Accommodationism and All That

The evolution blogosphere has lately been abuzz over the question of compatibility between science and religion. Jerry Coyne got the ball rolling with this post, criticizing the accommodationist views of the National Center for Science Education. He writes:

Here I argue that the accommodationist position of the National Academy of Sciences, and especially that of the National Center for Science Education, is a self-defeating tactic, compromising the very science they aspire to defend. By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one. By ignoring the significant dissent in the scientific community about whether religion and science can be reconciled, they imply a unanimity that does not exist. Finally, by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory.

Many others have weighed in since then. P. Z. Myers supported Coyne, as did Larry Moran here. Over at The Panda’s Thumb, Richard Hoppe initially criticized Coyne, but then softened his view. Russell Blackford largely supported Coyne’s view, while Massimo Pigliucci is largely critical (though he is not referring to Coyne directly.) There have been other posts as well.

Clearly what is needed is for me to wade in and lay down the law.

Short version: I’m with Coyne and Myers. Now for the long version…

It is not because of Richard Dawkins that people think there is a conflict between evolution and Christianity. Most people can see for themselves that a view of life in which humans arise as an accidental byproduct of a bloody and violent evolutionary process is not the same as a world in which an all-powerful, all-loving God created the world specifically for human beings. Such people should not be derided as ignorant or theologically unsophisticated. They don’t need to be lectured about Augustine or about the proper way to read the Bible, and they are usually thinking more clearly than your average professional theologian.

Evolution makes a mockery of the Biblical account, exacerbates the problem of evil, kills the argument from design, and reduces the status of human beings. Very clever people constrained only by their imaginations have concocted arguments in reply to these points. They have yet to come up with anything remotely convincing, however, and we should not be surprised that so many people see an obvious conflict.

It is flatly wrong to claim that it is only Biblical literalists who have a problem with evolution, or that the vast majority of religious denominations have made their peace with it. Biblical literalists are thin on the ground at the ID conferences I have attended. Many of them loathe the literalists for having made anti-evolutionism seem so benighted. I simply know too many people who are deeply skeptical of evolution but have no use for Christian fundamentalism or evangelicalism.

The next point is that the good guys are getting shellacked in the court of public opinion. Polls show huge support for young-Earth creationism, and overwhelming support for “teaching both sides” in science classes. There isn’t a school district in the country where we can afford to put this issue to a direct, popular vote. We have the courts, and that’s it. If the courts ever step out of the way, all the accommodationist talk in the world will not save us.

The morbid fear that people like Dawkins or Myers will scare away moderates is further evidence in support of my view. No one would take seriously an atheist who abandons the cause of good science education because John Haught and Ken Miller say their faith is strengthened by evolution. No one tells Francis Collins to tone it down for fear of scaring away more secular types.

When I read Miller, for example, I say he is right about the science and wrong about the religion. I am happy to make common cause with him on the subject of science education, but on religious questions we are on opposite sides. Why don’t moderates have the same reaction to Dawkins? The reason is that the moderates frequently have not really made their peace with evolution. They have compartmentalized. They’re not really comfortable with evolution, but they are content to ignore it and just let the scientists do their thing. But when someone like Dawkins comes along and throws it in their face, they can no longer ignore it. That’s why Dawkins is so threatening.

As for the NCSE, I have no objection to them pointing out, as a simple empirical fact, that many people have reconciled evolution and Chrisitanity, and I have no objection to them taking the pragmatic view that we need religious moderates on our side. I not only don’t object, I think that’s what they should be doing. There are many teenagers growing up in religiously isolated towns who are no doubt genuinely unaware of the diversity of religious opinion on this subject. Maybe they hear a talk by Eugenie Scott and have their eyes opened.

There is no question, however, that the NCSE goes well beyond this, to the point of trying to marginalize the views of those who regard evolution and Christianity as being at odds. Coyne documents this nicely, and he is right to find it troubling.

It bothers me that they do this, but the list of things that bother me is very long and this one ranks pretty far down. It’s not as if the NCSE is out there evangelizing or holding revival tent meetings. Outreach to religious communities is good politics, and the NCSE is our front line in fighting the incessant political battles that surround this issue. I’m not going to get worked up over the fact that occasionally they go to far.

