What Should Science Organizations Say About Religion? Answer: A Lot

By Chris Mooney | January 19, 2010 8:58 am

After the last post concerning Chad Orzel’s position on science and religion, I want to explore the central policy question here that seems to get everyone exercised, namely: What should the science/religion stance be for top science organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Science Education, etc?

Many “New Atheists” would argue that such organizations should stay silent on the question, and not lend credence to the view that science and religion can be compatible (even though they certainly can be for individual people, even if not in some grand philosophical way, as Orzel explains). Let me explain why I find the NA position to be exceedingly bad advice.

If you’re working in America today to promote the teaching or the public understanding of evolution, you are constantly going to be dealing with religious people–in various localities across the country; in regular queries through your website and by phone, and so on. Much of America is, after all, religious.

And that’s not all. Much of religious America has also been told, from various pulpits, by various friends, and by sundry New Atheists, that evolutionary science is incompatible with religion. This prevailing notion creates an incredible blockade preventing the acceptance of evolutionary science. For as we know from reams of polling data, in the United States, when you pit science against religion, science often loses.

Aware of this context, groups like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) take a stance likely to help some religious believers reject what they’ve been told from the pulpit, and move toward a more moderate stance on science and religion–in essence, from anti-science fundamentalism to middle-ground reconciliationism. To this end, NCSE states something factually true and indeed, undeniable: that not every religious person thinks science and religion are incompatible.

The veracity of this statement is not really open to debate. The issue here is simply whether such people exist, and of that there’s no doubt whatsoever. In this blunt factual sense, at least, science and religion are compatible–they are reconciled all the time by actual living, breathing human beings. You might take issue with the logical basis for such reconciliation in a particular mind, but you can’t deny that it happens regularly.

Moreover, if religion is the mental block that prevents a wider understanding and acceptance of evolution, then by seeking to remove that mental block, a group like NCSE is simply striving to be effective. Why should its hands be tied in this regard?

They shouldn’t. I mean, just picture the kind of conversations a representative of NCSE would have to have with a concerned religious believer if New Atheists were setting its policy:

Religious believer: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

NCSE: As a policy, we only talk about science and to not take any stance on religion. So we couldn’t comment on that.

Religious believer: I do have one friend who accepts evolution, but he stopped going to church too and that worries me.

NCSE: All we can really tell you is that evolution is the bedrock of modern biology, and universally accepted within the scientific community.

Religious believer: And I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion?

NCSE: ….

You get the point, I think. To me, it is obvious that, far from enforcing an unnecessary purism, a group like NCSE should be encouraged to speak with religious believers in terms they can understand, and in a way that will help them accept evolutionary science. The same goes for other science organizations.

Comments (285)

  1. Timothy Williamson

    Very good points. You can not win by using a hammer, but remember, time is on the side of the science community. Not once has science had to accept the views and ideology of any religion throughout time. They’ve had to go underground a few times, but in the end reason and logic prevail. Religion, on the other had, a generally after long periods of time, has tried to incorporate science into its’ system of belief – ie, geocentric vs heliocentric views, age of planet and universe, evolution, cosmic origins and beginnings, etc.
    Ultimately, time is on our side. Knowledge wins in the end. Patience is a virtue in the realm of science and in religions…..
    Every religion will re-evaluate it’s books and words and try to find the ‘best fit’, for science in their works for their people.

  2. Katharine

    … if scientific fact conflicts with someone’s religious beliefs, wouldn’t the logical thing for them to do be to change their beliefs?

  3. Katharine

    Realistically, I don’t know why the fact that there are people that do hold the view that they are compatible is significant.

    Partially because I don’t understand why anyone would actually want to be so logically unthorough.

    Who cares if it pisses a lot of people off? You and the NCSE and the NAS should KNOW that science isn’t about appeasement. It’s partially about putting the truth out, and sometimes that truth’s going to be uncomfortable for idiots who deny it.

  4. Pat

    All I can say is that I am glad that my college anthropology professor believed in the spiritual realm and I am glad she allowed us to keep an open mind.

  5. As an atheist who has been concerned for over seven years about the marginalization foisted upon atheism by extremist atheists, I am in complete agreement with your basic stance, but I do wonder what course is optimal here.

    The extremist atheists mirror the extremist theists; both seek under the guise of politically making science incompatible with all forms of religion to make their own version of religion or atheism the triumphantly dominating form.

    I agree with Chad Orzel and yourself that scientists such as yourselves need to stand up to the pressure of the extremists, whether theist or atheist; but even more so, reasonable atheists such as ourselves really do need to start organizing together so as to present a far better version of atheism to the general public.

  6. J.J.E.

    For those who agree with Chris and Chad and disagree with “anti-accommodationists” can you please tell me the difference between the following:

    Science is compatible with:
    1) lying/fraud;
    2) dogma;
    3) religious faith.

    I think your response will at least give me (and others like me) some insight into what makes religion so special as to merit special defense.

  7. Sorbet

    My personal preference is what I have stated before. I think the NCSE and others should by all means point out that there are religious scientists. But they should NOT then say that “science and religion are compatible”. The former as you noted is an undeniable fact whereas the latter is simply an assertion open to debate and discussion. In my opinion the NCSE should state the former and then leave it to people to make of it what they will.

    Again, as someone pointed out in a past thread, just because some scientists believe in astrology, would you then advocate saying that “science and astrology are compatible”? The same goes for science and religion.

  8. Jon

    That’s a winning strategy, J.J.E. Let’s ask all people who reconcile their religion and science what’s the difference between their “religious faith” and “lying/fraud”.

    It’s similar to, “can you tell me when you stopped beating your wife?” Or, “Can you tell me when you stopped associating with communists?” It strips all nuance off the possible answer and simply offends. No possibility for dialog. Either you accept my ridiculously simplified characterization of what you believe, or I shout you down and *make* you accept it. With this approach, don’t be surprised if some people offend back and reject science.

  9. Jon

    That’s a winning strategy, J.J.E. Let’s ask all people who reconcile their religion and science what’s the difference between their “religious faith” and “lying/fraud”.
    It’s similar to, “can you tell me when you stopped beating your wife?” Or, “Can you tell me when you stopped @ssociating with communists?” It strips all nuance off the possible answer and simply offends. No possibility for dialog. Either you accept my ridiculously simplified characterization of what you believe, or I shout you down and *make* you accept it. With this approach, don’t be surprised if some people offend back and reject science.

  10. I think What makes religion merit a special defense and deference within the scientific community is the way people respond to attacks upon it. If you confront a liar with the truth, he will be shamed into admitting he is wrong. If you confront a dogmatically racist person with an intelligent and articulate member of the opposite race (without a crowd at least) they will concede that their dogma is incorrect. But religious people, because of the nature of religion, are quick to deny anything that works even blatantly counterintuitively to their beliefs. Tell a liar you know the truth, he concedes. Tell a religious person you know the truth and they smile smugly and indifferently, secure in the knowledge that whatever you say they know better.

  11. Matt T

    J.J.E: Difference No. 1 – Every civilization, EVER, has had a religious underpinning (this is a very intelligent crowd, so please correct me if I’m wrong). That alone should merit some special attention.
    Difference No. 2 – Consult your neareast Webster’s dictionary regarding the meaning of each of those terms, unless of course you have already decided that there are no differences.

  12. don

    It’s nice to see some good posts on this very important subject of science and religion. As editior of newsofthespirit.com, my readers have shown a marked increase in interest on these subjects.

    Thanks for this thoughtful discussion.

    don
    editor
    http://newsofthespirit.com

  13. Milton C.

    I’m not a “true” accommodationist by any stretch of the imagination, and I disagree with Chris on what he calls the “grand philosophical compatibility” of science and religion. But I still think Chris has a point. If organizations like the NCSE can find a way to discuss religion without framing it as an philosophical bedfellow with science, then more power to them. The problem, to me at least, is when those organizations say outright that “there is no conflict” between science and religion. Simply highlighting “religious scientists” that accept evolution without either abandoning their faith or trying to bleed it over into science isn’t giving religion a “special defense,” as JJE said. It’s pointing out a factual reality, and hiding that reality starts to trend their stance into the realm of promoting incompatibility….when they’re supposed to neutral. One can certainly point out that certain people exist while still being neutral themselves. Hell, let’s point out that strongly religious scientists who accept evolution exist along with very antireligious scientists, while evolutionary theory doesn’t change a whit. That’s the REAL important point to make to an unscientific public.

    This doesn’t mean that philosophical discussions of how those “religious scientists” reconcile the two/whether or not they’re right don’t matter. Let’s just let those take place in the proper arena. To quote Jerry Coyne, “leave theology to the theologians…”

  14. Ian

    Your use of the word ‘religion’ is too broad – you need to be more specific since some religions would agree with evolution, but not with the materialism Darwinian evolution proposed. St George Mivart for example could accept all but it’s application to the human intellect.

    One might also argue that the term ‘evolution’ is too broad as it assumes Darwinism.

  15. PJ

    Milton and several others say it right. The true “neutrality” on this topic should deal with scientists/scientific orgs. endorsing a philosophical stance. Pointing out the obvious isn’t hurting anything, science included.

  16. Jim

    I feel that science is proven fact and religion panders to fears of the unknnown. That being said I have no problem with religion and a belief in scientific reason co-existing in my personal belief systems. No one has proven the existance of a higher deity but that doesn’t mean one does not exist. I take a kind of “render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s and render unto the Lord that which is the Lord’s” approach.
    I look for practical pragmatic solutions and evidence to life’s questions but I realize that faith doesn’t really hurt as long as you don’t depend on faith alone for your answers.
    In actual practice: When the wind blows hard, tie your stuff down and pray that the wind dies down soon.
    And the things that science has proven take precedence over religious beliefs that run contrary to proven fact. Like Evolution, I don’t believe God created the universe and man in 6 days and took Sunday off because he was out of breath and their was a ball game on. On the other hand if their was a supreme being that created all this it is probably beyond all mortal comprehension and human’s who claim to know God’s plan are usually working on plan’s of their own.

  17. Andy

    @J.J.E. – Forgive the snarkiness, but you apparently don’t know any scientists. Like it or not, science (like religion or politics or art) is a human institution. There may be noble ideals at the core (as for religion), but things inevitably get messed up the instant a human sticks their sticky fingers in the mix.

  18. Actually, the conversation you have here (people talking past each other) is very close to what actually happens in an NCSE like conversation, except that someone following the NCSE approach (as I usually do in this context) also mentions that for most religions this is not an issue, etc. etc. (I usually throw in a few quotes from this or that pope).

    And, noting that many religious people have no problem with evolution, and that people are complex thinking beings who can often hold viewpoints that at some level are incompatible and other levels not, are both things I’ve seen new atheists say (including PZ Myers himself!)

    All of which leads me to conclude that most of us are not that far from each other on what we are saying and thinking most of the time.

  19. TTT

    Straw man argument, Chris. No one is saying NCSE must never comment on religion in any way ever. What the atheists want is for it to live up to its name–for it to be a SCIENTIFIC organization, which by definition means it would not go out of its way to change the subject from science to religion, but since it is also an EDUCATIONAL organization if there were proper teachable moments like the questions you put forward, members could give an audience-appropriate answer (i.e. “It is not true that to believe in evolution you must abandon religion” or “It is not true that belief in evolution will turn you evil and suicidal,” whatever).

    What we don’t want is for NCSE to turn into some Chopra / Templeton woowoo factory, where every new discovery turns out to be proof of the workings of God’s mind blah blah blah.

    Is that what you want it to be? Would you see it turn into that, just to make sure atheists lose?

  20. TB

    Sorbet said “just because some scientists believe in astrology, would you then advocate saying that “science and astrology are compatible”?”

    Well, as was said on other threads, this is a strawman. Sorbet didn’t start it but he is repeating it here. There answer is: Please name the prominent scientists – on the level of people like Ken Miller or Francis Collins – who believe in astrology. Because naming religious/scientific people of that stature was what was being challenged with that strawman. And incidentally, the request for equally prominent scientists who believe in astrology was asked almost immediately when the strawman was presented and no answer was forthcoming.

    But, to address the subject of this thread, to my mind the problem is that many are not recognizing the idea of science advocacy organizations taking on the role of facilitator, one who is neutral in regards to those they’re reaching out to but able to help them align their views enough with the organization’s goals.

    I think for some any engagement with religious people or groups violates an artificial standard of neutrality that they’ve come up with. As has been discussed in another thread, this artificial standard can be a ploy to handicap some so that others can advocate their own position on religion. (There are some with legitimate concerns about neutrality and I think some of those resulted in changes on the NCSE website.)

    So if there’s anything to be debated here, since we claim to be all about empirical evidence: what empirical evidence is there that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class. Where has this approach ended up with the science organizations endorsing the teaching of religion in a public school science class?

    That’s the data point, that’s the standard to judge this effort by. We can point to the triumph of Dover, where scientists joined with religious people not only to keep ID out of science class, but to strike a successful blow against ID’s claim to be a scientific theory.

    It’s not the false standard of “engaging with religious people or organizations ends up implicitly endorsing religion” that should be debated. That’s just an extension of the faulty argument “guilt by association.” It’s a trojan horse asserted by some to get others to be silent about religion so that those who advocate attacking all religion can do so without interference.

    Attacking religion is not the goal of science or science advocacy groups – it’s not even the goal of all atheists. And debating whether it should be, or at least whether science or science advocacy groups should by default aid those attacks in adopting a false standard of neutrality, is a ploy to lend legitimacy to that faulty supposition.

  21. Paul W.

    Chris,

    This post starts out a bit better than your usual take on the subject, but then… not so much. A little too much oversimplification and straw positions.

    What got people exercised in the recent-go round was NOT the NCSE saying things that are clearly true and interesting—e.g., that many religious people accept the scientific facts of evolution, and that some scientists are religious.

    What got some of us exercised is Orzel’s extraordinary claims that

    1. “Science and religion are compatible,” because some scientists are religious,

    2. that that’s a statement of fact, and

    3. a statement of fact can never be unconscionable.

    I think most people see that “science and religion are compatible” is not simply a statement of fact, and therefore a dandy thing for absolutely anybody to say to absolutely anybody, when speaking for the science community.

    The point J.J.E. was making above—which people have understandably misunderstood—is that Chad’s argument is simplistic and invalid. He hasn’t shown what he claims to have shown, irrespective of whether the conclusion is in fact true.

    The fact that some scientists are religious does not immediately imply that science and religion are actually compatible, any more than saying that since some scientists are dishonest, dishonesty is compatible with science. You might agree with the former conclusion but not the latter, and that just shows that it’s a bad argument.

    People generally understand statements that X is compatible with Y to mean more than that it’s physically possible to do some of each, especially in contexts like we’re discussing.

    For example, marriage and adultery are “compatible” in that minimal sense—millions of married people are in fact adulterers—but you’d be very surprised to hear the Catholic church say the “simple truth” that “marriage and adultery are compatible,” especially without saying that they don’t mean anything other than that some married people commit adultery.

    Before anybody gets mad about that comparison, I hasten to say that I’m not comparing religion to dishonesty, or science to marriage, or religion to adultery. They’re very different things.

    I’m just making a valid logical argument—a proof by contradiction—that shows that Chad’s argument is clearly invalid. It is illogical, and demonstrates nothing either way about the truth of its conclusion.

    Chris, it would be really nice if you would come out and admit that Chad’s argument is demonstrably invalid, and that much of people “getting exercised” about your previous post was about that—the fact that you praised a post whose central arguments are clearly invalid.

    If you acknowledge that sort of thing, we would have a better chance of moving on and having a serious, productive discussion.

  22. Paul W.

    Matt T,

    I think you’re misunderstand J.J.E.’s post. What he means is what I said—that Chad Orzel’s argument is patently invalid. To make it work you’d have to explain why the argument works for religion but doesn’t work for lying/fraud, dogma, etc.

    Without making the difference explicit, and relying on some particular claims about religion to justify an otherwise invalid argument, the conclusion just does not follow—any more than the other two conclusions J.J.E. compares it to. But if you fix it up that much, it’s just not the same argument anymore—it’s an argument from something besides the empirical fact that some people do both.

  23. Paul W.

    TTT is right that there’s a big straw man in this post.

    There’s a big difference between not being intentionally deceptive about religion and saying nothing about it.

    Saying that some scientists are religious is true and interesting, and worth saying in some contexts.

    Saying that “science and religion are compatible” is intentionally deceptive in some contexts.

    As an extreme example, suppose that the National Academy of Sciences issued a statement that said “science and religion are compatible.”

    That would be quite inappropriate, because the NAS speaks for scientists. It’s not supposed to have any idiosyncratic opinions of its own, and is supposed to reflect the consensus among scientists.

    Many scientists and philosophers of science believe that science and religion are systematically incompatible—not just about evolution, but about central tenets of all popular religions. They think that the best informed scientific opinion is that there’s no such thing as a dualistic soul, no afterlife, no mystical states in which you can intuit the ineffable nature of the Ultimate Reality, etc.

    These experts think, rightly or wrongly, that religion is bunk in scientific terms, and that religion itself is explicable in naturalistic terms that undermine religions’ claims to have “alternative ways of knowing”—many if not most top scientist basically agree with Dawkins that religion is akin to a popular delusion, of a kind that people are prone to. Its popularity doesn’t reflect a truth, but rather some biases that people have and societies entrench and amplify. It’s a miscarriage of rationality.

    Note that I’m not defending that view here, or expecting anybody to agree with it who didn’t agree beforehand. What I’m saying is that it is a popular view among scientists and philosophers, especially top scientists like NAS members, and scientists who specialize in the relevant areas, such as neuroscience, cognitive anthropology, philosophy of mind, etc.

    Since that’s a popular view, there is clearly no expert scientific consensus that science and religion are compatible in any interesting sense. It is a very common sentiment that they are not, although there’s no consensus on that. It’s clearly quite controversial.

    Since it’s controversial among the relevant experts, the NAS has no business saying anything either way—-it should not say science and religion are compatible, and it should not say that they’re not, because the issue is not settled.

    To some extent, the NAS is a special case. More than any other U.S. organization, it is supposed to impartially represent expert scientific opinion—that is what it is for.

    It is emphatically not a lobbying or PR organization that is supposed to sacrifice scientific objectivity for political advantage—that would undermine its central mission.

    That is a bit less true of the AAAS, which is more of a professional organization that represents the interests of its members, and engages in lobbying. Still, it’s a serious concern because the AAAS still “represents science” to a greater extent than any U.S. organization other than the NAS. It speaks with more apparent authority than any particular scientist, and it should be resistant to taking sides in live scientific controversies.

    The NCSE is a somewhat different beast, oriented toward lobbying and lawyering and PRing in more in-the-trenches ways. Still, it should be concerned with its reputation as a scientific organization—if it can’t take the high ground and avoid convenient positions that don’t reflect a scientific consensus, it will and should lose credibility.

  24. Sorbet

    TB, Collins and Miller don’t believe in astrology (to the best of my knowledge), but the issue is broader and I hope you understand that it’s an analogy. In America astrology is not big, but it’s big in India; I know for a fact that the head of India’s space program believes in it. In Britain it’s ghosts, in Germany it’s rays from the earth. The point is about rational people believing weird things; conceptually, belief in a Christian god who performs miracles is no different from belief in astrology. As I said, it’s one thing to state as a fact that such people exist, quite another to state that it *therefore* implies that rationality and weirdness are “compatible”. Larry Moran also had a post about this.

  25. Davo

    Paul W and a couple of others above are right; the statement “science and religion are compatible” is at the very least a controversial statement, not a fact, open to much discussion and argument (as is clear on this blog). It would be best for the NCSE to stay away from such a controversial statement.

  26. John Kwok

    @ TTT -

    Well NCSE does exactly what you claim it doesn’t (@ 20), which is to be an educational organization fully committed to the teaching of only sound, well-established, science – in particular biological evolution – in science classrooms. It sees as part of its educational mission, efforts at outreaching to those religious organizations and individuals who are seriously interested in learning why and how accepting the scientific fact of biological evolution should not be contrary to their personal reliigous beliefs. It does not try to insist – which is what I have heard Ken Miller say – that those who belong to religious faiths hostile to science should renonunce their allegiances to such faiths and replace them with those which are not hostile to science.

    As the Clergy Letter Project demonstrates, there are many clergy in Christian and Jewish denominations who recognize that their recognition of the fact of biological evolution doesn’t contradict their most deeply cherished religious beliefs. I suppose many would agree with the Dalai Lama’s observation that if science is right and Buddhism is wrong, then Buddhism must change to conform with science. Have heard Don Prothero cite an opinon poll from the 1990s which reported that 56% of professional evolutionary biologists would consider themselves religious. I would strongly suspect that, like Ken Miller and Vatican Astronomer Guy Consolmagno, they would put their scientific views substantially ahead of their religious convictions when they are working as scientists (a sentiment I heard stated by both at a World Science Festival panel discussion on Science Faith Religion that was held here in New York City last June).

    Instead of attacking NCSE, NAS and AAAS, Militant Atheists (my term for New Atheists) should take aim instead at organizations like BiogLogos and other, similar, religious organizations, which seem more interested in promoting simultaneously both their religious values and acceptance – in some cases begrudgingly – of biological evolution as scientific fact (BioLogos’s senior leadership seems more interested in seeking ties to fellow “brothers in Christ” – and that includes some creationists affiliated with the Discovery Institute – than in reminding them that biological evolution is an extremely well-established scientific fact.).

  27. Seems to me there’s a essential problem with scientific organizations stating as a matter of policy that science and religion are compatible. Scientific organizations in the business of making pronouncements on matters of science, things that can be determined through the scientific method. To ask them to make a statement on the very non-scientific question of the compatility of religion and science doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s not the sort of thing they do.

    So we’re left with either stating that people can hold two conflicting ideas in their head without spontaneously combusting, which isn’t saying much of anything, or rendering judgment on the fundamental compatibility of ideas that do, we all agree, conflict in most cases, which isn’t what science is all about.

    I’m not trying to criticize the NSCE or anyone else. I’m just not comfortable with scientists wandering into metaphysics.

  28. gillt

    TB: “Well, as was said on other threads, this is a strawman. Sorbet didn’t start it but he is repeating it here. There answer is: Please name the prominent scientists – on the level of people like Ken Miller or Francis Collins – who believe in astrology. Because naming religious/scientific people of that stature was what was being challenged with that strawman. And incidentally, the request for equally prominent scientists who believe in astrology was asked almost immediately when the strawman was presented and no answer was forthcoming.”

    How about a tenured professor with multiple publications in respected journals who also happens to be a kook? I provided one in another thread and was told by an accomodationist that this was besides the point. Apparently it is the point, your point! Go back a few threads an you’ll find his name.

  29. Paul W.

    TB,

    I agree with Sorbet that if you think it matters how many scientists actually believe in astrology, you’re missing the point of the analogy.

    The point is that people quite obviously do not generally interpret statements of the form “X is compatible with Y” in the way that Chad assumes and insists on. His argument is therefore invalid.

    If you must have a more parallel analogy in that particular irrelevant respect, I already gave you one in the earlier thread.

    For anybody else not clear on the point, here’s the amended argument:

    Some top scientists—Nobel prize winners and the like—believe some kooky fringe science thing or other, often outside their domain of expertise. (E.g., Linus Pauling and Vitamin C mania, Shockley and certain ideas about race, etc. It’s a well-known phenomenon.

    These famously scientists with some famously kooky ideas are just the tip of the iceberg—there are many more scientists who believe some oddball fringe science or other, but are less prominent and less vocal, so you don’t hear about it.

    Following Chad’s argument that if many scientists accept X, then X is compatible with science, we can plug in “kooky fringe pseudoscience” and infer that

    Science is compatible with kooky fringe pseudoscience.

    This is obviously untrue, on the obvious reading, so something is wrong with Chad’s logic.

    His argument is therefore demonstrably invalid. QED.

    Again, I hasten to add that the invalidity of Chad’s argument doesn’t mean his conclusion is false; it just provides zero evidence either way.

  30. gillt

    Mooney:

    Religious believer: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

    NCSE: As a policy, we only talk about science and to not take any stance on religion. So we couldn’t comment on that.

    Religious believer: I do have one friend who accepts evolution, but he stopped going to church too and that worries me.

    NCSE: All we can really tell you is that evolution is the bedrock of modern biology, and universally accepted within the scientific community.

    Religious believer: And I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion?

    NCSE: ….”

    This is beyond ridiculous, why should a NCSE spokesperson feel obliged to answer a philosophical, and in many ways personal, query like this?

  31. Peter Beattie

    Somehow, Medawar’s phrase “educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought” comes to mind whenever Chris Mooney talks about this topic. Even worse, he seems unwilling and/or unable to simply read, acknowledge, and engage with what those he critizises actually wrote. To wit:

    Jerry Coyne
    Here I argue that the accommodationist position of the National Academy of Sciences, and especially that of the National Center for Science Education, is a self-defeating tactic, compromising the very science they aspire to defend. By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one. By ignoring the significant dissent in the scientific community about whether religion and science can be reconciled, they imply a unanimity that does not exist. Finally, by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory.

    And:

    PZ Myers:
    [Coyne is] pointing out that those organizations have not been neutral, but have effectively endorsed a specific position favoring theistic evolution. He and I both have said that they should not demand atheistic purity, but that they should either stop making one-sided arguments for fluffy, boring, ‘innocuous’, and scientifically unsupportable theistic evolution, or they should be more careful to accurately represent the range of views of scientists, which includes atheists.

    Even after following this debate closely for about a year, I have never seen Chris Mooney even acknowledge these points. That’s probably why by now he is largely ignored. Or it’s because of his reasoning, which produces, without a hint of irony, this fine example of a gunshot wound to the lower extremity:

    “Moreover, if religion is the mental block that prevents a wider understanding and acceptance of evolution, then by seeking to remove that mental block, a group like [the New Atheists] is simply striving to be effective. Why should its hands be tied in this regard?”

  32. Milton C.

    Forgive me for sounding like an anus, but I think a lot of you are confusing “strawman” for “something besides what I think.” It’s used more as a pejorative than in any meaningful context…kind of like “accommodationist.”

  33. bilbo

    Even after following this debate closely for about a year, I have never seen Chris Mooney even acknowledge these points. That’s probably why by now he is largely ignored

    Ignored….except, of course, whenever 30-odd angry religion-bashers flood the blog with accusations that Chris lacks reading comprehension, has a personal hatred for certain bloggers, and generally eats children for breakfast. And also except for when said bloggers make angry responses to his posts, calling him the above names, which gets said religion-bashers engaging in some gratuitous back-patting. But I mean, other than that, he gets totally ignored…

    Seriously, I don’t see anything in Chris’s actual post this time that should be that controversial. In fact, most of the things the usual Chris-Mooney-is-an-idiot-ites are screaming about are just carry-overs from old posts on different topics. It’s like several of you are contractually bound to automatically disagree with any point Chris makes regarding religion. Here Chris is finding some actual common ground with the New Atheism, and here you guys are disagreeing with him while agreeing with exact same points made by New Atheists. Sheesh. Tribal silliness is, well, silly.

    Timothy and Tim make some good points, though, and as usual, Jon is proving to be the rational, clear-thinking oasis of “kill religion first and worry about science later” crusaders…

  34. gillt

    Silly Bilbo, as much as you repeatedly signal that you’re above to the “tribal silliness” you sure do a swell job–hyperbole, outgroup labeling, good-guys vs bad-guys–of engaging in, well, “tribal silliness.”

    Also, can we expect these witty meta-analysis of every half hour?

  35. Sean

    “It is natural that doubt should arise in your minds.

    I tell you not to believe merely because it has been handed down by tradition, or because it had been said by some great personage in the past, or because it is commonly believed, or because others have told it to you, or even because I myself have said it.

    But whatever you are asked to believe, ask yourself whether it is true in the light of your experience, whether it is in conformity with reason and good principles and whether it is conducive to the highest good and welfare of all beings, and only if it passes this test, should you accept it and act in accordance with it.” – The Buddha

    http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2009/10/buddhism-rationalism-and-empiricism.html

  36. gillt

    “Religious believer: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

    NCSE: As a policy, we only talk about science and to not take any stance on religion. So we couldn’t comment on that.”

    This is actually a decent response to a hypothetical situation. That Mooney doesn’t think so is worrisome. It’s also apparent that this religious person’s pastor isn’t exactly a moderate believer–the said target audience of the NCSE–so what makes Mooney so sure the pastor’s laity will be any more receptive to evolution and thus susceptible to accomodationist framing?

    It would be enlightening to see how Mooney thinks the NCSE spokesperson should respond to this veiled challenge by the religious believer. Would spokesperson Mooney explain that the pastor is incorrect–or not liberal enough in his theology–that in fact there is room for science and religion in one highly compartmentalized brain? That maybe this believer should, you know, look into deism? Maybe Mooney could share his own atheist philosophy with the believer. Any one of those would seem to entirely defeat the purpose of accomodationism.

    Turns out Mooney came up with what he thought was an obvious example of how not to frame a response. As usual, he fails to offer any advice on how he thinks it can be done better.

    So, what would Mooney do?

  37. TB

    @ 25 Sorbet “TB, Collins and Miller don’t believe in astrology (to the best of my knowledge), but the issue is broader and I hope you understand that it’s an analogy. In America astrology is not big, but it’s big in India”

    No, I understand its context – it was put forth in “commonsense terms” as a challenge to a real condition. You can find that here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2010/01/a_statement_of_fact_cannot_be.php#comment-2191100

    Specifically:
    “So, for example, if “science and religion are compatible” only means what you say, then it’s equally true, in commonsense terms, that “science and astrology are compatible,” and “science and vitalism are compatible.”
    I have in fact met a very few scientists who believe in astrology and/or vitalism. So they’re compatible, right?”

    That’s not an analogy, but I think it could be considered deductive reasoning (I don’t know, I’m not worried about the semantics). The point is, that it’s now being put forth as an analogy only means that it couldn’t meet the challenge “name some prominent scientists who believe in astrology.”

    And if it’s only an analogy, then why put forward a real person to try and meet that challenge? That takes it from an abstract to a real condition, which doesn’t strike me as an analogy – but that’s just me.

    Even so, you had to go all the way to India to name someone. Astrology in America is very different from what one would call astrology in India. The culture is different – and as far as I know there is no NCSE chapter in India. Plus, is the head of their space program a scientist, an engineer or a bureaucrat? I was able to find this:

    —-
    Dr. K. Radhakrishnan (born August 29, 1949) is an accomplished technocrat with a distinguished career of more than 38 years in space technology, applications and space programme management.
    He is a graduate in Electrical Engineering from Kerala University (1970) and MBA from IIM, Bangalore (1976). He was awarded PhD by IIT, Kharagpur in 2000 for his thesis on “Some Strategies for Management of Indian Earth Observation System”.

    —-

    I wouldn’t consider that person – accomplished though he is – in the same context as Miller or Collins, but I also don’t know if that’s who you’re referring to.

    However, since you’ve given a reasonable reply, let me try and address it directly. What if someone could be named that could be considered as prominent as a Miller or Collins – a scientist that believes in astrology. Does this disprove the statement?

    No, no more than the existence of apes disproves evolution. It’s a false condition (If we evolved from apes, we must have replaced them and they should no longer be around), built upon a misreading of the basic premise. We do not have to automatically accept that one condition necessarily leads to another, is equal to the other, or that the one condition must be correct in all circumstances for it to be true.

    Or maybe more plainly: “We know people believe goofy things. People are scientists. Therefore, scientists believe goofy things.” There may be truth in that statement, but we don’t have to accept that it’s true in all cases.

    And that meets the definition of a strawman in that conditions that are easily torn apart are being imposed on something; conditions that on the surface may seem to apply but upon further examination do not.

    However, to be fair to you (Sorbet), I believe you intend this to be taken as an analogy. So my answer to you is simple: I respectfully disagree because that analogy fails for me in ways I’ve already addressed. Since it’s only an analogy, I don’t need to do any more.

    As for whether this is a broader issue – no, not for science and science advocacy in our country. It is certainly a broader issue for atheists and anyone concerned about fundamentalism in this world. Making it a broader issue for science and science advocacy in our country is a mistake in my view: the issues and goals may have similarities but are fundamentally different. One looks to promote good science education in the U.S., the other agrees with the idea of good science education but the primary focus is on promoting a particular position on religion.

    Meanwhile, what about the real issue? Has anyone put forth any empirical evidence that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class? Is there evidence that this approach ended up with the science organizations endorsing the teaching of religion in a public school science class?

  38. John Kwok

    @ Peter Beattie -

    Forgive me for restating the obvious, but there’s no clear-cut, definitive example of “accomodationism” – as charged by Coyne and Myers – over at NCSE’s website. Moreover, as a Deist, I can’t see where NCSE has an official – or even unofficial – stance in favor of “theistic evolutionism”. Oddly enough, the same conclusion was arrived independently by a prominent Roman Catholic scientist, cell biologist Ken Miller, with whom I had consulted while the “accomodationist” controversy was raging almost virtually out of control here online. My puzzlement remains most acute regarding the breathtakingly inane charge of “accmodationism” from the likes of Coyne, Myers and their fellow Militant Atheists (yourself included).

    Respectfully yours,

    John Kwok

  39. Jon

    As usual, he fails to offer any advice on how he thinks it can be done better.

    It’s implied in what he said. The last part of the dialog says this:

    Religious believer: And I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion?

    NCSE: ….

    This is right on the money. It would help if the NCSE could say: “Scientists believe many things on those kinds of questions. Some scientists are Christian, some are Jewish, some are Hindu, or Buddhist. And I can name you a number of them that have no problem reconciling science and their beliefs. And of course there are many scientists who are secular humanists, as is the case with the population at large.”

  40. Julie

    Excellent post in #41, Jon. Your example doesn’t endorse any stance on religion other than stating the obvious, as Milton also said in post #13.

    Since I became involved in the last religion comment thread here (and even had a philosophical position pinned on me for it), I’ve been reading up on the “accommodationism” debates, and I’ve noticed something that directly relates back to the last thread. When “antiaccommodationists” blog on accommodationism and/or comment about it on other blogs, they seem to stress “official neutrality” – that is, the stance that official organizations should not promote religion OR atheism in conjunction with science. But when you read longer posts about the topic, most antiaccommodationists actually just seem to want religion forced out of the discussion and seem to have no problem if atheism is promoted instead. (Sean Carroll, for example, has replied to Chris’s post implying that it’d be fine if the NCSE endorsed that abandoning religion made one “happier.” Several other examples could easily be brought up of this.)

    I’m an atheist, so I’m with Sean and others in that atheism is “right” when it comes to belief or nonbelief. But I’m still very much sensing the “false sense of neutrality” that became the hot-button issue of comments on Chris’s last post. The responses to this one, in fact, seem to almost reinforce that. If we’re going to preach it, why not be consistent? It seems like the five or six commenters who pointed this out (and got maligned by the same one or two trolls – see pejoratives such as “disgusting weasel,” or something akin) were on the money, perhaps…

  41. J.J.E.

    @ 8. Jon (January 19th, 2010 at 10:40 am )
    “It’s similar to, ‘can you tell me when you stopped beating your wife?’ Or, ‘Can you tell me when you stopped associating with communists?’”

    No. That is a fundamental mischaracterization of my argument. For example, I can say confidently that science is not compatible with lying and dogma (or religion for that matter), despite the fact that I know many scientists who are liars or dogmatists (or religious for that matter). There are also examples of scientists who have contributed significantly to science that fall into all three categories:

    Hwang Woo-Suk: His lab was the first to clone the dog among many other notable accomplishments. He was also guilty of faking human cloning data.

    J.B.S. Haldane: One of the main participants in the modern synthesis of evolutionary genetics, he was also a dogmatic Communist (with a capital ‘C’) for much of his scientific career. (Also, for any of you biochemists out there, if you’ve performed calculations for Michaelis-Menten kinetics, you’ve probably used the Briggs-Haldane equation.)

    Francis Collins: He was one of the key scientific administrators of the public effort to sequence the human genome and is the current director of the U.S. NIH. He also posits that his god may hide behind quantum indeterminacy in order to imbue humans with souls.

    It isn’t that difficult. You (and frequently Chris) keep bringing this back to RELIGIOUS PEOPLE when the people who started this argument (Jerry Coyne) very explicitly framed their argument as a philosophical one. Do your homework and at least address the argument that was made, not the argument you WISH were made:

    True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers. ) It is also true that some of the tensions disappear when the literal reading of the Bible is renounced, as it is by all but the most primitive of JudeoChristian sensibilities. But tension remains. The real question is whether there is a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith? Are the gaps between them so great that the two institutions must be considered essentially antagonistic? The incessant stream of books dealing with this question suggests that the answer is not straightforward.

    This is from a double-header book review piece by Coyne in The New Republic last year. ( http://www.tnr.com/article/books/seeing-and-believing )

    @ 13. Milton C. (January 19th, 2010 at 10:59 am)
    I don’t disagree with what you said.

    I think we’re actually rather close in opinion. I wont go on at length here, but I have written a rather extensive description of my stance here:
    http://hillcountrydilettante.blogspot.com/2009/07/religions-role-in-science-advocacy-by.html

    @ 17. Andy (January 19th, 2010 at 11:31 am)
    “Forgive the snarkiness, but you apparently don’t know any scientists. …”

    This post is notable for three reasons:
    First, it doesn’t address my argument.
    Second, it is ad hominem, as it implies that my argument is somehow impugned by who I am as a person (e.g. does my personal experience include a large enough sample of scientist acquaintances?).
    Third (and least importantly, but funny all the same) is the fact that I am a professional academic scientist who, in addition to BEING a scientist (postdoc in evolutionary genetics to be precise), knows literally hundreds of scientists from all over the world, from technicians and undergrad trainees, through grad students, postdocs, professors, national academy members. To put it mildly, if I needed “scientist bona fides” to demonstrate my position, I have that in spades. Of course, I don’t need to have such bona fides, because that would be an ad hominem fallacy.

    @ 41. Jon (January 19th, 2010 at 6:26 pm)
    @ 43. Julie (January 19th, 2010 at 7:30 pm)
    I endorse the premise behind these ideas. If the only statements that were made on NCSE’s site were the same as the Rabbi statement, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Too often however, they actual implementation is FAR from your reasonable standard. Just read NCSE’s website.

    Finally, @ Julie, you’re flat out wrong and you misrepresent your interlocutors when you say this:

    “But when you read longer posts about the topic, most antiaccommodationists actually just seem to want religion forced out of the discussion and seem to have no problem if atheism is promoted instead.”

    From Sean Carroll ( http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/01/19/the-truth-still-matters/ ):

    have no problem with the NCSE or any other organization pointing out that there exist scientists who are religious. That’s an uncontroversial statement of fact. But I have a big problem with them making statements about whether religious belief puts you into conflict with science (or vice-versa), or setting up “Faith Projects,” or generally taking politically advantageous sides on issues that aren’t strictly scientific. And explaining to people where their pastors went wrong when talking about damnation? No way.

    From Jerry Coyne ( http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/truckling-to-the-faithful-a-spoonful-of-jesus-helps-darwin-go-down/ ):

    Am I grousing because, as an atheist and a non-accommodationist, my views are simply ignored by the NAS and NCSE? Not at all. I don’t want these organizations to espouse or include my viewpoint. I want religion and atheism left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution. If natural selection and evolution are as powerful as we all believe, then we should devote our time to making sure that they are more widely and accurately understood, and that their teaching is defended. Those should be the sole missions of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education. Leave theology to the theologians.

  42. Julie

    The problem here in my opinion, JJE, is when said people (and it’s not just Sean or Jerry but other, more “anonymous” antiaccommodationists) speak out of both sides of their mouth. See, for example, Sean talking straight in your quote versus his statement that he’d be “fine” with the NCSE telling the public that abandoning religion will make a person “happier.” That’s a direct violation of official neutrality (although, Sean may have been saying that latter comment in a failed attempt at humor/sarcasm. If so, it was at least hard to pick out.) Jerry has done similar when he’s said things along the lines of “We should be promoting science in direct conflict with religion” following statements like “I want religion and atheism left out of all official discourse on science and faith.” Gillt relished in similar doublespeak on another thread recently, although I’ll admit he’s much more of a troll than a thinker. All of those statements are akin to someone saying “I want my government to be pacifist, but I’ve got a cache of guns at my house, I hate Russians, and I’ll kill one before thinking twice.”

    Of course, this all gets back to the discussion that happened on the last religion thread here: are “official” organizations the only groups or people who actually speak for science? I thought there were honestly some good arguments on both sides of that question, and I’m sure you’d fall on the “it doesn’t matter what Jerry Coyne or a single individual says, he’s just a guy” side (if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me). As I said in my last post, I’m an atheist, and there are many, many, MANY facets of religion that I don’t just despise – I hate.

    But I’m also a scientist, and when I’m in a situation where I present myself as a scientist and an authority on science and then decide to use that context to bash religion, I’m doing science a grave disservice, because I’m suddenly an accommodationist myself. I’m just accommodating science with my hatred of religion….however justified that hatred may be. To rehash a point that will surely get me aligned with creationists (again), Jerry is doing this when he introduces himself via his professional bio and research interests on a blog presented as the evidence for evolution and spends the majority of that time bashing religion and attacking the theological positions of religious individuals in a context that doesn’t involve science. In my opinion, if a scientific organization paints science in an incorrect light when they use science to promote religion or atheism, so does a scientist when they put themselves in an official context individually and does the same thing. Save the rhetoric for when you’re not wearing your scientist hat talking to the public and/or presenting information on evolution. (I’ll note that I think PZ Myers does a wonderful job of NOT blurring these lines with how he presents his blog…even though it’s on “scienceblogs.” When you’re reading PZ, he’s not claiming to be teaching you about a scientific topic. Even though he still presents himself as a scientist, he admits that he’ll be rambling about anything he wants. He’s not claiming his blog to be a tutorial on “why evolution is true,” etc. and going miles off topic).

    That’s just my opinion, of course, and as I said earlier, there are valid points on both sides. I don’t think that those on either side are “idiots,” “apologetics,” “dishonest,” or “liars,” to use a few labels used by both sides in last week’s screed. I think it’s worth acknowledging that there are valid points on this side of the issue for once, and we’re hurting ourselves if we let the tribal warfare act as our mental spam filter for what’s even semi-valid.

