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 Maven
    February 26, 2006

    “We are making an independent argument for reason and atheism and against superstition . . .”

    Hear! Hear!

  2. #2 justawriter
    February 26, 2006

    I’m with ya PZ. Godless and Proud!

  3. #3 Josh
    February 26, 2006

    In my defense, I did say “If atheists make their atheism an issue ….” Whether in fact any atheists do, is a separate matter. Do I need to make it clearer (given the context) that I’m saying that discussions of atheism in the context of evolutionary biology are problematic.

    I did say “That isn’t to say that an evangelical Christian or an atheist shouldn’t speak out about her religious beliefs or lack thereof. It just means that it’s in everyone’s interest to distinguish what we’re talking about.”

    Which sounds like what you’re advocating, too. Where’s the beef? Where’s the double standard?

  4. #4 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.

  5. #5 Ebonmuse
    February 26, 2006

    Amen, PZ! (And I use that term in a wholly ironic sense.)

    I think Thoughts from Kansas and the others have a point only insofar as this: Scientists who are atheists should make it a point not to state or imply that only an atheist can accept evolution. This isn’t true, and saying otherwise is playing into the creationists’ hands, giving them ammunition they can use.

    Other than that, I think scientists should feel free to speak out in defense of their personal views any time they want, in any way they want, even if they’re atheists – especially if they’re atheists. We need more promotion of atheism; the deleterious effects of excessive faith are way too obvious, and it’s about time we stopped apologizing for living our lives according to reason and evidence. That is a positive, praiseworthy trait, and we ought to say so as often as possible.

    I find the implication that atheists should keep quiet and let religious scientists handle the PR to be insulting, not just to us nonbelievers but to the public we’re supposed to be reaching out to. Should we deceive them, paint a false picture of the way things are? That is antithetical to the spirit of open discussion that is such a crucial part of science in the first place. Let everyone speak out, and let everyone defend his or her convictions with boldness. If there are people who are so repulsed by atheism that they’ll automatically reject anything an atheist speaks in favor of, we probably never had a hope of reaching them anyway.

  6. #6 coturnix
    February 26, 2006

    I read Josh’s sermon a few hours ago and I did not understand it the way you did. I think you are on the same page.

  7. #7 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.

  8. #8 Troutnut
    February 26, 2006

    Good post, PZ.

    I see attempts to sweep the correlation between evolution and atheism under the rug in the mainstream media all the time. For interviews, news shows choose weak defenders of evolution who make the same irritating comments over and over and over:

    1) They state defensively that they’re religious, as though believing in the Holy Boogey-man is required for credibility.

    2) One of their most common defenses of evolution (usually versus ID) is, “science can’t deal with the supernatural.” They implicitly concede that there is a supernatural in the first place and suggest that it’s a weakness of science to be unable to deal with those aspects of reality. Nobody ever says, “hey, wait a minute, maybe supernatural is the same thing as fictional.”

    3) They spend half their time stating that evolution doesn’t conflict with religion. That may or may not be true depending on how literally a religion is interpreted, but it shouldn’t be on any lists of the merits of evolution or any other scientific theory. These people are more concerned about reconciling evolution with fiction than embracing its roots in fact.

    The bottom line is that “God is in the gaps” in our knowledge, and by filling many of those gaps evolution further decreases religion’s credibility. We shouldn’t be hiding that like it’s a dirty little secret. Evolution may be compatible with some amorphous forms of theism, but having a natural answer for such major questions does boost the validity of an atheistic worldview.

    The religious people the press trots out to defend evolution have an inconsistent worldview; they allow irrationality and faith to govern some of their beliefs, and their choice to draw the line short of rejecting evolution is a fairly arbitrary one they can never explain coherently. This makes their arguments weak and painful to watch. Atheists with their self-consistent worldview are better suited to explain evolution’s real merits, but they’re usually hidden away in favor of confused “moderates” speakers.

  9. #9 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.

  10. #10 Chris Clarke
    February 26, 2006

    [Atheists] have worried about the Big Bang… and Plate Tectonics.

    *blinks*
    *blinks again*
    *rubs eyes with knuckles*
    *sees the sentence is still there*

    What, if I may be so bold as to ask, the fuck are you talking about?

  11. #11 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.

  12. #12 Jon
    February 26, 2006

    I wanted to comment further on Josh and this thread, and on another aspect to the debate happening here.

    From a humble reader, who happens to be a scientist, and not religious but not athiest either… To be quite honest, the ScienceBlogs feed is getting increasingly, uh, strident, and it’s beginning to turn me and a few others I know off. Yes, maybe the religious side of this debate is not playing fair… but there is a vibe going on here that is increasingly tending towards disrespectful, and I don’t see that we need to sink to the level of some of what the anti-science people are doing. Yes, we need to vigorously defend science. No, we don’t need to make it personal, even when they do.

    Also, in terms of just sheer representation, I don’t think most people are religious nutters, and I don’t think most scientists are athiests. We need to have more consideration for that in how we discuss the debate as well.

    I’ve personally come up against debates with people who, for a variety of personal, social, or cultural reasons, were unable to move past the dictates of their beliefs, even in the face of scientific evidence. Sometimes these people do come around eventually but it takes time, and it takes a non-judgemental atmosphere. For many it involves a heavy re-evaluation of their beliefs, their society, and their childhood. A lot of what I’m reading on ScienceBlogs is coming off more and more dismissive and disrespective of those who have ‘irrational’ beliefs. Unfortunately more of humanity falls into that category than not. By so virulently and personally attacking certain hard-core people who will probably never change, many here are inadvertently alienating many others on the fence who are trying to come around but are feeling, deep down, somewhat offended.

    Just a few thoughts about this, take from it what you will.

  13. #13 razib
    February 26, 2006

    Evolution says nothing about religion and vice versa.

    not fundamentally, but for some people it does. to dennett it is the ‘universal acid,’ the acid will eat away religion. my own atheism precedes my deep understanding of evolution, but evolution is now certainly of the subcomponent vectors that contribute to my firm disbelief in man-made religions.

    to some religionists evolution is orthogonal to their religion. to others, it contributes to their religion. to others it is in opposition to it.

    there are many species in the waters here, and the whole argument is nebulous. i don’t see that much genuine disagreemant there…but, i will offer that dan dennett specifically is a problem child here, because in darwin’s dangerous idea he specifically did made pretty strong claims about evolutionary theory that exploded out of biology. that’s his prerogative, and narrowly construed i’m pretty sympathetic to many of dennett’s models, descriptions and heuristics, but the rhetoric can be problematic.

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2006

    Has anyone tried to enlist you in the battle against superstition? I suspect not. Go ahead, sit it out. I’ve got no problem with someone picking their own focus.

    Who is more convincing at making a religionist at peace with evolution? I’m going to make the counterintuitive suggestion that it is the atheist. Face it, lots of scientists are atheists, far more than is the case in the general population, and education and skepticism do tend to lead people far, far away from conventional religion. We know it, and most importantly, they know it. So let’s not pretend otherwise, let’s get atheists front and center, and let people see that we’re human beings, too. I will bow to the needs of properly framing the issue by refraining from eating any babies in public.

    It’s also bad framing to set up a false equivalence. Our problem is, ultimately, with religion. The evolution-creation controversy wouldn’t even exist but for religion. Ignoring the root cause of the conflict because you think that advocating the sufficiency of natural mechanisms makes us just like a bunch of godly yahoos who worship dogma is basically an attack on the whole principle of science. Beating the guys who want to shoot you by voluntarily slitting your own throat isn’t much of a victory, I’m afraid.

