In Part One of this review I focused on the broad themes of Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book. My general feeling is that their presentation of the state of play is simplistic in crucial ways and that their proposed solutions are impractical at best. Now I would like to zoom in specifically on the eighth chapter of the book. It is called, “Bruising Their Religion” and focuses especially on what M and K see as the doleful influence of the New Atheists.

Regrettably, I think they get a lot of important things wrong. Let us have a look.

They begin with a whitewashed version of the Webster Cook affair. Cook, you will recall, was the University of Central Florida student who removed a communion wafer from a Catholic Mass. If you need a reminder of what this led to, go read this. P. Z. Myers, responding to the absurd overreaction of many Catholics, subsequently procured and destroyed some communion wafers of his own.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum, hereafter M and K, provide no specifics of this overreaction. Doing so would have weakened their main narrative, which is the entirley familiar one about how the New Atheists inflame moderate religious believers and turn them against the cause of good science education. Ma nd K’s discussion includes this remarkable statement:

The most outspoken New Atheists publicly eviscerate believers, call them delusional and irrational (“demented fuckwits,” as Myers put it in the Webster Cook case)… (p. 97)

This is an egregious misquotation. Here’s what Myers actually said, taken from the link above:

That’s right. Crazy Christian fanatics right here in our own country have been threatening to kill a young man over a cracker. This is insane. These people are demented fuckwits.

I’d say there’s a big difference between hurling profanity at religious believers generally, and hurling it only at the small subset making death threats. Wouldn’t you? I would have hoped that, precisely because Myers’ actions in the Webster Cook affair were so controversial, M and K would have bent over backward to present all of the relevant facts. Those so inclined could still find plenty to criticize in what Myers did (I was conflicted about it, and I am a big fan of P. Z. Myers.) Sadly, what they wrote is one more example of a difficulty that plagues many sections of the book: The desire to reduce complex situations to simple narratives.

This is just a warm-up. Their main thesis is this:

If the goal is to create an America more friendly toward science and reason, the combativeness of the New Atheists is strongly counterproductive. If anything, they work in ironic combination with their dire enemies, the anti-science conservative Christians who populate the creation science and intelligent design movements, to ensure we’ll continue to be polarized over subjects llike the teaching of evolution when we dont’ have to be. America is a very religious nation, and if forced to choose between faith and science, vast numbers of Americans will select the former. (p. 97-98)

Skipping ahead a bit:

The New Atheists, like the fundamentalists they so despise, are setting up a false dichotomy that can only damage the cause of scientific literacy for generations to come. (p. 98)

Generations to come? Goodness! Alas, their evidence for this melodramatic claim consists, in its entirety, of this little nugget, buried in the endnotes:

In fact, education researchers have found that defusing the tension over science and religion facilitates learning about evolution. “I submit that anti-religious rehtoric is counter-productive. It actually hampers science education,” a biologist at Davis and Elkins College in West Virgina. In Stover’s view, students who feel that evolution is a threat to their beliefs will not “want to learn,” and only reconiliatory discussion can open them up to evolution. (p. 183)

It is painful to read such things. Isn’t it just groaningly obvious that the problem here is the attitude that places religious faith in a privileged position relative to science? M and K tell us that people value faith over science, and from this they conclude that Richard Dawkins is the problem? Stover tells us that students don’t want to learn until you assure them that you will leave their religious beliefs unchallenged, and his advice is that we should not be criticizing religion?

It’s madness. M and K and Stover are right in describing the attitudes of many people, but that is an argument for ramping up our criticism of religion. If the problem is that dopey religious ideas are standing in the way of good science education, the solution is to scream and yell with enough vigor that non-religious views become part of the conversation. The contribution of the New Atheists is to make atheism visible as a viable way of life. Do this long enough and it becomes demystified, to the point where the younger generation no longer thinks there is anything sordid or illegitimate about it. We do not have to just sit back and accept that religion will always be a dominant social force. We can take steps to increase the likelihood of that not being the case for those future generations, even if that means bruising some feelings in the present.

Curiously, M and K undercut their own argument when they write:

Of course, the New Atheists aren’t the origin of the cleft between religious and scientific culture in America — they’re more like a reaction to it. (p. 98) (Emphasis in original)

Exactly right. Surely, though, this shows that the idea of a rift between science and religion had no trouble propagating itself long before the New Atheists arrived on the scene. The rift exists becuase there really is a conflict between science and religion generally, and Christianity and evolution specifically. This simple fact is not contradicted by the existence of religious scientists or by the existence of forms of Christianity that have made their peace with evoluition. Saying there is a conflict between A and B does not mean that A and B are mutually exclusive. (In fairness, M and K acknowledge this on pages 101-102.)

They do not fare any better when considering the specifics of the argument. They put a lot of weight on the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism, apparenlty thinking that the New Atheists are confused about the distinction. As we have discussed in several recent blog posts, this distinction is of very little help in reconciling science and religion. They repeat Robert Pennock’s asinine statement that, “Science is godless in the same sense that plumbing is godless,” which I discussed in this recent post. If M and K think this is clever than I do not believe they fully understand the problem.

And then there is this (from the endnotes):

In fact, Dawkins repeatedly claims that his critiques of the eixstence of God are “scientific” in nature, rather than philosophical or metaphysical. Or as he puts it at one point in the book, the existence of God is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability.” At yet another point in the book, he argues that “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.”

We’re confounded by such claims. If God is a supernatural being, and supernatural agents are, by definition, “not constrained by natural laws”, then surely we cannot use science’s “methodologicla naturalism” to know anything about them. That includes testing whether they exist or establishing the probability of such existence. (p. 180)

I wonder if M and K would write such things if we were talking about ghosts instead of God. Are scientists helpless to argue against the existence of ghosts? Everything we know about human anatomy suggests that personality and whatnot are the products of physical phenomena in the brain; they die with the body. Countless claims of alleged hauntings have been investigated and perfectly natural explanations have been found. Are we being unreasonable in saying, based on such evidence, that it is unlikely that ghosts exist? If someone claimed that science has cast real doubt on the existence of ghosts, can we count on M and K to rush in and accuse them of making philosophical claims and of overstepping their proper bounds?

How do we use the methodological naturalism of science to say something about the possible existence of supernatural entities? The same way we use it to detect the existence of neutrinos, which also can not be perceived directly with our senses. We look for their effects on the natural world. We may not be able to control supernatural entities, but we can certainly search for their effects on the natural objects we do control (or at least understand). We can search for things in the natural world that can only be plausibly explained by recourse to supernatural entities. That we consistently fail to find them is surely relevant in assessing the likelihood of God’s existence.

Can we prove that God does not exist by such means? Of course not, which is why none of the New Atheists claim that we can. We also can not prove that ghosts do not exist, but everyone thinks we are justified in describing their existence as unlikely. That the only sort of God consistent with science is the kind that does not intervene in nature in any detectable way is an important and contingent finding. It is also devastating to the religious views of a great many people.

This is one small chapter in a longer book, and if the only issue were that M and K are being unfair to Richard Dawkins and P. Z. Myers I would not make such an issue out of it. But the defects in this chapter are symptomatic of the defects in the entire book. They consistently emphasize counterproductive (in their view) things that scientists do while mostly ignoring the broader social forces that really hamper science from attaining its proper position. Instead of forthrightly challenging the bad religious ideas that make people unwilling even to listen to science, M and K want us to walk on eggshells, and to try to work around these bad ways of thinking.

Throughout the book the emphasis gets put in the wrong places. Sure, there are entrenched and powerful interests determined to keep everyone ignorant about global warming, but the real problem is that some academics turn up their nose at science popularization. Yes, granted, many people hold religious views that close their minds and make them unwilling even to consider challenging ideas, but can you blame them what with Richard Dawkins being snotty and all? The media is sensationalist and uncritical and happily parrots any dubious claim it thinks will attract a few viewers, so the solution is to have more scientists trained in the art of framing and sound bite construction.

Forgive me for thinking that M and K’s suggestions are out of proportion to the magnitude of the problem.

Comments

  1. #1 Pete Soderman
    August 1, 2009

    Thank you for this, I almost threw the book at the wall when I read the bit about Dawkins “testing the existence of god. I’m working on a review of UA for my blog, and will probably link to this, if that’s OK

    Pete

  2. #2 Physicalist
    August 1, 2009

    Excellent post. There’s one further thing that’s been bugging me about their discussion of Crackergate: they completely ignore Myers’ motivation for acquiring and tossing out the wafer.

    Here’s the sum total of their account of why PZ did this:

    Myers was staggered and disgusted by all the hoopla over a “frackin cracker.”

    No mention of the fact that PZ was outraged that people were attacking a person because they believed that a wafer is a god, that he was directly addressing the evil that some religious people do in the name of religion.

    Outrage over threats of expulsion and violence, and accusations of kidnapping and hate crimes, is not being “staggered” by “hoopla.”

    M&K simply ignore the intellectual grounding of PZ’s actions and give the impression that Crackergate was done just for kicks, because PZ doesn’t like religious people. (And they ignore just how inconvenient the Catholic reaction is for their accommodationist position.)

    This is dishonest, and is sadly indicative of the whole framing crowd. They apparently feel no need to actually argue for their position, or to consider the arguments their opponents put forward.

    Look for an actual argument that the new atheists/anti-accommodationists are wrong and what do you find? Three sad little paragraphs citing Pennock on methodological vs. philosophical naturalism, all of which Jason’s neatly disposed of here.

    (And of course, Jason and others pointed out to Mooney two months ago that this line of argument is a non sequitur. And he’s simply ignored it. Sad that he doesn’t recognize the basics of critical thinking and intellectual honesty. I had hoped that he might be on the side of reason.)

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    August 1, 2009

    Bringing up the difference between methodological and philosophical naturalism is a common tactic of religious apologists. Most scientists define the natural along the lines of anything that can be observed or measured. In fact, this (or some variation of this) is the only definition that makes sense to a methodological naturalist–ie. it follows naturally from MN. That leaves the supernatural as the unobservable and undetectable. In other words, methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism are functionally equivalent.

  4. #4 Divalent
    August 1, 2009

    “Forgive me for thinking that M and K’s suggestions are out of proportion to the magnitude of the problem.”

    From your (and others) description of their book, it seems rather that “… M and K’s suggestions are orthogonal to the nature of the problem.”

  5. #5 eric b
    August 1, 2009

    The only thing I have read in or about this book that has made any sense to me is the insinuation that at times the “New Atheists” muddy the water with their language as much as the Christian Right. As a person who grew up in a Christian home, and who is coming to grips with the scientific evidence against the existance of God, I have been called ignorant, stupid, “fuckwit”, and other nasty names, etc. by both sides. Taking on the name-calling and judgemental attitude of the Christian Right is not the best way to inform and educate the public on the validity of evolution and science-based reasoning….luckily for me I have not let the name calling sway me….but rather have let the evidence move me.

  6. #6 David Bruggeman
    August 2, 2009

    “If the problem is that dopey religious ideas are standing in the way of good science education, the solution is to scream and yell with enough vigor that non-religious views become part of the conversation. The contribution of the New Atheists is to make atheism visible as a viable way of life.”

    It does not automatically follow – at least to me – that making non-religious views part of the conversation or making atheism visible as a viable way of life does anything to promote good science education. That is, fighting religion with non-religion does not seem to be a necessary prerequisite for advancing an issue that is separate from a religious discussion (sorry, screaming and yelling match).

    Personally, I don’t think anyone (or any collection of people) can scream and yell with enough vigor to do anything connected with religion or atheism. You’re welcome to try, but I think most will ignore such tales of sound and fury.

  7. #7 JoshS
    August 2, 2009

    Why do I have a feeling Jason’s Part Two won’t be as prominently featured at The Intersection? Surely I’m just too cynical, and too nasty, being a “New Atheist.”

  8. #8 AL
    August 2, 2009

    Yeah, I too have wondered about this supposed “distinction” between methodological and philosophical naturalism. If you accept methodological naturalism, then presumably you have underlying reasons for doing so. Those reasons make up the philosophy. The methods of science are there to avoid fallacy and bias, e.g., why do medical scientists use placebo controls in drug trials? To avoid post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Why do they use randomized test subjects? To avoid biases. Why do scientists carefully define their terms? To avoid various fallacies of vagueness.

    The alternative is that one has no reasons for holding to the method, and it is simply held arbitrarily. I do get the feeling, (especially from Ken Miller), that for some, the method really is held arbitrarily. You only need to obey the rules of science when you’re doing science, and during your non-science off-time, you’re free to let fallacies and bias slip in. Certainly, when talk of the “supernatural” comes up, for the atheists, the “supernatural” is off-limits because it is vague and nebulous and really offers no explanation at all, whereas for theists, the “supernatural” is off-limits as a matter of fiat, because that’s just the way science is arbitrarily decreed to be.

  9. #9 JoshS
    August 2, 2009

    For the record, in case it doesn’t survive moderation, here’s what I posted at M&K’s blog:

    Chris and Sheril-

    Will you be honest enough to highlight Jason Rosenhouse’s second installment of his review of your book, even if it’s much less flattering than the first? If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2009/08/reviewing_unscientific_america_1.php

    Since you highlighted his first installment reviewing your book, you’ll certainly want to highlight the follow-up, right?

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 2, 2009

    JoshS –

    Thanks for the plug. When I saw Chris and Sheril in DC I told them I would be ripping into Chapter Eight. And since they already knew my views on this sort of thing, I don’t think this will come as too great a surprise.

    I should also mention that Chris is moving from New Jersey to Wisconsin this week, so he will not be blogging for a little while. And it was really he and not Sheril who has been picking fights with the New Atheists.