Accommodation and outreach is fine as a short-term political strategy, but it’s a loser in the long-term. If the idea is that we’ll keep putting Ken Miller and Francis Collins out there, people will be persuaded to accept more liberal sorts of religion, and then this problem will simply go away, then I think we are following a very bad idea indeed. The only long term solution is to create a society where traditional forms of religion are far more marginilized than they currently are.

I do not believe it is impossible to bring about such change, but it will not happen from polite discussion and philsophical discourse. It will happen when atheism becomes so mainstream that the younger generation no longer regards it as something exotic or strange. Eloquent polemics are a good start, as are billboards and other sorts of advertising.

There is a need for both the NCSE and P.Z. Myers. They both have an important role to play in defending science education and fighting creationism. But people who whine about polemical atheists hurting the cause are wrong. They are helping the cause. They are, in fact, the only hope for a long-term solution.

Comments

  1. #1 386sx
    May 12, 2009

    Thanks for the post. I’m glad this thing is finally settled now.

  2. #2 James F
    May 12, 2009

    Biblical literalists are thin on the ground at the ID conferences I have attended. Many of them loathe the literalists for having made anti-evolutionism seem so beknighted. I simply know too many people who are deeply skeptical of evolution but have no use for Christian fundamentalism or evangelicalism.

    I find this shocking. As far as those promoting ID, I think it’s fair to say that everyone associated with the DI has fundamentalist religious motivations except for a handful of relativists like Berlinksi and Crowther, no? If they loathe the literalists, they loathe their power base; take away fundamentalism or evangelicalism and the funds and foot soldiers disappear. They certainly aren’t going to get anywhere in the scientific arena. I’d like to hear more about these ID conventioneers you’ve encountered.

  3. #3 Tyler DiPietro
    May 12, 2009

    Creating a cultural climate where science can take place unmolested is the agreed upon goal. The problem I see is that promoting traditional religion can only retard progress toward that goal. The Enlightenment didn’t take place because it “made peace” with contemporaneous forms of superstition, it actively fought against them. I don’t doubt that religion can adapt into a form more politically friendly to science, but to a certain degree it has to be pushed in that direction, not constantly appeased.

  4. #4 Rob
    May 12, 2009

    “The only long term solution is to create a society where traditional forms of religion are far more marginilized than they currently are.” This is the stand out statement for me. Atheists and the like need to organize, advertise and provoke thought in this and future generations. Like Dawkins’ says “teach our children how to think and not what to think.” Great post!

    I met a prominent businessman yesterday. He said he didn’t believe in evolution to which I giggled until I realized he was serious. I had to follow up and asked “So what are your thoughts on gravity?”

  5. #5 Ivan Soto
    May 12, 2009

    Very well said! Cheers!

  6. #6 der Brat
    May 13, 2009

    I think many pro-science non-believers have for a long time hoped that the fundamental conflict between science and religion would continue to fly under the radar of the majority of people because they sense that if we had a democratic referendum on science (or evolution mainly), that it would be difficult to continue doing science. As long as people did not know what we were up to the people could continue to enjoy the fruits of scientific knowledge without having to question any of their beliefs.

    Since the early 60s and especially since the 1980 election when the Moral Majority started to dominate the GOP, the religious segment has become more politically active and insistent on imposing their ignorant and insane world view on the rest of society. Despite being ignorant of science they are savvy enough to realize that the key seems to be in keeping the educational system from actually educating young people. In Kansas and in Texas where I teach, they have had success to an alarming degree. But I do not see this as confined to the South or the “heartland” — it seems to be everywhere.

    NCSE seems to feel you can continue pretending there is no conflict. Sam Harris and Dawkins et. al. seem to think we need to attack. It is not clear if we need one more than the other. From a purely pragmatic perspective the softer message seems wiser for a couple of reasons: THEY outnumber us, and, most of THEM seem to prefer the 2nd Amendment over the 1st. To think that this will never come down to armed conflict requires us to ignore a lot of human history.

  7. #7 Jonathan Sims
    May 13, 2009

    Active Creationism is on the move in the business sphere as well. I run management training programs. Part of what I teach is observance of Non-Verbal Communications and I make reference to basic Fight or Flight instincts which go back to our furthest ancestors and other animal life beyond. I was taken to task by a Creationist who said he found this offensive and wanted it dropped from the program.