  15. #15 razib
    February 26, 2006

    http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/

    most evolutionary biologists probably are.

    most scientists reject a personal god and elite (national academy of science members) individuals overwhemingly do.

  16. #16 John Wilkins
    February 26, 2006

    Come the Agnostic Revolution, Atheists will be first, well second… ummm… nth against the wall.

    We demand rigidly demarcated areas of skepticism and doubt.

  17. #17 razib
    February 26, 2006

    Our problem is, ultimately, with religion.

    pz, but the issue that it is a particular form of religion.

  18. #18 razib
    February 26, 2006

    to be more precise, religion might be a necessary condition for anti-evolutionism (to a high probability), but it is not sufficient.

  19. #19 Chris Mooney
    February 26, 2006

    PZ–

    What I think this neglects is the political situation we’re in. There’s no doubt about evolution in biology, yet a huge percentage of Americans don’t accept it, and those numbers haven’t changed significantly in years. The fundies keep coming back and picking at this sore, because they know it’s a winner for them.

    Why? Because our culture is divided over religion, and the evolution debate brings out that divide out forcefully. Personally, I’d like us all to be a little bit less divided, and a little more accepting of evolution. I’d like to escape from the vicious cycle that has been the evolution fight for decades upon decades.

    That’s why I’m recommending a new strategy, structured along the lines of a political campaign. It’s not about telling atheists to shut up, but it is about having evolution defenders coordinate their messages to greatest effect.

    I suspect that if such a political campaign is launched, and if it is based upon solid polling and other research, we will find that it treats the religion issue with *extreme* caution. That’s really all I’m saying.

    But for God’s sake (or lack thereof), don’t shut up! You’re my favorite atheist blogger (and evolution blogger). You make it funny and a delight to read. If there’s really something wrong with atheists in my experience it’s that too many of them are crotchety, angry, no fun, and tend to alienate younger people. You’ve overcome all of that, and it’s really magnificent to behold.

  20. #20 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.]

  21. #21 D
    February 26, 2006

    “but the issue that it is a particular form of religion.”

    Yes, but what you neglect to mention is that – at least in the US – this “form” is at least 50% of the whole. Lookup Gallup’s statistics on Creationism.

    It does nothing useful to defend some sort of anaemic religion with no observable consequences as being “consistent” with evolution, when your target audience sees what you’re selling as new-age hippie feelgoodery.

  22. #22 Josh
    February 26, 2006

    Chris Clarke: Is the Big Bang a religious hoax?:

    To some nonbelievers, like me, the Big Bang theory seems just a disguised version of the Bible creation, when Jehovah said “Fiat Lux”, and the universe was created. So far as I am concerned, in spite of the beautiful mathematical formulas of the scholars, I can’t accept that this indescribably immense universe has been originated from a single atom (or from a fireball the size of a baseball), all of a sudden, out of nothing. I would rather believe in Santa Claus.

    Similar objections had been raised to plate tectonics, which sounded too much like God parting the waters.

    Coturnix: Yes, Dr. Myers and I are on the same side.

    I think the reaction here to my post was a bit over-sensitive, but I also know that there’s a lot of anti-atheist prejudice out there, and any minority religious viewpoint has to defend itself. It’s easy and reasonable to be defensive.

    I think Jon is responding to what I was pointing out in the first paragraph of my post (linked above):

    I don’t like evangelism. I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe, and I think it’s arrogant to suggest that you have all the answers that I need. That goes for atheists, it goes for theists. It’s why I don’t write about religion here. Whatever answers I think I have are mine, and may be wrong. Whatever answers other people think they have are theirs, and they should enjoy them.

    I don’t read blogs where the writer is trying to make me a Christian, and for the same reason I don’t want my favorite blogs to evangelize for atheism. It’s no different.

    And Troutnut is doing what Myers and I are arguing against. Being an atheist or a theist makes no difference in how qualified one is to speak about evolution. Religion and science are orthogonal, and attacking religion along the way of promoting evolution is a bad idea.

  23. #23 razib
    February 26, 2006

    Yes, but what you neglect to mention is that – at least in the US – this “form” is at least 50% of the whole. Lookup Gallup’s statistics on Creationism.

    It does nothing useful to defend some sort of anaemic religion with no observable consequences as being “consistent” with evolution, when your target audience sees what you’re selling as new-age hippie feelgoodery.

    1) the gallup numbers might be somewhat exaggerated, see chris’ article.

    2) even aceding to the validity of the poll (they do reflect something real), note that they also show a substantial minority of roman catholics also are creationist. why? is it a fundamental tenet of their religion? no. my point is that even within the subset who reject evolution because of putative “religious” reasons you can wedge into these beliefs pretty easily.

    3) in ronald l. numbers the creationists he documents that mormon students at BYU went from being mostly pro-evolution in the 1920s to anti-evolution in the 1980s. did the mormons change their religious doctrine? not really, i think there were some cultural dynamics at work here.

    4) this is where chris’ ‘political’ strategy comes into play. i don’t think rejection of evolution is something that is rock hard and deep. i do think there are innate biases against it, but the biases are those that favor people assuming that heavier objects fall faster. you can work against it, but you have to take their mental and social parameters into account before you figure the angle you can play.

    5) fundamentalist ideologues will always be able to find atheist quotes from evolutionary biologists. the sample space is just too big to patrol, even if we wanted to. rather, the key is to be aware of the currents in the cultural waters we swim in. nothing revolutionary, just a little pragmatic reminders.

    6) i think only a few people are ‘problematic.’ i think michael ruse overplays his hand, and some of the stuff he has said about w.d. hamilton for example i know to be misrepresentations, so that doesn’t help his credibility, but i think in regards specifically to dennett there is an issue here of rhetorical overreach.

  24. #24 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?

  25. #25 razib
    February 27, 2006

    Religion and science are orthogonal, and attacking religion along the way of promoting evolution is a bad idea.

    they aren’t always orthogonal. is religion that doesn’t conflict with science the only authentic form of religion? no, i don’t think so. i’m not trying to play both sides here: religion explores an enormous space of definitions. as atheists (i’m speaking as one to one here) we need to be aware of this range and play it to our advantage in whatever way we can. and we need to be more aware of reality than most, polling every atheist should know.

  26. #26 David Wilford
    February 27, 2006

    Religion and science are orthogonal, and attacking religion along the way of promoting evolution is a bad idea.

    Given how many so many religions make claims that are flatly contradicted by the findings of science Josh, I respecfully disagree. Evolution does refute claims made by those who base their religious beliefs in natural theology, and to defend evolution it is necessary to confront the latest version of such arguments, namely intelligent design.

  27. #27 razib
    February 27, 2006

    when a theist tells me that evolution necessarily implies atheism, i deny that, and state that there are “many evolutionary biologists who believe(d) in god.” i point to r.a. fisher (anglican) and theodosius dobhzansky (orthodox) for example. when i say “many” i do this knowing that fewer than 10% of modern evolutionary biologists are theists. but, 0.1 X tens of thousands is still thousands. that’s many!

  28. #28 Chris Clarke
    February 27, 2006

    Josh, one crackpot webpage does not “atheists have worried about the Big Bang and Plate Tectonics” make, especially when it doesn’t mention plate tectonics even once.

  29. #29 D
    February 27, 2006

    razib – let me respond specifically on the data, which are reasonably clearcut at least on the point of how many Americans are Creationists.

