now to Bilbo, Collins isn’t far off from the thought of the late adult A. R. Wallace or maybe even Teilhard de Chardin. I strongly concur with your skepticism, but again, it needs to be emphasized that Collins has repeatedly stressed that modern evolutionary theory is valid science. It is only under a very loose definition as applied by New Atheists and their online acolytes (like Paul W.) that Collins could be mistakenly dubbed a “creationist”.

  265. John Kwok

    @ bilbo –

    By mistake I forgot to put quotes around these comments of Paul’s, which were the final comments to his rebuttal to Anthony McCarthy:

    “What I do think is important is that he violates NOMA in a way that implies that a lot of scientific research is invalid, or at least doomed to fail.”

    Lest he accuses me of quote mining, then here, amended, is what he did say to Anthony McCarthy:

    “Collins does not believe that the moral sense or the religious impulse is explainable in evolutionary terms. He thinks that God created a soul and stuck it in an ape, and poof, we were moral beings. (And that’s not just his private religious belief—he wrote a book promoting that view.)”

    “That is a variety of creationism, similar to some IDers belief that god had to stick his fingers into the evolutionary process to create things that evolution couldn’t create alone. It is a kind of ID with respect to certain things that are crucial for orthodox Christian theology—sin, the fall, getting God off the hook for The Problem of Evil, and especially needing Jesus as your personal savior.”

    “I wouldn’t flatly call Collins a creationist—that would be horribly misleading and inflammatory—but I do think that it is technically correct that he is a creationist with regard to those things.”

    “I’m not married to the term—it is admittedly counterproductively loaded. (Rather like calling atheists militant or fundamentalist.)”

    “What I do think is important is that he violates NOMA in a way that implies that a lot of scientific research is invalid, or at least doomed to fail.”

    I might add that I strongly disagree with his assessment of referring to some atheists as being “militant” or “fundamentalist” since these words do convey quite accurately the very thoughts and acts of some atheists both here in the United States and elsewhere around the globe.

  266. Sven DiMilo

    um, Tom? I’m not arguing with you, let alone about “trivialities.” Nor am I “freaking out,” nor “up in arms,” nor “desparate.” You quoted something I found interesting and I simply asked you for the source. That’s all. Nothing to do with the rest of the discussion.

    Forgive me for not having the book in front of me at my desk at work (I have classes to teach and my book’s at home). I’ll try to give you the exact page number…this evening.

    Sure, no problem. Thanks.

  267. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    I did say that Collins is a creationist with respect to the human moral sense and religious impulse, in that he argues that those things cannot be explained by evolution and are the result of an act of special creation by God. I also went on to say that I would not call him a creationist because that would be misleading and unfair.

    Collins is obviously not a creationist in the usual, general sense. He’s against that sort of thing, and I know that and never ever would pretend otherwise.

    He does believe in a certain kind of special creation, though, and I doubt he would deny it—he asserted it in his book and explained how it’s important to his theology.

    So technically, he’s a creationist in that weak sense, i.e., only with respect to that particular, exceptional thing, and about nothing else that I know of.

    Feel free to look back through my earlier comments. You’ll see that I’ve been very careful not to simply call him a creationist, and to say that that would be wrong, unfair, and unduly inflammatory.

    Of course Kwok insists on quote mining me to make it look as though I did say that.

    BTW, I do intend to respond to your long comment, but can’t right now.

  268. Paul W.

    John,

    I don’t think Chris or Sheril is a kook. I don’t call everybody I disagree with a kook.

    You’re special.

    And I’ll bet they would not strongly defend you against the charge of being a kook, except perhaps out of some misplaced “civility” at the expense of honesty.

    Not if they’re aware of your simply bizarre threats against P.Z. (How’s that novel coming along, with him as a character? I’ll bet he’s dreading the day that hits the bestseller list.)

    Not if they’re aware of your sending P.Z.’s colleages a letter accusing him of stalking you after you trolled his blog and got (rightly) criticized and ridiculed.

    Seriously, run tell mommy much?

    And I seriously don’t believe you were joking when you told P.Z.’s colleagues that

    “Regrettably, I have decided to demand from Myers some financial compensation for his egregious behavior. He will have to purchase on my behalf a used Leica M7 rangefinder camera body (The price will vary, but somewhere in the range of approximately $2200 to $2500.). I hope you and Professor [redacted] will persuade him to act favorably on my request.”

    Nobody who’s dealt with you via internet fora recognized that as a joke. And it would be utterly bizarre to expect utter strangers to recognize it as humor if you contact them out of the blue to whine that P.Z. is somehow “stalking” you.

    You were serious.

    Even if it was meant as humor—and I don’t believe it for a second—it’s clearly kooky to say something like that even as a joke, out of the blue, to complete strangers, under those circumstances. (And then to name-drop a certain Memoirist, yet again, as an excuse? Wow.)

    Pretty kooky for a non-kook, John.

  269. Chris Mooney

    Folks,
    I’ve been letting this dialogue go on almost unchecked for several days…but it is way too nasty. I’m stepping in to say that I’ll be watching all further posts and holding any that contain ad hominem attacks or name calling directed at other persons. Thanks very much.

  270. Paul W.

    Chris,

    Could you also specifically request that people stop making arguments from authority?

    I’m sick unto death of being made out to be unreasonable because I happen to disagree with some eminent, generally respected person (Collins, Miller, Forrest). I’d really rather not make counterarguments from authority (Dennett, Pennock’s colleagues and peers, etc.) to balance it out, but I don’t really like leaving that sort of thing unanswered, and people rarely even acknowledge the actual substantive argument that their arguments from authority distract from.

    Arguments from authority, as typically used around here, are actually a veiled form of ad hominem argument; the implication is that the person being argued against (e.g., me) is unqualified to differ with the authority in question, therefore wrong or not worth listening to.

    It happens a whole lot here, and it gets really, really old.

