Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Responding to Moran

Larry Moran has responded to my post suggesting that we are fighting different battles. Unfortunately, his response only confirms my fears; we are indeed fighting an entirely different battle. Let me first note that he now says that his suggestion that freshmen students who don’t accept evolution should be expelled was a joke. Kind of.

Ed Brayton’s opening attack on me refers to my tongue in check suggestion that students who reject evolution should be flunked, or not admitted to university in the first place. Anyone with a brain can recognize the humor and sarcasm in such a remark.


Well, that might be true except for two inconvenient facts. The first one is that, obviously, I do have a brain, as do many other people to whom I showed his statement including people he considers friends and colleagues, and not one person thought it was a joke. There is absolutely nothing in the text that even hints at it being humorous and the closest that anyone who saw it from my blog came to suggesting such a thing was to say that he hoped it was a joke.

Secondly, one might believe that it was a joke if Moran didn’t go ahead in the very next paragraph after claiming it was a joke and reiterate that he meant it:

However, behind the humor is a serious point. If students entering university have already made up their minds that evolution should be rejected, then that’s a serious problem. It’s not a question of ignorance. Those students have made an active decision to choose superstition over science.

This, of course, is nonsense. The average 18 year old, even ones who have gone through advanced biology in high school, know virtually nothing about evolution. There is no active choice going on with these students. In most cases, there is little more than a vague notion that evolution means no god and therefore must be wrong. That is the primary reason why most people reject evolution, it has nothing at all to do with weighing two sides on the basis of the evidence and choosing one. And unfortunately, people like Larry, rather than trying to remove the primary reason why these people reject evolution, only go out of their way to reinforce it.

Given a choice of students to admit into university science programs, I would choose the ones who show some understanding of science over those who reject one the fundamental facts of biology. Wouldn’t Ed?

Absolutely not. Universities don’t have that choice. On what college application does it have a questionaire that includes the question, “Do you believe in evolution?” None, of course. Nor should there be any such questions. Admission to college is based upon a number of measures of achievement, not a set of ideological litmus tests that they must pass. The only possible way to even determine who does and doesn’t believe in evolution would be enormously dangerous.

Do you really want to give the power of deciding who does and doesn’t get into college, or who gets to teach at college, based upon what beliefs they will attest to? With the influence of the religious right and constant pressure the right likes to bring on college professors and students with liberal beliefs, do we really want that? Not on your life. And I sure as hell wouldn’t want that decision made on the basis of the things I believed when I was 17 or 18 years old. What Moran is supporting is the same sort of ideological authoritarianism that we both condemn harshly when it’s displayed by the right; we do ourselves no favors by replicating them.

From that point on, Moran goes into the argument that anyone who believes in both evolution and in God is undermining science:

I’m mostly in the first group but I also have an interest in elminating the worst parts of religion; namely, those parts that conflict with reason.

Except that he makes clear that even the most basic tenet of any religion, the notion of a transcendant, non-physical reality, is in conflict with reason. So there is no “those parts” that he wants eliminated, it is religion itself. What he calls the “worst parts” is nothing more than the one core thing that all religions have.

The fight against Intelligent Design Creationism and Young Earth Creationism is only part of the battle–there’s a lot more involved in trying to improve science education. Some of it requires us to take a long hard look at the way science education is being eroded by well-meaning theists who don’t belong in one of the obvious hard-core Creationist camps. Let’s call them Theistic Evolutionists for want of a better term.

Well, that’s your battle, it’s not mine. There are theistic evolutionists who have done more to improve science education than virtually anyone else in the nation, and those are the very people you are now declaring enemies.

People like Ed Brayton think it’s okay for Theistic Evolutionists to nibble at science and undermine its principles in subtle ways. He probably thinks it’s okay because at least they aren’t taking big bites. Well, Ed, I’m here to tell you that it’s not all right. The little nibbles are just as bad, perhaps worse, and if you defend even a little bit of sloppy science then you are still defending sloppy science and you should be ashamed.

No, I reject the notion that belief in God, in and of itself, takes anything away from science education. Ken Miller is a theistic evolutionist. His scientific work is impeccable, as are his efforts in science education. Can Moran point to anything at all in Miller’s scientific work that is “sloppy”? I doubt it. Can he point to anything at all in his work on science education, the multiple textbooks that he has authored on evolutionary biology, that is affected in any way whatsoever by his Christian faith? Again, I doubt it.

So what he’s really arguing here is that despite Miller’s successful work in the laboratory explaining molecular evolution and his astonishingly tireless work on behalf of sound science education all over the country, the mere fact that he believes in God somehow undermines the principles of science. Further, that I should be ashamed for not declaring Miller my enemy as he has. And if your bullshit detector isn’t in overdrive right now, it must be broken.

All of this just reinforces my suspicions that we simply are not on the same team and are not working the same goal. My goal is to protect science education. Moran’s goal is to protect his atheism against any and all religious impulse, even if held by people who are excellent scientists and defenders of science education. And as his team pursues their goal they seek nothing less than a purge of the most valuable members of my team as we work to achieve ours.

There are people on my team working to protect science education that do not meet his ideological litmus tests. They believe in God, and therefore no matter how tirelessly they work on behalf of science education, they must be declared the enemy. But as I told Larry a few weeks ago, if you think that Ken Miller, Keith Miller, Howard Van Till, Glenn Morton, Wes Elsberry, Rob Pennock and many others are the enemy, then you simply are not on my team. You’re playing a whole different game and it’s one I have no interest in playing. I’ll stick with my team.

Comments

  1. #1 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    I’m mostly in the first group but I also have an interest in elminating the worst parts of religion; namely, those parts that conflict with reason.

    While we’re at it, why don’t we “eliminate” the “worst parts” of other human activities that “conflict with reason,” such as art, literature, social interaction, and sexual relationships? We can’t have people making irrational decisions about who to shag, what movies to see, or what art galleries to go to! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

    People like Ed Brayton think it’s okay for Theistic Evolutionists to nibble at science and undermine its principles in subtle ways.

    No, we don’t; we simply acknowledge that not all “Theistic Evolutionists” are “undermining” science. Pope JP-II’s pronouncements on evolution, for example, are pretty explicitly pro-science.

    The little nibbles are just as bad, perhaps worse…

    I’m hearing echoes of the Bolsheviks of another century, saying that liberals and other non-violent, non-radical reformers were at least as bad as the evil fascists and bourgeoisie, because their sensible, democratic, piecemeal reforms allowed the “wrong people” to stay in power and keep their heads attached to their shoulders (and made violent revolution unnecessary).

    This is what we’re getting from radical atheists: “opposite” extremists conspiring to shout down, divide, and destroy the center, each extreme hoping to justify itself by pointing to the other as the only alternative.

    And that’s one experiment we don’t need to repeat — we’ve seen the results, and they should stay in the last century.

  2. #2 Baratos
    November 22, 2006

    “While we’re at it, why don’t we “eliminate” the “worst parts” of other human activities that “conflict with reason,” such as art, literature, social interaction, and sexual relationships? We can’t have people making irrational decisions about who to shag, what movies to see, or what art galleries to go to! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!”

    Some of the “worst parts” of sexual relationships I would like to “eliminate” are rape and sexual abuse. One of the “worst parts” of social interaction I would like to “eliminate” are when the KKK come together to lynch a black man. One of the “worst parts” of literature I would like to “eliminate” is propoganda handed out by the local government that blatantly lies in order to justify, I dont know, a totalarian state.

  3. #3 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    Baratos: you are right to single out activities that cause demonstrable harm to others. Our quarrel with Moran, is that he was not so specific.

  4. #4 Markus
    November 22, 2006

    For a scientific person to suggest an ‘alternative’ reading of a book like the Bible in order to ‘make it fit’ the evidence, which is what progressive Christians tend to do, is still unscientific because it still relies on scripture for justification. It still keeps the scripture as an authority on what is valid science. What if the scripture cannot be twisted unless you blatantly lie?

    There is no reason why we shouldn’t continue to ‘attack’ the RCC for their stance on birth control, even if they do become our allies in terms of evolutionary theory.

    So students who reject a scientific matter offhand could be allowed to enter a college but they need to be sent to a special class that deals with their denial. Basically the same way how some students are sent to English language remedial classes.

    I suppose there is a subclass of theistic evolutionists that could be called Deistic evolutionists who don’t rely on any religious texts. I would guess these people would amount to least amount of resistance to scientific progress of all the various theistic people.

  5. #5 Dave S.
    November 22, 2006

    Ed writes:

    My goal is to protect science education. Moran’s goal is to protect his atheism against any and all religious impulse, even if held by people who are excellent scientists and defenders of science education. And as his team pursues their goal they seek nothing less than a purge of the most valuable members of my team as we work to achieve ours.

    I think that not all atheists are on his team either. I for one am not. I strongly support good science and good science education, in which Creationism, including the Intelligent Design flavour, have merited no part. However I do not consider just anyone who has faith to be a priori the enemy simply because of that, nor do I think they are an insideous threat to science. Just the opposite in fact.

    I just don’t understand at a tactical level why those on the far evangelical side of atheism wish to expugate the middle ground as it were. I can however see why those on the opposite end of the spectrum, the evangelical hard-core Creationist would want to do so. They know that if it really can be seen as a choice between their faith and a godless science they don’t understand, then pretty much everyone will go with their faith regardless of how well supported the science position may be. Anyway, there will always be a Wells or a Dembski or a Morris that they can point to as a real Ph.D. scientist who agrees with them, and that’s good enough for most people.

    For me, as long as the religion is not being used to substitute for the science, then I’m happy. I’ve not seen Ken Miller do that. But maybe I missed it and Prof. Moran can enlighten us.

  6. #6 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    non-physical reality

    …eh? Is that where the married batchelors live?

  7. #7 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    While we’re at it, why don’t we “eliminate” the “worst parts” of other human activities that “conflict with reason,” such as art, literature, social interaction, and sexual relationships?

    Well, you’d have to start by demonstrating that such things do, in fact, “conflict with reason” in the same sense Moran considers religion to do so.

  8. #8 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    For a scientific person to suggest an ‘alternative’ reading of a book like the Bible in order to ‘make it fit’ the evidence, which is what progressive Christians tend to do, is still unscientific because it still relies on scripture for justification.

    “Justification” of what, exactly? As long as one is adjusting his belief to accomodate reality, and not believing Scripture when it clearly contradicts the available evidence, then where’s the harm?

    It still keeps the scripture as an authority on what is valid science.

    Horseshit — if he’s adjusting his belief to fit the facts as he knows them, then he’s NOT using it “as an authority on what is valid science.”

