My Free Inquiry Interview: Why We Need Religious Moderates

By Chris Mooney | March 22, 2010 9:25 am

A while back, well before I knew I would be a new host to the show, I did an episode of Point of Inquiry with D.J. Grothe to discuss the arguments and controversy engendered by Unscientific America. In the process, we got into quite a lot of detail about my views on science, religion, and free inquiry–many of which are either misunderstood or misrepresented in parts of the atheist blogosphere.

I mention this because I just noticed that a recent issue of Free Inquiry has actually printed a transcription of part of the Point of Inquiry interview, including passages like this:

FI (D.J. Grothe): In your book Unscientific America, you take on the New Atheists, even though you are an atheist. You argue that the battle should be for scientific literacy as opposed to a battle against religion. You seem to argue that when the battle is science versus religion, public scientific literacy actually suffers.

Mooney: Right. We live in an overwhelmingly religious society, and we should just admit that not all of the religious have a problem with science. It is important to refute the fundamentalists when they encroach on science education across the country in regard to evolution. But in order to do that, it is critical that we mobilize the pro-science moderates. The New Atheism, as a strategy, flies in the face of this, since it is often about attacking and alienating the religious moderates.

This is precisely what Unscientific America argues, too. D.J. continues:

FI: You say that to make a dent in the problem of scientific illiteracy, we should set aside the question of what is true about religion. Years ago, when we were both involved with the Center for Inquiry’s freethought campus outreach, you were every bit the atheist activist. As a science journalist today, isn’t truth a basic value to you? Don’t you have internal tension when you fault the atheistic scientists for pushing a scientific and naturalistic take on God and the supernatural?

Mooney: No, I don’t really feel that tension. Yes, I am an atheist, and yes, we should question religion. But we need to be aware of the context in which we’re doing it. In America today, diffusing tensions over science and religion is the best way to advance scientific literacy. My real issue with the New Atheists is their broad-brush attacks on all the religious, not just on the fundamentalists. Again, not all the religious are enemies of science. My other concern is that while it is fine to question religion, the tone in which the New Atheists have done so is highly abrasive and, at times, offensive. That doesn’t achieve anything. I think it is very important to uphold the value of a secular life and emphasize that you can be moral without God. But you cannot alienate your allies when you want to achieve better science education and literacy.

Then D.J. bores even further into my past, focusing on the days when I was the campus atheist:

FI: When you were at Yale, you were part of an atheist student group connected with CFI. Have your priorities shifted since then?

Mooney: I wouldn’t change it even if I could, because I learned so much from my atheist activism. One of the things I learned was that if you go out there angry and attack religion all the time, people won’t like you very much. I remember when the Yale campus chaplain reached out to me after I wrote a piece for one of the campus newspapers that was strongly against religion. I learned from that and other experiences that we really do need to make distinctions between religious moderates and the fundamentalists. To advance scientific literacy, we need the religious moderates on our side.

Again, you can hear the full interview here. I wanted to post this so people can see what my actual views on this subject are. D.J. was good enough to try to understand those, and I think our interview was successful as a result.

Comments (115)

  1. Wayne

    I have to say I may have to agree here. For the sake of science, I know of people who are regular church going people, and they are firm believers in the advancement of science. I think often times, its because religion for many people is just a selfish safety net that they can rely on when things are at their worst. I know I was not raised in a religious family but had the basic beliefs of main stream Christian beliefs. God. Basically. I never bought or was taught the whole Jesus thing, I guess in many ways my parents since not really religious were more deists, without really knowing it. Myself I found many different beliefs to be very interesting, but moved towards agnostic/atheist once I was in my late teens from basically believing in nothing. I realized the only time I “talked to God” was if I needed something. But really I never believed anyone was listening. I felt more in tune with my environment and people then the idea of a supernatural being. Science I think needs to be openminded, whether you are religious or not, and the openmindedness applys to both atheist and religious people.

  2. stefan

    Here’s hoping humanity will eventually outgrow religion.

  3. Christine

    I am a Christian and I am fascinated with science and its discoveries and advancements. I’m not sure if I’m a fundamentalist, or moderate Christian. I am fully convinced of my beliefs and strive to practice them daily. At the same time, I do not believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive. I believe that there are issues, for example the “beginning” of the universe and our world, that neither science nor religion can answer for us at an absolute – 100% – certainty (science is “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation”). Both views require some faith because no one in recorded history has seen the actual occurrence. There are indications and facts on either side of the topic that can lead someone to conclude a belief, but nothing that will answer all the questions of all the people.

    I appreciate that Mr. Mooney suggests an emphasis on scientific literacy. Upon reading this article, I can now understand a bit more why most Atheists I’ve encountered are rather angry and unnecessarily mean – even when they were unaware of my religious beliefs (in fact, a couple were angry and mean to other Atheists, which seems funny to me; and yes, I’ve had similar experiences discussing science with close-minded religious people). I did not understand why some Atheists were so vehement about my beliefs, especially because I’ve never tried to denounce Atheism, or change anyone’s beliefs toward Christianity. My appreciation for science is increased because of my religious convictions, not hindered by them. An emphasis on producing scientific literacy among the populace in general would be beneficial on many levels. If these two groups were less confrontational, it may allow for more open mindedness, as Wayne so smartly suggests. Mr. Mooney’s suggestion is getting to the root of the problem rather than attacking a deeply personally held belief – deity based or not. I am an intelligent woman, somewhat scientifically literate (more than some, less than others) and do not appreciate anyone telling me that I’m stupid simply because I choose to believe in something greater than myself – which has been a blanket statement to Christians by several Atheists in the past. As such, I do not insult Atheists because they choose not to believe what I believe. I can appreciate their intelligence, learn from their perspectives, and live contently with the fact that we disagree on the issue of the supernatural. There is no reason to instantly create animosity where it is not needed.

    Best of luck, and keep up the great work!

  4. Elena Strange

    The vocal fundamentalists make it seem like there are more anti-science religious people out there than there really are. You can be religious and pro-science, of course, but when the only collective religious voice in this country is arguing against evolution and rewriting history books, it becomes easy to think they’re representing all or most religious people.

    I’m an atheist, too, but I grew up in the Unitarian Universalist church. It’s harder to hear their lefty, pro-science voice because it’s drowned out and dismissed by the righty, anti-science zealots who, in addition to arguing against science, claim UUism (and others) is not a real religion and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

  5. JP

    I wholeheartedly agree as well. The anti-religiosity of the new Atheists seems to be less about science and more about a crusade. They attack people who have any religious beliefs as being ignorant, stupid and irrational. Granted, some are, but most are not. While, not an atheist myself, I can see how rational-minded people can come to this very logical conclusion and at times, I have come to the same conclusion. Nonetheless, humans are naturally spiritually-inclined. It is among the many things that differentiate us from other animals (for better or for worse). Religion offers people some comfort, structure and guidance in the world (again, for better or for worse). There is even anthropological evidence of this going back to the dawn of man. You can rail against religion (justifiably, in many cases) but you can’t rail against many people’s natural tendency towards spirituality.

    To improve our scientific literacy in this country (and the world, indeed), the average non-scientist citizen cannot be attacked for their beliefs, but rather educated, gradually and independently of religious ideas. People educated in science will come to their own conclusions–and it is not inevitably towards atheism. The more you learn about how the universe works, the humbler you become about how much we really know about it. I find the staggering beauty of science and our known universe to not prove, but at least, for me, point towards the existence of a supreme being and at least confirms my nagging belief that there is something beyond my perceptual reality.

    Many scientists and other rational thinkers have come to a conclusion other than pure atheism as well. A smart man of science once told me that he felt it would be an act of supreme arrogance to state with any certainty that a supreme being does not exist. Despite our incredible advances in science, we really know very little about the universe works (he said “probably less than 10%”). The guy was a PHD physicist who happened to run a multi-million dollar nanotechnology department at a major university. I forget his name, but I was privileged to sit next to him on a cross-country flight. His comments kind of stuck with me.

  6. Bob S.

    The common New Atheist retort to Chris’s comment about the importance of context in science communication is that “context doesn’t matter.” Of course, we all know that context does matter, as Christine just showed us above. Here’s a religious believer who undoubtedly holds multiple beliefs that are wholly and utterly irrational and that I strongly disagree with. But this is also a believer that can be an ally – not an enemy – of science. This is what I think of when I think of using “moderates” as a tool for science outreach. Why not use them?

  7. Sven DiMilo

    A smart man of science once told me that he felt it would be an act of supreme arrogance to state with any certainty that a supreme being does not exist.

    Your appeal to anonymous authority is meaningless. How about if we state with some certainty the empirical observationthat there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that “a supreme being” “exists”? How about if we go on to reason from there that either 1) a supreme being does not exist, or 2) a supreme being exists in such a way as to give the exact appearance of not existing? And because 2 is empirically and logically indistinguishable from 1 that whichever one is actually “true” doesn’t matter? And that therefore we’d all be better off by living life as though, for all intents and purposes, no supreme being exists?
    If only we could remember who the smart man of science was and ask him those simple questions. But alas.

    Oh, but wait, that logical formulation is “offensive” to “moderates” who are otherwise on “our” “side”. By all means, let us pretend that “a supreme being” “exists” so as to increase Science Literacy!

  8. JMW

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

  9. Thomas H.

    A fellow human that accepts evolution is always my friend. Belief or nonbelief need not apply.

  10. Schaffaeri

    One of the things I learned was that if you go out there angry and attack religion all the time, people won’t like you very much.

    We used to have a colleague in our department who made it a habit of bashing religion (not creationism, but religion, period) as part of the curriculum in his evolution class. And every year, religious (and even a few nonreligious) students who had no problem with accepting scientific principles would go to the dean, walk out of the class, and generally tune out/stop paying attention when the *very important* actual, scientific curriculum in class came around.

    Needless to say, that colleague is now teachnig other classes.

    Chris’s point about bashing and attacks not getting anywhere is very relevant. True, sometimes rhetoric will turn a mind or two, but from my experience those instances are few and far between compared to the giant walls it builds between students being able to disassociate learning and accepting science with becoming a raging, antireligious atheist. If our goal is to increase public acceptance of science, broadbrushing those who already accept science because they do not share our metaphysical views otherwise is a fool’s bargain.

  11. Thanks for continuing to recognize the gradations of gray, Chris.

  12. Guy

    I think there is a definite need for moderates on both sides, but don’t expect the more extreme people to suddenly change their ways. About the best you can to do is set a good example and hope they someday figure out a better way of doing things.

  13. Marion Delgado

    My big sister says that our secular parents raised us without religion but wanted us to be obedient and conformist like religiously raised kids are, and that created a conflict – religion is one tool to control children that secular humanists don’t have (they try to substitute guilt, but I doubt it works as well).

    I do think “2nd generation” freethinkers feel differently – I would compare it to vegetarian kids of vegetarian parents – it’s no big deal. Meat is not food to such kids, and Jehovah/Allah and Jesus or Moses or Mohammed, etc. are simply not concerns to nonbelieving kids of nonbelievers.

    One of the reasons I harp on the market fundamentalism of much of the skeptic community is that they show signs of believing they’re not committed to emotive and irrational positions, when it’s obvious to people not indoctrinated in capitalist magic that they in fact are.

    It’s easy to focus on the sweep and direction of scientific inquiry and ignore anything “the religious” might have to tell you.

    The Russian philosopher Gurdjieff said if one man has to get up early every day to keep his job, he might fall asleep, but if it’s a room full of people, at least one of them will wake up, and they can wake the others (not everyone had alarm clocks when he was studying).

    And Richard Feynman said “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

  14. Milton C.

    I get in a lot of arguments with friends/colleagues who are self-described “New Atheists” who frequently tell that I’m “sleeping with the enemy” if I engage in dialogue with evolution-accepting (and creation fighting) Christians…in full Dawkins “appeaser” fashion, of course! ;-)

    These people need to be careful, because they’re confusing being an advocate for science with an atheist activist. If you’re a true advocate for science, you should be praising those who accept evolution, regardless of belief – not broadbrushing them as creationists and trying to marginalize them.

  15. Jon

    You’re either with us, or you’re with the faithiests.

