Dispatches from the Creation Wars

PZ Gets it Wrong

PZ Myers, to no one’s surprise, has now taken to going after Ken Miller, the Catholic cell biologist who has been one of evolution’s most eloquent and powerful defenders for the better part of the last decade. But he does so based upon a rather obvious misinterpretation of something Miller said in a recent speech in Kansas. He first quotes a review of the talk by Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble:

Showing a slide of the cover art of “The Lie,” an anti-evolution tract by Ken Ham, that prominently features a serpent tempting us with a poisoned apple labeled evolution, Miller said creationists mistakenly take aim at Darwin’s theory because they believe science to be anti-religious.

Evolution isn’t anti-religious, said Miller. Rather, it’s the non-scientific philosophical interpretations some humanists, such as Richard Dawkins, draw from the evidence that challenges the role of religion.

And he responds:

If that account is accurate (I trust Pat Hayes to be accurate, and I also have independent confirmation*), then that was a shot at the majority of biologists, and a declaration of common cause with creationists. They are “shooting at the wrong target,” but who is the right target? Why, those humanists, people like Richard Dawkins and anyone who challenges the role of religion. Go get ‘em, Kansans! Hound those wicked atheists–they aren’t the real scientists, after all. Real scientists believe in God and spirits and magic and etheric essences infused into souls by a phantasmal hominid, just like you do.

But this is a rather obvious misrepresentation of Miller’s argument. Yes, it’s true that the majority of biologists are atheists, according to surveys of the field, but while Miller would disagree with them, his statement that their atheism amounts to “non-scientific philosophical interpretations” is hardly a “shot at biologists.” I have no doubt that he would label the theistic inferences that he draws from science also as non-scientific and philosophical rather than scientific.

His argument, rather, would be that science can only deal with natural cause and effect. Evolutionary theory simply says that all modern life on earth is derived from a common ancestor via descent with modification, and on that score, dealing with natural phenomenon, we can be virtually certain. The evidence is extraordinarily clear that common descent is true. But we cannot, using the tools of science, either prove or disprove the possibility that the process was sparked by some supernatural cause.

Thus, when we take a position on that question, whether theist, atheist or something in between, we’re not taking a scientific position. That doesn’t mean our positions can’t be informed by science; indeed, they almost must be. But it is beyond the power of science to provide a definitive answer to such questions as the existence of a god. I have no doubt that Miller would say the very same thing about his own position that he is saying about the position of his fellow biologists who are atheists. He would say that while we can absolutely agree that the theory of common descent is true and undeniably supported by the evidence, once we leave that and move on to questions that science cannot provide a definitive answer for, we are both engaging in non-scientific philosophical thinking.

There’s nothing wrong with such thinking, of course, and Miller would no doubt be happy to discuss and debate the issue on that level. He is simply recognizing that science is limited in its ability to answer such broad questions (I would go even further: I think human thinking in general is limited in its ability to even ask, much less answer, such questions). Thus, I think it’s wrong to interpret his words as a slam on biologists rather than a recognition that different types of inquiry are involved once we leave the physical questions of biology for the metaphysical questions of theology and philosophy.

Furthermore, I think PZ is missing a crucial bit of context. Miller is really speaking here not to scientists but to creationists. He is pointing out that they think they’re attacking evolution when they’re really attacking atheism. It’s not evolution that they fear and despise, because frankly most of them don’t know the first thing about evolution; it’s atheism that they fear and despise and they mistakenly think that atheism is equivalent to evolution. And that simply isn’t the case. Evolution is no more atheistic or naturalistic than any other scientific theory. It is “naturalistic” in precisely the same sense that the theory of gravity is, or the germ theory of disease.

Evolution is naturalistic in methodology because it must be, because once we step outside of those bounds we no longer have any objective means of discerning true claims from false claims. But that does not mean that there is no truth or falsehood there, it only means that science isn’t the right tool to tell us. That’s okay. We don’t have an objective means of discerning true from false in a lot of areas of life. We cannot submit our claims of love to scientific testing to determine true claims from false claims either; that doesn’t mean that love doesn’t exist, nor does it mean that we can’t find others way to evaluate them. It’s just a recognition of the limits of this particular type of reasoning tool. Not all questions can be answered using that tool, but those questions may still be worth exploring with other tools. Or maybe they’re not worth exploring with other tools. But either way, science can’t really tell us. And again, that’s okay. Science works brilliantly when applied to the questions it can be applied to.

It’s even more absurd, I think, to interpret Miller’s words of disagreement with atheism as a sign that he wants to “target” atheists. Disputing atheism is not the same thing as targetting atheists, and frankly this is the type of shallow, paranoid reasoning that we laugh at when engaged in by some Christians; it is no less laughable here. And when PZ talks of Miller participating in anything that would “strike the match at the atheist-burning”, that’s just plain ridiculous rhetoric.

I think Nick Matzke gets it precisely right in a comment after that post:

Let’s look at what Ken Miller has done with his life:

* published dozens of scientific articles; I think one was on the cover of the journal Cell

* coauthored a half-dozen high school textbooks, all of them strongly pro-evolution, and one of them the most popular text in the country

* run around the country putting out fires when states and local communities freak out about his biology textbook because it has so much evolution in it (this is exactly what kicked off the situation in Dover)

* tirelessly debated and opposed creationists for 20 years, becoming widely acknowledge as the most skillful face-to-face debater of creationists

* testify convincingly for evolution and against creationism/ID in not one but two court cases

Now, really, just what in holy hell does a guy have to do get a little of respect from you guys? “Ken Miller, creationist.” Cripes, listen to yourselves! Ken Miller is a *hero* of the evolution cause and anyone who doesn’t see this has simply let their hatred of religion overwhelm their rational brains.

All Ken was saying was that people should separate scientific debates from metaphysical debates, and not try to get science to provide a metaphysical conclusion which is outside of its capacity to provide. This is not “throwing the atheists to the wolves” or whatever hysterical nonsense you guys are spouting.

PZ has posted several comments in which he claims that Miller is proposing that creationists and evolutionists find a “common enemy” and begin “shooting at” atheists. But that is absolutely not Miller’s argument. His argument, as Nick points out, is that we need to separate the scientific issue from the metaphysical issue. He’s saying to creationists, in essence: if you want to argue against atheism, then argue against atheism, but don’t use bad arguments against evolution to do so because you’re confusing two different issues. To take that simple and reasonable argument and turn it into Miller being on some kind of crusade to “strike the match at the atheist-burning” is to take irrational and paranoid hyperbole to a whole new level of absurd. It’s the sort of paranoid overreaction we all laugh at when it’s engaged in by the fundies; let’s not engage in it ourselves.

Comments

  1. #1 plunge
    September 11, 2006

    It made me unhappy to argue with him so much on this, and to see so much to argue with.

    I should note that PZ’s later posts on the subject are a lot more moderate and measured.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    September 11, 2006

    Ed – Thanks for being the voice of reason.

    I like both Miller and PZ, and admire both for what they have contributed to de-bunking and de-bullocking evo critics. Even though my position would be closer to PZ than Miller, IMO, they both need to have a good laugh at Uncommonly Dense, or Answers In Genesis sites and move on. And as you point out, there are so many Fundies, and so little time…

  3. #3 Anonymous
    September 11, 2006

    frankly this is the type of shallow, paranoid reasoning that we laugh at when engaged in by some Christians; it is no less laughable here

    I’m an atheist, and this type of thing why I stopped reading Pharyngula…

  4. #4 Treban
    September 11, 2006

    To me this makes PZ sound a lot like an ideologue. Entirely reminiscent of ideological comments I have seen by Dawkins, claiming that instilling one’s religious beliefs on a child as tantamount to child abuse. I like the term fundementalist atheists to describe such folks. Anything that fails to function within their world view must be attacked voraciously. I can’t stand this attitude in other Christians – it annoys me far more in intellectuals who should bloody well know better.