  43. Sorbet

    TB, sorry but I am not sure I get you and I get the feeling you are skirting a rather simple question. I think you are again missing the point by pointing to the prominence or lack thereof of scientists who may or may not believe in astrology. Why don’t we delete the world “astrology” and replace it by any number of other unprovable assertions? The question is a conceptual one; if a scientist (prominent or not) believes in astrology/witchcraft/talking bush/phrenology/eugenics/large doses of vitamin C, does that make any of these things “compatible with science”? Could you please answer this very simple question? The two issues are totally separate and I really don’t understand why Mooney, Orzel or others keep conflating them.

    By the way I think your chain of thought “Or maybe more plainly: “We know people believe goofy things. People are scientists. Therefore, scientists believe goofy things.” There may be truth in that statement, but we don’t have to accept that it’s true in all cases.” is logically false. The second statement needs to be “Scientists are people”.

  44. Milton C.

    J.J.E.:

    I’m glad we at least have a small bit of common ground. I suppose I’m just failing to see how Chris is saying anything out of line here. It seems like most of you are arguing against old posts for Chris where he presents some positions that I, too, disagree with him on. I see nothing from the bulk of this post that conflicts with the stance I took in post 13, at least.

    Along similar lines – maybe not, actually – the backlash this post has already gotten has taken the tone that people think it is blasphemy (pardon the poor word choice) to point out cases where religion and science don’t attempt to cut one another’s heads off, such as cases of “religious scientists.” I believe Jerry Coyne has just called Chris an implicit liar in his latest post for this. So, for all of you who seem to be thinking that Chris’s point in this post is incorrect, how do you suggest we proceed with the faithful as scientists when we’re forced to engage them? I had to dig the link up, but Philip Jr. posted
    this other blog post
    on comments to the other recent religion thread by Chris that points out several situations where science and religion can work in tandem. This post got me thinking: if science is supposed to tiptoe around religion and almost ignore it, to an extent, what do we do when we move out of the philosophical world and into the practical one of applied science, as the examples in that link show? I’m not an applied scientist myself (I’m an old-school geneticist), so I have no clue. But it seems like the discussions we all are having seem to be leaving this side of science out. How do you “militant antiaccommodationists” suggest we advance in that applied world, if the argument for ignoring religion is so clear?

  45. J.J.E.

    @ 45. Milton (January 19th, 2010 at 9:45 pm)

    This is my perspective on “what to do”:

    1) Say whatever you want to say if you are speaking on your own behalf (and I could give you my opinion on what I would say if I were you, but that’s not the topic here, so I’ll move on.);
    2) If you are speaking on behalf of a science institution, feel free to cite the plain fact (religious people exist that accept science and scientists exist that accept religion). Also, there is no need to push atheism;
    3) If you are speaking on behalf of a science institution, DO NOT push an opinion that religion is compatible with science. Science explicitly is incompatible with many religions, and science institutions shouldn’t be in the business of promoting one theology over others. Then we’d be guilty of choosing allies simply because they come to the “right” conclusion, regardless of how they got there;
    4) If you are speaking on behalf of a religious institution or a religious/science outreach foundation, say whatever you want, but at least be honest admit that any “compatibility” you point out is doctrinal and that many sincere believers of other faiths would strenuously disagree. I come from rural central Texas (not Austin). YECs exist in great numbers and even comprise a large proportion of exurbs of many medium/large cities (notably Houston & Austin in my experience).

    I will join, support, and donate to science/education institutions. I will neither support nor donate to institutions that have a theological component. It is as simple as that. NCSE now has what I consider to be a minor (and growing) theological component. This has stayed my hand with regard to joining them despite their stellar record in so many areas.

    I have cataloged some of the examples of NCSE’s biased theology here: ( http://hillcountrydilettante.blogspot.com/ )

  46. Milton C.

    Sounds fair enough, J.J.E. Your approach to things seems rather similar to mine. I suppose my qualms deal with some of the rhetoric that gets used for emotional effect in the blogosphere. Take one of the examples from the link Philip Jr. provided (linked in my last post) where scientists worked in cooperation with the religious community to protect an endangered species, unattached from any official organization, as far as they were portrayed. You don’t seem to fall into this category, but many would call those scientists “accommodationists,” “apologetics,” “liars,” etc. simply for working with a religious organization. That’s where my concerns lie. There seems to be a ton of quick-triggered assumptions of what accommodationism actually means, and I think that’s what bogs this discussion down so much.

  47. TB

    Comment 39 is out of moderation. And I’d like to second the compliment on #41

  48. TB

    Coyne (as quoted above): “Am I grousing because, as an atheist and a non-accommodationist, my views are simply ignored by the NAS and NCSE? Not at all. I don’t want these organizations to espouse or include my viewpoint. I want religion and atheism left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution.”

    In other words, “Stop advocating what you’re advocating so that I can advocate what I’m advocating,” all under an artificial definition of neutrality. A condition that conveniently doesn’t include Coyne – a recognized scientist and authority on evolution who disgards scientific neutrality to advocate his own personal position on religion.

    He’s free to do so, but if he accuses others of not being neutral we’re free to raise the question of hypocricy.

  49. Katharine

    … oh FSM, the NAS is accommodationist?

    They’re 93% atheists!

    Surely this is not really the NAS’s doing.

  50. Katharine

    “Every religion will re-evaluate it’s books and words and try to find the ‘best fit’, for science in their works for their people.”

    Because, sadly, most people do not have the gonads to admit they’re wrong.

  51. bingo

    In other words, “Stop advocating what you’re advocating so that I can advocate what I’m advocating,” all under an artificial definition of neutrality. A condition that conveniently doesn’t include Coyne – a recognized scientist and authority on evolution who disgards scientific neutrality to advocate his own personal position on religion.

    Bingo again. The discussions over the last few posts here have led me to believe that the NA definition of “neutrality” just means “the people I disagree with should shut the hell up so I can scream some more.”

  52. TB

    @Sorbet 46

    I’m not skirting anything. It’s just like the reply Einstein reportedly gave when asked if he believed in god: Define god and I’ll tell you if I believe in it.

    I don’t have to accept your false equivelancy.

    And I’m not ” pointing to the prominence or lack thereof of scientists…”, I’m pointing to
    a) the lack of any prominent scientist being named who believes in western astrology; and,
    b) the fact that the existence or nonexistence of such a scientist is besides the point, since their existence would not disprove the basic premise.

    And in answer to your last “correction,” apparently it was unnecessary since you understood the meaning perfectly well. And you claim not to understand my point – how very odd. One might almost wonder if you’re being purposefully obtuse.

    Now it’s your turn to answer my challenge: Has anyone put forth any empirical evidence that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class? Is there evidence that this approach ended up with the science organizations endorsing the teaching of religion in a public school science class? Are any public grammer schools and high schools in the U.S. teaching religion as science in the science classroom due to the strategy of science advocacy organizations such as the NCSE?

    Unless you can show that empirical evidence, I’ll have to conclude your objections are really about promoting atheism and not about science advocacy. That’s a perfectly legitimate goal, but it’s not the goal of science advocacy groups and it’s rather disingenuous to hide that criticize of them behind an artificial standard of neutrality.

  53. J.J.E.

    @ 51. TB (January 19th, 2010 at 10:42 pm)

    Actually, I think you get it almost right. I’m going to fix things, but not in the snarky way. Mainly I just want to make things explicit.

    “Stop advocating [theology] so that [we] can [continue to] advocate what [what we agree on],”

    Coyne respects many of missions of the NCSE and shares common cause (defense of evolution among other things) with them. And to that extend agrees extensively with the NCSE. Moreover, as I quoted above “I want religion and atheism left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution.” Jerry is neither proposing that NCSE advocate atheism nor is he advocating a personal agenda not shared by NCSE and other accommodationists.

    The one thing he is doing is saying that advocating a theology (that just happens to be politically expedient) is unacceptable. Even if there are religions that, as a matter of theology, advocate doctrines that are said to be compatible with evolution (or science more generally), this is not within the scope of NCSE’s charter.

    And to preempt another vacuous challenge from John Kwok, the NCSE is riddled with accommodationism. You merely have to look. I went over every single page on the entire website and dug out all of the references to accommodationist positions. The series I planned to write would have been 6-7 posts long. I got tired of it after 3 posts. In trawling through the RNCSE, I found SO MUCH accommodationism, it is ridiculous. Yes, I skimmed every issue of the RNCSE, dating all the way back to the 90s. I may flesh out those next 3-4 posts some day. But for now, the 3 posts here will have to do.

  54. bilbo

    Jerry Coyne’s another hot topic here, so I imagine this will eventually move to the old “Jerry only advbocates for evolution” canard again. Let’s review the record of posts on his blog in the last ten pages, shall we?

    -Lying for Darwin (religion rant)
    -One religion… (religion post)
    -Russell Blackford on… (theological screed)
    -Daniel Dennett on… (post promoting the destruction of religion)
    -Back from the islands (science-related)
    -In the Galapagos (unrelated)
    -Caturday felid (kitty porn)
    -Russell Blackford on… (anti-Islamic rant)
    -The Jews… (science)
    -I get mail (science/religion)
    -Strawberry Crab (science)
    -Convergent mutations (science)
    -Harris vs. Armstrong (personal attack on a religious believer’s theology)
    -The Guardian… (anti-Islamic rant)
    -We have a winner (uncategorized)
    -Russell Blackford… (anti-religion rant)
    -Contest (uncategorized)
    -Galapagos bound (science)
    -airlines… (random post turned into anti-Christian rant)
    -Sympathy for the devil… (science)
    -New Year’s (random)
    -Starting now…” (anti-religion screed)
    -Illinois…(science)
    -Best kittehs (kitteh porn)
    -Late survival… (science)
    -Big creationist… (anti-religion)
    -Rabbit is.. (personal attack on someone’s theology)
    -Xmas.. (science)
    -Orr on Wright (personal attack on someone’s theology)
    -Review of… (anti-religion)
    Bad idea of.. (anti-religion screed)
    -Getting the ducks… (science)
    -Andrew Sullivan (anti-Islamic rant)
    -The Darwin.. (science)
    -Caturday… (kitty porn)
    -Fluffy sucks! (atheism promotion)
    -Christmas… (random)
    -Animal… (science)
    -Inner Fish (science)
    -WEIT (science)
    -Duck penises… (science)
    -Venomous… (science)
    -Greta Christina (atheism promotion)
    -Dick Lewontin… (science)
    -More evidence (science)
    -Blogginheads (anti-religion rant)
    -Darwin conference… (science)
    -Italian science.. (science)
    -Roger Ebert (politics)
    -Evolution… (science)
    -Dear God.. (screed about the stupidity of religious people)
    -Reason Project.. (atheism promotion interestingly equating science with atheism)
    -Joe Lieberman (politics)
    -Caturday.. (kitty porn)
    -Oral Roberts (anti-religion post praising the death of a theist)
    -Penguin (random)
    -octopus (science)
    -blogginheads (anti-religion)
    -Theodicy III (personal attack on a person’s theology)
    -Jesus and Mo (anti-religion/anti-Islamic rant)
    -caturday (kitty porn)
    -Eric Macdonald (personal attack on someone’s theology)
    -Bad design (personal attack on someone’s theology)
    -holy cow (random turned religion mock)
    -WEIT (science)
    -How genetics (science)
    -Here we go again (personal attack on someone’s theology)
    -Incipient speciation (science)
    -50 books (atheism promotion)
    -end-of-year (random)
    -caturday (kitty porn)
    -Ben (random)
    -More sophisticated… (personal attack on someone’s theology)
    -Marc Hauser (science)
    -john Haught (personal attack on someone’s theology)
    -an answer (anti-religion rant)
    -more translations (random)
    -more on… (science)
    -Nat Geo.. (random)
    -Matt Cobb (science)

    So, here’s the record. On a blog called “Why Evolution Is True” – hosted by an author who presents himself via his professional bio and research program – the author spends only 30 percent of the time actually discussing science. Why evolution is true?! Really?! Jerry is simply trying to show that evolution is true by trying to kill religion first and worry about science later. Very disingenuous, very accommodating, very hypocritical, and very bastardizing of what science really is.

    Jerry Coyne: a hypocritical, disingenuous, liar-for-Darwin, science-bastardizing waste of an opportunity to teach others about evolution.

  55. J.J.E.

    “Are any public grammer[sic] schools and high schools in the U.S. teaching religion as science in the science classroom due to the strategy of science advocacy organizations such as the NCSE?

    Unless you can show that empirical evidence, I’ll have to conclude your objections are really about promoting atheism and not about science advocacy.”

    This chain of logic precludes any sort of prudent behavior informed from experiences at lower scales.

    Religion HAS been taught as science in schools (and overturned fortunately). Dogmatic thinking and argumentation from authority are not friendly to science. As evidenced by the history of creationism in the U.S., the consistent trajectory of Christian interaction with evolution education has been to little by little attenuate the overt contradictions with science while still slipping in the religious core. (Look at the string of cases from Scopes ’til Dover.) And, last time I checked, supernatural and/or dogmatic thinking is not conducive to science, no matter how watered down. And conveniently enough, it is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, so there is some legal basis to object to it in publicly funded schools, at least in the U.S.

    Finally, I really have a difficult time with non sequiturs. Why is it reasonable to assume that someone that doesn’t advocate what someone should believe is promoting atheism if they cannot demonstrate that the NCSE is pushing religion into schools with their advocacy?

    The default posture of science to religion is to “withhold judgment until evidence is available”. In the absence of evidence of any god, the NCSE should feel well within its rights to refrain from publishing and endorsing things like (things I lifted from NCSE publications promoting the compatibility of faith and science):

    “To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.”

    “To begin with creation is a fact. The world exists. We exist. Evolution is a theory.”

    “there is no contradiction between an evolutionary theory of human origins and the doctrine of God as Creator”

    “Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation.”

    You can check out the Clergy Letter Project and Denominational Views sections to find much more like that at the NCSE site.

  56. AdamS

    Putting the issue of whether the existence of religious scientists proves religion and science are compatable aside. I fail to see how organisations like the NCSE constantly saying they are is actually strategically better for science education when faced with a person such as depicted in Chris’ dialogue.

    That conversation could as well go:

    Religious believer: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

    NCSE: Well, there are plenty of religious scientists.

    Religious believer: I do have one friend who accepts evolution, but he stopped going to church too and that worries me.

    NCSE: Ken Miller is a Catholic he accepts evolution. So does Francis Collin’s a christian and former head of the Genome Project.

    Religious believer: But I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion? If we came from monkey’s how are we special. Where do our souls come from? Do monkey’s have souls?

    NCSE: Well actually, we didn’t come from monkeys but shared a common ancestor with apes and all species.

    Religious believer: So monkey’s are my uncle, and so are slugs? Was Jesus also related to a monkey? Have you listened to yourself? This is crazy. You just want to take people away from God.

    If a person’s faith tells them they are special creations, do you really think they’ll listen if you start saying they are not. It may happen. Talks and books by people such as Ken Miller may convince a few Christians to accept evolution. But so will books by Richard Dawkin’s and Jerry Coyne. If you want to make the case for a strategy, do it scientifically and show some real data that one approach is more effective than the other across a wide-range of people (Francis Collin1s is not going to convince Muslim’s).

    But I fear the efforts of both approaches will pale compared to the easy-to-swallow and widespread misinformation spread by Ken Ham and Ray Comfort.

  57. lacuna

    The apparent incompatibility of science and religion is purely a modern manifestation (circa 300-400 A.D.) If people actually read the Pauline new testament, they would find that early christians were the first scientists. God is a metaphor for truth, and there can be only one truth (that much is manifest).

  58. Luke Vogel

    Chris Mooney,

    I don’t think this is such a bad idea, there are many points here I agree with. I’d also say some objections raised so far are certainly valid, though obviously not new.

    However, I’d like to share my objections and skip what I agree on since I think I’ve made those fairly clear over the months.

    First, as an approach I think once again you’ve made the mistake of highlighting “new atheism(t) and generally making them a target, even if that is where the main objections are coming from with regards to this type of post, it is a mistake for two reasons. One, it’s not entirely true that’s where objections are solely coming from. Second, by doing that you are make a tactical error because you lose, again, efforts to find common ground on an important issue.

    Next, the title is an error IMO. There is no reason to say science organizations such as NCSE need to say “a lot”. That’s an overstatement. An example of how it is so is right in your example. Those conversations do arise, but how far they should go is often limited as we’ve seen time and time again. Straight answers to these question are a tenable position. Evolution by Natural Selection is a substantiated scientific theory with verified facts to back it up. In other words, evolution is true, get over it. Even saying that we will be faced with having to deal with larger issues and we can, because the objections will indeed go further than the religious belief by the believer in almost every case. We end up debating fundamentals more than compatibility (as we see with ID which has great influence). This does not say the basic approach of reaching out and explaining how a compatibility is possible, as I’ve outlined before.

    Lastly, even though I state my agreement I end up back with a fundamental disagreement we seem to have. I think those that reject a compatible approach get it wrong pervasively at times, but they also get it right (face it Chris). Here I will show an area such arguments are right and also my argument.

    First off the statement by NCSE goes to far in compatibility and I won’t belabor that point. I will say it is unnecessary to a certain degree. My problem with that is the same I’ve had with you personally (which I’ve outlined several times with regards your and Barbs saying Coyne in his reveiw, Seeing and Believing, was simply “uncivil”). When we do go to far, it makes it difficult to apply statements of skepticism and outright critique of the fundamental problems with a religious approach and scientific understanding. There are problems in Coyne’s review which I outlined (and other skeptics also), but they were quickly overshadowed by how you and some others took objection. We are left wondering if you understand the need for open skeptical inquiry when approaching religious claims that attempt to congeal them to scientific truths. Stephen J. Gould was very aware of this problem and was why he was outspoken of attempts of some involved in the Templeton Foundation. When religious scientist for example try openly to use a scientific understanding or domain, like quantum mechanics to justify a religious claim such as the Trinity, then proper skepticism is appropriate. The question is thrown back at you – why would we not allow objection since for several reasons, including scientific, philosophical and historically there are legitimate concerns? Do you not see this at all? Your approach consistently looks like you’re willing to give a blank check.

    That last part leads to how I will end this. I think part of what’s going on is beyond these debates. I think a large part is how we even talk about these things. This has lead to a road block when we are in fact all on the same team so to speak (here I think Coyne and Harris are exactly right in that you and others underestimate the ability of religious scientist to take and defend open criticism). However, lets take other essentially scientific organizations. One example would be the Skeptic’s Society. You may say that’s unfair, but it’s not, they are primarily involved in the distribution and defense of scientific rationalism. I doubt highly you would say they should just not openly criticise religion? Which leads to my final point. Even though I don’t have much of a problem with other scientific organizations making statement on religion, in fact I think it’s essential in certain regards, I also think there’s another side to that coin in that they should make perfectly CLEAR that skepticism is welcomed and offer that approach even on fundemental matters of religious beliefs and claims (which oddly they do when they take on “creationism”, they just need to allow the next step – and I think Genie would be ok with that, but I think people like you and certain religious scientist are creating that road block).

    Thanks, Chris. Keep up the good fight.

  59. “if religion is the mental block that prevents a wider understanding and acceptance of evolution …”
    The big word is if. I don’t see the block is religion – it is a deeper block against taking in information, against believing (as the old saying goes) that the truth will set us free.

    Instead, many religious people (far from all) seem to be living in fear of dealing with information, of sorting it through – as if religion could only exist in a world of ostriches. That’s not the kind of religion that could appeal to me – or many good-thinking people.

    I would not like belief in what cures cancer to be based on people’s turning from the facts – similarly I see healthy religious beliefs to be those that come from a wide openness to all that can be known of reality, and that certainly includes anything that comes from science.

    Instead, I welcome exploring what could the ultimate reality be – that for me is being truly religious.
    http://www.elsas-word-story-image-idea-music-emporium.com/ultimate-reality.html

  60. Luke Vogel

    To highlight what I think is an important aspect to my post, the almost essential aspect, (#61), allow me to illustrate what I mean in bringing in Stephen J. Gould and a critique that was thrown at him by another atheistic scientist who has argued very much like you have.

    Someone I greatly admire and who has taken and given lots of criticism recently in these types of debates, Michael Ruse, wrote a review of S.J. Gould’s, Rock’s of Ages. It was a mixed bag of a review, many were at the time. However, a lesson is within that review which hits this debate square between in the eyes.

    In Rock’s of Ages, Gould took the Templeton Foundation to task. He then gave specific examples out of the foundation to illustrate fundamental problem of mixing science and religion and not allowing open skepticism (remember Stephen wrote the forward to Why People Believe Weird Things).

    Here are some quotes Ruse took exception with from Gould’s book that targeted Arthur Peacocke.

    ~” “Is Mr. Peacocke’s God just retooling himself in the spiffy language of modern science.” Gould

    Ruse says yes, but adds, so what. Well, it’s obvious there’s a problem with this mixing, it utterly confuses scientific understanding beyond any attempt at compatibility. It is simply not compatibility, it is apologetics using scientific authority.

    Ruse write: ~ ” In Gould’s rather unkind way of putting things, you are going to have to reinterpret your faith in the “spiffy language of modern science.”

    Well, that is what psuedoscience does. And that’s part of my point Chris. When not allowing or blocking appropriate skepticism we are essentially allowing psuedoscience, which is dangerous. You see, these debates go beyond simple religious discourse, it does in fact hit on fundementals.

    Ruse mentions Gould’s attack on F. Russell Stannard’s attempt “to interpret the God/Jesus relationship in terms of the complementarity of the wave and particle natures of the electron.”

    Gould addressed this by saying: ~ “I don’t see what such a comparison could indicate except that the human mind can embrace contradiction (an interesting point, to be sure, but not a statement about the factual character of God), and that people can construct the wildest metaphors.”

    Gould is RIGHT. As in the above examples, Ruse takes objection to this because he asked, why not? One reason is because this is psuedoscience. Standard doesn’t have to be a religious apologist to make this argument, in fact many have in various ways. I fear you would side with Ruse here. However, I don’t think either of you would object if the skepticism wasn’t toward a religious claim and was instead astrology, for example (there’s one for Paul W. :) ). You see the problem, yet?

    Coyne is much of his arguments in, Seeing and Believing, and with Templeton actually mirrors many of Gould’s arguments. In fact, in that review his wonderful argument on the non-inevitability of humans was very Gouldian, and for this the review was simply labeled “uncivil” by you and not one note on what he got right or how well he defended scientific rationalism. I have a very important and harsh criticism of that review which has been brought up in some of these debates (it is why I call Coyne, Jerry “The 900 Foot Jesus” Coyne), but until I see on this blog an understanding of what I’m talking about I will refrain from getting into it.

  61. Luke Vogel

    I missed that other part of what Gould said about F. Russell Standard’s psuedoscience as quoted by Ruse, who took objection.

    Gould: ~ “”Wooly metaphor misportrayed as decisive content”

    Was Gould being “uncivil” , Chris?

  62. TB

    So JJE’s got nothing. No empirical evidence that science advocacy organizations like the NCSE are responible fir religion being taught in oublic school science class.
    All he’s got – here and at his links – is anger that anyone like that is engaging with potential allies who are also religious. Got it.

  63. TB

    For comment in moderation, fir = for and oublic = public. Posting via mobil and tiny mobil web post area = sucks.

    And all AdamS proves is he’s not able to have an effective conversation on this matter.

  64. gillt

    Jon: ”

    As usual, he fails to offer any advice on how he thinks it can be done better.

    “It’s implied in what he said. The last part of the dialog says this:”

    The answer is an ellipses. That’s not advice.

    Jon: “This is right on the money. It would help if the NCSE could say: “Scientists believe many things on those kinds of questions. Some scientists are Christian, some are Jewish, some are Hindu, or Buddhist. And I can name you a number of them that have no problem reconciling science and their beliefs. And of course there are many scientists who are secular humanists, as is the case with the population at large.”

    There’s nothing stopping the NCSE from saying this, in fact they do say it…so what’s your point?

    Again, if Mooney know’s of a better way to address this situation, why didn’t he just say what it is?

  65. gillt

    Can anyone “prove”–to use TB’s words–that religious accomodation works in respects to better science literacy in America?

  66. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    I’ll give it a shot if you expand a little on what you mean? I don’t mean to be petty, but I would like something a bit more clear.

    A few suggestions that may help me. Define “accomodation”, why is prove in quotes – what are you actually asking for etc. Can you we view this beyond America, I take it you mean the United States?

  67. TB

    @ 68 gilt

    The Dover trial, according to my criteria, and already given as an example. Now answer my questions or admit to being the troll that you are.

    You and other trolls continually demand people answer your questions – well, right back at you.

  68. Paul W.

    TB,

    You seem to be having some difficulty with the concepts of the invalidity of an argument and the absolutely standard proof strategy of reductio ad absurdam (“reduction to absurdity”)

    When I showed that Chad’s first main argument was invalid, I only showed that his particular argument doesn’t logically work—that’s what it means for an argument to be invalid, and it’s a different thing from saying that the conclusion is false. In itself, saying that the argument is invalid doesn’t say anything about the conclusion of the argument, except that the argument doesn’t work to prove it.

    So if you think it’s appropriate to counter my claim that the argument is invalid by saying that I haven’t disproven the conclusion, you are missing the point. You should acknowledge that the given argument is broken, and then we can move on and discuss things that are actually relevant to whether the conclusion is true.

    You seem to think that my reductio ad absurdam is “only an analogy” and in a sense you’re right. A reductio uses a very specific kind of analogy to show that a set of premises is unsound because it can lead to contradictions. If it leads to any contradictions, by any set of valid logical steps, something is seriously wrong with the assumptions.

    So yes, it’s “only” an analogy, but it is a particular kind of analogy that rigorously proves that an argument is invalid.

    You seem to be saying that I’ve waffled, and backpedaled to the position that it’s only an analogy. I haven’t. In the sense above, it was always an analogy, and I never claimed otherwise. It is also a strictly logical proof of the clear invalidity of Chad’s argument.

    The point my saying to you that it’s only an analogy is that it doesn’t matter what we run through Chad’s argument, and it doesn’t matter that he wants to use it to talk about religion. What matters is the internal structure of the argument, and whether it’s sound.

    Chad says that “compatible” only means that people can combine things.

    In formal logic notation, he’s asserted a very simple axiom that

    Both(x,y) -> Compatible(x,y)

    That is, for any two things x and y, if you can do both, they are compatible.

    My argument shows that this simple axiom is simply wrong. The implication does not hold in general.

    I show that by using his axiom, and showing that we can plug true stuff in the left hand side and get false stuff out the right hand side. I replace x and y with things that some people do both of, such as science and doing pseudoscience, and show that despite the left hand proposition being true, the right hand proposition isn’t.

    Both(Science, Pseudoscience) -> Compatible(Science, Pseudoscience)

    In English, this says that if you can do both science and pseudoscience, then science and pseudoscience are compatible. I think we all agree that this is false, so we must have used a bad axiom somewhere.

    Since we only used one axiom—the statement Chad gave us about what “compatible” means—it’s clear where the fault lies. Chad’s axiom about compatibity is just wrong.

    I’m making an analogy here, but only in the sense that I’m making a different argument with exactly the same logical structure as Chad’s, and showing it to be wrong, in order to show that his if-then rule is wrong.

    The point here is not (and never was) to say that religion is like pseudoscience; it’s not an analogy in that sense.

    The just point is to show that the axiom Chad asserts is a bad one and we must discard it. We shouldn’t apply it to anything at all, like religion or unlike religion, because it’s simply broken.

  69. TB

    57. bilbo lists Coynes post topics and, even if he’s gotten something wrong, it’s undeniable that he mixes science topics with his personal position on religion (atheism).

    And he’s free to do that on his blog. But, in doing so he’s compromised his scientific authority – which contributed to his book, the book whose title is the same as the blog, the blog where his about page identifies him as a scientist and other links take you to his university web page where you can find information about his scientific career among other professional information.

    He clearly wants to be seen as representing science – a scientific authority – but has disregarded his scientific neutrality to promote a position on religion – atheism – at the same time as discussing science.

    To criticize others for violating scientific neutrality while blatantly disregarding it for himself is hypocritical. Anyone supporting Coyne’s actions while also decrying science advocacy organizations for violating some artificial standard of neutrality that doesn’t include people like Coyne … are being hypocritical.

    That’s what “Stop advocating what you’re advocating so I can advocate what I’m advocating all under an artificial standard of neutrality” means. If you didn’t know that before, now you do.

    @69 Luke Vogel

    Stop feeding the trolls. The NCSE operates at the “local, state, and national levels” in the United States, and gilt’s question has already been answered quite thoroughly. He’s the one who needs to answer questions now.

  70. gillt

    TB: “The Dover trial, according to my criteria, and already given as an example. Now answer my questions or admit to being the troll that you are.”

    One criteria is acceptance of evolution, which has remained stagnate for the past twenty years.

    How does the Dover Trial correlate to better science literacy in America? I wanted “Empirical Evidence” as you yourself demanded!

  71. @ Chris Mooney:

    I’d like to cut through the rehashing of the compatibility/incompatibilty arguments and go straight to your hypothetical believer questsions, and ask a more practical question related to the hypothetical questions you posed:

    Religious believer: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

    (…)

    Religious believer: I do have one friend who accepts evolution, but he stopped going to church too and that worries me.

    (…)

    Religious believer: And I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion?

    Could you please tell us how you would suggest the NCSE answer these questions instead? You can’t just claim that this hypothetical conversation shows that a neutral stance of NCSE is inferior to an accommodationist stance, without showing us that it is plausible that your strategy could deal with these questions better.

    In particular, I’d like to know how you would deal with the first question. Because, no matter what you say, you are going to disagree with their pastor, so there is already one conflict that you can’t avoid. Well, at least not without either conceding the point (which defeats the stated goal of getting people to accept evolution), dodging the question (which is dishonest, and people are likely to see through it), or adopting strict neutrality (a strategy you appear to reject).

    On the last two questions, you can’t truthfully say that there is no danger of dropping out of church over evolution, nor that their children will never become materialists, as I’m sure they’ll know of plenty of examples of exactly that happening. So what would you suggest instead?

    And more interestingly, how would you suggest an atheist scientist respond to these questions? Are they allowed to point out that they don’t believe in damnation? That a meaningful life can exist outside of the church? That there is nothing wrong with people who don’t believe in the supernatural, and besides, they can’t (and shouldn’t) control their children’s choices in these matters anyway? Or do you think they should better argue in favor of theological or philosophical positions they don’t themselves hold?

  72. J.J.E.

    @ TB

    Are you interested in engaging with someone who disagrees with you? Your latest post indicates your desire to claim victory by fiat, despite my suggestion that your previous argument was a non sequitur. Usually when such claims are made by one particpants in a good faith discussion, the other will either try and clear up the misconceptions by restating the argument in a way that doesn’t appear as a non sequitur or admit that a poor argument was made. Ignoring the claim altogether and declaring victory is, how shall I put it…? Counterproductive to discourse?

    Oh, and about your claim that I have “anger”… What part of the argument does that bear on again?

  73. J.J.E.

    @ Luke #61

    Reading this post in the context of your previous postings as well as reading the chapter entitled “The Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder” in “The Demon Haunted World” has renewed my supply of optimism with regard to communicating science and skepticism simultaneously. Thanks! In the end we always had compatible goals: strong science education and a skeptical* populace that can think for itself.

    * skepticism does not REQUIRE atheism in my lexicon, though ymmv.

  74. Sorbet

    -And I’m not ” pointing to the prominence or lack thereof of scientists…”, I’m pointing to
    a) the lack of any prominent scientist being named who believes in western astrology; and,
    b) the fact that the existence or nonexistence of such a scientist is besides the point, since their existence would not disprove the basic premise.

    Ok, so now you seem to be contradicting yourself; in the first point you ask for prominent scientists who believe in “western astrology”, and in your second point you (rightly) say that this is besides the point. However, what basic premise would their existence not disprove? And the false equivalency that you are talking about it exactly one which Mooney and Orzel stated; that the existence of scientists who believe in X proves that X is true. It’s rather remarkable that you would go on talking about strawmen and astrology, miss the general point, and then not understand this most basic of logical fallacies which has been pointed out by myself, Paul W, Sean Carroll and many others.

    -Now it’s your turn to answer my challenge: Has anyone put forth any empirical evidence that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class?

    TB, this is a clever way of trying to turn the tables on us but we have seen this before. You may recall that the whole argument started with Mooney and others claiming the opposite, that advocacy of atheism turns people away from science. At no point whatsoever, even after repeated challenges, has Mooney provided empirical evidence for this claim. On the other hand, when did anyone explicitly claim that accommodationism will bring religion into classes? We have observed many times though that accommodationism which has been practiced by centuries has not exactly reduced scientific illiteracy and irrational religious belief.

    -Unless you can show that empirical evidence, I’ll have to conclude your objections are really about promoting atheism and not about science advocacy
    Again, let me rephrase the question to one which we have been asking for a year on this blog; “Unless you can show that empirical evidence, I’ll have to conclude your objections are really about promoting accommodationism and not about science advocacy”. Unless you, Mooney and others can first support the claim that advocacy of atheism turns people away from science, you hardly have the right to ask others to support their (nonexistent) claim that advocacy of accommodationism will bring religion into classes.

  75. Paul W.

    TB,

    And he’s free to do that on his blog. But, in doing so he’s compromised his scientific authority – which contributed to his book, the book whose title is the same as the blog, the blog where his about page identifies him as a scientist and other links take you to his university web page where you can find information about his scientific career among other professional information.

    There’s a weak sense in which I have to agree with you here—pretty much Julie’s sense that PZ is doing the right thing to label his blog up front as godless. It’s a bit misleading for Coyne to name his blog “Why evolution is true” and not even subtitle it the way PZ does to make it clear his blog is about what he thinks, more generally, including his liberal and godless views.

    However…

    <blockquote
    He clearly wants to be seen as representing science – a scientific authority – but has disregarded his scientific neutrality to promote a position on religion – atheism – at the same time as discussing science.

    There’s nothing wrong with that. He is a scientific authority in the same sense that Collins or Miller is, and all of them have the right to spout their views about the relationship between science and religion—whether they’re compatible and how or why, or whether they’re incompatible and how or why.

    This is the sort of thing that there ought to be a vibrant debate about, as scientists, and there is nothing inappropriate about Coyne saying that he thinks science systematically undermines religion, if that’s what he thinks and he’s willing to argue his view.

    Likewise for Collins and Miller and their views. If they really think that science and religion are compatible, or even that their scientific expertise leads them to believe that science supports their religious beliefs, fine—-they should say so, and make their arguments, and everybody should openly criticize everybody else’s arguments.

    That’s exactly how academic freedom is supposed to work—individual scientists (and other scholars) are not supposed to hold back because their views don’t reflect a consensus. If they do, no consensus will ever emerge, or worse, a dumb consensus will likely emerge because people don’t criticize ideas.

    You don’t seem to understand academic freedom and the marketplace of ideas.

    You are also assuming that science is neutral toward religion, and that is begging the question. The debate between people like Collins and Miller and people like Coyne and Dawkins is precisely about whether science is neutral toward religion, or positive, or negative. (And more specifically which kinds or aspects of religion.)

    You seem to want that debate stopped, as though it’s somehow inappropriate for scientists to engage in, as scientists.

    Too bad. It’s going to go on, and it should, because science does have a lot to say about religion, and nobody has the right to keep individual scientists from speaking up, as the individual scientists that they are, about how they see those issues.

    To criticize others for violating scientific neutrality while blatantly disregarding it for himself is hypocritical.

    There is no rule of scientific neutrality toward religion. None. Never has been. Never will be. Get used to it.

    If individual scientists think science is compatible with religion, they can say so—and many always have. If they think it’s not, they can say that too. Any stifling of dissent is antiscientific.

    Anyone supporting Coyne’s actions while also decrying science advocacy organizations for violating some artificial standard of neutrality that doesn’t include people like Coyne … are being hypocritical.

    It’s not an artificial standard of neutrality, and it’s not about religion per se.

    Scientific organizations are supposed to be neutral toward propositions on which there isn’t a scientific consensus. They are not supposed to take sides in live scientific controversies.

    It is a live scientific controversy whether science and religion are compatible. Some scientists think that science can explain religion, and do so in a way that undermines religion’s claims about their “ways of knowing” and so on.

    Other scientists disagree.

    Scientific bodies are not supposed to take sides in situations like that, not because of a rule about neutrality toward religion, but simply because there is no scientific consensus.

    People like Coyne are not hypocrites for promoting their views and criticizing the NAS et al. from taking sides on the same issues.

    They would be hypocrites if they said that their promoting their views was okay, but other individual scientists should not. Collins is free to argue with Coyne, and vice versa, because neither represents each other—they can disagree.

    The NAS, on the other hand, should not be criticizing or agreeing with either Collins or Coyne, because it represents the whole scientific community, including both of them. It’s only supposed to take a side if and when a consensus emerges.

    There is no hypocrisy in that. Only you failing repeatedly to grasp a crucial distinction, and throwing around false accusations.

    You don’t seem to understand how science works, or what scientific organizations are for. Science thrives on individual scientists disagreeing about what’s what; that’s their job. Scientific organizations do not and should not serve the same role.

  76. TB

    @ 73 gilt “One criteria is acceptance of evolution,”

    Nope. I’ve listed the criteria. Here it is again:

    Has anyone put forth any empirical evidence that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class? Is there evidence that this approach ended up with the science organizations endorsing the teaching of religion in a public school science class? Are any public grammar schools and/or high schools in the U.S. teaching religion as science in the science classroom due to the strategy of science advocacy organizations such as the NCSE?

    See what I’m doing there? I’m rejecting your attempts to define the debate. We’ve established that the previous terms of the debate – an artificial standard of neutrality – are no longer operational.

    @ Luke: I don’t intend to be disrespectful or harsh to you, but gilt’s invitation is a ploy to twist the debate into a frame he wants to promote. You don’t have to buy into that.

  77. Paul W.

    Oops… blockquote fail in my previous comment in reply to TB

    it should have said

    However…

    But, in doing so he’s compromised his scientific authority – which contributed to his book, the book whose title is the same as the blog, the blog where his about page identifies him as a scientist and other links take you to his university web page where you can find information about his scientific career among other professional information.

    There’s nothing wrong with that. He is a scientific authority in the same sense that Collins or Miller is, and all of them have the right to spout their views about the relationship between science and religion—whether they’re compatible and how or why, or whether they’re incompatible and how or why.

    This is the sort of thing that there ought to be a vibrant debate about, as scientists, and there is nothing inappropriate about Coyne saying that he thinks science systematically undermines religion, if that’s what he thinks and he’s willing to argue his view. [...]

  78. gillt

    Luke, I explained why “prove” was in quotes, because TB used it to demand empirical evidence on whether accommodation is harmful to the “cause.” I thought that silly, so I used it too.

    The reason I asked for evidence is that the accomodationist strategy has been going on for several decades (NCSE was founded right around the time of the rise of the political Christian Right). I very much want the NCSE to succeed in its stated purpose, but progress by most any account has been unremarkable and even depressing: American acceptance of evolution has either stayed the same or gotten worse (depending on your source) over the past twenty years.

    I’ll provide an admittedly biased definition, so by all means feel free to add or subtract.

    1. Accomodationism: ill-considered reasons for coddling religion.

    2. A political maneuver that stresses civility and tone over reason and science.

    3. According to Forrest, Mooney and Miller, accomodationism is a tactic that would have scientific organization along with secularists and atheists making-nice with anyone paying lip-service to Darwin–in the great battle against ID creationism–and never criticize them for saying things that water down science to give people a mistaken view of what science says.

    4. Accomodationists hold the belief that pro-evolution forces must not show any divisiveness, even if doing so means self-censorship. (e.g., Mooney/Forrest->Coyne New Republic article)

    5. Accomodationism supports a highly controversial (and thus misleading) compatibility between science and religion.

  79. gillt

    TB: “Has anyone put forth any empirical evidence that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class?”

    Sounds like a double-dare, but no one is blaming accomodationism tactics leading to religion being taught in schools. That would happen whether accomodationists were around or not. Unlike Mooney and Forrest, I don’t say those with whom I disagree are hurting the pro-evolution cause. I am saying that accomodationism’s tactics are either negligible or ineffective.

  80. Paul W.

    TB,

    Has anyone put forth any empirical evidence that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class? Is there evidence that this approach ended up with the science organizations endorsing the teaching of religion in a public school science class? Are any public grammar schools and/or high schools in the U.S. teaching religion as science in the science classroom due to the strategy of science advocacy organizations such as the NCSE?

    As has been pointed out, this is a non sequitur. Nobody on either side has put out any real evidence either way.

    Nobody on the nonaccommodationist side has claimed anything like what you’re talking about, so the burden of proof is not on them.

    People on the accommodationist side, in contrast, frequently tell us what we clearly must do, or disaster will befall us, so the burden of proof is on them. You don’t want to go there.

    You seem to be—inadvertently, I assume—doing the very thing you have accused others of. You are derailing the discussion rather than addressing the arguments already on the table.

    Before we move on to what you’re talking about—-or even the argument that it’s relevant, how about you address what people have been saying.

    In particular, Chad Orzel’s argument is invalid, isn’t it?

    If you don’t understand the concept of an argument being invalid, or why the invalidity of an argument is relevant in a response to that argument, please say so.

    If you don’t understand that a reductio ad absurdam refutes the argument, say that.

    Also, do you understand the distinction I’ve been making between individual scientists and scientific organizations that represent many scientists? Do you see why it can be appropriate, even necessary, for scientists to promote their individual scientific views, but inappropriate for scientific organizations to take sides in the very same controversies?

    Please address those issues squarely before changing the subject.

  81. TB

    @ 75. J.J.E.

    If you want to engage me, answer my questions directly. You listed off a history of religious challenges to evolution and science, but failed to provide empirical evidence of how a science advocacy agency like the NCSE helped and endorsed those people in their challenge to evolution and science.

    In fact, you mentioned the Scopes trial in your example, something that occurred decades before the NCSE was even formed!

    You’ve had no problem supporting the challenges to accomodationism, it’s disingenuous to now not engage with a challenge from the opposite side.

  82. J.J.E.

    @ TB

    “[you] failed to provide empirical evidence of how a science advocacy agency like the NCSE helped and endorsed those people in their challenge to evolution and science.”

    O.K. Agreed. As you’ll see below, the shape of my argument indicates that the burden of proof is not mine.

    “In fact, you mentioned the Scopes trial in your example, something that occurred decades before the NCSE was even formed!”

