Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Clarifying the Moran Debate

Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble put up a post agreeing with me on the whole “two teams” controversy, which brought a response from PZ Myers, which Pat then put up top on his blog in its own post and answered. That brought an additional response from Myers that points up the need for a couple of clarifications on my position. First, Myers seems to be particularly bothered by my statement that he and others set out not only to protect science education but to “attack and destroy religion by any means necessary”, which he calls an “outrageous distortion” of his position.

Let me say that I did choose my words badly and the little rhetorical flourish of “by any means necessary” was a poor choice on my part. I certainly don’t believe that he or anyone else of the same mindset is in favor of killing religious people or rounding them up into reeducation camps or anything like that. But clearly they do favor more authoritarian tactics than I am comfortable with. Myers is on record as supporting the denial of tenure to anyone advocating ID, while Moran is on record in favor of applying ideological litmus tests of orthodox belief prior to allowing someone into college.

Those are tactics that I absolutely do not support. Moreover, they are tactics that speak to exactly the sort of split that has become very clear to me over the last few months. I will fight, as I have for well over a decade now, to keep the anti-evolution movement, in whatever form it takes at any given time, from infecting and weakening science education in this country; I will not, however, support these sorts of authoritarian measures that only serve to undermine our ability to persuade on the basis of reason.

Secondly, Myers accuses Hayes and me of hypocrisy because we are dividing our side up while accusing the others of dividing our side up:

I am surprised that you’re unable to detect the hypocrisy and the irony in that comment. You have just declared that those who divide the movement to defend science education are handing the creationists a victory…in posts in which you and Ed divide the movement. And you don’t just divide it — you guys declare us evil atheists (to distinguish my “team” from your “team” of the saintly atheists) disturbing, dangerous, appalling, and vile, and that we are leading you to certain defeat (a point on which I strongly disagree, obviously — I think your strategy has a demonstrated history of failure). Along the way you completely mischaracterize the goals of people like Moran and Dawkins and me, in order to further your goal of propagandizing against a subgroup you don’t like.

My position is not that this other group’s tactics are bad because they “divide the movement”, and that is not an argument I have ever made. My position is that there are two entirely different movements here and my pointing that out is not what causes such a divide, the two entirely different sets of goals is what causes that divide. I am not making the argument that the other side is “dividing the movement”, I’m making the argument that there are two distinct movements.

The point of my post is that there are two entirely different disputes here being fought by two entirely different groups. The first dispute is evolution vs creationism; the second dispute is theism v atheism. Moran, Myers, Dawkins and others are engaged in the second dispute; I am engaged in the first one. My further point is that their pursuit of their goal of fighting against theism not only in its anti-science form but in any form actually damages our ability to fight the first, far more important, dispute.

And that is especially true when they advocate the kind of authoritarian tactics I noted above. All it does is feed into the perception that everyone on our side is out to punish, censor or destroy the careers of those who disagree with us. And I’m trying to make clear that that is not the case, that the only people who advocate such tactics are, in fact, people fighting an entirely different battle than the one we’re fighting, and with tactics that we disapprove of. And I want to make the distinction clear between the two groups.

There is no “movement” being divided here, there are two entirely different groups fighting two entirely different battles. Our interests may be temporarily and theoretically in line at times, but the fact is that your fight is significantly undermining our fight by reinforcing their worst stereotypes (and confusing you with us), by alienating an enormous base that would otherwise support us, and by declaring our most valuable spokesman to be enemies of the cause.

Well Ken Miller may be an enemy to your cause, but not to our cause. And that is exactly my point: we aren’t fighting for the same goals. And pointing that out does not divide a movement, it recognizes two distinct movements with two distinct goals. And I frankly want to distance myself from your goals as much as possible.

Comments

  1. #1 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    alienating an enormous base that would otherwise support us

    This point keeps coming up. I still want to know exactly who PZ, Dawkins et al are driving away from the pro-science “team,” and how exactly they’re doing that. It’s frequently claimed; never actually substantiated, that I’ve seen.

  2. #2 MJ Memphis
    November 24, 2006

    “Myers is on record as supporting the denial of tenure to anyone advocating ID”

    Was this referring to professors in the sciences, or professors in general? Because if a science professor is supporting IDC, then they certainly should be denied tenure, because it shows a tremendous lapse of judgement in an area where they should be competent. On the other hand, it probably shouldn’t play a role in the tenure process for professors of Latin or sociology.

  3. #3 GH
    November 24, 2006

    I see your point Ed but I don’t agree with the following:

    but the fact is that your fight is significantly undermining our fight by reinforcing their worst stereotypes (and confusing you with us), by alienating an enormous base that would otherwise support us, and by declaring our most valuable spokesman to be enemies of the cause.

    PZ has said repeatedly that Miller is great at advocating evolution but that when he veers into religion he’s not so good. It seems to me that is a clear seperation of his thoughts.

    Secondly attacking the irrationality of religion is not ‘hurting the cause’. The current strategy as it is puts outs fires here and there and thats all it will ever be. It’s almost like guerilla warfare. Dawkins, Myers and many others advocate cutting off the armies supply lines so to speak. Can this be done in the USA? I doubt it. Should they stop? Certainly not.

    It seems Dawkins along with Harris, Dennett and others ARE shifting the goalposts. They are making a conversational difference. This is a big first step towards moving many away from superstitious thinking as a matter of first priority.

    Do scientists like Miller help good science education? absolutely

    Do scientists like Miller present good science when they comingle it with religion? absolutely not.

    I do not know of anyone who doesn’t think evolution is correct because atheists think it so. I know plenty who come out of churches thinking it for a myriad of reasons. It doesn’t matter if PZ thinks their religion a pile of nothingness, there minds are already made up around the age of 10 in many communities. If anything men like Dawkins and Myers present their case so forcefully and coherently that they do win converts that are willing to read and learn. It is also extremely important in this nation that atheists have an increasing public acceptance. Both tasks should be championed as if nothing else the diversity of opinion keeps the national discourse healthy.

    Anyone who fears atheism so much do to religious indoctrination isn’t likely to be very rational on alot of matters let alone evolution without reading what alot of atheists have to say. So in this manner there are 2 battles being fought and they often intersect most visibly in the evolution wars. This doesn’t mean that those who embrace theistic evolution aren’t good allies in the evolution wars and I’ve never heard this said otherwise.

    I know several who have responded well upon reading Dawkins. His arguments are very powerful. As Miller says he is the best at what he does. So from my own limited evidence I don’t see Myers and his cronies hurting the cause at all. Likewise I agree with you on the college admission fiasco.

  4. #4 Miguelito
    November 24, 2006

    I’m not sure what PZ is so up in arms about. He has consistently divided the evolution camp into two sides: the theistic and atheist. I’d even go so far as to say that in many of his posts he only believes that there is one camp: atheist and that the theists belong in the creationist camp.

  5. #5 Martin Wagner
    November 24, 2006

    Moran is on record in favor of applying ideological litmus tests of orthodox belief prior to allowing someone into college.

    No he isn’t. This is what he says.

    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.

    A very different view from your misrepresentation of it. Moran favors rejecting students not because they don’t conform to a pro-evolution “ideology,” but because they have already adopted a religiously-motivated (is there any other kind?) ideology that has caused them to reject evolution out of hand, in any form, which PZ has gone on to compare accurately to a potential math student who’s already rejected the binomial theorem. If a student’s religious beliefs have rendered them ineducable in the sciences, then there seems little point in admitting them into a university where they’ll just end up pissing away loads of their money to make F’s. Let ‘em go to Bob Jones or Liberty and get miseducated all they like.

  6. #6 Jonathan Dursi
    November 24, 2006

    Moran is on record in favor of applying ideological litmus tests of orthodox belief prior to allowing someone into college.

    I’m sorry, Ed, but by even referring to testing on knoweledge of evolutionary processes as `ideological litmus tests’, you’re playing exactly into the Discovery Institute, etc, hands.

    This is not a matter of `ideology’, it’s a matter of competency. ID can be summed up — and I think this isn’t a straw man — as `things are so complicated they must have been designed’. If you really think that, if you really think there are no natural mechanisms which lead to such biological complexity, then one is simply not competant in biology. Then one isn’t knowledgeable of the huge body of evidence that is biological facts. Then one can’t possibly make biologically supported arguments.

    Yes, one shoud be perfectly willing to test for competency for admissions. How much remediation should be done? How much simply false knowledge should be acceptable for an otherwise bright student? I don’t know, and neither do you, and neither does PZM, and neither does Moran. But testing for competency for admissions is the normal state of affairs. To refer to such a position as `authoritatian’ — or, worse, `ideological litmus tests’ — is deplorable.