    Don’t let the creationists fool you: not all Christians use the Bible as a science textbook, nor are they ever advised to do so.

  9. #9 Martin Wagner
    November 22, 2006

    Ed, I think you make some good points, and Larry makes some as well. It’s true that some theistic evolutionists like Miller have managed to sideline their theism while doing their science, thus producing perfectly sound scientific work. But I think you miss the thrust of Larry’s point, and I admit, Larry does a fairly blunt and inelegant job of expressing his points sometimes, so it’s understandable. But here’s the rub, in a quote from Larry’s post you didn’t respond to.

    You can’t claim to accept evolution and then turn around and say that God is behind it all and He can tweak it whenever He wants. That’s not science.

    I don’t see anything to disagree with in that statement. See, if all Christians were just blithering idiots and mental defectives, it would be easier to brush off their theism as the product of simple stupidity. My view is that brilliant people like Ken Miller have a harder position to defend. Everyone expects idiots to believe idiotic stuff. Miller does excellent work in his field, and, as you point out, doesn’t allow his theism to intrude on it. But in the end, he does still believe in a deity.

    And I find that, well, interesting. Here’s a man who chooses to allow space in his mental Rolodex for an irrational belief, when you’d think he simply wouldn’t need it. Why would an expert who knows better than most people how the methods of science and reason work nevertheless choose to abdicate that reason when it comes to possessing god-belief? How to reconcile the two? Why choose to be irrational about one thing when one is entirely rational about all other things? A month or so ago you had a Christian commenter who essentially said that while she loves science, she chooses to believe in God although she knows she can offer nothing in the way of proof. And that kind of cognitive dissonance baffles me, though it doesn’t seem to cause any problems for you. You indicate that you reject the idea that “the mere fact that [Miller] believes in God somehow undermines the principles of science,” and so I’d like to ask how you think it doesn’t? How does believing in something for which one admits one cannot produce credible evidence help one maintain scientific cred?

  10. #10 llDayo
    November 22, 2006

    Even at the most basic level of belief, that a god exists, is not something that science can even rule out. There’s no evidence of a god existing yet there’s nothing to prove one cannot. Certain versions of gods can be pretty much be philosophically disproven but scientists are not required to not believe in a god. Without evidence either way it’s a matter of choice.

  11. #11 Martin Wagner
    November 22, 2006

    Bee asked:

    “Justification” of what, exactly? As long as one is adjusting his belief to accomodate reality, and not believing Scripture when it clearly contradicts the available evidence, then where’s the harm?

    I would suggest the harm is in cognitive dissonance and intellectual dishonesty. If one is a Christian, and believes Scripture is the revealed Word of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, but is still willing to throw out bits of the Word as disconfirming evidence comes to light, then one has simply adopted a senseless position of wanting it both ways. It shouldn’t take much intellectual heavy lifting to conclude that, if there are things in Scripture that deserve to be rejected because disconfirming evidence exists, then said Scripture is probably not the Word of of an omniscient and omnipotent anything, as such a being wouldn’t fill His holy book with mistakes and false claims.

    If a belief constantly has to be “adjusted” to accomodate reality, well, that should tell you something about the value of the belief.

  12. #12 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    Even at the most basic level of belief, that a god exists, is not something that science can even rule out

    Like Last-Thursdayism.

  13. #13 Martin Wagner
    November 22, 2006

    llDayo, you mean well, but allow me to do a slight edit to your post to show just how intellectually lazy the position you express is. My changes are in bold.

    Even at the most basic level of belief, that leprechauns exist, is not something that science can even rule out. There’s no evidence of leprechauns existing yet there’s nothing to prove they cannot. Certain versions of leprechauns can be pretty much be philosophically disproven but scientists are not required to not believe in leprechauns. Without evidence either way it’s a matter of choice.

    Now do you see the problem?

  14. #14 NAL
    November 22, 2006

    “Do you really want to give the power of deciding who does and doesn’t get into college, or who gets to teach at college, based upon what beliefs they will attest to?”

    So a university should not be able to reject an application for a biology professorship from someone who supports ID?

  15. #15 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    Everyone expects idiots to believe idiotic stuff. Miller does excellent work in his field, and, as you point out, doesn’t allow his theism to intrude on it. But in the end, he does still believe in a deity….Why would an expert who knows better than most people how the methods of science and reason work nevertheless choose to abdicate that reason when it comes to possessing god-belief?

    You’re sounding almost exactly like a Christian wondering why someone else could possibly not share all of his beliefs.

    Let me rephrase that in relation to another “irrational” belief:

    Everyone expects idiots to believe idiotic stuff. Miller does excellent work in his field, and, as you point out, doesn’t allow his personal tases and emotions to intrude on it. But in the end, he does still watch Marx Brothers movies and have sex with his wife…Why would an expert who knows better than most people how the methods of science and reason work nevertheless choose to abdicate that reason when it comes to watching Marx Brothers movies and having a sexual relationship with another person?

    If you really consider it so puzzling that supposedly-more-rational people like scientists would do things you label “irrational,” then perhaps you should be questioning your own thoughts, not theirs. They are, after all, more “rational” than most, by your own admission, so maybe you can learn a little something from them.

  16. #16 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    But in the end, he does still watch Marx Brothers movies and have sex with his wife…

    And what’s irrational about that, exactly?

  17. #17 Martin Wagner
    November 22, 2006

    Bee, I know Marx Brothers movies exist. I know human emotions exist. I know women exist, and that one can marry them and have sex with them. I do not, however, know a god exists. Your analogy fails.

  18. #18 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    Martin Wagner: where’s the “problem?” The leprechaun-believer can be judged by his words and actions, just like god-believers and atheists.

    If a competent fireman is found to believe in leprechauns, would you stop him from saving your house?

  19. #19 JY
    November 22, 2006

    @Martin

    You can’t claim to accept evolution and then turn around and say that God is behind it all and He can tweak it whenever He wants. That’s not science.

    I don’t see anything to disagree with in that statement.

    The thing to disagree with is the implication that Ken Miller claims it is science. Does Ken Miller claim that science supports theism? Or simply that is isn’t incompatible with his theism? I think he only claims the latter, which means Larry Moran is beating up a straw man.

  20. #20 Kim
    November 22, 2006

    Lets call it what it is: Atheist fundamentalism

  21. #21 Joe Shelby
    November 22, 2006

    If one is a Christian, and believes Scripture is the revealed Word of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, but is still willing to throw out bits of the Word as disconfirming evidence comes to light, then one has simply adopted a senseless position of wanting it both ways.

    Being Christian does not require “Scripture is the revealed Word of an omniscient and omnipotent deity”.

    being a fundementalist nutball usually does, and some sects like conservative catholicism perhaps, but again, non-extreme Christians are more adaptive and pragmatic and don’t take the book as such an authoritative document on matters of history or fact.

    Christian faith to them is not defined as faith in the words of one book.

  22. #22 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    Martin: the point of my analogy is that enjoying sex or Marx Brothers movies is neither more nor less rational than believing in a God whose existence cannot be objectively verified. If the former examples do not raise doubts of a man’s rationality or good sense, then neither should the latter.

    Your arbitrary and selective self-righteousness about “irrational” beliefs is of no use in the real world. Other people don’t all think like you, and that’s okay. Deal with it.

  23. #23 Nebogipfel
    November 22, 2006

    So a university should not be able to reject an application for a biology professorship from someone who supports ID?

    They should reject them if they do bad biology, not *just* because they support ID. Of course, it may turn out that every ID-supporting applicant does bad biology, in which case it will *appear* that the university is rejecting them on the grounds that they are ID supporters.

    If I may be so bold, I think the argument here is that Richard Dawkins, Larry Moran et al. have, surprisingly, confused correlation with causation. There is a correlation between theism and bad science (perhaps even a strong correlation) but it is a mistake to say that theism *causes* bad science.

  24. #24 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    the point of my analogy is that enjoying sex or Marx Brothers movies is neither more nor less rational than believing in a God whose existence cannot be objectively verified.

    And Martin’s point was that this cannot be the case, since the former can be easily confirmed as existing. I would add that it’s a poor comparison because the former are a matter of taste, while the latter is a matter of belief. Apples and oranges there. Taste isn’t a matter of rationality, while belief supposedly is.

  25. #25 Martin Wagner
    November 22, 2006

    Bee:

    If a competent fireman is found to believe in leprechauns, would you stop him from saving your house?

    No, because leprechaun belief, while stupid, is not a thing directly related to firefighting. I submit that God belief is a matter for scientific inquiry, despite the claims of those who support the idea that science and religion are — in Gould’s term — “non-overlapping magisteria”. Thus, if one is a scientist, and yet takes the position that they believe in a universe-creating deity while admitting they cannot offer scientific evidence for it, then they’ve adopted a senseless position. As Dawkins asks in TGD, if the physical universe in which we live is here because a supernatural creator God willed it or did some godlike thing to bring it into existence, how can that not be a matter for scientific inquiry?

    JY:

    The thing to disagree with is the implication that Ken Miller claims it is science. Does Ken Miller claim that science supports theism? Or simply that is isn’t incompatible with his theism? I think he only claims the latter, which means Larry Moran is beating up a straw man.

    If Ken Miller only claims the latter, then if Moran is referring to Miller in this passage it’s fair to say it’s a straw man attack. But if one is speaking in general terms, it’s a perfectly valid statement. And if Miller’s position truly is that his god belief isn’t incompatible with science, then that implies he thinks his theism is scientifically sound, so I’d kinda sorta like to see Miller’s scientific evidence for his god.

  26. #26 Martin Wagner
    November 22, 2006

    Bee:

    Martin: the point of my analogy is that enjoying sex or Marx Brothers movies is neither more nor less rational than believing in a God whose existence cannot be objectively verified. If the former examples do not raise doubts of a man’s rationality or good sense, then neither should the latter.

    I disagree with your drawing an equivalency between those things.

    Your arbitrary and selective self-righteousness about “irrational” beliefs is of no use in the real world. Other people don’t all think like you, and that’s okay. Deal with it.

    Dude, I think you’re projecting. I don’t think it’s self-righteous to point out when ideas or certain way of thinking make no sense. And it is of use in the real world; if someone had hammered some rationalism into the heads of 19 guys back in 2001, thousands of people might still be alive today and a couple of rather big buildings would still be standing.

    You’re simply back to the old “don’t criticize religion, these are precious sacred cows, it’s rude to hurt people’s feelings” position. Which is just as bad as Moran’s dumb joke about rejecting college applicants for not accepting evolution.

    Gotta run, gang. Anyone who wants to keep conversing with me can click on my blog link, and I’ll get back to you later tonight.

