An Armistice In The Religious Wars

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 2, 2009 12:17 pm

Nicholas Kristof–co-author of the moving book Half The Sky and voice that inspired Silence Is The Enemy–has a thoughtful Op-Ed in last week’s NYTimes entitled The Religious Wars. He touches on a topic that we’ve discussed for years here at The Intersection and in the most controversial chapter of Unscientific America:

Traditionally, religious wars were fought with swords and sieges; today, they often are fought with books. And in literary circles, these battles have usually been fought at the extremes.

* * * * *

Whatever one’s take on God, there’s no doubt that religion remains one of the most powerful forces in the world. Today, millions of people will be giving thanks to Him — or Her or It.

Another new book, “The Faith Instinct,” by my Times colleague Nicholas Wade, suggests a reason for the durability of faith: humans may be programmed for religious belief, because faith conferred evolutionary advantages in primitive times. That doesn’t go to the question of whether God exists, but it suggests that religion in some form may be with us for eons to come.

Science indeed proves that earth is billions of old, that evolution explains biodiversity, and that impulses in our brain can account for behavior. Yet science also has its limitations. ‘Faith‘ is not synonymous Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or the teachings of any specific religion.

In the end, despite all of the clamor from both extremes–and perpetual insistence that there is one way to live, to think, and to be–the truth is that we can only define faith for ourselves. I share Kristof’s hope that the coming crop of books marks an armistice in the religious wars moving away from both religious intolerance and irreligious intolerance.

Comments (72)

Links to this Post

  1. Asking Clarifying Questions | Quiche Moraine | December 18, 2009
  1. Paul W.

    I don’t think that the idea that religoin was selected for offers much support for accommodationism;
    I think it fits better with the New Atheist view.

    There’s a dark side to the group selection for social cohesion—social cohesion is usually evolved to benefit insiders at the expense of outsiders.

    Think racism, xenophobia, and simple apathy about people far from you and/or unlike you.

    Those things are natural, in an important sense, but it doesn’t mean that they should be encouraged—perhaps the opposite.

    Likewise, religion may or may not be a good thing for individuals, on average, in a modern society. (Note that racism and xenophobia aren’t, particularly, even if they were group-selected for in our ancestral environment, as they likely were.)

    Even if religion is good for individuals, or particular groups, it may come at the expense of the greater good.

    This kind of evolutionary psychology is interesting, and scientifically important, but it is mostly a frame story around psychology and anthropology, but it’s the current psychological facts that really matter—is religion good for people now, in the modern world? Which people?

    The benefits of religion are almost universally exaggerated, as simple demographic data show.

  2. Sorbet

    Seems Wade is not saying anything new here. Plus, just because something has an evolutionary explanation does not mean it’s good. I am sure genocidal and murderous instincts also have some evolutionary explanations, but we universally condemn them.

    I am sure religion is here to stay, but that does not mean it gets a free pass.

  3. bilbo

    I am sure religion is here to stay, but that does not mean it gets a free pass.

    I don’t think Mooney is arguing that it gets a free pass, Sorbet. Maybe you weren’t insinuating that he was. If not, I’m not talking about you below.

    Whatever your intent, I’ve noticed that about the “religion wars:” if you dare to criticize atheism (or even a single statement of a single atheist), it gets interpreted by many to be explicit support for any and everything with religion – or as telling that person to “shut up.” We know better than to jump to absolutist conclusions like that, and I think the “religion wars” could benefit from some real logical thinking when it comes to criticism and, especially, the targets of criticism.

    That said, though, silly criticisms of religion that unrealistically broadbrush and purposefully distort reality should never get a “free pass,” either. It frightens me a bit to see so many atheists talking about not giving religion a free pass while giving one, willy nilly, to those atheists who just spout as much angry, mushminded drivel as they can.

  4. Paul W.

    By the way, anybody actually interested in this subject would do well to read:

    Unto Others by Sober and Wilson (about group selection and the evolution of altruism and social cohesion,

    Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer, about the cognitive anthropology of religion, and

    Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, about the scientific study of religion, and the related philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, etc.

  5. Paul W.

    Razib has a review of The Faith Instinct over at Science Blogs:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2009/11/the_faith_instinct_how_religio.php

  6. Paul W.

    By the way, it’s funny to me how a lot of people make this kind of evolutionary explanation of religion out to be more or less pro-religion; I think it’s pretty clearly anti-religion in its implications. (At least, anti- anything much resembling traditional orthodox religion.)

    If religion is an evolved phenomenon, explicable by natural selection, etc., that on the one hand may or may not indicate that it’s good for you.

    On the other hand, it should be the nail in the coffin of the idea that traditional religious beliefs are actually true.

    If we find a scientific explanation for why people believe religious ideas that has nothing to do with whether they’re actually true, it strongly suggests that those ideas are in fact unjustified, and typically false. They are ordinary popular delusions that we’re prone to for evolutionary reasons, in much the same way we’re prone to optical illusions, various biases, and conspiracy theories.

    I think that in fact it’s pretty clear we already have pretty good naturalistic explanations of why people believe religious ideas—and that that does in fact undermine the plausibility of religion in a huge way.

  7. I don’t think Mooney is arguing that it gets a free pass, Sorbet.

    Hmmm… I don’t think Mooney is arguing at all on this post so far.

  8. bilbo

    By the way, it’s funny to me how a lot of people make this kind of evolutionary explanation of religion out to be more or less pro-religion

    Is that quote an implicit attempt to pin a position on Mooney so you can argue him on a position he hasn’t himself yet espoused, Paul? It sounds a lot like it is – almost, in fact, like Jerry Coyne pinning false positions on Robert Wright so he could argue against them using Wright’s own evidence. Classically silly.

    If we find a scientific explanation for why people believe religious ideas that has nothing to do with whether they’re actually true, it strongly suggests that those ideas are in fact unjustified, and typically false.

    Wow, Paul. It sounds a lot like your definition of religion is word-for-word like a religious fundamentalist’s – if science can explain it, it has no value!!!!!!

    Hyper-religious literacy at its finest.

  9. Paul W.

    I think Mooney is framing, which isn’t exactly the same thing as arguing. It’s more like insinuating.

    The title of the post is “An Armistice in the Religous Wars,” and his concluding paragraph is pretty clearly meant to frame this as good news for accommodationism.

    It’s not. It’s good news for the “New Atheism.” In particular, it offers support for the idea that religious belief systems are something like popular delusions.

    Wade and Sloan may differ bitterly with Dennett over the importance of group selection, but if they’re right, they are also offering support for Dennett’s and the other New Atheists’ argument that there is rational reason to disbelieve in God et al.

  10. Sorbet

    Mooney et al. are not arguing this, so I am assuming the comment is not aimed at what I said. I agree that critics of religion should also not get a free pass. Evidence in the comments section of this blog indicates that they definitely don’t.

  11. Paul W.

    Oops, I said Sloan. Dunno why. I meant D.S. (David Sloan) Wilson.

    BTW, I don’t mean that that this sort of understanding of religion offers support only for the New Atheism.