    Like that faithiest-appeaser Robert Wright:

    http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2010/evolution-of-god/

  16. Deepak Shetty

    We live in an overwhelmingly religious society, and we should just admit that not all of the religious have a problem with science.
    Strawman. No one ever denies this.
    The problem with moderates is that they don’t speak up. Take for e.g. anti-contraceptive stance of most religions. Religious moderates use contraceptives and keep mum whenever their religious leaders spout nonsense (there are exceptions , but the majority simply ignores whats said). Criticizing moderates is then frowned upon. Moderates are also apathetic to mixing religion with politics (as long as its their religion) even though the politics may negatively impact Science.

  17. Milton C.

    Criticizing moderates is then frowned upon

    Strawmen are a dime a dozen tonight, apparently. No one says this, at least not here. The argument is that criticizing evolution-accepting, creationism-fighting moderates (not just “moderates”) as being equal to (or worse than) hardline creationists is frowned upon….which, of course, we see all the time, especially here from anti-Mooneyites in the comment threads. It’s frowned upon because it’s ignoring the fact that these people accept evolution just as much as as a hardline antireligious atheist does.

    Moderates are never immune from criticism. Ever. They should be criticized with full intensity if they’re apathetic to creationists within their ranks. But what many of us here advocate against is pulling out that silly little broadbrush (in full ‘look at me!,’ circus performance glory) that pretends that apathy for fighting creationism nullifies the fact that such moderates are scientific allies. We want people to acknowledge that you can criticize someone without making them your mortal enemy and taking things to false-dilemma extremes. We want a little more reality and nuance here – not blind, ideological groupthink.

    Moderates are also apathetic to mixing religion with politics (as long as its their religion) even though the politics may negatively impact Science.

    When it comes to creationism, the evolution-accepting moderates I know personally who are staunch creationism fighters are about equal in number to the apathetic ones, so this criticism borders on Broadbrush Land too much for me. (Of course, I am just one person, and the people I know are not representative of the norm.)

  18. Bob S.

    Milton, I think Deepak’s comment was applied to his descriptive situation more than what happens here, although I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of what *we* are *against* when it comes to criticism. I never see anyone here advocate for “don’t criticize the religious!!!” Instead, it’s like what you said: criticize, but put down the stupid broadbrushes, hyperbole, and false dilemmas. Live in reality. Like you said earlier, don’t confuse crusading against religion as being wholly equivalent to being an advocate for science….because that leads to excluding those who accept the science just as much as you in lieu of stupid, unrealistic labels.

  19. Deepak Shetty

    @milton c
    “Moderates are never immune from criticism. Ever.”
    Ok Good we agree. So Francis Collins should be criticized if he puts forth the fine tuning of the universe argument , or the first cause argument (both creationist arguments even though Collins is pro-evolution) correct? Criticizing Ken Miller’s religious accomodationism is frowned upon because he is pro evolution.
    Also should pro evolution moderates(religious or otherwise) be criticized if they say they are neutral and then espouse views like religion and science are compatible because there are religious scientists (would they be considered neutral if they answered it as atheism and science are compatible because there are atheist scientists)

    Why also only evolution. Surely its Science v/s non science at stake here. This includes stem cell research, abortion, gay discrimination,vaccination, female discrimination and other culture wars.

    Very few people state that moderates (pro evolution or otherwise) are worse than hardline fundamentalists. What is sometimes stated is that the moderates provide legitimacy to fundamentalists (justified or not) which isn’t the same statement as you make.

    “When it comes to creationism, the evolution-accepting moderates I know personally who are staunch creationism fighters are about equal in number to the apathetic ones,”
    The non religious are pro evolution. The fundamentalists are supposed to be small (but vociferous). If the moderates really were staunch creationist fighters, then the overwhelming majority are pro evolution. How in the world do we manage to get so many creationists / intelligent designers as our politicians / school board representatives then? Surely we’d outvote them easy? The fact is seven presidential candidate nominees can come on stage and 5 of them can say they don’t believe in evolution should tell you something about moderates and apathy towards science- They’d rather vote for a pro right to carry arms candidate than a pro science one.

  20. Adexterc

    I feel a little like a lamb in a pack of wolves, but I have to ask a question. If the Universe is totally materialistic and rational, where does love exist? Can it only be lust or hormones? I have loved my wife for 40+ years; lust, well may be I can remember that. But I love her. Are you going to tell me you can find that in my neurons?

  21. Milton C.

    Ok Good we agree. So Francis Collins should be criticized if he puts forth the fine tuning of the universe argument , or the first cause argument (both creationist arguments even though Collins is pro-evolution) correct?

    Absolutely correct. But we’ll get to the caveats in a moment…

    Criticizing Ken Miller’s religious accomodationism is frowned upon because he is pro evolution

    …because it’s here that you erect your tired old strawman and begin the swinging at him. Again. No one wants Ken Miller to be immune from criticism because he is an accommodationist. They may disagree with the criticism, but they don’t want it to go away. Those discussions need to happen. What they would like to stop, however, are the claims that people like Miller or Collins are “against science” or “enemies of science” or that they “support anti-science forces.” When someone is a staunch advocate of evolution and actively fights creationists (and has for years), claiming that this person is against evolution and supports the very force that they work day in and day out to stop just because their philosophy differs from your is not only patently false – it’s illogical, not rooted in any form of reason, and is woolyheaded, groupthinking stupidity taken to its worst implications. I’m not saying that you are saying these things (but we often see many people here and elsewhere that do), nor am I saying that Collins or Miller’s worldview is the correct one (in fact, I think very strongly that they are not). I’m saying, however, that the claims we see are rhetoric without substance, performance for the sake of, well, performance. It is useless. We should stick to valid criticisms and yes, make them harsh…but lay off the broadbrushing and mindless false dilemmas.

    Also should pro evolution moderates(religious or otherwise) be criticized if they say they are neutral and then espouse views like religion and science are compatible because there are religious scientists (would they be considered neutral if they answered it as atheism and science are compatible because there are atheist scientists)

    No – not the way you frame the question at least (framer!), because no one (not even the staunchest atheist) argues that religious people cannot also be accomplished scientists. Your question said nothing about philosophical incompatibility (therein lies the rub!!) which, given your record of sharp posts here, makes me almost interpret this question as a halfhearted bait-and-switch.

    Why also only evolution. Surely its Science v/s non science at stake here. This includes stem cell research, abortion, gay discrimination,vaccination, female discrimination and other culture wars

    Why, my friend, the topic (and relevant context) at hand here was evolution to begin with, that’s why! I will note, however, if you were doing the “logical” analogue of painting a vocal gay rights advocate as a homophobe because the church he chooses to go to is populated by a majority of homophobes, I would give the same answer: criticize and question, but put down the silly broadbrush of making him a “homophobe.” Guilt by association is never a valid logical argument – not with evolution, not with gay rights, not with anti-vax.

    Very few people state that moderates (pro evolution or otherwise) are worse than hardline fundamentalists. What is sometimes stated is that the moderates provide legitimacy to fundamentalists (justified or not) which isn’t the same statement as you make.

    Forgive me if I misconstrue. Most of the people I see do, in fact, stress the “enabler” role of moderates more. However, as I said above, we often get many “moderates are worse than fundamentalists” crusaders here, which is why I focus on that argument. I will also note the recent Dawkins screed about how *almost verbatim*, in fact, moderates are worse than fundamentists….a screed which drew widespread applause, recognition, and vigorous head nods from the NA blogosphere. (And I will lastly note that using an Appeal to Common Practice as some form of twisted argument against me is illogical, also.)

    The non religious are pro evolution. The fundamentalists are supposed to be small (but vociferous). If the moderates really were staunch creationist fighters, then the overwhelming majority are pro evolution. How in the world do we manage to get so many creationists / intelligent designers as our politicians / school board representatives then? Surely we’d outvote them easy?

    An interesting blend of a reductio ad absurdum, a biased sample, an appeal to ignorance, and a quote mine all wrapped up into one. I’ll address the latter first. I qualified the statement you quoted by stating that it was simply an anecdote and not reflective of reality – a qualification, in fact, that you trimmed away to misrepresent my statement and set up your position-pinning.

    To address the former(s)…that’s a nice argument! Too bad it wasn’t mine. I guess we could actually call that the “Jerry Coyne says that Robert Wright Says X and X is False, So Robert Wright is Wrong on Everything (Even though Robert Wright never said X to begin with)” fallacy, as well. First of all, to clear some false statements…..

    (1) Not all of the non-religious are pro-evolution (shocking – yet a small number! – but true)
    (2)”The fundamentalists are supposed to be small (but vociferous)” – this would be a position that you tried to pin on me which I do not hold, and cannot be deduced from anything I have said thus far. The rest of your argument literally hinges on this false assumption.
    (3) “If the moderates really were staunch creationist fighters…” – Another pinned (and false) position statement.
    (4)”How in the world do we manage to get so many creationists / intelligent designers as our politicians / school board representatives then?” – Your Biased sample fallacy. (Before you argue, read up on politics, and you’ll understand the fallacy)
    (5) This is like a biased sample within a biased sample – and it’s supposed to be the killshot of your argument??!! Really? Come on. Another logical analogue of your argument: “If 9 out of 10 football fans in a sports bar in Green Bay stand up and say they’re fans of the Packers, how can you claim that the Saints are the most popular team in the country?!”

    I’d really like to continue something akin to a level discussion with you, Deepak, but seeing as how you’re employing logical fallacies a mile a minute and are now trying to pin false positions on me, I’m not going to try any further. Get some sleep, lay off the sauce to clear your head, and come back tommorrow (prepared to argue with REAL logic), and then we’ll continue.

  22. Milton C.

    As a little example of the traps antireligious zealotry can brign with it, consider this:

    Jerry Coyne has an angry blog post up at WEIT talking about how evil the National Academies of Sciences are for letting the Templeton Foundation “coopt” its Great Hall (it’s an “outrage” to let religious people have a gathering “amidst the trappings of America’s most distinguished body of scientists!” An outrage, I tell you!!!!)

    But what are those “trappings?” Let’s examine…

    1.) The Dome of the NAS hall was designed by a duo of artists who worked on over THIRTEEN church pieces! Conspiracy clue!

    2.) The NAS hall’s North Wall features a mural of the Sun God having fire stolen from him by Prometheius. Conspiracy clue!

    3.) The doorway into the NAS auditorium is sculpted to represent the religious themes of dark versus light. Conspiracy Clue!

    4.) Representations of the gods Athena and Imotep appear in the NAS hall’s wings. Conspiracy clue!

    5.) The door to the NAS hall has representations of Romulus and Remus, the Greek god of medicine, Ahura Mazda, Hercules, Diana, Perseus, the head of Gorgon Medusa, the centaur Chiron, Oedipus questioned by the Sphinx, Apollo slaying the serpent, Vulcan, Sisyphus, Icarus and Daedalus, Icarus falling, Atlas, Orpheus, and Athena. Conspiracy clue!

    Somewhere along the way, Jerry got so preoccupied with his quest against Templeton that he forgot that the hallowed, scared hall of the NAS that he so loves is literally peppered with religious imagery, many referencing the ties and blending of science and religion over the eons.

    So, the important questions are:

    1.) Is Jerry proclaiming that one religion is “wronger” than the others, himself engaging in the canard that he makes fun of believers engaging in so frequently?

    or 2.) Is Jerry just not thinking straight, and focusing on selective, personal enemies by conflating his personal disagreements with an egregious blending of science and religion by the NAS because, suddenly, the religious imagery in the NAS Great Hall is inviolable and scientific while religious PEOPLE holding a get-together there is an abomination?

  23. bilbo

    #22

    ROTFLMFAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Jerry Coyne clearly cannot distinguish accommodationist imagery (i.e., the “trappings of America’s most distinguished body of scientists”) with accommodationist people (“an outrage!!”).

    Jerry Coyne: closet, oblivious accommodationist.

  24. Bob S.

    This does it – we have to take a wrecking ball to the NAS Great Hall. First website statements, then allowing religious people to pay to have refreshments and fellowship in their Great Hall (the HORROR!!!!! Jerry should pull a Jesus and go overturn their open bar for violating the sanctity of the holy place), and now there are religous symbols in the Great Hall itself! And to think – an accommodationist portrayal of Promethus bringing science to humans from God, at that! How DARE the NAS??!!!