  7. #7 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    If anything men like Dawkins and Myers present their case so forcefully and coherently that they do win converts that are willing to read and learn.

    Noisy, belligerent, bigoted Christian evangelists make exactly the same claim — and they’re totally blind to the number of decent people who listen to their ravings and quietly write them off as fools and liars. Not to mention the number of people who “convert,” but then see through them and bugger off a short time later.

    It seems Dawkins along with Harris, Dennett and others ARE shifting the goalposts. They are making a conversational difference. This is a big first step towards moving many away from superstitious thinking as a matter of first priority.

    A “conversational differnce” is not the same thing as a “substantive contribution to understanding.” My father was a Catholic, and my mother recently joined Christ Church. Call them both “supersititious” if you want, but both of them taught me, at every opportunity, to disdain “superstitious” thought (such as ghosts, hauntings, tha “the paranormal”), and embrace good science and rational thought in observing the real world. They also cautioned me against people who claim to have a “direct line” to God. Neither of them were scientists themselves (unless economics counts), but neither of them EVER said a word in favor of ANY faith-based pseudo-science. And yet statements by Dawkins, Harris, and their defenders describe them as “the enemy,” with no evidence of wrongdoing on their part, merely because they believe, or accept belief, in a God. If that’s the “conversational difference” you’re talking about, then fuck them and the horse they rode in on. We didn’t need that “conversational difference” in the Dover trial, we didn’t need it in the ’06 elections, Barry Goldwater and Andrew Sullivan didn’t need it to stand up against Falwell, and sensible theists don’t need it to see the danger of fundamentalist stupidity.

  8. #8 dogmeatIB
    November 24, 2006

    I have to say, I don’t know where I would fall in this debate …

    I don’t believe in the Judeao/Christian/Muslim “God,” especially the fundamentalist version who takes time out of His busy day to make sure that your kid’s little league team wins the championship. But, at the same time, I can’t deny that there could be some kind of force, “Great Spirit,” or Bhuddist style universal energy behind all of life and the universe. So, effectively, I cannot call myself an atheist, does that mean I don’t get to be part of one of the anti-ID clubs?

    On the other hand, I somewhat agree with the idea of denying tenure to professors who, within applicable fields, deny evolution or advocate creationism/ID. I mean you sure as hell wouldn’t grant tenure to a medical professor who believed in prayer instead of surgery, a law professor who denied the Constitution, or an astronomer who argued that the stars were little lights in a crystal sphere.

  9. #9 Matthew
    November 24, 2006

    I really get annoyed by how Myers uses “atheist” as a synonym for “people who agree with me that religion is irrational and should be destroyed”. I’m an atheist and I simply don’t give a shit if people are religious or not, are rational or not, like apricots as much I do, or anything else, provided that they leave me alone.

  10. #10 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    GH wrote:

    PZ has said repeatedly that Miller is great at advocating evolution but that when he veers into religion he’s not so good.

    If that’s true, it’s almost exactly what Ed says about Dawkins.

    I’m not sure if this is the best way to put it or not, but it seems to me that the most obvious distintion between these two groups is not so much that they are fighting different battles (although I don’t entirely disagree with this), but that one side is openly criticising the primary cause of the problem: religious belief. Or should I say people with certain (overwhelmingly popular) religious beliefs? Beliefs that are on pretty firm theological grounds? And this at the risk of alienating people who have very similar beliefs.

    After all, it isn’t a bunch of secular humanists trying to undermine science education (and therefore science in general), it’s a bunch of religious people whose beliefs are hardly distinguishable from those of people like Ken Miller.

  11. #11 Matthew
    November 24, 2006

    Yes, one shoud be perfectly willing to test for competency for admissions. How much remediation should be done? How much simply false knowledge should be acceptable for an otherwise bright student? I don’t know, and neither do you, and neither does PZM, and neither does Moran. But testing for competency for admissions is the normal state of affairs. To refer to such a position as `authoritatian’ — or, worse, `ideological litmus tests’ — is deplorable.

    What does that mean, practically? What exactly are you going to do to test for “competency” in terms of evolution. Are you even aware that a good number of high schools don’t teach about evolution, or gloss over it as vaguely and as quickly as they possibly can. Are you suggesting that anyone who is unfortunate enough to go to these schools simply misses out on college? Why would a non-science student need to be competent in evolution anyways?

  12. #12 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    After all, it isn’t a bunch of secular humanists trying to undermine science education (and therefore science in general), it’s a bunch of religious people whose beliefs are hardly distinguishable from those of people like Ken Miller.

    “Hardly distinguishable?” Anyone who actually listens to what different people say can easily distinguish among the various beliefs. It’s not exactly an arcane secret requiring years of initiation and study. Hell, even the dumbest fundie convert can see that his religion is different from all the others; so there’s no excuse for any atheist to be more obtuse than that.

  13. #13 GW
    November 24, 2006

    Myers is on record as supporting the denial of tenure to anyone advocating ID,

    What’s wrong with that? Should they let flat-earthers in too? Either ID is true or it isn’t, no middle ground here.

    I will fight, as I have for well over a decade now, to keep the anti-evolution movement, in whatever form it takes at any given time, from infecting and weakening science education in this country;

    Then you should support his position.

  14. #14 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    Raging Bee wrote:

    “Hardly distinguishable?” Anyone who actually listens to what different people say can easily distinguish among the various beliefs. It’s not exactly an arcane secret requiring years of initiation and study. Hell, even the dumbest fundie convert can see that his religion is different from all the others; so there’s no excuse for any atheist to be more obtuse than that.

    Hardly distinguishable as in the only thing seperating the Ken Millers from the millions of Americans (including other Catholics) who reject evolution because it conflicts with their religious beliefs is that the Ken Millers accept the evidence for evolution.

    Second, as an atheist, I’m not terribly interested in sectarian differences. A Hindu who rejects evolution is pretty much the same to me as a Catholic who does. And a Catholic who doesn’t reject evolution but accepts all or most of the other Church teachings is not all that different from all the other Catholics.

  15. #15 MJ Memphis
    November 24, 2006

    “And a Catholic who doesn’t reject evolution but accepts all or most of the other Church teachings is not all that different from all the other Catholics.”

    In their defense, the Catholic church doesn’t reject evolution. It’s mostly Protestants that get into creationism.

  16. #16 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Hardly distinguishable as in the only thing seperating the Ken Millers from the millions of Americans (including other Catholics) who reject evolution because it conflicts with their religious beliefs is that the Ken Millers accept the evidence for evolution.

    Are you sure that’s the “only” thing? How much effort did you put into learining the differences?

    Second, as an atheist, I’m not terribly interested in sectarian differences…

    So you think it’s okay to disdain and ridicule religious beliefs without knowing — or even trying to find out — what, exactly, those beliefs are?

    Just because you, personally, don’t give a shit about “sectarian differences,” doesn’t mean those differences are unimportant. A racist can insist till he’s blue in the face that “those people” all look alike to him, but that insistence doesn’t make “those people” the same in any practical sense.

  17. #17 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    So you think it’s okay to disdain and ridicule religious beliefs without knowing — or even trying to find out — what, exactly, those beliefs are?

    Of course not!

    Unless the beliefs belong to Richard Dawkins, of course. Then you don’t even have to read his work.

  18. #18 386sx
    November 24, 2006

    Then you should support his position.

    Whatever form it takes at any given time, except for the tenure thing. And maybe a few other exceptions as well. Whatever form it takes at any given time, unless it might step on some religious toes. Or something like that. I don’t know!

  19. #19 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    MartinM: so enlighten me — what important bit of Dawkins’ insight have I missed? So far, I have yet to hear any of Dawkins’ defenders actually offer a statement of his that contradicted my interpretation of what he said.

  20. #20 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    what important bit of Dawkins’ insight have I missed?

    Oh, I’m not going to waste my time actually engaging you on this point; I’ve seen before how you handle it, and it’s not worth the electrons. But hypocrisy such as yours richly deserves a bit of snark, I think.

  21. #21 Gretchen
    November 24, 2006

    In their defense, the Catholic church doesn’t reject evolution.

    Unless something has changed recently, so far as I know the Church rejects evolution of the “soul,” so yes it does reject evolution in part…what I would argue is the most important part.

  22. #22 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Okay, I asked you for specific information, and you flatly refused, and offered name-calling instead. My opinion on Dawkins (based on HIS OWN WORDS in a Salon interview and in a Wired article) stands.

