The Intersection

Dennett and Ruse, Redux

PZ and Jason Rosenhouse are blogging about this testy email exchange between two of evolution’s top defenders, Michael Ruse and Daniel Dennett. I don’t fully grasp how or why these emails got out–it doesn’t seem like something that should have happened (although frankly, they’re not actually all that salacious anyway). But I would like to wade through a few of the issues they raise.

PZ and Rosenhouse have an interesting reaction to one argument by Michael Ruse that I find fairly persuasive (although it’s stated rather hyperbolically here): that Dennett and Richard Dawkins are “absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design…we are in a fight, and we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of good will.” Here’s how Rosenhouse reacts:

I want to challenge this idea that the atheism of Dawkins and Dennett hurts the cause of promoting quality science education.

This assertion is frequently made but it is never backed up with anything. Is it really true that the strident atheism of people like Dennett and Dawkins negatively influences the way people look at evolution? If that’s true, it certainly paints a bleak picture of many religious people. If I argued that I would be symapthetic to evolution, except that I see people like Ken Miller, John Haught and Simon Conway Morris drawing theistic conclusions from it, I don’t think Ruse would show me much respect. After all, evolution should sink or swim on the basis of the relevant evidence. If that evidence is strong, it should not matter what Dawkins or Dennett (or Haught or Miller or Morris) thinks.

Arguing that strident atheism hurts the cause is remarkably condescending towards religious people. It’s saying that they are too emotional to understand and think seriously about the evidence. It’s saying that those people can’t be expected to provide an honest assessment of the evidence because mean old Richard Dawkins made a snide remark about their religious views.

First, let’s tackle the assertion that there’s no evidence that attacking religion hurts the pro-evolution cause. Hmm…let’s just say that Rosenhouse is perhaps not thinking creatively enough. Maybe such evidence does exist, but there are good reasons for keeping it out of the public arena, no? Or, maybe such evidence doesn’t exist but that’s because it isn’t needed–i.e., it’s obvious that attacking religion is divisive and not helpful to the cause of promoting the teaching of evolution.

More interesting is the second argument here: Those who claim that attacks on religion undermine science education are demeaning the intelligence of religious folk, says Rosenhouse, by suggesting they can’t look dispassionately at scientific evidence when their faith is under fire. Not exactly: If anything, we’re demeaning the intelligence of everyone, whether religious or otherwise. What we’re saying is that people rarely make up their minds solely on the basis of evidence; all sorts of subtle cues, prejudices, and societal factors condition their responses to political issues (an assertion, by the way, which is backed by loads of evidence).

In this situation, one of the strongest societal cues we have to deal with–a cue coming out of countless churches–is the contention that evolution kills God, therefore evolution can’t be right. I don’t care if it’s rational or not, it’s strongly believed. If people are told they must choose between evolution and their faith, guess which one is going to get pitched in the garbage?

That’s the real hurdle here, and that’s precisely what Dawkins and Dennett don’t help us to overcome.


  1. #1 coturnix
    February 23, 2006

    What do you think about this?

  2. #2 David Roberts
    February 23, 2006

    Oy. I for one am getting sicker and sicker of the tendency of progressives to endlessly worry over their “message,” tweaking it and triangulating it and fussing endlessly over whether it’s going to offend anyone.

    One of those “subtle cues” that influence people is a sense that people advancing a view have confidence in it, that they have strength, that they have balls. This endless triangulating just looks mushy to the folks in the heartland we’re allegedly trying to reach. It looks mushy to me.

    Who would want to sign on with a bunch of wankers who spend half their time discussing exactly how to talk and what words to use instead of just believing and acting on their convictions? Would you (for instance) entrust your national security to a group of people who spend half their time talking about how they can convince people they care about national security?

    I wouldn’t say that everyone should echo Dennet and Dawkins, but I think it’s all to the good that someone on our side doesn’t equivocate and hedge.

    People respect strength. They respect conviction. Even when they disagree.

