Pharyngula

Our double standard

I’m sorry, Josh, but while you introduce the issue well…

There’s been a minor thing brewing in the last week or so between PZ Myers, Chris Mooney, and originally Michael Ruse and Daniel Dennett (and by now the rest of the blogosphere) about “hiding atheists away” in discussions of evolution, the framing issues involved in calling atheists “brights” and other tangentially related topics. It taps into the deeper issues of the connection between evolution and atheism, how that impacts the Great Creationism Wars, and on and on.

…you then go on to perpetuate the usual misrepresentation of atheists in this debate.

If atheists make their atheism an issue in a discussion about evolution they’re playing the same game religious authoritarians are, and making it easy for the authoritarians to push their religion. Evolution isn’t a weapon to be wielded against religion, nor is religion a tool to be wielded against evolution, and the science class isn’t where atheists and theists should have their squabbles.

That just isn’t the way it works, and I’m feeling more than a little irritated at having to explain it over and over again.

You will not find me claiming that you must be an atheist to defend evolution, that only atheists understand evolution, or that Christians can’t be on our side in the evolution debate. I do not tie evolution to atheism or vice versa. I preface my talks to students on the subject with the explicit disclaimer that they are not required to abandon their faith to support good science. I do think religious credulity is the antithesis of the kind of critical thinking we should be encouraging, and that we ought to be working to reduce the role of superstition in our culture, but come on, give us atheists some credit—we are actually capable of generating a focused argument on a topic. We do.

So could everyone please stop pretending that the atheists in the scientific community are all making some fatuous “Evolution, therefore god is dead” argument?

Seriously, we aren’t saying that. We are making an independent argument for reason and atheism and against superstition; and the people who object to that are in essence suggesting that people who argue for evolution should keep silent. I could understand the complaint if it were against making bad arguments for evolution and atheism, but that simply isn’t the case here.

I’m beginning to resent it. People who wouldn’t think of telling a Jewish or Christian scientist to “hey, could you tone down any mention of your religious belief, anywhere, anytime?” think nothing of informing atheists that they shouldn’t defend their unbelief, anywhere, anytime. I’m sure I’ll hear that that isn’t what Josh is saying, but it’s hard to interpret it any other way when there are these vague expressions of disquiet over the presence of assertive atheists in our midst.

What makes it worse is the double standard. I have to pick on Mike for saying this most clearly.

I’m not a complete idiot; I realize the ‘religious’ right introduces religion into the debate to a far greater extent than the pro-science side. However, responding to that is an issue of tactics and framing, and is not what I’m discussing here. Personally, I don’t think atheists should have to hide their beliefs. However, when explaining and defending evolution, getting into the ‘God conflict’ is not only bad tactically, but as I explained, simply not relevant. Tactically, the ability to shoot down the ‘godless evolutionists’ concept by proclaiming one’s religious beliefs is, regrettably, a useful rhetorical device.

Got that? Statements about god-belief, pro or con, are off the table in arguments about evolution, except when those statements are pro-religion. Those are OK. Ken Miller writes a book on evolution that’s also a defense of religion in general and Catholicism specifically, and do we hear these same people decrying the introduction of the theist/atheist “squabble” into the evolutionary argument? No, his book is recommended all over the place (even by me—the science is good, but the religion is bogus). We can praise the clergy for getting involved, but atheists? Regrettable. Tactically bad.

Tough.

We also get arguments that criticizing religion hurts the pro-evolution cause. So what? You could also say that criticizing creationism hurts the pro-evolution cause, because it pisses off all those millions of creationists. The claim completely misses the point. Atheists reject religion, so we aren’t at all worried that the targets of our criticism dislike our criticism. We aren’t going to stop.

