Cincinnati, Part Two

Thursday morning started bright and early, since the first talk was at eight. It goes against my grain to be out of bed at that hour, but sometimes in life you just have to make sacrifices.

I was at the big meeting room by 7:45. Got to schmooze with some of the big shots, like Genie Scott and Ken Miller:



Keith Miller (no relation to Ken), a geologist at Kansas State University was there. I met him a few times during my post-doc at K-State, so it was nice to see him again. My fellow Panda’s Thumbers Richard Hoppe and Art Hunt were there as well.

The morning’s session was called, “Evolution and Society” and featured six, thirty-minute talks. Mark Terry of the Northwest School, a private high school in Seattle, WA, got the ball rolling by giving some background material about the Wedge Strategy and the Discovery Institute. He also spoke a bit about the thorough grounding students at his school receive in evolutionary biology. You can get the gist of his remarks from this faculty profile.

Next up was Ken Miller, who gave a typically excellent talk bashing the ID folks. His religious views aren’t my cup of tea, but when the subject is science there is no one better. He brought up William Dembski’s ill-fated prediction:

In the next five years, molecular Darwinism–the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level–will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules.

Dembski made that prediction five years ago. It hasn’t come to pass. Surprise! Miller made the point in dramatic fashion by discussing the conference on molecular evolution he attended just prior to coming to this one.

Near the end of his talk Miller addressed the big accommodationism debate. I was gratified by his blunt statement that everyone should be speaking for evolution, not just theists and not just atheists. I think that’s exactly the right note, and is one I have expressed here many times. I’ll have more to say about this momentarily.

There were three more talks that morning. Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography interrupted an otherwise solid talk about promoting science literacy to take some pot shots at P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins, but I didn’t care enough to make an issue of it during the Q and A. By that time I was mostly in the zone, thinking about what I wanted to say during the panel.

The big panel, “Countering Creationism” started at 12:15. That, alas, did not leave time for lunch, so I countered creationism on an empty stomach. It was really more of a group discussion than a panel. Art, Dick and myself made some introductory remarks, but after that things were thrown open to a group that got ever larger as people returned from lunch. I was hoping to have a transcript of what I said, but my miserable voice recorder chose that moment to run out of space. As if more proof were needed, this shows there is no God. (Not one of love and justice, anyway). Here’s the paraphrase.

After giving a little background about how I got interested in this topic I made four main points. The first is that I think there is a useful distinction to be made between the leaders and the followers in creationism. The leaders are precisely the dishonest charlatans they are alywas made out to be. But the people in the audiences listening to this are often a different story. Many of them aren’t really fire-breathers and are genuinely interested in learning more about the subject. I’ve been thanked many times at creationist gatherings for offering a contrary view, and not just by other undercover types like me. Simply put, I usually like the people I meet at these conferences, even while hating everything they stand for.

The second point was that you shouldn’t underestimate the argument from personal incredulity. Evolution is genuinely counter-intuitive, and it is not crazy to cast a skeptical eye on the idea that complex, functional adaptations can form by a fully naturalistic process like natural selection. It is difficult to convince people even that evolution is reasonable, much less that it is true. I mentioned my experience at the Creation Museum the day before, as recounted in Part One.

Point three was that there is far more religious diversity among anti-evolutionists than you might expect. This has been brought home to me especially at ID conferences, where Biblical literalists often seem thin on the ground. On more than one occasion I have had ID proponents lament the harm Biblical literalists had done to the cause of anti-evolution advocacy. If you have this idea that it is only conservative Protestant fundamentalists who oppose evolution then you have not fully grasped the extent of the problem.

The session on theistic evolution that I described in Part One of this report took place in the afternoon after this panel. I prefaced the fourth point by saying it was a preemptive response to some of the New Atheist bashing I saw in the abstracts.

Point four was that Richard Dawkins is not the problem. He is not the reason the message of theistic evolution is such a tough sell and he is not the reason people think there is a connection between evolution and atheism. They think that because evolution genuinely poses challenges for traditional Christian faith, and these challenges should not be minimized. Evolution challenges both the inerrancy and the perspicuity of Scripture, it kills the argument from design in biology, it ratchets up the problem of evil, and it poses difficulties for notions of human specialness. Obviously many people have devised ways of overcoming these challenges, and that’s fine. But we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people do not accept these reconciliations, and people should not be derided for being theologically ignorant or unsophisticated for not going along with them.

At this point I noted that if there were any super-clever way of countering creationism we all would have done it by now. I said I didn’t have any snappy solution to offer, and endorsed the more mundane suggestions others had made before me (be aware of what is going on in local politics, that sort of thing.)

But if I didn’t know what the solution was, I was pretty sure I knew what the solution wasn’t. The solution was did not involve dividing the pro-science community by suggesting that one portion of it must be quiet for fear of offending others.