    (And no, I’m not “giving religion a free pass” here — I judge Ann Coulter, William Dembski, Casey Luskin, and Michael Behe the same way: by what I’ve heard them say.)

  23. #23 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Gretchen: “evolution of the soul” has nothing at all to do with the theory of evolution, which is silent about immaterial souls. So no, the RCC is not rejecting any part of the ToE.

  24. #24 386sx
    November 24, 2006

    Gretchen: “evolution of the soul” has nothing at all to do with the theory of evolution, which is silent about immaterial souls. So no, the RCC is not rejecting any part of the ToE.

    Do they think it is possible that humans might evolve into another species?

  25. #25 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    Either ID is true or it isn’t, no middle ground here.

    No, there are other possibilities. For instance, I might believe in evolution generally, but also think that some supernatural being might have intervened from time to time, rather than it always being random. Or I might believe that things are non-random for some other reason. Or I might believe that both evolution and ID are equally valid theories and that we do not currently possess sufficient evidence. Or….

    In any of those cases, I am reasonably sure that the PZ side of the debate would label me as pro-ID.

  26. #26 Gretchen
    November 24, 2006

    Gretchen: “evolution of the soul” has nothing at all to do with the theory of evolution, which is silent about immaterial souls.

    I respectfully disagree. Every aspect of human personality which is attributed to an immaterial soul is in fact an evolved characteristic. To say that people have evolved except for X,Y, and Z characteristics is to deny that people really have evolved. We didn’t just evolve a biological form and were given dignity, free will, and whatever else from on high. We evolved completely. We would not have the cognitive abilities we have today if they hadn’t been naturally selected. To say otherwise is like claiming that we arrived at the top of a ladder without climbing any of the rungs beneath it. You might as well just deny that the ladder exists at all.

  27. #27 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    Raging Bee wrote:

    Are you sure that’s the “only” thing? How much effort did you put into learining the differences?

    I grew up Catholic. Does that count as effort?

    And as far as this conversation goes, accepting evolution is the only difference that matters. We aren’t talking about what they think about limbo or transubstantiation. The distinguishing trait that matters to the topic at hand is the rejection of certain science specifically because it conflicts with some people’s religious beliefs.

    So you think it’s okay to disdain and ridicule religious beliefs without knowing — or even trying to find out — what, exactly, those beliefs are?

    Hello? What conversation are you in? Where did I ridicule anyone? And if by disdain you mean “criticize” then I guess I’m guilty.

    Bee, please calm down. Will you please just take a deep, relaxing breath and try to keep the invective to a minimum?

    Just because I don’t care about sectarian differences in religion (particularly with regard to this topic) doesn’t make me a bigot or a racist. It also doesn’t mean I am ignorant of them. To know them is not necessarily to love them. Or to invest emotionally in them. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they exist.

  28. #28 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Ed Brayton said “The point of my post is that there are two entirely different disputes here being fought by two entirely different groups. The first dispute is evolution vs creationism; the second dispute is theism v atheism.”

    Ed I would think it would be clear to you by now from the debates on your blog that you can’t dispute the former without disputing the latter.

  29. #29 GW
    November 24, 2006

    No, there are other possibilities. For instance, I might believe in evolution generally, but also think that some supernatural being might have intervened from time to time, rather than it always being random.

    Yeah that’s ID, and religious. It’s not scientific in any way and doesn’t belong in science. No scientific paper would or should accept such ideas. It’s a showstopper for science.

    Or I might believe that things are non-random for some other reason.

    Like what? Space aliens? Show some evidence.

    Or I might believe that both evolution and ID are equally valid theories and that we do not currently possess sufficient evidence. Or….

    If you believe that, you’re just plain ignorant and shouldn’t be given tenure.

    In any of those cases, I am reasonably sure that the PZ side of the debate would label me as pro-ID.

    And rightly so.

  30. #30 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Every aspect of human personality which is attributed to an immaterial soul is in fact an evolved characteristic. To say that people have evolved except for X,Y, and Z characteristics is to deny that people really have evolved.

    No, clearly it is not. Evolution with the possibility of occasional untraceable tinkering by unprovable agent(s), is still evolution; the overall process is still in place and working, and the RCC accept that.

    Whether you like it or not, the RCC believe in the existence of an immaterial soul, not governed by physical laws. Science, in general, is silent on the subject of immaterial souls, and the RCC are merely reinforcing that point, in order to prevent a scientific theory (evolution) from being mis-applied in a non-scientific controversy (the nature of the soul).

    Trust me on this: it is possible to believe in an immaterial soul without rejecting evolution. I do it all the time.

  31. #31 MJ Memphis
    November 24, 2006

    “Unless something has changed recently, so far as I know the Church rejects evolution of the “soul,” so yes it does reject evolution in part…what I would argue is the most important part.”

    Well, if they wish to hypothesize an imaginary, undetectable essence, and then speculate that it didn’t evolve, that is their prerogative. I don’t see that as rejecting evolution, which isn’t concerned with such imaginary things.

  32. #32 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    If you believe that, you’re just plain ignorant and shouldn’t be given tenure.

    Well I’m glad we’re keeping to the high ground here.

    My point in those hypotheticals was to show that a person might be able to hold both evolutionary theory and ideas condusive to ID in their heads at the same time without anything exploding. I would further suggest that in none of these cases would the acceptence of the pro-ID idea render the holder less effective as a scientist or teacher. Just a notion.

  33. #33 Cheeto
    November 24, 2006

    Shorter Raging Bee: My parents are religous and good people, so no more insulting religous people.

  34. #34 Ebonmuse
    November 24, 2006

    …Myers is on record as supporting the denial of tenure to anyone advocating ID…

    And what’s wrong with that? No decent university would give tenure to a geologist who believed the Earth was flat or to a microbiologist who rejected the germ theory of disease. ID advocates should be free to publish all they want, but to grant them tenure implies at some level that their peers accept their arguments, and that is not a level of support which the scientific community is obliged to offer to anyone.

    Clearly, we have to have some standard to employ when deciding whether to grant tenure, and I think academic competency is an entirely acceptable one. If a person’s competence and beliefs on their topic of expertise should be considered out of bounds when it comes to tenure evaluation, then what should the criteria be?

  35. #35 Gretchen
    November 24, 2006

    Whether you like it or not, the RCC believe in the existence of an immaterial soul, not governed by physical laws.

    Whether I like it or not is irrelevant.

    Science, in general, is silent on the subject of immaterial souls

    Insofar as science is silent on the subject of the supernatural, that’s true. However, what science has shown us so far is that human cognition is entirely reliant on the very material substrates in the brian.

    and the RCC are merely reinforcing that point, in order to prevent a scientific theory (evolution) from being mis-applied in a non-scientific controversy (the nature of the soul).

    As I have already said, those attributes of human mind which are attributed to the soul most certainly have evolved, and are being studied scientifically in the context of evolution.

    Trust me on this: it is possible to believe in an immaterial soul without rejecting evolution. I do it all the time.

    You’re rejecting evolution just as much as people did in Darwin’s day– by refusing to acknowledge that it applies to humans as much as every other organism on the planet. Following the post Ed made the other day, what you are saying is comparable to maintaining that it’s possible to believe in virgin births and reincarnation without rejecting biology. If you’re going to selectively exempt certain events or properties for religious reasons, you might as well not pretend to buy into the scientific theories at all.

  36. #36 Larry Moran
    November 24, 2006

    Ed Brayton says,

    … Moran is on record in favor of applying ideological litmus tests of orthodox belief prior to allowing someone into college

    That’s a lie. I demand a public retraction and an apology.

  37. #37 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    Gretchen wrote:

    You’re rejecting evolution just as much as people did in Darwin’s day– by refusing to acknowledge that it applies to humans as much as every other organism on the planet. Following the post Ed made the other day, what you are saying is comparable to maintaining that it’s possible to believe in virgin births and reincarnation without rejecting biology. If you’re going to selectively exempt certain events or properties for religious reasons, you might as well not pretend to buy into the scientific theories at all.

    That was very well-said. Thank you.

  38. #38 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging bee said “So you think it’s okay to disdain and ridicule religious beliefs without knowing — or even trying to find out — what, exactly, those beliefs are? Just because you, personally, don’t give a shit about “sectarian differences,” doesn’t mean those differences are unimportant.“.

    Raging bee, its no more important to know those differences before rejecting religious beliefs than it is to know all the intricate arguments of the flat earth society before rejecting their theory.

