I had intended to leave this subject behind, at least for a while, but Josh Rosenau has a lengthy post up that I think merits a reply. See also this post and the ensuing comments.

On several occasions at this blog (here and here for example) I have endorsed the efforts of the NCSE and other science advocacy groups to reach out to religious groups. I think it is great that NCSE has a permanent employee devoted to such outreach. Religious supporters of evolution have been essential in every major victory, both legal and political, our side can claim. If we can open people’s eyes to the diversity of religious opinion, and persuade them towards more moderate forms of religious belief I think that is great.

If I did not believe that outreach to religious believers was a valuable activity, I would not spend so much time going to creationist and ID conferences. When I participate in the Q and A’s at such conferences, or interact with the conference goers, I do not attack or mock their religion. Instead I focus completely on the scientific blunders of the speakers. I try to be as polite as I possibly can. Obviously I have no illusions about my ability to convince a devout evangelical Christian to change his mind. I do believe, however, that I might be able to plant a few seeds and to show people something they have not seen before. I also believe that it is harder to ridicule and stereotype a group of people (I’m talking now about creationists mocking evolutionists) when a representative of that group is standing right there. I discussed this issue in this essay (PDF format) in BioScience a few years ago.

The problem comes when outreach to religious groups becomes a euphemism for bashing people who take a less cozy view of the science/religion issue. Pointing to the diversity of religious opinion is fine, dismissing as fringe extremists people who dissent from NOMA is not. When any sort of criticism of accommodationist arguments is seen as harmful to the cause, then we have a problem. We have several recent examples to illustrate things:

  • Kevin Padian’s false and demeaning statement that only extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists see a conflict between science and religion.
  • Darryl Domning telling atheists that they must step aside for the good of the cause, and allow theistic evolutionists to take the lead.
  • Chris Mooney condemning as bad strategy Jerry Coyne’s critical review of recent books by Ken Miller and Karl Giberson, despite describing the review as “a very good, extensive, thoughtful article.”
  • Michael Ruse speculating that people like Jerry Coyne are as harmful to the cause of promoting science as Phillip Johnson and his supporters.

    A while back I heard Ken Miller address this topic. He said bluntly that we should have everyone, theist and atheist alike, speaking on behalf of evolution, and he was exactly right. Jerry Coyne expressed similar thoughts in saying, “Ken Miller is a valuable asset in our fight against creationists. But so is P.Z. They contribute in different ways.”

    Such sensible opinions, and from people supposedly at polar opposites of this issue. Would that everyone were so reasonable. Outreach to religious groups does not have to mean taking a firm stand on the proper way of viewing the relationship between science and religion, and dismissing anyone who dissents as an extremist or a fundamentalist.

    The problem is that while religious outreach is important, it is doomed to failure as a comprehensive strategy. It is completely unremarkable that so many people think evolution renders Christian belief unreasonable. There is a reason so many highly educated people must write at book length just to show that major Christian claims about the world (that humans hold a privileged place in creation; that the world is superintended by a God who is all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful; that the Bible is inerrant and sacred) are not quite impossible in the light of evolution.

    By all means tell people about how four billion years of savage, cruel and wasteful evolution by bloodsport was a logical necessity for God to achieve his goals, or that the prevalence of evolutionary convergence somehow makes it likely that human-like intelligence was inevitable, thereby preserving a privileged role for humans in God’s plan. Tell them they don’t need the argument from design to maintain a rational belief in God and that they need a team of scientists and literary theorists to tell them what the Bible means.

    Yes, go sell that message. Just don’t be surprised when you find few buyers, and don’t blame Richard Dawkins for your lack of success.

    If I thought we could take those huge percentages of Americans who adhere to relatively conservative sorts of religious beliefs and move them over to the left I would happily endorse that path. But that is a pipe-dream. Recent American history has shown that it is liberal denominations that are unstable and losing members, while more conservative churches are going strong. I find that easy to comprehend, since conservative theology offers many emotional benefits that liberal theology can not match.

    That is why I believe a long term solution to this problem does not lie in moving people towards relatively more reasonable sorts of religious belief, but rather by moving towards a society in which religious belief is accorded far less respect than it currently is. Certainly that is a very long-term goal, and I do not know precisely how to achieve it. But I do know that making atheism highly visible is a big step in the right direction. Writing polemical books is one way of doing that. Yes, polemical books. Polite, nuanced philosophical treatises are good too, but they just don’t obtain the sort of attention that is needed.

    To this point I have been focused specifically on the evolution issue. Obviously, though, I think religion lies at the heart of a great many other societal ills. It is the primary factor in issues like bigotry towards homosexuals, repressive attitudes toward women, assaults on public education, and a political system in which people must profess the strength of their religious faith to have any hope of a future. Those are just a few examples. That marginalizing religion in public discourse leads to a more rational, science-friendly society I regard as obvious from a comparison of those societies in which religion has been marginalized versus those where it has not.

    This, of course, does not entail any simplistic claim that religion is the sole source of societal irrationality or that highly secular societies are little pieces of heaven on Earth. I’m not looking forward to the day when we all go around like little Mr. Spocks. It simply recognizes that there are certain species of irrationality that are effectively unique to religion.

    Nor does it entail any claim that all forms of religion are equally guilty. It simply acknowledges that the most dominant forms of religion, at least in this country, are not notable for their adherence to evidence and rationality in their pronouncements.

    This can lead to some conflicts. The official position of the Catholic Church, notwithstanding flirtations with ID from certain Cardinals, is that evolution is a marvelous theory indeed. That’s great! I am very happy to have Ken Miller and John Haught on my side when fighting battles over science curricula. But is the Catholic Church now to be considered a friend of enlightenment and rationality? Not as long as their leader is said to be closer to God than the rest of us, capable of speaking infallibly at least some of the time, and not as long as they have their fingers in so many dangerous right-wing pies. Their myriad faults are not diminished in the least by the fact that they mostly have it right on evolution.

    The main argument against this sort of thing is that polemics “scare away moderates.” This, despite its depressing ubiquity, is really more of a mantra than it is a well-thought out argument. The idea seems to be that there is some large group of people out there who are in some way reachable with a pro-science message, but upon hearing Dawkins or Hitchens say something rude they shut off their brain and throw in with the fundamentalists.

    Apparently a great many people find it just too complicated to say, in response to being offended by something Richard Dawkins says, “I don’t like Richard Dawkins!” It seems they say instead, “I don’t like Richard Dawkins, so I am going to be reflexively opposed to anything he supports, and side with the fundamentalists, because I find them less repugnant.” Here is a clear statement of the basic attitude, from Chris Mooney:

    And this is where Dawkins himself comes it-for at least on some level, could he possibly not have known this? A few years back, long before we had The Greatest Show on Earth, I wrote (with Matt Nisbet) of Dawkins that “The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism.” Just swap “media” for “public” and the sentence is equally accurate.

    Now, should the public and the media know the difference? Hell yeah. But is that the world we live in? Hell no.

    And thus arises the really tough question: Should Dawkins and his followers recognize this reality and adapt accordingly, or should they blame the media and public (for being the media and public)?

    Gosh, condescending much? It’s just too darn complicated for “the public” to think that Richard Dawkins could talk about more than one subject. Or, for that matter, that Dawkins is just one person and that it’s pretty poor form to judge a large group of people based on one representative.

    Let me suggest that such people, to the extent that they exist at all, should not be viewed as potential allies. If they will in some vague way support teaching evolution in schools but only if you protect their delicate little ears from the opinions of those who are unimpressed with their religious beliefs, then they are not really friends of science at all.

    If I am reading Mooney correctly, then “adapting to this reality” means “walking on eggshells around religion.” If that is the case, then count me out. I am more interested in changing that reality then I am in adapting to it.

    I have no doubt that many people are offended by Dawkins and his colleagues. The question, though, is whether they actually change their views about science or education as a result of his rhetoric. And whether there are enough of them to cancel out the obvious benefits that accrue from bringing atheism out of the closet, not to mention the number of people who tell stories like this.

    Another reason I am not so worried about the New Atheists making the situation worse for American science education is that the situation is pretty horrendous already. Let us be honest, the creationists have largely won. There are very few public school students in this country who get an unapologetic, full-throated introduction to evolution. If the courts ever step out of the way, all of the accommodationist talk in the world is not going to save us. The polls don’t just show distressingly high rates of evolution rejection, they also show overwhelming majorities supporting the teaching of some sort of creationism alongside evolution. There are very few, if any, school districts in the country where we could afford to put this issue to a popular vote.

    Our side typically dismisses this fact by saying people are just responding to the “fairness” argument. The trouble is that that is actually a very powerful argument! It doesn’t start to lose its power until you have a really thorough understanding of the scientific particulars, which is the one thing the framers and the communications experts tells us we must never provide for fear of being boring and pretentious and know-it-ally.

    Which brings me, finally, to Josh. He quotes Jerry Coyne:

    In 25 years of effort, these organizations don’t seem to have had much effect on influencing public opinion about evolution. I think that this may mean that our nation will have to become a lot less religious before acceptance of evolution increases appreciably.

    Josh replies:

    This sort of argument is quite common from Coyne, PZ, and a range of others in that camp (“New Atheists,” if you will). It argues that public opinion on evolution has been fairly constant for the last 30 years, therefore current approaches to evolution-defense/advocacy have failed, therefore we should do something different, therefore we should stop treating pro-evolution religious people and groups as allies.
    While the last part of this argument doesn’t follow in any obvious way from the first parts, one can cobble something or other together. …

    If all else were equal, and if the goal of NCSE, AAAS, NAS, and other groups were primarily to conduct public education about evolution, then the measure of success would clearly be poll results on public acceptance of evolution. But both of these assumptions are false. For the last 50 years, creationists have undertaken a high-profile media campaign against evolution, building on the previous hundred years of anti-evolution agitation (of varying intensity).

    By the lights of Coyne, et al., the creationists too have failed, as they aren’t moving the needle against evolution. Indeed, we appear to be in a public opinion stalemate. Static public opinion thus suggests that either creationists are totally ineffective and that pro-evolution forces have been as well, or that creationists are effective on some level and that pro-evolution groups have also been effective, but not much more effective than creationists. The first is wildly implausible, given the wide dispersal of creationist talking points in the general discourse, so we have to conclude that pro-evolution groups have been effective to at least some degree, and the premise of the New Atheist critique of such efforts is left on quicksand.

    This isn’t to say that the critique can’t be saved, but it does suggest a naivete or disingenuity among people making such arguments. They either don’t realize the political context of the creation/evolution conflict, or are intentionally obscuring that context to make their point. Neither of those would be entirely satisfactory.

    Now, as any regular reader of Josh’s blog knows, he is a veritable zen master at keeping his cool. Jerry Coyne has written way more inflammatory things, some of them directed at Josh himself. So I had to laugh over the idea that the relatively milquetoast statement above is the one that caused him to stamp his feet and get indignant.

    As for Josh’s little argument, how terribly clever! It has a few problems, though. The first is that he presents a pretty gross caricature of Jerry’s argument, at least as I understand it. Someone who thinks Ken Miller is an asset in these sorts of things is not likely to argue that pro-evolution religious people and groups should not be regarded as allies. Coyne’s main point, at least with regard to the NCSE and other science advocacy groups, is that we should not be pandering to religious groups by throwing outspoken atheists under the bus, and we should not be taking firm stands on the proper relationship between science and religion.

    The second point is simply that not having much of an effect is far different from having no effect at all. I have no doubt that things would be much worse today were it not for the tireless efforts of the NCSE and their supporters over the last twenty-five years. There is a reason everyone on my side of this is a member and big supporter of the NCSE, despite our disagreements on this one issue.

    But the fact remains that the current situation is terrible. We are in the precarious position of counting on the courts to save us from religious intrusions into public education. Whatever we have been doing is not adequate. Perhaps there simply is nothing more to be done beyond what we are already doing, but I don’t think Jerry is out of line in thinking something more is required.

    Finally, while Josh focuses mainly on Coyne’s first sentence, his second sentence seems undeniable to me. And since leading our nation to a less-religious condition would have a great many other benefits beyond increased acceptance of evolution, I say that is something worth fighting for.

    Josh’s post goes on for a while, but I feel little need to reply to it since I agree with almost every word of it. He stresses the need for increased and more effective outreach. He writes, among other things:

    In recent years, NCSE has been working towards being less reactive, hiring a staffer to reach out to faith communities and another to reach out prospectively to teachers. The first is necessary to counter creationists’ ability to sow doubts about evolution in churches, and to turn that around by encouraging pro-evolution clergy to express their views in pulpits and in public hearings, and to bring scientists in to advance that cause as well. The education project works to help teachers improve and increase their evolution coverage, a critical component of improving the situation. Both positions are less than 5 years old, making it too early to measure the effects of those two hard-working staffers on public opinion polls at large. But it’s a big job, and two people alone can’t do the job, and all of NCSE’s staff is often consumed with the challenge of blocking creationist advances. Naturally, there are lots of things NCSE could do if it had a ton more money and staff, and anyone interested in helping on that front knows what to do.

    Excellent! I love it! Keep up the good work!

    But another thing we can do is have vocal atheists and humanists stand up publicly, and with a bit of anger and confidence say we are not going to kowtow to a state of affairs where the dogmatic pronouncements of religious clerics are treated with crazy amounts of respect. We are not going to accept defeatist talk about how religion will always be with us and about how you can’t change people’s mind on this issue, and that we can only hope to adapt to this reality and work around it by walking on eggshells around their religious beliefs.

    We can make atheism and humanism so ubiquitous and commonplace that the younger generation does not find them weird and exotic. If we are successful the evolution issue will take care of itself.

Comments

  1. #1 Sam C
    October 31, 2009

    You finish by saying:

    We can make atheism and humanism so ubiquitous and commonplace that the younger generation does not find them weird and exotic. If we are successful the evolution issue will take care of itself.

    That’s been pretty much the situation in northern and western Europe since the Enlightenment.

    You pick up on the most important communication issue, which is that people are not rational. We evaluate arguments by all sorts of criteria, few of which are scientific or objective (in the first place at least). And, as you say, we judge arguments partly by whether they come from people we like and/or trust. And the fault is on both side: some atheists threw a wobbly when the Pope said something along the lines of “yes, we accept evolution in the Roman Catholic church” because apparently everything the Pope says is automatically wrong. Me, I thought it was a good thing to hear.