    And…? I don’t see why this is worthy of mention. My point is that religion often conflicts with science. And the NCSE statements bear a resemblance to Trojan horse religion like Templeton (see Luke’s comment @ #61).

    “it’s disingenuous to now not engage with a challenge from the opposite side.”

    That’s my whole question! What is the challenge from the other side? I think you are constructing your counterarguments before you’ve fully engaged the arguments in the first place. I suppose there is a position in the rhetorical space of this discussion that would be amenable to your argument. But I ain’t sittin’ there! I’m sittin’ somewhere else.

    Let me recap what I’m actually saying:

    1) By definition no “faith” is (and incidentally, few “religions” are) free of explicit and persistent dogmas;
    2) Dogma is inimical to the scientific method (See: Lysenko, Trofim);
    3) The overriding priority of a science organization, more than any other priority, is to present the best possible approximation of truth available.

    Therefore, at the very least, it is a controversial claim to make a blanket claim that “religion and science are compatible”. I concede a lot when I say only this. In no way shape or form is it a consensus that they are compatible. (I COULD argue, with a great deal of success, that science and religion are definitionally incompatible and that religion should either retreat into its own magisterium and leave science alone or else suffer “disproof”. But I won’t for this thread. Too much already going on.)

    The only way I see room for your argument to be topical is if you substitute an alternate for my #3:

    3a) While important, the overriding priority of a science organization is not necessarily to present the best possible approximation of truth. Tactical political considerations are also important, in in particular, trump the lack of consenus on the issue in our debate about NCSE.

    Note, by taking my #3 (instead of the alternative #3a), the priority I place on presenting the best picture of truth we have trumps tactical considerations. To relax this priority in general is a betrayal of everything science stands for. I know you don’t want that. So, the alternative is to relax that betreal only with regard to the compatibility issue. That’s special pleading. If you are making a special plea, your justification has to be pretty good.

    This has two consequences:

    1) The burden of proof shifts to you. I’m upholding the general principle, you’re making the special plea; therefore it is fair to ask, among other things:
    2) How tactically advantageous must the pro-accommodationism approach compared to the accommodationism-neutral be before it outweighed the priority of not representing the state of our knowledge as accurately possible (i.e., it is a VERY controversial claim to make that religion is compatible with science)? If there is 0 (or very little) tactical advantage to accommodationism, then your argument fails even on your own terms.

    I’d be willing to end the debate with the understanding that we have different priorities. The way I would characterize such a difference in priority is:

    TB: it is O.K. every once in a while for framing to trump an issue of whether or not “compatibility” is true.

    J.J.E.: Science is poorly served by ever being disengenuous, even if it feels politically advantageous. Not only does such disengenuity debase science, it disrespects those it seeks to mollify. “Soft bigotry/low expectations” and all…

  83. Paul W.

    Julie,

    Since I became involved in the last religion comment thread here (and even had a philosophical position pinned on me for it), I’ve been reading up on the “accommodationism” debates, and I’ve noticed something that directly relates back to the last thread. When “antiaccommodationists” blog on accommodationism and/or comment about it on other blogs, they seem to stress “official neutrality” – that is, the stance that official organizations should not promote religion OR atheism in conjunction with science. But when you read longer posts about the topic, most antiaccommodationists actually just seem to want religion forced out of the discussion and seem to have no problem if atheism is promoted instead.

    Sean Carroll, for example, has replied to Chris’s post implying that it’d be fine if the NCSE endorsed that abandoning religion made one “happier.”

    No, he hasn’t. You missed the fact that his bottom-line point is just the opposite, for the same reason—there is no consensus, and without a consensus it would be wrong for science organizations to take either side in the controversy.

    The part you mention is spinning a wouldn’t-it-be-cool fantasy scenario, saying that as an atheist who thinks that science and religion are incompatible, it would be cool if they took his position, which he thinks is true. But—and this is a big but—he decisively says that’s not what organizations should actually do:

    How awesome would that be? I don’t actually advocate this kind of dialogue in this particular context — as I just said, I think science organizations should simply steer clear.

    and here’s what he’s referring to that he “just said”

    In response to this situation, we uncompromising atheists have a typically strident and trouble-making idea: organizations that bill themselves as “centers for science education” and “associations for science” and “academies of science” should not take stances on matters of religion. Outlandish, I know. But we think that organizations dedicated to science should not wander off into theology, even with the best of intentions. Stick with talking about science, and everyone should be happy.

    You say:

    Several other examples could easily be brought up of this.

    In the earlier thread, I addressed most-talked-about examples of Coyne’s supposed hypocrisy, and you did not respond.

    I also asked you which of the many other examples being tossed around you found most damning, so that I could look at the good evidence and see if I agreed or disagreed. I’m still interested, if you want to give me a couple more examples. (Preferably back in the older thread, so as not to derail this one so much, but whatever.)

    (By the way, one of the reasons I asked you is that I don’t classify you as an “accommodationist” per se, as you thought I did; I was looking for evidence that might persuade somebody who isn’t one, and is less likely to misinterpret Coyne as being hypocritical when he’s not.)

  84. Milton C.

    We have observed many times though that accommodationism which has been practiced by centuries has not exactly reduced scientific illiteracy and irrational religious belief.

    Sorbet, we indeed have observed that “accommodationism,” either in philosophical form or a form of science collaborating with the religious community, hasn’t moved poll numbers.

    But, as Philip Jr. pointed out in this linked post from another blog, the claim that the evidence paints collaboration as a failure falls apart when it is viewed outside of public acceptance of evolution. I’ll ask you the same as I did J.J.E. – how do you view “accommodationism” when it moves to another sphere of applied science and outside of classic creationism v. evolution disputes, such as those in that link? How are you even defining “accommodationism” – just a philosophical compatibility or also those who engage in practical collaboration with the faith-based world? I think vague definitions sometimes make us argue against each other when there’s really some common ground there. Maybe we are all missing some important commonalities here by not explicitly definfing things and considering the totality of what one can call scientific advancement…

  85. TB

    @ 77. Sorbet:

    I apologize for the long reply, and the formatting. I don’t want to inadvertently introduce stray html into the comments.

    TB: “-And I’m not ” pointing to the prominence or lack thereof of scientists…”, I’m pointing to
    a) the lack of any prominent scientist being named who believes in western astrology; and,
    b) the fact that the existence or nonexistence of such a scientist is besides the point, since their existence would not disprove the basic premise.”
    Sorbet: Ok, so now you seem to be contradicting yourself;

    ——
    TB:
    No, not at all. Remember, I don’t accept your entire argument in the first place so I have no problem pointing out all the potential pitfalls with it.
    ——
    Sorbet:
    in the first point you ask for prominent scientists who believe in “western astrology”, …

    ——
    TB:
    In this particular instance, the point I’m making is that I don’t have to accept your interpretation of the basic statement.

    For one, you’re trying to introduce a situation (Hindu astrology in India) that exists in another country with an entirely different culture, and that’s actually a way of expanding the debate into areas that science advocacy organizations like the NCSE have nothing to say about. They have no office there. To my knowledge they have not filed any legal briefs there.
    Then, you apparently name an engineer and bureaucrat as a “scientist.” If he was who you meant to name, you think maybe that wasn’t a sufficient answer to a request for a scientist like Miller or Collins?

    They’re both a way of trying to impose a meaning that the author didn’t intend and would not necessarily endorse.

    It’s also a way of taking the discussion away from the role of individuals or organizations that work here, in the U.S., to address the problems here, in the U.S., and moving the discussion into topics that concern people who take a position on religion in the world.
    That’s an entirely different debate. That’s my point – you’re bringing concerns about one thing (atheism) into a situation that’s about another (science advocacy in the U.S.).

    As valid and as interesting as your concerns about the world may be, it’s a mistake to demand a U.S. science advocacy organization must address them all.

    ——
    Sorbet:
    and in your second point you (rightly) say that this is besides the point.

    ——–
    TB: Exactly. Why are we debating this?

    ——–
    Sorbet:
    However, what basic premise would their existence not disprove? And the false equivalency that you are talking about it exactly one which Mooney and Orzel stated; that the existence of scientists who believe in X proves that X is true. It’s rather remarkable that you would go on talking about strawmen and astrology, miss the general point, and then not understand this most basic of logical fallacies which has been pointed out by myself, Paul W, Sean Carroll and many others.

    ——
    TB:

    Paul W makes a lot of points. Sometimes he gets called out on them and then denies he made those points and tries to obscure what he clearly said. That’s the history I have with him and in case it’s not clear, it’s the reason why I don’t engage with him. He’s been far too dishonest in exchanges with him.

    Sorbet, you brought up a number of things too. For instance, you brought up ghosts and rays. Others in other threads have brought up fairies or Santa Claus. But if we go to the science that addresses these things directly, anthropology, there is a clear distinction between folklore and myth vs. religion.

    You’re comparing apples and oranges. Y is not X, and you don’t get to define X in this instance, which is what all this comparison is trying to do. That logical fallacy is from your side.

    Another fallacy is that assuming the existence of one thing automatically negates the existence of another. For instance, we know the continued existence of apes doesn’t mean that evolution is wrong and humans shouldn’t be around. Just because one thing continues to exist doesn’t mean another, similar thing doesn’t also exist.

    The issue is not: “Do they believe in religion?” That’s an issue for someone concerned with taking a position on religion, like atheism.

    The issue is: “Do they allow whatever their beliefs are to compromise their professional work as a scientist or lead them to advocate their personal religious beliefs be taught as science in a public school science class?” If the answer is no, as an advocate for science education I have no need to address the other question.

    That you seem to feel otherwise suggests strongly to me your goals are different from science advocacy. That’s fine, but that’s a problem if you insist that science advocates also adopt your goals. BTW, you could substitute the world atheism for the word religion in those two statements and my opinion on what the proper answer should be would be the same.

    ——
    TB:
    -Now it’s your turn to answer my challenge: Has anyone put forth any empirical evidence that proves this “accomodationist” approach results in religion being taught in public school science class?
    Sorbet
    TB, this is a clever way of trying to turn the tables on us but we have seen this before.

    ——
    TB:
    Yeah it is. I appreciate what you’re saying but I don’t think it’s especially clever. However, it is valid. They’re my standards for individuals and science advocacy organizations in the U.S. At this point, they are more legitimate than the artificial standard of neutrality that Coyne and others demand but do not themselves abide by.

    ——
    Sorbet:
    You may recall that the whole argument started with Mooney and others claiming the opposite, that advocacy of atheism turns people away from science.

    ——
    TB:
    Actually they were responding to people who were advocating a position on religion (atheism) and co-mingling that with science advocacy. It’s a completely different question than the topic of this thread.

    ——
    Sorbet:
    At no point whatsoever, even after repeated challenges, has Mooney provided empirical evidence for this claim.

    ——
    TB:
    Yes, it’s fun to demand empirical evidence! Never mind what you mean by empirical evidence and whether that is needed.

    BTW, how are you doing on my demands for empirical evidence?

    ——
    Sorbet:
    On the other hand, when did anyone explicitly claim that accommodationism will bring religion into classes? We have observed many times though that accommodationism which has been practiced by centuries has not exactly reduced scientific illiteracy and irrational religious belief.

    ——
    TB:
    And Sorbet introduces another artificial standard: “accommodationism which has been practiced by centuries has not exactly reduced scientific illiteracy and irrational religious belief.”
    Accommodationism has been around for centuries? But Sorbet, what’s been around longer? Accommodationism or atheism? Under this premise, atheism has failed too.
    Nevermind, I don’t agree with either scenario. But if you want to measure by centuries, are you seriously denying that scientific knowledge is no better now than it was centuries ago? Maybe you can start with the empiric data on the number of people who can read today vs. the number “centuries ago.” And centuries = more than 1,200 years ago, otherwise you would have said dozens of centuries, right? (see what I did there? I arbitrarily defined your statement for you)

    You also infer a false claim to me: “when did anyone explicitly claim that accommodationism will bring religion into classes?”
    I never said anyone did. What I’ve done is reject your standard and laid out my standard by which to judge if accommodationism is failing.

    It’s fun and easy to do and perfectly valid!

    ——
    Sorbet:
    (TB) Unless you can show that empirical evidence, I’ll have to conclude your objections are really about promoting atheism and not about science advocacy

    Again, let me rephrase the question to one which we have been asking for a year on this blog; “Unless you can show that empirical evidence, I’ll have to conclude your objections are really about promoting accommodationism and not about science advocacy”. Unless you, Mooney and others can first support the claim that advocacy of atheism turns people away from science, you hardly have the right to ask others to support their (nonexistent) claim that advocacy of accommodationism will bring religion into classes.

    ——
    TB:
    “you hardly have the right to ask” Oh, sure I do! It’s a freaking blog comment section! And you’re avoiding my questions by going off-topic.

    But, did you read the book? Did you read the footnotes? Did you see the evidence presented there? There is nothing wrong with the quality of evidence given in that book that demands we then need to gather further data. There is nothing wrong with the variety of polling data that has been linked to on this blog that supports the supposition that many people who are forced to choose between science and religion will choose religion.

    There’s nothing wrong with the data, you just disregard it. You’ve been answered.

    So, do I infer from your reply that accommodationism has not resulted in U.S. science advocacy organizations like the NCSE advocating for teaching religion instead of science in public grammar and/or high schools?

  86. Julie

    Paul W:

    First off, whenever I mention “some people” or “some person,” that doesn’t mean you by default…so I’m curious as to why you’re claiming that I said you made a number of claims about me when I never actually did. That makes you look like you’re either relishing a bit too much in the tribal nature of this debate (by automatically aligning yourself as fundamentally against or for whatever certain people say) or you’re overeager to pin positions on me, others, and yourself. Try not to take things so personally, and people such as myself won’t seem as argumentative.

    Secondly, after watching you accuse a couple of posters on the last thread of outright lying and fabircating quotes, and then later completely recanting with some rather curious rationalizations, I’m not going to engage in your “You link me a quote, I’ll brand you a liar, and then I’ll later recant and write a couple of long, rambling paragraphs to spin it my way” game. As I said in my last post (or maybe the one before it), there are valid arguments on both sides of the coin in this discussion. I’m not trying to deem one side wholly correct or wholly wrong.

    Lastly, a couple of your “gotcha” points in your post (#86) are actually things I admitted to being fuzzy areas myself…so you’re essentially arguing against me on areas where we don’t really even disagree. I’d suggest stop posting to just keep score here, and you’ll probably find yourself in a much better discussion.

    Lastly (and not directly addressed to Paul W.), I believe that Milton’s question regarding some interesting examples of accommodationism outside of evolution acceptance in post #47 is a good one, and it almost got killed before it started by some rather boneheaded posts from bilbo, gillt, & co. What do some of you, Paul W. included, make of it?

  87. TB

    Got a loooong one in moderation, but…

    @ JJE 85

    “3) The overriding priority of a science organization, more than any other priority, is to present the best possible approximation of truth available.”

    Please show me what scientific advocacy organization has this as their number one priority. Why should science advocacy organizations be responsible for defining what “the best possible approximation of truth available” is for other people? What is truth?

  88. Jon

    Gillt in #67:

    Jon: “This is right on the money. It would help if the NCSE could say: “Scientists believe many things on those kinds of questions. Some scientists are Christian, some are Jewish, some are Hindu, or Buddhist. And I can name you a number of them that have no problem reconciling science and their beliefs. And of course there are many scientists who are secular humanists, as is the case with the population at large.”

    There’s nothing stopping the NCSE from saying this, in fact they do say it…so what’s your point?

    They should say it more. They should say it “a lot,” as Chris says above.

    If you’re agreeing, then what’s *your* point?

  89. Paul W.

    TB,

    From the NAS mission statement:

    Since 1863, the nation’s leaders have often turned to the National Academies for advice on the scientific and technological issues that frequently pervade policy decisions. Most of the institution’s science policy and technical work is conducted by its operating arm, the National Research Council, created expressly for this purpose. These non-profit organizations provide a public service by working outside the framework of government to ensure independent advice on matters of science, technology, and medicine. They enlist committees of the nation’s top scientists, engineers, and other experts, all of whom volunteer their time to study specific concerns.

    The main function of the NAS is to be trustworthy source of information on science and technology that does not blow with the political winds—that’s why it’s set up as as a set of nonprofits, working “outside the framework of government” “to ensure independent advice.”

    I think that pretty clearly means that the NAS is not supposed to slant what it says for political convenience. It is set up precisely to be the most trustworthy source of unbiased scientific/technical information.

    Biasing the information it disseminates for political reasons is counter to its sole mission.

  90. In particular, Chad Orzel’s argument is invalid, isn’t it?

    Paul W., you’re really obsessing about Chad Orzel’s argument. Suffice it to say that several of us disagree with you on your interpretation of what Chad’s argument is and what it implies relative to astrology, homeopathy, etc.

    Here’s Chad:

    In my opinion, the only relevant measure of compatibility is whether or not someone can be personally religious and also a successful scientist

    So you haven’t proven his argument is invalid. You simply don’t agree with his definition of compatibility. Why don’t you give us yours and make an argument based on that instead. BTW, I’m not surprised at Chad’s definition. Chad is an atheist and undoubtedly thinks that there is no God. He doesn’t know why people believe in God and he doesn’t particularly care.

    I have a different definition of compatible, which is that not all religious beliefs are contradicted by science. This does not mean that religious beliefs are scientific beliefs and it certainly doesn’t mean that all religious beliefs are compatible with science. This is also the standard that the NAS was using when it wrote:

    Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution.

  91. Paul W.

    From the AAAS website:

    *

    AAAS Mission

    AAAS seeks to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” To fulfill this mission, the AAAS Board has set these broad goals:

    * Enhance communication among scientists, engineers, and the public;
    * Promote and defend the integrity of science and its use;
    * Strengthen support for the science and technology enterprise;
    * Provide a voice for science on societal issues;
    * Promote the responsible use of science in public policy;
    * Strengthen and diversify the science and technology workforce;
    * Foster education in science and technology for everyone;
    * Increase public engagement with science and technology; and
    * Advance international cooperation in science.

    Note that the second listed goal is to promote and defend the integrity of science and its use.

    IMHO, that would preclude it putting out slanted information, and going out of its way to pimp, say, Collins’s “scientific” apologetics, especially if they don’t but not Dawkins’s “scientific” counterapologetics.

    Presenting controversial views in a slanted way for political advantage is the antithesis of defending the integrity of science and its use—it is bogifying the science, and using it in a scientifically bogus way.

    If you’re looking for people to call hypocrites, you might start right there.

  92. J.J.E.,

    You started this conversation asking us to compare

    1) lying/fraud;
    2) dogma;
    3) religious faith.

    Then you got irritated when we called you on that, writing:

    you slyly imply that someone somewhere even remotely suggests that “faith is identical to lying and fraud

    And now you’re saying

    By definition no “faith” is free of explicit and persistent dogmas;

    So now we’re at faith = dogma. Can we conclude that you’re implying that faith = lying now, or do we have to wait another 80 posts?

  93. bilbo

    Paul, out of all the scientific organizations that have been branded as “accommodationists,” I hardly see the AAAS being very outrageous in what it says. From it’s own publication on science and religion, the AAAS just simply highlights the different stances on science and religion that people take (including atheists) withour ever specifically promoting either. That’s exactly what Chris is saying in this post and what several other commenters have said throughout: instead of just “shutting up” about the issue and not mentioning religion, let’s highlight the facts (some religious scientists say X, some antireligious scientists say Y, but evolution and science don’t change). Hell, the AAAS study guide for their publication even asks students question the validity of their faith-based beliefs! (“Have students write down things they believe are unable to prove…”) It also talks about contradictions in the Bible and makes several very antiaccommodating statements about religion NOT being equitable with science.

    It seems like you and several others are just branding people “accommodationists” if they simply don’t take an anti-religious stance. That’s not accommodationism….

  94. TB

    @ 96 Bilbo

    Exactly. Nowhere in anything Paul the troll has posted mentions “the best possible approximation of truth available.” That’s just a vague statement that allows them to make up whatever they think = truth.

    @ 89. Julie

    I’ll take a look at that post.

  95. gillt

    Julie: “Of course, this all gets back to the discussion that happened on the last religion thread here: are “official” organizations the only groups or people who actually speak for science? I thought there were honestly some good arguments on both sides of that question, and I’m sure you’d fall on the “it doesn’t matter what Jerry Coyne or a single individual says, he’s just a guy” side (if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me). As I said in my last post, I’m an atheist, and there are many, many, MANY facets of religion that I don’t just despise – I hate.”

    Coyne doesn’t speak for science, period. And I’d be surprised if Coyne would admit to anything like that. He may be considered an authority in his specific field, but that’s it. Likely the misunderstanding is all yours.

    It’s one thing to criticize the way he runs and formats his personal blog and it’s another thing to accuse him of hypocrisy. The difference seems lost on you.

    When the NCSE, NAS or AAAS gives a statement, it’s intended to represent the majority/consensus views of the scientific community. They’re not in the business of entertaining fringe science or siding with scientific controversies. They’re also not in the business of waxing theological.

  96. bilbo

    True, TB. Vague definitions and statements are the staple of accommodationism debates. That’s why they never go anywhere.

  97. bilbo

    gillt,

    To now pose the ever-redundant question that inevitably follows your assertion that an individual cannot speak for science (“period”): when an evolutionary biologist enters an arena to discuss evolution, should the audience assume that they are not speaking for science but rather just espousing personal beliefs? And if not, how, exactly, is said audience supposed to distinguish a priori what is simple opinion and what is scientific knowledge?

    Again, I don’t have a problem with Coyne espousing opinions under a neutral context. But when one says “I’m an evolutionary biologist, and I shall use this occasion to explain evolution,” (as Coyne all but says verbatim on his blog) those questions need a clear answer, or else you’re going to end up backing yourself into a corner.

  98. Paul W.

    So you haven’t proven his argument is invalid.

    Yes, I have.

    You simply don’t agree with his definition of compatibility.

    No. That is not at all how my refutation works. I did not just substitute my preferred definition for his, and get a different result.

    You are missing the whole point: Chad does not get to play Humpty Dumpty, and choose any convenient meaning for a word, then get to claim that a sentence, on that interpretation, is simply a statement of fact, and proceed to say that it’s just a fine thing for anybody to say, any time, and that’s all there is to it.

    If I were allowed to do that, I could just define things differently, prove that the very same statement is simply a falsehood, and proceed to say that it’s unconscionable to say it, period.

    Both arguments would be equally valid, which is to say not at all; both would be entirely useless, which is why I have not done that.

    What I’ve done is shown that whatever “compatible” means when people hear sentences of that type, it isn’t just what Chad insists it is.

    Chad is actually indulging in something much worse than Dumptyism.

    Humpty Dumpty only said that when he uses a word, it means just what he says it means. That’s ridiculous, but Chad is going further—he’s saying that when other people, in other contexts use the word, it still means what he says it means!

    What the word actually means when the NAS or is not up to Chad, or to me, or to any particular individual or organization. It is not something you can decree. It is an empirical matter of how people do in fact understand the word when used in that way, in context.

    What Chad is doing is making up a particular definition, like a piece of technical jargon for a particular context, and then claiming it’s hunky dory to use the word that way in other contexts, where that jargon is likely to be systematically misunderstood.

    That’s just an staggeringly weird thing for a scientist to say, and for a science writer (of all people) to defend.

    Wow. I am continually amazed that I have to explain the most rudimentary ideas of rational communication, like

    1. some arguments are wrong, even if the conclusion might still be right
    2. you don’t get to define words the way you want and then claim they really mean that
    3. if you use words in a novel way in a given context, you have to make that clear, in that context, so that people don’t assume it means what it means to them in other contexts
    4. if somebody can take the statements in your argument, and show that they logically imply any false conclusions, then at least one of your statements is false, and your argument doesn’t prove anything at all.
    5. if you make the claim, the burden of proof is on you
    6. if somebody shows that the your argument is invalid, you can’t shift the burden of proof to them and dare them to prove your conclusion wrong; if the burden of proof was on you before, it still is
    7. when somebody shows that your argument is wrong, you’re supposed to admit it, and you don’t get to keep using it.

    Anybody who won’t acknowledge these things and play by the rules is just not competent to discuss science, or philosophy, or religion, or really anything at all, because these are very rudimentary rules of logic and argument.

    In discussing interesting real-world stuff, you almost never see arguments as simple and clear as Chad’s, or arguments that are so easily proven invalid. This is about as easy as it gets.

    If we can’t agree on the invalidity of Chad’s argument, and the bogosity of his claims about the word “compatible,” something is just pitifully wrong around here.

  99. moptop

    Hey, your communications strategy on global warming is working great! Don’t worry about that “denier” who just got elected Senator from Massachusetts, your strategy of calling people who disagree with you “tea baggers” and “deniers” and stupid troglodytes is working famously.

  100. Paul W.

    I should clarify something—I was not saying that the AAAS is actually hypocritical; I’m not clear on all their actual rhetoric about religion and science.

    Rather, I’m suggesting that if their rhetoric is (or becomes) overly accommodating, it would conflict with their 2nd stated mission.

    That might or might not make them “hypocritical”—you could argue either way—depending on what you assume about the priorities and inviolability of each goal. (E.g., can you sacrifice the 2nd goal for the 1st, when the ends justify the means—as I think some accommodationists would say—or does #2 strictly constrain how you can go about #1?)

    My point was really that some people around here toss the term “hypocrite” around fairly freely, and should be careful because if we’re not paying attention to the relevant distinctions, we can make anybody out to be a hypocrite, including overly accommodationist science organizations.

    I do think that part of the NAS statement on science and religion is somewhat hypocritical in light of their sole mission. I’m not as clear at the moment on exactly what the AAAS says on the subject, or how to talk about their multi-purpose mission and what would be “hypocritical” or not.

  101. Luke Vogel
  102. Paul W.

    Paul W., you’re really obsessing about Chad Orzel’s argument. Suffice it to say that several of us disagree with you on your interpretation of what Chad’s argument is and what it implies relative to astrology, homeopathy, etc.

    I’m not obsessing about Orzel’s Argument at this point, except that people continuing to defend it clearly demonstrates an inability or refusal to argue rationally in what’s really a pretty easy case.

    That’s gotten to be more interesting than the argument itself.

    I have a longer comment in moderation that explains what I mean.

  103. Luke Vogel

    81. gillt Says:

    Found it! I’m not about to read through this thread, but I searched out your name and if you may have responded.

    So far it looks ok. Now let me offer the definitions that have been used. I’ll start with Austin Dacey who actually coined the term for these debates.

    As far as I know the term “accomodationist” primarily arises from Austin Dacey’s essay; “Evolution Education and the Science-Religion Conflict: Dispatches from a Philosophical Correspondent” (at least as far as framing the science and religion debate).

    Dacey states: ~“I have a name for the broad thesis that there exist important conflicts
    between science and religion: I call it “agonism”. Those who accept “agonism” — and also wish to publicly discuss such conflicts—are “agonists”. The view that there exist no important conflicts between science and religion I call “accommodationism”. Those who either recognize no conflicts between religion and science, or who recognize such conflicts but are disinclined to discuss them publicly, I call “accommodationists.”<< [pg. 53]

    Accomodationism: The view that there exist no important conflicts between science and religion.

    Accomodationist: Those who either recognize no conflicts between religion and science, or who recognize such conflicts but are disinclined to discuss them publicly.

    Though, we do not see the terms “agonism(t)”, being used, I note Wilkins unhelpful term of “exclusivist” below.

    Jerry Coyne who uses the terms “accomodationism” and “accomodationist” frequently provides a definition of “accomodationist” provided by Blackford.

    From Jerry’s: “Accommodationism: onward and downward” blog post:

    ~ “Blackford, who has always been properly concerned with definitions, goes after Wilkins’s characterization of “accommodationism” and “anti-accommodationism,” and suggests definitions that seem reasonable, at least to me.

    Accommodationists, on the other hand, hold that even if science and religion are incompatible, it is politically expedient to deny this incompatibility when defending science. Moreover, for reasons of political expediency, no one should bring up the incompatibility even while doing things other than defending science.”~

    Worth noting, Jerry Coyne is referring back to Blackfords blog post: ~ “More confusion in the accommodation debate” where Blackford is responding to Wilkins. Even though Blackford offers his definitions which are Coyne’s meaning, he nowhere refers to their original meanings as presented by Austin Dacey.

    The blog by Wilkins is of no help either, here is how he frames the debate:

    ~ “That is not quite the way they would put it of course, but the divide is between “accommodationists” and “exclusivists”. ~

    So, besides adding something else to the mix, Wilkins also defines “accomodationist”:

    ~ “Accommodationists, hold, for various reasons, that when defending science, such as evolution (but not always), defenders should not assert that science is in opposition to religion. Instead, they should merely defend science.”~

    In an interesting exchange that included Sean Carroll (who appears to be taking the same position as Lawrence Krauss) got into the mix of “accomodationism” and offered his definition in his blog: “Science and Religion are Not Compatible”. This was also the same blog back and forth that included my reply to Paul W. highlighting where Chris mentioned an incompatibility between science and religion (of course Paul W. says well that's not what I'm after – see a problem there?)

    ~ “accomodationism” — the rhetorical strategy on the part of some pro-science people and organizations to paper over conflicts between science and religion so that religious believers can be more comfortable accepting the truth of evolution and other scientific ideas.”<<

    In a way, it is amusing that Jerry Coyne would say “[Blackford]has always been properly concerned with definitions”, when Blackford openly holds: “I’m never happy about short definitions of concepts – I’m always mindful of Wittgenstein’s discussion of the difficulty of defining even something as simple as the word “game” (or the concept of a game). A lot of these things are cluster concepts, depending more on something like family resemblance than an easily-stated set of necessary and sufficient conditions.”

    So, in our post I think we can come to some common ground on meaning and the use of the word. I'm taken back by your attitude with me asking about putting "prove" in quotes, do you seriously think I read all these post? Get over yourself already, seriously.

  104. Sorbet

    TB, am I the one who is going off topic? Firstly you are so hung up over the Indian astrology thing that you failed to address the general point about scientists of any prominence anywhere in the world believing unprovable assertions. Now at least you are making yourself more clear by simply saying that the analogy of religious belief with astrology/faith healing/ phrenology etc. is not valid. But why is it not? Is belief in a resurrected dead body at least not as absurd as belief in the position of planets dictating your present and future? Unless you give an actual reason why you think the analogy is invalid and why we are comparing apples and oranges, your claim that this is a straw man does not hold.

    -The issue is not: “Do they believe in religion?” That’s an issue for someone concerned with taking a position on religion, like atheism.
    The issue is: “Do they allow whatever their beliefs are to compromise their professional work as a scientist or lead them to advocate their personal religious beliefs be taught as science in a public school science class?” If the answer is no, as an advocate for science education I have no need to address the other question.

    TB, not once did I ever claim that Collins’s or Miller’s religious beliefs affect their functioning as a scientist. And just like you, I would also then not care much whether they believe in religion. However, Mooney seems to advocate that the NCSE and other organizations should belabor this point at least as a fact. If you really don’t care whether they believe in religion, why don’t I see you disagreeing strongly with Mooney’s contention that the NCSE should make the existence of religious scientists clear?

    -Actually they were responding to people who were advocating a position on religion (atheism) and co-mingling that with science advocacy. It’s a completely different question than the topic of this thread.

    I don’t think so. Mooney clearly implied in his book that “militant” atheism dispossesses people of science and discourages interest in scientific thinking. That is where it all started. That is when atheists on this blog started demanding evidence that this is actually so.

    -BTW, how are you doing on my demands for empirical evidence?

    Not till you, Mooney and others provide your evidence first. This evidence has been demanded for almost a year now. In any case, I never said that accommodationism would lead to religion being brought into classes. If you want to insist that I provide empirical evidence for a statement I never made, keep on harping on it.

    -You also infer a false claim to me: “when did anyone explicitly claim that accommodationism will bring religion into classes?”
    I never said anyone did. What I’ve done is reject your standard and laid out my standard by which to judge if accommodationism is failing.
    It’s fun and easy to do and perfectly valid!

    What standard are you talking about? Again, please read my original argument which has been reiterated by many others. Mooney and others were the ones who originally claimed (and still claim) that atheism was not working and accommodationism was better. Without a doubt it was they who started it. It was you who also ascribed the “accommodationism will bring religion into classes” canard to me and others; you are being willfully obtuse if you are denying it, just take a look at the thread above. The burden of proof is still clearly on you and Mooney for providing evidence for this fact.

    -There’s nothing wrong with the data, you just disregard it. You’ve been answered
    Oh really?! The data simply shows that people will choose religion when asked to pick between religion and science. That’s old hat. If you are so intent on referring to footnotes, please state the page number where Mooney provided any kind of empirical evidence that Myers-Dawkins type atheism has turned more people away from science than towards it. That’s been the whole issue since the beginning and Mooney has simply refused to address it.

  105. Paul W.

    Julie,

    I think you’re doing a bit of what you’re accusing me of.

    I’m sorry if the Coyne quote I addressed was not the one you found particularly damning, and I missed or forgot you saying so. I chose that one because I had to start somewhere, and it was the one being talked about most.

    I know you may not believe this, but I am trying to argue in good faith.

    You keep saying that there is a bunch of evidence about hypocrisy or whatever on the part of the anti-accommodationists. That puts the burden of proof on you, and if you’re arguing in good faith, and the evidence is so easy to find, please give a few good examples.

    Please don’t pre-empt my response by implying that whatever I’ll say must be some sort of “game,” rather than a sincere attempt to communicate that may in fact not result in agreement. People can sincerely disagree, and you should not prejudge my motives.

    Please do give a few examples, and if my actual responses seem wrong or dishonest, you can say so then.

    If you won’t do that, you give the appearance of arguing in bad faith.

  106. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    I have another comment in moderation, but this is a quickie to say you may be right about the AAAS and me judging them wrongly. I’m more familiar with the NAS statement about religion, and some stuff from the NCSE than I am about the AAAS. I’ll look into it soon, after I write something explaining why I see the NAS statement as unnecessarily slanted.

  107. TB

    @ Julie

    You’re right, interesting post. Regarding the link, I guess I would quibble with this:
    “scientific organizations claiming that science and religion operate in similar ways is disingenuous and, utlimately, wrong.”
    I don’t get the idea that anyone is actually saying this, but like I said – just a quibble.

    I do agree with this:
    “…acknowledging philosophical differences, showing mutual respect instead of contempt, and working together to reach solutions based strictly on scientific principles. The motivation of the scientists and believers at Seven Springs may have been wholly different, but their goals were the same. And the Watercress Darter – what could undoubtedly be called a marvel of evolution – benefitted.”
    That statement is exactly what I think accommodationism is, but if we need to call it collaboration I’m fine with that. Accommodationism is a term coined by New Atheists anyway.

    But I wonder, how much facilitating was done by the scientists? This quote leads me to believe that while the science wasn’t compromised by religion, the scientists may have engaged in some discussion to further scientific goals:

    “Dr. Mike Howell, one of the biologists who originally discovered the population of darters, also offered praise for the collaboration, saying “Faith Apostolic Church illustrates the incredible potential in uniting to protect God’s creation.” ”

    And you know what? As long as the science wasn’t compromised, generally I don’t much care about the personal belief systems of the scientists.

    Collaborationism!

  108. Luke Vogel

    gillt, I have a beginning response in moderation, I think it will be #102.

  109. bilbo

    Please don’t pre-empt my response by implying that whatever I’ll say must be some sort of “game,” rather than a sincere attempt to communicate that may in fact not result in agreement. People can sincerely disagree, and you should not prejudge my motives.

    I don’t think Julie is “pre-judging” anyone, Paul. I believe she’s referring to this lovely set of accusations and recanting from you on the last religion thread:

    -Paul W (to bilbo): “Basically, I think you made that quote up, as you’ve apparently done repeatedly before” (note that Paul W never backs this up with proof that bilbo has done so)

    -Bilbo challenges Paul to provide some proof to back up his accusation

    -Paul W. inexplicably launches into a tirade questioning Sheril’s credentials as a scientist (when did Sheril get involved in all of this??), presumably just to deflect.

    -This launches Paul into a series of posts that seems to scream for him to get anger management counseling, in which he accuses bilbo of (among various atrocities and pejoratives) more quote fabrication, calling him a “liar” and a “dishonest weasel.”

    -Then, all of a sudden, Paul says (indirect quotes, Paul – don’t have a stroke): “Hey, you weren’t lying after all. You were just quote-mining.”

    -After around 50 posts where 3 to 4 other people stand up for bilbo, Paul finally admits at the end of the thread: “you (bilbo) are right that Coyne engages in theological disputes, and at face value it seems hypocritical. It was over the top.”

    So, in essence, we go from “you’re lying,” to “ok, you might not be lying,” to “OK, you weren’t lying, but you’re still wrong” over the course of 200 posts, amid a wild array of accusations, general trollspew, and off-the-handle faulty reasoning, a la “Your point about Jerry Coyne is incorrect because you didn’t answer my unrelated question about Chad Orzel! Ha HA!”

    I don’t blame Julie for not wanting to get involved wiht that kind of stupidity.

  110. Julie

    TB @ #105:

    I generally agree. Working with the religious is a slippery slope to tread, and there’s no doubt that one has to find ways as a scientist to stay true to science, whether that’s biting your lip when someone wants to chat about theology or standing firm that science (and only science) should the basis for not why you’re collaborating, but in how you plan to do it. Acknowledging those differences has got to be essential, and I’d imagine that’s probably the key.

    Collaborationism: I like it! I think you may have just coined a new term! (can’t find a way to put a smiley here, but if I could, there would be one)

  111. Another Adam

    I have said it before and I will say it again. God is not a liar. Thus, the evidence we see in the natural world must be reconciled with Christianity. Let’s stop pretending we are talking about religion. We are talking about how Science organizations should deal with fundamendalist Christianity. The answer is you can’t. People whose faith is so weak they are willing to judge scentisits as liars and the world God created as false are hypocrites an unable to be dealt with rationally. All the organization can do is refer them to their pastor or a respected religous leader in their community.

  112. gillt

    If you’re going to go through all the trouble of criticizing another blogger, doesn’t it make sense to go and do it at their own blog? But you never see that with the anti-Coyne crowd here. If they really wanted answers or to criticize something Coyne said, wouldn’t they bring it up in the comments section in one of his posts instead of lodging their complaints over here where he’s far less likely to address their concerns?

    Why are none of the Coyne haters here ever commenting over at WEIT? Is it too hostile that you need to take pot shots from over here?

  113. Milton C.

    TB and Julie:

    Looks like we all agree on “collaborationism.” I’m curious to see what some of the more “vocal” antiaccommodationists think of this kind of thing, since it seems to be slightly outside of their realm (as it is mine). I rarely think of accommodationism outside of evolution discussion, but in light of those examples, maybe we should? If not, I could see two conflicting signals coming out of science regarding what works and what doesn’t.

  114. PJ

    Coyne generally seems to cull out negative comments during the moderation phase, gillt. I know I’ve personally attempted to post multiple non-invective, non-personal criticism from time to time over at WEIT, yet I’ve never seen any of my comments make it through. The ones that usually make it to posting seem to be softball criticism that can easily be shot down by the other commenters (like “atheists are bad and mean!” or “praise Jesus!”).

    That’s just my observation, and it’s one person’s experience. I’m not trying to start rumors of vast conspiracy, although I’m sure that’s what I’ll get accused of.

  115. gillt

    PJ: “Coyne generally seems to cull out negative comments during the moderation phase, gillt”

    That would be a very hard thing to prove, doubly so since I’ve read Coyne on more than one occasion say he doesn’t cull for content other than spammers and trolls and such. I suppose it depends on your definition.

    If you bother to read the comments section, there are certainly a few god-botherers and other dissenters.

    Thanks for the two cents though

  116. Luke Vogel

    117. “PJ Says:

    ~”I know I’ve personally attempted to post multiple non-invective, non-personal criticism from time to time over at WEIT, yet I’ve never seen any of my comments make it through.”

    This is true. Not only that but I’ve had post directly manipulated. It’s part of the lost in argument I’m referring to. The “new atheist apologist” want to divert these facts.

  117. Another Adam

    Collaberationism. Now there is a concept that people can get behind. Instead of trying to move those that will never change, why not operate on a practical level? Otherwise we are talking about a debate between two fringes of large groups. (I understand there are quite a few scientists that are atheists. But, I am calling those that are so vocal as to be charicterized by militant by some the fringe.)

  118. Luke Vogel

    gillt, you “new atheist apologist” :) , my #106 is ready for lift off.

  119. bilbo

    Count me in the “Coyne deletes my posts” category. Or at least something happens to mine. I had a couple of comments make it through to WEIT a while back. After that? Nada. And I’ve tried LOTS, believe me.

    …although, I guess you could classify me as a troll if you wanted. But then, gillt says Coyne doesn’t discriminate, even when it comes to trolls. *confusion*

  120. bilbo

    TB, what is this “collaborationism” that you, Milton, Julie, and Another Adam are raving about, and what are you basing it on? I don’t know if we need another -ism in all of this, but heck, I’ll bite.

  121. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Hmmm… here’s something I’m definitely not entirely happy with from AAAS, specifically a set of Q-and-A talking points on evolution

    Q: Are science and religion inherently opposed?

    A: No. Science does not take a position on an intelligent designer, which is a matter of religious faith, and is not testable scientifically. AAAS and other scientific groups do not want to create the impression that religion and science are inherently in conflict. They live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.

    Science and religion ask different questions about the world. Many individual scientists are deeply religious. They see scientific investigation and religious faith as complementary components of a well-rounded life.

    I’m sorry but this is just full of fail from some very common points of view in science. It is extremely controversial.

    0. Science doesn’t take a position on an intelligent designer? Holy cow! I thought evolutionary biology pretty much ruled out an intelligent designer at least in the sense of showing that most of the purportedly designed things aren’t, including us. That at least severely constrains the kinds of intelligent designers that are scientifically plausible. (E.g. a space alien who uses evolution as a tool to create stuff for him, possibly. The God of orthodox Western monotheism? No way.)

    1. It basically assumes that religion is compatible with science, and that anybody who thinks otherwise is just doing it wrong. A lot of scientists think that the scientific and religious ways of knowing are fundamentally incompatible because the former requires a high degree of skepticism toward conveniently unfalsifiable theories, and the latter requires a significant amount of credulousness toward at least some conveniently unfalsifiable theories. (Or even some falsifiable ones that have in fact been falsified, in scientific terms.)