  27. #27 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2006

    And once again, the argument descends into debating whether one ought to believe in god or not. That is completely irrelevant to the point of this post. I don’t care whether Ken Miller’s, or anyone else’s, theism is rationally justified or not and it doesn’t matter in this context. What matters is whether those views, whether rational or not, make him someone who undermines science, as Moran and others claim. The answer is, quite obviously, no. Is there anyone on this planet who doesn’t hold some beliefs that are not rational? I know of no one, almost certainly including myself, who does not. Even if the atheists are absolutely correct and Miller’s belief in God is completely irrational, so what? The question is whether holding that irrational belief actually damages science? In light of the man’s immense contributions to science, to claim that it does is, to be blunt, irrational. Darwin believed that the universe was created too. Who’s ready to claim that he therefore undermined science?

  28. #28 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    What matters is whether those views, whether rational or not, make him someone who undermines science, as Moran and others claim.

    It depends. If he ever tries to claim that science justifies belief in God, as Francis Collins does, then I would say he is undermining science. But has he done so?

  29. #29 JY
    November 22, 2006

    @Martin

    And if Miller’s position truly is that his god belief isn’t incompatible with science, then that implies he thinks his theism is scientifically sound, so I’d kinda sorta like to see Miller’s scientific evidence for his god.

    Depends what you mean by ‘scientifically sound’. Science does not claim that the only possible knowledge is scientific knowledge. Therefore, any belief that can neither be supported nor ruled out by science is compatible with science if it is acknowledged to be unscientific.

  30. #30 Julia
    November 22, 2006

    I’m beginning to get a little confused about exactly who the enemy is. Maybe I could start keeping a list of those people who are being put on the enemies list:

    1. anyone who attempts to teach his/her religious beliefs to his/her children (Dawkins)

    2. university appplicants who reject evolution (Moran)

    3. those who rely on any religious texts (Markus)

    4. in the end, anyone who does still believe in a deity (Martin Wagner)

    I think the problem I’m having keeping all this straight is that for me, the word “enemy” has to be defined in reference to a specific goal or situation. In supporting science education, my enemies are those who would prevent or dilute the teaching of science, which certainly seems to include anybody who would prevent the students most in need of such instruction from getting it.

    It’s also a bit disconcerting to find myself on the enemies list, as I believe in the existence of God. So I keep asking myself, “What am I the enemy of?” Not science education. Not rational thinking. Not science. Not atheists. Definitely an enemy of ID in the classroom.

    As Raging Bee keeps pointing out, and Ed has said, and as I read PZ Myers saying once on his blog, not all behavior/beliefs we legitimately indulge in is or need be rational.

    I think Ed is absolutely right in his post today. What it comes down to is what goal we are reaching for, or, in different terms, what battle we are fighting. Those for whom the “there is no God” battle is top priority have every right to speak out and fight that battle. But that doesn’t mean that battle is identical with the “support science funding and education” effort, no matter how hard some try to make it the same.

  31. #31 llDayo
    November 22, 2006

    llDayo, you mean well, but allow me to do a slight edit to your post to show just how intellectually lazy the position you express is. My changes are in bold.

    Even at the most basic level of belief, that leprechauns exist, is not something that science can even rule out. There’s no evidence of leprechauns existing yet there’s nothing to prove they cannot. Certain versions of leprechauns can be pretty much be philosophically disproven but scientists are not required to not believe in leprechauns. Without evidence either way it’s a matter of choice.
    Now do you see the problem?

    I do. It’s one of the reasons I’m an atheist ;)

    However, it doesn’t throw out my argument that one makes a choice whether to believe or not. There’s no evidence either way as to the existence of leprechauns so if one wants to believe in them, they can. They could be ridiculed and told how irrational that belief is, but without evidence showing they’re wrong are they really wrong? In a circumstance as mine that I choose NOT to believe there is a god I came about so because there is no evidence one exists. I cannot disprove that one does not but my thinking is that if there is no evidence one does, there’s no reason to believe in one. Many others take a different approach.

  32. #32 Nebogipfel
    November 22, 2006

    Darwin believed that the universe was created too. Who’s ready to claim that he therefore undermined science?

    Bingo. Heck, Isaac Newton was an astrologer and an alchemist. Yet that didn’t stop him figuring out universal gravitation.

    (I am not of course arguing that this means that astrology and alchemy have any merit, merely that the fact that Newton had some wacky beliefs did not stop him doing good science)

  33. #33 bj
    November 22, 2006

    There’s another aspect to this matter which is not often mentioned. Some people do not have the capacity to see other points of view. They can only see their own. Combine that with a touch of arrogance, and you have the Larry Morans of the world. This aspect of the equation has nothing to do with science, religion or being a good chef. It’s a psychological-developmental-genetic weakness. Haven’t you known people like this in all walks of life? Strangely, it’s not related to intellect. Some are quite intelligent. They just have this limitation, it seems to me from birth. They can only see their own way, and everyone else is just wrong and stupid. What do you do with these kinds of folks? Hopefully, they find some good work to do in their field. Then, those who are gifted with the ability to understand they are not God’s gift to truth and that other people have legitmate points of view, have to simply try and keep these limited souls from causing too much harm. That, in my opinion, is what Ed is trying to do.

  34. #34 Blake Stacey
    November 22, 2006

    Given that college admissions systems are lethargic beasts mired in standardized tests and in some cases still using an interview system invented to keep Jews out of the Ivy League, and given that so many people think Moran is talking out of an orifice which should typically not make words, what are the chances any of this matters an iota?

    I hereby make a falsifiable prediction: absolutely jack will come of this, in terms of policy change. Universities will not add questions to their admissions forms, and Moran will continue to flunk students who, having been admitted to the University of Toronto, write “God did it!” on their final exams. Assuming he has any input on faculty hiring or tenure-track decisions, he will continue to give thumbs-down to anybody whose CV is full of specified-complexity claptrap.

    (Incidentally, both of those two activities I mention could easily be construed as using “ideological litmus tests”, yet I find them much less objectionable than screening incoming students on the basis of belief. Why? Is it because entering college is about finding opportunities for growth, while taking exams is supposedly about getting actual, factual knowledge learned correctly?)

    Moran and Miller will still stand side-by-side, I wager, the next time they have to offer any input on what books should go into the elementary schools. Point me to one instance where Miller’s non-confrontational theism affected what book got put in a schoolhouse, or where a biting comment from Richard Dawkins, Larry Moran or PZ Myers did the same thing. Ed asks,

    Even if the atheists are absolutely correct and Miller’s belief in God is completely irrational, so what? The question is whether holding that irrational belief actually damages science?

    I would also inquire,

    Even if the theists are absolutely correct and Dawkins’s disbelief in God is completely unwarranted, so what? The question is whether holding that unwarranted belief actually damages science.

  35. #35 David Durant
    November 22, 2006

    *sheesh* – People…

    Ed is trying valiantly to make a point here…

    > The question is whether holding that irrational belief actually damages science?

    Now, I’m what one of those Atheist Fundamentalists that Kim referred to above. However, while I find it hard to understand the sort of person who can compartmentalize their minds to simultaneously hold both rational and irrational thoughts that really *isn’t* the point here.

    The point is whether people like me can put the larger and much harder to achieve goal, to persuade people to base their lives on rational thought, aside in the short term to concentrate on the much more achievable short term goal – keeping people from diluting the popular understanding of “science” with such irrational concepts as “ID”.

    Surely it makes sense to go for the winnable goals in the short term? Sure RD can make the best-seller lists but in schools people are fighting to keep Creationism out – never mind trying to win deeply irrational people over to their point of view.

    One step at a time, no?

  36. #36 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    Ed said “Darwin believed that the universe was created too. Who’s ready to claim that he therefore undermined science?”.

    The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible. To believe in something for which not only is there no evidence (like leprechauns and gods) but for which every attempt to find evidence has turned up nothing is to raise doubts about how rational one can be about anything.

  37. #37 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    …if someone had hammered some rationalism into the heads of 19 guys back in 2001, thousands of people might still be alive today and a couple of rather big buildings would still be standing.

    Possibly true…but making uninformed generalizations about “religion” or “irrational beliefs” is NOT rationalism, and probably would not have convinced any of those 19 hijackers to change anything. (On a side note, how do you know that no one tried to “hammer some rationalism into their heads?”)

    You’re simply back to the old “don’t criticize religion, these are precious sacred cows, it’s rude to hurt people’s feelings” position.

    Wrong again: I’m not against criticizing religion, I’m against ignorance and bigotry disguised as criticism — of any subject. The assertion quoted above is so far off the mark with respect to my own words, that I question the honesty of its author. (Yes, Martin, I’m talking to you.)

    Science does not claim that the only possible knowledge is scientific knowledge. Therefore, any belief that can neither be supported nor ruled out by science is compatible with science if it is acknowledged to be unscientific.

    Hear Hear! Finally, someone acknowledging that not all knowledge or understanding is literal, nor objective, nor knowable on only one level. I started figuring this out when I hit puberty; why are so many obnoxious atheists having trouble with the concept?

    (Minor quibbling PS to Nebogipfel: in Newton’s time, alchemy and astrology were not “wacky beliefs;” they were where science was at, at the time. Fortunately, alchemy has since evolved into chemistry, and astrology has been altogether replaced by astronomy. But your point, and Ed’s, is taken.)

  38. #38 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible.

    IF belief in a god does not visibly hamper one’s ability to do good science, then WHY, exactly, does such belief make one’s ideas “less credible?”

    Your assertion gets even sillier when we note that you haven’t even tried to describe which beliefs, exactly, you’re talking about. Not all god-beliefs are the same, you know.

    Here’s another problem: if I were to say something like “The belief in Islam doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible,” chances are I would be labelled a religious bigot. So why is Randi’s statement above (which is MORE generalized than mine, not less) acceptable?

  39. #39 David Heddle
    November 22, 2006

    Gretchen,

    It depends. If he ever tries to claim that science justifies belief in God, as Francis Collins does, then I would say he is undermining science. But has he done so?

    Utter, total nonsense. The quality of Miller’s science is independent of his motivations for doing it, and also independent of the philosophical conclusions he draws from it. It doesn’t give him the right to demand that his religious beliefs be taught along side his science, but if he proclaims publicly that science affirms his belief in God, all he is doing is joining a long list of other prominent scientists (including Nobel laureates) who have also stated as much. Have they all undermined science?