  3. #3 David Wilford
    February 23, 2006

    As liberal Christians and Catholics are already on the side of teaching evolution, and fundamentalist Christians are dead-set against same, does it matter what the mild-mannered likes of Dawkins and Dennett say?

  4. #4 chris brandow
    February 23, 2006

    As a christian who is entirely convinced that evolution is the most workable model for explaining life as we know and who knows lots of christians who aren’t, I can undeniably attest to the damage that Dawkins does for making the case for evolution. At the very least he gives the strong impression that evolution/darwinism is fundamentally atheistic. Now, I have plenty of people that would be interested in a reasonable evaluation of some of these ideas as a mechanism, but they just shut down when sweeping religious connotations are added to the mix. Scientists should be striving to decouple these two things, not add to the argument.

  5. #5 RSA
    February 23, 2006

    I think that scientists’ efforts (alone) to decouple evolution from religion will be fruitless, because of the efforts of fundamentalists to point at obvious relationships. When an astronomer talks about the age of the universe, or when a paleontologist mentions Lucy, or when a geneticist discusses speciation, all of these are red flags to a large number of people because they directly contradict closely held religious beliefs. I think arguing that Dennett and Dawkins are too strident is based on the premise that fundamentalists can be persuaded to accommodate or at least tolerate scientific views in their religious beliefs. Is this plausible? I don’t think so. Evolutionary ideas have had 150 years to catch on (often defended by devoutly religous people), but significant opposition remains. When persuasion fails, confrontation is at least a better approach than giving up.

  6. #6 t.f.
    February 23, 2006

    I think David Roberts has a good point, but misses the larger issue–people are led by conviction, and that is why religions are so successful. But the worldview of most scientists is based upon rational skepticism, which does not attempt to convince through charisma or conviction, but the power of evidence and argumentation. These are not, thankfully, easy to lead with by the very nature of skepticism and scientific rationalism. Terrible atrocities have been justified in the attempt to develop ethics and found moral codes upon the supposed authority of science in those areas. Even more so, the average “Heartland” resident does not have the courage to sit down and spend hours delving into serious discussion and argument over the evidence of anything, much the less difficult-to-comprehend topics in science.

    His good point, though, is that people realize they are unable to be authoritative in most areas of knowledge, and so defer to trusted authorities. Many Americans are bright enough to reject a scientist filling the role of a philosopher as an “authority” in that area. So I think this begs the question–why does the average American not trust evolutionary biologists with respect to evolution? By most statistical polls, more than 50% of Americans reject the idea that humans are descended from other animal forms. Why do they trust the authority of a pastor in matters of science, but recognize the limits of people like Dawkins and Dennett when it comes to the source of their beliefs and faith?

    Why can’t they see the double standard they apply by according more power to the pastor than he deserves?

  7. #7 Tom
    February 23, 2006

    As a fourth generation athiest, I think Dawkins is a disaster for evolution just as Michael Newdow is for athiesm. It is difficult for even a reasonable person to pay attention to what you are saying when there is someone behind you waving a big red flag, particularly when there are people on the other side gleefully pointing and shouting “LOOK AT THE FLAG! LOOK AT THE FLAG!.”

  8. #8 Ginger Yellow
    February 23, 2006

    “Why do they trust the authority of a pastor in matters of science, but recognize the limits of people like Dawkins and Dennett when it comes to the source of their beliefs and faith?”

    Presumably because their religion tells them that religious faith is the way to the Truth (quite literally with a capital T). Hence if there is a conflict between religion and other ways of knowing, then religion wins. Conversely a scientist doesn’t claim access to the truth, only to the best model of how the world works at the moment. Unfortunately most if not all people instinctively look for certainty in at least part of their lives and science does not, could not and should not provide it.