    Thus why I find Daniel Dennet so refreshing. He believes that evolution disproves religion, doesn’t bandy words to avoid offending anyone – yet he treats the subject and those who are religious with respect and dignity, not blind loathing.

    I realize that people are people, no matter their education and/or ideological bent, but I just expect more from those with more education than most.

  5. #5 Anonymous
    September 11, 2006

    …and plunge, I think you did a pretty good job commenting over there.

  6. #6 Jeff Chamberlain
    September 11, 2006

    “But we cannot, using the tools of science, either prove or disprove the possibility that the process was sparked by some supernatural cause.”

    “But it is beyond the power of science to provide a definitive answer to such questions as the existence of a god.”

    I’m interested in the word “possibility” in the first sentence, and the word “definitive” in the second. Who really claims that science proves or disproves the “possibility” of supernatural cause …or teapots orbiting Pluto, for that matter? (I’m assuming here that “proves” and “disproves” are not being used in a deductive or mathematical sense, but rather in the more colloquial sense of something like “supports sufficiently to be persuasive.”) In the second sentence, similarly, does the inability of science to provide a “definitive” answer imply more than (something like) “science cannot foreclose absolutely the possibility of ‘x’ unrelated to how big a possibility that really is?” I have no problems saying that science provides some “definitive” answers to some questions (heliocentrism, perhaps, or evolution?), but have not understood that to mean that alternatives are absolutely (“theoretically”) precluded but rather “merely” that their probability is so small that it would be perverse to maintain them as realistic or open.

  7. #7 Orac
    September 11, 2006

    I’m with you on this one, Ed. As much as I admire PZ’s, he has a distressing tendency to flirt with the same rhetorical excesses for which he regularly (not to mention correctly and entertainingly) castigates fundies.

  8. #8 MisterDNA
    September 11, 2006

    Anonymous wrote:

    I’m an atheist, and this type of thing why I stopped reading Pharyngula…

    You’re not alone in that regard.

  9. #9 Treban
    September 11, 2006

    Second, to plunge’s comments over there.

    After reading the whole post and about 1/3 of the comments attached, I am far more convinced of the fundy approach that seem to be the preference there. The entire gist seemed to be that “if you don’t agree with me, your just an idiot like Miller.”

  10. #10 Dave S.
    September 11, 2006

    As an atheist I must also say that I found nothing particularly threatening or shocking in what Miller wrote. I agree with Ed, that all he is saying that Creationists err when aiming at evolution while believing they are dealing atheism a mortal blow. Evolution is no more the equivalent of atheism than is the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease, despite what they (creationists) may think. Evolution is singled out especially because this theory makes specific claims in direct opposition to some theological models – but it makes little sense to attack the science with bad arguments since that only forces scientists to dismantle those arguments and for the atheists to say, “Hey guys, we’re over here.”.

    I still read Pharyngula, but mainly for the biology, which I think PZ covers very well. I kind of skip over the other stuff.

  11. #11 dogscratcher
    September 11, 2006

    Ed:
    “Evolution is naturalistic in methodology because it must be, because once we step outside of those bounds we no longer have any objective means of discerning true claims from false claims.”

    Excellent distinction. There is a reason “metaphysics” is a field of Philosophy and not natural science, and that sums it up very well.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    September 11, 2006

    Jeff-

    My comments should be read primarily as addressing what I call the question of ultimate origins – the origin (if there is one) of existence itself. Not only do I not think we can answer that question in any definitive manner, I don’t think we can even coherently ask the question. Either possibility (that existence is infinitely old or that something “started” existence) makes no sense to us at all. Both possibilities are illogical. I am of the opinion that we simply cannot resolve that question in any objective manner. We can take a guess and that’s about all we can do. And incidentally, I’m okay with that. In fact, I kind of like the fact that we’re ultimately left with a mystery.

  13. #13 plunge
    September 11, 2006

    To be fair, I think a lot of what PZ said involved him miseading what Miller said, and talking to Miller directly seems to have changed his mind about what Miller’s position is although certainly he still doesn’t agree in whole.

  14. #14 John Farrell
    September 11, 2006

    Excellent post, Ed. I was reading through the mass of comments at PZ’s, and frankly amazed at the level of spitefulness. I was just about to stop when I saw Nick’s excellent comment.

  15. #15 Ed Brayton
    September 11, 2006

    I actually didn’t see the last post on the subject, after he had some conversation with Miller via email, before I wrote this. I saw the second post, where he was still insisting that Miller was suggesting “silencing atheists”. I’m glad to see that after talking to Miller, he recognized that he was misinterpreting his position.

  16. #16 Lettuce
    September 11, 2006

    I’m an atheist, and this type of thing why I stopped reading Pharyngula…

    Yeah, I used to be a liberal Democrat, let me tall you how they drove me to vote for the GOP,

    Whatever.

  17. #17 MisterDNA
    September 11, 2006

    Lettuce wrote:

    Yeah, I used to be a liberal Democrat, let me tall you how they drove me to vote for the GOP,

    Whatever.

    Ed, have you had your blog sprayed for Strawmen in the past month?

  18. #18 Will
    September 11, 2006

    Bashing your fellow scienceblogger is classy.

  19. #19 Stogoe
    September 11, 2006

    I have a suspicion that anonymous is a concern troll, a suspicion even more suspicious because he refuses to have any handle at all. Lettuce had it right with his snark.

    Seriously, though, Ed, you’re sniping at comments he has since revised (in later posts) through actual conversation with Miller.

    That said, I do agree with him that the label ‘agnostic’ smacks of the Fallacy of the Golden Mean and makes freethinkers fight each other rather than the sheeple.

  20. #20 Big C
    September 11, 2006

    Will said:

    Bashing your fellow scienceblogger is classy.

    Hmm, could you define what you mean by “bashing?” “Bashing” usually implies making unwarranted accusations or false criticisms for little reason other than to assault the character of the one being bashed. Could you point out to me where Ed does that in this post?

    Your sarcastic statement seems to imply you have a problem with Ed’s post. I see Ed criticizing PZ’s rhetoric and backing that criticism up with facts. I don’t see Ed making any personal or ad hominem attacks.

    Are you implying that Ed should withhold his criticisms of PZ’s position as a show of solidarity? Isn’t that kind of against the whole spirit of scientific inquiry in general?

    As far as I can tell, Sciencebloggers are a group of loosely affiliated individuals, not a hive mind. They’re bound to have disagreements from time to time. And I don’t think voicing those disagreements with civility and minimum hostility makes them less “classy.”

  21. #21 Ed Brayton
    September 11, 2006

    Will wrote:

    Bashing your fellow scienceblogger is classy.

    “Bashing”? How about criticizing? Critiquing? Are those things okay? The fact that he’s a fellow scienceblogger doesn’t make him infallible. This is an area where he and I have a major disagreement (and believe me, it’s much worse in private). Should I refrain from disputing him simply because we both write for Seed? Sorry, that’s ridiculous. He’s a big boy and more than capable of stating his position, as I am capable of stating mine. Why in the world you think this has anything to do with “class” is beyond me.

  22. #22 plunge
    September 11, 2006

    “I have a suspicion that anonymous is a concern troll, a suspicion even more suspicious because he refuses to have any handle at all.”