  39. #39 Prup aka Jim Benton
    November 24, 2006

    Maybe I shouldn’t comment on this side since I have decided neither to comment nor to even read PZ’s blog once he turne a reasonable discussion into a personal attack. I am both an atheist and an evolutionist, and have been longer than PZ has been alive, but I have always realized that they were two separate questions. In fact, the majority (at least of non-Muslim) theists are evolutionists, and probably the majority of evolutionists are theists. Roman Catholicism, the religion I was raised in, is pro-evolution, as are secular, Conservative, Liberal and Reconstructionist Jews — the adjectives do not refer to the same things as when they are used for Protestants — and most ‘mainstream’ Protestants. Creationists are a large minority — but still a minority, if a noisy one — of American Protestants, but elsewhere in the world they are a vanishingly small minority except in groups that were religiously ‘colonized’ by America.

    As for the question of creationsts in college, I haven’t seen either ‘side’ point out that college is, for many people, where they first get exposed to ideas different from the ones they learned in their own home, schools and neighborhood. Banning ‘creationist’ freshmen from entering school means they won’t get the exposure that will open their minds and ‘cure’ them of creationism. (As for teachers, that’s different. I would not bar creationist teachers from general courses, if they either did not discuss their ideas or allowed a full debate from both sides. On the other hand, I cannot imagine a creationist being given any sort of tenure from the science faculty. Herew the conflict is too stark, and creationism questions ideas from all branches of science.)

  40. #40 Ed Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    MartinM wrote:

    I still want to know exactly who PZ, Dawkins et al are driving away from the pro-science “team,” and how exactly they’re doing that. It’s frequently claimed; never actually substantiated, that I’ve seen.

    I think they’re driving away enormous numbers of people who might otherwise at least listen to reasoned arguments for why evolution is true (quite apart from whether their religious beliefs are true, which is an entirely different subject). And they’re doing so by perfectly fitting the stereotypes that the IDers have of us and by advocating tactics that only feed into the (mostly false) perception that evolution advocates are out to destroy the career or censor anyone who disagrees with us. When Moran declares that any incoming freshman who doesn’t believe in evolution (not who shows competence or understanding, mind you, the survey he was responding to and the 40% he thought should be thrown out dealt with belief) should be expelled from school, he is making things far more difficult for reaching those who might actually listen to us.

    Likewise, when PZ Myers, in a post on this very subject of whether portraying all religious people as lunatics or idiots helps or hinders our ability to reach reasonable religious people who might not be against teaching evolution if they understood it better, declares, “I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots. If you don’t care enough for the truth to fight for it, then get out of the way” – he is reinforcing that stereotype of the dogmatic atheists out to destroy religion and to paint all religious people as lunatics and idiots. The moment someone sees that, they tune him out and dismiss him. And unfortunately, they’re also likely to tune out and dismiss everyone else who advocates evolution too, including those of us who think he’s wrong about that.

    And this is on top of the fact that Moran has bluntly declared that Ken MIller and all other theistic evolutionists are “attacking science” due solely to the fact that they believe in God (see here) as well as calling him an “adversary.” He also falsely claims that Miller wants students to be taught theistic evolution (absolutely false; the man has written multiple textbooks in biology, none of them mention theism; they are purely science books). And on top of the fact that Myers has written scathing, and entirely false, attacks on Miller and on Collins in the past and had to retract them later. They are creating enemies out of our most persuasive and compelling allies and they’re doing so, as I keep saying, because they simply have a different goal. Their target is theism in any form rather than those forms of theism that damage scence education.

    LIkewise, when Dawkins says that some people are just “too smart” to believe in god, he is saying to people, “You’re just not smart if you believe in god.” When he says that teaching one’s children about religion is child abuse, he is telling 90% of the population or more that they are abusing their children. If you don’t think that makes millions upon millions of people immediately tune out not only Dawkins but all of us who advocate for sound science education, you’re kidding yourself.

    GH wrote:

    PZ has said repeatedly that Miller is great at advocating evolution but that when he veers into religion he’s not so good. It seems to me that is a clear seperation of his thoughts.

    Remember that this whole thing started with Moran, not with Myers (though I think it’s safe to say they’re in the same camp). Moran has been far worse where Miller is concerned than Myers has (though at least Moran hasn’t made false attacks that he later had to retract). And it is Moran who has bluntly declared that Miller is not great at advocating evolution but is “attacking science” and is an adversary by mere virtue of the fact that he believes in God.

    Martin Wagner wrote:

    Moran favors rejecting students not because they don’t conform to a pro-evolution “ideology,” but because they have already adopted a religiously-motivated (is there any other kind?) ideology that has caused them to reject evolution out of hand, in any form, which PZ has gone on to compare accurately to a potential math student who’s already rejected the binomial theorem. If a student’s religious beliefs have rendered them ineducable in the sciences, then there seems little point in admitting them into a university where they’ll just end up pissing away loads of their money to make F’s. Let ‘em go to Bob Jones or Liberty and get miseducated all they like.

    Sorry, this is simply inaccurate. The survey to which Moran was responding dealt solely with belief. It said that 40% of incoming students at UCSD didn’t believe in or accept evolution. It did not go into any detail on why that is, and there is nothing at all on which to base such a distinction. Moran was arguing that they should be expelled solely because they do not believe in evolution. And this notion that if one does not believe in evolution at 18 means they should be written off and sent off to BJU is patently ridiculous. I was still a creationist myself at that age, or thereabouts. And I was steeped in creationist thinking throughout my teenage years by my church leaders. I never took a biology class in high school, so if you had asked me at 17 or 18 I might have said I don’t believe in evolution either. So would you like to tell me what sort of magic 8-ball you’ve invented that will determine which students have been “rendered ineducable” in the sciences at that age? This whole conversation is absurd, the entire notion that schools should reject those who aren’t educated is absurd; their job is to educate, not to only accept the already educated. The average 18 year old, even those who took AP biology, knows next to nothing about evolution because we do a lousy job of teaching it in high schools. If that renders them incapable of being educated, then 90% of our college students are going to have to be denied a place.

    Jonathan Durst wrote:

    I’m sorry, Ed, but by even referring to testing on knoweledge of evolutionary processes as `ideological litmus tests’, you’re playing exactly into the Discovery Institute, etc, hands.

    No, the survey of UCSD students dealt with belief, not knowledge. Moran specifically said that the 40% of incoming freshman who didn’t believe in evolution should be expelled. He’s the one playing into the DI’s hands, not me. That is my whole purpose for criticizing him.

    Larry Moran wrote:

    That’s a lie. I demand a public retraction and an apology.

    Sorry, it is a perfectly accurate statement. The survey upon which you declared that people should be expelled dealt only with belief or acceptance of evolution, not with knowledge of it. It wasn’t a test, it was an opinion survey. To say that 40% of incoming freshmen should be thrown out of school for not believing in evolution is, in fact, to want an ideological litmus test to determine who gets into college. My statement is entirely accurate.

  41. #41 egbooth
    November 24, 2006

    Admission to an undergraduate program should not be based on what the applicant believes…it should be based on what the applicant knows. If some kid believes that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created humans with his noodly appendage but knew every fact and mechanism about evolution (and was a solid student in everything else), they should definitely be admitted to a good university. They’re paying for an education! Why should it matter what they believe? The only thing that the university should be judging them on is how well they can learn and understand concepts.

    Of course, this is entirely different for the tenure process. The applicant is now the teacher, not the student, and I think what he/she accepts as true definitely matters.

  42. #42 Markus
    November 24, 2006

    Would it be fair to send those who deny evolution to 1-3 credits worth of remedial classes? Obviously the students would have to pay for it which would cause a burden..

    But still.

  43. #43 SLC
    November 24, 2006

    Re the argument about denying tenure to creationists/ID advocates.

    I have some experience in this area by way of having earned a PhD degree in Physics and having had a thesis advisor who was an old earth creationist. His creationist belief did not seem to affect his physics research activities. I would also point out old earth creationist Robert Keita of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. His creationism doesn’t seem to affect his research activities in plasma physics. Clearly, however, such an individual should not be granted tenure (or even hired in the first place) in a biology department.

  44. #44 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Gretchen: you’re starting to sound like those Biblical literalists who insist that if you reject any part of the Bible, however peripheral, you effectively reject the whole thing. They are wrong, and so are you, because you’re following exactly the same “all or nothing” logical fallacies.

    Furthermore, belief in souls does NOT mean “refusing to acknowledge that [biological evolution] applies to humans;” and belief in the occasional miracle does NOT mean refusal to acknowledge the natural laws that apply during the majority of the time when miracles aren’t happening.