    We have the absurdity of these creation v. evolution sideshow arguments about the facts and the semantics. These arguments never convince anybody. I suspect that those who finally say they buy the arguments (from either side!) do so to post hoc rationalise a creeping and ill-defined sense of unease with their prior views. There’s an old education dictum (from Piaget perhaps?) that “you only learn what you almost know already”. I think that applies here.

    That’s not to decry the scientific method: two key points about the scientific method are (1) it’s not at all as obvious as it seems to us, because we’ve only had it for a short period of humanity’s history, (2) the great thing about the scientific method is not how you generate hypotheses (it’s OK to have a flash of insane inspiration in the bath) but how those hypotheses are assessed and evaluated. And in science, rationalism doesn’t always prevail as smoothly as our PR suggests: the group selection arguments in population genetics have been going on for over 40 years and the sides seem entrenched and politely nasty.

    So, you’re right with your general message: create an environment where the rational and scientific view is unapologetically “out there” and it will succeed.

    I suspect that David Attenborough’s corpus of work might be the best tool in this job. Nice images, trustworthy man, and he tells the punters that this is the magic of evolution when they are at their most receptive.

  2. #2 Jeff Hebert
    October 31, 2009

    We can make atheism and humanism so ubiquitous and commonplace that the younger generation does not find them weird and exotic.

    I think this is a brilliant and succinct way of phrasing the entire issue from “our” side. Thank you for that, I love it and hope I see it used in a lot of other places as well.

    Not to equate atheists with other repressed minorities, but we certainly wouldn’t have the vigorous debate and looming victory of gay marriage were it not for the younger generation’s overwhelming comfort with the fact that gay people are just people. The same must, and will, be true for atheists and humanists.

  3. #3 Sigmund
    October 31, 2009

    In my opinion the main argument in favor of an outspoken approach rather than a deferential accomodationist approach is not that it will lead to the rapid conversion of many religious people to our way of thinking. Its that it creates an atmosphere in society where it is virtually impossible to deny the fact that atheists exists and exist as good and productive members of society. This will not convince too many older people but, as the european experience shows, it will have an effect on young people not so set in their ways.
    I get the impression that the framers, for the most part have a single issue as a priority (climate change) rather than an interest in promoting understanding of science as a whole. Its also not just atheism that gets pushed off the boat when one starts accomodating religion – stem cell research and treatment of homosexuals and women are also issues at risk.

  4. #4 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    Kevin Padian’s false and demeaning statement that only extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists see a conflict between science and religion.

    You mean this?: The two kinds people who believe that religion and evolution can not coexist are extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists. Everyone else doesn’t really have a problem. [A majority] of Americans believe that a belief in god is compatible with evolution.

    What’s wrong with it–he doesn’t say most people believe in evolution, he says a) most people believe religion and science can coexist and b) most people think it possible to believe in God and in evolution as well. You have evidence directly to the contrary?

    Gosh, condescending much? It’s just too darn complicated for “the public” to think that Richard Dawkins could talk about more than one subject. Or, for that matter, that Dawkins is just one person and that it’s pretty poor form to judge a large group of people based on one representative.

    Quit with the “Oh, aren’t you condescending to the public” line and show me some actual, non-anecdotal evidence that what Mooney says is not the case. I don’t think you have any since nearly everything else in this article argues pretty strongly to the contrary.

    If that is the case, then count me out. I am more interested in changing that reality then I am in adapting to it.

    Here’s a suggestion: you change reality BY adapting to it. I would have thought an evolutionist would have known that.

    And that last “give me the children and I’ll make the future” statement is rather unconstructive, wouldn’t you say? It’s like you want to give the opposition ammunition.
    People willing send kids to school to learn facts and techniques, not to be made into versions of their teachers. The arrogance of that attitude is nothing but fuel for the fire.

    I wouldn’t send my own kid to the Darwinist Svengali School.

  5. #5 Leni
    October 31, 2009

    Great post.

    From the PDF of the essay in BioScience

    It is easy to caricature the views of people you have not met, a fact that works to the detriment of all sides. This conference was within an hour’s drive of three major universities. So where were the science faculties from these schools? Why was I the only one who felt it worth a weekend to offer interested people a more realistic view of
    modern science?

    Efforts to inject creationism into the schools must be vigorously opposed. At the ballot box, at the courthouse, and in the legislature, biologists must continue to fight for science, no matter how distasteful the fight may be. But such battles are not the end of the story. There is
    a time for angry confrontation, and there is a time for calm discussion.
    The leaders of the ID movement are filling a
    vacuum left by scientists unwilling to engage the public about the true nature of their work. Interacting with people
    on the other side is the only way to remedy this situation.

    (Emphasis added.)

    The part that is bolded is is more or less the point that I was going to make. I have only ever met one person whom I knew was a young earth creationist. This person is a coworker and while we are not friends, I do think she is a nice person and have no desire to be rude or condescending to her (and wouldn’t even if we weren’t coworkers). In fact, we had a friendly conversation about it and I found I literally could not sneer, despite the fact that this is my general attitude towards creationism.

    However, if my coworker had been Bill Dembski (for example), the conversation would certainly have been far less cordial. Primarily because I think Dembski is an unethical, dishonest, opportunistic hack. He’s abused his (marginal) position of authority by using it to malign his intellectual opponents and in doing so has earned the scorn and contempt he gets. If Dawkins or Coyne or anyone else wants to write a polemic heaping scorn on Dembski, I say go for it. Both barrels.

    But I can’t say that about about most other people and I wouldn’t want them to be treated badly on Dembski’s account.

    I also completely agree with the point you made about interacting with people on the other side. This, and your weird ability to be unfailingly polite, is why I am very happy to have you as a spokesman for science at such creationist events. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort. Perhaps next time you could convince Rosenau or Mooney and some local biologists to go with you.

  6. #6 Bryan
    October 31, 2009

    Oran,

    Here are some poll results that I think are relevant: http://www.britishcouncil.org/darwinnow-survey-global.pdf

    53% of Americans think it is “possible to believe in God” and evolution at the same time. Do you think that 47% of Americans are “extreme religious fundamentalists”? More importantly, this poll question didn’t even ask about “religion”. It asked about “belief in God”, which can mean almost anything – just ask Karen Armstrong.

    I agree with Jason that the following statement is clearly false: “only extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists see a conflict between science and religion”.

  7. #7 James Sweet
    October 31, 2009

    show me some actual, non-anecdotal evidence that what Mooney says is not the case.

    Um…. null hypothesis?

    Seriously. This is Creationist-caliber logic. “Show me some actual non-anecdotal evidence that Satan didn’t plant the entire fossil record in order to confuse us.”

    Mooney has to prove Dawkins et al are driving people away from evolution — he can’t just demand that Dawkins, etc., prove himself innocent. Who are you, Glenn Beck? “If Coyne has nothing to hide, why doesn’t he show us the long-form of his Certificate of Not Driving Away Moderates?”

  8. #8 jake
    October 31, 2009

    So far, the “Converts Corner” section of richarddawkins.net has 750 entries.

  9. #9 Sven DiMilo
    October 31, 2009

    show me some actual, non-anecdotal evidence that what Mooney says is not the case

    Yeah, as noted above, that’s…not how it works.

    you change reality BY adapting to it. I would have thought an evolutionist would have known that.

    I have tried and failed to make any sense out of that lil nugget.

    the Darwinist Svengali School

    LOL wut?

  10. #10 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    So it is impossible to disprove something now? The public is unwilling or unable to distinguish between the evolution debate and the atheism debate.

    That is a statement for which no contrary evidence can be presented?

    Curious.

  11. #11 tomh
    October 31, 2009

    Oran Kelley wrote:
    most people think it possible to believe in God and in evolution as well. You have evidence directly to the contrary?

    Do you have some evidence in the affirmative? Of course not. Just another bald-faced assertion that the so-called accomodationists want to use as evidence.

  12. #12 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    So it is impossible to disprove something now? The public is unwilling or unable to distinguish between the evolution debate and the atheism debate.

    That is a statement for which no contrary evidence can be presented?

    Curious.

    It is not a debate for which no evidence can be presented by it is a debate for which no evidence has been presented.

    Mooney and Kisrshembaum’s new book has been widely criticised for failing to produce any evidence to support their contention “new” atheism is harming science education in the US.

    They, and others who are sympathetic to their message, have been asked for the evidence. None has been forthcoming.

    Now that could be that they just have not presented it for some reason. But given how long they have had to do so that is less likely to be the case than the simple fact they have none.

  13. #13 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 31, 2009

    Oran –

    If you follow the link I provided with the Padian quote you will find my reasons for believing it to be false.

  14. #14 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    Here are some poll results that I think are relevant: http://www.britishcouncil.org/darwinnow-survey-global.pdf

    53% of Americans think it is “possible to believe in God” and evolution at the same time.

    Which admittedly, is more dire than Padian would have it, but still, it is a majority. And Padian is really just making a political salvo here, trying, indeed, to marginalize those condemn Darwinism from a relgious perspective (not necessarily 47%, btw–have to allow for IDKs).

    What in the world justifies the hyperventilation over that? False and demeaning . . . might be better to look closer to home.

  15. #15 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    Mooney and Kisrshembaum’s new book has been widely criticised for failing to produce any evidence to support their contention “new” atheism is harming science education in the US.

    Jason was disputing a specific argument by saying it was condescending . . . I suppose he could have said it was badly supported, but he didn’t. He said it was condescending, I asked for evidence that it was mistaken as well as being condescending. Read the gd post.

  16. #16 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    Jason was disputing a specific argument by saying it was condescending . . . I suppose he could have said it was badly supported, but he didn’t. He said it was condescending, I asked for evidence that it was mistaken as well as being condescending. Read the gd post.

    The evidence that it is condecending would be self-evidence I would have thought. However I will spell out why it is.

    In saying that “the public” cannot differentiate when Dawkins is talking about evolution and when he is talking about atheism and religion suggests Mooney does not have a high regard for the intelligence of the public. No doubt Mooney thinks he can tell which hat Dawkins is wearing, and no doubt you do too. I am pretty certain I can. Unlike Mooney, and it seems possibly you, I think the public can do the same. Mooney seems to see his role as a stopping Dawkins from confusing the poor ignorant public. That is what people find patronising and condescending.

    Now Mooney has not produce a shred of evidence to support his claim that the public cannot tell the difference. Until he does, his claim does not deserve to be taken seriously.

  17. #17 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    If you follow the link I provided with the Padian quote you will find my reasons for believing it to be false.

    Yes, I read that, too, and I don’t find it justifies the response too well.

    If you are going to take a this absolutist incompatibility position, you’d better develop a thicker skin about being called an extremist.

    And I can never get a straight answer as to what this incompatibility is. Whenever I ask people tell me about Galileo, which is like arguing that blacks and whites are absolutely incompatible because they’ve conflicted in the past.

    This is supposed to be a philosophical incompatibility. What. precisely. constitutes. the. incompatibility. from. a. philosophical. standpoint.

  18. #18 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    This is supposed to be a philosophical incompatibility. What. precisely. constitutes. the. incompatibility. from. a. philosophical. standpoint.

    Many, but not all, religious people believe that factual claims about their god are literally true. They believe in the literal virgin birth of Jesus, or that Mohammed really did fly off into heaven on a flying horse. They regard these as factual claims about the world. In doing so they are using religion as a means to knowledge about the world, and about how it works.

    Science is also a means to knowledge about the world and about how it works.

    The problem is that the answers religion comes up with and the answers science comes up with differ. Science tells us horses do not fly, indeed cannot fly. It also tells us mammals do not do virgin birth, and that even if they did the offspring would be female, not male.

    So we have what some people consider are two ways of knowing, but they produce not only different answers but answers that cannot both be correct.

    Can you see what the incompatibility might be now ?

  19. #19 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    The evidence that it is condecending would be self-evidence I would have thought. However I will spell out why it is.

    MISTAKEN AS WELL AS CONDESCENDING, Matt. The implication of this sentence is that I am granting that it is condescending, and wanting to know why it should be treated as if it were mistaken.

    So as to Mooney’s hypothesis, what evidence can you offer to the contrary. In support I would offer the fact that practically everyone who interviewed Dawkins had to be reminded that he had a new book on a different subject. This after no doubt having been repeatedly told this by the publishers PR flaks–Mooney’s written on this as well, I see.

    I suppose we’ll just have to await the next round of polling data, won’t we.

  20. #20 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    MISTAKEN AS WELL AS CONDESCENDING, Matt. The implication of this sentence is that I am granting that it is condescending, and wanting to know why it should be treated as if it were mistaken.

    I guess then we will have to disagree that treating religious believers as being too stupid to be able to tell when Dawkins is talking about evolution and when he is talking atheism is condescending.

    So as to Mooney’s hypothesis, what evidence can you offer to the contrary. In support I would offer the fact that practically everyone who interviewed Dawkins had to be reminded that he had a new book on a different subject. This after no doubt having been repeatedly told this by the publishers PR flaks–Mooney’s written on this as well, I see.

    I do not have to provide the evidence. It is not my hypothesis, it is Mooney’s. Mooney really does need to produce hard data to support his claims. If he cannot produce the data himself then maybe he needs to look at collaborating with people can can. Until he does produce data what reason is there to take his claims seriously ?

  21. #21 llewelly
    October 31, 2009

    Oran Kelley | October 31, 2009 9:10 AM:

    And that last “give me the children and I’ll make the future” statement is rather unconstructive, wouldn’t you say? It’s like you want to give the opposition ammunition.
    People willing send kids to school to learn facts and techniques, not to be made into versions of their teachers. The arrogance of that attitude is nothing but fuel for the fire.

    I wouldn’t send my own kid to the Darwinist Svengali School.

    This is why I never listen to the arguments of the Accommodationists. They’re too militant, and too strident.

  22. #22 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    “I guess then we will have to disagree that treating religious believers . . .” Mooney statement is about “the public,” not “religious believers.” And I’d say the evidence of Dawkins’s talk show appearances counts in Mooney’s favor.

    Would it be condescending if I said this same public will never understand the intricacies of string theory? Or to point out that the public took a VERY LONG TIME to realize Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. It may not reflect well on the public in your mind, but that’s facing facts. And if that’s condescension I say so be it.

  23. #23 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    Would it be condescending if I said this same public will never understand the intricacies of string theory? Or to point out that the public took a VERY LONG TIME to realize Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. It may not reflect well on the public in your mind, but that’s facing facts. And if that’s condescension I say so be it.

