One More Round With M and K

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum have another of their New Atheist bashing essays up, this time in The Los Angeles Times. It is, alas, a dreadful piece of work. P. Z. Myers has already wieghed in here, as has Jerry Coyne here.

The actual arguments in the op-ed are standard fare: The New Atheists are needlessly confrontational, they scare away moderates, blah blah blah.

The novelty here is the bizarre, and very misleading, way they go about making their points. Even as they encourage mutual understanding and nonconfrontationalism, they are perfectly happy to ignore their own advice in dealing with those of different views.

Here’s the opening:

This fall, evolutionary biologist and bestselling author Richard Dawkins — most recently famous for his public exhortation to atheism, “The God Delusion” — returns to writing about science. Dawkins’ new book, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” will inform and regale us with the stunning “evidence for evolution,” as the subtitle says. It will surely be an impressive display, as Dawkins excels at making the case for evolution. But it’s also fair to ask: Who in the United States will read Dawkins’ new book (or ones like it) and have any sort of epiphany, or change his or her mind?

This is a joke, right? They’re deliberately baiting us so they can have a good laugh over the idea that we thought they were serious.

When Richard Dawkins wrote a book about atheism he was excoriated for writing outside his area of professional competence. Why doesn’t he stick to writing about science, many wailed. But now when he returns to writing about science, he gets excoriated for that too. Looks like the man can’t win.

Why all the sarcasm in this paragraph? Why use words like “stunning” and “regale” which in context seem calculated to have readers rolling their eyes at Dawkins? Why is “evidence for evolution” in sneer quotes?

Then there is the biggest problem of all, found in the final sentence. That is the idea that the world is cleanly divided into two kinds of people, those who are pro-evolution and those who are anti-evolution. If your book will not cause the anti-evolution folks to slap their foreheads and convert, then it is not worth writing.

You see this sort of thing a lot. Virtually every hostile review of the New Atheist books featured some version of “You’re not going to convince anyone!” It’s one of those empty, superficial things you can say when you want to look moderate and sensible but don’t really want to engage the substance of the argument.

There are many people who have no particular opinion on this subject, or whose views are loosely held, or who just want to learn a bit more about it. Those are the people you have some hope of persuading by writing a book. Furthermore, the value of the book goes beyond the words printed on the page. You write the book not just so that people will read and contemplate the specific arguments you are making, but also to make sure that your ideas are part of the conversation. Major societal change occurs in large part by going after the younger generation. You want to create an environment where certain ideas are so familiar and commonplace that younger folks do not see anything odd or threatening about them. We see that happening today with gay marriage, and we can look forward to a future time when the same happens with atheism.

But even at the level of the already-made-up-their-minds, this assertion is hopelessly naive. Yes, sometimes people do change their minds on the basis of seeing facts and evidence of which they were not previously aware. Dawkins has a fine list of testimonials to his credit. There is no shortage of prominent people who had their naive religious views challenged by clear presentations of the facts. E. O. Wilson and Michael Shermer come to mind, as two people who were led to abandon their faith. Denis Lamoureux and Karl GIberson were moved to more nuanced forms of Christian faith.

This all has some personal resonance for me, since I am also someone who had his views changed by good popular-level writing about evolution. I have never been inclined to take my Bible literally, but when I first started learning about this subject I was quite open to the idea that scientists had been overstating their case. People like Dawkins and Gould had a lot to do with getting me over that view.

What makes this op-ed especially annoying is the relentless use of harsh, militaristic metaphors where they are not appropriate. Consider:

Thus the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences take the stance that science and religion can be perfectly compatible — and are regularly blasted for it by the New Atheists.

A smaller but highly regarded nonprofit organization called the National Center for Science Education has drawn at least as much of the New Atheists’ ire, however.

Long under fire from the religious right, the NCSE now must protect its other flank from the New Atheist wing of science. The atheist biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, for instance, has drawn much attention by assaulting the center’s Faith Project, which seeks to spread awareness that between creationism on the one hand and the new atheism on the other lie many more moderate positions.

In this, Coyne is once again following the lead of Dawkins, who in “The God Delusion” denounces the NCSE as part of the “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists,…”

Richard Dawkins denounces the NCSE? Jerry Coyne assaults them? The AAAS and the NAS are blasted by the New Atheists?

Of please. How about “constructively criticizes”? Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers are all huge supporters of the NCSE. I know this because they have expressed that opinion many times. They merely have an objection to one aspect of their strategy. And even there the objection is not to making common cause with religious people, it is to promoting the view that the only acceptable opinion on the science and religion question is one of accommodation, with those who disgaree castigated for hurting the cause.

As denunications and assaults go, that one seems pretty milquetoast.

M and K close with this:

Despite the resultant bitterness, however, there is at least one figure both sides respect — the man who started it all: Charles Darwin. What would he have done in this situation?

It turns out that late in life, when an atheist author asked permission to dedicate a book to Darwin, the great scientist wrote back his apologies and declined. For as Darwin put it, “Though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.”

Others have pointed out that Darwin is one person who lived in very different social circumstances, and not someone whose views on everything are necessarily definitive for the rest of us. Perfectly true of course, but I would make a different point.

I am perfectly happy to accept that quote. I see in it a very clear implication that Christianity and theism tend to be opposed to freedom of thought. There is also a clear implication that science tends to weaken religion. My kind of guy! I even agree that direct arguments often don’t produce a big effect on the public (though a small effect is not nothing, as I suggested earlier). But Darwin did not live during a time when information is readily available from a multitude of sources at a moment’s notice. I don’t think he was factoring into his conclusions the cumulative effect of having ideas spread via cable news and the internet, even if only in very superficial ways.

There is a striking contradiction at the heart of M and K’s argument. When Dawkins writes a book about the evidence for evolution, M and K wag their fingers and explain how he is not going to convince anyone. But when he writes a book about atheism the sky is falling and he is helping the forces of ignorance and anti-science.

What is so significant about the New Atheist books is the sheer volume of books that they sold. They have revealed that to a far greater extent than was previously realized, there is a hunger in America for books written from a non-religious perspective. That is a momentous accomplishment, and one that should warm the hearts of anyone who cares about promoting science and reason.

This is all just standard scapegoating from M and K. It’s so much easier to focus on a handful of writers who arrived on the scene just in the last few years and to ignore the deeper cultural forces that have tended to make America more hostile to science than other industrialized countries.

I find that vexing.

Comments

  1. #1 John Kwok
    August 11, 2009

    Jason,

    Am actually surprised that you didn’t critique Ken Miller’s recent comments over at The New York Times and Carl Zimmer’s blog, since his comments regarding Francis Collins’s “reception” by some of your more prominent New Atheist friends and allies, are rather reminiscient in style – if not exact substance – with what Chris and Sheril wrote in today’s Los Angeles Times. Moreover, having read “Unscientific America” thoroughly, you’d expect that – sooner or later – they would write an essay like the one that was published this morning.

    I’m not going to comment further, except to note that we have all been wasting our time going back and forth on their thoughts and “accomodationism” and ignoring much more important work that should be done against evolution denialists of all stripes.

  2. #2 Comrade PhysioProf
    August 11, 2009

    What I really have never understood is this unexamined assumption that polemic has to be designed to “convince the uncertain” or whatthefuckever. Who says there’s anything wrong with writing for your fans? Who says there’s anything wrong with making fun of absurd dumbfucks because it makes you and your friends laugh? Where does this idea come from that everyone has to always be writing with the purpose of “debating” or “convincing” or “swaying” or “converting”?

    It’s fucking hilariously entertaining to mock the shit out of ridiculous dumbfuck credulous religious fuckwads. Period.

  3. #3 Tyro
    August 11, 2009

    The Comrade has it right. Attacking the credophiles and their lickspittle apologists like M&K may play to us screeching monkeys but the screeching gets louder and damn it, I’d swear there are even more monkeys screeching. These actual demonstrations of the insignificance and torturous logic of the fatheists also helps to remind us why that’s such a poor policy of engagement.

  4. #4 mrcreosote
    August 11, 2009

    “Dawkins has a fine list of testimonials to his credit. There is no shortage of prominent people who had their naive religious views challenged by clear presentations of the facts.”

    and some not-so-prominent – my wife being one.

  5. #5 John Kwok
    August 11, 2009

    Here’s some examples of Dawkins uncivility:

    “I regard Genesis as the spiritual truth,” Miller said. “And I also think that Genesis was written in a language that would explain God that was relevant to the people living at the time. I cannot imagine—cannot imagine—Moses coming down from the Mount and talking about DNA, RNA, punctuated equilibrium. I don’t think he would have gotten very far.” Nonetheless, he reiterated his belief that the biblical stories of the world’s creation “are true in the spiritual sense and that they are written by human beings in the language of the time.”

    Dawkins, at the far end of the table, almost levitated out of his seat with indignation. “But what does that mean?” he demanded, voice rising. The audience rewarded his indignation with combustive applause. “Is it a caricature for me to ask you, since you are a Roman Catholic, do you believe Jesus had an earthly father?”

    “Ah, this is the famous Richard Dawkins question,” Miller replied, sounding a little defensive.

    “No, don’t ridicule it!” Dawkins shouted, relentless.

    “If I can just get a fragment of the body of Jesus,” Miller continued, “I could do DNA fingerprinting! I could figure out who gave Mary that Y chromosome!”

    “That’s a facetious answer!” Dawkins cried out, his face flushed with conviction, shaking his finger at Miller. “That’s a facetious answer!” The heat was so palpable that, as Margaret Wertheim, the moderator, said later, “At least now we know that Richard actually believes this. Before, I wasn’t sure if it was just a performance.”
    _____________________________

    http://discovermagazine.com/2005/sep/darwins-rottweiler/article_view?b_start:int=1&-C=

    Dawkins is also uncivil to Neil de Grasse Tyson here:

  6. #6 Duae Quartunciae
    August 11, 2009

    I don’t know Sherril, but I have lost all confidence in Chris, which is a pity. He’s turned into a hypocrite, as far as I can tell. I was leaning that way some time ago, before this new book; now it seems confirmed. Whatever. I don’t bother with him any more.

    But hey. He’s also done some good work, and maybe it will even help in some way to have someone like him who is so clearly antagonistic against outspoken atheists. It might help make space for a greater range of people to take up the real issue, of credulity on various science matters. That he is so irrational about it is ironic, but it may not matter much.

    I remain what PZ Myers once called a “milquetoast atheist”; so I’m probably not one of the “new atheists” as he understands the term. Who knows. The fact I think he’s been an fool and a hypocrite himself in this whole bizarre sidetrack might be all it takes to be a “new atheist”, as I am not sure what the term actually means to him.

  7. #7 Jim
    August 11, 2009

    I was preparing a post that made some very similar points, but you beat me to it. I guess I’ve been to fascinated by the whole CreoZerg hubbub.
    I especially like the point you made about Darwin’s time and the change in access of information in ours. Along with the point about how well the books written by those criticized by M and K have sold, I think these are important things to consider.

  8. #8 JimR
    August 11, 2009

    It seems to me that a regular stream of commentary for evolution and for “New Atheism” keeps the issue alive and in front of potential new readers. Whether it is mocking, hard hitting rebuttals or a sightly different take on the same issue, there will be an audience for it.

    I would like to see citations or abundant HTML click-throughs available for the first time reader who wants to see what wonderful idea they have stumbled upon. Always write for the wider audience to spread the ideas. Ideas do not replicate, in spite of meme theory, but rather become accepted if available for exposure. This requires a lot of column inches in a lot of cyberspace locations. Sometimes the same idea in a slightly different phrasing or context wins another convert.

    The transition from a theistic worldview to an atheistic or non-theistic worldview is a wonderful experience. Then you wonder how the theistic worldview persists in the face of the absolute irrelevance is has to facts. The “New Atheists” are attacking the absolutely frivolous mythology of the theists. It is a religious war fought fervently to keep nonsense out of our cultural decision processes. I do not see that accommodation is necessary as M&K seem to want.

    I believe the next big jump in human evolution will occur when most people quit existing on a primitive learning response system of A then B memory reaction. I believe that most humans are capable of introspection, but never engage in it. When most people do it, then society will achieve a higher level of functionality. I can only hope group selection helps this be the natural selection.