    “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” – 46% say yes

    “human beings developed from earlier species of animals” – 48% say probably or definitely not true

    “Would you say that you believe more the theory of evolution or the theory of creationism to explain the origin of human beings, or are you unsure” – Creationism gets 48%

    I’d say these are quite consistent. There is some stigma attached to the word ‘evolution’ yes, but at least for the half of the population that thinks the world is 10000 years old, mere phraseology isn’t the problem.

  30. #30 Tony Smith
    February 27, 2006

    It is the definitive job of scientists to contribute to the ongoing refinement of the grand story of natural history, which is as close as it gets to the bible for atheists, and will continue to be until there is evidence for one or more gods which withstands peer review.

    Sure there are professionally employed scientists out there who maintain religious beliefs, but they are just another symptom of our recent careerist preoccupations, doing science as a day job because it pays and not actually believing in it. The same has become unfortunately common in many areas of once worthy employment, areas increasingly subsumed by empire builders bolstered by the likes of flat earth economics and equally whacky notions of essential truth, many of which adopt the rhetorical style of science, sans evidence and rigour.

    Science is not agnostic. As natural history it is definitively atheist. But that does not mean that science cannot often be ideologically or politically agnostic. Even the case for environmentalism is not an automatic product of science, nor especially is humanism. However I’m still enough of an optimist to see it being easier to use the science of evolution to support the case for pluralistic devolution than for fearful authoritarianism.

    But science also needs to never forget that it is a work in progress and discoveries will continue to be made that were unthinkable according to prevailing wisdom a moment earlier. There is not a shortage of gaps, but neither is there a reliable supply of gods to paper over them with.

    Our state of five million has been at a loss this past week over the news of six rural teen pedestrians killed by an out of control car. The funeral priest was happy to claim that his God didn’t do it but was still there to help clean up, unlike the driver who ran from the scene. It is for times like that that we atheists are caught sadly lacking a story. Sure they live on through the memories of those who survive but sometimes our indifferent world just does what it does despite our best efforts to overreach the charge assumed and passed down by Abraham.

  31. #31 razib
    February 27, 2006

    but at least for the half of the population that thinks the world is 10000 years old, mere phraseology isn’t the problem.

    let me be frank, half the population can’t really think. they have a ‘gut’ feeling, reinforced by some smooth propogandists. that’s basically all there is. i’m not saying it is sincere, i’m not saying it isn’t an issue, i’m not saying that it will be easy to change. but the question most of us are really concerned with, “but is it good for science?” i’m pretty convinced that the majority of americans are going to believe in some big magical guy in the sky indefinitely. assuming this as a structural problem, “what is good for science?” i’m willing to be somewhat whorish and try and convince some of them (the elite ones who make public policy) that the big magical guy in the sky is OK with science, even if i think that science basically implies that the big magical guy is a illusion.

    i debated theists as part of an atheist club in college. yes, they really believe in the big magical guy. doesn’t make me happy, but i’ve reconciled myself to this structural issue.

  32. #32 razib
    February 27, 2006

    Science is not agnostic. As natural history it is definitively atheist.

    who are you to render definitiveness? god πŸ™‚

    but neither is there a reliable supply of gods to paper over them with.

    the bounty of imagination is endless. god(s) is a phoenix. (s)he rises out of the ashes of every age of reason.

  33. #33 Jenna
    February 27, 2006

    “The day of Science dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago are the necessities of to-day. Men in the middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes and kings of the theological times. But above and over all this, is the development of mind. There is more of value in the brain of an average man of to-day — of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor, than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago.

    These blessings did not fall from the skies. These benefits did not drop from the outstretched hands of priests. They were not found in cathedrals or behind altars — neither were they searched for with holy candles. They were not discovered by the closed eyes of prayer, nor did they come in answer to superstitious supplication. They are the children of freedom, the gifts of reason, observation and experience — and for them all, man is indebted to man.” — Robert G. Ingersoll

  34. #34 Josh
    February 27, 2006

    Chris Clarke: You asked for an atheist with a problem with the Big Bang, I offered it.

    As for Plate Tectonics, creationists claim they were there first. Until empirical evidence emerged, they were opposed. QED.

    I’m not a theologian, but I’ve chatted with some, and they agree that religion (theology) and science are, properly speaking, orthogonal. When the two are allowed to become non-orthogonal is when we get problems.

    Theology aims to answer “ultimate” questions: Why are we here (in the broadest sense)? Science is there to answer proximate questions: Why do humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor?, why did the genus Homo originate in Africa?, etc..

    That’s where the orthogonality comes from. It inheres to both fields of study. Science is “limited” to proximate questions, but science gets to test itself empirically. Theology gets “ultimate” questions, but doesn’t get empirical evidence. It’s worth noting that this is the argument that the judge in Maclean v. Arkansas relied heavily upon in his ruling. Don’t knock it.

    I think one can recover natural theology within this framework. Calvin, no pantheist, once said “I admit, indeed that the expressions ‘Nature is God,’ may be piously used, if dictated by a pious mind.” So we get the result that by learning about God’s world and works, we learn about God. This doesn’t yield the castrated designer of IDolatry, but a robust and transcendent God that touches everything.

    Note that I’m not advocating this, just pointing out an array of options.

    To be clear, when I say science and religion are orthogonal, I’m basing that not on my view as a scientist (though it matches well with my professional understanding of what I’m doing) but on the professional views of theologians with whom I’ve discussed this issue. People who try to create a connection between them (whether they’re atheists or theists) are not supported by science or theology.

    The political processes behind the creationist movement are beyond the scope of a comment on a blog, but I will say that it is a political process, not a religious process.

  35. #35 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.

  36. #36 razib
    February 27, 2006

    D, we are aiming at different audiences. i don’t think the fundies are THAT important. as i said, they can always find what they want. the key is to hold the line at waverers.

    josh, theology is not the totality of religion. it is the tip of the iceberg. conflating theology with religion is like conflating musicology with music.

  37. #37 Martin Rundkvist
    February 27, 2006

    My discipline’s problem with the credulous is sort of the opposite. They like archaeology a lot. People who believe in things like Odin, Aryan racial purity and the immortal essence of nations tend to be really interested in new archaeological results. They’ll put a weird supremacist spin on them, but you won’t find them opposing our basic premises. Strange bedfellows, as Swedish archaeologists tend to be agnostic liberals.

    Link

  38. #38 razib
    February 27, 2006

    biology, analogy, we should switch to various facultative strategies, rather than fixing on obligate alternatives.

  39. #39 D
    February 27, 2006

    “theology is not the totality of religion”.

    Yep. As they say, “theology is a device for helping agnostics to stay within the Church”. Many kudos if you know where that comes from

  40. #40 Kristjan Wager
    February 27, 2006

    I just can’t udnerstand why the religion, or lack of same, of scientists are important to anyone other than themselves. And if religion and science is orthogonal, then religious people should have no problems with scientists talking about their religious feelings, or lack of same. There seems to be a double-standard ehre, as PZ says.

  41. #41 razib
    February 27, 2006

    there is a double standard. but we are caesar’s wife.

  42. #42 Samnell
    February 27, 2006

    “Yep. As they say, “theology is a device for helping agnostics to stay within the Church”. Many kudos if you know where that comes from”

    It’s also about as distant as one could be from what actually goes on in the mind of the average believer (or rather, what doesn’t) as I can conceive and still be speaking about the same topic. The average believer, to the degree any thought if given to this stuff at all, has more in common with the typical uneducated journalist who makes a healthy living as an apologist. But in defense of said journalists, theology is just a fancier form of what they do.

  43. #43 Martin Wisse
    February 27, 2006

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

    Nonsense.