    Leni: maybe YOU should calm down, and start focusing your criticism on specific beliefs or practices of specific religions that you think cause harm. Wars are not won by randomly throwing bombs in the general direction of the enemy country; they’re won by well-focused attacks on important targets, to achieve well-defined and relevant objectives in a timely manner.

  45. #45 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Admission to an undergraduate program should not be based on what the applicant believes…

    I totally agree. Colleges should welcome stupid ideas in much the same way as slaughterhouses welcome cows.

  46. #46 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    Raging Bee,

    You could just respond to specific statements. I don’t think I need advice from you on how to fight wars. Especially since I’m, you know… not fighting a war.

    ?

  47. #47 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Ed Brayton says “When [Dawkins] says that teaching one’s children about religion is child abuse, he is telling 90% of the population or more that they are abusing their children.”

    I’ve known some deeply religious people who also feel that teaching children about eternal torture is child abuse. They believe children should be exposed to religion but not that part of religion. So, its not accurate to say all religous people will feel Dawkins is calling them child abusers.

    In the end, eternal torture is fundamental to traditional religion and its pretty much unavoidable to teach the latter without the former and so religion is generally speaking child abuse. Do we avoid speaking the truth just because many or most people won’t like it, I don’t think so. At one time the vast majority of people didn’t believe the earth was round or that it revolved around the sun. Should these ideas have been softpedaled to avoid upsetting tender sensibilities of the majority? No, when the majority is wrong they need to be told so clearly and without equivocation.

    I would think that some testing of knowledge of evolution would be adequate to see if potential students are suitable for university. If their high school hasn’t educated them in it the onus is on them to educate themselves, assuming they know in advance a bit of this knowledge is an entrance requirement. IF the don’t believe in it is not particularly relevant if they’ve shown some knowledge of it as that shows at least an openness to considering the idea.

  48. #48 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    Ed, with all due respect, I think the reason this is absurd is because you are taking Moran’s statement way, way too seriously.

    I think it’s pretty clear he isn’t arguing as much as making uncalled for sarcastic remarks. He said as much in his reply, and qualified only that he was remarking on a problem that you both know exists. Uncharitable, yes. Authoritarian? I think that’s a stretch.

  49. #49 leni
    November 24, 2006

    Woops. I didn’t actually mean to post that just yet.

    I wanted to add that I think you can criticize him for being uncharitable, rude or something along those lines, but I don’t think you are correct to regard this statement as an endorsement of a specific policy.

  50. #50 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    In the end, eternal torture is fundamental to traditional religion and its pretty much unavoidable to teach the latter without the former and so religion is generally speaking child abuse.

    WHICH “traditional religion” are you talking about? You just admitted that not all “deeply religious people” teach their kids about Hell; so how can you say that “religion is generally speaking child abuse?”

    Do we avoid speaking the truth just because many or most people won’t like it, I don’t think so.

    No, we just avoid speaking ridiculous falsehoods.

  51. #51 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    raging bee, I’m referring to the three abrahamic religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (and any others that teach of eternal torture, of which I am aware of none but I know nothing of Hinduism, etc.”

  52. #52 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    As I said before, not all followers of those religions teach their kids the same things about Hell, or in the same way or to the same age. Nor do all such people have the same concept of what, exactly, “Hell” really is.

    Your generalizations are beyond silly. You need to focus on specific atrocious or abusive acts by specific people or sects, and avoid accusing the innocent along with the guilty. Religious belief alone does not predetermine any specific behavior.

  53. #53 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    This NYT article is timely.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/21/science/21belief.html?_r=2&8dpc&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

    I think the extremists on both sides would do well to think over their public statements before opening their mouths. But I am one of those mean, moderate, etc guys.

  54. #54 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging bee, I made that point myself that not all followers of religions teach their kids the same thing about hell. However kids don’t restrict their learning to what their parents say. If their parents don’t teach them about hell someone on the schoolground will. I know specifically of parents who wished to but were unable to shield their children from the concept of hell – not surprising given the pervasiveness of this fundamental religious idea.

    I also never said religous belief alone predetermines any specific behavior, but without a great deal of thought about that I wouldn’t rule it out. Teaching children they will be eternally tortured for crossing ambiguous and contradictory boundaries is an abusive specific act and an unavoidable one given the prevalence of religions that adhere to these beliefs.

  55. #55 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Teaching children they will be eternally tortured for crossing ambiguous and contradictory boundaries is an abusive specific act and an unavoidable one given the prevalence of religions that adhere to these beliefs.

    “Unavoidable” how? You just admitted that many “deeply religious people” avoid doing it.

    You’ve just admitted that the factual and logical bases for such generalizations is crap. So why do you keep on generalizing?

  56. #56 Blake Stacey
    November 24, 2006

    Myers is on record as supporting the denial of tenure to anyone advocating ID,

    And I’m on record as supporting the denial of tenure to wannabe astronomy professors who cast horoscopes. Not to mention the would-be particle physicists who claim the secrets of supersymmetry and the Higgs boson are coded in the Rig Veda.

    Let me be clear on this: I wouldn’t give a thumbs-down to such people just because the ideas they profess are fallacious and unscientific. (Thinking that “Mr. Roboto” by Styx is a song of transcendent beauty is also an unscientific statement, and one which in my personal aesthetic system is highly fallacious.) No, the reason I disapprove of granting tenure to astrologers is that their beliefs are an indication that they cannot think scientifically. Their words reflect their hearts, and so demonstrate that they are not the right people for the job.

    I feel much the same way about judges who want to put stone copies of the Ten Commandments in their courtrooms, claiming that the lost marbles of Moses are the bedrock of all jurisprudence. Such an act indicates to me that the person has a warped set of priorities and is not appropriate for their position.

    Simple, isn’t it?

    Now, all these examples concern places where we expect the candidate to show real knowledge and competence. I’m damn sure I don’t want my doctor to be a quantum chakra-field homeopath, but I’m not so sure how much knowledge I expect incoming college freshmen to have learned. It’s one of those thorny things which depends upon the circumstances. How we handle the problem — say, by deciding how many remedial courses to offer — hinges on problems like how much money our school has. Worthy questions to be sure, but not the kind which should have provoked the sound-and-fury going on here.

  57. #57 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    …but without a great deal of thought about that I wouldn’t rule it out.

    Okay, that explains a few things…

  58. #58 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    (Thinking that “Mr. Roboto” by Styx is a song of transcendent beauty is also an unscientific statement, and one which in my personal aesthetic system is highly fallacious.)

    Bloody ignorant Philistine!

  59. #59 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging bee, trying to avoid having kids learn about hell is like trying to avoid having them learn about sex. The parent can withold knowledge all they wish, but when the knowledge is pervasive kids are going to learn it from someone regardless. If you think a parent merely witholding some pervasive information is going to mean children don’t learn it you are living in a dream world.

  60. #60 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006
  61. #61 Blake Stacey
    November 24, 2006

    Ed Brayton wrote:

    My further point is that their pursuit of their goal of fighting against theism not only in its anti-science form but in any form actually damages our ability to fight the first, far more important, dispute.

    Extraordinary claims, y’know, require extraordinary evidence.

  62. #62 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    I think they’re driving away enormous numbers of people who might otherwise at least listen to reasoned arguments for why evolution is true (quite apart from whether their religious beliefs are true, which is an entirely different subject).

    Well, I would hope that people reasonable enough to listen to the arguments would be reasonable enough to consider them separately from the people proposing them. That may not be the case, but if your tactics rely on the support of people who are willing to reject evolution due to an emotional reaction to some of its proponents…well, I wish you luck, but I’m not convinced it’s a solid strategy.

    When Moran declares that any incoming freshman who doesn’t believe in evolution (not who shows competence or understanding, mind you, the survey he was responding to and the 40% he thought should be thrown out dealt with belief) should be expelled from school, he is making things far more difficult for reaching those who might actually listen to us.

    While I agree his original quip could be taken that way, I think his followup post displays more nuance than you’re giving him credit for. It doesn’t say anything about expelling anyone, for a instance.

    …[stuff about Myers]…

    The moment someone sees that, they tune him out and dismiss him.

    If they see only that quote, and don’t bother to read the entire post, that may be so. But if they’re foolish enough to fall for quote-mining, exactly how much chance do you think you have of convincing them?

    And this is on top of the fact that Moran has bluntly declared that Ken MIller and all other theistic evolutionists are “attacking science” due solely to the fact that they believe in God (see here) as well as calling him an “adversary.” He also falsely claims that Miller wants students to be taught theistic evolution (absolutely false; the man has written multiple textbooks in biology, none of them mention theism; they are purely science books). And on top of the fact that Myers has written scathing, and entirely false, attacks on Miller and on Collins in the past and had to retract them later. They are creating enemies out of our most persuasive and compelling allies and they’re doing so, as I keep saying, because they simply have a different goal. Their target is theism in any form rather than those forms of theism that damage scence education.