That afternoon, Howard University paleontologist Daryl Domning was giving a talk entitled, “Who Should Speak for Evolution: Atheists or Theists?” I suggested this is a question that no one should be asking, since everyone ought to be speaking for evolution. In the abstract for Domning’s talk we read, “In order to be helpful in support of science education, rather than just inflaming the controversy, atheists have to decide which they care about more: making our schools safe for evolution, or ridding the world of religion.” I suggested that I do not need to make any such choice. On Monday I can support science education, and on Tuesday I can oppose the intrusion of religion into our public affairs. On Monday I am happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ken Miller and other theistic evoltuionists, on Tuesday, regrettably, we are on opposite sides.

Promoting science is difficult enough without looking for reasons to split the pro-science side. You can reply that P. Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne are not exactly uniters, and point taken, but I don’t see them saying that one segment of the pro-science forces needs to be silent for fear of offending folks who think differently.

With that I wrapped up my remarks. During the Q and A I added that I objected to the implication of Domning’s abstract that since many people find evolution threatening at the level of morality and meaning we better go teach them about theistic evolution. The impression was given that it is only theistic evolution that can save people from the perceived moral chaos of accepting evolution. Perhaps a better approach would be to show people how to live moral and meaningful lives without God.

The ensuing discussion was lively and interesting. Daryl Domning was in the room, and when the panel was over we had a pleasant conversation. He told me that his goal was to get theists speaking out more than it was to get atheists to be quiet. I replied that I think that’s a fine goal, but that his abstract was a rather confrontational way of making that point.

As it happens, though, we didn’t dwell all that much on this, because I mentioned that I had read his book Original Selfishness. This was Domning’s attempt to revitalize the idea of Original Sin in the light of evolution. Historically, the dominant understanding of the doctrine in Christendom traced back to a literal understanding of Chapter Three of Genesis. That is, the doctrine referred to a specific sin committed by an actual human couple, a couple representing the only two humans on the planet.

Obviously, any such interpretation is out of the question in the light of evolution and other relevant sciences. The question is whether the doctrine ought to be discarded (my choice), or whether it can be meanignfully reinterpreted in the light of modern science (Domning’s choice). In condensed form, Domning’s argument is that the original insight was that humans have great capacity for evil and selfishness. Original sin was essentially a description of this aspect of human nature. An understanding of the evolutionary process provides a solid foundation for understanding why that is. For most of evolution you have selfish genes competing with one another for representation in subsequent generations. With the arrival of human-like intelligence something new enters the struggle: the capacity for moral reasoning. Original sin can then be seen as a throwback to our evolution. We have a sinful nature bequeathed to us by our evolutionary history, but we also have the capacity to overcome it. Thinking of original sin in this way is more in keeping with the earliest understanding of the doctrine than is the hardening of the idea around a literal interpretation of the Bible. So argues Domning.

During our conversation I replied that it looked like science was doing all the work, while Christianity wasn’t contributing anything. He was simply taking what science was telling us about human nature and then attaching the label “Original Sin” to it. You don’t need Christianity to tell you that people have a capacity for evil and selfishness, you learn that by simple observation. Christianity’s contribution was to link that condition to the story of an actual sin committed by actual people. With that story shown to be complete fiction, what is gained by keeping the term Original Sin?

We went around in circles on this for a while. It was all very pleasant, but for me it was more frustration. In science, when an idea is discredited it is eventually discarded. When it became clear that phlogistin or the luminiferous ether weren’t pulling their weight as scientific theories, those terms disappeared from scientific parlance. No one argued that we should simply reconceptualize phlogistin so that it was consistent with more modern theories of combustion. Old ideas gave way to newer and better ones.

That, to me, seems like the proper resopnse to antiquated pieces of Christian doctrine. Indeed, many modern Christian denominations do just fine without original sin. People like Domning, however, prefer to work very hard to prop up the notion. (Let me tell you, his book is not easy reading.) I don’t understand what propels people to undertake such projects. As much as I enjoyed my conversation with Domning, I still don’t understand it.

Well, that’s about it. I spent much of the afternoon chatting with Ken and Genie and various other people. Ken and I talked religion for a while, but we also ended up talking math and Brown University (my alma mater and his employer) and even math at Brown (Ken was a Brown undergrad.) I had a great time. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to do it again some time.

Comments

  1. #1 John Kwok
    July 1, 2009

    Jason,

    Thanks for your excellent report, and for revealing something that we have in common (which you noted at the very end of your essay). I was especially intrigued reading about Jeremy Jackson’s comments – IMHO he is one of our very best marine ecologists, and may, in light of his own substantial contributions, be a better evolutionary biologist than Dawkins ever was – but I had no clue regarding his religious views, period (Recalling Jackson’s past eloquence from talks I heard him give years ago in grad school, I am certain that his pot shots at both P. Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins were well considered and appropriate.).

