Special Point of Inquiry: PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Yours Truly

By Chris Mooney | October 11, 2010 3:15 am

We’ve just put up an in-studio (so to speak) edition of Point of Inquiry, which is a reprise of the “New Atheist/accommodationist” debate that took place Friday in Los Angeles at the 30th anniversary Council for Secular Humanism Conference. Here’s the show description:

Recently at the 30th anniversary conference of the Council for Secular Humanism in Los Angeles, leading science blogger PZ Myers and Point of Inquiry host Chris Mooney appeared together on a panel to discuss the questions, “How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? If we champion science, must we oppose faith? How best to approach flashpoints like evolution education?”

It’s a subject about which they are known to… er, differ.

The moderator was Jennifer Michael Hecht, the author of Doubt: A History. The next day, the three reprised their public debate for a special episode of Point of Inquiry, with Hecht sitting in as a guest host in Mooney’s stead.

This is the unedited cut of their three way conversation.

PZ Myers is a biologist at the University of Minnesota-Morris who, in addition to his duties as a teacher of biology and especially of development and evolution, likes to spend his spare time poking at the follies of creationists, Christians, crystal-gazers, Muslims, right-wing politicians, apologists for religion, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate how much the beauty of reality exceeds that of ignorant myth.

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry, including: Doubt: A History (HarperCollins, 2003); The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology (Columbia University Press, 2003); and The Happiness Myth, (HarperCollins in 2007). Her work appears in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. Hecht earned her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in 1995 and now teaches in the graduate writing program of The New School University.

Again, you can listen to the show here.

Why do I get the feeling this one will be popular?

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Comments (5)

  1. Sorbit

    It *is* popular. You just have to take a look at Jerry Coyne’s blog’s comment section.

  2. Jon

    I think Jennifer Michael Hecht gets it pretty much right in the discussion. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with philosopher Charles Taylor (converted Catholic shortly before Vatican II, and doesn’t buy many of Dawkins’ or Dennett’s ways of thinking):

    Do you think of any particular mode of thought as a particular intellectual adversary to your way of thinking?

    Yes. There is a combination between the instrumental, rational stance and attempts to understand human life totally in terms of the mechanistic category — without the categories of purpose, teleology, intentionality, and so on. The mechanistic view and pure instrumentalism go very well together because, from the very beginning, the kind of post-Baconian, Galilean science that is paradigmatic for such people has been a science of, if you like, efficient causation, linked ideologically with control over nature. The point is not to have a beautiful view of the order of the universe that will inflate our ego, but to improve the condition of humankind.

    For someone who has a hammer all problems look like nails. The same is true of someone who has an instrumentally rational view of the world. All problems will look like nails to him. So you get an absurd overreliance on certain kinds of explanations and interventions. People think that all psychological problems can be cured by changing body chemistry, taking some Prozac, and so on. These attitudes and explanatory hypotheses all share a certain affinity. It’s not that it isn’t logically possible to break with one and stick with the other, but there is a certain affinity between them.

    So that whole complex I’ve always seen as my primary enemy.

    From a summary of Taylor’s thought:

    The recurrent theme behind his philosophy is a critique of naturalism – that is, the idea that all human and social phenomena can be understood reductively on the model of natural behaviour, using canonical scientific explanations. Since naturalistic beliefs are endemic in the academic world and enjoy something of an “intellectual hegemony”, this somewhat marginalises Taylor’s work. However, this does not make Taylor an enemy of the scientific endeavour, but rather a staunch critic of what might be considered the substitution of scientific assumptions for philosophy.

  3. I wish JMH had just talked, instead of gushing. Plus, shouldn’t a moderator just moderate? And I felt that way despite agreeing with her! Yes, we should ponder people who are only a little bit religious–what’s really wrong with that? But why bring them up over and over again, even after PZ Myers had said what he had to say about them? Despite all that–really good debate, well worth listening to. PZ Myers was excellent, even though (Chris) I thought you made your case persuasively.

  4. Jon

    I think she moderated mostly to keep Chris and PZ separated. If Chris had moderated, PZ wouldn’t have thought of him as impartial. I wish Jennifer Michael Hecht had named more names and gotten more specific, but as someone who has tried to do this on this blog, I can appreciate the difficulty…

  5. Right, but I wasn’t saying Chris should have moderated. I was saying JMH should have done a better job of moderating.

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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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