    It’s time to face up to the central issue here: almost any religion is seriously threatened by science and advances in our understanding of the world around us. Almost any religion has as part of its core functions to provide its believers with an explenation of the world around them and its origins.

    With every scientific advantage and explenation that does not require a god to be involved, this need gets less and less urgent and this leaves many religions with a gaping hole at the centre of their beliefs.

    In a sense, the history of Christianity, especially Catholicism since the time of Galileo has been a frentic attempt to come to terms with this process, to redefine Christianity in a way that does not require god to be involved so personally in his creation yet does not remove him so far from the affairs of humanity that it becomes pointless to worship him.

  44. #44 razib
    February 27, 2006

    Almost any religion has as part of its core functions to provide its believers with an explenation of the world around them and its origins.

    no. i argue that that is an atheist intellectual’s understanding of religion. see the naturalness of religion and the unnaturalness of science.

  45. #45 Bruce Baugh
    February 27, 2006

    I think PZ is absolutely right about this one: science is in inevitable conflict with any religion that insists on a particular origin story and some kinds of claims about who we are and how we work. (I think that there are a lot of religions which don’t trigger this condition, since they involve natural and/or supernatural forces not tied to a particular set of historical claims and willing to deal with natural processes as discovered and explained by science. They just happen to be all very much fringe views in America. And I do realize that PZ disagrees, and would simply put us lower on his enemy list. πŸ™‚ )

    The thing that troubles me about the “oh, there’s no necessary conflict here” approach is that involves distorting the practical reality both of common religious belief and the normal experience of scientists…and people can tell. They know perfectly well, if they’re like most American Christians, that the statements in Genesis are supposed to mean something more than just feel-good assertions of general vibeness, and even if they know very little about science, they know that in practice, things kind of hang together – that if you keep refusing to look at potentially difficult implications of one part of a job, you’re going to end up not doing the others as well as you should. American folklore places some value on the straight-talking guy who looks a difficult subject in the eye and deals with it, rather than dodging it, even though most of us hope a lot that we don’t have to be that one very often.

  46. #46 razib
    February 27, 2006

    They know perfectly well, if they’re like most American Christians, that the statements in Genesis are supposed to mean something more than just feel-good assertions of general vibeness

    the same could be said for many passages in the bible.

    in any case, a problem here that i see is that many people accept that fundamentalist christianity is somehow more authentic and “straight talking.” i think we have to careful about this assumption. this is one area where atheists and fundamentalists both tend to agree….

  47. #47 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.

  48. #48 Ronald Brak
    February 27, 2006

    I recommend living in a completely different culture for a few years, say Japan. Then you’ll come to understand deep down in your being that people who live without a Christian or Semetic god are just people, the same as everyone else and you won’t feel the need to tip toe around belief in god because of some semi-conscious fear that you’ll somehow upset the foundations of society. You will have the courage to tell all the religious nuts who belive that your Japanese friends are going to burn in hell that the Japanese are just as good and just as bad as they are. (Probably better, actually. You just have to look at the crime statistics to see that Japanese people are less bad than most countries people.)

  49. #49 katie
    February 27, 2006

    Evolution says nothing about religion and vice versa.

    but that’s just the thing: evolution does say that religion is impossible or wrong — for those expressions of religion that require literal belief in and adherence to a [translation of a] two thousand year old book.

    atheism and theism here are more than just two sides of a coin. when you say, “i’m not going to be quiet about my atheism” it is *exactly* the same as those who say, “i’m not going to be quiet about my theism!”

    I do not tie evolution to atheism or vice versa.

    (…)

    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.

    but neither will they. you may not tie evolution to atheism, but consider both evolution and atheism as aspects of your faith in Science; and consider it in parallel with creation/theism as aspects of faith in God and the Bible. of course atheists are capable of generating a focused argument on a topic — you’re using the language of science to create an argument in favor of a scientifically supported premise. and what are creationists saying? how can both camps start addressing each other with relevant language? and how do you change faith?

    if we imagine this debate as simply evolutionists versus creationists (and not as it is, a great wide spectrum of degrees of belief in many facets of both of these ideas and their contexts), surely you must see that you’re no more likely to be swayed to support ID, God, and creationism through their use of pseudo-science and faith as arguments than they are to be swayed to support evolution through your use of Science. you’re speaking different languages, and you’re each trying to shake the other’s faith. why should you question your faith because of some nutbag who clearly doesn’t know where you’re coming from, and who doesn’t understand what you believe in?

    it’s my opinion that debating whether to include ID in curricula is already giving it far more credit — and credibility — than it deserves. so then: how can we persuade the legal system to laugh out loud at the idea of teaching religion in public schools? how can we ensure that private religious schools will teach science? we’ll accomplish nothing by slinging mud at each other. all of us. nothing. my question is: where else can we fight? where will they understand our language and have the power to Make Changes for the future?

    It’s time to face up to the central issue here: almost any religion is seriously threatened by science and advances in our understanding of the world around us. Almost any religion has as part of its core functions to provide its believers with an explenation of the world around them and its origins.

    maybe it’s time to call all religion “mythology.” mythology’s place in peoples’ lives can go unchallenged for “what’s the meaning of all this” and “but *why* are we really here?” but let’s leave to science that which can be observed.

  50. #50 Corkscrew
    February 27, 2006

    OK, here’s a question for Mooney and Josh: if we attempt to lay off religion in the name of avoiding antagonising believers, I’d agree that that’ll probably speed up acceptance of evolution. But doesn’t this just mean that we’ll have to go through the same rigamarole of appeasement the next time science comes up with a discovery that doesn’t play well with religion*? Isn’t this going to waste a lot of time in the long run? Is it fair on our intellectual descendents to land them with the same burden we’re stuck with?

    In short, isn’t it misguided to attack the symptom (anti-evolution) rather than the cause (blind faith)?

    This is not a rhetorical question – I’m not sure of the answer.

    * I don’t know what it’d be – strong artificial intelligence, maybe, or a vastly better understanding of how the universe began. Whatever it turns out to be, you can guarantee that the religious nuts (and even the relatively-sane-but-brainwashed ones) will be in an uproar of righteous indignation.

  51. #51 Mark Trodden
    February 27, 2006

    I’m with you PZ; but do not try to make me give up eating babies.

  52. #52 Dan S.
    February 27, 2006

    Ok – imagine, everyone, that your argument (if you’re making one) is being used by a creationist, from random YECers to some DI shill. Obviously, science and creationism aren’t mirror images, or, for example, opposing political parties – differing fundamental assumptions – but it’s an interesting way to get a bit of distance . . .

    The reference about Plate Tectonics is supremely unconvincing – although I do like the fellow’s idea that rugged Western landscapes could *not* have been produced by slow moving plates colliding over vast stretches of time, but instead “[w]hat we see here is evidence of a high-speed collision. The North American Plate hit the Pacific Plate very fast and very hard.”
    (I also am rather . . . impressed . . . that he reads references to the earth as a “Living Machine” in a online geology textbook as hardcore New-Agism . . .)

    But – is there any *real* evidence that scientific resistance to plate tectonics was motivated by 1)nervousness that this sounded too much like religion and/or 2) dismissal of an apparently crackpot idea?

    *****
    Obviously one of the keys to this whole teapot tempest is: what exactly fuels anti-evolution sentiment/activity (and how do we manage to teach science)? Certain varieties of (fearful fundamentalist literalist) religion, sure, but it’s more complex that that . . . (that’s ironic – people opposing scientific study of biological change because they’re all ambivalently freaked out about social change. Ha.)