    It also offers support for theologically extremely liberal religion, which makes no particular interesting truth claims about supernatural beings, or spiritual experience in the traditional sense of dualistic souls experiencing something nonmaterial.

    I don’t think most of the New Atheists have much of a problem with that kind of “religion,” they just have a hard time seeing it as religion in the same sense as orthodox religion.

  12. @9 Paul W.
    The title is a quote I took directly from Kristof’s piece.

  13. bilbo

    I don’t think most of the New Atheists have much of a problem with that kind of “religion,” they just have a hard time seeing it as religion in the same sense as orthodox religion.

    So, in other words, you are attempting to define religion only in its fundamentalist sense.

    Hence, the “ignoring the middle” that you and I discussed so intensely the other day. Looks like you’re one of your own “shameless bullshitters,” Paul.

    Way to come full-circle on yourself.

  14. Paul W.

    Hey bilbo, my post crossed with yours…

    Maybe I’m wrong about thinking that Mooney was framing with the intent I inferred.

    It does seem to me that he overlooked the fairly obvious implications of a naturalistic understanding of religious belief—that it casts serious doubt on supernaturalistic explanations. Perhaps that was inadvertent.

    Do see my clarifications of what I meant—e.g., that the implications of this kind of understanding of religion are more anti-orthodoxy than strictly pro-atheism. I do think that undermines the plausibility of all the popular kinds of religious belief in the U.S., but not strictly all forms of social practice one might call “religion.”

  15. Paul W.

    So, in other words, you are attempting to define religion only in its fundamentalist sense.

    No, you are conflating orthodoxy and fundamentalism. They are the same kind of thing, but they are different things.

    This kind of evolutionary understanding of religion undermines the truth claims of far more than fundamentalist religion. It undermines orthodox beliefs in the middle, as well.

    You are simply ignoring a basic distinction that I schooled you on in the “My Latest Podcast [...]” thread.

    Most religion is relatively orthodox, yet not fundamentalist. Get used to the idea.

  16. i might be doing a bloggingheads with wade on his new book. watch for it.

  17. Paul W.

    The title is a quote I took directly from Kristof’s piece.

    Thanks very much for that clarification. If overinterpreted that as agreement with the sentiment, my sincere apologies.

    And my apologies for not noticing that it was you who posted this, not Mooney—I misinterpreted your hint as being about whether Mooney was arguing rather than whether it was Mooney arguing. (Or both.)

  18. bilbo

    No, you are conflating orthodoxy and fundamentalism. They are the same kind of thing

    Given that a common definition of “conflating” means “viewing two parts as a similar thing,” you just conflated them after accusing me of conflating.

    Come on, Paul – you’re doing the bread-and-butter NA tactic of 1.)make purposefully vague statement, 2.) get called on it, 3.) retort with “b-b-b-but I didn’t mean that!!!!! Give us something substantial – not vague statements that you shift and continually redefine with the direction of discussion!

  19. Paul W.

    Ah, looking back, it was bilbo, not me who first attributed the post to you… whew.

    Damn that bilbo, leading us astray with his false attributions! Harrumph!
    :-)

  20. Paul W.

    Given that a common definition of “conflating” means “viewing two parts as a similar thing,” you just conflated them after accusing me of conflating.

    Um, no. You clearly have serious problem understanding English.

    If you weren’t just playing gotcha, it would be pretty obvious from what I said that you have the wrong sense of “conflate.”

    To “conflate” is generally to view things as being the same thing, or perhaps as being more similar than they actually are.

    I’ve distinguished between fundamentalism and orthodoxy, and if you still don’t understand how they can be the same general kind of thing but not the same exact thing, something’s wrong.

    Consider the phrases “very tall” and “not very short”. Those are the same kind of statement—about degrees of tallness—but they are clearly not equivalent statements.

    You’re the one conflating, and then conflating senses of “conflating.” Neat trick.

  21. bilbo

    Ah, looking back, it was bilbo, not me who first attributed the post to you… whew.

    Read again, Paul. Sorbet did the old “pin a position on someone who never took a position” trick (as, I’ll note, you have already done in this thread once). I called Sorbet on it, just as I did you.

    Predictably, both of you gave the old “b-b-b-b-but I never said that!!!!!! NA response.

    NA framing at its very finest. Maybe I’ll bookmark this thread for future reference on NA disingenutiy.

  22. bilbo

    Bilbo: Come on, Paul – you’re doing the bread-and-butter NA tactic of 1.)make purposefully vague statement, 2.) get called on it, 3.) retort with “b-b-b-but I didn’t mean that!!!!!”

    And now a lesson in bread-and-butter New Atheist quasi-argument:

    Step 1: Make purposefully vague statement

    Paul: “You are conflating orthodoxy and fundamentalism. They are the same kind of thing”

    Step 2: Get called on it.

    Bilbo: “Given that a common definition of “conflating” means “viewing two parts as a similar thing,” you just conflated them after accusing me of conflating.”

    Step 3: After getting called out, determine the direction of argument and reframe/redefine said vague statement a posteriori by using a rambling rationalization.

    Paul: “I’ve distinguished between fundamentalism and orthodoxy, and if you still don’t understand how they can be the same general kind of thing but not the same exact thing, something’s wrong.

    Consider the phrases “very tall” and “not very short”. Those are the same kind of statement—about degrees of tallness—but they are clearly not equivalent statements.”

    Textbook. Simply textbook.

  23. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Perhaps Sorbet did misinterpret. I have already acknowledged that I may have, and I’ve even apologized to Sheril for it. What more do you want in that particular regard?

    You were the one who first misattributed the post to Mooney, which is what I was joking about.

    And it was a joke. I think I may have misattributed the posting it to Mooney, within the confines of my own head, but I’m not sure.

    I’m not actually faulting you for misattributing the post to Mooney, because it is a mistake that I acknowledge that I might have made myself—I thought that was clear from my saying “whew!”, etc. like I’d dodged that bullet—and anyway I didn’t notice the mistake, and compounded it.

    I’ve acknowledged that and apologized to Sheril for that too, but perhaps not explicitly enough.

    If it wasn’t obvious it was just a joke—and, admittedly, a snarky one—I’m sorry for that.

    On the other hand, it wasn’t an example of the supposed nefarious pattern you try to fit it into.

    I am not trying to reframe and refit things in a way to shift meanings and evade responsibility.

    I thought I made it utterly clear in the other thread that I think that fundamentalism is mainly an extreme form of orthodoxy. I even used the same analogy to tallness as a spectrum, with

    1) no clear lines (e.g., between tallness and not-tallness or between fundamentalism and nonfundamentalist orthodoxy) but nonetheless)

    2) exhibiting very real and important differences (e.g., between clearly tall and clearly short people, or between fundamentalists and orthodox non-fundamentalists)

    It’s basically a continuum.

    Go back and read the earlier discussion. I am trying mightily to be clear and consistent about what I mean about fundamentalism vs. orthodoxy, and if you don’t get it, you should have quibbled there, not here, where it’s off topic.

    (Unless somebody else here doesn’t get the distinction I’m making, and cares to have it explained.)