    I am surprised you didn’t comment on either Genie Scott’s talk nor that of vertebrate paleontologist Peter Dodson’s (whom I have heard is a devout Christian – don’t know which domination – and a theistic evolutionist). I believe Ken did stress to you how he feels with respect to science and religion; whenever there may be a potential conflict, he has stated that science should hold primacy over religion (Most recently, I heard him speak last month at a private talk given to our fellow college alumni here in New York City in which he advised that those who belong to faiths hostile to science should discard them ASAP, preferably immediately.).

    Ever True,

    John

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    July 2, 2009

    With that story shown to be complete fiction, what is gained by keeping the term Original Sin?

    Baggage. The implication that we deserve to suffer and that we must be redeemed for things which other people did a long bloody time ago. The accusation of total depravity. The conviction “that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.” Nothing good.

  3. #3 386sx
    July 2, 2009

    Baggage.

    Yep, gotta keep the whole redemption and hell thing going. Gotta have a reason for having a Jesus. A Jesus who can fly like a birdie apparently. Or at least can float pretty good.

  4. #4 Richard Eis
    July 2, 2009

    Start cutting the bible, and there may not be much left by the end of it.

  5. #5 SLC
    July 2, 2009

    Re Ken Miller

    I don’t know what Prof. Miller said to Prof. Rosenhouse during their conversations on the subject of religion but in his responses to questions after he gives a presentation, he certainly sounds like there’s a Deist in there trying to get out.

    Re “Evolution is counter-intuitive”

    I always get a laugh out of statements like this. Anyone who knows something about both evolution and quantum mechanics is well aware that the former is almost transparent compared to the latter. As Steven Weinberg has stated, Quantum Mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which unfortunately appears to be correct.

  6. #6 MartyM
    July 2, 2009

    Thanks Jason,

    I enjoyed reading your trip report. I wish I could spend some time with Genie Scott and Ken Miller, and P.Z., and a few others too…

  7. #7 John Kwok
    July 2, 2009

    @ SLC -

    You’re referring of course to your own caricature of Ken Miller. I’ve heard him in person three times in the last year (Not that I’m trying to set some kind of record, since one was a solo venture, while the other two were as part of panel discussions) and he sounds less like a Deist when he notes this, as he did back in late May here in NYC:

    “…he advised that those who belong to faiths hostile to science should discard them ASAP, preferably immediately.”

    Respectfully yours,

    John Kwok

    P. S. I trust you’ve done your homework and know who physicists Lisa Randall and Brian Greene are now (And I don’t mean that they went to high school and college together, but instead, what they have accomplished as professional physicists.).

  8. #8 Mike
    July 2, 2009

    Dr. Rosenhouse states:
    “…atheists have to decide which they care about more: making our schools safe for evolution, or ridding the world of religion.” I suggested that I do not need to make any such choice.
    and
    Perhaps a better approach would be to show people how to live moral and meaningful lives without God.

    The overriding concern in the popular evolution controversy is how we can teach biology without students immediately rejecting it out-of-hand because of propaganda from the anti-science campaign. Within that context its difficult to imagine how prostelytizing atheism to other people’s children could have a positive effect.

  9. #9 tomh
    July 2, 2009

    Mike wrote: The overriding concern in the popular evolution controversy is how we can teach biology without students immediately rejecting it out-of-hand because of propaganda from the anti-science campaign. Within that context its difficult to imagine how prostelytizing atheism to other people’s children could have a positive effect.

    Do you seriously think that Jason is suggesting proselytizing atheism in science classes? Or anyone is suggesting this? “to show people how to live moral and meaningful lives without God” hardly means proselytizing children.

  10. #10 John Farrell
    July 2, 2009

    The question is whether the doctrine ought to be discarded (my choice), or whether it can be meanignfully reinterpreted in the light of modern science (Domning’s choice).

    I think it can as well, but I think the late Herbert McCabe OP did a lot better job than Domning.

    Great post, Jason.

  11. #11 Mike
    July 2, 2009

    Do you seriously think that Jason is suggesting proselytizing atheism in science classes? Or anyone is suggesting this? “to show people how to live moral and meaningful lives without God” hardly means proselytizing children.

    What I meant was that proselytizing atheism, which Jason does want to do, has no part in the discussion at all if the context is on the important problem: science education. Domning’s comment addresses how the discussion in one context, blog culture wars, is harmful to solving the problem in education. Jason seems to be saying that he can address both, but its unclear whether he understands the stark realities in Domning’s comment.

    As far as teaching atheism in science class, I have seen Dawkins doing just that in a TV documentary, albeit in England where church-state problems are different.

