Coyne Debunks the "Tom Johnson" Story

By Chris Mooney | July 25, 2010 4:39 pm

See here. It is a very good piece of work–and you know I don’t often agree with Coyne. I’ll have a bit more to say as soon as I can get a post together, but there really isn’t much more to say…

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Comments (60)

  1. david

    PS – Moderation is for cowards

    [COULDN’T RESIST POSTING–ed]

  2. Don in Ohio

    Chris,

    Hate to say it, but this is a big fail on your part. I hope you will admit it and re-evaluate your position about the New Atheist. Accommodation does far more damage to the cause. I suggest you read the work of Dunning and Kruger to understand why that is so.

  3. Zadonga

    Chris, I would be very interested to know, if you can tell us why you were lied to like this?

    Was this person tricking you and using you because he believes that atheists hurt science, or was he deceiving you because you are an effective voice of moderation, and he wanted to hurt the more vocal atheists, who he said were the cause?

    What were his motives?

  4. I think it would be great if you could change the disclaimer on the original post from:

    “There have been recent revelations that seriously undermine the claims of “Tom Johnson.” See here. We are looking into matters further.”

    to something a little less mealy:

    “It turns out that this story was a total fabrication perpetrated by a serial liar. If you continue to read please remember that NONE of this actually happened.”

  5. Autonomic

    I think this is very straightforward. In the original post, Chris Mooney quoted from someone who asserted a scenario where some atheist scientists “mock[ed] the religious to their face” and then said:

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

    However, it turned out that this scenario was completely fabricated.

    While his statement is fairly milquetoast (build bridges with groups that you may disagrees with to achieve shared goals), based on the title (“Counterproductive Attacks on Religion–Exhibit A”) it was fairly clear that the intent was to assert that “New Atheist” scientists were the ones being counter-productive in the religious/scientific debate. In fact the follow-up post, while being explicit about the quoted scenario being just one person’s experience, did assert that this was “in light of my many well known concerns about the New Atheist movement”.

    Since Chris does not have evidence that New Atheist scientists are engaging in counter-productive attacks on religion, in the interest of intellectual honesty he should either:
    (1) Back up his hypothesis with actual, verifiable data of New Atheists being counter-productive; or,
    (2) Modify the original posts to make it clear that the anecdote was fake and that the assertion that New Atheists are being counter-productive is not backed up by any facts.

    My two bits: 01

  6. Chris Mooney

    Autonomic, your post is reasonable up until the end. Obviously the story isn’t evidence of anything now, because it isn’t true.

    But that’s different from saying there’s no evidence or basis for thinking the New Atheism might be counterproductive. It’s a different, broader issue.

  7. Chris Mooney

    @3 I think the motive was to help out the cause of what is called “accommodationism.” But of course, the truth is that “Tom Johnson’s” actions are about the worst way to help the cause that I can possibly imagine. Hence the irony of his blog being called “You’re Not Helping”

  8. Chris Mooney

    Something more will be done with the disclaimers in due course. I still am pretty sure I want to post at least one more time, since the full story of my experience in all of this is not well understood (and some seem not to want to understand it, but surely some do).

  9. Zadonga

    Well, that is true, just because what you referred to as Exhibit A is false, doesn’t mean that there aren’t other evidences.

    But aren’t we asking if Coyne and Dawkins are helping?

    It seems to me that one view would be, yes, by making it clear what is at stake, and giving people the courage to fight for evolution in schools that they are helping. The idea that they are creating an angry mob that doesn’t care to deal respectfully with the faithful seems highly questionable.

    That is what exhibit A alleged. A Coyne, Dawkins inspired “mob” that drove the faithful away.

    [REST EDITED]

  10. Ken Pidcock

    But that’s different from saying there’s no evidence or basis for thinking the New Atheism might be counterproductive.

    True, but it’s a bit more than This doesn’t really tell us anything. In future discussion of the impact that the new atheists are having on science literacy, we can remove from the table the claim that they are inspiring a generation of rude, insensitive boors. That was, and remains, a fiction. There are people who have an interest in promoting that claim regardless of evidence, but that should not include anyone in the reality-based community. Not that there isn’t a good tactical case to be made for accommodation, just that honest people are obligated to make that case fair-mindedly.

  11. Jacobus van Beverningk

    #2 “Accommodation does far more damage to the cause”

    “Accommodationists” and “New Atheists” have entirely different causes!

  12. Zadonga

    @7 – interesting, so, do you think that Tom Johnson, was / is a non believer (atheist) like you?

  13. Jon

    Ken Pidcock: In future discussion of the impact that the new atheists are having on science literacy, we can remove from the table the claim that they are inspiring a generation of rude, insensitive boors. That was, and remains, a fiction.

    No, it remains a *hypothesis.* And it wasn’t falsified by this episode. Overheated rhetoric about poorly understood phenomena, attacks on the weakest defenders of ideas, lack of consideration for peoples’ education and social class …inspires what kinds of people? There may have been problems with this particular “dataset”, but the hypothesis that new atheism, as it’s been recently practiced, inspires people who are impatient about important details on certain subjects, and insensitive about the best ways to hold civil discourse, isn’t an unreasonable one.

  14. Jon

    Jacobus van Beverningk: “Accommodationists” and “New Atheists” have entirely different causes!

    Not entirely different–they both are out to defend science in the public mind. But the means toward that end are very different, in that “accomodationists” are against conflating different arguments. Defending science is hard enough. Defending science while simultaneously attacking religion is foolhardy. You can’t even come close to doing it successfully in an ivory tower, how successful are you going to be dragging it out into a larger culture war? (Talk about empiricism–just look at the statistics regarding the percentage of the public who will back you.)

  15. Hitch

    “But that’s different from saying there’s no evidence or basis for thinking the New Atheism might be counterproductive. It’s a different, broader issue.”

    Chris, you know how I feel about hypothetical arguments.

    What you just said above can be said about virtually anything. Either “New Atheism” whatever that is, is counterproductive and we have some sensible assertion to measure this and back it up, or it is plain hearsay.

    Look I could say that you did something illegal or morally negative. I have no evidence for it, but it might still be true, right?

    It’s improper and unfair arguing.

    Merge that with New Atheism being a fuzzy branding device that can put pretty much any atheist who dares to speak about her atheism on the defensive, it’s just plain wrong.

    Let’s be scientific about it. What would be positives out of an action and what would be negatives? Are all these factors weight in your assessment?

    E.g. would science outreach be better off without a book called “Why Evolution is True?”, or would we be better off if movies like “Expelled” went unchallenged? Would we be better off if atheists continued to accept the highest level of distrust in the USA while having very low crime rates, high rates of literacy and income and having the highest rates of nobel price winners?

    How do you even measure impact? I concede that something “might” hurt. But it better be documented, fairly argued and well-balanced. The problem with the TJ story is that it was a hearsay attack. That already served to negatively stereotype a group of people. That it was basically wrong does little change that but to respond “oh but it might still be true!” is making it worse. It’s negative branding by insinuation and it’s not OK.

    But to make it real, people quote mine certain individuals. And then the claim is that it hurt. Well, did it? Was Dawkins wrong to articulate that we may have to defend science education on all fronts, not just on the matter of evolution, and that it is important also to protect the science at the starting point of evolution? Or is it more important to take one word he said, and make it into a running meme that ricochets around the blogosphere for months or years. Which of those two points is worth discussing and amplifying? And is the amplification doing justice to the core of the message?

    My answer is simply, no. We pull the worst out of context and amplify it and by that very move make things much worse. “You’re not helping” was exactly about that. Amplifying the worst.

    Now in fact I think that Dawkins was actually helping, and all the word-mincing and quote mining is hurting and Hitler Zombies was hurting.

    Who is right? You or me? We both have anecdotes and hearsay and an argument stringing it together. Which story focuses on what happens to science and which story focuses on managing who people formulate things? Which one is actually on the core concerns, and which one tries to wrangle about surface issues?

    YNH could have been positive. It could have role-modeled examples of positive science outreach rather than wagging fingers at people. It could have invited people in to discussion rather than make the bogeyman out of certain people and the label NA.

    Remember, atheists are already the most distrusted group in the US. To feed into that undeserving image is not OK. It’s wrong. Just like unfairly reinforcing the negative image of any stigmatized group is not OK. I hope you seriously consider this, because it is the very reason why I am arguing here. It’s not OK to stereotype.