    I expect to see Jerry Coyne lead the drive to have the Great Hall demolished for displaying Science in conjunction with Woo. What an utter abomination.

  25. Philip Jr.

    @ Milton C. #22 (or I guess really @ Jerry Coyne):

    Ouch, dude. That’s embarrassing.

  26. JP

    To Sven: typical, blustery “logic warrior” language from the quasi-intellectual wannabe equivalent to the archetypal Internet tough guy. Using an anecdote that I found meaningful in my life is not an “appeal to anonymous authority.”

    You’re not going to troll me into some ridiculous high school debate team flashback to get me to admit something I do or don’t believe in. People like you are so stubborn and close-minded you can’t stop for a second to realize that not everyone is trying to debate, convince or turn you into something you’re not.

    Even in my post, I admitted that at times I have been less-than-certain about my beliefs. It must be nice to always be so certain about everything. Many of us “weaker minds” go through life trying to make sense of it all and usually not always succeeding. Just because I believe in a supreme being (which is all I admitted to in my post), doesn’t mean that I criticize you or others for not believing.

    What I do criticize is your sheer arrogance and misplaced belief in your own infallibility and your judgmental superiority complex. Sure, I am stunned and frustrated by the fundies who would deny the very existence of the nose on their face if they felt it contradicted the bible. But I am equally stunned by people such as you who are willing to waste so much energy to “prove” that what someone holds true in their heart is just logically wrong.

    Not to be drawn into your troll, but I would argue there is some evidence that a supreme being exists, at least to me in my own personal life, which is all the empiricism I need. I wouldn’t expect you to accept my evidence, but it certainly is enough for me and I by no means am trying to convince you otherwise. From a logical standpoint, you have absolutely no way to prove to me that a God doesn’t exist. You’d have to literally scrub the entirety of the universe from the largest supernova to the wavelets vibrating in the 10th dimension to be able to tell me with 100% certainty that God doesn’t exist. Frankly, I can’t imagine why you’d care.

    Now I am a strong reader about and believer in science, evolution, string theory and all manner of quarks (even the up, down and strange kind) but this does not preclude me from believing that there is a Creator. Attacking me and trying to convince me and other so-called moderates of your perspective in this matter does not help increase people’s interest in the sciences. Frankly, I blame people like you on the success and resurgence of the creationist and fundamentalist movements and the general scientifically dumbing down of our society (at least in the US). It’s hard to get less-informed people to open their minds to anything when the people who are supposed to help them open it are calling them ignorant, foolish, superstitious and illogical. It gives them fodder and fuels their movements. Nice job, Sven.

    Now that would be irrational and poor strategy.

  27. Deepak Shetty

    “because it’s here that you erect your tired old strawman and begin the swinging at him. Again”
    Are you denying that so called moderates do not like Miller/Collins being criticised for some of their mix of science/religion views period? (not just their being called anti-science or whatever). Not necessarily by you.
    And secondly yes Collins does have anti-science views. By any definition the fine tuning argument is anti-science, do you deny this as well?

    No bait and switch. examples of the compatibility of science and religion all involve pointing to people who have reconciled it or some forms of religion that dont put an emphasis on faith (e.g. some forms of buddhism) , rarely is a mainstream religion philosophically resolved with science. When Coyne et al. call out NCSE for being non neutral, it is on the example I provided you (there exist religious scientists!)

    Ok s what is your actual position? A large significant majority of non religious people are pro evolution. At last count what was this 10-15%? So either your position is the religious nuts far outnumber moderates (by atleast the % of non religious people) or that it is what I say , that for the moderates they dont care too much about evolution or science or you have an alternate explanation and vote based on other issues.

    Yes i noticed your qualification of moderates you know. Its a cute attempt to have your cake and eat it too. Either state you dont know whether most moderates are not apathetic with respect to evolution, or that they are or are not. Dont attempt to say “everyone I know is , but dont use that statement to mean anything.”

  28. Deepak Shetty

    @Milton
    I dont agree with Coyne, but here’s a hypothetical. Assume we have some major leader of some country who still has slaves, treats women as property etc etc. Lets say he’s invited to tea at the white house. Coyne writesan essay on how it is an outrage to have a pro slaver in the white house, in the free country that is America. Milton C writes a post on how George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slave owners and how Coyne has forgotten American history.
    This isnt to equate slavery with religion , merely that the history is irrelevant. Its based on what the National Academy of Science stands for now v/s what the Templeton foundation stands for today.

  29. Jon

    …rarely is a mainstream religion philosophically resolved with science.

    Rarely is popular religion reconciled with science. Mainstream religion is reconciled with science all the time–it’s called theology. Just because you’re unfamiliar with it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    You might say “but that kind of theology is only known among elites.” OK, but there are certain implications of coming out and attacking the non-elites. It’s not always peoples’ fault that they’re not educated, or that they’ve come under the influence of the wrong elites…

  30. Bob S.

    Deepak and Milton:

    Jerry’s hypocritical slip-up doesn’t really do anything to his position. It’s just damn funny!

    …to put this marginally (and I mean, REALLY marginally) back on-topic, examples like this one are why many of us “moderate” atheists don’t give people like Coyne the time of day. It’s because he’ll make a selfrighteous, faux-outraged “stand” against the NAS because they’re letting a group of non-scientists (well, some scientists included, actually) use their Great Hall. And that would be fine…..if he didn’t paint the Great Hall as some ultra-secular bastion of science, when its really full of religious imagery. And not just religious imagery – religious imagery meant to paint a narrative of science and its melding with religion through the millennia! That, of course, is a major theme in the architecture of the Great Hall, but Jerry calls this blatant religious imagery “trappings” of science while decrying the same thing.

    You know, Jerry, I’m sure that the Templeton folks would agree with your statement about the importance of the religious “trappings” in the Gret Hall to science. It appears you have found your accommodationist middle ground!

  31. Bob S.

    Damnit, that link just comes back here. this is the correct one.

  32. Milton C.

    Y’know, Bob, I tried to point out over on WEIT the use of religious imagery in the NAS Great Hall in the face of Jerry’s painting of it as a sanctimonious, secular institution.

    But, of course, Jerry culled the comment out in moderation, and it never made it through. I can (and have) freely post in agreement with Jerry over on his blog, but once you crack out a criticism that isn’t creationism-rooted (and easily attacked), you won’t be getting through.

  33. bilbo

    Y’know, Bob, I tried to point out over on WEIT the use of religious imagery in the NAS Great Hall in the face of Jerry’s painting of it as a sanctimonious, secular institution.

    But, of course, Jerry culled the comment out in moderation, and it never made it through.

    Jerry Coyne? Cull out legit criticisms during comment moderation to paint a narrative of infallible New Atheists attacking boneheaded creationists, and nothing else?

    You don’t SAY!!!!! ;-)

  34. TB

    Hmm. Post somehow got lost. Oh well …

    @16 Deepak

    Try catholicsforchoice.org for starters on this strawman of yours “The problem with moderates is that they don’t speak up. Take for e.g. anti-contraceptive stance of most religions.”

    There are other links talking specifically about moderate catholics, but that was just the result of a quick google search.

  35. Skeptical Skeptic

    First of all – seeing Milton point out that Jerry Coyne is criticizing the NAS for letting accommodationists use its Great Hall which, coincidentally, Jerry thinks is some hallowed temple of secularism while it really is rife with architectural religion-science intermingling literally made my morning. To quote the NAS, the Great Hall was designed as a “temple of science,” meant to highlight the religious undertones within the history and philosophy of science. It even has “Four bronze lamps, similar in design to the bowls in which vestal virgins carried fire” illuminating its foyer! That’s just the hypocrisy of the New Atheism in a neatly-packaged, downright hilarious nutshell. Someone should frame it for posterity.

    But I digress. To address Mooney’s point of this post, I think the misrepresentations of your position are just varying reincarnations of the “shut up” canard. Did you criticize a New Atheist’s tone? Then they interpret that as you telling them to shut up altogether! Deepak fell into this trap several posts above by interpreting Milton’s comments as “you shouldn’t criticize moderates!” This whole “either be an angry, foolish, tirade-spewing ideologue or cuddle up to religion and shield it from criticism” narrative that gets painted by the NAs is one of the most boneheaded false dilemmas I’ve ever seen. It’s especially shocking to see it coming from fellow scientists, who supposedly cherish logic and sound reason. If we all did science like these people talk about religion, we’d neverget anything done. “You don’t agree with my criticism of Clements’ hypothesis of ecological succession? Then that means you don’t think we should even research the topic!!!!”

  36. bilbo

    @16 Deepak

    Try catholicsforchoice.org for starters on this strawman of yours “The problem with moderates is that they don’t speak up. Take for e.g. anti-contraceptive stance of most religions.”

    There are other links talking specifically about moderate catholics, but that was just the result of a quick google search.

    …and next, Deepak will attempt to use an Appeal to Common Practice fallacy, like he did w/ Milton earlier, to argue that those moderates don’t matter.

  37. TB

    @20. Adexterc Says:
    “I feel a little like a lamb in a pack of wolves, but I have to ask a question. If the Universe is totally materialistic and rational, where does love exist? Can it only be lust or hormones? I have loved my wife for 40+ years; lust, well may be I can remember that. But I love her. Are you going to tell me you can find that in my neurons?”

    Welcome to the Intersection! Let me give this a try in a polite way:

    – I’m not familiar with advances in the science of our brains and mind, but I wouldn’t doubt that someday we’ll be able to find that in your neurons. I use indirect reasoning in saying that: Alzheimer’s patients will forget everything – even people they love – so there is some evidence that all this is rooted in the physical. However, I don’t know if the actual memories are destroyed or just our ability to connect to them.
    – A different way for some religious to consider this situation might involve the idea of an afterlife. Our physical bodies may be destroyed, but do the memories – the love – continue on? Could that Alzheimer’s patient forget everything in this natural world but regain it in the afterlife? Is there an aspect of our mind that is undectable by natural means? Note that I am not endorsing nor rejecting this idea. It is not a scientific one and cannot be tested in the natural world. There is no evidence regarding it.
    But most importantly, as far as I know it also does not conflict in any meaningful way with science now or in the future.

  38. TB

    @36 bilbo

    Deepak does like to argue, but it almost like we need a FAQ to point him to because some of the things he disputes are kind of common knowledge among the regular posters here based on the posts we’ve participated in.

    I try not to hold that lack of experience against him, but I’m also not going to spend a lot of time with him.

  39. Lindsay

    Here’s a question for people:

    I grew up in rural North Carolina and started identifying as an atheist sometime in high school after having a religious upbringing (Presbyterian though, I would describe as very moderate). I had to deal with a lot of extreme fundamentalism, however, which trained me to deal with very religious people in a polite and respectful way. I find it quite easy to talk to religious moderates as a result. Chris seems to have a similar story to tell about interacting positively with religious people.

    It seems like many people who favor Accommodationism have similar experiences, or at least see the value of reaching out to religious people, while many of the New Atheist types don’t. I wonder if these types of experiences underpin the differences in these two approaches?

  40. Milton C.

    For me, Lindsay, I see great value in reaching out to religious moderates while not being an “accommodationist” in the philosophical sense. One can certainly engage in dialogue and cooperation with someone on a topic like evolution even if they strongly disagree with that person on metaphysical grounds. From most (not all) of the “New Atheists” I talk to – in real life and in internet life – however, they seem to decree that doing so is impossible/hypocriticial/”enabling evil”/etc. I don’t agree with Chris on philosophical compatiability of science and religion, but I DO agree with him, very strongly, that passing off cooperation and dialogue with moderates (while still allowing for criticism) as worthless is a fool’s bargain. You’re right, though – this is likely rooted deeply in personal experience.

    It’s important to remember that a “New Atheist” is always interested in killing religion first. Reaching out to others about science comes as a secondary goal….although they often conflate the two. If you’ve broadbrushed religion as your mortal enemy, then of course working with the religious is automatically off the table.