    I think that veiled form of ad hom is actually a more serious problem here than the explicit kind, or outright name-calling.

    (Sadly, while people are usually at least willing to make some argument to justify the name-calling, the arguments from authority are usually only backed by further arguments from authority—e.g., listing somebody’s achievements and pounding the argument from authority even harder, or pointing to other authorities that seemingly endorse those authorities. It just gets deeper and deeper and further and further from the original issue. Yuck.)

  271. bilbo

    Paul:

    My problem isn’t that I think you’re “unqualified.” I just see some discrepancies about how you’re viewing the New Atheism. First you’ll say that it’s beyond the name-calling and out-of-propotion hyperbole that I see used so often. But then you’ll get excited, as you did much earlier in this thread, and go on a diatribe about how all Catholics are (essentially) indirectly responsible for murder because they’re simply tied to the organization. In other words, you’ll make an overblown, hyperbolic statement meant largely to evoke emotion while chastising me for saying that New Atheists partake in that kind of activity. I don’t say this to attack you, but that’s the very definition of hypocrisy. It cannot be called anything else.

  272. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    I wasn’t thinking of you when I said that about veiled ad hominems.

    BTW, I don’t recall ranting about how all Catholics are responsible for murder. (Which is not to say I didn’t say something vaguely like that, or that might have sounded like that—just that I honestly don’t recall.) Could you point me to where I did that?

    I do think that Catholics as a group bear some responsibility for the actions and dogmas of the Church, but I certainly don’t mean that all individual Catholics are part of the problem. Some are certainly at least attempting to be part of the solution, and I would exempt them from most criticisms. (For example, I like Garry Wills a lot, and don’t think he’s a bad guy for being Catholic.)

    Some others I do see as complicit, and therefore part of the problem—even some people I personally know and like. One reason I might say fairly broad things about “Catholics” would be to raise those people’s consciousnesses.

    By the way, I was raised Catholic and half my family is still Catholic. I do not think that they’re simply “evil” for that, and would never call them evil. I have a sister who was progressive Catholic activist, while she was Catholic, and I don’t think that she was evil in any sense for that. I do think that some of my relatives are “evil” in a weak but important sense of being complicit in bad things the Catholic church does, not speaking out against it enough, and giving them money without a strong expectation or requirement that the Church will stop doing so much damage.

    If I said something very broad-brush about “Catholics,” I was probably either assuming that people would recognize that I was talking about a tendency, not a strict implication about any particular individual. (And the kind of social evil where the bad things people do are mostly not intended by the individuals.) And perhaps I did and was wrong not to make that explicit.

    Here’s one kind of thing I might say:

    Catholics are responsible for the evils that the Catholic church commits.

    By that I would only mean that yes, I think very many Catholics are unduly complicit, and are either apathetic about the evils of the church, or too vested in defending it to reform it from the inside. The former (apathetic) group bothers me. I think those people should not be proud to be Catholics, and should expect to get some shit for continuing to associate with, endorse, and fund the Church. The latter group, including people like Bill Donohue are more “evil.” They are seriously part of the problem, making the Church worse than it would otherwise be, and not just complicit.

    (And by “evil” of course I don’t mean some sort of simplistic black-and-white thing like a substance you can get on you and need to wash off with the blood of a lamb. I mean the banal kind of evil, which mostly consists of people being ignorant of the good, or negligent.)

    Notice that I also say that sort of broad-brush thing with respect to “Americans.” I say that “Americans” are responsible for a lot of bad stuff all over the world. (Using up several times our fair share of nonrenewable resources and environmental slack, for example, or playing sleazy political games to get away with it on the cheap.)

    By that of course I don’t mean all Americans. I don’t mean me, usually, and I don’t mean my left-green liberal activist friends. But I do mean some people I personally like, and many other people that I certainly have no animus against.

    I don’t think I’m being “vitriolic and hateful” (or unpatriotic) to say negative things about Americans like that. I’m being aghast that so many people I do like and generally respect are in fact part of the problem, whether they realize it or not. (Such as my Dad, who is a very nice guy, and a good man overall, and doesn’t intend to be evil, but is part of what is in my view an evil phenomenon, because he votes Republican. :-) )

    Similarly, if I said something fairly broad-brush about “Catholics,” I don’t think it was meant to be “vitriolic and hateful.” I certainly don’t hate my sister or my mother, or millions of Catholics like them, who I think are by and large good people even if I think they’re also complicit in something “evil.”

  273. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Ah, sorry, I just twigged to the fact that you said “much earlier” in this thread.

    I’m still at a loss as to what you’re talking about. Are you confusing me with somebody else, maybe J.J.E.?

    I didn’t use the word “Catholic” or “Catholics” until comment #176. I certainly wasn’t doing what you accuse me of in that post. I was making an effort to be very clear that I was only talking about certain Catholics, such as Bill Donohue and people issuing death threats against Webster Cook. I certainly wasn’t talking about typical Catholics, much less smearing all Catholics.

    For example, when I talked about truly militant Catholics, I was doing more nearly the opposite of what you say. I was specifically excluding most Catholics, who are not truly militant. (And I was further specific that I was only talking about Catholics like Donohue and the death-threat writers. I assume nobody thinks most Catholics are like that, much less all.)

    I also said that “The people threatening or taking action against Cook are the ones PZ referred to as fanatics and wackaloons. (Not all Catholics and certainly not all religious people, as Mooney likes to imply by quote-mining PZ.)”

    I think that’s true. PZ usually tries to make it clear that he doesn’t think that all Catholics or all religious people (or most of them) are fanatics, or wackaloons.

  274. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    I tried to post a longer comment that seems to have disappeared. (Maybe in moderation but not saying so?)

    Briefly, could you tell me what and where exactly I said those things about Catholics “much earlier in this thread.”

    I looked back and didn’t find myself saying anything like that.