  9. #9 Doormat
    February 23, 2006

    I kind of get annoyed by this continued bashing of Dawkins (and mainly only Dawkins), but I wondered if this was just irrationality. Some thoughts:

    Why is Dawkins *so* prominent. I’m in the UK, and he’s in the UK, and yet this website is based in the US and focuses on the US, and yet you guys still know Dawkins. He doesn’t get much airtime over here: yes, he recently had a two-part show about religion (which, yes, wasn’t great; a lot of the criticism seemed rather mis-placed though, as if people hadn’t really watched it at all, but were going to slag-off Dawkins anyway). He crops up occasionally on other TV shows, and sometimes in newspapers (but more often in less read magazines). However, it’s not like he’s got a column anywhere where he endless spouts slightly half-baked arguments about atheiesm (though I could be wrong here: I’ve never seen one certainly).

    So why is he so prominent? I think it’s partly that he is a very good communicator of science: his books on evolution are excellent, and are widely read. There are very few other scientists who are that good at getting a public message out. We’re always told that there are loads of scientists who have no problem with evolution and are also Christian, but they don’t seem to be out there writing excellent books explaining evolution.

    Another thought is that TV (and here I’m talking about the UK I guess) is really bad about getting basic science on the screen these days. Yes, Dawkins could make a program about religion, and ID gets covered, but when was the last time evolution (say with an explicit link with *human* evolution) was explained on TV? Could Dawkins get on TV with a two (or more) part program about basic evolution?

    Anyway, why do other people think Dawkin’s is *so* prominent, when he’s really only one man (with, apparently, pretty un-representative views, even if I agree with pretty much all he says).

  10. #10 chris brandow
    February 23, 2006

    The counterpoint to RSA is my own experience as well as plenty of other practising Christians who have no trouble with Darwinian evolution. I used to be quite troubled by the perceived conflict between a Creator and an “undirected, random” process. Over time, it was pointed out that this is a false dichotomy on a number of levels, and I was able to happily embrace the overwhelming scientific evidence.

    The second point along these lines is that we are not simply talking about strident fundamentalists opposing evolution on religious grounds, right? I mean the polls showing what percentage of Americans disagree with Darwinian evolution are astounding. Plenty of non-fundamentalists are troubled enough by the vaguely religious issues at work that they just don’t buy it.

    The philosophy of the existence of God, and the biological mechanisms of life are two quite different realms of study and linking them brings in too much confusion and plays directly into the hands of those that falsely accuse the scientific community of having some kind of “Anti-God” agenda. Let the facts of the science speak for themselves, and let philosophers figure out the other stuff.

  11. #11 Chris Mooney
    February 23, 2006

    I want to thank everyone for commenting. I just have one remark directed to David Roberts:

    FYI, I am flogging this theme out of my *conviction* that we need to adopt strategic approaches if we are going to win these battles.

  12. #12 David Wilford
    February 23, 2006

    Having recently read Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, I found the book did a wonderful job of capturing the grand sweep of our long line of biological ancestors. Such books by Dawkins have contributed to the layman’s understanding of the theory of evolution, just as Steve Gould’s books and essays have. That, not Gould’s or Dawkins’ particular takes on religion, is what matters most to me.

  13. #13 PZ Myers
    February 23, 2006

    Oh, right…the strategic plan codenamed “Surrender”, where we tell the atheists to sit down and shut up. Has this ever worked? Any time in the history of the universe?

    There are an awful lot of atheists on our side of the argument, and I for one am getting tired of being told that we are a detriment. Rather than using our diversity as a strength and treating freethought and freethinkers as a positive force with strong arguments and a powerful consistency, we treat them as a secret shame…and that just reinforces the bigotry of the other side.

    I’ve got a strategic approach, too. It involves conviction and confidence and honesty.

  14. #14 Chris Mooney
    February 23, 2006

    PZ I’m not saying atheists are a detriment. I have said enough times that I am personally an atheist. I’m not ashamed of anything. I’m sorry if I offended you; I hoped this would continue to be a constructive discussion…..

  15. #15 Ginger Yellow
    February 23, 2006

    “So why is he so prominent? I think it’s partly that he is a very good communicator of science: his books on evolution are excellent, and are widely read. There are very few other scientists who are that good at getting a public message out.”