    “let me be frank, half the population can’t really think. they have a ‘gut’ feeling, reinforced by some smooth propogandists. that’s basically all there is”

    I won’t say can think but the gut feeling bit seems to describe quite a few people. Still more complex, though, since there’s explicit rational thinking and ‘gut thinking/feeling’ – inculcated attitudes, assumption, and inclinations (from which spring rationalizations). I mean, my opposition to drilling in ANWR, or chopping down old growth forests, for example, is fundamentally based on gut feelings.

    Anyway, reading the plate-tectonics& evolution-denier made me think of something. He – like similar anti-science folks – keeps going on about secular science – “a typical secular geology textbook” and such like. Perhaps we should try to reclaim ‘secular’, which of course has a distinct meaning besides “a bad, bad word synonymous with atheism.” (Perhaps that’s why it’s treated with such venom – the idea that science/evolution/Darwin is trying to destroy religion is comprehensible, fits well into dualist mindsets, is a backhand compliment – look how important we are! The idea that people might actually want to talk about something else, that religion might not be seen as relevent on some level – that must be, for fundamentalists, either incomprehensible or infuriating. Hey, I never got that before (ok, not brighest bulb in the box here) – *that’s* why we have folks flipping out over “happy holidays” – it can’t be about tolerant and non-exclusive public spaces, it has to be an attack on . . . oh, it all makes sense, now!
    Oh, but anyway – for the people we can reach, perhaps stressing the positive ideas of secular science – open to anyone, etc., etc.?

    (The bit about how the anti-uniformitarianism plate tectonics guy is all upset that Wegener gets credit when other people – and Genesis – floated the idea of moving continents earlier – that also shows up a major misunderstanding of science that isn’t helping matters. If you don’t get why Wegener gets more credit then all the other folks who looked at a map and went – hey, it almost looks like Africa and S. America once fit together! – (and assuming you have basic info and actually care) you don’t get a lot about how science works. . .

  53. #53 Dan S.
    February 27, 2006

    “In short, isn’t it misguided to attack the symptom (anti-evolution) rather than the cause (blind faith)?”

    I find it hard to believe that we can manage anything – absolute best case scenario – beyond getting most people to sort of blindly accept evolution, putting it on a par with heliocentrism and germ theory and etc. (I’m not saying that most people are dumb; they just don’t care.) At best, I would think we can contribute to the weight of blind faith and etc. being lifted off evolution’s arse and shifted elsewhere. If our mission is (or requires us) to eliminate superstition and blind faith, rather than basically pestering it until it moves a bit, I think we’re in trouble . .

  54. #54 Dark Matter
    February 27, 2006

    Corkscrew wrote:

    But doesn’t this just mean that we’ll have to go through the same rigamarole of appeasement the next time science comes up with a discovery that doesn’t play well with religion*?

    Yes you will, and sooner than you think……

    From Yahoo News:
    Calif. Stem Cell Agency Fights for Life

    From the article…..

    The lawsuits contend the committee overseeing the agency is beyond state control. Elected state officials appoint 22 of the 29 members, and five are appointed by the University of California system. The two remaining members are a chair and vice chair appointed by the board itself.

    One lawsuit was filed by the People’s Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, represented by Life Legal Defense Foundation, the anti-abortion group that helped finance the fight in Florida to keep
    Terri Schiavo alive in a high-profile right-to-die case.

    Wealthy Palo Alto real estate developer Robert Klein, who spearheaded the Proposition 71 drive and is chair of the agency’s oversight committee, has said the taxpayer foundation is a front for religious groups who oppose embryonic stem cell research. The group’s lawyers deny the claim but concede the group opposes the research on moral grounds.

  55. #55 Troutnut
    February 27, 2006

    And Troutnut is doing what Myers and I are arguing against. Being an atheist or a theist makes no difference in how qualified one is to speak about evolution. Religion and science are orthogonal, and attacking religion along the way of promoting evolution is a bad idea.

    Theoretically, a theist could possess the same qualifications as an atheist to speak in favor of evolution. In practice, when they do, they too often use the kind of weak, pandering arguments I mentioned in my last post.

    Religion and science are different, but they are not orthogonal. Religion philosophically conflicts with the idea underlying all of science, which is that the way to learn the truth about the world is to cautiously, logically, empirically examine it. If that idea is true, then faith is a stupid way to gain knowledge about the natural world. If it’s false, then we may as well take faith the whole nine yards and buy into the idea that God made all this “evidence” to trick us and test our faith, and Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church.

    PZ makes a good point that evolution and atheism have sufficient merits to be advanced independent of one another. And religious people are more inclined to accept evolution when they aren’t forced to give up all of their cherished faith to do it. Atheism doesn’t support evolution, but evolution does support atheism. As I said, “God is in the gaps,” and evolution fills a whopper of a gap. It’s possible for people to ignore the implications of that and retain their faith while accepting evolution, but it’s much easier to have faith when they think that big question of origins requires God as an answer.

    Finally, regardless of any philosophical sense of compatibility, we should consider the practical observation that theists who defend evolution tend to do a lousy job. Maybe I’ve just missed some good ones, but the ones I see spend more time weakly denying that evolution has implications for religion than they do explaining why evolution is scientifically sound.

    I’m not a theologian, but I’ve chatted with some, and they agree that religion (theology) and science are, properly speaking, orthogonal. When the two are allowed to become non-orthogonal is when we get problems.

    Theology aims to answer “ultimate” questions: Why are we here (in the broadest sense)? Science is there to answer proximate questions: Why do humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor?, why did the genus Homo originate in Africa?, etc..

    It may be possible for some scientists and some theologians to reconcile religion with science by ignoring the obvious conflicts or positing elaborate workarounds. That doesn’t mean they are orthogonal. It just means they aren’t mutually exclusive.

    And science is not limited to proximate questions, although scientists recognize that it’s necessary to understand the details to figure out the big picture. Religion is fundamentally about cheating and making up the answers, whether the question is big or small. It’s easier to do that on the “big” questions, but that doesn’t make religion somehow qualified to answer them. Religious answers to those questions are no more likely to be right that religious attempts to explain biodiversity via an old man’s large boat.

    Furthermore, some of those “big” questions religion pretends to answer aren’t really worth asking. “Why are we here?” is a good example. If you define what you’re asking, the answer can be easy: to procreate, for example. But if you’re speaking about the nebulous ooooh-aaaah new age form of the question, there’s no reason to believe there is a why. It’s one of those things that sounds very profound but really isn’t.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    February 27, 2006

    Science and religion are not orthogonal. They ARE diametrically opposed.

    Too many of you are making the elementary mistake of confusing ‘science’ with ‘the results of science’. Science is a process, a method — one that encourages people to do what religion discourages, and discourages what religion encourages. They are not compatible.

    Evolutionary theory is one of the results of science. It is not necessarily incompatible with any particular religious doctrine. Those doctrines proceed from the religious method, as evolution proceeds from the scientific method, and those methods cannot be simultaneously utilized.

    A person who can find ways to superficially reconcile the methods of science with whatever nonsense he wishes to believe can maintain his faith while maintaining his scientific practice at least some of the time — but someone who can do that is capable of ignoring any aspect of science at any time. As such, their scientific judgments become meaningless.

  57. #57 Keith Douglas
    February 27, 2006

    My concerns are two fold. One is that it simply seems to be untrue what people say. Miller claims his faith is isn’t inconsistent with science, and I’m sure he’s sincere. But is it true? I of course don’t know everything about what he claims to believe, but I suspect if one seriously examined the question one would find that matter to be much more complicated. Second, the fundamentalists are right to say that religious belief has retreated, and that is due to increased scientific knowledge. As I said a few threads back, one real test to the religious is: what is your epistemology of religion? How do you think your religious beliefs, whatever they are, change? (I won’t even use the word that makes trouble here.) What warrants a religious belief and not its negation or another one?