    I think you may have me confused with somebody else, or have interpreted something I said that really meant more nearly the opposite of the kind of broad brush you’re talking about.

  275. Paul W.

    Given those definitions, I don’t see one could a.) not see the New Atheism as fundamentalism, or b.) not be proud that New Atheism is fundamentalism (don’t so many of you take pride in your strict adherence to principles?)

    Why so up in arms? It’s probably because you have tied fundamentalism solely to religion in your mind, and thus it becomes taboo. Get past that, and you’ll find a whole new world.

    First a reductio ad absurdam of your position, then a serious answer to your question.

    When I look up the word “liar” on dictionary.com, I get this

    a person who tells lies.

    I’m pretty sure you tell lies, as almost everyone does, if only little white lies, very rarely. (E.g., to avoid hurting somebody’s feelings, or to keep something in confidence, or to keep a surprise party a secret.)

    By that definition, you are a liar.

    Now suppose, having proven that point using your style of reasoning, I proceed to indiscriminately call you a liar, without indicating how often, about what, or under what circumstances you’re willing to lie.

    Arguably (as you have argued about “fundamentalist”), if you’re a liar—and you are—you should admit it, and even be proud of it. So, for example, if you tell only white lies, and only under certain circumstances and think that’s absolutely the right thing to do, you should be proud to be called a liar, because only an insensitive lout or an idiot would never lie.

    But flatly calling you a liar wouldn’t be right, would it, even if it’s “technically true” that you very occasionally tell lies, and you even admit it, and aren’t ashamed of it?

    And actually, it’s simply not true. Dictionary definitions just don’t work in the simplistic way you think they do.

    Dictionary definitions generally do not actually give all of the necessary and sufficient conditions for a term to apply. (And in general, they can’t.) They are just rough sketches, and you’re supposed to know how to interpret them, and infer conditions that aren’t stated.

    You’re supposed to know about things like conversational implicature, which affect the meaning of terms based on discourse context. (If only intuitively.)

    So for example, if I say you’re a liar, it’s reasonable for people to think I’m not using the term in the bizarrely simpleminded dictionary sense above, in which everybody is “a liar.”

    That would be like telling them you’re a person, which wouldn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know. Since there’s no obvious other meaning of person they’d wonder what you really meant by such an enigmatic utterance.

    But in the case of “liar” they’d quite reliably jump to the wrong conclusion, because there is an obvious other meaning, even if it’s not in the dictionary. (And it’s not in mine. The simplistic definition above is the only one that comes up on dictionary.com. You’re supposed to know it’s wrong because it can’t be that simple.)

    Similarly, the definition you guys like for “fundamentalist” is pretty much synonymous with “principled,” or “principled and consistent.”

    If you mean principled and consistent, why don’t you say that instead? It’s less ambiguous.

    If you choose to say “fundamentalist,” it’s reasonable for people to assume you meant something more than “principled and consistent.”

    And you’re supposed to know that, and act like it. You’re supposed to know that people will guess that you mean something other than (or in addition to) “principled and consistent” if you call somebody a fundamentalist, under most circumstances. If you only mean “principled and consistent” you can easily say exactly that, so you should not say “fundamentalist.”

    The underlying assumption there is that discourse is normally supposed to becooperative. You are supposed to be trying to tell people useful and clear stuff, not useless and distracting stuff. If you say something ambiguous and misleading when you could easily say something clear and precise, you’re doing it wrong. And people are generally supposed to assume that you are cooperative, and not choosing tricky “technically correct” utterances.

    Being cooperative is not optional. Willfully being uncooperative and playing tricks with words is a form of intentional deception, which is a form of lying. If you don’t follow the rules of cooperative discourse, you’re a troll.

    And that’s why I said I would not generally call Francis Collins a creationist, even if he “technically is one” because he believes in special creation by God of some particular thing.

    Most people would not be surprised to find out that Francis Collins believes in special creation of human souls, and that those souls are responsible for humans’ moral sense and religious impulse. He’s an evangelical Christian, so it would be surprising if he didn’t think that.

    So if I just said, flatly, that “Francis Collins is a creationist,” it might be “technically true,” but it would still be a lie. (I would be the first to say that, and in fact I was.) I could predict that people would draw a lot of incorrect conclusions, because they’d assume I was trying to tell them something interesting that they didn’t already know. So they’d probably guess that I mean that Francis Collins is quite a bit more of a “creationist” than he actually “technically is.” It would be a lie because he’s not actually that interesting. :-) (He doesn’t believe in special creation of species, he doesn’t advocate teaching special creation of anything in schools, etc.)

  276. J.J.E.

    @ A McC

    So, let’s go all the way back to my comment @ 109 and look at it vis a vis your most recent comment.

    Basically, religion is a force that has moderate and fundamentalist elements. Neither of us deny either proposition. I reject Chris’s endorsement of the entreaty that the”new atheists should respect the personal nature of faith”.

    First and foremost is because expression of religious faith is not personal. As a result, it cannot expect to hide from discourse, including harsh criticism.

    Second, and somewhat less important, is that I wouldn’t care so much if these odious expressions of faith were more the exception than the rule. Yeah, tons of Catholics love gay people like they love straight people and even personally use condoms or counsel their children to do so. Fine. But it simply is not an exceptional thing for rank and file Catholics to do the opposite and think of homosexuality as a sin or using condoms as a sin or abortion as a sin. This gets back to your comment about Roeder. His failure, my failure, your failure to effect change was in part responsible for his death. If Roeder didn’t think abortion was a sin, he wouldn’t have killed Tiller. And you (and Christ) are arguing that religious faith ought not be criticized.

    Basically, if I were to voice the same arguments about anything else, like the Republican party or the Democratic party or the CCP, nobody would dig deep into the reservoir of exceptions and apologia that you have to defend them. They’d discuss the issues, not embark on such a protracted No True Scotsman trek. Because basically, it is understood as a right, even a civic duty, to critically examine the influence of political parties. And when done vociferously and in public, the basic right to do so isn’t questioned.