  9. #9 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 11, 2009

    Dawkins is also uncivil to Neil de Grasse Tyson here:

    I’m sorry, the clip cuts off before Dawkins becomes uncivil. Is there a longer version, one where Dawkins actually is uncivil to de Grasse Tyson (is that the correct last name?)?

  10. #10 John Kwok
    August 11, 2009

    @ W. Kevin -

    There should be a longer excerpt of the exchange between Dawkins and De Grasse Tyson posted somewhere, perhaps at YouTube too. Haven’t had a chance to unearth it (This particular clip I found at a comment left recently by someone posting over at Pharyngula.).

  11. #11 Darek
    August 11, 2009

    Yes Kevin, there is a longer version. It shows Dawkins shedding his skin to reveal that he is a fire breathing reptile, and promptly devouring Tyson’s head.

    Quite uncivil indeed.

  12. #12 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 11, 2009

    In other words, you made an accusation based on something you never even saw? Shame on you. Then again, that’s exactly what we expect from you, the resident EvolutionBlog sex addict.

  13. #13 John Kwok
    August 11, 2009

    @ W. Kevin -

    Darek is kidding of course. In the past I have heard Dawkins speak diplomatically about religion and why religious faith may be necessary (most notably during a public lecture and booksigning he held at a New York City Barnes and Noble, in which his wife, actress Lalla Ward, was also present). I also am a great admirer of his popular scientific writing. However, ever since 9/11, he has become increasingly bitter and hostile towards organized religion. It’s for that reason that my admiration for him has dimmed considerably.

  14. #14 John Kwok
    August 11, 2009

    @ W. Kevin -

    Simply “trolling” on behalf of the real resident Evolutionblog sex addict, SLC, right? You’re nothing more than the usual delusional Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drone that I’ve encountered online too often lately.

    I’ve seen several clips of the exchange between Richard Dawkins and Neil de Grasse Tyson, including part of this one. But I’m sorry, I simply don’t have time to look at each and every clip.

  15. #15 Darek
    August 11, 2009

    Not kidding so much as mocking.

    You claim that Dawkins was uncivil towards Tyson, and provide a link to a video which shows no such thing. Then you mention that a longer clip exists, and want us to do your homework and find it for you?

  16. #16 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 11, 2009

    To the bystanders;

    What the clip actually shows is Neil making a good point about how his message might be a little too barbed. Richard good-naturedly accepts the rebuke, and then offers an humourous anecdote about what someone else said that was even more barbed than anything he ever said. The clip ends with Neil laughing so hard he nearly falls out of his chair.

  17. #17 DEQ
    August 11, 2009

    Re: #5: I don’t see what’s uncivil about Dawkins’ behavior toward Miller. It’s a fair question to a Christian: do you think Jesus was born of a virgin? If so, congratulations; you’ve just announced that you believe something which we have exceedingly good reason to think false. If not, then what are we to make of the Biblical claim to the contrary?

    Of course, this isn’t the best example, since there are translation issues regarding that Biblical claim. But it’s a perfectly reasonable question and it’s equally reasonable to ask that neither the question nor the questioner be ridiculed.

  18. #18 Keith Harwood
    August 11, 2009

    M&K want more scientists who communicate as well as Carl Sagan, but clearly Dawkins isn’t one of them. What’s the most obvious difference between them? Sagan is dead, Dawkins isn’t. So what they want is more dead science communicators.

  19. #19 oldfuzz
    August 11, 2009

    As an engineer–model addicted and terminally analytical–I find both the theist/atheist and evolution/creationism controversies interesting.

    The theist believes in a deity beyond rational definition and the atheist disbelieves that which cannot be defined. Not very scientific to me. Since I have yet to find a theist who can offer a complete description of the deity in which they believe, although I have met many who argue that their inadequate definition is fact, I must confess I am a multifaceted atheist.

    As for creationism/evolution being at odds, the issue is how species originate. Most of the few creationists I know rail against Darwin, having never read Origin of Species, and cite his heresy as to how life began, which he left unsaid.

    Since theists cannot define their deity, one must dismiss their view as inadequate, but not inaccurate.

    With the issue of deity unresolved, the evolution/creationism debate is moot. When one of my creationist friends denounced evolution as wrong and I cited the evidence for evolution of humankind through recorded history, he said, “Oh, if that’s what you mean, of course there’s evolution within a species.”

    Then I read Speciation by Coyne and Orr wherein they (either Coyne or Orr or both) seemed to question the precision of identifying different life forms as distinct species. Hmmm. That I like.

    It was Ashley Montagu who differentiated science (proof without certainty) from bigotry (certainty without proof). My concern is that the New Atheists may be taking a page from theists bigotry.

  20. #20 H.H.
    August 12, 2009

    Kwok wrote: Here’s some examples of Dawkins uncivility:

    I don’t see anything uncivil in any of Dawkins’ actual question. It seems like Hall had it in his head to slant Dawkins as “Darwin’s pitbull” and make him seem as aggressive as possible, so he added such charged and hyperbolic descriptions as “levitated out of his seat with indignation,” “voice rising” “his face flushed with conviction, shaking his finger at Miller.” But all that crap is pure editorializing, Kwok. I’ve seen Dawkins speak in public and I can’t imagine that mild-mannered professor appearing anything like this. Even when he’s being emphatic Dawkins barely raises his voice. Of course, the author admit that Dawkins’ obscenely rude behavior was actually “combustively applauded” by the audience, so either they appeared on an episode of the Jerry Springer Show or the type of reasonable people who regularly attend science symposiums actually felt that Dawkins was making good points.

    Seriously, Kwok, give it up. You’re grasping at straws here.

  21. #21 Sara
    August 12, 2009

    I can’t help but think that that sort of accommodationist attitude is actually based on the scorn M&K have for the religious people.

    They actually take for granted that religious people will *not* change their minds, no matter what rational or logical arguments they are presented. That is an absolutely patronising attitude. What it comes down to is that M&K make a case for religious people being unable to handle reality-based approach at all, and thus needing to be patronisingly coddled and pampered and reassured in their often mistaken convictions. This is exactly what Christa Datz-Winter did two years ago http://tinyurl.com/2dlubn and she was rightly chastised, only the case was quite shocking enough that not many could disagree with the criticism.
    There’s nothing enlightened or open-minded about it, though, unless you count the sort of open-mindedness when your brain falls out through your ears. It is important to respect people enough to tell them that they’re wrong when they are wrong.

    As many commenters here and on Pharyngula pointed out, the logical step to take would be to compare the USA with other countries and look for differences which may explain the lack of public acceptance for the theory of evolution. Whatever the difference, though, it’s very unlikely to be the scientist’s charisma and media training; and somehow I doubt scientists in Japan, where I currently live, are any more charismatic or media-trained than the scientists in the US.

    (The obsession with PZ Myers is starting to resemble Moby Dick more and more. People interviewing M&K should start to look out for the steely gleams of harpoons they surely keep hidden somewhere in their laptop bags or something)

  22. #22 Sigmund
    August 12, 2009

    What pathetic quote-mining by Kwok. The best example he can find of Dawkins being uncivil actually uses the term (not highlighted by Kwok, obviously) “undeniably civil manner” to describe Dawkins!
    Have you no shame whatsoever?

  23. #23 Galen Fletcher Evans
    August 12, 2009

    Kwok, i hate to be uncivil but would you please next time back up assertions with facts as opposed to well, bovine fecal material.

    And when does civility entail holding or claiming respect for Beliefs or ideas that you find abhorrent and evil?

    Im willing to accommodate with the religious extremists when they are willing to accommodate with me.

  24. #24 Dunc
    August 12, 2009

    How many anti-science Republicans did Mooney’s Republican War on Science convince, I wonder?

    Then, of course, there’s also the slim possibility that Dawkins may not be writing primarily with the American market in mind…

  25. #25 Christophe Thill
    August 12, 2009

    M&K’s exercise in “What would Darwin do?” is a very risky one. We have Darwin written words, but knowing what was really going on in his head may not be possible. For all I know, he might as well have really meant “Please, gentlemen, let’s not upset dear Emma with this burning topic anymore”.

    Now, the “WWDD?” aspect is rather revealing. I’m not aware of a book called “The imitation of Charles Darwin” having ever been written, and for a good reason. He’s not a kind of saint whose every opinion and action should be followed. Or are all we supposed to try hydrotherapy too?

    “There are many people who have no particular opinion on this subject, or whose views are loosely held”

    Well, this is so true that, in election times, those people are precisely the ones that political ads target and try to persuade. What M&K say amounts to castigating the Democrats because their ads won’t swing the minds of Republican militants (or the reverse, if you prefer). It looks to me like a flawed understanding of the question.

  26. #26 SLC
    August 12, 2009

    Oddly enough, Ken Millers’ view about the notion of a literal virgin birth of Joshua of Nazareth appear to be evolving, possibly due to his interaction with theologian John Haught, a fellow expert witness at the Dover trial. Prof. Haught, is a former chairman of the Religion Department at Georgetown Un. in Washington, D. C. According to Prof. Millers’ response to a question at a recent presentation, he now apparently believes that the notion should not necessarily be taken literally but could be taken figuratively. This is Prof. Haughts’ view, which he expressed during his Dover testimony under cross examination.

  27. #27 NewEnglandBob
    August 12, 2009

    Never discuss Kwok generated information. He is a troll, and, as pointed out elsewhere, an obsessive compulsive game playing debater who attacks those who disagree with him. He is a notorious name dropper, especially of Ken Miller, and he tried to extort PZ Myers.

    He has been banned from several blogs for his lunatic statements and he tends to ruin and sidetrack most discussions.

  28. #28 SLC
    August 12, 2009

    Re NewEnglandBob @ #27

    For the amusement of some of the readers here, I will like to a thread on Jerry Coynes’ blog where a number of commentors have some fun at the Kwoks’ expense (including myself and Mr. NewEnglandBob).

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/mooney-and-kirshenbaum-self-destruct-at-last/

  29. #29 Sean McCorkle
    August 12, 2009

    It’s fucking hilariously entertaining to mock the shit out of ridiculous dumbfuck credulous religious fuckwads. Period.

    sigh. yeah it is. but in the long run this is tribalism. (“we are of the tribe which believes/does X and you are not, and therefore we are morally superior”)

    If you are a researcher, is your funding secure?

    I work at (U.S.) national laboratory and also teach astronomy in the evenings at a local community college. I’ve watched the budget for high energy physics dry up over the last decade or two largely because the physicists did not see any need to justify their taxpayer-funded work to “the little people”.

    When teaching, a prerequisite for knowledge to flow is some level of affinity between the instructor and the student, however deep and buried it might be. The student must have some reason to trust that the teacher is imparting something of value. Just paying bucks for the class doesn’t do it- there has to be some connection between the two parties.
    The same holds for doing science outreach.

    The above quote is very much at odds with this.

  30. #30 John Kwok
    August 12, 2009

    @ NewEnglandBob -

    Methinks you do a much better job of being a troll than I possibly could (Ditto for SLC, whose recitation of what Ken Miller claims to say regarding the “Virgin Birth” forgets that he has apparently said the same thing for years, at least since 2002, if not before.). Anyway, IMHO you and SLC are typical Pharyngultes (I can’t take credit for this nickname, but I like it more than merely referring to you as delusional Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg drones, simply because I told one of Coyne’s former students – Kansas graduate student and current NCSE staffer – Josh Rosenau – last week here in New York City, that I still have the utmost respect for Coyne’s research in evolutionary biology; it’s his nonscientific pronouncements that I find troublesome, and am glad that someone as eminent as marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson did criticize Coyne’s “accomodationist” critique during Jackson’s talk at the 9th North American Paleontological Convention during the last week of June, 2009 on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.).

  31. #31 Captain Obvious
    August 12, 2009

    “…levitated out of his seat…”

    I *knew* Richard Dawkins would betray his identity as teh Antichrist eventually!

  32. #32 SLC
    August 12, 2009

    Re the Kwok

    Methinks you do a much better job of being a troll than I possibly could (Ditto for SLC, whose recitation of what Ken Miller claims to say regarding the “Virgin Birth” forgets that he has apparently said the same thing for years, at least since 2002, if not before.).

