Moran, Myers, Brayton and Hayes

Okay, I’m back. Did I miss anything?

Other than the giant kerfuffle between Larry Moran and P.Z. Myers on the one hand and Ed Brayton and Pat Hayes et al, on the other, that is.

Things started with this post, from Moran, on the subject of a recent lecture by philosopher Robert Pennock at UCSD. Some pro-ID sites were claiming that all students were required to attend. Moran sarcastically suggested that rather than require students to attend an anti-
ID lecture by Robert Pennock, the better approach would have been not to admit pro-ID students in the first place.

Ed Brayton was not amused. Moran is fighting a different battle than he, Brayton harrumphed:

To be honest, I’m rapidly becoming convinced that there are two very different groups involved in fighting against the ID public relations campaign to distort science education. The distinction between the two groups is that one is fighting to prevent ID creationism from weakening science education while the other is fighting, at least in their minds, to eliminate all religious belief of any kind, even those perspectives that have no quarrel with evolution specifically or science in general, from society.


Moran subsequently replied. He pointed out that his main interest is in protecting science education, but that theistic evolutionists deserve heavy criticism for mixing science and religion.

Pat Hayes then weighed in with this post, praising Brayton and criticizing Moran. P.Z. Myers left a comment to Hayes’ post, which Hayes reproduced and replied to here. In his comment Myers made the entirely correct point that it is people like Hayes and Brayton who are being divisive, and not Moran and Dawkins:

I’m also not interested in being on any “team” that treats criticisms of its members as intolerable dissent, and who react to disagreement by announcing that they’re going to treat the critics as schismatics. I know which side is hypocritically demanding conformity and purity of the movement, and it ain’t us evil atheists.

Brayton replied here. He is not being divisive, you see, since he thinks there are two separate fights going on:

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.

Gosh. That’s really stupid.

There have been various other blog entries chiming in on this dispute, but I really think we should pause here to yell at Ed.

Two entirely different disputes? Moran, Myers and Dawkins (MMD) are busy with theism vs. atheism, unlike Brayton who cares about science education? Please. Protecting science education from creationist pseudoscience is something we all care about and fight for. It is, indeed, a separate fight from theism vs. atheism, but it is not as if you can’ t be involved in both fights simultaneously.

I will speak only for myself here, but I suspect I am representing the views of MMD as well. My view is that ID should not be given any sort of respectful treatment in high school science classes, and that the basic facts of evolution should be presented carefully and without apology. I am perfectly happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone who shares that view, regardless of their views on other subjects. Ken Miller, in particular, is an honored soldier in this fight. It is hard to imagine anyone who has done more than Miller to keep creationism out of science classes. I am perfectly content to say that he is right about the science and wrong about the religion.

But I don’t see a similar courtesy coming the other way. When people like Miller or Francis Collins tell people there is no conflict between evolution and religion they are applauded and welcomed. But when a Dawkins or a Myers comes along and points out that people making that case are kidding themselves, they are admonished to keep their mouths shut lest they scare off potential allies. Miller and Collins wrote books specifically aimed at defending theism against people like Dawkins. But Ed does not throw them out of the movement to protect science education, on the grounds that they are actually involved in the fight for theism against atheism. But when MMD argue that Miller and Collins are making bad arguments, they get treated like this:

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.

Nope. Nothing divisive there.

The situation is perfectly clear. Everyone cares about good science education and Ed can go climb a tree for suggesting otherwise. But some of us also believe that it does no good to pander and condescend to people’s religious beliefs by telling them that there is no conflict between science and religion. There is a conflict, it is a big one, and most people find that obvious. Clever people like Miller and Collins can find imaginative ways of reconciling the two, but few people are buying it.

Ed has no evidence at all to support the idea that MMD really do scare people away from the cause of good science education. The idea is almost certainly false, as I have argued before. To accept this view you must believe that theists are so delicate, that though they would like to support quality education they are driven to apathy or to the other side because they are so put off by MMD’s rhetoric. A more likely scenario is that they are not impressed by known atheists or agnostics like Eugenie Scott and Michael Ruse who there, there them, saying they can have their little religious superstitions even though they themsleves want nothing to do with them.

Any atheist who refused to defend science education for being put off by the theistic rhetoric of Collins and Miller would be regarded as a fool and a bigot. If those delicate religious people Ed is afraid of offending actually exist they should be regarded the same way.