  11. #11 Jim Harrison
    August 2, 2009

    This debate often seems to confuse the political effectiveness of the New Atheists with the propriety or logical validity of their approach. While intellectually crude and often down-right adolescent, the P.Z. Myers-style of anti-religion may well work, at least to the extent that it makes people feel like hicks if they oppose evolution or global warming and thus changes their political behavior. Since neither the sweetness and light Chris and Sheril line nor the New Atheist approach is likely to teach anybody very much biology, the most that can be reasonably hoped for in any case is the replacement of one set of errors with a more useful set.

  12. #12 Sigmund
    August 2, 2009

    Jason, why do you hate God so much?
    Only joking.
    I suspect they will devote as much time to destroying your ‘strident, militant, atheistic fundamentalism attacks(!!)´ as they devoted to Janet Stemwedel’s third discussion of their book.
    Look, the Overton window has shifted – for God’s sake somebody has to push it back.

  13. #13 josefjohann
    August 2, 2009

    excellent, excellent review. If there were one review on the whole internet I wish they would respond to, it’s this one.

    Mooney appears to live and breathe in the framing of conversations, but I think there is something fundamentally bankrupt about bending reality until it is cooperative with people’s ignorance: their ignorance is then validated more than it is counteracted.

    I’m not a framer, but I think the motivation for framing is that creating narratives depending on the assumed truth of an unmade argument is preferable to the argument itself. It’s inherently manipulative, because it means deliberately supplying your reader with just enough information that your argument sounds believable, but not so much that they could make an independent choice even if they wanted to.

  14. #14 snafu
    August 2, 2009

    “If God is a supernatural being, and supernatural agents are, by definition, “not constrained by natural laws”, then surely we cannot use science’s “methodologicla naturalism” to know anything about them.”

    After all the discussion about methodological naturalism that’s gone on*, I can’t believe they settled on such a naive characterisation. The ghosts comment is spot on.

    (*Jason, Jerry Coyne, Russell Blackford have all weighed in at length on exactly this issue)

    ==========

    And on the topic of spooks, here’s the example of Peter Kreeft, the (Catholic) professor of philosohpy at Boston College, with a glittering career in popular apologetics. Here’s an intelligent, educated, worldly man that thinks the evidence for the existence of ghosts is “enormously likely”.

    http://www.domestic-church.com/CONTENT.DCC/19980901/ARTICLES/GHOSTS.HTM

    At least Ken Miller only talks of undetectable supernatural intervention at the quantum level, rather than this nonsense.

  15. #15 Anton Mates
    August 2, 2009

    Jason,

    This is an excellent review, indeed. I still quibble with the “testing the supernatural” bit, though.

    I wonder if M and K would write such things if we were talking about ghosts instead of God. Are scientists helpless to argue against the existence of ghosts?

    Thing is, ghosts and gods–at least the big gods, the ones who make universes–are qualitatively different. Ghosts are, you might say, supernatural only by convention; they don’t happen fit into our current model of nature, and perhaps it’s immoral or impious to figure out a model they do fit into. But the rules that govern their behavior are not, in principle, unknowable. This ghost appears if you say her name three times at midnight. That ghost can be laid to rest if it can find a priest to confess its sins to. This ectoplasmic manifestation is vulnerable to light, and can only do its tricks with the shades drawn.

    In fact, people are fine with a scenario like Ghostbusters, where someone methodically works out all the rules of ghostly behavior and exploits them with superscience. In the real world, people have been hoping to pull that off for millennia, whether through folk charms and incantations, or through the pseudosophisticated research of the parapsychologists. If they ever succeeded, ghosts would become effectively naturalized. They’d be just like neutrinos–hard to pin down, not seen every day, but natural nonetheless. (We’ve seen this process happen before with things like lightning and poison, which were once considered to be divine or magical in origin. Once we know enough about how they work, they automatically become part of nature.)

    Gods, on the other hand, are “irreducibly supernatural,” following rules that simply can’t be known by mortals. On the one hand, their omnipotence frees them from any physical constraints on their behavior; on the other hand, their omniscience/ineffability/inscrutability frees them from any psychological constraints. Furthermore, many of them–like the Biblical god–are not fond of being tested, and while they may not smite the would-be experimenter with a thunderbolt for his presumption, they’ll use a fraction of their immeasurable wisdom and power to make sure she never learns anything useful. And if they do anything consistently, they do it so consistently as to make themselves undetectable thanks to parsimony. For instance, they keep the universe in existence from moment to moment, and make sure the laws of physics continue to operate consistently. So they’re very well-designed for dodging the scientists.

    Of course, a few religious people do credit their gods with testable behavior: they believe that God will (to a statistically detectable degree, if not always) immunize his faithful from poison during snake-handling ceremonies, or that he will heal the sick if they’re sufficiently pious and renounce conventional medicine. But most believers look askance at such confident predictions. Even the fundamentalist God, who will surely punish sin and reward faith, doesn’t really do it on a schedule or in an understandable way. He might smite that sinful San Franciscan homosexual with AIDS right now, or he might wait ten years and then drop a hurricane on Orlando for authorizing gay pride marches…who knows? The only time he’s certain to give you your just deserts is after you die, at which point you can’t really tell anyone about it.

    So I think the existence of ghosts is a much more scientifically accessible question than the existence of gods. Ghosts are testable in ways that most high-powered gods are not.

    We may not be able to control supernatural entities, but we can certainly search for their effects on the natural objects we do control (or at least understand). We can search for things in the natural world that can only be plausibly explained by recourse to supernatural entities.

    I really don’t think this is possible, though; nothing can only be plausibly explained by recourse to supernatural entities. Get half a dozen scientists, half a dozen sci-fi writers, and two bottles of absinthe together, and in an hour they’ll churn out twenty naturalistic explanations for any set of observations you care to dream up. Even the generic “It was due to a natural entity operating in ways we don’t yet understand” is no more vague than “it was due to a supernatural entity,” and is more scientifically fruitful.

    The hypothesis of supernatural intervention is, necessarily, the worst possible explanation for anything in scientific terms. It’s maximally complicated, since it requires adding “or not, sometimes” to every statement we make about how nature works; and it’s completely untestable, since an occasionally-broken law of nature is indistinguishable from a slightly tweaked law which is never broken.

    We also can not prove that ghosts do not exist, but everyone thinks we are justified in describing their existence as unlikely.

    Well, not everyone; by the polls I’ve seen, roughly 1/3 of Americans believe in ghosts. Furthermore, many of those who don’t (as you probably recall from that Gallup/Baylor poll) are conservative believers, and are likely to reject the existence of ghosts primarily because it clashes with their religious beliefs. So it’s hardly universally accepted that, given the empirical evidence alone, ghosts are unlikely to exist.

    That the only sort of God consistent with science is the kind that does not intervene in nature in any detectable way is an important and contingent finding. It is also devastating to the religious views of a great many people.

    That’s certainly true.

  16. #16 Anton Mates
    August 2, 2009

    Just an addendum:

    That the only sort of God consistent with science is the kind that does not intervene in nature in any detectable way is an important and contingent finding.

    As I said, that’s certainly true. But this sort of God can still do an awful lot of things. It can create, maintain and destroy the universe, hand out rewards and punishments in the afterlife and in an indefinite far future, underwrite the laws of nature, and even work tangible miracles…provided they’re not very big miracles, and always take place in times and places where the scientists aren’t looking. That seems to be enough for many believers.

  17. #17 george.w
    August 2, 2009

    Very much appreciate this. Especially what you said about the presumption that people need reassurance their religion won’t be challenged. It seems dishonest to do that; MN challenges religion over the long haul whatever we do.

    I’ve learned to be suspicious of convenient explanations, and it’s awfully damned convenient that God refuses to be tested. Yet I have heard fundies suggesting that others “test the scriptures” whatever that means.

    Also convenient are biblical admonitions that people scoffing at your belief is proof that your belief is true. The meme has its own internal protections.

    “Yelling and screaming” will be counterproductive for some audiences, sure. And move the Overton window for others; I’ve seen it.

  18. #18 NewEnglandBob
    August 2, 2009

    Jason, this review is terrific. It is reasoned and thoughtful and points out the failed particulars and overall theme that M & K use in their book.

    I await an response from M & K.

  19. #19 windy
    August 2, 2009

    Gods, on the other hand, are “irreducibly supernatural,” following rules that simply can’t be known by mortals.
    And if they do anything consistently, they do it so consistently as to make themselves undetectable thanks to parsimony. For instance, they keep the universe in existence from moment to moment, and make sure the laws of physics continue to operate consistently.

    Your assumptions seem a mite inconsistent there Anton ;) If the laws of physics are all something that God upholds from moment to moment, it seems that we can know rather a lot about the rules that God follows, even if it’s only by his own choosing.

    I know it’s common to attempt to define ‘supernatural’ this way, but I think it’s inconsistent. I doubt that nobody really believes, for example, that today the god that exists is Yahweh and tomorrow it will be Quetzalcoatl. Or that God will consider anal sex an abomination today and tomorrow he will hate those who put a q-tip in their ear. If the supernatural is not constrained by law, why is it that the attributes of the hypothesized God are always assumed to be so remarkably conserved? (I am not saying that we can experimentally know such attributes, just that such consistency is inherent in the ‘God hypothesis’)

  20. #20 Dicty
    August 2, 2009

    “And it was really he and not Sheril who has been picking fights with the New Atheists.”

    I’m sorry, Jason, but this just isn’t true. Kirshenbaum was a co-author of the book and of most of the recent “puff pieces” meant to sell the book. Why on earth are you exculpating her? Where I come from, people are responsible for pieces to which they attach their name.

  21. #21 JimV
    August 2, 2009

    I thought this was an excellent post, especially the ghost analogy, and also wish to commend the comments of Eric B @ #5 and AL @ #8.

  22. #22 Peter Beattie
    August 2, 2009

    » Divalent:
    From your (and others) description of their book, it seems rather that “… M and K’s suggestions are orthogonal to the nature of the problem.”

    My point exactly. M&K apparently are pretty clueless when it comes to the heart of scientific thinking. And they’re only too happy to publicise their noxious pseudo-arguments, becoming themselves a substantial part of the problem they purport to be combatting.

  23. #23 dış cephe
    August 2, 2009

    This is an excellent review, indeed.

  24. #24 Peter Beattie
    August 2, 2009

    » Anton Mates:
    Ghosts are, you might say, supernatural only by convention

    But that is the nature of the supernatural, isn’t it? If M&K (and others) say that scientists cannot know anything about the supernatural, then neither can anybody else. So it necessarily is whatetver it is only by convention.

  25. #25 Greg
    August 2, 2009

    I am curious why there is a need to couple atheism with science in such a strict way? or to push atheism first to create an environment where it rivals religion and increases science literacy. I think that atheism is an extension of understanding the values of scientific inquiry, and if one is Well versed in the traditions of science, the logical interpretation of existence is atheism.

    Would you call Galileo a fucktwit for being religious? No, he had a limited understanding of the complexities that make up this world and his faith filled that gap.

    The new atheism is a product of time. We enjoy a scientific time, where almost everything can be explained by rigorous reason and proof. We have confidence, then, that other unexplainable phenomena can be explained one day by using this process and developing better tools.

    What is at conflict here is proof. We are people that demand it to accept a truth. In opposition to that are people who rather accept faith over proof, when creating theIr understandings of why we are here. This is not a battle with the intelligent vs the dumb. So our language should reflect that. Not everyone that comes to an understanding using faith or religion is dumb.

    I think that m&k have seemingly created a science paper. I say seemingly because I have not read it. Hearing their arguments before, they tend to undercut and misshapen arguments to strengthen hypothesis. it’s intellectually dishonest, but science papers are never forced to present ideas with every aspect of the argument articulated.
    That ultimately may hurt their mission but it doesn’t take away from the clear message that our language as atheists can be counterproductive to our efforts.

    I think an even more disconcerting thing has to be the Francis Collins appointment. Not because he is religious. His personal thoughts when he goes to bed at night is his. It’s the idea that the individual that will point direction of scientific funding has said that scientific method and inquiry are limited in explaining human behavior, even though there have been hypotheses that support the opposite. That is a way more dangerous thing to me, more so than a creation museum. A leader in science cannot possibly think that science is limited in explaining any organism, including humans.

  26. #26 Carlie
    August 2, 2009

    I should also mention that Chris is moving from New Jersey to Wisconsin this week, so he will not be blogging for a little while. And it was really he and not Sheril who has been picking fights with the New Atheists.

    I would bet real money that at some point, when Chris is asked about this post, he will use exactly that circumstance to weasel out of commenting on it and say that they didn’t have time to do it. Ever. And it doesn’t matter who is picking fights the most – Sheril’s name is on everything, so she’s just as responsible. Even though it does appear that the fight-picking is mostly Chris’, I’ve seen the fact that everyone is treating it that way labeled as sexism against Sheril: that she is being ignored because of being female, rather than that it’s not exactly her fight, because she’s a co-author. Fine, then. She can take as many hits as he does for it, and if she thinks that’s unfair, she can take her name off it.

  27. #27 Blake Stacey
    August 2, 2009

    Those so inclined could still find plenty to criticize in what Myers did

    I hear ya. Maeirs was so unimaginative, man. If I had been sent a package of consecrated wafers, I would have filmed myself casting an Avada Kedavra curse upon them.

  28. #28 Ophelia Benson
    August 2, 2009

    “If M&K (and others) say that scientists cannot know anything about the supernatural, then neither can anybody else.”

    Exactly. I’ve been saying this over and over – though no longer at The Intersection, since they’ve banned me.