  8. #8 Sigmund
    May 13, 2009

    I think the presence of Dawkins, Coynes and Myers is politically useful to both the NCSE and theistic evolutionists like Collins and Miller. It allows them to pose as fair thinking ‘moderates’, as opposed to ‘extremists’ on either side of the debate (with Ham, Comfort and Kent Hovind on one side and the Dawkins, Coyne and Myers on the other). To the public, uneducated in the science of the question, it must appear logical to choose the middle ground position rather than one of the ‘extremes’.

  9. #9 John E. Shuey
    May 13, 2009

    Excellent Prof. Rosenhouse!

    Would it be out of place to say “Amen”?

  10. #10 The Uncredible Hallq
    May 13, 2009

    I’m curious to know more about the non-literalists you meet at ID conferences. What does their main motivation seem to be?

  11. #11 Robert O'Brien
    May 13, 2009

    I met a prominent businessman yesterday. He said he didn’t believe in evolution to which I giggled until I realized he was serious. I had to follow up and asked “So what are your thoughts on gravity?”

    Gravity can be readily observed by pushing you off of a cliff. The alleged common descent of apes and humans is not readily observable, and equating the two is stupid.

  12. #12 Michael Fugate
    May 13, 2009

    But if you push me off in a hang glider, then gravity doesn’t exist. Right.

  13. #13 Robert O'Brien
    May 13, 2009

    But if you push me off in a hang glider, then gravity doesn’t exist. Right.

    Where did you learn physics? Looney Tunes? Gravity is readily observable in that case as well.

  14. #14 JimV
    May 13, 2009

    Re non-literalistic IDers, I’ve seen at least as many of them as literalists in evolution-debate threads, probably more. Many of them seem to be engineers who have enough grounding in science to accept the age of the Earth, the Big Bang, and so on, but have a sense of incredulity that completely random events could have led to our magnificent selves. As a engineer myself, I point out how technology itself evolves in an incremental, trial-and-error, survival-of-the-fittest (in the marketplace) way.

    I have also seen comments from scientists who are theists. This seems like just a more subtle form of ID to me. Their ultimate answer to the lack of scientific evidence supporting the tenets of the known theistic religions is that their God and its workings are unknowable to our unmagnificent selves. I like the humility in this, but it seems to me the scientific attitude would be not to form a strong position on a proposition which is unknowable.

    But I’ve been known to take a few strong positions which weren’t well-founded myself, so I concur with this post, in content and tone.

  15. #15 -ID62-
    May 13, 2009

    I have never observed gravity, or even a graviton. I have observed gravities effects though, as I can observe the effects of evolution.

  16. #16 JimC
    May 13, 2009

    Gravity can be readily observed by pushing you off of a cliff

    No what you are observing are the millions of invisible elves and fairies pulling you down.

  17. #17 Stonyground
    May 13, 2009

    I have heard it said that creationists claim that Dawkins helps their cause by demonstrating how belief in evolution leads to atheism and that some rationalists are agreeing that this is a bad thing. The mistake, in my view, is in allowing the creationists to frame the question in this way. We need to ask the religious why it is that the more someone learns about the real world through the scientific method the less likely they are to be religious. Surely if their god was real and their religion true, the more someone knew, the more religious they would become. Instead we find the opposite, why?

    Education is also important, in particular every schoolchild should learn about the scientific method, what it is and how it works and that it is not what we know but how we know it that is important. I attended a bog standard UK comprehensive school in the seventies at a time when we didn’t have these controversies but although I attended science classes I never learned about the scientific method, I learned about it from reading books as an adult.

    The anti-science brigade also need to be made aware of how much the technology that they take totally for granted is dependent on science and what their soft, cushy little lives would be like without it.

  18. #18 Raiko
    May 13, 2009

    Jason, I really like this post and you raise many really good points. If anything, this hype lately woke the NCSE that it needs to be a little careful as to where it steps. There’s a fine line between doing their best for their cause and hurting it in the long run. The religion that some people reconcile with science (by bending over backwards) is nothing like the religions the NCSE is trying to keep out of classrooms – and nothing like main stream faith, anyway. I, like you, see how important it is to have moderates on their side, and while I would feel like I am lying when catering to them (which is why my conscience wouldn’t let me), I see a certain danger of ‘leaning too far out of the window’. All this talk about the NCSE lately is important because I am sure the NCSE-people can see it and tread more carefully.