    Come to think of it, what the heck? Why would you post as “Anonymous” when you can pick a handle that’s just as anonymous as anything else? I mean, do you know who “plunge” is? I really wouldn’t mind saying if anyone actually cared, but its not like I’m giving away dangerous facts about my offline life by picking a consistent word to represent a consistent poster.

  23. #23 Larry Moran
    September 11, 2006

    Ed Brayton writes,

    Yes, it’s true that the majority of biologists are atheists, according to surveys of the field, but while Miller would disagree with them, his statement that their atheism amounts to “non-scientific philosophical interpretations” is hardly a “shot at biologists.” I have no doubt that he would label the theistic inferences that he draws from science also as non-scientific and philosophical rather than scientific.

    The question is whether science and religion are compatible. Obviously, this isn’t a problem for atheists since they don’t buy into the belief in Gods. For atheists, the failure to adopt a religion isn’t a “non-scientific philosophical interpretation” as Miller would have us believe. Instead, it’s a perfectly normal default position that is completely scientific by any definition of science.

    Unlike many scientists, Miller has chosen to actively believe in the existence of Gods, specifically the Roman Catholic version. He probably made this choice before becoming a scientist for reasons that have nothing to do with science. Now he faces the problem of reconciling his religious beliefs with science and proving to his own satisfaction that there is no conflict.

    Of course he’s going to claim that all of the inferences he draws from science are beyond the reach of science and therefore compatible with science. Lots of people make that claim, including astrologers, faith healers, and psychic detectives. But is it a valid claim in Miller’s case?

    Perhaps, as long as those “inferences” don’t directly conflict with science or lead to conclusions that are incompatible with science. There are forms of Deism and pantheism that may work, but not Roman Catholicism.

    His argument, rather, would be that science can only deal with natural cause and effect. Evolutionary theory simply says that all modern life on earth is derived from a common ancestor via descent with modification, and on that score, dealing with natural phenomenon, we can be virtually certain. The evidence is extraordinarily clear that common descent is true. But we cannot, using the tools of science, either prove or disprove the possibility that the process was sparked by some supernatural cause.

    First, let’s stop this nonsence about “disproving” God. It’s a very silly argument and I’m surprised to see you using it. We can’t disprove lots of things, including the tooth fairy, but that doesn’t mean that belief in the tooth fairy is compatible with science. Scientific methodology cannot disprove the existence of every single thing that the human mind can imagine.

    What science can do is address the actions of those possibly imaginary things on the natural world. If the tooth fairy is supposed to leave money under your pillow then scientists can examine that. Similarly, if your God is supposed to have given you a soul that survives the death of your body, then scientists can look for evidence. If your religion says that visting Lourdes will cure you of cancer then that becomes something that science can, and should, address.

    If one’s religious beliefs require that God intervene in natural phenomena then that sets up a conflict between religion and science. You can’t believe in miracles and claim that your belief is compatible with science. You can’t propose a supernatural creator and claim that’s compatible. That’s what Miller does. He says that all Roman Catholic dogma is compatible with science.

    Why is this a problem for atheist scientists and non-Christian scientists? Because it is widely interpreted as meaning that science supports Christianity. That’s certainly the impression one gets from reading “Finding Darwin’s God.”

    Miller is attacking science. He is arguing that it’s perfectly okay to have supernatural explanations of natural phenomena and still be doing good science. This simply isn’t true. Miller would like all religous people to overlook the embarrassing truth that science and religion are in conflict and focus on attacking atheists because they haven’t followed him down the pathway to God. This is why some of us are upset about the stance of Theistic Evolutionists.

    The tactic is obvious, whenever scientists say “That’s not science” you accuse them of being atheists and injecting their philosophy into the the debate over good science. What this means is that the Theistic Evolutionists get to define proper theology and proper science. Neat trick if you can pull it off.

    It looks like Miller has fooled a lot of people into believing that Roman Catholicism and science are perfectly compatible. Did he fool you too?

  24. #24 plunge
    September 11, 2006

    “For atheists, the failure to adopt a religion isn’t a “non-scientific philosophical interpretation” as Miller would have us believe. Instead, it’s a perfectly normal default position that is completely scientific by any definition of science.”

    To be more clear, not believing in a god isn’t any position at all, scientific or otherwise. Requiring that all things you believe be scientific also isn’t a scientific position: it’s a position ABOUT science. Insisting that there are no gods is a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

    Get it? Atheism itself is not scientific, no matter how you define it. It doesn’t need to be.

    “Of course he’s going to claim that all of the inferences he draws from science are beyond the reach of science and therefore compatible with science. Lots of people make that claim, including astrologers, faith healers, and psychic detectives.”

    But Miller is different in that for him, science comes first and THEN he figures out how his beliefs track with that. He isn’t running around claiming that he can prove that Mars makes your girlfriend angry. He’s looking at science and then thinking about how that informs his faith. It just isn’t the same thing.

    “There are forms of Deism and pantheism that may work, but not Roman Catholicism.”

    I may agree with you here. While I think Miller’s theology probably works ok for him, it seems like there are any number of sticky points that other Catholic theologians have with him.

    “Miller is attacking science. He is arguing that it’s perfectly okay to have supernatural explanations of natural phenomena and still be doing good science.”

    It is perfectly okay. As long as you don’t mix your theology into your science, as opposed to the other way around.

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    September 11, 2006

    Larry, I think you’re missing the point. This post is not about whether Miller is right to believe in God; in fact, that’s completely irrelevant to the point of the post. And it’s a subject I just have little interest in. The point was that PZ was completely misinterpreting Miller’s position with regard to atheists and making him into an enemy because of that misreading. I reacted because, frankly, he’s done the same thing to me and I’m not even a theist (the mere fact that I have some political views he doesn’t like and think that the battle is about evolution, not atheism, is enough to make me an “adversary”, to use his word).

  26. #26 Markus
    September 11, 2006

    I’m certain that Dawkins can use Germ Theory, Theory of QED and Gravity to promote Atheism too. And why not? In a another blog that was speaking about methological vs philosophical naturalism, all sciences are equally atheistic. Some people would rather call them “agnostic” but they still are atheistic for all intents and purposes. eg. they follow NO supernatural religion, and pretty much try to avoid using supernatural answers.

    I know this might lead to concerns about 1st amendment establishments, but I don’t think the founders had any problems with the establishment of scientific findings (I mean, if “reminders of heritage” can include religious references, surely atheistic science could also.)

  27. #27 kehrsam
    September 11, 2006

    Larry Moran would no doubt argue with Ed above when he claims that love is not a reducible phenomenon. Perhaps it is nothing but homones fitting into receptors that trigger electro-chemical reactions.

    Moran’s larger argument appears to be that we should admit no ideas other than science to trouble our thought. This is a silly argument, but shows up with regularity on a number of science blogs.

    What such thinkers forget is that the scientific convention that a naturalistic explanation exists for any given phenomenon is, in fact, an assumption. We adopt it because the alternative would mean that we would be less sure about what we know. Failure to always follow this convention is no more an abandonment of science than rolling through a red light on an empty street is an abandonment of lawfulness.

    Let’s lighten up. I am fully convinced of evolution; I also happen to be an evangelical Christian. These ideas are not the least bit incompatible in my mind, so I’m not sure why Mr. Moran feels the need to tell me otherwise.