    I seriously hope people read the Minnesota study again and read some of the recent survey articles by Phil Zuckerman. Given what we know it is simply not OK to be flippant with negative branding of atheist.

    Minnesota study: http://www.soc.umn.edu/~hartmann/files/atheist%20as%20the%20other.pdf
    Survey: http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

    And for a detailed argument about the intertwined relationship of science and non-belief I would suggest Taner Edis’s book with that title.

  16. Chris Mooney

    Hitch,
    Have you read my book with Sheril, Unscientific America?

  17. FresnoBob

    “There may have been problems with this particular “dataset”, but the hypothesis that new atheism, as it’s been recently practiced, inspires people who are impatient about important details on certain subjects, and insensitive about the best ways to hold civil discourse, isn’t an unreasonable one.”

    Then it shouldn’t be difficult to demonstrate.

    It’s also important to note that “Exhibit A” was enthusiastically presented as evidence to support CM’s view after months of persistent requests for such. Whilst it is true to say that its utter refutation as a work of fiction doesn’t in itself disprove the hypothesis, said refutation does rather highlight the continuing absence of evidence in support of such.

  18. Autonomic

    Chris, if that’s true, then (as I said), put together your evidence of counter-productivity and present it. You presented an anecdote as being in-line with your understanding of the current religion/science debate (for lack of a better term); as an example of counter-productivity on the “New Atheist” side. I, personally, would love to see a post about how while this example was false, here are ten (or n) real examples of what you consider to be counter-productive actions by New Atheists. That would be a great, rollicking, fun debate.

    Here’s the stupid thing: I agree that there should be open dialogue between the religious/non-religious. I completely agree with your statement that it’s better to create dialogue towards common goals than to nit-pick over squabbles that will never be resolved. It’s essential that religious people understand that without proper science education, Americans will soon be kept as house pets by South & East Asians. And it’s essential for scientists to know when to shut up: Arguing about the presence or absence of the Sky Father is, for the most part, incredibly insulting to both sides (assuming a binary presence/absence scenario). However, I think that putting the blame on the science side of the debate exclusively is beyond lazy: it’s destructive. I think you’ll find that, while scientists can be thick-headed and bullish, there is a formal process to prove/disprove hypotheses. Eventually the weight of evidence forces a change (maybe not at the individual level, but at a macro level). You’ll get no such accommodation from the religious literalists.

    Unless your argument is that scientists have greater flexibility to meet the religious side. That’s a somewhat different argument that would be interesting to see.

    {EDIT}

    I see your response to Hitch’s well-written comment and I’ll admit that I have not read your book. It seems to be written about precisely what I was asking about: what are your examples. It would be nice if I didn’t have to buy it to get some specific examples, but that’s the author’s right.

  19. TB

    And Hitch, when and if you do read the book be sure to read the endnotes.

  20. Anthony McCarthy

    In future discussion of the impact that the new atheists are having on science literacy, we can remove from the table the claim that they are inspiring a generation of rude, insensitive boors. That was, and remains, a fiction. Ken P.

    I agree with Jon, though I’d say that attempting to make this a matter of innocent of the charge by the highest of legal requirements in a criminal trial is absurd. The new atheism is, by its own intentions, rude, insensitive and a pose adopted by some of the biggest boors around. That this, one, instance is not supported by evidence and is not credible is not going to change the experience of many, many thousands of people who have witnessed and been the object of the new atheism’s rudeness, etc. It is anything but fictitious.

    I do hope that those trying to spin this hay into NA gold realize that they are now setting the bar for any story they go with in attacking their ideological opponents. [EDITED]

  21. Chris Mooney

    Same question for Autonomic and Fresno Bob.

  22. It’s possible to have a calm discussion of science vs religion:

    http://www.nicky510.com/comic/quite-the-balancing-act/

  23. FresnoBob

    That this, one, instance is not supported by evidence and is not credible is not going to change the experience of many, many thousands of people who have witnessed and been the object of the new atheism’s rudeness, etc. It is anything but fictitious.

    Is there any chance we can extract and “Exhibit B” from among all those thousands?

    You can keep repeating the opinion that NAs are rude and obnoxious but however strongly you hold that opinion it is not enough to support the assertion that “the NA movement” (or however you want to characterise it) has a deleterious affect on science communication.

    That takes evidence.

  24. Jon

    Hey, Fresno Bob. Do you read blogs? I’ve got some particular ones in mind that you might want to take a look at.

  25. Ken Pidcock Says:

    “… In future discussion of the impact that the new atheists are having on science literacy, we can remove from the table the claim that they are inspiring a generation of rude, insensitive boors. That was, and remains, a fiction. ….”

    No, Ken Pidcock. For one thing, the behaviour is not a fiction — see below as to online manifestations of such behaviour, and for another thing, only one specific claim of how such behaviour manifested itself in the outside world and what it was inspired by turned out to be fiction.

    But there is absolutely no way at all you or anyone else can try using one such claim shown to be false to try claiming in turn such things never happen or would never happen.

    Rude, boorish behaviour without any genuine legitimization exists among some New Atheists. [EDITED]

    Now, would such online behaviour actually inspire or whip up anyone to behave like that in real life, face to face? We simply do not know that yet.

    But you cannot claim such behaviour does not exist; it only too obviously does, online as yet, but who knows the future? All you can do is point out to date such behaviour has remained online, and one claim about it being carried out at a conference turned out to be a false claim.

    That’s all you can do — except, if you wanted to face up to it, you could point out such behaviour is not limited to the so-called New Atheists, but in fact is a well-known problem of life in general on the internet. And quite a few times, internet life has whipped on idiots to carry out acts of harrassment in real life (see the antics of 4chan, for example), as I am sure you know; so you better hope that the behaviour of some so-called New Atheists does not inspire anyone to such acts in real life.

    Buit what you cannot at all plausibly claim is that such behaviour from some so-called New Atheists does not exist, because evidence for such online behaviour exists in plenty.

    Ken Pidcock Says:

    “… There are people who have an interest in promoting that claim regardless of evidence, but that should not include anyone in the reality-based community. Not that there isn’t a good tactical case to be made for accommodation, just that honest people are obligated to make that case fair-mindedly. ….”

    Those actually reality-based deal with the actual evidence, and deal with possible consequences, not merely try claiming the problem does not and could not ever exist.

    And finally: this is not a plot against atheists. Get over it; none of the so-called New Atheists speak for all atheists, and much of the criticism of online behaviour by some so-called New Atheists has in fact been made by other atheists…

    The so-called New Atheists ( a very loose label, and one properly only applied to maybe five people — Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, etc.) do not speak for all us atheists, and do not represent all us atheists.

  26. Hitch

    Chris, yes I have. I’m not sure why that is relevant to what I wrote, except that yes I have some disagreements and also plenty of agreements with your book. If you want me to articulate them in a kind of book review I can, but it really shouldn’t be necessary for the case I am making.

  27. Chris Mooney

    The reason I asked is that it seems like people want me to reinvent the wheel–I’ve already made my arguments about the New Atheism in that book.

  28. Hitch

    I’m sorry it is really hard to discuss on these terms. Let me explain. Essentially you cover New Atheism in chapter 8. So let me indeed give you a review and a criticism of your position.

    I think it is fair to say that I have already given more written words in comments than that volume of text. If you do not want to elaborate your position that’s fine, but it’s hard to discuss on the book alone.

    But given that it’s short it’s easy to summarize. The cracker controversy takes most of the space. That’s the first 2 pages. You conclude: “Nonetheless, Myers’s actions were incredibly destructive and unnecessary.”

    That alone could lead to long discussions. I will just ask this: How can one articulate that a wafer is just a wafer in a way that indeed creates public awareness that this is a legitimate question one can have?

    That story is hearsay. We have no strong data what the impact of that story really was on the perception of both science and atheism.

    This leads us to p. 97 second paragraph. Here Myers is embedded with New Atheism as a whole.
    While the book acknowledges that they are not monolithic the book says p. 97: “[..] the broad tenor of the movement they’ve impelled is clear: It is confrontational.”

    I disagree with this. It is outspoken, which in turn is phrased as confrontational.