    Well, he is Oxford professor for the public understanding of science. It’s his job to be prominent.

  16. #16 t.f.
    February 23, 2006

    Do we, as scientists, have the power to dissuade those who maintain a worldview banked on the certainty of religious tradition and scriptural authority, even with our slickest presentations, our most “bipolar” Ken Millers? Unfortunately, no.

    As an atheist, I wish people would abandon superstition and dogma. As a scientist, I know that science does not have the power to make others a materialist like me.

    I think Ginger’s point underscores PZ’s position–atheism must be a force all its own, unashamed and arguing forcefully for the change in worldviews that would accomodate scientific authority in areas which are currently viewed as religion’s “T”ruth. What we need, truly, is a well-organized and cogent group of atheists, be they scientists or what, who can be honest about their desire to change people’s worldviews, because I do feel that these unfortunate adherents to fundamentalism of various flavors require this. This group would have to perform the same “evangelism” that the mystics do, but with the power of science behind, rather than smack-dab in front of, them. And their “converts” and mission would yield the Enlightenment that has lagged in Stupidville, USA for 200 years.

  17. #17 t.f.
    February 23, 2006

    PS I meant Ginger Yellow’s response to my question of a double standard when it comes to authority, not her response re: Dawkins.

  18. #18 David Wilford
    February 23, 2006

    Chris, I think the situation with respect to atheists like Dawkins speaking about religion is analogous with Democrats like Howard Dean speaking about the war in Iraq. Yeah, they may turn some people off, but should Lakoffian framing really be the sine qua non here? As I recall, Abraham Lincoln was a framer second to none, but he also worked with abolitionists like William Seward and make them his allies despite how some percieved them as somehow loving blacks too much.

  19. #19 PZ Myers
    February 23, 2006

    I don’t pay much attention to Dennett, so maybe he is making the argument you suggest:

    If people are told they must choose between evolution and their faith, guess which one is going to get pitched in the garbage?

    The thing is, though, that Dawkins does not make that argument, nor do I. We know there are Christians and Moslems and Buddhists and who knows what else who have no problem with evolution, and I’ve said often enough that I think people like Ken Miller are an asset to the debate. We say religion is hokum, as you know and agree, and we are awfully forthright in our ideas, yet somehow this is regarded as a strategic setback, and we are often hectored in silly ways about how we are damaging the case for evolution. Yet at the same time we almost never see the Ken Millers of the world getting berated for drawing metaphysical conclusions about the world, conclusions that are far less reasonable than those of atheists.

    Why is that?

    If personal convictions and metaphysical ideas are anathema to the scientific support of evolution, why this strange one way street where the ridiculous dogma of old superstitions is a tenable adjunct to getting the word out, but less insane philosophies like freethought are to be hushed up? It just seems to me that the smarter strategy, the one that will work, is to confront the root cause of the conflict directly, rather than timidly dabbling about the edges at the symptoms.

    And no, I’m not offended and I’m saying this as part of a constructive discussion. I disagree with you strongly on this matter: I think the answer is more upfront recognition of the areligious, not less.

  20. #20 Doormat
    February 23, 2006

    Ginger Yellow, good point! But let me rephrase the question a bit: Why is Dawkins so prominent in people’s minds when he’s not actually appearing in the media that much?

  21. #21 Chris Mooney
    February 23, 2006

    Thanks, PZ.

    Here’s the thing: I’m not saying the irreligious need to hide as we fight this evolution battle. I want it to be known, as much as you do, that there are a heck of a lot of atheists in America, and that they’re wonderful people. I want Americans to recognize that atheists are just ordinary people, just like anyone else, and just as entitled to their perspective as anyone else.

    But the problem is, if atheists are confrontational and denigrate others, then I don’t think we can make this realization happen. My viewpoint grows out of considerable acquaintance with the atheist/humanist movement, which has only the slightest ability to draw in outsiders (and especially young people) precisely because they show up at atheist/humanist events and feel like they’re being sermonized to (and, often, insulted).