  40. #40 Kim
    November 22, 2006

    At times, it is incredibly offensive how Atheist Fundies look down on anyone who is not thinking the way they believe the world works. In that sense, they are not a shred better than any of the IDots and YEC’s we are battling. I am a hardcore evolutionary biologist, and I am regularly battling with fundamentalists at both sides. I am also religious and I am proud on it. However, if I am forced to make a choice, I will choose my religion over evolution. If someone takes the ideas of religious scientists less serious, they loose out tremendously because there are so many scientists that are religious. And to be honest, the tone and arguments that the Atheist Fundies bring forward is for me a good reason to battle them more. Because for me, the atheist fundamentalists are a bigger thread to science than Christian fundamentalists. The latter do not have much to say within universities, the other at the other hand will try to push good scientists out just because they do not adhere to their own fundamentalist atheist dogma.

  41. #41 JY
    November 22, 2006

    The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible.

    What you are really admitting here is that you, yourself, are irrational. You will ignore someone’s argument about X because of some attribute of that person (i.e. they believe Y, which you find irrational). The rational thing to do is listen to the person’s argument about X and make your decision based on that argument, not on other beliefs they might have.

    Further, saying that someone is “less credible” if they have god-belief is probably backwards. Sure, there are atheists out there who might give less credence to what Ken Miller says about evolution because he is a theists — but they are probably already convinced of those arguments anyway. People who aren’t convinced yet — some theists — might find Miller (unfortunately) more credible because he is a theist.

  42. #42 Julia
    November 22, 2006

    “IF belief in a god does not visibly hamper one’s ability to do good science, then WHY, exactly, does such belief make one’s ideas ‘less credible?’”

    I think it may be because of an unstated assumption that in developing the scientific method, human beings, in the very few years since evolving the ability for rational thought at all, have cleverly discovered/developed the one and only method for eventually knowing everything about everything.

    Ed asks,

    “I don’t care whether Ken Miller’s, or anyone else’s, theism is rationally justified or not and it doesn’t matter in this context. What matters is whether those views, whether rational or not, make him someone who undermines science, as Moran and others claim.”

    The answer to this depends, I think, on what one means when one uses the term “science.” If by “science” one means something like “the one true method by which anyone can know anything now or ever,” then theism is indeed a contradiction. Miller apparently thinks it is possible for there to be truths that are in some fashion knowable outside of the application of the scientific method, truths that the scientific method (at least in its present form) may not be able to handle.

    This question of the definition of science, and more specifically the scientific method as either “a means to discover truth” or else “THE means to discover truth” is, I think, at the bottom of these endless discussions about the existence of God. Notice, for example,

    “And if Miller’s position truly is that his god belief isn’t incompatible with science, then that implies he thinks his theism is scientifically sound, so I’d kinda sorta like to see Miller’s scientific evidence for his god.”

    Miller says his belief isn’t incompatible with science (apparently because he believes there is another way to know things), and Martin Wagner responds with the implication that then science ought to be explain and provide proof for that belief. And if science can’t explain it, it isn’t real.

    Maybe we could avoid these repetitive discussions if we simply acknowledged that some of us are not convinced that humans have evolved far enough to have developed a logical method for understanding everything, while others are convinced that science is capable of explaining everything (or, in other words, that anything that science in its present form cannot provide evidence for just doesn’t exist).

  43. #43 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    David Heddle, you misunderstand my point. Francis Collins doesn’t just say “Science makes me believe in a god.” He says that science shows that there is a god. There’s a huge difference between drawing your personal conclusions from an admiration of the universe to belief in some kind of supreme being, and trying to make an argument to others that science objectively demonstrates that such a being exists….such he does here. That’s undermining science, by claiming it can demonstrate things which are simply beyond its scope.

  44. #44 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2006

    Randi wrote:

    The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible.

    This is nonsense. Worse, it’s irrational nonsense – and coming from someone claiming to stand up for rationality. Darwin’s belief in God does not, in any way, make his ideas on evolution “less credible”. Nor did Newton’s belief in God make gravitation or the laws of motion less credible. Nor did Copernicus’ belief in God make heliocentricity less credible. And so on, and so on.

  45. #45 Salvador T. Cordova
    November 22, 2006

    On what college application does it have a questionaire that includes the question, “Do you believe in evolution?” None, of course. Nor should there be any such questions. Admission to college is based upon a number of measures of achievement, not a set of ideological litmus tests that they must pass. The only possible way to even determine who does and doesn’t believe in evolution would be enormously dangerous.

    You da man, Ed!

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  46. #46 David Heddle
    November 22, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Let’s see, Collins stated, in the link you provided:

    God’s existence is either true or not. But calling it a scientific question implies that the tools of science can provide the answer. From my perspective, God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God’s existence is outside of science’s ability to really weigh in. (p. 3)

    And in his conclusion:

    I just would like to say that over more than a quarter-century as a scientist and a believer, I find absolutely nothing in conflict between agreeing with Richard [Dawkins] in practically all of his conclusions about the natural world, and also saying that I am still able to accept and embrace the possibility that there are answers that science isn’t able to provide about the natural world–the questions about why instead of the questions about how. I’m interested in the whys. I find many of those answers in the spiritual realm. That in no way compromises my ability to think rigorously as a scientist. (p. 9)

    Perhaps you could point out where he said, as you alleged, “Science shows there is a God,” because I can’t find it anywhere. All I see is just the opposite: a forthright admission that science cannot prove God.

  47. #47 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    I said “The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible.”

    Raging Bee responded “IF belief in a god does not visibly hamper one’s ability to do good science, then WHY, exactly, does such belief make one’s ideas “less credible?”“.

    It makes those ideas less credible because it is not always clear that one is doing good science. If a god believer tells me 2 plus 2 equals 4 the truth of that is readily apparent and I have no reason to doubt it. If he tells me complex and incomplete ideas prove the big bang didn’t happen one must wonder if he’s mistaken because of a brain fart similar to the one that results in his believe that gods and/or leprechauns exist. If one demonstrates they allow an irrational belief to shape their life I have to wonder if they have not similarly allowed irrational beliefs to shape their science.

    Raging bee also said “Your assertion gets even sillier when we note that you haven’t even tried to describe which beliefs, exactly, you’re talking about. Not all god-beliefs are the same, you know.

    All god and leprechaun beliefs are the same from the perspective of there being no evidence they are true despite all efforts to find such evidence. Belief despite this is an indication of questionable ability to reason.

    Raging bee also said “Here’s another problem: if I were to say something like “The belief in Islam doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible,” chances are I would be labelled a religious bigot. So why is Randi’s statement above (which is MORE generalized than mine, not less) acceptable?

    Your statement is just as acceptable and reasonable as mine. The belief in Islam is just as indicative of the ability to be delusional as is the belief in Christianity or leprechauns.

    My statement was “The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible.”

    JY responded “What you are really admitting here is that you, yourself, are irrational. You will ignore someone’s argument about X because of some attribute of that person (i.e. they believe Y, which you find irrational).The rational thing to do is listen to the person’s argument about X and make your decision based on that argument, not on other beliefs they might have.

    I never said that I would ignore someone’s argument about “X” because they believe in a god, what I’m saying is that if the argument they make isn’t clearly and undeniably indisputable I will wonder if it doesn’t suffer from the same assumptions that the highly improbable is true.

  48. #48 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    David, I take your point and disagree with you at the same time. He does say that…but at the same time, he is clearly arguing with Dawkins on a scientific basis:

    Richard, I actually agree with you on the first part of what you said. But I would challenge the statement that my scientific instincts are any less rigorous than yours. The difference is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.

    If Collins is only talking about his private convictions, where do scientific instincts enter into it? It sounds to me like he’s trying to have it both ways. If your personal beliefs are some roped-off area where you’re allowed to believe anything, no matter how foolish or irrational, then there’s no point in bringing up scientific rigor on the subject.

    The more I think about it, the more I don’t really see any reason why your personal beliefs should be off limits, if they involve claims about empirical reality. They shouldn’t by any means be used as reason to discount your work or scientific conclusions, but neither should they be immune to criticism. Ought not scientists be consistent on these matters? Shouldn’t we be suspicious if they are not? It doesn’t make sense to me to consider that a biologist or a geneticist should publically do work which supports biological law, but privately (or not so privately, in his case) hold beliefs counter to that. I haven’t read Collins’ book, but the subtitle is “A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” so I am assuming that at least in some way he believes that science objectively gives credence to God’s existence.

  49. #49 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    Its just like in a court of law. If a person can be shown to have lied about one thing, it goes to his credibility and calls into question his truthfullness about other things. So it is with the belief in god. If a person shows a belief in the highly improbable in one area, it goes to their credibility and calls into question as to whether or not they’ve based their science also on the highly improbable.

  50. #50 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible.

    This is an exact mirror image of the intolerant Christians’ opinion that an atheist can never be trusted because he’s an atheist.

    If he tells me complex and incomplete ideas prove the big bang didn’t happen one must wonder if he’s mistaken because of a brain fart similar to the one that results in his believe that gods and/or leprechauns exist.

    That’s why we have the “scientific method:” to test the validity of all such claims. Personal beliefs are irrelevant — your claims either pass the relevant tests, or they don’t. That’s the relevant measure, and there’s no need to quibble about each other’s personal beliefs.

    All god and leprechaun beliefs are the same from the perspective of there being no evidence they are true despite all efforts to find such evidence. Belief despite this is an indication of questionable ability to reason.

    One common characteristic (even an important one) does not make all religious beliefs the same, any more than it makes all persons of one race the same. If you refuse to admit any practical difference among INNUMERABLE religious/spiritual beliefs, differences which are glaringly obvious to anyone who actually studies them with any seriousness, then it is YOUR ability to reason that should be called into question.

  51. #51 kehrsam
    November 22, 2006

    The thread is drifting off-topic again, so I’ll note up front that I agree with Ed that the issue is science education. As long as we agree that such education should be based only on science, what we think about other issues such as religion (or art, music, sexual preference, etc) is really irrelevant.

    To deal with some of the other stuff being thrown around.

    1)Julia said: Maybe we could avoid these repetitive discussions if we simply acknowledged that some of us are not convinced that humans have evolved far enough to have developed a logical method for understanding everything, while others are convinced that science is capable of explaining everything (or, in other words, that anything that science in its present form cannot provide evidence for just doesn’t exist).

    I believe Kurt Goedel provided the answer to this 70-odd years back: In any system of knowledge, there must always exist true statements which are not provable by the system. So, yes.

    2)Randi and others: You are overlooking several important possibilities. It is certainly possible to believe contradictory things, so long as one knows about the contradiction. As a lawyer, I do this all the time when I Plead in the Alternative. In other words, I can claim that a certain act is a fraud, but even if not a fraud it may be a breach of contract, or if none of the above, I might still claim a tort was committed. Similarly, I may believe that God had some role in directing evolution, but understand that I may be mistaken and it really was random chance.