Now Josh and Mike and Chris are smart people; but it’s not at all clear what they hope to accomplish with these complaints. Is there some specific problem in mind, or is it just a general, fuzzy discomfort with all the vocal ungodly on your side? What is it that should change? Because I can guarantee that I’m not going to slack off on denying religion, loudly and proudly…and I doubt that Richard Dawkins or Steven Weinberg, a couple of rather more prominent opponents of religion, are going to back off either. So what’s the gripe? Why shouldn’t I feel that many who should be my allies are making excuses for a broader irrationality that undermines the more specific argument for evolution that they want to support? While utility in the short term is nice, I’m not in favor of losing to superstition in the long run.

Comments

  1. #1 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2006

    That’s my question. What are you and Mike and Chris complaining about? It’s awfully nebulous…all I know is that my name and Richard Dawkins’ tend to come up in these discussions about atheists hurting the evolutionist cause, yet no one brings up anything specific or makes any productive suggestions, other than to criticize stuff some hypothetical atheist somewhere is supposedly doing.

    It’s so nebulous, that the only conclusion I can draw is that you’re uncomfortable with the existence of us nastily aggressive atheists.

  2. #2 Josh
    February 26, 2006

    I was making my comments in the abstract to note a general equivalence, not to criticize all atheists or to make blanket statements.

    Examples aren’t hard to dig up.

    Dawkins to beliefnet: “My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.”

    Can be summarized/interpretted (ungenerously I admit): Evolution therefore no religion.

    Jonathan Wells: “Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism.”

    Summarized: Religion therefore no evolution.

    Both are flawed approaches. Evolution says nothing about religion and vice versa.

    Putting the fight for evolution in a context of a fight against superstition (which you equate with religion) is different from putting it in a context of teaching science in science class. I prefer the latter, because the former puts evolution in conflict with religion. I don’t want to fight that battle, and I don’t want to be enlisted in it.

    Ebonmuse: I don’t think atheist scientists should keep quiet and defer to religious scientists. I think that when scientists are talking about science they should leave their religion (or absence thereof) aside, it isn’t a relevant adective.

    On the other hand, when talking about the ways that religious people can be at peace with evolution/science at large (note, different conversation!), do you think an atheist or a co-religionist is more convincing? Atheists are, for various reasons, at peace with evolution. They have worried about the Big Bang, the Anthropic Principle, and Plate Tectonics. Some religious people worry about evolution, and there are two conversations that need to happen with them. One is to show what evolution is, and religion is immaterial to that discussion (see above). The second conversation is about the way to reconcile their religious faith (superstition if you like) with the scientific data, and that’s a conversation where religion matters, but professional scientific expertise (a smart layperson can handle the science side). Of course, if someone is both a religious and a scientific expert, you can get double duty out of them.

    This is a framing thing for me. If we frame this in terms of evolution being one step in the grand crusade to end all superstition, even religion, it’s no different than framing the battle for creationism as one blow in the DI’s battle against “materialism.”

    That’s all I’m saying. I’ll let Mike and Chris speak for themselves.

  3. #3 Ebonmuse
    February 26, 2006

    I was making my comments in the abstract to note a general equivalence, not to criticize all atheists or to make blanket statements.

    Examples aren’t hard to dig up.

    Dawkins to beliefnet: “My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.”

    I realize that’s what you were doing, Josh – no worries. I do agree that Dawkins has made some overzealous comments along these lines in the past, and if he does so again, we definitely should point out that he doesn’t speak for all scientists. But neither should we treat his personal opinions as if they’re less valid than those of any other scientist.

    Ebonmuse: I don’t think atheist scientists should keep quiet and defer to religious scientists. I think that when scientists are talking about science they should leave their religion (or absence thereof) aside, it isn’t a relevant adective.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    On the other hand, when talking about the ways that religious people can be at peace with evolution/science at large (note, different conversation!), do you think an atheist or a co-religionist is more convincing?

    I see what you’re getting at – I certainly don’t want science to be a casualty in a debate about atheism. The thing is, I think we’re setting ourselves up for disaster in the long run if we act as if only religious scientists can speak with authority on these controversial issues. That’s not what science is about. Doing science means that anyone of any background can come to the table, as long as they have the evidence to back up their views. If we want to frame the issue, I think that’s how we should be doing it – not by hinting that atheists are unwelcome among scientists (for the record, I’m not accusing anyone of saying this), but by making it clear that religious people are just as welcome as anyone else. We should say that some scientists are theists and some aren’t, but they all accept these theories because the evidence points to them, and leave it at that.