  12. #12 Jason F.
    July 2, 2009

    During our conversation I replied that it looked like science was doing all the work, while Christianity wasn’t contributing anything. He was simply taking what science was telling us about human nature and then attaching the label “Original Sin” to it.

    That’s what theistic evolution is…or theistic [anything]. Take whatever science finds and come in with the post-hoc assertion, “God was directing that”.

  13. #13 SLC
    July 2, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    I haven’t the slightest idea what research that Prof. Greene or Prof. Randall have done nor do I have the slightest interest in investigating the matter. However, I would strongly suspect that both of them agree with Feynman, Weinberg, and Krauss that they too don’t understand quantum mechanics.

  14. #14 LongtimeLurker
    July 2, 2009

    Mike: “As far as teaching atheism in science class, I have seen Dawkins doing just that in a TV documentary, albeit in England where church-state problems are different.”

    Not true. If you’re referring to the recent documentary where Dawkins took a small science class fossil hunting then he did nothing of the kind. A more careful viewing will show that all remarks made by Dawkins linking science and irreligion were made on camera away from the children, and the connection between evolution and atheism was an opinion expressed by some of the children of their own accord. Like any ethical educator Dawkins, took care not to preach any religious conclusion in front of his charges.

    If only all Christian teachers behaved as ethically towards their students.

  15. #15 tomh
    July 2, 2009

    Mike wrote: Domning’s comment addresses how the discussion in one context, blog culture wars, is harmful to solving the problem in education.

    His comment reflects his own prejudice and bias. I have yet to see anyone show how discussion, on blogs, book reviews, or anywhere else, is harmful to solving any problems in education. Perhaps you have some actual data that would show this, but I doubt it. It seems like just another religious canard, used to bludgeon non-religionists.

  16. #16 ELW
    July 2, 2009

    Brian Greene and Lisa Randall are certainly the most well known public intellectuals in the dissemination of public understanding of String Theory, though they are hardly the most the important in terms of contributions to the field.

    In any case, String Theory is an attempt to unify quantum mechanics with Einsteinian relativity, though anyone who claims to understand string theory intuitively is also probably lying.

    I’m but a layman on this subject…so if a physicist or Jason (whose can explain the math parts) wants to clarify, please do.

  17. #17 John Kwok
    July 2, 2009

    @ ELW -

    Thanks for your post, but I was hoping that SLC, as a former physicist with a Ph. D. degree in elementary particle physics would tell me, especially after I had mentioned them to him months ago, noting that Randall’s current work may have overlapped with his. Elsewhere online, someone else was surprised that SLC, even as a former physicist, had never heard of either Brian Greene and Lisa Randall.

    I can’t claim much knowledge of String Theory (which I am sure will surprise SLC, since he knows that both physicists had overlapped with me in high school), but I am aware that there are a number of excellent accounts currently available, including their books.

  18. #18 TomID
    July 3, 2009

    Since this blog purports to be dedicated to the endless dispute between evelution and creation, I thought it only fitting to beg your indulgence and allow me to crash the party. Since you yourself appear to like people of my ilk (even while hating everything I stand for) and since it is fair to suppose the molecular structure of my brain to be reasonably similar to that of the others who have posted, I would like to comment on your above posting.
    First, let me say that I chuckled to see how God once again gave evidence of His existence by causing your recorder to fill up at such an inopportune time. :-)
    Second, I basically agreed with the last 3 of your 4 points, especially the last one. The notion of (macro)evolution simply isn’t compatible with the Biblical account of the origin of life on this planet.
    Concerning the endless nature of this conflict (and the reason there is no easy way to convince the other side), the simple fact is that the two sides come to the table with very different presuppositions. “Naturalists” (presumably most if not all atheists) begin with the presupposition that they somehow have rational minds capable of “human-like intelligence” even though no natural explanation can account for this. In other words, it’s basically a matter of faith. Even if it could be explained, the explanation would come from a mind whose rationality could not be externally proven and would be directed at other minds in the same boat. Theists (including Bible-believing Christians like me) and agnostic proponents of ID begin with the presupposition that there must be an intelligent diety outside the “natural” world whose intelligence is the source of all design, including the human capability of rational thought. As with the athesists, this presupposition (although not as counter-intuitive) cannot be proven through science. Those of us who know the Designer see His fingerprints in all the natural world. We understand (as most pre-Darwinian scientists did and a great many still do despite all the political pressure to silence them) that He made the world with all of its complex design and fascinating rationality with the intention of making it possible for us to recognize His handiwork.
    So in the final analysis, science cannot come the rescue of either group because it is incapable of challenging or confirming the fundamental presuppositions (of either group) that make it possible for us to have a debate at all. After all, concepts such as “truth”, “charlatan”, “selfishness”, “skepticism”, “morality”, “science” and “intuition” are all impossible to observe under a microscope and they can not be tested in a laboratory. Being able to discuss these concepts (which have no apparent rational basis in the chemical make-up of the natural world) certainly shows the specialness of humans, but if we deny the existence of the One who made us special, it’s very hard to be sure that we’re really even capable of thinking at all. Why should the chemical reactions that produce what we call “thoughts” be deemed any more special than those that cause a can to rust?