  19. #19 Johan Richter
    May 13, 2009

    “This seems like just a more subtle form of ID to me. ”

    I disagree. Saying that humans evolved through natural processes is a scientific theory. Whether these processes are thought to be set in motion by a god makes no difference scientifically.

  20. #20 tomh
    May 13, 2009

    Robert O’Brien wrote: Gravity can be readily observed by pushing you off of a cliff. The alleged common descent of apes and humans is not readily observable, and equating the two is stupid.

    No, you can merely observe the evidence for gravity. Can you say what gravity looks like? Of course not, so you can’t “readily” observe it. You can observe the evidence for gravity just as you can observe the evidence for common descent. There is equally strong evidence for both. The only stupidity involved is not studying and understanding the evidence.

  21. #21 eric
    May 13, 2009

    You’ve got two conflicting messages coming out of the scentific community: being a religious scientist is irrational (philosophical naturalism), and being a religious scientist is rational (methodological naturalism).

    Now, NCSE should publically recognize that PN’s are a significant part of the scientific community. However, I don’t think this will really make Coyne, P.Z., Dawkins, et al. happy. Right now he’s proclaiming “PN!” in a loud voice to the marketplace, and he’s upset NCSE is loudly proclaiming “No, MN!” in counterpoint. Does anyone really think he’s going to be satisfied if NCSE’s counterpoint switches to “No, Both!”

  22. #22 Sigmund
    May 13, 2009

    Eric, I really don’t think there is a problem here between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism. Its pretty much agreed that anyone who utilizes methodological naturalism in their experiments is doing science (whatever their personal religious beliefs are). That is why nobody complains about Francis Collins work as head or the human genome project, or earlier cloning the cystic fibrosis gene. Even a 7 day young earth creationist can do good science (and many undoubtedly do, just usually not in molecular biology), so long as they abide by the methodological naturalism convention in their work and papers.
    Indeed if we define science as producing peer reviewed papers that allow for the progress of human knowledge about the natural world there is really zero conflict between religious and non religious scientists. Its really the non peer reviewed public statements of religious scientists that are problematic, in particular their acceptance of miracles. This is something that is NEVER described in scientific results – despite it being a pretty big factor if true (no experimental result can be certain if you really believe that the laws of the universe can occasionally be suspended).

  23. #23 Michael Fugate
    May 13, 2009

    I guess a certain individual has the same ability to grasp sarcasm as he has for grasping concepts in biology.

  24. #24 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2009

    “Gravity can be readily observed by pushing you off of a cliff. The alleged common descent of apes and humans is not readily observable, and equating the two is stupid.”

    We went a good number of centuries without a theory of gravity despite the frequency of such observations. That’s because what you’re observing is the effects of gravity, not gravity itself. Just the fact that something falls off a cliff is equally compatible with the Aristotelian theory that it was the “natural state” of objects to be at rest.

    Drawing either the conclusion of gravity or common descent requires careful inductive reasoning with the scientific method. So comparing the two is hardly “stupid”, it’s entirely appropriate.

  25. #25 sinema izle
    May 13, 2009

    very good article, thanks..

  26. #26 Robert O'Brien
    May 13, 2009

    No, you can merely observe the evidence for gravity. Can you say what gravity looks like? Of course not, so you can’t “readily” observe it. You can observe the evidence for gravity just as you can observe the evidence for common descent. There is equally strong evidence for both. The only stupidity involved is not studying and understanding the evidence.

    Whether you refer to it as gravity or the effects of gravity is immaterial, your pedantry notwithstanding. People can observe the effects of gravity as many times as they like during their life spans. No one, not even Methuselah, can observe the sort of divergence that allegedly resulted in apes and humans (And please, do not bring up the trifling example of getting fruit flies to form “endogamous” communities under select conditions. At the end of the day, they are still two populations of fruit flies.) Of course, that does not necessarily mean that common descent is false, but it does mean that it is not on the same epistemological footing as gravity (or anything else in physics, for that matter.)

  27. #27 tomh
    May 13, 2009

    Of course, that does not necessarily mean that common descent is false, but it does mean that it is not on the same epistemological footing as gravity (or anything else in physics, for that matter.)

    As I said above, the only stupidity involved is not studying and understanding the evidence. You should try it.