    For convenience in Taking It Outside and avoiding clogging this thread up with pedantic stuff, here’s the link to that thread:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/11/30/my-latest-podcast-at-books-and-ideas/

    We can try to out-pedant each other over there if you want, and anybody who cares can follow us.

    But be warned. I can open out a big can of pedantry.

    (By the way, that’s a sort-of joke.)

  24. Sorbet

    Excuse me, but I never said Mooney is giving a free pass to religion in this post. I made a general statement about not giving religion a free pass because it is evolutionarily explained. Believe whatever you want, but that’s what I meant. I would appreciate it if the two of you would not drag me into your kerfuffle.

  25. Paul W.

    Good point, Sorbet. Sorry if I misattributed or misinterpreted something, all around.

    And of course you’re right about not giving religion a free pass on this, irrespective of who is or isn’t trying to do that.

  26. bilbo

    I never meant to attribute that to you, Sorbet – and I actually didn’t. In fact, I expressed uncertainty about it: “Maybe you weren’t insinuating that he was. If not, I’m not talking about you below.”

    For now the third time in this single thread, Paul is pinning positions to people that those people do not hold, and then parading those faux positions around as fodder for character assassination.

    Whenever a person does that, they typically have had their legs cut out from under them and are on their bloody stumps in the corner, flailing indiscriminately. This case is no different.

    (To Paul: the last rambling rationalization post to clear up your purposefully vague statements (now also in its third installment for this thread) only reinforces your leglessness. Thanks for exemplifying my points about NA quasi-argument).

  27. Sorbet

    Not a problem. Thanks for the cordial discussion.

  28. Paul W.

    Sheril and Chris,

    Do you consider this kind of stuff—naturalistic evolutionary accounts of religion—to be scientifically bogus?

    I’m not asking whether you think it’s true, but rather whether you think it’s not scientific to theorize about religion this way, to study it empirically, etc., and to draw scientific conclusions?

    It seems to me that if you don’t think it’s bogus, that pretty dramatically undercuts one of the two main points you very frequently make against the New Atheists.

    You generally argue that science and religion (or faith) are “perfectly compatible,” and basically say that science can’t disprove religion or The Divine, science can’t study the supernatural, and so on—and further, that the New Atheists are philosophically naive and unscientific for even talking as though scientific knowledge undermines religion, or could debunk it.

    You frequently take them to task for thinking science can study the supernaturalist claims, and scientifically undermine religious beliefs. You even make them out to be philosophically naive for (allegedly) not understanding methodological naturalism, and (allegedly) conflating it with full-blown naturalism.

    It seems to me that this sort of work is exactly what the New Atheists are talking about when they that science can (and even does) shed light on the nature of religion itself, and proceed to cast serious doubt on its truth claims.

    You say that science can’t study the supernatural, or various things to that effect—but that is exactly what this sort of work turns out to do, if it’s not fundamentally misguided and unscientific.

    If studying the supernatural is ruled out of science, so is this kind of work, because it has clear implications for which supernaturalist claims can be true or justified. By implication, it is off limits too.

    If you give a convincing naturalistic account of religion, involving no actual supernatural entities or events causing people to have justifiable true beliefs about the supernatural, you have just proven most religious beliefs to be either wrong, or at best unjustified, Sheril and Chris,

    Do you consider this kind of stuff—naturalistic evolutionary accounts of religion—to be scientifically bogus?

    I’m not asking whether you think it’s true, but rather whether you think it’s not scientific to theorize about religion this way, to study it empirically, etc., and to draw scientific conclusions?

    It seems to me that if you don’t think it’s bogus, that pretty dramatically undercuts one of the two main points you usually make against the New Atheists.

    You generally argue that science and religion (or faith) are “perfectly compatible,” and basically say that science can’t disprove God or The Divine, science can’t study the supernatural, and so on—and further, that the New Atheists are philosophically naive and unscientific for even talking as though scientific knowledge undermines religion, or could debunk it.

    You frequently take them to task for thinking science can study supernaturalist claims, and scientifically undermine religious beliefs. You even make them out to be philosophically naive for (allegedly) not understanding methodological naturalism, and (allegedly) conflating it with full-blown naturalism.

    It seems to me that this sort of work—the naturalistic explanation of religion—is exactly what the New Atheists are talking about when they say that science can (and even does) shed light on the nature of religion itself, and proceed to cast serious doubt on its truth claims.

    If studying the supernatural is ruled out of science, so too is this kind of work, because it has clear implications for which supernaturalist claims can be true or justified. By implication, it is off limits too.

    If you give a convincing naturalistic account of religion, involving no actual supernatural entities or events causing people to have justifiable true beliefs about the supernatural, you have just proven most religious beliefs to be either wrong, or at best unjustified—and some fundamental ones to be clearly wrong, because those beliefs intrinsically involve justification.

    Most religious people do not simply believe that supernatural entities exist, and that they just coincidentally happen to believe in them. They believe that their beliefs are justified by, and caused by, the actual effects of actual supernatural entities on them, or someone they trust, or the larger world.

    (Maybe divine revelation, maybe personal experience of the divine, maybe miracles… but some kind of of causal link between an actual supernatural thing and the belief in that particular thing.)

    A successful purely naturalistic theory of religion would show most religious beliefs (at least supernaturalistic ones) to be something like popular delusions—they are either wrong or only coincidentally right.

    Either way, they are not generally what they typically purport to be, namely the consequences of actual supernatural entities and events.

    Whether that in fact is true—as I personally think it is—is not my question.

    My question is whether it’s a scientific question, or ruled out of the domain of science by the (alleged) rule of methodological naturalism.

  29. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Bloody stumps? Right.

    Get a grip.

  30. bob

    What was the point of this entry? It offers nothing of substance, and makes it seem like you two have no idea why people are criticizing you. I simply can’t believe that you *still* don’t.

    Since it apparently needs to be asked: do you understand that a scientific explanation for why people have faith neither intellectually justifies their faith nor morally justifies actions based on their faith? You don’t seem to. If xenophobia is similarly explained, would that have any bearing on it’s validity? Ought we tolerate it? I’ll also ask the same question for altruism, lest one of your sycophants start crying about how mean I am rather than address my point.

    This is as bad a swing and miss as when Mooney points out that lots of scientists are Christians as if it’s profound and refutes all critiques of his points. (Reminder: it doesn’t.) You know, come to think of it, you two still don’t get it, do you? Congrats, you’ve changed my mind.

  31. Paul W.

    Damn. Editing fail—bunch of doubled text in my last comment. (I was editing previewing it in another program, to avoid italics fails… and did a paste fail instead. *sigh*)

    Very sorry.

  32. Paul W.

    bob,

    Since it apparently needs to be asked: do you understand that a scientific explanation for why people have faith neither intellectually justifies their faith nor morally justifies actions based on their faith?

    Quite true, but it goes way further than that. A naturalistic explanation of faith not only doesn’t intellectualy justify it, it generally soundly debunks it.

    And often, you debunk their peculiar “morality” as well. (Not very, very, basic moral intuitions, but most specifically religious claims about particular moral isses—e.g., God’s supposed preferences for and against particular kinds of sex lose a lot of force if belief in God is shown to be a delusion.)