  19. #19 RBH
    July 3, 2009

    TomlD wrote

    “Naturalists” (presumably most if not all atheists) begin with the presupposition that they somehow have rational minds capable of “human-like intelligence” even though no natural explanation can account for this. In other words, it’s basically a matter of faith.

    Plantinga fail, along with the very strange notion that it’s a presupposition of atheists that humans have “human-like intelligence.” What would humans have? Horse-like intelligence?

  20. #20 SLC
    July 3, 2009

    Re TomD

    “Naturalists” (presumably most if not all atheists) begin with the presupposition that they somehow have rational minds capable of “human-like intelligence” even though no natural explanation can account for this.

    Gee, is Mr. TomD now claiming that Ken Miller, in addition to Francisco Ayala, Francis Collins, etc. are atheists? They all accept methodological naturalism, which, of course, Mr. TomD rejects.

    The unfortunate fact is that, reject it as Mr. TomD does, methodological naturalism is entirely responsible for the technological advances made since the Enlightenment began, including the computer on which his moronic ravings were typed. Philosophical theism has contributed absolutely nothing to those technological advances. In fact, all too often, philosophical theism has stood in the way and resisted the technological advances (e.g. Galileo).

  21. #21 SLC
    July 3, 2009

    By the way, the lady in the picture with Ken Miller is not Eugenie Scott. I suspect that it’s Ken Millers’ daughter, who is also a biologist.

  22. #22 tyaddow
    July 3, 2009

    TomD said:

    the two sides come to the table with very different presuppositions

    You’re right about this in a sense, but then you go on to mangle the respective concepts, and create a false dichotomy in the process. Science presupposes that the things we can learn about the natural world will be understood through testable, repeatable processes, and only accepts naturalistic answers to questions dealing with nature- an even playing field. The creationist presupposes a god or designer and requires that all of science confirm their belief, thereby undermining the corrective measures of science. Do you see the difference? The great benefit of the former ‘presupposition’ is that it establishes a universal process which minimizes human error. The problem with the latter is that you can presuppose anything at all and try to shoehorn science to fit it, discarding anything inconvenient (as creationists do by rejecting evolution.) Do you see how the presuppositions of science are actually prerequisite to learning while the presuppositions of creationism are detrimental to it?

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    July 3, 2009

    In any case, String Theory is an attempt to unify quantum mechanics with Einsteinian relativity, though anyone who claims to understand string theory intuitively is also probably lying.

    With general relativity, to be precise; quantum mechanics and special relativity were combined in quantum field theory.

  24. #24 tyaddow
    July 3, 2009

    yeesh, html fail. I will preview in the future.

  25. #25 John Kwok
    July 3, 2009

    @. SLC -

    Your ID is wrong. That is Genie Scott.

  26. #26 SLC
    July 3, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Mr. Kwok is correct. After examining the reproduction of the photograph with a magnifying glass, it is obviously Dr. Scott. I was fooled because she is apparently now dying her hair blond.

    Re Blake Stacy

    Mr. Stacy and I have had this discussion previously. Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have been combined in a way that allows computation in quantum electrodynamics but the renormalization procedures required are mathematical nonsense. This is a case of the proof of the pudding being in the eating. The pudding tastes good, even though it smells terrible.

  27. #27 Mike
    July 3, 2009

    His comment reflects his own prejudice and bias. I have yet to see anyone show how discussion, on blogs, book reviews, or anywhere else, is harmful to solving any problems in education. Perhaps you have some actual data that would show this, but I doubt it. It seems like just another religious canard, used to bludgeon non-religionists.

    The comment makes me suspect that you haven’t been on the front lines much, and have more experience with the issue in the culture wars. Even without attending board of education meetings, and being involved in elections, you’d have to try very hard not to see that the opposition (at least that at the local level) is motivated by the concern that a minority of atheists are conspiring to use education to convert school children. Obviously, the hard core conspiracy believers aren’t going to be convinced to find something else to attack. Its the mostly disengaged majority that needs to be shown that science education is essential, and science is what scientists do, not lobbyists. Right now the majority of what the majority is being told is that the controversy is between fellow believers and conspiring atheists. If there weren’t, in fact, a minority trying to use evolution education for a social agenda, the task would be much easier. “Evolution education”, BTW, includes more than just what goes on in the public school classroom.