    We can get to the root causes, sure. But there are better and worse ways of getting there, and a better one is by building up trust and respect–showing that you actually take the other side seriously, and then having serious dialogue with them. Not insulting them, not dismissing them out of hand. It’s all really a matter of approach, I think.

  22. #22 Will E.
    February 23, 2006

    If scientists and atheists want religion to loosen its grip on people so they can become more rational, the study of evolution is not going to do it. It didn’t do it for me. I never had a problem with evolution, nor did my family or the Methodist church I was brought up in. What really caused me to let go of god belief was studying comparative religion and anthropology in my late teens. Scientists talking about flagellum and fossils isn’t gonna do it; we need scholars talking about how all ancient cults in the middle east worshiped god-sons that were sacrificed and that Xianity is just the one that survived by co-opting all its rivals. At least, that’s what worked for me. Evolution is just gravy.

  23. #23 Chris Clarke
    February 23, 2006

    Dawkins and Dennett, by virtue of their positions, make convenient targets for the hypersensitive religious. But if both of them were devout liberal Catholics, we would likely still be having this conversation, only about some other atheist-leaning biologist or scientific historian. And scurrying to suggest that PZ or whichever atheist evolutionist is third in the line of succession tone down his or her remarks is granting victory to the other side. It’s letting the opposition define the terms of engagement.

    There’s nothing wrong with being concerned about the effect of a vocal person’s speech. And I think one can be a militant atheist and religion-baiter without being a jerk. But if you disagree, your* job isn’t to squelch the atheist: it’s to start talking louder than the atheist.

    This dilemma is parallelled throughout Ameircan society at the moment. I got some flak from environmentalist liberals for putting a cross-shaped clearcut photo on the cover of Earth Island Journal to illuustrate a story on the fundamentalist-wise use connection: they weren’t personally offended, mind you, but they were very concerned that the image might frighten away potential Christian supporters of environmental stewardship. The fundamentalist Christians I heard from didn’t mention that at all: they congratulated me on the image and the article and let me know of things they were doing to counteract the minority Christian activism against environmental protection. And not a week later the green evangelical community made front-page news nationwide.

    You don’t like having Dawkins and Dennett as spokespeople? Don’t squelch them, drown them out.

    * This is the generic “you,” by the way, Chris: I’d be the last person to tell the specific you that you ought to be saying more, as you do more good in this realm than most people I can think of.

  24. #24 Ginger Yellow
    February 23, 2006


    PS I meant Ginger Yellow’s response to my question of a double standard when it comes to authority, not her response re: Dawkins.

    Not that it really matters, but for future reference I’m a he.


    Why is Dawkins so prominent in people’s minds when he’s not actually appearing in the media that much?

    Probably because when he does appear in the media he’s got the balls to unabashedly voice outspoken opinions such as his (and my) belief that religious schools for young children are a form or child abuse. That tends to raise hackles and stick in people’s minds.


    We can get to the root causes, sure. But there are better and worse ways of getting there, and a better one is by building up trust and respect–showing that you actually take the other side seriously, and then having serious dialogue with them. Not insulting them, not dismissing them out of hand. It’s all really a matter of approach, I think.

    The thing is while you might be right politically, it would be a lie. I have no respect for someone who thinks knowledge comes from arbitrary authority rather than clear-eyed evaluation of evidence or even to a small degree earned authority. Unless a religionist accepts that there is no more reason to think his god-belief is true than anyone else’s god-belief, or my unbelief, then there is no common ground.

  25. #25 alkali
    February 23, 2006

    Unless a religionist accepts that there is no more reason to think his god-belief is true than anyone else’s god-belief, or my unbelief, then there is no common ground.

    I don’t understand what this could possibly mean for any generally accepted definition of the words “reason” and “belief.”