    I should mention another important way to work on eliminating fundamentalism – increase affluence, social support, etc. When people’s lives are crap, religious fundamentalism increases. For all his faults, much research shows that Marx was right on this, and that raising standards of living, social networking, etc. reduce religious fervour. (It is very complicated, of course – I’m oversimplifying just to get the ball rolling.)

  58. #58 David Wilford
    February 27, 2006

    I think one can recover natural theology within this framework. Calvin, no pantheist, once said “I admit, indeed that the expressions ‘Nature is God,’ may be piously used, if dictated by a pious mind.” So we get the result that by learning about God’s world and works, we learn about God. This doesn’t yield the castrated designer of IDolatry, but a robust and transcendent God that touches everything.

    OTOH, when scientific investigation yields evidence that a transcendent deity was not in fact responsible for the origins of homo sapiens, I humbly submit that Calvin would have had a wee bit of a problem with that! Josh, it seems to me that your sort of natural theology allows God to be everything while doing nothing. What’s the point, except to preserve the concept of Him as a token naturalistic fig leaf for theism?

    The next thing to go, sooner than any of us may think, will be the mystery of consciousness as neuroscience investigates how the brain functionally attains a conscious state. There has been some tantalizing research done on the conscious state of sleeping subjects (Massimini, et. al.) pointing to connectivity between modules of the brain as a feature of consciousness. I strongly suspect the implications such scientific findings have for the religious concept of the soul will be just as problematic for theists as evolution was regarding our origins.

  59. #59 GM
    February 27, 2006

    Just sidestep the conflict entirely. Say to the theists:

    “Look, the evidence is right out there for you to see. If God chose to make the world work this way, WHO ARE YOU TO ARGUE WITH HIM? Who are you to say, ‘No, He couldn’t possibly have done it this way’? Who are you to put limits on Him?”

    Accuse them of ignoring God’s will by ignoring the evidence. Then you’re just back to discussing evidence, not what it proves or disproves in terms of theism.

  60. #60 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.

  61. #61 Somite
    February 27, 2006

    Ah..its so quaint to see philosophers argue about evolution.

  62. #62 Chris Clarke
    February 27, 2006

    Chris Clarke: You asked for an atheist with a problem with the Big Bang, I offered it.

    You: “So theists question evolution! Atheists have had problems with the Big Bang and Plate Tectonics.”
    Me: “What are you talking about?”
    You: “Here’s one anecdotal datum in which a person who calls himself an atheist argues from incredulity and authority to question the Big Bang. And I’ll make an unsupported assertion that the same is true of Plate Tectonics.”
    Me: “That’s anecdotal, does not really support your contention that atheists’ questioning of the Big Bang is somehow on the same level as theists questioning evolution, and besides it doesn’t mention Plate Tectonics at all.”
    You: “I win!”

    In other words, you’re out of your rhetorical league here and flailing around for any straw to which you can cling.

  63. #63 Josh
    February 27, 2006

    The people who are insisting that there’s a necessary conflict between science and religion are doing the creationists’ work for them. The DI has been taking that argument to the bank for years. Creationist Kansas School Board Chair Abrams said “At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe. That’s the bottom line.” The Discovery Institute likes to claim that evolution is just one way that atheists advance their baby-eating agenda. Billy Dembski likes to claim that theistic evolutionists have to choose either religion or science. Do you really want to prove them right?

    If that’s the case we present, we lose, because even a lot of evolution supporters wouldn’t give up their religion. You don’t have to like that, but it’s true. Present people with that particular false dichotomy, and you lose. I want to win.

    If we use the creationism kerfuffle to show how science and religion can mesh harmoniously, it sets things up for the next fight. It gives people a set of frames that they can apply to the next issue, whether it’s stem cells or creating chimeras or whatever.

    And that’s why I wrote the piece Dr. Myers linked above. To wave people off from unproductive arguments that mirror the nonsense I’m trying to fight right f—ing now in Kansas. If your goal is to strengthen science education and keep evolution in the schools, you’ll stop denigrating the religious faith of good scientists who have integrated religion and science in their own lives, and of people who want to support science without giving up their deeply held religious commitments. It isn’t productive, and they don’t need to taking friendly fire from atheists while they’re out battling creationists. This doesn’t mean you stop talking about atheism, just don’t try to use evolution as a wedge to advance atheism. If you do that, you are as arrogant and wrong-headed as the IDolators, and for the same reason.

    When particular scientific results conflict with certain religious dogma, it reflects a falure to properly align the two. The scientific process cannot conflict with religion, the two are orthogonal. One tests answers to particular sorts of questions against empirical evidence, the other evaluates answers to different sorts of questions against personal/emotional evidence. Some here may not think those questions are interesting, and they may find the religious process for answering them unworthy of effort, but other people disagree. Their search doesn’t interfere with their science nor with their advocacy of science.

    If you doubt that, summon Stephen Jay Gould, who argued vociferously for the idea that science and religion are non-overlapping. Or tell Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science, who’s been deeper in the trenches for longer than most people here. If you’ve heard him speak, you know he’s a very effective voice for science, and also on integrating science and religious faith.

    And GM’s argument is dead on. Ask people why they reject the evidence of the World in favor of the evidence of the Word. If God did create the universe, the evidence that science gathers about the world cannot lie about God’s will (unless God is a malevolent liar, which they generally don’t want). Science can’t destroy God if God exists, so what’s to worry about?

  64. #64 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.

  65. #65 Baruch Grazer
    February 27, 2006

    I dunno, PZ. Here’s what I see:

    A mixed group of scientifically-literate atheists and theists unites against a common opponent, the creationists. They have a good common case of reason versus unreason.

    Every now and then, one of the scientifically-literate theists turns to his neighbor and sounds off: “Ya know, I think religious faith and scientific inquiry may co-exist. I have a right to say that.” He’s correct, but he is only irritating his atheist neighbor. The creationists chuckle.

    Every now and then, one of the scientifically-literate atheists turns to his neighbor and sounds off: “Ya know, I think the logical end to scientific inquiry is the irrelevence of religion. I have a right to say that.” He’s right, but he is only irritating his theist neighbor. The creationists, again, chuckle.

    This is to say: yes, atheists and theists alike have the right to say what they think, anytime, anywhere. But what gets the job done with regard to promoting science against the creationist political agenda?

  66. #66 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    Hey, now…one thing we have to keep in mind is that Josh, Mike, Chris, and me are all on the same side. We get along just fine, none of us are stupid or insane (although Mike is mad), and there’s just this one issue in which we disagree on tactics, but probably not on long term goals.

  67. #67 Steve LaBonne
    February 27, 2006

    Baruch again repeats the strategic logic of the soft-peddlers. I’m with PZ- it’s bogus. Soft-peddling the ridicule of irrational beliefs is what earned for us the soggy-brained populace with which the US is afflicted today.

  68. #68 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    Given that religious thinking is the antithesis of the scientific process, what gets the job done is opposing slipshod guesswork and the cult of authority that is a property of religion. Teaching people how to think, not what the answers are, should be our goal — and that’s exactly the opposite of religion’s goal.

  69. #69 parodie
    February 27, 2006

    Our problem is, ultimately, with religion. The evolution-creation controversy wouldn’t even exist but for religion.

