Laelaps

i-3f7d635a625962c1c551abd6602c1c43-bakkerbwprofile.jpg

Last month I posted an interview with paleontologist Bob Bakker, and while the scientific questions I asked stirred some discussion (including a response to some of the points from Jack Horner) a number of readers got hung up on the last part of the interview dealing with science & religion. Many of the comments on the original post disagreed with Bakker’s criticism of Richard Dawkins, while creationists elsewhere on the web quote-mined the interview to support of their own views (see here and here, for example).

Just this past weekend Bakker sent me a reply to the comments that centered on the relationship of religion & atheism to science, and it is reproduced below;


Darwin Was Not (a) Bright.

Sometimes we public-intellectuals shoot ourselves in the foot – and keep shooting until we reach the groin.

Case in point: Richard Dawkins’ “Bright” campaign. Complaining that atheists, as a minority group, get dissed in the public arena, Dawkinsians searched for an uplifting label. After all – Dawkins argued – the short, punchy “gay” has become a celebrated moniker for same-sex life. Atheists needed a similarly simple and shining badge.

Dawkins and company announced that henceforth atheists would self-identify as “The Brights.”

From a public relations point of view, it was a dim idea. Critics denounced “The Brights” as a bunch of arrogant elitists. We lowly museum scientists cringed. Polls show 5% or fewer of our visitors to the fossil halls are atheists. The remaining 95% are believers on some level. Condemning these folks to the category of “Un-Bright” is demeaning, unfair and just plain stupid. The “Un-Bright” support museum displays and programs with their donations and their tax-money. And the “Un-Bright” supply a vast volunteer army that digs, cleans fossils, and gives tours of the galleries. The “Un-Bright” don’t deserve to be insulted.

It is true that the U.S, political scene is inimical to loud & proud atheists, in most places and most situations. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t get elected to national office now. Once the media discovered his edit job on the Bible, where he cut out all the miracles and spooky stuff, he’d be electoral toast (Jefferson, 1816; 1989). But within the halls of academe, the bias is reversed. Any scholar with a strong religious tradition elicits raised eyebrows. Ben Stein’s little movie “Expelled” has a soupcon of truth (note my use of “soupcon” ).

Which brings up Charles Darwin, Dawkins’s hero, and Steve Gould’s and mine. Would he clamber aboard a campaign wagon full of “The Brights”?

Nope.

Phipps (2002) has given us a fine, detailed analysis of Darwin’s metaphysics. In public and in his private letters to intimates, Darwin eschewed the label “atheist”. An earnest young man came to Darwin’s door, seeking donations to support Charles Bradlaugh, a public Atheist who was elected to Parliament in 1880 but barred from taking his seat. Surely Darwin, the famous iconoclast, would support such a cause, so thought the young man. Darwin didn’t. To his dying day, Darwin did support Christian charities but he did not give money or emotional backing to public atheists. Too rabble-rousing; too confrontational; too self-defeating. Too insulting….

“Agnostic” was a term Darwin found more fitting – the coinage of his chum Thomas Henry Huxley. Darwin confessed he couldn’t figure out anything regarding a Deity. “A dog might as well ponder the mind of Newton” was Darwin’s famous quip.

Unlike his Harvard co-evolutionist, Asa Gray, Darwin did not search the Scriptures or ponder Biblical commentaries for answers. Darwin was vaguely aware of Strauss’s scholarly pot-boiler “The Life of Jesus”, an attempt to get at the real, historical documentation behind the Gospels. None other than novelist-skeptic George Eliot had translated the work into English in 1846. And Darwin he knew that German Higher Criticism was claiming that the New Testament probably didn’t capture the genuine words of Jesus. But the great naturalist simply didn’t find it all that interesting.

As a young adult, he had been abused by the Church when a cleric assured him that a deceased relative, a skeptic, was in Hell. And religion was scant comfort when his beloved daughter died. Darwin’s last vestiges of orthodox belief died then too.

Nevertheless, Charles Darwin was not, at any time, a “Bright”.

Clip-Art Scholarship.

I have two complaints against those who call themselves “The Brights”. One is that they call themselves “The Brights.” The other is that they indulge in clip-art commentary.

Clip-Art is the immense mass of copyright-free images: You download them and attach them to your T-shirts, comic strips, and blog entries. Clip-art comes in verbal form too, as pre-digested summaries of other-people’s work and other people’s opinions and other people’s biases. Saves time. Rather than actually reading hundreds of pages of primary sources, one can clip a paragraph from the Web and present it as proven fact.

Dawkins performs clip-art scholarship with the History of Science and Religion, a field that over the last several decades has matured into a rigorous discipline with fine PhD programs, endowed professorships, well-funded conferences, edited volumes luxuriously printed by Oxford, Harvard, and The Johns Hopkins Press. With footnotes.

Dawkins displays little familiarity with this rich literature. Instead he holds on to the old Warfare between Science and Religion, a notion popularized in the late 1800′s when anti-religion polemicists predicted an inevitable duel-to-the-death. Twentieth Century historians have exposed the Warfare notion as shallow, hopelessly one-sided, and wrong.

Here’s an example of clip-art from “The God Delusion” (Dawkins, 2006). In a chapter on the Reformation and related events, Martin Luther is portrayed as anti-science, anti-philosophy. Out-of-context quotes might seem to uphold the judgment, but in a broader context it’s odd. Luther was inspired by St. Augustine, the one Church Father who actually dug fossils and was an excellent amateur astronomer. The St. Augustine who used science to detect heresy, as told in “City of God” (1982; 1998). When the Manichaeans couldn’t get their sky calendar right, Augustine rejected their theology.