Comments

  1. #1 jw
    November 29, 2006

    Well put. The idea that PZ, an actual science educator who also writes about science and the politics around it on his blog, is making less of a contribution to the acceptance and knowledge of a science than a blogger who just writes about the politics of science education is absurd. The idea that PZ’s contribution is negative is even more absurd, as you’re quite right that science bloggers aren’t the ones scaring theists away from science. They have their own ministers, books, pamphlets, videos, and broadcasts to thank for that.

  2. #2 chet snicker
    November 29, 2006

    MMD!=takfir

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    November 29, 2006

    A more likely scenario is that they are not impressed by known atheists or agnostics like Eugenie Scott and Michael Ruse who there, there them, saying they can have their little religious superstitions even though they themsleves want nothing to do with them.

    Which is exactly what irritates me about this whole dispute. Do the Braytonites of the world really think that Eugene Scott, for example, is impressing anyone when she falls over herself to avoid answering when a pseudo-journalist (Chris Matthews) asks her something like “Well, do you think it’s all just one big accident?” My guess is that she just looks like an idiot to any theist who happens to be watching (but we may be safe in this instance since no one watches Chris Matthews). Meanwhile, it’s those stupid atheists who must meet bus-wheels in our quest to make sure evolution never leaves the sophomore high-school biology curriculum. Give me a fucking break.

  4. #4 Tyler DiPietro
    November 29, 2006

    MMD!=takfir

    Raz, it was funny the first time, but it’s borderlining on spam now.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 29, 2006

    Tyler-

    Since you seem to know what chet is talking about, perhaps you could let me in on the joke. :)

    And thanks for the comment.

    jw-

    Likewise, thanks for the comment.

  6. #6 MarkP
    November 29, 2006

    Took the words right out of my mouth Jason. I would add that there is a dangerous unstated message in what Miller et al do when “reconciling” religion and evolution, and the easiest way to illustrate it is to imagine what they would do if they couldn’t come up with anything plausible. Which would they reject? I would be curious to hear what they would say. But it’s clear what their efforts imply: “It’s OK to have those baseless beliefs, look how we can arrange the facts to agree with you.” And that is certainly not what we’d call a pro-science message. In fact, it is exactly what the creationists do.

    I would bet heavily that MMD would say there is no need for religious views to be reconciled with scientific findings, and any that conflict with science should be discarded. I am not so sure the other side would say so. I’d love to be proved wrong.

    And finally, one could argue Dawkins has done more than any single person alive in the quest for respect for science. Such things are so difficult, if not impossible to measure, that clearly no one should hold their opinion on such an issue as concretely as some of the anti-Dawkins people are.

  7. #7 chet snicker
    November 29, 2006

    Raz, it was funny the first time, but it’s borderlining on spam now.

    it is permissible for believers to delete comments.

  8. #8 Tyler DiPietro
    November 29, 2006

    Since you seem to know what chet is talking about, perhaps you could let me in on the joke. :)

    Takfir is an accusation of blasphemy or some other sacrilege, you can deduce the rest from the “=” sign, being a bit fancy mathematician and all ;-).

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    November 29, 2006

    Takfir is an accusation of blasphemy or some other sacrilege, you can deduce the rest from the “=” sign, being a bit fancy mathematician and all ;-).

    Sorry, that last bit sounded less gay when I was typing the post, please ignore it.

  10. #10 J. J. Ramsey
    November 30, 2006

    “It is, indeed, a separate fight from theism vs. atheism, but it is not as if you can’t be involved in both fights simultaneously.”

    True, but what Moran was proposing was something that would undermine the fight for better science education, namely putting barriers to admission to college for those who doubted evolution (regardless of what facts of biology that they knew). This would have made it harder for those who come out of high school as creationists to get a chance to unlearn their misperceptions in college, and it gives the misleading impression that the theory of evolution must be protected from the incoming freshmen who would try to point out (mistakenly, I might add) that the emperor had no clothes. Understandably, Brayton objected to this, and that is what he meant when he 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.”

  11. #11 J. J. Ramsey
    November 30, 2006

    “But when MMD argue that Miller and Collins are making bad arguments, they get treated like this”

    I have not seen Brayton take MMD to task for pointing out bad arguments by Miller and Collins. I have seen him take Moran to task for basically treating theistic evolutionists as “lite” creationists and accusing them of nibbling at science in some unspecified fashion. Actually, you yourself noticed this problem in the post “Moran on Miller.”