    They may be creating personal enemies. I somehow doubt Miller or Collins, or even you yourself, are going to sign up with the DI over it, though. That’s because they, and you, have integrity. You value intellectual honesty. And yet you don’t seem willing to extend the very people you’re trying to reach the courtesy of assuming the same of them. On the contrary, you characterize them as weak-willed fools who are happy to base their worldview on whether or not they find someone offensive.

    LIkewise, when Dawkins says that some people are just “too smart” to believe in god, he is saying to people, “You’re just not smart if you believe in god.”

    I always assumed that was a joke.

    When he says that teaching one’s children about religion is child abuse, he is telling 90% of the population or more that they are abusing their children. If you don’t think that makes millions upon millions of people immediately tune out not only Dawkins but all of us who advocate for sound science education, you’re kidding yourself.

    Dawkins says that bringing up a child as a member of a particular religion is child abuse. He says the same about bringing up a child as an atheist. He’s never said simply teaching one’s children about religion is child abuse, to the best of my knowledge.

    And even if people do take offense at Dawkins’ opinion, any who would reject sound science because of it will likely never be on the pro-science “team” anyway.

  63. #63 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    Furthermore, belief in souls does NOT mean “refusing to acknowledge that [biological evolution] applies to humans;”

    Not in and of itself, no. But that wasn’t the argument being made.

  64. #64 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    …trying to avoid having kids learn about hell is like trying to avoid having them learn about sex. The parent can withold knowledge all they wish, but when the knowledge is pervasive kids are going to learn it from someone regardless.

    The kid will inevitably learn that SOME PEOPLE believe in Hell (just like he’ll learn that some people are Muslims or Pagans), but the harm that does him will depend entirely on what his parents tell him, and when they tell it to him.

    Besides, Hell is an unproven belief, while sex is well-known to be real.

    You’re really bending over backwards to try to smear as many people as you can with this Hell thing, aren’t you?

  65. #65 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    I always assumed that was a joke.

    That’s a standard fallback position for Ann Coulter’s defenders. “She’s telling it like it is…oh wait, she was just kidding!”

    Dawkins says that bringing up a child as a member of a particular religion is child abuse. He says the same about bringing up a child as an atheist. He’s never said simply teaching one’s children about religion is child abuse, to the best of my knowledge.

    Do you agree or disagree with these statements of his? They all sound pretty over-generalized to me.

  66. #66 Blake Stacey
    November 24, 2006

    A while back, Ed Brayton wrote the following, during another tiff on the same subject. A commentor on one of his Dispatches said, “Bashing your fellow scienceblogger is classy,” to which our host replied,

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

    Now we play the substitution game:

    “Bashing”? How about criticizing? Critiquing? Are those things okay? The fact that he’s a fellow science education advocate doesn’t make him infallible. This is an area where he and I have a major disagreement (and believe me, it’s much worse in private). Should I refrain from disputing him simply because we both advocate science education? Sorry, that’s ridiculous. He’s a big boy and more than capable of stating his position, as I am capable of stating mine.

    What I find the most laughable about this whole dust-up is the inexplicable insistence some people put on erecting a criticism-proof barrier around certain positions. That’s not an act of intellectual integrity! Why do we abandon integrity when we praise it so highly — just because of politics? Would anyone in their right mind forbid biologists from disputing the relative merits of gradualism and punctuated equilibrium, just because the baying creationists could misrepresent the debate and use it as ammunition?

  67. #67 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    That’s a standard fallback position for Ann Coulter’s defenders. “She’s telling it like it is…oh wait, she was just kidding!”

    Which, of course, doesn’t mean it isn’t true in this case.

    Do you agree or disagree with these statements of his? They all sound pretty over-generalized to me.

    I agree with the general sentiment. As I’m not trying to sell any books, I probably wouldn’t phrase it as harshly.

  68. #68 Blake Stacey
    November 24, 2006

    Raging Bee wrote:

    The kid will inevitably learn that SOME PEOPLE believe in Hell (just like he’ll learn that some people are Muslims or Pagans), but the harm that does him will depend entirely on what his parents tell him, and when they tell it to him.

    Just parents? What about pastors, schoolteachers, friends? “Lots of children learn about God in the gutter,” wrote Isaac Asimov.

    Besides, Hell is an unproven belief, while sex is well-known to be real.

    We hear plenty of talk about sex before we taste it for ourselves, just like we get word of Hellfire without ever having smelled the sulfur.

  69. #69 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    And even if people do take offense at Dawkins’ opinion, any who would reject sound science because of it will likely never be on the pro-science “team” anyway.

    First, Dawkins’ opinions about religion have nothing at all to do with “sound science.” Second, most of the VOTERS who hear Dawkins’ insulting misstatements, and may base their votes on their reaction to same, are not likely to have enough background in science to judge the validity of his opinions. They’ll have nothing to go on but their emotions and previous religious convictions, and if Dawkins’ rubbish turns them off of sound science education, it’s Dawkins’ fault, not theirs. He’s been repeatedly reminded of the probable effect of his words, and has explicitly indicated he doesn’t care.

  70. #70 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging bee said “The kid will inevitably learn that SOME PEOPLE believe in Hell (just like he’ll learn that some people are Muslims or Pagans), but the harm that does him will depend entirely on what his parents tell him, and when they tell it to him. Besides, Hell is an unproven belief, while sex is well-known to be real.

    That’s absurd. Kids are tormented by the idea of eternal torture when they hear it regardless of whether or not their parents were the source. Particularly when an authority like the church is the one delivering/reinforcing this belief.

    That hell is unproven and sex is real is irrelevant to my point that parents can’t control the knowledge kids gain. Monsters under the bed are an unproven belief as well, that doesn’t stop kids from being frightened of them. Unlike with monsters, clergy and religious adults aren’t going to reassure a frightened child that hell doesn’t exist.

  71. #71 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    I agree with the general sentiment. As I’m not trying to sell any books, I probably wouldn’t phrase it as harshly.

    So now you’re implying that Dawkins’ words were “phrased harshly,” not because he believed such statements to be true, but merely to sell books? Can I take this to mean you’re not standing by them?

  72. #72 PennyBright
    November 24, 2006

    Ed said: alienating an enormous base that would otherwise support us

    And MartinM replied: This point keeps coming up. I still want to know exactly who PZ, Dawkins et al are driving away from the pro-science “team,” and how exactly they’re doing that. It’s frequently claimed; never actually substantiated, that I’ve seen.

    Martin,

    I can answer this one for you. Religious folks like myself are being alienated by this. I’m not Christian, I’m not fundamentalist, and if you want to believe anything or nothing at all I’m fine with it, as long as you keep it out of my government. I am strongly pro-science, and will readily acknowledge that my religiosity is basically nutty.

    But it is as frustrating as the dickens to try and participate in and support these issues when I’ve got folks flying off the handle and accusing me of being a creationist or a fundamentalist or an idiot or an “irrational caveman”, just because I happen to have religious faith. I care just as much as any anti-religionist about the quality of science education in this country, and can advocate just as strongly and well for it.

    Atheism vs theism is different debate then good science vs bad science. I’m in this for good science – not for theism, not for atheism, not for my opinion on deity or belief or cheerios. And if you are in it for atheism vs theism – go for it. If that is the fight you want to fight, then please do, and fight passionately and well.

    Just quit the whole “caring about science is our ballgame, and if we don’t like you, you can’t play” bullshit.

    Frankly, I’m getting less patient and more angry with the vocal anti-religionists every passing week. These folks are like the EvC homologue to vegans or raw foodists. I haven’t left the dinner party yet over it, but I’m getting damn close.

  73. #73 MrsCogan
    November 24, 2006

    I’m glad Ed clarified the “by any means necessary” comment. It was over the top.

    And I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down.

    I want theism to go into the dustbin of history where we keep magic amulets and stories about swans having sex with women. But theistic evolutionists are not creationists. They are excellent coalition partners because they can talk to creationists and get listened to. Dawkins and Myers can’t do that. Preaching to the choir is fun, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.

    The great advantage of Dawkins and Myers is that they teach and they do it beautifully in an interesting and often amusing way. The great disadvantage is that because the anti-theism is so often seen as a personal attack, theists just click off their ears and don’t hear the message.