    If I had written the following (in a suitable context of course), you probably wouldn’t have taken the tack that you did, even if you disagree with it:

    The beloved middle ground. If only we let the legion of moderates take their rightful place at the helm of the Republican party, everything would be so much better! We could live and let live. And the conservative voters would finally allow us to teach truth (evolution and climate change) and have civil rights (gay marriage) unmolested.

    The potential “moderates” need to forced to choose between superstition and science between bigotry and civil rights. Unless the status quo is challenged, they won’t bother to change. And right now, the moderates are happy with “There are two opinions about evolution, but for my part I choose evolution”. But they don’t marginalize their radical brethren they don’t prevent Dovers or Texas SBOEs. They just “tut tut” after the fact and go about their lives as normal. Nobody is putting them in the hotseat or making them take a stand. Not the liberal Republicans people, and certainly not the conservative ones.

    Frankly, if we can embarrass the moderates enough for them all to come out en masse and say “That’s not me! I LOVE evolution! I think people SHOULD be able to marry the ones they love!” that’s great. This forces them to consider the issue and take a stand.

    Basically, I’m not saying anything that in any other context is even remotely controversial, and I refuse to show the obsequious deference to religions that worship unobservable deities. Especially since I don’t give that deference to real, observable political parties offer very tangible and obvious consequences for choosing to give or withhold support for them.

    If an organization has a rotten core, I will criticize it, even if that core is only 5% of it. The rotten core of abortion fanatics, anti-condom idiocy, homophobia, anti-evolution, etc is far more than 5% of even the “moderate” religions. Now, had they actually been successful in pushing for freedom of choice, preventing the abstinence only campaigns, passed gay-civil rights, etc. I would qualify my statements. I find the Democratic party thoroughly corrupt and objectionable on many levels, but we did pass civil rights, social security, medicare and other notable progressive changes on their watch. So, despite the pandering, denigration of principles I value, etc, etc, I’m willing to leaven my criticism with “At least they came through in the end for a few things I believe in.”

    Currently, for many things I think is fair and just or even just plain rational, there are enormous, populous, and well-funded and well-organized religious institutions fighting for the evil side. Most moderates are sitting quietly, and a few vocal opponents (and I do appreciate them: thanks Ken Miller!) are on my side.

    And it isn’t the religion that is pushing those moderates into the rational and moral column year after year. It is politics and culture. Religion is a conservative (in a neutral sense) force. At the very least, it resists change of any culture it dominates. But it is also frequently regressive, and seeks to reestablish principles of the past.

    When Republicans do that, they can argue (persuasively or unpersuasively as the case may be) that the outcomes of such policy would be good. Religion has nothing other than their scriptures which can and do object internally as well as externally with other religions. But despite this key difference (which, by the way, puts a political party on firmer ground than religion) I am permitted to criticize a party but am called to task for being a bigot (and a fundamentalist one to boot) when criticizing religion?

    Why?

  277. J.J.E.

    * You (and Chris)

    I typed “Christ”

  278. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    I think you may have confused me with somebody else re Catholicism, but I will say I basically agree with what J.J.E. posted at 3:58, above.

    I do think that we should all endeavor to make it clear we’re not slamming all Catholics, and that many Catholics are somewhat reasonable theologically and very reasonable on most political issues.

    And then we should proceed to slam the Catholic Church really hard, and to blame Catholic people—not all, of course—for its flaws.

    The Catholic Church really is what the anti-New Athiests try to us the “New Atheists” out to be. It has an individual leader who is officially infallible and to a substantial degree it can enforce message discipline, if not actual agreement from its members. (Priests can be defrocked or silenced, any Catholic can be excommunicated, Catholic politicians can be organized against, etc.)

    And while there’s a substantial number of progressive, non-doctrinaire Catholics, it’s really, really clear that they are not numerous enough, not progressive enough, and insufficiently willing to publicly denounce doctrines—or, more importantly, to put a stop to horrendously destructive actions.

    I really do believe that the Catholic church is now in the process of killing millions of people. Tens of millions of people in subsaharan Africa are infected with HIV and the Pope is spreading lies about condoms, trying to get people not to use them. Worse, he controls a lot of public health money to varying degrees, and indirectly affects a lot of government policies and funding.

    Because of such things, tens of millionsmore people will become infected, and it looks like most will contract AIDS and die. Tens of millions of children will be orphaned as well.

    Certainly, the Catholic church is not the only force for evil, and may not be the decisive factor in most of that particular evil. Religious conservatives of other denominations are largely responsible as well.

    I think it’s pretty obvious that the Catholic church bears at least ten percent of the responsibility here, and when you’re talking about tens of millions total, that comes to at least millions.

    The Catholic Church, right now, is taking actions that will ensure the deaths of millions of people, and the orphaning of millions more. Holy crap. That’s comparable to the Holocaust, and maybe even bigger.

    And yes, the majority of American Catholics are complicit in that, to varying degrees. Not enough American Catholics care enough to do a lot about it.

    Certainly not people like Bill Donohue, who is far more interested in defending the Catholic Church against any criticism and makes it out to be anti-Catholic bigotry.

    And some people here parrot that line, making folks like PZ out to be anti-Catholic bigots.

    Bigotry, my ass.

    There’s bigotry involved, but not on the part of most people criticizing the Catholic Church’s literally atrocious actions.

    The bigotry is on the part of mainstream Catholics, who mostly just don’t care a lot about millions of black people dying in Africa.

    Don’t get me wrong. So far as I know, the Pope and the Catholic hierarchy are not racist. I think they’re insane and power-mad, but not particularly racist.

    I do think racism and xenophobia of a very weak but still important sort are contributing factors in the U.S.