  4. #4 David Wilford
    February 26, 2006

    Dawkins to beliefnet: “My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.”

    Josh, Darwin knew full well how his theory of evolution would refute William Paley’s natural theology, so I fully agree with Dawkins here regarding his conclusions about his own atheism.

    No one claims that the theory of evolution invalidates fideism, which is faith that isn’t based on reason. Which is not something that probably appeals to Dawkins either, obviously.

  5. #5 John Wilkins
    February 26, 2006

    More seriously – some writers like Simpson, Dawkins, Provine and the like have indeed tried to show that their atheism and philosophical views are supported by evolution. So too did theists like Dobzhansky and Teilhard and Julian Huxley. So what? A scientist is like anyone else who thinks hard – he or she will use all the knowledge and implications thereof to formulate a coherent worldview. It follows that if they know a fair bit about the world, and its origins, that will factor in, whether they are atheists, theists, pantheists or Red Sox fans. [In Australia I’d say Collingwood fans, but you furriners wouldn’t get it.]

  6. #6 cm
    February 27, 2006

    Josh said:

    Dawkins to beliefnet: “My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.” Can be summarized/interpretted (ungenerously I admit): Evolution therefore no religion.

    Let’s be clear: that statement is misrepresented by the way you suggest someone might summarize it. All Dawkins statement says is that in his case understanding evolution began a thought process which resulted in his atheism. But that process is not guaranteed (ask Francis Collins or Ken Miller). Are you arguing that Dawkins, a prominent scientist and thinker, ought to be careful in discussing how his beliefs came about in his life just because someone might misrepresent him?

    Evolution says nothing about religion and vice versa.

    Neither part of that statement is true. Evolution (in partnership with geology) does say something about religions that deny evolution: it says those religions are promulgating falsehoods. Those same religions, via their spokespeople, do say something about evolution: that it is false and demeaning. Do you not live in the United States?

  7. #7 D
    February 27, 2006

    Also, by and large I agree with you when you say “i don’t think rejection of evolution is something that is rock hard and deep.”

    I don’t think these people wake up every morning wanting to make a serious and earnest effort to somehow not be taken in by evolution. After all, rejecting practically all of science takes work, and is probably intellectually and emotionally taxing.

    My point rather is that they are committed to a literal and work-for-word understanding of the Bible (except for the bits about stoning adulterers and keeping slaves only in such and such a manner, but that’s a story for another day). Anything that undermines this belief is a threat to their religious identity and that’s that.

    Simply saying “look! you can believe in evolution and still believe in the Bible provided you take nothing in it literally and actually think for yourself” ain’t going to cut it. You might as well go around telling them that they should become liberal Christians or Unitarian Universalists. They don’t wanna.

    The Dennetts and Dawkinses of the world probably do not make it any easier for these people to buy evolution, but I doubt THAT is what is causing fundie-ness in your average fundie. If you don’t address the root problem of fundamentalism you’re practically saying you’ll make no difference. At least a Dawkins tries to get other intellectuals worked up about religious literalism.

    Might as well accept that different scientists have different views on religion, let both the Dawkinses and the Millers say what they think, and leave it at that.

  8. #8 G. Tingey
    February 27, 2006

    The very reverend Richard Harries, bishop of Oxford, had a word or two to say about this.

    He appeared on a public platform, with Richard Dawkins, to denounce the young-Earth Creationists, and, come to that, creationists.

    He said that true christians will accept Evolutionary theory – we don’t have a problem with it….

    So some people need to beware of how the evangelists, especially in the USA are succeeding in bending peoples minds, so that evolution = atheism has become an almost default mode – even though it is wromg, and untrue.

  9. #9 PaulC
    February 27, 2006

    Dawkins to beliefnet: “My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.”