Luther’s battle with “philosophy” = “science” was complex: Reformers as far back as William of Ockham eschewed the Medieval reliance on interpretations of Aristotle and Galen, especially when applied to church governance. Church politics, national politics, personal liberty and Philosophy were interwoven. Much has been published on these matters.

I flipped to the footnotes for Luther in “Delusion”. Was there a covey of tomes I had missed? A new edition of Harrison’s 1998 classic “The Bible, Protestantism, and the rise of natural science”? Perhaps a re-reading of Lutheran speeches, polemics and table-talk? No. There was but a single note, #85, on page 221, acknowledging a website for the anti-science remark. Indeed there was little Luther scholarship anywhere in “Delusion”. Dawkins’ anti-Luther blast was clip-art.

Dawkinsians must confront this truth: History is a discipline. History requires close study and careful reading of original documents. History is not loose stuff you grab uncritically because it fits your biases. “The Colbert Report” is better documented than “The God Delusion”. And funnier.

Dawkins can be meticulous. Do this: compare the documentation, chapter by chapter, in his 2004 “The Ancestor’s Tale” with that in “Delusion”. The former is careful scholarship. The latter is screed.

De Genesi ad Litteram.

One contributor to this blog plunked the epithet “theistic-evolutionist” on me; the only documentation was a second-hand website. I eschew “think by label”. A while back I was forced to remove my name on an atheist-skeptic list – the blogger concluded that if I defended the teaching of evolution then I must be a Bible-basher. No. Likewise, I have never claimed to be a “theistic-evolutionist”. That term has shifting boundaries and is most frequently employed by young-earth creationists who are mad at everybody.

Here’s a crisp definition: Theistic Creationists take the position of Asa Gray (1876) , early in his friendly debate with Darwin. Gray accepted “descent with modification” and natural selection. However, Gray saw the Creator intervening in the process, to guide it towards man and the modern world. The divine nudge was applied by directing genetic variations, so selection tended to drive long-term trends in a predictive direction. Thus humans got bigger brains because genes for bigger brains were produced disproportionately (excellent summary in Knoll and Livingston, 1994).

Darwin objected. Every competent naturalist knew that variations in color, beak size, body weight were in all directions. Gray agreed, finally. But he still longed to see the finger of God to be active somewhere, somehow.

“Theistic” science is a curious notion. Is there “theistic astronomy”? Did Newton long to see God’s index finger poking Saturn when it gets a little tardy in its orbit? How ’bout “Theistic Bacteriology”?

If anyone insists on a label for me, try “Augustinian Evolution”. Be warned: you’d have to read “De Genesi ad Litteram – Toward a Direct Reading of Genesis” and grapple with Neo-Platonic notions of rationes seminales. It’s worth the effort. Augustine’s reading of the 6-days in Creation is poetic and true to the original Hebrew – amazing, since the Bishop of Hippo knew no Hebrew and worked with a garbled Latin translation of the Greek Torah. For Augustine, each Genesis Day is a unit of revelation given to the congregation of angels. Together, the six days laid out the entire Plan of the universe. And all days occurred simultaneously.

The inventory of all Creation didn’t pop up immediately. Each and every plant and animal, mountain and stream was planted in the primordial matter as a mystical seed that would germinate at the proper time.

Augustine’s Creation became famous among Catholic evolutionists with the publication of Canon Dorlodot’s 1921 “Darwinism and Catholic Thought”. In the mid 1920′s, in the run-up to the Scope’s Monkey Trial, the American Museum in New York battled the anti-evolutionists, and Henry Fairfield Osborn used Dorlodot to debate William Jennings Bryan.

The museum’s battle with the Darwin-Bashers is a wonderful story told with verve in Clark’s new 2008 book.

Augustine helped to get a lot of my generation into paleontology. The splendid 1953 “Life” magazine, with Jurassic dinos on the cover and the whole history of life inside, inspired me and many other grade-school kids. The opening page of the article had a giant photo of a Cambrian trilobite – and the text described Augustine’s Creation Week.

Must readings:

Augustine of Hippo, (425) 1998. City of God, Against the Pagans. Trans. R. W. Dyson. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Augustine of Hippo, (390-410) 1982. Toward a direct reading of Genesis (De Genesi ad Litteram). Trans. John Hammond Taylor, New York, Paulist Press.

Clark, Constance A. 2008. God or Gorilla? Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press.

Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion. New York, Houghton Mifflin.

Dawkins, Richard, 2004. The Ancestor’s Tale. London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Dorlodot, Henri. (1921) 1925. Darwinism and Catholic Thought. Trans. Ernest Messenger, New York, Benziger Brothers.

Gray, Asa, 1876. Darwiniana. New York.

Harrison, Peter 1998. The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of natural science. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Jefferson, Thomas. (1816) 1989. The Jefferson Bible. Boston, Beacon Press.

Knoll, Mark and Livington, David N. 1994. What is Darwinism? (the Asa Gray – Charles Hodge debate). Grand Rapids, Baker Books.

Phipps, William E. 2002. Darwin’s Religious Odyssey. Harrisburg, Trinity Press.

Strauss, David. F. (1835) 1846. The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. Trans. George Eliot , London, John Chapman.

Comments

  1. #1 Sigmund
    May 19, 2008

    Oh dear.
    Why is it that theists do so love to burn a strawman?
    The ‘brights’ was a brief phenomenon of several years back that may have been supported at one stage by Dawkins but certainly was not originated by him. I haven’t heard any serious voices in favor of it for the past couple of years.

  2. #2 Scott Belyea
    May 19, 2008

    Why is it that theists do so love to burn a strawman?
    The ‘brights’ was a brief phenomenon of several years back that may have been supported at one stage by Dawkins but certainly was not originated by him. I haven’t heard any serious voices in favor of it for the past couple of years.

    Oh dear.