    2. It seems to that (proper) theology is unfalsifiable, perhaps intrinsically, e.g., that
    matters of faith are ipso facto not testable in scientific terms, and explicitly says that

    3. Science and religion live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of individual scientists? Seriously? That seems remarkably like clearly implying that science and religion are truly and completely compatible, philosophically, without quite coming out and saying it. I guess compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance are quite comfortable. (Or maybe ignorance of the relevant science and philosophy is bliss.)

    4. Science and religion ask different questions about the world—since when?—and

    5. It seems to imply that religious scientists are right not to see a conflict between science and religion, by putting the statement that they don’t see such a conflict in the particular context of talking about how science and religion ask different questions. The way those two statements go together, it appears to be painting a picture of perfect and uncontroversial compatibility.

    The bit about complementarity and well-roundedness is annoying because it suggests that scientists who have one and not the other don’t have well-rounded lives. If science and religion are so compatible and complementary, and religion is even a little bit of a good thing, why wouldn’t you take both?

    So yeah, I’d say that this is quite arguably hypocritical of AAAS to say—that is, if you interpret its goal #2 as inviolable, or even if you think it’s violable, but you can only fudge a little bit.

    This is clearly slanting the information heavily in favor of a clearly non-consensus position in science, for pragmatic reasons, and that’s sacrificing “the integrity of science and its use.” You can argue that it’s worth it, and justifiable to advance the more important goal of education, but that’s at least a little iffy. (That’s the kind of reasoning that New Atheists would be roundly skewered for around here.)

  122. bilbo

    Science doesn’t take a position on an intelligent designer?

    Sure. Evolution doesn’t provide proof of an “intelligent designer” (i.e. God), but science doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take positions on whether or not God exists. That would be what people mean when they say “neutrality.” That’s the very definition of the word “neutral,” in fact, even in the context of this discussion.

    …which is a matter of religious faith, and is not testable scientifically

    Bingo. No conflict there. Certain portions of religion may be tested scientifically, of course, but not the ultimate “does God exist?” In a lack of evidence, all we can do is provisionally say “no.” Being neutral, of course, a scientific organization shouldn’t make such a stance for or against it. Hence, the definition of “neutral.” All’s well so far.

    AAAS and other scientific groups do not want to create the impression that religion and science are inherently in conflict.

    Bingo again. That’s part of the point of antiaccommodationism – don’t make stances. Of course, I would like to see the opposite view put forth, too (science and religion aren’t inherently compatible), which leads us to…

    They live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.

    This is where I think you’ve got a foothold, but even this one’s a little open to interpretation. If they mean “live together comfortably” in the sense that some religious people are also scientists and that some nonscientist, religious people have no beef with science, then that’s no big deal. They could do well to elaborate a bit here, at least, and let us know what they mean by that, and clear this up.

    Science and religion ask different questions about the world

    Very true. One is based on evidence and reasoning, the other based on accepting a tenet without evidence. Nothing shocking here, either.

    Many individual scientists are deeply religious

    So what? Nothing accommodating about that – it’s just pointing out an observation about the world.

    They see scientific investigation and religious faith as complementary components of a well-rounded life.

    Again, so what? This would be a problem (and would be accommodating) if they said “scientific investigation and religious faith ARE completmentary components…” As it is, however, they only state the reasoning many religious scientists give. I don’t see them outright endorse it, which would be where problems come in. The AAAS pointing out what some individuals think or believe means that they endorse it just as much as me pointing out that Jerry Coyne hates religion means that I endorse jerry Coyne and align myself with his views.

    I see the AAAS being very careful to point out some opinions about why religion and science coexist with some people without ever endorsing such opinions as their official stance. That’s a key point, I think. A lot fo you reasons for why they are accommodating involve “they seem to imply…” So what? Until they endorse it, you’re just reading into something that isn’t an “official endorsement,” which is exactly what antiaccommodationists don’t like. I don’t really see a big deal here – other than you, personally, don’t agree with some of the examples the AAS is posing. Again, this is “accommodationism” being used as a label for “shut up and criticize religion!!!!” That’s not accommodationism.

  123. TB

    @ 107. Sorbet
    “Not till you, Mooney and others provide your evidence first. ”

    Nope, it’s in the book and been linked to from the blog. Again and again and again.
    And I’ve answered you again and again and again. I’ve pointed out how the science of anthropology treats folklore and religion differently. I’ve pointed out that this particular debate refers to the state of science advocacy here in the US and your efforts to expand it beyond these borders is an effort to change the grounds of the debate. I do not accept that change.

    Sorbet again “If you really don’t care whether they believe in religion, why don’t I see you disagreeing strongly with Mooney’s contention that the NCSE should make the existence of religious scientists clear?”
    Because I don’t disagree. It’s a position that doesn’t advocate religion be taught instead of science in a public school science classroom. It’s beside the point.
    But I understand it’s an issue for you, as an atheist, who is advocating for atheism and against religion. Not my problem.

    Sorbet, inexplicably: “Mooney and others were the ones who originally claimed (and still claim) that atheism was not working and accommodationism was better. ”
    REALLY? Where does Mooney say that atheism doesn’t work? Who are you to even define atheism in such a way that Mooney – an atheist – is someone who believes in a failed position on religion?

    Sorbet, excitedly: “The data simply shows that people will choose religion when asked to pick between religion and science. That’s old hat. If you are so intent on referring to footnotes, please state the page number where Mooney provided any kind of empirical evidence that Myers-Dawkins type atheism has turned more people away from science than towards it. ”

    Please provide the evidence that Moony claims Myers-Dawkins type atheism has turned more people away from science than towards it.
    Let me quote you again: “The data simply shows that people will choose religion when asked to pick between religion and science.” And that’s what Mooney says. And in the footnotes for that infamous chapter, he provides evidence that connects those dots, ending up with a quotation by a U.S. Senator from an oped published in the New York Times. Adequate evidence to support his assertion.
    You’re continued demands for evidence is only an attempt to imply that he has provided none. That’s untrue.

    Now, where’s the empiric evidence that the NCSE wants religion taught as science in a public school science classroom?

    @ 122. bilbo

    Kumbaya, bilbo, kumbaya … ;)

  124. gillt

    Bilbo: “To now pose the ever-redundant question that inevitably follows your assertion that an individual cannot speak for science (”period”): when an evolutionary biologist enters an arena to discuss evolution, should the audience assume that they are not speaking for science but rather just espousing personal beliefs? And if not, how, exactly, is said audience supposed to distinguish a priori what is simple opinion and what is scientific knowledge? ”

    Exactly. When an evolutionary biologist enters an arena like a gladiator in full battle armor and challenges the unsuspecting christians to a life and death battle….

    It doesn’t quite work that way, bilbo. Speaking engagements are typically civilized affairs where a speaker is invited by an organization to talk about a pre-slated topic. For instance, evolutionary biology, or creationism, or atheism or whatever. It’s not like those in attendance are blind-sided by the big bad atheist raging inside the mild-mannered evolutionary biologist.

    If a scientist wants to state their personal opinion on something or talk about something controversial in science then it’s reasonable to expect them to say “Hey, not everything agrees with this view, but bat’s evolved from squid.” Or “Hey, some scientists say religion and science are completely compatible. I’m not one of them.”

    I get you’re trying really hard to make to sound concerned that atheists dressed in scientist’s clothing may be running around fooling the gullible masses, but you don’t sound very convincing.

  125. Milton C.

    bilbo in #123:

    From my understanding, “collaborationism” involves the acknowledgement that different approaches to dealing with the religious can be equally effective under different circumstances. I don’t think this is that new of an idea, but it’s just giving it a name based on some examples from a post I linked to by way of Philip Jr. in post #47. The key to collaborationism seems to be acknowledging that science and religion aren’t really happy buddies, but pointing those differences out and finding ways to work together in spite of them. I doesn’t appear to claim that the New Atheist approach to religion is wrong, either.

    Maybe it’s silly to give this a new name, but I kind of like it. Take it or leave it, I suppose…

  126. gillt

    I don’t see many accomodationists here, especially Mooney, getting behind “collaborationism” especially with Milton’s caveat, but I’m fairly confident that this is more-or-less what the NAs have been saying all along…a plurality of approaches catered to the circumstances. “Expelled from Expelled” is a great example of something Mooney and Nisbett childishly blamed PZ for screwing up.

  127. bilbo

    I’ve got it, Milton – I think I read that post the other day when Phillip posted it, actually.

    I can see some truth to what you and gillt are saying about this idea…but I think it’s more of a shared commonality between both the New Atheists and accommodationists than anything else. I don’t know many accommodationists who would object to such an approach, anyway. I honestly don’t think many New Atheists would, either, but the quotes from Jerry Coyne and PZ in the post describing “collaborationism” (I’m not too fond of that terminology myself) almost seem to suggest otherwise. Let’s chalk it up to hyperbole, though.

    Maybe “collaborationism” is something to focus on once we want to get some progress done, at the very least.

  128. J.J.E.

    @ Jinchi

    Faith = dogma is something I agree with
    Faith = lying is not

    What’s your point?

    I could have added a point 4:

    4) Failure to do proper control experiments.

    Would you then be attacking me for making an equivalence between “lack of control experiments” and faith. Face it, you failed to understand the structure of my argument. Maybe that was my fault for not being clear enough, but at the very least you should ask for clarification rather than rambling on incoherently (and inaccurately) about how I set an equivalence between faith and lying.

    I’ll put this simply: Just because the same person can do A and B does not mean that A is compatible with B. Similarly, just because A and B are incompatible does not mean nobody exists who can do both. If A is science and B lying, I can name plenty of people that do both. If A is science and B is religion, I can find many people. If A is Christianity and B is adultery, same thing. If A is science and B is failure to do control experiments.

    It isn’t a very difficult argument. Just because people will variously say that science/lying, science/religion, or Christianity/adultery aren’t compatible, doesn’t mean you won’t find lying scientists, religious scientists, or Christian adulterers. Or even scientists that fail to their experiments very clearly.

    You’re looking for hidden motives, otherwise why would PERSIST in accusing me of equating lying with religion when I have lucidly, explicitly, unambiguously, and repeatedly avowed to the contrary. And there is no evidence that I have said such a thing. You are alone in your interpretation.

    You are wrong. Either argue in good faith or go away.

  129. gillt

    @Luke Vogel

    I see no major area of disagreement and more-or-less accept Blackford’s definition, though you seem to have other issues with him and Wilkins.

    Luke Vogel: “This was also the same blog back and forth that included my reply to Paul W. highlighting where Chris mentioned an incompatibility between science and religion (of course Paul W. says well that’s not what I’m after – see a problem there?)”

    I have to disagree with you here. Paul, perhaps uncharacteristically imprecise, was, if you’ve been following what he’s been saying all along, not talking about fundamentalism, which Mooney has been decidedly unaccomodating toward as far back as Republican War on Science. This is common and undisputed…and certainly not the bone of contention.

    Speaking of which, I cannot think of another controversial area of science, besides areas that conflicts with popular religion, where Mooney preaches accomodationism. Not AGW denial, anti-vax, conservation. Why does religion get special treatment?

  130. Luke Vogel

    129. gillt

    ~”I have to disagree with you here. Paul, perhaps uncharacteristically imprecise, was, if you’ve been following what he’s been saying all along, not talking about fundamentalism, which Mooney has been decidedly unaccomodating toward as far back as Republican War on Science. This is common and undisputed…and certainly not the bone of contention.”

    Look, I have problem moving forward with your question, but obviously there’s problems.

    This above wasn’t something I suspected at first, but as an ‘apologist’, I should have saw this coming.

    Don’t waste my time.

    You can’t have it both ways in these debates with me, I speak for no one else, not you, Chris, or anyone, don’t you get that? I don’t care about how imprecise he was, I answered directly what I referred to, you understand that?

  131. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    Correction to my last post.

    First sentence should read

    Look, I have NO problem moving forward with your question, but obviously there’s problems.

  132. Julie

    @ gillt #147:

    Why not get behind “collaborationism” if you’re an accommodationist? I don’t think the agenda of an accommodationist is to make science and religion philosophically compatitible at any and all costs. I highly doubt they would reject such a proposal outright. This very post by Chris even seems to overlap with the idea to a certain extent.

  133. Julie

    I mean gillt @ #126. Too much wine tonight?

  134. Paul W.

    For the record, I though Jon’s statement was way better than the AAAS statement. Beyond saying that some scientists are religious, and some are not, and the ones that are religious are of many different religions, I think it’s hard to say anything that isn’t controversial, and if you spell out the controversies honestly, accommodationists probably won’t like it.

    For reference, here’s what I’d consider a straightforward, honest, scientifically uncontroversial answer. (Which is not to say I’d actually recommend it as a public statement.)

    Q: Are science and religion inherently opposed?

    A: There is no consensus on that in the scientific community, and the AAAS accordingly takes no position on the subject. Some scientists think that science and religion conflict in profound and systematic ways, but some think it’s mostly literalist fundamentalism that conflicts significantly with science, and many scientists don’t care much about whether science and religion are “inherently opposed” in some philosophical sense, as long as it doesn’t matter much in practice. It usually doesn’t.

    There are scientists of many religions and no religion, and most scientists don’t care much about about other scientists’s religion or irreligion as long as it doesn’t interfere with the science they happen to be doing, and nobody gets harangued about it who doesn’t want to be.

    Scientists are, on average, somewhat less religious than the general public. Fewer of them are religious—there’s a considerable fraction who are atheists and agnostics—and the religious ones, on average, are rather less orthodox and less observant than non-scientists. Opinions vary considerably as to why, except that dogmatic scriptural literalism poses problems in doing or appreciating some kinds of science. There is no consensus in the scientific community beyond that, and the AAAS accordingly takes no position on it.

  135. J.J.E.

    @ TB

    “Please show me what scientific advocacy organization has this as their number one priority.”

    You’re putting the cart before the horse. This is the essence of what I advocate. If it were true, I likely wouldn’t be defending it here. I’m arguing from the outside. I agree that science advocacy organizations don’t have this as their overriding priority. I think they should. If you don’t think they should, it is no wonder you have no trouble with accommodationism. As per my comment #85, this neatly describes our differences in terms of priorities.

    “What is truth?”
    Who needs truth? I only ask for the best approximation of it. I merely want an accurate accounting of what we think we know. At the very least, when we don’t know or there is great disagreement, we should be willing to admit as much. Read Paul W.’s comment #137. At the very least NCSE should be willing to admit that science and religion ain’t always compatible, if not remain silent altogether (i.e. withhold judgment). Again, this is a huge concession. As I’ve said before, faith is definitionally opposed to science. I quote the New Oxford American Dictionary for the sake of clarity and agreement on conventional meanings, not because I’m a dictionary prescriptivist:

    faith: 2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

    scientific method: a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

    To say that those two are compatible is a stretch by any conventional meaning of the words in English. However, because I’m so nice, rather than argue that incompatibility, I’m willing to concede that the “incompatibility/compatibility” issue is controversial. As a result, any organization that highly prioritizes describing both what we know as well as the limits to what we know, should either admit to the “controversy” of compatibility or simply avoid the topic altogether.

    Wouldn’t it be much nicer if we simply avoided the topic instead of pissing in the Cheerios of the people that would be offended by thinking that science MIGHT challenge their faith? Oddly, among anti-accommodationists, I appear to be on the moderate side.

  136. Sorbet

    TB, implacably; Nope, it’s in the book and been linked to from the blog. Again and again and again.
    And I’ve answered you again and again and again. I’ve pointed out how the science of anthropology treats folklore and religion differently. I’ve pointed out that this particular debate refers to the state of science advocacy here in the US and your efforts to expand it beyond these borders is an effort to change the grounds of the debate. I do not accept that change.

    Let me say this again. The original argument going back to last year was that accommodationism somehow would work better than atheism in turning more people toward science. I can’t help it if you cannot bother to read the old threads. Remember that Mooney never answered this question? Remember that Ophelia Benson was banned for constantly asking for evidence to support this claim? Again, dig and you will find it.

    “If you really don’t care whether they believe in religion, why don’t I see you disagreeing strongly with Mooney’s contention that the NCSE should make the existence of religious scientists clear?”
    Because I don’t disagree. It’s a position that doesn’t advocate religion be taught instead of science in a public school science classroom. It’s beside the point.
    But I understand it’s an issue for you, as an atheist, who is advocating for atheism and against religion. Not my problem.

    You are clearly shifting goalposts here. You say first that you don’t care if a scientist is religious as long as he or she does not bring religion into his or her science. If so, then why would you support scientific organizations even making a statement about religious scientists, let alone talking about the compatibility of science and religion? You need to first answer this simple question.

    Sorbet, inexplicably: “Mooney and others were the ones who originally claimed (and still claim) that atheism was not working and accommodationism was better. ”
    REALLY? Where does Mooney say that atheism doesn’t work? Who are you to even define atheism in such a way that Mooney – an atheist – is someone who believes in a failed position on religion?

    TB, have you been living in a dreamland for the last one year or are you just late to all the discussions on this blog? Mooney clearly says in his book that what HE defines as “militant atheism” does not work and accommodationism does. In addition he has defended people who have advocated this line of thought. I thought that was a pretty basic fact that anyone debating around here knew. For instance see the following as just two representative samples:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/08/03/when-stating-the-obvious-is-most-important/

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/27/some-more-words-to-the-new-atheist-blogosphere-on-unscientific-america/

    And if you are accusing me of defining atheism in a particular way, then at the very least you should also be accusing Mooney of defining militant atheism in a particular way which I haven’t seen you do.

    Sorbet, excitedly: “The data simply shows that people will choose religion when asked to pick between religion and science. That’s old hat. If you are so intent on referring to footnotes, please state the page number where Mooney provided any kind of empirical evidence that Myers-Dawkins type atheism has turned more people away from science than towards it. ”
    Please provide the evidence that Moony claims Myers-Dawkins type atheism has turned more people away from science than towards it.

    Again, TB, if you think that Mooney never said that Myers-Dawkins type atheism does not drive people away from science, then you haven’t been following this blog for the last one year. That is the basic issue that are have been discussing for all this time. Are you seriously trying to say that Mooney never said this? If so, are you then implying that Mooney says that Myers-Dawkins type atheism is good for science? Or at least neutral?

    Let me quote you again: “The data simply shows that people will choose religion when asked to pick between religion and science.” And that’s what Mooney says. And in the footnotes for that infamous chapter, he provides evidence that connects those dots, ending up with a quotation by a U.S. Senator from an oped published in the New York Times. Adequate evidence to support his assertion.
    You’re continued demands for evidence is only an attempt to imply that he has provided none. That’s untrue.
    Now, where’s the empiric evidence that the NCSE wants religion taught as science in a public school science classroom?

    Yet again, where’s the evidence that “militant” atheism turns people away from science? All you are quoting since the beginning of time is evidence that people turn to religion when asked to choose between science and religion. And your last question just like the one above does not make any sense because I don’t recall anyone claiming that the NCSE wants religion taught as science. Stop erecting straw men please.

  137. TB

    @JJE
    Actually you need to address those questions better than that. They’re the road the cart and horse travel upon.
    What’s this accomodationism? Collaborationism is where all the cool kids are at.

  138. J.J.E.

    @TB

    J.J.E.: “The overriding priority of a science organization, more than any other priority, is to present the best possible approximation of truth available.”

    TB: “Please show me what scientific advocacy organization has this as their number one priority.”

    J.J.E.: “You’re putting the cart before the horse. This is the essence of what I advocate. If it were true, I likely wouldn’t be defending it here. I’m arguing from the outside. I agree that science advocacy organizations don’t have this as their overriding priority.”

    TB: “Actually you need to address those questions better than that. They’re the road the cart and horse travel upon.”

    <blink><blink>

    You suggest that in order for me to advocate position A, A must first be true? I think I’m done here. Your Jedi mind tricks of nonsensicality have wrought havoc on my resolve.

  139. gillt

    Julia: “Why not get behind “collaborationism” if you’re an accommodationist? I don’t think the agenda of an accommodationist is to make science and religion philosophically compatitible at any and all costs. I highly doubt they would reject such a proposal outright. This very post by Chris even seems to overlap with the idea to a certain extent.”

    No, accomodationist, including Forrest, Rosenau and Mooney, insist there’s nothing incompatible between religion and science–but when they say religion they mean deism–then absurdly insists that this is what most Americans believe in. So yes, they do seem to want to make religion and science compatible even if it’s a form of religion practically nobody in the US practices. If Mooney wouldn’t reject such a proposal outright, then how do you explain his reaction to “Expelled from Expelled”? His actions clearly speak otherwise.

    What’s in this post that give you the idea of an “overlap”? Mooney’s hypothetical was meant to show us how what would happen if NAs had their way. In other words how the NCSE shouldn’t be responding to these queries.

  140. gillt

    Mooney: “Moreover, if religion is the mental block that prevents a wider understanding and acceptance of evolution, then by seeking to remove that mental block, a group like NCSE is simply striving to be effective. Why should its hands be tied in this regard?”

    Can someone please explain this?

    How is the NCSE in insisting on science and religious compatibility making strides to remove this “mental block” called religion? Doesn’t Mooney mean New Atheism instead? NCSE is excusing the mental block, not removing it.

  141. Julie

    What’s in this post that give you the idea of an “overlap”?

    A lot, actually. To begin, consider the hard reality Chris notes that “collaborationism” also identifies (note that collaborationism deals with more general goals than just evolution):

    “If you’re working in America today to promote the teaching or the public understanding of evolution, you are constantly going to be dealing with religious people–in various localities across the country; in regular queries through your website and by phone, and so on. Much of America is, after all, religious.”

    That’s essentially what I get out of the motivation of what Smith (who wrote the post that TB branded as “collaborationism”) was using: combating religion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the fact of the matter is that, oftentimes, not engaging religious groups is worse than engaging them. I’ll note that Chris’s stance on the utility of the New Atheism is where they differ. Then, consider this from Chris:

    “Many “New Atheists” would argue that such organizations should stay silent on the question, and not lend credence to the view that science and religion can be compatible (even though they certainly can be for individual people, even if not in some grand philosophical way…)”

    That’s highly similar to what I think of when I read Smith’s posts on collaborationism: Science and religion may not be compatible in a philosophical sense (Smith sides with the NAs on this), but some compatibility, per se, may exist if the two camps can acknowledge those differences and put them aside to work on common goals in individual cases (and his post shows more than a few cases where that works without sacrificing scientific integrity). To me, “collaborationism” doesn’t really call for an end to the science and religion wars, it just says “hey, we both know we’re fighting. How about we declare a temporary cease-fire and try to fix this problem we both share, and then we can get back to the philosophical warring later?” That won’t work in every case, but it’s already got a good track record. And in the meantime, the NAs can keep on trying to diminish the role of religion in society.

    I think that Chris differs from some of the points in the “collaborationism” posts in that he thinks the New Atheism doesn’t work…while collaborationism acknowledges that it can – but it just might not be the only way. Again, I don’t see any reason why collaborationsim could be something that both accommodationists and NAs couldn’t agree on.

  142. gillt

    Mooney: “If you’re working in America today to promote the teaching or the public understanding of evolution, you are constantly going to be dealing with religious people–in various localities across the country; in regular queries through your website and by phone, and so on. Much of America is, after all, religious.””

    Either my decoder ring is be broken or you’re reading something into it that isn’t there.

    Mooney says nothing in that that paragraph you quoted about how combating religion isn’t necessarily a bad thing–if anything he’s saying the opposite. He’s making an argument for why his way is better, not for the a plurality of methods long advocated by NAs and now by this newfangled collaborationism.

    “Science and religion may not be compatible in a philosophical sense.”

    Mooney didn’t actually say this of course. The closest he came is this stab at elitism: “even though they certainly can be for individual people, even if not in some grand philosophical way.”

    This is actually the first time Mooney has come close to admitting that. Assuming you’ve been following the debate for a while, you’ll be familiar with his many many posts insisting on the MN/PN distinction. It deviates from everything Mooney’s said in the past, so we can consider it a misstep on his part, especially since he lets Chad Orzel make the argument for him.

    In the end, Mooney’s post and Smith’s are not “highly similar” if Smiths sides with NAs and Mooney thinks they’re always wrong about dealing with religion.

    Julia: “I think that Chris differs from some of the points in the “collaborationism” posts in that he thinks the New Atheism doesn’t work”

    I think you just admitted that Mooney isn’t a colloborationist if he insists outspoken atheism never works.

  143. TB

    141. J.J.E.

    Nice try JJE. I put three questions to you:

    Please show me what scientific advocacy organization has this as their number one priority.

    Why should science advocacy organizations be responsible for defining what “the best possible approximation of truth available” is for other people?

    What is truth?

    You admit that no organizations hold to the first. You don’t address the second. And then after specifically using the concept of truth in your statement you dropped it like a hot potato when called on it.

    You’re just making demands so that when they’re ignored you can perpetuate your feelings of victimhood. Enjoy the chip on your shoulder.

  144. Paul W.
    Science doesn’t take a position on an intelligent designer?

    Sure. Evolution doesn’t provide proof of an “intelligent designer” (i.e. God), but science doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take positions on whether or not God exists. That would be what people mean when they say “neutrality.” That’s the very definition of the word “neutral,” in fact, even in the context of this discussion.

    OK, that’s a very interesting thing to say, and I think it’s important in understanding exactly how we actually disagree. You clearly assume, and I agree, that the relevant “intelligent designer” is God, and that the issue is whether God exists. We all know that’s the crucial issue for most of the intended audience of the AAAS statement, and it is clearly the intended interpretation.

    In terms of framing, people just don’t understand the word God to mean some intelligent being who might have created the universe, or maybe didn’t and maybe isn’t very intelligent, but is around somewhere doing something or other, or nothing at all…

    The term “God” invariably brings a lot of baggage with it, so if you understand how the word “God” works in people’s heads, saying “science doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take positions on whether God exists” says a whole lot more than, say, “science can’t strictly rule out the idea that something resembling an intelligent being might have intentionally or accidentally created our universe, or not created our universe but be out there doing something or nothing that people found out about and started worshipping it for some good or bad reason or other.”

    The latter statement is much, much weaker, and in the opinion of many scientists and philosophers, much closer to the point. But it’s clearly not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a God worth worshipping, and in particular roughly the kind of God that most Americans believe in.

    That much seems obvious from your own gloss on the AAAS statement.

    If you refer to God, or even just the “intelligent designer,” who we all assume is God and don’t say what you don’t mean by it it, you can count on most people interpreting what you say according to certain presuppostions about God. (After all, you’re talking to them, and it’s entirely reasonable for them assume you’re telling them something you think is interesting to them about something they care about.) Predictably, very few will assume only a minimal god concept. Very few have even thought it through well enough to be able to do so, or they wouldn’t be asking the question.

    That’s why framing is actually very important. People do not generally follow a logical argument strictly and literally—just look at the discussion of Chad’s invalid argument here—much less interpret it in a minimal way.

    If Nisbet and Mooney are right about anything—and they are right about some things—they’re certainly right about that.

    What we’re doing here is framing, and we all know it, so let’s not talk as if the issue is whether what’s being said is true, or not clearly false, on some minimal interpretation. You can do framing, which intrinsically relies on non-minimal interpretations (schemas), or you can defend minimal interpretations as not being false, but you can’t do both; that would be hypocritical.

    Now consider the character Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation, if you remember him. He’s a powerful alien being who can do amazing mysterious things, and even intervenes in human affairs, but nobody calls him a god. The thought would strike many people as very odd, and that’s very important; they can easily see that he has god-like powers, but still he doesn’t strike them as really a god. And if you called him God, or suggested that maybe God is just like Q, they’d be terribly offended. Clearly “God” is simply not a word with a minimal meaning to many people. It is a word that’s loaded with important presuppositions, whether people can articulate them or not, and it rules a lot of things out. It is fairly specific.

    Q is kind of a sociopathic jerk. To most people, that’s just not a candidate for God. God, or even a god, is something you can worship, or at the very least think isn’t just a powerful alien, and a complete jerk.

    The intended audience mostly does not care about some hypothetical intelligent designer, or that science can’t strictly rule out the existence of some god or gods, who might really be better described as powerful aliens of some ungodly sort like Q.

    The AAAS answer clearly activates the frame of a single master designer God, in the first complete sentence.

    Q: Are science and religion inherently opposed?

    A: No. Science does not take a position on an intelligent designer, which is a matter of religious faith, and is not testable scientifically.

    That’s a really interesting switch right off the bat. The question was about “religion,” but the answer was specifically about a singular intelligent designer, of all things.

    We immediately have a fairly good idea what kind of religion we’re really talking about.

    Not all religions have gods per se, not all gods are creators, and not all creators are designers in the obvious sense that the phrase evokes—the kind of god who set things up, intentionally, so that they’d be pretty much the way they are. (E.g., with people around to worship him.)

    Intentionally or not, it signals to the typical U.S. religious person that we’re not just talking about any old god—not the God of some apophatic Christian theology, even, much less the henotheistic Hindu godhead, or some particular pagan god, or some New Age concept of a “God” that’s just an invisible blue glow that pervades the universe and loves us.

    We’re talking about God, the big one who made us on purpose and is worth worshipping, and we all know it, right?

    (The later description of belief in an “intelligent designer” as “a matter of faith” reinforces that interpretation—we’re talking about the kind of god people have religious faith in, not some vague Deistic god that somebody might think probably exists, in an intellectual way, but isn’t something you need to have faith in, or know enough about to be able to worship it.)

    Now consider the statement that “science takes no position on the existence of an intelligent designer” which you acknowledge means “science takes no position on the existence of God,” and where context makes it clear we’re talking about something suspiciously like the God of Western monotheism.

    Is it true? Is it uncontroversial in the scientific community? I really don’t think so.

    But what does it even mean when you say that “science takes no position on the existence of [that kind of God]“?

    It seems very ambiguous, at best. Does it mean that there’s currently no consensus in the scientific community about the existence of God? Or does it mean that there is a consensus that science doesn’t currently tell us decisively about the existence of God? Or is it that science can never tell us anything about the existence of God?

    I think it’s pretty clear that the intended one—science can’t tell us about whether God exists, in principle. (Because it’s “a matter of faith” and is “not testable scientifically.”)

    And many scientists disagree with that, if you’re talking about roughly the kind of God many Americans actually believe in, as we clearly are.

    They think science has a lot to say about the existence of such a God being unlikely, and about why people are prone to believing that sort of thing anyway. They think that belief in God fairly generally is something like a popular delusion, scientifically speaking.

    That is a controversial view, but that’s the point—it’s not uncontroversially false, so the AAAS should not be taking a side. It shouldn’t be implying that scientists like Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer and David S. Wilson are wrong in principle when they explain religion in naturalistic terms and infer that the kind of god people actually tend to worship probably does not in fact exist.

    The AAAS is implying that what they are doing is not just wrong, but is not even wrong—it’s not science, in principle—-and that’s very controversial indeed.

    It seem obvious to me that the statement is framed in such a way as to imply that something like NOMA is true—that the issue is unfalsifiability of common basic concepts of God—and that science therefore has nothing to say either way, in principle.

    But many of us think NOMA is quite false, and that the problem with religion vs. science isn’t just belief in unfalsifiable things—it’s largely belief in things that are evidently false in light of science. Science has a lot to say that bears on the existence of an worship-worthy “intelligent designer” who created it all, of the sort most Americans are religious about.

    (As you say, “(i.e., God)” and I’d add “Yes, that God, more or less.”)

  145. Milton C.

    Mooney says nothing in that that paragraph you quoted about how combating religion isn’t necessarily a bad thing–if anything he’s saying the opposite. He’s making an argument for why his way is better, not for the a plurality of methods long advocated by NAs and now by this newfangled collaborationism.

    In the end, Mooney’s post and Smith’s are not “highly similar” if Smiths sides with NAs and Mooney thinks they’re always wrong about dealing with religion. I think you just admitted that Mooney isn’t a colloborationist if he insists outspoken atheism never works.

    gillt, I think you’re falling into one of the traps that Smith also talked about in that “collaborationism” post, if that’s what we’re even calling it. That trap is assuming that, because Mooney doesn’t like NAs, he can’t share an opinion with an NA on something like collaborating with others while setting aside the philosophical warfare. To me, at least, what collaborationism does is provides something that both a New Atheist and accommodationist can agree upon. That doesn’t mean that their philosophical positions are suddenly not polar opposites, but it means that their philosophical positions aren’t really the deciding factor in collaborating with the religious community. I think that’s an important distinction.

  146. Paul W.

    gillt@142:

    No, accomodationist, including Forrest, Rosenau and Mooney, insist there’s nothing incompatible between religion and science–but when they say religion they mean deism–then absurdly insists that this is what most Americans believe in. So yes, they do seem to want to make religion and science compatible even if it’s a form of religion practically nobody in the US practices. If Mooney wouldn’t reject such a proposal outright, then how do you explain his reaction to “Expelled from Expelled”? His actions clearly speak otherwise.

    Yes. Up to now, the leading accommodationists have frequently said or implied things to the effect that religious propositions are unfalsifiable, hence not relevant to science, and that therefore science and religion are in some sense compatible.

    To do this, they frequently obscure the ambiguities in the word “falsifiable,” and refuse to explain it properly.

    Many religious beliefs are in fact falsifiable, and they implicitly acknowledge this in certain cases—notably, the claim that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. That is a religious belief, and it’s not only falsifiable but evidently false in light of science.

    In science, “unfalsifiable” usually means that a hypothesis or paradigm is untestable not only in practice, but in principle—there is no test you can imagine that could prove you wrong, no matter how it came out.

    That strong version of unfalsifiability is very important in science, and it doesn’t work at all the way the accommodationists make it sound, in order to shield religion from scientific critique.

    In science, we are not usually agnostic toward hypotheses that are unfalsifiable in principle. We usually assume that something is seriously wrong with them—they are so muddled that they are not just wrong, they’re not even wrong, and they are certainly not right.

    We examine such not-even-wrong ideas and try to fix them, by improving them to the point that they can at least be testable in principle, if not in practice, i.e., at least to the point that they can be wrong, if not actually right.

    Many scientists, myself included, think that some central religious concepts of major religions are unfalsifiable in this strong sense—they’re so poorly-thought-out that that they’re not even wrong.

    As with strongly unfalsifiable hypothese about non-religious subjects, the appropriate scientific attitude toward such ideas is not to be agnostic toward them, in the sense of entertaining the possibility that they’re actually right. It’s to dismiss the possibility that they’re actually right, because they’re not even wrong.

    It’s not that simple, though, because an idea that is not even wrong might be pretty close to an idea that could be wrong in principle, but is actually right in fact. The basic idea might be roughly right, and salvageable.

    That’s largely what Kuhn was stressing in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Hypothesis testing is nowhere near as simple as simplistic ideas about a “scientific method” would suggest—in general, we don’t discard hypotheses because they’re proven wrong in a decisive experiment. If the hypothesis seems like it might be close to right, we try to debug it. How we make such judgments about which not-even-wrong hypotheses are likely to be salvageable is really not simple at all.

    What normally happens is that if people think a not-even-wrong hypothesis is salvageable, they try to salvage it, coming up with various versions and trying those out, to see if they can at least make clear sense.

    After people have tried out enough versions, using all their ingenuity to try to salvage a hypothesis, it’s usually more or less discarded, because we guess that it’s doomed to stay not-even-wrong, with any testable variants just wrong.

    At that point, we pretty much regard the idea as wrong, especially if there’s a competing theory that is plausible and seems pretty much right.

    In the opinion of many scientists and philosophers, that’s pretty much the state of religion, in light of modern science. (And philosophy, which helps recognize when something is not even wrong.)

    In terms of their central, widely-accepted tenets, most religions are either not even wrong, or just wrong, and unsalvageable to boot.

    For example, the God of Western monotheism seems unsalvageable to many scientists and philosophers, because what people actually mean by God—for example, that he/it’s worship-worthy, generally involves assumptions about things like the nature of morality, which turn out to be not just falsifiable but empirically false.

    That is why it is so misleading to say or imply that science doesn’t have anything to say, one way or the other, about the existence of God.

    In the view of many scientists and philosophers, religion fairly generally is systematically either not even wrong, or just wrong. (It’s what Kuhn would call a failed paradigm.)

    If asked to give a yes/no answer to the question “are science and religion systematically opposed,” their answer would have be yes. For practical purposes, a paradigm that is systematically not even wrong is definitely not right. It’s much, much closer to being wrong, and perhaps worse than wrong, because it’s a nonsense generator that just won’t go away and die like a good hypothesis that happens to be simply wrong; it’s wrong in a deeper way than that, which makes it harder to kill.

  147. Paul W. says:

    In terms of framing, people just don’t understand the word God to mean …..

    The term “God” invariably brings a lot of baggage with it, so if you understand how the word “God” works in people’s heads, saying “science doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take positions on whether God exists” says a whole lot more than, say, “science can’t strictly rule out the idea that something resembling an intelligent being might have intentionally or accidentally created our universe, or not created our universe but be out there doing something or nothing that people found out about and started worshipping it for some good or bad reason or other.”…..

    For someone arguing that science and religion are incompatible you have a strange tendency to think that you can read people’s minds.

    You do not know how “people” understand the word God. You may know how some people understand the word God. But, I’m fairly certain that you don’t even know how most people understand the word. Religion is a very broad term that encompasses everything from fundamentalist Southern Baptists, to Buddists, Muslims, Deists and Atheists.

    So any scientific agency should free to say the following.

    There is no scientific evidence for God, but there is also no evidence that God does not exist. Science therefore takes no position on the belief in God and a belief in God is not fundamentally contradictory with science.

    These agencies should also feel perfectly free to publicly reject specific religious allegations that are evidently false, such as the belief that the earth is 6000 years old.

    BTW, your example of Q is flat out wrong. He most certainly would have been considered a God by most people throughout history including today. The character is far more powerful than any of the Greek or Roman gods and many of them could also be described as sociopathic jerks. He’s hardly any worse than the modern version of God described by Pat Robertson.

  148. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    Sure. Evolution doesn’t provide proof of an “intelligent designer” (i.e. God), but science doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take positions on whether or not God exists. That would be what people mean when they say “neutrality.” That’s the very definition of the word “neutral,” in fact, even in the context of this discussion.

    I forgot to address the latter part of this, which is also crucial.

    That is definitely not what New Atheists or I or some other scientists and philosophers mean by neutrality, in any sense of “neutrality” relevant to this discussion.

    We clearly do not think that science is neutral on the question of whether God exists; we think it depends very much on what you mean by God, and maybe not even that.

    (Some of us think that the scientific worldview requires agnosticism and substantial skepticism toward any God that’s so vaguely defined as to be unfalsifiable in principle; religious faith in even that kind of “god” is irrational, because science requires skepticism toward such things, and labeling it “religion” doesn’t change that one bit.)

    We do not agree that there is any special rule of neutrality toward religion in general, or toward the existence of God in particular.

    That is largely the point of the New Atheism. (And of course it’s not new at all. It’s been a very common view in science and philosophy for a long time now—more common among the relevant experts than views like Collins’s or Miller’s.)

    There are two senses of neutrality that actually are relevant.

    One is the sense that science doesn’t generally prejudge hypotheses that are currently untestable, and don’t appear to be unfalsifiable in principle. It is not uncontroversially true that the existence of God falls into this category. It’s a very common expert view that it doesn’t.

    The other is the sense in which organizations like the NAS and AAAS are supposed to be neutral on things about which there is no scientific consensus, like whether scientific facts bear on the existence of god, or the reasonableness of faith, and whether religion is, in general, not even wrong.

    We would not just refuse to “the very definition” of neutrality that you give.

    If you think we would, you have no idea what we’ve been talking about all this time—it is the very crux of our disagreement—or you are just choosing to beg the question.

    Failure to acknowledge this is the first of Mooney’s two Big Straw Men that Mooney has been parading around for two years now.

    It is one of the two major points of the New Atheism, both of which Mooney, Forrest, Scott, et al. constantly misrepresent, and entirely beg the question in very much the way you are doing, in order to make the New Atheist seem unreasonable for violating some supposedly obvious principle of “neutrality.”

    If you sincerely don’t get this point, please read Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. (The entrenched and erroneous assumption of neutrality is basically the spell the title refers to.)

  149. bilbo

    Paul W.,

    The sense of “neutrality” as applied to scientific organizations you’re accusing me of fabricating doesn’t come from me at all – it comes from several other New Atheists! You even argued for it in the previous thread!

    What people such as TB and myself have been arguing against is that many New Atheists (yourself included now) seem to be talking about neutrality*, with the * meaning “that applies to everyone but atheists. Scientific organizations aligning themselves with antireligious positions doesn’t violate neutrality.” That at least seems to be what I’ve been getting out of you, first with individual scientists, now with actual scientific organizations.

    In other words, it’s not neutrality but “stop advocating what you’re advocating so I can advocate what I’m advocating” being called neutrality. That distinction is vital.

  150. Julie

    gillt and Milton:

    It looks like Smith has been listening to us and has put up a clarifying post about “collaborationism.” I don’t know if Chris wants us bogging down his blog with a discussion about someone else’s idea (or maybe he doesn’t mind), so what if we take that discussion over to the other blog?

  151. gillt

    @ Milton C.

    My response to Julie was specific to her claim that in the above post Mooney showed collaborationist tendencies. There’s scant evidence of that except for his about-face over the MN/PN distinction.

    Anyway, whether Mooney would or wouldn’t be willing to collaborate with NAs is unlikely. He’s gone as far as lecturing Coyne on bad tactics due to a book review, or telling PZ he’s hurting the cause in response to Expelled from Expelled, or going ballistic over Crackergate in his book and on this blog. In the last to instances Mooney said PZ and (and Dawkins in the former) should have extricated themselves from of the entire situation and left it to the professional communicators, again, because they were hurting the cause.

    Mooney wasn’t arguing the finer points of his philosophy in those situations. The philosophy bit, such as it is, is an afterthought, a post-justification for his framing, and it’s usually done by letting others make his point for him.

    Mooney’s had other chances to support NAs and chosen not to. Take Dawkins recent book on evolution. Mooney criticized it because it was written by a New Atheist, never-mind the fact that it was about good science, not atheism.

    As I said before, Mooney isn’t an accomodationist when it comes to YECs, anti-vax, AGW denial, ect. His particular accomodationism comes in when propping up liberal religious moderates (which also means defending them against criticism) in the hopes of increasing science literacy among some unnamed group of believers and defending decisions of scientific organizations doing the same.

  152. Paul W.

    For someone arguing that science and religion are incompatible you have a strange tendency to think that you can read people’s minds.