    The later phrasing gives credence to this as you write: “The most outspoken New Atheists publicly eviscerate believers, call them delusional and irrational (“demented fuckwits,” as Myers put it in the Webster Cook case) [..]”.

    See here is why I have an issue. New Atheists are not monolithic. Dawkins never said anything about demented fuckwits, nor did Harris or Hitchens. But they are loosely associated with the most extreme quote one can find.

    It reads: “Sam Harris questions the very notion of tolerating religious moderates”. Yes, but in what context, with what nuance, for what reason? Harris has in detailed made his case. Here it comes across as outrageous without engaging in his arguments why he things there is a problem with moderates.

    It reads: “For Richard Dawkins, meanwhile, those who do not criticize religion but still want to defend the teaching of good science in schools fall into the “Nevile Chamberlain school of evolustionists” and the “appeasement lobby”.” Hmm, let’s check context: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dawkins06/dawkins06_index.html

    The article is not about attacking people who do not criticize religion, it is about defending science on all fronts and not conceeding religion in realms where science applies. Let me quote Dawkins:

    “The Chamberlain tactic of snuggling up to ‘sensible’ religion, in order to present a united front against (‘intelligent design’) creationists, is fine if your central concern is the battle for evolution. That is a valid central concern, and I salute those who press it, such as Eugenie Scott in Evolution versus Creationism. But if you are concerned with the stupendous scientific question of whether the universe was created by a supernatural intelligence or not, the lines are drawn completely differently. On this larger issue, fundamentalists are united with ‘moderate’ religion on one side, and I find myself on the other.”

    But we have ripped the Chamberlain reference out of context and made it appear as if he holds a different position than he does. The reality here is that people cannot agree to disagree, they rather want to take offense and run with a meme. Dawkins has at many occasions explained his position. He is not out there to piss off moderates, he is out there to stake out what he sees as the realm of science. But rather than debate this, people act offended and make Dawkins out to be all about confrontation and extremizing. Well, yes if we never engage with his actual points but with ways of phrasing, then indeed, things will be more extreme.

    What is worse, this is at best a tiny sliver of Dawkins’ views. But rather than take the broader view of what he is saying, we argue if he framed his position in a way that will completely avoid controversy.

    The book reads: “If the goal is to create an America more friendly toward science and reason, the combativeness of the New Atheists is strongly counterproductive.”

    That is plain opinion. No study supporting it. And by that fact it again serves to brand New Atheism, code for unwanted outspoken atheism as bad.

    The remaining paragraph constructs the unfortunate and false analogy between revisionist conservative christians and new atheists reinforcing polar opposites.

    You make the case that fear is in play on the christian conservative side and being open exacerbates this.

    The problem I have with this argument is that it precisely stifles scientific progress. That very same argument was brought against Galileo Galilei. Just don’t say what you perceive as true for it induces fear of change that can be even murderous on the other end.

    Perhaps in the 21st century we can dare to try to get to a world were change is no longer scary. Where we protect differences in opinion against ease of taking offense?

    It reads: “we’re also troubling our own house.” Again there is no proof at all that new atheism hurts science outreach. In fact I can pretty much guarantee that the high rates of creationists in the US has not been increased by New Atheism, if anything it has helped shine a flashlight at just how appalling that statistic is especially compared to our other scientifically advanced peer nations.

    Then you make the case that science and religion can coexist. It is really hard for me to swallow how you mention Kepler and Galileo as religious when religious bigotry made their lives so miserable. “New Atheism” says, enough of this. It is not OK that people get persecuted, bullied, shouted down or subjected to political wrangling, simply for speaking to science. Does that hurt science?

    The fact that we have controversy in science is not due to New Atheism, it is not even exasperated by them. Divinity schools stopping to teach creationist dogma will do much more to change than getting one or two bloggers to not use curse words and demanding that Dawkins never use analogies that can be made into a negative meme.

    There is no science-religion conflict narrative as the book insinuates. There is concerted political efforts of conservative religious movements to undermine science for ideological reasons. If that would not happen there would be no conflict. Galileo did not choose his conflict, nor did Bruno. Kepler didn’t, nor did Spinoza. Socrates didn’t either. Narrow-minded and hostile bigots did. And to defend and stand up against that is not reinforcing a narrative, it is standing up for what is right.

    You claim that New Atheists are historically incorrect yet give no example that is tangible beyond the constructed narrative that they say that science and religion are incompatible. Well I would argue that this is at best a simplification of what both Dawkins, Harris and Dennett have said (I’ll leave out Hitchens because he is in a different context, but even Hitchens is quite clear about his historicity).

    Basically the claim that New Atheism is wrong, is a political position, not a historical one.

    It proceeds: “It’s also misguided about the nature of science.” It goes on to try to distinguish methodoligical and philosophical naturalism, sneaking in non-material metaphysics as possibility of methodological naturalism.

    The to make the case that Dawkins is wrong it reads: “God is, as he puts it, “unequivocally a scientific question.” I actually disagree with Dawkins formulation too, but I do not disagree with the spirit of what he is saying. Insofar as god has any meaning or influence to our lives today it is a scientific question. If it has no meaning or influence it is a supernatural-metaphysical question. But as all practically relevant gods that Dawkins discusses (he excluded the metaphysical deist god ala Einstein and Spinoza in a earlier chapter!) have instantiations in the natural world, his argument is actually quite sound, rather than wrong.

    As a sidenote, my own objection is that god as hypothesis is so ill-formed that we should not accept it as a sound hypothesis. But I can see that for practical matters there are indeed cases be found where this objection is not very strong.

    Dawkins is not taking an abstract philosophical position at all here. He makes a rather sound argument. The book continues to characterize this as “and at worst, a nasty bullying tactic.”

    Funny how we do not discuss earlier atheists, or agnostics. I’m happy to defend Huxley for his “nasty bullying tactic” called agnosticism for example in which he categorically denies that we can make any claims about anything that has not been probed by methodological naturalism (or in short epistemology).

    So for one what Dawkins says is hardly new, nor is it bullying. He says that the question of the resurrection of Jesus is a scientific question. I’d argue that many christian apologists actually agree, especially those who investigate the question seriously. The whole field of the historical Jesus ultimately follows that line of argument.

    Bullying? Well only if one puts him into a context he does not deserve.

    Drawing on Sagan, you quote him as calling for humility, and mutual respect, as precondition to dialogue. The imagery I get is Richard Dawkins putting it to Ted Haggard that in fact science does not support the claim that the eye just appeared. Haggard became angry and returned that Dawkins should display humility. He later kicked him off the ground. Is that mutual respect and humility? Can we state facts and not be accused of not being humble?

    I cannot but help that Carl Sagan would be with Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is respectful but he will state his position. And it is not humble to claim positions unchallenged or unchallengable.

    Dawkins is there for open dialogue but he is, like a good scientist should be, not afraid to shine a light into a darkness where we are told not to shine lights (paraphrasing Sagan).

    Ultimately I have serious issues how atheism and science outreach is mixed in this narrative. Dawkins has done than many men to have civilized dialogue in the realm of the intersection of science and religion without intentionally offending anyone. Only one of his many books dares to be outspoken about atheism as a topic. Yet he is painted as someone who hurts science in the public eye.

    But here is why that mixing is another problem. Religious radicalism is an issue outside of science outreach. People are atheists nor just in the realm of science, they are so in the realm of health policy, in the realm of electability, in the realm of history textbooks. They are atheists in the realm of social stigma and so forth. To reduce everybody to science advocates becries the realities of our world.

    I for one think one can have a sensible argument about the details of what all of the these people individually say. If the goal is to brand them as bullies, well then we do indeed not have to do it. We can fight surface issues how they are evil. I for one won’t agree to that, because it’s not true to the content and it negatively stereotypes atheists who desperately need to overcome massive negative stereotypes in our culture where just putting up a billboard with the original pledge of allegiance is a major insult.

    Having said all this there is lots of positive to say, especially about other chapters. But given that I am again way long I can discuss my agreement at another opportunity.

    But what is worse, this will serve as best as a distraction. I have already staked out what my concern is with labeling and grouping and especially the negative stereotyping of atheists in a backdrop that is highly stigmatizes atheism. All these details in the book chapters don’t change any of my previous arguments at all, nor is the book chapter required to qualify it.