  29. #29 Comrade PhysioProf
    August 2, 2009

    One of the main problems with M&K’s suggestion is that it assumes that right-wing religious fuckwits are sincere in their cries that they just want to be “left alone” to enjoy “religious freedom”. This is just a flat-out lie. What these people want is *theocracy*. They want to *impose* their wackaloon bugfuck deranged fantasy shit upon the United States through *force of law*.

    It makes as much sense to “reach out” or “compromise” with these lying relgious motherfuckers as it does to “reach out” or “compromise” with lying anti-abortion motherfuckers, who pretend that their concern is with “protecting the unborn” when it is really with punishing dirty sluts.

  30. #30 John Kwok
    August 2, 2009

    @ Jason –

    An interesting set of remarks, but am disappointed that you focused on Chapter Eight, when there are other, far more, important issues to be critical of with regards to “Unscientific America”, of which two of the most noteworthy are their absurd claim that scientists are not showing empathy to the public (MEMO TO CHRIS AND SHERIL: This isn’t the job of science, period.) by “demoting” Pluto’s status as a planet, and their apparent fixation with Carl Sagan as the greatest science popularizer of all time.

    Moreover, your review would have been better if you spent time discussing how naive some of their solutions are (e. g. how science could award promising scientists who decide to devote more their to successful public outreach work) or the fact that they don’t recognize the importance of substantially strengthening teaching science in secondary schools (A point which Carl Zimmer emphasized recently to Chris during their bloggingheads.com dialogue.).

  31. #31 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    August 2, 2009

    An interesting set of remarks, but am disappointed that you focused on Chapter Eight, when there are other, far more, important issues to be critical of with regards to “Unscientific America”,

    Yo Kwokmeister: this is part 2 of his review of the book. Go read part 1, and anticipate part 3. But since this is part 2, it covers what part 2 covers.

  32. #32 Scote
    August 2, 2009

    “Exactly. I’ve been saying this over and over – though no longer at The Intersection, since they’ve banned me.

    Posted by: Ophelia Benson”

    Woah, they banned you but not their resident trolls??? Way to show how their book holds up to criticism. I’m still waiting for them to answer your list of questions…

  33. #33 Peter Beattie
    August 2, 2009

    » Scote:
    I’m still waiting for them to answer your list of questions…

    Don’t hold your breath.

  34. #34 Josh
    August 2, 2009

    Exactly. I’ve been saying this over and over – though no longer at The Intersection, since they’ve banned me.

    Wait–they banned you? When? For what? I haven’t followed all of the discussion related to M&K’s book, but I’ve followed a good deal of it. I’ve seen you occasionally express frustration, but nothing ban-worthy, even in the Intersection’s delicate eyes.

  35. #35 Ophelia Benson
    August 2, 2009

    Yup, they banned me but not their resident trolls. Good move, eh? Impressive?

    Yes I’m waiting for them to answer my questions too, and I expect that’s probably why I was banned – I believe I mentioned the questions again. I don’t know though – M&K of course haven’t had the civility to say anything – they’ve just left my comments in moderation forever, including my last attempt which said ‘Good morning. Have a nice day.’ I was checking to see if there was any detectable reason at all, and that answered the question.

  36. #36 Josh
    August 2, 2009

    *shakes head*

    If you can’t deal with the comments that random people make on your intertubes blog, then perhaps you shouldn’t have a comment feature. Additionally, if you can’t deal with having people comment on your ideas, then perhaps you shouldn’t publish them.

  37. #37 jim
    August 2, 2009

    I was just at the bookstore looking through the book. I read chapter eight because of the all the discussion about it on the blogs. I have to agree with the consensus of what I’ve read that the blame levied against the so-called “New Atheists” is entirely misplaced. Very disappointing for what could have been a book that actually contributes something rather than confusing the issue.

  38. #38 SLC
    August 2, 2009

    Re Ophelia Benson

    Rather interesting that they have banned Ms. Benson while allowing a putz like Anthony McCarthy to post unlimited moronic comments. I haven’t found anything untoward about Ms. Bensons comments there; just that they are embarrassing to the Bobbsey Twins because they are unable to respond to them.

  39. #39 John Kwok
    August 2, 2009

    @ Bayesian Buffoon –

    Yes, I did read Rosenhouse’s Part I, and that was much better than the screed he wrote here (It’s not even remotely as pathetic as PZ Myers’s ranting and raving, but I would still regard this as a screed since it’s a polemic aimed at Chapter Eight.).

    @ SLC –

    Wonder how Sheril can tolerate you since you’ve stated more than once that you think she’s “hot” as though that was her most important trait explaining her role as a science journalist.

  40. #40 Peter Beattie
    August 2, 2009

    » John Kwok:
    the screed he wrote here

    Well, it certainly is lengthy. Or did you mean ‘informal’?

  41. #41 natural cynic
    August 2, 2009

    @ george w. #17:

    I’ve learned to be suspicious of convenient explanations, and it’s awfully damned convenient that God refuses to be tested. Yet I have heard fundies suggesting that others “test the scriptures” whatever that means.< .blockquote>

    post hoc “prophesies” and, uh, “liberal” interpretations of questionable translations

  42. #42 John Kwok
    August 2, 2009

    Peter –

    Had no additional qualifiers in mind with regards to Jason’s latest part of the review.

    Apparently my comments over at M & K are in moderation, but am surprised you would emulate OB in asserting that my opinions have no weight. Why? Because I agree more often than not with Ken Miller than I disagree with him (And I have made known where I differ from him.)?

  43. #43 RBH
    August 2, 2009

    Physicalist wrote

    No mention of the fact that PZ was outraged that people were attacking a person because they believed that a wafer is a god, that he was directly addressing the evil that some religious people do in the name of religion.

    Don’t forget the power imbalance PZ was addressing. In no little part his intervention was intended to redress the power imbalance that was weighted against Cook. Basically PZ was saying to the wackaloons “Wanna pick on someone your own size? Here I am!”

  44. #44 Peter Beattie
    August 2, 2009

    » John Kwok:
    Had no additional qualifiers in mind with regards to Jason’s latest part of the review.

    Okay, I’ll spell it out for you. What possible reason can you give for using the word “screed” in regard to Jason’s article?

    As for your complaint, see The Limbo Palace where that’s actually on topic.

  45. #45 Anton Mates
    August 2, 2009

    windy,

    Your assumptions seem a mite inconsistent there Anton ;)

    If the laws of physics are all something that God upholds from moment to moment, it seems that we can know rather a lot about the rules that God follows, even if it’s only by his own choosing.

    Well, except that we can’t know that it’s God following those rules, as opposed to the “blind forces of nature”.

    Basically, there are two ways to render “God does X” untestable. One is to make X itself undetectable, so you can’t know whether it happens in the first place. The other is to make X something which occurs consistently and universally—if you can’t ever arrange for it not to happen, you can’t test whether God or anyone else is responsible for it happening.

    I doubt that nobody really believes, for example, that today the god that exists is Yahweh and tomorrow it will be Quetzalcoatl. Or that God will consider anal sex an abomination today and tomorrow he will hate those who put a q-tip in their ear. If the supernatural is not constrained by law, why is it that the attributes of the hypothesized God are always assumed to be so remarkably conserved?

    Because they’re accompanied by other attributes that effectively shield the conserved ones from empirical analysis.

    So, for instance, God may always consider anal sex an abomination. But sometimes he punishes it with AIDS, sometimes with a nagging sense of guilt, sometimes by making the sodomite’s kindly grandmother drive into a tree, sometimes by giving the sodomite a long and happy life but sending him to hell afterwards. He can express his dislike of anal sex in all sorts of unpredictable ways because he’s omnipotent; and he will express it in all sorts of unpredictable ways because he’s omniscient and ineffable and inscrutable and moves in mysterious ways. In the end, you can’t actually distinguish him from an equally god who doesn’t hate anal sex–at least not until after you’re dead.

    For a human, “hates anal sex” actually means something; these beings have behavioral constraints so that you can (very roughly) predict how they’ll try to oppose the things they hate. Heck, you can even do that with ghosts and other “supernatural” beasties. Jason expresses his dislike of things by hacking at them with his machete, and he doesn’t like teenagers making out—ergo, we can predict that any teenagers who make out in his immediate area will be slaughtered. Gods don’t usually work that way–at least, not anymore.

  46. #46 prn
    August 2, 2009

    Excellent review, Jason!

    As someone who has been “guilty” of accommodationism at times, some of this discussion sometimes makes me feel a little uneasy, but then that ought to be considered one of the main purposes: to make people like me feel uneasy. :)

    BTW, you have a link under “Science Periodicals” to “Discover” but it goes to discover.com, which is a redirect to discovercard.com instead of to discovermagazine.com. Assuming this is not intentional, you might want to check that. :P

    Paul

  47. #47 Anton Mates
    August 2, 2009

    Peter Beattie,

    But that is the nature of the supernatural, isn’t it? If M&K (and others) say that scientists cannot know anything about the supernatural, then neither can anybody else. So it necessarily is whatetver it is only by convention.

    Oh, certainly. I would say the supernatural is unknowable by definition. I don’t believe in “other ways of knowing.”

    But what I meant is that scientists could know something about ghosts, if ghosts existed. That’s exactly what the psychical researchers and parapsychologists were aiming to do. So they don’t have to be treated as supernatural…and if they actually existed, they wouldn’t be. They’d simply become viewed as exotic but natural entities, like neutrinos.

  48. #48 Carlie
    August 2, 2009

    Wow, I can’t believed they banned Ophelia. Or, more accurately, I could have accused them of thinking about it, but never would have expected them to do it. I’ve been reading over there a lot too, but not commenting because the muck was too thick (and they never let a simple, non-controversial comment of mine out of moderation a few months back), and I can’t see any possible reason for banning OB than spite and wanting to completely control the situation.

  49. #49 Blaine
    August 2, 2009

    I’ll be honest, I’ve never once been able to fathom the argument that the “New Atheists” are part of the reason the religious reject valid scientific theories. And M and K present NO evidnece in the book that before this “New Atheism” came to the scene, there was a higher percentage of religious folk who accepted Evolution or the Big Bang, etc. Me thinks that a large swath of the religious reject valid scientific theories because they’re conditioned to accept unverifiable, dogmatic claims and have no ambition, being human and all, to allow those claims to be challenged in any way that could cause them intellectual discomfort. People like being walled in, they enjoy being constantly told they’re special and everything they believe is both correct (factually) but SUPERIOR as well. And the environment we live in in this country gives the religious plenty of wiggle room to spout their beliefs as if they are 100% fact without so much as a small challenge. It’s the type of environment that rejects critical thinking, which means not just looking critically at OTHER peoples beliefs, but also looking critically at your own. Which makes it all the harder to challenge the status quo (Which at this point is that poor old religion should be left alone, namely because many of its adherents have a victim complex). It’s not an easy process to fundamentally alter ones entire belief structure in even the most minute of ways when uncritical acceptance of wild claims is encouraged. I should know… I was once a hardcore theist myself. And believe me, the congregations I belonged to rejected the accomodationsists as staunchly as they rejected the out of the closet Atheist bunch. What caused me to switch from theist to Atheist and from unthinking dogma spewer to critical thinker, was precisely the writings of the people M and K say are driving more people away. What M and K may not realize is that you cannot hope to get people to take a thorough, critical look at their own beliefs if you allow them to go unchallenged and grant their beliefs some special pass that renders them exempt from decent criticism.

  50. #50 Blaine
    August 2, 2009

    I forgot to add that I don’t see promoting Atheism as a way to counteract poor science education. I think promoting, and ecnouraging critical thinking of all manners, would be a much better way to advance decent science education. The problem with such an approach, of course, is that there would be mountains of push back from parents who spent years indoctrinating their children and wouldn’t want those bastard smarty pants teachers undoing all that “work” with one foul swoop.

  51. #51 JamesW
    August 3, 2009

    Anton @ 45: “Jason expresses his dislike of things by hacking at them with his machete, and he doesn’t like teenagers making out”.

    Um… Vorhees, not Rosenhouse… right?

    Right?

    *backs away nervously*

  52. #52 SLC
    August 3, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Just for openers, the comment about Ms. Kirshenbaums’ personal appearance was not made on the Intersection blog. Has Mr. Kwok not considered the possibility that perhaps Ms. Kirshenbaum takes that comment as a compliment? However, just to remind the readers, Mr. Kwok is a birther who hijacked a thread over at Pandas’ Thumb last December to make moronic statements about President Obamas’ eligibility to be president, claiming that the Certificate of Live Birth posted on the internet was a forgery. Undoubtedly, Mr. Kwok thinks that Orly Taitz is hot.

  53. #53 John Kwok
    August 3, 2009

    @ SLC –

    More likely she is trying to ignore your remark, which I find sexist, demeaning, and quite insensitive. In fact, I mentioned it to a mutual acquaintance of ours – a woman BTW – and she endorse my sentiment completely. Think you ought to attend meetings of “Male Chauvinist Pig Anonymous” soon.

  54. #54 SLC
    August 3, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    I find it fascinating how Mr. Kwok can insert himself into other peoples’ minds and make pronouncements as to their thinking.

  55. #55 Anton Mates
    August 3, 2009

    Um… Vorhees, not Rosenhouse… right?

    Voorhees became Rosenhouse in his first marriage, obviously. Undead always take their living partners’ surnames.

  56. #56 eric
    August 3, 2009

    Anton,
    I think your claim is simply an assertion. If you want to claim that all Gods are ‘necessarily supernatural,’ show me an example. Show me a necessarily supernatural God. :) Okay, obviously I can’t show you a counterexample, either. :) But I do claim that people’s views of God are very often as someone who intervenes according to certain rules. i.e. That people’s views of God do not agree with your assertion.