    Funny, you never say that to Chris and Sheril when they make guesses like I’m doing.

    I’m at least showing my work, and explaining how I think the principles of framing apply, in enough detail that you can see whether you buy my reasoning—unlike Nisbet and Mooney et al., who generally oversimplify and expect you to take their mind reading on trust, without showing their work.

    You do not know how “people” understand the word God. You may know how some people understand the word God.

    I do think I do know approximately how a fair number of people understand the word God, and that very few understand it in the minimalist way that is the preferred interpretation here, in order to justify passing off certain statements as though they were uncontroversially true.

    Keep in mind that scientists who think the way I do don’t have to be right. The burden of proof is on the accommodationists who want to make claims about the effect such statements will have on the intended audience.

    Sean Carroll, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers and many other scientists like me certainly might be wrong about how people will interpret such statements, but surely you can’t deny that many of us do see the kind of statement we’re talking about as having the general sort of effect I said.

    I hope you’re not seriously telling me that there aren’t some scientists who would see such statements as weaselly propaganda to pacify typical theists, and falsely make it sound like their religious beliefs are not under threat from science, are you?

    Enough scientists have already said that they object for exactly that reason that that you can’t plausibly claim there’s a consensus.

    And after all, minimizing the appearance of conflict between science and religion is pretty much the stated goal of accommodationist strategy—to defuse fears by the big middle of theists that science actually conflicts with religion, or even that scientists think it does.

    The problem with that is that it’s simply not true to the extent that the accommodationists clearly like to imply. Many scientists do in fact think that science conflicts with religion fairly generally, and in particular does conflict with the typical mainstream American’s religion, i.e., relatively orthodox Christianity.

    There is certainly no consensus in science that it doesn’t.

    If you want the scientists who think they see such conflicts to accept things like the NAS and AAAS statements as reasonable, the onus is on you to show that the audience is unlikely to overinterpret the very loaded and ambiguous terms being used.

    I’ll bet you that you can’t—and I’ll bet you that the accommodationist will never do the one simple thing that would clearly answer the question if they’re right. They will not study the matter scientifically—IMHO because they they don’t want to know the answer, or don’t want dissenters to have the evidence.

    It’s pretty obvious how to answer the question of how the intended audience will interpret the statement—do a survey that actually tests random American’s comprehension of actual and proposed statements, and a survey of scientists to see what reflects a strong consensus. (And invite the New Atheists to write some of the questions, to make sure their concerns are actually addressed.)

    Until you do such a thing, New Atheists and moderate accommodationists have every reason to use their own reasoning to make what is admittedly a guess how people are likely to interpet the statements, and what the take-home message will actually be.

    Yes, it’s guesswork, but we don’t have to trust your guesswork, and we clearly don’t.

    If we honestly think the statement is a clever bit of framing that tends to give a false impression that we disagree with, we have the right to continue to object. And we will, loudly.

    So your task, if you want us to shut up and acquiesce to being spoken for in such a way–by scientific organizations that represent us, too—is to convince us.

    It is not our job to convince you, because we’re not trying to speak for you. We’re trying to keep you from speaking for us and getting it wrong.

    And if you’re only concerned with what we consider a weaselly and unlikely interpretation of what the text literally says, that’s just too bad—we actually take communication and framing as seriously as Chris Mooney claims to, and we care a whole lot about how it actually comes across to real people, and not much else.

    The simple truth is that we don’t believe you, and we certainly don’t trust people like Chris Mooney. We believe they’ve determinedly distorted our views for over two years, and they’re the last people we’d trust to speak for us.

    Maybe we’re wrong. That’s simply not the issue, when it comes down to it; the issue is whether you can convince us that we’re wrong, so that we grant you the right to speak for us and stop complaining about it.

    If you can’t, we’ll be content if you just stop saying those things in our name, thank you very much.

    But, I’m fairly certain that you don’t even know how most people understand the word. Religion is a very broad term that encompasses everything from fundamentalist Southern Baptists, to Buddists, Muslims, Deists and Atheists.

    But we all know that as Chris Mooney stresses with little fear of contradiction, that’s just not the issue. The issue is mainstream American religion, i.e., and how such statements commonly be interpreted by substantial numbers of people don’t already know the answer, and who matter in practice.

    And I do think I know a thing or two about how typical Christians think.

    Do try to convince us about that; shifting the burden of proof to us will certainly not work, because it’s not us defending the claims in question or the right to make them in the name of organizations that represent us.

    Stop speaking for us, and start speaking to us, civilly. And by civilly, I mean taking our arguments very seriously indeed. You’ve got some explaining to do, and this got old a long time ago.

    Maybe we’re wrong. Too bad. Prove it. And maybe we’re even crazy; you’re free to think that, but you need to humor us if you want our assent.

    Practice what you preach. If you want us to listen to you, and let you speak for us, it’s your job not to alienate us, and even frame things in terms we understand, not vice versa.

    Rest assured that if you talk down to us and dismiss our very real concerns, that will only convince us that we should not trust you to speak for us.

    Nn the case of you and me, personally, why on Earth should I trust the judgment of somebody who either cannot understand the invalidity of a patently invalid argument, or consistently refuses to acknowledge it?

    That’s a fine microcosm of the larger controversy.

    Notice how various bloggers immediately jumped on Orzel’s argument, as did numerous commenters on both New Atheist and accommodationist web sites that referred to it.

    Notice also how consistently the accommodationists—bloggers and commenters alike—stonewalled on the issue of whether the argument is simply invalid, refusing to either argue that it was or to admit that it wasn’t.

    Now why, exactly, should we trust you to speak for us, when you consistently won’t give a straight answer to us?

  153. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    The sense of “neutrality” as applied to scientific organizations you’re accusing me of fabricating doesn’t come from me at all – it comes from several other New Atheists!

    Which ones, where?

    Citations please. (Not because I’m saying you’re wrong—I’m asking because I think you may well be right. If so, I need to make it explicit that I’m disagreeing with what they said, and argue that what I’m saying is a better expression of actual New Atheist views.)

    You even argued for it in the previous thread!

    Did I? I may have, but if so, I think I was oversimplifying or otherwise mistaken, but I’d like to see exactly what you’re talking about and think about it. I think what I’ve been saying just now is about right, and is more or less consistent with what I said before, but I’m not positive.

    Specific examples of what I said before (that you think conflict) would be appreciated. Thanks.

  154. bilbo

    Citations?! So you can call me a liar again, just to completely recant on it with a 180 100 posts later?

    No thanks. We’ve beaten this horse into the ground.

  155. Paul W.

    bilbo,

    What people such as TB and myself have been arguing against is that many New Atheists (yourself included now) seem to be talking about neutrality*, with the * meaning “that applies to everyone but atheists. Scientific organizations aligning themselves with antireligious positions doesn’t violate neutrality.” That at least seems to be what I’ve been getting out of you, first with individual scientists, now with actual scientific organizations.

    I think I am arguing for what you and TBcall “neutrality for everyone but atheists,” but I don’t think that’s what it is.

    I think, and have thought all along, that the distinction you keep trying to make is bogus, and begs the basic question of whether the New Atheists are right about the relationship between science and religion.

    That was the point of my defending Coyne against some of your accusations of hypocrisy, particularly when TB made it clear he was basing his accusations on a standard of “neutrality” that I’m pretty sure neither Coyne (and I) never agreed to, and never would.

    We have never agreed that science is neutral on the actual question of whether God exists, for any sense of “God” that many people believe in, and typically mean by the term in normal contexts, wher e God is something you can worship.

    That has been the point of some people saying here, for a long time now, that the only God consistent with science is the Deist god, and me among others saying even that one’s not quite okay, if you want to be really consistent with science, though the issues are less obvious.

    That’s about half of what the New Atheism is about—not pretending that religion or faith is compatible with science, and rationality more generally, because we don’t think it is. We think that the supposed “complementarity” of science and religion, like the closely related concept of NOMA, is almost entirely mythical.

    Certainly you realize that the New Atheists have been arguing strenuously against NOMA, and anything much like NOMA, for years and years, right? And they’ve always felt free to use scientific arguments against religious concepts—that’s exactly what a lot of accommodationist rhetoric criticizes them for, and has been for years. (Hence the arguments from certain seemingly authoritative NOMAesque statements by Forrest and Pennock, which I’ve consistently disagreed with, even if I may have failed to disagree consistently. :-) )

    This is not a sudden, significant change of position, though I might have slipped up and said something somewhat inconsistent somewhere; if I did, I’ll try to acknowledge it and amend my position accordingly.

    In other words, it’s not neutrality but “stop advocating what you’re advocating so I can advocate what I’m advocating” being called neutrality.

    Nobody is telling anybody to stop advocating NOMA and the like, except that they’re arguing that it’s false, and saying that it doesn’t reflect a consensus in science. (So the AAAS et al. shoudn’t pretend it’s a consensus position, or part of the definition of science, or anything like that.)

    That’s argument has been going on in pretty much that form, using the term NOMA, ever since Gould coined it and many atheist scientists and philosophers immediately said it was arrant nonsense. This is nothing new and predates the “New Atheism” by quite a bit. It goes way back before the term NOMA, too, to approximately forever ago, in recognizably the same form.

    The argument about methodological naturalism goes way, way back, too, in very much the same form, if slightly different terms.

    There has never been a consensus that methodological naturalism means what the accommodationists want to make it mean—that science “can’t study the supernatural” because it’s “unfalsifiable” in general, and that if you try to study the supernatural scientifically, you’re really “not doing science.”

    The basic concept of the supernatural has always been different from the set complement of what science can study. (Pascal Boyer is very good on this in Religion Explained; he argues that supernaturalist concepts typically are falsifiable in their basic form, the way most people believe in them for most purposes, and only get modified to be unfalsifiable in the face of a threat of falsification.) Anybody who thinks those distinctions are the same, or even very similar, is just wrong; there have always been some scientists trying to claim that sort of thing, with others immediately pointing that out that it’s nonsense, just as the “New Atheists” do today.

    Shorter version: I don’t think I’m saying anything at all new, except that I’m applying those same very old “New” atheist ideas to the specific issue of what science organizations should or shouldn’t say, given that (so I claim) they’re not supposed to take stands on live scientific controversies.

  156. Paul W.

    Citations?! So you can call me a liar again, just to completely recant on it with a 180 100 posts later?

    No waiting necessary!

    If you characteriz what I did then as a 180, you’re a liar.

    What I did was more like a 30 or 40. I admitted I was partly wrong, and that’s all.

    Of course, that’s something you’d never do, and you exaggerated my change in position because… well… we all know why.

  157. Sven DiMilo

    OP:

    Many “New Atheists” would argue that such organizations should stay silent on the question, and not lend credence to the view that science and religion can be compatible (even though they certainly can be for individual people, even if not in some grand philosophical way…)

    “some grand philosophical way”? Really?
    That’s how you trivialize your opponents in this entire, stupid, interminible argument?
    You really just don’t get the whole thing about the importance of intellectual honesty and consistency in science? Really?
    *shakes head slowly*

    Jerry Coyne: a hypocritical, disingenuous, liar-for-Darwin, science-bastardizing waste of an opportunity to teach others about evolution.

    Well, that’s not over the top at all.
    What happened: Coyne wrote the book specifically to “teach others about evolution.” (It seems to be pretty successful at that, btw.) Then started the website to promote and supplement the book. Then discovered he liked blogging and adopted the website as his personal blog.
    His personal blog.
    Not an Official Representative of Evolution, Biology and Science.
    I agree with you that he would be well-advised to change his website to make that clearer. It is an unfortunate case of a personal blog disguised as a nonfictionbook supplement.

    Orzel:

    In my opinion, the only relevant measure of compatibility is whether or not someone can be personally religious and also a successful scientist

    And in my opinion, that’s an extremely stupid thing to say. Orzel’s entire post was a condescending sneer at the philosophy of science (Zeno’s Paradox? Seriously?) and a flip trivialization of issues that are as important as epistomology can be in the real world.

    As Paul W. and Coyne and others have made clear, Orzel’s exact line of argument produces the conclusion that science and the idea that megadoses of vitamin C prevent viral infection are “compatible.”

  158. Paul W.

    Ok, Bilbo seems to be a little too lame to do his own legwork, so I reviewed the earlier thread a bit…

    It seems consistent with my recollection. I don’t think I ever agreed with bilbo and and TB’s claimed principle of neutrality, or said anything inconsistent with what I’ve said in this thread.

    As I recall, came in late to that thread, and didn’t immediately address the issue of “neutrality” head-on, because I thought the ongoing discussion of “neutrality” was muddled, with at least two different senses flying around, and I didn’t have the time to sort out exactly what other people meant by the seemingly ambiguous term.

    The first time I addressed the issue directly and explicitly was in comment 175, which starts out saying exactly the sort of thing that I’ve been saying in this thread:

    He conflates the two all while wearing the hat of the scientist. He’s free to do that and if someone doing that also criticizes others for “breaking neutrality,” we’re free to point out the hypocrisy.

    I’m a bit lost here. Where and how, exactly, does Coyne criticize someone for “breaking neutrality”?

    I asked that precisely because I didn’t believe that Coyne ever agreed to this supposed principle of neutrality, and was therefore not being a hypocrite who said he agreed but then proceeded to violate it.

    I immediately proceeded to explain that I didn’t believe that Coyne or the other New Atheists ever agreed with such a principle:

    My understanding has always been that Coyne—like the other “New Atheists”—thinks that it’s fine for people on either side of the a/theism issue to use science in support of their positions. There is no requirement that science be neutral about religion, and in fact a big part of the New Atheist position is that science is not neutral about religion—scientific facts not only undermine specific religious beliefs of most orthodox religion, but central tenets of most religion more generally, and cast serious doubt on the whole religion thing.

    The New Atheists agree not just with fundamentalists that science is relevant to religion, but with mainstream orthodoxly religious people like Francis Collins. Science cannot be neutral on principle with respect to any kind of religion whose tenets would have observable consequences.

    If Coyne has ever said that somebody like Collins is “violating neutrality” simply by being a scientist and stating his opinion that science has implications for or against religion, I’d like to know exactly where and exactly what he said.

    The rest of the post continued with a bunch of examples, precisely to demonstrate that science clearly is not neutral with respect to religion in principle, just as I have been saying in this thread.

    I did post a few things before that, in that thread, but I don’t think I said anything inconsistent with that position, or my current position. In fact, I think anybody reading them with comprehension will realize that I was getting at basically the same point, in the context of discussing and criticizing Chad Orzel’s argument.

    My very first post in the thread, #160, included this crucial point:

    And note that as somebody pointed out earlier, Orzel thinks that there generally are contradictions between scientific knowledge and religious belief.

    So I have a couple of questions for Chris:

    1. Do you now accept, as Chad does, that at least some scientific knowledge generally conflicts with religious belief? Did he nail that? I think he did.

    So in my very first post in the thread, I was already saying that I think that at least some scientific knowledge generally conflicts with religious belief.

    Clearly, I did not agree with the supposed rule of neutrality.

    And as gillt said in this thread, perhaps the most interesting thing in Chris’s post was that he seemed to be agreeing with Chad, who agrees with the New Atheists that in fact “it’s basically impossible to reconcile the religious worldview with the scientific worldview,” but that he’d overlook that because “Humans in the real world happily accept all sorts of logical contradictions.”

    That was particularly interesting precisely because it seemed to be an admission that there can be no such rule of neutrality between science and religion, because it involves logical contradictions.

    That’s why I specifically asked Chris if he really meant to say that Chad “nailed it” on that point. If he did, it would apparently be a change in his position—he’s always seemed to defend more compatibilist ideas before, often quite clearly—and it would immediately contradict the assertions that TB and bilbo kept making about their supposed rule of neutrality.

    I thought (and still think) that’d be very interesting, because it undermines one of Chris’s two big straw men that he’s been parading for literally years—he’d be acknowledging that the New Atheists are not actually out of line, and doing bad philosophy, and offering “personal opinions” above their scientific pay grade for claiming that science can undermine religious claims fairly generally.

    That has been a staple of accommodationist rhetoric for years, and Chad and Chris seemed to be giving away the store.

    In other words, bilbo was quite wrong to accuse me of changing my position, and of having argued for his rule of neutrality. From the very start, I very clearly disagreed with it, and I went on to make that disagreement excruciatingly clear.

    I gotta say I’m not surprised that bilbo would make such a false accusation, and refuse check his facts or try to offer evidence for it—and, lo and behold, turn out to be wrong, after I go ahead and do the legwork for him to disprove his accusation.

    It certainly isn’t the first time.

    IMHO bilbo is either being less than entirely honest or suffering from Dunning-Kruger syndrome, or both.

  159. That was particularly interesting precisely because it seemed to be an admission that there can be no such rule of neutrality between science and religion, because it involves logical contradictions.

    The problem with this argument is that you seem to consider that it would be proof of your argument if, you and Chris and Chad agreed with the statement that “it’s basically impossible to reconcile the religious worldview with the scientific worldview”.

    Of course you do. You’re all atheists. Ask the same question of 3 Buddhists, 3 Mormons or 3 Catholics and you’re going to get a completely different answer.

    You’re missing the point that your religious biases are not scientific evidence. You have to establish the statement with something besides your gut instinct.

  160. bilbo

    Really, Paul? You and I have been over this four or five times now. 1.) You never agreed with me on neutrality, 2.) I never said you did, and 3.) you have a strange propincity to pick a couple of words out of my quotes and use them to pin positions on me to which those words do not even remotely refer.

    No wonder everyone else seems so dense in your world…

  161. J.J.E.

    @146. TB

    “Please show me what scientific advocacy organization has this as their number one priority.”

    You are particularly stubborn on this one question. This question doesn’t fit logically into the conversation in any way I can apprehend it. An analogy: If I advocate gay marriage in Texas, the fact that gay marriage in Texas doesn’t exist does not impugn my argument for gay marriage in Texas. If I advocate that the NCSE should promote truth and education of truth (defined as consensus positions that can be verified through the scientific method) as its number one priority (which includes illuminating any areas of “controversy” or “uncertainty) and the NCSE doesn’t already have that as its priority, then that absence doesn’t impugn my argument. Why on earth would you even think it remotely reasonable to criticize a position because that position isn’t already policy? How could one ever come up with new policies if only existing policies could be advocated?

    I think you’re driving at something different, because you can’t possibly be saying “You can’t advocate ‘compatibility neutrality’ if ‘compatibility neutrality’ isn’t already policy.” You must have a more subtle argument the we simply aren’t sharing very efficiently.

    “Why should science advocacy organizations be responsible for defining what ‘the best possible approximation of truth available’ is for other people?”

    Because that’s what science does. See my answer to your next question and you’ll see why I advocate this.

    “What is truth?”

    A set of consensus positions that can be verified through the scientific method and have substantial explanatory power. Thus, evolution is “true”. Mendelian segregation of chromosomes is “true”. Quantum mechanics is “true”. “Young earth creationism” isn’t true. “Astrology” isn’t true. “Global warming” is true, the specific manners in how a warmed earth will react to this warming are still controversial, but there is emerging consensus that the range of possibilities is pretty bad with very few silver linings.

    Endorsing compatibility is controversial. At the very least, YECs and NAs dispute it. So, while the NCSE need not necessarily take a “compatible” position if it were shown to be false (i.e., even if it were shown that at least religion X were incompatible with science, NCSE need not trumpet that finding), they also shouldn’t take a compatibility stance on it if it is controversial.

    Basically, NCSE is a group dedicated to defending science and science education. As an academic scientist, science and science education are important to me. It is also important to me that we not lie to people (science demonstrably ISN’T compatible with the faiths followed by millions). However, nor should we bully religious people (the NCSE shouldn’t go out of its way to tell religious people that their doctrines contradict science unless they do things like Dover did).

    The simple solution? Put up a statement like the Rabbi’s denominational view, link out to some sort of faith/science reconciliation organization like the Templeton foundation, and leave all the compatibility apologia to others. Focus on the science education and legal defense.

  162. Damian

    The problem with this argument is that you seem to consider that it would be proof of your argument if, you and Chris and Chad agreed with the statement that “it’s basically impossible to reconcile the religious worldview with the scientific worldview”.

    Of course you do. You’re all atheists. Ask the same question of 3 Buddhists, 3 Mormons or 3 Catholics and you’re going to get a completely different answer.

    You’re missing the point that your religious biases are not scientific evidence. You have to establish the statement with something besides your gut instinct.

    This is very confused, Jinchi. The only proof that Paul W. has offered was of the logical invalidity of Chad’s argument. The reasons for believing the science and religion are not compatible involve both scientific evidence, as well as argument. But no-one here is offering a logical proof of the incompatibility, although I have no doubt that one could be thought of. Now, you may simply be using the term incorrectly, and I apologize if you are, but proof has a rather specific meaning in philosophy and mathematics, and it doesn’t apply to science, which can only really disprove.

    You are certainly correct that Chris and Chad and Paul (and I) are all atheists, but I’m a little disappointed that you appear to believe that people who are serious about argument and evidence would allow bias to affect them to the point of arguing for something, simply because it is consistent with their belief (science being compatible with religion wouldn’t necessarily harm the case for atheism, as it is philosophy that destroys the case for theism).

    Of course, it is certainly true that we are all biased in some way, but that is the reason that science and philosophy are so useful—they are tools that help us to eliminate bias. That is also the reason why many of us enjoy arguing about these issues, because it helps us to eliminate bias and to strengthen our arguments. But doing so requires one to be fiercely committed to intellectual honesty.

    So, while it is certainly possible that an atheist could believe that science and religion are incompatible, largely because they are an atheist, you can’t seriously expect me to believe that anyone who is intellectually honest—and in particular, Paul W, someone who I admire for just that!—is simply allowing his gut instinct to rule his opinions on this matter? I’d need far more evidence than an assertion, put it that way.

    The reasons for the incompatibility, except in either in the most superficial sense (there are scientists who are also religious), and/or with respect to the most vague conceptions of God, where literally nothing can be said about its attributes, have been stated over and over again. But even then, it is possible to argue that deism is incompatible because we have no reason to accept it as even remotely likely, scientifically, so it conflicts with some of the most basic scientific ideals.

    And of course, all answers can’t possibly be correct. Either science and religion are incompatible (with a few caveats), or they are compatible (again, with caveats), or a good proportion of religious beliefs are compatible and the rest not, etc. The case for incompatibility has been argued, both in blog posts and in various book length treatments. The suggestion that they haven’t is therefore factually inaccurate. It is certainly true that, unless there are objective scientific facts that are incompatible, or to a lesser extent, logical arguments, this does come down to the strength of argument on each sides, but nobody has ever denied that, as far as I am aware.

    However, not only are there many scientific findings which speak to the incompatibility of the religion of a sizable proportion of believers in the US with science, but I am yet to see a serious attempt at an argument for compatibility from the other side. Telling me that religious believers would disagree is next to useless—firstly, because I already know that, and secondly, because I really don’t care. The issue is and always has been whether it is true or not, and if it is true that they are incompatible, epistemically, what we should do about it.

    Strangely, very few people on the side of compatibility have bothered to argue that it is. They have instead tried to argue that it is in some sense tactically and politically useful, which is something that I could never support unless the two really are compatible, because it would compromise that which we hold most dear.

  163. El Guerrero del Interfaz

    OK. So there’s this big bully, religion, who has been beating this little guy, science, from the beginning.

    Now the little guy has learned martial arts and is fighting back. And, as martial arts are more efficient than brute force, he is beating the hell out of the big bully.

    And now you’re saying: if only the little guy would be “nice” and stop defending himself, surely the big bully would also stop beating him…

    Sorry, I don’t buy it. If the big bully now think it’s better for him to stop fighting, I’m sure that, if he stops, the little guy will stop defending himself too, as the big bully attacks are the only reason why he is fighting anyway. But to do what yo want would be stupid.

    It’s the turn of the religious ones to move. But they are not budging a bit. When they do, it’ll be time to talk.


    El Guerrero del Interfaz

  164. ianam

    Chris Mooney’s stupid argument has been mocked in a Jesus & Mo comic: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2010/01/22/deny/

  165. Paul W.

    bilbo

    Really, Paul? You and I have been over this four or five times now. 1.) You never agreed with me on neutrality, 2.) I never said you did [...]

    Perhaps I misunderstood when you said:

    The sense of “neutrality” as applied to scientific organizations you’re accusing me of fabricating doesn’t come from me at all – it comes from several other New Atheists! You even argued for it in the previous thread!

    Perhaps you didn’t make clear which “sense of neutrality” you were talking about clear, that I supposedly claimed you “fabricated.”

    In any event, I explained that the sense of neutrality that I consistently argued for in the previous thread was the same as the one I argued for in this thread—and that’s clearly not something that I claim you fabricated. (I’m referring to the idea that scientific bodies shouldn’t take positions on live controversies in science.)

    If you’d been willing to tell us just where I actually argued for whatever sense of neutrality you’re actually talking about, or what I said, it might have been clearer what sense you were actually talking about, too.

    But of course you wouldn’t. You threw an accusation at me, and refused to tell me what I’d actually said that fit your description.

    Why am I not the least bit surprised?

    and 3.) you have a strange propincity to pick a couple of words out of my quotes and use them to pin positions on me to which those words do not even remotely refer.

    You have a strange propensity for telling me what people supposedly said—even telling me what I supposedly said—without giving anybody any way of verifying that it actually happened.

    And of course you’re still doing it. I still have no clue as to where I argued for the sense of “neutrality” you’re talking about, or where I allegedly turned around and claimed you “fabricated” that same sense—and I have a couple of guesses what sense you’re even talking about, but still just don’t know.

    Wow, bilbo. Its kinda funny how often you withhold the information that people could use to see whether your accusations are valid.

    For example, Coyne apparently never agreed to your sense of neutrality—which I argued is not the relevant or appropriate sense anyway—so he is not a hypocrite for violating a standard that you and TB want to impose on him.

    You might not like him crossing your preferred line, and you might think he’s a bad guy for doing so, but that doesn’t make him a hypocrite.

    You don’t seem to want to address the issue that the standards for taking stances are always very different for scientific bodies that represent many scientists than for individual scientists, and they clearly have to be for individuals and organizations to do their respective jobs. (Taking sides on controversial issues vs. accurately reflecting consensus science.)

    When you and TB call Coyne a hypocrite for expecting the NAS not to take sides on the compatibility issue, it’s like calling a football player a hypocrite for complaining if the referee declares the other team the winner at halftime.

    It is not Coyne’s fault if you have no clue how science is supposed to work, or don’t really care as long as you can sling accusations.

  166. The reasons for believing the science and religion are not compatible involve both scientific evidence, as well as argument.

    I’m still waiting to one based on scientific evidence.

    Now, you may simply be using the term incorrectly, and I apologize if you are, but proof has a rather specific meaning in philosophy and mathematics, and it doesn’t apply to science, which can only really disprove.

    Since we’re talking about the compatibility between science and religion, here, I’m going to use scientific standards.

    I’m a little disappointed that you appear to believe that people who are serious about argument and evidence would allow bias to affect them to the point of arguing for something, simply because it is consistent with their belief

    Not at all. In fact, Chris and Chad are clearly not doing so. Paul is attacking Chad for his statement:

    as a formal philosophical matter, I agree that it’s basically impossible to reconcile the religious worldview with the scientific worldview

    Paul sees that as evidence that Chad is contradicting himself. But Paul omits the rest of Chad’s quote:

    Of course, as a formal philosophical matter, it’s kind of difficult to show that motion is possible.

    So either Chad believes that motion is impossible, or he believes that a philosophical standard is not a reasonable one.

    However, not only are there many scientific findings which speak to the incompatibility of the religion of a sizable proportion of believers in the US with science

    Strange that none of them ever seem to enter into these discussions. It’d be great if you’d get the ball rolling on that.

  167. Paul W.

    Jinchi,

    I sketched some scientific evidence against religion in the Orzel thread. You didn’t seem interested then. (One of the accommodationist regulars did, as they generally don’t.)

    I’ve said that sort of thing numerous times in various threads on this blog, and pretty consistently nothing I say in that regard is addressed by the accommodationist regulars—nobody says it’s bad evidence, and nobody agrees it’s good evidence, and nobody asks for more detail.

    I’ve also frequently cited books on the subject, particularly (cognitive anthropologist) Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained and (philosopher of mind) Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell.

    I’ve also repeatedly pointed out that when accommodationists claim that David Sloan Wilson is on their side, because he is an accommodationist and doesn’t like the New Atheists, his own work undermines the philosophical claims that constitute half the anti-New Atheist rhetoric that Scott and Mooney have been pumping out for the last two years.

    Like Dennett and Boyer (and Scott Atran and Bruce Hood and many other cognitive psychologists), Wilson thinks that religion is a natural phenomenon, based in cognitive and social biases that make people vulnerable to certain kinds of beliefs irrespective of whether they’re actually true. If they’re right, and I think they are, it strongly suggests that specifically religious beliefs are typically false. It also suggests that religious faith is largely a combined failure mode of several natural cognitive biases, which serve us well in most other respects, but have their downsides, especially in combination.

    Wilson thinks that failure mode of our rationality has been selected for, because even if it yields falsehoods, it provides a socially useful structure that has been evolved by group selection. Most of the other people I mentioned are skeptical of that. They think that the cognitive basis of religion is basically just a spandrel—a side effect of things that evolved for other reasons.

    On that view, central religious claims in all major religions are false in light of science, especially claims about dualistic souls, disembodied souls, gods, an afterlife or reincarnation, the nature and source of morality, and the human mind’s supposed capacity for transcendent experience of an Ultimate Reality.

    That makes nonsense of anything resembling NOMA, because science has a lot to say even about the supposed proper subject matter of religion, and what it says is not flattering to religion, on its very own central turf. That in turn, undermines half the anti-New Atheist message of the major accommodationists, because they habitually make NOMA-ish assumptions.

    If you don’t understand what I’m saying, do feel free to ask questions.

    Don’t claim nobody ever adduces evidence in these sorts of discussions. We do, and the accommodationist are generally studiously uninterested in discussing—or even, apparently, reading the books of the people they disagree with (like Dennett) or even the people they falsely claim agree with them (like Wilson).

    I think that’s largely because accommodationists generally don’t want to know what the evidence and arguments against their position are. They wouldn’t touch an actual bone of contention with a ten-foot pole, and prefer to ignore the arguments being made.

    That is especially true of Scott and Mooney. You will never, ever hear them acknowledge the arguments that people like Dennett are actually making. Instead, they’ll criticize Dennett on the grounds that he violates NOMA, and quote a handy slogan from Forrest or Pennock to imply that is intrinsically wrong, and ignore the fact that NOMA is bunk, and that Dennett and others make a compelling case for that.

    You won’t hear a lot about the evidence against religion around here, because the accommodationists aren’t interested in that. They prefer to ignore the major arguments and systematically beg the question, for years on end.

    If you don’t want to be like that, I suggest that you read Breaking the Spell.

  168. bilbo

    OK, Paul. I’m going to use your latest post to me as an example of your troll tactics to show what you do with my posts…and whty it’s so ridiculous. I’ll post your entire quote first. The parts I’ll highlight in bold will be the few choice words you’ll take out of context and argue against in an entirely different context, making it seem like I hold a position that, in fact, I do not. Ready?

    Example 1

    Original quote: “It is not Coyne’s fault if you have no clue how science is supposed to work, or don’t really care as long as you can sling accusations.”

    The only part Paul would hear: “how science is supposed to work.

    How Paul would twist that into a false position based off of the selected phrase: “Did you just insinuate that I don’t understand how science works?! You lie!!! I never said that, you dishonest weasel! You’re just fabricating quotes again. where did I say that? WHERE???!!!! LIAR!!!!!!!!!!”

    Example 2

    Original quote: “And of course you’re still doing it. I still have no clue as to where I argued for the sense of “neutrality” you’re talking about, or where I allegedly turned around and claimed you “fabricated” that same sense—and I have a couple of guesses what sense you’re even talking about, but still just don’t know.”

    The only part Paul would hear: “I have a couple of guesses.

    How Paul would twist that into a false position based off of the selected phrase: “Wow, bilbo. You’re guessing now? In case you didn’t notice, this is science – WE DON’T GUESS IN SCIENCE, you stupid apologist! How dare you try to pass of a guess about the relevancy of the origins of morality as a scientific claim!”

    Bilbo’s response: “What the hell, Paul?! Where did we start talking about the origins of morality, and where in my original quote did you pull out that I was making claims about it?

    Paul: “don’t lie again, bilbo! You clearly said “I have a couple of guesses!” You can’t deny that now!!!!!”

    Example 3

    Original quote: “If you’d been willing to tell us just where I actually argued for whatever sense of neutrality you’re actually talking about, or what I said, it might have been clearer what sense you were actually talking about, too.”

    The only part Paul would hear: “I actually argued for whatever sense of neutrality you’re actually talking about

    How Paul would twist that into a false position based off of the selected phrase: “See?! Now you’re admitting that you argued for the same sense of neutrality as I did! Ha HA!”

    ….and I suppose I could continue, but you’re probably getting the point by now. You’ve pinned so many false positions on me, I don’t really even understand what position you’re claiming that I hold right now! First I made a statement, you pinned some false position on me, I tried to refute that, and then you took a phrase out of context on that statement and pinned a completely different false position on me. Now, in your last post, you’re doing the same thing and pinning ANOTHER position on me that I never held….and now you’re trying to apply old arguments between the two of us, which had nothing to do with the present one, to what we’re arguing about now!!!!

    WOW! That’s quite the head-spinning journey through out-of-context land, but it’s predictable from a general troll. Here’s something to think about, Paul. It’s easy to declare victory, as you do, when someone can’t provide evidence to back up a claim when that claim is just something you made up and doesn’t reflect a position your opponent never held!

    No wonder no one really pays much attention to you here outside of myself. They’d have a hard time discussing things with you even if the two of you agreed. You’re hopeless.

  169. bilbo

    *snicker*

    I see that Jinchi noticed Paul the Troll’s “quote trimming” tactic to pin false positions on someone, too.

    That makes two of us. I guess we all “just don’t get it….”

  170. Paul W.

    Jinchi,

    Paul is attacking Chad for his statement:

    as a formal philosophical matter, I agree that it’s basically impossible to reconcile the religious worldview with the scientific worldview

    Paul sees that as evidence that Chad is contradicting himself.

    Yes. In fact, given that I can clearly prove that his definition of “compatible” is wrong—that is simply not how people in fact understand the word, and his argument is invalid—he is giving away the store here.

    The fact that Chad (and apparently Chris) agree with me is not surprising—as you say, we’re all atheists, and the fact that we’d agree isn’t proof that it’s actually true. What is surprising is that Chris seems to have spent the last two years bashing the New Atheists for saying something that he now seems to acknowledge is true after all.

    (And he didn’t just say it was a strategically bad thing to say. He clearly implied that it was untrue. For two years, he paraded around a big straw man about how what the NA’s were saying on that point was actually bad philosophy, with simplistic quotes from Forrest and Pennock to debunk it. But if he thinks it’s true, that’s very interesting—especially if he agrees with Orzel that “a statement of fact cannot be unconscionable.” That would undermine essentially all of his nasty rhetoric against the New Atheists for the last two years. It would be admitting that the New Atheists were right all along to believe that science and religion are compatible, and it would mean he was wrong all along, for constantly criticising them for saying so. )

    But Paul omits the rest of Chad’s quote:

    Of course, as a formal philosophical matter, it’s kind of difficult to show that motion is possible.

    So either Chad believes that motion is impossible, or he believes that a philosophical standard is not a reasonable one.

    Seriously? You took that seriously? You think that’s an argument?

    What Chad says about Zeno’s paradox and philosophers is a complete straw man, to take unfair swipes at philosophers and philosophy.

    Philosophers have no problem understanding the solution to Zeno’s paradox. Zeno had a problem thousands of years ago but nobody since Leibniz and Newton has had a problem clearly seeing the same solution physicists do. Philosophers are not, in general, stupid people. (Some are, but Chad clearly demonstrates that physicist can be pretty stupid sometimes, too.)

    What Chad is doing there is framing concerns about his argument as minor “philosophical” issues, that normal people shouldn’t be at all interested in, because philosophers are fools who can’t get to work on time.

    I assumed that was meant humorously—he’s joking that philosophers have to stay home because they can’t solve Zeno’s paradox—but it’s also a sneaky bit of framing that he seriously relies on, and which apparently fooled you.

    The supposedly “minor” and merely “philosophical” concerns he’s dimissing are things like

    1. Whether his statement about the meaning of “compatible” is true. (It isn’t.)
    2. Whether his argument is valid. (It isn’t.)
    3. Whether his conclusion therefore follows. (It doesn’t.)

    In other words, Chad is effectively saying “If you dare to point out that my argument is completely wrong, from start to finish, you’re a loser.”

    I only didn’t explain that before because I thought nobody would take his pre-emptive first strike seriously—at least not after his argument was clearly refuted, start to finish. So I did the latter instead.

    But apparently you’re not a “philosophical” loser like me—you don’t care that Chad’s assertion is just false, his argument is patently invalid, and his conclusion doesn’t follow.

    I, on the other hand, am happy to get labeled a “philosopher” who’s late for work.

    IMHO, that’s better than being a sophist who doesn’t care if what he’s saying is true, or even makes sense, as long as the trains run on time.

  171. Paul W.

    I see that Jinchi noticed Paul the Troll’s “quote trimming” tactic to pin false positions on someone, too.

    This from bilbo the weasel who just got caught pinning false positions on Coyne, and then on me?

    But seriously? You agree with Jinchi that the part I left off was significant?

    I’m delighted to address that bit. Truly.

    That makes two of us. I guess we all “just don’t get it….”

    I’ll say. Stay tuned for my response to Jinchi that’s in moderation.

  172. Milton C.

    Paul, bilbo and Jinchi are correct. You do, indeed, have a tendency to trim snippets out of larger quotes and use them as false positions when you’re arguing. Sometimes the mischaracterization doesn’t matter. Sometimes it does. It’s basically a method of trolling when you’re trying to keep points against someone rather than truly argue them. That’s about all you do here. It doesn’t always make you wrong, of course, but it’s about all you seem to be able to muster.

    In fact, after commenting both here and on Atagahi the last couple of days about similar topics, I have to admit the intellecutal level of discussion is about 5 to 6 rungs lower down the ladder here. It’s mostly because of people like Paul, more interested in trolling and stoking tribal vendettas and getting anything done.

  173. Paul W.

    Milton C,

    In the present case, do you see the bit I omitted from the quote from Chad (that Jinchi objected to) as relevant?

    Do you think I did it on purpose?

    I think I left it out because it wasn’t really relevant—if Chad’s arguments are wrong, they’re wrong, and his prefatory slam against philosophers and philosophy are irrelevant.

    Do you disagree?

    When Chad said “Of course, as a formal philosophical matter, it’s kind of difficult to show that motion is possible,” that it was a serious,valid point I needed to address? Or was it a serious, invalid point I needed to address for clarity? (As I have now done, in reply to Jinchi.)

    I’m generally happy to do that. If you think I’m omitting relevant context, just let me know, and I’ll try to fix the problem. If you don’t let me know, in specific cases, I have a hard time knowing what you’re talking about and doing anything about it, as I’ve done in this case.

    Do you think I left it out on purpose, because I didn’t have a good counter to it? See my reply above. I thought I could make Chad look worse by pointing out that his nonsense about philosophers was worse than irrelevant—but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to be “long winded”, and was more focused on proving that his argument was wrong.

    Can you give me an example or two of when you think I’ve trimmed a “snipped” out of a larger quote and used it as a false position?

    I think you’re mistaken if you think that I do that often, or on purpose, so please substantiate what you’re accusing me of.

    You’re accusing me, so the burden of proof is on you.

    Several people around here on the accommodationist side seem really fond of unsubstantiated accusations, but that doesn’t seem to bother you.

    It also doesn’t seem to bother you that nobody on the accommodationist side will answer certain direct and relevant questions, like

    Chad’s argument is invalid, isn’t it?

    I’ve asked everybody, and I’ve asked several people individually, and nobody will answer the question, either to say that it’s valid, or to agree that it isn’t.

    If you ask me, that kind of evasiveness is pervasive around here, and that lowers the conversation level several rungs, all by itself.

    If people won’t acknowledge which points they agree with and which points they don’t, it’s very hard to carry on a serious conversation.

  174. gillt

    Actually Milton, you have it completely backwards. Paul, more than anyone else, has made persistent and repeated attempts to get basic questions answered and raise the level of discourse around here. He also avoids mud-flinging more than anyone else here. However, he gets derailed by bilbo and TB without fail every single time he brings something topical to Mooney’s post. Frankly, I don’t know why he doesn’t write them off as a lost cause. Those two, like kwok and McCarthy before them bring little else to the debate other than anti-NA sentiment.

    I agree the level of discussion here can drop pretty low, but I hope you’re not confusing that with increased civility at Atagahi’s site.

  175. Milton C.

    Paul, whenever someone criticizes you, you dismiss them because they haven’t answered a question you posed 200 comments ago on a completely different thread. Seriously – learn to argue rationally.

    Regardless of what I think about Chad Orzel’s argument about a particular issue, you have a long track record on The Intersection of removing snippets of quotes out of context and using them to argue an unrelated point. Often, the unrelated point you’re arguing is something your opponent doesn’t even agree with. It’s not an individual case, it’s the trend you’ve shown here. I haven’t been commenting here long, but I’ve seen five to six different commenters point out the same thing, and every time they have a good case. Stop using fifth-rate troll tactics, and you’ll likely get a real response from others when you finally pose a legit question to them…like asking them what they think of Chad Orzel.

    Alas, I’ll probably be talking to a wall, and Paul will demand an answer about something Chad ORzel said three posts ago. Sigh….

  176. Milton C.

    Since you’re demanding evidence, Paul, consider the last religion thread when you removed a small phrase out of context from bilbo’s larger post, called him a liar for it, and then suddenly recanted later on. Even you noticed the quote-trimming that time….and now in this thread you’re bringing that up again to argue against him on something completely different. It’s pretty obvious how fifth-rate trollish you’re being.

    But it’s happened over and over and over and over again, and I imagine we’ll only get a rambling explanation this time, too.

    I’m going to go post on this topic on Atagahi and generally ignore you here from now on, Paul. There’s too much at stake in this discussion to let point-keeping trolls bog it down.

  177. J.J.E.

    Come now Milton. There are no trolls here. Just people who don’t argue well. The people here are all invested in the conversation and aren’t just posting with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response

  178. Bud

    Replace the word “religion” in this discussion with the more accurate word “superstition” and the answer is a no-brainer; no, science is not compatible with superstition.