  28. #28 Ed Brayton
    September 11, 2006

    markus wrote:

    In a another blog that was speaking about methological vs philosophical naturalism, all sciences are equally atheistic. Some people would rather call them “agnostic” but they still are atheistic for all intents and purposes. eg. they follow NO supernatural religion, and pretty much try to avoid using supernatural answers.

    But to call them “atheistic” in this sense is to say nothing at all. They “follow no supernatural religion” in the same sense that cooking follows no supernatural religion – it’s simply irrelevant to the process. They have nothing to do with one another. In this sense, beating a drum is “atheistic”, and so is hanging curtains.

  29. #29 Julia
    September 11, 2006

    Ed, thanks for your calm and reasonable post.

    Plunge, you did an excellent job of discussing these issues on PZ’s blog. I find your comments always lucid and worth reading, even on the rare occasions when I don’t agree with you.

    I don’t see any indication that Miller intended to incite people against atheists, and I keep trying to understand how such comments as his could have provoked so many very angry responses. I imagine that many atheists have had bad personal experiences with criticism and rejection from various people claiming to be speaking from a religious perspective. I suppose enough of those negative experiences might make almost any new comment from a religious person seem threatening. If one is convinced that it can never be possible for any religious beliefs to be other than an actual contradiction of science, even when the person with the beliefs clearly identifies them as philosophical rather than scientific, then I suppose that any statement of religious belief could appear to be an attack on one’s self, and in the case of scientists, perhaps especially biologists, on the intellectual field that one loves. Such an attack seems to me, though, to have been very far from Miller’s intention.

  30. #30 Herb
    September 11, 2006

    Come to think of it, what the heck? Why would you post as “Anonymous” when you can pick a handle that’s just as anonymous as anything else?

    I agree :-) Actually, my chosen handle is Herb. “Anonymous” is the first selection when Firefox autocompletes the field for me. So I must have typed that at one time, but time and again I’m lazy or I forget to keep scrolling because I’m addicted to autocomplete.

    I don’t get Lettuce’s comment. I’m just saying that I don’t like when PZ goes off on atheist rants, and it’s not because I’m religious.

  31. #31 Daniel Morgan
    September 11, 2006

    As much as PZ may see you as an “adversary”, and that he is an atheist liberal while you are [correct me if I'm wrong] a deist libertarian [forgive me if I inferred wrongly], I still bet that if the two of you were multiplied x50 and made into the Senate, you’d still get a lot of things done and a lot of good legislation passed.

    Although (supposedly) those “minority/fringe” views that the two of you espouse (both politically and religiously) are not openly shared by more than a possible 2% of our Senate, they can’t do anything right. Why is that?

    PS: I’m an atheist and something of a libertarian, socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

  32. #32 WJD
    September 11, 2006

    Ed said:

    They have nothing to do with one another. In this sense, beating a drum is “atheistic”, and so is hanging curtains.

    That instantly reminded me of something. On Iron Maiden’s Live After Death album, when Bruce is yakking it up right before the song “Revelations” explaining what the song might mean, he ends by saying, “actually it’s about mending a pair of curtains.” ;)

  33. #33 Dave Carlson
    September 11, 2006

    I posted a few comments in disagreement with PZ over on Pharyngula and he responded to some of them. I still don’t really agree with some of what he said, but I was happy with the fact that he was willing to have a reasonable conversation without going into histerics. Some people who comment there, on the other hand, are completely unwilling to have such a reasonable converstation, instead preferring arrogance and invectives to rational discussion. It’s tiresome just reading comments from those kinds of people, much less trying to interact with them.

  34. #34 Ed Brayton
    September 11, 2006

    Daniel Morgan wrote:

    As much as PZ may see you as an “adversary”, and that he is an atheist liberal while you are [correct me if I'm wrong] a deist libertarian [forgive me if I inferred wrongly], I still bet that if the two of you were multiplied x50 and made into the Senate, you’d still get a lot of things done and a lot of good legislation passed.

    I’m absolutely baffled by the notion that I could be viewed as an adversary in this particular dispute. But then there are nuts like Gary Hurd who thinks that unless one agrees with them on absolutely everything, they must be the enemy (and who, apparently in all seriousness, called me – of all people – a stooge of the right wing reconstructionists!). This is the sort of shallow, simplistic thinking you get from fanatics and zealots.

  35. #35 Stogoe
    September 11, 2006

    ‘Anonymous’ is just too anonymous for my tastes. There really is zero assurance that any comments are from the same person.

    Thinking PZ a blowhard is not an indefensible position to take, of course. No name and the short quip caught me off guard.

  36. #36 Siamang
    September 11, 2006

    Ed wrote “But to call them “atheistic” in this sense is to say nothing at all. They “follow no supernatural religion” in the same sense that cooking follows no supernatural religion – it’s simply irrelevant to the process. They have nothing to do with one another. In this sense, beating a drum is “atheistic”, and so is hanging curtains.”

    I’m an atheist in the exact same sense. I follow no supernatural religion. It’s irrelevant to the process of living. My heart beats like a drum, I cook and I hang curtains. I am an atheist in the same way that science is atheistic: neither of us can disprove God, neither of us require God to function. But why does theology insist on this extra-scientific primacy that no other realm of human thought is afforded? You would think it bizarre if I asserted that fire doesn’t cook food, it merely summons the undetectable invisible cooking daemons.

    If science is asked the question, science answers that there is no evidence for cooking daemons, does it not?

    Or is science required to be silent on all unlikely unevidenced invisibles?

    The question is between methodological naturalism vs philosophical naturalism.

    I don’t see why one cannot or should not take a lesson from science and apply a methodological naturalism to their questions about the existence of God. Why does it then become a philosophy or a theology question suddenly?

    I think some people say “that’s not science”. By which they mean one of two very different things. Thing one is “science cannot disprove God.” Which is very true. The other thing they mean is “God should not be examined by science, nor subjected to the scientific requirement of falsifiability.”

    If the God question has been placed outside of the area of inquiry of science, it has been done by believers, has it not? What is the scientific answer to the question “do virgins give birth?”

  37. #37 GH
    September 11, 2006

    I have seen by Dawkins, claiming that instilling one’s religious beliefs on a child as tantamount to child abuse

    This is a very valid statement on more than a few levels. Of course it isn’t on the level of more direct abuses but in some forms I think it can qualify.

    What such thinkers forget is that the scientific convention that a naturalistic explanation exists for any given phenomenon is, in fact, an assumption. We adopt it because the alternative would mean that we would be less sure about what we know. Failure to always follow this convention is no more an abandonment of science than rolling through a red light on an empty street is an abandonment of lawfulness.

    Let’s lighten up. I am fully convinced of evolution; I also happen to be an evangelical Christian. These ideas are not the least bit incompatible in my mind, so I’m not sure why Mr. Moran feels the need to tell me otherwise

    I think this entire thought is pretty much irrational. Kersham calls naturalism an assumption which it may be but it’s one that has the benefit of being testable and provable across many fields and ideas. To think that faith based ideas are working on the same field or even applicable is simply incorrect. And I agree one can believe anything and make it compatible if one tries hard enough. But is it rational in any way? I don’t think so.

    Moran’s larger argument appears to be that we should admit no ideas other than science to trouble our thought. This is a silly argument, but shows up with regularity on a number of science blogs.

    Excellent rebuttal. What is love to you then? I suppose it isn’t produced from your biology at all eh?

  38. #38 Bruce Wilson
    September 11, 2006

    E.O. Wilson – No slouch of a scientist – sides with Ed Brayton on this issue ( see Wilson’s concept of “Non Intersecting Magisteria” ) and I do as well. Indeed, I think I can speak for a good number of the writers over at Talk To Action – and Fred Clarkson most emphatically – who would hold that in the absence of any evidence pro or contra, it is not any more or less rational to hold atheistic or theistic beliefs.