  26. #26 Ginger Yellow
    February 23, 2006

    It means that so long as the belief or unbelief is strictly metaphysical, there is no rational reason why one should be “truer” than the other – it’s a matter of preference based on one’s values (pragmatism, parsimony etc). Obviously once belief or unbelief starts making empirical claims, then its truth value can be rationally judged. Basically, my point is that for any progress to be made, both parties must agree to shift the point of contention from the actual metaphysical belief to the way that belief is justified. Otherwise they won’t get anywhere. The real, productive argument isn’t whether or not God exists – it’s whether the way to figure out if he exists is to read an old book, or to examine “creation”. Unfortunately, in my experience it’s very, very difficult to get evangelicals to grasp this, let alone to persuade them that the latter approach is better. Catholics tend to be better on this front.

  27. #27 Janne
    February 23, 2006

    I am an atheist. In my view religious belief is some combination of wish-fulfillment (yes, it would be nice to have an efterlife), transfer of our infant experience of an all-powerful parent controlling the world around us, and acceptance of ideas gotten from authorities since childhood, when we are susceptible to such influence.

    I am an “evolutionist”. Evolution is the shorthand name for a set of mechanisms that caused the origin of life and its present diversity. It is also a set of mechanisms for algorithmically finding reasonable (if not optimal) solutions to hard optimization problems in general.

    But these two standpoints do not have to coincide. One has not necessarily anything to do with another. You can hold one standpoint and not the other, or both, or neither. Specifically, there is nothing hindering believing in religion and evolution at the same time (while specific cults may have problems with it, religion in general does not).

    The only indefensible stand is disbelieving evolution. Religion does not crave evidence – and indeed would suffer horribly from actual evidence to its claims – and so either standpoint is defensible (if misguided). But refusing evolution is really swimming against the tide, intellectually. The only reason it does not seem as absurd as, say, disbelieving gravity is that the consequences are not as obvious and immediate (and hard to clean off the pavement).

    In the longer run, this stance harms anything you hitch to it – in this case, religion. The proponents are saying that in order for their religion to be right, evolution must be wrong. In effect they are serving up a way to disprove something which intrinsically should not be disproveable. And as evidence amasses that evolution is, in fact, not wrong, that inevitably hurts their religion. Which I’m not unhappy about, personally.

  28. #28 Steve Reuland
    February 24, 2006

    I’ve written my own thoughts on my new blog here. For whatever reason, blogger doesn’t seem to do trackbacks.

  29. #29 Chris Mooney
    February 24, 2006

    Thanks, Steve. I agree with most of what you say, but you have to concede that Dawkins and Dennett are some of the loudest and most distinguished voices out there on our side. So perhaps the creationists are misrepresenting us–but perhaps they’re just paying the most attention to the sounds coming out of the megaphone.

  30. #30 Timothy Chase
    February 27, 2006


    I am not religious, but I do advocate religious tolerance on both sides of the aisle.

    However, what I run into a lot of times on the web are a good number of individuals conflating Methodological Naturalism with Metaphysical Naturalism, arguing that science isn’t compatible with religion, and who seem to be more interested in attacking the religious who are on the side of evolution than those religious who are opposed to religion. And (although I certainly wouldn’t place PZ in this group) a fair number seem to have no understanding of how Karl Popper’s Principle of Falsifiability has acted as a line of demarcation between empirical science on the one hand and both metaphysical knowledge and the normative elements of human knowledge (including the norms which essentially define the method of empirical science) on the other. It is as if they have chosen to make the issue of evolutionary biology vs. creationism their personal battlefield in a war against religion.

    In any case, I don’t have a problem with people arguing against religion or for an atheistic worldview. No problem. But I do have a problem with people coupling their atheistic worldviews with science in general and evolution in particular — particularly when a philosophic worldview (which, incidentally, is largely defined in terms of what or perhaps who it is against, rather than what it is for) is not science, and it is an act of fraud to equate the two.