  179. Paul W.

    Milton C,

    Are you referring to Bilbo’s quote from Coyne (“Leave the theology to the theologians.”)?

    I think that gillt was right that it was basically a quote mine by bilbo—in context, it was clear at least that he was directing that at scientific organizations, not individuals, saying basically what I’ve defended here. (That scientific organizations are supposed to be neutral on controversial stuff.)

    I did come to agree with bilbo, partially—and never more than that—in that I thought Coyne worded it in a way that is easy to misinterpret, and perhaps technically wrong, depending how you interpret “theology” and whether you fail to recognize that he didn’t mean that individuals should leave theology to the theologians, i.e., not argue points that bear on theology. (I find it difficult to imagine that anybody could know Coyne’s positions and think that he meant theology was off-limits to debate by non-theologians.)

    So I acknowledged that biblo had a point—”Leave theology to the theologians” was a potentially misleading thing to say. I continued to agree with gillt that it was basically a quote mine by bilbo, and certainly did not illustrate that Coyne was actually being hypocritical.

    Coyne was taking the consistent position I am taking—that the rules are supposed to be different for scientific organizations than for individuals. Individual scientists are supposed to engage in controversies, and organizations that represent them are not supposed to take a stand until a consensus emerges.

    Do you have any other examples of my alleged quote-mining? I would be happy to address them.

    You don’t seem to care whether bilbo quote-mined Coyle.

    You don’t seem to care if bilbo falsely accused Coyne of hypocrisy.

    You don’t seem to see the point of making valid arguments, either. You just don’t get why I would expect people to concede a clearly-proven point before continuing the discussion.

    And I’ve got to say that if those are your priorities, and you think I’m a habitual quote-miner, but are not interested in my careful explanations of what the quotes actually do and actually don’t mean, well… I will not be heartbroken to see you go argue elsewhere.

  180. Paul W.

    Paul, whenever someone criticizes you, you dismiss them because they haven’t answered a question you posed 200 comments ago on a completely different thread.

    Milton, that’s not what I do. I do sometimes point out that people are failing to cooperate in carrying on a rational discussion—e.g., failing to concede a proven point, or even confirm or deny that it’s been proven, or failing to acknowledge that someone is making a valid distinction. (Like the distinction between the roles of individuals vs. organizations in science.)

    I do not generally just dismiss people, even when they do that. I try to address other points that they make, as consistently as anybody here.

    Seriously – learn to argue rationally.

    I don’t see you agreeing to argue rationally, e.g., acknowledging the importance of the validity of arguments, and acting on it, or to listen if I explain why something you think is a quote mine isn’t in fact a quote mine.

    Basically, you’re reserving the right to ignore issues of truth and falsity, and to make vague accusations—e.g., that I am a troll who quote-mines a lot—without backing them up with specific evidence.

    And you excuse that by saying that you won’t like my answers anyway, so you won’t bother. Well, there’s not much I can do about that. You’ve already opted out of arguing rationally.

  181. Chad’s argument is invalid, isn’t it?

    Paul, since you think nobody answered the question, I must have been too subtle.

    No, Chad’s argument is not invalid. Your characterization of it is simply wrong.

    So either Chad believes that motion is impossible, or he believes that a philosophical standard is not a reasonable one.

    Seriously? You took that seriously? You think that’s an argument?

    No, I think it’s a statement of his intended meaning. If you can’t take the second half of his quote seriously, why would you take the first half of his quote seriously?

  182. Paul W.

    I keep getting accused of being off-topic for continuing to discuss Orzel’s argument, as though it was just something irrelevant that Chad said “three posts ago.”

    It’s not. Look at the first sentence of the current post. It links to the post with Chad’s argument in it, and Chris’s praise of that argument.

    The first sentence does say that Chris would like to go on to discuss policy issues.

    That’s problematic, though, if we think that our policy should include sticking to the truth, and Chris’s main recent example of accommodationist rhetoric, which he says “nails it”, is based on a falsehood and an invalid argument.

    I’m not being trollish to say that a concern for truth, which Chad dismisses as mere “philosophy” is entirely relevant to that discussion. At least, it’s relevant until we explicitly agree that it doesn’t matter whether what we say is actually true.

    Is that what’s being proposed, so that we can “move on”?

    Or would people like to start acknowledging important things, like the invalidity of Chad’s argument, so that we can decisively dismiss it, and Chris’s apparent acknowledgement of logical contradictions between science and religion, and move on without fear of it coming back to haunt us?

    Or are we supposed to move on to a policy discussion without any agreement on what’s true or false?

    If so, I don’t think we’re in a position to talk about what stance science organizations—of all things—should take.

  183. Paul W.

    Jinchi,

    I appreciate you giving me an answer to my oft-repeated question. Thank you. At least I know you think that the argument is valid; I’ve been wondering if anybody actually did.

    How do you think my characterization of it is wrong?

    Chad does claim that the word compatible only means that you can do both things, right?

    That is what he uses to argue that if some scientists are religious, science and religion are compatible, right?

    With me so far?

  184. Wilson thinks that religion is a natural phenomenon, based in cognitive and social biases that make people vulnerable to certain kinds of beliefs irrespective of whether they’re actually true. If they’re right, and I think they are, it strongly suggests that specifically religious beliefs are typically false.

    I have no problem with description the science you’re describing here, but you’re jumping to conclusions in that second sentence. Just because you’ve seen a mirage, doesn’t mean you’ve never seen the ocean.

    On that view, central religious claims in all major religions are false in light of science, especially claims about dualistic souls, disembodied souls, gods, an afterlife or reincarnation, the nature and source of morality, and the human mind’s supposed capacity for transcendent experience of an Ultimate Reality.

    Okay, I’d interpret the phrase “false in the light of science” to mean something that had been proven wrong (such as the 6000 year old universe) or at least had an overwhelming amount of evidence stacked against it. I don’t think any of the things you listed meet that standard. Science certainly hasn’t disproven the existence of God. And Ultimate Reality? Really? I’m not sure if you’re taking this term literally or metaphorically, but it has at least as many definitions as the word “God” does.

    BTW, I have no idea of what NOMA is.

  185. J.J.E.

    @Jinchi

    Since people have gone there (talking about proofs of god), recall, in science the worth of proposals are generally ranked like this:

    “true” (basically all tests passed like QM) > “wrong but still very useful” (classical mechanics) > “wrong, once useful, but now obsolete” (early models of the atom) > “not even wrong” (makes proposals about the world without a way to test them or make claims about worlds that people have actually experience; seances, Greek mythology, New Age physics)

    I might stick in another category which is basically “provocative and completely untested” just a tad above “not even wrong”. String theory might fit there until we collect some data…

    Of course, moving between categories is permitted following new observations.

    So, where does god fit? And what would it take for god to move up or down a category for you?

  186. bilbo

    A couple of translations for those unfamiliar with Paul the Troll-speak:

    What Paul says: “And you excuse that by saying that you won’t like my answers anyway, so you won’t bother. Well, there’s not much I can do about that.”

    What Paul means: “If you don’t respond when I pose a question, I interpret that as an incorrect answer. I WIN!!!! (heads over to Pharyngula for some back-patting and encouragement).

    What Paul says: “You’ve already opted out of arguing rationally.”

    What Paul means: “You and I don’t agree.”

    What Paul says: “I’m not being trollish to say that a concern for truth, which Chad dismisses as mere “philosophy” is entirely relevant to that discussion.”

    What Paul means: “I’m just attempting to deflect your discussion point by dredging up a marginally-relevant question and judging the merit of your unrelated argument based off of whether or not you respond to my mostly-unrelated question.”

    What Paul says: “I keep getting accused of being off-topic for continuing to discuss Orzel’s argument, as though it was just something irrelevant that Chad said “three posts ago.”

    It’s not. Look at the first sentence of the current post. It links to the post with Chad’s argument in it, and Chris’s praise of that argument.

    The first sentence does say that Chris would like to go on to discuss policy issues.”

    What Paul means: “Look, Chris mentions Chad at the beginning, so I’m not off-to-…..oh, f@#&. Chris wasn’t really talking about Chad that whole time at all. I really amjust trolling.”

  187. Cody

    So should the NCSE representative say that the pastor is wrong? That evolution is not a damnable sin? Should he go further and say that there is no such thing as damnation? Should the rep go on to explain that the pastor is most likely either completely ignorant of science, or an outright con-artist? If we shouldn’t be so honest; if you are *actually* advocating that we, as scientists, lie to the public to raise support, then what sorts of lies do you think would be acceptable? And if you reject both these options, what the hell do you think can be said?

    If you want science to say more about religion, then we are sure to piss off religious folk far more than we already do. The fact that some humans carry religious and scientific beliefs is not evidence of compatibility, but simply evidence that some humans fail to detect (or accept) inconsistencies between their most cherished beliefs. The vast majority of religious beliefs are entirely incompatible with basic science, and I don’t see anyway that scientific organizations can chime in on religion without illustrating that fact.

    What would your ideal NCSE response be in your toy conversation there, Mr. Mooney? The brutal honesty of the New Atheists, the silent indifference they often advocate, or flat out lies? Or do you really think there is something that doesn’t fall into one of those categories? PleasepleasepleasePLEASE don’t say lie…

  188. Paul W.
    Wilson thinks that religion is a natural phenomenon, based in cognitive and social biases that make people vulnerable to certain kinds of beliefs irrespective of whether they’re actually true. If they’re right, and I think they are, it strongly suggests that specifically religious beliefs are typically false.

    I have no problem with description the science you’re describing here, but you’re jumping to conclusions in that second sentence. Just because you’ve seen a mirage, doesn’t mean you’ve never seen the ocean.

    I was just sketching the overall argument, not trying to present it in full. (In other words, I wasn’t trying to convince you, yet, just giving you some idea what the heck I’m talking about.) Your last sentence is an excellent point, too.

    You are quite right that if I said things above, as a full argument, the second sentence is be a completely unjustified jump to conclusions. It certainly needs serious explaining. (That’s largely what Dennett’s book is about.)

    By the way, what I just did was admit that my sketchy argument was not valid. You shouldn’t be convinced I’m right based on just that; a valid argument would have to spell out the steps that you noticed were missing. (And it would have to fill them out correctly, e.g., address the problem you point to with the analogy about correct perception and mirages.)

    That’s a nice setup for talking about validity, so here’s a brief digression that may clarify our objections to Chad’s argument(s):

    The problem you have with my sketchy argument is the same as one I have with Chad’s argument—his argument as stated doesn’t actually work. There may be another, fuller argument that works, but he hasn’t given it. His argument is not valid, either, but he and Chris act as though it is (instead of acknowledging that it’s just a nonworking sketch, like I just did).

    People have asked them to fill out the argument and present a valid version, and they haven’t done it. Instead they act as though they already proved something, which they haven’t. Many of us are skeptical that they can actually fill the argument out to get one that actually works—just as you are rightly justified in being skeptical of my admittedly invalid argument above, at this point.

    Does that make sense to you?

    That also brings us to the question Chad asked his critics in a comment on his post.

    When Chad asked for examples of prominent, respected scientists who believe in astrology, he was tacitly admitting that his argument, as he gave it was invalid. He was clearly acknowledging that his argument was incomplete, and needs at least some fixing to get a valid version we should be convinced by.

    He was also suggesting that an actually valid argument might be considerably more complicated than the one he actually gave—it would have to convincingly address issues of why and how scientists being prominent and respected matters. He didn’t do that. He not only didn’t present a full, valid argument, he didn’t even sketch how to go about fixing his simplistic argument to get one that’s valid. He refused to actually address the invalidity of his argument.

    Chris has done that too. He posted Chad’s invalid argument, and praised it as though it should be convincing, saying Chad “nails it.” It was pointed out that the argument is invalid, and instead of admitting that, Chris posted again, linking to it, as though the problems with the argument weren’t worth addressing; instead we should “move on” to discussing policy.

    I’ll get back to filling in my argument in another post… I have something written already, but I need to edit it down.

  189. Another Adam

    I know I am in the minority here, but I see a trend among all of the posts which is a basic lack of understanding of what a truly Christian person thinks. Paul W does a good job @ 147 of saying we are talking about the God that most people in America worship. However, he and everyone else I have read here go off the rails when they talk about proofs of Gods existence whether they are philosophical or scientific. I don’t care what philosophical or scientific argument you make, a Christian will not believe you because to us how can we as creations of God explain him. Can a statue explain the nature of the sculptor? Is the creation equal to the creator? If you want to promote science among the religious you must understand how the religious think. Otherwise, you will be talking past them and they will not here you. If you remember nothing else remember that a true believer will not stop believing in God no matter what argument you present. So if you want to promote scientific literacy tell us what the science is and leave God out of it. When someone asks questions like in Chris’s scenario defer to their religious leader.

    This debate has been going for months and I try to read all of the comments on each post and I see the same generalizations all of the time. We are not talking about religion we are talking about Christianity, specifically, fundamentalist Christianity. The kind that espouses a literal reading of Genesis and that does not accept the science behind evolution. This is the form of Christianity that scientists have railed against. Yet the majority of Christians do not hold these beliefs. True they are a vocal and activist crowd. But, you cannot reason with them. Focus on Christians who believe God is not a liar and thus scientific evidence is true. But also realize that we do not and will not believe this falsifies Gods existence. Frame your presentations of the science accordingly and the majority of Christians will believe you.

  190. Paul W.

    Jinchi,

    Filling in some… this doesn’t quite get to the crucial missing step, but it fills out the kind of argument I’m making and sets it up:


    Modern cognitive science (cognitive psychology, neuroscience, etc.) shows that pretty much everything that the soul was invented to explain is actually done by the brain. The mind is an essentially computational process, that can’t exist without a kind of computer to do the computing.

    For thousands of years, people didn’t know that. Now we do. The brain is what does our thinking, remembering, emoting, valuing, and planning—all the stuff that makes us persons, and makes us the particular ersons we are.

    You don’t need a soul to do that. And given that the brain is doing those things, there’s not much left for a soul to do or to be. Without your brain, you aren’t you, and when your brain dies, you cease to exist.

    Most of the experts on that sort of stuff—cognitive scientists, philosophers of mind—think that religion is just another thing that the brain does. It’s largely a side-effect of biases built into us by evolution. In particular, we have different machinery in our heads for thinking about simple physical stuff (rocks, water, etc.) than for dealing about agents (animals and people, with goals and plans).

    Evolution gave us the useful ability to think about minds in a very different way than we think about non-minds. It didn’t give us the knowledge that the agents are evolved machines, and that minds are made out of non-mind stuff.

    That makes us prone to thinking about things in basically dualistic terms, and to find disembodied souls plausible.

    There are other cognitive biases we’re evolved to have because by and large, they’re good for us, but those biases also make us prone to making certain kinds of mistakes.

    For example, we’re prone to seeing agents and agency where there aren’t any, because the cost of failing to recognize those things is often high, but the cost of falsely recognizing them (where they’re not) is low.

    For example, if you see a lion where there isn’t one, you usually only suffer a momentary scare. But if you don’t see a lion where there is one, you’re likely dead. Likewise, if you think someone’s trying to hurt you, and they’re not, you can often figure that out without too bad a misunderstanding. But if you don’t think someone is trying to hurt you, and they are, you may end up a lot worse off.

    So basically, people are prone to finding souls plausible, and to see souls or intentional actions of souls where they’re not. In situations where you don’t have a reality check to disabuse you of the false positives, you’re likely to end up believing in souls that do a variety of things on purpose, whether those souls actually exist or not, and whether or not those things were done by any agent at all.

    People also have other relevant biases, like a bracketing bias that makes us inclined to think that the opinions of people around us are more or less reasonable, and to take a “moderate” position, all other things being equal. That’s the kind of thing that leads to well-known phenomena of conformity, obedience to authority, and groupthink.

    You can probably see roughly how this fits together to explain religion. People are prone to

    0. believing in souls as different things from physically instantiated minds,
    1. believing in invisible disembodied agents, and attributing random things to them
    2. looking for “meaning” of events in terms of actions of such agents, and finding it where
    it doesn’t actually exist, in the absence of evidence to the contrary and
    3. being inclined to believe the kinds of things others believe, in the absence of (and sometimes in the face of) evidence to the contrary

    These are all well-known psychological phenomena used to explain other things, but when you combine them, it’s a recipe for popular delusions of a strikingly religion-like sort.

    If that’s true, the fact that religion is widespread is not evidence that there’s any truth to it. It’s only evidence that that’s the kind of trap people are prone to falling into, due to cognitive biases that evolved for other reasons.

    It’s also plausible that religion itself has been selected for, because it often plays a useful roles in getting groups to cooperate, and especially to cooperate to exploit other groups. That’s more controversial, though.

  191. gillt

    Here’s a chance for Mooney to practice some accomodating…by actually listening to one of the faithful.

    Another Adam: “So if you want to promote scientific literacy tell us what the science is and leave God out of it. When someone asks questions like in Chris’s scenario defer to their religious leader.”

    Precisely what a scientific organization should be doing.

    But I do wonder about this.

    Another Adam: “I don’t care what philosophical or scientific argument you make, a Christian will not believe you because to us how can we as creations of God explain him.”

    It appears you too are immune to reason.

  192. Another Adam

    Paul, I realize this is not your whole argument but already you are showing what I talked about in my previous post. You reduce Christianity to the most basic question of whether or not there is a sole. Then you claim to prove there is none using a false construct of why humanity invented the sole. But you still miss the whole point about Christianity specifically. We do not believe in a soul to explain this world. We believe in it to justify our existence and the reason we should be ethical (moral) people. We are less concerned about the cosmology than we are about the ethics of our lives. You will not turn a true believer away from Christ. But, you can still demonstrate how our physical world works through science.

  193. Paul W.

    Another Adam: “I don’t care what philosophical or scientific argument you make, a Christian will not believe you because to us how can we as creations of God explain him.”

    It appears you too are immune to reason.

    I think you should cut Another Adam a break on that. It’s a very common intuition, which many people find convincing, and it’s not immediately obvious why it’s wrong.

    To suggest why it is wrong—there are some unquestioned presuppositions there—consider an analogous intuition that some people have about tools:

    To make a precise tool, you need tools at least as precise to shape the materials.

    In particular, to make a really sharp tool, you need an even sharper tool to cut the material in a very precise edge.

    If you don’t know how tools are actually made, that sounds like a reasonable couple of statements.

    But it’s really, really false. People have been making extraordinarily sharp tools—sharper than an expensive brain surgery scalpel—since the stone age. They’ve been making tools much sharper than the tools they make them with since way before that.

    The stone-age technique of flintknapping can take two not-sharp-at-all rocks and bash them together to make tool that’s almost as sharp as it is physically possible for a tool to be—with a cutting edge a single molecule wide.

    You take advantage of the simple, regular crystalline structure of to shear one of the rocks in two planes that intersect at an acute angle, and where they intersect is submicroscopically sharp. For an obsidian knife made that way, you need a good electron microscope to see just how sharp it is.

    Even if you don’t know how to do that, you can make sharp tools fairly simply by taking a flat rock, and scraping something against it, to wear the materal away in two planes that intersect—a knife edge. That’s what I do in my kitchen when I sharpen a knife, and what a barber does stropping a razor against a piece of leather to get a particularly sharp razor edge. (One trick to this is that you need a flat rock to start with. That’s easy—just grind two relatively flat rock faces together to wear away the bumps and grind down past the concavities.)

    Neat, huh? It seems like something that you shouldn’t be able to do, but when you see how it’s done, you realize it’s not hard at all. We’ve probably been doing it since before we were human.

    There’s no obvious reason why you can’t do the same thing with an intelligent thing, making a more intelligent thing.

    In fact, in narrow domains it’s not terribly hard to write a computer that’s “smarter”—better at some particular task of figuring something out—than the computer programmer who creates it.

    For example, I have written game-playing programs that can kick my ass at the games they play. With a few months effort, I’m pretty sure I could write a chess program that I would never be able to beat, even if I spent the rest of my life focused on learning to play chess better.

    When you realize how we actually understand things—not by understanding everything in detail all the time, but by understanding the crucial patterns—it stops seeming reasonable to guess that we couldn’t understand our own minds in much the same way.

    For example, you can’t keep an infinite set of things in your mind, and you might think that’d mean you can’t reason about infinities. But you can—mathematicians and physicists do it every day—because you reason about infinity abstractly. You understand the pattern specifying of an infinity, and manipulate that in your head, rather than maniplating an infinite set directly, which would be physically impossible.

    When you think about large computer programs, like an advanced AI system or even just an operating system or a spreadsheet, you can’t keep the whole thing in your head at any given time. Not by orders of magnitude. And for large programs written by many people, there is nobody who really understands every detail of the code, even at different times. And yet such things get written, by human beings with their limited focus of attention, and more or less work.

    It may be that in fact, humans are not smart enough to ever create programs as smart as themselves; some people think so—there might be some critical idea we can never quite grasp. Most experts on the subject don’t think so, although most don’t think we’ll figure it all out soon.

    Most scientists think that evolution did create things that are smarter than itself… after all, evolution is way, way dumber than a rat, and rats aren’t. Unless you assume some supernatural intervention, that seems like pretty good evidence that at least some things can “create” things a whole heck of a lot smarter than themselves, without even meaning to or realizing they’re doing it.

  194. Another Adam

    Gillt. I am not immune to reason. Reaon is just something we as humans use to understand the world he created. But we cannot use our reason to understand God. Reason applies to all that we can percieve. But I do believe you cannot reasonably understand God the father not in his nature or his plan. All we can do is try to understand what his son Jesus wanted to teach us. You see, Christianity is hard to reduce to simple terms because there are so many facets to believing. And yes we can have debates about religion but in the end Christians will always believe there is more to God than we can understand.

  195. Cody

    Another Adam, have you considered that there may be good arguments to be moral/ethical without a god? That perhaps humans evolved into (mostly) ethical creatures because it was in our best interest as individuals (as well as groups), to cooperate, and behave? Is it less beautiful to believe that our limitless potential for good emerged naturally from the laws of nature, than to claim some god programmed us this way (or just plain demands it of us)?

    In the words of Simon Pierre Laplace, “I have no need for that hypothesis.” And why does my existence need justifying? Can’t I just live a life that pleases me, simply because it pleases me to do so? Why should we need anything more than that?

  196. Paul W.

    Paul, I realize this is not your whole argument but already you are showing what I talked about in my previous post. You reduce Christianity to the most basic question of whether or not there is a sole. Then you claim to prove there is none using a false construct of why humanity invented the sole.

    I’m not sure what you mean by saying it’s a false construct. Are you just saying that you think I’m wrong, without having heard my whole argument? Or are you saying that there’s an obvious error at a particular step, which makes it evidently false, given something besides your presumption ahead of time that you’re right and I’m wrong?

    If you think that what I’m saying is false, how do you know that? Are you just being closed-minded?

    We do not believe in a soul to explain this world. We believe in it to justify our existence and the reason we should be ethical (moral) people. We are less concerned about the cosmology than we are about the ethics of our lives.

    That sounds like saying you won’t believe me, and will continue to believe what you want to believe, no matter how logically compelling an argument I make, because you find your beliefs convenient, and don’t really care if they’re actually true. Your mind is made up and you’re not going to change it, because you think that your current beliefs are useful, and in particular, that they are more useful than whatever beliefs would replace them if you changed your mind.

    Wow.

    You will not turn a true believer away from Christ.

    I’ve certainly turned a very few believers away from Christ over the last few decades. It does occasionally happen. That’s largely where atheists come from, in the U.S.—people who were once Christian, and became convinced at some point that they were mistaken, and atheism made more sense. I am in fact one of those people, I used to be a Christian, so I know it’s possible.

    And there are millions and millions of us ex-Christians. A respectable number of Christians change their minds and decide that Christianity is nonsense every day. How do you think that happens?

    But if you’re talking about “true believers” in roughly the sense of Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer, you may be right. There are some people who are really unreachable, and cling to irrational beliefs ever more tightly if you criticize them. Those people are crazy beyond my ability to help.

    I don’t think most Christians are particularly crazy; most are just mistaken, IMHO, because they are woefully ignorant of the issues. They’re victims of an ordinary popular delusion, but that’s not the same thing as actually being crazy. (That’s an interesting thing about popular delusions, as opposed to personal delusions—even sane people are suckers for certain kinds of social feedbacks.)

    I don’t think we’ll change all the non-crazy Christians’ minds, unfortunately. It’s an uphill fight. But I am optimistic that we’ll convince more and more people in the long run, mostly young people, as has happened over the last 50 years in Western Europe.

  197. Cody

    The idea that god is incomprehensible seems a little insulting to our species… why didn’t god make us capable of understanding ‘him’? Would our power make ‘him’ jealous? Or perhaps he is incapable of creating other gods? Why does ‘he’ play such games, doesn’t ‘he’ know how much suffering ‘he’ has caused?

  198. BACE

    Bilbo; the incarnation of George W Bush. Anytime someone writes something more than a paragraph he feels intimidated and declares the commenter to be a troll. Poor bilbo and his non-existent reading comprehension skills.

  199. bilbo

    Why do so many ‘nonbelievers’ have a predefined ‘list’ of qualifying ‘beliefs’ with which they pigeonhole ‘religion’ into, which only ends up encompassing a caricatured snippet of existing ‘theology,’ using single quotes for ‘emphasis’ while pretending that religion must either precisely match every tenet of ‘evangelical’ christianity or be false if not falling into ‘those’ criteria?

    It’s almost like ‘they’ continue to hold residual ‘beliefs’ from their previous ‘backgrounds’ and remain willfully ignorant of ‘other’ opinions, whether those ‘other’ opinions be valid or not.

  200. Paul W.

    BTW, Another Adam… I have another reply to you in moderation, which I submitted before the last one (which showed right up). It should show up a few posts up from there when it gets through, and the one after that may make more sense.

  201. bilbo

    I’ve certainly turned a very few believers away from Christ over the last few decades

    They’re victims of an ordinary popular delusion, but that’s not the same thing as actually being crazy. (That’s an interesting thing about popular delusions, as opposed to personal delusions—even sane people are suckers for certain kinds of social feedbacks.)

    I sure hope turning believers didn’t involve telling them that they were a “delusional sucker.”

    That’s largely where atheists come from, in the U.S.—people who were once Christian, and became convinced at some point that they were mistaken, and atheism made more sense. I am in fact one of those people, I used to be a Christian, so I know it’s possible.

    I’d be interested in finding out how many atheists were really just once evangelical Christians of the “crazy” order. Although I was being a general ass in my response to Cody, I think it’s a legitimate point. Most of the time, when I see other atheists criticizing a broadly-defined “religion,” their characterization of it almost always falls in exact lockstep with the major tenets of fundamentalist Christianity (e.g. the most hyperliteral translation of the Bible imaginable, belief that God mingles around in our personal lives every day, etc.), many of which are lacking from most other forms of Christianity and other forms of belief.

    I’m not trying to defend religion, here (although by criticizing an atheist, I’m sure to get that pinned on me any second). I’ve just noticed that, as a nonbeliever myself, I’m consistently perplexed by the number of people who only view “religion” in the world as “what the crazy Pentecostal church I grew up in believes,” or something of the sort. The angrier and more confrontational the atheist, the more fundamentalist and wacked-out their personal characterization of “religion” is, as a general trend.

    In short, I’d like to see a lot of atheists take a world religion class at a university somewhere so they can at least effectively criticize “religion” in the spectrum that it really represents, rubbish or not. To apparently have done so much thinking about religion to reach their conclusions on nonbelief, most of the atheists I know have about the same narrowly-defined knowledge of religion as the crazy guy that stands on my town square screaming at passing traffic about the Apocalypse.

  202. gillt

    Another Adam: “I am not immune to reason. Reaon is just something we as humans use to understand the world he created. But we cannot use our reason to understand God. Reason applies to all that we can percieve. But I do believe you cannot reasonably understand God the father not in his nature or his plan. All we can do is try to understand what his son Jesus wanted to teach us.”

    I don’t get it. If none of us can understand God, sure, this may keep the nice atheists quiet, but shouldn’t it keep Christians and Muslims and Hindus equally tight-lipped, too? But then you, without missing a beat, go on in the next sentence modifying your un-perceivable god with exact qualifiers like father and son and Jesus. How do you even know He has a plan?

    Apparently you can perceive your god quite well. Please tell us how you do it.

  203. Another Adam

    Cody: @199 Of course I have considered that these things can be achieved without God. But I was able to resolve those issues and still maintain my faith. If you have no need for God so be it. I do. Just as you will not turn a true believer I also think you will not convert a true atheist.
    @201 I don’t see why you should be insulted. Isn’t it the height of hubris to believe that there isn’t anything we can not learn? As for your other questions the only answer I have is one you will not like. I put my trust in God and am content to admit I do not have to have the answers.

    Paul W. The reason it is a false construct is because in the entire bible I have never read anything about the soul explaining anything about the natural world. Secondly you claim that once the brain dies we cease to exist. This claim is only true in the physical world. If there is an afterlife this argument does not disprove that logically. And because there is a lack of evidence either way, you cannot use science in this case either.

    “That sounds like saying you won’t believe me, and will continue to believe what you want to believe, no matter how logically compelling an argument I make, …”

    Yes. I concede this is irrational. But again I do not believe you can explain God rationally. We say you have to have faith for a reason. It means accepting we cannot understand nor explain God but we believe he is there. I gave up the need to try to explain what God is. Now if it something in the natural world I am all ears.

    This goes to your next point also about converting some believers. If you truly believe in your heart, then you will not turn. But if your faith is not strong, you can be turned. I have never read Hoffer’s book, but I do not think it is crazy to believe. Every true Christian has to make the choice to believe. Once that choice is made it becomes a commitment just like a marriage vow is a commitment or a commitment to explore the natural world through rational examination. Will I listen to your arguments? Yes. Will I call them false? Not if they make logical sense. But again I do not believe God is a liar so I have faith there can be reconciliation. You call it a popular delusion. But again unless someone makes the personal decision to be a follower of Christ they will not be a true believer. It is a personal decision. The parable of the sewer and the seeds comes to mind. But, it is also like choosing to live a healthier life style. Unless you are truly committed to making a lifestyle change you will not follow through.

    Finally, I do not think any psychologist would classify most Christians as crazy. And I also don’t see why you feel the need to try to turn as many Christians as you can. Just as I am content to let Cody not believe, why can’t you be content to let us believe? Fight for the science but leave the theology to the individual.

  204. Milton C.

    I believe gillt is in the dark on the dictionary definition of “faith.” I’m not a fan of belief in something without evidence either, gillt…but that’s what the core of Christianity is built upon. No matter how stupid you think it is, you’re not going to get through to many Christians when you simply question them about why/i> god does something or what god’s train of thought is on a given topic.

    In fact, you and Paul (Paul especially) sound a lot like you’re trying to proselytize. (Before you chastise me for using that word, I’ll note that my dictionary here at my desk defines that as “an attempt to recruit another to a cause or viewpoint”)

    Proselytizing was one of the things I hated most about religion. Some things never change, I guess.

  205. Milton C.

    Nevermind. Looks like Adam can handle himself. Even I don’t agree with him on religion, he seems to be a guy who’s familiar with the “you’re a delusional idiot/you enable child molestation/I generally despise you” stock of certain proselytizing brands of atheism.

    One thing, Adam. You said: “If there is an afterlife this argument does not disprove that logically. And because there is a lack of evidence either way, you cannot use science in this case either.”

    Actually, that’s a little off. The way science works, in a lack of evidence a scientist has to say provisionally that is it highly likely that there is no afterlife. That claim hasn’t been definitively disproven mostly because of its nature (if it has, somebody show me the peer-reviewed articles and research program involving this) so that’s why we say provisionally. Same goes for the existence of God. If someone tells you that science has completely disproven the existence of God and touts scientific reasoning behind it, they’re overstepping the bounds of science.

  206. gillt

    Milton, if God wants us to have faith, why does he not make us more disposed to believe? And should we not laugh in the face of god with the aid of reason?

    I wasn’t questioning Adam’s need to believe, only his internal logic. Do try and pay attention.

    Proselytize? Now you’re being perverse.

    Btw,. if recruiting another to a viewpoint makes you ill then what in heaven’s name are you doing here? Be Gone!

  207. J.J.E.

    @ Another Adam

    “If you remember nothing else remember that a true believer will not stop believing in God no matter what argument you present. So if you want to promote scientific literacy tell us what the science is and leave God out of it. When someone asks questions like in Chris’s scenario defer to their religious leader.

    [...] [Fundamentalist Christianity] espouses a literal reading of Genesis and that does not accept the science behind evolution. This is the form of Christianity that scientists have railed against. Yet the majority of Christians do not hold these beliefs. True they are a vocal and activist crowd.”

    First of all, thank you for your comments. You have highlighted a few things:

    1) why NCSE shouldn’t try to accommodate religious people and should stick to the science and let the chips fall where they may;
    2) why your version of religion is incompatible with science even if you do accept evolution;
    3) you are wrong about how accepting of evolution Americans are.

    If the bolded statement above were bandied about for any other claim about reality other than gods of modern religions, it would mark the speaker as deeply unscientific, dogmatic, and immune rational give and take. I disagree with that double standard and suggest that any religious believer that can honestly never even CONCEIVE of a condition under which they wouldn’t believe is deeply anti-scientific.

    Regarding #3, you just have to read a poll or two done by Pew or any other reputable polling organization that has asked the right question in order to see how wrong charitable view of American Christianity is vis a vis evolution.

    Only 55% of all Americans (including the godless and Jews, who accept evolution at higher rates) thinks evolution is true. 58% think creationism is true and 31% think ID is true. 58% of Americans favor adding creationism to school curricula.

    I don’t have time to dig up the internals but given that among all non Christians (primarily non-religious, Jews and non-Christian Asians) acceptance of evolution is much higher, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if acceptance of evolution falls below 50% among Christians. Among the public at large, it is already teetering at the bring, at 55%.

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1107/polling-evolution-creationism

  208. Matti K.

    So, according to Mr. Mooney, the existence of religious scientists is an argument for the compatibility of science and religion.

    Well, there are plenty of scientists who think that the mainstream religions are not compatible with science. Could this be used as an argument for anything?

  209. Paul W.

    In fact, you and Paul (Paul especially) sound a lot like you’re trying to proselytize. (Before you chastise me for using that word, I’ll note that my dictionary here at my desk defines that as “an attempt to recruit another to a cause or viewpoint”)

    If that’s all it means, please acknowledge that what Mooney and Kirshenbaum and the NCSE do is proselytizing as well. For some reason, it really bugs them that a lot of people think differently than they do—about half the Christians in America don’t agree with them about evolution—they just won’t let it alone. They keep trying to promote their viewpoint that evolution is true, and they even do it by—of all things—publicly disagreeing with people! They say that a hundred million Americans’ views are wrong—their religious views, even!

    Not only that, they try really hard to recruit other people to the cause of recruiting other people to the cause.

    It’s a conspiracy to proselytize.

    Proselytizing was one of the things I hated most about religion.

    Well, you don’t belong here then. Pretty much everybody here not only wants to get others here to agree with their viewpoint, but the blog is largely about conspiring to get a viewpoint out, so that lots of people elsewhere believe it, too—all over America at least.

    Yep, if you don’t like “proselytizing,” you shouldn’t be exposed to accommodationist rhetoric.

    You should probably clutch your pearls and retire to your fainting couch.

    Some things never change, I guess.

    Yeah. Indeed, the vague accusations and special pleading by accommodationists seem to be remarkably constant.

  210. Paul W.

    Matti K.,

    So, according to Mr. Mooney, the existence of religious scientists is an argument for the compatibility of science and religion.

    Yes, except that it’s pretty clear that Chad’s argument, as stated, doesn’t actually work. Chad himself acknowledged as much when I said that his argument works fine to show that astrology is compatible with science, too—he turned around and asked for a significant number of prominent and respected scientists who believe in astrology.

    He was implicitly acknowledging that his simplistic argument isn’t at all what it purports to be—it’s not just a matter of what “compatible” means, and the fact that some people manage to do both science and religion.

    I think it’s obvious that’s what’s really going on is an appeal to authority—and that Chad himself reflexively thinks of it that way. He doesn’t believe his mis-definition of “compatibility” or his superficial argument any more than I do, or it wouldn’t matter whether the scientists in question were prominent or respected.

    What people who don’t see the invalidity of the argument are doing is “filling in” that argument for him, automatically, without him having to state it and be responsible for it. It’s framing, not logic.

    What they’re really thinking (IMHO) is that a bunch of smart scientists can’t all be wrong about whether science and religion are compatible.

    Well, there are plenty of scientists who think that the mainstream religions are not compatible with science. Could this be used as an argument for anything?

    Yes, if we tease out the presuppositions that make people think Chad’s argument is anything but dopey, as I just tried to do.

    It’s really an intuitive appeal to the authority of numerous smart scientists, reinforced by Chad talking about how insulting it would be to those smart religious scientists to say that science and religion are incompatible, as though that were relevant—-who are we to judge those good people and say not-nice things about their beliefs?

    If we make that appeal to authority explicit, then what you’re asking about becomes entirely relevent—the central issue, even.

    The obvious counterargument is an even better appeal to authority. The majority of top scientists are atheists, and many of them think that science and religion are not compatible.

    Who is Chad or Chris to disagree with those numerous prominent and respected scientists.

    If what we’re really doing is making arguments from authority, I’ll happily stack scientists like Hawking and Stephen Weinberg up against folks like Collins and Miller any day.

  211. Milton C.

    Milton, if God wants us to have faith, why does he not make us more disposed to believe? And should we not laugh in the face of god with the aid of reason?

    Apparently you missed the part about why asking questions like “What is God’s favorite food? Should we not piss on him for not preferring spaghetti?” isn’t devastating to people of a belief system whose very foundation is to hold beliefs in the face of no evidence…or even evidence that contradicts what they’re supposed to believe.

    Also, watching you and Paul proselytize doesn’t make me ill at all (although I did love Paul’s overdramatization in his post.) Is he jockeying for some kind of “you troll the non-New Atheist blogs the best” award or something? He always just seems to be trying to put on a show for some as-yet unacknowlegded audience…

    Anyway, what actually gets me giddy with glee is watching you and Paul get so vibrantly upset when someone uses a word to characterize your efforts (like “proselytize”) that most commonly has a religious context. For a group who prides themselves in how criticism shouldn’t be offensive, you do get quite offended when you’re criticized. Irony is a fickle beast.

  212. Milton C.

    Oh, and Paul, it’s nice to know that I’m now an “accommodationist” simply because I accused you of proselytizing. I guess all those statements made by little old me about not being an accommodationist at all fly out the window when you’re in the midst of a performance.

    It’s always nice to see that religion isn’t the only thing rational thought is inimical to. We can group blog wars into that category as well now, in light of your broadbrush.

  213. bilbo

    Paul in post 214:

    “HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE ME OF PROSELYTIZING WHILE I’M TRYING TO PROSELYTIZE???!!!!! CAN’T YOU SEE THAT I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF TRYING TO PROSELYTIZE HERE? IN FACT, I DON’T THINK IT’S VERY NICE THAT CHRIS MOONEY SHOULD USE HIS OWN BLOG SPACE TO PROSELYTIZE WHEN PEOPLE LIKE ME ARE JUST TRYING TO DO A LITTLE PROSELYTIZING! IN THE MEANTIME, I KNOW THAT I’M JUST TREATING ANYONE STATING THEIR OPINION AS PROSELYTIZING, WHICH ISN’T REALLY THE DEFINITION OF PROSELYTIZING THAT MILTON CITED, BUT COME ON – I’M TRYING TO PROSELYTIZE!!! HOW DARE YOU INTERRUPT MY PROSELYTIZING??!!! YOU KNOW WHAT? YOU SOUND A LOT LIKE A RELIGIOUS PERSON TRYING TO PROSELYTIZE! NOW LET ME PROSELYTIZE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  214. Seminatrix

    Also, watching you and Paul proselytize doesn’t make me ill at all (although I did love Paul’s overdramatization in his post.) Is he jockeying for some kind of “you troll the non-New Atheist blogs the best” award or something? He always just seems to be trying to put on a show for some as-yet unacknowlegded audience…

    I’ve laid out of this one as of yet because, well, it’s just been the epitome of rational thought on both sides (*rolleyes*). But I couldn’t stay out after seeing Milton’s comment above, because it was absolutely dead-on.

    It turns out Paul really is jockeying for a “you troll the non-New Atheist blogs the best” award – a “Molly” over at Pharyngula, to be exact (see comments on this thread).

    So, despite getting reaaaaaaaallllllllllly angry when he gets called a troll and accused of performing more than attributing any substance, that’s exactly what Paul is doing, and he knows it.

    If anyone should get an award, it should be Milton for the best nailing of a blog troll’s motiviations. Anyone who says the New Atheism isn’t all about performance is quite the jokester themselves. I shall now retire to laugh to myself about this for a few hours….

  215. Paul W.

    Um, bilbo,

    No. I wasn’t objecting to anybody “proselytizing,” at least not in the sense Milton gave.

    I think it’s a great thing that the NCSE and Mooney and Kirshenbaum proselytize for science and science education, for example. Yay them!

    So if you’re going to put something in all caps to represent my position, use this:

    GET USED TO IT.

  216. Paul W.

    Milton,

    You have my deepest apologies. I did indeed make it sound like I think you’re an accommodationist, and I certainly wouldn’t want to falsely accuse anyone of that.

    In writing most of that post, I was conscious that I was speaking about two different things—you, and the accommodationist regulars.

    I did think that you were taking—in that exchange—what’s basically an accommodationist position, namely that New Atheists actively promoting their views and debunking religious views is some kind of uncivil violation of a norm, as the term “proselytizing” generally implies when apparently used pejoratively.

    I ran those two things together when I wrote the last sentence. I did think that you were engaged (at that point) in special pleading that’s basically biased toward accommodationism and against “New Atheism,” and that that’s common around here, but I do not think that makes you “an accommodationist” like some other people here. (Who I often refer to as “the accommodationist regulars.” When I say that, I don’t mean everybody—e.g., you or Julie or Luke. I do mean bilbo, TB, Kwok, McCarthy, etc., who fairly consistently side with Mooney, Scott et al. and very much against The Four Horsemen and PZ Myers.)

    My understanding is that the “accommodationist” regulars woudln’t mind being described as “accommodationist.” It’s not intended to be intrinsically an insult. (As “appeaser” was back when that was popular; it was dropped because it was too clearly pejorative.)