    There’s no evidence pro or contra, but I’d also add that I find a curiously stagnant quality in such arguments: they seem to militate against what I take to be the essence of scientific inquiry – deep, restless or relentless curiousity accompanied by a willingess to entertain all hypotheses until disproven.

    I find the prospect of attempting to slay beliefs that – if not empirically verifiable – can not be empirically disproven to be a petty, tawdry enterprse. Why bother ? What is at stake ?

    That – I suspect – is the heart of the matter : I suspect that those who feel so antagonistc towards religious belief feel that they are doing battle with the demons of perceived unreason.

    Maybe they are, and maybe they’re not. I for one think the enterprise to be – variously – ill considered, foolish, mean spirited, and at times bigoted and – dare I say it – verging on assaulting the foundational principles of American Democracy.

    The United States was founded as a secular nation – in part – due to the keen awareness of the founders that conflict over religious beliefs ( or the lack of it ) could lead to the terrible sort of strife that had all too recently wracked Europe. The notion of a secular nation – neither atheistic nor specifically theistic – was a radical notion at the time the US Constitution was drafted and ratified and , maybe it still is a radical notion.

    Regardless, I hope we can pause to consider the implications of what Jefferson, Madison, and others who contributed to the creation of the World’s first truly secular nation really accomplished :

    They established – fought for and carved out actually, a neutral space without precedent – and the fight against article 6 of the Constitution, especially its prohibition against religious oaths as precondition for holding federal office, was bitter.

    America’s founders established a neutral space – in federal government at least ( the union of the 13 colonies was contentious enough, and the intertwining of religion and government that held in the colonies would only lessen, gradually in some cases, over the better part of the the next few centuries ) and that alone was unprecedented – the establishment of some sort of neutral ground, such that citizens of the new nation could not be reduced to secondary status or dhimmitude for their religious or philosophical beliefs…. that was new.

    I suppose it still is – and Ben Franklin’s quip is as freshly and cuttingly challenging now as it was over two hundred years ago : we have our democracy, but can we keep it ? The threat of internecine conflict over religious and philosophical divisions is no less now than in Franklin’s time and is likely far greater.

    And, so what do I have to say about the actual battles raging around the US in the ‘culture wars’ ?

    Well, my allies are those who defend the teaching of science in the classroom against an ideologically intransigent variant of intractably obtuse Greek skepticism – delivered by bandleader-zealots heading the Kent Hovind dog and pony show dino world parade – who want to inflict their mania to turn back the last century ( at least ) on American schoolchldren. Government educational planners in the developing world everywhere are no doubt rubbing their hands in glee at the mess – at the prospect that the American star is waning due to…. a rejection of science ? We can do better, I hope, or if not….

    Who woulda thunk it ?

    Well, that’s a dismal fate I cannot accept. So, on to politics:

    My allies are those who fight for science in the classroom, science in government health policy rather than the Lysenkoist provocation of “faith based” STD pandemics, and rapid government action on the widely accepted science of global warming before massive methane eructations boil up out of the clathrate to drive us back to the stone age – if we’re lucky – or even throw ol’ Gaia herself out of whack. Mars ? Venus ? Take your pick – while y’all bicker and spar with Ed Brayton here on this internet forum planetary scale processes are moving us faster and faster towards a more and more extreme “funnel” ( to use a term favored by the sustainablitity crowd ) and we’d better turn our big and amazingly inventive Homo Sapiens Sapiens brains towards that fate while we still can.

    I for one don’t give a rattus rattus’ mangy ass about the religious or atheistic beliefs of my allies in that fight. They can believe in Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Cthulhu or the God of Elvis for all I care, and they can be starched Presbyterians or Wiccans dancing naked to drums at Solstice and leaping over bonfires. Whatever : I’ll take my allies where I find them. As long as they believe in science and its ability to inform increasingly critical areas of government policy, I’ll be grateful and even respectfully curious about their beliefs on god, gods, goddesses, spirits, the afterlife, or the yawning nothingness.

    I would think atheists – of all people – would have the keenest sense that life is short, life is precious, and that we all – atheist, theist, or other – must pick and choose our battles with care.

    Medieval theologians, or the Ancient Greeks, were engaging is similar sorts of debates centuries and millenia ago, and armies have fought through moonless nights down to a man, amidst pool of bloody entrails and hacked off limbs to no resolution of these matters, for there are none.

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin ?

    Well, how many enraged and bickering atheists and theists can waste how many thousands of precious hours,dancing on the whirling head of the hard drive platter of the server powering Ed Brayton’s forum here ? Probably millions – ad revenue would buy new servers and rackspace aplenty.

    Time marches on…

    In the end, atheism vs. theism is a rube’s game. The inquisitions vs. Stalin’s gulags ? Is that it ? Shall we weigh and count corpses ? Or, could we adopt a third way and accept that Beria and Torquemada were Janus faces of the same god and fate called politics, and the madness of blind ideology, applied in relentless pursuit of distant abstract and hypothetical goals while real humans are crushed, screaming, under the wheels ?

    Long before the advent of modern day science, though, a very canny Greek named Archimedes conceieved of a device.

    The lever.

    Human belief systems – as do all systems – have leverage points, yes. But the paths to those do no lead towards frontal assault.

    Most Americans consider themselves Christians of some sort. Many of those Americans also support teaching science in schools and are opposed to the general aims of the hard Christian right. So, unless I see some credible atheist plan to gain the sort of political power necessary to force “reason” upon the faithful ( and, guess whose side I would be on in that struggle ? ) I would suggest that American atheists would do well to make peace – friends even – with those Americans whose religious beliefs do not include the introduction of “Young Earth” pseudotheories and “abstinence only” ideology into public schools, and reimposition of Biblical Law a la Gary North and RJ Rushdoony.

    In the end, is the point to simply be “right” – or might there be objectives that transcend this sorry fray, goals on which we all could agree ?

  39. #39 Bruce Wilson
    September 11, 2006

    Also – my apologies for the interjection – it’s not especially conversational. So, pay no mind to my essay. This is a community of sorts, and I’m simply passing by en route to the beach, to resume a chess battle with Death. One more move to checkmate, and I’m sure I’ve got him beat.

  40. #40 Treban
    September 11, 2006

    I have seen by Dawkins, claiming that instilling one’s religious beliefs on a child as tantamount to child abuse

    This is a very valid statement on more than a few levels. Of course it isn’t on the level of more direct abuses but in some forms I think it can qualify.

    How, pray tell?

  41. #41 Treban
    September 11, 2006

    Fundies of every sort are just that, fundies. It is sad to see it in a group I tend to respect for their general lack of fanaticism turn toward such dogmatic furvor. I trust scientists as scientists, not neccesarily as philosophers.

    Thanks, Dr Ken! I know what side you’re on, now…it’s you and the creationists, best friends 4ever! Did they promise to let you strike the match at the atheist-burning?

    Ok, thats just juvenile, not really dogmatic – but illustrative.

    Religion IS anti-science; it invokes a way of ‘knowing’ something that is antithetical to the method of science.

    From the attached comments – and that is dogmatic. By his definition any philosophy, no matter what it might be, is simply anti-science.

    I would never argue that religion or philosophy trump science. I would argue, however that they are far from mutualy exclusive.