    A second issue is the nature of science: Science is not reality. Rather, it is comprised of two things, a description of reality and a model of that reality. It also comes with a method that allows improvements to be made as new information becomes available. A lot of the sloppiness on both extremes of the debate comes from a failure to take this into account.

    And now back to your regularly scheduled program about the rationality of belief….

  52. #52 David Durant
    November 22, 2006

    *sigh*

    I don’t suppose anyon is interested in discussing the things we agree on rather than the things we disagree on?

    Let’s start by attacking those we *all* disagree with rather than in-fighting.

    When we’ve won those battles we can feel free to have a schism and start all over again but for now any chance of pulling together, eh?

  53. #53 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    If a person shows a belief in the highly improbable in one area, it goes to their credibility…

    So you’ve calculated the exact probability of there being a God? Pray tell us, how did you calculate this? And is it demonstrably less than the probability of there NOT being a God? How did you calculate THAT?

    And if I believe in two Gods, does that double the probability that part of my belief is true? Or does each God have to be from a different pantheon?

    If I define my God(s) more vaguely than my neighbor defines his, does that mean my God(s) have a greater probability of existing?

    The questions go on and on…I eagerly await your answers…

    PS: I notice how quickly, and quietly, you segue from “lying” to “show[ing] a belief in the highly improbable.” Your “reasoning” is about as shabby as a creationist’s.

  54. #54 Sastra
    November 22, 2006

    In his response, Larry Moran says
    “Given a choice of students to admit into university science programs, I would choose the ones who show some understanding of science over those who reject one the fundamental facts of biology. Wouldn’t Ed?”

    I’m not sure by “admit into university science programs” whether Moran means allowing Creationist students to be admitted to college and allowed to take science classes, or whether he means allowing Creationist students to be selected for special programs which are judged and awarded on merit. Ed and most of the commentators seem to think he means the first (or both), but the word “chosen” gives me a little pause.

    Students who lack artistic talent should be admitted to college and allowed to take art classes and even major in art — but when it comes to being “chosen for university art programs” (which would presumably require an extra application and samples of your work), then no, the ones whom experts agree have no real demonstrable talent aren’t going to make it, nor should they, in the interest of not being ‘biased.’

    I’m not saying that this is surely the kind of situation Larry Moran was thinking of. But it might be, in which case I can see a point. Students who are adamantly opposed to the germ theory of disease can take all the university medical classes they want. But when there is a competition to select who actually gets into medical school…

  55. #55 drb
    November 22, 2006

    You don’t think that Francis Collins’ published views on God haven’t hurt his reputation among his peers? When a scientist publishes a book promoting irrational faith-based beliefs, it hurts all science by casting doubt on the impartiality of its practitioners and the veracity of their findings. I believe the lawyers refer to highlighting such inconsistencies and unproven assertions as “impeaching the witness”.

  56. #56 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    Raging Bee, perfect science is a relatively rare thing. Its all well and good to talk about “using the “scientific method:” to test the validity of all claims.” and to say “your claims either pass the relevant tests, or they don’t.” but not all science perfectly fits those criteria. The theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and so on are not without unexplained features and inconsistencies but we still call them science and if the purveyors of those theories accepted the highly improbable in one area of their beliefs one has to wonder if they haven’t done it again in their science.

  57. #57 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    Well, I can tell you this Raging bee: A loving god that allows his existence and religion of preference to be disputable and tortures people for innocently believing differently cannot exist any more than a square sphere exists. I don’t here you defending the belief in the existence of leprechauns even though that’s just as “probable” as the existence of god(s).

  58. #58 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    …if the purveyors of those theories accepted the highly improbable in one area of their beliefs one has to wonder if they haven’t done it again in their science.

    We don’t have to “wonder” — we only have to carefully observe one’s actual work, and if we see a consistent pattern of personal belief visibly, and detrimentally, warping one’s reasoning and the work based on it, then we can conclude — based on actions, not beliefs — that that particular person and his work are untrustworthy.

    That’s how I judge Dawkins: his opinions about religion are jaw-droppingly stupid, but unless I see evidence of a specific bad effect of such opinions on his work in biology (his actual competence), then I’m quite willing to trust him as a biologist.

  59. #59 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    Well, I haven’t read Dawkins yet, but everything I’ve heard him say about religion makes perfect sense to me. Perhaps you could give me an example of something he’s said that you consider jaw-droppingly stupid.

    The trouble with observing one’s actual work is that problems are not always readily apparent in complex science and hence one’s credibility in general comes into play. If its good enough for the justice system to use character to impeach credibility its good enough for me.

    You have no problem thinking the existence of dragons and leprechauns are doubtful and there’s no reason to feel any differently about god(s).

  60. #60 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    The trouble with observing one’s actual work is that problems are not always readily apparent in complex science and hence one’s credibility in general comes into play.

    Horsemuffins — if problems aren’t readily apparent, then attacking one’s personal beliefs won’t make the problems — or their solutions — any more apparent. If questions are unanswered, the appropriate response is more observation, research and/or experimentation, not a religious inquisition on company time.

    If its good enough for the justice system to use character to impeach credibility its good enough for me.

    In the justice system, witness credibility is impeached based on false, illogical, or dishonest statements on the stand, not on whether a witness’s beliefs meet someone’s abstract standard of validity or “rightness.” If a witness is attacked for having, or not having, a religious belief, that’s grounds for an objection, at least, and the attacker will be forced to show how the witness’s SPECIFIC beliefs are relevant to a SPECIFIC question of his/her credibility in a SPECIFIC instance.

    Well, I haven’t read Dawkins yet, but everything I’ve heard him say about religion makes perfect sense to me. Perhaps you could give me an example of something he’s said that you consider jaw-droppingly stupid.

    I’ve already done that, and so has Ed, to a lesser extent. Read the two entries on Dawkins on my own blog (you have to scroll WAY down to find them). Or, better yet, show me an example of something he said that you think “makes perfect sense” and we’ll go from there.

  61. #61 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    Raging bee, I never said questions about the credibility of god-believers would make problems in scientific work more apparent, just that it would give me reason to doubt science that isn’t clearly and undeniably indisputable.

    In the justice system a belief in magic calls into question one’s ability to reason in general.

    Dawkins said teaching children they will be eternally tortured for crossing ambiguous and contradictory religious boundaries is child abuse and I wholeheartedly agree.

  62. #62 Jeff Hebert
    November 22, 2006

    As long as you folks are going to be talking ad nauseum about topics that are neither related to the post at hand or of interest to this blog’s owner, please use good formatting. To set something off in its own block quote, like this:

    Look Mom, I’m in a block quote!

    You just surround the text you want to offset with a [blockquote] before the first word, and a [/blockquote] after the last word, replacing every “[" with a left bracket (the one over the comma key) and every "]” with a right bracket (the character over the period).

    It’s really hard to read quotes as italics or in actual quotation marks, as many of you have been doing.

    You will now be returned to your regularly-scheduled off-topic debate.

    P.S. Glad to see Raging Bee is still engaging in enthusastically ironic unintentional self-contradiction:

    I’m not against criticizing religion, I’m against ignorance and bigotry disguised as criticism — of any subject … I question the honesty of its author. (Yes, Martin, I’m talking to you.) …I started figuring this out when I hit puberty; why are so many obnoxious atheists having trouble with the concept?

    Truly a tour-de-force, bravo!

  63. #63 Pat Hayes
    November 22, 2006

    I don’t believe in God, but I believe that human beings are capable of making the difficult decisions that will reverse global warming. I believe human beings will find a way to live together without destroying the planet. I believe we can learn from history. I believe that novels can tell us something about what it means to be human. I believe my wife and daughters are beautiful. I believe my life and the decisions I’ve made can be described by a narrative that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    Irrational? Undoubtedly. Am I hurting science? Reason? Should I be prevented from enrolling in college? Who’s to decide?

  64. #64 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    In the justice system a belief in magic calls into question one’s ability to reason in general.

    Only in response to SPECIFIC OBSERVED deficiencies of reason caused by “belief in magic.” In other words, you have to make a visible mistake or misstatement before your ability to reason can be justly called into question on ANY grounds.

    Dawkins said teaching children they will be eternally tortured for crossing ambiguous and contradictory religious boundaries is child abuse and I wholeheartedly agree.

    That’s IT?! And how many parents actually teach their children such nonsense? My Catholic father sure didn’t, and neither did any of my friends’ parents. That’s not much grounds for a generalization about all Christians, let alone all religions.

  65. #65 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    Irrational?

    Well…not necessarily, no. People keep using that word in a way that makes no sense whatsoever to me. Would one of you who find these things irrational be so good as to define the term as you’re using it?

  66. #66 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    Jeff: I find it interesting that you chopped up my text and mashed out-of-context snippets on different topics together into a completely unorganized mess. Is that an indicator of how your reasoning works?

  67. #67 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    That’s IT?! And how many parents actually teach their children such nonsense? My Catholic father sure didn’t, and neither did any of my friends’ parents. That’s not much grounds for a generalization about all Christians, let alone all religions.

    So…wait a minute. Can we take that to mean that you actually agree with Dawkin’s position as presented, then? That was what you asked for, after all. Some position of Dawkins that makes perfect sense. Now you seem to be running off into the distance with the goalposts in tow.

  68. #68 Kate
    November 22, 2006

    Martin,

    If you want to talk about moving the goalposts, can I point out that you did not actually quote Dawkins, instead you attributed an opinion to him that may or may not be his actual opinion and chose to support that?

    That’s all I had to add….

  69. #69 Caliban
    November 22, 2006

    I think Ed has pretty much taken Moran to the cleaners here. It’s a no-brainer. Ideological lithmus tests of any kind to gain entrance to college should be repugnant to anyone who rejects facism.

    While i sympathise with the desire to make America more like “secular europe”, Moran’s apparent approach is definitely not the way to do it.

    I really can’t see what Moran thinks he’s accomplishing by saying what he has.

  70. #70 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    You could, but you’d be wrong, since it was someone else who brought it up.

  71. #71 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    Raging bee, I don’t recall who taught me I would be eternally tortured for crossing a god that I could only see as capricous but this is what I learned as a child and so did a lot of the religious people I know. Parents and preachers teach about hell and the churches endless ramblings about a strange being’s sometimes incomprehensible desires naturally leads children to be terrified. Some of the most devoted Christians I know tell me of being terrified as children that they were going to go to hell. This is as despicable as it is inevitable given the widespread teaching of traditional religion.