    Then why didn’t he just say that in 2004 when he was confronted by Richard Dawkins during a luncheon in New York City, who asked him specifically whether he took the notion of the virgin birth of Joshua of Nazareth literally. Instead, he obfuscated by saying that he would like to get a hold of the gentlemans’ DNA to see where his Y chromosome came from.

  33. #33 John Kwok
    August 12, 2009

    @ SLC -

    What Ken said back in 2004 is absolutely correct from the perspective of molecular biology. He also noted last June – also here in New York City – at the second annual World Science Festival – that virgin birth (“parthenogenesis”) is an established scientific fact for reptiles, but isn’t for mammals. So depending on whether one is discussing reptiles or mammals, “virgin birth” can be considered either a scientific fact or something that falls only in the realm of potential theological possibility.

  34. #34 lylebot
    August 12, 2009

    re: #21. This to me is the real difference between PZ et al. and M&K et al. PZ respects the religious as people who hold sincere but misguided beliefs, but does not respect religion as an interpretation of the world nor as an institution. M&K want to respect religion as an interpretation of the world and as an institution while patronizing and condescending to those who believe in it.

  35. #35 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 12, 2009

    Sorry, Kwok, but there’s no such thing as “potential theological possibility”. Given the penchant of your god (or any god) to work miracles, NO prediction of any kind can be made about what’s theologically possible.

    Do try to use some logic, next time. And I note you have failed to address the fact that you were foolish enough to use a reference that completely failed to make your point – a point that was irrelevant to the thread in the first place.

    Troll. Do try to use logic when you post.

  36. #36 Portmanteau
    August 12, 2009

    @34

    *bing* *bing* *bing* *bing* *bing* *bing* *bing*

  37. #37 SLC
    August 12, 2009

    Re Rilkes’ Granddaughter

    The Kwok certainly provides some levity here with his moronic comments. However, the question asked of Prof. Miller by Dr. Dawkins was did he take the story of a virgin birth of Joshua of Nazareth literally. There are only two answers to that question, yes or no. Instead of answering the question, Prof. Miller digresses to a discussion of Y chromosomes which was totally unresponsive to the question. Mr. Kwoks rational is complete tuna fish.

    However, Prof. Millers’ discussion is beside the point. For example, let’s take him seriously. Suppose, somehow, one obtained DNA samples from Joseph and Joshua of Nazareth and discovered that they had the same Y chromosome. Does that falsify the virgin birth? Not a bit of it. Since god is all powerful and can do anything, there is nothing to prevent him from obtaining a sperm sample from Joseph and uniting it with one of Marys’ eggs. That still qualifies as a virgin birth in my book. In fact, this is the only theory that can explain how Joshua of Nazareth could be descended from King David through the line of Joseph.

  38. #38 Galen Evans
    August 12, 2009

    wait just a second, virgin birth okay for reptiles? ive got it! Ken miller and Kwok believe in RAPTOR JESUS http://sweetraptorjesus2.ytmnd.com/

  39. #39 Sara
    August 12, 2009

    wait just a second, virgin birth okay for reptiles? ive got it! Ken miller and Kwok believe in RAPTOR JESUS http://sweetraptorjesus2.ytmnd.com/

    DID SOMEONE CALL DAVID ICKE?

    # 34, 36
    ZING ZING ZING ZING!

  40. #40 AL
    August 12, 2009

    When Richard Dawkins wrote a book about atheism he was excoriated for writing outside his area of professional competence.

    I’m curious, if one wanted to write a book about atheism, what sort of professional competence does one need to have in order to make this kind of criticism disappear? A Ph.D. in “atheology?” Why can’t someone who actually is an atheist and a writer be competent enough? Looks to me like this criticism only exists because the people making it do not want any books on atheism written at all.

  41. #41 tbell1
    August 12, 2009

    This whole debate about what works to convince people is utter bullshit without actual data on who might or might not be swayed by a particular ‘marketing strategy’, be it monolithic in nature, or complex. The appeasers arguing for message control need to put up or shut up.

  42. #42 Kevin (NY)
    August 12, 2009

    “and the atheist disbelieves that which cannot be defined.”

    well I guess. if you ask someone to believe in something, but you can’t explain to them WHAT you want them to believe…but I think your words are astray.

    I thought rationalists “accepted that the evidence strongly indicates the validity of the hypothesis. your start with a definition and then you get evidence to support that interpretation.

    so.. I don’t konw what you mean to say…

  43. #43 Matheus
    August 12, 2009

    I’ve seen the whole exchange between Dawkins and Tyson, it’s part of the beyond belief 2006 conference, and there is no such thing as being uncivil there. The exchange between the two ends right after that clip ends and they go on about other things. You are not missing anything.

  44. #44 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 12, 2009

    So Kwok is lying yet again? Colour me unsurprised.

  45. #45 Anonymous
    August 12, 2009

    Here’s some examples of Dawkins uncivility:

    All of the incivility was provided by Stephen S. Hall in his characterizations of Dawkins; there was nothing uncivil about his actual remarks. If Kwok weren’t so clearly demented, it might be worth asking what he’s trying to achieve by presenting such dishonestly presented material to people who aren’t stupid enough to fall for it.

  46. #46 Raiko
    August 12, 2009

    Jason, thank you for this rebuttal. In my opinion, Mooney and Kirshenbaum have continuously spiraled downward over time and this was the worst harm they have caused themselves yet. There’s some need for this to be eloquently stated to stand against their babble and you have just provided a wonderful contribution.

    By the way, someone on Richarddawkins.net put down the full Darwin quote and it looks as though M&K omitted a small part that isn’t quite insignificant.

  47. #47 Jim Lippard
    August 12, 2009

    SLC: Miller said he believed in a literal virgin birth last year at the Skeptics Society conference, but that it’s not something subject to scientific examination since it’s a one-off historical event.

    But I don’t understand why, then, he takes the position that God did not ever intervene in the process of evolution. Wouldn’t those also be one-off historical events?

    I suspect his answer is that neither is science, and he believes the former as an article of faith, while the latter is not required by his faith. (But why should he object to those for whom it is?)

    I don’t quite understand his position. He thinks that we shouldn’t read the Bible for science, since it’s the product of its culture and time–but doesn’t conclude that we should reject its theology for the same reason. Why think that that culture had it right when it comes to theology, when it’s wrong on science (and in many cases, wrong on history as well)?

  48. #48 Jim Lippard
    August 12, 2009

    #40 AL: The God Delusion, I understand, got into matters of philosophy and theology. I’ve not read it yet, but I’ve heard from philosophers that Dawkins’ lack of knowledge of philosophy of religion is evident. I’m not sure that P.Z. Myers’ Courtier’s Reply holds up as well as a critique of weak philosophical argument as it does as a critique of theology.

    I’ll have to read it for myself one of these days, though my interest in philosophy of religion was long ago sated.

  49. #49 Bernard Kirzner, M.D.
    August 12, 2009

    1) Civility only requires talking about the ideas and opinions of others, not ad hominem attacks on them. Getting angry isn’t uncivil as long as there is no violence or threats of violence, and no ad hominem attacks. By this standard Dawkins is mostly civil, P.J. less so, but both are primarily arguing the ideas not the people. Unverifiable religious ideas deserve to be criticized, but not the people who say them.

    2) I think that the most positive effect of the plethora of atheist books and talks is not on fundamentalists, nor even logical monotheists.
    The most positive effect is to substantiate that a public expression of questioning religious ideas without flinching, without apology, without concerns about embarrassing the religious person is okay, that Atheists need to combine and use the political system, especially the First Amendment protections against religious intrusion as a Patriotic thing to do. No apologies needed. Just stick to ideas and opinions, not name calling/

    Dawkins and Meyers are marshaling the troops to protect rationality, and Enlightenment Ideas/Ideals. Who would have thought in 2009 that that would a problem?

  50. #50 tomh
    August 12, 2009

    Bernard Kirzner, M.D. wrote:
    Unverifiable religious ideas deserve to be criticized, but not the people who say them.

    The problem is that religionists often take criticism of their unverifiable ideas as personal attacks. This is seen over and over again. Then the “Christian persecution” wailing starts.

  51. #51 Jennifer B. Phillips (aka Danio)
    August 12, 2009

    tomh:

    The problem is that religionists often take criticism of their unverifiable ideas as personal attacks. This is seen over and over again. Then the “Christian persecution” wailing starts.

    It’s worse than that, I think. the religionists often take the fact that not everyone shares their beliefs as personal attacks. See, e.g. the religiously motivated opposition to Hate Crimes legislation, their freak-out over the rights of health care workers to refuse certain medical treatments on moral grounds, or the reaction to pretty much anything involving the ACLU. Active criticism isn’t even required–an unwillingness to tolerate insertion of a particular religious dogma into public policy is really all it takes to generate cries of “persecution!!!” Poor lambs.

  52. #52 Anton Mates
    August 12, 2009

    Jim,

    But I don’t understand why, then, he takes the position that God did not ever intervene in the process of evolution. Wouldn’t those also be one-off historical events?

    I suspect his answer is that neither is science, and he believes the former as an article of faith, while the latter is not required by his faith. (But why should he object to those for whom it is?)

    I don’t think he would object to people claiming that God intervened in evolution, if they admitted that their claim was a matter of faith. (Well, he’d still object to it as “bad theology,” as he has many times in the past, but it wouldn’t be a scientific issue.)

    Miller’s primary beef with creationists and IDers is not that they have a somewhat different set of beliefs than he does, but the fact that they claim their beliefs are science and should be taught that way.

  53. #53 Woody Tanaka
    August 12, 2009

    “Why all the sarcasm in this paragraph? Why use words like ‘stunning’ and ‘regale’ which in context seem calculated to have readers rolling their eyes at Dawkins? Why is ‘evidence for evolution’ in sneer quotes?”

    Here’s my take: I am firmly convinced that M&K were going after the conservative/republican book-buying public with this editorial, even notwithstanding Mooney’s previous book.

    I used to read alot of right-wing stuff on the internet and elsewhere, and the tone of this article seems calculated to ape the tone they sometime affect. It’s about signalling to the mouth breathers that this book won’t offend their precious political sensibilities and reinforces their pre-existing ideas.

    This is so, especially regarding Dawkins, who is disliked in that community for political views as much as his outspoken atheism and his scientific ideas. It reads to me as if Mooney is trying to get his potential conservative readers to think, “He’s not one of us, but he isn’t one of those Dawkins people. Maybe I’ll buy this book.”

  54. #54 BrianH
    August 12, 2009

    On the issue of mockery, I think there’s some empirical evidence that it can be a very effective communication strategy.

    A 2007 Pew study examined the public’s knowledge of certain current event facts, based on their primary source of news. The highest rating went to those whose main source of news was the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Seriously. They beat NPR/PBS/Network news etc.

    Odd, because those shows are built around ridicule, mockery, and BS-calling.

    (Anecdotally, I was talking about the Kitzmiller case at a social gathering, without having named the case, and my son’s 17 year old friend chimed in, “Oh yeah, the Dover case.” I asked him where he’d heard of it. Answer: The Daily Show.)

  55. #55 Lorax
    August 12, 2009

    Kwok @ 1 “I’m not going to comment further,…”

    Kowk @ 5, 10, 13, 14, 30, 33,…

    and presumably 56

  56. #56 Anton Mates
    August 12, 2009

    A 2007 Pew study examined the public’s knowledge of certain current event facts, based on their primary source of news. The highest rating went to those whose main source of news was the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

    However, that same study found similarly high ratings for the news sources at the opposite end of the spectrum–like the O’Reilly Factor and Rush Limbaugh’s show. (The Daily Show had a slightly higher percentage of “well-informed” viewers than O’Reilly, but also a slightly higher percentage of “poorly-informed” viewers.)

    Mooney et al. tend to argue that the mocking, abrasive strategy is great for preaching to the choir–and the choir, being partisan, is usually quite well-informed–but doesn’t communicate much of anything to the people in the mushy middle, nor does it help convert people from the opposing choir. Testing that claim (for which I have yet to see much evidence provided) would require a somewhat different study.

  57. #57 Jud
    August 12, 2009

    Jim Lippard wrote: The God Delusion, I understand, got into matters of philosophy and theology. I’ve not read it yet, but I’ve heard from philosophers that Dawkins’ lack of knowledge of philosophy of religion is evident.