  42. #42 RBH
    September 11, 2006

    I will repeat what I’ve said in several other discussions of this particular topic: Pat Hayes got it right in a comment on Panda’s Thumb:

    At bottom, the creationist challenge to evolution isn’t scientific. It’s a political and cultural battle between authoritarians on the one hand, and proponents of tolerance, free inquiry, and democracy on the other.

    That’s the ball we have to keep our eyes on.

  43. #43 GH
    September 11, 2006

    This is a very valid statement on more than a few levels. Of course it isn’t on the level of more direct abuses but in some forms I think it can qualify.

    How, pray tell?

    If you don’t think filling childrens heads with thoughts of hell and damnation, the believe or else idea is equivalent to abuse we’re not going to see eye to eye here. Parents won’t let their children watch horror movies but then have no problem filling their minds with imagined devils and evils that will occur if that don’t follow this or that arbitrary rule.

    I would never argue that religion or philosophy trump science. I would argue, however that they are far from mutualy exclusive.

    What type of ‘knowledge’ do religions actually offer? They are contradictory internally and externally. They prize faith over reason and don’t give me the exclusive bit either. It simply is not reasonable to think most religious claims are such at their core.

    Miller is a good scientist who has written a good book, as PZ says for 165 pages and then he goes of the deep end. Not unlike a typical creationist. PZ’s words are harsh and I agree he is attacking an ally but while Miller understands evolution and is a great champion of it he has compartmentalized more than many I have read. Which is fine and I support his right to do so, but at the same time I feel his religious arguments are worthy of scorn.

  44. #44 Ed Brayton
    September 11, 2006

    To Bruce Wilson:

    No need to apologize for interjecting your thoughts. They are appreciated very much, and you are more than welcome to contribute comments here any time. I have great respect for the work you do.

  45. #45 Chance
    September 11, 2006

    and Fred Clarkson most emphatically – who would hold that in the absence of any evidence pro or contra, it is not any more or less rational to hold atheistic or theistic beliefs

    This is simply wrong. I think this argument could be made for fideism but not an involved theism. It is certainly more rational to hold no position for that which one has no evidence. Unless of course one thinks the flying spaghetti monster is an equally valid proposition.

    There’s no evidence pro or contra, but I’d also add that I find a curiously stagnant quality in such arguments: they seem to militate against what I take to be the essence of scientific inquiry – deep, restless or relentless curiousity accompanied by a willingess to entertain all hypotheses until disproven.

    so do you entertain the possibility of fairis, gnomes, and the FSM? Must one shift the burden to those who don’t buy into such baloney?

    I find the prospect of attempting to slay beliefs that – if not empirically verifiable – can not be empirically disproven to be a petty, tawdry enterprse. Why bother ? What is at stake ?

    I can’t believe your serious here. The very core of much of the culture war ARE these unreasoned indoctrinated belief systems. People don’t vote against stem cells or gays because they have been harmed by them or read many arguments about them. They do so because they actually believe a book, a book, is infallible despite the fact that it’s contradictions within internally and externally are obvious.

    That – I suspect – is the heart of the matter : I suspect that those who feel so antagonistc towards religious belief feel that they are doing battle with the demons of perceived unreason.

    A perceived enemy? A perceived enemy? from butterflies and wheels:

    It is not politically or tactically useful to point out the fundamental and unbreachable gaps between science and theology. Indeed, scientists and philosophers have written many books (equivalents of Leibnizian theodicy) desperately trying to show how these areas can happily cohabit. In his essay, “Darwin goes to Sunday School”, Crews reviews several of these works, pointing out with brio the intellectual contortions and dishonesties involved in harmonizing religion and science. Assessing work by the evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, the philosopher Michael Ruse, the theologian John Haught and others, Crews concludes, “When coldly examined . . . these productions invariably prove to have adulterated scientific doctrine or to have emptied religious dogma of its commonly accepted meaning”.

  46. #46 386sx
    September 11, 2006

    It’s not evolution that they fear and despise, because frankly most of them don’t know the first thing about evolution; it’s atheism that they fear and despise and they mistakenly think that atheism is equivalent to evolution.

    They don’t like evolution because they think God didn’t do things that way. So they aren’t going to target just an “atheistic interpretation” of evolution if they think all the interpretations of evolution are wrong. You guys might be closer to the truth if you said “it’s sin that they fear and despise and they mistakenly think that sin is equivalent to evolution.” I’m not sure why you guys are belaboring that, but hey whatevuh. Cheers.

  47. #47 Larry Moran
    September 11, 2006

    kehrsam says,

    Larry Moran would no doubt argue with Ed above when he claims that love is not a reducible phenomenon. Perhaps it is nothing but homones fitting into receptors that trigger electro-chemical reactions.

    What else could it be but a straightforward biochemical reaction of some sort? Do you think it’s magic? Does love violate the laws of physics and chemistry?

    Moran’s larger argument appears to be that we should admit no ideas other than science to trouble our thought. This is a silly argument, but shows up with regularity on a number of science blogs.

    That’s not the argument I made here and it isn’t the argument I made elsewhere. If you were to pay close attention you would have seen what my argument says. The idea is that you can believe whatever you want to believe as long as you don’t call it science when it conflicts with science.

    This is Miller’s problem. He couches his religious belief in scientific language and gives the impression that there’s no conflict between his Roman Catholic dogma and science. This is the silly argument. Please pay attention.

    What such thinkers forget is that the scientific convention that a naturalistic explanation exists for any given phenomenon is, in fact, an assumption. We adopt it because the alternative would mean that we would be less sure about what we know.

    That part is correct. We make rules about what is science and what isn’t. One of the rules is that scientific explanations of the natural world must be naturalistic. It’s an “assumption” that’s also a rule – and it’s not arbitrary.

    Failure to always follow this convention is no more an abandonment of science than rolling through a red light on an empty street is an abandonment of lawfulness.

    If you fail to follow the conventions of science then you aren’t doing science and you shouldn’t try to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes
    by pretending otherwise. You should just admit that your religion conflicts with science but you choose religion in spite of the conflict.

    If you consistently go through red lights then don’t pretend that you always obey the law when you’re behind the wheel. That’s a lie. You may think you have a good reason to disobey the law but that won’t cut it in court.

    Let’s lighten up. I am fully convinced of evolution; I also happen to be an evangelical Christian. These ideas are not the least bit incompatible in my mind, so I’m not sure why Mr. Moran feels the need to tell me otherwise.

    I’m not sure what beliefs you hold but I strongly suspect they involve miracles and other interventions of God in the natural world. If you think that’s compatible with science then I’m here to tell you otherwise.

    I’m not here to convert you. All I want you to do is to be honest about the meaning of science and the times when you abandon it in favor of religion.

  48. #48 Leni
    September 11, 2006

    Although I do think there is a bit of hysterical tone in some of the criticisms of Miller, I must also confess that I find his Catholicism totally baffling.

    Like Dawkins said about his daughter- I am tempted to say he seems far too intelligent for that.

    On the topic of reconciliation- I am with the others here who have pointed out that religion doesn’t exist in a vaccuum (even if its deities sometimes do) and that it does make claims that fall under the purvue of science. All the time, in fact. And often people believe in religion precisely because it is relevent to them in this way.

    The story of Genesis is exactly one of those claims. If you believe that the Bible is the true and inerrant word of God, then you will be compelled to believe that Genesis is an accurate description of what happened. Of course you don’t have to think anything you don’t want to- you can just think that it’s a nice story told by people who had no other means of accounting for their existance… but that pretty much everything else they said was right.