  72. #72 Jeff Hebert
    November 22, 2006

    Raging Bee said:

    Jeff: I find it interesting that you chopped up my text and mashed out-of-context snippets on different topics together into a completely unorganized mess. Is that an indicator of how your reasoning works?

    I’m not attempting to engage the content of your arguments, I’m illustrating a behavior. You seem completely immune to understanding that you engage in the very tactics you claim to abhor, sometimes only a sentence earlier in the same post. You do it over and over and over and over, and never seem to get it. It’s funny. Hurtful, non-productive, immature, and snide, but funny, in a “Does she know she’s setting herself on fire … again?” kind of way.

    Let me try to be even clearer. Your posts repeatedly demonstrate the exact same thing as this made-up sentence:

    I hate it when people insult each other, don’t you agree Ugly Stupid Guy?

    Do you see how that works? You say you hate a behavior, then turn right around and do exactly the same thing you just said you hated. Of course you’re welcome to say anything you want, any way you want, but it sure doesn’t make the point you think you’re making. It’s hard to claim the necessity of a given style of argument when you immediately and repeatedly use its opposite.

  73. #73 PennyBright
    November 22, 2006

    Martin Wagner said:
    I submit that God belief is a matter for scientific inquiry, despite the claims of those who support the idea that science and religion are — in Gould’s term — “non-overlapping magisteria”

    Why? Why should God belief be a matter for scientific inquiry? And what specifically do you mean by “God belief”.

    I personally think that this is the flaw in reasoning made by extremists in both camps – to conflate matters of faith with matters of science. Adding to the difficulty of the debate is the presumption of Christianity — the US is a culturally Christian nation, and most anti-religionism expresses itself (by default) as anti-Christianity.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Ed here – there are two very different cohorts that share the goal of protecting good science and good science education, and it is unfortunate to the extreme that anti-religionists are more focused on what they are against (religion) then what they are for(science), when it comes to making coalitions to protect science.

    Christian fundamentalists behave quite similiarly , focusing strongly on what they are against (evolution, homosexuality, abortion) rather then what they are for (salvation, love). Indeed, with Christian fundamentalists, I often myself wondering if what they supposedly stand for figures into their thinking at all.

  74. #74 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    Why should God belief be a matter for scientific inquiry?

    Because all belief and behavior should be a matter for scientific inquiry, and religious belief and behavior in particular seems to be so pervasive and powerful, making it extra important to understand. In so far as religious belief is a kind of belief, it happens in the human mind and is therefore something science can study. What makes it possible, cognitively, for us to believe? What evolutionary factors are there that might predispose us to belief? Why do humans have religious beliefs, but apparently no other species? Etc., etc. For that matter, there’s even an international association devoted to this endeavor.

  75. #75 Raging Bee
    November 22, 2006

    In so far as religious belief is a kind of belief, it happens in the human mind and is therefore something science can study. What makes it possible, cognitively, for us to believe? What evolutionary factors are there that might predispose us to belief? Why do humans have religious beliefs, but apparently no other species? Etc., etc.

    Interesting questions. Do you plan on asking the same questions about agnostics and atheists?

  76. #76 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    Interesting questions. Do you plan on asking the same questions about agnostics and atheists?

    Of course. If you’re going to explore the ontogenetic and phylogenetic reasons for why people believe, you also have to come up with explanations for why some people don’t.

  77. #77 Nebogipfel
    November 22, 2006

    Randi wrote:

    The belief in a god doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t do good science, but it does make all that person’s ideas less credible.

    I know others have piled in on this, but I would also point out that this statement as it stands is actually a textbook ad hominem. “Creation science” is wrong because its theoretical predictions (such as they are) are contradicted by the evidence, not because its proponents believe in God.

    On the other hand, it is true that if I know Joe Bloggs believes the moon landings were faked, and Joe is also trying to convince me that heliocentrism is wrong, I am less likely to take his arguments seriously than if, say, Stephen Hawking was making the same arguments. But I would try not to loose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, it is *not* Joe’s beleifs about the Apollo programme that proves his geocentric theory wrong, nor would the mere fact that Stephen Hawking was making the argument prove *his* geocentric theory right.

  78. #78 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006
  79. #79 Randi Schimnosky
    November 22, 2006

    nebogipfel said “ if I know Joe Bloggs believes the moon landings were faked, and Joe is also trying to convince me that heliocentrism is wrong, I am less likely to take his arguments seriously than if, say, Stephen Hawking was making the same arguments. But I would try not to loose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, it is *not* Joe’s beleifs about the Apollo programme that proves his geocentric theory wrong, nor would the mere fact that Stephen Hawking was making the argument prove *his* geocentric theory right.”.

    That’s more or less what I said. If a god believer tells me 2 plus 2 equals 4 I have no reason to doubt it. If he tries to convince me of some complex theory with parts that don’t seem to quite add up I’ll wonder if his willingness to jump to conclusions has affected his work.

  80. #80 Leni
    November 22, 2006

    For the record, I strongly suspected it was a joke because I’ve heard the same joke in about a thousand different forms from other educators who have to deal head-on with the ignorance of their students. And sometimes they deal with it in not-so great ways, but I think it’s a complete overstatement to say that Moran, like the DI camp, is actively suggesting we change education policies. (At least the policy he was joking about..)

    The only reason I wasn’t certain is because I am not familiar with Moran.

    I think I posted to that effect. (At least I meant to, but sometimes I forget to hit “post” and walk away from my comp so maybe I didn’t…) Anyway, it seemed pretty tounge in cheek to me.

  81. #81 PennyBright
    November 22, 2006

    Gretchen, I agree with you about the importance of understanding how and why we as a species behave as we do, and certainly would not exempt religious behavior from that study. I am not so sure that the content of thought (including beliefs) is as readily studyable as behavior – I find evolutionary psychology unconvincing for the most part.

    But studying how and why people have religious belief and behavior is not quite the same as studying the question “Is deity real/does deity exist”, which is what I think Martin W. intended, and certainly what I assumed him to mean, given the context of his comment.

    That deity belief and religion exist, and seem nearly universal to the human experience, is definitely something worthy of study. The prevalence of both suggests to me that there must be some value in the behavior – this is not to comment on the truth or falsehood of any given religious proposition. But if there is any value at all to evolutionary psychology, then we must allow that religion is – at the bare minimum – either meaningful or meaningless enough not to have been eliminated by selective pressure.

    I tend to think it survives because it is a meaningful trait, which has in some way contributed to our survival as a species.

    And if it survives because it is meaningless enough to have not been eliminated, that seems to rather undercut the anti-religious hypothesis “religion is bad for us”.

  82. #82 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    Leni– there are a lot of reasons why religion may have evolved that don’t necessarily entail it being valuable or meaningful. Some believe it to be a byproduct; not adaptive in itself but rather a side-effect of traits that are adaptive, such as detection of agency. Some believe aspects of religion are adaptive (such as gods acting as enforcers of social contracts in a way that humans simply couldn’t) but not necessarily good as in commendable. Some, such as Daniel Dennett, believe that religion didn’t even evolve to make humans more reproductively fit, but rather to perpetuate itself in the form of catchy memes that spread like viruses, in a relationship that may be symbiotic but also sometimes parasitic.

    And there are other theories that combine these ideas or variations on them. Just because something evolved doesn’t make it desireable– that’s an instance of the naturalistic fallacy (there are also evolutionary theories of murder and rape, after all). However, it does likely mean that you’re not going to get rid of it very quickly or easily, certainly not by brow-beating, yelling at or condescending to people. In that regard I find the recent books by Dennett and Dawkins a little odd to say the least. You’d think two people who put such stock in evolution might consider that if religion evolved, it might not be something you can pry loose from people by even the best-argued polemic. I suspect that in their passion to defend atheism, some of the critical thinking that has gotten them so much admiration as philosopher and biologist, respectively, may have fallen by the wayside.

  83. #83 Gretchen
    November 22, 2006

    Oops, I obviously meant to direct that to PennyBright, not Leni. Apologies.

  84. #84 Coin
    November 22, 2006
    Dawkins said teaching children they will be eternally tortured for crossing ambiguous and contradictory religious boundaries is child abuse and I wholeheartedly agree.

    That’s IT?! And how many parents actually teach their children such nonsense? My Catholic father sure didn’t, and neither did any of my friends’ parents.

    And if you don’t mind me asking, what state was this in?

  85. #85 DuWayne
    November 22, 2006

    I think that it all boils down to keeping religion out of government – entirely. That means public schools do not promote, or advocate against religion. That means no part of the state gets into religion at all. I would think that everyone here agrees with that notion, if we can agree on that notion, support that notion, vote that notion – we can get along – on this issue.

    Whether individuals in this fight happen to be religious or not, is irrelevant. I think it should be obvious to everybody here what happens when the state gets involved with religion. Whether it results in homosexuals being put to death in Iran or members of Falun Gong being savaged by the Chinese government – or simply in not allowing homosexuals the security and legal protections enjoyed by married couples, state involvement in religion is unacceptable and must be stopped at every turn.

    Whether a person has religious beliefs is irrelevant. Whether they are willing to fight every government intrusion into religion is. If you are serious about fighting this frightening phenom – join an interfaith alliance fighting it. People make amusing little jokes about Jews, Muslims and Christians coming together to condemn the Gay. Why not take part in such alliances with people who are doing the same thing for a cause that I think all of us can support. They hardily welcome atheists, living in Portland, OR the ones I have been to have fairly high percentages of atheists. It certainly beats the hell out of arguing about religion – though, I have come out of these forums with new friends who are happy to debate philosophy and religion without whining about “attacks” on their faith.

    People who are too narrow to accept interfaith alliances to fight for the seperation of church and state, just don’t seem to be that serious about it. If you want to eliminate the majority of people who want to fight for this you can’t be. If ideological purity is more important than this fight, we all lose.

  86. #86 kehrsam
    November 22, 2006

    DuWayne:

    Southern Baptists have traditionally been one of the strongest religious groups arguing in favor of separation of church and state. This is because we were never the group selected as “authorized” by any of the colonies, plus that little argument about whether slavery (and racial mixing) were proper Biblical principals. Unfortunately, my NC Baptist Association just voted for witch hunts of churches favorable to gays and their families. My apologies, and apparently, I will be searching a new church home soon.

    I would point out that there is a non-religious explanation for not recognizing gay marriage. Keep in mind that the legal standard in this case is a mere rational relation to the desired end.

    It is entirely rational for the state to recognize hetero marriages as a means of promoting stable families. That it is also rational to recognize non-standard families is true, but not necessarily the issue. That will come with time, but keep in mind that domestic law (my specialty) tends to lag about thirty years behind actual events, longer in South Carolina.