    Thankfully, not all of us are so blind.

  41. vel

    The only religous moderates I see are agnostics, they are not sure so they keep an eye on everything. In religion, those who believe are sure they have some magical secret to the universe and that those who don’t belive like they do will be subject to something “bad”, be it hell or just anotehr turn on the karma wheel. Even those who want to be univesalists and claim that their version of God will allow everyone “in” are making claims that are just as baseless as any fundementalist.
    There is no benefit in religion, the worship of something that does nothing. There is no benefit to keep saying that the Emperor has clothes like Mr. Mooney seems to want. Sorry, I’m an atheist, not “new” not “old” and I see no purpose in patting people who intentionally lie to themselves and others on the head.

  42. Deepak Shetty

    @TB
    Oh there are some catholics for sure who are pro choice, pro gay marriage, pro contraceptives who generally identify themselves as liberal catholics. If moderate catholics are the significant majority (or are they?) and they are pro contraceptive why do catholics let the pope get away with the use of contraceptives increases AIDS

    “But I’m also not going to spend a lot of time with him.”
    Heh , you shouldnt respond to me then. Spend the time finding new atheists who have said “Abandon religion to practise science”

  43. Deepak Shetty

    @Jon.
    Really? Care to illustrate how a faith based system is reconciled with an evidence based one?

  44. Milton C.

    Lindsay,

    As to my earlier comment about those who want to kill religion first and worry about science later (and broadbrush dialogue as “patting believers on the head”), look no further than vel in #41.

    Watering down working with anti-creationism believers as “patting them on the head” is about as worthless and intellectually dishonest as one can get.

  45. TB

    Oooh Deepak! Nice misquote/mischaracterization from a thread over at Thoughts From Kansas!
    You’re reinforcing my decision not to spend a lot of time on you.

  46. bilbo

    Oh there are some catholics for sure who are pro choice, pro gay marriage, pro contraceptives who generally identify themselves as liberal catholics. If moderate catholics are the significant majority (or are they?) and they are pro contraceptive why do catholics let the pope get away with the use of contraceptives increases AIDS

    Right on schedule, we’re hit with an Appeal to Common Practice. That argument from Deepak boils down to “I can ignore your examples of good religious moderatism because they might not be the majority.”

    Terrible, terrible logic. In fact, that’s not even logic at all.

  47. Jon

    Care to illustrate how a faith based system is reconciled with an evidence based one?

    Sure. First, there’s a lot of religion is not “faith based” in the way you describe.

    Second, if you’ve read any philosophy, not all epistemologies are strictly empirical. You could have an empirical methodology when it comes to science, but outside of that, you could subscribe to a philosophical idealism. I’m thinking Berkeley the English idealist, or the German Enlightenment and 19th century philosophical idealists.

  48. Jon

    Argh. I was trying to link here.

  49. bilbo

    Oh no, Jon! Don’t let them know that philosophy exists! NAs think that they’re starting from scratch!

  50. Lindsay

    @40 Milton C:

    I understand. I think I stand more with Chris on the science and religion getting along, but I do understand the argument that they don’t and respect it. I’m glad that a lot of people are willing to put these kind of philosophical problems aside to work for a greater good of increasing science literacy.

    Honestly, I don’t enjoy pigeon-holing people into categories like “accommodationist” and “new atheist” because the issue is so much more nuanced than just those two labels. But if I have label myself, I would definitely say accommodationist because I believe that it is necessary to increase science literacy.

    @44: I guess I would have to agree. The issue isn’t about whether religion is right or wrong, it’s about increasing science literacy. It’s pretty clear that being confrontational about religious belief isn’t going to help the issue, only hurt it.

    It seems like sometimes people who are overly rational and logical get caught up in the rationality and logic of a certain set of beliefs. It’s good to remember that people are irrational and illogical about a lot of things, and sometimes, you have to put those two aside to get things accomplished. It’s something I have to remind myself of a lot.

  51. Deepak Shetty

    @TB
    Misquote?
    Your words
    “In those instances where the two goals conflict (such as in the idea that one has to give up religion in order to accept science) ”
    from
    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/03/ncse_science_education_and_rel.php#comments

  52. Deepak Shetty

    @Jon
    I haven’t said that all religions are faith based (Thervana buddhism comes to mind) so that line of argument is not needed. Mainstream religions like most forms of Christianity, Islam , Judaism, Hinduism are, though there are exceptions here too (Universal Unitarians, Sufi sects in Islam, the nastikas) however the number of people who actually follow these are pretty few.
    We also do have the sophisticated theologians who argue whether non baptised children go to limbo or hell, correct?
    Let me ask you a direct, specific question. Are some parts of Roman Catholicism(as defined by the vatican, not by what some catholics may believe) in conflict with or can it be reconciled with Science?. Yes / No answer before you attempt an explanation or justification of whatever view you have.

  53. Deepak Shetty

    @bilbo
    This is the only time Im feeding you.

    Somehow acknowledging that some liberal religious folks do have the views that commenters have posted is equal to ignoring those views according to you and you accuse me of terrible logic?

    My point is if liberal/moderate catholics have good moderate views on for e.g. contraceptives then why does the Vatican still have its old rigid nonsensical views? The options I can think of are the number of people with these views is not many, or the moderate people actually do nothing significant about it(yes yes there are some exceptions) . I happen to believe the number of moderates is actually quite high(unscientifically) so for me the conclusion is the latter that the moderates dont do much about it. If you have any other options post them.

  54. Chris

    19. Deepak Shetty
    Why also only evolution. Surely its Science v/s non science at stake here. This includes stem cell research, abortion, gay discrimination,vaccination, female discrimination and other culture wars.

    How are any of these scientific questions?

    Stem cell research, yes many biologists wish to use them in research and say the good ouweighs any perceived bad. A lot of people disagree. It really isn’t a scientific question, science doesn’t address what is good or bad, people do.

    Same goes for abortion, science may inform the debate it doesn’t say what is good or right.

    On the discriminations, I assume you mean discrimination against homosexuals for being homosexual and discrimination against women based on their being women, science doesn’t even look at these. We may count them as bad but many succesful cultures haven’t and many succesful cultures have. There is no ought from science.

    The vaccination issue can be shown, scientifically, to be a general good (pre-supposing that your aim is to prevent the spread of diseases). But in a society where individualism is lauded we should expect selfishness to be prevalent and so people ignore the common good for personal reasons. Obviously some people make a good living spouting lies as well, but the argument that a 1 in 10000 risk to your child is acceptable isn’t an easy sell in todays western societies.

    All those things you say are part of a cultural war are opinions. Your opinion may win, it may not. Either way society will change and science doesn’t say if the change is for good or ill. You do, I do, we all do and we won’t always agree that your desires for society are the best.

    Society won’t be damaged (though some people may be damaged), it will just be changed.

    If it survives in its new form it can be called succesful, however abhorrent it may be in your or my eye.

  55. gillt

    Mooney: “Again, not all the religious are enemies of science.”

    I’ll interpret that to mean “not all religions,” because claiming NAs think all religious people are enemies of science is an embarrassingly dumb thing to have committed to public record.

    However, the fix only makes the statement a slightly less inaccurate representation of what NAs have been saying for years. So it’s sad that a communications expert doesn’t listen.

    Deism and pantheism (maybe Buddhism) are not always, and possibly never, enemies of science. And I’m not sure if every aspect of any single religion is an enemy of science. Much of it is irrelevant to science. These are some of the gradations Mooney hastily brushes over when he’s attempting to be on message.

    What is an enemy of science (and not only science but free thought and reason) are fundamentalist forms of religion. That I hope we can all agree on. What is an enabler of this enemy of science is the deference shown all religions, including moderate religion. When it’s polite or politically expedient or necessary to point this out and how much and how often is open for flame-waring.

  56. bilbo

    My point is if liberal/moderate catholics have good moderate views on for e.g. contraceptives then why does the Vatican still have its old rigid nonsensical views?

    Other options, of course, include that the Vatican is led by hardliners and/or more conservative ideologues that don’t reflect some (or evne most) moderates’ very good ideas (note that I’m not saying this is the case – this is just another of your “options,” since we seem to be brainstorming or something in lieu of anything evidentiary now). This argument from you is akin to your earlier “if there are anti-creationism moderates, then how is it possible to have creationist Republican presidential candidates?” argument that was, seemingly, trying to nullify the existence of moderates with views beneficial to science.

    The problem here is that you’re arguing from assumption: “if X is true, then why does Y happen?” – when, of course, Y is only tangentially tied to X as a qualifying assumption for the validity of X. This is a very tired old form of flawed logic that New Atheists lap up like the Holy Grail. You see it all the time, in things like “if God exists, then amputees should be able to grow back their limbs. But amputees can’t grow back their limbs, so God doesn’t exist.” Reductio ad absurdum isn’t the most logical way to argue these things. There are better, REALLY logical ways to do it. How about we stick to them?

  57. bilbo

    Chris has a somewhat valid point in #54 that I somewhat agree with. Most of the “debate” over points raised by Deepak are mainly ethical issues, with the actual science debated by only fundamentalist science quacks. Many, many people are against stem cell research for ethical reasons, for example, while still being wholly capable of comprehending and accepting the scientific procedures and implications involved.

    *tired old disclaimer* I’m not aligning my opinions with the ones I outline above. I’m simply pointing out the reality of the issue.

  58. Milton C.

    What is an enemy of science (and not only science but free thought and reason) are fundamentalist forms of religion. That I hope we can all agree on. What is an enabler of this enemy of science is the deference shown all religions, including moderate religion.

    OK gillt, here’s a counterpoint to that statement. When getting past the “deference” shown to religions and opening the door for criticism (which I have no problem doing), do you feel that it makes a difference to criticize via logical takedown devoid of personal attacks or just to sneer and spit and gnash your teeth, ending with “go f*** yourself with a rusted nine-iron, or go and drink poison and die. You are worthless.”?

    You already know where many of us (including myself) stand on that issue, and that’s really what the discussion boils down to, at least for me: the nature and context of the criticism is what makes the difference between being able to have disagreement and dialogue concurrently or throwing up ideological walls and hurling poo as entertainment. What’s your opinion (sparing us, of course, the predictable and inevitable “you’re lying, counchfainting, pearlclutching, evil, disingenuous, and not intellectually honest)?

  59. Deepak Shetty

    @Chris
    Stem cell research – What exactly is the opposition to stem cell research. Is that opposition a scientific proposition or not?
    Abortion- What exactly is the opposition to abortion? Is that opposition a scientific proposition or not
    Vaccination- What exactly is the opposition to vaccination? Is that opposition a scientific proposition or not
    Admittedly science may not have any views on whether something is good or bad – but if someone is making a proposition that say you are destroying a soul, then the existence or absence of a soul is a scientific proposition.

    I admit discrimination against gays/females are better framed as rational v/s religious but these are harmful and perhaps more so than the teaching of evolution.

  60. Deepak Shetty

    @Chris
    Separately
    “If it survives in its new form it can be called succesful, however abhorrent it may be in your or my eye. ”
    Is this truly your view ? The success or failure of a society is determined by its survival.?

  61. Deepak Shetty

    @Milton C
    “You already know where many of us (including myself) stand on that issue”
    Actually I dont exactly. Lets say P.Z. myers drives a rusty nail through a consecrated cracker given the context of the harassed student. Catholics express outrage and demand Myers be sacked. What do you think?
    Can PZ do what he did? Is it harmful? If so should he be sacked?
    That will tell me where you stand on the deference to religion thing.

  62. Milton C.

    There’s hyperbole and worthlessness on both sides on your example, Deepak. PZ’s gesture was nothing more than an attempt to enrage and inflame and generally provoke primitive emotion (rage from believers, giddy cheers from nonbelievers, and attention for PZ), and the response of many Catholics (and others) was completely over-the-top, as well – including the calls for him to be “sacked.”