    Case in point: Dale Neumann believed it so strongly he risked his daughter’s life on on the concept of a God who not only intervenes, but does so according to predictable rules (i.e. he answers prayers). She died.

  57. #57 Coriolis
    August 3, 2009

    “I hear ya. Maeirs was so unimaginative, man. If I had been sent a package of consecrated wafers, I would have filmed myself casting an Avada Kedavra curse upon them.”

    Now that is some well deserved criticism, Blake. Brilliant idea hehe.

    In any case, good review. Maybe someday M&K will sit down and actually understand the whole methodological/philosophical naturalism thing properly, since it labels them not only dishonest but ignorant. It isn’t *that* complicated especially with the many excellent blog posts on it. I think I like Russel Blackford’s (sp?) best, although pretty much every blogger who has ever written on these issues has posted a clear enough explanation.

  58. #58 SC (Salty Current)
    August 3, 2009

    Maeirs

    Hee. Beauty.

  59. #59 Ophelia Benson
    August 3, 2009

    “More likely she is trying to ignore your remark, which I find sexist, demeaning, and quite insensitive. In fact, I mentioned it to a mutual acquaintance of ours – a woman BTW – and she endorse my sentiment completely. Think you ought to attend meetings of “Male Chauvinist Pig Anonymous” soon.”

    That’s from Kwok – the guy who called me a PMS bitch at The Intersection. Now he’s all antisexism. Too funny.

  60. #60 Sven DiMilo
    August 3, 2009

    your remark, which I find sexist, demeaning, and quite insensitive.

    John, please retire this module from your rotating set of repeated comments. You yourself have referred to Ms. Kirshenbaum as “attractive,” and “hot” is simply a synonym. Can you provide context for the offending remark? Or do you feel that reference to a person’s physical appearance is always “demeaning and insensitive”? If the reference is made by someone of the opposite sex, is it always “sexist”?

  61. #61 Tulse
    August 3, 2009

    M and K present NO evidnece in the book that before this “New Atheism” came to the scene, there was a higher percentage of religious folk who accepted Evolution

    And this is the supreme bit of chutzpah, of course — M&K telling scientists what to do without any data suggesting that they’ve characterized the problem correctly or that their solutions (such as they are) would be effective.

  62. #62 SC (Salty Current)
    August 3, 2009

    And this is the supreme bit of chutzpah, of course — M&K telling scientists what to do without any data suggesting that they’ve characterized the problem correctly or that their solutions (such as they are) would be effective.

    Yup:

    http://saltycurrent.blogspot.com/2009/07/review-ofwell-comment-about.html

  63. #63 windy
    August 3, 2009

    Anton:

    Well, except that we can’t know that it’s God following those rules

    But that goes for any hypothetical entity that we can’t directly observe (gravitons, aether, Bigfoot), it’s not some problem that’s unique to a supernatural God.

    If the supernatural is not constrained by law, why is it that the attributes of the hypothesized God are always assumed to be so remarkably conserved?

    Because they’re accompanied by other attributes that effectively shield the conserved ones from empirical analysis.

    Well, exactly! When people say that the supernatural is not knowable by science, that is only if we assume such additional attributes, but are these attributes inherently or exclusively supernatural? I think it’s a bait-and-switch. We can imagine naturalistic scenarios where someone or something has the power to completely deceive us, like the Matrix, and these aren’t falsifiable by science either. (Of course it would be much easier for an omnipotent being to achieve perfect cloaking technology.)

    Jason expresses his dislike of things by hacking at them with his machete, and he doesn’t like teenagers making out—ergo, we can predict that any teenagers who make out in his immediate area will be slaughtered. Gods don’t usually work that way–at least, not anymore.

    The god in your example is more like a serial killer targeting gays that has managed to perfectly cover his tracks and to fake a ‘natural cause’ for each death and also to avoid any statistical pattern that would give him away. We wouldn’t say that such a serial killer follows ‘no rules’ in their behavior, since they would have to follow very strict rules to keep their behavior hidden.

    eric:

    But I do claim that people’s views of God are very often as someone who intervenes according to certain rules. i.e. That people’s views of God do not agree with your assertion.
    Case in point: Dale Neumann believed it so strongly he risked his daughter’s life on on the concept of a God who not only intervenes, but does so according to predictable rules (i.e. he answers prayers). She died.

    I agree. If very few people actually believe in a completely lawless and unknowable God, I don’t know why this should be the standard God for non-believers to argue against?

  64. #64 Anton Mates
    August 3, 2009

    eric,

    But I do claim that people’s views of God are very often as someone who intervenes according to certain rules. i.e. That people’s views of God do not agree with your assertion.

    Fair enough; we can have dueling assertions, then! Keep in mind, though, that I didn’t say all Gods are that way. Just most of the big ones. The snake-handling, medicine-refusing end of religious belief certainly exists, but it’s a relatively small chunk of the total spectrum, and most of the other theistic religions eye it nervously and mutter about “extremism.”

    More to the point, even if it is possible to come up with an omnipotent god who intervenes in predictable ways–and certainly it is–any such god’s behavior can be rendered totally unpredictable with fairly minor tweaks. That puts the theistic position in general outside of testability.

    Case in point: Dale Neumann believed it so strongly he risked his daughter’s life on on the concept of a God who not only intervenes, but does so according to predictable rules (i.e. he answers prayers). She died.

    And Dale Neumann was viewed as severely mistaken in that belief–so severely mistaken that he was arrested, tried and convicted of homicide. I think that’s a pretty good indication that most people don’t buy his concept of God. They may have some grudging sympathy for the faith/naivete/stupidity it requires–hence the reluctance to actually prosecute many other parents who do what Neumann did–but they don’t actually think it’s correct.

  65. #65 Anton Mates
    August 3, 2009

    windy,

    Well, except that we can’t know that it’s God following those rules

    But that goes for any hypothetical entity that we can’t directly observe (gravitons, aether, Bigfoot), it’s not some problem that’s unique to a supernatural God.

    I don’t think it does go for any hypothetical entity. It’s true, we can’t know with metaphysical certainty that any such entities exist–and that includes things like tables and lawyers. But we can certainly know that they exist in a scientific sense, if the hypothesis of their existence explains some data set more parsimoniously than any other hypothesis available.

    For instance, Bigfoot is credited for footprints, swatches of hair, blurry video appearances, and so forth. These bits of evidence are both empirically detectable, and limited in their distribution in interesting ways–you don’t get Bigfoot sightings inside locked downtown bank vaults, nor (I think) in the middle of the desert. For that reason, the hypothesis of an unknown North American ape species could (if the evidence was more consistent, more plentiful, and not consistent with hypotheses of fraud or observational error) be the most parsimonious explanation of the data. In that case, it would be reasonable to say that we “know” Bigfoot exists.

    But if the only detectable effects of your hypothetical entity are really vague and universal in scope, then the hypothesis of that entity’s existence can’t be the most parsimonious explanation for them. The hypothesis, “God is the creator and maintainer of the universe,” doesn’t actually tell you anything more than the simpler hypothesis, “The universe exists.”

    And that’s the problem with God. Unlike Bigfoot or gravitons or the aether, the theistic God is mostly used to explain the undetectable or unexplainable.

    Well, exactly! When people say that the supernatural is not knowable by science, that is only if we assume such additional attributes, but are these attributes inherently or exclusively supernatural?

    I think they’re inherently so, yes. The core attribute of a supernatural entity as I see it (I know Sastra argues for a different definition) is that it can violate natural law–but since we only discover natural law by looking for regularities in the observable world, that’s equivalent to saying that it can break any pattern of behavior we could possibly discover. Once you grant that attribute, it doesn’t really matter what other properties the entity has.

    I think it’s a bait-and-switch. We can imagine naturalistic scenarios where someone or something has the power to completely deceive us, like the Matrix, and these aren’t falsifiable by science either. (Of course it would be much easier for an omnipotent being to achieve perfect cloaking technology.)

    I agree, although I’m not sure why the undetectability of hypothetical natural entities argues against the undetectability of hypothetical supernatural ones.

    Notice, though, how the parenthetical pushes us into supernatural territory. In a Matrixverse, we could conceivably figure out our plight in a variety of ways, by looking for bugs and loopholes in the program, figuring out ways to accidentally “wake up,” and so on. In order to make that outright impossible (and not just humanly impractical), we have to make the beings running the Matrix effectively omnipotent and omniscient–in which case, there’s not much difference between that and being a “thought in the mind of God.”

    The god in your example is more like a serial killer targeting gays that has managed to perfectly cover his tracks and to fake a ‘natural cause’ for each death and also to avoid any statistical pattern that would give him away. We wouldn’t say that such a serial killer follows ‘no rules’ in their behavior, since they would have to follow very strict rules to keep their behavior hidden.

    I agree. But I didn’t say gods are believed to follow no rules; I said humans can’t know the rules they follow. (And I mean “know” here in an empirical sense.)

    God, according to most theists, is perfectly rational and consistent–but also ineffable and inscrutable. Just like this superintelligent serial killer.

    I agree. If very few people actually believe in a completely lawless and unknowable God, I don’t know why this should be the standard God for non-believers to argue against?

    Again, I think most believers distinguish between “lawless” and “unknowable”–and furthermore between “scientifically unknowable” and “generally unknowable,” because they hold (as I do not) that there are valid non-scientific justifications for factual belief.

    The problem of evil encapsulates this perfectly. God is good, and most believers think they’re justified in believing that God is good. But God’s goodness is apparently compatible with any amount of Earthly misery, to say nothing of Hell. Evidently, it has no predictive value, and is therefore undetectable by science.

    I’m arguing that the standard God is lawful but scientifically unknowable.

  66. #66 John Kwok
    August 3, 2009

    @ Sven –

    I don’t recall when I referred to Sheril as “attractive”, but if I did, it was in error, and not done with the frequency I have seen from SLC, whose primary criterion for judging a woman is whether or not she is “hot”. Again, I will note that a mutual female acquaintance of hers and mine agreed with me that it’s in bad form to call a woman “hot” for the very reasons I have stated.

    Anyway, am glad SLC is such an arbiter of “good taste” since he lost no time referring to Anthony McCarthy as a “putz” or referring to things I have said, but have since recanted about the President of the United States. But what more do you expect from an internet troll like SLC, who claims to have a Ph. D. background in high energy particle physics, but doesn’t seem to recognize that a woman, eminent Harvard University physicist Lisa Randall, is not only noted for her research in that, but apparently, has been acknowledged by her peers as the physicist whose research was most often cited in the professional scientific literature from approximately 2001 to 2006 (And yes, I would venture that SLC would probably conclude that Randall is “hot” too.).

  67. #67 JoshS
    August 4, 2009

    Again, I will note that a mutual female acquaintance of hers and mine agreed with me that it’s in bad form to call a woman “hot” for the very reasons I have stated.

    Yours is a stupid point, Kwok. I realize that I am not “noted,” or “eminent,” but by mixing up the syntactical order of my sentences so as to sound more like a). a faux Shakespearean b). someone trying to affect a tweedy, British, upper-crust cadence c). someone who believes the obsessive use of the passive voice elevates him above wankery, might I be more favored in your view?

  68. #68 JoshS
    August 4, 2009

    @Kwok

    since he lost no time referring to Anthony McCarthy as a “putz” or referring to things I have said, but have since recanted about the President of the United States.

    1. Anthony McCarthy is a putz.

    2. You are (or were stupid enough to have been) a Birfer.

  69. #69 windy
    August 4, 2009

    I don’t recall when I referred to Sheril as “attractive”, but if I did, it was in error

    Ouch!

  70. #70 SLC
    August 4, 2009

    Last night I left a comment on the intersection site accusing Mr. Mooney, Ms. Kirshenbaum and Ken Miller of dishonesty over their discussion of crackergate and their banning of Ophelia Benson. Not surprisingly, the comment was removed, although not before another commenter agreed that Prof. Miller was indeed dishonest. These folks have chicken feathers where their competitive spirit should be.

  71. #71 Carlie
    August 4, 2009

    I just tried to make a comment on their new post, approximately entitled “Someone else agrees with us too!” Let’s see if it makes it through moderation. This is what I wrote:
    ****
    I still see no data to support this assertion.

    Count the number of outreach efforts scientists were making in the 1950s, the heyday of the popularity of science, and compare to the number of outreaches today. Poll people on what would make them like science more. Compare before and after attitudes on science in outreach programs. The NSF is a gold mine of data, since so many of their programs require a public outreach component. Something, anything. All I’ve seen in the last several weeks as support of the book’s basic premise is other people saying that they agree it’s a problem. I still haven’t seen data point one to support it. Not a link to a study, not a link to raw data, nothing.

  72. #72 John Kwok
    August 4, 2009

    JoshS –

    Says a lot about those who think Anthony McCarthy is a “putz”, such as the low level of intellectual discourse that they allow themselves to follow (I don’t agree with everything McCarthy says, but even if I didn’t agree with any of it, he doesn’t deserve to be called a “putz”.).

    I think it is an absolute riot that you are supporting SLC who is not merely a male chauvinist pig, but someone who probably can’t work comfortably alongside “attractive” women, simply because sooner or later, he would call them “hot” and find himself the target of some legal action merely for stating such a ridiculous comment in the workplace.

  73. #73 Carlie
    August 4, 2009

    They did indeed publish my comment, so I have to give them that.

  74. #74 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 4, 2009

    @John Kwok,

    Says a lot about those who think Anthony McCarthy is a “putz”, such as the low level of intellectual discourse that they allow themselves to follow (I don’t agree with everything McCarthy says, but even if I didn’t agree with any of it, he doesn’t deserve to be called a “putz”.).