    Also important in this debate is that most GLT organizations were actually opposed to marriage reform as recently as a decade ago. Andrew Sullivan has made a huge advance in this area possible by his arguments that true conservatism demands equal marriage rights. Peace.

  87. #87 DuWayne
    November 22, 2006

    kehrsam -
    I have met people at interfaith forums that are dead-set against gay marriage. Not very keen on civil unions either, for them it is a compromise they make to keep the state out of other issues.

    As I have understood it, it wasn’t so much an oppostition to gay marriage – it was an opposition to pushing for it then. I think there are probably a lot of organisations that secretly think that now. That was how it was explained to me ten-plus years ago.

    The thing that changed it for me, got me into the fight now, so to speak is the number of people, including a lot of children, who are directly harmed by a lack of the security and legal protections marriage provides.

    Otherwise, I figured, twenty, thirty years, it will be a done issue any way. I didn’t see the problem with waiting for more of the bigotry to die off – which it is, until I saw the harm being done now.

  88. #88 kehrsam
    November 22, 2006

    I am in full agreement. I was just pointing out that gay narriage is not a right until we the people so decide, nor does opposition to the same necessarrily involve religous bias.

    That it does, in fact, often involve religous bias is a fact on which we agree as well. Until generally accepted by society, however, needless harm will continue. As a Christian and hetero, my apologies.

  89. #89 Belathor
    November 22, 2006

    kehrsam -

    Did you see this post?

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/11/gay_marriage_helps_straight_ma.php#more

    I just thought that it had some pertinence to the gay marriage issue and specifically to the argument that gay marriage discourages stable marriages.

  90. #90 GH
    November 23, 2006

    Southern Baptists have traditionally been one of the strongest religious groups arguing in favor of separation of church and state. This is because we were never the group selected as “authorized” by any of the colonies,

    I think you are equating the more reasonable American baptists with the typically unreasonable southern form. American baptists tend to be very progressive and moderate to liberal leaning while the southern form is very conservative.

    The southern form always seems to be on the wrong side of any progressive issue.

    Oh and:

    That’s IT?! And how many parents actually teach their children such nonsense? My Catholic father sure didn’t, and neither did any of my friends’ parents.

    give it up folks it’s pointless to debate, In raging bees world no child is being taught about eternal suffering of people. Apparently it’s something new to Catholics and Protestants. Odd how so many people have an idea what it is then huh?

  91. #91 Nebogipfel
    November 23, 2006

    Randi:

    If a god believer tells me 2 plus 2 equals 4 I have no reason to doubt it. If he tries to convince me of some complex theory with parts that don’t seem to quite add up I’ll wonder if his willingness to jump to conclusions has affected his work.

    That’s one thing. It’s a big and unwarranted leap from there to :

    To believe in something for which not only is there no evidence [...] but for which every attempt to find evidence has turned up nothing is to raise doubts about how rational one can be about anything.

    This is precisely what the original post was about; is it *reasonable* to say that because a person has irrational beliefs about one thing, they must necessarily be irrational about everything? If a student is “irrational” in that that they do not “believe” in evolution, is it *reasonable* to say that they are fundamentally incapable of following a university course on modern biology? Ed says the answer in both cases is “no”, and I agree :-)

  92. #92 valhar2000
    November 23, 2006

    Do you believe in evolution?

    This particular question in a University application would not make much sense, but how about this one:

    Explain, in your own words, your best understanding of the Theory of Evolution.

    Of the student attempts to answer that question honestly, you can figure out if they accept evolution, if they beleive it or disbeleive it due to some ideological bias, or if they reject it becuase they have analized the evidence available to them and have come to that conclusion.

    With those results, it would be much easier and more effective to reject students on the basis of their “belief” in Evolution.

  93. #93 Jeff Hebert
    November 23, 2006

    Valhar2000 said:

    With those results, it would be much easier and more effective to reject students on the basis of their “belief” in Evolution.

    And yet, just as foolish. Belief-testing 18 year olds as a screening method for college admissions is a horrible, horrible idea. If you only let in people who already have the “right” answer, you’re not only on a fast road to intellectual stagnation, you’re making the existence of your university completely pointless. If you demand your new students already know everything, then what are you supposedly teaching them?

  94. #94 Randi Schimnosky
    November 23, 2006

    Nebogipfel, I never said that because a person has irrational beliefs about one thing that they must necessarily be irrational about everything. What I said was that if they are irrational about believing in things like leprechauns, and gods that it raises doubts about whether they are rational on any given topic.

  95. #95 DuWayne
    November 23, 2006

    Randi -

    What about simply judging them by their positions on given topics? If the first thing you knew about me was my positions on major hot-button issues that get discussed in this blog, you would likely consider me little different from yourself. Why should later discovering I am a Christian with decidedly deist leanings raise any doubts as to the rational of my position on, say, church/state issues? If you’re more accepting of the deist viewpoint, pretend I’m a full blown theist, for the sake of that question.

  96. #96 Randi Schimnosky
    November 23, 2006

    DuWayne, yes I do judge people by their positions on given topics, if what they say sounds reasonable I will probably accept it but if I know they are religious it adds a slight bit of doubt in my mind, it tells me they are biased against what normally (perhaps always) occurs (a lack of the supernatural) and willing to take paradoxical and unlikely positions. It tells me that what sounds reasonable may have been reached based on unreasonable supositions and because the reasonable sounding isn’t always correct I will have doubts. I also wonder if the person making reasonable sounding statements will unreasonably abandon those positions in the future because of supernatural beliefs. If you are willing to accept the seemingly or actually impossible I will always wonder if your thinking is affected by that at some level`.

  97. #97 Ed Darrell
    November 23, 2006

    Look, until the wags at Uncommon Descent go after Harun Yahya and his ilk, Moran’s position, while a bit extreme, is much the more rational. Have you seen what Yahya is up to — now he says terrorism is caused by Darwin. Can we afford to allow people who swallow such claims to claim to be educated?

    Go see: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2006/11/22/voodoo-historian-harun-yahya-and-anti-evolution-in-turkey/

  98. #98 Ed Brayton
    November 23, 2006

    Ed Darrell wrote:

    Look, until the wags at Uncommon Descent go after Harun Yahya and his ilk, Moran’s position, while a bit extreme, is much the more rational. Have you seen what Yahya is up to — now he says terrorism is caused by Darwin. Can we afford to allow people who swallow such claims to claim to be educated?

    This makes no sense at all. Because a Turkish guy says something really stupid, we have to expel every student from college who doesn’t believe in evolution? On what possible level is that a rational statement?

  99. #99 Anna in Portland (was Cairo)
    November 23, 2006

    Caliban points out:

    I think Ed has pretty much taken Moran to the cleaners here. It’s a no-brainer. Ideological lithmus tests of any kind to gain entrance to college should be repugnant to anyone who rejects facism. While i sympathise with the desire to make America more like “secular europe”, Moran’s apparent approach is definitely not the way to do it. I really can’t see what Moran thinks he’s accomplishing by saying what he has.

    Yes, I tend to agree. Also see Jeff Hebert’s point:

    Belief-testing 18 year olds as a screening method for college admissions is a horrible, horrible idea. If you only let in people who already have the “right” answer, you’re not only on a fast road to intellectual stagnation, you’re making the existence of your university completely pointless. If you demand your new students already know everything, then what are you supposedly teaching them?

    I went to a Jesuit university (Georgetown U.) and there was this required course called “Problem of God” in which all Freshmen had to grapple with a lot of the problems inherent in monotheism generally (the problem of evil, the fact that the “proofs” of God’s existence did nothing of the kind, the conundrum of destiny vs. free will, etc.) culminating in a book that tried to posit a “demythologized” version of Christianity. It was a course that the fundie-raised kids really hated. Yet they ended up learning a lot and had to confront things they had always been told not to think about.

    It seems to me that the best place for young people with limited views to be able to expand them, should be the university.

    Therefore it would make no sense to deny people entrance based on those limited views.

    The position of Moran’s atheism seems to be that no theists – no matter what their stripe – are capable of learning or changing their views. The idea that people are static and fixed and incapable of change seems strange when held by evolutionists, doesn’t it?

  100. #100 AndyS
    November 23, 2006

    Bravo, Ed!

  101. #101 GH
    November 23, 2006

    I think both Ed and PZ have some very valid points. I’d don’t think Moran was looking to bounce kids who don’t believe in evolution either but I think certain standards are valuable if one seeks to be a biologist. That being said what better place to put a creationist than a college classroom where you must learn evolution to pass.

    I say let’em in.

  102. #102 Lettuce
    November 23, 2006

    I’m with Ted Turner, sort of.

    I don’t think Christianity is a religion for losers, but I do believe religion is for losers.

  103. #103 386sx
    November 23, 2006

    I’ll stick with my team.

    Very dramatic (I guess), and it’s working just like you planned, but I’m glad to see you guys can act like little kids just like the rest of the planet. Restores my faith in humanity and all that. Happy holidays!

  104. #104 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 23, 2006

    Ed Brayton wrote:

    The average 18 year old, even ones who have gone through advanced biology in high school, know virtually nothing about evolution. There is no active choice going on with these students. In most cases, there is little more than a vague notion that evolution means no god and therefore must be wrong. That is the primary reason why most people reject evolution, it has nothing at all to do with weighing two sides on the basis of the evidence and choosing one. And unfortunately, people like Larry, rather than trying to remove the primary reason why these people reject evolution, only go out of their way to reinforce it.

    So high school students are reaching university with little or no knowledge of evolution? Now why would that be?

    Could it be because a large number of high school science teachers are minimising or avoiding any mention of evolution? And why would they do that? Could it be because they are being intimidated by believers, because they are compromising the teaching of biology in order to appease the religious beliefs of others?

    In other words, given that we have the object lesson of high school science teaching and the standard of students it produces, have you just not admitted the strength of Myers’s and Moran’s case?

    No one is suggesting that students should be denied access to university on the grounds of their religious or political beliefs, but universities have a duty to their students and to society at large to set and maintain the highest possible academic standards. Students who are fail to meet those standards, for whatever reason, should be excluded. Why should they take up a university place that could be occupied more profitably by someone who is better qualified?

    Students who have theological objections to evolution but can nonetheless demonstrate that they understand the theory and the evidence on which it rests, should be admitted to university provided they can meet all the other standards of entry. Students who knows little about evolution because their religous beliefs forbid them to study it should not.