    Don’t get me wrong about that, either, I don’t think most Catholics are actively or consciously racist or xenophobic, to any unusual degree. They’re just passively and unconsciously racist and xenophobic in a very weak sense that happens to be practically important—things happening to people not-like-them in a place a thousand miles away are just not emotionally gripping. They generally have nothing against those people on a personal, psychological level, but have a common kind of apathy that works out to something like racism and/or xenophobia in practice; they personally just care less about the Other than about Us.

    That’s an absolutely normal human weakness, but it’s one that moral authorities should correct. If they don’t, the supposed moral authorities are part of the problem, not the solution, because they foster complacency.

    And as with most people, statistics are not as compelling as individual human-interest narratives. For example, one brown girl in South America being forced to die in childbirth affects them about as much as a million black people in Africa.

    Like Stalin said, a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

    Moral authorities should strive strongly to correct that sort of thing, as well rather than pandering to it, or again, tlhey do evil by fostering complacency.

    What’s happening now is something resembling genocide, due in very large part to religion, and in no small part to Catholicism.

    That’s why we can’t afford to do what the original post at the top of this thread patronizingly says, and “respect the personal nature of faith, and nurture a sense of humility by recognising that scientific evidence does not rule out existence of the divine.”

    What crap.

    It is long past time to undermine the stealth civil religion of belief in belief. It is time to shame religious people into recognizing that religion does not make them good people, and often makes them complicit in enormous atrocities.

    And Barbara Forrest and Chris Mooney are complicit, too. By distracting people from the New Atheists’ actual message, and telling religious people that religion is a fine and lovely thing and science doesn’t threaten it.

    I think Forrest and Mooney need to cultivate a sense of humility about their moral and political judgement. Seriously. This is just ridiculous.

    Mooney likes to pretend that the only relevant goal is the defending of the teaching of evolution in the public schools, so the New Atheists should follow his suggestions about message discipline.

    (He’s not telling us to shut up. Oh no, of course not. He’s just making us out to be unreasonable because, so he says, we’re saying things that are counterproductive in the defense of the teaching of evolution. And he wants us to voluntarily grip along with his prescribed message discipline, without his having to address our goals and concerns and seriously try to convince us.)

    Maybe that’s not telling us to shut up, but it sure sounds like it in practice.

    Sorry, Chris, that’s not just wrong, but evil in a banal sort of way. Apparently you don’t care a whole lot about millions of brown people dying somewhere, so long as you get a carefully watered-down version of evolution taught in schools.

    And it is a carefully watered-down version in a specific way. The anti-New Atheists will never promote the teaching of evolution in all its glory—the version that explains where morality comes from and it ain’t the Bible, or the Pope.

    As a social justice advocate, I see that as the single most important aspect of evolution in practical terms, in the long run—it undermines the insane authoritarian core of religion, which allows people to put money in a collection plate and pat themselves on the back for being good people.

    They can feel good about themselves while not only being complicit but actively subsidizing the denial of civil rights to people unlike them at home, and even the deaths of millions of people somewhere they’re not personally interested in.

    But of course, we mustn’t talk about that sort of thing! If we do, we are
    nasty bigots who are arrogantly and oh-so-rudely intolerant of people’s personal beliefs, toward which we should “cultivate an attitude of humility.”

    At all costs, we must not threaten orthodox religious people’s sense of moral superiority by saying that they, too, are just apes like us, and shouldn’t take certain other apes’ moral views as definitive. (An ape in a frock in a palace in Rome, for example, who says condoms help spread AIDS, and insists on perpetuating policies which science shows to be ineffective.)

    Chris and Barbara could be right strategically. They could be right that defending evolution in all its glory including its undermining of religious moral authority is futile, and will only backfire.

    Maybe we should give up on using evolutionary truth and its clear implications to try to prevent corrupt authoritarian institutions from oppressing and/or killing millions of people.

    But that’s asking a lot, isn’t it? Isn’t it asking a lot for us to ditch our goals—which we think are obviously more important than yours—and adopt your strategies, which we are not convinced are better than ours?

    Isn’t it asking a lot for us to do that while simultaneously making us out to be a simpleminded, assholish troop of poo-flinging screechy monkeys?

    If you’re going to ask for something like that—asking us to give up on something vastly more important than what you’re willing to defend—don’t you owe it to us to make your case? (And wouldn’t it be advisable to follow your own advice and treat us with respect for our personal views?)

    Don’t you owe it to us to either agree or disagree with what I said above, and tell us why?

    Don’t you owe it to us to actually address our strategic concerns, which we’ve raised scores of times?

    If not, should you really get a case of the vapors if we get tired of our futile attempts to actually reason with you about goals and strategies, which you steadfastly stonewall about, and give up and tell you to f*** off?

    Near as I can tell, you’re asking for it. You are the uncooperative one, and we’re tired of it. You’re basically a troll who baits the New Atheists without seriously engaging their arguments, and who expects nonetheless to be treated very civilly.

    That’s unreasonable.

    So far as we can see, we do understand your accommodationist arguments, but they only go so far.

    We think that our Overton Window arguments are ultimately better, at the bottom line.

    They may well not be, and we may indeed be making a horrible mistake with terrible consequences far worse than even you say. I’ll get out ahead of you and say that if you’re strategically right, and you may well be, the consequences of our strategic errors are likely vastly worse than even you say, because the scope of those consequences is just staggering. Even the deaths of millions of people is only the tip of the iceberg.

    And even if our Overton arguments are wrong, or not strong enough at the bottom line, your arguments are still unconvincing. There are apparent counterexamples to your model of political rhetoric, and maybe Overton arguments aren’t the right explanation.

    If not, what is? How can you account for the counterexamples, and what implications do your explanations have? Are they easily accounted for without threatening your basic generalizations, or do they show that you really don’t understand the politics of opinion any better than us, or that, perhaps, you’re mostly wrong and giving us bad advice?

    I think that makes it your moral responsibility to make a serious attempt to convince us, and not beat us over the head with the same simplistic, condescending bunk.