    You should read it. It did not live up to the expectations I had after reading criticisms such as those you summarize, or to the expectations I had of something with a nasty tone after lots of remarks by various folks about the aggressiveness of Dawkins’ style.

    I found the book to be quite calmly reasoned, and not at all hostile in tone. Dawkins puts in a nice word for C of E friends and relatives, in fact.

  58. #58 Jud
    August 12, 2009

    ISTM that in their criticisms of scientists and “new atheists” (there have been people who are “new” atheists in style for millenia, where- and whenever doing so wasn’t a threat to life and limb), M&K are transparently trying to stir up controversy for the sake of publicity. I’m guessing they are hoping for rather more backlash than they’re getting, but miscalculated how quickly their tactics would become merely tiresome.

  59. #59 Sean McCorkle
    August 12, 2009

    @54

    The highest rating went to those whose main source of news was the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

    Ultimately, these are comic entertainment. That so many watch them for real news is says more about the decline and fall of the traditional broadcast new. And ratings are not the appropriate metric.

    Science outreach, be it about evolution, the scientific method, or whatever your favorite field might be, at the end of the day, is ultimately a process of education, and you are generally not going to sway someone you are making fun of. The task is to try to convince your audience that what you are offering has value. In order for this to happen, they have to trust you at some level, at least enough to temporarily suspend their suspicions, to hear you out and to try to understand what you’re saying.

    Maybe close friends can tolerate some mockery, but its a bad idea with strangers whose support you may be counting on.

  60. #60 John Kwok
    August 12, 2009

    @ Galen -

    There are lizards that undergo parthenogenesis:

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/345004/lizard/276981/Parthenogenesis

    And it is a reproductive trait that is found in fishes, amphibians as well as reptiles too:

    http://www.bio-medicine.org/biology-definition/Parthenogenesis/

    I think you should spend some time investigating whether Ken Miller’s observation is true biologically for some vertebrates, instead of mocking him and me.

    @ Rilke’s Granddaughter and SLC -

    Am not surprised that two of my favorite Pharyngulite trolls are quite active. Really RG, do you really want to be associated with the resident sex addict of EvolutionBlog and Pharyngula (SLC)?

  61. #61 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 13, 2009

    Just to confirm, Kwok. You and Ken Miller actually believe that Jesus was a reptile?!?!?!

  62. #62 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 13, 2009

    If Jesus was born through parthenogenesis, he would have two X chromosomes and no Y chromosomes. Which would mean that Ken Miller indeed was making a facetious answer, seeing as how Ken obviously didn’t believe that Jesus had a Y chromosome in the first place.

    Your attempt to save Ken’s response fails on its face.

  63. #63 J.J.E.
    August 13, 2009

    @ W. Kevin Vicklund | August 13, 2009 12:48 AM

    I don’t think you’re allowing your snark to be sufficiently informed by the rich variety that nature has to offer. Male parthenogenesis is present in some plants at least. Additionally, haplodiploidy is common in hymenoptera.

    So, if we are permitted to apply those concepts to humans as readily as we can apply female parthenogenesis, we open up the pathway for a Jesus with two Y chromosomes and a haploid Christ (Jesus H. Christ = Jesus Haploid Christ? Coincidence, I think not!).

    In any event, if Jesus had two X-es, he’d be a woman, which is an interesting concept. I can think of a lesbian RomCom with Jesus and Mary Magdalene as the protagonists. A story about love, loss, self discovery, and especially Salvation. Starring Rob Schneider as Jesus, Sarah Silverman as Mary Magdalene, Jack Black as Satan, and with a special guest appearance of Samuel L. Jackson as God.

    The flick would be slightly reminiscent The Hot Chick so Schneider could be shoe-horned into a female role.

  64. #64 AL
    August 13, 2009

    Well if Jesus was parthenogenic, he would have to be female under XY sex determination. But seeing as to how he was male, this must be the result of ZW sex determination (where the mother, not the father, determines the offspring’s gender). This would mean that in Mary’s lineage, there were women with W chromosomes. If she had further children, or even if her female cousins had any further children with lineages surviving today, we should expect to see some women out there somewhere (in the Middle East, perhaps?) with W chromosomes. So all we have to do is find these women, and this will prove once and for all that the miraculous Virgin birth occurred, and that belief in science and the supernatural are compatible…oh wait, no it won’t. It will prove that there is a completely naturalistic explanation for this so-called “miracle,” so in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

  65. #65 J.J.E.
    August 13, 2009

    Of course if Jesus were a parthenogenically produced male, this opens up more func opportunities:

    1) Mary was chromosomally male, and Joseph was gay, bisexual, or other (let’s not think too hard about how James came about);
    2) Mary WAS a virgin and Jesus was produced by parthenogenesis from Joseph.

    I like #2 much better. It allows the virgin Mary to stay intact and Jesus to have only one parent, and Jesus to stay male.

  66. #66 JoshS
    August 13, 2009

    Just to confirm, Kwok. You and Ken Miller actually believe that Jesus was a reptile?!?!?!

    ROFLMAO ROFLCOPTER

    It’s so hard to figure out how to respond to Teh Kwok, isn’t it? He so deserves ridicule. But part of me suspects (yes, seriously) that he needs mental help, that he’s really not totally collected upstairs, and that it’s not a fair fight.

    Whatever the truth is, I do wish he’d stop infesting every Goddamned blog I read.

  67. #67 JoshS
    August 13, 2009

    Whoops, html fail in comment 66. Mea culpa.

  68. #68 Paul G. Brown
    August 13, 2009

    Regarding the urgent calls for “pity for Chris”.

    I <3 Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. I <3 their work to death. They’re in the here, in the now. Their thinking is cemented in the realities of current US Congress debates.

    I <3 the “new athiests”. Although I confess, what they’re really doing (for the most part) is, (in the words of the blind ex-librarian in _The_Name_of_the_Rose_) “endless and sublime recapitulation”.

    Yet I call this one FOR the “new atheists” and AGAINST “CM&SK”. But hear them out …

    While us non-believers are bickering, there’s a real, political event ongoing out there. This event surfaces as the “Cap and Trade” bill, or negotiations on climate control, or today’s fair and free trade controversy, and so on. But in the US, the political reality is that defanging the more extreme elements of the right is necessary to building political consensus around the kind of policy agenda a pro-science mindset supports.

    Mooney/Kirshenbaum (it seems to me) are trying to win the war “in the here an now”. Their argument would be that if we don’t win this battle, the athiest v. theist debate ain’t gonna amount to much. The New Athiests have a larger truth in their sights.

    It seems to me that CM&SK are saying to the New Athiests, “Please STFU! We’re trying to save humankind here.”. To which the New Athiests would respond “So are we!”

    Space for all. I’m really glad that we are arguing amongst ourselves. That means we’ve won.

  69. #69 J.J.E.
    August 13, 2009

    @Paul G. Brown | August 13, 2009 4:13 AM

    While I applaud your sentiment and I actually agree with it wholeheartedly (I don’t want M&K to shut up, I want us to engage with them), I think the circumstances of the discourse are very different. It isn’t that we atheists are arguing amongst ourselves. On the contrary, there is very little light being shed in this “debate” at all.

    M&K sketched out the outline of an argument, initiated the the most recent iteration of the dialogue, then forfeited all intellectual honesty and aren’t abiding by conventional rules of debate. They are selectively highlighting reviews, quote mining existing reviews, flogging strawmen, selectively answering points and ignoring others, etc. They aren’t arguing at all. That’s the real point. IF ONLY WE ACTUALLY WERE ARGUING, then it would be acceptable, even if we disagreed. M&K aren’t. They are engaged in book-promotion and dishonest “debate”.

  70. #70 Matti K.
    August 13, 2009

    #59: “Science outreach, be it about evolution, the scientific method, or whatever your favorite field might be, at the end of the day, is ultimately a process of education, and you are generally not going to sway someone you are making fun of.”

    I think you are implying that Myers, Dawkins and Coyne are not the right scientists to reach out to people who are sceptical about science because of religious reasons. You might even be right.

    However, that is a lousy reason for those gentlemen not to speak up according to their convictions. In a free society they should be welcome to debate their views. If some special groups have difficulties in separating the messange from the messenger, use the likes of Miller, Collins etc. to disseminate science to them.

    The almost totalitarian either-or approach of M&K is very disturbing.

  71. #71 Sigmund
    August 13, 2009

    #68
    “Mooney/Kirshenbaum (it seems to me) are trying to win the war “in the here an now”.”
    I would have more sympathy for that point of view if I didn’t know that the next book coming from one of them was “The Science of Kissing”
    Given that this is from the marine biologist of the pair who apparently has a deep interest in climate change and ocean biodiversity (and the need for urgent political action to achieve this aim), it seems a strange choice of topic.
    I suspect I’m not the only one who reads the title “The Science of Kissing” and immediately thinks – Oprah show!

  72. #72 Stephen Wells
    August 13, 2009

    Re. the God Delusion: Dawkins doesn’t bother with much of the detail of the kind of theological argument _which assumes that there’s a god in the first place_, which is most of it. He’s addressing the question of whether there is any reason to believe in a god entity in the first place. If we’re arguing over whether kobolds actually exist and you refer me to D&D 3.5 edition for their stats, you would be missing the point.

    Re. the virgin birth argument ongoing: given these three options,

    (a) somebody had sex and lied about it
    (b) some people made up a story
    (c) a person was born of a virgin by a miracle,

    why should option c get any serious consideration at all?

  73. #73 NewEnglandBob
    August 13, 2009

    Kwok:

    Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller,
    Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller.

    Now you don’t have to say it for at least 30 microseconds, troll.

    Don’t you realize that everyone laughs and laughs at you?

    Pathetic.

  74. #74 Aquaria
    August 13, 2009

    I keep saying that the problem here is that Mooney (and to a lesser extent, Nisbett) expected to be the big kahuna go-to guy for discussing science in the public arena.

    Dawkins mowed down Looney’s sales figures in about, oh, one month after publication of TGD. Meanwhile, PZ’s blog hits are through the stratosphere while Looney’s languishes in the triple digits–if that, unless he gets a spike after getting a rise out of PZ and/or Dawkins. Speaking of Dawkins, I’m pretty sure he pummels Looney when it comes to hit counts as well. RD.net is a pretty active community.

    As the go-to type of guy for atheism/science, Dawkins is getting the attention. He’s getting the TV spots. He makes the news. To an extent, PZ is generating attention as well. He frickin’ made the NY TImes, for crying out loud, for the Expelled from Expelled incident. The story about his excursion to the CreataMyth Museum was the most read story on ABC News for a day.

    When’s the last time Looney got attention like that?

    What are the chances that he isn’t insanely jealous of it all, and it’s warped his tiny little mind? About zero.

    That’s why he can still fuck right off.

    For the record, I’m the one whose post he tried to pass off as PZ’s, the disingenuous little wanker. Didn’t address anything I said. Just got his panties in a wad because I told him nobody cared what he had to say. I guess I needed to be more accurate: Nobody with an ounce of sense gives a shit what that cretin has to say.

  75. #75 windy
    August 13, 2009

    …Rob Schneider as Jesus, Sarah Silverman as Mary Magdalene, Jack Black as Satan, and with a special guest appearance of Samuel L. Jackson as God.

    The flick would be slightly reminiscent The Hot Chick so Schneider could be shoe-horned into a female role.

    I like where this is going. But instead of making Jesus female, maybe the sex of both Jesus and Mary should be left uncertain, like Pat and his/her/its friend Chris from SNL? “It’s just Jes”.

    The weed sketch should probably be in this movie, too.

  76. #76 Sean McCorkle
    August 13, 2009

    @70

    However, that is a lousy reason for those gentlemen not to speak up according to their convictions. In a free society they should be welcome to debate their views.

    You raise an excellent point here; it’s something thats been gnawing at me through this whole debate. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that all of these voices should be heard. In fact, I enjoy the books and blogs of all three that you mention. (Pharyngula is always my first stop over morning coffee.)

    I’ve recently purchased “Unscientific America” but have not yet read it, so I don’t want be put in a position yet of defending M&K, but I am greatly concerned about the increasingly anti-intellectual and scientifically illiterate population in the U.S. I worry about where it can go. History has examples of glittering civilizations lost to subsequent dark ages, and I really don’t want that to happen here. For one thing, our precious freedom of speech that you point out above would be one of the first things to go.