    Just not, you know, any of the actual testable claims. So what Miller does is give us another convenient excuse to disregard all the obvious errors in, for example, the Bible while managing to (or perhaps in order to) preserve belief in the remaining untestable (or not as overtly ridiculous) religous claims.

    This is the same thing as saying belief in astrology is justifiable and reconciable with science, because there are some things that astrologers say that can not be tested. Even though we can demonstrate that nearly every time it does make a testable claim it is patently false. Why bother?

    Because we have to. Because too many people have deeply held but demonstrably false beliefs about our origins and if we don’t convince them to disregard at least some of the Bible we will continue to lose public support simply because we (and here I mean people who accept evolution and perhaps even abiogenesis, religous or not) are outnumbered.

  49. #49 Leni
    September 12, 2006

    Incidentally, for anyone who’s interested I just found this essay by Amiel Rossow at talkreason.org. It’s a brief analysis of Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God, wherein Miller attempts to explain how he reconciles his religious belief with his scientific work. Seems Rossow is as baffled about it as I am. Nevertheless he manages to sum it up nicely:

    On page 272 Miller writes about the history of evolutionary development and concludes as follows, “Surely this means that mankind’s appearance on this planet was not preordained, that we are here not as a product of an inevitable procession of evolutionary success, but as an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out. I agree.”

    How this statement can be reconciled with the fundamental tenets of Christian religion is beyond me (using Miller’s own words on page 172 which he applied to his bewilderment at Dembski’s position). This is a question of simple logic which points to the incompatibility between the statement that the existence of human intellect is a minor detail, a happenstance in history, and the fundamental principle of Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths according to which humans are the product of a purposeful, deliberate, planned action by God. Miller fails to explain how the two incompatible views can be reconciled.”

    So while PZ might have been guilty of misrepresenting Miller in this case, it seems Miller may have earned a bit of the criticism leveled at his position of reconciliation. Of course- I haven’t read his book. I was just trying to satisfy my burning desire to know what goes on in the mind of a Roman Catholic evolution defender (instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour…).

    Well Ed, there you have it. If we found incontrovertable evdence about the origins of the universe we’d still have plenty of mysteries to ponder.

  50. #50 AndyS
    September 12, 2006

    When PZ demonstrates so perfect an inability to distinquish between a Dembski, a Collins, and a Miller, he fails the rational thinking test and ends up in the zealot and fanatic camp. This is especailly true when he jumps on Collins and then Miller based on hearsay as he did in a couple of posts recently. It’s behavior that reflects badly on scientists and atheists.

    I’m happy to join in the chorus of “good job” for plunge. He did a really stand up job in the comments over on Pharyngula.

  51. #51 RickD
    September 12, 2006

    I would dispute this point:

    “Evolution is no more atheistic or naturalistic than any other scientific theory.”

    It really comes down to what kind of theism we’re talking about here. If we’re talking about the traditional Christian dogma, that claims that all the species were created in their current form at the moment of creation, then it doesn’t really matter to most Christians that evolution doesn’t conflict with deism or Hinduism or some other religious philosophy other than their own. It conflicts with the underlying dogma of most of the Christian denominations.

    Now it is true that the major Christian denominations are less hostile to science than they used to be. But they’ve achieved that status only by compromising their own dogmas. And religions have a problem if they yield ground to science at all: if they yield any of their dogma and adopt a new position, it becomes quite apparent to the observer that what the religion is doing is no longer passing on ancient beliefs, but it is actively making up new beliefs on the spot. Now it’s true a lot of people are comfortable with the concept of “making it up as you go along”, but the big selling point of religions has been that this kind of improvisation is exactly the opposite of what they are offering. It’s hard to peddle an “eternal truth” if you just invented it last Tuesday.

    I do agree that the problem is not evolution, but it’s also not “atheism”. It’s empiricism. Religions feel the need to base themselves on dogmatic principles that cannot be challenged. Science, when properly understood, takes exactly the opposite approach. That’s a conflict that’s not going to go away. Religions as they currently exist do not simply hold onto science-neutral dogmas such as “there was once a God that created the universe”. Their beliefs are much more complicated than that, and that’s why the conflicts are inevitable. While the invisible watchmaker is a scientifically unfalsifiable hypothesis, it’s also, from a religious standpoint, not a terribly interesting nor compelling hypothesis. People are not interested in religions that tell them “there’s a God, but he hasn’t done anything in our universe in many millions of years”.

    Religions are only interesting because they make supernatural truth claims. And I don’t really understand how scientists reconcile the supernatural truth claims with their professional empricism. (Mind you, I’ve seen quite a bit of it, but I still don’t understand it.)

  52. #52 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    But we cannot, using the tools of science, either prove or disprove the possibility that the process was sparked by some supernatural cause.

    Of course we can’t, because the tools of logic (which are the foundations of science) show such a possibility to be meaningless.

    Everything that interacts with the natural world is part of the natural world, by definition. Supernatural things aren’t possible. No event that has consequences in the real world is beyond the conceptual boundaries of science, although it may well evade our technological grasp.

    By insisting that there were real events caused by supernatural things beyond the reach of science, Miller places the consequences beyond science. Yet science studies the real world. There’s a very large problem there – Miller is misrepresenting the nature of scientific inquiry to make a safe haven for his religious doctrines.

  53. #53 Larry Moran
    September 12, 2006

    AndyS says,

    When PZ demonstrates so perfect an inability to distinquish between a Dembski, a Collins, and a Miller, he fails the rational thinking test and ends up in the zealot and fanatic camp. This is especailly true when he jumps on Collins and then Miller based on hearsay as he did in a couple of posts recently. It’s behavior that reflects badly on scientists and atheists.

    Here’s a little test. Explain the significant differences between the theologies of the Intelligent Design Creationists Michael Behe and Michael Denton on the one hand, and the Theistic Evolutionists Francis Collins and Ken Miller on the other. Describe the one that’s most compatible with science.

    Why is it okay to criticize Behe and Denton but not Collins and Miller? Does it reflect badly on scientists when we criticize Behe and Denton? Do you ever accuse scientists of being irrational zealots and fanatics when they criticize Intelligent Design Creationists based on nothing but hearsay? That would keep you busy for a lifetime …
    PZ had a lot more than hearsay going for him to support his criticism of Miller. So do I.

  54. #54 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Larry, no one in this discussion has said that it’s not okay to criticize Miller and Collins. That’s a pure straw man. I’m sure both of them are more than happy to discuss and debate their warrants for their theism. But that’s not what PZ did. He attacked both of them and called them enemies based solely on the fact that they believe in God, and he ended up having to retract both accusations. There is a big difference between criticizing his theistic views and claiming that his theism makes him an adversary in the battle for good science education, or worse yet claiming that he’s part of some partnership with the creationists to destroy atheists. PZ had the good sense to retract that accusation; there’s little point in trying to defend it.

  55. #55 Larry Moran
    September 12, 2006

    Ed Brayton says,

    Larry, no one in this discussion has said that it’s not okay to criticize Miller and Collins. That’s a pure straw man.

    Surely you’re not as naive as this statement makes out? Yes, strictly speaking there is nobody in this thread who said you can’t criticize Miller and Collins. But that’s the underlying message behind many of the complaints against PZ, Dawkins, and others.
    According to many people, Miller and Collins are the good guys. They fight Creationists. We aren’t supposed to criticize them because we want them under the big tent with us. They’re good scientists and nice people. The message is clear even if you pretend to ignore it.
    I don’t see anyone getting upset when we criticze the Intelligent Design Creationists, do you? Why is that?
    And don’t give me that bullshit about the criticism being unfair. Lots of criticism of Behe and Dembski is way over the line as far as fairness and accuracy is concerned. Do you see people coming to the defense of Dembski and Behe? Of course not. Why? Because they’re the bad guys.