    I guess you just think the public is thick.

    And I’d say the evidence of Dawkins’s talk show appearances counts in Mooney’s favor.

    Clearly you do not understand the concept of evidence, or even the burden of proof.

  24. #24 Josh Rosenau
    October 31, 2009

    Jason: “But another thing we can do is have vocal atheists and humanists stand up publicly, and with a bit of anger…”

    I don’t think anyone is saying atheists and humanists shouldn’t stand up and be heard. I’m in the broad humanist camp, NCSE’s Genie Scott is in that camp, so are several other staffers. Chris Mooney is an atheist, and Sheril keeps her religious views private but seems to fall in the broad humanist camp.

    Why with anger? Is Malcolm X a better role model than MLK Jr.? Were ACT UP’s attacks on Catholic leaders more effective at securing support for the HIV+ community than Ryan White’s quiet witness? Is there another political movement that succeeded with anger where peaceful resistance or calm, behind-the-scenes politicking failed?

    It’s one thing to be angry at particular ideas and the people who promote those ideas. Thus, the Pope for his opposition to condoms, or Steve Fuller for being a douchebag to Norm Levitt, or Bill Dembski for being a hacktacular IDolator. That anger is justified when a person makes clear an unwillingness to change a harmful policy. Bull Connor deserved anger of this sort. But is “religion” in its broadest sense the sort of thing that’s worth getting angry about? It’s that absolutism that bugs me about the New Atheists.

    Anger begets anger. One doesn’t need data on Dawkins’ effect specifically to know whether anger works as a tactic. Much of the criticism of TGD and of Crackergate can, I think, be traced to a reaction against the anger apparent in Dawkins and Myers respectively (calling religious parents child abusers is a fairly angry comment, and you don’t stick a nail through something unless you want to stick it to a piece of wood, are angry with it, or both).

    It’s great that we agree on 99%, so let’s talk about that 1% a bit more.

  25. #25 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    “Burden of proof?” in what context? Is this a legal proceeding? I didn’t know.

  26. #26 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    But is “religion” in its broadest sense the sort of thing that’s worth getting angry about? It’s that absolutism that bugs me about the New Atheists.

    Do you not see a common theme ?

    What societies are most abusive of women ? What societies are most abusive of gays ?

    Are you really unaware of the correlation between how religious a country is and how well is does in treating woman, minorities, the sick, in short any criteria that I, and I suspect you, consider measures of a healthy, decent, civilised society ? Here in the UK the most liberal mainstream Church are the Anglicans. Yet they still cannot agree that women and gays should be be the victims of discrimination.

    Does this mean that removing the influence of religion will cure such ills ? Of course not, but the evidence from Europe suggests it is a dammed good start.

    When it comes to the ills inflicted on the world in the name of religion, the teaching of creationism is not that important.

  27. #27 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    “Burden of proof?” in what context? Is this a legal proceeding? I didn’t know.

    Burder of proof as in the physical and social sciences.

    You are aware that in those disciplines it is the person who advances a hypothesis to show that hypothesis is correct by producing evidence to support it ? It is called the null hypothesis.

    For someone who seems so interested in the science/religion debate you do not seem to know much about science works. Do you want to go away to fix that ?

  28. #28 abb3w
    October 31, 2009

    Jason Rosenhouse: Let me suggest that such people, to the extent that they exist at all, should not be viewed as potential allies.

    “Alliances are built upon more than tactical advantages, they are built upon similarities of culture.” Perhaps it would be adaptively useful to think of them as “potential tools”– albeit politically unwise to openly refer to them that way.

    Sam C: (it’s OK to have a flash of insane inspiration in the bath)

    Or dream of cannibal snakes. Or even get your conjecture/hypothesis delivered to you inscribed on golden tablets carried by seraphim choir. It’s the testing that counts.

    Oran Kelley: This is supposed to be a philosophical incompatibility. What. precisely. constitutes. the. incompatibility. from. a. philosophical. standpoint.

    Precisely? Accepting inference from assumption of a particular pattern, without accepting inferences resulting from mere assumption of general pattern which the particular pattern reduces to instantiating.

    In practice, conflict does not rule out coexistence, nor coexistence rule out conflict; for anthropomorphic analogy, look at the West Bank. The degree of coexistence, compatibility, and conflict all depend on what degree you’re talking anthropological practice versus philosophical discipline. Humans tend to get cognitive dissonance over internal inconsistencies only in so far as they are induced to reflect on them.

  29. #29 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    Are you really unaware of the correlation between how religious a country is and how well is does in treating woman, minorities, the sick, in short any criteria that I, and I suspect you, consider measures of a healthy, decent, civilised society ? Here in the UK the most liberal mainstream Church are the Anglicans. Yet they still cannot agree that women and gays should be be the victims of discrimination.

    Well you know what they say about correlation.

  30. #30 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    Well you know what they say about correlation.

    That they warrant investigation rather than simple dismissal ?

    With regards religion, given the role religion has within society it is certainly a correlation worthy of investigation. Certainly it is evidence those advancing claims religion is not a force for social ill need to explain.

    Well that is what I would say. You, knowing nothing about science, probably say something entirely different (and most likely wrong).

  31. #31 abb3w
    October 31, 2009

    Josh Rosenau: Why with anger?

    To shift the Overton Window.

  32. #32 Leni
    October 31, 2009

    But is “religion” in its broadest sense the sort of thing that’s worth getting angry about?

    When it is harmful, I think is most definitely is. I don’t think it is simply “religion in it’s broadest sense” that angers many atheists, either. Rather, it is religion and religious influence on public policy that is most upsetting.

    For example: Prop 8 didn’t anger me because it was broad and general, it angered me because it was specific and harmful to all of us, especially those who are prevented from sharing rights and privileges the rest of us take for granted. And it was largely driven by religiously inspired bigotry against gay people. I cried when my own state passed a similar constitutional amendment. Not because I am an angry person who hates religious belief, but because I care about the rights of others and I don’t want to live in society that treats people so abominably for so such petty, ridiculous, and insane (yes, insane) reasons. It is injustice and of course it’s going to piss people off!

    So no, it’s not the mere fact that people believe that makes some atheists angry: it’s the fact that religious beliefs can have very real and very dire consequences. And when it drives public policy that seeks to misinform or discriminate, I would argue that we should get angry.

  33. #33 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 31, 2009

    Josh –

    Notice that I advocated “a bit of anger” not “relentless, fiery rage.” Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris do not come across as bitter, angry people in their public presentations, and even their books are not as rude as is sometimes pretended.

    Your reference to MLK and Malcolm X is very poorly chosen. Malcolm X was a poor role model not because of his anger, but because he advocated violence. As for MLK, he was plenty angry not just at those responsible for Jim Crow laws and the like, but at those who lectured him constantly about the dangers of offending white people by his demonstrations and sit-ins. “Peaceful resistance” is not the opposite of anger. Reread his Letter From a Birmingham Jail and you find nuggets like this:

    You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

    Sounds like exactly what Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris are doing, and what I am endorsing. The analogy isn’t perfect, since we are not actually looking to the government to do anything beyond remaining scrupulously secular. But surely the same principle applies.

    Another example is the vigorous work of gay activists throughout the last two decades. Virtually every gay pride parade ever held has been met with denunciations from learned pundits about how gays shouldn’t be so in your face about things for fear of offending straight people. Today, with the two big issues of gay marriage and gays in the military poised to fall the right way and with public acceptance of homosexuality at an all time high, those people look very foolish.

    From the other side the enormous success of the religious right is yet another counterexample to your thesis. Was it polite discussion and friendly faces that turned them from a marginal player in the early seventies to one of the most dominant political forces of the last twenty-five years? You know full-well that it wasn’t.

    Being angry and vocal isn’t an alternative to behind-the-scenes politicking, it’s what you do to make the politicking possible.

    You wrote:

    I don’t think anyone is saying atheists and humanists shouldn’t stand up and be heard.

    But plenty of people are saying that we shouldn’t be heard arguing that science and religion are fundamentally in conflict, or that Christians of a traditional bent are absolutely right to see evolution as a threat. You are among those people, unless I have misread you. And by encouraging atheists and humanists to be super-polite and hyper-nuanced in their criticisms of religion you are pretty much guaranteeing that we won’t be heard.

    But is “religion” in its broadest sense the sort of thing that’s worth getting angry about? It’s that absolutism that bugs me about the New Atheists.

    Sorry to bug you, but the answer is yes, religion in its broadest sense is worth getting angry about. Unless we are taking about very liberal, John Shelby Spong style theology religious belief itself is a big problem. The backward political views and hostility to science are symptoms. The disease is a view of the world that grants religious clerics a level of authority they have not earned, or that says that certain ancient books are holy and inerrant, or that says that supernatural interventions are a regular part of our lives, or that morality is handed down by God, or a dozen other bad ideas to boot. And, no, this argument is not refuted by pointing to sensible, left-leaning people from more moderate denominations any more than people who smoke their whole lives and don’t get sick show that cigarette smoking isn’t so terrible.

    Your argument is tantamount to asking why we should throw out the whole cigarette when it is really just the nicotine and carbon monoxide that cause the problems.

  34. #34 Christophe Thill
    October 31, 2009

    Am I thinking simplistically? Among the believers, I tend to see two categories.

    There are those whose special brand of religion says nothing against evolution. Either they have no real idea on the topic (as is the case of many people), mostly because of a lack of scientific education and information; they may also oppose it (though not in a very tough way) because they don’t understand it very well. Or they’ve taken a few biology classes, or read a few books, and evolution is fine with them. So, what do you do for them? I guess the only thing to do is to keep writing good books, making good TV shows, and especially emphasizing the importance of a good science education. Mostly they’re not close-minded, and if they don’t already know, they will understand. I suppose the NCSE just has to carry on doing what it does.

    Now you have those believers who belong to a strongly anti-evolution religion. Be they Southern Baptists of fundamentalists Muslims or anything else, they’ll have a general anti-science attitude (best described by the Creation Museum’s “God’s word vs. human reason”). The smoothest, kindest accomodationist attitude will be no good with them. To them, you’ll always be an evilutionist, a science peddler, a supporter of human reason. For many of them, you’ll just be the enemy. And to them, there’s no real difference between the attitude of Kevin Padian, Kevin Miller, Chris Mooney and PZ Myers. They may even say that, at least, they find PZ Myers sincere.

    My conclusion from all this is that accommodationism is a failed strategy. The second category will never be won. And to win the first one (or a part of it), the natural “biodiversity” of opinion and attitudes among advocates of science is a strength, not a handicap.

  35. #35 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    Burder of proof as in the physical and social sciences.

    You are aware that in those disciplines it is the person who advances a hypothesis to show that hypothesis is correct by producing evidence to support it ? It is called the null hypothesis.

    For someone who seems so interested in the science/religion debate you do not seem to know much about science works. Do you want to go away to fix that ?

    But the quote in question comes from a Washington Post opinion piece, not a social science paper, and it is not presented as if it had the authority of science–it is presented as an essayistic observation.

    There are standards of evidence for such writing, but it isn’t the same as that of a peer-reviewed paper in the physical sciences.

  36. #36 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    Well you know what they say about correlation.
    That they warrant investigation rather than simple dismissal ?

    With regards religion, given the role religion has within society it is certainly a correlation worthy of investigation. Certainly it is evidence those advancing claims religion is not a force for social ill need to explain.

    Well that is what I would say. You, knowing nothing about science, probably say something entirely different (and most likely wrong).

    WE’ve covered all this ground before: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/so_what_should_we_ornery_athei.php

  37. #37 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    Accepting inference from assumption of a particular pattern, without accepting inferences resulting from mere assumption of general pattern which the particular pattern reduces to instantiating.

    Oooo, jargon! Even if it does mean something, the question isn’t “What is epistemological incompatibility?” It is what precisely IS the incompatibility in this case.

  38. #38 Jim Lippard
    October 31, 2009

    Josh: “Why with anger? … Were ACT UP’s attacks on Catholic leaders more effective at securing support for the HIV+ community than Ryan White’s quiet witness?”

    It was ACT UP that got the FDA to speed up drug approvals and change the testing process to get more AIDS patients access to experimental drugs. It wasn’t just their anger and the “die-ins” in places like FDA headquarters, it was also the fact that many activists became extremely well informed about medicine and were able to intelligently converse with researchers. But I don’t think there’s much question that the die-ins and the media attention putting pressure on the FDA were a major factor in the accomplishment of their goals (ultimately leading to the Prescription Drug User Fee Act of 1992, which created its own set of problems). The attacks on Catholic leaders got them a lot of negative press, and was widely regarded as counter-productive, but they did still get what they wanted from the FDA.

    If your position is that such approaches are never appropriate or effective, this case is actually a counter-example. If it’s that such approaches can be counter-productive, I don’t think anyone would disagree.

  39. #39 Oran Kelley
    October 31, 2009

    My conclusion from all this is that accommodationism is a failed strategy. The second category will never be won. And to win the first one (or a part of it), the natural “biodiversity” of opinion and attitudes among advocates of science is a strength, not a handicap.

    Who cares if the unreachable aren’t reached? They won’t be reached by anything anyway and everyone already knows that. The idea that this represents a failure of a more accomodationist strategy is completely off-base.

  40. #40 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2009

    But the quote in question comes from a Washington Post opinion piece, not a social science paper, and it is not presented as if it had the authority of science–it is presented as an essayistic observation.

    There are standards of evidence for such writing, but it isn’t the same as that of a peer-reviewed paper in the physical sciences.

    It is more than just one article in a newspaper. There is also book. I guess you forgot about that.

    However you seem to have admitted, albeit indirectly, that no only does Mooney not have any evidence he also does not need to provide any.

    Mooney I would remind is intent on telling scientist how to communicate. If he has no data to support him why should they pay him the slightest bit of attention ? Scientists as a group are very keen on evidence. It is the bedrock of their discipline. At the very least by not providing evidence, and if you are to believed not seeing the need to provide evidence, he makes the very mistake he accuses scientists of making. Mooney is not addressing scientists in a manner this is likely to make them want to listen to what he has to say. Given that he makes much of his being an expert in communication (remember his involvement with framing ?) it is puzzling and ironic that he is so bad at it.