  33. bilbo

    ..and there goes bob, assuming that Mooney was endorsing a position again. Do I really need to bring up the old “pin a faux position on someone so you can argue against them” gag again?

    Idiot.

  34. Paul W.

    It would be really nice if the accommodationists here actually read the books by the people “on their side” and acknowledged what it actually says.

    Some people like to trot out David Sloan Wilson as an example of a good scientist studying religion who thinks that religion is a good thing, and even assume that he and Elliot Sober, his philosopher coauthor, are on their side.

    That is only true in one sense, and only weakly. David Sloan Wilson freely acknowledges that he hates Richard Dawkins—Dawkins is the man “he loves to hate,” he says—but on the most important scientific and philosophy-of-science points, Wilson completely agrees with the new atheists.

    He, too, thinks it’s nonsense to say that science is compatible with faith, or that science can’t study the supernatural. (In the only sense the NA’s actually think it can.)

    He thinks that religious belief systems are mostly something that you might unflatteringly call popular delusions—self-sustaining complexes of belief that are not grounded in real evidence, and are sustained by our evolved biases.

    He believes that Dawkins is right about the God delusion. He’s too polite to use a loaded term like “delusion,” but he agrees.

    He is a thoroughoing naturalist, not just a methodological naturalist, and that’s not just his “personal” or “philosophical” position. It is his position as a scientist, and as a scientist whose field of expertise is the study of religion.

    He flatly rejects Mooney and Kirschenbaum’s convenient slogans from Forrest, Scott, and Pennock, which they constantly use to bash the New Atheists.

    If Mooney and Kirschenbaum really believed those things and were consistent, they’d have to say about Wilson what they say about Dawkins:

    1. He’s misrepresenting what he says as “science,” when it’s really just a philosophical position, not a scientific one. (Never mind that very many scientists and philosophers of science agree with Dawkins—and Wilson—that such distinctions are bogus.)

    2. He’s not a philosopher, so people should listen to Forrest and realize that Wilson is a scientist who’s gone off the reservation and should not be presenting his views in public as anything but his own idiosyncratic, personal philosophical position. (Never mind that Forrest’s convenient slogans are not representative of anything remotely like a consensus in philosophy of science, as Mooney and Kirshenbaum would like us to believe, and philosophers of science don’t consider her an authority on the issue.)

    3. His project is obviously doomed, like the New Atheists’, or at least not scientific, because “faith and science are perfectly compatible,” science can’t study the supernatural, methodological naturalism rules the supernatural out of the domain of science, it is hubris for such apallingly scientistic scientists to pretend they can answer deep questions about religion, morality, etc., etc., etc. (All of those criticisms apply at least as much to Wilson as to the New Atheists.)

    4. We don’t need to listen to Wilson’s specific claims or arguments because prominent philosophers like Forrest and Pennock clearly imply that he’s just talking out of his personal, ideological, axe-grinding ass—-we don’t need to bother understanding or addressing his specific claims or arguments. (Never mind that the bulk of even more prominent philosophers of science, like Sober and Kitcher and Dennett, think that what he’s doing is just dandy.)

    Consistency demands that the accommodationists condemn Wilson’s entire project, in no uncertain terms. Obviously, nobody should listen to a word the man says!

    I can’t wait for all you oh-so-consistent accommodationists to slam Wilson as a scientistic, hubristic philistine, whine about how he doesn’t have a sufficient appreciation of soteriology because he’s so fixated on epistemology, dismiss him as a raving loon, and so on. (Anything else would be utterly hypocritical.)

    I’ll get the popcorn.

  35. Paul W.

    ..and there goes bob, assuming that Mooney was endorsing a position again. Do I really need to bring up the old “pin a faux position on someone so you can argue against them” gag again?

    Jeez, bilbo, how many errors can you pack into a two-line comment. (A hat trick at least.)

    bob didn’t assume that Mooney was endorsing a particular opinion in this particular post—and he didn’t attribute the post to Mooney. (It’s from Kirschenbaum.)

    He attributed a position to Mooney, and there’s ample evidence for that.

    He explicitly did not attribute a position to this post—-he said it failed to say the interesting stuff. It peculiarly failed to comment on the very interesting implications for Mooney and Kirschenbaum’s long-standing positions.

    I agree with him on that. The topic of this post is extremely relevant to Mooney and Kirschenbaum’s stated positions and agenda, and it’s puzzling why they would post it without a significant comment endorsing or critizing some of the ideas and noting some of the implications.

    Its not off-topic for bob to bring those things up on this blog and specifically in this thread. It’s entirely relevant.

    Inquiring minds want to know how Mooney and Kirschenbaum square this stuff with chapter 8 of their recent book, and a slew of blog posts over the last two years…

    Why they don’t reject the main ideas of this work the way they reject the very same ideas—decisively, emphatically, and condescendingly—when they come from the New Atheists?

    Why are Wilson and Wade seemingly off the hook for the unforgivable and ridiculous sins of Dawkins and Dennett, when they say the very same things?

  36. John Kwok

    I’ve heard Columbia University philosopher of science Philip Kitcher say that he believes religion has been important to humanity simply for helping to strengthen individual ties to the community (And by this, he does emphasize in the best sense of comunity building, not to cast some kind of dark, devious motive of the kind we have seen from Militant Atheists posting here and elsewhere online.).

    I heard Nicholas Wade interviewed on the John Batchelor radio show (which I recommend as a program which does try to present both sides of an issue where possible, though to my disappointment, Batchelor, while accepting evolution as valid science, is more skeptical about global warming in light of ClimateGate.) this past weekend, though I found their conversation quite interesting, I will have to wait until I read Wade’s book before making up my mind.

  37. bob

    Paul W, thanks for the backup. bilbo, thanks for your (non)response. It’s my fault, really … I’d assumed I covered my bases against you Intersection lapdogs. How naive of me.

    John Kwok, your last comment has the same problem that the original entry does. Two word response: so what? Nice job working in a dig at the “New Atheists,” though, even if it was kind of a strawman. I’m sure one of you putzes will quotemine one of your Great Satan “New Atheists” to “prove” me wrong, but I don’t think most atheists would agree that religion never offered any benefits to early human society.

    But, hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good story, right? That’s just framing, isn’t it?

  38. Paul W.

    John

    I’ve heard Columbia University philosopher of science Philip Kitcher say that he believes religion has been important to humanity simply for helping to strengthen individual ties to the community (And by this, he does emphasize in the best sense of comunity building, not to cast some kind of dark, devious motive of the kind we have seen from Militant Atheists posting here and elsewhere online.).

    None of that is objectionable to me.

    I agree with Kitcher that religion has been often been important in strengthening community ties—pretty clearly. It helps to create, demark, and strengthen in-groups. That’s uncontroversial, even among New Atheists.

    But you can’t stop there—especially if you take Sober and Wilson seriously.