  29. TB

    Hitch: “Who is right? You or me? We both have anecdotes and hearsay and an argument stringing it together. Which story focuses on what happens to science and which story focuses on managing who people formulate things? Which one is actually on the core concerns, and which one tries to wrangle about surface issues?”

    I found this compelling, from page 183 of the hardcover edition:

    “Insofar as the new atheism strives to reach beyond science’s limitations – boundaries that end at the natural world – and claims that it’s “scientific” to be an atheist, then it also seeks to turn science into an anti-religious doctrine. In a very religious country like the United States, this would vastly strengthen the claims of anti-science religious conservatives, who strategically blur the distinction between science and atheism in order to lump them together. In a 2007 New York Times op-ed, for instance, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) wrote that “if evolution means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence then I reject it.” But evolution doesn’t mean that: It can’t; it simply describes how human beings and other animals came to exist in their current form. Whether God was in some way also involved, perhaps by creating the universe and the laws that ultimately led to our existence through evolution, is a matter that’s simply impossible to address on a scientific level.”

    That’s more than just anecdotes and hearsay. That’s a reasoned argument based on evidence (the Brownback quote, about which I think it would be premature to label hearsay – is there any reason to believe that Brownback would disavow that statement under oath?).

    Now, we can disagree on what that means, but I am most definitely going to disagree that it’s flippant.

    And as far as negative branding goes, we’re not operating in a vacuum here. Can you honestly say that you agree with or vouch for everything that has been said by those who self identify as a New Atheist? I’ve made this same point with someone else before – are you very sure I can’t point to legitimate criticisms?

    And, just to be clear, criticisms of positions taken by some who identify as New Atheists is not the same thing as criticizing atheism. It seems like you’re conflating the two to argue that we shouldn’t say anything.

  30. Hitch

    TB, two things. I have a long response to Chris question in moderation. It will be hard for me to engage in discussion when I do not know which of my points appear. Why your response got through moderation before mine I do not know.

    But to the point that is new:

    “That’s more than just anecdotes and hearsay.”

    Oh it absolutely is anecdote and hearsay. How many presidental candidates in republican primary debates would self-describe as creationists? That is the context. We cannot judge statements without context and even then it is anecdotal. If you want to claim impact we would have to show that the number of creationist in the population rose and that they identified as the reason having read Dawkins, and that being significant in comparison to a control group. That would be more than anecdotes and hearsay.

    So rather than recognize that Brownback was playing to his conservative base, it is claimed that Dawkins is at fault. We have no way of disentangling this, but rather it is hearsay and anecdotal.

    In fact Brownback makes no reference to New Atheism in his op-ed:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/31/opinion/31brownback.html

    Let’s read Brownback:

    “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science. ”

    So science is fine as long as it is compatible with the truth of christian creation theology in some way. Is that really what we should accept? So are we to chastize Roger Penrose for working on a topic on which he gives talks titled “Before the Big Bang?”

    No, this is not a literalist op-ed. It is the problem, the problem that people who do not understand science claim to have the understanding to delineate where it can go.

    “Can you honestly say that you agree with or vouch for everything that has been said by those who self identify as a New Atheist? ”

    I reject group responsibility. I vouch for nothing at all. I disagree with people’s positions get misrepresented. That is true even if I completely disagree with the view, that they actually hold!

    I have criticized both PZ and Dawkins. That is immaterial to my opposition how they are often characterized.

    “And, just to be clear, criticisms of positions taken by some who identify as New Atheists is not the same thing as criticizing atheism. It seems like you’re conflating the two to argue that we shouldn’t say anything.”

    I’m not conflating anything at all. If the only atheism that is acceptable is the one that does not in any way pose conflict to religion, then we have conceded anything that is visible atheism. I am not the one who conflates things here. Those that want atheism to not criticize religions do this. You can either be quiet or be branded “New Atheist” with the baggage that brand brings with it. That is not an honest choice.

    Heck many things that the “New Atheists” say and brings them scorn have been said by “atheists”. I encourage people to read Twain and Ingersoll for example, but also Huxley. Or Epicurus for that matter. In reality people try to split a difference that hardly exists in the larger history.

  31. Zadonga

    It is good to know that the duty of men like Coyne is to remain quiet on their views of what science “means”. So that men like Sam Brownback don’t have to threaten deny what science finds.

    This logic makes us hostage to the fundamentalists, and overlooks that just applying the facts of science to the question of human origins, is in fact offensive to religious fundamentalists. There really is a collision here.

    Arguing that scientists should not use science to arrive a questions of ultimate meaning is absurd. Of course the facts we learn about the world should be used to inform our worldview.

    So this is not about being insensitive toward religious conservatives, who we agree are offended just by the fact of evolution: that we evolved gradually, and are descended from an ancestor who was not “human”.

    This is about overstepping our warrant as scientists and claiming that evolution “means” something bigger or that asserting that we should bring our world views in line with the world, is dangerous, because world view’s are outside the bounds of science?

    So, its not about uncivil (ie saying things that are offensive to believers) it is about overstepping the limits of science – and claiming authority we don’t have.

    So why was being rude to believers “Exhibit A” when really the problem is scientists who insist that the religious world view is unsupported by evidence, and therefore false?

    B

  32. FresnoBob

    Insofar as the new atheism strives to reach beyond science’s limitations – boundaries that end at the natural world – and claims that it’s “scientific” to be an atheist, then it also seeks to turn science into an anti-religious doctrine.

    Is that actually true? I don’t see New Atheists striving to do anything of the sort. This is a fairly explicit claim that New Atheists do ‘X’ without presenting any examples of ‘X.’

    Something like, “Insofar as new atheism strives to turn children against their parents” would make a nice little couplet with a quote from a religious conservative saying, “If accepting evolution means I’m going to lose my kids then I reject it” but it wouldn’t wash without some kind of supporting evidence.

    At best, the idea that New Atheists – or the slightly more nebulous ‘new atheism’ – strives in such a manner and makes the explicit claim that “it’s scientific to be an atheist” is an impression, an opinion. An oft repeated opinion to which many assent but an opinion nonetheless.

    Using science to make a strong case for atheism is not the same thing as seeking “to turn science into an anti-religious doctrine.”

    Even giving the opinion credence, and allowing that such a project exists and that it might “vastly strengthen the claims of anti-science religious conservatives” let’s face it – if a religious conservative is already “anti-science” how much encouragement does he need to reject science?

  33. Gabby

    TB
    I’m sorry but Sam Brownback? Any issue that can be viewed as contentious in the faithscience discussions only falls one way with Brownback. Everything from stemcells to homosexuality as a choice to intelligent design in the classrooms, he has been solidly anti-science and has been that way since well before the new atheists came about. You can check his quotes and voting record going back decades. If anything, he’s an example of the point that the new atheists make, that the problem is the faith itself.
    Throwing up a quote where Brownback, in an attempt to distract from something silly he had done, turns his defense into an attack on atheists (the least trusted group, therefore the most likely to make readers move to his side) is pretty lame. It’s political posturing and pure lowest common denominator.
    Honestly, if you find that compelling then you’re welcome to it.

  34. FresnoBob

    The crucial quote from Brownback’s article in context…

    The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

    It seems clear to me that the article was a desperate attempt to claw back some credibility after having shown himself to be a moron on TV whilst being careful not to distance himself from the faithful upon who he relies for political support.

    He had to find a way to say “I believe evolution to be true” without looking like he was on the slippery slope to materialism.

    So, he isn’t even close to rejecting the theory of evolution. He’s quite happy to accept it (with the usual “god did it” caveat).

    The latter part of the quote – lifted for the purposes of supporting Chris’ position – is for the benefit of his religious supporters. It’s an explicit rejection of a particular definition of, “I believe evolution to be true.”

    Seen in context, it’s clear that no amount of New Atheist propaganda is going to make Brownback reject evolution.

  35. Ken Pidcock

    So, he isn’t even close to rejecting the theory of evolution. He’s quite happy to accept it (with the usual “god did it” caveat).

    Oh, yes he is. Shame on you for failing to recognize the codeword microevolution. It means any evolution (microbial drug resistance, etc) that I have no choice but to accept.

  36. Zadonga

    Chris, I have to say, that personally, your views on Atheism, and your views on the damage that prominent atheists do, or might do, really detracts from your core message which is about the danger of fundamentalism undermining science.