    Calling him a putz is charitable. Calling him a mendacious intellectual pornographer would be more accurate.

    And I think it’s hilarious that you simply can’t leave SLC’s comments alone – you just still resent the fact that many, many, many people regard you as internet stalker. Oh, and the fact that PZ Myers still posts about your insane demand for a camera; and your lunatic threats of ‘defriending’ him at Facebook, and…

    Face it, John, you’ve no credibility left. Go play in some other sandbox.

  75. #75 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 4, 2009

    @John Kwok

    I don’t recall when I referred to Sheril as “attractive”, but if I did, it was in error

    I’ll be sure to let her know.

    Vintage Kwok.

  76. #76 Tyler DiPietro
    August 4, 2009

    “Face it, John, you’ve no credibility left.”

    He never had any to begin with.

  77. #77 Ophelia Benson
    August 4, 2009

    I see Kwok still hasn’t copped to the hilarity of his scolding someone for sexist language when he himself called me a PMS bitch at The Intersection.

    I say, Kwok, I say I say, do you actually think it’s sexist and the action of “a male chauvinist pig” (your words) to call a woman hot, but perfectly okay to call a woman a PMS bitch? Huh? Do you?

    If you say yes I’ll donate my copy of last year’s Seattle phone book to the Stuyvesant High School library. And a pony.

  78. #78 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 5, 2009

    Uh, oh, Ophelia. Now you did it. You insulted Stuyvesant High School. I’m sure it has a phone book in the library. Of all the big important names of the big important people who went there.

    None of whom remembers Kwok.

  79. #79 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 5, 2009

    All that aside, an excellent review.

  80. #80 John Kwok
    August 5, 2009

    Aaah, I see it’s been troll feeding time from the usual suspects. Glad I ignored them and this blog entry while hearing Josh Rosenau from NCSE speak last night near Madison Square Garden. And I also met one of my favorite ScienceBlogs bloggers. Anyway, I think there was general agreement afterwards during dinner that Ken Miller’s recent comments in The New York Times were fair and accurate.

  81. #81 John Kwok
    August 5, 2009

    @ Ophelia Benson and Rilke’s Granddaughter –

    Do you really want to join forces with the resident Male Chauvinist Pig, SLC? If you do, you have chosen a rather strange bedfellow IMHO.

    @ Ophelia Benson –

    I am sure that if the Stuyvesant High School library received a copy of your Seattle phone directory, then it would be put appropriately enough in a circular file (waste basket) and disposed of by the school’s janitorial staff.

    P. S. Don’t even think of coming to New York City to attend the public memorial service for you know who. I’ll let his family know that you were mocking his serious final illness over at Pharyngula, as he was dying from it.

  82. #82 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 5, 2009

    Kwok, the problem is that you’re a name-dropping narcissist, who can’t emotionally move beyond your high-school years. You have developed an internet reputation as a troll, an internet stalker (hence the hilarity of your complaints against SLC), and a complete kook: a birther, a blackmailer (PZ, buy me a camera or I’ll defriend you Facebook), and an all-around joke. If you are what Stuyvesent high school produces, then they need to close up shop.

    And perhaps I’ll go to that memorial service. It will be fun to watch you fawn.

  83. #83 antistokes
    August 5, 2009

    Hi J. Kwok.

    I went to high school in seattle in the late 90s (Garfield High), and i worked in a genetics lab (fourier lab, gone now) at the fred hutchingson cancer research center while in high school), never heard of Stuyvesant High School….is this some private high school? or a hippy one like NOVA? perhaps i’m missing something in this lovely online debate, but why does high school matter again?

    o wait i remember why…and this is of course just my own personal view, but the NY state high school education system is ill equipped to teach any science. (OK, actually, it may just be long island. but i did TA a loooot of NYS high school grads who were not well prepared for anything approaching college level education. however, the foreign students, in particular the Indian ones, seemed to pick up the organic chem.)

  84. #84 John Kwok
    August 5, 2009

    Antistokes –

    Stuyvesant High School is regarded by many as the premier American high school specializing in the sciences, mathematics, and technology. Its distinguished alumni include four Nobel Prize-winning scientists and one economist (e. g. molecular biology pioneer Joshua Lederberg), University of Chicago mathematician – and university president – Robert Zimmer and, more recently, molecular biologist Eric Lander and physicists Brian Greene and Lisa Randall (There are other notables, including USA Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama administration senior advisor David Axelrod.). Stuyvesant is a specialized science public high school run by the New York City Department of Education; other “siblings” include the equally notable Bronx High School of Science (which has seven Nobel Prize-winning physicists as alumni, including, for example, Steven Weinberg) and Brooklyn Technical High School (which has two Nobel Prize-winning alumni). Entrance to any of these schools is via a difficult, quite competitive, entrance examination, with Stuyvesant having the highest minimum score for admission (Only because Stuyvesant is smaller – and more desirable – than its “siblings”.).

    The students you met were probably alumni of school systems outside of suburban New York City or from “upstate” New York (or from relatively low achieving New York City public high schools, of which, regrettably there are more than a few).

  85. #85 John Kwok
    August 5, 2009

    @ Antistokes –

    Since the fall of 1996 – or rather, specifically since the original publication of the memoir “Angela’s Ashes” – I have heard people referring to Stuyvesant High School as THE school where memoirist Frank McCourt taught English and creative writing for many years (While that is true, and though I remain proud of having been among his best students, I usually think of Stuyvesant High School primarily as the distinguished science and mathematics-oriented public high school that it is (McCourt was simply one of several fine teachers I was fortunate to have.).

  86. #86 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 5, 2009

    Kwok, as I understand from Stuyvesent, you can hardly be considered one of McCourt’s “best” students. Run of the mill, perhaps… :)

  87. #87 antistokes
    August 5, 2009

    Wow, J.K. that’s a whole lot of words to direct at me. All GHS had was the most national merit scholars in WA state (40-ish at the time of my graduating– oh, and a kickass jazz department). Many of my classmates went to MIT, stanford, or harvard (but far be it from me to ‘argue from authority’, i just went to reed college). but, hey, the students i TAed were at stony brook university (one of the SUNYs). look that up– no, really, go ahead. not the most prestigious of schools, but there’s a nobel in there, and some good faculty research.

    but no matter what i thought of the students i TAed, i always, always encouraged them, and put in hours of unpaid overtime, even for the premeds. heck, in particular for the premeds— i want my MDs to know organic chemistry. it’s just a thing i have, wanting the MDs to understand the drugs they prescribe.

  88. #88 John Kwok
    August 5, 2009

    antistokes –

    And I wrote that to you not merely for your benefit, but also to others who wonder why Stuyvesant High School was – and is still – a very special place (For example, I met a graduating senior who was co-captain of the Stuyvesant HS baseball team, is 6′ 6″ tall, is a lefty, and has a 90 plus mph fastball. More importantly, he has excellent command of his pitches, having pitched a regulation 6 inning perfect game – facing only 18 batters – last spring against another NYC public high school team – with a fastball that was clocked only in the high 80s. In his junior year he had an ERA of 1.5; his senior year, it was 1.0. He’s going to Yale University in the fall, and am sure will be the Yale baseball team’s answer to Randy Johnson. I have heard that MLB scouts have been watching him for the last few years. But, best of all, he is as humble and sincere as Derek Jeter, and I am certain that one day he will be as successful as Jeter, hopefully pitching for the New York Yankees.).

    As for Stony Brook University, that is a great liberal arts university with a fine medical school (with the notable exception of course of Dishonesty Institute sympathizer Michael Egnor). But I am especially familiar with its evolutionary biology and anatomical sciences departments, since they have some of the best evolutionary biologists and vertebrate paleobiologists I know of, not only in the USA, but in the world (Stony Brook’s evolutionary biology program I would easily rank high in the top ten of the best in the country, and that would include, for example, Chicago’s and Berkeley’s programs.).

    You were doing as my favorite high school teacher, Frank McCourt, often observed, “God’s work”, with regards to teaching. I am sure many of your premeds did benefit from your dedication and interest in their efforts at mastering organic chemistry.

    Appreciatively yours,

    John Kwok

  89. #89 John Kwok
    August 5, 2009

    RG –

    I earned awards for my writing in citywide and regional essay contests during my junior (when I was a student of McCourt’s) and senior years in high school. I didn’t say I was his “best” student, but among the best.

  90. #90 Scote
    August 6, 2009

    Kwok wrote

    “RG –

    I earned awards for my writing in citywide and regional essay contests during my junior (when I was a student of McCourt’s) and senior years in high school. I didn’t say I was his “best” student, but among the best.”

    Hmm…and some homeless street people used to be CEO’s… From award winning HS student to reviled name-dropping hypocritical internet troll in so few years… I’m sure you teachers would be sad…er, if they ever actually liked you…

  91. #91 windy
    August 6, 2009

    I didn’t want to bore anyone with more metaphysical musings, but this thread seems to be a goner anyway.

    Anton Mates wrote:

    For instance, Bigfoot is credited for footprints, swatches of hair, blurry video appearances, and so forth. These bits of evidence are both empirically detectable, and limited in their distribution in interesting ways

    And God is credited for various empirical bits of evidence such as cancer remissions, discovery of previously lost items and changed brain states of believers. These are also limited in their distribution in interesting ways such as the lack of miraculous cures for amputees. I would call the existence of God and Bigfoot both *pseudo*scientific theories.

    I think they’re inherently so, yes. The core attribute of a supernatural entity as I see it (I know Sastra argues for a different definition) is that it can violate natural law–but since we only discover natural law by looking for regularities in the observable world, that’s equivalent to saying that it can break any pattern of behavior we could possibly discover.

    Er, nature itself can break the regularities we observe in it. (they’re more like guidelines…) Or are you saying any statistical outlier is supernatural? (And if the supernatural can violate some natural law, does it follow that it can break “any pattern of behavior” whatsoever? Is anything ‘supernatural’ necessarily also omnipotent?)

    I agree, although I’m not sure why the undetectability of hypothetical natural entities argues against the undetectability of hypothetical supernatural ones.

    It doesn’t, but I thought we were talking about whether the supernatural is inaccessible to science just by virtue of being supernatural (whatever the definition of that is).

    Notice, though, how the parenthetical pushes us into supernatural territory. In a Matrixverse, we could conceivably figure out our plight in a variety of ways, by looking for bugs and loopholes in the program, figuring out ways to accidentally “wake up,” and so on. In order to make that outright impossible (and not just humanly impractical), we have to make the beings running the Matrix effectively omnipotent and omniscient–in which case, there’s not much difference between that and being a “thought in the mind of God.”

    So instead of “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” you seem to be saying that “any sufficiently advanced technology is magic”. I find this rather anti-scientific.

    I’m arguing that the standard God is lawful but scientifically unknowable.

    Only if this God chooses to hide himself completely. But the theists don’t assert this consistently, because they also say that he sheds elusive hints of himself along the way, much like Bigfoot. Apparently the supernatural is not fundamentally unpredictable, it’s just very very shy.

    But let’s assume a less shy effectively omnipotent being, like Q from Star Trek (doesn’t matter if you consider it natural or supernatural). Is its existence necessarily scientifically unknowable? I think not.

  92. #92 Anton Mates
    August 6, 2009

    When I was in fourth grade I drew this picture of the Grand Canyon and it won a city-wide contest. The mayor was there and everything. It had a donkey on it and my grandparents ended up hanging it on their wall. So cash.

  93. #93 Anton Mates
    August 6, 2009

    The above was written before I saw your post, windy. I too had jumped to the threaddeath conclusion.

  94. #94 SLC
    August 6, 2009

    To get back to the subject of this thread, which has been hijacked by the Kwok who, by the way, has exceeded his quota of 1 comment per day, I think it is appropriate to discuss the dishonesty of Mr. Mooney and Ms. Kirshenbaum, as well as the dishonesty of Prof. Ken Miller relative to the issue of crackergate.

    If one reads the essay that Prof. Miller has posted on his web site and Chapter 8 of “Unscientific America,” one would get the impression that PZ Myers decided one fine day, apropos of nothing at all, that it would be a barrel of laughs to desecrate a communion cracker. Miller, Mooney, and Kirshenbaum conveniently leave out the context of Prof. Myers’ actions, namely that he was responding to the bullying of a student in Florida by the Catholic Church and its sockpuppet Bill Donahue. As Ed Brayton opined on his blog, Prof. Myers’ actions may have been a little over the top but were amply justified by the provocations of the Catholic hierarchy and Mr. Donahue.

    In addition, there is the additional dishonesty of Prof. Miller in describing the opposition of Profs. Myers, Coyne, Moran, and Sam Harris to the appointment of Francis Collins to be Director of NIH. Prof. Miller has charged that this opposition is based solely on the fact that Dr. Collins is an Evangelical Christian. As all of the above individuals have responded, nothing could be further from the truth. Their opposition is based on the fact that Dr. Collins has taken several positions on scientific subjects that appear based on his religious beliefs, not on empirical science, that, they fear, may affect his attitude towards research in certain areas.

  95. #95 John Kwok
    August 6, 2009

    Wow, something that passes for intelligence emanates from the mind of SLC! Absolutely amazing. But I digress…..

    Ken Miller’s assessment of the Militant Atheist opposition to Francis Collins’s appointment is fair and quite accurate, especially if you read his comments on it which he posted recently over at Carl Zimmer’s The Loom blog. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Myers, Coyne, Moran and Sam Harris are all Militant Atheists (Ken’s New York Times letter to the editor was replete in its sarcasm, in you case you didn’t notice.).