    This must account for the reality that the latest newsletter and some other items at http://www.the-brights.net/ are dated May 2008. The site prominently features Dawkins, Dennett, and the usual suspects.

  3. #3 Sigmund
    May 19, 2008

    So what. The Brights organization is run by a group separate from Dawkins who, if you actually read what I wrote, did indeed write in favor of their aims a few years back. Its not exactly surprising that they still keep his name on board as he’s the most famous person of past supporters.
    Its hardly a major force at this point.

  4. #4 Waterdog
    May 19, 2008

    I can appreciate this viewpoint to some extent. I, too, would just as soon avoid the topic of religion, and nothing makes me happier than seeing anyone, theistic or otherwise, showing an interest in science. I was raised Catholic, but I loved dinosaurs from a young age, and I never felt my scientific interest stifled.

    That said, it would be nice to hold theists, individual groups of them, and on a whole, equally responsible. It’s unfortunate that atheists are considered loud and boisterous while theistic arrogance and condemnation, where it exists, is accepted without comment. The prejudice atheists suffer in our society is what some of the new atheists are trying to draw attention to and fight against. They may not succeed in killing religion, but I think they’re bringing light to an issue that is worth dealing with.

  5. #5 Oldfart
    May 19, 2008

    There is no logical difference between a theist and an atheist. The one believes in the unprovable existence of a ghost and the other believes in the unprovable non-existence of a ghost. Both are silly people who make large noises.

  6. #6 HP
    May 19, 2008

    There’s a really funny story in Bill Crow’s book Jazz Anecdotes. It seems that Duke Ellington’s Orchestra was touring the Deep South during the days of Jim Crow, and they were unable to find a restaurant that would serve Black men.

    After having had nothing to eat for about 12 hours, they finally sent the lightest-skinned man in the band, New Orleans bassist Wellman Braud, into a roadside diner to see if he could get some carryout. He’s inside for what seems like an awfully long time. Suddenly, he comes bursting out of the restaurant shouting, “I’m Creole! I’m Creole!,” followed by a huge man with a meat cleaver screaming, “I don’t care how old you are, you can’t eat here!”

    Every time I hear the argument that So-and-so isn’t an Atheist, he’s an Agnostic, I picture Wellman Braud, being chased by a knife-wielding redneck, protesting that he’s a Creole.

    /* Glances pointedly at John Wilkins */

  7. #7 Ian
    May 19, 2008

    “Un-Brights” is an even worse name than “Brights”! So does this mean we now have to refer to the former as “The Tarnisheds”?!

  8. #8 Edman
    May 19, 2008

    It’s funny that most people in the last Bakker thread seemed to have good experiences with him in person. I’ll share mine.

    I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid, and had the opportunity to meet Bob Bakker at Fernbank in Atlanta. He was discussing warm-blooded dinosaurs and pushing his new book “Raptor Red” at the time. I had just turned in a project in elementary school about how dinosaurs were related to birds, using “The Dinosaur Heresies” as a major source. Naturally, I was thrilled to meet him in person.

    When he signed my book, my mom told him about my project, and how excited I was to meet him. (I was ridiculously shy) I didn’t get a smile, acknowledgment, encouragement, or anything. He signed, slapped the book shut, and called for the next person. He was cold, and frankly, a jerk.

    That was the day I gave up on becoming a paleontologist.

    I think my Baptist family was thrilled that I was let down so badly. It gave them the perfect opportunity to bring the youth pastor in, who did his damnedest to indoctrinate me with creationist ideas, which would ruin my view of science until college.

    Well, that was cathartic.

  9. #9 Edman
    May 19, 2008

    Correction: I was in middle school. Just did the math.

  10. #10 neil
    May 19, 2008

    Augustine was a brilliant scholar and a powerful force in shaping Western thought, his ideas continue to resonate in theology and natural science. Does his work does light the way to a possible reconciliation between the seemingly contradictions between our imperfect readings of the scripture of the Hebrews and the scripture of the planet?

    Anyone who is hoping to get an Earth History lesson from Augustine might skip right to the important bit: Chapter 10 of City of God “Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousands of Years to the World’s Past.” Okay, so Augustine did not have detrital Zircons readily at his disposal, but would his conclusions be any different? It’s an interesting question and one that I certainly don’t have the answer to.

    When the question of “reconciliation” comes up, my mind always wanders back to that old misogynist a-hole Paul. You know that hackneyed bit about the distorted mirror and the clanging cymbals and putting away childish things and the power of love blah blah blah. Science is at it’s best when it strives for truth while still reveling in the glory of how much there is left to learn.

    Okay, that’s some serious hippie shite right there.

    Anyway, given the choice between knowing the mind of Newton, or “G”od for that matter, and knowing the mind of the dog, well, I know which one sounds the most interesting to me. I’d like to think Chuck D. would have felt the same way.

    Pax!

  11. #11 Scott Belyea
    May 19, 2008

    Sigmund:

    if you actually read what I wrote

    Now, now. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have caught the mistakes …

  12. #12 H.H.
    May 19, 2008

    Oldfart wrote:

    There is no logical difference between a theist and an atheist.

    Extraordinarily incorrect.

    The one believes in the unprovable existence of a ghost and the other doesn’t.

    There, fixed that for you.

  13. #13 windy
    May 20, 2008

    Nevertheless, Charles Darwin was not, at any time, a “Bright”.

    This is significant how?

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    May 20, 2008

    The term “Brights” has been rejected by atheists for many reasons, so I hardly think it important to use as an argument here. I think it is either misleading or it is arrogant, and really truly prefer to refer to myself as “atheist” because I have nothing to hide about my lack of belief.

    It seems like scientists try to bend backwards, sideways, and inside out in order to please those who think one has to decide between faith and science. I feel no such need, because science is not the reason for my atheism; religion is.