    But that’s not what PZ did. He attacked both of them and called them enemies based solely on the fact that they believe in God, and he ended up having to retract both accusations. There is a big difference between criticizing his theistic views and claiming that his theism makes him an adversary in the battle for good science education, …..

    Miller is promoting the idea that science is perfectly compatible with all of the beliefs of good Roman Catholics. I don’t that’s correct. I think Miller is not promoting good science education. That makes him an adversary, in my opinion. He is mixing science and religion and I don’t want students to be taught Theistic Evolution.

    … or worse yet claiming that he’s part of some partnership with the creationists to destroy atheists. PZ had the good sense to retract that accusation; there’s little point in trying to defend it.

    I don’t see much difference between the theology of Miller and Michael Behe, do you? They are both creationists (lower case “c”) and they are both Roman Catholics. Michael Behe is labelled a big “C” Creationist but Miller rejects that label.

    Miller opposes atheism. Miller wants all people of faith (or Christians) to join together in recognizing that their enemy isn’t evolution, its the atheistic interpretation of evolution. This seems like a partnership to me. I happen to believe that atheistic science is good science and supernatural science is bad science. That makes Miller and all of his partners my opponents in the battle for good science education.

  56. #56 Ed Brayton
    September 12, 2006

    Larry, if you really think that Ken Miller is your opponent in the battle for good science education, we’ve got much deeper problems than I realized. Even PZ retracted that claim a couple days ago.

  57. #57 Larry Moran
    September 13, 2006

    Ed Brayton says,

    Larry, if you really think that Ken Miller is your opponent in the battle for good science education, we’ve got much deeper problems than I realized.

    Do you think that promoting Theistic Evolution is an example of good science education?
    If your answer is “no” then what’s the alternative? Isn’t it atheistic science, because that’s what science is? Anyone who wants to join me in promoting a version of science that excludes the supernatural and makes God unnecessary in explaining the natural world is welcome under my tent.
    Anyone who says that miracles are compatible with science should find a different tent.
    Which tent would you choose, Ed?

  58. #58 Ed Brayton
    September 13, 2006

    Ken doesn’t advocate the teaching of theistic evolution; he advocates the teaching of evolution. And he does it incredibly well, I might add, as the author of the most popular high school biology textbooks in the country. There is not a word in any of them about theism, and the man has contributed more than virtually anyone else I know in the battle to prevent religious views from distorting the teaching of science in our public schools. If Ken Miller isn’t in your tent, you are absolutely in the wrong tent. You’re fighting in an entirely different battle.

  59. #59 Larry Moran
    September 13, 2006

    Ed Brayton says,

    Ken doesn’t advocate the teaching of theistic evolution; he advocates the teaching of evolution.

    Well, one of surely has wool over his eyes.
    Here’s what Ken Miller says in his essay on Teaching Evoluton in a Climate of Controversy: Meshing Classroom Practice with Science and Common sense. You can find it on the website for his Biology textbook.

    There are a number of ways in which evolutionary science can be reconciled with the most conventional and literal of religious teachings, and I will discuss several of these. Each, I will agrue, encourages the same sensible strategy for dealing with religious conflicts that might arise in science education. The strategy is:

    (1) Never seek conflict where it is avoidable.

    (2) Always to encourage respect and understanding for religious belief.

    (3) Always to teach science “correctly,” by which I mean to emphasize the tentative, evolving nature of scientific knowledge.

    Please explain how an atheist or a Buddhist is supposed to teach evolution in a way that can be reconciled with the “most conventional and literal of religious teachings.” How are we supposed to avoid conflict? Are we supposed to gloss over the fact that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old? Are we supposed to avoid saying that, according to science, there is no detectable meaning or purpose to life? How do we respond to a student who asks about miracles or intelligent design? And what about this idea that knowldege is “tentative?” Does that include evolution?
    You know full well how Miller would answer some of those questions. He would say that you don’t necessarily have to respect really stupid religious beliefs like Young Earth Creationism. You just have to respect the less stupid ones like Theistic Evolution.

    Miller continues …

    As I will emphasize, my central thesis is not that scientific knowledge can or should be withheld from those who resist it. Rather, I will argue that evolutionary science can and should be taught in a way that respects and enriches religion. All science educators should realize that western religions were essential to the intellectual transformation that made the scientific revolution possible. Religious motivations to understand nature have motivated many scientists, including Darwin himself.

    Do you agree with that? Do you think atheist and Hindu teachers should present evolution in a way that “enriches” Christianity? Do you think they should have to point out in class that religion (i.e., Christianity) was “essential” to the scientific revolution?
    Ed, try not to be too literalist in this discussion. Miller isn’t going to come right out and say we should put God in the science class. He’s way too smart for that. Instead, he advocates a way of teaching science that leaves as many gaps as possible and avoids any facts and concepts that might reveal a conflict with mainstream organized religion such as Roman Catholicism. According to Miller, we mustn’t reveal to students that science is atheistic in it’s approach to understanding the natural world. That’s a “conflict” that should be avoided even if it means distorting science education.

  60. #60 Ed Brayton
    September 13, 2006

    Larry, Ken is talking there about how a teacher should handle situations that come up in the classroom when a student says that what is being taught conflicts with their religion. And he is advocating that it be handled delicately and with respect for their views. The teacher can’t very well say, “That’s just stupid.” They should stick to teaching the science, period, not the atheistic or theistic interpretation of the science. That is all Miller is saying, and he’s been quite consistent in that regard. Evolution is no more “atheistic” than any other scientific theory. The philosophical inferences we draw from science to inform our philosophical or theological views should have no place whatsoever in a science class. And that is exactly what Miller’s textbooks do. Is there even a hint of theistic inference in any of his textbooks? No. And that’s what matters, not his personal views on theism.

    We’ve gone round and round on this and we are never going to agree. If you view Miller as an enemy in the fight to protect science education from the attacks of creationists, I find that really, really sad. As for me, I will continue to work with him in any capacity I can. I dare say he’s done far more than you and me combined will ever do in that fight.

  61. #61 Larry Moran
    September 13, 2006

    Ed Braton says,

    We’ve gone round and round on this and we are never going to agree.

    I agree. We’re coming at this from two different perspectives. I’m an atheist.

    If you view Miller as an enemy in the fight to protect science education from the attacks of creationists, I find that really, really sad.

    Me too.

    As for me, I will continue to work with him in any capacity I can. I dare say he’s done far more than you and me combined will ever do in that fight.

    Actually, we’ve all done about the same. We’re all losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the average citizen. Under normal circumstances, when you’re losing you look for a change in tactics. But that doesn’t seem to be in vogue these days.

  62. #62 386sx
    September 17, 2006

    Larry Moran would no doubt argue with Ed above when he claims that love is not a reducible phenomenon. Perhaps it is nothing but homones fitting into receptors that trigger electro-chemical reactions.

    I don’t think he said that love is not a reducible concept. I think he was talking about determining the truthness of falseness of the “claims of love”. People can “claim” a lot of things. Like Mr. Moran says, “We can’t disprove lots of things, including the tooth fairy, but that doesn’t mean that belief in the tooth fairy is compatible with science. Scientific methodology cannot disprove the existence of every single thing that the human mind can imagine.” Belief in love might be compatible with science, but people can “claim” whatever they want about things that are (or are not) compatible with science.

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