    I’m fairly certain I don’t have the words to do the subject justice. I don’t mean to imply that atheists don’t have a pressing need to assert their rights, but I’m fairly certain that a majority of outspoken atheists concerned about science education have their priorities misplaced, and don’t understand the politics. I don’t mean to imply that atheists “shut up”, or that a stealth campaign is needed. The majority needs to be brought to understand that there is no social agenda in science, that the majority of scientists are just like them and don’t have a secret social agenda, and that the conclusions of present day science have been honestly arrived at.

  28. #28 Mike
    July 3, 2009

    TomID states:
    Concerning the endless nature of this conflict (and the reason there is no easy way to convince the other side), the simple fact is that the two sides come to the table with very different presuppositions.

    Huge amount of ambiguity there that may not be intentional. I often wonder what aspects of the “conflict” are being addressed. There are philosophical conflicts, and then there’s the competing concerns about education. Philosophical differs aren’t a crisis, but obstructing science education is. The talking point of the anti-science campaign, that a social agenda bias runs through the scientific community, is incorrect. A true understanding of the nature of science and the scientific community would make this obvious. To be fair, I’m sure there are many people on the opposite extreme who also don’t understand the nature of science.

  29. #29 tomh
    July 3, 2009

    @ #27 Mike wrote:

    The comment makes me suspect that you haven’t been on the front lines much

    Your suspicions are unfounded.

    the opposition (at least that at the local level) is motivated by the concern that a minority of atheists are conspiring to use education to convert school children.

    Wrong. The opposition is motivated by the fear that scientific knowledge that conflicts with their religious doctrines will cause their children to reject the religious doctrines. No matter who teaches science, many religious types would still fear it. It is the knowledge they fear, not the teacher.

    Right now the majority of what the majority is being told is that the controversy is between fellow believers and conspiring atheists. If there weren’t, in fact, a minority trying to use evolution education for a social agenda, the task would be much easier.

    Just repeating a typical religious canard. Who. in fact, is this mysterious minority that is trying to use education to promote a social agenda? Perhaps you can supply some examples of this insidious agenda and how it’s being used to convert children. This is a straw-man used by those who throw around the specious term “militant atheist.”

    “Evolution education”, BTW, includes more than just what goes on in the public school classroom.

    Oh really? And yet public, tax-supported schools, and what goes on in the classroom there, are the subject under discussion. Unless you object to people stating their opinions in books, book reviews, interviews, and the like. None of which have anything to do with what goes on in a classroom.

    I’m fairly certain that a majority of outspoken atheists concerned about science education have their priorities misplaced, and don’t understand the politics.

    I’m fairly certain that any rational observer would say exactly the same thing about you.

    I don’t mean to imply that atheists “shut up”, or that a stealth campaign is needed.

    No, you just mean to imply that they should stop saying whatever it is that they’re saying and say things that you want to hear.

  30. #30 Amber
    July 3, 2009

    “The impression was given that it is only theistic evolution that can save people from the perceived moral chaos of accepting evolution. Perhaps a better approach would be to show people how to live moral and meaningful lives without God.”

    I am always a little irritated that often times religious individuals confuse morality with God. Things are moral because they’re moral, not because God said so…God also says moral things, but morality also exists without God. Many people don’t believe in a God, but are still moral people. The world will not fall apart solely because someone doesn’t believe in god. Morality would still exist.

  31. #31 Mike
    July 3, 2009

    Weird twisting:

    >>the opposition (at least that at the local level) is >>motivated by the concern that a minority of atheists are >>conspiring to use education to convert school children.

    >Wrong. The opposition is motivated by the fear that >scientific knowledge that conflicts with their religious >doctrines will cause their children to reject the >religious doctrines.

    Which is just restating what I wrote.

    > It is the knowledge they fear, not the teacher.

    Didn’t say anything about teachers. I’m certain that the beliefs of a particular teacher isn’t necessarily relevant.

    >> If there weren’t, in fact, a minority trying to use >>evolution education for a social agenda, the task would >>be much easier.

    >Just repeating a typical religious canard.

    No, actually the religious canard is that the majority of the scientific community has an atheistic social agenda.

    >Who. in fact, is this mysterious minority that is trying >to use education to promote a social agenda? Perhaps you >can supply some examples of this insidious agenda and how >it’s being used to convert children. This is a straw-man >used by those who throw around the specious term “militant >atheist.”

    I’m saving this one. Either you don’t read much of Myers, Dawkins, Coyne, et al., or you’re trying to convince readers that they didn’t read what they read. The majority of what they address, and the apparent reasons they’re interested in the subject, isn’t esoteric philosophy. They’re writing about education. There’s even a PBS broadcast documentary of Dawkins lecturing to a secondary school biology class about how their religious beliefs are interfering with their learning science. This loopy denial has become common on the net, and got tiresome after the first couple of shots.