    The fact that religion does that doesn’t mean that religion is necessary to do that. Some recent empirical studies suggest that in more secular and progressive countries (like Denmark and the Netherlands), as religion declines people find other things to organize social groups around. It’s a human need or want that religion often steps in to fill, and defends its turf, but in the absence of religion other things will step in and do the same job, more or less. (Various kinds of social, political, and miscellaneous special interest organizations.) Many people do have a fairly strong impulse to be part of something larger than themselves, and with some kind of meaning for them, but they can generally find that just fine without religion.

    The fact that religion encourages cohesive groups is also a very, very mixed bag, for very basic reasons that are one of the themes of Sober and Wilsons Unto Others.

    If you understand group selection and why it’s important—really, do read Unto Others, it’s great—-you realize that the selective pressure for group cohesion is usually mostly to provide advantages in competing with other groups.

    That is where most of the advantage of group selection—winning against other groups in zero-sum situations (e.g., somebody gets the land or resources or politial power—and somebody else doesn’t)).

    Group cohesion can be beneficial in other ways, certainly, but that is the main driver—cold blooded society-red-in-tooth-and-claw competition. Without that driver, group selection is much less likely to work, because individual selection is so much stronger in most situations.

    So Kitcher may not have mentioned the downside, or really the horribly-mixed-bag side, but it’s there, and it’s there, it’s fundamental, and it’s major.

    That’s basically the same as the individual selectionist story, just applied to social units. It’s mostly a story of competition to survive, and where there’s a winner, there’s usually a loser, or several losers.

    Sober and Wilson are pretty explicit about that. One of the functions of social enforcement of belief systems is to prevent a lot of destructive exploitation of members of the in-group—useless, inefficient no-win competition—-but to justify the exploitation of other groups.

    A group that isn’t willing to exploit outsiders is generally at a disadvantage to one that is, and will generally lose in the long run. It’s horrible, but its a fact, just like the horrible facts of natural selection more generally.

    If you don’t understand that, you do not understand Wilson’s theory of the social functions of religion.

    Seriously, guys, if you think that Wilson agrees with you about science vs. religion, you really ought to actually read his stuff. It undermines your accommodationist rhetoric more than it supports it.

    This has nothing to do with “militant” atheists reading dark, nefarious stuff into group selection. Dark, nefarious stuff is largely what group selection is about. Its largely about things analogous to predator/prey relationships and parasitism, occuring at the level of groups.

    Sure, there’s some nice symbiotic stuff going on, too, but it is not a pretty, warm and fuzzy world view overall. It’s a horribly mixed bag, if you apply human values to it.

    (Why would anybody expect a Darwinistic story to be otherwise? Anybody but an accomodationist, that is.)

  39. Paul W.

    Let me clarify a mangled paragraph above.

    When I say that the main driver of group selection is the advantage in competing against other groups, in “zero-sum” situations, it’s really broader than it seems. A lot of non-zero-sum situations are mostly zero-sum situations, or very similar to zero sum situations in terms of what group selection can get a grip on and select for.

    So really, it’s not just zero-sum situations. There are way more situations that are nearly-zero-sum (with some overall benefit) or quasi-zero-sum (where the same kind of selection pressures dominate, even if there’s an overall benefit or loss).

    That’s a sad fact about group selection. Even if there’s a non-zero-sum game, and a potential generally beneficial solution, competitive effects often dominate, the evolutinary search does not find the overall benefit, and you get random positive and negative aggregate effects. 100 steps forward and 99 steps back… and a whole lot of people getting screwed over along the way.

  40. Paul W.

    Funny, bilbo and Kwok are here, and I’m guessing some other flaming accommodationists are lurking, but there’s no firestorm of invective against D.S. Wilson.

    Seriously, the guy is blandly agreeing with the new atheists on all their major points about epistemic naturalism vs. full-blown naturalism, the ability of science to study religion and its truth claims—juicy quotes on request!—and all that stuff.

    He’s blithely ignoring the rule about methodological naturalism! He’s parading his horrendously NOMA-violating personal, unscientific philosophical views around in public as though they were scientific!

    He must be stopped!

    Where is the outrage?

  41. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. -

    I meant to say, “Jerry Coyne has endorsed Myers as a first-rate mind online at least once, and probably, far more often than I wish to remember”.

  42. TB

    @ 21 Bilbo:

    That’s an interesting point. Thank you, you helped me figure out something regarding Paul W.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that he’s also doing a kind of “gish gallop” http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=Gish_gallop

    Witness, the last 13 posts (ending with # 41 and not counting this one), nine of them were Paul’s. Some were replies to his own replies.

    Long, multiple posts that demand way too much time to reply. So, of course, the proper strategy is the one you’ve employed – pick one thing to address and then ask: If he’s unreliable here, why should we take the time to show he’s unreliable elsewhere?

  43. TB

    BTW, is it ironic that I just used the rationalwiki to point out a tactic, formerly used by creationists, but now perhaps unintentionally used by a NA?

    Or is it more like rain on your wedding day?

  44. Paul W.

    TB,

    I’m not the one doing a Gish Gallop, at least not intentionally, and I hope not inexcusably.

    I’d be perfectly happy to have a serious and focused discussion of the two central points I came here with.

    Unfortunately, I never get a straight answer to either of my two main points, from anybody, including you.

    Those two points are the two main bones of contention between the accommodationists and the New Atheists—the two main issues that Mooney and Kirschenbaum harp on, over and over again for years, but refuse to even acknowledge the New Atheists actual positions on.

    So it’s not like I’m dragging the conversation off topic with my perpetually unanswered questions—I’m directly addressing the main points of anti-New Atheist rhetoric.

    Meanwhile, other people here clearly stonewalling about those two main points, and raising all kinds of irrelevant issues. Then if I respond, I’m accused of doing a Gish Gallop.

    Sorry, but it is evidently the accommodationists here who chronically divert, change the subject, and throw out a whole slew of irrelevant points, arguments from authority, etc. And they do it with a stream of ad hominems and arguments from authority, rather than addressing the two main issues.

    So pardon me if I say thats BS, TB.

    Sure, I may go kinda off-topic sometimes, but it usually comes around to those two main issues you guys are studiously avoiding while reserving the right to beg exactly those two questions.

    Put up or shut up, or just get used to me hanging around talking about this or that related topic while I wait for somebody—anybody—to get serious about the main points of the controversy.

    Consider our previous discussion. You derailed it with issues about whether I was slagging Rob Pennock. I wasn’t, and after going around in circles about that, you acknowledged that—and then you bailed on the discussion of the two main, utterly on-topic, absolutely central issues.

    And pretty much everything I’ve said in this thread is about those issues too.

    I would be glad to continue our discussion if you’re actually interested in discussing, rather than trolling. We could talk about the two main issues, for once.

    Or we could go back to discussing Pennock. I just happen to have his book here, and was recently rereading chapter 4, and I think it’s an interesting question whether Mooney and Kirschenbaum quote-mined Pennock.

    I don’t think his view of methodological naturalism is as simplistic as they make it out to be, when they quote him to bash Dawkins, et al. on supposedly basic philosophical grounds. (I suspect that’s true of Forrest as well, but don’t have her book immediately to hand.)