    However prosaic the theological apologia may be, they really don’t give me much guidance because they are opinions and dissections of opinions. There is no way to look at the natural world to verify or test the tenets of any religion.

    If the religious would revert to treating evolution/biology as they do, say chemistry or physics then the “militant atheists” would find no reason to respond to the twists needed by theistic evolutionists to defend their position.

    Atheists have tried to respect the so-called NOMA, but the fundamentalists don’t seem so be so circumspect. When they come out and declare science to be “wrong” just because their religious beliefs are endangered, what should the atheists do? Should they just sit back and say “I respect your opinion, good sir?” Or should they instead actively show how creationists’ conclusions are based on completely illogical and non-factual basis points?

  15. #15 Jud
    May 20, 2008

    That Darwin may have felt public promotion of atheism was “rabble-rousing” or “confrontational” in Victorian England doesn’t tell us to what degree such feelings stemmed from personal beliefs vs. a desire to avoid controversy. The length of time the Origin remained unpublished could represent a data point in the “avoid controversy” region of the graph. His reluctance might also have stemmed at least in part from solicitude toward his wife.

    Nothing in what I’ve written above changes my basic feeling that religion or other personal beliefs are side-issues, and what excites me is science.

  16. #16 TTT
    May 20, 2008

    Bakker:
    Dawkins performs clip-art scholarship with the History of Science and Religion, a field that over the last several decades has matured into a rigorous discipline with fine PhD programs, endowed professorships, well-funded conferences, edited volumes luxuriously printed by Oxford, Harvard, and The Johns Hopkins Press. With footnotes.

    Evolutionary scientists and paleontologists have all of those too, yet creationists say it is all a deliberate conspiracy of lies that causes immorality and the Holocaust. Where is his anger there? Has Bakker ever even spoken out against them? Does he even grasp what public school teachers have to go through because of creationists? Perhaps he has been in the field for so long that he has lost touch with the problems of the later generation of academics.

  17. #17 G Felis
    May 20, 2008

    Reason and empirical evidence are the philosophical foundations of scientific inquiry. No one can claim to be an enemy of reason and a friend to science, and no one HONEST can deny that Martin Luther loathed reason because it opposes faith – which is belief held without the support of reason and evidence. However much Luther may have admired Augustine, he was no more a friend of reason than Augustine himself (who used reason and abandoned it whenever it suited him, like all theologians). Augustine and Luther may have in principle separated questions of faith from knowledge of the material world, but neither was terribly consistent about it (q.v. Luther’s astronomical ranting below). The complicated, inconsistent history of religion’s antagonism towards science is simply a record of different religious leaders and institutions picking and choosing differing boundaries for what counts as a matter of faith and what is a matter of worldly knowledge. Such boundaries must always be completely arbitrary, however, because faith can never serve as the basis for knowledge of any kind – for knowledge consists in justified beliefs, and faith eschews justification. Like all apologists, Bakker pleads “nuanced scholarship” and “really it’s all so much more complicated than that” to avoid obvious and unpleasant truths, but no amount of mental gymnastics can make any openly declared enemy of reason into someone friendly (or even neutral) towards science. Bakker’s accusation that Dawkins’ view of the conflict between religion and science is “shallow, hopelessly one-sided, and wrong” would be more convincing if his own ax-grinding and extremely selective reading weren’t so evident.

    More than a few select Luther quotes on reason and faith:

    “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.”

    “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has.”

    “Reason is the enemy of faith.”

    “But since the devil’s bride, Reason, that pretty whore, comes in and thinks she’s wise, and what she says, what she thinks, is from the Holy Spirit, who can help us, then? Not judges, not doctors, no king or emperor, because [reason] is the Devil’s greatest whore.”

    “People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon….This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13]that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.”

  18. #18 Zach Miller
    May 20, 2008

    PZ Myers was not amused by the original Bakker interview or this addendum. His tyrade is long, but worth a read.

  19. #19 windy
    May 20, 2008

    In public and in his private letters to intimates, Darwin eschewed the label “atheist”. An earnest young man came to Darwin’s door, seeking donations to support Charles Bradlaugh, a public Atheist who was elected to Parliament in 1880 but barred from taking his seat. Surely Darwin, the famous iconoclast, would support such a cause, so thought the young man. Darwin didn’t.

    I missed this part the first time. Never mind Bradlaugh being an atheist, it’s mind-boggling that Bakker finds it admirable that Darwin failed to support a member of a minority who was barred from taking an elected position!

    A bit of googling suggests that Darwin’s support was asked when Bradlaugh was charged with obscenity for advocating birth control, not for the parliament incident. Either way Darwin does not come out as a shining example for the modern ages here. (I’m sure his choices were understandable in personal context; I’m criticizing Bakker’s painting them as somehow exemplary.)

  20. #20 johannes
    May 21, 2008

    G Felis,

    when Luther spoke of reason, he usually (the part about astronomy might be an exception) meant the use of reason in theology, in other words, medieval scholastics. Luther, like many renaissance thinkers, even catholic ones, considered scholastics stodgy and old-fashioned, and its attempts to prove the existence of god by reason pointless and futile. Even today we call a stupid or bigoted person a “dunce” (after Duns Scotus), this is obviously an artefact of the humanists’ anti-scholastic mentality. Luther might have been right on this one: God is something you believe in (or don’t). Trying to prove the existence of god by reason leads to nowhere.

  21. #21 themadlolscientist
    May 21, 2008

    “Brights.” GAAK. Stupidest terminology ever invented by a supposedly intelligent person. IMO, it’s down there with the woo-woo biz of calling kids with ADD or autism Indigo Children.