  32. #32 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 4, 2009

    John Farrell-

    Glad you liked the post!

    Mike -

    Just to be clear, I absolutely, positively, do not think we should be teaching, or even mentioning, atheism in science classes. I think the teacher should not bring up religion at all, and if a student brings it up the teacher should say something like, “Different people draw different religious conclusions from evolution. Some people find that their religious faith is strengthened by evolution. Others find that their faith is challenged. But that is an aspect of the subject we will not be discussing in this class. Come speak to me privately if you want more information.” Or something like that.

    What I object to is when people like PZ Myers or Jerry Coyne are accused of hurting the cause because, in addition to defending evolution and science education, they also write about their antipathy for religion. I don’t believe they are hurting the cause.

  33. #33 JimV
    July 4, 2009

    Re: #18 “”Naturalists” (presumably most if not all atheists) begin with the presupposition that they somehow have rational minds capable of “human-like intelligence” even though no natural explanation can account for this. In other words, it’s basically a matter of faith.”

    A) How do you know no natural explanation can account for this? Are you up-to-date with what neurologists have discovered about the human brain, neural networks, the simulation of rat brains by computers, et cetera? Have you considered the spectrum of intelligence within the animal kingdom, which includes apes which have vocabularies of around a thousand words of sign language, grey parrots which can spell words on command, and so on?

    B) Since rationality and intelligence are human words created by humans to describe humans, it would seem no faith is called for to believe they apply to humans.

    C) To the extent that the mechanisms of human rationality are still not understood, science requires no faith either – simply hypotheses which are then tested against observations and experiments. Science never depends on faith, it seeks evidence. One may form hypotheses based on hunches, but only evidence will make them part of science.

    One could of course define faith very broadly, as in, I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. Only in the sense that success breeds confidence in future successes does faith enter into the expectations of scientists.

    Personally, I have never understood how anyone can accept something on pure blind faith, regardless of contrary evidence. I suspect most religious people find things to justify their beliefs. The main difference between such people and scientists is the rigor with which the evidence is procured and analyzed. Feynman put it well, something like: the key point of science is not to fool yourself, and the person that it is easiest for you to fool is yourself (by cherry-picking the evidence, not allowing for coincidences, et cetera).

  34. #34 Mike
    July 4, 2009

    What I object to is when people like PZ Myers or Jerry Coyne are accused of hurting the cause because, in addition to defending evolution and science education, they also write about their antipathy for religion. I don’t believe they are hurting the cause.

    Again there’s this denial thing. They do more than just “write about their antipathy for religion”, don’t they? That’s what this whole “accomodationist” campaign is about: pushing back against efforts to take the teaching of evolution out of the culture wars, efforts by NCSE, AAAS, the Clergy Letter Project, etc., to point out that controversy is not necessary, inevitable, or desirable. Myers, Coyne, et al. have clearly stated that this interfers with their agenda and they want it stopped. That is hugely different than just writing to support atheism, or even tweaking the religious right’s collective noses with insults and juvenile pranks.

    What Domning seems to be saying is that these folks have made a choice, and the rest of us, regardless of whether you’re atheist or theist, should not be supporting them. There’s a difference between telling someone to shut up and simply not applauding.

  35. #35 Damian
    July 5, 2009

    Mike, you appear to be utterly confused. Very little that you have said, thus far, is factually correct.

    No, Coyne and Myers have not “clearly stated that this (attempts to reconcile science and faith) interferes with their agenda and they want it stopped”. That is the accommodationalists attempt to spin a perfectly reasonable argument by Coyne, Myers, et al. in to something sinister. The reason for that is that they don’t have a counter argument.

    The complaint about organizations such as NCSE and AAAS is that they are tacitly, and often explicitly, promoting a very narrow brand of Christianity, when they shouldn’t really be promoting religion, at all. On the NCSE’s website, rather than simply linking to various examples of reconciliation, which few of us have a problem with, they are actually hosting articles that contain all sorts of unscientific and unevidenced garbage. How can you then claim that you are neutral about religion?

    If you claim to be a scientific organization which is entirely neutral about religion, then hosting articles about the reconciliation of science and religion would self-evidently necessitate a broad range of views, including people who believe that science and religion cannot be reconciled. Promoting a narrow brand of religious apologetic’s can clearly be seen as favoring one type of religion over another, which effectively turns these scientific organizations in to promoters of religion. They also promote numerous books, all of which focus on this very narrow brand of Christianity, as well.

    All that we ask is that people actually attempt to understand the arguments that we are making, and to then deal with them on there merits. What we seeing, however, is an attempt to marginalize us by misrepresenting what we are actually saying. It won’t work.