  28. #28 Robert O'Brien
    May 13, 2009

    As I said above, the only stupidity involved is not studying and understanding the evidence. You should try it.

    I’m sure I’ve seen some of things you have in mind. 95% genetic commonality between chimps and humans, “nested hierarchies,” the gene in humans that is supposed to be a fusion of two genes found in apes, etc. That’s nice and all, but it ain’t the sort of evidence one finds in the physical sciences.

  29. #29 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2009

    “Whether you refer to it as gravity or the effects of gravity is immaterial…”

    No it isn’t. We went centuries upon centuries without a theory of gravity despite constantly making the banal observations you refer to. Gravity is not trivial.

    “No one, not even Methuselah, can observe the sort of divergence that allegedly resulted in apes and humans…”

    We have observed such divergence in plant species.

    “I’m sure I’ve seen some of things you have in mind…”

    And instead of explaining why you don’t find it convincing, you glibly dismiss it. (Not to mention misstate it, i.e., mistaking chromosomal fusion for a fusion of “genes”).

    “That’s nice and all, but it ain’t the sort of evidence one finds in the physical sciences.”

    Historical evidence pervades the physical science. Astrophysics and geophysics rely on it all the time.

  30. #30 Dale Husband
    May 13, 2009

    I’m sure I’ve seen some of things you have in mind. 95% genetic commonality between chimps and humans, “nested hierarchies,” the gene in humans that is supposed to be a fusion of two genes found in apes, etc. That’s nice and all, but it ain’t the sort of evidence one finds in the physical sciences.

    Uh, do you even know what physical sciences are? Biology, chemistry, and physics are examples. I guess you didn’t realize that. And don’t try to put biology in some non-physical realm to argue that life is somehow “supernatural”. There isn’t a shred of evidence for that! There is far more evidence for common descent, however.

    No wonder P Z Myers calls you one of the dumbest commenters ever! Now I see why, Robert O’Brien! You lie so blatantly that you can’t even look intelligent!

  31. #31 Herm
    May 13, 2009

    Here’s my problem. OK, Dawkins, PZ Meyers, Jerry Coyne are atheists, fine, I got it. What I don’t like is the use of evolution as a cudgel with which one beats religious faith. Especially when it is done in such a rude, and frankly, cruel manner, as I see in some of PZ Meyers posts.

    I also am not comfortable with Miller and Collins claims that evolution is “compatible” with their Christian faith. Evolution explains biological diversity from the perspective of science. That’s all it was ever, pardon the term, “designed” to do. Using evolution as a basis for either belief system, faith in God or the faith that there is no God, is what I don’t like.

    On the atheist side the wrapping of one’s personal belief system in an evolutionary blanket plays right into creationist hands and does nothing but erode the efforts of science educators interested in teaching good science. I wish Gould were still alive to talk some sense into everyone and get us back to his idea of NOMA.

  32. #32 falwell
    May 14, 2009

    Herm, I’ve heard about people like you. I’ve even been people like you. However, realize this, religion does not answer anything, even though it un-apologetically tries to replace science by making up stories about origins. Thereby giving itself authority to make moral standards. But in reality, it’s moral standards are no more based on anything than the moral standards of StarWars. Both are just good stories, and I’d argue that StarWars is the better story.

    Religion should not get away from questioning, and if people call questioning religion rude, then so be it.

  33. #33 Herm
    May 14, 2009

    Questioning religion is healthy. This is incredibly rude…

    “Guess who is pushing this ban? The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, a collection of professional ignoramuses, like this guy, Archbishop Alfred Hughes: old, white celibates with clerical collars and heads stuffed full of decaying dogma.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/04/catholic_geezers_deny_biology.php#more

    Whether he really said it or not shouldn’t get in the way of a good story but I always liked Huxley’s words in his debate with Bishop Wilberforce (paraphrasing),

    “If it is put to me whether I would rather have an ape for an ancestor or a man who uses his intellect to insert ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I’ll take the ape”.

    I think there is a lesson there for Meyers.

    Most religious convictions do indeed, for many, answer things that science can not and these convictions are very meaningful to those who hold them. Arguing that thousands of years of religious traditions in the human species are no more important than a sci-fi film is just the sort of empty hyperbole unfortunately so common in the debate, on both sides. The fact is that just because a particular religious tradition is not important to you does not mean it is not important. The point here is promoting good science while being, for lack of a better word perhaps, respectful of the religious convictions of others. Dawkins, Coyne, and Meyers reject this view.