    It is one thing to accuse people of being insensitive, we can have that kind of debate endlessly, but to engage in this “watch what you say, watch what you do” kind of thing, is beneath you.

    There simply is nothing that can be done, look at the fight that Francis Collins has on his hands with Albert Mohler. BioLogos is the ultimate in accomodationism, but they are in the same bucket with Dawkins.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on what BioLogos should do … should we really ALL be like BioLogos – isn’t the ecosystem of diverse tactics and views fundamentally good for the world you are advocating?

    Wouldn’t it be better to simply say that YOU don’t think the tone of Dawkins is effective, but for many, he’s been a huge help. Calling him a net negative, seems so dismissive and so *like* Tom Johnson … not really honest, ends justify the means kind of thing.

    You deserve great credit for all your work and writing on the importance of science. I certainly have appreciated it.

  37. TB

    I don’t have time to post more right now – I will tomorrow, but Hitch et al, you really missed the point of my post.

  38. Zadonga

    Evolution DOES go right to the heart of the issue, we are not being “fundamentalists” by insisting that we “accept” evolution. Evolution is true. It is a fact. If you read Brownback, or Mohler, it is all very clear in plain terms that average people can follow. These people view the bible as having significance in understanding human biology. The only way we can know anything about human biology, is to study human biology. Human biology is the supreme authority on human biology.

    As a scientist, you must agree that with that statement. Anything we learn about biology from life, supercedes what the bible seems to tell us about life, and forces us to “reinterpret the meaning of the bible”.

    Will you agree that that is a true statement, Chris? Please? Pretty Please?

    We simply have to accept that if we agree on that point, that we are in head on conflict with millions of people – and there is no middle ground on the matter. Whatever we discover about life, has priority over the bible on the subject of life. But they say the opposite.

    Jerry Coyne can be a mellifluous as he wants, its not going to change the reality we are talking about … it might obfuscate it, but Chris, buddy, they are not confused about where they stand. One of us is right, and one is wrong. You know that … this is what science is all about … right?

  39. TB

    I’m going to do this in pieces throughout the day because it’ll be too long otherwise and, I have a life.

    First, :

    ‘”“That’s more than just anecdotes and hearsay.”
    Oh it absolutely is anecdote and hearsay. How many presidental candidates in republican primary debates would self-describe as creationists? That is the context. We cannot judge statements without context and even then it is anecdotal. If you want to claim impact we would have to show that the number of creationist in the population rose and that they identified as the reason having read Dawkins, and that being significant in comparison to a control group. That would be more than anecdotes and hearsay.”

    Presidential candidates like Mike Huckabee, McCain and Brownback saying they’re open to a six-day creation or just specifically using the word “creationist?”

    Hitch, you’re not a judge in a courtroom and we don’t have to submit to your arbitrary definition of what is hearsay and what is not. Under your view, “cdesign proponentsists” would be rejected as hearsay.

    So, no, I reject your definition as well as your silly test.

    And your test is silly, for one thing, because it doesn’t apply. You didn’t read that passage correctly. For instance, you said:

    “So rather than recognize that Brownback was playing to his conservative base, it is claimed that Dawkins is at fault.”

    Except Chris clearly wrote:

    “…who strategically blur the distinction between science and atheism in order to lump them together…”

    Another way of saying that would be … playing to his conservative base! But instead of recognizing that, you got angry and went off on a tangent “So science is fine as long as it is compatible with the truth of christian creation theology in some way.”

    You got angry at Chris pointing out that Dawkins’ view coincides with fundamentalists’ view – a point Chris illustrated with that Brownback quote (and no, he didn’t need to cite specific names, that’s not pertinent to the argument). And it’s not even a new point! Remember that wired article that some link the beginnings of the term “New Atheist” to?

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html?pg=2&topic=atheism&topic_set=

    “While frontline warriors against creationism are busy reassuring parents and legislators that teaching Darwin’s theory does not undermine the possibility of religious devotion, Dawkins is openly agreeing with the most stubborn fundamentalists that evolution must lead to atheism. ”

    Dawkins in that article accepts that premise in favor of his longer view!

    Hitch, you’re trying to present yourself as a reasonable person trying to find a way to connect. Yet you dismiss everything as hearsay which undercuts any kind of argument, propose ridiculous tests that don’t even apply to the point and get angry and misunderstand the points people are trying to make.

    Meanwhile, the overall point of “accommodationists” (whatever that is) is that if you attack people’s beliefs and make them angry they’re less likely to listen to reasoned arguments and evidence.

    You think maybe there’s something to that?

  40. Hitch

    “Hitch, you’re not a judge in a courtroom and we don’t have to submit to your arbitrary definition of what is hearsay and what is not. Under your view, “cdesign proponentsists” would be rejected as hearsay. ”

    That’s a fallacy. You made a judgement “That’s more than just anecdotes and hearsay.”, I returned with an argument for why my judgment is “Oh it absolutely is anecdote and hearsay.” Now you come back and claim I want to be the judge of everything. This is improper arguing. I express my views just as you do and I argue for my judgment, just as you have the right to do.

    In fact you do nothing to diffuse my objections that the political backdrop may be a much stronger factor than new atheism in this case. And you say nothing to my concern that the delineation that Brownback defines is actually untenable for current active science and that it is problematic to let politicians define what science is. I’m happy to argue on substance, but not on fallacies.

    “You got angry at Chris pointing out that Dawkins’ view coincides with fundamentalists’ view”

    Guessing emotions is another fallacy. Also Dawkins point does not at all coincide with Brownbacks view. You will have to address my explanation why Dawkins didn’t blur the boundary, contrary to the claim in UA to address this point. Just stating that they do the same is not proper argument.

    I know you think that Gary Wolf’s Wired article is somehow authoritative and has somehow explained and defined it all without reproach. I would suggest that you actually argue your case.

    You quote this: “Dawkins is openly agreeing with the most stubborn fundamentalists that evolution must lead to atheism.”

    Please give a direct source by Dawkins where he makes that claim. I know of no such source.

    Citing Brownback or Gary does not constitute properly representing Dawkins’s view. For that you’ll have to go to Dawkins.

    The bully passage of UA cited Dawkins correctly. He does say that God is a scientific question. Note how that is actually exactly the opposite of what Brownback says, who claims that any statement against christian creation dogma is not science but atheism.

    I have already given my explanation why, in my own rephrasing Dawkins position is sensible, and how Dawkins himself has excluded the metaphysical case in his book. Hence I have made, I think a rather clear case why the claim in UA that Dawkins engages in philosophy and blurs the boundary is questionable, I would in fact say wrong. I would suggest that you engage on the merit of these points.

    As a side, one of my main criticism is that critics of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett do hardly cite them, and if they are cited, they are very short, selective citations.

    This makes it easy to give the appearance that they hold unreasonable positions.

    I for one have read Dawkins quite a bit and I have never heard him say that evolution must lead to atheism. In fact I have sources that say the contrary! Check the video of the four horseman for Dawkins historic view of the future of religion in society.

    “Hitch, you’re trying to present yourself as a reasonable person trying to find a way to connect. Yet you dismiss everything as hearsay which undercuts any kind of argument, propose ridiculous tests that don’t even apply to the point and get angry and misunderstand the points people are trying to make.”

    Not at all. I just don’t let your claims stand without a challenge. And rather than engage with them you now turn to characterize my character, another fallacy.

    For fallacies I suggest books by Walton, Eemeren and Grootendorst. As for what hearsay is and what constitutes credible links in social science I would suggest anything from the extensive literature in the area.

    So far you have given my no reason to believe that I misunderstood the point. UA claims that Dawkins is wrong on history and steps into philosophy where he is also wrong. The “proof” is a supposed analogy to Brownback that does not check out against Dawkins own statements if you guys would actually care to cite Dawkins in his own words and in proper context!

    Just because UA or you claim that Dawkins is wrong in certain ways doesn’t mean that this is correct or beyond criticism.

    “Meanwhile, the overall point of “accommodationists” (whatever that is) is that if you attack people’s beliefs and make them angry they’re less likely to listen to reasoned arguments and evidence.”