    But it’s not. Your problem is, ultimately, with a bunch of fundamentalist freaks who insist on reading the Bible litterally and refusing to think. That’s not religion in general, and many of the scientific shoulders you are standing on to further your cause are scientists who were also religious.

  70. #70 David Wilford
    February 27, 2006

    This doesn’t mean you stop talking about atheism, just don’t try to use evolution as a wedge to advance atheism. If you do that, you are as arrogant and wrong-headed as the IDolators, and for the same reason.

    Thanks Josh, but as Darwin himself advanced his theory of evolution as a reason to reject William Paley’s natural theology, I hardly think either he or myself are as wrong-headed as the Discovery Institute is with their overtly anti-science “Wedge” agenda. When science provides actual answers to life’s persistent questions about our origins, our place in the universe, our consciousness, etc., I think it’s quite logical to use such findings as part of arguments refuting theism.

  71. #71 PaulC
    February 27, 2006

    Soft-peddling the ridicule of irrational beliefs is what earned for us the soggy-brained populace with which the US is afflicted today.

    I doubt it. I think they’d have been about as soggy-brained anyway. I think the larger fallacy is that atheists have that much control about what other people believe. Most people fail to understand even science that has no impact whatsoever on their religious beliefs.

    How many people think, for instance, that shuttle astronauts are weightless because of their distance from the earth? My back of the envelope calculation says that at 100 miles up, gravitational force is greater than 95% of what it is at the surface. Orbiting astronauts, as I hope all of us here know, are weightless because their surroundings are in free fall, so there is no normal force pushing against gravity, compressing our bodies in such a way that we feel weight.

    Now how much effort would it take to educate the public on the above point? Do you think that it would help or hurt if you also criticized their religious beliefs in the process?

    A large enough PR campaign probably could drill the above factoid into everyone’s mind, but I despair at the thought of what would make them think more scientifically in general. It would require better education much earlier in life. No ideological campaign, be it hard-sell or soft-peddle is going to turn “soggy-brained” adults into scientists. Anyway, I’ve never heard of one in the past that worked.

    I thought Baruch Grazer had summarized the side discussions among atheists and theists on the evolution side reasonably well. I took his main point to be that they are side discussions rather than the actual topic of evolution vs. its creationist opponents.

    It’s clear that not everyone agrees with this view and may in fact believe that atheism is part and parcel to scientific thinking. If so, such people still haven’t brought to bear any empirical evidence that it is of any pedagogical use to confront people’s beliefs directly. I don’t accept anything else based on mere assertions, so why should I accept that just because some people happen to be right about the non-existence of God that they’re also right about their preferred method of promoting that belief?

    What about the null hypothesis: the soggy-brainedness of most people (not just Americans) is a very big problem that exists largely independently of whether a small number of atheists are outspoken or deferential to believers.

  72. #72 Steve LaBonne
    February 27, 2006

    Than why is the level of religious mania so much higher in the religion-overfriendly US than in the much more highly secularized countries of Western Europe?

  73. #73 Josh
    February 27, 2006

    Dr. Myers: “Teaching people how to think, not what the answers areοΏ½ that’s exactly the opposite of religion’s goal.” I know lots of thinking theists who seek answers about the world using science and seek answers about their spiritual life using religion, and who see that as the goal of both science and religion. This is the rough equivalent of “atheists have no morals.” Wrong.

    Chris Clarke: I didn’t want a tangential point to become an issue, but I’m not letting some ill-informed hack question my rhetorical depths.

    From a 1991 issue of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy:

    The idea that the big bang theory allows us to infer that the universe began to exist about 15 billion years ago has attracted the attention of many theists. This theory seemed to confirm or at least lend support to the theological doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Indeed, the suggestion of a divine creation seemed so compelling that the notion that ‘God created the big bang’ has taken a hold on popular consciousness and become a staple in the theistic component of ‘educated common sense’. By contrast, the response of atheists and agnostics to this development has been comparatively lame.

    Toss in the fact that Fred Hoyle’s initial resistance to the Big Bang (signified by his derisive name for it) is widely reported to have been rooted in his atheism and we have not just rhetorical depth, but actual evidence, which is what should matter.

    And this illustrates a valuable point. The point is that some atheists may have initially been skeptical of the Big Bang, the Anthropic Principle or Plate Tectonics, but the scientific evidence shifted their thinking. The same can and does happen for theists who worry about evolution. They find ways to integrate it into their theistic beliefs just as atheists could integrate a moment of creation into their metaphysics.

    That’s the goal, to get people to separate the issues, not to muddle them needlessly with antagonistic rhetoric.

  74. #74 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.

  75. #75 Jonathan Badger
    February 27, 2006

    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.

    PZ, The obvious problem with your analogy is that while creationists aren’t ever going to accept evolution (by definition), many moderate theists can and do. So the claim doesn’t miss the point — you do. Look, I’d like religion to shrivel up and die too, but it ain’t gonna happen — at least not in the US. But fortunately, that isn’t required to win the fight against creationism.

  76. #76 Shygetz
    February 27, 2006

    Given that religious thinking is the antithesis of the scientific process, what gets the job done is opposing slipshod guesswork and the cult of authority that is a property of religion. Teaching people how to think, not what the answers are, should be our goal — and that’s exactly the opposite of religion’s goal.

    But teaching people how to think is impossible until we get people to listen to us. The theistic evolution advocates are trying to do just that–to say to the theists “You can subscribe to evolution without abandoning your faith” instead of “You should believe in evolution, and your faith is foolish.” While the atheists may be absolutely correct that faith is foolish, it is not enough just to be correct. We must convince others that we are correct, or else we will simply be ignored.

    We must remember that religion does serve an important role in theists lives, but it generally only serves this role if they believe. So, we can either convince them that evolution is worth giving up the benefits of their faith (and just because those benefits may not be tangible, do not assume they are not real); or, we can convince them that evolution doesn’t require them to give up their faith, just (perhaps) alter it in a small way. One way is feasible, and may serve as an introduction to rational thought for theists. The other is not.

  77. #77 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    I know lots of thinking theists who seek answers about the world using science and seek answers about their spiritual life using religion, and who see that as the goal of both science and religion. This is the rough equivalent of “atheists have no morals.”

    No, it’s not. Look in my article, where I rather plainly say, “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’m not arguing that Christians are stupid people who do everything wrong; I’m saying that religion is a bad guide to how the world works, and that people, those Christians even, use science, not religion, to work things out.

    I’m not proposing a black and white world where the religious are bad and the atheists are good.

  78. #78 PaulC
    February 27, 2006

    Steve LaBonne:

    Than why is the level of religious mania so much higher in the religion-overfriendly US than in the much more highly secularized countries of Western Europe?

    It’s an artifact of history. My guess has usually been that this is where most of the ardent believers moved at exactly the time the Enlightenment was reducing the influence of religion in Europe. Apart from that, I’m not inclined to speculate. I don’t think it was because they have edgier atheists over there, but I’m more than happy to be corrected on that.

    I also reject the notion of Europeans as intrinsically more rational than Americans. If they’re secular, they’re still bound to tradition and national identity in many cases. I have lived in Europe a little, and I wouldn’t trade it for life in the SF Bay Area, also largely secular, but in my opinion more multicultural and accepting of new ideas. If there’s anywhere in the world that most people are natural scientific thinkers, I’d love to hear about it.

  79. #79 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    The theistic evolution advocates are trying to do just that–to say to the theists “You can subscribe to evolution without abandoning your faith” instead of “You should believe in evolution, and your faith is foolish.”