    My problem isnt with the simple fact that people use over-the-top rhetoric (which, of course, seems to be where you thought my opinion would lie beforehand). My problem, personally, is the fact that they do so with a total disregard for said rhetoric’s implications. As a hypothetical, if you have a problem with the beliefs of another person, the only reason you would choose to express that criticism by making a video of yourself pissing on a photo of their deity while engaging in a chorus of forced cackling over a simple yet effective logical takedown devoid of hyperbole and showmanship is if your entire intent to begin with has nothing to do with advancing science but performing for yor like-minded buddies and trying to make people mad. Most New Atheists only know how (or want) to proceed by random variations of the former example, however, and that’s where problems begin for science communication.

    New Atheists as a norm (and it is quickly becoming apparent that you are included here) seem to have a hard time understanding how “your beliefs are irrational and illogical. Here’s why…” and “Go f*** yourself in the ass – long and hard – and die, you deluded, genocidal f***wit, becuase that’s all you’re good for” are different statements that lead to different outcomes. Too many NAs pretend that those are equivalent statements and/or gestures. They are not.

  63. TB

    Why thank you, Deepak, for showing that you misquoted me!

    42.   Deepak: Spend the time finding new atheists who have said “Abandon religion to practise science”

    51.   Deepak ” Misquote? Your words “In those instances where the two goals conflict (such as in the idea that one has to give up religion in order to accept science) ”

  64. TB

    @ 56. bilbo

    Of course the easiest answer is that the leaders of the Catholic church are not chosen by the membership – it’s not a representational government.

  65. Passerby

    I don’t doubt that there are moderate religious people. But I also don’t doubt that they are like moderate Republicans; either non-existent, an infinitesimally tiny minority, or a significant number that, through its general failure to stand up to the extremists, is effectively as good as non-existent.

  66. Deepak Shetty

    @Milton C
    Is pissing on a deity’s photograph the same as drawing the unpicturisable prophet? I didnt ask you for PZ motivations, Im merely asking is he within his rights to desecrate any sacred object since he doesnt find them sacred.
    “seem to have a hard time understanding how are different statements that lead to different outcomes.”
    Noone argues that they arent different . The argument was whether the latter can be construed to be violent/rape/sexual abuse – but thats already been done to death.
    I dont believe profanities add anything to a debate and active subtract from it, but thats far different from saying profanities are the same as implied violence and abuse. Only a couple of examples lie in that category (one of which was a troll to the blog, not a regular)

    Differing outcomes is a different proposition. But yes , please provide evidence for when careful , logical, patient reasoning has converted say a YEC ? Why not go to Ray Comforts blog and demonstrate?

  67. gillt

    Milton: “There’s hyperbole and worthlessness on both sides on your example, Deepak. PZ’s gesture was nothing more than an attempt to enrage and inflame and generally provoke primitive emotion (rage from believers, giddy cheers from nonbelievers, and attention for PZ),”

    We know where you stand on that issue. Firmly in the misrepresentation/Mooney/framing camp. Good on you.

  68. Deepak Shetty

    @TB
    ha ha ha. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

  69. gillt

    @ Milton. You concerns are noted, but in American culture, we are not at the point of getting past religious deference. In fact, we are no where near that point. Additionally, bringing up the worst example (obviously in your mind) of a groups language and intentionally conflating that with their opinion or views on, say, religion is transparently specious. If you would like to make the case that subscribing to New Atheism turns you into a potty-mouth then fine, point awarded.

    Milton C.: “do you feel that it makes a difference to criticize via logical takedown devoid of personal attacks or just to sneer and spit and gnash your teeth, ending with “go f*** yourself with a rusted nine-iron, or go and drink poison and die. You are worthless.”?”

    It doesn’t surprise me that you would rather it be the simpler black and white, either/or dichotomy you describe here. Either we must always be gentlemen and women or if not we are automatically atrocious misogynists.

    As far as I can tell, NA’s do both, “logical take-d0wn” and “sneering” at their opponents. Sometimes (gasp) simultaneously!

  70. Deepak Shetty

    @bilbo
    It isnt tangential its the same issue e.g. contraceptives , why if a majority of Catholics have an opinion is the SAME opinion not shared by the Vatican , the definers of the things that Catholics must believe?. The options you have given are symptoms. Why does the vatican have more conservatives or hardliners? Why are representatives not elected ? Why dont the representatives represent the view of the majority?
    All of them lead you down to either the majority doesn’t have the view or they don’t care enough about the view to see it as official position. Or you might believe as the New Atheists do that religion itself is corrupted and cant be changed whatever the opinion of the majority followers!

  71. TB

    I’m not sure Deepak passes the turing test.

  72. Milton C.

    It doesn’t surprise me that you would rather it be the simpler black and white, either/or dichotomy you describe here. Either we must always be gentlemen and women or if not we are automatically atrocious misogynists.

    As far as I can tell, NA’s do both, “logical take-d0wn” and “sneering” at their opponents. Sometimes (gasp) simultaneously!

    Actually, when you consider my original quote (an important part of which you included but overlooked), it is black and white. Why? Because a “logical takedown devoid of personal attacks” can’t be a logical takedown devoid of personal attacks if it has, well, personalized attacks and rhetoric attached to it.

    So, if you’d like to answer my question (“do those two forms of criticism lead to different outcomes?”), then I’ll be more than obliged
    to discuss the implications of just tacking on a snippet of logic to an invective and saying “See? I was logical before I told you the world would be better off without you and that you should violently die after you savage yourself and your infant daughter with a nine iron, so the invectives are nullified!”

    Additionally, bringing up the worst example (obviously in your mind) of a groups language and intentionally conflating that with their opinion or views on, say, religion is transparently specious.

    “Transparently specious?” Really? Because, unless I’m mistaken, it was you (gillt) who said about those ‘worst examples’ that (verbatim) “at least they’re being intellectually honest.”

    So….let me get this straight. By your own words in your last *finger-wagging* post, comparing violent invective and nasty language to one’s opinion on religion is “conflating,” should be avoided, and is presumably intellectually dishonest. But ALSO by your own words, violent invective and nasty language are awesome because they most truly reflect one’s opinion on religion and are intellectually honest.

    So before we continue, could you let me know which gillt I’m talking to? Is it the gillt that wags his finger and scolds those who compare violent, hateful invective with opinions on religion, or is it the gillt that applauds those who use violent, hateful invective because they most correctly and honestly reflect one’s opinion on religion? Or, alternatively, is this just the gillt who is talking out of both sides of his mouth (or mouth and ass concurrently) because in one exmaple a New Atheist is comparing the two while, in the other, a NA critic is comparing the two….and, as we all know, one must always offer unwvering support for an NA and unwaverign scorn for a NA critic.

    I need to know what your value system du jour is so I can keep things straight, and avoid making the mistake of assuming I’m talking to one gillt over the other. Thanks.

  73. bilbo

    The options you have given are symptoms

    huh? You mean the options YOU gave? Are you now me?

    Why does the vatican have more conservatives or hardliners? Why are representatives not elected ? Why dont the representatives represent the view of the majority?

    Doublt “huh?” I suppose you missed my ENTIRE comment in lieu of reading only what you wanted out of it. Try again.

    All of them lead you down to either the majority doesn’t have the view or they don’t care enough about the view to see it as official position. Or you might believe as the New Atheists do that religion itself is corrupted and cant be changed whatever the opinion of the majority followers!

    Apparently, now stating a logical fallacy thrice makes it true and not fallacious at all!

    Are you a bot in disguise, Deepak? If I press ‘1’, how does your flowchart tell you to respond?

  74. Deepak Shetty

    @bilbo
    Do you even read what you have written?.
    Im done feeding you.

  75. Schaffaeri

    Oh me oh my, it looks like we’re about to enter another “what’s so wrong with acting like a jackass?” tirade.

    For those who seem perplexed about those who say that violent and hateful rhetoric can obscure the goal of science communication, I lead you to post 10 above. It’s an anecdote, yes, and only that. But it’s hardly the only one I’ve heard.

    To be clear: I’m an atheist myself. I loathe religion. There’s nothing worse than an irrational thinker…especially one who justifies their irrationality with gods. But, we’re being irrational ourselves is we think that – as scientists, educators, bloggers, and others who are advocating in any forum or media in the name of science – that the tone and tenor of our criticism cannot (and does not) occasionally ruin the substance of our message and turn some people off to science and rationality that might not already be that far from it.

    “you do not have the right to not be offended” – that much is very true. But we also should not believe that going out of our way to see who can be the most offensive, for little effect other than attention-getting, doesn’t have consequences.

  76. Paul Smith

    religious moderates are like political moderates. They keep the thugs, looking respectable. There is nothing respectable about political force and nothing respectable about mental force: ie religion. Yes, we live in a religious society; and for millenia the world was thought the center of the universe and the sun carried by a god on a chariot. What does THAT have to do with reality??
    PS

  77. S Dorst

    I notice that there is an awful lot of name-calling going on in this “discussion.” Why is it that web discussions always devolve into personal animosities and diatribes? I read the article, and thought it would be worthy of discussion. Then I read the posts following it and realized that there is no way to have a reasonable discussion in this setting. Everyone is too busy feeling hurt and offended by what someone else said, and then retaliating.

  78. Deepak Shetty

    @Dorst
    Thats because most people(including me) have not come to have a discussion in its true sense, we’ve either come to have a debate or to back pat people with similar views.
    What people are looking for is to convince others that they are right and score some points while doing so.

  79. gillt

    My calm and collected reply to the bitter Milton had been censored. C’est La Vie

  80. Deepak Shetty

    @gillt
    Its Probably under moderation. Ive seen weird behavior where an innocuous comment gets stuck for a long time in moderation whereas some others go through immediately. But they like it this way :).

  81. gillt

    Yes, but at The Intersection you’re supposed to accuse one blogger of censoring comments and another blogger of endorsing comments because they don’t censor them.

    That’s how it works here.

  82. Stu

    Im merely asking is he within his rights to desecrate any sacred object since he doesnt find them sacred.

    I hold the sidewalk outside your front door sacred, and threading on it is sacrilege.

  83. Stu

    That was supposed to be “treading”, of course. Although “threading” on it is actually a mortal sin, punishable by death by drowning in custard.

  84. Monotropa

    Im merely asking is he within his rights to desecrate any sacred object since he doesnt find them sacred.

    I thought the question here wasn’t what one’s “rights” were when it comes to criticism but was instead about whether or not the outcome of criticism can differ depending on the criticism’s nature. Those are two very different questions. Perhaps the reason the “pro-vehemency” lobby is shifting to this strawman is because they already know the answer to the latter, more relevant question.

    I suppose I could be labeled an antireligious atheist, and I LOVE debating *and taking down* the highly irrational arguments of religious people. But I’ve got enough baseline intelligence and a knowledge of how humans interact to understand that just because I have a right to be nasty doesn’t mean that my nasty comments get excused from having any negative consequences. That’s what this entire issue is about: not if one should speak rhetoric, but about what the consequences are when one does.

    I’ve long been a fan of the “New Atheists” like PZ Myers (although I DESPISE the label), but I’m growing quite tired of what is rapidly becoming this incessant drivel about excusing certain kinds of rhetoric from having any consequences just because “that’s what I think.” A true rationalist should have the mental capacity to understand cause and effect in a human society, not just be an angry screaming mouth with a halfwit’s brain that is impotent at grasping the concept of consequence.

  85. Milton C.

    I’ve got enough baseline intelligence and a knowledge of how humans interact to understand that just because I have a right to be nasty doesn’t mean that my nasty comments get excused from having any negative consequences. That’s what this entire issue is about: not if one should speak rhetoric, but about what the consequences are when one does…A true rationalist should have the mental capacity to understand cause and effect in a human society, not just be an angry screaming mouth with a halfwit’s brain that is impotent at grasping the concept of consequence.

    Precisely. Of course, if you only listen to the ones actually engaging in such rhetoric, you’d think we’re just trying to stifle any and all general dissent rather than criticizing certain, nasty forms of it. Rarely have I ever seen a group whose mantra is “no one is immune from criticism” take up the mantle that they, of course, are immune from criticism and that, in fact, “criticism” means “shut up altogether.”

    Groupthink is marvelous at whitewashing like that, though….