    I worry that the atheism-vs-religion thing is yet another red herring that sidetracks the parties into tribalism. The “real folks” vs “arrogant intellectuals” divisions were already bad enough in this country (a major point in Susan Jacoby’s “The Age of American Unreason”). The more polarized things become, the more difficult it will be to reach the other half. (“Kids, don’t listen to them-they’re from the other tribe”).

    What reasons can we give to coax people to cross the boundary? We’ll have to keep trying things to find out what works. Ultimately, I’d like to see more focus on presenting the inspirational aspects of science and the enlightenment. Jacob Bronowski was great at this, and Sagan too. Dawkins as well, with his science writings, Stephen J. Gould comes to mind also.

  77. #77 Robocop
    August 13, 2009

    49: “Unverifiable religious ideas deserve to be criticized….”

    What other unverifiable ideas ought to be criticized? How about “all men are created equal”? Perhaps the idea that we’re endowed with certain “unalienable rights”? Maybe the thought that Bach’s music is brilliant or Monet’s painting dazzling? Or mayhap it’s the concept that representative government is better than the alternatives? Or even the claim that torturing infants is wrong?

    Sheesh.

  78. #78 Christophe Thill
    August 13, 2009

    “What other unverifiable ideas ought to be criticized?”

    I know it’s just a list of examples, but it’s pretty bad. Yes, most of these ideas can be verified. Some can even be refuted: “all men are created equal”? Sorry, we (as well as our female companions…) are not “created”. “Born equal” wouldn’t be much better (depends on where you’re born), and even the word “equal” is ambiguous (equality of posession, perhaps…? hmm I guess not…) A much longer and detailed formulation is needed, such as “it is necessary that the law considers all citizens are equal, regardless of this and that”. And it still can be verified; it’s easy to show that things are pretty unpleasant otherwise.

  79. #79 James Sweet
    August 13, 2009

    To give just another example of the ways in which the so-called “New Atheist” books can be useful, even if they don’t convince the faithful… I was quite firmly an atheist for some time, but I was rather bitter and regretful about it. That changed when I read God is Not Great, and my new attitude was further solidified by The God Delusion. I wasn’t a believer, I wasn’t even a fence-sitter… but what these books did for me is that it helped me feel good about what I believed (or didn’t believe).

    This is why it is so infuriating to me when critics of Dawkins et al say, “Oh, he’s just angry at God.” I actually was angry at God, despite my nominal lack of belief — until I read Hitchens and Dawkins etc. and it gave me a new positive perspective, as well as the courage to let go of silly old conditioned feelings.

  80. #80 John Kwok
    August 13, 2009

    @ W. Kevin -

    No, Ken said that parthenogenesis occurs in reptiles and other, “lower”, vertebrates like fishes and amphibians. He acknowledged that it doesn’t occur in mammals (which I noted
    @ 33). Why don’t you read my previous comments first before jumping in like the stupid A**HOLE that you most certainly are.).

    Anyway, I have been advised by someone at the World Science Festival that the entire video of the Science Faith Religion session which featured Ken and physicist Lawrence Krauss will be posted online relatively soon.

  81. #81 Robocop
    August 13, 2009

    “Yes, most of these ideas can be verified.”

    This should be interesting.

    “A much longer and detailed formulation is needed, such as ‘it is necessary that the law considers all citizens are equal, regardless of this and that’. And it still can be verified; it’s easy to show that things are pretty unpleasant otherwise.”

    So “pretty unpleasant otherwise” provides scientific verification now? This is just too ridiculous for words.

  82. #82 John Kwok
    August 13, 2009

    @ NewEnglandBob -

    It’s only delusional Pharyngulites who are “laughing” at me. Do you think that if I was as ridiculous as you contend, that Ken Miller or other prominent evolution proponents would ignore me? The only ones who are seem to be Militant Atheists such as yourself.

  83. #83 James Sweet
    August 13, 2009

    @Robocop: Um, yeah, all of those ideas should be held up to criticism, and if they don’t withstand it, then maybe we should change our minds.

    The suggestion that “torturing infants is wrong” wouldn’t stand up to the harshest criticism is insanity. Go ahead, try and make a valid criticism of that idea. I strongly contest that it is “unverifiable”.

    As far as Bach’s music being brilliant, well, part of that is also verifiable, but of course there is also personal preference that enters into it. However, the unverifiable statement “Bach makes me feel good” is fine, as is the unverifiable statement “The idea of a magic sky daddy makes me feel good.” I have no problem with either statement.

    However, the unverifiable statement “There can be no morality without a magic sky daddy” should be criticized in the harshest possible terms — as would the statement “There can be no morality without Bach.” Both of those statements are equally retarded, and should be torn to pieces.

  84. #84 James Sweet
    August 13, 2009

    So “pretty unpleasant otherwise” provides scientific verification now? This is just too ridiculous for words.

    Christophe was defending the idea that it is beneficial to treat all people equally under the law. If you are disputing the validity of the statement that “it is ‘beneficial’ to avoid something that is ‘pretty unpleasant’”…. well, THAT’S just too ridiculous for words.

    So yes, I would say, if the proposition you are trying to prove is “X is beneficial”, and you are able show that “The absence of X is detrimental”, I am pretty sure that verifies the proposition… don’t you think?!?

  85. #85 Silvermute
    August 13, 2009

    I dunno Kwok, banned on Pharyngula and erv, mocked here and The Panda’s Thumb, your own page on Rationalwiki (where you are described as an “unhinged professional troll”): the evidence seems to be mounting up…

    The thing is, if you didn’t come across like a failed attempt at the Turing test with all the alma mater/resident sex addict/Militant Atheist Borg drones stuff, maybe you’d be less of a laughing stock.

  86. #86 Robocop
    August 13, 2009

    “Um, yeah, all of those ideas should be held up to criticism, and if they don’t withstand it, then maybe we should change our minds.”

    I have no objection to criticism. Indeed, I encourage it. But that wasn’t the claim that deserved ridicule.

    “The suggestion that ‘torturing infants is wrong’ wouldn’t stand up to the harshest criticism is insanity. Go ahead, try and make a valid criticism of that idea. I strongly contest that it is ‘unverifiable’.”

    By what standard? That people agree with you? That you’d prefer it to be considered true? That you can’t think of a good argument (or at least what you’d consider a good argument) in its favor?

    “As far as Bach’s music being brilliant, well, part of that is also verifiable, but of course there is also personal preference that enters into it.”

    Most of the really interesting things in life (e.g., love, politics, artistic merit, morals, etc.) are outside the realm of possible verification because they are necessarily intertwined with things like preference, values, ethics and morals.

    “Both of those statements are equally retarded, and should be torn to pieces.”

    Criticism and verification are not remotely the same thing. M’kay?

  87. #87 Robocop
    August 13, 2009

    “Christophe was defending the idea that it is beneficial to treat all people equally under the law.”

    Beneficial to whom?

  88. #88 John Kwok
    August 13, 2009

    Silvermute,

    Thanks for reminding me why you are a delusional Pharyngulite. No need to comment further.

  89. #89 qbsmd
    August 13, 2009

    Why is “evidence for evolution” in sneer quotes?

    I assumed because it was the subtitle, like how “The God Delusion” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” were in quotes.

  90. #90 NewEnglandBob
    August 13, 2009

    Notice that everyone who disagrees with his Kwok-ness is delusional and a “Pharyngulite” (as if that were an insult) and a “Militant Atheist” (yet another insult in his mind).

    Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller, Ken Miller.

    Pathetic.

    Hey Kwok: no need to comment further.

  91. #91 SLC
    August 13, 2009

    Re NewEnglandBob

    And if one has the temerity to make a complementary remark about the personal appearance of a woman, he is a male chauvinist pig, a sexist, and a sex maniac, if not a slavering rapist. I think the problem here is that the Kwok hasn’t been getting any lately.

  92. #92 Kevin (NYC)
    August 13, 2009

    why is this kwok thing still posting here? and so often?

    where is the 24 hour rule enforcer?

    I think #74 has the truth of the matter. The losers at throwing rocks at the leader, trying to slow him up.

  93. #93 Wes
    August 13, 2009

    This is the first time I have ever done this.

    Jason, may I respectfully request that you ban Kwok? I love your blog, but I’m getting really tired of thread after thread getting filled up with endless comments from him. He’s obviously not going to respect your 1 comment per 24 hours rule. In fact, he made 3 comments in 1 hour today.

    I’m only saying this because I like this blog, and I hate seeing thread after thread get Kwokked to all hell.

  94. #94 JoshS
    August 13, 2009

    I’m with Wes at #93. Kwok is just way, way too much. The more he’s squeezed out of other blogs, the more he comments on the few that still allow him to do so.

  95. #95 Heraclides
    August 13, 2009

    Chris & Sheril headling for their blog report of this LA Times article seem to be crossing wires with their previous writing and accuse “Science” of the “Holy War”, not “New Atheists”. The title they offers ask Must Science Declare a Holy War on Religion? I’ve already replied over there, pointing out it’s the wrong question. (Not that they’ll take any notice!)

    @ 93 (Wes): Unless I’m confusing him for someone else, my understanding is that Kwok has been banned from many other forums for the essentially the same reason.

  96. #96 SLC
    August 13, 2009

    Re Jason Rosenhouse

    One need not ban the Kwok, just enforce the 1 comment/thread/24 hour rule. Actually, I personally find the Kwok a source of endless amusement.

  97. #97 JoshS
    August 13, 2009

    Actually, I personally find the Kwok a source of endless amusement.

    Then yours is a stupid comment, SLC. . .AAAAA. . .END KWOK SUBROUTINE! See how he tasks me so!

  98. #98 Ban Kwok Now!
    August 13, 2009

    I never ask for bans either. But when I see a comment thread Kwokified, I just move on. So ban him. You’ll be glad you did.

  99. #99 SLC
    August 13, 2009

    Re JoshS

    I really think we should show some compassion for the Kwok who is clearly not operating on all 8 cylinders. I can understand the frustration of those who do not find the Kwok amusing but I still think that enforcing the limit which the good professor imposed on him a couple of weeks ago would suffice. At least Anthony McCarthy who was not amusing has disappeared, hopefully for good.

  100. #100 J.J.E.
    August 13, 2009

    I don’t think the Kwok should be banned, as it is easy to skip him. I do however wish that there were an analog for blogs to Comment Snob so I could automatically do what I have to do manually: skip each post of his. It would be nice if in addition to filtering out posts without content, you could also filter out posts written by certain handles. Then you could simply read threads free of McCarthy and Kwok most of the time, and peek in occasionally to see what’s going on in their world.

    It has been said before and will likely be said again: it is a pity that the 20% of good stuff Kwok posts and the 20% of indifferent stuff he posts is contaminated by the 60% of oneupsmanship/me-tooism he posts.

  101. #101 marc buhler
    August 13, 2009

    J.J.E. @100 has over-estimated Kwok’s “good” posts by perhaps an order of magnitude. Perhaps it is the constant repetition of anything close to a good point that Kwok has made that has skewed the estimate – rarely has anyone excelled more at quoting themselves than he.

    (Disclaimer – a side comment in a Pharyngula thread made me wonder if Kwok was still active and a quick search found him at home here and shows little has changed, although in skimming this thread I saw no mention of “alma mater”, the president of Brown, or that “intellectual” phrase ‘M.I.P.’.)

    Also – Lorax @55 wins the thread! Whatever else this thread was intended to be about, this one comment shows the truth!

  102. #102 AL
    August 14, 2009

    What other unverifiable ideas ought to be criticized? How about “all men are created equal”? Perhaps the idea that we’re endowed with certain “unalienable rights”? Maybe the thought that Bach’s music is brilliant or Monet’s painting dazzling? Or mayhap it’s the concept that representative government is better than the alternatives? Or even the claim that torturing infants is wrong?

    None of these claims are descriptive, they are normative. Claims like “god exists,” or “evolution is wrong,” are descriptive and they should be criticized as false descriptions.