  279. Paul W.

    Hmmm… let me retract something I said in my prior comment. (In moderation at this moment.)

    I probably shouldn’t have said that he’s insane and power mad.

    I should have said he’s deluded and power-mad.

    I will defend that claim.

    BTW, I mean “deluded” in the sense of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

    I do think that orthodoxly religious people are deluded in than sense, which is not the same thing as being insane, except that orthodox religion is an ordinary popular religion, not an extraordinary one.

    I think that Dawkins was justified in titling his book The God Delusion and that anybody who doesn’t think so needs to think harder about popular delusions, and how they happen to groups of normal people, who it’s not fair to call insane.

  280. Paul W.

    Dang, a couple of typos in my previous comment:

    Of course when I said “orthodox religion is an ordinary popular religion” I meant that it’s an “ordinary popular delusion.”

    The “he” in my previous comment is the Pope. (I say he’s deluded, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s insane.)

    I don’t see any difference between fostering respect for people’s “personal religious views” and fostering respect for a variety of ordinary popular delusions, and that such complacent “respect” for delusions can be harmful, or even catastrophic, as in subsaharan Africa right now.

  281. Sven DiMilo

    Tom: No citation?

  282. Paul W.

    bilbo: In other words, you’ll make an overblown, hyperbolic statement meant largely to evoke emotion while chastising me for saying that New Atheists partake in that kind of activity.

    That’s a big phallusy you got there, bilbo.

    I admit it, your Tu quoque is much bigger than mine.

    Do you seriously not see the difference between the kind of thing I do and the kind of thing I criticize do?

    Let me make it explicit.

    I think it is legitimate—in particular it is cooperative and honest—to use vivid, loaded terms carefully, making it explicit that not all of the connotations actually apply.

    So for example, I never actually call Collins “a creationist,” without a context to make it clear that isn’t true on the obvious interpretation; I only say “a creationist with regard to” a particular thing, and not with regard to the other things that actual creationists generally are.

    The former would just be unfair and actually false, given the pragmatics of discourse. (I would be lying by implicature.)

    The latter is true, and also fair. By saying it that way, with those qualifications, I try as hard as I can to be absolutely clear that I absolutely do not mean that Collins is a creationist like Ken Ham; at least, I’m not equating them. Of course I’m not. I’m not being hyperbolic for effect.

    I am pointing out one point of similarity, and I am putting up a red flag myself. I am explicitly marking the utterance as a weird one, warning people to be very careful in how they interpret it, because maybe some of the implications hold, but most do not, and it is not obvious from the utterance itself which is which. I’m saying you have to listen in context, and take seriously what I expressly do not mean.

    I’m not playing cute tricks with words; my hands are out in the open, and I’m not pulling any sleight of hand. I’m going slowly and carefully, and pointing out what I am and am not doing. I’m suggesting that if you don’t understand which sense of the word I’m talking about, you can ask and I will explain further, and we can all agree the obvious interpretation of the unqualified term is wrong and it’s open for discussion what much narrower and less common sense is or isn’t applicable.

    It seems to me that that’s about as different as can be from the troll game of establishing that a descriptor applies in one non-obvious sense, and then pounding somebody with it for a very different effect, then repeating it without any qualifiers, and basically just saying “PZ is too a fundamentalist!”

    The latter statement more like me calling you “a liar” without making it clear I only mean that you sometimes fib to get somebody to a surprise party. It’s a childish, trolling word game, intentionally obscuring the exact meaning of the utterance, which illuminates nothing. It could mean anything from “PZ is principled and consistent” to “PZ is as bad as Ken Ham.”

    If you want to know where I was going with saying that Collins actually is a creationist with regard to the moral sense, just ask. It’s a conversation opener, working toward a point, not an insult intended to close off discussion.

    I think that it’s actually interesting that Collins is a creationist of a sort, with respect to that particular thing (but only in an oddball, narrow sense, nowhere near Ken Ham), and I’d be happy to ditch that word if we can’t get past it and to a useful point of discussion.

    I think it’s interesting that Collins believes in that particular act of special creation, because it relates to what I was saying about religion, moral authority, and who’s responsible or not for consequences like millions of people dying in Africa. It all ties together, and we can get there if we don’t get hung up on a word.

    Which is why I’m willing to ditch the word. If you’ve got another good short label for someone who believes in at least one important act of special creation by God, unexplainable by naturalistic means, I’m all ears. I’d be happy to find a less loaded substitute word, just as I am happy to say “accommodationist” rather than “appeaser,” now that there’s a less-loaded, mutually agreeable term for the people it refers to.

    I don’t say this to attack you, but that’s the very definition of hypocrisy. It cannot be called anything else.

    Um, no. It can be called a falsehood, or a failure to make basic distinctions, or a trollish, derailing refusal to acknowledge the obvious.

    If you’re going to make such accusations, please give some specific good examples, and defend them.

    For example, PZ calling “religious people” “demented f***wits” is not a good example, because he is generally careful not to call all or most religious people demented f***wits, and he frequently explains that he doesn’t think they are, and that he reserves that kind of invective for particularly deserving folks like Bill Donohue, who defend atrocious actions, or people who commit atrocious actions, such as issuing death threats.

    That’s very different from what happens here, with people childishly insisting that a certain people that they evidently don’t like are “fundamentalists” or “militant,” full stop, when in fact those terms apply in pretty much the same sense to people they do like.

    I’d also like people to recognize that even PZ Myers does generally observe certain rules of decorum and fairness. So for example, in his rant he talked about about the “culture of lunacy” (or something like that) that led to the death threats against Webster Cook, and people held that up as being just as bad as what they’d originally accused PZ of. (Calling all Catholics demented f***wits.)

    I’m sorry, but that is just false and unfair. Sure, what PZ said was harsh; he wasn’t pulling any punches. But it is a very different thing to criticize ideas and a social phenomenon than it is to tar each and every Catholic with the epithet “demented f***wit.”