    This is a little tangential, but I don’t even think that evolution is a major contributor to atheism. There’s a statistical correlation here, but the only clear causal relationship runs the opposite way: members of certain religions are required to reject evolution regardless of the evidence in favor of it.

    There is also a larger package of critical thinking–opening up to less intuitive, less anthropocentric alternatives–that would lead one both to considering evolution and doubting other purely cultural dogma, including religion. That may explain a lot of the correlation, and without the statement attributed to Dawkins above, I would assume that explained both his science and atheism. As it is, I still find it hard to imagine Dawkins as someone initially inclined toward theism who felt pushed by evolution to reject it. But I have only the words attributed to him to go by so I’ll stop speculating.

    Finally, I can state from experience that as a more or less observant Catholic I had no trouble with the notions of abiogenesis and evolution as the complete explanation for the appearance and the diversity, respectively of life on earth, including the development of the human brain and consciousnesss. It seemed plausible and a far more elegant explanation than individual creation, and throughout my Catholic education (through secondary school), nobody suggested anything about it contradicted religious belief.

    Nevertheless, I’m not really a religious person these days, but it has essentially nothing to do with evolution. It comes primarily out of a sense of universalism. I was taught on the one hand to respect and appreciate all human beings, and on the other hand that Catholicism was essentially the only true religion. These beliefs just never fit together. Humans everywhere believe all different things. My religion is large, but the probability would have been higher to be born in some other religion. So it’s quite a leap–and really contradicts universalist ideals–to suppose that I just happened to get born into the “right” set of beliefs. At the same time, I cannot just say that all religions are “right” because they are so contradictory. So it seems more likely that none of it makes much sense.

    For all that, I do tend to what I think PZ calls an adaptationist view. Religion is so ubiquitous, that my default assumption is that it’s good for something. At the very least, it aids cultural coherence, and generally contains an ethical code, parts of which are held in common by almost all humans. It can probably be replaced by a rational, secular alternative, but I don’t claim to know for certain which parts you can throw out while leaving a whole that has the same fit for the human mind that religion appears to.

    What annoys me about proselytizing atheists (and they exists, and there are more of them on these kinds of blogs that you’d find in a random sample of the population) is that they strike me a little like people eagerly telling me I can eat nutritionally complete food out of tubes like NASA astronauts and dispense with primitive notions like favoring something because it is “garden grown” or preparing meals that I ate at home as a child. I mean, they might be right–or not, if the food isn’t nutritionally complete after all–but assuming I am causing no harm to others, it’s presumptuous of them to insist that I do things a particular way when there is not clear problem with doing it the way I’m accustomed to.

  10. #10 poke
    February 27, 2006

    Dawkins to beliefnet: “My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.”

    Can be summarized/interpretted (ungenerously I admit): Evolution therefore no religion.

    Jonathan Wells: “Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism.”

    Summarized: Religion therefore no evolution.

    This kind of equivalence is exactly the kind of prejudice you’re being accused of. The two things aren’t equivalent. They’re not even close to being equivalent. Denying evolution is not even remotely similar to denying people’s religious convictions. And further more, that is exactly the point of the evolution vs. creationism debate. What you’ve just done above is conceded the debate.

    Let me repeat myself, just to be clear: You just implied that making an inference from an established body of scientific knowledge to a claim about people’s religious convictions is equivalent to making an inference from people’s religious convictions to a claim about an established body of scientific knowledge. That’s insane.

  11. #11 Steve LaBonne
    February 27, 2006

    P.S. Note that even in the UK, with its asinine laws agaisnt insulting religion, Dawkins’s documentary was possible, whereas it is unthinkable even to broadcast it, let alone to make such a program, here.

  12. #12 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    Both. I disagree that it is a good strategy to ignore the freethinking nature of much of the scientific community — our opponents are not idiots. They can see when we’re trying to hide something.