    Now don’t dare misquote me SLC. I don’t agree with Francis Collins’s theological thinking (In fact, I’d probably be more inclined to agree with Militant Atheists than with Ken, for example, with regards to criticizing Collins’s religious views.). However, Collins wasn’t nominated by Obama because of Collins’s religious views, but because of his abilities as a scientific administrator (which Eric Lander – as co-chairperson of Obama’s science and technology advisory council – can amply attest to, since Lander directed the MIT team responsible for sequencing the human genome). Not once have I heard of an instance where Collins allowed his religious thinking to take precedence over his duties as head of the Human Genome Project; I would expect no less from him as the Director of NIH.

  96. #96 SLC
    August 6, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Prof. Myers, Prof. Moran, Prof. Coyne and Sam Harris have all pointed out why Prof. Millers’ comment on his web site is dishonest. If Mr. Kwok wants to argue about it, I suggest his argument is with them, not me. Below is the sentence from Prof. Millers’ web site that is in question.

    Dr. Collins’s sin, despite credentials Mr. Harris calls “impeccable,” is that he is a Christian.

    That sentence unequivocally states that Myers, Moran, Coyne, and Harris oppose the appointment of Francis Collins solely because he is a Christian, and an Evangelical Christian to boot. That is absolutely not true and is totally dishonest on the part of Prof. Miller, which disappointments me because I expect better of him. If Prof. Miller deigned to actually read what those august gentleman actually wrote, he would surely recognize his error.

    As for my own position on the appointment, I would like to hear from Dr. Collins’ former boss at NIH, Prof. Harold Varmus, who is co-chairman of the presidents’ Science Advisory Committee. I have to believe that Prof. Varmus was involved in the selection and, IMHO, which I have stated on more then one blog, he is more qualified to respond to the objections raised by the dissenters then is Prof. Miller or Mr. Kwok, or myself for that matter. Prof. Varmus was responsible for preparing Dr. Collins’ performance evaluations when both were employed at NIH and thus is in the best position to evaluate the latters’ capabilities.

  97. #97 Anton Mates
    August 6, 2009

    windy,

    And God is credited for various empirical bits of evidence such as cancer remissions, discovery of previously lost items and changed brain states of believers. These are also limited in their distribution in interesting ways such as the lack of miraculous cures for amputees. I would call the existence of God and Bigfoot both *pseudo*scientific theories.

    The difference is, Bigfoot believers generally claim that the Bigfoot hypothesis can explain those interesting patterns of distribution (and of other properties.) Bigfoot hair is found on bushes in the midst of the forest, not inside Wal-Marts, because Bigfoot’s a forest-dwelling ape without the means or inclination to hang out in populated areas. And so on. They usually agree that this (alleged) explanatory power is the reason why one should believe in Bigfoot; it’s not that believing in him makes you a better or happier person or helps you get into heaven. That’s the “scientific” part of “pseudoscientific.”

    OTOH, theists do not in general point to aspects of the God hypothesis to explain why amputees don’t get cured, or why believers’ changed brain states are very similar to those of certain drug users and sufferers from some mental disorders. (Although some do–there’s that whole idea that bits of the brain are designed as “spiritual antennas,” and that can certainly be attacked scientifically.) Rather, we non-theists raise these interesting empirical facts and suggest that a non-theistic explanation could account for them.

    Er, nature itself can break the regularities we observe in it. (they’re more like guidelines…)

    Theoretically it could, of course, but in practice it doesn’t break all of them; if it did, the practice of science would be pointless, and any assertions about nature would be meaningless. In general we seem to be doing quite well at uncovering more and more regularities in natural phenomena. Often we posit a regularity which turns out to be broken eventually, but can then be tweaked to account for the apparent exceptions.

    Or are you saying any statistical outlier is supernatural?

    Nope. Many, perhaps most, regularities we observe are probabilistic, and individual outliers don’t break them.

    (And if the supernatural can violate some natural law, does it follow that it can break “any pattern of behavior” whatsoever? Is anything ‘supernatural’ necessarily also omnipotent?)

    Interesting question. My feeling is that entities can have both natural and supernatural components; if they have a natural component, they’re necessarily not omnipotent. Humans themselves seem to work this way, according to most theists–our bodies are made of ordinary matter and follow various rules that can be uncovered by science, but our minds are in some key ways special and unfettered by any knowable rules. “Free will,” in other words.

    So not all entities which are partly supernatural are omnipotent, but all entities which are omniponent are fully supernatural.

    It doesn’t, but I thought we were talking about whether the supernatural is inaccessible to science just by virtue of being supernatural (whatever the definition of that is).

    Right, but if (as you suggested with the Matrix example) even some areas of the natural are inaccessible to science, that certainly doesn’t argue against the idea that the supernatural is innately inaccessible as well.

    So instead of “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” you seem to be saying that “any sufficiently advanced technology is magic”. I find this rather anti-scientific.

    It seems like the opposite to me. Aren’t you the one arguing that the advanced technology of the Matrix could thwart any scientific investigations performed by its inhabitants? I’m saying that’s only certain if the technology is, basically, infinitely advanced–in which case, sure, it’s magical or divine.

    By the way, I think that magic has both natural and supernatural elements. In fiction, magic is frequently treated as a science itself. In real life, as our understanding of the world has progressed, areas of magic have ended up incorporated into science. Alchemy becomes chemistry, potion-brewing becomes medicine. So “It’s magic!” isn’t necessarily a science-stopper, the way “It’s a divine miracle!” is.

    Only if this God chooses to hide himself completely. But the theists don’t assert this consistently, because they also say that he sheds elusive hints of himself along the way, much like Bigfoot. Apparently the supernatural is not fundamentally unpredictable, it’s just very very shy.

    The theists don’t assert anything consistently, of course; they aren’t a philosophically unified group. But if we’re going to claim an argument against their position in general, I think we have to take that position at its strongest.

    When a particular theist makes an argument which logically implies that his God isn’t fundamentally unpredictable, it’s certainly possible that he doesn’t believe in an unpredictable God. But it’s also possible–and in Collins’ case, from his other writing, I think it’s likely–that he does believe in an unpredictable God, and simply hasn’t noticed (or chooses not to notice) that his arguments about human morality and fine-tuning and whatnot are incompatible with this belief. We can point out the incompatibility, but unless the theist concedes this and alters his definition of God to match, we can’t say we’ve demonstrated that his God is scientifically accessible–we’ve just demonstrated that he’s not thinking clearly on the issue.

    But let’s assume a less shy effectively omnipotent being, like Q from Star Trek (doesn’t matter if you consider it natural or supernatural). Is its existence necessarily scientifically unknowable? I think not.

    I agree, but only because of the “effectively” bit. We don’t know that Q is omnipotent–in fact, we have good evidence that he’s not, since other beings from his continuum and even (apologies for referencing Voyager) humans with Q-built weapons can oppose and override his wishes. Q also has a distinct and comprehensible personality; he’s quirky and cagey and capricious, but not significantly more so than an ordinary human. He’s not remotely as inscrutable or ineffable as the theists’ god. So Q works just fine as a natural being who is very powerful, very smart, but not omni-anything.

    But for a theist, “effectively omnipotent” isn’t good enough. Few Christians would be satisfied if their God turned out to be simply a very powerful alien being who liked acting like God. The theistic God is by definition truly supreme and omni-everything, and therefore unknowable as Q is not.

    Which is not to say that theists wouldn’t be willing to take Q-style antics as proof that they were dealing with their true God. I think most of them probably would be. But they wouldn’t be warranted in doing so.

  98. #98 John Kwok
    August 6, 2009

    @ SLC –

    According to your own admission, then President Obama had two highly qualified advisors – Drs. Harold Varmus and Eric Lander – who could – and probably did – recommend highly, Francis Collins’s appointment as head of NIH (Dr. Lander is also especially well qualified to assess Collins’s potential performance as NIH head, since Lander reported to Collins when the latter was head of the Human Genome Project. In fact, Lander’s appraisal may have had more weight since he may have spent more years working with Collins than did Varmus.).

    As for Ken Miller, he is certainly better qualified than I am to comment on Collins’s potential performance as NIH head, and – contrary to your breathtakingly inane observation – was well within his right to observe sarcastically that Militant Atheists like PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne have objected vigorously to Collins’s appointment as NIH head, since Collins has committed the “sin” of being a Christian.

  99. #99 SLC
    August 7, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Prof. Miller is certainly entitled to exercise his First Amendment rights in commenting on the appointment of Dr. Collins. However, as is abundantly clear from the excerpt I posted from Prof. Millers’ own web site, he has mischaracterized the opposition of Myers et al to the appointment. One more time, they are not objecting to the appointment solely because Dr. Collins is an Evangelical Christian, which is the implication of Millers’ comment. They are opposed to the appointment because, in their judgment, Dr. Collins is unable to separate his religious views from his scientific views and they present chapter and verse of evidence of that from the Biologos web site and a presentation he gave at U. C. Berkeley, a takedown of which was posted by Prof. Coyne on his web site. I suggest that Mr. Kwok address himself to the issues raised by Myers et al instead of contenting himself with smearing them as militant atheists. Miller, so far, has failed to do so. In other words, refute the evidence presented by them or STFU.

    My position is that I want to hear from Prof. Varmus (no not personally, perhaps via an interview on a podcast) as to his reaction to the objections that Myers et al have raised. Thus far, the only reaction from him that I can find is his endorsement of Dr. Collins’ resignation from the Biologos web site.

  100. #100 John Kwok
    August 7, 2009

    Am reposting for your benefit, SLC, what I posted over at Josh Rosenau’s blog and I stand behind every word of it:

    @ SLC –

    You don’t know Ken Miller. I do, and I realize that Ken was being a bit flippant and sarcastic in his accusation. However, ultimately, Ken is also right, because Coyne, Harris, Moran, Myers et al. are all “screaming” at Collins and the Obama Administration simply because Collins possesses religious views that they find utterly distasteful. BUT THE IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE IS THIS: Collins has never used his duties as a scientific researcher or administrator to advance his religious views. He didn’t do this when he served with ample distinction as the director of the Human Genome Project. Nor will he do this – contrary to the breathtakingly inane observations of Coyne, Harris, Moran and Myers et al. – as head of NIH. For these reasons Ken Miller has every reason to support Collins’s appointment (and why both Josh Rosenau and I – and many others incidentally – concur with Ken’s assessment of Collins’s Militant Atheist critics).

  101. #101 SLC
    August 7, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    And I stand by my contention that

    a. Prof. Ken Miller has misrepresented the positions of Prof. Myers, et al.

    b. Mr. Kwok has still failed to refute the claims made by Prof. Coyne, Prof. Myers, Sam Harris, Larry Moran, et al relative to Dr. Collins statements at the Biologic web site and his presentation at U. C. Berkeley.

    c. Mr. Kwok continues to substitute invective for rational argument. Calling Prof. Myers et al militant atheists is not rational argument, its name calling.

    By the way, Mr. Kwok has again exceeded is 1 comment per thread per day limit. I suggest that Prof. Rosenhouse might want to take note of this transgression on his part.

  102. #102 SLC
    August 7, 2009

    Although I doubt that there is still anybody around except for the Kwok and myself, here is a link to Prof. Jerry Coynes’ discussion on Francis Collins. You don’t have to listen to me or the Kwok or Ken Miller, you can read what Prof. Coyne actually wrote and make your own judgments.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/27/francis-collins-pollutes-science-with-religion/

  103. #103 John Kwok
    August 7, 2009

    @ SLC –

    The “claims” you cite from the likes of Coyne, Harris, Myers et al. are irrelevant. Since when does an appointee to a Federal Government position take a “litmus test on their religious beliefs” to prove his or her worthiness to occupy the position in question? That’s why Ken Miller didn’t respond to them (Though he does indirectly if you read Ken’s comments over at Carl Zimmer’s blog.), and why I won’t either. To put it in plain, simple English, the “claims” of these Militant Atheists (I think “claims” should be viewed correctly as “demands”.) are as utterly ridiculous as Collins’s personal religious views. Maybe you and your fellow Militant Atheists should hope that the United States Constitution will be amended so that Federal Government appointees are required to state – and then renounce – their religious views, but I don’t think such a prospect will emerge within our lifetimes – or if at all.

  104. #104 SLC
    August 7, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    I may be a militant atheist (by the way, it’s not true, I am an agnostic) but Mr. Kwok is a militant asshole.

  105. #105 John Kwok
    August 7, 2009

    @ SLC –

    You’re also an incorrigible male chauvinist pig whose primary criterion for evaluating a woman is whether or not she is “hot”. For this reason alone I would advise others to think seriously of rejecting your comments as that of the Militant Atheist internet troll that you most certainly are.

  106. #106 John Kwok
    August 7, 2009

    @ SLC –

    Here’s what Ken Miller left over at Carl Zimmer’s blog late last month, which is far more reasonable than anything Coyne, Myers et al. have written:

    The worry that Francis Collins would use his position at the NIH to “proselytize” or would not back researchers whom “the religious right dislikes” isn’t grounded in the reality of the man’s life and career. I’m no more worried about Collins using NIH to advance his religious views than I was about Harold Varmus using the same position to advance non-religious views. Varmus was a great Director because he was a first-rate scientist who understood how to administer research, and Collins matches him on both counts.

    Yes, Collins has written that he doesn’t think that biological evolution can explain the human moral sense. I disagree with him on that point, even as a fellow Christian. But Collins’ whole career has been marked by openness, fair-mindedness, and above all, a driving intellectual curiosity. The over-reaction of those sounding the warning sirens about him is without foundation in fact. It’s also emotional to the point of irrationality. PZ Myers has called him “a clown,” and written that “The man is a flaming idjit.” This comes from a guy who opposes Collins in the name of scientific reason?