    Keep in mind that the self-appointed voices of civil moderation constantly say that the former kind of thing is much worse than the latter. Are you disagreeing with Chris and Sheril about that?

    And for this particular example, keep in mind the comparison I made to Extroardinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The point there is that normal, generally sane and morally okay people sometimes get drawn into a popular delusion, and do things you wouldn’t naively expect them to do.

    In a certain important sense, PZ was trying to exclude most Catholics, most of the time from being the “sort of person” who would do such crazy and vile things. He was saying that even the individuals doing it were largely a victim of an unhealthy social phenomenon much larger than themselves, and not directly reducible to the moral flaws of individuals. Culture has a way of creating feedback loops that can warp people’s perspective, and make them believe and behave in ways that are not really representative of their intelligence, sanity, or decency.

    While not pulling his punches about the atrociousness of the hysteria, PZ was trying to make it clear he wasn’t simply condemning Catholics, and that he’s not an anti-Catholic in the sense of animus toward individuals. (As Donohue dishonestly makes him out to be.) He’s only an anti-Catholic in the sense of opposing certain beliefs and dogmas, and a dysfunctional organization that has such apalling results.

    Oh, and before people flame me in the usual ways, keep in mind what Chris said about ad hominems and insults.

    Don’t insult PZ, or dismiss him as a jerk. Address the issues.

    Don’t insult me, or dismiss me as a PZ fanboy. Whether I am is irrelevant to the point, and you’d be engaging in a double ad hominem there.

    If you make a claim, make it clear and specific, and give a good example. No vague whining, please.

  283. Sven DIMilo
  284. John Kwok

    @ Paul –

    Think you’ve done a great job demonstrating that you’re a kook in light of your recent replies. Chris has held up in moderation a post I wrote yesterday (MEMO To Chris: I wish you hadn’t.).

    Anyway, since you are fond of referring to the nonsense written about me at RationalWiki, then you ought to read this:

    http://stuyspectator.com/2009/09/09/former-stuyvesant-teacher-frank-mccourt-dies/

    Not only was I student of his, but I earned second prize in a citywide essay contest thanks to his encouragement (A year later, I would earn similar distinction in a regional essay contest sponsored by The New York Times. So I have to assume that my award-winning essay in Frank’s class wasn’t a mere fluke.).

  285. Paul W.

    I went back and re-read the part of Collins’s The Language of God that I was talking about, more carefully than I did the first time. (It’s about 200 pages in, and I was a little glazed by the time I got there.)

    I may have been somewhat unfair, or more importantly, misleading about Collins’s own stance; that part of the book is hard to interpret because he keeps praising and defending a “typical” theistic evolutionary view without actually claiming it as his own, and seems to be saying some inconsistent things. Whether or not it’s exactly his view, he defends it in the way I suggested, and his argument has the flaw I attributed to his view. (And I think his actual view, which may be closer to Miller’s than I realize, has a somewhat obscured version of the same flaw.)

    Interestingly, along the way Collins himself says much of what his defenders here objected so strenuously when I said it, about the applicability of the term “creationist” (with regard to one particular thing) or “intelligent design” (of one particular thing).

    I’ll deal with that first. After sketching and defending a typical TE view, and claiming that it’s entirely consistent with science—which I claim it’s not, BTW—he then says:

    Unfortunately, many of the nouns and adjectives that could describe the rich nature of this synthesis are already freighted with so much baggage as to be off-limits. Should we coin the term “crevolution”? Probably not. And one dare not use the words “creation,” “intelligent,” “fundamental,” or “designer,” for fear of confusion.

    Note carefully that last phrase, “for fear of confusion.”

    It seems clear to me that Collins is saying exactly what I’m saying. It wouldn’t be technically false to describe his view as a kind of evolution-mediated creationism, or “creationist evolution.” On the other hand, it would be horrendously ambiguous and loaded, and almost all of the possible interpretations would be importantly false, so you shouldn’t, without the kind of careful explanations and caveats that we (Collins and I) do give when acknowledging that.

    So by the logic people use here to justify calling the “New Atheists” “militant” or even “fundamentalist,” Collins admits you could call him a creationist, and apparently a believer in intelligent design. (Maybe even a fundamentalist just like those New Atheists!)

    Conversely, if we agree with Collins that this sort of casual bandying about of ambiguous and baggage-freighted terms is bad, then we have to throw that word-twisting logic out the window. We can’t casually call New Atheists militant or fundamentalist, either.

    If I was extremely impressed with Collins and as fond of arguments from authority as some people here, I’d conclude by asking “Who the hell are you people to disagree with Francis Collins?”

    (Yeah, I’m looking at you, John Kwok. How dare you disagree with Collins like that? He’s famous! He’s extremely well regarded! He’s on our side!)

    More later.

  286. John Kwok

    @ Sven,

    Thought I’d read something more substantial from you. IMHO Paul W. is offering now, in his latest posts, some bizarre rants which are indicative of his loyalties to “THE ONE”, one PZM, even if he still contends that he’s a frequent critic over at that blog.

  287. Paul W.

    John, I think you just broke both the insult rule and the ad hominem rule.

    Didn’t John just make exactly the double ad hominem I advised against in my post?

    Right, Chris and Sheril? Isn’t that supposed to be specifically taboo in this thread?

    John, I have to wonder if you are capable of making a sustained reasoned argument, or realizing when you’re being gratuitously insulting or ad hominem, or making an invalid argument from authority. Or perhaps you’re just unwilling.

    I honestly don’t know, and I’m really not just insulting or ad homming you. I’d be happy for you to demonstrate the opposite. Please do.

    Please try to address an actual substanative issue, rather than changing the subject to personalities.

    But I’m betting you won’t. I suspect that you can’t make a serious, sustained argument without reflexively committing all of those fallacies and being unable to recognize that you’ve done it.