    I already gave my challenge to this statement. What if we have new discoveries that inevitably conflict with people’s belief and they get angry even though it’s just scientific inquiry that happens? Should Peter Singer not study ethics because his words get misunderstood and lead to outraged protests by certain groups? Should Roger Penrose not study possible models of physics before the big bang because the pope told Hawking we shouldn’t? Should we leave the hypothesis that a world might be better of without organised superstitious doctrines and with more evidence based inquiry out of the potential cases in investigating sociology?

    But it isn’t even that simple. Not every atheist is working in science and science outreach. The problem here is that two related but not identical aspects are insufficiently reflected upon. Hence why I have multiple times now pointed to Taner Edis’ book who I think gives a good lead how to think about this.

  41. Anthony McCarthy

    Arguing that scientists should not use science to arrive a questions of ultimate meaning is absurd. Of course the facts we learn about the world should be used to inform our worldview. Zadonga

    What is absurd, and truly anti-scientific in the most basic sense, is the assertion that science can do things that it obviously can’t, that it was never designed to do and which it lacks the evidence to do. When people try to “arrive at questions of ultimate meaning” by means of science they are doing something, but it isn’t science. Science has to be formally restricted, it has to exist within boundaries or it ceases to be science and passes into philosophy or, more fittingly for the commonly heard positions of materialist fundamentalism, dogmatic assertions.

    That scientists are free in their extra-curricular lives to speculate on and assert all kinds of things doesn’t give them any right to assert that it’s science by virtue of their degrees and professional positions.

    When it comes to matters such as religion, EXCEPT when it’s a matter of religious belief about something which falls within the legitimate subject matter of science, scientists have no more authority or credibility than anyone else in any other walk of life. I’d take my cues on those questions of ultimate meaning from people who don’t pretend that they can find absolute answers to them, with or without science. If they happen to be a scientist by profession or an atheist, great. Let’s see how they treat other people, animals and the biosphere to see if they live it, first.

  42. Ken Pidcock

    The discussion of Sam Brownback’s comments reminded me of something. In May, 2005, William Dembski wrote an essay called The Vise Strategy, in which he imagined cross-examining various “Darwinists” in court. (The arrogant tone of the piece, written just before Dover, is really quite funny today!) He suggests that the strategy should vary depending on which of three types of Darwinist one is dealing with: an RD Darwinist, an ES Darwinist, or a KM Darwinist. Now, I think we can all fill those in: Richard Dawkins, an overt atheist; Eugenie Scott, a non-believer who claims to be faith-friendly; and Ken Miller, who claims to be a theist. One brief passage:

    The ES Darwinist wants to appear open minded and generous, assuring religious believers that Darwinism is compatible with their religious beliefs. For the ES Darwinists, the aim of the interrogation is to show that they are condescending elitists who don’t have a religious bone in their bodies but who nonetheless presume to tell religious believers how they should make their peace with evolution.</blockquote I bring this up to remind us that, were the RD Darwinists graciously to absent themselves, the war against science would continue unabated.

  43. Anthony McCarthy

    Ken Pidcock, First, so, we’re supposed to allow William Dembski to set the boundaries of this argument? If that’s the case, what part should this very well known assertion of his, made publicly to Richard Dawkins, play in the argument?

    “I know that you personally don’t believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God’s greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!”

    Yes, I know you’ve all seen it before, but it’s made relevant by the widespread new atheist habit of pretending what they don’t like doesn’t exist.

    I think the best way to deal with that framing of the issue by William Dembski is to disregard it.

    Second, “Darwinists”. Richard Dawkins has been identifying himself as a Darwainist, who believes in “Darwinism” for quite a while, on the written record, in books, including one illustrated by his wife. So, no need for quotes, it’s a perfectly good word given its modern meaning by Thomas Huxley in the 1860s. Before then it was used to refer to E. Darwin’s thoughts on evolution. Daniel Dennett uses it and virtually every evolutionary biologist I’ve checked before the advent of the new atheism has used it positively and affirmatively. Contrary to new atheist erudition.

  44. Anthony McCarthy

    I’ll never get the hang of using HTML on these blogs. I’m going back to the old fashioned way of doing it.

  45. Jon

    I bring this up to remind us that, were the RD Darwinists graciously to absent themselves, the war against science would continue unabated.

    You bet. But it’s obvious who they most want on the stand–the Darwinist who fits their caricature.

  46. Hitch

    Ken, a very good point. But then we wouldn’t have opportunity to be angry with RD for also standing up against ID and other intrusions on science. In fact I’m sure Dembski is very happy about internal disagreements about strategy. That’s the whole point of wedging after all. It’s working brilliantly, in fact atheists are unwittingly conscripted to put a dent in the opposition to anti-scientific wedging by directing their opposition to internal style disagreements rather than against the intrusion onto science.

    That is another critique of mine for UA. It spends more time discussing the supposed negative impact of Dawkins and the blogosphere than it does on the Discovery Institute, wedge strategies and so forth. Nor do we learn how school boards get populated by graduates of Liberty university. In fact if you inspect the index one is hard pressed to find any entry into these issues, which arguably are driving forces in anti-scientific sentiment.

    All one can find is a brief mention of the wedge issue in an endnote on p. 175, and nothing of its context. It’s given as defense of Miller’s point of cultural change anxiety. But of course cultural change anxiety does not justify undermining education and science.

    But rather than discuss how unscientific and troubling these reactionary forces are, we call bloggers to task who operate on no budget and have far less political clout than the ID community.

    Anyone here seriously believe that if PZ Myers used less colorful language, the cultural anxiety that drive the Discovery Institute will go away? Anyone believe that Expelled would not have been filmed?

    Luckily UA is correct to warn of Expelled. It is a cultural warning sign. But the same warning is around for long, is deeply funded and well organized, has university training people and so forth. But the cure, supposedly, is to misquote Dawkins to make him worse than he is. I really think we are wedging ourselves here. The real cure is to staff boards of education with reasonable people, push for changes in rules how these boards are staffed and what powers they have, it’s exposing what is actually going on. It’s describing the funding mechanisms that are in place to undermine science and so forth. All this is much bigger than Dawkins who is actually working on the right side of the issue.

  47. TB

    First, Hitch, a little more on hearsay. This goes back to your first reply, not the one you’ve posted since (I don’t know that I have to address it directly, since I think it says more about Hitch than he knows).

    Hearsay is a legal term, not a scientific one. Technically, the silly test you proposed would contradict your own standards because, since it had not yet been accepted into a court of law, it could be considered hearsay. In spite of that, you yourself proposed the test!

    So since you contradict yourself, we know your standard is an arbitrary, personal one. We could come to an agreement on what to consider adequate evidence, but so far you’re proving yourself to be intractable rather than reasonable.

    Unless you can somehow admit that you’re interpreting the idea of hearsay, I doubt we can have a productive conversation. Since you clearly interpret the idea of hearsay to include only your own personal standards of evidence, I have no reason to believe that your interpretation is more valid than mine.

    Finally, to put a nail in Hitch’s hearsay coffin, here’s a bit from the Dover transcripts on a letter that was written to a newspaper:

    “Q. And I’m going to ask you to read this letter into the record.
    A. Okay.
    MR. MUISE: Objection, Your Honor. This letter is hearsay.
    THE COURT: Say it again. I’m sorry.
    MR. MUISE: Objection, hearsay.
    THE COURT: Why is it hearsay?
    MR. MUISE: She’s going to be reading in the letter, the contents of the statement. It’s an out-of-court statement. They’re obviously offering it for the truth of the matter.
    THE COURT: Who wrote the letter?
    MR. MUISE: She wrote the letter.
    THE COURT: Overruled.”

    Again, you’re not a judge and we’re not in a court of law – criminal or civil – and your notion of what is hearsay and what is not is only your opinion. If you really want to pursue a conversation, you’re going to need to adjust your standards – if only out of respect for the people you’re trying to talk to. Otherwise, they have no reason to respect your standards.

    Shouldn’t be hard, you adjusted your standards to accommodate that test you proposed.

    Now…

    “Can you honestly say that you agree with or vouch for everything that has been said by those who self identify as a New Atheist? ”

    I reject group responsibility. I vouch for nothing at all.”

    Then you speak for only yourself, and any claims of harm need to be backed up with proof that meets your standards of evidence. You’ll need to come up with an independent study, admitted in a court of law, that shows how Chris’ arguments have caused you personally physical or economic damage.