  41. #41 Marshall
    October 31, 2009

    Perhaps the camp is getting divided into those who are For Evolution, with Religion as a side issue, and those who are Against Religion, with Evolution as a poster child. Personally, I think it’s better…. nicer for everybody… to be For stuff than Against stuff. Glen Beck is very mobilizing, but is he helping the GOP win the next election? Do you think? Is he making the country a nicer place to live in?

    I think you’re making a tactical mistake by forcing Religion to fight on grounds of Rationality. Religion isn’t really about being Rational… that’s what Your Side goes on being frustrated about. It’s about emotional issues like situatedness, community, hope, grief. It will be a long time before Rationality trumps Emotion in humans.

    …..Tell them they don’t need the argument from design to maintain a rational belief in God and that they need a team of scientists and literary theorists to tell them what the Bible means says. Yes, go sell that message.

    OK. Thanks for your blessing.

  42. #42 Stuart M.
    October 31, 2009

    I came over here on the link from the Richarddawkins.net. I agree with the Mr. Rosenhouse and many commenters here that both a “polite” engagement with religious folk and an “in your face” approach have their places and are needed.

    Atheism still has a “stigma” like “communism” here in the USA, and the more that atheists “come out” and “act up,” the more acceptance we will eventually get. There are some early signs that younger Americans are increasingly more open to atheism and this may someday bring about a European-style acceptance of it in the USA.

    Is more acceptance of atheism a plus for the evolution debate? Obviously yes! Is more acceptance of atheism a minus for religion? Obviously by definition! Is a minus for religion a plus for gay rights and women? Obviously… I think Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Hitchens, et al, are operating on this premise.

    Oh, sorry to be the school teacher here, but I notice here and elsewhere “accommodation” is being spelled with just one “m”. It has two c’s and two m’s.

    Mr. Oran Kelley seems to be a militant accommodationist.

  43. #43 articulett
    October 31, 2009

    Maybe accommodationism works for people like Oran Kelly… but what exactly do we mean by “works”? Is he an example others want to be like? Is his understanding of evolution coherent? Does he imagine that he has expertise at teaching science? Myself, I prefer the more honest approach of Dawkins, Coyne, and Jason Rosenhouse. And so I conclude that other people like me would prefer the same.

    I think about what approach I would have preferred during the days when I believed you could “know” things through “faith” and “feelings”. I think Dawkins letter to his daughter in A Devil’s Chaplain (excerpted here: http://onemansblog.com/2007/03/19/richard-dawkins-good-and-bad-reasons-for-believing/ and expanded upon in his new book for teens) was essential in prodding me forward. The accomodationists are talking out of both sides of their mouths. They don’t believe in god any more than they believe in gremlins, but they talk as if god belief is more respectable or scientifically valid than belief in gremlins. But it’s not. And it’s dishonest to use language in a way that leads to the impression that it is. The “new atheist” refuse to make such an inference because they recognize that doing so enables magical thinking and all the abuse and manipulation that can come from such.

  44. #44 Tyler DiPietro
    October 31, 2009

    “Even if it does mean something, the question isn’t “What is epistemological incompatibility?” It is what precisely IS the incompatibility in this case.”

    There are at least two sources of incompatibility between science and religion:

    1. Evidence in religion is considered unnecessary, perhaps even undesirable, in forming beliefs.

    2. The conclusions reached by scientific reasoning thus far conflict with the assertions of most religious systems. We have failed to find any evidence that the world was created by any supernatural intelligence, that ghostly souls interact with our material bodies and survive death in some way, or that prayer or magic of any sort can effect the physical world, to name a few problems.

    “Who cares if the unreachable aren’t reached? They won’t be reached by anything anyway and everyone already knows that. The idea that this represents a failure of a more accomodationist strategy is completely off-base.”

    For once, we’re in agreement. I don’t think the quite sizable portion of America that disbelieves in evolution by natural selection for religious reasons will be reached by any strategy, which is why this conflict is destined to persist forever. However, advancing secularism in this country would provide a better political balance, in my mind.

    Plus, I’m not as interested in strategy as I am in the relative merits of religion, since I care about what is true as opposed to what is convenient.

  45. #45 Physicalist
    November 1, 2009

    Your argument is tantamount to asking why we should throw out the whole cigarette when it is really just the nicotine and carbon monoxide that cause the problems.

    Good stuff, Jason. And the MLK point too. Thanks for carrying the torch!

  46. #46 Divalent
    November 1, 2009

    articulett said: “The accomodationists … don’t believe in god any more than they believe in gremlins, but they talk as if god belief is more respectable or scientifically valid than belief in gremlins. But it’s not. And it’s dishonest to use language in a way that leads to the impression that it is.

    Well said, except I’d think you should have omitted the “or scientifically valid” part. I don’t think the faitheists imply that god belief is scientifically *valid*, just *compatible* (in some sort of vague way that is never explicitly dealt with except at a trivial level). The “respectable” part is dead on, and concisely captures the anti-accomodationist perspective. (If only the faitheists would understand it).

  47. #47 Oran Kelley
    November 1, 2009

    It is more than just one article in a newspaper. There is also book. I guess you forgot about that.

    Your issue is with Chris Mooney and not with me. I am talking about one quote cited in this post that appeared on a newspaper editorial page and in a blog. That’s it: I’m not talking about Mooney’s entire oeuvre or his entire project. Issues with those are probably best taken up with Mooney, not with me.

    What I am talking about is one particular suggestion for which we–Mooney knows it, I know it, you know it–there is no survey data available, and about which Mooney doesn’t think we can wait for the survey data for the simple reason that such survey’s aren’t done at the wave of a wand and even if they were, at the point you’ve finished the damage is done. So, the standards of evidence you are demanding here do not apply.

    So the response to the proposition is to refute it using what evidence, inference and reason you are able to bring to bear. This is a style of intellectual conversation that has been around for a very very long time–much longer than science, has been engaged in by scientists and non-scientists alike, and is familiar to a fairly broad audience.

    By standing around demanding evidence you know is unavailable at the moment, you really begin to sound like someone demanding “proof” of global warming. Well we’ll all have our “proof” when the disastrous effects are obvious to everyone, but it won’t be of much use.

  48. #48 Oran Kelley
    November 1, 2009

    1. Evidence in religion is considered unnecessary, perhaps even undesirable, in forming beliefs.

    2. The conclusions reached by scientific reasoning thus far conflict with the assertions of most religious systems. We have failed to find any evidence that the world was created by any supernatural intelligence, that ghostly souls interact with our material bodies and survive death in some way, or that prayer or magic of any sort can effect the physical world, to name a few problems.

    OK, so let’s grant that religion involves some belief that doesn’t require what science would accept as evidence. Now if I am a preacher who believes in God and the power of prayer to console–with no real evidence to back me up . . . what does science have to say about my personal belief?

    In my view, nothing. I think there’s a God out there and prayer helps me cope are not assertions that are fundamentally at odds with a the scientific way of knowing. They aren’t scientific, but I don’t say they are, and I don’t think that the fundamental goal of science is passing judgment on every single belief of every single person is it?

    The truth of merely interior beliefs of people who may have significant pragmatic justifications for belief (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidentialism) are just not a fundamental concern of science.

  49. #49 articulett
    November 1, 2009

    OK, Science can say that your view is unfalsifiable, which makes it unscientific. You might reply that since your belief is unfalsifiable, it’s “compatible with science”. I’d agree that it’s compatible in the same way that a belief that “sprites put ideas in your head” is compatible. It’s compatible in the same way that belief in demons or body Thetans or reincarnation is compatible.

    Sure, science can’t prove these notions are wrong, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean there’s much of a probability that they are right or that it’s rational or useful to take such ideas seriously. The same goes for your god. You’d first have to demonstrate that consciousness of some sort COULD exist absent a material brain, before any scientist would care what you “believed” about such entities.

    If a scientist’s supernatural beliefs are important to him, then he ought to keep his view-point on the subject as private as he’d like those with conflicting faiths to keep theirs. Then there would never have to be this “debate that won’t die”.

    The problem is that some believers want some scientists to confirm that their beliefs are “rational” and to pat them on the back and whisper “there, there… it’s all scientifically compatible… those mean old scientists will never be able to prove that your god doesn’t exist.”

    Some of won’t do that, because it feels dishonest. Accommodationists don’t seem to be as bothered by this dishonesty. If pressed, I would point out that god belief is no more valid than belief in demon possession– and possibly just as harmful. I want no part of “enabling” such delusions.

  50. #50 Tyler DiPietro
    November 1, 2009

    “Now if I am a preacher who believes in God and the power of prayer to console–with no real evidence to back me up . . . what does science have to say about my personal belief?”

    WHOOOOOOOOAAAAAAA! Throw the breaks on. I wasn’t talking about the power of prayer to “console” people, which I will grant that it has (I’ll also grant that it can have a placebo effect). I’m talking about the ability of prayer to bring about effects in the physical world, in the sense of praying for something (like good health, food, and general good fortune).

  51. #51 tomh
    November 1, 2009

    Oran Kelley wrote:
    So the response to the proposition is to refute it using what evidence, inference and reason you are able to bring to bear.

    Assertions, or propositions if you prefer, that are made without evidence, require no evidence to refute them. Just a contrary assertion will do. If you want a reason that your proposition is unconvincing, the reason is that there is no evidence. That’s not a “demand for evidence”, it’s merely a reason that your assertion doesn’t convince.

  52. #52 Jason Rosenhouse
    November 1, 2009

    Physicalist –

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  53. #53 Peter Beattie
    November 1, 2009

    » Josh Rosenau:
    Anger begets anger.

    Wow, that’s really deep thinking. No, wait, that’s not the right word. It’s, uh, hang on … oh, that’s it: sloganeering.

    One doesn’t need data on Dawkins’ effect specifically to know whether anger works as a tactic.

    Not when anecdotes and prejudice work just as well, one doesn’t. And a little goal-post-moving, of course, since nobody ever spoke of “anger as a tactic”.

    calling religious parents child abusers is a fairly angry comment

    And there’s the Douchebag of the Month award for you, Josh. You know full well that’s an obvious and idiotic misrepresentation of what Dawkins says. He has insisted innumerable times that it’s specifically the labelling of children as Catholic etc. that could be considered a form of child abuse.

  54. #54 Tulse
    November 1, 2009

    I don’t think anyone is saying atheists and humanists shouldn’t stand up and be heard.

    Matt Nisbet has:

    “Dawkins and PZ need to . . . [let] others play the role of communicator”

    “If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to […] [l]ay low and let others do the talking.”

    “Dawkins and Myers: It’s Time to Let Others Be the Spokespeople for Science”

  55. #55 intercostalwaterway
    November 1, 2009

    One thing, I think, can be seen as an ‘optimism’ vs ‘pessimism’ thing.

    If one believes, as I do, that when it is presented as an uncompromising science-vs.-religion antithesis most people will reject science entirely, then accommodationism makes a lot more sense.

    Yes, Europe is highly secularized (as are some of the more totally British-influenced places like Canada and Australia) but Europe has unique history that makes that work. You won’t ever get that in India, or Latin America, or… And it won’t last long in Europe. Europe’s birthrates are critically low, and they will soon require mass immigration from places with higher birthrates. And the more secular countries tend to have lower birthrates; the correlation is very strong…

    Regardless of whether accommodationism is ‘right’ or not, I’d argue that it’s the best strategy for science to survive the period in which world culture becomes less and less Europe-and-America-centered. The “science vs. religion” conflict doesn’t have a history in Latin America or India, for example; it would only hurt science to introduce it into a region where science has henceforth been considered entirely compatible with religion.

    The original post points out that conservative religion is a stronger force than liberal religion. I’d argue that it is also a much stronger force than science. If alliance with the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, Lutheran churches, Sunni Islam, etc. is not possible, then science has probably lost its battle in those countries…

  56. #56 Sigmund
    November 2, 2009

    “If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to […] [l]ay low and let others do the talking.”
    The NCSE did some good work in countering the claims of Expelled. On the other hand the ideal spokespeople of evolution, according to the accomodationists, Miller and Collins were conspicuous in the public response, only by their absence. It wasn’t entirely their fault – Miller at least came out publicly against the movie with an article in the Boston Globe but this was not picked up by the media in the same way as the PZ/Dawkins debacle.
    Theistic evolutionists are simply boring or confusing to the media. Even if every atheist censored their opinions and allowed only the chosen few of the framers to be the exclusive voice of science what is the likelihood that they will be simply ignored as non newsworthy – their current status. How exactly will this benefit science?

  57. #57 Peter Beattie
    November 2, 2009

    It’s hard to believe how unhinged Josh Rosenau really is on this issue, but take a look:

    Similarly, I see something similar between the mendacious approach Goldberg takes to explaining public opinion about global warming and some criticisms of evolution’s defense by NCSE and others.

    To choose an example of this at random, here’s Jerry Coyne criticizing NCSE, the AAAS, and NAS, for being too friendly to religious people:

    In 25 years of effort, these organizations don’t seem to have had much effect on influencing public opinion about evolution. I think that this may mean that our nation will have to become a lot less religious before acceptance of evolution increases appreciably.

    This sort of argument is quite common from Coyne, PZ, and a range of others in that camp (“New Atheists,” if you will). It argues that public opinion on evolution has been fairly constant for the last 30 years, therefore current approaches to evolution-defense/advocacy have failed, therefore we should do something different, therefore we should stop treating pro-evolution religious people and groups as allies.

    While the last part of this argument doesn’t follow in any obvious way from the first parts, one can cobble something or other together.

    Seriously, what is wrong with this guy?

  58. #58 Bruce Gorton
    November 2, 2009

    “Now if I am a preacher who believes in God and the power of prayer to console–with no real evidence to back me up . . . what does science have to say about my personal belief?”

    That it is at best a hypothesis, and requires evidence before it can be assigned any worth whatsoever. One could equally well say:

    I believe that God doesn’t exist and the power of prayer is as a cop-out from actually sorting your life out — with no real evidence to back me up…”

    And have it come out about as valid. Statements of fact require evidence to back them – they require the ability to think critically about them.

    And it is not simply a matter of science, this is a matter of day to day life where we don’t live in some fantasy land where everything is bright and cheery and nobody ever lies or is lied to.

    We live in the real world where real people say things, sometimes things they really believe, with no evidence to back them – and they are wrong.

    They are wrong to the point of causing genocides. They are wrong to the point of causing massive famines. They are wrong to the point of turning a nation noted for championing human rights to a nation noted for secret renditions and torture.