    This isn’t Gish Gallop I’m doing. I’m pointing out that the post at the top of this thread is entirely relevant to the two main bones of contention, and our previous conversation to boot. We could pick up where we left off, if you’re not just here to snipe and slag.

    But you are, aren’t you?

  45. Paul W.

    Shorter version: I’m not doing the Gish Gallop. You guys, collectively, are doing the Gish Square dance and blaming it on me.

  46. Paul W.

    TB,

    Since you’ve accused me of doing the Gish Gallop—raising more points than people can address in order to evade most of them—tell me this:

    1. What two questions have I asked, over and over?

    2. Aren’t those questions serious, and absolutely on topic on this blog?

    3. Have I ever gotten a serious answer—an actual answer even—from you?

    4. Have I ever gotten a serious answer—an actual answer—from anyone here?

    5. What are some of the most important questions I’ve been asked?

    6. Are they as relevant to the New Atheism vs. accommodationism controversy that people evidently are quite worked up about?

    7. Have I failed to answer them?

    Seriously. What crucial point(s) have I evaded in my alleged “gallop”? What crucial point(s) has anyone else addressed?

    If you can’t give a decent answer, or don’t give an answer at all, I’m not the one being evasive, am I?

  47. Paul W.

    BTW, when I suggest that Mooney and Kirshenbaum may have quote-mined Pennock, I don’t mean to say that they did it intentionally.

    Pennock’s chapter 4 of Tower of Babel is written rather oddly, and with some apparent inconsistencies. (On my current reading, anyhow—and I’m not saying that’s intentional, either, even if true. I think it mostly makes sense, given his emphases, but you have to be careful how you interpret it.)

    BTW, for anybody thinking I’m galloping madly off-topic, this is very relevant the post.

    The simplistic slogan-like pithy from Forrest and Pennock that M & K use to bash the New Atheism are likely not representative of the subtleties of Forrest and Pennock’s actual positions.

    And those are the slogans that M & K have, so far, conspicuously failed to use to bash Wilson and Wade, who are equally valid targets. (Wilson anyway. I haven’t read Wade’s book.)

    It seems to me that Pennock leaves some wiggle room, sometimes, in the idea of methodological naturalism, in a couple of ways.

    One is that he says it’s “not dogmatic,” but “heuristic,” i.e., just a rule of thumb.

    So I’m guessing Pennock himself would not bash the New Atheists over naturalisms in the simple way Mooney and Kirshenbaum do.

    Another way he leaves wiggle room is by talking about the consequences of not following the rule of thumb, e.g., that it makes it reasonable to put at least some theological questions into the realm of scienctific inquiry.

    Given that he’s arguing against creationists, that mostly seems like a warning to them, that you don’t want to go there, because if they do, they’d have to admit some really interesting things as being scientific questions, like the Problem of Evil.

    That’s really interesting. Basically, if that interpretation is right, he’s not saying that you can’t go there. He’s saying that creationists, or more generally orthodox religious people, shouldn’t want to go there because it would open them up to attacks by people like the New Atheists.

    Which is, of course, part of why the New Atheists do want to go there. They think that if you make truth claims about effects of the supernatural world on the material world, you are intellectually responsible for the implications. There’s no basic reason why the supernatural isn’t a valid subject of scientific scrutiny, and things like the Problem of Evil are not intrinsically out of realm of science.

    If your supernaturalist theory is falsifiable—if makes interesting claims about relatively understandable and regular things—it is within the legitimate realm of science. The magisteria overlap there.

    I think that Pennock’s main point is that the creationists can’t have their cake and eat it too—if they put the superatural in the realm of science, they will not like the consequences. They’ll have to play the science game, and they will lose, because they’ll get called on their BS (e.g., most orthodox theodicy).

    (By the way, TB, note what I’m doing here. What I’m saying is on topic here, and I’m getting back to a couple of issues we left hanging in the earlier thread that you bailed out of. That might not be as simple and tight and focused a discussion as you’d like, but it is not a Gish Gallop. It’s a serious attempt to address the outstanding issues—and among other things, at least trying to do justice to Pennock’s views.)

  48. TB

    Four replies! That’s awesome!

  49. Paul W.

    TB,

    Here’s another. Let me be so bold as to actually address an issue you raised in that earlier thread, which you galloped away from.

    You raised the issue of why, if the quote from Pennock is wrong, he’s such a hotshot authority on the subject and Judge Jones took him so seriously, and so on.d

    You even threatened to go tattle on me to Pennock!

    My previous comment should shed some light on what I think Pennock actually thinks, and why he put things the way he did at Dover and why the Thomas More Law Center lawyers would let it pass.

    The methodological naturalism line isn’t a hard and fast rule, as Mooney and Kirschenbaum would have it. It is a rule of thumb as Pennock says, and it’s one that avoids a lot of practical trouble.

    The Thomas More Center lawyers do not want to do anything that causes that kind of practical trouble for orthodox religiion. (Think about the name Thomas More.)

    As Pennock implies they shouldn’t in his book they don’t want to go there. If they can’t have their cake and eat it too, they will wimp out and not force the issue full-strength.

  50. Paul W.

    TB, I just saw your comment saying you’d replied in the other thread, and I’m happy to take it over there, but I already have a post relevant to that thread in moderation here. Sorry.

  51. bob

    Hey now, Paul W might be verbose and might have a tendency to qualify his comments to the point that he’s nearly talking to himself, but I wouldn’t say he’s Gish Galloping. He doesn’t seem to run from point-to-point in an effort to prevent someone from adequately addressing each point, which is what a GG is. But, hey, why let reality get in the way of a good comeback? No one else here does.

    Oh, and Paul W, I have to take issue with something you said:

    “Sorry, but it is evidently the accommodationists here who chronically divert, change the subject, and throw out a whole slew of irrelevant points, arguments from authority, etc. And they do it with a stream of ad hominems and arguments from authority, rather than addressing the two main issues.”

    You called this BS, but I’m pretty sure this is called “framing.” :-P

  52. TB

    @ 51 Bob

    “You called this BS, but I’m pretty sure this is called “framing.” ”

    No, it’s called a strawman, Bob.

    And, I said he was doing a “a kind of “gish gallop,” and as that definition I linked to includes “strawmen,” it’s not too far off the mark.

    Thanks for playing, though!

  53. John Kwok

    @ bob -

    Unlike you or Paul W., I don’t have time to argue incessantly with Militant Atheists such as yourselves. Have more important fish to fry like going after far more worthy targets like delusional creos such as Stephen Meyer.

    @ Paul W. -

    Chris has held up one of my longer comments in moderation which I hope he will post soon, but I won’t lose sleep if he doesn’t. Or will I cry and whine and moan, unlike someone else here at this discussion thread.

  54. bob

    TB, well done missing the fact that I was being sarcastic. I assumed it was clear, and I apologize for continually expecting too much from you folks. Also, bravo for scanning the rationalwiki article for a tiny bit that makes you feel vaguely correct. Do you understand that someone can argue against a strawman (not that Paul W is) yet not do a gish gallop? Maybe you could look up Venn diagrams while you’re reading articles, if that will help you visualize this point.