    “And, just to be clear, criticisms of positions taken by some who identify as New Atheists is not the same thing as criticizing atheism. It seems like you’re conflating the two to argue that we shouldn’t say anything.”
    I’m not conflating anything at all. If the only atheism that is acceptable is the one that does not in any way pose conflict to religion, then we have conceded anything that is visible atheism.”

    I LOVE these sentences. I REALLY DO! They are either

    A) a strawman, since no one is arguing that atheism does not conflict with religion; or
    B) a conflation. The argument is that religion does not have to conflict with SCIENCE, or specifically that religious people can defend good science and science education. But you said “atheism.” Are you conflating atheism with science? Because that would make it scientism, and that would be unconstitutional to teach in public schools.

    Finally, you seriously missed what I wrote: “Now, we can disagree on what that means, but I am most definitely going to disagree that it’s flippant.”

    I understand that you disagree, I didn’t ask that you agree with the argument. I wasn’t even seeking an argument about it. I said it wasn’t flippant. You went off on a rant and never even answered that question.

    And no, I don’t think an answer is necessary anymore. I have a good idea of how and what you think,

  48. Ken Pidcock

    But it’s obvious who they most want on the stand–the Darwinist who fits their caricature.

    I don’t think they do, Jon. Their target market – well-educated conservative Christians – isn’t going to listen to Richard Dawkins, so the ID crowd can just ignore him. Which they do. I can’t think of a DI fellow’s reference to a new atheist other than as no worse than whomever they’re trying to discredit. (By the way, Anthony, I remember Dick Cheney expressing glee with the rise of Barack Obama. I’m sure that both he and Dembski were sincere.)

    I think who they really want on the stand is Ken Miller. (Who, of course, was on the stand, but Dembski was absent.) Dembski makes it clear that he thinks TE scientists could be worn down to where they can’t explain how their faith can be reconciled with methodological naturalism.

    David Kinghoffer: Collins and Giberson are sincere Evangelical Christians — as far as I, a Jew, can tell — and undoubtedly innocent of all guile, but they represent an insidious trend in religious and intellectual life. This genuine opiate of the masses works as a stupor-inducing fog, enveloping the debate about intelligent design versus Darwinism. The fog lulls you with the thought that between the idea of design in nature, and that of no design in nature, there is actually no need to make a choice. By the way, searching for that quote, I ran across this.

    In this struggle, new atheists are mere spectators. It is those who claim that science and supernaturalism can be reconciled who are on the field. ‘Twould be nice if they would turn around and face the enemy.

  49. TB

    Hitch said:
    ” “Hitch, you’re not a judge in a courtroom and we don’t have to submit to your arbitrary definition of what is hearsay and what is not. Under your view, “cdesign proponentsists” would be rejected as hearsay. ”
    That’s a fallacy. You made a judgement “That’s more than just anecdotes and hearsay.”, I returned with an argument for why my judgment is “Oh it absolutely is anecdote and hearsay.” Now you come back and claim I want to be the judge of everything. This is improper arguing. I express my views just as you do and I argue for my judgment, just as you have the right to do.”

    Yup, and I just showed how your judgement is arbitrary, contradictory and not relevant to the reality (hearsay in a courtroom).

    The only way to go forward is if we somehow could agree on what constitutes a reasonable level of evidence in this conversation. And I don’t how we do that since you apparently can’t recognize your own missteps.

  50. TB

    “I bring this up to remind us that, were the RD Darwinists graciously to absent themselves, the war against science would continue unabated.”

    No one’s asking them to absent themselves – although they were absent at the Dover trial. Will they be absent in future court actions? Will they try to make the case that science is not just a methodology?

  51. Hitch

    TB, we are doing exactly what I try to oppose. Word mincing, surface discussion, and out-of-context quoting. Literally nothing in that long post you just wrote addresses the core issues that I have raised.

    Let’s address hearsay.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearsay

    Hearsay is a claim of a fact that does not itself establish the fact. It can refer to a fact, but the claim itself may still be hearsay. But yes, as you should have noted I used hearsay in the colloquial and not the legal meaning, but you are not arguing fairly. Basically you try to pin me and dismiss me and that’s really what is going on. Trying to construct a case about what hearsay means legally and that I am supposedly wrong.

    Let me repeat my initial claim for clarity:

    “That story is hearsay. We have no strong data what the impact of that story really was on the perception of both science and atheism.”

    In response to the claim that the wafer story was supposedly destructive. I have not seen any evidence that refutes my reaction and so I stick with it. If people want to replace “hearsay” with “statement without evidence” feel free.

    In fact feel free to reread anything I say replacing “hearsay” with “statement without evidence” or “anecdotal” if you wish. But yes, you tried to word-mince me, a contemptible tactic.

    In fact even worse you pull what I say out of context.

    I said: “I reject group responsibility. I vouch for nothing at all.”

    To which y0u respond:

    “Then you speak for only yourself, and any claims of harm need to be backed up with proof that meets your standards of evidence.”

    Well not only so I state that I speak for myself. I also claim that you speak for yourself! What a shocking revelation. The rest of that response reads:

    “You’ll need to come up with an independent study, admitted in a court of law, that shows how Chris’ arguments have caused you personally physical or economic damage.”

    The whole court of law was something you introduced, it never was part of my argument.

    None of my arguments change. I can still critique UA and in fact noone has refuted my criticism so far. But yes, the ad hominem barometer is clearly being ratcheted up.

    But let’s inspect how you pulled that out of context.

    Here is what I said in full:

    “I reject group responsibility. I vouch for nothing at all. I disagree with people’s positions get misrepresented. That is true even if I completely disagree with the view, that they actually hold!”

    So not only did I say that we speak for ourselves, but I also said that we can defend fair representation of the views of others! Of course that second part was the real answer to your initial challenge. But why be honest when you are in a mode that tries to paint me as unreasonable.

    But yes, the whole point is that you want a case to dismiss me and my arguments: “And no, I don’t think an answer is necessary anymore. I have a good idea of how and what you think”

    Cool, done. I’m happy to argue with people who are actually interested in increasing understanding, not in trying to mischaracterize others or believe to be able to read my mind.

  52. Jon

    Ken Pidcock: Their target market – well-educated conservative Christians – isn’t going to listen to Richard Dawkins, so the ID crowd can just ignore him.

    This stuff seems basic to me. The IDers would want to have someone who would present Darwinism as something exclusive to religion. Richard Dawkins does that. If you want to motivate your base, educated or not, it helps to have an Immanuel Goldstein–Richard Dawkins fits pretty well in that role. I bet they pull out quotes of his and present them in snippets. I would if I were them.

  53. Ken Pidcock

    - although they were absent at the Dover trial. Will they be absent in future court actions?

    One would hope so, no? I mean, Ken Miller carried the weight at Dover, and I think every biologist, NA or not, was grateful for that.

  54. Hitch

    OK, so lets make a cleanup and recap what the claim is:

    *) UA (p. 104) claims that Dawkins engages in philosophy not science and hence is doing the intellectual equivalent of Brownback (p. 183) by muddling the boundary. UA calls Dawkins out on a “nasty bullying tactic”.

    Let me recap my line of challenge to that above case:

    1) Dawkins has excluded metaphysical deism, hence only talks of a god that can have physical manifestations. Then he argues that god is a scientific hypothesis.
    2) UA claims that god still must be metaphysical (omitting Dawkins’ own qualification on deism) and argues on that ground that Dawkins has left the realm of science and enters philosophy and muddles the boundary. I reject that claim based on 1) the omission of it in this claim. I actually also reject that on other grounds but it’s not necessary to further the argument.
    3) UA makes the parallel to Brownback, but given that 2) does not hold it’s an improper analogy. In fact Brownback and Dawkins say the opposite. Dawkins says that a personal god can possibly be tested and Brownback says that if ever such a test succeeds we have to reject it as atheism. Only one of those two men respects the rules of science. Yet UA tries to claim that both don’t obey those rules.

    As a reminder, you entered the discussion on 3) claiming that the Brownback story was convincing and stating that this argument is more than hearsay. And ever since you’ve been harping the hearsay and legalese thing, I would agree that the argument gained considerable confusion thereafter. I have critiqued Brownback on many levels, not just the analogy.