    What the so called anti-accomodationalists want is for these scientific organizations to stop promoting a narrow brand of Christianity — and one which, while certainly better than fundamentalism, is still entirely unscientific and unevidenced — and to get back to simply promoting the science. Other people, such a Ken Miller and Francis Collins, are perfectly welcome to explain how they manage to reconcile their faith with scientific findings. Nobody is saying that they aren’t. But we also reserve the right to criticize them for it, if we feel that they are drawing unwarranted conclusions.

    In his review of Francis Collins’, “The Language of God”, Sam Harris includes this passage from the book:

    As believers, you are right to hold fast to the concept of God as Creator; you are right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible; you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence; and you are right to hold fast to the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted….

    God, who is not limited to space and time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with Him. He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey the Moral Law.

    We are being asked to self-censor and to not criticize this sort of thing, so as to not alienate “liberal” religious believers, who happen to be on our side in the struggle against the inserting of creationism in the classroom! The answer, as emphatically as I can muster is, er, no.

    The fact is that if your faith is so delicate that you cannot accept the perfectly normal level of scrutiny and criticism that all other ideas have to face, and you (or at least, some atheists use this as a reason not to criticize them) are prepared to threaten to stop promoting science because of it, what does that say about your commitment to promoting good science in the first place?

    It’s blackmail, and it’s not going to work. The tables could easily be turned the other way, and I could say that I’m not prepared to work with people who effectively condemn me to hell (which is far more sinister than criticism), but I’m not that childish, quite frankly, and I understand that it is perfectly normal for two people to work together on one project, and to then effectively be on opposite sides concerning other issues. That’s how it should be, and I cannot understand how this is not getting through.

  36. #36 GH
    July 5, 2009

    If Domning thinks that is more in keeping with the original understanding he is seriously out to lunch. I would suspect childhood indoctrination otherwise why would such a bright guy come up with such an idea. He is quite literally trying to fit what he knows is true(evolution) into an unevidenced emotional belief imparted to him by his culture.

    This is something very worthy of study by neurologists. And I’m not being snarky,

    Likewise calling our ancestors behaviours ‘evil’ or ‘selffish’ is rather pathetic. The behaviours are simply that a groups opinions of them is where the labels get applied. People forget we are part of the animal kingdom and have behaviours just like the rest of ‘em. The behaviours that benefit make us fit. As a general rule it is obvious that humans have evolved as primarily unselfish and ‘good’ to each other with the occasional group infighting and rogue characters. 99.9% of humans help out their family and fellows because being unselfish is good for us as a whole. Domning’s entire book is flawed from the beginning because he doesn’t see human behaviour as it primarily is for the vast majority.

  37. #37 tomh
    July 5, 2009

    Mike wrote: Didn’t say anything about teachers. I’m certain that the beliefs of a particular teacher isn’t necessarily relevant.

    Which shows how out of touch you are. Perhaps you haven’t heard of the science teacher John Freshwater in Ohio? Or the large numbers of creationist science teachers in US public schools who either slip creationism into classes or gloss over evolution? You should really educate yourself before absolving teachers of any responsibility.

    No, actually the religious canard is that the majority of the scientific community has an atheistic social agenda.

    Which you claim is true, except that you think it’s a minority instead of a majority. It’s just as false when you repeat it as when they do.

  38. #38 Silverlock
    July 7, 2009

    Dr. Rosenhouse, I don’t know if you had noticed this but Ken Ham of the Creation Museum has quoted portions of this post in a July 6th entry on his Around the World blog titled Admissions of an Evolutionist. He doesn’t identify you by name (or hyperlink), but tries to use several of your points (“Evolution is genuinely counter-intuitive…” and “…if there were any super-clever way of countering creationism we all would have done it by now.”) as support for his belief that evolution is bunk.

  39. #39 David D.G.
    July 8, 2009

    Silverlock wrote:

    Dr. Rosenhouse, I don’t know if you had noticed this but Ken Ham of the Creation Museum has quoted portions of this post in a July 6th entry on his Around the World blog titled Admissions of an Evolutionist. He doesn’t identify you by name (or hyperlink), but tries to use several of your points (“Evolution is genuinely counter-intuitive…” and “…if there were any super-clever way of countering creationism we all would have done it by now.”) as support for his belief that evolution is bunk.

    Oh, good grief! That guy’s personal evolution must include a species of mole, for him to be able to consistently stoop so low!

    ~David D.G.

  40. #40 SLC
    July 8, 2009

    OT but possibly of interest. Francis Collins was named Director of the NIH minutes ago.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=atJa8QDGj8QU

  41. #41 söve
    July 19, 2009

    The fact is that söve if your faith is so delicate that you cannot accept the perfectly normal söve level of scrutiny and criticism that all other ideas have to face, and you (or at least, some söve atheists use this as a reason not to criticize them) are prepared to threaten to stop promoting science because of it, what söve does that say about your commitment to promoting good science in the first place?