    Without evidence we have nothing more than personal and highly flawed intuition to guide us on whether or not what someone is saying to us is true or not.

    We have no way to check our biases and correct ourselves, we have no way of telling when someone tells us something whether or not they are right or wrong.

    Without evidence there are no facts, there is just opinion.

    With Mooney’s opinion piece, he is entitled to his opinion but when he states what he thinks is a fact, he needs to be prepared to back it up – even in opinion pieces.

  59. #59 IanW
    November 2, 2009

    “I had intended to leave this subject behind…”

    Hell no, Keep ‘em coming! I love it when you, Coyne and Myers go after the clueless!

  60. #60 James Hanley
    November 2, 2009

    From Oran Kelly,

    …53% of Americans think it is “possible to believe in God” and evolution at the same time.

    Which … is a majority.

    Unfortunately the linked to article doesn’t tell us how many Americans were surveyed, but I’d point out that a 53-47 result is on the outer edges of a margin of error of of +-3 percentage points. In other words, if they surveyed fewer than about 1200 people, the actual results could quite possible be considerably closer.

    I’d also note that the original question was about whether there was a “conflict” between religion and politics, and Oran illegitimately transferred that into an argument about whether or not you can believe in God and evolution. I know folks who believe in both God and evolution, but who nonetheless recognize that there are conflicts between religion and science.

    Get your questions straight before mouthing off next time, eh, Oran?

  61. #61 GravityIsJustATheory
    November 2, 2009


    “Even if it does mean something, the question isn’t “What is epistemological incompatibility?” It is what precisely IS the incompatibility in this case.”

    There are at least two sources of incompatibility between science and religion:

    1. Evidence in religion is considered unnecessary, perhaps even undesirable, in forming beliefs.

    2. The conclusions reached by scientific reasoning thus far conflict with the assertions of most religious systems. We have failed to find any evidence that the world was created by any supernatural intelligence, that ghostly souls interact with our material bodies and survive death in some way, or that prayer or magic of any sort can effect the physical world, to name a few problems.

    As an ex faithist, I’d like to add another point (related to no. 1) that I think is particularly damning.

    According to a face-value reading of the Bible, you shouldn’t question.

    It is better to accept a claim without evidence rather than ask for proof (see for example the story of Doubting Thomas).

    There are numerous lines in the Bible (both Old and New Testament) that dismiss the value of human reason or wisdom in comparison to the word of God/Scripture.

    According to a face-value reading of the Bible, and according to most Christian teachings since Christianity began, you shouldn’t doubt, you shouldn’t question, you shouldn’t wonder if God might not actually exist, or if his nature is different from what is commonly thought, or if the Church’s teachings are true/sensible/just. Indeed, such thoughts are not merely discouraged, but implied to endanger your soul (and, for much of history, put your at risk of phsical harm as well).

    As such, the religious “ay of knowing” is not just non-scientific, but directly hostile to it.

  62. #62 GravityIsJustATheory
    November 2, 2009

    PS – how do I do I quote posts? The tags I used on the previous one obviously were the wrong ones.

  63. #63 eric
    November 2, 2009

    Gravity: use the tags [blockquote] and [/blockquote] but use greater than and less than signs instead of []s.

    Strategically, I think the way to go is to keep the discussion on the validity of specific claims, and let the religious folk decide for themselves what it means to their religious belief when science refutes/disputes one of their claims.

    Claims can be discussed in H.S. science (e.g. science says the earth is 4+ billion years old, and here’s why…) – religion per se, can’t. And I’d bet that the Millers and the Coynes would agree 100% on the status of any claim you want to mention (e.g. virgin birth – not supported by science).

    At the level of claims, science’s atheists and theists are unified. The argument is easier to make, its less likely to provoke an emotional response, and it can constitutionally be made in schools. And in most cases it may lead to the same result: acceptance of science as a way of understanding the world, not just as a body of factoids.

    Or, in short: do not attack the dragon from the front. Sidle up to it.

  64. #64 Tulse
    November 2, 2009

    At the level of claims, science’s atheists and theists are unified.

    I strongly doubt that. Does Francis Collins deny the virgin birth?

  65. #65 Oran Kelley
    November 2, 2009

    I’d also note that the original question was about whether there was a “conflict” between religion and politics, and Oran illegitimately transferred that into an argument about whether or not you can believe in God and evolution. I know folks who believe in both God and evolution, but who nonetheless recognize that there are conflicts between religion and science.

    Kevin Padian who is cited as an example of “outreach intolerance” is complained of in this post because he says proponents of the idea that science and religion are incompatible are extremists.

    I am more or less agreeing with Padian because I think that positing a “fundamental incompatibility” between religion as such and science is a) unjustified and b) unwise.

  66. #66 Oran Kelley
    November 2, 2009

    And it is not simply a matter of science, this is a matter of day to day life where we don’t live in some fantasy land where everything is bright and cheery and nobody ever lies or is lied to.

    Hmmm. Do you have any systematic surveys of human interaction which show that human communication typically advances on the basis of showings of evidence?

    I’d have said most human communication dealing with fact works on the basis of plausibility & trust.

    But I’m sure you have some behavioral data to back you up that you just neglected to add to your comment.

  67. #67 eric
    November 2, 2009

    Tulse,
    Good point. Perhaps I wasn’t clear; I think they are unified as to what claims are supported by science and what claims aren’t. This is different than being unified in what claims they believe to be true…for which, you’re right, they aren’t.

  68. #68 Tulse
    November 2, 2009

    I think they are unified as to what claims are supported by science and what claims aren’t. This is different than being unified in what claims they believe to be true

    But I’m not sure this is unique to atheist and theist scientists. I’m sure that plenty of fundamentalists understand what claims are supported by science and what claims aren’t. They just don’t believe those claims to be true, because they don’t believe in that the methodology of science uniquely leads to truth, and indeed may actively deceive.

  69. #69 Oran Kelley
    November 2, 2009

    Assertions, or propositions if you prefer, that are made without evidence, require no evidence to refute them. Just a contrary assertion will do. If you want a reason that your proposition is unconvincing, the reason is that there is no evidence. That’s not a “demand for evidence”, it’s merely a reason that your assertion doesn’t convince.

    Here’s Mooney’s piece: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/10/29/why-dawkins-gets-asked-about-his-atheism/

    This is an essay–a form of literature with a VERY long tradition in our culture. Some of the greatest pieces of literature in our culture were written in it, and this is a very short example of one. Contrary to some other commentators, essays are not the cause of genocide, generally speaking, because it is assumed that an essay is THE BEGINNING of a conversation, and that the matter should be looked at more thoroughly before you shout “Yay, verily” and set out to round up the minorities into camps.

    Where possible, yes, it is agreeable that an author round up lots of objective evidence in support of his or her thesis. But this is not always possible–essays may be speculative, or they may deal with subjects for which evidence is not easily come by. In cases like these, we judge the essay by its plausibility, by the way its description of the subject jibes with our experience, contextual knowledge, etc.

    So in your experience of the American public, does it seem implausible that a man who rises from relative obscurity to medium level fame as an atheist, as a clever, stylish and implacable foe of religion will have a have a tough time being recognized as anything else? And that his work on other projects–science, say–might come to be seen as an epiphenomenon of his celebrated atheism?

    From what I’ve seen of the American public in my few decades here on earth, this seems like an eminently plausible scenario that Mooney has proposed, and he has even offered some evidence that it’s happening: Dawkins’s reception on talk shows, where the atheism issue persistently emerges and the assumption seems to be that the new book is a direct follow up on the agenda of the last.

    Now if you, on the other hand, think this scenario is implausible or contrary to some evidence you are privy to, say so rather than singing psalms in praise of evidence.

  70. #70 Coriolis
    November 2, 2009

    Eric I don’t see how you’re both teach science as a “set of specific claims” and yet have it not be “just a set of factoids”. Either you teach a bunch of facts (which isn’t science), or you teach the scientific method and reasoning as well.

    And then of course the moment the student turns around and applies that scientific method to his/her bible the conflict between them is obvious. I guess you’re saying that we shouldn’t take that last step for the student (and I agree) but despite appearances I don’t think religious people are all that stupid. If they have a deep understanding of science they will try to apply it to their religion eventually. Hence why scientists (especially the more successful ones) are orders of magnitude more likely to be atheists then the public at large.

    The real problem with what you’re saying is that it’s basically already this way – even someone like PZ wouldn’t try to preach atheism in his class, the sole focus is on the science. Nevertheless, people do make the obvious connections and see the obvious conflict.

  71. #71 eric
    November 2, 2009

    Tulse: But I’m not sure this is unique to atheist and theist scientists. I’m sure that plenty of fundamentalists understand what claims are supported by science and what claims aren’t.

    Its probably not unique. And honestly I’m not sure we have any issue with people like you describe, because if someone agrees on what counts as science then they should agree on what should and should not be taught in (e.g.) H.S. biology classes.

    But fundamentalists who understand that their beliefs are not supported by science don’t make the news. When something like Dover, Kansas, or Texas hits the front pages, its because some school board disagrees as to what claims are supported by science, i.e. someone’s claiming that there is no scientific evidence for evolution, or claiming there is scientific evidence for design or a young earth or a global flood or whatever. These are claims about what science supports, not just claims about personal belief. Its that sort of argument that we have to fight against. (There’s also the problem of folks who completely understand that creationism is religion, and want it taught in sciece classes anyway, but that’s a digression.)

  72. #72 Tulse
    November 2, 2009

    When something like Dover, Kansas, or Texas hits the front pages, its because some school board disagrees as to what claims are supported by science, i.e. someone’s claiming that there is no scientific evidence for evolution, or claiming there is scientific evidence for design or a young earth or a global flood or whatever.

    True, but typically those are not bald claims, but ones that offer some “scientific” justification (e.g., carbon dating is unreliable). I’m not sure this invalidates your original point, but I think it may make the notion of “just teach the supported claims” somewhat problematic, since the issue is what counts as support.

  73. #73 bob
    November 2, 2009

    This is a great post. It’s a shame the discussion following it was almost completely derailed by this Oran Kelley guy.

  74. #74 Oran Kelley
    November 2, 2009

    Unfortunately the linked to article doesn’t tell us how many Americans were surveyed, but I’d point out that a 53-47 result is on the outer edges of a margin of error of of +-3 percentage points. In other words, if they surveyed fewer than about 1200 people, the actual results could quite possible be considerably closer.

    Yes I wish there was more online about that study, too. It looked fairly interesting, but I’m guessing the samples were on the small side.

    “As part of the Darwin Now global product, the British Council has commissioned an international survey on the attitudes and impact of evolutionary theory around the world. The survey, conducted in partnership with Ipsos MORI, polled over 10,000 people across 10 countries worldwide including Argentina, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Great Britain and the US. The results of the global survey were announced at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in London on 30 June 2009.”

  75. #75 eric
    November 2, 2009

    Coriolis: Eric I don’t see how you’re both teach science as a “set of specific claims” and yet have it not be “just a set of factoids”.

    I think I said ‘the validity of specific claims.’ For sure you have to teach why and how science arrives at its conclusions – the method – not just the conclusions.

    I agree with your 2nd paragraph, but nevertheless there is a big difference between attacking someone’s religion front-on and saying “here is this method called science. Here is how to do it and what it says.” Insofar as this issue is about H.S. education, pedagogy, etc… we should (all!) be doing the latter, not the former.

    Where I might disagree with you is in your statement that this is what we do already. For sure we do it, but some folk also want to discuss the rationality or irrationality of religion per se as part of the debate. I think doing so is a mistake. It may be a more interesting, exciting topic. It may be the inevitable next step. But I think a lot can be said for a step-wise approach.

    Think of it this way. I’m sure Jason has occasionally worked out just the first couple of steps of a math problem on the board and left the rest for the students. We all know that working something out for yourself is usually more convincing than having someone do it for you. So why the rush to tell kids the answer here? Give them the proper methodological tool (science), work through some examples, and leave the general application to the students. :)

  76. #76 Tulse
    November 2, 2009

    eric, I can assure you that, in the US at least, absolutely no teacher who wishes to remain employed discusses the “rationality or irrationality of religion per se” in class. That would be a separation violation, and would be grounds for immediate firing and possibly a lawsuit.

  77. #77 Oran Kelley
    November 2, 2009

    This is a great post. It’s a shame the discussion following it was almost completely derailed by this Oran Kelley guy.

    Well, Bob, why don’t you tell me what the post was really about?

  78. #78 Oran Kelley
    November 2, 2009

    That would be a separation violation

    I don’t think it would be a separation violation, handled properly, though it might well get you fired.

  79. #79 eric
    November 2, 2009

    I’m in the U.S., Tulse. Freshwater’s been going through a firing hearing for, what, close on a year now? And he got away with using religiously-sponsored ID handouts in class for something like 10 years?

    But I was speaking more generally about Coyne, Dawkins, Mooney, Miller, Collins, PZ, etc… There is a tendency to want to discuss the validity of religion per se when the subject of teaching evolution in H.S. classrooms comes up. Its natural – the objections are religious in nature – but again, I think keeping the discussion at the level of claims is both more appropriate and more effective.

  80. #80 Coriolis
    November 2, 2009

    Tulse is correct Eric, in the US you simply won’t get away with going after religion in a science class, and you shouldn’t. I don’t think there’s a real debate on that point among scientists – we all want to keep religious discussion out of HS science classes, including the pro-atheist position.

    The argument here is more about the public debate (usually between supposed adults) about science&religion.

  81. #81 Tulse
    November 2, 2009

    Freshwater’s been going through a firing hearing for, what, close on a year now?

    From the context of your original comments I took you to be suggesting the opposite, that there were science teacher who wanted to question the rationality of religion in class. I’d argue that, in the current environment, they would be sued so fast their head would spin.

  82. #82 boeman
    November 2, 2009
  83. #83 J.J.E.
    November 3, 2009

    I think I prefer this shirt:

    http://www.threadless.com/product/1791/photo

  84. #84 Bruce Gorton
    November 3, 2009

    Hmmm. Do you have any systematic surveys of human interaction which show that human communication typically advances on the basis of showings of evidence?

    If they did you wouldn’t have liars and madmen causing genocides. This is about the critical need to not be – to put it crudely – a fucking moron.

    Like you.