  34. #34 Sigmund
    May 14, 2009

    Herm, I understand your point about not being rude to relignists however when it comes down to the substantive issues it is pretty difficult to avoid sounding rude to them.
    While it’s easy to avoid calling them ‘dusty old celibates’ how do we atheists avoid stating our primary objection to religion – that it is simply good intentioned myth with as much factual truth behind it as stories of Santa Claus and Rudolf.
    Telling a theist that their holy books are very probably myths IS seen as being rude. Look at the ‘Four Horsemen’ interview on Richard Dawkins site or youtube where the very mild Daniel Dennett discusses this very point as the major thing that offended theists about his books.

  35. #35 Herm
    May 14, 2009

    Sigmund, it’s not that difficult. I think you brought up perfectly valid issues in your post and all without calling anyone a “professional ignoramus”. If simply saying you believe someone else is wrong offends them then they are being overly sensitive in my opinion. I think professional scientists of all people should make every reasonable effort to take the highest road available to them. Meyers obviously doesn’t see any reason to do this.

  36. #36 Sigmund
    May 14, 2009

    Herm, its not simply a question of telling someone they are wrong. It’s also an implicit judgment of their reasoning powers.
    As an analogy think of a historical question, say the reasons behind the military actions of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. Now one can argue this point in several ways – anticlericalism, antiroyalism, puritanical protestantism etc, all of which have evidence in their favor. To say someone is wrong about whichever option they favor is at least talking on the same page. Now lets take another question, the military actions of Saurons Mordors armies in middle earth. Now of course one can argue this question also but they are not on the same page as the Cromwell question. Is it reasonable to get annoyed when its pointed out that the question of Sauron is purely fictional while that of Cromwell is a historical fact?

  37. #37 Herm
    May 14, 2009

    I don’t think telling someone they are wrong necessarily implies they are stupid (lacking in “reasoning powers”). If you are an atheist I think you are wrong. That doesn’t mean you are any more or less intelligent than I am. The danger here is that the Meyers of the debate are turning into evolution’s Wilberforce and injecting ridicule into a grave scientific debate. Am I wrong in believing there should be such a thing as respect and civility?

  38. #38 notatheist
    May 14, 2009

    I don’t think telling someone they are wrong necessarily implies they are stupid (lacking in “reasoning powers”). If you are an atheist I think you are wrong. That doesn’t mean you are any more or less intelligent than I am. The danger here is that the Meyers of the debate are turning into evolution’s Wilberforce and injecting ridicule into a grave scientific debate. Am I wrong in believing there should be such a thing as respect and civility?

    Posted by: Herm | May 14, 2009 9:56 AM

    There is nothing scientific about religion, therefore, the debate between religion and science is not a scientific debate, but a philosophical one.

    You aren’t wrong to point out ridicule as unnecessary, but it doesn’t further your argument in any way. I don’t suspect Meyer’s thinks his ridicule furthers his argument either, he relies on facts to do that for him.

    However, from a sociological point of view, it is natural for a heated debate to sometimes be reduced to ridicule. Once all the logical arguments have been laid on the table and continue to be ignored, ridicule can be useful to shock your opponent in to reality.

    Human communication is a science in and of it’s self, and can also be framed in evolutionary terms. A doctorate thesis in evolutionary psychology could and probably has been written on the use of ridicule in society. Your need to point out your opponents use of it as a shield against the facts strikes me as desperate.

    In other words, quit whining and defend your position.

  39. #39 Sigmund
    May 14, 2009

    I suppose the point is that atheists really do think that believing in the miraculous bible stories as historical truth is ridiculous. They really do think that they are exactly equivalent to believing in the stories of Santa or the Easter bunny. A lot of atheists, however, take the view that this belief is not simple idiocy on the part of believers but a process of cognitive dissonance such that an intelligent person can still be a believer.
    Do you, as a believer think its non-insulting to be told that others think your religion is akin to believing in Santa? Is being called a deluded intelligent person really fine with you, the way being called an idiot?
    Or do both descriptions feel like insults?
    Herm, its not like this is a one way street from atheists anyway. Even if we ignore the fundamentalists it is quite usual to hear moderates claim that you need God to be moral and without a belief in God one is apt to disregard all thoughts for others and embark on an orgy of destructive selfishness. The percentage of even moderate believers that grant atheists the ability to live good and moral lives is remarkably small. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to start with these individuals before you move onto demanding civility from the atheists?