    Normative claims can be true in a subjective sense (as in “Person A finds Bach’s music brilliant” or “Person B finds torturing infants reprehensible”), but if someone were to claim that it has an objective or absolute metaphysical truth independent of human subjects, that claim should be criticized. Such claims are almost always made in the context of proving or else presupposing some supernatural basis for these norms, which is a sneaky and underhanded — not to mention fallacious — way of pulling out a descriptive claim from a normative one (e.g. “murdering infants is absolutely and metaphysically wrong, and without god, there can be no absolute metaphysical conception of wrongness, therefore god exists.” Note how is is inferred from ought, which doesn’t logically follow and should be criticized as so.).

  103. #103 CW
    August 14, 2009

    @Aquaria

    I keep saying that the problem here is that Mooney (and to a lesser extent, Nisbett) expected to be the big kahuna go-to guy for discussing science in the public arena.

    Absolutely. The underlying Mooney riff about Dawkings, PZ et. al. has always been “Don’t listen to them, listen to meeeeee!” Buy my books, hire me to speak, love me best dammit!

    Clearly somebody needs a hug.

  104. #104 CW
    August 14, 2009

    Dawkings? *sigh*

  105. #105 mrt
    August 14, 2009
  106. #106 Steve Greene
    August 14, 2009

    Response to #5 by John Kwok –

    Okay, John, so I click on the link and read the article at the Discover magazine site about the debate between Dawkins and Miller, I read what you quoted, and then I also read this:

    “The other thing that struck me was the tone of the debate – Dawkins, in his undeniably civil manner, was so aggressive, so relentless, and so pitiless toward his intellectual adversaries that it almost detracted from the quality of his argument.”

    John, you say Dawkins was “uncivil”. The guy who observed the debate and wrote the article says that Dawkins was “undeniably civil”.

    Let’s just say, I don’t believe you.

  107. #107 Steve Greene
    August 14, 2009

    Thought I was done, but I realized I have another thing to say: I really get sick and tired of people deliberately using these words of denigration for the specific purpose of motivating atheists to shut up. “uncivil”, “militant”, and the like are being used precisely because irrational beliefs are being openly and firmly questioned, and these people, rather than acknowledging that irrational beliefs – even those held on the basis of religious faith – should be openly and firmly questioned and criticized, they spout rhetoric designed to motivate such critics to shut up. That is precisely how I know that they are way off on the wrong track.

  108. #108 Robocop
    August 14, 2009

    102: “None of these claims are descriptive, they are normative. Claims like ‘god exists,’ or ‘evolution is wrong,’ are descriptive and they should be criticized as false descriptions.”

    In general, I get and agree with your point — verification can only make sense in the context of descriptive claims. But I’m not sure your point holds up at the margins (where I think “God exists” lives though not “evolution is wrong”). We are in no position (as far as I’m aware) to verify string theory yet (and may never be). That doesn’t mean that one is irrational or delusional to think that string theory is or could be true.

  109. #109 Coriolis
    August 14, 2009

    @108 Yes, it does. If string theory can never be verified, then you would be delusional to think that it “could be true”. Since being true means being verified, in science. It could still be a interesting theme for mathematics (although some prominent mathematicians have claimed that it’s boring mathematically), but it would certainly be useless as physics. I am aware of a few string theorists who have claimed that “mathematical beauty” could be a substitute for evidence, but that type of nonsense will only survive so long as not many people are aware of it.

    And at least from my perspective as a grad student in physics, physicists seem to converging to the opinion that string theory has been an unfortunate waste of time.

  110. #110 John Kwok
    August 14, 2009

    @ Steve Greene -

    Dawkins was definitely on the “attack” in his critique of Miller and others, and that wasn’t civil of him with regards to the aggressive nature as the writer of those remarks over at Discover magazine noted. You can compare that, for example, with Lawrence Krauss’s comments in his Wall Street Journal essay, in which he does criticize Ken, but does so in a far more respectful, and far more responsible, manner. The same can be said for Massimo Pigliucci’s excellent refutation of Ken’s belief in a weak anthropic principle (which, incidentally I do endorse, so you can’t say – contrary to SLC’s breathtakingly inane observation – that I’m Ken Miller’s “lap dog”) which he posted back in February at his Rationally Speaking blog (This was initially in response to some comments of Ken’s that Ken had made as a moderator of an evolution symposium at Brown University, where Pigliucci was one of the panelists.).

    @ J. J. E. – Thanks for your tepid support pour moi, but I think the percentages you cited are actually much better (I’d probably be doing even less “name dropping” where it not for the absurd comments of Pharyngulties who believe in smear attacks, not in rational discourse.).

  111. #111 JoshS
    August 14, 2009

    The Kwok did Kwokketh:

    contrary to SLC’s breathtakingly inane observation – that I’m Ken Miller’s “lap dog”

    If there was anything wrong with SLC’s observation, it’s that it was too generous by half. You’d be lucky to be Ken Miller’s Chia Pet.

  112. #112 Blake Stacey
    August 15, 2009

    And at least from my perspective as a grad student in physics, physicists seem to converging to the opinion that string theory has been an unfortunate waste of time.

    Gauge/gravity duality is still burning up the arXivotubes. . . .

  113. #113 Blake Stacey
    August 15, 2009

    I don’t think the Kwok should be banned, as it is easy to skip him. I do however wish that there were an analog for blogs to Comment Snob so I could automatically do what I have to do manually: skip each post of his

    If you use Firefox, there’s a killfile script for GreaseMonkey.

  114. #114 Christophe Thill
    August 15, 2009

    “Christophe was defending the idea that it is beneficial to treat all people equally under the law.”

    “Beneficial to whom?”

    I have difficulties picturing who in the real world could ask this kind of question. A radical skeptic, perhaps (an attitude that is not actually sustainable in real life). Or a radical libertarian. Or both.

    OK, here’s a tentative answer. There’s this thing called history. You can read about it in books. It doesn’t give absolute proof of things; but on the other hand, we know there’s no such thing as absolute proof. It doesn’t give demonstrations as strong as those obtained through experimental studies. But it is possible to study it in a “scientific” way: applying logical rigor, criticizing data and concepts, etc. Also, sociological studies help.

    And what it shows is: in a political state of things where the equality of all before the law is not guaranteed, there is no long-term consensus on the legitimity (legitimacy? sorry, I don’t know all the words) of power. If there is some free speech, this will be reflected in the press, literature, philosophy, other media (such as church sermons) etc. Generally this is one of the factors that lead one day to uprisings and revolutions.

    Of course it’s always possible to be a post-modernist, or a solipsists, and to claim that there’s no certainty about the reality of reality.

  115. #115 John Kwok
    August 15, 2009

    @ JoshS -

    Ken appreciates my support. So I’m his pit bull.

    Anyway I don’t have time answering each and every inane comment from you and your fellow Pharyngulites. I’m in the midst now of revising an unpublished novel, which will not feature your Messiah, one PZ Myers.

  116. #116 Sara
    August 15, 2009

    Kwok getting banned would be a great thing, seriously.

    It’s not like he adds anything to the discussion, unless you count the usual lies and quote-mining, and he makes reading the actually interesting comments much more difficult.

    On the other hand, why people are still engaging him, and thus encouraging him to grace us all with more of his usual vacuous erroneous lucubrations, remains a complete mystery to me.

  117. #117 SLC
    August 15, 2009

    Re JoshS

    Actually, come to think of it, the Kwok is actually Ken Miller pet rock.

  118. #118 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 15, 2009

    Kwok, Kwok, Kwok. You just don’t get it, do you? You show up on this thread; lie your head off; and then deny that people LAUGH at you?

    Of course they laugh at you, why wouldn’t they?

    You’re a birther.

    You tried to blackmail PZ Myers into giving you an expensive camera by threatening to DEFRIEND HIM ON FACEBOOK.

    Do you really not understand how incredibly inane, asinine, dumb, moronic, sophomoric, etc. that appears?

    YOU TRIED TO BLACKMAIL A MAJOR BLOGGER BY THREATENING TO DEFRIEND HIM.

    Just thinking about it makes me laugh.

  119. #119 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 15, 2009

    Kwok said

    Ken appreciates my support. So I’m his pit bull.

    Frankly, I don’t believe this. Miller has never said a word about you – I suspect your entire “friendship” thing may be in your head. We know you’re a wee bit confused about reality.

    Anyway I don’t have time answering each and every inane comment from you and your fellow Pharyngulites.

    But most of these people are Pharyngulites, John. They’re just posters – pointing out that you made assertions you couldn’t support. When pressed, you refused to address them. This is a discussion forum, John – not a place for you to indulge your fantasies in public.

    I’m in the midst now of revising an unpublished novel, which will not feature your Messiah, one PZ Myers.

    Interesting. First you claim everybody’s a Pharyngulite, then you lie about the various poster’s feelings towards Myers. And of course, we know that you THREATENED (when PZ was booting you from Pharyngula for dishonesty) to include PZ in that novel.

    Confused again, John?

  120. #120 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 15, 2009

    @Sarah

    On the other hand, why people are still engaging him, and thus encouraging him to grace us all with more of his usual vacuous erroneous lucubrations, remains a complete mystery to me.

    The main reason, of course, is that Kwok is funny. He’s like a robotic plush toy that barks and wags its tail when you press the button. I admit that it is both distracting (to the thread) and cruel (to John) to bait him, but as the Joker said, “He’s just too much fun.”

    I do genuinely feel sorry for Kwok. I suspect he’s desperately lonely (particularly for female company, given his quasi-stalking behavior) and starved for recognition. He also seems to have no ability to learn from his mistakes, or even how to make friends.

    That’s truly sad.

  121. #121 llewelly
    August 15, 2009

    Just to confirm, Kwok. You and Ken Miller actually believe that Jesus was a reptile?!?!?!

    And you thought David Icke was crazy …

  122. #122 John Kwok
    August 15, 2009

    Neither Ken Miller nor I think Jesus Christ was a reptile (I’m skeptical about the historical proof of Christ’s existence since I’m a Deist, not a Christian.). All Ken Miller said back in June that, for some vertebrates, parthenogenesis (“virgin birth”) is a well-established scientific fact. However, it doesn’t apply to mammals, so you can’t claim that Christ’s “virgin birth” could be proved scientifically (Both Ken and Vatican astronomer and planetary scientist Guy Consolmagno contended that the notion of Christ’s virgin birth was merely a religiou metaphor used by early Christians to emphasize the importance of Christ’s teachings. IMHO I believe they both made well-considered, quite rational, comments.).

    Only delusional Pharyngulites seem to think that Ken Miller and I think that “Jesus was a reptile”. Anyway, the video of the Science Faith Religion session at this year’s World Science Festival should be posted soon over at the World Science Festival’s website, so you can judge for yourselves.

    I’ve been distracted by news of some fans “dropping by” unannounced to the Manhattan apartment building that was the home of my favorite high school teacher, the author of “Angela’s Ashes” (Have had to remind some of his fans that condolences should be sent to his publisher’s publicists, not to his widow in person.). I am also busy writing, so will stop by occasionally now for the next few weeks.

  123. #123 John Kwok
    August 15, 2009

    @ SLC and Rilke’s Granddaughter -

    Watch yourselves kiddos. If I became a successful novelist, you’ll be getting it from me, legally speaking. I think you ought to behave yourselves for once.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if you were part of the retinue of McCourties who dropped by his apartment building unannounced and unwelcomed as soon as news of his death was
    released to the media.

  124. #124 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 16, 2009

    Kwok kwoked:

    Watch yourselves kiddos. If I became a successful novelist, you’ll be getting it from me, legally speaking. I think you ought to behave yourselves for once.

    John, you did all those things. You tried to blackmail someone by threatening to defriend them on Facebook. You are a birther – a worshipper (the term you use) of Orly Taitz.

    You lied about your novel; lied about the various posters here; lied about Dawkins. You dishonor McCourt’s memory by your grossly narcissistic name-dropping.

    And all in print. In indelible electrons.

    How stupid are you, John?

  125. #125 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 16, 2009

    The point being, John, that you can’t sue people for telling the truth about you. Sorry. You really should read up on the law.

  126. #126 marc buhler
    August 16, 2009

    “ken miller’s pet rock” also wins the thread!