    @ H.H.: IMO Oldfart got it exactly right. “Belief” and “nonbelief” are two analogous sides of the same coin, and those who say otherwise aren’t just atheists; they’ve crossed the line into being “atheist-ists.”

    ‘Nuff said. That’s just one agnostic’s admittedly biased opinion. I’m putting on my asbestos suit even as we speak. YMMV. AWYSB.

  22. #22 G Felis
    May 21, 2008

    Hmm. Johannes, I think you are too generous to say that Luther was referring only or primarily to Medieval Scholasticism. I don’t disagree that Luther is right about God belief being a matter of faith, not reason. My point, in fact, is that Luther was essentially right: Reason is, always has been, and always will be the enemy of faith – and vice versa. They are necessarily opposed, since faith denies reason a place in establishing beliefs.

    And since (most) religious traditions insist that faith as a valid, useful, good, et cetera “way of knowing” – even though it is in fact a way of NOT knowing, since it rejects justification, which is necessary for knowledge – faith beliefs inevitably creep outside this theorized, abstract box that supposedly encloses “matters of faith.” Even if one takes the position that beliefs about the existence of God are not subject to justification one way or the other, the faithful never just believe in some mysterious entity’s bare existence: That entity has certain properties (being a creator, being good) or takes certain actions (giving commandments, revealing “truths”) that ALWAYS turn out to have a direct impact on beliefs that ought to be subject to justification – which justifications faith bypasses or ignores. Faith beliefs cannot and do not exist in isolation: The faithful live in the world with other people and objects and natural processes, and it is INEVITABLE that their faith beliefs cause them to accept or reject other positions or opinions on faith which ought properly be accepted or rejected on the basis of evidence and reason.

    It is not an accident or an aberration or exception that led Luther to take a faith position on astronomy and reject evidence and reason, it was just an example of the very common phenomenon that (for lack of a better term) I’ll call “faith creep.” Luther’s vitriolic hatred of Jews is another example, as are all the crazy things he said about demons and devils and their activities, and his attitudes towards medicine (see quotations below). It’s all very well to say that there are “matters of faith” and “worldly matters,” but the faithful always include a whole bunch of very worldly matters in the “matters of faith” category, no matter how much they deny it. Sometimes faith creep impinges on the realm of science – but even when it doesn’t, it almost always impinges on other areas (ethics, for example) where reason would serve infinitely better.

    Again, the words of Martin Luther:

    “Idiots, the lame, the blind, the dumb, are men in whom the devils have established themselves: and all the physicians who heal these infirmities, as though they proceeded from natural causes, are ignorant blockheads…”

    “Our bodies are always exposed to Satan. The maladies I suffer are not natural, but Devil’s spells.”

    “Snakes and monkeys are subjected to the demon more than other animals. Satan lives in them and possesses them. He uses them to deceive men and to injure them.”

    “Some [demons] are also in the thick black clouds, which cause hail, lightning and thunder, and poison the air, the pastures and grounds.”

    ‘Nuff said.

  23. #23 TomJoe
    May 21, 2008

    PZ Myers was not amused by the original Bakker interview or this addendum. His tyrade is long, but worth a read.

    He and quite a few of his readers certainly did get their knickers in a twist. Which, if you ask me, plays right into Dr. Bakker’s hands. Instead of stepping back a minute and digesting what Dr. Bakker had to say, several of his readership went into attack mode not only on Dr. Bakker but on religion in general.

  24. #24 G Felis
    May 21, 2008

    TomJoe, do you realize that your post consists of this argument: “Those people were angry and intemperate, therefore the person who said things that made them angry must really be on to something?” Uhm, no.

  25. #25 H.H.
    May 21, 2008

    themadlolscientist wrote:

    @ H.H.: IMO Oldfart got it exactly right. “Belief” and “nonbelief” are two analogous sides of the same coin, and those who say otherwise aren’t just atheists; they’ve crossed the line into being “atheist-ists.”

    ‘Nuff said. That’s just one agnostic’s admittedly biased opinion. I’m putting on my asbestos suit even as we speak. YMMV. AWYSB.

    No, he got it exactly wrong. Oldfart, and apparently now you, are under the mistaken impression that atheists would somehow have to know that no gods exist in order to justify their atheism. This is a profound and basic misapprehension on the nature of evidence and the burden of proof.

    Positive belief requires positive evidence in order to be rational. Disbelief only requires an absence of evidence to be rational, not anti-evidence or positive evidence to the contrary. If an assertion is made without valid evidence, then disbelief is justified. Atheism is nothing more than the recognition that theists have failed to make their case.

    You also seem to think agnosticism is the “sensible middle” between two unprovable extremes. However, it is only in the unacademic colloquial sense that an agnostic means one who is undecided. Originally, the term was coined to describe an epistemological position on the limits of human knowledge of the divine, thus making it more than possible for someone to be both an atheist and an agnostic.

    So I’m afraid you and Oldfart really are wrong. That’s fact, not an opinion. And enough with these “I’m getting ready to be flamed” sign offs on posts. If you put something out there, be ready to accept criticism, even vigorous criticism, instead of pre-dismissing it all as unjustified emotional reactions. It’s a reflection of your personal close-mindedness more than anything. If you’re wrong, just be ready admit it and move on.

  26. #26 TomJoe
    May 21, 2008

    TomJoe, do you realize that your post consists of this argument: “Those people were angry and intemperate, therefore the person who said things that made them angry must really be on to something?” Uhm, no.

    Dr. Bakker claimed that a contingent of excessively vocal atheists are at the root of the current brouhaha between science education and religion. He said, and I quote: These shrill uber-Darwinists come across as insultingly dismissive of any and all religious traditions. If you’re not an atheist, then you must be illiterate or stupid and, possibly, a danger to yourself and others.