    John Kwok, thank you for your non-response. I’m sure your time is VERY important; why else would you be here, responding that you don’t have the time to respond? If you can find some time to spare, learn how to turn a phrase. “Have more important fish to fry like going after far more worthy targets like delusional creos such as Stephen Meyer”? Yeesh.

  55. Paul W.

    By the way, I would like to note that TB has made an actual effort to address some real points in the other thread (the “What Would Bridge the New Atheist/Accomodationist Divide?” thread), and to point out some points he thinks I have not addressed. (At at least one of which I actually hadn’t, when we left off before.)

    He’s exempt from my criticism that “none of you” has made an actual effort to address real points. (The last time I recall anyone making a serious effort to address real issues, it was him, in that thread.)

    We haven’t gotten around to the two major bones of contention, but hey, it’s something.

  56. Paul W.

    bob: You called this BS, but I’m pretty sure this is called “framing.”

    TB: No, it’s called a strawman, Bob.

    TB, check out this comment in the other thread, where I give the example you’d asked for a few weeks ago:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/10/28/what-would-bridge-the-nasty-new-atheistaccommodationist-divide/comment-page-4/#comment-40511

    I think you’ll see why bob is being snarky about deceptive framing—It’s Mooney using a big straw man, not bob.

  57. gillt

    Supporting a statement that says “religion is one of the most powerful forces in the world” and then imply that faith is beyond the reach of objective scrutiny is admitting you’re in favor of maintaining a status quo. Faith is all too often the word the people duck behind when they don’t want their superstitions criticized.

    Since religions are such a powerful forces in the world they must be dragged kicking and screaming into the open marketplace of ideas and left to fend for themselves. Of course, if religion was equivalent to favorite pastime, like fishing, then no one would care, except PETA.

  58. J.J.E.

    Out of curiosity Sheril, would you care to define “irreligious intolerance”, give a few examples, and contrast it with vigorous disagreement? I’d be interested in hearing your view on it. A few people have asked Chris about it, and I guess he thinks that isn’t an interesting question, because he usually* glosses over it. Perhaps you are less shy about sharing your opinion on these questions?

    * I say usually to hedge my bets. He might have contrasted vigorous disagreement in a post I haven’t read, but I’ve never yet known him to actually address it.

  59. TB

    @55 Bob
    Bob: “TB, well done missing the fact that I was being sarcastic.”

    No, I saw what you did there. You were being dismissive and I was simply countering that. If you want more, that’s fine. It’d be easier on us both if you just clicked the link I provided. It’s not a long article, but it answered my questions.

    Bob: “Also, bravo for scanning the rationalwiki article for a tiny bit that makes you feel vaguely correct. Do you understand that someone can argue against a strawman (not that Paul W is) yet not do a gish gallop? ”

    You weren’t bringing up a strawman, Paul was in the quote you commented on.

    Now, there were actually a couple of hurdles to using the idea of a Gish Gallop to describe Paul’s behavior.

    First, the GG had always been a spoken word exercise – would it apply to online communication? Checking that article we find that, yes, it has – the behavior of a specific blogger is cited. Therefore, it’s not too much of a stretch to apply it to commentator on a blog.

    I mean, c’mon – he’s posting replies to something written in one thread into other threads!

    Second, does the content of Paul’s writings meet any of the criteria of a GG? And again the answer is yes: strawman is specifically mentioned. The rest of the criteria mentioned is pretty harsh and up to the individual to judge.

    In addition, the article includes advice on how to deal with a gish galloper: “   …narrow the debate down to a single topic…”

    Done and done.

    So, I’m going to reply to him one more time in that other thread (where he’s already replied twice there, and once here). But I’m not going to engage him much beyond that.

  60. TB

    Correction – he’s posted there THREE times now!

  61. Paul W.

    Correction – he’s posted there THREE times now!

    Hey, at least you can count, even if you can’t read.

    You’re the one doing the gish gallop. If I address the points you raise—basically misconceptions about what I’ve been saying and why, like thinking I was seriously slagging Rob Pennock—then you complain about the posts you asked for.

    Clearly, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

    And of course, when you narrow on in one thing, to avoid a Gish Gallop that you invented, it’s not one of the basic points—it’s a sideshow.

    Even if I was just slagging Rob Pennock, the issue is whether the quote from him that M & K use simplistically is actually true in that sense, and justifies the way they slag the New Atheists over naturalism. (But curiously, not Wilson and Wade for saying the same things.)

    But of course, you’re not interested in that, because it’s relevant to the controversy.

    And yes, doof, I will sometimes comment in one thread about comments in another thread—especially if you keep coming back here and saying OMFG! about my posting over there.

    Stop being such a paranoid git.

  62. gillt

    A classic example of Mooney’s idea of “irreligious intolerance” is Crackergate. However, Mooney and Sheril systematically misrepresent the events surrounding it in both Unscientific America and on this blog, which makes the term meaningless at this moment.

  63. Paul W.

    J.J.E. @ 59

    Out of curiosity Sheril, would you care to define “irreligious intolerance”, give a few examples, and contrast it with vigorous disagreement? I’d be interested in hearing your view on it. A few people have asked Chris about it, and I guess he thinks that isn’t an interesting question, because he usually* glosses over it. [...] He might have contrasted vigorous disagreement in a post I haven’t read, but I’ve never yet known him to actually address it.

    I’ve read almost everything Chris has said about the New Atheists, and don’t think Chris has ever made clear where he thinks the line is between being outspoken about a disagreement and being “intolerant.”

    It seems pretty clear that he thinks most outspoken disagreement about religion per se is intolerant—the kind of strong disagreement he himself constantly engages in about politics.

    The only explanations he ever gives of why the standards of “respect” are so radically different for discussions of religion than for discussions of science is a pragmatic one—we should be nice to the religious because they are the majority, many of them can be our allies against the fundamentalists, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    There’s a lot of merit to that sort of strategic thinking—and I think the New Atheists have known that all along, but have different strategies in mind some of the time. (E.G. Overton Window strategies, which require that not everybody play nice all the time, and that some people be hardasses.)

    While there’s merit to accommodationist arguments for refraining from criticicizing our friends, that doesn’t make such criticism intolerant.

    It’s really saying that we should go beyond the kind of toleration we normally exhibit in civil discourse, and feign respect for views that we actually think are quite wrong.

    What Sheril should explain is why refusing to feign respect—for, say, substance dualist conceptions of the soul, or the dogma of transubstantiation—is actually intolerant when talking about religion, but a similar bluntness about climate denialism is right and proper.

    Or are Sheril and Chris intolerant of climate denialists views?

    (I hope it’s obvious that I don’t think that’s the right word—I think their criticisms of climate denialism are uncompromising but entirely civil, and that they’re generally correct. Go team!)

    My own view is that what the New Atheists are criticizingis a kind of denialism. People who say that “science can’t study the supernatural” and “faith and science are perfectly compatible” are in denial.

    Science can study the supernatural—e.g., all the failures to detect psychic abilities in controlled experiments, and the kind of work that D.S. Wilson does explaining religion in naturalistic terms. (Which seems to actually be dandy with Chris and Sheril at the moment, despite its implications thoroughly destroying one of their two major criticisms of the NA’s.)