  40. #40 James Sweet
    May 14, 2009

    When this came up on PZ’s blog, I commented that I thought there was a role for both the Dawkinses and Coynes, as well as the NCSEs and Ken Millers of the world. In the struggle for gay rights, for example, which archetype is the one that pushes things forward? The nice quiet lesbian couple next door, or the nearly-naked guy wearing tiny bits of leather dancing in a gay pride parade? The answer: both are necessary to effect real societal change. One pushes the boundaries of society’s collective experience, and the other reassures people that these “different” folks aren’t so different from them after all.

    This includes the two groups criticizing each other — I think that is part of the process. I for one am going to side with the Dawkinses, and I think Coyne’s criticism of the NCSE was important — but I’m not losing sleep over it.

  41. #41 sarniaskeptic
    May 14, 2009

    James: I don’t think that you can relate Dawkins/Coyne/Myers to a nearly-naked guy wearing tiny bits of leather.

    It is time for people to confront the facts. Speaking eloquently with passion is far from dancing half-naked on a pole. Dawkins/Coyne/Myers aren’t “extreme atheists”, they are exactly the types of people we want when the “war” is over. We need more people to be like them – everyone needs to question woo-woo wherever it comes up.

    I completely disagree with the accommodationist approach and I applaud the likes of Coyne, Moran, PZ, etc. Absurd beliefs deserve to be called such.

  42. #42 J. J. Ramsey
    May 14, 2009

    James Sweet: “In the struggle for gay rights, for example, which archetype is the one that pushes things forward? The nice quiet lesbian couple next door, or the nearly-naked guy wearing tiny bits of leather dancing in a gay pride parade?”

    That’s not the best analogy. It’s not as if being a nearly-naked guy having kinky fun is akin to lambasting straight people as “breeders” or something.

  43. #43 Herm
    May 14, 2009

    “…is not a scientific debate, but a philosophical one.”

    Completely agree.

    “I don’t suspect Meyer’s thinks his ridicule furthers his argument either, he relies on facts to do that for him.”

    His facts are fine so why sully the facts with ridicule if it doesn’t further his argument?

    “In other words, quit whining and defend your position.”

    I’m an evolutionary biologist. The evolution I study is the same as that studied by Coyne, Meyer, Miller, and every other biologist with an interest in evolution. There is nothing to defend on the science side of the argument as we all more or less agree. It isn’t “whining” to ask for a little civility, is it?

  44. #44 Herm
    May 14, 2009

    “The percentage of even moderate believers that grant atheists the ability to live good and moral lives is remarkably small. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to start with these individuals before you move onto demanding civility from the atheists?”

    I don’t see what is wrong with asking a little civility of both. You’re right there is as much of this nonsense, up until recently I would have said much more so, on the creationist side as there is among the “evolutionists”. I guess my problem is I expect it from them but I expected more from my colleagues. You should always have a higher bar for yourself than you do for others.

  45. #45 notatheist
    May 15, 2009

    Herm, point taken. I do generally see complaints about civility in any debate as whining yes. It’s bad enough that the harsh comment has sidetracked the debate, reacting to it or complaining about it only compounds the problem. Any good debate should be about the facts and stopping the debate to say “he’s a meanie” is never productive and is usually used as a retreating or stalling tactic.

    Xians say incredibly rude and offensive things to me all the time in the midst of a heated conversation. I choose to ignore it and zero in on the meat of their position as often as possible, and if they try to sidetrack my argument by getting all but hurt by something I’ve said, I try not to let them.

    I think part of the problem you aren’t accounting for here is the medium. If PZ was making remarks like the above quoted in say a book, or a scientific paper then yes I think it’s appropriate to nit-pick. Blogging and twittering though can be a very off the cuff endeavor, especially for someone as prolific as PZ. It’s more akin to a real time conversation over dinner where surely things are going to be said and later regretted, then a well thought out treatise.