    There was a little exchange in the Beyond Belief conference that is especially pertinent. It was reported in one of the articles about the conference:

    —-
    Dr. Tyson put it more gently. “Persuasion isn’t always ‘Here are the facts – you’re an idiot or you are not,’ ” he said. “I worry that your methods” – he turned toward Dr. Dawkins – “how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence.”

    Chastened for a millisecond, Dr. Dawkins replied, “I gratefully accept the rebuke.”
    ——-

    Dawkins seems to have sincerely taken the point. I hope so.

  74. #74 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    First, Dawkins’ opinions about religion have nothing at all to do with “sound science.”

    That was rather the point.

    Second, most of the VOTERS who hear Dawkins’ insulting misstatements

    Out of interest, does it make any difference if he’s correct? Or is he supposed to sit down and shut up regardless, in order to win us more converts?

    Because that’s the bottom line. The other side lie, distort and play on people’s emotions to get their way. Are we to emulate them, then? Fight fire with fire?

  75. #75 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    So now you’re implying that Dawkins’ words were “phrased harshly,” not because he believed such statements to be true, but merely to sell books? Can I take this to mean you’re not standing by them?

    I already said I agree with the general sentiment. The use of the term ‘child abuse’ seems deliberately provocative to me, albeit apt in some cases.

  76. #76 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    …parents can’t control the knowledge kids gain. Monsters under the bed are an unproven belief as well, that doesn’t stop kids from being frightened of them.

    Oh please. Kids eventually stop believing in monsters under the bed precisely because their parents don’t do anything to reinforce such belief. And the fact that such belief is widespread among kids of certain ages doesn’t change the fact. Kids hear (and make up) a lot of weird ideas that fade away for lack of adult reinforcement. When I was in grade-school, most of my class spent a few days making fun of the Jewish kids. Why did we not grow up to be Jew-bashers? Because our parents and teachers did not reinforce it.

    The same goes for Hell. Wherever a kid gets an idea from, it will stand, or fall, according to how the important adults in his life respond to it.

  77. #77 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    raging bee, the difference between hell and monsters is that all adults are going to reassure children monsters don’t exist. With hell religious adults are going to affirm this belief and heighten the fear and anxiety, a fear and anxiety that never goes away for some, even as adults. The problem is hell is a fundamental fixture of tradtional religions and parents, clergy, teachers, relatives, friends believe and reinforce this abusive idea.

  78. #78 GH
    November 24, 2006

    I think they’re driving away enormous numbers of people who might otherwise at least listen to reasoned arguments for why evolution is true

    I see no evidence that this is even remotely true and would like to see some backing as it is oft repeated.

    My experience as previously mentioned has been exactly the opposite. In every church I’ve attended is a significant undercurrent of people who go along to get along. They are the good friends and neighbors who enjoy the social network of religion but really know there is nothing really going on. In effect these folks are passive atheists. They don’t express it or maybe outside of some doubts even think much about it. But given an oppurtunity to express said doubts safely I have never once not seen a group gather and all speak freely.

    This dust up aside these men, Dawkins, Myers, Harris, Dennett, and others are performing a very valid and important service to science and hence our world. If people wish to keep their superstitous delusions that is fine but there needs to be a freely available voice to let people know:

    1: They are not alone in their doubt

    2: Their doubt is very much well founded and reasonable.

    A “conversational differnce” is not the same thing as a “substantive contribution to understanding.”

    Then i change my comment and submit they have done both.

    We didn’t need that “conversational difference” in the Dover trial, we didn’t need it in the ’06 elections, Barry Goldwater and Andrew Sullivan didn’t need it to stand up against Falwell, and sensible theists don’t need it to see the danger of fundamentalist stupidity.

    Or religious stupidity. It’s not just the fundies who do bizarre things. The Vatican has more than it’s share of bizarre and loony ideas that one for one I think the fundies would trail behind.

    And your wrong, moving the goal posts will make it much easier for all the things you mention simply because superstitous thought will be relagated to what it is, superstitous thought. You cut the head off the snake. You don’t need it but it does make the national discourse healthier.

  79. #79 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Randi, I’m going to say this ONE MORE TIME: not all “religious adults” behave the same way, and not all children thereof get the same treatment in regard to Hell, and not all such children have their “fear and anxiety” hightened by such teachings. If you were that badly mistreated as a child yourself, then there’s no defending it — just be aware that even among people who believe in Hell, many would oppose the abuse you speak of no less strongly than would an atheist.

  80. #80 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    If people wish to keep their superstitous delusions that is fine but there needs to be a freely available voice to let people know:

    1: They are not alone in their doubt

    2: Their doubt is very much well founded and reasonable.

    I’m all in favor of this. My point is, that those “freely available voices” will carry a LOT more weight if they stick to facts and don’t make statements about religious people or beliefs that are demonstrably simpleminded or false.

    Such voices would also carry more weight if they admitted that similar voices can, and do, come from within religious communities as well as from without.

    It’s not just the fundies who do bizarre things. The Vatican has more than it’s share of bizarre and loony ideas…

    The Vatican also has some pretty good ideas — all the more reason to focus attention, and criticism, on speficic instances of looniness, and not to distract attention with over-generalized accusations that shed no light on anything.

  81. #81 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging bee, I’m going to tell you this as long as it take to sink in: Children are going to learn and develop a fear of eternal torture regardless of what their parents try to do, its just so ingrained into a religious society as a whole. Just like I’m confident is sure for the vast majority of kids, when I was young my parents did not teach me about hell, but I learned about it, feared it, and they did nothing to assure me it was a lie. The majority in the United States believes in hell, and if a given person isn’t the one teaching a child about it neither are they reassuring vulnerable children its a lie.

  82. #82 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Forget it, Randi. Your over-generalized statements won’t “sink in,” because I observe them to be false. They may be true for the society you and many others grew up in (in which case, my sincere condolences), but not all “religious societies” behave alike.

  83. #83 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging bee, most of us live in a society dominated by an abrahamic religion. Either you’re one of a minority that doesn’t or you’re living beside the rest of us, but in your own little dream world where parents are the sole disseminators of knowledge to their children.

  84. #84 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    Randi said-
    I would think that some testing of knowledge of evolution would be adequate to see if potential students are suitable for university. If their high school hasn’t educated them in it the onus is on them to educate themselves, assuming they know in advance a bit of this knowledge is an entrance requirement. IF the don’t believe in it is not particularly relevant if they’ve shown some knowledge of it as that shows at least an openness to considering the idea.

    So you are advocating, leaving the vast number of kids who are ignorant about evolution, but want to learn about science and have the grades required, ignorant about evolution? What exactly is wrong with the idea of requiring a student take and pass a remedial class on evolution, if they do not already understand it? A lot of kids get to college with little to no knowlege of evolution, most atheists I know made it to college with their religious beliefs intact – often including a distrust of evolution. It was only through college classes that they really learned to apply science and scientific thinking to their personal belief system.

    I know three people personaly, who would not have made it through these suggested criterion, who are atheist (actually one is a deist) and who work in research, two of them in bio-medicine. Whether any of them contribute to some huge breakthrough or not, should they have been denied the opportunity?

    You mention that kids should look it up themselves if they do not understand it. With what support to they try to understand this? Who are they supposed to discuss it with, if their school doesn’t really teach it? You are expecting kids to educate themselves, so they can qualify to be educated. That makes no sense. I’m pretty good at self-educating, but I still make mistakes – twists of logic that would easily be sorted out with the guidance of an instructor. People who are not so expierienced with self-educating, unable to see clearly the common traps of circular logic and lazy deductive reasoning, can easily weave a twisted misunderstanding. Why force kids to learn something wrong, only to have to re-educate them or deny them a place in the program because they misunderstood what they had to teach themselves about.

    I would love to see public schools educating kids in science. I would also love to see them teaching kids how to think instead of factual regergitation. Until all the public schools are doing that, I think it is important to continue teaching it in college, even to kids that didn’t have the benifit of a reasonable secondary education. That doesn’t mean that students who fail to assimilate evolutionary theory shouldn’t be booted out of the program, just that they shouldn’t be precluded from a science education, because fresh out of high school, they don’t know squat about evolution.

  85. #85 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    And I would think that you would appreciate that while not all the kids who get into the science program will complete it, their belief or assimilation of evolution aside, many who went in not believing in evolution will come out understanding it and simply not raise their children to believe otherwise.

  86. #86 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Duwayne, I don’t see anything wrong with requiring a student to take and pass a remedial exam on evolution if they don’t already understand it. I’m a novice at the ideas of entrance requirements, but it seems to me that its valid to ask that students have a certain level of knowledge before being accepted.