  86. Deepak Shetty

    @monotropa.
    Sorry that was my mistake , I should not have used within his rights, because he obviously is, its not illegal to do what P.Z. did. (And yes given the context , I totally agree that this is an effective form of protest)

    “whether or not the outcome of criticism can differ depending on the criticism’s nature.”
    Yes obviously it can but not necessarily in the sense people mean (between acceptance and rejection of the criticism) . The view point people express is that criticism of the nature P.Z. did in crackergate (and again they ignore context of that action in a lot of places or it gets a perfunctory mention) turns away moderates who might have been willing to deal otherwise. I don’t believe there is evidence one way or another for that proposition other than anecdotal. When asked to demonstrate this by choosing a pig headed creationist or any moderate on a view that he holds reasonably strongly, the challenges mostly go unmet. You can see this in numerous debates too. A reasoned argument might demolish a foolish one , but how often does the person making the foolish argument admit he’s wrong? If at all he admits he lost the debate , its because he didn’t argue it well.
    The other viewpoint people here keep putting forth the argument that the actions of the few tarnish the lot (e.g. if a few commentators use highly incendiary rhetoric) its the entire Pharyngula community at fault and somehow this also tarnishes seed media and science blogs.

  87. Monotropa

    The other viewpoint people here keep putting forth the argument that the actions of the few tarnish the lot (e.g. if a few commentators use highly incendiary rhetoric) its the entire Pharyngula community at fault and somehow this also tarnishes seed media and science blogs.

    I’m a member of the ‘Pharyngula community,’ Deepak, and I’ll very readily admit that the childish rhetoric of a few of the commenters there does indeed tarnish the lot. And in reading back through the history of comments about Pharyngula in recent threads, I haven’t really seen anyone peg anything explicitly on the “entire community.” Has there been some pretty blatant whitewashing and use of fifth-rate debate tactics in these discussions? Hell yes. But that activity has been a two-way street. The only explicit criticism I’ve seen pointed at Pharyngula has been pointed at individual examples and comments and at PZ, both directly and indirectly. The extrapolations to the entire community are *mostly* intellectually false and have been taken out of context…and remember: this is coming from a member of the community. There are a couple of commenters here that have a grudge to uphold against Pharyngula in general, but they’re hardly the norm.

    In terms of how ‘the actions of a few tarnish the lot,’ look at it this way: during the health care debate this past weekend, the stupid actions of a few extremists who decided to hurl racial and other slurs at Democratic congressmen got extrapolated to the entire conservative movement, despite the fact that more than a few conservatives actively condemned the rhetoric. This is human nature. If I say “I disagree with religion because it accepts tenets without evidence and leads to grossly uninformed and incorrect assertions about the nature of the world,” but you say “Religious people are ignorant fucktards, deserve to be beaten for believing certain things, and should go die a painful death so they can prevent the spread of their idiotic genes through the world,” which of those forms of disagreement do you think will get the most attention? If I say “We need to lessen the grip of religion on society,” but you say “Someone needs to slit your idiotic god’s throat from ear to ear while laughing,” which do you think will get the most attention? It’s hardly a secret that two phrases can mean identical things at their core but reach different conclusions, implications, and consequences in the mind of the person at which the comments are aimed. The simple fact that both express a similar opinion does not in any way nullify these differences in consequence. Thinking otherwise is patently foolish and not logical in the remotest.

    Scientists like myself have a primary rule to live by when we’re trying (emphasis on that word) to communicate science: “know your audience.” You won’t get a job in academia if you can’t follow this rule (if you doubt me, trying giving a job talk in the same context and fashion as you would a talk to a group of specialists in your field and see what happens). You also won’t last long in the teaching field if you refuse to acknowledge the limitations and background of your individual cohorts of students.

    Many people that comment against “communication strategy” here and elsewhere pretend that this rule applies everywhere BUT the public sphere. Surprise, folks: you’re wrong – especially if our goal is to increase scientific thinking and scientific awareness in the giant, mindless machine that is the public sphere. Criticizing religion is an absolute must very often in the world of communicating evolution, but that doesn’t mean that we should address a mixed bag of believers with the same profanity, violent rhetoric, and invectives that we would our small, close-knit group of nonbeliever friends when we’re halfway into a night of drunken revelry. The argument against this is often: “the evidence is only anecdotal!” Yes – but that goes both ways also. We have about as much evidence to say that ignoring context is an abject failure as we do to claim that is a phenomenal success. In my 20-plus year tenure as a scientist teaching evolution, I’ve seen a LOT of colleagues fall into the trap of forgetting context, and they’ve lost audiences because of it, and they’ve missed opportunities to really spread the word of scientific thinking. I’ve fallen into that trap myself, too, so I know that consequences are real….despite the cries we hear otherwise here.

    To quote someone from much earlier in this thread, ignoring this is absolutely “a fool’s bargain.”

  88. Petra

    @ Monotropa:

    *APPLAUSE*

    Well said, sir (or madam)!

  89. Milton C.

    Criticizing religion is an absolute must very often in the world of communicating evolution, but that doesn’t mean that we should address a mixed bag of believers with the same profanity, violent rhetoric, and invectives that we would our small, close-knit group of nonbeliever friends when we’re halfway into a night of drunken revelry.

    Ditto Petra. That was a very well-written and realistic post, Monotropa. We could indeed use more of a listener-centered criticism that is aware of context than an context-ignorant, “shoot first and defend your rhetoric later” brand of criticism that does nothing but play to your own sideline.

    Bravo!

  90. bilbo

    (…begins counting down how long it will take for someone to blow Monotropa’s very balanced post into a false claim that he/she is saying that others should “shut up” with all criticisms….)

    I guarantee it won’t be long.

  91. GM

    1. Wayne Says:
    March 22nd, 2010 at 10:45 am

    I have to say I may have to agree here. For the sake of science, I know of people who are regular church going people, and they are firm believers in the advancement of science.

    This does not make them any less antiscientific. It is like saying that 2-year old corpses are less dead than 2-day old ones. Once you have you rationality amputated, it is gone forever and whether you yourself think you respect science does not it make it so

    3. Christine Says:
    March 22nd, 2010 at 11:30 am
    I am a Christian and I am fascinated with science and its discoveries and advancements. I’m not sure if I’m a fundamentalist, or moderate Christian. I am fully convinced of my beliefs and strive to practice them daily. At the same time, I do not believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive.

    They are 100% incompatible. Your problem is that you have a completely wrong understanding of what science is – science is not the facts about the universe we have discovered, it is the method through which we have discovered them. You can build any sort of belief system around the facts. What defines science and distinguishes it from other human activities is its epistemology. The set of epistemological rules that science has is supposed to adhere to makes it incompatible with any sort of irrational thinking and superstition

    5. JP Says:
    March 22nd, 2010 at 12:56 pm
    Nonetheless, humans are naturally spiritually-inclined. It is among the many things that differentiate us from other animals (for better or for worse).

    Uh, no, actually it is the very primal animal instinct that we all share that make most of us susceptible to superstition. What has separated us from other animals has been the slow process of better understanding of the world around us, which eventually evolved into what we today call science

    14. Milton C. Says:
    March 22nd, 2010 at 4:50 pm
    If you’re a true advocate for science, you should be praising those who accept evolution, regardless of belief – not broadbrushing them as creationists and trying to marginalize them.

    Science != evolution. In fact in the big scheme of things it matters very little whether people understand evolution compared to the importance of cultivating a population that shares the way of thinking that naturally leads to acceptance of evolution. Because this is much bigger than evolution, and it is nothing more than severe shortsightedness and misunderstanding of the real nature of the clash to limit yourself to this issue, which is unfortunately what even a lot of the New Atheists are doing

    30. Bob S. Says:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 8:54 am
    …to put this marginally (and I mean, REALLY marginally) back on-topic, examples like this one are why many of us “moderate” atheists don’t give people like Coyne the time of day. It’s because he’ll make a selfrighteous, faux-outraged “stand” against the NAS because they’re letting a group of non-scientists (well, some scientists included, actually) use their Great Hall. And that would be fine…..if he didn’t paint the Great Hall as some ultra-secular bastion of science, when its really full of religious imagery

    In fact you do have a point here, but its implications are exactly the opposite to what you were aiming at. The harsh truth is that fundamental (not fundamentalist) anti-intellectualism anti-science attitudes are widespread even among the member of NAS – I’ve said this many times before, but a lot of those people, for all their achievement and contribution to the advancement and enrichment of the body of scientific knowledge that’s out there, are in the same time very often nothing more but managers and businessmen for whom the philosophical aspects of science (which is as I said above, what actually defines science)

    20. Adexterc Says:
    March 22nd, 2010 at 10:55 pm
    I feel a little like a lamb in a pack of wolves, but I have to ask a question. If the Universe is totally materialistic and rational, where does love exist? Can it only be lust or hormones? I have loved my wife for 40+ years; lust, well may be I can remember that. But I love her. Are you going to tell me you can find that in my neurons?

    Absolutely. What you perceive and wish things to be and things actually are aren’t necessarily the same thing. Basic intellectual honesty. What some people call love is a particular state in which your brain finds itself that has evolved to facilitate reproduction of the species so that the genome of your predecessors could have made more copies of itself. Grow up

    39. Lindsay Says:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 10:31 am
    Here’s a question for people:
    It seems like many people who favor Accommodationism have similar experiences, or at least see the value of reaching out to religious people, while many of the New Atheist types don’t. I wonder if these types of experiences underpin the differences in these two approaches?

    It’s not about any “approach” or about being nice to people, it is about basic intellectual honesty and proper reasoning. Feeling are irrelevant when we talk about facts. And it’s also about the survival of the species but I am not sure that even most of the “New Atheists” realize that

    40. Milton C. Says:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 11:14 am
    It’s important to remember that a “New Atheist” is always interested in killing religion first. Reaching out to others about science comes as a secondary goal….although they often conflate the two. If you’ve broadbrushed religion as your mortal enemy, then of course working with the religious is automatically off the table.

    You could only say that if you have no idea what you’re talking about when you mention the word “science”. It is not about getting the morons in the South to accept evolution, it is about people starting to use proper reasoning, which is what religion is the opposite of.

  92. Deepak Shetty

    “I’ll very readily admit that the childish rhetoric of a few of the commenters there does indeed tarnish the lot”
    Really? So by that logic all Christians are tarnished, given the events of the pass few days, and all Republicans are tarnished, and all fiscal conservatives are tarnished, and all Muslims are tarnished.
    See how that reasoning works?

    “I haven’t really seen anyone peg anything explicitly on the “entire community.”
    Did you miss the entire thread here on intersection on the value of ScienceBlogs?. Find out all objections that refer to the Pharyngula blog/community/commenters v/s those that explicitly say a few commenters. Why exactly is the value of ScienceBlogs being called into question if its just a few people Ms Kirshenbaum is objecting too?

    “But that activity has been a two-way street.”
    Of course.

    “The extrapolations to the entire community are *mostly* intellectually false and have been taken out of context”
    ah there we go again. A polite way of saying my statements are lies? Ive read the thread and participated in it. Ive drawn my conclusions. You are welcome to draw yours. If you believe that it adds to the discussion by questioning my intellectual honesty, then you really should have no objection with people who punctuate their sentences with various profanities.
    How was that for a taste of your own medicine?

    “and remember: this is coming from a member of the community”
    Well Im not a member of the Pharyngula community (I might have posted there maybe 2-3 times). So it cancels out.

    “There are a couple of commenters here that have a grudge to uphold against Pharyngula in general, but they’re hardly the norm.”
    Really? And Mooney and Kirshenbaum are fair about P.Z.? (and yes PZ isn’t fair either).

    “that doesn’t mean that we should address a mixed bag of believers with the same profanity, violent rhetoric, and invectives ”
    For the moment let me concede that profanity doesn’t add anything and might subtract from your argument (my opinion , not fact). Violent rhetoric is a misrepresentation , if you want to hear violent rhetoric, I can give you links to some fundamentalist politician/religious nutcases. From my entire reading of everything that was posted here after a furious googling session, exactly two can be considered violent in my opinion. But lets grant you that too. No more profanity and violent rhetoric. But lets see what can we say.
    a. Can we demand that the Pope /Bishops involved in the coverup be arrested?
    b. Can we draw cartoons of the unidolisable propthet?
    c. Can we poke nails through consecrated crackers to prove a point to people harassing a student?
    d. Can we criticise Francis Collins for some of his nutty views?
    e. Can we say that people who literally believe in transubstantiation are delusional?
    If not why not? If yes, then these are equally offensive to some moderate religious people .