    Again, sorry for mislabeling you.

  217. Paul W.

    Seminatrix.

    Relax.

    I’m not jockeying for an award at Pharyngula—I’m not eligible for a Molly award for anything I write here, and people were joking about an “honorary Molly,” which doesn’t exist. That’s something people have said for years at Pharyngula, but nobody’s ever actually gotten the mythical honorary Molly.

    I also didn’t know anybody over there was talking about this until yesterday, and the kudos was unexpected. I didn’t realize anybody was paying much attention over there, and that’s not what my being here for months is about.

    I confess was pleased to find that Ophelia Benson had said (not on Pharyngula) that I deserved the equally mythical secular Templeton award. I’m busily imagining things to spend the imaginary prize money on.

    So no, I haven’t been playing to another audience, but if I find somebody else is paying attention, I certainly don’t mind.

  218. J.J.E.

    “Just as you will not turn a true believer I also think you will not convert a true atheist.”

    It would be so incredibly easy to believe in god. It would take very simple intervention to believe in god. It would be much easier to believe in a personal, creative, all-powerful intelligence that cares for humanity and regularly intervenes on its behalf than it is to believe in quantum mechanics…if that god would simply just do a little intervening. That would convince me.

    If such a god ever actually interacted with the universe (preferably on earth) it would also be very easy to convince me.

    Right now, the concept of god is worse than a flat earth (which at certain scales is a good working approximation for map making), a geocentric solar system (epicycles can be made to work), etc. The concept of god is such a bad idea that it isn’t even wrong. It hides itself from scrutiny and never has the coursage to subject itself to any scrutiny. If you extended that kind of trust to any other aspect of your life, you’d get taken every day.

  219. Chloride

    I think it’s pretty emblematic to see how Paul W responds rationally and calmly to the hysterical, name-calling antics of Bilbo, Semantrix et al. and keeps on getting called a troll by these trolls who have clearly lost the ability to read and respond. For instance contrast comment 218 and comment 220, a comparison that deserves to be bookmarked. This is a poster child illustration of the irrational and ad hominem attacks launched by the New Accommodationists here. Paul W has always gone into great detail about his arguments and the New Accommodationists have responded with nothing but bile, one paragraph dismissals and name-calling. Of course one cannot blame them; when people run out of arguments of substance, they have to resort to personal attacks.

  220. gillt

    Milton: “Anyway, what actually gets me giddy with glee is watching you and Paul get so vibrantly upset when someone uses a word to characterize your efforts (like “proselytize”) that most commonly has a religious context. For a group who prides themselves in how criticism shouldn’t be offensive, you do get quite offended when you’re criticized. ”

    So I was proselytizing away but duh totally not realizing it. You did me the good favor of pointing it out, and what do I do but get all persnickety. What an ingrate! And why? Ah yes, because it associated me with religion and that’s the worse accusation EVAH for a mean Atheist! And to top it off now I’m a hypocrite. I feel so bad about myself.

    Are you a mom by chance… Mom Milton?

  221. Seminatrix

    I’ve been trolling, Chloride? Where, exactly? Have I even commented on this thread until today? Hell, I even admitted that it was mostly worthless! I’ll gladly admit to trolling on this thread if you can find a decent example, although I’m sure that simply highlighting a conversation on Pharyngula that perfectly matches the predictions of another poster isn’t “trolling.” Surely if you’re one of the “I live by data and facts” crowd, you can find, you know, a fact or two to back up your label for me.

    Could it be that you’re just confusing a troll with someone you disagree with? That seems to be a common misunderstanding amongst the NA fanboys that, well, troll here a lot.

  222. bilbo

    think it’s pretty emblematic to see how Paul W responds rationally and calmly to the hysterical, name-calling antics of Bilbo, Semantrix et al. and keeps on getting called a troll by these trolls who have clearly lost the ability to read and respond.

    Thanks for opening my eyes, Chloride. And to think: all this time I thought that “rational” and “calm” meant arguing with logic and supporting your viewpoint. Turns out all I had to do to argue rationally was to take Paul W.’s lead and pose an unrelated question after someone makes a point, and then use whether or not my opponent responds to my unrelated question as the benchmark for whether or not their original opinion was valid. Oh yeah, and call them a liar, too. At this point I could say that cheese tastes delicious and Paul would call me a liar because I didn’t mention Chad Orzel. Harumph.

    Anyone want to take bets that “Chloride,” for all his/her tone trolling about ad hominems, is a frequenter of Pharyngula, where people get told to (verbatim) “fuck off and die” on a regular basis? I’ll put $20 in the pot that we won’t find any tone trolling from Chloride over there. In fact, I bet we’ll find Chloride cheering on those ad hominems that are supposedly soooooooooooooooooooo bad, and we’ll suddenly have another mealy-mouthed hypocrite on our hands. My suspicions are that we already do.

    Lastly, that’s rich, Seminatrix (post 219)! Like Milton, I’d noticed Paul’s responses to people becoming more and more as if they were looking past the other commenters here and playing to some invisible sideline. Now we know what that sideline is, and it’s downright hilarious.

    Keep up the circus performance, Paul. It’ll eventually get you a well-derserved pat on the back from those who gauge the relevancy of their comments on their offensiveness and level of performance, and you can rest easy having all the satisfaction that intellectual masturbation can provide. Be careful, though, once you come down off that high, it only leaves you wanting more. Take it from me: I’m a “bile, irrational” troll just like you, remember? I should know.

  223. gillt

    Steve Mading said something that’s topical here

    “The core incompatibility is this: “Is it acceptable to use faith to conclude what is real, and therefore it’s okay to use faith as part of the reasoning process by which you learn about things?” The accomodationist claim is that the answer to that is both yes and no at the same time, which is the incompatibility we’re talking about.”

    Anyone have a problem with this characterization?

  224. Chloride

    -Anyone want to take bets that “Chloride,” for all his/her tone trolling about ad hominems, is a frequenter of Pharyngula, where people get told to (verbatim) “fuck off and die” on a regular basis?

    Splendid. The paranoid delusion seems complete. Bilbo knows nothing about me and yet simply assumes that I am some PZ fanboy, and now one comment was enough to qualify me as a “troll” (whose meaning has become completely meaningless by now). I occasionally go to PZ’s blog and rarely if ever “cheer those ad hominems” (whatever that means). My observation was purely based on comment threads on this blog, where I constantly see Paul W and a few others penning detailed comments and non ad-hominem responses and people like Bilbo, Kwok and McCarthy responding mainly with name-calling and accusations of trolling. If you think that comments 190 and 218 were examples of “rational” or inoffensive responses, then you obviously don’t know what “rational” means. Anyway, adieu, authentic troll.

  225. Another Adam

    Milton. You and I don’t disagree about the scope of a scientific claim on an after life. But the way it was presented was a definite conclusion.

    gillt. While it is true we cannot know God the father. We can know his son who we believe to be truly human and truly divine. Only by following his example and his teachings can we know God because Jesus is God the son. Again, Christianity is hard to reduce.

    JJE: “If the bolded statement above were bandied about for any other claim about reality…” And you are right. But you have to understand Christians believe God to be beyond reality. God is not scientific. Belief in God is not scientific. But why should that deter you from presenting scientific evidence about the real world? Isn’t unconditional love irrational? If a child turns against his mother and torments her. Isn’t it rational for her to let go and sever all ties with him. What if she doesn’t because she loves and will help him whenever she can? What if this woman was a scientist? Would you not believe any of her research or conclusions because she was acting irrationally toward her child?

    I do not disagree with your survey numbers. However, my point was most Christians do not interpret Genesis literally. This survey shows me that science has done a poor job of teaching evolution to lay people with a competing narrative. I also did not believe in evolution a year ago. But after reading Zimmer’s blog for a while I came to understand it better and can now say it is a true theory. At the same time, I am amazed at the system God created. It would be interesting to see how those responding to the survey understood evolution.

    @223: You prove my point. I do not see anything wrong with belief in God and acceptance of Quantum Mechanics. But where I see God’s intervention you only see the natural process he used to accomplish it. Why does every intervention have to be a suspension of reality?

    “If you extend that type of trust to any other aspect of your life you would get taken every day.” You mean like a child has to extend that type of trust to a parent: a husband to a wife and vice versa?

  226. Silver Fox

    Chloride @ 229:

    Essentially, there is no argument between Religion and Science, or at least there should not be. As a theist, I have no problem reconciling evolution and religion. In fact, evolution is a much more Godly way of creation than the seven day Genesis way. Now how Genesis or evolution is going to ultimately pan out in a quantum world is an unanswered question. But, both Faith and Science are going to survive.

    The issue of atheism versus religion is another matter. I see no way for religion to accomodate atheism. Atheists have no theistic Faith by definition. So, how can Faith accomodate no faith. Religion and science are two distinct spheres in the public order. To some extent they have porous boundaries, but they are basically separate.

    The problem with Pharyngula is that it has become a locus for religion bashing. The disciples there are encouraged to “crash polls”, etc. Rightly or wrongly, being a pharyngulist has come to be seen as a mindless echo for PZ. If these toadies stopped to think for themselves for a minute they would realize that they do believe in God and his name is PZ.

  227. bilbo

    Ah yes, the hallmark of a NA troll: turning “anyone want to take bets” into a “paranoid delusion.” Hyperbole and overstatements: the meat and potatoes of New Atheist blog trash. We can now add this piece of bigot scum, er, Chloride, to that list (that ad hominem is just for you to get you more riled up, Chloride. I hope you’ll continue to show a tendency to let empty taunts get under your skin by overreacting to that one, too).

    Tell us, Chloride, if I’m so off-base on my comments about your posting on Pharyngula, why oh why oh why did you admit to visting his blog….but when I search for you there, I see no scolding about ad hominems and long, rambling arguments about tone. You’ve only posted once here, and the “ad hominems” seem to offend you oh so very dearly – and you seem so shocked! So why, after only visiting PZ’s blog “occasionally,” do we fail to see you being so utterly and profundly offended at the “go fuck yourself and die”s, the immature taunts and mockery, and general ad hominems that form the basis for the majority of PZ’s psots? Hmm…telling. We’ll get to why in a moment.

    That was me slamming your hypocritical face to the pavement, and now let me grind it with my figurative bootheel. If I’ve been sooooooooo mean to poor old little innocent just-tryin’-to-be-rational Paul W. the I Want Accolades from PZ Myers Troll (as Seminatrix so beautifully pointed out), I suppose you’re either too stupid to notice the multiple ad hominems thrown about like candy at a children’s parade from Paul before anyone ever even became belligerent at him otherwise….or maybe you just choose to overlook them. You know, Chloride the Pitifully Disguised Tone Troll, things like “you are a liar” and “you dishonest weasel” and “you’d do well to shut up,” all of which have been uttered by poor little old innocent just-tryin’-to-be-rational Paul, some multiepl times over the last few days. Why, it’s almost like you’ve installed a convenient little mental filter that automatically excuses disgusting personal attacks like those from consideration when you agree with someone, isn’t it, Chloride?

    Yes, it is. It is very much like that indeed.

    So do us all a big favor, Chloride, and either criticize ad hominems and tone where they’re due (i.e., when they’re made on both sides) or shut the hell up and spare us your false, self-righteous, “I’m just an innocent bystander” facade bullshit. I certainly don’t claim to not be a troll…but I’m also not enough of an ideological whore to pretend that the only people who can qualify as one are those I disagree with, either. Be a real rational thinker, Chloride, and stop faking offense at only half the ad hominems you see. At least do that, and then you won’t be making reason look like such an overeager, fake peice of garbage. You know, like yourself.

  228. bilbo

    The problem with Pharyngula is that it has become a locus for religion bashing. The disciples there are encouraged to “crash polls”, etc. Rightly or wrongly, being a pharyngulist has come to be seen as a mindless echo for PZ. If these toadies stopped to think for themselves for a minute they would realize that they do believe in God and his name is PZ.

    Jackpot, Silver fox. One thing I found interesting from the collaborationism discussion earlier in this thread was DS Wilson’s “atheism as a stealth religion” series it linked to. Quoting:

    “How about the new atheism of our day? I wish I could report otherwise, but it has all the hallmarks of a stealth religion, including a polarized belief system that represents everything as good, good, good or bad, bad, bad (“how religion poisons everything”), the unquestioned authority of its leaders, and even the portrayal of bad ideas as like demons (parasitic memes) that need to be cast out (“breaking the spell”).”

    Ding ding ding!!!!! Another jackpot!!!!! Wilson later goes on to say that the new atheism attempts to shield its adherents from criticism – another hallmark of religion. Just look at Chloride here: “Paul W. can call you names because he and I agree, but how DARE you call him the same names!” Pharyngula is full of this kind of tribal bunk that’s devoid of thought, also.

    The other striking similarity between religion and new atheists? When you point this stuff out, they both deny every bit of it.

  229. Milton C.

    Calm down, people! Everyone! This is getting out of control. Whoever said that the people in these debates are just interested in squabbling was correct.

    I just ducked in to state that there’s another post about collaborationism up here, for those who were discussing it earlier and are still interested. Hopefully Smith won’t mind me spreading it. I don’t see why not, at least. I thought I’d share it since Silver Fox seemed to be getting at what we were all talking about a couple of days ago on that topic.

    Ok, I’m ducking out again, and it’s likely I won’t be back, at least not on this thread. I don’t want to get in the crossfire of the thrown tomatoes.

  230. gillt

    Milton: “Calm down, people! Everyone!”

    This coming from the guy who refers to us as disgusting hypocrites. What a child.

  231. Milton C.

    Quotes and citations for those, please?

  232. Milton C.

    This coming from the guy who refers to us as disgusting hypocrites

    Actually, looking back in this thread, I accused you of proselytizing (which, by the very definition of the word, you were) and said you’re talking to a brick wall by demanding proof from a poster whose beliefs are built off of a lack of proof. I can’t find a place where I’ve called you a “hypocrite,” gillt.

    I used the word “disgusting” over on Atagahi, but it wasn’t referring to you. In fact, you took a reference to the New Atheism and took it personally. You, personally, aren’t disgusting, gillt – but you are acting a bit childish (see your last post #235) and taking criticism way too personally. You and I don’t even disagree that much fundamentally, so I’d appreciate a little less point-keeping and a little more maturity. I don’t think that’s too much to ask – even though I’m sure you’ll just tell me to pack it up and leave. Again.

    You can criticize me, and I won’t mind. But at least have the guts and basic maturity level to criticize me for things I’ve actually said and done.

  233. bilbo

    Actually, gillt, I think I’M the guy who would call you a disgusting hypocrite. I haven’t seen Milton do anything of the sort, but I certainly wouldn’t object if you accused me of that.

  234. gillt

    Milton: “For a group who prides themselves in how criticism shouldn’t be offensive, you do get quite offended when you’re criticized. ”

    There’s the hypocrite remark you made, and

    Milton: “I’m not an accommodationist, but I’m not a New Atheist, either….especially not after seeing some rather disgusting NAs over on The Intersection acting like children.”

    Yes Milton, I did take the reference personally because that’s exactly how you said it. Calling for civility while exempting yourself is a dirty little habit you share with other accomodationists here.

  235. gillt

    McCarthy left some big shoes for you fill, bilbo. But you’ll have to try harder.

  236. Milton C.

    There’s the hypocrite remark you made

    Now that you mention it, that might be quite correct. Let’s see…you did, in fact, mock me for not liking criticism but are now quite offended at similar criticism, so yes – by the dictionary definition of hypocrisy, you’re being a tad bit hypocritical. Pointing that out for yourself is an odd way to swipe at someone, but thanks for pointing it out for me, anyway.

    Yes Milton, I did take the reference personally because that’s exactly how you said it

    And where did I reference “gillt” in that (which was posted on an entirely different blog, I’ll note). I suppose you have some tangible proof that you know to whom I was referring better than I, myself, do. With this claim, either back it up or shut it up, gillt. I won’t take “I know what you meant better than you do” as a legitmate claim for hurling feces in my direction.

    I’ll also note that on Atagahi I added “The trolling and immaturity there go two directions, gillt,” which you conveniently trimmed off.

    Calling for civility while exempting yourself is a dirty little habit you share with other accomodationists here

    “Other accommodationists.” Interesting. I’ll provisionally accept that this might have been a slip of the tongue, or the old canard about using “accommodationist” as an empty pejorative completely detached from the definition of the word. Again – back up that I’m an accommodationist, gillt, or shut up. My track record of posting here shows that I am quite not…especially when I’ve made it quite clear that I wholly disagree with Mooney and the real “other accommodationists” on that very topic.

    So, we have:

    1.) A bit of hypocrisy
    2.) Unsubstantiated claims where you claim to somehow be inside my mind and know who I’m referring to when I make non-specific statements

    and

    3.) hurling around terms like “accommodationist” as an empty pejorative.

    You can either back yourself up and count out 2 and 3, or you can be rightfully labeled a troll, gillt. The term “troll” hasn’t been used correctly on this thread, but when someone has those three strikes against them, the case is fairly clear-cut. It’s your choice. Keep being uncivil, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you get incivility in return.

    (I’d still be interested in hearing a mature response to the rest of my opinion over at Atagahi, if it’s something you can muster without the trolling and pettiness. I mean that sincerely.)

  237. Chloride

    All I can say Bilbo is that considering that profanity and name-calling are second nature to you, you seem to be awfully sensitive to innocuous phrases like “you would do well to shut up”. Paul W’s ad hominems were nowhere as offensive or overwrought as your apoplectic fits. You seem to satisfy the dictionary definition of a hypocrite, and you are calling me one.

    I have commented on PZ’s blog but very rarely. The last comment was probably about a year ago. I have commented a few times here though. And seriously, are you expecting me to be the blog police? (“Since you denounced ad hominem here, it is your obligation to denounce ad hominem in all its forms anywhere on the internet”). Well, since you seem to be so self-righteous and smug about ad hominem, maybe you should take up the job yourself then.

    If it makes you feel any better, I do agree that ad hominem does not further the cause of an argument. And that’s precisely the problem here; unlike Paul W, most of your arguments here seem to be mainly ad hominem. Just look at comments 190 and 218 as examples. I am pointing out that the ad hominem/detailed argument ratio seems to be much higher in your comments. Anyone who wants to verify this needs to simply look at word count and the use of language. What is remarkable is that you who seems to constantly agree with Mooney that “civility” needs to be an essential part of the dialogue, seem to leave behind all vestiges of it in your own language here.

    And again, the word “troll” has completely lost its meaning here so you calling me a troll is completely meaningless; commenters like you who comment ad nauseam and ad hominem are freely hurling the epithet at infrequent commenters like me. Time to look in the mirror and take a critical look at your mental faculties my friend.

    Now go ahead, bring on the condescension and profanity.

  238. bilbo

    If it makes you feel any better, I do agree that ad hominem does not further the cause of an argument. And that’s precisely the problem here; unlike Paul W, most of your arguments here seem to be mainly ad hominem. Just look at comments 190 and 218 as examples. I am pointing out that the ad hominem/detailed argument ratio seems to be much higher in your comments. Anyone who wants to verify this needs to simply look at word count and the use of language.

    First off, a bigger “word count” does not further the cause of an argument, either. But of course, I have problems with my “mental faculties,” so that must be totally incorrect…

    While we’re hurling respective accusations about looking back at individual comments, I would personally urge you to look back over the entire track record of the current exchange between Paul W. and myself (well, actually Paul has been lashing out with quite the sharp, an hominem-spouting tongue at virtually anyone who voices disagreement with him. I’m just one of the few that lashes back). This exchange (by my count – you’ll like that, a “simple count”) now spans comment threads on three different posts by Chris which now total well over 200 individual posts. So, looking at two out of 200 posts and making a judgment about my general trends in behavior/intelligence/argument validity is quite daft, in my opinion. In fact, it sounds like something I would do, and by your own admission, I have mental difficulties.

    The main reason I’ve given up hope on a rationed discussion with Paul “The Troll” W. is that he has been acting like quite the, well, troll. Consider the following exchange from a previous thread, which I roughly summarized for “julie,” after Paul W. did his predictable “if you don’t answer my questions I win!” canard:

    I don’t think Julie is “pre-judging” anyone, Paul. I believe she’s referring to this lovely set of accusations and recanting from you on the last religion thread:

    -Paul W (to bilbo): “Basically, I think you made that quote up, as you’ve apparently done repeatedly before” (note that Paul W never backs this up with proof that bilbo has done so)

    -Bilbo challenges Paul to provide some proof to back up his accusation

    -Paul W. inexplicably launches into a tirade questioning Sheril’s credentials as a scientist (when did Sheril get involved in all of this??), presumably just to deflect.

    -This launches Paul into a series of posts that seems to scream for him to get anger management counseling, in which he accuses bilbo of (among various atrocities and pejoratives) more quote fabrication, calling him a “liar” and a “dishonest weasel.”

    -Then, all of a sudden, Paul says (indirect quotes, Paul – don’t have a stroke): “Hey, you weren’t lying after all. You were just quote-mining.”

    -After around 50 posts where 3 to 4 other people stand up for bilbo, Paul finally admits at the end of the thread: “you (bilbo) are right that Coyne engages in theological disputes, and at face value Coyne seems hypocritical. It was over the top.”

    So, in essence, we go from “you’re lying,” to “ok, you might not be lying,” to “OK, you weren’t lying, but you’re still wrong” over the course of 200 posts, amid a wild array of accusations, general trollspew, and off-the-handle faulty reasoning, a la “Your point about Jerry Coyne is incorrect because you didn’t answer my unrelated question about Chad Orzel! Ha HA!”

    This, I’ll add (and as you might have seen for yourself if you hadn’t cherry-picked a couple of my nastier posts out of 200 others) came after Paul and I actually had several exchanges of useful, rational discussion and even agreed on some points (can you believe it?). Then I made the egregious, mortal sin of criticizing a New Atheist, and all hell broke loose from Paul in which the default assumption was that I was lying. Of course, this was later recanted by Paul after a lengthy series of triades from him attempting to generally assassinate my character and anyone else who agreed with my criticism.

    So, in short, I’m not at all worried about trolling against Paul because, well, he’s proven himself not worth dealing with anymore, rushing to judgements and calling people “liars” for 100 posts, etc. I also feel quite a bit backed up that at least 7 other commenters now (some of whom certainly do not like me), have actually defended me. Pretty telling…of course, I’m sure you likely think we’re all just either in a conspiracy and/or stupid anyway, so that won’t matter. Add this to the recent revelation by Sminatrix that Paul is apparently just jockeying for an award given to the person, er, troll who puts on the best performance on a non-New Atheist blog, and any hope at having a reasoned discussion with such a person flies out the window. Hence, my trolling.

    Now, unless you have something to add that doesn’t hinge on a tone-trolled response to a couple of my posts, I’ll kindly pose an “innocuous phrase” you way: you would do well to shut up. Oh, but one last thing…

    And seriously, are you expecting me to be the blog police?

    Of course not. But you’re the one who stuck your head into the fray to shout at me for being too mean to poor old Paul, so what else are we to think now, dear?

  239. gillt

    Milton, you’re flailing. And I get it, no one likes to be called out. I’m pretty sure the cuts both ways reference you made was in an entirely different comment, btw.

    Who cares if you were making those claims in another blog, it was about people in this blog. So calling NAs at the intersection disgusting children–it was pretty much just me and Paul until recently–it’s not hard to connect the dots, but as you know, it’s yours to own. Enjoy it!

    And I obviously never said you were an accomodationist (sensitive aren’t we?) only that you share bad habits with them.

  240. Milton C.

    I must say I prefer the rationed, levelheaded gillt on atagahi to the showman, point-keeping gillt here. Of course, the culture of this blog is based on point-keeping, so that’s what we’re doing anyway, correct?

    I will note that you had a decent response on atagahi, to which I responded. What happens to that gillt between URLs?

  241. gillt

    Same person. Anyway, let’s get back to an earlier issue you had with what I said to Adam.

    Adam: ““I am not immune to reason. Reason is just something we as humans use to understand the world he created. But we cannot use our reason to understand God. Reason applies to all that we can percieve. But I do believe you cannot reasonably understand God the father not in his nature or his plan. All we can do is try to understand what his son Jesus wanted to teach us.”

    I openly wondered how you could possibly know anything about god since Adam conveniently insisted god is unperceivable and beyond reason.

    You responded: “I believe gillt is in the dark on the dictionary definition of “faith.” I’m not a fan of belief in something without evidence either, gillt…but that’s what the core of Christianity is built upon. No matter how stupid you think it is, you’re not going to get through to many Christians when you simply question them about why/i> god does something or what god’s train of thought is on a given topic.”

    No, the core of Christianity is not based on faith. Faith alone doesn’t tell you whether god is a father who had a son who has a plan. It’s based on evidence from their holy book, written by a first, second or third hand witness. First, the evidence of these witnesses testimonies and then reasoning, extrapolation and internal logic. It’s all bad reasoning because it’s bad evidence, but it’s not just faith.

    Theists and accomodationists know we can’t deal with faith in an analytical way. There’s nothing to critique, so you have to leave it. Which is why the”F” word is trotted out whenever a skeptic comes poking about, asking questions, questions which invariably get framed as offensive for even being asked.

    We know this can be a defensive mechanism when employed by a theist, but it’s a censoring tactic when atheist accomodationists like Mooney use it. Accomodationists want religion to equal an ideal, a personal preference, an emotion, a value-system, stuff that’s not polite to criticize in public. I’m not trying to convert Adam to atheism, I was just trying to see how amenable he was to critical thought. It appears not very much.

  242. J.J.E.

    “But you have to understand Christians believe God to be beyond reality. God is not scientific.”

    If belief in god is beyond reality…then you have no idea whether he loves you, whether he is good rather than evil, whether he likes monogamy rather than polygamy, whether he wouldn’t mind you worshipping another god or two (the more the merrier!), whether he likes a good child sacrifice or two every day, etc. You live in reality with me. If god is beyond our reality, then his deeds, however amazing they may be, or his thoughts, no matter how profound, aren’t subject to our observation. If they were, then he by definition wouldn’t “be beyond reality”.

    “Why does every intervention have to be a suspension of reality?”

    It doesn’t have to be a suspension of reality. If some alien is awakened from ice 1 million years old, then he may very well disbelieve that this planet contains a creative intelligent race. It would be easy to cnvince him. When I board an airplane, that isn’t a suspension of “reality”. It is something that wouldn’t happen with highly intelligent creative intelligences like humans, but it isn’t a suspension of reality. Seeing a plane fly, examining the construction of a plane, and watching people fly it is a really easy way for a skeptic of “human creative intelligence” to be convinced.

    I just want to watch god run his miracle machine for an afternoon. Let him cure an amputee or raise a cadaver or two, or turn a small lake into a lake of wine. Maybe see him stop the earth’s revolution around the sun for a while then restart it like nothing ever happened. If we are to believe in the hype, he once afforded such luxuries to people in a bygone day. Why is he so shy lately?

    And as a gentle reminder, you have completely contradicted yourself. You just previously asserted that “Christians believe God to be beyond reality” yet you also ask “Why does every intervention have to be a suspension of reality?”, as if there are interventions we could even observe. If god is beyond reality, then he doesn’t intervene in the natural world that you and I inhabit. If he does intervene, then there will undoubtably be observable evidence that will convince this ex-Christian/current atheist that god is real and will cause my re-entry into the embrace of Christ. And such interventions would by definition be in the natural world.

    So, which is it?

    1) Is god outside the natural world, in which case you have no recourse to knowing he exists and I shouldn’t trust your impressions of god because your understanding of god already precludes any understanding of god;
    2) God reveals himself (in the natural world of course), but you either can’t or won’t share how you know he reveals himself, thereby relegating people like me to an eternity in the Lake of Fire;
    3) God haphazardly and ambiguously reveals himself to people and you are one of the lucky ones; And this sadistic deity is relegating tons of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims to the lake of fire because he’s too inconsistent to manifest himself convincingly to those folks.

    Of course the easy alternative is that god doesn’t exist and the holy books that claim he does are simply tools of the leaders of particular cultures in the ancient past to exercise control over the populations they led. And those genuine feelings that people think are divinely inspired are natural parts of human brain chemistry that can and have been invoked readily and investigated using acid and brain scanning equipment.

    And, unless you believe in all religions, then only a few select religions have escaped corruption, it might be healthy to consider Christianity from Mark Twain’s perspective:

    “The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”

    If god is “beyond reality” there is by definition, no evidence of god. If god isn’t beyond reality, then show me the evidence.

  243. Milton C.

    A couple of points that I shouldn’t even have to bring up:

    let’s get back to an earlier issue you had with what I said to Adam

    I didn’t have a problem with what you said to Adam. You’re taking things a bit too personally again. All I meant was that you’re talking to a brick wall if you’re going ask a person to provide evidence for their beliefs when their religion teaches them to believe without evidence. The only person that should really be insulted by that statement is Adam, not you.

    Theists and accomodationists know we can’t deal with faith in an analytical way. There’s nothing to critique, so you have to leave it. Which is why the”F” word is trotted out whenever a skeptic comes poking about, asking questions, questions which invariably get framed as offensive for even being asked.

    When I read this, I really do get the feeling that you think I’m trying to defend religion here, gillt. And to be honest, that’s something that I see a lot on New Atheist blog encounters: anything that doesn’t unequivocally agree with or approve of the actions of a New Atheist gets twisted into approval of religion by default. For example (hypothetical, not applying to you gillt), “hey dude, you’re kind of acting like a douche” gets twisted by a New Atheist into “how dare you criticize me?! And how dare you defend religion?!” more times than I can count. I don’t think that’s really what you’re trying to do, of course, gillt…but your tone makes me wonder. It’s kind of the “unwielding desire to shield itself from criticism and align those giving criticism with the enemy” parallel with religion that Wallace highlighted exemplified.

    Secondly comes this: “questions which invariably get framed as offensive for even being asked.” The questions here don’t get “framed as offensive” for simply being asked – they get framed as offensive because they’re framed as offensive when they’re asked. When you preface a question with “tell me why I shouldn’t laugh in your God’s face,” “why should I not declare your god stupid,” “your concept of god is insulting,” and (from you personally) “you are immune to reason,” the tone and context of what follows is made pretty clear. And just because you don’t find insulting god offensive, you’re simply daft if you can’t realize that someone who believes in god might. In other words, you and several others are prefacing your responses with the equivalent of “Let’s get this out of the way first: you’re a fucking idiot” and then pretending to ask “honest” questions. Your questions are just as valid with or without the prefaced, thinly-veiled invective, and so playing the “hey, I’m just an innocent guy acting honest questions here!” card is false. You’re just the attention-seeking guy asking honest questions with a little showmanship tagged to the front. There
    is a difference. As an analogy, don’t wonder incredulously why your buddy is upset after you’ve punched him in the face. This whole “poor little old me” game is a bit of a waste when you’re digging the hole for yourself by starting off on an insulting foot.

    Faith alone doesn’t tell you whether god is a father who had a son who has a plan. It’s based on evidence from their holy book, written by a first, second or third hand witness. First, the evidence of these witnesses testimonies and then reasoning, extrapolation and internal logic. It’s all bad reasoning because it’s bad evidence, but it’s not just faith.

    That’s applicable to a fair number of Christians, I think. But their “faith” teaches them to be unwavering in the face of a lack of evidence to support those claims. So highlighting that there’s no empirical evidence for Christianity claim X isn’t going to shake the foundation of many peolpe who have been raised to not see a lack of empirical evidence as a bad thing. That’s all I was saying. For the second time now, I wasn’t attacking you or supporting Adam. Just making the observation of futile argument that I see a lot of fellow atheists engage in.

    And lastly, a ton of christians don’t view “their holy book” as an accurate historical record. Many do, of course, but many others (including some I knew and even argued with decades ago when I was still religious, because I was a literalist) see those claims as strictly metaphorical but also not diminishing to how they inform their belief. I frankly get a bit tired of the whole opinion that such theological interpretations are something that the New Atheists have caused because their arguments are so devastating, or something like that. You seem to be making that same silly claim here: “Theists and accomodationists know we can’t deal with faith in an analytical way. There’s nothing to critique, so you have to leave it. Which is why the”F” word is trotted out whenever a skeptic comes poking about.”

    That’s false, and it is mindnumbingly ignorant of theological claims. Those ideas have been around long before the New Atheism and long before nonbelief got a foothold in society, and there are very effective ways to argue against them. So I get a bit perplexed when New Atheists seem to suggest that these are relatively new claims that have been developed as desperation strategies or something. That’s a bit insulting to rational thought, in my opinion, because we should be able to argue all stances effectively with reason if we’re unabashedly right instead of pulling out quasi-copout techniques that declare an opinion a desperation strategy by default.

    That will probably insult you, gillt, but don’t let it get too deep. I’m more rambling than anything else, and from my experience talking to very confrontational atheists like yourself, I don’t expect much of a calm, levelheaded response when your strategies are criticized, anyway. That’s biiiiiiig no-no in the New Atheist world.

  244. bilbo

    Of course the easy alternative is that god doesn’t exist and the holy books that claim he does are simply tools of the leaders of particular cultures in the ancient past to exercise control over the populations they led.

    I don’t think even many diehard theists would disagree that some holy books were used to “exercise control over the populations they led” when it’s made rather clear that much of the Old Testament is the legislative doctrine of Judiaic culture. Hell, if you take a frackin’ theology class at Southern Baptist seminary, that point will be highlighted. It’s not some devastating secret that demolishes belief, JJE.

    But, as NAs are so very wont to do, if you view the theology of all believers as the equivalent of John Hagee or *insert favorite superfundamental literalist here*, I guess that might be devastating to some degree.

    Oh, and just to be a general smartass (when am I not?), I suppose god i whatever form could exist and the holy books still could be used as tools to exert control over populations. Careful with your logic there, hoss.

    (Patiently waits to be accused of defending belief, as usual…..)

  245. J.J.E.

    But, as NAs are so very wont to do, if you view the theology of all believers as the equivalent of John Hagee or *insert favorite superfundamental literalist here*, I guess that might be devastating to some degree.

    We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Hagees didn’t exist. We wouldn’t having this education if the Texas SBOE just this month weren’t rewriting the textbook standards of the largest unified textbook market (California’s is more fragmented) in the U.S. weren’t inserting Christian conservative political/theological drivel. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Dover didn’t happen. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if only 55% of the U.S. population accepted evolution and 58% accepted creationism.

    The reason the NCSE exists in the first place is almost entirely to combat assaults that originate from religion. Compare Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam (just to remove the largely U.S. angle of Christianity). You’ll hear very similar “attacks” by NAs on Islam, but very few against Buddhism and Hinduism. It isn’t because most Muslims are backwards morons who believe in literal readings of the Koran that clash with evolution. It is because a politically connected and significant plurality do and make life difficult for real education. If Buddhism and Hinduism were to start to use their mythologies to do the same as the Christians and Muslims, they’d deserve attacks.

    And of course, you are using rhetorical techniques (notably, “weasel words”) to distract AGAIN:

    if you view the theology of all believers as the equivalent of John Hagee

    It doesn’t take all. It only takes 58% of the U.S. population. And of course, you hide behind the impersonal “conditional second person”. This frees you (specifically you bilbo) from having to identify your interlocutor and allows you the cop-out of saying “Well if that doesn’t describe you then my statement wasn’t directed at you!”. So, you can pretty much levy any attack you want without identifying a target other than some amorphous NA reader of your comments who may or may not even answer it.

    And finally:

    I suppose god i whatever form could exist and the holy books still could be used as tools to exert control over populations

    Yes. It would be a very non-parsimonious god for the people who like economy of expression like me and it would be a very flacid, impotent god for those theists that like their gods to be nice and virile, ominopotent/omniscient types (like my family likes), but yeah, it is possible. Like Sagan’s floating, incorporeal, fire-breathing (with heatless flame) dragon in his garage, many ridiculous are possible. Of course, the questions are, does it pass the baloney detection kit and does it actually offer any advantages of explanation of anything we’ve ever observed? And the answer is “no” and “no”.

    The only thing that modern “liberal” theology offers in the way of interaction with the natural world is a firm disavowal of any unique interaction that can be distinguished from explanations that science can already provide. The anti-Hagees in the religious world never posit any explanation that they thing will have to enter the ring with a scientific explanation. Collins is pretty safe in hiding behind quantum indeterminacy because we honestly CAN’T know things about the world to certain arbitrary resolutions, so it is safe to say that god works his will by tweaking particles at the quantum level.

    It’s not some devastating secret that demolishes belief, JJE.

    If there were ever any indication that such a thing existed, it would be a great advance. The main problem with the people that fight evolution in particular and science education in general is that the possibility of challenging their beliefs doesn’t exist. I can speak from personal experience or I could point you to one of Sean Carroll’s blog posts right now that has theists offering this line of reasoning. Basically, that’s the whole point. I probably wouldn’t be arguing if most theists had a were like most scientists such that every belief was subject to revision based on observing the world. A huge proportion that weild exceptional political power don’t. Don McLeroy in Texas is only the most recent example. It is a real problem. I don’t care how many liberal theists you pull out of your hat right now. That doesn’t cause the McLeroys to vanish. That’s a dead argument. As I point out above, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if significant proportions of politically active and politically influential Christians didn’t endanger good education in the states (and similarly with Islam in Turkey, for example).

    The root of their attacks on science is as I’ve said all along, the incompatibility with dogmatic thinking and science. Science doesn’t seek to contradict particular doctrines, but if that’s the data, that’s the data. However, science does seek to undermine dogmatic thinking more generally. And when the dogmatists see this, they try to undermine science specifically and critical thinking more generally. This is true if the dogma stems from religion (evolution in the 20th and early 21st century in the U.S.) or from politics (Mendelian genetics being contrary to “dialectical materialism” in the era of Soviet Lysenkoism).

    So, by poo-pooing my whole argument by saying I only battle the Hagees, you’re entirely missing the point. There would be no argument if Christians would act like Buddhists and just let their faith be molded by science without complaining about it. Buddhists still worship and are still very religious, but there is very little political will to challenge science because the people really don’t (in general, among 1 billion people there will be minor exceptions) have any dogmas that collide in important ways with science. They have dogmas, sure, but not the kind that Christians have.

  246. Another Adam

    And thus the circle is complete. NAs can’t get past the fact that they are talking to religous people. No matter how reasonabley they try to talk to them. How can you possibly teach science to Christians when you fail to try to understand them. Instead they must try to get them to turn from God first. I never started a theological debate. But, that is what it turned into. We go back to the same old arguments that matter only to one side. I don’t care about your theological arguments. They are not important. In the end, all that matters is am I living up to what I believe my God expects of me. If you have something to tell me about the natural world about science, Say it. I dont care if it coms from an atheist. So why should you care if the recipient of the information is a Christian.

  247. J.J.E.

    @ Another Adam

    Your very first words on this post were:

    I have said it before and I will say it again. God is not a liar. Thus, the evidence we see in the natural world must be reconciled with Christianity. Let’s stop pretending we are talking about religion. We are talking about how Science organizations should deal with fundamendalist Christianity.

    It certainly seems theological to me. You are saying that:

    1) god exists and isn’t a liar;
    2) fundamentalism is wrong (news to the fundamentalist theologians I’m sure).

    And you return to theological topics in a huge proportion of your posts:

    I don’t care what philosophical or scientific argument you make, a Christian will not believe you because to us how can we as creations of God explain him. Can a statue explain the nature of the sculptor? Is the creation equal to the creator?

    So you can stop pretending that you “never started a theological debate” because you have been espousing theologically tendentious views from the get-go.

  248. bilbo

    How can you possibly teach science to Christians when you fail to try to understand them. Instead they must try to get them to turn from God first.

    It has not taken Adam long to see the goals of the New Atheism: “Kill religion first. Worry about science later.”

    Or I guess we could say:

    1.) “Proselytize first. Try to educate later.”

    2.) “If anyone says anything that can be remotely construed as religious, insinuate that they’re an idiot before saying anything else.”

    3.) “We judge the relevancy fo our statements based upon how offensive they are.”

  249. bilbo

    I think about anything anyone says on this blog, commenter or poster, is tendentious, JJE. That’s kind of a dead word in terms of effect at a place like this…

  250. J.J.E.

    @ bilbo

    I heartily disagree. What you and I are arguing is how to define what NCSE et al should say vis-a-vis “compatibility”. While we may have differing points of view on that, within the context of this discussion, our opinions aren’t gratuitously controversial readings guaranteed provoke disagreement. Our opinions provoke disagreement easily enough without being either intentionally or obliviously controversial about them.

    To come into the context of such a discussion and blurt out “God doesn’t lie!” and attempt to provide the definitive proclamation of what True Christianity (Tm) entails is tendentious (both of which entail assuming some sort of liberal Christian perspective).

  251. J.J.E.

    Uhhhh, Milton?

    “I don’t expect much of a calm, levelheaded response when your strategies are criticized, anyway. That’s biiiiiiig no-no in the New Atheist world.”

    What am I, chopped liver? Talk about confirmation bias or begging the question.

    I don’t think you can construe my statements to be anything but calm and levelheaded. You may disagree, but I haven’t hyperventilated or frothed or foamed. And if you consider me not to be as much an NA as the next guy you’re arguing with*, then it seems that you are defining NA in a peculiar way which seems closely related to begging question (in this case, you are calling people who aren’t calm and freak out as NAs and then calling NAs freaks who aren’t levelheaded).

    * I still think NA is a misnomer.

  252. J.J.E.

    @ bilbo January 24th, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    That’s offensive to logical argumentation. The offense taken by the Christians and any other religious person is entirely of their own making. Much like the Catholic church was offended enough by Galileo’s diluting their authority (despite his pious leanings) to keep him under house arrest, Christians today are offended at pointing out how their theology provides no unique authority about anything in the natural world.

    Apparently, there is no polite way to put it. Christianity has nothing unique to say that isn’t also within the province of Scientology, Zoroastrianism, Islam, astrology, or cargo cults; and they all say different things. They all can expound on many issues and there is no consequences for when they disagree. On the other hand, science is chock full of unique contributions like quantum mechanics, evolution, cell biology, space flight, etc. As I mentioned in #248, Twain laid out the case for consistency very well.

    Now, someone may take offense at a comparison of Christianity to a cargo cult, because we in our “superiority” may presume that there is nothing deep behind “John Frum” and only an unfortunate conflation of fortunate happenstance (the arrival of valuable cargo on American planes) with divine providence. However, that is really an uncharitable conclusion for the people of Vanuatu. Why should they consider their particular set of beliefs any less reasonable than those of Christianity? The same goes for Islam or Scientology.