    So what happens? These very people go off and do the very thing he claims they do. In other words, they prove his point. So, umm yes.

  27. #27 G Felis
    May 21, 2008

    So people sternly criticizing Bakker’s shoddy rhetoric and reasoning, as PZ did and many commenters at Pharyngula did, are therefore “insultingly dismissive of any and all religious traditions”? B does not follow from A.

    Or are you just talking about the subset of comments on any thread which are stupid, angry, ranty, etc.? (See Oldfart and themadlolscientist above, who deserve the drubbing H.H. gives them.) In which case, those people don’t prove anything except that there are always stupid people willing make their “contributions” when *any* issue comes up that fires their ire. You are committing the same logical error and underhanded rhetorical maneuver that Bakker pulled by going on and on about the Brights thing: Just because a small segment of a group says stupid things doesn’t mean that everyone who shares a given opinion is equally stupid or prone to the same stupidity.

  28. #28 H.H.
    May 21, 2008

    So what happens? These very people go off and do the very thing he claims they do. In other words, they prove his point.

    People can get vicious on all sides of this debate. Pointing to a few limited examples of nastiness of only one group while avoiding their substantial criticisms is hardly making a point. It’s a juvenile rhetorical trick. You should be ashamed for falling for it.

  29. #29 TomJoe
    May 21, 2008

    If you ask around, even here, at ScienceBlogs I think you’ll find that people will label Dr. Myers are anti-theist, an anti-theism which quite frequently takes the form of being insultingly dismissive. Even the commentary on his blog entries the which don’t discuss religion at all, will generate anti-theistic sentiment. Now, I’m not claiming that Dr. Myers himself is responsible directly for such commentary … however I would contend that he has fostered an environment where such commentary occurs quite often. That is his responsibility.

    Sure there are stupid people everywhere, and they shouldn’t be used to tarnish the good name of the majority (if the majority had a good name to begin with), but I think it goes beyond just a “few” stupid people over at Pharyngula. Etha Williams for example (comment #10) sets up a nice false dichotomy (e.g., theistic scientists either suspend logic or must compartmentalize … it’s much easier to be an atheist and a scientist) … well, she’s a Molly award winner over on Pharyngula. So, does Dr. Myers usually give these awards to the ranty, angry, stupid commenters of his site, or did she momentarily run of the rails in that blog entry (which I don’t think is the case)?

  30. #30 TomJoe
    May 21, 2008

    H.H. – When the nastiness comes from the most well-known figureheads (for example Dawkins or Myers) I think it goes beyond a mere “rhetorical trick” to point it out. These individuals set back the entire discussion. If it were just the random yahoo being a total twit, that’s one thing; but when it’s the main player acting the fool it certainly isn’t going to help to bring all parties to the table for a nice, calm discussion.

  31. #31 H.H.
    May 21, 2008

    TomJoe, I don’t agree with your assertions that either Dawkins or PZ “acts the fool.” I think they make rather well-justified arguments. Those arguments seem to make you uncomfortable, but so far all I’ve seen you do is gripe and call them names. See, the thing is, I agree with posters like Etha Williams when she says that theistic scientists must either suspend logic or compartmentalize. That isn’t a false dichotomy, it’s true. You may want to believe that faith can be rational, but demonstrating it is another matter.

    So what are atheists like Dawkins and PZ setting back exactly? The lie that science done correctly meshes perfectly with religious faith? That’s a fantasy that’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. If such talk makes religious people feel gullible and stupid, perhaps it is time for them to reassess their position.

    If you mean to say that religious people will never come to the table for a calm discussion where the basis for their faith is questioned, then that seems to speak more to their character then that of outspoken atheists. Bakker’s complaint that religious people will shut out any voices critical of their faith only points out how intellectually poisonous religion can be.

  32. #32 TomJoe
    May 21, 2008

    H.H. – I agree with posters like Etha Williams when she says that theistic scientists must either suspend logic or compartmentalize. That isn’t a false dichotomy, it’s true. You may want to believe that faith can be rational, but demonstrating it is another matter.

    And I agree with Stephen J. Gould and his proposition of NOMA. However, instead of having respect for religion, people like Etha Williams, Dawkins, Myers, and obviously yourself … have shown nothing but disdain for theists, and as a consequence, have set back science/religion communication decades … decades that I think we can ill-afford to have lost.

  33. #33 H.H.
    May 21, 2008

    And I agree with Stephen J. Gould and his proposition of NOMA.

    And NOMA is compartmentalization, so I guess you agree with Etha after all.

    However, instead of having respect for religion, people like Etha Williams, Dawkins, Myers, and obviously yourself … have shown nothing but disdain for theists, and as a consequence, have set back science/religion communication decades … decades that I think we can ill-afford to have lost.

    1) No, I don’t think religion deserves unquestioning respect. 2) That isn’t the same as disrespecting theists, although they often can’t tell the difference between the two. 3) Don’t blame atheists for any resistance to science education among the religious. Atheists make a convenient scapegoat, but nothing more. If people reject sound science in favor of mythology, the blame rests squarely on them and on those who pander to them.

    Remember, the “new atheists” are a relatively new phenomenon, largely in response to the political power and dominance gained by religiously-motivated science deniers. To blame atheism for any anti-science sentiment in the various religious communities is preposterous in the extreme. That would be placing the effect ahead of its cause.

  34. #34 TomJoe
    May 21, 2008

    And NOMA is compartmentalization, so I guess you agree with Etha after all.

    I believe Etha’s implications went well beyond that. I think it was pretty evident that she was implying that atheists make better scientists because they don’t “need to compartmentalize”. So no, I don’t agree.

    1) No, I don’t think religion deserves unquestioning respect.