  107. #107 SLC
    August 7, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    That’s Prof. Millers’ opinion. Myers et al have a different opinion and theirs is based on Prof. Collins own writings. I suggest that Mr. Kwok respond to the objections raised by Prof. Coyne and stop using arguments from authority.

    I would merely quote Ephelia Benson, calling someone hot is a lot less objectionable then calling someone a PMS bitch. Mr. Kwok has provided not a shred of evidence that Ms. Kirshenbaum is in any way, shape, form, or regard upset about being described as hot but Ms. Benson is surly upset at being called a PMS bitch and with good reason (by the way, does referring to Ms. Kirshenbaum hot also make me an antisemite?). Mr. Kwok is a troll, birther and cyberstalker who has now greatly exceeded his 1 comment/thread/day ration. By the way, Ms. Abbie Smith has also not objected to being referred to as hot and, in fact, has so described herself.

    However, just to give Mr. Kwok some more ammunition, I also think that Condoleezza Rice is hot so I guess that makes me both a sexist and a racist.

  108. #108 John Kwok
    August 7, 2009

    @ SLC –

    To paraphrase Ophelia Benson (whose comments refer to the lyrics from the Katy Perry song “Hot N’ Cold” and are ones which are an apt assessment of her behavior IMHO), my comments are worth more than yours. Especially when you think that it’s okay to refer to female science graduate students and scientists as among those whom you regard as “hot”, as if these “traits” were the most defining relevant features of theirs. It is amazing – and someone over at Panda’s Thumb agreed with me (who is a long-time poster there) – that it is rather odd for you to claim to have possessed a Ph. D. in elementary particle physics and yet not know who physicists Brian Greene and Lisa Randall are (It is even more remarkable since I still know who many of the leading paleobiologists are, even though I have been out of the field for years.).

    Since you enjoy “name dropping”, then let me note that one of Sheril’s close friends and colleagues was a bit surprised that you would stoop so low and refer to Sheril as someone who is “hot”, agreeing with me that it is insensitive and sexist, and perhaps, even exploitative of her. In fact, there are many instances here, and elsewhere online, where you’ve demonstrated that you are a male chauvinist pig who should never be trusted in the company of attractive women, since you’d probably resort to some kind of conduct that could result in sexual harassment charges against you (For example, when I commented that I had seen actress Cameron Diaz back in June at the World Science Festival, you had to announce that you thought of her as “hot”, when the whole point of my reference to her is to note that even she found the World Science Festival panel discussion on Science, Faith and Religion (featuring Ken Miller and Lawrence Krauss) quite intriguing.

    Last, but not least, you’ve demonstrated that you’re nothing more than a Militant Atheist internet troll who knows nothing of evolutionary biology, since your only means of “offense” against my remarks – and Ken Miller’s too – is to resort to every conceivable insult – real or imagined – that you can hurl against both myself and Ken.

    So, in closing, I am certain you will be enjoying your current membership in the Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg Collective.

  109. #109 SLC
    August 7, 2009

    Re John kwok

    Last, but not least, you’ve demonstrated that you’re nothing more than a Militant Atheist internet troll who knows nothing of evolutionary biology, since your only means of “offense” against my remarks – and Ken Miller’s too – is to resort to every conceivable insult – real or imagined – that you can hurl against both myself and Ken.

    Let’s see, I have read all the books of essays of Stephen J. Gould, both books on evolution by Ernst Mayr, both books by Ken Miller, the book written by Francisco Ayala, the book written by Michael Shermer, All the books written by Richard Dawkins, two biographies of Charles Darwin. Surely, I must have learned something there.

    By the way, Abbie Smith has an interesting post which I will link to below about how Ms. Kirshenbaum was invited to appear on the Infidel Guys’ podcast, she passed off to Mr. Mooney who agreed and then chickened out when he found out that Ms. Smith planned to call in during his interview with some pointed questions. Of Ms. Kirshenbaum, she says that, “IG originally contacted Sheril. Shes a ‘new’ voice in the pro-science movement, thought it would be a great show. Yay!

    No yay. She deferred to Mooney, because apparently she is precisely as vapid as some of us suspected, and doesnt have enough opinions of her own to fill a one hour show.

    As I have previously opined, Mr. Mooney has some chicken feathers where his competitive spirit should be. If he quavers in fear of a couple of pointed questions from Abbie Smith, he’s not a real man.

    http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2009/08/erv_on_ig.php#comments

  110. #110 Sven DiMilo
    August 7, 2009

    Since you enjoy “name dropping”, then let me note that one of Sheril’s close friends and colleagues was a bit surprised that you would stoop so low and refer to Sheril as someone who is “hot”, agreeing with me that it is insensitive and sexist, and perhaps, even exploitative of her.

    Wait, I don’t think it counts as name-dropping if you don’t, you know, drop the name.

  111. #111 John Kwok
    August 7, 2009

    @ Sven –

    I tried posting a rebuttal to your last comment over at Chris and Sheril’s, but Sheril isn’t interested in posting it. Let me say that I already gave you an example when I mentioned the name of my undergraduate field ecology professor and his behavioral ecological research on spiders which you know who participated in. Otherwise, I think you’re merely a much more benign troll than SLC is, and think you ought to stick to commenting on the “Grateful Dead” (I mentioned the “Rolling Stones” by mistake.).

    @ SLC –

    You may have read those books, but obviously you didn’t learn anything from them. Moreover, it is amazing that you, who claim to be a former Ph. D. in elementary particle physics, has not heard of physicist Lisa Randall’s work (which another long-time poster at Panda’s Thumb was stunned to hear, since he noted that both Lisa Randall and her high school and college classmate, Brian Greene, are known as science popularizers), especially when she was cited by her peers as the physicist whose work was most cited in scientific journals from approximately 2001 to 2006.

    As for Chris not wishing to tackle “PZ’s pit bull”, I don’t blame him. He has far more important work to do than “playing” with someone who doesn’t have the intellectual capability of Ophelia Benson (And he’s been ignoring here too.). Speaking of pit bulls, I now call myself, “Ken Miller’s pit bull”.

  112. #112 SLC
    August 8, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Actually, the Kwok might be better described as Ken Millers’ lap dog.

  113. #113 John Kwok
    August 8, 2009

    @ SLC –

    I’m such a great “lap dog” of Ken Miller’s that I agree with Massimo Pigliucci’s critique of Ken’s espousal of a weak anthropic principle, in case you haven’t noticed. As for yourself, you’re a disgrace as both someone who claims to hold a Ph. D. in physics and for being the incorrigible male chauvinist pig that you most certainly are.

  114. #114 SLC
    August 8, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Perhaps describing the Kwok as Ken Millers’ cocker spaniel would be more appropriate.

  115. #115 John Kwok
    August 8, 2009

    @ SLC –

    Woof! Woof! Woof! Ken’s pit bull has spoken!

    Methinks you are a 1) delusional Militant Atheist internet troll, 2) an incorrigible male chauvinist pig (who has proudly stated that he regards as “hot”, Sheril Kirshehbaum, Abbie Smith, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Ouelette 3) a racist who thinks I might engage with him in “Oriental hand to hand combat” (Why would I waste my time doing that, when ricin and hemlock are far more effective…. if I really wanted to do something illegal – and I don’t – towards you?).

    I wish you luck in getting the psychological counseling that you are so obviously in dire need of. Maybe it could teach you how to treat women with respect, instead of judging them primarily as to whether or not they are “hot”.

  116. #116 antistokes
    August 8, 2009

    um, J.K., what’s wrong with a chick being hot, exactly? heck, i did a few porn shoots myself in undergrad to earn money for my science textbooks (which are really expensive for a gal on just a tuition scholarship– also, heh, kinda did it to get clothing money as well). sex, it sells– unfortunate, but still true, and kinda ground in to evolution. fortunately, evolution occurs on a uterus-by-uterus basis, so maybe, eventually, we as a species will get past it.

  117. #117 SLC
    August 8, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    I don’t recall saying that Cameron Diaz was hot. However, since Mr. Kwok brought her up, I’ll call his Cameron Diaz raise him Jill St John who is not only better looking then Ms. Diaz but far smarter also (she has an IQ of 160). If Mr. Kwok doesn’t think that Ms. St John is smart, I suggest he consult Henry Kissinger; Ms. St John was probably the only woman he dated who had a higher IQ then he did. Ms. St John was more then hot, she was drop dead gorgeous.

  118. #118 John Kwok
    August 8, 2009

    @ antistokes –

    When you are discussing a woman’s intellectual abilities on a ScienceBlogs blog entry and not posting over at, say, Entertainment Tonight’s blog, it is definitely not relevant (Nor do I think it is relevant, period, and is both insulting and demeaning to the woman (women) in question.).

    @ SLC –

    Here’s what you said back in June in the blog entry entitled
    “Ken Miller Joins the Party”:

    180
    Re John Kwok

    1. Let’s see, Mr. Kwok at 177 name dropped Ken Miller, Lawrence Krauss, and Brian Greene (I will pass over Cameron Diaz who is pretty hot herself; just for Mr. Kwoks information, I once saw actress Jacquelyn Smith jogging in the median of San Vicente Blvd in Pacific Palisades, Ca. while riding my Colnago Superissmo; I may have even seen the late Nicole Brown Simpson riding a Masi Grand Criterion down the same street on another occasion, although I can’t be sure it was her, even though I read after her unfortunate demise that she owned such a bicycle). One really has to be amused at how the inhabitant of a very thin walled glass house likes to throw rocks.

    2. Actually, I have heard of the biologist Sean Carroll, having read his second book on evolution. I would have thought that my identifying the other Sean Carroll as an astrophysicist (by the way, I also read his blog every so often) would have made that clear but I forgot that Mr. Kwok is ofter a little slow on the uptake.

    Posted by: SLC | June 15, 2009 3:12 PM

    And you still claim you never said that Cameron Diaz is “hot”? Your June 15th comment merely demonstrates that you are really an incorrigible male chauvinist pig in dire need of some psychological counseling with regards to your dealings with those who are women.

  119. #119 SLC
    August 9, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Mr. Kwok seems to be off his meds this evening. Perhaps his lithium prescription has run out.

  120. #120 SLC
    August 9, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    I must say that I find Mr. Kwoks’ logic rather strange. If I make a complimentary remark about a woman, that’s considered evidence of male chauvinism by him. When he makes derogatory remarks about Ophelia Benson and Abbie Smith, that’s perfectly OK. Is that the kind of logic they teach at Stuyvesant?

  121. #121 John Kwok
    August 9, 2009

    SLC claims he isn’t a male chauvinist pig, and yet, as I noted in his June 15th comment (# 118), he is apparently some kind of sex addict. I would never even think of making such ludicrous, insensitive and demeaning comments about women of the kind he has done. It’s definitely long past due for him to seek some kind of psychological – maybe psychiatric – counseling for his sex addiction.

  122. #122 SLC
    August 9, 2009

    Re John Kwok

    Apparently, Mr. Kwok doesn’t think that calling Ophelia Benson a PMS bitch is demeaning. I think that it is Mr. Kwok who needs help.

  123. #123 John Kwok
    August 9, 2009

    Apparently SLC doesn’t realize that I quoted a lyric from the Katy Perry song “Hot N Cold” (But in light of Ophelia Benson’s online commentary, especially against “accomodationists” like myself, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, that’s probably an apt description of her behavior.). But regardless, my comment critiquing Ophelia Benson, pales in comparison to weeks and months of comments from SLC in which he:

    1) Proudly reminds us all that he regards attractive women as “hot”, shamelessly mentioning the likes of Cameron Diaz (as he did on June 15th here at this blog, as I noted above, Comment # 118), Abbie Smith, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Jennifer Ouellette (Mrs. Sean B. Carroll, the noted string theory physicist) and quite a few others too.

    2) Claims to be someone with a Ph. D. degree in elementary particle physics who studied with Nobel Prize laureate Steven Weinberg, and yet, much to mine – and that of at least one notable Panda’s Thumb poster – doesn’t recognize as prominent scientists and science popularizers, physicists Brian Greene and Lisa Randall

    3) Claims to have read every book ever written by Stephen Jay Gould, but has yet to demonstrate that he has a firm grasp of evolutionary biology.

  124. #124 pough
    August 9, 2009

    Please stop Kwicking the Kwok. It’s really only amusing for the first few billion comments.

  125. #125 SLC
    August 9, 2009

    Kwok, Kwok, Kwok, Kwokie want a kwacker.

  126. #126 John Kwok
    August 9, 2009

    @ pough –

    Are you sure you want to comment anything pertaining to SLC’s online silliness, especially when SLC is our resident sex addict and incorrigible male chauvinist pig? You may think you’re mocking me, but SLC is looking sillier and sillier – and creepier and creepier – each time he posts here.

  127. #127 at one of the other accelerators, not SLC
    August 9, 2009

    I keep coming back to this thread for the sheer joy of seeing Kwok kwokking. Okay, I can’t help myself — I’m going to swat the fly one more time just to hear it buzz. I don’t know why — I’m not generally cruel, but Kwok is just so un-self-aware and such an annoying twit that I can’t help myself.

    Kwok, I’m an active elementary particle physicist working at one of the national labs. I had to go look up who Greene and Randall are. I know you’re infatuated with them because they too attended your overhyped high school. Okay, they’re both string theorists and “science popularizers”. Big friggn’ deal. No one cares! The HEP field is large enough that it actually is possible for people in it not to be familiar with everyone. Nor care. And as for “most cited [..] 2001 to 2006″. To laugh — who came up with that silly statistic? And after some research I see that it only seems to be true if one ignores at least the PDG and WMAP collaborations (see SPIRES database top cites pages). Randall/Greene are part of a bunch of string theorists writing papers about (as yet) untestable theories cross-citing each other … it drives up the citation count (meaningless statistic as it is) but I doubt that either is touting this factoid with the fanaticism that you are.