  127. #127 John Kwok
    August 16, 2009

    Rilke’s Granddaughter -

    Who said I would sue or SLC? Why should I sue either of you when I might have more fun having you both disguised as characters in a future novel (Think of what happens to those USS Enterprise crew members on “Star Trek” who wear red shirt uniforms.). BTW I know of at least one notable writer who took care of his critic in such a fashion, and am sure that there are many other cases. I wouldn’t be the first, and frankly, I think you’d have a hard time trying to prove I was defaming you in a court of law.

    Anyway, I simply don’t have time to deal with Pharyngulite trolls like you and SLC anymore. Bug someone else please.

  128. #128 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2009

    “One More Round With M and K” and K(wok), apparently.

    But Jason, thanks (again!) for the catch. What they do with Dawkins is beyond honesty and rational discourse, even if it may have been prompted by a non-consistent view over time.

    They really should do a sanity-check on their discourse…, excuse me, “narrative”.

    The fact I think he’s been an fool and a hypocrite himself in this whole bizarre sidetrack might be all it takes to be a “new atheist”, as I am not sure what the term actually means to him.

    That is a funny proposition, seeing that he doesn’t support the term but find it ill founded.

    He, and the rest of these then so ill termed atheists, thinks it is business as usual. (And that the term is used as you do it here, to imply exclusion for no good reason.) No change in their understanding of the subject, possibly a change in intensity of public outreach.

  129. #129 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2009

    Never discuss Kwok generated information. He is a troll, and, as pointed out elsewhere, an obsessive compulsive game playing debater who attacks those who disagree with him. He is a notorious name dropper, especially of Ken Miller, and he tried to extort PZ Myers.

    He has been banned from several blogs for his lunatic statements and he tends to ruin and sidetrack most discussions.

    Thanks for the heads up. I will act accordingly. (I.e. instead of trying to refrain from ostracizing, point out his trollhood if necessary.)

    You lied about your novel; lied about the various posters here; lied about Dawkins.

    I didn’t see that coming. Add to that the youtube infamy above.

    Likely then the creationists that once accused him of not reading Behe’s book before ‘reviewing’ it was entirely correct, Kwok’s protests notwithstanding. IIRC my take was that creationists lie so often that the circumstances were suspect.

    It now turns out that Kwok likely lies more than creationists do. How is that for an irony?

  130. #130 Dave C
    August 16, 2009

    OT:

    Hey Jason, just wanted to let you know that I visited my local Barnes and Noble yesterday and noticed that they had three copies of your “Monty Hall Problem” featured prominently in the Math section. Congrats!

  131. #131 SLC
    August 16, 2009

    Re the Kwok

    BTW I know of at least one notable writer who took care of his critic in such a fashion, and am sure that there are many other cases.

    Actually, the most famous case of this was not by a writer but by the composer Richard Wagner. In his opera, Die Meistersingers von Nurnberg, one of the characters is depicted as jackass named Beckmesser. Beckmesser is generally believed to be a characterization of the music critic Eduard Hanslick, who was a vociferous critic of Wagners’ music.

  132. #132 John Kwok
    August 16, 2009

    Torbjörn,

    It’s a pity you find the words of Pharyngulite trolls more noteworthy than mine, especially when you and I have had excellent discussions in the past over at PT.

    I’m not lying about the novel. Have felt more “pressure” to resume substantial work on it since two friends of mine have submitted theirs to their respective publishers; both will come out next summer. I also feel obligated to doing something important literary-wise, as a means of paying tribute to my favorite high school teacher, best-selling memoirist Frank McCourt, who would have been seventy nine this Wednesday had he lived.

    As for the snide comments about Ken Miller’s “belief” in parthenogenesis, I have asked someone over at World Science Festival about the video in question, and have been told that it will be released and posted on its website sometime in the near future (probably within weeks).

  133. #133 marc buhler
    August 16, 2009

    Quote from comment #1 above….

    “I’m not going to comment further, except to note that we have all been wasting our time going back and forth ….”

    At comment #55 above, Lorax said:

    “Kwok @ 1 “I’m not going to comment further,…”
    Kowk @ 5, 10, 13, 14, 30, 33,… and presumably 56″

    Well – Lorax was wrong about #56, but not by much.

    (See: 60, 80, 82, 88, 110, 115, 122, 123, 127 and 132…)

    Or was Lorax truncated in comments and was going to say “and presumably 56 *more comments to follow*”? That makes more sense (even if Kwok’s comments don’t).

    Oh, and John – nice to see you remember birthdays of departed teachers and have managed to bring your attending high school somewhere you think is important into this thread at last.

  134. #134 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 16, 2009

    John, I know you don’t read much (you keep accusing folks of being atheists who aren’t; you keep accusing folks of being Pharyngulites when there’s no such thing) but you really should read your own posts…. Saying this:

    Who said I would sue or SLC? Why should I sue either of you when I might have more fun having you both disguised as characters in a future novel (Think of what happens to those USS Enterprise crew members on “Star Trek” who wear red shirt uniforms.)

    When you said this:

    If I became a successful novelist, you’ll be getting it from me, legally speaking.

    Dumb, John. Very dumb. To threaten legal action and then lie about threatening legal action. You can’t even be consistent from post to post.

    And who cares if I show up in a novel? That would be sweet! I didn’t know you liked me so much! That wouldn’t be defamation; it would be flattery – after all, you don’t even know who I really am (though any bright person with an internet connection can figure it out in about ten minutes).

    Remember when it comes to legal action, John, that you attempted to blackmail someone. You sent dopey letters to PZ’s colleagues telling them what a meany he was and how he needed to buy you a camera or you’d stamp your feet and hold your breath (or defriend him or something). That’s legally actionable; I checked. Fortunately for you, PZ is nice guy.

  135. #135 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 16, 2009

    About John Kwok:

    Likely then the creationists that once accused him of not reading Behe’s book before ‘reviewing’ it was entirely correct, Kwok’s protests notwithstanding. IIRC my take was that creationists lie so often that the circumstances were suspect.

    It’s correct; Kwok even ADMITTED he hadn’t read the book before reviewing it. He tried to weasel out of that by claiming that he “knew what was in it” and so he didn’t need to read it.

    The height of intellectual dishonesty.

  136. #136 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 16, 2009

    Kwok:

    As for the snide comments about Ken Miller’s “belief” in parthenogenesis, I have asked someone over at World Science Festival about the video in question, and have been told that it will be released and posted on its website sometime in the near future (probably within weeks).

    This is similar to reviewing a book without having read it; Kwok make an accusation against Dawkins without knowing if it’s true, on the basis of an interview that he’s never seen.

    You’d do better at Theologyweb, Kwok.

  137. #137 JoshS
    August 17, 2009

    Have felt more “pressure” to resume substantial work on it since two friends of mine have submitted theirs to their respective publishers; both will come out next summer.

    And theirs will be magnificent pieces of work, with whose words I shall agree wholeheartedly. They shall hold the Militant New Atheist Borg Collective Pharyngulite Swarm to account for their discursive violence to my eminent friend Ken-Miller-Lisa-Randall-Brian-Greene-Frank-McCourt-Massimo-Pigliucci-Mezze-Chicken-Korma.

    . . .as a means of paying tribute to my favorite high school teacher, best-selling memoirist Frank McCourt, who would have been seventy nine this Wednesday had he lived.

    To whose best-selling best-sellingness I owe the breadth and depth of my education, and to whose wake I shall go (actually, have gone, since it was private, and only the closest family and friends were invited, knowing, as they did, the McCourt family, that certain. . . lower elements . . . might wish to disrupt an otherwise somber and august affair) and lament righteously, before bestowing my final beneficence upon my lost, lamented friend, “He looks so . . . peaceful.”

    By my hand on this day I do Kwokketh,

    John Kwok

  138. #138 codswallop
    August 17, 2009

    Have Sherril and Chris perhaps been “saved”?

  139. #139 Robocop
    August 17, 2009

    109: “If string theory can never be verified, then you would be delusional to think that it ‘could be true.’”

    Since string theory hasn’t been verified to this point, those who think it could be true are delusional by your reckoning?

    “Since being true means being verified, in science.”

    Nonsense. Scientific principles are true whether or not verified. They don’t just pop into truthiness when verification gets accomplished. Moreover, there isn’t some Verification Commission to declare when the journey is sufficiently complete.

    114: “There’s this thing called history. You can read about it in books. It doesn’t give absolute proof of things; but on the other hand, we know there’s no such thing as absolute proof. It doesn’t give demonstrations as strong as those obtained through experimental studies. But it is possible to study it in a ‘scientific’ way: applying logical rigor, criticizing data and concepts, etc. Also, sociological studies help.”

    Okay.

    “And what it shows is: in a political state of things where the equality of all before the law is not guaranteed, there is no long-term consensus on the legitimity (legitimacy? sorry, I don’t know all the words) of power. If there is some free speech, this will be reflected in the press, literature, philosophy, other media (such as church sermons) etc. Generally this is one of the factors that lead one day to uprisings and revolutions.”

    The (apparent) fact that most people like it doesn’t make it verified.

  140. #140 John Kwok
    August 17, 2009

    Hate to disappoint those who think otherwise, but I own a copy of Michael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”. How did I get it? I asked for a review copy of it, using as “pull”, my ties to a certain bestselling Simon and Schuster author, my high school teacher, Frank McCourt. Once I got it, I read it, quickly realizing how poorly Behe understands evolutionary ecology, coevolution, population genetics, and other important aspects of evolutionary biology.

    I’m voluntarily going to be limiting my time here for the next few months as I work towards finishing my unpublished novel. Both SLC and RG have, along with PZM, earned the right to “appear” – in a disguised form of course – in some future novel I am thinking, probably along the lines of the “red shirt” minor characters on the original “Star Trek” television series… and of course, if you know “Star Trek” well, you know what happened to these characters in the course of a typical ST episode. I’d rather not add others as “potential” characters if I can help it.

  141. #141 SLC
    August 17, 2009

    Re the Kwok

    Hey, how about JoshS? And JC? And AS? If the Kwok includes all his detractors, there will be too many characters to keep track of.

  142. #142 Wowbagger
    August 17, 2009

    John Kwok,

    How many times does one need to insult you point out your mindboggling vacuity in order to qualify to get into your book? I know we’ve only had a couple of minor back-and-forths at Pharyngula and The Intersection, but you did take quite a lot of offence; does that get me in?

    Oh, and I’d hire a good editor to pick you up on those word you overuse – like ‘eminent’.

  143. #143 John Kwok
    August 17, 2009

    @ Wowbagger -

    Don’t think you’re hot stuff. You’re small potatoes compared to, for example, Sven Di Milo. At least you and Sven know when to shut up. Unfortunately neither SLC nor RG do, which is why I think they’ll both appear in minor, but still notable, scenes as “red shirts” in a Starfleet-like organization in a potential future novel I’m thinking of writing. However, let’s see whether I can sell this one first (This is a near future one that’s set in the USA and Europe, and that’s all I’m saying about it now.).

  144. #144 marc buhler
    August 17, 2009

    kwok himself @143 says: “…. , and that’s all I’m saying about it now.).”

    Let me dwell on those fine words for a bit.

    “all I’m saying…. now” – I guess “now” means “for the next couple of comments in the thread”.

    See? — “that’s all I’m saying about it for the next couple of comments in this thread”.

    Just like the very first comment in this thread, too.

  145. #145 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 18, 2009

    The idea that Kwok thinks that putting people who best him intellectually in as minor characters to be killed off in some Star Trek pastiche is remarkably funny.

    John, have you told any potential editors about your penchant for pathetic blackmail?

    And John, you admitted you hadn’t read the book you reviewed. You admitted it right there on amazon. And you should be ashamed of cheapening McCourt’s name that way. Did you enjoy the funeral? I did, but I must have missed seeing you there.

  146. #146 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 18, 2009

    The idea that Kwok thinks that putting people who best him intellectually in as minor characters to be killed off in some Star Trek pastiche is remarkably funny.

    John, have you told any potential editors about your penchant for pathetic blackmail?

    And John, you admitted you hadn’t read the book you reviewed. You admitted it right there on amazon. And you should be ashamed of cheapening McCourt’s name that way. Did you enjoy the funeral? I did, but I must have missed seeing you there.