    No one said “unquestioning respect”. Just as I wouldn’t call you an asshole the minute prior to us sitting down for an important meeting (whether I thought you were or not), I think it’s bad form to constantly mock entire groups of individuals … based on a few loons.

    2) That isn’t the same as disrespecting theists, although they often can’t tell the difference between the two.

    As I said before, I’m not the only one who has pegged PZ Myers as clearly anti-theistic. His big mouth, and rabid anti-theism is the reason he was targeted for Expelled. Which unfortunately was further used to broad brush science in general. You might not get the principle behind the adage “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” but a lot of us do.

    3) Don’t blame atheists for any resistance to science education among the religious.

    I’m not blaming an entire group for anything. I do blame a few people (who happen to be atheists) for being piss-poor ambassadors of science however.

    If people reject sound science in favor of mythology, the blame rests squarely on them and on those who pander to them.

    You just don’t get it. People aren’t rejecting sound science in favor of mythology because of mythology. They’re uninformed, and usually their first experience with information is provided to them by suspect sources. Partly because the scientific community has done a poor job of “getting the word out”. Then, when they do turn to the scientific field for an honest rebuttal … the loud few are there not answering the questions, but insulting them for their beliefs. At that point, what do you expect?

  35. #35 H.H.
    May 21, 2008

    I believe Etha’s implications went well beyond that. I think it was pretty evident that she was implying that atheists make better scientists because they don’t “need to compartmentalize”. So no, I don’t agree.

    Fine, but it’s not a false dichotomy, which is what you accused her of earlier.

    No one said “unquestioning respect”. Just as I wouldn’t call you an asshole the minute prior to us sitting down for an important meeting (whether I thought you were or not), I think it’s bad form to constantly mock entire groups of individuals … based on a few loons.

    And here you are confusing treatment of ideas with treatment of people as well. You wrongly conflate “respecting religion” with “respecting people.” They are not the same. Ideas should not be shielded from criticism, even dearly held ideas.

    I’m not blaming an entire group for anything. I do blame a few people (who happen to be atheists) for being piss-poor ambassadors of science however.

    No, you’re saying that simply being an outspoken atheist is antithetical to being an “ambassador of science.” I disagree. I find PZ to be a wonderful advocate for science. If theists can’t get past their prejudices, that’s their loss.

    Again, it isn’t the atheists’ job to ensure religious people appreciate the wonders of science. I don’t see religious leaders saying “we better be nice to the atheists or they might reject the theory of gravity!” Why should it be incumbent upon atheists to tailor the message of science for religiously-sensitive ears? Why aren’t the religious responsible for the scientific literacy of their own communities?

    You just don’t get it. People aren’t rejecting sound science in favor of mythology because of mythology. They’re uninformed, and usually their first experience with information is provided to them by suspect sources. Partly because the scientific community has done a poor job of “getting the word out”. Then, when they do turn to the scientific field for an honest rebuttal … the loud few are there not answering the questions, but insulting them for their beliefs. At that point, what do you expect?

    I don’t get it? Then explain how we got to this point. Explain why that despite all the past decades that religion has been shown the utmost deference and respect, anti-science sentiment has only grown.

    Do you want to know how to foster anti-science attitudes? Tell people that religion is just another way of knowing, no better or worse than science. Beat the drum that unevidenced faith is a wonderful attribute and worthy of the deepest respect. Tell people that religion makes them more moral and magic is a real force in the world. Explain that man is fallible but God’s word is absolute.

    That’s the recipe for getting us into a mess like we’re in now. It isn’t atheism, the problem entirely lies in propping up religion. So, with all due respect, really it’s you who just doesn’t get it. The policy of appeasement has failed. It’s high time for new tactics.

  36. #36 TomJoe
    May 21, 2008

    Fine, but it’s not a false dichotomy, which is what you accused her of earlier.

    No, it’s still a false dichotomy. As an analogy, NOMA is like two parallel roads, they never overlap. Etha however is arguing that science and religion travel the same road, which eventually forks. The atheist has no problem taking one of the forks, the theist also travels one down one of the forks while claiming the road never forked to begin with. That’s compartmentalization. That’s not NOMA.

    No, you’re saying that simply being an outspoken atheist is antithetical to being an “ambassador of science.” I disagree.

    No, I’m not. I’m saying going around intentionally mocking large groups of people amounts to being a piss-poor ambassador. If PZ Myers did his mocking on some obscure Facebook page … no biggie. But he’s not. He’s doing it at Scienceblogs, which touts itself as a place where scientific communication can be fostered.

    If theists can’t get past their prejudices, that’s their loss.

    I think some people can’t get past being constantly belittled. It has nothing to do with prejudices. If we were in a discussion and every five minutes I told you that you were an idiot, I don’t imagine we’d have the best of conversations. It’d be even more insulting of me to, when you got upset over that treatment, to tell you that you simply need to get past your prejudices.

    Why should it be incumbent upon atheists to tailor the message of science for religiously-sensitive ears?

    I think scientists should tailor the message of science for the non-scientific. Part of that does entail being sensitive to the particular groups you’re bringing the message to.

    Your comments above (which I just quoted) are typical of the loud few Dr. Bakker spoke about. The atheists who think they can hijack science. It’s “Us vs. Them”, “Atheist vs. Theist” … you just don’t get it. That is why Dr. Bakker’s comments were an opportunity lost for people like PZ Myers, Etha Williams and yourself to sit back and ask questions like “What can we do to help bridge the gap?”, “What resources can we tap to help bridge that gap?”

    Nope, instead you wrote Dr. Bakker off and said “It’s not our problem.” Well, unfortunately it is your problem, and because you’ve done a shit job handling it … it’s now become the problem of every scientist, theist and atheist alike.