    In the case of Dawkin’s Approach vs the likes of say Dennett, I think it’s a well thought out strategy by Dawkins to be fairly harsh. He enjoy’s being the lightnening rod, and it certainly gets him a lot more eyeballs then Dennett’s more civilized approach.

  46. #46 Pseudonym
    May 17, 2009

    I’m definitely with Hoppe on this. The NAS and the NCSE are different organisations. The NAS’ position is in no way factually incorrect or even misleading, and the NCSE’s position is entirely in line with its mission statement. The whole thing is a beat-up over nothing.

    The situation would be different if the NCSE was trying to put their “Faith Project” material in science textbooks. That would be Wrong on just about every level you can think of. However, they’re not trying to do that. Rather, they’re supporting those who have the agenda of defending good science education, whether they be religious or otherwise.

    Of course they’re “cuddling up to religion”. In the NCSE’s mission, Francis Collins and Ken Miller are the NCSE’s allies. How could they possibly do otherwise?

  47. #47 Pseudonym
    May 17, 2009

    I just re-read what I wrote. Let me clarify something: I’m still with Hoppe on this, and having now read the NCSE’s apparent endorsement of NOMA, I think he’s right that there’s a slight overstepping of the mark.

    So it’s not a beat-up over nothing, it’s a beat-up over very little.

  48. #48 sesli sohbet
    May 20, 2009

    thanks your comments

  49. #49 Robert O'Brien
    June 2, 2009

    We went centuries upon centuries without a theory of gravity despite constantly making the banal observations you refer to. Gravity is not trivial.

    Gravitational theory is not trivial; the fact of gravity is.

    We have observed such divergence in plant species.

    You’d have to cite what you have in mind.

    And instead of explaining why you don’t find it convincing, you glibly dismiss it.

    That’s because the tangent was about the theory of gravity and common descent not being on the same epistemological footing.

    (Not to mention misstate it, i.e., mistaking chromosomal fusion for a fusion of “genes”).

    Yes, I misstated it, but as misstatements go, it was a relatively minor one.

    Historical evidence pervades the physical science. Astrophysics and geophysics rely on it all the time.

    If by “historical evidence” you mean evidence that no modern humans were around to observe or cannot observe in a lifetime then, yes, absolutely.

  50. #50 videolar
    September 4, 2009

    Thanks for sharing, It’s very useful for everyone who interests.

  51. #51 dış cephe
    September 4, 2009

    Great post.Thanks a lot.

  52. #52 acne treatment
    September 16, 2009

    I’m curious to know more about the non-literalists you meet at ID conferences. What does their main motivation seem to be?

    anyway..i don’t care anymore…

  53. #53 acne treatment
    September 18, 2009

    do not believe it is impossible to bring about such change, but it will not happen from polite discussion and philsophical discourse. It will happen when atheism becomes so mainstream that the younger generation no longer regards it as something exotic or strange. Eloquent polemics are a good start, as are billboards and other sorts of advertising

    i agree with this comment.

  54. #54 film izle
    October 9, 2009

    ONE THOUSAND polls, and your winners have been determined. But, our work is not done yet. Compilation of the master post is currently underway. This blog post is just a teaser! Results will not be leaked, no matter HOW MUCH you hound us!!

    We plan on posting the results along with the rest of the fireworks. In the meantime

  55. #55 film izle
    October 29, 2009

    Thanks for your Informations

  56. #56 film izle
    January 13, 2010

    I’m definitely with Hoppe on this. The NAS and the NCSE are different organisations. The NAS’ position is in no way factually incorrect or even misleading, and the NCSE’s position is entirely in line with its mission statement. The whole thing is a beat-up over nothing.

  57. #57 film izle
    January 14, 2010

    thanks .. I think that is part of the process. I for one am going to side with the Dawkinses, and I think Coyne’s criticism of the NCSE was important

  58. #58 film izle
    January 29, 2010

    do not believe it is impossible to bring about such change, but it will not happen from polite discussion and philsophical discourse. It will happen when atheism becomes so mainstream that the younger generation no longer regards it as something exotic or strange.

  59. #59 film izle
    September 30, 2010

    o not believe it is impossible to bring about such change, but it will not happen from polite discussion and philsophical discourse.

  60. #60 can
    April 4, 2011

    Of course, that does not necessarily mean that common descent is false, but it does mean that it is not on the same epistemological footing as gravity (or anything else in physics, for that matter.)

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