    While the contribution of atheist scientists as scientists are not ignored (religious beliefs are completely irrelevant there), their role as popularizers is definitely discouraged. I certainly feel it, I’m sure Dawkins does, too — there is generally this hesitancy and overall reluctance from even those people on our same side, as reflected in the posts I was replying to here.

    Seriously: if people aren’t asking the atheists to hush up, what specifically are they complaining about? What are we supposed to do differently, other than hide away our irreligious beliefs when out in public?

  13. #13 Jonathan Badger
    February 27, 2006

    Seriously: if people aren’t asking the atheists to hush up, what specifically are they complaining about? What are we supposed to do differently, other than hide away our irreligious beliefs when out in public?

    There’s a difference between “hushing up” and going on crusade. Dawkins in particular seems to be a “crusading” atheist — and not a particularly effective one at that. When he says about thirty seconds into his “Root of all Evil” that “I’m a scientist and I can tell you there’s no good reason to believe in a god”, he’s simply using the same sort of appeal to authority that the Pope uses — and is equally non-convincing to anyone who doesn’t already buy into the message.

    I just don’t see how this helps either the cause of science or of atheism. I was raised in a moderate religious household and didn’t become an atheist due to atheistic crusading — rather the opposite — the crusading if anything make me think that atheists were just some nutters like Scientologists or something.

    Growing up in Madison, WI I was aware of the shrill Annie Gaylor and her group of “freethinkers” (which bizzarely, met weekly in a “freethought hall” as if they were some religious group) and who would get press coverage from time to time, making empassioned speeches about how “God is dead” and generally acting like the stereotype of what religious people think atheists are like.

    But that isn’t at all what convinced me of atheism. Instead, I became an atheist in high school after taking enough science (and thinking about it) to realize that there was no reasonable job for a deity to do nor a mechanism by which a deity could work. I think that that’s pretty typical of why people become atheists, and I think there isn’t a shortcut possible.

    So what do I think atheists should do? Teach science. The people who really “get it” will come to atheism after their own reflection.

  14. #14 Jonathan Badger
    February 27, 2006

    I’m going to call BS on this general class of assertions. I would say that nowadays we in fact know more than enough about neurobiology…

    Steve, you’re missing the point. The issue isn’t whether or not you or I agree with Dawkins on the fact that there isn’t good evidence for a god (and I do), but the fact that arguing “I’m a scientist; trust me” is not a good argument. Personally, I’d think a TV show about neurobiology would be more useful for promoting atheism — learning that neurons exist and how they work tends to diminish the presumed need for a “soul”

  15. #15 Glen Davidson
    February 27, 2006

    What’s the problem of evolution for religion? There are of course a number of potential problems, many of which are side-stepped by theistic evolutionists (however well or poorly). But perhaps the greatest problem for religion in general is this one: Biological evolution, which grades into human cultural evolution, has no explanation for the gods except for evolutionary scenarios for how gods/religion arose.

    This is what anthropologists, biologists, archaeologists, and sociologists all do, they attempt to explain religion by any means other than by resorting to the spirits and the gods. To be sure, this isn’t just because of evolution per se, it is because of the limits and abilities of science as a set of methods. But biological evolution is what directly sets the stage for the gods to evolve within human consciousness, since we were once ape-like (presumably godless), and then during some stage we began a linguistic and cultural evolution which appears to be the source of religion. We do not just use evolution to explain life, then, we also use it to explain religion, starting with biological evolution and moving into cultural evolution. Ad hoc defenses are raised to save religion, and I rarely bother to trouble anyone wishing to use these. However these apologetics are hardly convincing, and must be considered at the least extra-scientific, if not anti-scientific (if only in this limited area–relatively harmless if the theistic evolutionist has only this exception).

    The truth is that we are not willing at all to leave religion outside of scientific explanation, even though we have much to do to come up with full explanations for it. This is why the IDists have actually identified the enemy well–science with its methods–as the true enemy of their religious apologies. They’re very egregious in claiming to be doing science, for they desire to destroy it whenever it harms their religion, yet it may be that they have one of the clearest identifications of the conflict of religion and science that exists. Some of us on the other side have a more clear view of the matter, but the IDists do know their enemy–science.