    Here’s a hint, Kwok: the creepy guy in this thread isn’t SLC, but you. Your hypocrisy (ya, ya, you were just quoting Katy Perry’s song and didn’t mean it in a demeaning or derogatory way) while projecting (“sex addict”? you know this how?) towards SLC is ludicrous.

    If one says Cameron Diaz is “hot” that instantly makes anyone a “incorrigible male chauvinist pig in dire need of some psychological counseling with regards to your dealings with those who are women”? Odd. I never had complaints from my former (and possibly soon again) supervisor. Nor from my current boss’ boss, nor from her boss. All of whom know me, though perhaps not of my thoughts of Diaz “hotness”. Geez, and all those other physicist women I work with on my experiment? Nary a complaint. Okay, there was one coworker that I did go loggerheads with — but that wasn’t over her sex, but because I treated her like I would have a male colleague and in that instance she was stubbornly wrong. On the other hand, I’ve never stalked anyone on their blog like you have.

  128. #128 John Kwok
    August 9, 2009

    @ at one…..

    Claiming that Cameron Diaz is hot in reply to a comment I made about how she discussed her interest in science with World Science Festival panelist physicist Lawrence Krauss – which is what SLC did back on June 15th – is not only stupid, but insensitive and irresponsible. Apparently both she and Krauss had an intelligent, thoughtful conversation immediately after his participation in the World Science Festival panel discussion on Science Faith and Religion. Merely shows where SLC’s mind is.

    As for your comments on Greene and Randall, they’re ridiculous. Anyone – especially someone with a Ph. D. in elementary particle physics as SLC contends – who claims to have as keen an interest as SLC would have in science, would know who Greene and Randall are (Incidentally this was a point made by someone over at Panda’s Thumb a couple of months back in light of a rather odd comment from SLC, in which he claimed ignorance of both physicists). As for Randall, she doesn’t work only in string theory; much of her work is in high energy particle physics – a specialty which SLC has claimed to have had some familiarity with in the past – and of the two, it’s probably reasonable to say that Greene has been the more important researcher – and popularizer – on string theory.).

    As for your other comments, I have to read – whether I like it or not – what is being posted at Pharyngula and other related blogs, including ERV’s (And in her case, I have been forced to pay take a close look at her website in light of her recent ridiculous comments against both Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s, whose joint work in writing “Unscientific America” I still have much respect for, even if I strongly disagree with some of their key points and believe that their solutions may be hopelessly naive and impractical. In Chris’s case, he deserves my support simply for having written two fine books on government abuse with respect to understanding science (“The Republican War on Science”) and on interpreting meteorological data from the context of global warming (“Storm World”). I’m not doing merely to see what is being said about Chris and Sheril, but also others, including both myself and Ken Miller (Though lately I’ve been ignoring much of the worst commentary only because I have had other, far more important, work to do and have been in the midst of mourning the passing of someone who was my favorite high school teacher.).

    SLC has demonstrated that he’s a sex addict and incorrigible male chauvinist pig. If you are a woman and feel comfortable in doing that, then that’s your choice. But no woman I know of would condone his behavior.

  129. #129 at one of the other accelerators, not SLC
    August 10, 2009

    Kwok,
    Apparently you have a reading comprehension problem. I said I work in the field of particle physics (generally referred to by practitioners in the field as “HEP” (for high-energy particle/physics)). I hold a PhD in the field. And apparently according to you, I’m not “anyone” (i.e. I don’t exist) because I didn’t know who Randall or Greene were. Perhaps peripherally the names have come up in passing, though not that I remember, but neither is the talk of the field as a whole. Nor is there any reason to put those two on some particular pedestal. They’re just two, amongst many, theorists in the field. Apparently prolific and/or good speakers.

    I know that you think they deserve particular accolades because they attended a semi-famous high school and thus somehow a bit of their glamour will rub off on other not-so-famous-or-even-worthy-of-any-note fellow graduates (like anyone but you really cares about what high school someone attended). It’s silly of you to keep bringing up SLC’s non-fawning as if it were some devastating slam against SLC. No one friggn’ cares. If real HEP physicists such as myself don’t think it’s that big a deal not to know who they are then it’s a “fail” for you, not in the field, to keep bringing up SLC’s interest in particle physics and non-recognition of those two as if there were some disconnect between those factoids that makes SLC look bad. There isn’t a conflict, which is what eventually drove me to comment.

    Kwok, you keep bringing up Randall/Greene as if not knowing them would be like not knowing who Einstein was. But that’s not the case. So for the love of the FSM, please, drop this line of “reasoning” from your shtick.

    SLC – Sorry, I keep reading that as “Stanford Linear Collider”. Hence my pseudonym.

  130. #130 SLC
    August 10, 2009

    Re at one of the other accelerators, not SLC

    Just to show Mr. not SLC how long I have been out of the field, I was not aware that the Stanford Linear Accelerator had been converted into a colliding beam machine. I also have to admit to not know much of anything about string theory or what the Higgs boson is.

    However, from what I read, I get the impression that physicists who work in string theory are rather controversial. For instance, there was a commentor on PZ Myers blog who had some strongly negative things to say about Prof. Sean Carroll (the astrophysicist). His comment reminded me of the situation when I was a graduate student when group theory was all the rage and literally hundreds of papers were were written about the application of a group called SU(6) (special unitary group in 6 dimensions). In fact, there were so many papers being written and submitted for publication that the Physical Review Letters had to stop peer reviewing them for a period of 2 or 3 months. The situation relative to string theory seems eerily familiar to the situation back then with SU(6), namely that no testable hypothesis were developed and no explanations were proposed that were not already equally well explained by the application of the 3 dimensional rotation group and the intrinsic GellMann/Ne’eman SU(3) group. I rather suspect that most physicists who have entered the elementary particle physics field in the last 20 years have never heard of SU(6).

    Just to buttress Mr. not SLCs’ comment about Greene and Randall, I would point out that Mr. Kwoks’ pal Ken Miller has admitted that, even though he has a PhD in biology and had specialized in cell biology for many years, he had very little knowledge of evolutionary biology when he was dragooned by students in an entry level biology class he was teaching to to agree to debate Duane Gish who was bringing his medicine show to Providence. He had to spend several weeks boning up on the subject, in addition to boning up on Dr. Gishs’ shtick, infamously known as the Gish Gallop. I would be willing to bet that, at the time, Prof. Miller probably was unacquainted with some of the active leading lights in evolutionary biology.

  131. #131 at one of the other accelerators, not SLC
    August 10, 2009

    SU(6) as a Grand Unified Theory … meh (though I’m not a theorist so I’m no expert here and it’s been a while for me since I’ve even thought about such grand theories). SU(6) as a classification group for baryons and meson: “win” with SU(3) flavour cross SU(2) spin. I’m relatively agnostic towards string theory. Interesting or intriguing tidbits occasionally sneak out but overall I, as an experimentalist, view it more as an exercise in mathematics rather than physics. I think the anti-string poster over at PZ’s is a bit unhinged in his vehemence. Apparently hating string theory is what floats his boat; I can’t see the point.

    SLC – You missed a whole era. The Stanford Linear Collider ran from 1989 until relatively recently as a e+/e- machine. But at this point the collider is mothballed and SLAC is repurposing itself.

  132. #132 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 11, 2009

    Kwok, “I earned awards for my writing in citywide and regional essay contests during my junior (when I was a student of McCourt’s) and senior years in high school. I didn’t say I was his “best” student, but among the best.”

    Sorry John, but irrelevant. The point is that you’re living in the past – the high school you went to doesn’t matter to anyone (except you).

    And your bizarre accusations that SLC is a “sex addict”? On what do you make this claim? From you – a guy who’s behavior on ERV’s thread got him kicked off for the equivalent of internet stalking. Get a life, John.

  133. #133 John Kwok
    August 11, 2009

    Rilke’s Granddaughter –

    You seem to be preoccupied with my past. I’m not. That goes for both my high school achievements (Of which one of the literary ones was noted in a published magazine article on McCourt that appeared back in 1998.) as well as my “relationship” with Abbie Smith.

    SLC is definitely a sex addict when he volunteers that he regards Cameron Diaz as “hot”, missing my point that she was present at the same World Science Festival I attended and that, at its conclusion, had a rather thoughtful, quite intelligent, conversation with one of that session’s participants, physicist Lawrence Krauss (I admit that’s hearsay I heard from Krauss the next day, but he was obviously quite impressed with her thought…. not with whether or not she is hot.).

    Any more inane attempts by you at trying to “smear” me will fail, period. No one is really paying attention to you or SLC. And I am quite frankly astonished that you would “support” someone like SLC who has been quite outspoken in describing how he regards how “hot” a woman is as a criterion that – apparently SLC – seems much more important than whether or not the woman in question has a truly intelligent mind.

  134. #134 Der Bruno Stroszek
    August 16, 2009

    SLC is definitely a sex addict when he volunteers that he regards Cameron Diaz as “hot”

    Holy shit, I can’t believe I missed this classic piece of Kwok.

  135. #135 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2009

    the eighth chapter of the book. It is called, “Bruising Their Religion”

    Holy FSM, I’m almost tempted to pick up their seeming train wreck of a book to understand their rationale (or irrationale) for claiming that. OTOH I wouldn’t read a book with such a seemingly inane title in it.

    For future reference, Razib has skewered their main hypothesis on atheism, by simple statistics:

    Jerry Coyne has a post up where he states:

    The “new atheists” have been on the scene for exactly five years, beginning with Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, published in 2004. But American’s attitudes to evolution have been relatively unchanged (with 40+% denying it) for twenty-five years. This means two things.

    This is true to a first approximation, and rather depressing. So I thought I would repeat a data finding which might cheer us up: the youngest adult age cohorts are the least Creationist.

    Apparently Coyne is correct, atheism is not a threat to science.

    Moreover, Razib finds that there is a rising rejection of creationism over all, unsurprisingly tied to level of intelligence.

    Now, as we all know atheism is mostly entertained by the educated intelligent (other statistics ;-)). It is then interesting to note that secularism has doubled in the 90s.

    A first order guess is that internet availability and culture has something to do with this. Not the later efforts of ardent atheists (also wrongly known as “New Atheists”), which AFAIU is more directed towards societal acceptance than changing people’s mind contrary to M&K claims, nor the 9/11 showcase of the dangers of religion.

    And FWIW, as this thread hasn’t died yet:

    They repeat Robert Pennock’s asinine statement that, “Science is godless in the same sense that plumbing is godless,” which I discussed in this recent post.

    “Methodological and philosophical naturalism” are AFAIU theological terms, and so completely useless to understand science. Specifically as you point out, not only is the activity of plumbing godless as these terms imply, it finds that there are no gods pushing or pulling the water in the tubes by way of theory of plumbing.

    I will read that post, it ought to be interesting.

  136. #136 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2009

    So Kwok has now been booted from both ERV and (by public vote) Pharyngula? Good to know if someone is on the road to scientific oblivion or perhaps here ostracization, so one doesn’t contribute untowardly. (It is morally vital that the crackpot/sociopath in such a case makes the effort all by him- or (more rarely) herself.)

    Also here, if SLC is a sex addict most of us are sex addicts: Diaz has been voted “hot” on many lists. [And yes, she totally is!]

  137. #137 John Kwok
    August 16, 2009

    Torbjörn,

    After I remarked that Cameron Diaz had a thoughtful conversation with physicist Lawrence Krauss following the World Science Festival panel discussion Science Faith Religion (which we both attended; I was there primarily because one of the other participants was Ken Miller. I heard a bit from Krauss about his conversation with Diaz on the following day), SLC had to interject with an observation that he thinks Cameron Diaz is hot. What have made more sense would be inquiring about the discussion she had with Krauss (It was one in which he discussed Hollywood’s relationship with science and his utter surprise and delight to see someone like Diaz taking such interest in this panel discussion.). Remember, this is Science Blogs, not the blog for Entertainment Weekly (Though I think SLC is convinced that the two are one and the same.).

    Regards,

    John

  138. #138 John Kwok
    August 16, 2009

    Torbjörn,

    I’m not losing any sleep over getting the boot from Pharyngula and ERV. Trust me. In fact, I’m looking forward to punishing both in a suitable, quite legal, way sometime in the not-too-distant future.

    John

    P. S. I did hear afterwards from a few PT regulars who thought that my banishment from PZ’s blog to be utterly ridiculous and a symptom of how far it is declined in quality in recent years (These were private e-mails I received from them.).

  139. #139 Der Bruno Stroszek
    August 17, 2009

    “No, I’m not losing sleep over being booted from a couple of blogs. In fact, I’m so completely unruffled by it that I spend every single day plotting out creepy revenge fantasies against them!”

  140. #140 John Kwok
    August 17, 2009

    Der Bruno Stroszek –

    Only in your wildest dreams is your risible allegation bordering anywhere even remotely close to the truth. Trust me, I have much more important matters to deal with than deal with a few rabid Pharyngulite trolls.

    Someone I know dealt with a hostile literary critic who had dubbed my friend “the worst writer of my genetration” by poking fun at the critic in question in a relatively recent novel. I don’t think my friend lost sleep over the critiques about him written by that critic, and I can assure you, nor am I losing any sleep over – or am busy plotting against – my “favorite” Pharyngulite trolls. When the time is right, I will deal with them in a most fitting, and quite legal, way.

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