  85. #85 Bruce Gorton
    November 3, 2009

    As to data, here’s an idea: Get a sociology or pyschology textbook and read up on group-think. That is what you get when critical thinking is shunted to the side in the name of unity.

    It has been directly linked to the Appolo disaster and the Bay of Pigs fiasco. If you read up on your history of what life was like in the third reich, or Stalinist Russia, you will find that independent thinking and seeking evidence against the state was not exactly encouraged. The same goes for North Korea.

    Where evidence is dismissed as unimportant you get tyranny, you get stupidity, and you get chaos. As much as we on a day to day basis base our decisions entirely too much on trust, there is a definite need to dig deeper when it comes to statements of fact.

    Particularly when those statements of fact are being made in order to motivate or alter action, as Mooney is doing now.

  86. #86 Nick (Matzke)
    November 3, 2009

    Hi all,

    I think that the comparisons between the New Atheist agenda, and the agendas of e.g. ACT-UP, gays, MLK, etc., are not really on point.

    To wit:

    1. Each of those groups had specific major problems with government policy, policies which were causing them direct harm, and lobbied for specific remedies. What is the harm atheists are experiencing at the hands of government, and what is the policy remedy they are lobbying for?

    2. For each of these groups, as part of achieving their policy goals, they also had to (at least start to) move those parts of the public which viewed them with hostility, to viewing them with tolerance. Sometimes this seems to be a New Atheist goal, but much more often the goal seems to be not tolerance from public opinion, but *conversion* to the New Atheists’ metaphysical opinion. You can imagine how well that strategy would have worked for gays, Jews, etc.

    3. If the goal is proselytization, that’s great, it’s a free country. But a lot of people don’t like being proselytized, and will quite naturally make comparisons not between New Atheists and oppressed minorities, but between New Atheists and other annoying proselytizing groups. And those with actual specific public policy goals have a right to be concerned about mixing messages with those with much broader and more ambitious proselytization goals.

  87. #87 Leni
    November 3, 2009

    Sometimes this seems to be a New Atheist goal, but much more often the goal seems to be not tolerance from public opinion, but *conversion* to the New Atheists’ metaphysical opinion. You can imagine how well that strategy would have worked for gays, Jews, etc.

    And yet it required “converting” opinions in order to make the changes those people made, didn’t it?

    If your point is that people don’t like having their opinions challenged, particularly their religious opinions, I’ll grant you that.

  88. #88 Rieux
    November 3, 2009

    Matzke:

    I think that the comparisons between the New Atheist agenda, and the agendas of e.g. ACT-UP, gays, MLK, etc., are not really on point.

    To wit:

    1. Each of those groups had specific major problems with government policy, policies which were causing them direct harm, and lobbied for specific remedies. What is the harm atheists are experiencing at the hands of government, and what is the policy remedy they are lobbying for?

    Wrong on several counts.

    First, justice movements of myriad kinds–Civil Rights, women’s rights, GLBT rights, etc.–struggle against both prejudiced “government policy” and broader societal bigotry. It’s absurd to pretend that King and ACT-UP were only interested in fighting racism and homophobia in governmental institutions.

    It appears you have no idea that atheists and other irreligious parents are routinely denied custody of their children in custody disputes, on the explicit grounds of our lack of religion. Which casts your “What is the harm atheists are experiencing at the hands of government?” sneer in a rather ugly light.

    Then, of course, are the examples of institutionalized atheophobic bigotry that one hopes you’re not blissfully ignorant of–the Boy Scouts of America (granted a Congressional charter and numerous perks from the feds) banning atheists from participation; the widespread proselytizing of nonbelievers in U.S. military institutions; the use of nonbelievers’ (and everyone else’s) tax moneys on baldly unconstitutional “Faith-Based Initiatives”; blasphemy laws in many states; laws barring atheists from holding public office in others; and then the good old ones, “In God We Trust” on currency (and numerous public buildings), “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and “so help me God” in various oaths.

    All of this–all of the constant reiteration from our government that nonbelievers are less worthy, less American, less human than our religious neighbors, does plenty to marginalize us, and to contribute to the climate in which we are, by some measures, the most despised minority in the country. They make the lives of atheists measurably worse… and one can count on accommodationists like yourself to never spend a single word of concern about them.

    But again, neither King nor the Human Rights Campaign nor any wave of feminism has ever been solely interested in addressing “government policy.” Racism, homophobia, and sexism, just like atheophobia, cause enormous harm in human lives in ways that have little or nothing to do with government; as a result, justice movements have never fixated and will never fixate there.

    Finally, the atheists you sneer at are not only interested in improving our own station. Many of us believe that religion, on balance, has a pernicious impact on humanity at large. We’d like to see religion lose its influence over both public policy and the people who create it–both for our own sake and for everyone else’s. Government policy has some relevance to that effort, but not all that much.

    And not for nothing, we’re winning.

    what is the policy remedy they are lobbying for?

    In the U.S.: End the baldfaced prejudice against irreligious parents in custody disputes. End all government aid to the Boy Scouts of America and to established religious institutions within the Armed Forces. Remove all blasphemy laws, and bars to atheists holding office, from the books of every American jurisdiction. End publicly-funded “Faith-Based Initiatives.” Cease and desist printing and propagating “In God We Trust,” “under God,” and “so help me God.” Remove theology from public-school biology (and other!) classes.

    That’ll do to start.

    2. For each of these groups, as part of achieving their policy goals, they also had to (at least start to) move those parts of the public which viewed them with hostility, to viewing them with tolerance.

    Sure. Being proud of who we are, serious about what we do and do not believe, and unafraid to explain to anyone what brings us to the conclusions we come to strikes us as far more productive than the cowering and dissembling counseled by accommodationists.

    And your self-serving opinion of what “seems” to be the message of unafraid atheists is neither here nor there. “Public opinion” does indeed often regard our basic message–“You believe X; we believe Y; here’s why we think you’re mistaken”–to be disgusting, but that bigotry doesn’t justify silencing us.

    But a lot of people don’t like being proselytized, and will quite naturally make comparisons not between New Atheists and oppressed minorities, but between New Atheists and other annoying proselytizing groups.

    Well, sure. Plenty of Good White Folks(tm) didn’t at all appreciate being “proselytized” with the notion that they had to consider Damn Ni**ers to be human beings. Sexist chauvinists are loudly tired of being “proselytized” about treating women fairly. Defenders of Traditional Marriage(tm) are sick and tired of being “proselytized” that opposing gay marriage means they’re haters and dinosaurs.

    Bigots always have been unhappy at despised minorities’ refusal to shut up and accept the bigots’ majority privilege–whether it’s white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, or religious privilege. Our suggestion is that atheists should respond in the only way that has ever succeeded for hated minorities in that position: speak up. Challenge the status quo. To paraphrase the feminist slogan, well behaved atheists rarely make history.

    The accomodationist solution, such as it is, is for atheists to shut up, sit down, and hope our religious betters will get around to stopping the hate on their own. (An approach that’s often aided, as you demonstrate, by pretending that atheists never suffer any prejudice at all.) Of course, that’s never worked for any minority.

    those with actual specific public policy goals have a right to be concerned about mixing messages with those with much broader and more ambitious proselytization goals.

    Unbelievable. “Those with actual specific public policy goals”? Your arrogance is incredible.

  89. #89 Nick (Matzke)
    November 4, 2009

    Oh please, I’m a member of the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Are you?

    Prohibitions on public office to atheists: banned by the no religious tests clause of the Constitution.

    Boy scouts, chaplains in the military, civil references to God in mottos, etc. — these have all been litigated extensively. I don’t agree with all the decisions, but in general there is a lot less official government endorsement of religion (politicians’ statements are another matter) in the US than in e.g. all those nice areligious northern European countries.

    You obviously don’t get the difference between “live and let live in matters of conscience like religion, politics, and sexuality, and keep the government neutral on these matters”, which is a position that has found wide support for many groups, and would work for atheists too and help ameliorate whatever severe issues remain (i.e. if employment discrimination really is a problem) — versus “We’re not going to live and let live, you all should convert to our point of view on religion, and you’re stupid and not a real scientist and undeserving of (e.g.) being head of the NIH if you don’t.”

    The messages conflict. Pick which one you want and stick with it.

  90. #90 Rieux
    November 4, 2009

    Oh please, I’m a member of the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    Which has nothing to do with anything. Neither organization is (or should be) centrally devoted to protecting atheists’ interests–and even if they were, your excuse would amount to “Some of my best friends are Jews.” You can’t buy a clue about atheophobic prejudice by proxy.

    Prohibitions on public office to atheists: banned by the no religious tests clause of the Constitution.

    So what? They’re still there. They still communicate intense official bigotry at the very notion of atheists as worthwhile human beings.

    Anti-miscegenation laws have been unconstitutional and unenforceable since Loving v. Virginia in 1967. And yet civil rights activists waged a thirty-plus-year battle to remove those disgusting provisions from statute books and state constitutions. It wasn’t until 2000 that the last one was removed.

    According to you, that was a huge waste of time and energy. But you’re wrong. Your apathy notwithstanding, express governmental bigotry toward atheists is bad. And worth fighting against.

    Boy scouts, chaplains in the military, civil references to God in mottos, etc. — these have all been litigated extensively.

    Wow–“litigated extensively”! How impressive!

    Has creationism in schools not been “litigated extensively”? Or is that dismissal just risible special pleading?

    And please point me to the case in which the federal government’s direct support of the Boy Scouts has been “litigated” on the grounds that the BSA discriminates against atheists.

    Finally–again, how the hell is that relevant to my response? You sneered, “What is the harm atheists are experiencing at the hands of government,” and I responded in spades. What difference does it make whether those harms have been “extensively litigated”? Injustice is injustice, whether it has a Plessy v. Ferguson or Bowers v. Hardwick to back it up or not.

    I don’t agree with all the decisions, but in general there is a lot less official government endorsement of religion (politicians’ statements are another matter) in the US than in e.g. all those nice areligious northern European countries.

    Again, a complete non sequitur. Denying custody to irreligious parents is far more than “official government endorsement of religion,” especially as that manifests itself in the heavily secular corners of Europe. The same goes for BSA taking federal money and banning atheists, military institutions supporting aggressive evangelism, and Dubya’s disgusting “faith-based initiatives.”

    And it’s interesting that you didn’t even mention the most direct and brutal discrimination I mentioned–the widespread practice of American courts openly denying custody on the grounds that a parent is not religious. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that you simply don’t care that atheists are discriminated against in this country in terrifying fashion.

    News flash: your little corner of the fight against theocracy is not the only one, and your willful ignorance of other people’s suffering does not make it go away.

    You obviously don’t get the difference between “live and let live in matters of conscience like religion, politics, and sexuality, and keep the government neutral on these matters”

    …which conflicts with the Rosenhouse/Myers/Dawkins program not a whit. It’s very sad that you have bought into religious privilege and atheophobic bigotry to such a degree that you think that open dissent and criticism of religious ideas is something other than “live and let live.”

    Bigoted privilege always incorporates the notion that it is gauche, inappropriate, or “militant” to speak out against the majority’s self-serving ideas. That doesn’t make it so. Some of us simply haven’t accepted the religious majority’s bigoted notions about our own kind to the degree that you have.

    Is the mere act of questioning religion an attack on it?

    There are religious believers who seem to think so. An increasingly common refrain among religious writers and leaders is that the recent surge of atheist writing is unacceptably offensive and insulting. Intolerant, even.

    I’m not going to say atheists are never rude. But much of the time, atheists get accused of offensiveness and intolerance for saying things like:

    “I don’t agree with you.”

    ‘I don’t think you’ve made your case.”

    “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    “What evidence do you have to support that?”

    As Richard Dawkins pointed out in a recent Free Inquiry article, the kind of critical language that’s considered shockingly offensive when it’s applied to religion isn’t even blinked at when it’s applied to, say, political discourse or restaurant reviews.

    But many believers are very serious about this. Example: A recent visitor to my blog accused me of trying to force my atheism down everyone’s throat. When I challenged him to find one place — just one — on my blog where I advocated forcing atheism on anyone, he replied that I was “trying to cow others into your restrictive view” and “forcing a materialistic, Godless view onto others by claiming that you know there is no God.”

    Right. The act of stating my opinion in public is the same as forcing that view onto others. I don’t, in fact, claim that I know there is no God, but never mind that now. I am cowing people into my narrow view through the awesome power of my blog. Which is read by hundreds of people every day! HUNDREDS, I tell you! Flee before me, puny earthlings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! I will cow you with the force of my opinions! Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated into my materialist Godless view; for while you may have the infinite power of the Almighty God on your side… I WIELD THE BLOG!

    Bwa ha ha ha ha!

    That’s the modern atheist movement, all right. Trying to destroy all that is holy by, you know, arguing. By trying to convince people that religion is mistaken. By writing books, and blogging, and going on TV, and such.

    – Greta Christina, “Does the Emperor Have Clothes? Religion and the Destructive Force of Asking Questions

  91. #91 Nick (Matzke)
    November 4, 2009

    So, you’re not even a member of the primary groups that would and do support atheists’ civil rights where actual discrimination exists. Great, way to put your money where your mouth is. You’re clearly just way more interested in getting pissed at someone who is an oh-so-incredibly-evil “accomodationist” on a blog. Suit yourself.

    Re: litigation. Have a little subtly please. The point with raising extensive litigation is that (a) these issues have been fought over, extensively, they haven’t been ignored as you alleged, (b) some of them (e.g. creationism in schools, religious test for office) have been settled in exactly the way you desire (mostly through the work of those nasty accomodationists, way to be grateful btw), and (c) others are really quite complex issues, i.e. the Boy Scouts are a private organization, and courts have repeatedly ruled that private organizations have a right to be bigoted idiots if they like. This then raises the issue of government access to e.g. public lands and public buildings, but here too the government pretty much has to allow equal access. Most of the issues you raised were in this messy category of various constitutional rights coming into conflict with each other.*

    * (Except for custody cases, where you are clearly correct that this is an issue of discrimination, although even here you didn’t point to some law on the books, just Volokh’s article with a collection of anecdotes. He cites 70 cases where this played some role, over 30+ years of custody cases — how many total custody cases have their been over that time? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? He also cites a wide variety of decisions which take our point of view that religiosity should not be a factor:

    “For over seventy cases from all these jurisdictions (from 1970 to the present) in
    which a trial or appellate court cited in the prevailing parent’s favor the parents’ compara-
    tive religiosity or willingness to raise child religiously, see infra Appendix, pp. 722–33; over
    twenty-five of the cases are from 2000 to the present, and over fifteen more are from the
    1990s. For cases holding that a parent’s lack of religiosity generally ought not be a factor in
    custody decisions, see Placencia v. Placencia, 3 S.W.3d 497, 502 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999); In re
    Marriage of Oswald, 847 P.2d 251, 253 (Colo. Ct. App. 1993); Burrows v. Brady, 605 A.2d
    1312, 1317 (R.I. 1992); Elbert v. Elbert, 579 N.E.2d 102, 110 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991); Eastes v.
    Eastes, 590 S.W.2d 405, 408 (Mo. Ct. App. 1979); Wilson v. Wilson, 473 P.2d 595, 598–99
    (Wyo. 1970); Welker v. Welker, 129 N.W.2d 134, 138 (Wis. 1964); Maxey v. Bell, 41 Ga.
    183, 185–86 (1870).”