    People like Kenneth Miller are arguing for the compatibility of science and religion. But what I run into among many of the nonreligious proponents of evolution on the web is the view that atheism is the only rational, “scientific” worldview there is, that science logically necessitates atheism, and if you argue that science and religion are compatible, then you are simply allowing people to wallow in their superstition and irrationality. Such people want a final showdown with religion — and they want it now. As they see it, the issue of evolution vs. creationism gives them that opportunity.

    I am beginning to think there is some kind of complementary schismogenesis going on with the stridents on one side, the fundies on the other, and all of the rest of us caught in the middle — getting hit from both sides. We can expect this from the fundies — but presumably the other side should know better: evolutionary biology vs. creationism must in all honesty be separated from atheistic philosophy vs. religion.

  31. #31 Jason Malloy
    February 27, 2006

    If people are told they must choose between evolution and their faith, guess which one is going to get pitched in the garbage . . .That’s the real hurdle here, and that’s precisely what Dawkins and Dennett don’t help us to overcome.

    No, and this is precisely the insidious strawman, scientists embarrassed by their vocally atheist contingent need to overcome. Dawkins and Dennett have *never* said that Christians, Raelians, astrologists or holocaust deniers can’t accept the evidence for evolution. What they *do* say is that these other beliefs are incompatible with evidence and/or reason regardless of one’s honesty on evolution. Please be honest and admit this argument is your own strawman, Chris. As an atheist I’m not sure why you are making it, but you are. Actually I do know why you’re making it. Essentially what you *want* to say is that atheism just isn’t that important compared to what’s at stake, so scientists should just shut up about their stupid Philosophy 101 dorm-room wanking and cater to ugly religious prejudices against these beliefs, so that the *really* important stuff can more easily be accepted by the religious. But intuitively you sense how ugly this argument sounds, so you make a strawman instead so it sounds like the problem is that the vocal atheists have actually been making fallacious arguments (instead of just unwelcome ones). Which of course isn’t true.

    If anyone on the side of science is really hurting public acceptance of evolution, it’s those like Ruse who confirm to Creationists their own lies about scientists, by making the same erroneous claims.

  32. #32 ask
    February 27, 2006

    I’d like to make a point that I have not seen here (although I think Timothy Chase would probably agree with me). There are principled reasons (not merely tactical) not to lead with an aggressive denunciation of religion.

    It seems to me that if (1) I am an atheist, and (2) I have reached that position through a process of reason and evidence, and (3) I believe that this process of reason and evidence have intrinsic value (that is, that my atheism follows from my reason, rather than justifying it); if all these things are true, then the principled approach would start with general advocacy of science and reason, focusing on simple examples. There are many fundamentalist, young-earth creationist types that would have trouble getting even that far, I know. But if we do make it that far, then according to D & D the atheism should follow, should it not?

    What an odd world it would be if everyone were an atheist based on the omniscient teachings of Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins!

    – ask

    P.S. I write this as a huge admirer of Dennett and Dawkins, both brilliant writers and thinkers. Having read the exchange of letters linked here, it looks like Ruse had a cow in response to a single provocative comment by Dennett, does it not? Is he known for being thin-skinned?

    P.P.S. On this comments editor, you can lose an entire fairly long post by accidentally brushing the “ESC” key while reaching for your coffee. Just FYI.

  33. #33 Joanna Bryson
    March 1, 2006

    Chris —

    Back to the text you were writing about, I saw that the same day I first saw your blog (I was trying to see what impact Dennett’s book was having) & I also picked up on that same passage.

    I think theres about a 70% chance that it is deliberate spin — Rosenhouse’s schtick is that he is trying to be one of the (very, very) few rational voices in support of creationism, and he knew that email would attract a lot of attention. So he had his “I’m a scientist” posture on for the world to see.

    There’s about a 30% chance that he actually believes it & is actually worried / mortified by religoius zealots & trying to drive them off his blog. And to be fare, he does get remarkably intelligent discourse in his responses.

    Actually, my numbers are quite bogus, as I should have allowed for the fact that both are true or neither. Pretend I did that at the same time :-).

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