    The point is not to insult the believers of any supernatural faith. The point is that such faiths are intensely personal, resistant to change via “rational” means, and cannot offer reliable descriptions about the world that people who don’t share the faith inhabit. In contrast, science strives to be intensely objective, amenable to change via rational means, and has offered reliable descriptions about the world that is applicable regardless of the religious faith that people possess.

    For some reason, pointing this out to Christians is offensive, but pointing out that cargo cults have the same failing, or that Scientology does, or that Islam does seldom rouses their ire. Why is that offensive? Should Christians be offended? Especially when thay have a well-funded industry designed to lodge those unreliable notions about the world in our public education system? Should we be any more receptive to theologies that have allied themselves with science?

    No. We should say what the science is. If you are speakng for NCSE, defer judgments about science’s compatibility with religion to someone else. Theology shouldn’t be your job. If you are speaking for yourself, say whatever you want, but try to back it with evidence and rational argument. And if you get into theology, at least declare it as such. That Episcopalians accept creation of man by god via evolution is not scientific. It is theology. At least admit it.

  253. Another Adam

    JJE: You only see what you want to see. My posts on this topic have been meant to expose Christian beliefs. I have tried hard to use a voice that would show that. I didn’t do this to try to convert anyone. I did it because I noticed that everyone here seems to be an atheist (If I missed any theists I apologize). So I though a Christian perspective would help the discussion. I don’t think there is anything new to say about it so I am done arguing minutiae with you on this thread. If you want to continue the discussion on another forum, I will be glad to oblige.

  254. TB

    Looong weekend. Sorry for the late posts.

    @ 139.   Sorbet Says: 

    Sorbet, I LOVE this reply! It’ll allow me to address so many of the issues still outstanding! Thank you! You’re not going to like it though.

    —-
    Sorbet:
    Let me say this again. The original argument going back to last year was that accommodationism somehow would work better than atheism in turning more people toward science. (snip)

    —-
    TB:
    Oh no, I remember it quite well – I was right in there elbow to elbow until…

    I bought the book to see for myself. And I read it. And I saw the evidence. And I saw how there were two kinds of people making the most noise:

    A) People who hadn’t even read the book! They didn’t just consider the evidence and reject it, they rejected even considering the evidence!

    B) People who claimed to read the book but rejected any evidence it presented as inadequate and – on top of that – they never actually debated the actual evidence that they dismissed as being inadequate. I remember people demanding that I practically type in entire pages so they could argue. That’s not the actions of an honest appraisal, that’s the action of someone biased against the argument before even seeing the evidence. And it’s not surprising because many times they agreed with the people the criticism was directed at. There was only one or two people I would identify as NAs who had honest answers to me – the rest dishonestly tried to imply there was no evidence simply because they rejected it.

    So, which dishonest troll are you Sorbet? I’ve asked you before – have you read the book? If you haven’t (and you haven’t given any indication you’ve done so in spite of hints to specifics in the book) and you’re still demanding evidence, you and your demands can’t be taken seriously. More on “empirical” evidence later.

    —-
    Sorbet:
    (TB) “If you really don’t care whether they believe in religion, why don’t I see you disagreeing strongly with Mooney’s contention that the NCSE should make the existence of religious scientists clear?”
Because I don’t disagree and/or I don’t really know if that’s his specific contention. Regardless, the position as you state it doesn’t advocate religion be taught instead of science in a public school science classroom. So, it’s beside the point – unless you’re an atheist who is advocating for atheism and against religion. Which is not the goal of science advocacy organizations.

    —-
    Sorbet:
    You are clearly shifting goalposts here. You say first that you don’t care if a scientist is religious as long as he or she does not bring religion into his or her science. If so, then why would you support scientific organizations even making a statement about religious scientists, let alone talking about the compatibility of science and religion? You need to first answer this simple question.

    —-
    TB:
    Asked and answered. It doesn’t advocate religion be taught instead of science in a public school science classroom. And I’ve said this before elsewhere: science advocacy organizations are not science. That’s my goal post – it has not and will not shift.

    All this is only a problem if you’re actually advocating for atheism and not for science or science education.

    —-
    Sorbet:
    (TB) Sorbet, inexplicably: “Mooney and others were the ones who originally claimed (and still claim) that atheism was not working and accommodationism was better. ”
REALLY? Where does Mooney say that atheism doesn’t work? Who are you to even define atheism in such a way that Mooney – an atheist – is someone who believes in a failed position on religion?
    (Sorbet) TB, have you been living in a dreamland for the last one year or are you just late to all the discussions on this blog? Mooney clearly says in his book that what HE defines as “militant atheism”

    —-
    TB:
    You didn’t say “militant atheism,” you said “atheism was not working.” Not all atheists are “militant atheists.”

    But you haven’t even read the book and even if you do now you’ve already made up your mind about any information you might read. You’re a closed mind, you’re biased. That’s fine, but don’t expect me to just accept your assessment of the evidence and whether more is needed.
    Am I biased? That’s an honest question – too bad I had to ask it. I believe I’ve made up my mind that I’m mostly in agreement with Mooney. But I came to this position for other reasons – I wasn’t offended by crackergate, I was actually amused. It was later, more vile (IMO) posts that attacked science heroes like Ken Miller that turned me away from PZ and the NAs.

    “Unscientific American” did confirm to me what I’d already observed – so I did consider his evidence with some prior knowledge, but I was definitely open to it due to my judgement of other people’s actions.

    So snip a bunch of this stuff. Sorbet hasn’t even the read the book or considered the evidence, your opinion on it isn’t worth the electricity to generate the pixels on my screen.

  255. TB

    @ 139.   Sorbet goes on to say:
    (TB) Now, where’s the empiric evidence that the NCSE wants religion taught as science in a public school science classroom?
    (Sorbet) Yet again, where’s the evidence that “militant” atheism turns people away from science? (snip)

    —-
    TB:
    Now for the fun part.

    Demands for evidence are an excellent debating tactic but once you know what to look for you can tell if the demand is genuine or just a tactic. And this is important: I’m distinguishing a genuine demand from a tactic that may not be genuine.

    The tactic of demanding evidence relies on the reader accepting assumptions:

    1) The assumption that the person demanding evidence understands what evidence is. For instance, look at Sorbet’s demand above for “evidence.” If you look at previous posts you’ll see he also demands “empirical evidence.” If you understand what evidence is, you understand that these are actually two very different demands and that Sorbet doesn’t understand what he’s asking for. I’ll elaborate on this below.
    2) The assumption that the person demanding evidence as actually looked to see if there IS evidence. Anyone who is curious (or a masochist) is free to go back to those threads and see that there were people demanding evidence who had not even read the book. Some people, I suspect, gave it a cursory read and didn’t look at the footnotes where quite a bit of evidence is to be found. Sorbet has been given the opportunity to demonstrate that he has actually read the book and saw the evidence it contained. He has failed to take advantage of that opportunity and so I don’t believe he has even looked to see if there is evidence.
    3) The assumption that, in demanding evidence, the evidence already offered is inadequate. If evidence exists, it could be valid to demand MORE evidence, but it is definitely dishonest to imply that there is NO evidence. It is valid to say the evidence given is inadequate and more is needed, but it is not valid to say the evidence given is inadequate and so none exists. 4) That the person demanding MORE evidence is able to evaluate the existing evidence like a jury in our court system would – without bias and with the assumption of innocence. Well, we’re not in a court of law so there is no one to enforce that condition on people on the internet.

    OK, I apologize for the lengthy reply, but this is a topic I’ve been thinking about, and it’s something I want to put out there – if only for myself. I’ll bookmark this post for future debates.

    I’ve been mocking the demands for evidence by specifically asking for “empiric evidence that the NCSE wants religion taught as science in a public school science classroom?”

    I’ve been doing this because demands for evidence – empirical or otherwise – can be misleading. Here’s a story to illustrate that:

    Three witnesses see a young caucasian man wearing a blue suit walk into an alley with no other exit – only five-story-high walls with no doors, windows, fire escapes etc. Suddenly a scream is heard from the alley and the same three witnesses see another caucasian man holding what appears to be a bloody knife exit the alley.
    Two of the witnesses have time to actually recognize the attacker but he runs off before he can be stopped. No one else exits the alley and the man in the blue suit is found there stabbed to death.
    A bit later and not far away, a police officer sees a man matching the description of the attacker. The man runs from the policeman onto a bridge where he is seen to throw a metal object that appears to be a knife into the channel below. The policeman then apprehends the suspect.
    At the trial, the two witnesses who recognized the attacker positively identify the suspect as the man who exited the alley with the knife. The third witness who did not know the man also identifies the suspect. The defense is unable to contradict or bring forward anything to discredit their testimony, but defense gets the third witness to admit that it has been many months since the incident. He does not change his testimony, though.
    The policeman testifies that he saw the suspect throw something that resembles a knife into the water off the bridge, but that the object was not able to be recovered by divers. The channel would need to be blocked up and drained at considerable cost for there to be a chance at finding the object.
    Finally, the prosecution produces a witness who turns out to be a friend of the suspect. This witness testifies that the accused once said he hated the other man’s blue suit (it’s only a story – c’mon!) and said he’d kill him the next time he saw the man wearing it. The witness also said he overheard the accused call the man in the blue suit and invite him to meet the day of the attack. The witness did not take the threat seriously at the time, and only reluctantly came forward.
    The defense contends that no blood evidence linking the suspect to the killing was found on the suspect. In reply, the prosecution puts forth an expert who testifies the kind of wound the man in the blue suit sustained would not necessarily result in blood getting on the attacker.
    The jury considers the evidence and finds the suspect guilty. At sentencing, the convicted killer stands and says: “There is no empirical evidence that I killed the man in the blue suit.”
    IS HE CORRECT?

    Yes. Pretty much all the evidence I put forward in the story was circumstantial – there was no direct evidence (no one actually saw the stabbing) and the nearest thing you could consider empirical evidence was the testimony of the blood expert.

    All the bits of circumstantial evidence in this story (it’s fiction), when considered together become corroborating evidence.

    Would it be great if there was direct evidence – a person or persons who saw the suspect commit the act? Yes. Would it be great if the knife was recovered and fingerprints and blood evidence was found that physically linked the man to the crime? Yes.

    Can we make correct judgments on evidence that is not direct or empirical? Yes. It happens all the time in our courts of law. Incorrect judgments do too, but that doesn’t mean correct ones aren’t also being made.

    The point is, it’s wrong to assume that a demand for “empirical” evidence means that existing evidence is inadequate or wrong, or that sound and reasonable judgments can’t be made with whatever evidence exists.

    And that’s what the tactic of demanding evidence – empirical or otherwise – asks us to assume.

  256. TB

    Now I’m just catching up.

    164.   J.J.E. Says: 
(TB)
    “Please show me what scientific advocacy organization has this as their number one priority.”
    You are particularly stubborn on this one question.
    TB: Yes, since you’re defining their goals in such a way that they fail. That doesn’t mean your definition of their goals is anything anyone needs to pay attention to.

    JJE: “What is truth?”
    A set of consensus positions that can be verified through the scientific method and have substantial explanatory power.

    TB: A severely limited definition that fails because we know that there is no consensus for a definition of truth. At the very least, a definition of truth has to be … true.

  257. TB

    @ 248. J.J.E. Says:
    1) Is god outside the natural world, in which case you have no recourse to knowing he exists and I shouldn’t trust your impressions of god because your understanding of god already precludes any understanding of god;
    2) God reveals himself (in the natural world of course), but you either can’t or won’t share how you know he reveals himself, thereby relegating people like me to an eternity in the Lake of Fire;
    3) God haphazardly and ambiguously reveals himself to people and you are one of the lucky ones; And this sadistic deity is relegating tons of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims to the lake of fire because he’s too inconsistent to manifest himself convincingly to those folks.

    —-

    You forgot

    4) God is both within and outside the natural world and we discover clues about creation through scientific discovery of the universe.
    5) We can never know if God exists or not.
    6) I’m a brain in a box and all reality is a false projection into my brain by the Romulan overlords
    7 through infinity ….

    It’s easy to win an argument if you don’t bring up anything that’s difficult to argue against, which is what JJE does when he limits his perception of God to his three items

    @JJE 258 “That Episcopalians accept creation of man by god via evolution is not scientific. ”

    Neither is atheism – both are positions on religion and belief. Neither are science.

  258. J.J.E.

    @ 259. Another Adam January 25th, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    “You only see what you want to see.”

    Project much? I accept explanations that can be shown useful through the scientific method. I reject explanations that are disproved by the scientific method. For all other explanations, I reserve judgment. That’s what atheism is. Reserving judgment on god. I’ve told you quite explicitly that the moment that god subjects itself to scrutiny, I’ll quite ready, willing and able to revise my “reservation of judgment”.

    On the other hand, this is the perspective you are defending: “I don’t care what philosophical or scientific argument you make, a Christian will not believe you because to us how can we as creations of God explain him.” It seems as if this is an archetypal example of seeing only what you want to see. I can tell you conditions under which I would reserve judgment and under which I would believe. Can you tell me when you would reserve judgment and forgo belief? If not, then your accusation of “You only see what you want to see” are empty words applied to me and more properly apply to you.

  259. J.J.E.

    “Yes, since you’re defining their goals in such a way that they fail. That doesn’t mean your definition of their goals is anything anyone needs to pay attention to.”

    This is incoherent. You think that by definition requiring that NCSE remain neutral regarding theology is doomed to failure?! Horse feathers. Can you adduce any proof that a failure of NCSE to reassure the religious would result in a higher rate of religious folks turning away from evolution?

    “A severely limited definition that fails because we know that there is no consensus for a definition of truth. At the very least, a definition of truth has to be … true.”

    So, what do you propose? I tried to use the term “the best approximation of truth” and you rejected it. You CORNERED me into defining only truth with the only purpose of rejecting that definition when I tired of your repeated demands to answer that definition. So I finally did, and now you reject the possibility of useful definitions. So, basically, you go into the question with a pre-determined definition that (by your definition) HAS NO SATISFACTORY definition, you resist my good faith attempts to avoid such a tired result, and when you insist upon and demand a definition, I assume that you are arguing in good faith in order to establish something useful that will facilitate understanding between our positions. And, ooops, when I do (after attempting to avoid this very issue) you launch the gotcha I was fearing all along.

    I gave you the benefit of the doubt of not going the route of “there is no agreed upon truth; truth is an illusion if we can’t agree; all truth is subjective”. I tried to give you a utilitarian definition involving agreed upon frameworks that have substantial explanatory power vis a vis observations. And you reject it. You fundamentally aren’t serious. Why engage in gotchas and point keeping?

    @263. TB January 25th, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    “4) God is both within and outside the natural world”

    The god that is outside the universe doesn’t concern us because by definition of the term universe, we can’t have access to that. So we get back to my earlier contention that insofar as a god impinges on this universe, we have hope of seeing evidence of god. This isn’t controversial.

    “we discover clues about creation through scientific discovery of the universe.”

    This is either redundant or question begging. If by creation you mean “all that exists” then it is highly redundant, because you are saying in effect “we discover clues about all that exists through scientific discovery of all that exists.” If by creation you mean “the creation of god” then you go back to the natural theology position which uses as an axiom the prior existence of god. Needless to say you can’t prove or disprove one of your axioms. That’s question begging.

    “5) We can never know if God exists or not.”

    What’s wrong with this and who disagreed? I think it is a perfectly reasonable statement given one common definition of god. Of course, we can never know if Russell’s teapot exists or not either. I think that we should be humble about both Russell’s teapot and the unknowable god and reserve judgment until such time as evidence is available.

    “6) I’m a brain in a box and all reality is a false projection into my brain by the Romulan overlords”

    That’s cute. But even a brain in a box can employ the scientific method. Being a brain in a box d0esn’t preclude the existence of objective reality. It might make errors in ascertaining it very pernicious and impossible to verify in a practical sense. However, in at least my simulation, the Romulan overlords have seen fit to provide a fairly reliable set of data that allow me to make explanatory frameworks about the electromagnetic spectrum, chemical elements & compounds, subatomic particles, biological material, force and motion, etc. They have however carefully hidden themselves and the god that created them. Should I instead infer, on no evidence, their existence and the existence of the god that created THEM? Or should I confine judgment to the world accessible to my senses and reserve judgment on “bigger” issues until such time as I can make observations regarding them?

    “It’s easy to win an argument if you don’t bring up anything that’s difficult to argue against, which is what JJE does when he limits his perception of God to his three items”

  260. J.J.E.

    “Yes, since you’re defining their goals in such a way that they fail. That doesn’t mean your definition of their goals is anything anyone needs to pay attention to.”

    This is incoherent. You think that by definition requiring that NCSE remain neutral regarding theology is doomed to failure?! Horse feathers. Can you adduce any proof that a failure of NCSE to reassure the religious would result in a higher rate of religious folks turning away from evolution?

    “A severely limited definition that fails because we know that there is no consensus for a definition of truth. At the very least, a definition of truth has to be … true.”

    So, what do you propose? I tried to use the term “the best approximation of truth” and you rejected it. You CORNERED me into defining only truth with the only purpose of rejecting that definition when I tired of your repeated demands to answer that definition. So I finally did, and now you reject the possibility of useful definitions. So, basically, you go into the question with a pre-determined definition that (by your definition) HAS NO SATISFACTORY definition, you resist my good faith attempts to avoid such a tired result, and when you insist upon and demand a definition, I assume that you are arguing in good faith in order to establish something useful that will facilitate understanding between our positions. And, ooops, when I do (after attempting to avoid this very issue) you launch the gotcha I was fearing all along.

    I gave you the benefit of the doubt of not going the route of “there is no agreed upon truth; truth is an illusion if we can’t agree; all truth is subjective”. I tried to give you a utilitarian definition involving agreed upon frameworks that have substantial explanatory power vis a vis observations. And you reject it. You fundamentally aren’t serious. Why engage in gotchas and point keeping?

    @263. TB January 25th, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    “4) God is both within and outside the natural world”

    The god that is outside the universe doesn’t concern us because by definition of the term universe, we can’t have access to that. So we get back to my earlier contention that insofar as a god impinges on this universe, we have hope of seeing evidence of god. This isn’t controversial.

    “we discover clues about creation through scientific discovery of the universe.”

    This is either redundant or question begging. If by creation you mean “all that exists” then it is highly redundant, because you are saying in effect “we discover clues about all that exists through scientific discovery of all that exists.” If by creation you mean “the creation of god” then you go back to the natural theology position which uses as an axiom the prior existence of god. Needless to say you can’t prove or disprove one of your axioms. That’s question begging.

    “5) We can never know if God exists or not.”

    What’s wrong with this and who disagreed? I think it is a perfectly reasonable statement given one common definition of god. Of course, we can never know if Russell’s teapot exists or not either. I think that we should be humble about both Russell’s teapot and the unknowable god and reserve judgment until such time as evidence is available.

    “6) I’m a brain in a box and all reality is a false projection into my brain by the Romulan overlords”

    That’s cute. But even a brain in a box can employ the scientific method. Being a brain in a box d0esn’t preclude the existence of objective reality. It might make errors in ascertaining it very pernicious and impossible to verify in a practical sense. However, in at least my simulation, the Romulan overlords have seen fit to provide a fairly reliable set of data that allow me to make explanatory frameworks about the electromagnetic spectrum, chemical elements & compounds, subatomic particles, biological material, force and motion, etc. They have however carefully hidden themselves and the god that created them. Should I instead infer, on no evidence, their existence and the existence of the god that created THEM? Or should I confine judgment to the world accessible to my senses and reserve judgment on “bigger” issues until such time as I can make observations regarding them?

    “It’s easy to win an argument if you don’t bring up anything that’s difficult to argue against, which is what JJE does when he limits his perception of God to his three items”

    So, which way do you want it? Do you want a humble atheism that doesn’t make positive assertions about the existence of god, but reserves judgment until such time as evidence for the existence of such a being becomes available? Or do you instead want a robust, non-scientific atheism that is bold enough to proclaim proudly that god doesn’t and couldn’t possibly exist?

    Interesting, as you seem to reject both ways. The former you say: “It’s easy to win an argument if you don’t bring up anything that’s difficult to argue against”.

    Of course, you don’t stop there. I must both personify an atheism that only argues trivialities, but that is followed immediately by this gem:

    “Neither is atheism – both are positions on religion and belief. Neither are science.”

    So which is it? Am I making arguments that are so easy to support that there is no point in discussing them? Or am I making a dogmatic claim about the existence of god that makes my belief akin to a different kind of religion? It can’t be both.

    In any event, I’ve been very clear. You were right the first time. I will decline to accept a proposition that lacks evidence. Thus, I am an atheist in the sense that I do not accept god because there is no evidence. Contrary to your last statement, this belief is in no way related to religious thinking. I merely reserve judgment until such time as I can observe some modicum of evidence. Much the same as I do for Russell’s teapot. And I also agree with you. This is a trivial position and it is one that I think any reasonable person should be willing to share. If we are to believe in the religion that most people believe in, their founders had direct access to the wonders and signs of a very miraculous type. If I had observed such things, I would probably believe too. That’s what withholding judgment is.

    And from a scientific standpoint, that’s all that’s justified with regard to god. So, why not just take that for what it’s worth and push science education, legal defense of science, increase of scientific research, and leave the compatibility apologetics to the religious institutions?

  261. J.J.E.

    I hope the moderators will remove my partially duplicated comment.

    January 25th, 2010 at 9:27 pm is the premature submission.

    January 25th, 2010 at 9:40 pm is what I intended to submit.

  262. TB

    @ JJE

    “That’s what atheism is. Reserving judgment on god.”

    No it’s not – that’s agnosticism. Cripes, you don’t even know what atheism is?

  263. J.J.E.

    @TB

    Well, that all depends. If you are talking about about agnosticism sensu Huxley (who coined the term), then I agree. But in popular culture, there is a confusion of terms:

    1) the belief that the evidence for god is conclusive. He exists (this is theism);
    2) the belief that the evidence for god is conclusive. God does NOT exist (this is frequently called “atheism” though an unambiguous term is “anti-theism”);
    3) the belief that the evidence for god is equivocal. On the one hand, there is much evidence to recommend god. On the other hand there is also much to argue against god (this is the most common connotation being used for “agnosticism”; this is the way my Christian family views agnosticism; similarly it is the way many atheists view “agnosticism”);
    4) the absence of belief that god exists because no clear evidence has ever been adduced for god, and in some cases, god is defined such that no clear evidence CAN be adduced (this is strict Huxley agnosticism, but many people, including every Christian I’ve ever met calls this AND #1 atheism).

    I point out that there are 4 “connotations” and only 3 common terms: theism, agnosticism, and atheism. I also point out that historically, atheism was used to mean “one who does not believe in our god”. This usage was common until as recent as the 1800s and started as early as 100 BC, but I may have that date wrong. My reference on the detailed etymology of the term is at home, and I’m at work.

    Notably, when people talk about “atheism” versus “agnosticism” in my experience, they VERY frequently lump #2 and #4 together as “atheism” and #3 as “agnosticism”, which of course is contrary to Huxley’s coining of the term. (It is hard to link to all of Huxley’s arguments, as they are voluminous, but here is the best link I can find in a very limited search: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_Henry_Huxley )

    So, if you are willing to adhere to a strict Huxleyian definition of “agnosticism”, then I’m an agnostic. Personally I prefer these terms (which are cumbersome, but have the advantage of killing ambiguity):

    1) theist;
    2) anti-theist (or perhaps dogmatic atheist);
    3) wishy-washy agnostic;
    4) rational atheism or Huxleyian agnosticism.

    In any event, I don’t think my arguments were ever ambiguous. The “withholding judgment” aspect has been clear throughout. And in fact, that particular philosophical sticking point is explicitly avowed in every NA “major publication” I have read, including even Dawkins. So, Dawkins fits under #4 as well.

    And for the record, Huxley in defending his version of agnosticism was fond of saying things like this:

    “The foundation of morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying; to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.”

    T.H. Huxley, the coiner of the term “agnosticism”
    “Science and Morals” (1886)

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  264. J.J.E.

    Typo:

    “this AND #1 atheism”
    ->
    “this AND #2 atheism”

  265. TB

    66.   J.J.E. Says: 
January 25th, 2010 at 9:40 pm
    “Yes, since you’re defining their goals in such a way that they fail. That doesn’t mean your definition of their goals is anything anyone needs to pay attention to.”
    You think that by definition requiring that NCSE remain neutral regarding theology is doomed to failure?! Horse feathers. Can you adduce any proof that a failure of NCSE to reassure the religious would result in a higher rate of religious folks turning away from evolution?”

    TB: Ah, now we’re back to demanding proof and assigning standards. And the standard you now introduce is if the NCSE fails to reassure religious people it will result in a HIGHER rate of religious people turning away from evolution.

    And of course then you get to demand proof of this – where are the numbers?! Gosh, there are none! Scandal! But, we don’t have to produce numbers to prove or disprove your artificial standard. We just have to reject your artificial standard.

    Get it? You don’t get to define the debate. You keep trying, but I don’t have to accept your terms.

    The goal is to advocate that science – not religion – be taught in public school science classes. Getting religious people to agree to that is perfectly within that goal. That’s my standard, those are my terms.

    “A severely limited definition that fails because we know that there is no consensus for a definition of truth. At the very least, a definition of truth has to be … true.”
    JJE: So, what do you propose?

    I don’t propose, JJE. That’s the point – I’m not trying to impose my position on religion on other people. That’s what you’re trying to do by attempting to set standards and goals for a science advocacy organization like the NCSE – standards and goals that are different than what they have now, which ask them to take an position on religion that would bar them from their goal of science advocacy.

    That is different than the goal expressed by some who identify as new atheists: religious people must change their position on religion to atheism before they can accept science.

    @263. TB January 25th, 2010 at 6:37 pm
    “we discover clues about creation through scientific discovery of the universe.”
    JJE: This is either redundant or question begging. If by creation you mean “all that exists” …”

    TB: I mean there are far more ideas out there than the three you focused on. And the three you focused on seem to reflect the kind of belief system not unlike what one would find for religious fundamentalists. And by doing that you seem to be doing what other NAs have done: imply that all religious people are essentially the same as fundamentalists.

    (TB)“It’s easy to win an argument if you don’t bring up anything that’s difficult to argue against, which is what JJE does when he limits his perception of God to his three items”
    JJE “So, which way do you want it? Do you want a humble atheism that doesn’t make positive assertions about the existence of god, but reserves judgment until such time as evidence for the existence of such a being becomes available? Or do you instead want a robust, non-scientific atheism that is bold enough to proclaim proudly that god doesn’t and couldn’t possibly exist?”

    TB: Gee, other ways doesn’t exist for you, huh? Well, I like Mooney’s atheism, I think John Pieret has interesting things to say, I occasionally check out John Wilkin – he’s the one I got the “position on religion” line from. Carl Sagan, Joshua Rosenau, Eugenie Scott … Good people who have done very important work defending science and science education.

    “Neither is atheism – both are positions on religion and belief. Neither are science.”
    JJE: So which is it?

    TB: It’s not an either/or. Atheism and theism are both positions on religion and belief. They are different positions, but they take stances on that topic.

    Neither atheism or theism is science.

    @ 269. J.J.E. Says about atheism and agnosticism:

    “Well, that all depends. If you are talking about about agnosticism sensu Huxley (who coined the term), then I agree. But in popular culture, there is a confusion of terms:”

    Popular usage would be reflected in dictionaries, and that’s where the differences are most clear:
    “Agnosticism is the belief that it is not possible to say definitely whether or not there is a God.”
    “Atheism is the belief that there is no God.” (or if you prefer, non-belief in God)

    In terms of taking a position on religion, atheism is like theism in that regard. Atheism and atheists do not reserve judgement on God.

    But hey, I can quote from the internet too! Bertrand Russell: “An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time.”

    You wish to dither and quibble? feel free. I doubt you’re an agnostic or a “weak” atheist. I think this because you’ve shown, in your previous attempt at a definition, that truth can be defined in such a way that science can decide the existence of a deity.
    Far from impossible, I’d say you think it’s probable. There’s nothing wrong with atheism, so I don’t see why you dance around the label.

  266. Sorbet

    TB, you seem to be admirably following the New Accommodationist obsession (pioneered by McCarthy and Kwok) with digging up dead posts. Here’s what you should do; if you are so confident that you have read the book and I have not (which I have), provide some page numbers. I ain’t seen nothing until I see some evidence to back up your trolly assertions. I have a copy, so we can take it from there. I won’t ask you to duplicate entire paragraphs since I have the book but I am going to very reasonably ask you for page numbers which shouldn’t be too difficult at all. Let’s see if you can walk the talk. Otherwise I am not interested in arguing with Yet Another New Accommodationist Troll who simply accuses people of not having read the book.

  267. J.J.E.

    First off, “I doubt you’re X, Y or Z”. Is this really relevant? Whether complimentary, neutral, or insulting, any commenting on my personal opinions is irrelevant to the dicussion and constitutes an ad hominem distraction. If I were a pagan, atheist, Scientologist, or simply a YEC troll trying to sow dissent, it is my arguments, not whether I’m this label or that label, that deserve scrutiny.

    “I’m not trying to impose my position on religion on other people. That’s what you’re trying to do by attempting to set standards and goals for a science advocacy organization like the NCSE”

    As a professional scientist an eductor who has is and will continue to navigate these waters, I am not imposing my position on religion by arguing that NCSE shouldn’t have a position on theology. I am suggesting a self-consistent, practical approach that will satisfy everyone who can be satisfied, and importantly avoids patronizing religious people by pushing a controversial perspective that they know isn’t representative of the organizations the push them. The religious people that you and I agree are reasonable and amenable to science aren’t the kind of people that need their religious beliefs spit back at them by a science organization representing a diverse group of scientists and science educators, including a disproportionate number of atheists (compared to the public at large anyway). They just want to avoid having their beliefs challenged. I agree. I want neither to patronize them (by pretending to agree with compatibility via NCSE) or insult them (by trying to disprove their religion via NCSE). They are just as perceptive and smart as any group of people. They’ll detect patronizing compatibility or disengenuous compromises made for political purposes. The religious peple I socialize with prefer a position that treats their differences with respect and neutrality.

    In any event, my standards and goals (explicitly stated above) allow something to go as far as the Rabbi “denominational view” posted on the NCSE website in discussing theology (a concession, since doing so entails a science organization broaching a minor, though uncontroversial, theological point).

    So no, this is not pushing a religious perspective on my behalf. It is a strong attemt at remaining religiously neutral.

    And finally, the rest of your characterization of my arguments is so outrageously misrepresentative of the actual text (sometimes directly adjacent to where you’ve quoted it) and orthogonal to the rhetorical thrust of my comments, that I despair at answering it all without wasting time on red herrings. I’ve restated my position above, and that’s the core of what I think is important in this thread. I simply want to suggest that science organizations not discuss religion and you explicitly (as well as implicitly) accuse me of following a religious agenda in my policy recommendations. I may very well have a personal religious agenda just like nearly everyone else. I’ve shared some of it here. But with regard to my policy recommendations (the topic of this thread) I’ve been clear and consistent. “Don’t insult the relgious. Don’t address theology. Address only the science, the education, and the legal defense.”

    In fact, I agree with Carl Sagan. It is a wonderful coincidence that I just finished re-reading “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” two night ago. (I’ve been busy lately, so it took me 2 weeks.) I agree with most of his perspectives on this matter, though I have a few quibbles. I have a couple dozen bookmarks that deal with his perspectives on compatibility between science and religion. I find him wise, cogent, nuanced, and usually convincing. I’m glad to hear that you have informed your opinion by reading Sagan, though I admit to being a bit surprised. I would say that his emphasis on explicitly teaching skepticism and liberal application of his so-called “baloney detection kit” to root out and dispense with “invisible dragons” is rather more confrontational than I’d imagined you to be. I’m not sure I’d actually propose that NCSE necessarily follow all of his recommendations given the pushback I’ve gotten here, but the thought is intriguing.

    If you’re interested, I’ll have a free copy mailed to you. I’ve fallen in love with this book all over again after reading it in light of the accommodationist debates of the last year or so. Let me know if you’re interested, and we’ll find some relatively anonymous way to exchange e-mail addresses and I’ll send you a copy which will come whenever I get around to making the order. I’ll have free shipping because I’m sending a passell to family and friends already.

    Anyway, I’ll leave you with one more Russell snippet to indicate that simply saying “it’s easy to define agnosticism and atheism” is too facile and it really is a topic of great semantic confusion because different audiences have different understandings:

    As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.

    On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

  268. TB

    This is why people like JJE get labeled as trolls.

    The Russell snippet is from the wikipedia article on … agnosticism. That same article lists many of the flavors of agnosticism, which is not in dispute.

    JJE said: “That’s what atheism is. Reserving judgment on god.”

    I disputed that definition of atheism and he went off on a tangent. Screw that.

    From the internet infidels site:

    What is an Atheist? An atheist is a person who does not believe that any gods exist.

    That’s a definitive statement, not reserving judgement. JJE, you don’t get to make up your own definitions for words. If we can’t trust you to express yourself using commonly understood language correctly, how can we trust anything you say?

  269. TB

    @ 272. Sorbet

    Not only do I have the book, but it’s signed by Mooney too!

    Nope, you don’t get to make demands. You’re the one challenging the evidence, I’ve pointed that there are footnotes with citations to direct evidence including a passage by a U.S. Senator. The footnotes to Chapter 8.
    If you actually read the book, you’d remember this and wouldn’t have too much trouble finding it.

  270. TB

    Almost missed this from JJE:

    he says “…you explicitly (as well as implicitly) accuse me of following a religious agenda in my policy recommendations.”

    No I do not. I say you take a position on religion. That is not the same as religious belief. Try and wrap your mind around that before you make accusations.

  271. J.J.E.

    TB:

    I’m not trying to impose my position on religion on other people. That’s what you’re trying to do by attempting to set standards and goals for a science advocacy organization like the NCSE

    J.J.E.:

    you explicitly (as well as implicitly) accuse me of following a religious agenda in my policy recommendations.

    TB:

    That is not the same as religious belief.

    Another non-sequitur. For what it’s worth, I agree; neither “position” nor “agenda” are the same as “belief”. Importantly, nor did I say either was. Do you care to clarify where I made that equivalence? Do you have a big preference on which term I use? “Agenda” versus “position”? I’m fine with either. I’d be willing to pick one to get this conversation beyond your word parsing.

    So, do you prefer if I express my ideas in terms of having a “position” (synonyms: stance, perspective, approach, slant, thinking, policy, feelings)?

    Or do think having an “agenda” (synonyms: plan, progam, motive) would better suit me?

    In either case, an atheist could very well have a religious position OR agenda. It would be peculiar to suggest an atheist would have a religous BELIEF, but since nobody said that, that’s not at issue.

    And calling me a troll? For expressing nuance in the terms of a religious debate? Are you kidding!? This comes in the context of you asking for nuance in distinguishing believers.

    “And by doing that you seem to be doing what other NAs have done: imply that all religious people are essentially the same as fundamentalists.”

    Of course I DIDN’T imply that religious people are fundamentalists. But of course, your plea for nuance goes only one direction. You eschew nuance when it comes to complicating your argument. You accuse me of lumping together fundamentists with all believers while lumping all so-called atheists into the “strong atheism” category. Your inability to recognize that parallel is a bit off-putting.

    In the Cambridge Companions to Philosophy series of edited books, the book on the topic “atheism” alone devotes the introduction as well as the first chapter to defining atheism and placing it in its historical and social context. Russell and Huxley wrote volumes concerning the nuances, which I’ve quoted for clarity in addition to my first (personal) definition in #269. And you characterize my trying to communicate such nuance as misusing language. That belies a very depauperate view of the richness of language. Not to mention that this bit of nuance is so common that it is present in my handy “Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus” which gives synonyms of atheist including: nonbeliever, disbeliever, unbeliever, skeptic, doubter, doubting Thomas, agnostic; nihilist.

    Or maybe we should try another source in case you don’t have a copy of that particular thesaurus lying around. Let’s try Google’s “define:” keyword. Try the search phrase “define:atheism”. What do you get?

    The first three “related words” are weak atheism, atheism in india, strong atheism. Hmmm. I wonder if there is a distinction that those “related words” are trying to convey? Let’s save that for later. For now, ignore the related words and look at the actual definition we came to see.

    The first hit shows:

    # the doctrine or belief that there is no God
    # a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods

    So, two definitions from the very first hit: one is a positive, stronger claim and one a negative, weaker claim. Is there any connection to that weak atheism above in the related words section? Let’s click and find out.

    After clicking, we get three sites and three new defintion hits:

    # Strong atheism is a term generally used to describe atheists who accept as true the proposition “gods do not exist”. …

    # is the absence of belief in gods.

    # may also be considered a form of agnosticism, since weak atheists do not deny the claim that a single deity or group of deities exist

    The first is a Wikipedia link comparing and contrasting weak and strong atheism. The second is a synonym for definition #2 of “atheism” that we already saw. So, yes, there is a connection. And damned if the 3rd one isn’t “agnosticism”.

    So, you can now stop asserting that the defintions of atheism and agnosticism aren’t controversial enough that at two run of the references (as well as many respected philosophers) acknowledge that in ordinary conversation, the simple terms “atheism” and “agnosticism” aren’t unambiguous.

    Let’s review:

    TB:
    “If we can’t trust you to express yourself using commonly understood language correctly, how can we trust anything you say?”

    Two problems. I am using commonly understood language correctly and even took time to disambiguate above. Even if I didn’t, conventional meanings of the words as well as philosophical references as well as the original coiner of the word “agnosticism” all indicate congruence with my usage. The second problem is poor logic: “If J.J.E. is wrong on X how can we trust him on anything else?” Well, you see, it doesn’t matter unless “anything you say” happens to be directly related to “X” (in this case your contrived and false case of “commonly understood language”), then being wrong on one argument doesn’t impugn others. This is an odd appeal to authority. As if independent arguments would be any more or less reliable based on mistakes in unrelated arguments.

    Anyway, the offer of Sagan’s DHW still stands. But my discussion with you unfortunately ends now. You have the floor.

  272. Sorbet

    -Not only do I have the book, but it’s signed by Mooney too!

    Hard to believe. Your response makes it clear that you either don’t have the book or you don’t want to make the simplest efforts to back up your assertions with evidence. You are nothing but a hypocrite who wants to pile on others when you cannot summon up even the most rudimentary evidence to support your contention (other than screaming “I have read the book, you haven’t!!”). I don’t mind putting up some page numbers here, but you don’t get to make the demands here since you were the one who participated in the whole furor about militant atheism. Go back and take a look.

  273. Sorbet

    Oh, and we have been over this before; the footnotes with the quip from the US senator are about Americans trusting more in science than religion. We have been over this many times; that’s a known fact about which we are not arguing. Go ahead, bring on the straw men, but at least fortify them up with some dignity.

  274. TB

    @ Sorbet

    You want to go back? You can, I put up page numbers. Fact is, I put up an extensive listing:

    “From page 173 to page 185 there are detailed endnotes with citations to back up the assertions in Chapter 8. Not just notations, but full discussion in some cases of what the work referenced says. There are references to books such as those written by Ken Miller, Sam Harris, John Hedley Brooke, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, Robert T. Pennock and Stephen J. Gould. Quotes by Eugenie Scott, Pennock, Miller, John Haught, Matt Cartmill and Sen. Sam Brownback. There are passeges from the testimony of the Dover trial, and a quote from the judge’s opinion. There are references to articles regarding science education by William W. Cobern and Shawn K. Stover. And that’s not even everything.”

    Your dismissal of the evidence, never naming the US Senator after all the hints I gave you and finally misrepresenting the Senator’s quote by saying “the quip from the US senator are about Americans trusting more in science than religion.”

    This is online at the New York Times! “If, on the other hand, it (evolution) means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.”

    Sorbet, you’re busted.

  275. TB

    @ JJE

    “In either case, an atheist could very well have a religious position OR agenda. It would be peculiar to suggest an atheist would have a religous BELIEF, but since nobody said that, that’s not at issue.”

    I don’t agree. Agenda implies involvement. Religious agenda implies a plan that is religious. You’re denying saying what you said. But if you want to run away, JJE, feel free.

    You said: “That’s what atheism is. Reserving judgment on god.”
    I disputed that definition of atheism. From the internet infidels site:
    “What is an Atheist? An atheist is a person who does not believe that any gods exist.”

    Oh, and, one of the definitions of synonym is a “word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another in the language. “Nearly the same is not the same as the same.

  276. J.J.E.

    @ TB

    Look, I told you I’m done discussing this topic with you. I might have changed my mind if you stayed on topic and made some relevant points. But no, you continue to parse language used in peripheral points using a personal standard that applies only in the mind of TB. I even indulged your parsing for a while. But if that’s all you’ve got, then it isn’t a discussion worth having. When you learn cogent argument and how to stay on point, you’ll be worth my time. Until then, nope.

  277. TB

    @282 JJE

    That’s pretty funny!

    - You said you were leaving but now you’re back!
    - You claim I’m parsing language when you’re trying to define atheism as having a neutral stance about belief in god. You said: “That’s what atheism is. Reserving judgment on god.” (I could do more on this since you posted that Russell quote – I was hoping you would. But you REALLY wouldn’t like it, so …)
    - You don’t even realize I’m mocking your recommendations to the NCSE. You don’t seem to be able to comprehend that science advocacy organizations don’t have to have the same goals as someone interested in advocating for their own personal position on religion (atheism)
    - You’re projecting your behaviors onto me (and misrepresenting my words while doing it): “You accuse me of lumping together fundamentists with all believers while lumping all so-called atheists into the “strong atheism” category.” Funny, you seem to have forgotten that I pointed out “Well, I like Mooney’s atheism, I think John Pieret has interesting things to say, I occasionally check out John Wilkin – he’s the one I got the “position on religion” line from. Carl Sagan, Joshua Rosenau, Eugenie Scott … ”
    In short, JJE, you too are busted.

  278. michael crill

    Religion and science are compatible. Religion says God is all in All. Science says that the Universe is all the visible and invisible (dark matter and energy, infrared, etc.) and the quantum mechanical world. At the end of science is an unknown, and religion says that God is unknowable. According to religion, God created everything. That would mean that God created the Universe and everything in it. Science says that it doesn’t know what existed before the the Big Bang. Where’s the incompatibility?

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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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