    Now you are welcome to try to give a standard of evidence that could possibly change anything. And what standard of evidence should we expect to allow someone to be charged with “nasty bullying tactics”?

    So to repeat: You have to show that Dawkins indeed blurred the boundary, that a comparison to Brownback’s thinking is sound and that what Dawkins does (saying that god is a scientific hypothesis) is tantamount to nasty bullying.

    But let me make it easier. Here is what I think. I think that UA misunderstood that god indeed can be a valid hypothesis but that is unwelcome to believers and hence perceived as bullying to enter the domain like that. As Brownback too bullies people who transgress a certain boundary it was seen as parallel. The footnote (p. 183) reinforces the picture of a Spinoza god, when Dawkins clearly argues a different one. That’s it.

    Problem is that it is flawed. Dawkins is not at all unsound in stating what he does, unwelcome as it well may be. But just because something is unwelcome it is not automatically nasty bullying. Galileo did not nastily bully the Vatican or believers of his time by engaging in an unwelcome transgression and Spinoza did not bully his contemporaries with unwelcome rejection of a personal god. And Huxley did not nastily bully his contemporaries for rejecting any claim that was not grounded in epistemology, as unwelcome that was and as many negative nick names it may have gotten him.

    Basically UA wants Dawkins to accept NOMA or a definition of god that is compatible with NOMA. But NOMA is a dogmatic definition of religion. I.e. religious claims by definition do not enter science. Dawkins makes an extensive case why he rejects that notion and give extensive examples (I mentioned historical facts of scripture stories) why NOMA is not a universal dogma outside science (TGD 77-85). He is not just handwavery entering philosophy as UA makes it appear, but gives explicit examples of testable things. I’m sorry but that is quite sound, and not only that UA basically just didn’t represent Dawkins views and thought process correctly.

    And yes, I sound like defending Dawkins even though I in many passages disagree how he argues or disagree with his conclusions. For example I have very serious issues with his chapter on agnosticism because I think he misreads Huxley. And I would argue the inverse, against god being a proper hypothesis at all. But as said, I can defend the characterization of people’s views even if I do not agree with them. That’s ultimately what this is. Dawkins is no bully and he is in no sensible comparison to Brownback and he is not blurring the boundaries of science, at least not as naively as UA claims.

    And certainly it is flawed to call the Brownback story more than hearsay. It’s a false analogy not supporting evidence.

    Does that help clarify the confusion?

  55. TB

    Hitch, I said:

    ” That’s a reasoned argument based on evidence (the Brownback quote, about which I think it would be premature to label hearsay – is there any reason to believe that Brownback would disavow that statement under oath?).”

    The article you yourself cited says:

    “exculpatory statements made to an investigator are hearsay and therefore cannot be admitted as evidence —->unless the defendant testifies. that you didn’t link to In the civil law system, the courts, whether consisting only of judges or featuring a jury, have wide latitude to appreciate the evidence brought before them.<—"

    Which means we can't know what is hearsay and what is evidence unless we submit it to a court of law first. That's the standard you're imposing by saying everything is just hearsay. Because the only way something can not be hearsay is if it's been accepted as evidence by a judge, which I illustrated with that passage from the Dover trial. Overruled!

    And now you're trying to argue that your interpretation of hearsay is more valid than mine: "you should have noted I used hearsay in the colloquial and not the legal meaning," But you already castigated me for making assumptions about what you think and feel. You're being contradictory again.

    This is not a courtroom, nor is it peer-reviewed literature. The ruse of demanding ever higher standards of evidence is not conversation it is stonewalling. And if I wanted to take the time I could chink out every little stone and make progress but it's not worth it. For instance, even your silly test is immaterial. Why shouldn't elections be just as good a measure of impact, or rather lack of backlash against someone who allows creationists views in politics? Brownback is poised to become the next governor of Kansas, and those views have obviously not harmed him enough to keep him from getting elected.

    Hitch, I don't have to engage you point for point – you're basically doing the internet equivalent of a "Galloping Gish," long posts that meander off on tangents but sound authoritative. I just have to point out a few things that are wrong with your argument, just enough to pop that authoritative tone and allow reasonable people to disregard your pronouncements and think for themselves.

    And I've done that. I don't need to spend any more time on your concern trolling and your arbitrary and unrealistic standard of evidence.

  56. Hitch

    TB:

    1) I cannot believe you are still harping on hearsay. I have explained quite well how I mean my words. If you cannot take my words as intended we cannot really debate.
    2) Keep digging for ways to point out supposed self-contradictions. As said it’s quite clear that you do not want to engage me in argument, rather you try to find ways to pin me. That is not argument.
    3) You do not engage my argument re Brownback. The claim was that Dawkins is a parallel to Brownback. While I may be concerned about Brownback, it is completely irrelevant to Dawkins! Why I have to discuss Brownback when that was not the case made in UA I don’t know and frankly I just won’t have that discussion because it never was the point, so stop dragging in non-sequitors and distractions.
    4) Glad you decided that you do not have to engage my points, clearly you have no interest in doing it. Rather you want to brand me, characterize my arguing style, claiming that I go on tangents, characterize me as troll. Basically you go for the ad hominems, after all your goal is quite clear: “just enough to pop that authoritative tone”. Yes you want to discredit me. Well you are not an interested in fair debate. Thanks for being at least this candid.

    Oddly you are to the very point: This drive to discredit people through negative branding is at the very core of what we are arguing. Sadly, rather than reflect on it, you seem to think it’s a good idea to practice it. Well it’s not.

    Thanks for the argument so far, but that’s it for me engaging with you. It is sadly not productive to engage with people who do not honor the basic courtesies of discussion.

    Chris/Sheril, why do you allow ad hominems and troll-baiting arguments like TB’s through moderation? I thought the idea was to improve the dialogue culture here.

  57. TB

    Seriously Hitch?

    Everytime I look at your posts I see another example of double standards. For instance, you said:

    “2) UA claims that god still must be metaphysical (omitting Dawkins’ own qualification on deism) and argues on that ground that Dawkins has left the realm of science and enters philosophy and muddles the boundary. —- I reject that claim based on 1) the omission of it in this claim. I actually also reject that on other grounds but it’s not necessary to further the argument. —-”

    And yet, I pointed out before how you yourself omitted the civil trial standard for hearasay in your own post, which helped you make a point you wanted to make: “In response to the claim that the wafer story was supposedly destructive. I have not seen any evidence that refutes my reaction and so I stick with it. If people want to replace “hearsay” with “statement without evidence” feel free.” You didn’t dismiss hearsay as the standard, you simply double downed and shifted the language. And then you set yourself up to be the judge of what is evidence and what is not.

    I have not engaged your arguments, Hitch, I’ve engaged the foundations you’ve built your arguments upon. To engage your arguments would mean I accept your foundations. I don’t and I’ve shown why I don’t.

  58. Hitch

    Erm, where did you refute my (correct!) claim that Dawkins discusses Einstein’s god in his book, a fact that UA omits, to make the claim that Dawkins is engaging in philosophy rather than science? And it ultimately leads it to the claim that Dawkins supposedly is a bully.

    Well nowhere, because you don’t engage me on my points.

    And that is not a hearsay argument. TGD chapter 1. Anybody can check (who actually has the common decency to read sources before claiming what it says).

    Your whole hearsay/civil trial thing is a smoke screen.

  59. TB

    “…where did you refute my … claim …”

    That’s the wrong question, Hitch. The right question is why should I bother?

    I’ve already shown that your standard of evidence is arbitrary, contradictory and not based in reality.

    I’ve already said that to have a conversation we would need to find some way to agree on a standard to agree on what would be evidence. Instead, you simply shifted your language to something that’s just as amorphous: “If people want to replace “hearsay” with “statement without evidence” feel free.” Hearsay IS evidence. That’s not trying to find a way to communicate, that’s just circular reasoning.

    And now you’re complaining about how I’m engaging you? You’re like a butcher with his thumb on the scale. When I point that out, you complain that I’m not supposed to be looking at your hands, I’m supposed to look at what the scale reports.

    I’ll buy my meats somewhere else, thank you.

  60. Hitch

    Why should you bother addressing an argument that calls one of the most prolific expositors of science a bully? Especially when it has been pointed out that there is a problem with that argument? You are not serious. And repeating misrepresentations doesn’t make them true.

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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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