    Science and faith are not compatible, in their basic principles or in their specific truth claims. There is specific scientific knowledge that contradicts major tenets of every popular religion (e.g., assumptions about the existence and/or nature of a possible dualistic soul).

    There is specific scientific knowledge that undermines the overall approach of all traditional religion, as well, by casting extreme doubt on the validity of religous means of acquiring knowledge. Scientific studies of the brain and mind make it pretty clear that we should be extremely skeptical of the kind of subjective experiences that most people assume provide religious evidence “beyond the reach of science,” and historical and cross-cultural evidence pretty clearly show that divine revelations of supposed religious “truths” are generally no such thing.

    Sheril and Chris generally oppose “god of the gaps” reasoning, up to a point.

    The New Atheists are “intolerant” because they don’t accept Sheril and Chris’s politically-motivated stopping point.

    The New Atheists oh-so-rudely (but correctly) point out that the gaps for God to reside in are even fewer and smaller than Sheril and Chris are comfortable admitting. Modern brain science and cognitive science pretty well destroy basic tenets of not just fundamentalism, but religious orthodoxy as well.

    Sheril and Chris are cognitive science denialists, and label people “intolerant” if they don’t pander to that kind of denialism about that particular subject.

  64. John Kwok

    @ bob -

    Think you and the other Militant Atheists need to recognize who the real enemies are, of which the Dishonesty Institute’s Stephen Meyer is among the most notable. I simply don’t have time to waste to engage in ridiculous back and forth between you and the rest of your clique (In my spare time I have a substantial life outside of what I will do online, starting with revising an unpublished novel, for example.).

    @ gillt -

    Au contraire, but Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum (Any reason why you referred to Chris by his last name and Sheril only by her first (@ 63)?) have not misrepresented CrackerGate at all IMHO.

  65. Paul W.

    Au contraire, but Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum (Any reason why you referred to Chris by his last name and Sheril only by her first (@ 63)?) have not misrepresented CrackerGate at all IMHO.

    Did too!

    BTW, guessed that gillt addressed Sheril by first name because he was addressing her more directly—it’s her thread, and referring to Mooney by his last name because he’s more like a third person who isn’t present and participating.

    I know I have that tendency, i.e., to usually address bloggers by first name if I’m directly addressing them in the second person, but often use their last names when mostly talking about them to others in the third person.)

  66. Paul W.

    John: Think you and the other Militant Atheists need to recognize who the real enemies are

    Anybody who presents insulting straw men to deride and discredit my position is my opponent, if not my “enemy.”

    No way am I going to let that go pipe down about it as long as they keep doing it. That would be wrong, as well as self-destructive.

  67. Paul W.

    I take it, from the deafening silence, that nobody actually disagrees with me about D.S. Wilson’s work being an example of the incompatibility of science and religion that the New Atheists are talking about—studying religion as a natural phenomenon, and inevitably casting doubt on its truth claims.

    The scientific explanation of religion shows that people form and maintain religious beliefs for reasons other than their being true, and the hypothesis that they are true is superfluous and warranted. (Like thinking that Thor hurls thunderbolts, despite having a naturalistic explanation of lightning in terms of electrical charges.)

    The lack of warrant for religious truth claims undermines other religious truth claims. Most religious people generally believe that their religious beliefs are not just true, but more than coincidentally true—they believe that their beliefs in supernatural entities are caused by actual observable effects of supernatural entities (divine revelation, personal experience of the divine, actual effectiveness of prayer, etc.)

    D.S. Wilson is doing what the New Atheists say you can to, and Mooney and Kirshenbaum say you can’t.

    As usual, none of the accommodationists here will actually address the central issues. Nobody will even step up and agree with Sheril and Chris that “science can’t study the supernatural,” or that “faith and science are perfectly compatible.”

    Near as I can tell, nobody on their own side actually agrees with them. I doubt they even believe it themselves—I think that their simplistic slogans about science and religion/faith/the supernatural are just that—politically convenient talking points that they do not actually believe.

  68. bob

    Kwok sez: “Think you and the other Militant Atheists need to recognize who the real enemies are, of which the Dishonesty Institute’s Stephen Meyer is among the most notable.”

    The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. This is a subtle but important distinction: I’m not advocating a position, I’m advocating a process (science and skepticism). This is why so many people were bothered by Bill Maher getting an award that was somewhat science-based. Sure he’s an atheist, but for stupid reasons (probably because he’s anti-religious-right) and most importantly he’s a complete crank in many other regards.

    Good luck with your book …

  69. Paul W.

    bob,

    Nice analogy. I’m “intolerant” of Maher’s medical denialism in the same way I’m “intolerant” of neuroscience denialists, who pretend that science doesn’t undermine religion in a big way. (I’m talking about epistemic incompatibility, not the straw man kind of “compatibility” it’s generally answered with with by accommodationists—if they even pretend to address the issue at all, that is.)

  70. Paul W.

    Getting back to the original post…

    Sheril: in the end, despite all of the clamor from both extremes–and perpetual insistence that there is one way to live, to think, and to be–the truth is that we can only define faith for ourselves.

    This seems like a fundamental, propagandistic misrepresentation of the situation. Do you consider, say, Dennett an extremist because his scientific and philosophical belief is that in light of known science, traditional dualistic souls very probably do not exist? Do you consider him an extremist because he thinks that religion itself can clearly be explained naturalistically, and that the science suggests that it should be?

    Do you consider David Sloan Wilson an extremist for saying the very same things, and explaining and defending the latter at book length? (Darwin’s Cathedral—have you read it?)

    These are not extreme or unusual positions relative to informed scientific and philosophical opinion; they’re pretty unremarkable in that sense.

    They are only “extreme” relative to uninformed, unscientific, popular opinion.

    And the same is true of the position that the science behind vaccination is very solid, and vaccination is very learly a Good Thing, and more generally that alternative and complementary medicine are generally unscientific and just bogus

    Does the fact that many uninformed and/or kooky people disagree make Orac an extremist? Seriously, does it?

    Likewise, the definite position that global warming is real and substantially caused by humans is extreme, relative to uninformed, unscientific, popular opinion.

    Does that make you and Chris extremists?

    By your own logic, I think it does.

    I share Kristof’s hope that the coming crop of books marks an armistice in the religious wars moving away from both religious intolerance and irreligious intolerance.

    Why should we not hope for an armistice in the Evidence-based vs. alternative medicine wars? (Shouldn’t we tone that way down and just fight for vaccination, to avoid riling the alt-med types too much and losing that narrower battle.)

    Why should we not hope for an armistice in the climate wars? (Maybe we should just settle for the “moderate” position that global warming is real, rather than insisting that it’s caused by humans. Maybe we should be moderates on that, like Sarah Palin.)

    Why are you so extreme and intolerant of climate denialism in general, and medical denialism in general that you don’t hope for those things?

    And why on earth do you apparently buy Overton Window reasoning about those things, but not about religion and atheism?

    Why is it a good idea to push for such extreme positions? Aren’t you guys giving bad framing advice, by your own standards?

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

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

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