  12. #12 JY
    November 30, 2006

    Jason,

    But it’s the case is it not, that, unlike perhaps you, at least PZ and Dawkins don’t see the fight for unpolluted science education as an end in-and-of-itself, but as a means to a broader end? (PZ: “First, I want better science teaching in the schools, and that is the mechanism I propose to defeat religion.”) There are those in the anti-creationist, anti-ID movement who cannot be accused of having ulterior motives: they don’t care about certain kinds of belief, the kinds that don’t interfere with science education. And there are those in the anti-creationism movement who can be accused of having ulterior motives, who do see getting better science education into classrooms, and keeping creationism out, as a way of turning people away from theism.

    While it may be true (though I don’t know) that the Ken Millers of the world have a big problem with working side by side with the likes of Dawkins, it seems to me that most of their rhetoric (i.e. of people like Miller) is aimed at explaining the science and also telling people that they can (not must) be religious and accept science at the same time. It doesn’t seem to me that Ken Miller has a problem with people being both scientists and atheists, but it does seem to me that there are those who have a problem with people being both scienctists and theists.

    But I don’t see a similar courtesy coming the other way. When people like Miller or Francis Collins tell people there is no conflict between evolution and religion they are applauded and welcomed. But when a Dawkins or a Myers comes along and points out that people making that case are kidding themselves, they are admonished to keep their mouths shut lest they scare off potential allies.

    When Dawkins or Moran come along and criticize Miller on this subject, people want them to shut up because they are wrong, and wrong in a way that has the potential to undermine the case that’s being made in favor of science education: that it is possible to be scientific and religious. They are not being criticized for being atheists, they are criticized for making bad arguments that (perhaps) hurt the pro-science-education cause.

    I think that, while Dawkins may think that Miller is a good advocate for science education, he believes that Miller is harmful to his broader goal of anti-theism, and is willing to call atheists who work with theists without insulting their views ‘appeasers’. Dawkins’ ‘Neville Chamberlain’ insult, which Moran repeated on his blog, is, at the very least, divisive, and certainly predates and sort of divisive language Brayton may have used.

  13. #13 Ruth
    November 30, 2006

    “But it’s the case is it not, that, unlike perhaps you, at least PZ and Dawkins don’t see the fight for unpolluted science education as an end in-and-of-itself, but as a means to a broader end?”

    No. It’s actually the other way round. Moram, Myers and Dawkins are of the opinion that theism itself is holding back science education, and that we can’t improve science education WITHOUT tackling the irrational attitudes that theism encourages. I agree with them.

    “When Dawkins or Moran come along and criticize Miller on this subject, people want them to shut up because they are wrong,”

    Correction. People want them to shut up because they THINK they are wrong, not because they ARE wrong. Please, please, please learn this important distinction. Just because YOU think someone is wrong, that doesn’t automatically mean that they ARE wrong. They could be right, you know. Ever considered that?

  14. #14 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 30, 2006

    I would add that there is a dangerous unstated message in what Miller et al do when “reconciling” religion and evolution, and the easiest way to illustrate it is to imagine what they would do if they couldn’t come up with anything plausible.

    IMHO, that experiment has already been performed, since I do not find their attempted reconciliations of science and religion to be plausible in the least.

    Takfir is an accusation of blasphemy or some other sacrilege, you can deduce the rest from the “=” sign, being a bit fancy mathematician and all ;-).

    You missed a detail. This time Chet use “!=”, which any programmer would understand to mean a NOT equal sign.

  15. #15 JY
    November 30, 2006

    @Ruth

    Well, my quote from PZ contradicts you: PZ thinks that good science education will erode theism. (“First, I want better science teaching in the schools, and that is the mechanism I propose to defeat religion.”). I, to some extent, agree with him (that science erodes theism).

    Correction…

    By telling me I’m wrong, it seems that you aren’t considering that I may be right… perhaps you are wrong about whether they ARE wrong, or people just THINK they are wrong. Please, please, please learn not to patronizingly suggest people learn things they already are well aware of, while hypocritically engaging in the same behavior you are criticizing.

  16. #16 Ruth
    November 30, 2006

    “By telling me I’m wrong, it seems that you aren’t considering that I may be right… perhaps you are wrong about whether they ARE wrong, or people just THINK they are wrong. Please, please, please learn not to patronizingly suggest people learn things they already are well aware of, while hypocritically engaging in the same behavior you are criticizing.”