    On the broader question of the best tactic to employ in the fight against the ignorance and superstition encouraged by some religions, Dawkins’ comparison of Chamberlainite appeasers and Churchillian fighters is often quoted. If you are going to invoke Churchill, however, there is an even more apposite reference from a speech in June 1941 when he said:

    If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.

    As is well known, he had a deep and abiding hatred of communism but, at that time, his first priority was the defeat of Nazi Germany and he was prepared to accept as allies any who would join him in that fight.

    Although some might be working towards expunging all traces of religious belief from the human psyche, surely the more urgent and immediate objective is to prevent science education from falling into the hands of those who would turn the science classroom into little more than a “Jesus Camp”. If theistic evolutionists are willing to join in the fight then they should be welcomed as allies not enemies.

  105. #105 Ed Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    Ian Spedding wrote:

    So high school students are reaching university with little or no knowledge of evolution? Now why would that be?

    Could it be because a large number of high school science teachers are minimising or avoiding any mention of evolution? And why would they do that? Could it be because they are being intimidated by believers, because they are compromising the teaching of biology in order to appease the religious beliefs of others?

    Absolutely, that’s one of the primary reasons why. I talk to high school science teachers all the time who find it easier to just avoid mentioning it, and that needs to be stopped.

    In other words, given that we have the object lesson of high school science teaching and the standard of students it produces, have you just not admitted the strength of Myers’s and Moran’s case?

    Absolutely not. I don’t see how it logically follows that because high school teachers are intimidated into not teaching evolution that we should therefore hold the students who were badly served in high school out of college. Doesn’t that just double the damage? We need to educate them. And if they didn’t get to learn about evolution in high school, we can teach them about it in college. I never even had a biology class in high school, just chemistry and physics. Does that mean I should have been kept out of college? I certainly hope not.

    No one is suggesting that students should be denied access to university on the grounds of their religious or political beliefs, but universities have a duty to their students and to society at large to set and maintain the highest possible academic standards. Students who are fail to meet those standards, for whatever reason, should be excluded. Why should they take up a university place that could be occupied more profitably by someone who is better qualified?

    Actually, Moran is suggesting exactly that. He didn’t say that we shouldn’t let in students who don’t understand evolution, he said we should keep out students who don’t believe in evolution; there’s a big difference. But if the standard is knowledge, the problem is that a very small percentage of high school students get even a minimal education in evolutionary biology. That’s a problem that needs to be fixed, but if the standard is going to be that only those with a good education in evolutionary biology get in to college, that means about 90% of those who get into college would not get in under your standard. It’s not about allowing better prepared students in when virtually all high school students are ill prepared in this area. Unfortunately, we’re so busy fighting to keep evolution education from being eroded even further that we don’t have time to take positive steps to make it better. Some of us are trying, however. My friend Greg Forbes has developed a training program to help science teachers teach more effectively about evolution.

    Although some might be working towards expunging all traces of religious belief from the human psyche, surely the more urgent and immediate objective is to prevent science education from falling into the hands of those who would turn the science classroom into little more than a “Jesus Camp”. If theistic evolutionists are willing to join in the fight then they should be welcomed as allies not enemies.

    And that is exactly my point.

  106. #106 JimC
    November 24, 2006

    But if the standard is knowledge, the problem is that a very small percentage of high school students get even a minimal education in evolutionary biology.

    So in a perfect world all studens received a full education in evolution would you accept Morans view?

    I don’t think Moran is right about not letting them into college. That being said the two teams things is simply ludicrous and a false portrayal of what PZ and others actually say.

  107. #107 Daniel Morgan
    November 24, 2006
    If theistic evolutionists are willing to join in the fight then they should be welcomed as allies not enemies.

    And that is exactly my point.

    And I don’t think PZ or anyone else argues with you on it. PZ has worked with deists and theists to evict pseudoscience from science classrooms for years.

    Lots of heat, very little light.

    I am sure lots of merry thickheads in the IDC community will be posting lots of gems on this stuff in the next few days. In the end, we’re on the side of science, and they’re not, and that’s what matters. We can have schisms, flame wars, etc., over how to end their fired-up “culture wars”; I guarantee they will continue to use this material to promote the canard, “Ooooo, look what this atheist evilutionist Dawkins [PZ, Moran, etc] says about how he wants to end religion — that’s what all the atheist evilutionists want…save our kids from evilution…” It doesn’t matter. They are on the wrong side of this argument. They lose.

  108. #108 Nebogipfel
    November 24, 2006

    Randi:

    What I said was that if they are irrational about believing in things like leprechauns, and gods that it raises doubts about whether they are rational on any given topic.

    You can, of course, turn the question around. If someone has entirely *rational* views on one topic does that not *diminsh* the doubt that they are rational on any given topic?
    I do take your point – perhaps we are just disagreeing about how much irrationality is “too much”. After all, can you really say that you yourself have no irrational views at all, on any subject? I don’t think I can.
    Certainly I would also say that belief in leprechauns is “too much”. But just a belief in a god? Given that there are many theists and deists who demonstrably *are* rationaly on a whole range of important issues, that’s a bit extreme.

  109. #109 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Nebogipfel: Randi’s posts clearly show the effect of religious bigotry on young minds: raised by religious bigots who couldn’t tell friends from enemies, he became a bigot who can’t tell friends from enemies. Thus the religious bigots reinforce and justify themselves by creating their own best enemy.

  110. #110 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Nebogipfel, yes I agree if one shows lots of rationality on many topics that diminishes the doubts about whether they are irrational on any given topic. However, all else being equal I’ll have more doubts about someone who believes in gods or leprechauns than I would someone who does not. As there is just as much evidence for the existence of leprechauns as gods I don’t see much of a difference in the two beliefs.

    Raging Bee, its pretty ironic for someone filled with so much rage at atheists to call me a bigot. I am female by the way.

  111. #111 Chris
    November 24, 2006

    It’s one thing to say that Moran’s suggestion is unfair because the real problem is at lower educational levels and we shouldn’t punish people for having gone to bad schools. In fact, I think that for precisely this reason, Moran’s suggestion would be at best premature.

    It’s quite another to accuse him of instituting ideological litmus tests when it appears that the intent of his proposal was to exclude only students who *rejected* the evidence in order to cling to dogma. People who are determined not to be educated reliably won’t be educated and trying is a waste of time and classroom space that could have gone to someone else. Preferably someone who didn’t believe that evidence was a tool of Satan.

    Furthermore, people drawing overblown comparisons to fascism should perhaps reflect on the fact that Moran has not proposed sending the students who give the wrong answers to a gulag.

    Given the fact that universities can only admit a certain number of students, don’t they have a right (or even an obligation) to admit those students who are most likely to benefit from that education? Or should they focus on choosing those students whose later works and words are most likely to reflect favorably on the university’s reputation? Dogmatists of any stripe do rather poorly on both criteria.

  112. #112 JohnB
    November 25, 2006

    I wonder if the average undergrad’s blind scientism should receive as much attention as their theism. If you are going to weed out all the people with irrational worldviews, I think you’re going to lose alot of talented and skilled science students.

    The idea that, to deserve a university education, you need to have a sophisticated philosophical stance on a number of issues seems like a catch-22 to me. The science students I have met are usually creative and curious people. I can’t imagine that establishing some set of facts which they must accept, without the opportunity for either experimentation or dissent, would benefit them.

    I don’t think it is fair to expect everyone to have arrived at the same conclusions, at the same time, all before they are allowed to explore different ideas and worldviews in a university setting.

  113. #113 Mike J
    December 15, 2006

    Love the conversation here. Especially as it crosses the two fields my wife and I both partake in; science and education. The main debate about whether belief in some deity, or in the supernatural, somehow renders one incapable of doing good science, kind of baffles me a bit though. It would seem that the plethora of scientists in every field who have made tremendous contributions to their fields, and who hold beliefs in the supernatural, or in a god, would render the entire debate moot.

    Really; if it’s possible to name beaurcoup scientists with such beliefs, and point to tremendous contributions they’ve made, where’s the debate? The evidence sinks it. ….. Unless of course evidence isn’t what one is debating. Then one falls under the condemnation of Moran, and Brayton, and me, and every other truly thinking individual. And we’d all be justified in seriously questioning the validity of anything you’d produce.

    Say. That brings up another side of things. Is it possible to name specific scientists, who are clearly atheistic or anti-supernatural, who have taken irrational stances on scientific matters? Of course it is. (Sir Gustav Nossal comes to my mind.) Should we then throw them out of the universities? (Methinks Walter & Elisa Hall would be much upset if you canned their Nobel laureate.)

    Say; maybe Ed could block any poster with an irrational thought or belief from his blog. That would really put a stop to this debate wouldn’t it?

    Hey, we’re all members of the human race here right? Has anyone here ever met a human with no irrational beliefs? Or a human with total objectivity? Or a human who doesn’t say, do, or believe some truly bone-headed things? (There is of course me. But since y’all haven’t met me……….)

  114. #114 Mike J
    December 15, 2006

    This question from Ian was most interesting:
    >So high school students are reaching university with little or no knowledge of evolution? Now why would that be?<

    I spent a couple years teaching in high schools. The answer is blooming obvious to me. And it has only partly to do with your posited answer.
    (i.e. because a large number of high school science teachers are minimising or avoiding any mention of evolution…. because they are being intimidated by believers)

    Sadly a big part of the answer is that the teachers themselves don’t know enough about their topics. I’ve met biology teachers who don’t know enough about evolution, or genetics, or ecology, or name your subtopic, to pass an exam I could slap together out of my head in 15 minutes.

    Do a bit of researching and you’ll find that teacher certification exams have been dumbed down because there were too few who could pass them. Then these unqualified teachers, try (and fail) to teach students, who then show up on college campuses without the minimal entry requirements. The colleges then lower entry requirements, and later have to lower graduation requirements, and then these highly unqualified grads are sent out to teach another generation.

    Oh and try looking at the educational theory courses at any college. Gawd! If someone with a knack for teaching, and some flair for originality, had to take those courses, he’ll get the knack and flair pounded out of him. Truly a travesty. ….. It took me years to remediate the damage wrought by taking a few of those courses.

    Speaking as one who has been on the inside of a major university education program (and a U with a highly regarded Ed department at that), I can honestly way that I, and my classmates, would have been better off if they’d just let us loose without the certification process.

    And now I must climb down from my hobby horse. He always gets ridden hard when this topic pops up.

  115. #115 Kip Watson
    January 30, 2007

    In fact almost all the truly bad science — the utterly deplorable, painfully misguided, wickedly dishonest, boneheadedly ignorant science — of the last hundred years or so has come from militant atheists of one sort or another. And it still keeps on coming!

    (…thinking these days of Greenism, GW-alarmism and the new eugenicists )