    “The argument against this is often: “the evidence is only anecdotal!” Yes – but that goes both ways also”
    Obviously yes, otherwise I would have said the evidence suggests otherwise. However on whom does the onus lie? if X says Y is harming a common cause, does X have to present the evidence or does Y have to defend himself? A similar example is that some new atheists believe accomodationism harms the cause of science (some only object to the neutrality of NCSE). In this case if the evidence is anecdotal, then is the onus on the New atheists to prove their case or on the accomodationists to defend themselves.

    “In my 20-plus year tenure as a scientist teaching evolution, I’ve seen a LOT of colleagues fall into the trap of forgetting context, and they’ve lost audiences because of it”
    And because you are so wise and worldly(sarcasm is probably so much more offensive than profanity is it not?), please demonstrate how you convince a moderate religious person. Lets take Francis Collins, a scientist, loved by the religious, and by all accounts an able administrator. Convince him that his fine tuning argument (I trust you think that the fine tuning argument is bogus) is incorrect. Any moderate person who has a preheld strongly held and wrong view would do . I don’t want you to list your students because I assume they would have had a reasonably open mind and you have the luxury of time and a teacher-student relationship with them which helps. And yes this demonstration would still be anecdotal, but I would concede that you are right.

    A common example quoted is Carl Sagan, who I absolutely admire, but how many people did he convince with his abortion argument? How many religious moderate people has he convinced by his dragon in a garage argument?
    There is this myth that is being spread that if the scientists were effective communicators and recognised context, the problem of scientific ignorance in the world would be significantly reduced.

    And yes I have intentionally been far more sarcastic and harsh then I would have to someone who responded as you did to prove that absence of profanity/violent rhetoric and invective do not add or subtract much in a strong disagreement. I doubt I could irritate you more by liberally adding four letter words.

  93. Schaffaeri

    Feeling are irrelevant when we talk about facts

    That is, quite possibly, the single most ignorant and irrational statement that’s ever been posted in a comment on The Intersection. (Yes, that’s including posts from creotards, too.)

    Why? Well, the statement itself may not be factually incorrect, because you certainly are still right if you’re talking about, for example, evolution to a creationist. In that sense, the facts are still true whether or not you’re having a calm discussion, a vigorous debate, or one in which you’re letting yourself spew violent epithets referencing murder and rape, and generally acting like a 12-year-old.

    But that statement is so ignorant because, while making it, GM appears oblivious to the fact that despite his multiple calls throughout his 8-paragraph “you’re all wrong” tirade for us to communicate the utility of empiricism and reason to others, he has just deemed that this very communication that he so stresses is “irrelevant.”

    Well, surprise, GM! As Monotropa said earlier, “A true rationalist should have the mental capacity to understand cause and effect in a human society.” I hate to break it to you (you might have already noticed this), but simply stating facts to humans – even to the most rational and godless ones! – is not an effective strategy for spreading an idea most of the time, especially if your only argument is “it’s a fact,” and even MORE especially if you think that those humans will overlook your hateful epithets just because there’s a fact couched somewhere deep within them.

    Us humans hold stubbornly to ideas and opinions, GM, most stubbornly when someone attacks us vehemently and childishly rather than engaging through debate. If you really want to spread reason, per your repeated claims above (and I’m with you on this goal), then you need to use reason and acknowledge the reality that is the inherent nature of human society and the different strategies that are necessary to communicate with them – no matter how obvious or clear a fact may be.

    I’m not arguing that we should always be “nice” to people thinking irrationally. Far, far from it. But I AM arguing that we need to drop this unmitigated bullshit that all approaches to communicating science and reason to other humans are equivalent to one another and lack consequences are long as the same facts are nested somewhere within them. If anything is a fool’s argument, utterly devoid of logic and reason, this flase equivalency claim is most certainly it.

    You may continue living in your idealistic dream-world where strategy doesn’t matter because everyone changes their mind using “facts,” GM. But I choose to continue living in the inconvenient, real world where it does.

  94. bilbo

    For the sake of science, I know of people who are regular church going people, and they are firm believers in the advancement of science.

    This does not make them any less antiscientific. It is like saying that 2-year old corpses are less dead than 2-day old ones. Once you have you rationality amputated, it is gone forever and whether you yourself think you respect science does not it make it so

    …and there is that tired, stupid, old false dilemma again: “If someone thinks irrationally some of the time (even most of the time), they cannot ever think rationally again about anything.” Even my atheist-scientist, ultraempiricist friends kill this flawed logic when they continually argue, despite repeated facts, stats, and records that prove otherwise, that their football team is the best one this season.

    Why is it that those touting logic and reason the most self-righteously are the ones that always seem to spew forth this type of drivel that is clearly not grounded in either logic or reason?

  95. Monotropa

    For the sake of science, I know of people who are regular church going people, and they are firm believers in the advancement of science.

    This does not make them any less antiscientific. It is like saying that 2-year old corpses are less dead than 2-day old ones. Once you have you rationality amputated, it is gone forever and whether you yourself think you respect science does not it make it so

    Whoa. Ignorance exemplified. Riddle me this, GM:

    I despise Francis Collins for his blending of science with woo, but you just took it one step further by implying that he does not respect science and is, in reality, thinking irrationally when helping lead some really incredible feats of science like the HGP. You also just implied that when Ken Miller was testifying at Dover against creationists (albeit espousing some opinions I find unsavory), he was actually on the creationists’ side? (You also just implied that my hypothetical religious grandmother is incapable of thinking rationally about anything because she has an irrational belief in a god.)

    Pardon me for asking this as nicely as possible, but what in the hell do you think you’re talking about? I get your point that we need to go beyond an acceptance of science to a more scientific *way of thinking,* but your claim of “once an irrational thinker on any topic, you cannot use rational thinking on any topic” is patently false. Humans can use extraordinarily rational thinking in some lines of thought while using some equally extraordinarily irrational thinking on others, no matter how false their irrational claims may be. Holding irrational claims (about religion, about vaccinations, about sports teams, about seeing a UFO) does not, by any form of nonfallacious logic, lead to universal irrationality.

    You talk about reason, GM. Try using it. Correctly.

  96. Deepak Shetty

    @Monotropa
    Im curious , can a person who lies say 10% of the time call himself truthful?

  97. Monotropa

    Not necessarily, Deepak. But even habitual liars are not immune from telling (and accepting) truths.

    The relevant point here is in the statement I just wrote. Yours is a distortion of the initial issue (“a religious person can’t ever truly accept science because they’re religious”)…but, it’s a clever arguing tactic.

    Stay on-point more, and I’ll be glad to keep discussing things with you.

  98. Chris

    59. Deepak Shetty Says:
    @Chris
    Stem cell research – What exactly is the opposition to stem cell research. Is that opposition a scientific proposition or not?
    Abortion- What exactly is the opposition to abortion? Is that opposition a scientific proposition or not
    Vaccination- What exactly is the opposition to vaccination? Is that opposition a scientific proposition or not

    You’re missing the point. The questions aren’t scientific. The questions you posit are moral or ethical.

    On the vaccination issue.
    If you decide not to vaccinate your children because of a 1 in 10,000 chance (so scientific research may inform us. Actual figure depends on the vaccine) of damaging your children are you a good or bad parent?

    The abortion issue isn’t only “cause the bible/koran etc” say it is wrong.
    Many see it as wrong because it demeans the value of a human life, for the same reason many oppose euthanasia.
    Why is it not OK for a mother to terminate a 1 day old? It is still dependant on her. Even a 2 year old is dependant. Where do you start to value human life? Is it when it is of value to society in some way or is it projected value? If it is a value measure, do those with IQs below 60 or whatever low figure you choose have value and if so why?
    Why does murdering a pregnant woman count as two murders?

    The stem cell issue is similar in many ways to abortion, it is a human dignity issue for many. You may claim that that is stupid, silly, inane ect and that science says to your hearts content; it remains a moral or ethical decision.

    Science may inform, it doesn’t decide in such cases.

  99. Schaffaeri

    The trouble here, as usual, is that people like GM and Deepak are conflating an acceptance of religion with the realistic acknowledgement that religious people (while holding very irrational and, yes, wrong beliefs) can still think very rationally and accept scientific topics just as equally as an atheist.

    Conflating these two is horrificially irrational, misguided, and false. But, it’s one of the nasty consequences that comes from the hyperpolarization of the religion-science culture war. Atheists often have David Sloan Wilson’s “good good good or bad bad bad” mantra drilled into them: not only is there no good redeeming quality of religion, but religious believers are wholly incapable of attaining the same level of intelligent reasoning as an atheist on ANY topic, regardless of situational context. GM’s previous assertion here that religious people simply can’t engage in any form of rational thought (” Once you have you rationality amputated, it is gone forever and whether you yourself think you respect science does not it make it so”) is this woollyheaded false dilemma taken to its most ridiculous and false conclusion.

    The important thing is to remember that one can criticize, even harshly, while still acknowledging reality – and that, not just being as outspoken as possible, is truly using reason. A deeply religious person is capable of being an incredibly rational thinker and contributor to the development of something like evolutionary theory – even moreso than a similarly trained atheist! – while being wholly incorrect on other topics, like the notion of God. Should they be criticized for the latter? Absolutely. But to claim that their use of reason in the former is disingenuous or wrong simply because they are irrational otherwise is, of course, a reasonless lie.

    Until people can get past that mindnumbing and worthless conflation, we’ll continue to lose valuable allies in the fight against creationism.

  100. Deepak Shetty

    @Montropa
    “But even habitual liars are not immune from telling (and accepting) truths.”
    I never said they were, nor am I justifying what the original commenter stated (that change is not possible). My point is merely this, someone who lies some of the time may call himself truthful , but no one else would. Replace lies with irrational and truth with rational and you should arrive at the same conclusion. This is not the same as saying said person lies all the time or cannot change.

  101. Deepak Shetty

    @Chris
    “You’re missing the point. The questions aren’t scientific. The questions you posit are moral or ethical.”
    And you are carefully ignoring mine. A question can be moral or ethical and still be scientific. If the reason for opposing abortion is the presence of the soul injected by divine mechanism at conception, then that is a truth claim about the natural world. Science can and should have a say in the matter. Similarly a reason given for opposing gay’s is that it is a choice made by people as opposed to something genetic. That is also a truth claim about the natural which science can and should have a say in.
    You have proceeded to give some secular reasons for opposing some of the issues , but by no means are these mainstream ones.

  102. Chris

    60. Deepak Shetty:
    @Chris
    Separately
    “If it survives in its new form it can be called succesful, however abhorrent it may be in your or my eye. ”
    Is this truly your view ? The success or failure of a society is determined by its survival.?

    What other measure is there?

    Societies adapt or die.
    The fit are those that survive for a long time, perhaps with superficial changes such as China, and perhaps expand or influence others as China has continued to do since the seven kingdom days (it even suborned its putative conquerors).

    The fit are also those who leave lots of succesor societies that have adopted many or some of their rules and mores, such as the British Empire (even though in this case the parent society has abandoned much that made it succesful).

    If a society fails to survive or leave descendants it is a failure.

  103. Deepak Shetty

    @Schaffaeri
    “The trouble here, as usual, is that people like GM and Deepak are conflating an acceptance of religion with the realistic acknowledgement that religious people (while holding very irrational and, yes, wrong beliefs) can still think very rationally and accept scientific topics just as equally as an atheist.”
    Please provide me a single instance where I have not acknowledged that people can hold both rational and irrational views at the same time or that atheists are more rational than other folks on matters other than religion.

  104. Deepak Shetty

    @Chris
    Ah a variant of Social Darwinism?
    “If a society fails to survive or leave descendants it is a failure.”
    Are native Americans a failed society by your definition? What about the Roman and Greek societies of old. All societies exhibit significant change over time. Is that survival or death? Is that leaving descendants or not?