    Where did I say that you were wrong? Other than in your assumption of your own omniscience. I think it is extremely unlikely that I am mistaken in believing that you are NOT omniscient.

    By the by, I would suggest that you learn not to patronisingly (and hypocritically) accuse people of being patronising.

  17. #17 JY
    November 30, 2006

    @Ruth

    Where did I say that you were wrong?

    Pardon me, but I did quote the bit where you did so. You cannot ‘correct’ people, without telling them they are wrong. That’s what ‘correcting’ means.

  18. #18 Tyler DiPietro
    November 30, 2006

    You missed a detail. This time Chet use “!=”, which any programmer would understand to mean a NOT equal sign.

    Yes, but I had a hard time telling whether the “!” was just an exclamation of “MMD” or part of the typical programming notation. I assumed the former, since parsing it that way made more sense.

  19. #19 Tyler DiPietro
    November 30, 2006

    Correction: made more sense at the time.

  20. #20 Sastra
    November 30, 2006

    Via the late Doug Adams:

    “A man didn’t understand how televisions work, and was convinced that there must be lots of little men inside the box, manipulating images at high speed. An engineer sat the man down and asked if he would like to hear how television sets really worked, and the man agreed. The engineer then explained about high-frequency modulations of the electromagnetic spectrum, transmitters and receivers, amplifiers and cathode ray tubes, scan lines moving across and down a phosphorescent screen. The man listened to the engineer with careful attention, nodding his head at every step of the argument. At the end he pronounced himself satisfied. He really did now understand how televisions work. ‘But I expect there are just a few little men in there, aren’t there?'”

    In the context of this dispute:
    The Young Earth Creationist would be “the man who didn’t understand how television sets work” if he rejected most of the technical explanation, and insisted that many engineers have found little men instead.

    Intelligent Design-ers would be the “man” if he agreed with most of the explanation, but still thought there were “just a few little men” needed to step in to handle difficult parts of that technical process.

    Miller/Scott would be the engineer agreeing that ok, sure, there could still be a couple little men in there, you can keep them just fine as long as you recognize that they’re not supposed to be a specific step in the technical explanation for how a tv set works. You can say they bought the television, or they put it together, or they inspire it, or they’re watching it, whatever you want and it all fits and works together beautifully — just as long as you keep them out of the mechanics.

    Dawkins/Myers would be the engineer, saying that no, there aren’t “just a few little men still in there.” Once you figure out how a bottom-up explanation works, how to build a television set up from parts and theory, there is no need to continue to assume there are completely useless little men involved “somehow” or “in some way.” Those little men were a vital component in a totally different kind of explanation, one which happens to be *wrong.* Keeping them around as a useful part of a “higher” explanation is just confused, and will lead to more confusion in the long run.

  21. #21 chet snicker
    November 30, 2006

    Mustafa Mond pointed out an important detail. i should have spaced it like so: MMD != takfir

    white space counts!

  22. #22 AJ Milne
    December 1, 2006

    When people like Miller or Francis Collins tell people there is no conflict between evolution and religion they are applauded and welcomed. But when a Dawkins or a Myers comes along and points out that people making that case are kidding themselves, they are admonished to keep their mouths shut lest they scare off potential allies.

    Beautifully succinct. Thank you.

    I’d add that I think there are very compelling reasons to consider Dawkins’ and Myers’ view of this as much saner. But seeing as I already did, and seeing as there’s that lovely Douglas Adams bit up there in the comments, now, expanding much upon it would simply be gilding the lily.

  23. #23 Pete Dunkelberg
    December 1, 2006

    When asked if one could accept the theory of evolution and also be a Christian, Johnson called such
    people “liberal Christians” and said that they “are worse than atheists because they hide their
    naturalism behind a veneer of religion.”

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    December 1, 2006

    This post and AJ Milne’s are, in my judgment, the most insightful to come out of the whole sound-and-fury.

  25. #25 mgr
    December 1, 2006

    I think criticizing the theistic perspective for muddling understanding of evoluation is apt. Reflect on the fact that all elementary school children are exposed to the fact of evolution–it is pervasive when you consider it–dinosaurs, fossils, zoo animals, all indicate that species change over time and space. The fact that something this self evident cannot be adequately addressed in high school, that one needs remedial work in college to remove the scales from ones’ eyes is a bogus argument. Either one is too lazy to reflect, or is willing to believe what they are told rather than what they can see. Theist notions of special creation of humans or of a benevolent creator both outside and within time and space assist this outcome.

    Mike

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