    …so what’s the actual state of the question of whether the courts in general are biased on this issue? That’s an argument that has to be made, or else your discrimination argument boils down to “occasionally bad judges are appointed, or occasionally judges make bad decisions”, which is something we knew already, and which is a generic problem, not one specific to atheists, and which has no easy solution in a democratic society, beyond working to get good people elected.)

    Anyway, the thing that disturbs me is the frequency with which certain blog commentators will rain down hot death on anyone who takes something less than a completely histrionic and hostile line on religion, and who dares criticize anything about overheated New Atheist rhetoric, even people who are basically the allies of atheists on all constitutional matters. But hey, as long as you guys prefer political ineffectiveness, keep it up!

  92. #92 Sigmund
    November 4, 2009

    “But hey, as long as you guys prefer political ineffectiveness, keep it up!”
    I think you are confusing us with the framers. Quite frankly I could do without the sort of “political effectiveness” that the framers have in mind.
    Very nice collection of strawmen you have there Nick, by the way.
    “We’re not going to live and let live, you all should convert to our point of view on religion, and you’re stupid and not a real scientist and undeserving of (e.g.) being head of the NIH if you don’t.”
    Do you seriously think that this is the agenda of the new atheists?
    In fact the real agenda, in my experience is not only entirely opposite to the one you’ve maliciously insinuated, but is practically identical to the one you recommended us to switch to!
    “live and let live in matters of conscience like religion, politics, and sexuality, and keep the government neutral on these matters”!
    Perhaps Nick, rather than lecturing us, you might try asking the NCSE to follow your suggestion rather than their current rather narrow sectarian agenda.

  93. #93 Rieux
    November 4, 2009

    So, you’re not even a member….

    Do you ever get tired of being wrong?

    …of the primary groups that would and do support atheists’ civil rights where actual discrimination exists.

    The former Protestants United for Separation of Church and State is assuredly not one of the two “primary groups that would and do support atheists’ civil rights where actual discrimination exists.” As anyone with a passing familiarity is well aware, AU is the least atheist-oriented national separation organization.

    AU does productive work that is sometimes in atheists’ interests. The group is not “primary.”

    Great, way to put your money where your mouth is.

    You’re both clueless and happily willing to spout falsehoods.

    Re: litigation. Have a little subtly please. The point with raising extensive litigation is that (a) these issues have been fought over, extensively, they haven’t been ignored as you alleged

    Ah, “subtly.” Code (misspelled code) for “Matzke has conveniently forgotten why these issues came up in this discussion in the first place.”

    The context of this line of argument is your ugly sneer that uppity atheists, unlike other despised minorities in the past, have no “specific major problems with government policy, policies which were causing them direct harm.” I explained why that’s a preposterous falsehood, and you blathered something about litigation. Which, as I said, has nothing to do with anything–the fact that various issues have been, and continue to be, litigated does not actually remove them from the set “specific major problems with government policy that cause atheists direct harm.”

    So you’re just mindlessly moving goalposts to try to shore up your preening superiority over the unwashed atheists who refuse to suck up to religious privilege.

    (b) some of them (e.g. creationism in schools, religious test for office) have been settled in exactly the way you desire….

    As I just explained (and you ignored), bans on atheists holding office are still on the books, in precisely the way bans on interracial marriage now are not. That means the problem is not “settled,” regardless of how little you care about it.

    (c) others are really quite complex issues, i.e. the Boy Scouts are a private organization, and courts have repeatedly ruled that private organizations have a right to be bigoted idiots if they like.

    Which is why my comments have been relevant, in that I’ve spoken only of the extent to which the Boy Scouts get direct material support–the Congressional charter, the sweetheart deals on the use of federal lands, the privileges ex-Scouts get when joining the Armed Forces–that sectarian organizations cannot constitutionally be given. Please try to pay attention.

    Custody cases, where you are clearly correct that this is an issue of discrimination, although even here you didn’t point to some law on the books….

    The hell I didn’t–you just haven’t bothered to look. I linked to Sullivan’s post synopsizing Volokh’s article. Your notion that the latter is “a collection of anecdotes” is absurd: Volokh collected more than seventy published court cases–here’s some free legal advice for you: that’s “law on the books”–that specifically held that a parent’s irreligion justified an adverse custody finding. Your gloss on that article is little more than lies and ignorance.

    over 30+ years of custody cases — how many total custody cases have their been over that time?

    Many. Volokh found more than seventy where a court overtly stated its anti-irreligious bigotry. As Sullivan (not generally a friend of atheists, especially the uppity variety) notes, “and these were only the ones which were appealed, so they probably represent a fraction of the actual cases.” Volokh’s seventy-plus cases show every sign of being the tip of an otherwise-unpublished and -unadmitted iceberg. Especially in light of the overwhelming societal scorn for atheists, it takes considerable gall to claim that there’s no basis to believe there’s an iceberg at all.

    He also cites a wide variety of decisions which take our point of view that religiosity should not be a factor:

    Er, indeed. Which oddly haven’t prevented some of those same jurisdictions from discriminating against irreligious parents. Will wonders never cease–when the rubber meets the road, despised minorities conveniently become exceptions to stated general principles of humane treatment. But never mind, Nick Matzke can’t be bothered to notice suffering that’s not his own.

    …so what’s the actual state of the question of whether the courts in general are biased on this issue? That’s an argument that has to be made, or else your discrimination argument boils down to “occasionally bad judges are appointed, or occasionally judges make bad decisions”, which is something we knew already….

    Are you trying to be disgusting? “[T]he question of whether the courts in general are biased on this issue?” Since when is that “the question”?

    It would not have been a meaningful response to Martin Luther King to point out that the several States were not “in general” given to Jim Crow laws, because Oregon and Wisconsin didn’t have any. “Shut up, Thurgood Marshall; Michigan doesn’t segregate schools, so you have no problem ‘in general.'” And it would be utterly evil to jeer at gay couples in Maine today that they don’t face governmental homophobia “in general,” because Massachusetts Vermont Iowa. “Occasionally bad ballot initiatives are adopted, or occasionally states make bad decisions, which is something we knew already, and which is a generic problem, not one specific to gays.” If you actually tried to shove that on a devastated gay Maine couple today, one hopes they’d spit in your face.

    As Volokh has demonstrated, current black-letter law in numerous jurisdictions holds that irreligion justifies an adverse custody finding. That is outrageous and frightening, whether you care or not. It constitutes a “specific major problem with government policy that causes atheists direct harm,” despite your absurd pretense that atheists don’t have any. Your attempt to differentiate atheist rights from other minority-rights struggles is refuted, notwithstanding your red-herring efforts to avoid that conclusion.

    Anyway, the thing that disturbs me is the frequency with which certain blog commentators will rain down hot death on anyone who takes something less than a completely histrionic and hostile line on religion….

    Nonsense. You came in here slinging demeaning lies about innocent atheists and our attempts to stand up for ourselves. That deserves no indulgence.

  94. #94 Nick (Matzke)
    November 4, 2009

    Well, you’re clearly pissed, but you’re making assertions, not arguments. I’m not some idiot dogmatist or pathological liar, why not try to convince me, instead of just yelling? (Any why the *lying* accusation, by the way? Couldn’t I just be uninformed? Most people are uninformed about most things most of the time.)

    1. Are you an ACLU/AU member, or not? I think you would have said so already, if you were.

    2. You say there are black-letter laws supporting discrimination against atheists in child-custody cases. You might be right, but I haven’t really found them in the Volokh article. The article is mostly about free-speech rights vs. court restrictions on parental speech in cases where the separated parents have different ideas about what should be said/taught to students. Religious disputes are one of many areas where this may occur.

    There is only a little bit of statute language quoted anywhere in the article or appendix which bears on religious bias in custody battles, most of it seems vague (“spiritual guidance” in LA) or ambiguous (“[t]he capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love,
    affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any” in MI). A lot of the cases Volokh cites seem to come from Michigan, though, so maybe the courts are ignoring the “if any” language there, and I think there is a reasonable case that anti-atheist discrimination could be a problem there, based on the comments from a Michigan custody lawyer who he cites.

    And again, there is some evidence that the courts can go both ways on the religion question:

    “See Collier v. Collier, 14 Phila. 129, 144, 149 (Pa. Ct. Common Pleas 1985) (giving father only weekend custody, partly because of his fundamentalist lifestyle and attitudes—
    such as “disapprov[al] of most popular music as ‘satanic’”—which were seen as likely to lead to “serious problems for the children in adolescence”); Waites v. Waites, 567 S.W.2d
    326, 333 (Mo. 1978) (suggesting that under “best interests” test court may consider whether parent “would refuse to permit the child to attend a school class where evolution is
    taught”). But see Stolarick v. Novak, 584 A.2d 1034, 1036 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1991) (reversing trial court decision that denied custody to fundamentalist father because he was raising children “in a sterile world with very rigid precepts”); In re Marriage of Epperson, 107 P.3d 1268, 1277 (Mont. 2005) (Rice, J., specially concurring) (noting that lower court’s custody decision may have been inappropriately influenced by court’s view that parties’ fundamentalist religion “had ‘screwball aspects’ and was ‘off beat’”).”

    …so maybe it’s a mixed bag, courts are stuck making tough decisions with fighting parents with religious differences at each others’ throats, and religion becomes part of the parties’ arguments, and thus the courts rule in part based on that. And a fair assessment should have some awareness of how courts might be using things like church attendance — for all we know, a lot of the time “parent X takes the children to church” might be used in support of the premise that “parent X has spent more time/effort/committment with the children” than “parent X would be better because religion is good and atheism is bad.”

    Life is complicated, custody cases are particularly so, but I don’t see much recognition of that in your posts, which are mostly about finding ways to get mad at anyone who mildly questions aspects of the New Atheist movement.

    Anyhow, if this is really such a huge issue of discrimination in custody battles, there ought to be somewhere be an atheist webpage with (a) a list of the laws that need to be changed and (b) proposed language to lobby for. And preferably an organization devoted to lobbying on the issue. Maybe this exists, point it out if so, but it’s hard for me to see amongst the thousands of pages New Atheists devote to emotionally passing out abuse to the fundamentalists, religious liberals, and accomodationists alike.

    PS: While we’re talking about discrimination — should Francis Collins have been appointed to head the NIH?

  95. #95 Sigmund
    November 4, 2009

    “PS: While we’re talking about discrimination — should Francis Collins have been appointed to head the NIH?”
    Where was Collins discriminated against?
    He was well qualified for the job – the only notable drawback being his simultaneous leadership of the Biologos foundation might have interfered with the NIH post- a factor he himself recognized since he resigned from Biologos as soon as the NIH post was offered to him.
    A few individuals suggested there were better candidates available and some, like Jerry Coyne suggested Collins should resign from Biologos if he wants to take up such an important post as head of the NIH.
    I personally had no problem with his appointment – he’s a good administrator and is well qualified for the job and has shown in the past that he doesn’t let his religion interfere with his day to day job.
    The major objections to Collins were not due to his personal beliefs but due to his public proselytizing which generally involved claims that many people found untenable – that science and evangelical christianity are compatible, or that evolution is insufficient as a mechanism to have produced human morality.
    Now he can believe these all he likes as a private person but as head of the NIH he is required to be somewhat more circumspect and a little less sectarian – something I’m glad he’s shown to be capable of through his resignation from Biologos.

  96. #96 tomh
    November 4, 2009

    Sigmundwrote:
    Now he can believe these all he likes as a private person but as head of the NIH he is required to be somewhat more circumspect and a little less sectarian – something I’m glad he’s shown to be capable of through his resignation from Biologos.

    He may have formally resigned, but he’s still closely connected. After all, his wife, Diane Baker, sits on the BioLogos Board of Directors, although, oddly, her biography on the BioLogos web site makes no mention of who her husband is.

  97. #97 Rieux
    November 4, 2009

    Matzke:

    Well, you’re clearly pissed, but you’re making assertions, not arguments.

    Baloney. Ever since you waded in here slinging falsehoods and vicious scorn for atheists who don’t kowtow to religious privilege as much as you do, all I’ve been doing is rebutting your nonsense. “You’re wrong, and X demonstrates it” is indeed an “assertion,” but that hardly makes it false.

    Any why the *lying* accusation, by the way? Couldn’t I just be uninformed?

    Oh, indeed, you’re making a very strong case for “uninformed”–woefully, woefully uninformed. But your declaration that Volokh’s article only contained “a collection of anecdotes” is a flat-out lie. (My accusation of lying also pertained to your claim that I hadn’t “point[ed] to some law on the books,” notwithstanding my central reference to Volokh and the overwhelming quantity of law he cites. But in light of your 5:54 PM comment, I’m forced to re-examine the notion that you were lying in that statement; it appears that “uninformed”–indeed, stunningly ignorant–may be a better hypothesis. I just didn’t think it possible, given the amount of time you spent on Kitzmiller, that you had no idea what is in “law books.” We’ll have to return to that point.)

    The lie that is at the center of this thread, though, was your sneer that unlike minorities you deign to consider legitimate, atheists (1) do not have “specific major problems with government policy, policies which [a]re causing them direct harm” and (2) do not “lobb[y] for specific remedies.” Clearly you were totally ignorant of the widespread discrimination against irreligious parents in custody disputes when you wrote that (rendering your sarcasm all the uglier), but you did know perfectly well about the Boy Scouts, “faith-based initiatives,” bars against atheists holding office, “In God We Trust,” and numerous other refutations of your sneering lie. (You even came up with one yourself: employment discrimination, which I didn’t mention, but you did.)