    That said, PZ Myers often sticks up for his right, de facto as well as de jure, to fight religion. Why? Or more to the point, does he ask what he is accomplishing by directly attacking religion? When Darwin addressed this issue, he opted for pushing science, not for attacking religion. This is something that Myers must figure out for himself, of course, and I would not directly counsel him to tone it down, but I do think it is the sort of question he should ask–if he has not yet considered the consequences adequately (how would I know if he has?).

    Obviously I think that occasions exist at which one should simply tell the truth about the conflict between science and religion, most notably the point at which science explains religion without even thinking of using the spirits in its explanations. Yet if I were blogging or making television programs, I would in fact just be explaining religion without resort to spirits and gods, without directly challenging the entrenched religious forces out there. I do not wish to be a fundraiser for Pat Robertson or Bill Dembski, and I really don’t care if the impact of science on religion is to leave religion formally intact, but with a secular core. In a sense, a secular core in society is a kind of goal with me, still I almost never think of it in those terms, rather I want science to largely prevail without troubling to think about its impact upon religion.

    A major reason I would rarely, if ever, speak and write against religion in the way that Myers does is that it goes against my philosophical viewpoint(s). For me it is a matter of explaining the world. I do not directly aim at faulting or destroying other beliefs (for the most part–of course I am intent on fighting the belief that religious apologetics should be taught in school, or that Pol Pot was the messiah). Positive explanations have an appeal that attacks on benighted beliefs definitely do not (sure, I also attack beliefs, however I know that this is more internet indulgence than it is education). And to be fair, I think that Myers recognizes this in a way that Dawkins does not, so it seems to me that the complaints about Myers have more to do with Dawkins (Myers pushes this conflation of himself with Dawkins by praising Dawkins’ anti-religious diatribes, however) than they do with Myers’ own more measured considerations of religion’s intersection with science (politics being another matter).

    I definitely disagree with Dawkins’ attacks on religion, since they likely are counterproductive, at least in America (however, if Dawkins weren’t the devil there would be another raised in his place by religious forces, so I care little if he continues on as he does or not–I am simply noting that if the rest of us were like him it would be a disaster). Myers is another kettle of fish, hardly posing any real problem for the fight against creationism/ID, still probably not being very persuasive outside of the atheist choir.

    Recapitulating my position, I cannot agree with those who claim that science is not opposed to religion, since science has indeed staked its claim to the territory of religion, as one of the areas that it intends to explain as far as possible–and to the extent that sound explanation can exist at all. Science will not accept explanations of religion that go outside of biological, cultural, and ideational evolution, and implicitly it considers the various evolutionary forces to be adequate to produce the best possible explanation of why religion exists.

    We should be willing to admit that this is exactly what science claims to be doing and will continue to do in the future. These are the stakes, either understanding culture and psychology according to science, or giving up and letting religion promulgate its own ad hoc explanations without competition. If it is dangerous to admit that this is how we think about science, I still think that it is incumbent upon us to come clean about what science says and does. It is not always politic to broadcast the scope of scientific claims and endeavors, yet I cannot favor any sort of actual cover-up.

    Intuitively, the die-hard religionists know what we’re doing with science anyhow, so a cover-up is not going be effective in any case.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  16. #16 Paul W.
    February 27, 2006

    Jonathan writes:

    Steve, you’re missing the point. The issue isn’t whether or not you or I agree with Dawkins on the fact that there isn’t good evidence for a god (and I do), but the fact that arguing “I’m a scientist; trust me” is not a good argument. Personally, I’d think a TV show about neurobiology would be more useful for promoting atheism — learning that neurons exist and how they work tends to diminish the presumed need for a “soul”

    Steve replies:

    I’m all for that, Johnathan. Preferably before the DI wises up and comes after neurobiology next. ;)

    One of the reasons Dan Dennett is such an outspoken atheist is precisely because he’s not just interested in evolution. He’s primarily a philosopher of mind. His work is all about reasoning, will, responsibility, morality, personhood, etc.