  147. #147 John Kwok
    August 18, 2009

    To paraphrase Ophelia Benson, my comments are worth more than RG’s or marc butler’s (Marc maybe you might have noticed that I was referring to my novel, not this discussion thread. As for my very first comment on this thread, I wasn’t going to comment further, but felt compelled to.). RG, congratulations you are definite “red shirt” material should I sell my first novel and work on others (I suppose that this comment of mine will prompt yet another pathetically inane observation of yours. Must remember not to feed a Pharyngulite troll like yourself.).

  148. #148 John Kwok
    August 18, 2009

    Rilke’s moronic granddaughter -

    Surely if I didn’t read “The Edge of Evolution”, do you think I would review it? Virtually every review I write over at Amazon is written after I have read, watched or handled the item in question. And yes, mentioning that I was a former student of McCourt’s did gain me some access into obtaining a free copy of Behe’s pathetic mendacious intellectual pornography (It’s still on my shelf, but nowhere near the books I treasure dearly, including my autographed copies of McCourt’s memoirs.).

  149. #149 John Kwok
    August 18, 2009

    To the Pharyngulite trolls who thought I was “mean” to Opheila Benson over at Chris and Sheril’s blog, I didn’t write the lyrics to the hit Katy Perry song, “Hot N’Cold”. Katy Perry and her songwriting collaborators did:

  150. #150 John Kwok
    August 18, 2009

    @ Rilke’s moronic granddaughter -

    There were two large private memorial services held for Frank McCourt in the week following his death. I find your attendance at either one quite improbable to say the least (BTW, I know where both were held, and I was present at one.).

    As for my own ties to him, maybe you didn’t get the message, but I think I did mention here at this blog in another discussion thread that I was quoted in an article on him that was published back in 1998.

    Anyway, I have much more important things to concern myself with than to answer each and every example of breathtaking inanity from you.

    I’m sure he’d agree too, especially if you had been a student of his back in 1987:

  151. #151 Wowbagger
    August 18, 2009

    Anyway, I have much more important things to concern myself with than to answer each and every example of breathtaking inanity from you.

    So you keep insisting. You know how we’d know if you were actually spending time on these ‘more important’ things, John? It’d be when you actually stopped commenting with a loon-like regularity.

  152. #152 marc buhler
    August 18, 2009

    Gee Kwok,

    Why you can’t spell a name correctly when it is there in front of you bodes poorly for your future as a “writer”.

    “Butler” my ass.

    Or did you think Ben Stein was in “Ferris’ Butler’s Day Off”?

    Now, how many posts is it you have made in a thread you were going to make no further comment (twice) in?

    I am losing count – oh well, back to PZ’s blog I guess…

  153. #153 John Kwok
    August 18, 2009

    @ marc,

    Ever heard of editors? If they do their job right, they’ll do a great job in editing a fine manuscript like, for example, “Angela’s Ashes”. If they don’t do their job right, then they run rhe risk of turning out “Unscientific America”, which IMHO could have been a much better book.

    @ Wowbagger,

    I’ll talk to you later. Why don’t you run along with Marc and enjoy the games and circuses over at Pharyngula?

  154. #154 Wowbagger, OM
    August 18, 2009

    Damn it, I can’t bring myself to be mean to Kwok anymore, even if it’s just for laughs. It’s like punching a blind, arthritic, incontinent goat tied up in the backyard.

  155. #155 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 18, 2009

    John Kwok posted the following

    Hi all,

    I asked their publisher for a review copy so I could write a review of it at Amazon.com, but he’s had a change of heart. Guess he realized that I’d be writing a harsh condemnation of Dembski’s latest example of mendacious intellectual pornography. Judging from the chapter headings provided in the only – and favorable – review posted so far at Amazon.com, I should have no problem reviewing it, whether I receive a copy or not.

    Cheers,

    John

    Posted by: John Kwok | July 5, 2008 10:50 AM

    In short, he wrote the review without reading the book. He admitted it in print.

    Reference is here: http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2008/07/green_buttocks.php#comment-963465

  156. #156 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 18, 2009

    John Kwok said,

    To the Pharyngulite trolls who thought I was “mean” to Opheila Benson over at Chris and Sheril’s blog, I didn’t write the lyrics to the hit Katy Perry song, “Hot N’Cold”. Katy Perry and her songwriting collaborators did:


    No one said you wrote it. What they did point out (truthfully) is that you used those lyrics to call Ophelia a bitch or somesuch term.

    John, try to be honest when you defend yourself. Otherwise, you just look silly.

  157. #157 Rilke's granddaughter
    August 19, 2009

    Kwok

    There were two large private memorial services held for Frank McCourt in the week following his death. I find your attendance at either one quite improbable to say the least (BTW, I know where both were held, and I was present at one.).

    Apparently you weren’t invited to the one that mattered.

    And I would point out that a psychologist would really enjoy your intention of expressing your anger and frustration with people you can neither best intellectually or physically by “killing them off” in effigy. It’s a common reaction to feelings of impotence.

  158. #158 John Kwok
    August 19, 2009

    Rilke’s moronic granddaughter -

    I believe we were talking about Michael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”, not William Dembski’s teenager-aimed introductory text co-written with a CA Xian “minister”. Apparently I caught you in a lie accusing me of not having read Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”, which you posted here a few days ago:

    135
    About John Kwok:

    Likely then the creationists that once accused him of not reading Behe’s book before ‘reviewing’ it was entirely correct, Kwok’s protests notwithstanding. IIRC my take was that creationists lie so often that the circumstances were suspect.

    It’s correct; Kwok even ADMITTED he hadn’t read the book before reviewing it. He tried to weasel out of that by claiming that he “knew what was in it” and so he didn’t need to read it.

    The height of intellectual dishonesty.

    Posted by: Rilke’s granddaughter | August 16, 2009 9:56 PM

    Here you assumed that I hadn’t read Behe’s book, but I did AND OWN A COPY of it.

    As for Dembski’s juvenile bit of mendacious intellectual pornography, I did admit that I didn’t read the book in my review, but noted that I knew what Dembski would say about the fossil record, which was shown subsequently to be correct by others (The only other time I haven’t read a book I reviewed was Stuart Pivar’s self-indulgent excursion into science, self published at the time he was engaged in legal action against your Messiah, PZ Myers.).

    I strongly doubt your claim that you were present at a McCourt memorial service, even the one that his students held in his memory that was held at a noted East Village tavern (which was the one I attended; the other was in Midtown).

    If you keep on posting more examples of breathtaking inanity against me, then you’ll guarantee yourself multiple appearances in my work should I become a successful author.

    John Kwok

    P. S. Ken Miller doesn’t have to post his praise on my behalf. He’s told me in person and made a special note of that when he autographed my copy of his “Only A Theory”. And no, I am not doing favors for him online. I just happen to agree with him most of the time and believe that his means of fighting evolution denialists is far more effective than anything I have seen lately from the likes of
    Coyne, Dawkins, and especially, Myers.

  159. #159 SLC
    August 19, 2009

    Re the Kwok at #158

    The chances that the Kwok will become a successful fiction writer are about equal to the chances that Michelle Bachmann will be elected POTUS in 2012.

  160. #160 John Kwok
    August 19, 2009

    @ SLC -

    The chances that you will cease and desist from referring to any woman as “hot” are as low as a successful presidential candidacy from Michelle Bachmann. And so is the likelihood you’ll be cured of both your male chauvinism and sexual addiction.

    As for my own fiction writing, who knows? I do know that there’s at least one very prominent fiction writer who thinks I may be able to pull it off. But let’s see if I can accomplish this. It’s going to be a couple of months before I know. However, if I can do this, you have already earned yourself potential multiple appearances in any subsequent works of mine.

  161. #161 SLC
    August 19, 2009

    Re the Kwok

    It appears from his comment # 160 that the Kwok still isn’t getting any.

  162. #162 John Kwok
    August 19, 2009

    @ SLC -

    Have you ever considered emulating Socrates after he was tried and convicted of treason against the Athenian city state? It’s too bad that someone as highly educated as you claim to be relishes rampant usage of lies and innuendos to make your points, while also enjoying your obvious sociological and mental deficiencies as both a male chauvinist pig and sex addict?

    Don’t answer please. Just some food for thought.

  163. #163 SLC
    August 19, 2009

    Re the Kwok

    Actually, the Kwok need not go as far back as Socrates. The German Field Marshall, Erwin Rommel, was forced to ingest poison after he was suspected of taking part in the bomb plot against Hitler. He was given a choice, take the poison and be given a heros’ funeral or be tried as a traitor and hung with piano wire with the rest of his family being sent to a concentration camp.

  164. #164 Wowbagger
    August 19, 2009

    John Kwok, has it not occurred to you that perhaps threatening people with symbolic deaths in possible future novels isn’t going to make them stop pointing out your unceasing derangment?

    Because, to me, being able to wander past a bookstore with a friend and gesture toward the latest Kwok on the shelf and say, ‘I’m in that book’ would be something to be proud, rather than ashamed, of. Especially if I could respond to the friend’s inquiry as to what I did to deserve it; I’d laughingly say, ‘Well, I called the author a vacuous, name-dropping dimwit crippled by social and emotional problems.’

  165. #165 Rilke's Granddaughter
    August 19, 2009

    Kwok continues

    Rilke’s moronic granddaughter -

    There’s something about the 3rd-grader-on-the-playground-holding-his-breath-until-he-turns-blue, childish, petty nature of John’s new habit of adding gratuitous insults that amuses me greatly. Oddly enough, it resembles Larry Fafarman’s strange habit of resorting to various obscene epithets when confronted with people who contradict him.

    I believe we were talking about Michael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”, not William Dembski’s teenager-aimed introductory text co-written with a CA Xian “minister”. Apparently I caught you in a lie accusing me of not having read Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”, which you posted here a few days ago:

    Ah, Dembski. Well, you’re right, John – I was thinking of a different book. My apologies for that. Since I can’t be bothered to remember all the books you’ve reviewed without reading them, I recalled the wrong one.

    So, my apologies.

    However, since my major point was that you’re intellectually dishonest enough to write reviews about a book without having read it, strictly on the basis of what you THINK the author MIGHT have said, I don’t withdraw the accusation of intellectual dishonesty.

    You lack integrity, John. You’re dishonest (consider that review an example).

    As for Dembski’s juvenile bit of mendacious intellectual pornography, I did admit that I didn’t read the book in my review, but noted that I knew what Dembski would say about the fossil record, which was shown subsequently to be correct by others (The only other time I haven’t read a book I reviewed was Stuart Pivar’s self-indulgent excursion into science, self published at the time he was engaged in legal action against your Messiah, PZ Myers.).

    Lordie, John. You admit in public to reviewing books you haven’t read. Doesn’t do much for your credibility, my child.

    I strongly doubt your claim that you were present at a McCourt memorial service, even the one that his students held in his memory that was held at a noted East Village tavern (which was the one I attended; the other was in Midtown).

    You can doubt anything you like; it’s a free country. I miss the man, and I find your continually narcissistic fame-by-association use of his name highly disrespectful and rather creepy. I was glad I could pay my last respects.

    If you keep on posting more examples of breathtaking inanity against me, then you’ll guarantee yourself multiple appearances in my work should I become a successful author.

    Wowbagger has the appropriate response to this.

    But seriously, John; there is an entire psychological complex relating to folks who have to “burn their enemies in effigy”. It’s also rather sad and creepy.

    P. S. Ken Miller doesn’t have to post his praise on my behalf. He’s told me in person and made a special note of that when he autographed my copy of his “Only A Theory”.

    Wow! A celebrity autograph. Do you have Madonna’s, too?

    And no, I am not doing favors for him online. I just happen to agree with him most of the time and believe that his means of fighting evolution denialists is far more effective than anything I have seen lately from the likes of
    Coyne, Dawkins, and especially, Myers.

    You thought Myers was fine until he booted your butt for being a narcissist. And being oblivious. And boring. And aren’t you supposed to be writing a book? Feel free to kill my character off multiple times. It’s flattering.

  166. #166 Replica Watches
    September 20, 2009

    Once,at i wear a Replica Watches at a dancing-party,all my friends were attracted by it,for it looks very wonderful under the light ,and it matchse my skirt perfectly.When i told them about the price,all of them think the price was resonable.So i told them the website http://www.watches-life.com/.I think they’ll get a big surprise!