  37. #37 H.H.
    May 22, 2008

    Well, TomJoe, you still get Etha wrong, but honestly it’s not even worth correcting you by this point, as so much else that you’ve written is grossly incorrect and needs addressing.

    I think some people can’t get past being constantly belittled. It has nothing to do with prejudices. If we were in a discussion and every five minutes I told you that you were an idiot, I don’t imagine we’d have the best of conversations. It’d be even more insulting of me to, when you got upset over that treatment, to tell you that you simply need to get past your prejudices.

    Except PZ isn’t telling people they are idiots, as you keep wrongly asserting. He criticizes religion and its influence, and he mainly does this by citing real world examples of religion-inspired behavior. All he’s doing is holding up a mirror, and if religious people don’t like what they see, they have no one to blame but themselves. Rather than face up to these problems, Bakker and people like yourself have decided to blame the messenger. Somehow its not considered a problem when religion repeated bears the fruit of its anti-reason, anti-science, anti-Enlightment values, it’s only a problem when someone dares point it out.

    Your comments above (which I just quoted) are typical of the loud few Dr. Bakker spoke about. The atheists who think they can hijack science. It’s “Us vs. Them”, “Atheist vs. Theist” … you just don’t get it. That is why Dr. Bakker’s comments were an opportunity lost for people like PZ Myers, Etha Williams and yourself to sit back and ask questions like “What can we do to help bridge the gap?”, “What resources can we tap to help bridge that gap?”

    Nope, instead you wrote Dr. Bakker off and said “It’s not our problem.” Well, unfortunately it is your problem, and because you’ve done a shit job handling it … it’s now become the problem of every scientist, theist and atheist alike.

    Oh puh-leeze. As a Pentecostal minister, Bakker is certainly guilty of pushing his own agenda onto the science here as well. Bridging the gap requires effort from both directions. Far from the magnanimous gesture of reconciliation you seem to ascribe to Bakker, I see from his words as defensively lashing out at those who would challenge his dogma. He’s neither acting like a scientist nor an education advocate, he’s acting like just another small-minded religious devotee who’s allowed his emotions to override reason.

    Bakker accuses atheists of giving short-shrift to the long history of serious religious scholarship. But then why does he not cite the long philosophical tradition of disbelief, including the development of applied skepticism into what we now call the Scientific Method? Instead, Bakker prejudicially paints all atheists as mean, petty, and uninterested in life’s deep questions. This, it goes without saying, is untrue. Atheists simply reject the metaphysical answers Bakker and his fellow religionists disingenuously claim to know. So he isn’t being at all honest. He wants to portray atheists as close-minded bigots, when in fact all they’ve ever done is point out how flimsy the evidence is for his claims. He’s projecting and so are you.

    As far as your concluding paragraph, I see you’ve decided to ignore my questions on the topic and once again absurdly assert that outspoken atheists are somehow responsible for the current popularity of anti-science sentiment among the religious. Unfortunately for you, history does not back up your claims. I hate to break it to you, but creationism predates The God Delusion by several decades. It was the coddlers and appeasers of religion who have “done a shit job” of nipping creationism in the bud when they had the chance, and we are now living with the consequences of those who failed to speak out against irrationality and magical thinking.

    Fortunately, we now have strong voices willing to openly criticize unduly privileged nonsense and push back against this mania of unreason. Yes, in the short term, people like you will throw fits and wail and gnash your teeth, but reducing the unchallenged stranglehold of religion on society is ultimately the only long term solution that will have any lasting positive impact on science and science education.

  38. #38 David Marjanovi?
    May 27, 2008

    I believe Etha’s implications went well beyond that. I think it was pretty evident that she was implying that atheists make better scientists because they don’t “need to compartmentalize”.

    I think it is pretty evident that you fear that she was implying that atheists make better scientists because they don’t need to compartmentalize.

    Fear is the path to the dark side.

    She was saying that atheists have it easier because they don’t need to avoid the wall in their heads because they have none. Theists need to find a way, the argument goes, to keep up the NOMA division, to keep themselves from applying the scientific method (Ockham’s Razor especially!) from the religious compartment in their heads. Of course, many do and are successful scientists.

    It’s also interesting how you attribute this old concept to the 21-year-old Etha… had you really never encountered it before?

    —————–

    For the record, I agree with just about everyone else that “Brights” was a stupid idea. I’m surprised Dawkins ever supported it — I had no idea.

  39. #39 Christophe Thill
    May 28, 2008

    Yes, this “Brights” thing was anything but bright. I agree, many readers here agree. Even PZ Myers agrees. Let’s not waste any virtual ink on this boring matter !

  40. #40 H.H.
    May 28, 2008

    Regarding the “Brights” thing–I was for it at the time. It seemed like a relatively noble idea, trying to re-brand skepticism in a positive light. But of course I didn’t consider that religionists like Bakker simply would not let atheists try to raise their image up without taking offense, since clearly that must mean we are simultaneously trying to tear them down. The number one complaint heard was that Brights was an offensive name since it implied believers were “Dims.” I suppose that means using any positive term to describe atheists is out, because theists will always assume they are the antonym equivalent and act offended and defensive and try to shut them down. If you aren’t with the theists, they make it clear that you are against them.

    It was then that I realized peaceful coexistence is pretty much impossible. We are in a culture war. You have to play to win.

  41. #41 Steve Bodio
    May 30, 2008

    “Religionist” or not, Bakker has done more for science than all his yapping critics (with the possible exception of Dawkins who USED to write good books.) He has also proceeded here with grace and dignity, without making war on anyone.

  42. #42 David Marjanovi?
    June 9, 2008

    He has also proceeded here with grace and dignity, without making war on anyone.

    Saying people have done more damage than the cdesign proponentsists is not making war on them? Then what is? As long as it stays verbal, I mean.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!