    And those are other areas in which most scientists cede the public discussion to religion.

    The religious right isn’t just interested in evolution. It is also anti-psychology, and anti-philosophy.

    Religion generally embodies shallow theories of mind and morality. That puts it in conflict with science, or any moral or legal scheme consistent with science.

    This isn’t mainly about science. It’s about morality. The right realizes that; we should too.

    And it matters in the public sphere, a lot.

    Sure, we can have Catholic evolutionary biologists defend evolution and Catholicism. But in doing so, our deference to religion reinforces the credibility of Catholicism, and I very much don’t want that. I don’t want to encourage people to take a religion seriously when its leader says that the only good condom is one with a hole in it, and that a clump of 16 cells is a person because it has a soul—and that the state is therefore obligated to discourage safe sex, persecute the victims of that policy, fail to prevent the spread of AIDS, overpopulate the world, etc. Not to mention denying gays equal rights on the grounds that homosexuality is “an objective disorder.”

    Many of us tend to look through the lens of the narrow evolution-vs-creation wars and see Catholics as our friends. And in this particular battle, they often are. Great. But Catholicism is part of the general epistemic disaster of Christianity.

    Sure, many Christians aren’t fundamentalists, and many Catholics disagree with the Pope on various things. But even many of those take traditional “Christian” morality more or less seriously. They grossly underestimate what science has to say about reproduction, moral development, moral responsibility, and what makes an animal a person, or what makes a person acceptably “normal” for moral and legal purposes.

    And they generally fail to resist the fundamentalists very effectively, because they don’t want to publicly say that the Bible is full of falsehoods and the fundies should take their Haldol and start talking sense.

    I’ll stop being such an outspoken atheist when the Pope, and Pat Robertson, and the Dalai Lama stop getting so much press for their absolutely stupid opinions, as though they mattered in making moral choices for other people.

    Until then, I don’t just see the evolution wars as an isolated event, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to fight back against fundamentalism, Christianity in general, or religion in general.

    I do understand picking our battles. I understand full well why the Dover case was Christians v. Christians.

    But in other contexts, depending on the audience, I think it’s worth undermining the widespread respect for religion and Christianity; if atheists aren’t going to do that, who will? Maybe now is not the time to oppose Christianity or religion. But if not now, when?

    I think Dennett and Dawkins have every right to be public atheists, and to point out the connections between their scientific views and atheism. I think they even have the right to “out” the scientific community—e.g., to point out that about 90 percent of first-rate physicists, biologists, and philosophers do not believe in God or an afterlife. That’s not just a coincidence.

    Religion and science are not orthogonal, and cannot be. They are inversely correlated, for deep, valid reasons. That’s something more people should know.

    Sure, for some audiences, it may backfire—they may decide that scientists and philosophers are evil, and become anti-science. But for others, it’s something they very much need to hear; they need to know that most smart people who’ve thought a lot about fundamental things related to religion do decide that religion is mostly bunk.

    They shouldn’t discard their religions on the basis of an argument from authority, of course, but it might make them curious enough to seriously explore a different point of view.

    Some people here seem to think that you can’t fight religion directly. People either fall away from religion, or they don’t, and arguing about religion doesn’t do any good. I disagree. I think that a major factor in people’s openness to atheistic thinking is their perceptions of it as a fringe position, which is therefore likely wrong, and not worth exploring much.

    The only way to undermine the perception of atheism as a wacky fringe view is to be out about atheism, and to be willing to explain it.

    Most of the atheists I know came to atheism substantially by being exposed to atheistic thought. It’s hard to work everything out by yourself, in a vacuum.

  17. #17 Andrew F.
    March 31, 2007

    ‘Religion without science is blind, science without religion is lame.’
    –Albert Einstien

    Atheism was determined (by the Supreme Court) to be a religion in classification with Buddhism and others like it because it assumes many thing not proven by “pure science”.

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