    Again, I could be wrong, and I am sincerely requesting that you try.

  288. Paul W.

    By the way, I apologize for the irony about Collins at the end of my 2nd post back. It was underlining a substantive point for which I made serious substantive argument, so not an ad hom, but it was unnecessarily snarky.

    I’m sorry, and I regret distracting from the several substantive points I was making, which I’d very much like to see seriously addressed. Please.

  289. John Kwok

    Paul W. –

    Frankly I think I have been more “on topic” than you’ve demonstrated. And I’d appreciate an apology for your slanderous remarks toward me which you have posted here, not just once, but several times at this thread. Moreover, it is most presumptuous of you to assert as you did (@ 278) in “suggesting” what Barbara Forrest should do. I’m not defending her because I know her or admire her; her work speaks for itself, especially with regards to her long-term examination of the ID movement, the Dishonesty Institute, and the nefarious aims of both the movement and of the institute itself.

  290. Paul W.

    John,

    I don’t think you know what it means to be on topic, or understand that arguments from authority are, or why they’re invalid.

    If you defend Forrest because her work “speaks for itself,” and proceed not to give her argument so that we can assess the argument’s validity itself, you’re making an argument from authority.

    That seems to be a reflex with you.

    It’s not good argumentation, and its uncivil to do it so often.

    And no, I won’t retract my earlier remarks about you which you consider slanderous. (And I certainly don’t).

    I will try to abide by Chris’s recent request to avoid personal insults and ad hominems.

    Will you, or should you perhaps be banned for trolling?

  291. Paul W.

    Oh, John,

    Let me be specific. If you say that somebody is being presumptious to differ with someone whose work speaks for itself you are making an ad hominem argument.

    You’re implying that I’m unqualified to disagree with Forrest, and probably wrong, or not worth arguing or something.

    That is not an allowable move in civil, reasoned argument. Forrest being Forrest doesn’t make her right, and me not being Forrest doesn’t make me wrong.

    So stop.

  292. Paul W.

    Chris and Sheril,

    I respectfully request that you ask people not to make arguments from authority in this thread, the way that you’ve asked them not to make ad hominems.

    (Arguments from authority are generally an implicit kind of ad hominem, as in my example above.)

  293. Sven DiMilo

    George Marsden defines “fundamentalism” by way of a book published at Oxford as “strict adherence to a set of basic principles, often as a reaction to perceived compromises on social and political issues….fundamentalist groups often arise by separating from a larger group of adherents by marginalizing the middle and taking a decidedly more extreme approach to the issue at hand.”

    Still waiting for the specific source of this quoted definition, Tom. Thanks in advance.

  294. Paul W.

    Do I hear crickets chirping?

    Funny how Mooney’s defenders mostly clam up when they’re told not to use ad hominems and insults.

    (Or perhaps they’ve been posting, but the posts don’t get through because they can’t help but do that?)

    It seems to me that the regulars aren’t much interested in substantive discussion or honest debate. Just quote-mining, white knighting, ad hominems, and general slagging.

    You guys got nothin’.

    I was writing a post about a cruical passage in Chapter 10 of Collins’s book, where he lists three core principles underrpinning his view, every one of which is anti-scientific in at least some important sense.

    They illustrate exactly why Mooney is wrong and the New Atheists are right in what they’re actually saying, about the supposed “compatibility” of science and religion.

    Anybody up for a serious discussion of that, without resrting to off-point simplistic statements by Forrest et al.?

    By the way, like all of the prominent New Atheists, I have always agreed with Mooney et al. about the kind of compatibility that Mooney et al actually argue for. It’s just not an issue.

    What makes this a recurring issue is Mooney et al consistently misrepresenting the issue and saying that the New Atheists are wrong and philosophically naive.

    Over and over again, they pull a bait and switch, falsely saying that the New Atheists are wrong, and implying that they’re ignorant, stupid, dishonest, or maybe just pigheaded.

    When challenged on that, they pull a bait and switch, trotting out statements like Forrest’s, in the original post above, or Genie Scott’s video where she talks about how she knows empirically that science and religion can be compatible.

    Sorry, thats a misrepresentation, and it’s clearly intentional. They’ve been pulling this same trick to justify falsehoods about the New Atheists for literally years despite being called on it scores of times.

    That’s simply dishonest. Its a form of chronic lying.

    Before anybody gets the vapors that I’d be so presumptuous as to say that about a respected journalist, a noted philsopher of science, etc., stop and think, and realize two things:

    1) I am not making an ad hominem argument. I’m not saying that Mooney, Forrest et al. are wrong because they’re dishonest. I’m making an argument that they’re wrong, and another argument that they’re knowingly wrong, and from that I’m concluding that they are being dishonest about this particular bone of contention.

    2) I’m not casually throwing “insults” around. I am saying something quite unflattering, but that has to be okay in civil discourse, or the whole subject would be off the table, and Mooney should just pipe down about the New Atheists, too. I’m not asking for that, of course. I’m asking for people to address the fundamental issues at stake.

    So, maybe I’m wrong, and I welcome serious, substantive attempts to demonstrate that. If you can demonstrate that without resorting to fallacies (ad hominems, arguments from authority, bait-and-switch “fallacies of four terms,” etc.), then that’s great—I’ll admit I was wrong and apologize profusely.

    I’d also like to point out a couple of other things about how the discussion has gone so far.

    Way way back in the previous accommodationism thread, I made the very serious charge that Mooney’s attacks on the “New Atheists” generally rely on two big straw men. I’ve repeated and justified that claim several times, in a fair bit of detail.

    And none of you will address those issues.

    Nobody seems to disagree with me.

    Apparently, none of you minds Chris being systematically dishonest, and all of his defenders think that anybody who points those things out deserves nothing but scorn and ad hominems, and irrelevant digressions.

    Which makes me think none of Chris’s defenders has a leg to stand on, and that at some level, they realize it.

    Prove me wrong, please.

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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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