  87. #87 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Randi, I never said that parents were “the sole disseminators of knowledge to their children.” I said that children take their cues mostly from parents, and also from other important adults, as to WHICH “knowledge” to internalize, which to set aside without a lot of thought, and which to reject as BS.

    If you don’t understand what I’m saying, just say so and I’ll clarify.

  88. #88 GH
    November 24, 2006

    The Vatican also has some pretty good ideas — all the more reason to focus attention, and criticism, on speficic instances of looniness, and not to distract attention with over-generalized accusations that shed no light on anything.

    Agreed perhaps. All groups are neither good nor bad all the time. But what seperates Dawkins arguments from discussions like these is he simply calls religion what it is and some people take offense. I say to bad.

    Such voices would also carry more weight if they admitted that similar voices can, and do, come from within religious communities as well as from without.

    I have never read where they didn’t. But the question must be asked why is the religious idea even necessary if they are saying the same thing as those without it?

  89. #89 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging Bee, well you sure gave the impression that that’s what you were thinking. In any case you greatly overestimate the degree to which parents control what a child learns and feels about the religious idea of eternal torture and greatly underestimate the influence the domininant religious society has in instilling fear and anxiety over this. The problem is the fundamental beliefs of the abrahamic religions and society in general fostering these ideas.

  90. #90 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    No, GH, he doesn’t just “call religion what it is” (as if all religions are one thing); he explicitly trashes millions of people who have done no wrong — not because of specific things they say or do, but merely by association in his own mind:

    However, the moderate, sensible religious people you’ve cited make the world safe for the extremists by bringing up children — sometimes even indoctrinating children — to believe that faith trumps everything and by influencing society to respect faith. Now, the faith of these moderate people is in itself harmless. — Dawkins, in the Salon interview.

    There you have it: religious moderates enable extremists merely by teaching their kids to believe in some religion or other — regardless of what, specifically, we teach our kids, or whether our teachings agree with those of the extremists. This is one of the lamest, laziest, most transparent guilt-by-association tactics I’ve ever encountered. And since he’s attacked me, all of my friends, and most of my family, without reference to any specific wrongdoing on our part, despite the fact that we all oppose the extremists he accuses us of enabling, he’s pretty much flushed his integrity down the toilet.

  91. #91 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    Raging bee, moderates enable extremists by teaching children to believe regardless of all evidence to the contrary, then the religious texts themselves provide ample motivation for extremism for those willing to take them on blind faith. All the Abrahamic religious texts encourage killing non-believers. All it takes for a moderate to enable extremism is to teach their children to blindly follow that religious book.

  92. #92 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    Good grief, it would be a hell of lot easier to manage a on-topic conversation here if there wasn’t a side argument going about hell. The same argument that has gone on and on and on through now, thousands of comments on dozens of posts.

    Randi -

    I am not against kids being tested, I am just against denying them a place based soley on their understanding of evolution. I am all for making them take a class to fix their shortcoming, rather than trying to make them self-direct their education on evolution, or any other educational shortcoming, prior to admission. To be clear, I am a huge believer in self-educating. But it should not be required of kids, who lack someone to guide them, to show them the pitfalls of lazy logic. Unfortunately, few high schools do even a crappy job of teaching kids how to think, how to educate themselves – most do nothing in that regard.

    I geuss my problem is that restrictions you seem to support would eliminate a lot of very bright kids from being brought into the light of reason. I don’t want to see bright kids, being forced to go to Bob Jones or some similar institution that is just going to mis-educate them into pseudo-science. I want them to become legitamate scientists, if they can make it through the science program. I want them to understand evolution and teach their children about it, even if they come out of school with a degree in poly-sci, because biology was too much for them.

    But then, I see the college/university expierience as more than just basic education. It is also a place that should challenge a persons world view, shaping, tempering it into a solid foundation. Too, it is the place where most people finally learn how to think – how to apply their education to reality. Even schools that teach evolution, fail to give kids the tools to integrate that into their reality. Regurgitation requirements, prohibit any focus on teaching kids how to apply what they are learning into their lives or world view.

  93. #93 Randi Schimnosky
    November 24, 2006

    DuWayne, I’m not advocating that they be denied a place solely on their understanding of evolution. If knowledge testing is an entrance requirement it seems reasonable to me that an understanding of evolution be a part of that, but probably only in the sciences.

  94. #94 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    Randi -

    Thanks for clarifying, I do agree with that. I was getting the impression that you though not knowing evolution is a disqualifier, in and of itself. Including it in enterance exams is quite reasonable – if someone doesn’t really understand it, they should have to prove that they still pass the test – even getting the evolution questions wrong.

  95. #95 JS
    November 24, 2006

    I hesitate to enter into this thread, but there has been one persistent claim that I simply will not ignore: That one has to understand a sect’s theology to appraise its effect on society. This is clearly nonsense.

    The effect of a sect on society should be appraised (before the fact) by its structure and social/political manouverings, and judged (after the fact) by its effects on society (the latter goes under the heading ‘duh’). Theology does not play any real part in these evaluations.

    Claiming that I need to research the theological intricacies of every sect I want to criticise is the political equivalent of the Gish Gallop, mixed with a dose of True Scotsman fallacy, since it sends the critic on a wild goose chase to catch a set of ever-moving, and largely irrelevant, goalposts.

    When, for example, I see a lunatic cult with signs saying ‘God hates fags,’ I don’t have any need to learn the intricacies of its theological position on the subject of virgin birth in order to condemn it.

    When, to take another example, I see a cult leader calling to his flock to [quoting from memory] ‘take up the cross and make America come to Christ,’ and see the flock shouting ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ rythmically back at him while doing wierd hand gestures (yes, there’s actually such footage on YouTube, no I haven’t bookmarked it), I do not need to know the details of their biblical interpretation to realise that they are Bad News.

    Having injected this objection, I’ll let you guys return to your regularly scheduled flame war. You’ll excuse me if I don’t participate; I forgot my asbestos suit.

    - JS

  96. #96 Chris
    November 24, 2006

    When I was in grade-school, most of my class spent a few days making fun of the Jewish kids. Why did we not grow up to be Jew-bashers? Because our parents and teachers did not reinforce it.

    Because you found an alternative target that was safer: atheists (and quite possibly your parents or teachers *did* reinforce your attacks on us; almost certainly your preacher did). Jew-bashing has a well-earned bad name lately, but lots of people will join in the fun when you bash atheists.

    If the only reason you’re not still Jew-baiting is that it wasn’t Approved by the Proper Authorities, what does that say about you as a person?

    The same goes for Hell. Wherever a kid gets an idea from, it will stand, or fall, according to how the important adults in his life respond to it.

    That’s exactly why those adults have an obligation not to reinforce ideas that they don’t have good reason to believe are true. Adults are capable of a more advanced form of cognition called “rationality”. They have an obligation to use it to screen out truth from falsehood and protect their children from believing the latter.

    Actively inculcating the falsehoods because the adult has never progressed past the child-stage “believe what the Important People tell you” is precisely the behavior Dawkins is railing against, and I quite agree with him.

  97. #97 Raging Bee
    November 27, 2006

    I hesitate to enter into this thread, but there has been one persistent claim that I simply will not ignore: That one has to understand a sect’s theology to appraise its effect on society. This is clearly nonsense.

    No one here is making such a claim. Whose blog are you reading? For my part, I am merely claiming that one should not over-generalize about beliefs based on incomplete knowledge. If you say “Christians believe [X]…” or “Christians teach their kids [X]” and large numbers of Christians hear you and say “_I_ don’t believe or do that, who the hell are you raving about?” then those Christians, at least, will think you’re an idiot, and stop listening to your arguments.

  98. #98 hoody
    January 1, 2007

    The point of my post is that there are two entirely different disputes here being fought by two entirely different groups. The first dispute is evolution vs creationism; the second dispute is theism v atheism. Moran, Myers, Dawkins and others are engaged in the second dispute; I am engaged in the first one. My further point is that their pursuit of their goal of fighting against theism not only in its anti-science form but in any form actually damages our ability to fight the first, far more important, dispute.

    To Myers et al, there is no difference between the two. And that in the end is why there can be no civil discussion with the man.

    I am a Theist. A Catholic. That also hews to the teachings of evolution. Ed, I suspect that you and I would agree on things. Myers would accuse me of either being poor Catholic or -more likely- a hypocrite believer in evolution.

    And in his fanaticism, he falls prey to the same traps of excess that made for the Spanish Inquisition. All forms of attack are acceptable so long as it stomps out The Enemy.

    And he HAS spoken out for the elimination of religion.