  105. Chris

    101. Deepak Shetty
    @Chris
    “You’re missing the point. The questions aren’t scientific. The questions you posit are moral or ethical.”
    And you are carefully ignoring mine. A question can be moral or ethical and still be scientific. If the reason for opposing abortion is the presence of the soul injected by divine mechanism at conception, then that is a truth claim about the natural world. Science can and should have a say in the matter. Similarly a reason given for opposing gay’s is that it is a choice made by people as opposed to something genetic. That is also a truth claim about the natural which science can and should have a say in.
    You have proceeded to give some secular reasons for opposing some of the issues , but by no means are these mainstream ones.

    Nope the souls existance isn’t a scientific question, unless someone has made some claim as to a material change in the recipient that ensoulment entails.

    As you know, science examines the material world and that is all it can test.

    Odd to relate, abortion wasn’t the absolute no-no in the early church, that some now claim it to be. If memory serves, in the 13th century abortion upto quickening was acceptable to the church, at least in England.
    ——————————–

    The idea that homosexuality is a choice rather than imposed by genetics isn’t actually an either or.

    There probably are genetics underlying some people being homosexual.
    However, if we look at history and the Spartans we, by your logic, have to decide that all Spartan males practiced what we would consider male homosexual acts because all of them had the homosexual genes. Point being, in Sparta male/male sex was a societal norm, it wasn’t forced by genetics, so that means that it was a choice for some Spartans.

    Now, if you accept that not all homosexuality is a genetic imposition (reference example of Sparta above) then you can’t make the absolute argument that you are trying to about science.

    In western societies it seems, at least to me, that the rights of individuals to live as they wish has made more headway on this issue than any scientific arguments.
    ————————————–

    I apologise for introducing secular arguments opposing your beliefs.
    I thought you might be interested to know that all resistance to some things you see as good aren’t religious in nature.

    They aren’t actually that uncommon amongst humanists, as their self naming may explain.

  106. Deepak Shetty

    @Chris
    “Nope the souls existance isn’t a scientific question, unless someone has made some claim as to a material change in the recipient that ensoulment entails.”
    But who says that souls are material or immaterial? What properties does a soul have and how does someone know or even guess? Because if you can *know* something , then science can verify it. Can you say dragon in the garage?

    As regards homosexuality , Im not sure what your point is. I haven’t made a claim (and do not know) whether being a homosexual is a choice or genetic. Ive merely stated one common excuse made by mostly religious people which is a scientific claim.

    Again some secular reasons can or do exist or may be conjured up in an armchair. But those arent the reasons most people give. Do you deny that?

    You also keep bringing up in your reasons ‘human dignity’. You do not follow up the question as to why do people think stem cell research research is an affront to human dignity (the same people wouldnt think twice about killing living cells or tissue e.g. cancerous ones). What makes an embryo become a matter of human dignity? Keep asking the why till you arrive at the real reason behind human dignity objections.

  107. Chris

    104. Deepak
    @Chris
    Ah a variant of Social Darwinism?
    “If a society fails to survive or leave descendants it is a failure.”
    Are native Americans a failed society by your definition? What about the Roman and Greek societies of old. All societies exhibit significant change over time. Is that survival or death? Is that leaving descendants or not?

    No, not social darwinism. Just a definition of what counts as successful.
    It is measurable and testable I guess, so is scientific.

    If a society doesn’t exist in what way can it be considered succesful today?

    What is your definition of a succesful society?

    The dinosaurs where very succesful overall, but no single species was any more succesful than any other and (apart from birds) they are no more.

    Does native american societies (there are a lot more than one you know) serve their members well? Are the societies and their culture alive or are they being suborned by the larger US culture?

    If you can name countries that have taken up a large part of Roman/Byzantium mores or laws then Rome has descendants. Note: Byzantium was the Eastern Roman Empire.

    If you can name countries that have taken up a large part of Athenian (Ancient Greece wasn’t a unified culture or society so I chose Athens as that is what many consider to be Ancient Greece) mores or laws not filtered through Rome then Ancient Greece has descendants. You may consider democracy in this context, but our version of democracy would be, literally, anathema to an Ancient Athenian.

  108. Deepak Shetty

    “What is your definition of a successful society?”
    I dont have one. Im merely asking clarification of your views(not everything is necessarily a knock down dust up !), I suspect if I had to come up with one , the well-being of the members of that society would be somewhere there.
    Is survival the only measure of success ? Are the Chinese as successful or less than some other western societies? What about societies that might have otherwise survived but were decimated by more powerful societies.?
    For greeks and romans , all i wanted to point out is what you yourself have concluded, that they do have descendants , but the descendants are completely different. In this case you cant really measure success by your definition.

    Pharyngula is a successful blog too :).

  109. GM

    3. Schaffaeri Says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 9:54 am
    Feeling are irrelevant when we talk about facts
    That is, quite possibly, the single most ignorant and irrational statement that’s ever been posted in a comment on The Intersection. (Yes, that’s including posts from creotards, too.)
    Why? Well, the statement itself may not be factually incorrect, because you certainly are still right if you’re talking about, for example, evolution to a creationist. In that sense, the facts are still true whether or not you’re having a calm discussion, a vigorous debate, or one in which you’re letting yourself spew violent epithets referencing murder and rape, and generally acting like a 12-year-old.
    But that statement is so ignorant because, while making it, GM appears oblivious to the fact that despite his multiple calls throughout his 8-paragraph “you’re all wrong” tirade for us to communicate the utility of empiricism and reason to others, he has just deemed that this very communication that he so stresses is “irrelevant.”
    Well, surprise, GM! As Monotropa said earlier, “A true rationalist should have the mental capacity to understand cause and effect in a human society.” I hate to break it to you (you might have already noticed this), but simply stating facts to humans – even to the most rational and godless ones! – is not an effective strategy for spreading an idea most of the time, especially if your only argument is “it’s a fact,” and even MORE especially if you think that those humans will overlook your hateful epithets just because there’s a fact couched somewhere deep within them.
    Us humans hold stubbornly to ideas and opinions, GM, most stubbornly when someone attacks us vehemently and childishly rather than engaging through debate. If you really want to spread reason, per your repeated claims above (and I’m with you on this goal), then you need to use reason and acknowledge the reality that is the inherent nature of human society and the different strategies that are necessary to communicate with them – no matter how obvious or clear a fact may be.
    I’m not arguing that we should always be “nice” to people thinking irrationally. Far, far from it. But I AM arguing that we need to drop this unmitigated bullshit that all approaches to communicating science and reason to other humans are equivalent to one another and lack consequences are long as the same facts are nested somewhere within them. If anything is a fool’s argument, utterly devoid of logic and reason, this flase equivalency claim is most certainly it.
    You may continue living in your idealistic dream-world where strategy doesn’t matter because everyone changes their mind using “facts,” GM. But I choose to continue living in the inconvenient, real world where it does

    FYI, I am 100% aware of the fact that the majority of people have their mental habits so hardened that it will not be at all possible to change them in any meaningful way. Where we differ is that I refuse to adopt a defeatists attitude and have the basic intellectual honesty to tell it like it is, and even though I am quite sure there isn’t much that can be done to save us from our collective ignorance, I will not keep my mouth shut about or prevent that there is not problem. Once again, this is much much bigger than religion vs evolution. It is, among other things, and from a purely practical perspective, about such things as us understanding our place in the universe, the role religion plays in preventing us from doing that, and our own extinction we are heeded towards because of our failure to achieve that understanding.

    But to reach that conclusion require a lot more education of the type you’re not likely to get in the deeply anti-intellectual environment of modern universities (even the very very top ones)

    95. Monotropa Says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 10:17 am
    Pardon me for asking this as nicely as possible, but what in the hell do you think you’re talking about? I get your point that we need to go beyond an acceptance of science to a more scientific *way of thinking,* but your claim of “once an irrational thinker on any topic, you cannot use rational thinking on any topic” is patently false. Humans can use extraordinarily rational thinking in some lines of thought while using some equally extraordinarily irrational thinking on others, no matter how false their irrational claims may be. Holding irrational claims (about religion, about vaccinations, about sports teams, about seeing a UFO) does not, by any form of nonfallacious logic, lead to universal irrationality.
    You talk about reason, GM. Try using it. Correctly.

    As usual, when I state these things, people look right past through them and don’t understand a thing. So I’ll try to do it again – imagine a lab technician who does nothing but wet work, no analysis, no intellectual work, just experiments. He/she does them incredibly well, but would you consider that person a scientist? No, because even though such people are “doing science”, the part that makes scientific activity science, is missing, and such activity is quite similar to assembly line work in a factory. On a fundamental level, it is quite similar with people like Francis Collins – they do good scientific work, but they are not thinking like scientists outside of the lab, which means that they have not adopted the scientific way of thinking and they are not “real” scientists, if we define science as a set of epsitemological rules you are supposed to follow rather than the act of collecting data and publishing papers.

    Which is why I brought up the rotten corpse analogy – once you die/start thinking irrationally, there is no coming back. Of course we all think irrationally from time to time, because that’s now our brains our wired, but some of us are at least aware of that

    99. Schaffaeri Says:
    March 25th, 2010 at 12:45 pm
    The important thing is to remember that one can criticize, even harshly, while still acknowledging reality – and that, not just being as outspoken as possible, is truly using reason. A deeply religious person is capable of being an incredibly rational thinker and contributor to the development of something like evolutionary theory – even moreso than a similarly trained atheist! – while being wholly incorrect on other topics, like the notion of God. Should they be criticized for the latter? Absolutely. But to claim that their use of reason in the former is disingenuous or wrong simply because they are irrational otherwise is, of course, a reasonless lie.

    The very act of believing of God breaks the core set of rules a scientist should never break. I rarely use analogies, because they are not a good mental habit if you are a scientist either, but I will do it again here and say that what you’re saying is equivalent to saying that just because catholic priests are preaching being good to each other, and they also engage in a lot of charity work, the fact that they rape little children doesn’t really matter

  110. Matteo

    “The very act of believing of God breaks the core set of rules a scientist should never break.”

    Spoken like a true philosophical barbarian. For those more than half-educated your statement is absolutely ludicrous. Tell it to Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Maxwell, Pasteur, and countless others. I doubt your quaint little philosophically-autistic rule would rate more than a curiously raised eyebrow from them. But, oh, I forgot, they lived before Darwin the Lightbringer brought the race out of “superstition”, so their opinion is worth precisely dick, Darwin being the new Aristotle and all.

  111. GM

    If you are claiming that believing in things for which there is absolutely no evidence for is something that’s OK for a scientist to do, then you should state it rather than bringing up the names of people who were living in an era when nothing better was known

  112. Deepak Shetty

    @Matteo
    Do you disagree that a scientific approach to God would entail asking questions like “What properties does God have?” “How does he interact with the world” “Does he perform miracles? What mechanism is used to perform miracles” “does God have to obey physical laws that we know off , can he circumvent them, are they part of him” “Does God answer prayers?Under what conditions? Which prayers are answered? Does testing prayers cause a Heisenberg effect?” “Is God Good (our definition of good)” “How did he create life?”
    Can a scientist hold the view that prayers works without performing multiple double blind tests?
    If a scientist doesn’t do this and claims God exists as his holy book tells him he does , is he following the principles of science?

    Look at Ayala. Respected by everyone including most *new* Atheists. He says God is revealed truth. By that he should be a polytheist , right? There is no proof and no way of knowing which revealed God is true or whether all are or whether none are.

    Some scientists like Ayala claim that religion and science *properly* practiced do not overlap. But this implies that religion cant make any material claims , it can only make some moral/philosophical/ethical claims for which we have no way of knowing which is objectively true or even whether the religious claim is better than the conclusion arrived using purely secular means. we only have personal experience/ anecdotes/ consensus principles to fall back on to evaluate the claims. This resembles precious few religions.

  113. Matteo

    Science is science, theology is theology. Philosophy is philosophy. It’s tiresome that so many atheists try to mix up science and theology, all from a position of philosophical ineptitude.

  114. Deepak Shetty

    @Matteo
    Its tiresome that people keep drawing these boundaries without ever explaining where these boundaries are. God cant be tested by science , Why?
    Religious accomodationists do their best to make religion untestable . I believe Sagan took care of that a long while ago.

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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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