    Are you an ACLU/AU member, or not? I think you would have said so already, if you were.

    As usual, you’re wrong, and you had no basis whatsoever to believe the things you declared as fact.

    I have worked for both AU and a state chapter of the ACLU. I have also been a member of the ACLU for half of my life.

    But that’s irrelevant to this thread. Those two organizations were only brought into this discussion as the objects of your disgraceful “Some of my best friends are Jews” defense. There are doubtless members of both organizations who are aware of the bigotry and prejudice that atheists face both from society and from its governmental institutions. Your membership clearly doesn’t demonstrate that you share such an awareness.

    You say there are black-letter laws supporting discrimination against atheists in child-custody cases. You might be right, but I haven’t really found them in the Volokh article.

    This is where I just find myself slack-jawed at your ignorance of basic facts about the American legal system. Did the Pepper Hamilton folks really never teach you what “black-letter law” means? There was a hell of a lot of it in Kitzmiller.

    Okay, a first step has to be looking the term up: here‘s Wikipedia, for starters.

    “Black-letter law” does not mean “statutes.” To the contrary, it primarily refers to court precedent, which happens to be where the lion’s share of the disputes in American (and before that, British) law have always been settled. Custody cases (just like First Amendment disputes over teaching creationism in public schools!) are decided in courts, and the standards those courts apply and procedures they follow come almost entirely from precedent decided by earlier courts, not usually statutes.

    That happens to be why Volokh’s law review article (like the vast majority of such articles) concentrates predominantly on court precedent, rather than statutes–because there are very few relevant statutes in this area. The law (wait–you know that court precedent is law, right?) that deprives irreligious parents of their children is almost entirely case law, and that’s what Volokh concentrated on.

    It’s worth noting that Volokh cited published cases–cases in which the ruling courts elected to make their decisions and reasoning available to the public. (Run-of-the-mill trial-court decisions routinely go unpublished, which is why Sullivan, among others, is confident that there’s an enormous iceberg under the tip Volokh found.) Those cases are published … in books. So when you told me, in the face of my citation to Volokh, that I “didn’t point to some law on the books,” you might as well have been declaring that two and two are five. Court precedent is all but the sine qua non of “law on the books”; and in this area, among thousands of others, it’s the overwhelmingly most relevant law there is.

    Here–we can walk through one of the cases at issue nice and slowly:

    Defendant contends that the court erred in finding and concluding that her failure to take Jason to church and Sunday School was jeopardizing his spiritual values. This contention is without merit.

    Defendant argues that this finding is not supported by evidence and that the court’s consideration of church attendance is forbidden by the United States and North Carolina Constitutions. We disagree.

    We think the finding that defendant had not taken Jason to church or Sunday School on a regular basis is adequately supported by competent evidence. Defendant detailed her weekends with her children but no mention was made of church attendance. Furthermore, a defense witness, who was a Sunday School teacher, testified that she would love to take Jason to church although she had never done so. The findings of the trial court are conclusive when supported by competent evidence. Swicegood v. Swicegood, 270 N.C. 278, 154 S.E.2d 324 (1967).

    Defendant’s argument that this finding violates the constitutional provisions concerning the separation of church and state is also without support. Certainly, the trial court cannot base its findings on the preferability of any particular faith or religious instruction. However, as stated in Blackley v. Blackley, 285 N.C. 358, 362, 204 S.E.2d 678, 681 (1974):

    The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration which must guide the Court in exercising this discretion. Thus, the trial judge’s concern is to place the child in an environment which will best promote the full development of his physical, mental, moral and spiritual faculties. . . .

    We think the spiritual welfare of a child is a factor that may be considered by the trial court in making a custody determination. Therefore, this assignment is overruled.

    Dean v. Dean, 232 S.E.2d 470, 471-72 (N.C. App. 1977).

    There you go: bigoted law, mother Betty Dean loses custody of her son because she doesn’t take him to Sunday school, and there’s not a statute in sight.

    You should note that this was an appeal from an unpublished trial-court decision. And you should also note that the court, presented with the argument that it’s unconstitutional to take a parent’s child away because she doesn’t send him to Sunday School, cited an earlier court decision–law on the books!–that trial courts are obligated to protect “the full development of [children’s] spiritual faculties.” My hope is that a simple illustration of precedent in action will help you understand how insanely wrong-headed your notions about “‘occasionally bad judges are appointed, or occasionally judges make bad decisions’, which is something we knew already” are. The precedents Volokh cites are all but certainly being used by trial courts–just like the Dean v. Dean trial court–to take children away from atheists right now. As Volokh explains, those precedents are unquestioned, undiluted black-letter law in numerous jurisdictions all over the country. Your cluelessness about how the legal system operates does not protect any of us.

    And again, there is some evidence that the courts can go both ways on the religion question….

    “And again,” I just have a hard time believing that you are that disgusting. You would seriously tell Betty Dean that her treatment at the hands of the North Carolina isn’t a problem, because maybe some other judge in some other state where she doesn’t live wouldn’t have discriminated against her the way the North Carolina Court of Appeals, following established and uncontroverted precedent, did?

    As I pointed out (and you ignored), you would never have told Martin Luther King that the injustices he was fighting in Selma weren’t a real problem because they weren’t present in Worcester. You wouldn’t have had the gall to tell advocates of women’s suffrage that their ability to vote in Wyoming meant they should stop agitating for the same right in Ohio. GLBTs in Maine have just been dealt a horrendous blow, notwithstanding the fact that they can marry in Massachusetts. Hell, in light of your ridiculous fixation on “the question of whether the courts in general are biased on this issue,” have you ever noticed that, as of 1863, slavery wasn’t legal “in general”? Damn that Lincoln, anyway.

    Volokh established, in spades, that courts in a frighteningly large number of American jurisdictions have decided that a parent’s irreligion is a legitimate grounds to deny her custody of her children. You really mean to respond that maybe that’s not true in all jurisdictions? How disgustingly callous do you want us to think you are?

    Anyhow, if this is really such a huge issue of discrimination in custody battles, there ought to be somewhere be an atheist webpage with (a) a list of the laws that need to be changed and (b) proposed language to lobby for.

    “There ought” indeed–with a few necessary corrections to your fundamental misunderstandings of the law: you can’t “lobby” or force “language” on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, or on any of the myriad other state courts perpetrating this injustice.

    But there isn’t. Unfortunately, the atheist movement is neither organized nor funded enough to deal with all of the ugly consequences of our status as, by several measures, one of the most despised minorities in the United States. We live in a society that is drowning in religious privilege, a set of mores that requires us to remain utterly silent about who we are, what we believe, and what treatment we have a right to expect from the religious majority. We are beset by numerous concern trolls–some of them atheists–who are so suffused with religious privilege themselves that they attack the slightest hint of atheist advocacy, while meanwhile scrupulously ignoring the real discrimination we face.

    You’re damn right I’m “pissed,” Matzke. You drop the bigotry and dishonesty, I’ll drop the hostility.

    We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

    – Guess Who?

  98. #98 Nick (Matzke)
    November 5, 2009

    Well Rieux, you finally made some good points. I wasn’t aware that “black letter law” was a term of art which included precedents and case law. I’m not a lawyer, sue me.

    Similarly, congrats on AU/ACLU work. Why was it like pulling teeth to get you to cop to it? I’m not psychic, for all I knew you’re just some guy on the internet. You could have just said “I’ve actually got a lot of experience working on civil rights issues, and my sense of it is that the issues that atheists raise really are comparable to those of groups of XYZ in ways ABC”, and you would have been in a much better position to educate me on your point of view. Instead I get called “disgusting”, “liar”, “dishonest”, “biggot”, yadda yadda. 99% of people in the “generic somewhat-but-not-thoroughly-informed liberal, big supporter of tolerance for everyone, not just theists and not just atheists” camp — my camp in this situation, and just the sort of people you want to reach, I would think — would have long ago written you off as an ass and taken it as more evidence that “new atheists” tend to be more interested in emotional outbursts against religionists and “compromisers” than in actual practical action and reasonable discussion.

    Finally, somehow or other we reached some sort of agreement:

    “There ought” indeed–with a few necessary corrections to your fundamental misunderstandings of the law: you can’t “lobby” or force “language” on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, or on any of the myriad other state courts perpetrating this injustice.

    But there isn’t. Unfortunately, the atheist movement is neither organized nor funded enough to deal with all of the ugly consequences of our status as, by several measures, one of the most despised minorities in the United States

    Just how much funding would it take to assemble a webpage calmly making the empirical case for widespread government-backed discrimination against atheists, and proposing specific governmental remedies? You couldn’t find one to point to, so instead, we had to wade through a huge amount of emotion, abuse and insult-hurling — against someone who ought to be your ally! — to get anywhere. And it remains undisputed that there are thousands upon thousands of atheist webpages, and several organizations, devoted to basically atheist evangelism. This pretty much proves my original point, which is that the balance seems to be off in the goals, methods, and rhetoric of the new atheist movement.

  99. #99 Rieux
    November 5, 2009

    Similarly, congrats on AU/ACLU work. Why was it like pulling teeth to get you to cop to it?

    Because it’s irrelevant. The issues Jason and you raised have nothing to do with our personal particulars, including your membership in those two organizations.

    It’s the fundamental ad hominem principle–my work and your membership have no impact on the cogency of our arguments.

    my camp in this situation, and just the sort of people you want to reach, I would think — would have long ago written you off as an ass and taken it as more evidence that “new atheists” tend to be more interested in emotional outbursts against religionists and “compromisers” than in actual practical action and reasonable discussion.

    My tone was a product of yours, sir. You came in here waving a snide lighter (“New Atheists” don’t have “actual specific public policy goals” the way big important people like me do) and then professed to be shocked, shocked when it lit a fire.

    You’d have gotten a very different response from me if your initial comment hadn’t been so snide. And baselessly so.

    Just how much funding would it take to assemble a webpage calmly making the empirical case for widespread government-backed discrimination against atheists, and proposing specific governmental remedies?

    Er, “the empirical case for widespread government-backed discrimination against atheists”? …I presume you mean “the case” that it exists?

    First, to a noteworthy extent I linked you to just such a website, hosted by noted atheist-lover (ahem) Andrew Sullivan. C’mon–the title is “Anti-Atheist Discrimination,” and he isn’t talking about Krispy Kreme sending us to the back of the line.

    Anyway, I’d love to see a more comprehensive website to that end. Meanwhile, the efforts of the Secular Coalition for America, Godless Americans PAC, and related/similar organizations go on. I’d love to see more action on the child-custody front (given the exigencies of litigating custody cases, not to mention the five assholes in robes in Washington, I can’t imagine any meaningful near-term progress within the courts themselves)–but obviously allocating resources to fight discrimination is a difficult business.

    You couldn’t find one to point to….

    I did find one to point to. It just took several hundred words of explanation before you understood it.

    And it remains undisputed that there are thousands upon thousands of atheist webpages, and several organizations, devoted to basically atheist evangelism.

    “Evangelism”? You can kindly bite me. Atheists no more need to apologize for speaking out about who we are and what we believe than anyone else does.

    And seeking a more secular world is, in fact, a “public policy goal,” regardless of your oh-so-superior scorn.

    This pretty much proves my original point, which is that the balance seems to be off in the goals, methods, and rhetoric of the new atheist movement.

    The hell it does. You are in no position to lecture atheists on what our “balance in goals, methods, and rhetoric” ought to be. No one is obligated to share your list of priorities, or the self-serving ranks you give them.

    And given the tenor and content of your attempts to (ahem) “calmly make the case” for uppity atheists to change our behavior, you aren’t exactly oozing credibility yourself.

  100. #100 Leni
    November 6, 2009

    My jaw nearly hit the fucking floor when I read this:

    You obviously don’t get the difference between “live and let live in matters of conscience like religion, politics, and sexuality, and keep the government neutral on these matters”, which is a position that has found wide support for many groups, and would work for atheists too and help ameliorate whatever severe issues remain (i.e. if employment discrimination really is a problem) — versus “We’re not going to live and let live, you all should convert to our point of view on religion, and you’re stupid and not a real scientist and undeserving of (e.g.) being head of the NIH if you don’t.”

    Maine just had the option to live and let live. They chose not to do that. Can you think of any reason why they might have done that?

    Oh please, I’m a member of the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Are you?

    Yes. And NPR and Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. Was there a point to that or were you just being a dick?

  101. #101 Joe G
    November 7, 2009

    If evolutionists could just support their claims then religious people would take notice.

    However seeing that you cannot all you have is faith that someday science will enlighten us.

    Mayr said it best when he said that he is comforted by the fcat that evolution occurred- meaning the supporting data will come sooner or later.

  102. #102 Science Avenger
    November 7, 2009

    You mean like how all those religious people took notice of the studies that show abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work, or the evidence that the Shroud of Turin is a 14th century fake, or the multiple independent lines of evidence that show the earth is far far older than 6,000 years, or the engineering computer simulations that show order can and does come out of disorder, or…

    Face it Joe, your claim that religious people studiously change their views in the face of evidence, itself flies in the face of the evidence.

  103. #103 Tyler DiPietro
    November 7, 2009

    A quick glance at Joe’s blog reveals that he is also a global warming denialist. Why am I not surprised?

  104. #104 heddle
    November 10, 2009

    Gravity,

    According to a face-value reading of the Bible, you shouldn’t question.

    That is completely false. Take Gideon, for example. He demanded multiple proofs of God’s existence, which were readily provided w/o a hint of condemnation.

    In fact all of the “hall of fame” (Hebrews chapter 11) contains names of people (including Gideon) who had concrete proof of God’s existence (witnessed miracles, spoke to God directly, etc.)–none of them had any need for “blind” faith. They are put forth as faith exemplars, even though they had proof. Blind faith is not proclaimed as a virtue in the bible. The Bereans are commended for putting truth to the test.

    In the case of Doubting Thomas (who was never condemned, you forgot to note–and whose demand for proof was accepted) is the same misapplied endorsement of blind faith as described in the beginning of Hebrews 11–it is a commendation of those who had to have faith, unseen, in a coming rather than a realized Messiah. That is, the Old Testament saints. Again they are not commended for blanket blind faith–but that their ultimate hope was in a future Messiah, whereas our faith is in the accomplishment rather than the promise.

  105. #105 lili
    January 22, 2010

    very nice

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