    False premises, and an attempt to reverse the argument. Note that I am not saying that the theistic evolutionists should be silenced — quite the contrary, I’ve said good things about Ken Miller and others — so telling me about their value to the cause is irrelevant. I’m not contesting that.

    The issue here is the low pressure applied by many science advocates to downplay the many atheists and other freethinkers who are a significant component of the scientific community. That’s doing a disservice to the most consistent members of the team. That I think this is a bad and futile strategy does not imply that I’m planning to line my Christian colleagues up against a wall somewhere.

    Well, not all of them anyway.

  80. #80 PaulC
    February 27, 2006

    PZ Myers:

    Teaching people how to think, not what the answers are, should be our goal — and that’s exactly the opposite of religion’s goal.

    This was in fact the opposite of my experience with Catholic education–though I would concede that the problem with the best Catholic education is that it creates a lot of former Catholics.

    But particularly in the sphere of making moral judgments, the focus of Catholic education was always on how to think about the situation. I wasn’t taught to pray for an answer (which would be lazy) or look it up in a book (because moral situations are too varied to find it there). It’s true that the thought might start with a basis of belief that doesn’t make much sense outside of religion. In many cases, though, it starts with a common ethical basis shared by most humans. As a consequence, I cannot honestly say the whole thing was worthless.

    I still value a lot of that education even if I reject specific conclusions. The big take-away was: acting justly is hard, sometimes counterintuitive, work, the brain and not just the heart must be fully engaged, and when you’re done you still won’t be satisfied with your judgment. I could have received the same sort of education in a secular environment and sometimes wish I did. But I also reject the parody of religion as simply drilling in dogma. It does that, but it is not necessarily limited to this.

  81. #81 Jonathan Badger
    February 27, 2006

    The issue here is the low pressure applied by many science advocates to downplay the many atheists and other freethinkers who are a significant component of the scientific community.

    Okay, here’s something that might be a little more interesting than the usual tactics debate. Are you arguing that science advocates are ignoring the *atheism* of much of the scientific community (which I agree they are doing, and which is probably a good strategy, given the theism of society), or are you arguing that they are ignoring individual *scientists* who are atheists (which I’m not sure they are doing, but which I agree would be wrong if true)?

  82. #82 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?

  83. #83 PaulC
    February 27, 2006

    PZ Myers wrote:

    The issue here is the low pressure applied by many science advocates to downplay the many atheists and other freethinkers who are a significant component of the scientific community.

    In case it wasn’t clear from my comments above, I don’t think that this should be downplayed at all. If scientists speaking about evolution want to point out polling numbers or identify themselves as atheists that’s all to the good. An atheist feigning deference to religion just comes across as dishonest. Show some passion for crying out loud. I appreciate that PZ is very forthright about his own beliefs, for instance, and as far as I can tell he is rarely very offensive except to people who are going out of their way to perceive slights.

    What I disagree with, though, is out and out ridicule of people who might be allies but who happen to disagree on religious beliefs that have nothing to do with evolution. PZ Myers doesn’t do this, but some outspoken pro-evolution commenters definitely do. They have the right to do so, and it doesn’t bother me but I don’t see any beneficial effect to it.

    People follow all kinds of customs, religion included, that may be useful, useless, or harmful. Generally, people’s right to behave in a customary manner is part of a general right of self-determination. I would only make an exception when the customs pose substantial, tangible harm. It meets that level of harm when religion causes people to muddy up the school science curriculum, so it is right to stop them even if you hurt some feelings along the way. But if it just causes them to spout platitudes that I don’t agree with and even find painful to hear, the level of harm is not there. I have the right not to listen to them, but not to attempt to silence them. I have in a strict sense the “right” to ridicule them as well, but it strikes me as mean-spirited and of no benefit.

  84. #84 yorktank
    February 27, 2006

    Yay. More of the same. Please be quiet, atheist. The rest of us would like to continue thinking you are a nutjob and your rationalizations constantly get in the way of the superstitions I’m clinging to. Besides, you aren’t helping anyway. We can win this fight for you, because we’ve got God in our corner, too. Yes, yes. The world is but a playground for gods and fools.

  85. #85 poke
    February 27, 2006

    Sorry, I just can’t think of a better way to characterise the sort of equivalence Josh established. It’s insane, absurd, ridiculous, stupid, moronic to think that making an inference from an established body of scientific knowledge is the same as making an inference from something you could have just pulled out of your ass. If we should be able to agree on anything, it’s that basing religious/philosophical beliefs on scientific data is a more valid move than doing the reverse (since that is rather the point of the entire anti-creationism movement). And, yes, atheism/materialism is a reasonable inference given scientific evidence. No less so than whatever delicate, finnicky remnant of theism you can fit into your “non-overlapping magisterium.”

    The point is that atheists and evoution-friendly theists are doing exactly the same thing: adjusting their beliefs based on the changing scientific conception of the universe. It’s science that makes me an atheist and it’s science that makes you a theist inclined to a particular liberal interpretation of your religion. What clouds this fact is the sort of nonsense many arm chair philosophers, theist and non-theist alike, feel inclined to spurt about true religion and true belief not being in conflict, blah blah blah, as if it has never been in conflict at anytime anywhere except by some sort of bizarrely prophetic malevolence. It has, and for many people still is, and some of us, quite reasonably, think it always will be.

    Moreover, while I can imagine an argument for putting religious scientists upfront on purely tactical grounds, those aren’t the sort of arguments I’m seeing Josh make here.

    When particular scientific results conflict with certain religious dogma, it reflects a falure to properly align the two. The scientific process cannot conflict with religion, the two are orthogonal. One tests answers to particular sorts of questions against empirical evidence, the other evaluates answers to different sorts of questions against personal/emotional evidence. Some here may not think those questions are interesting, and they may find the religious process for answering them unworthy of effort, but other people disagree.

    It’s not that I find “those questions” not to be “interesting,” it’s that the preceding three sentences make absolutely no sense to me. What does it mean to “properly align” science and religion? In what sense are science and religion “orthogonal”? What’s the difference between “testing” and “evaluating”? What, precisely, is “personal/emotional evidence”? More importantly, how do you know this stuff (appeals to authority not withstanding)? It seems to me that this is a rather elaborate and fanciful set of empirical claims about sociology and psychology that has absolutely no basis in fact and serves only the tortured purpose of putting atheism on the same evidential basis as religion.

  86. #86 razib
    February 27, 2006

    Religion is so ubiquitous, that my default assumption is that it’s good for something

    heat is ubiquitous, must be good for something? πŸ™‚ i suspect religion is a byproduct of mental processes as opposed to something which selection operates upon.

  87. #87 PaulC
    February 27, 2006

    razib:

    heat is ubiquitous, must be good for something? πŸ™‚

    I get your point, but I don’t think this is a good example. Heat is very useful. A lot of interesting processes won’t happen at absolute zero, and many instances of self-organization are, contrary to popular belief, a matter of increasing entropy (e.g., a truckload of soil and chemical fertilizer is probably less entropic and IMO less interesting than the garden ecosystem that could grow out of it). It gets less interesting when you achieve maximum entropy, but the sweet spot seems to be in the middle somewhere, not at low entropy.

    Note also, that many kinds of optimization algorithms work more readily if you add some randomness, which is analogous to the effect of heat on physical processes. (The analogy is especially close in simulated annealing.)

    Granted, heat isn’t here because it’s selected for. It’s just an immediate consequence of physics.

  88. #88 Chris Clarke
    February 27, 2006

    Josh;

    This ill-informed hack is surprised to be informed that:

    1) The Anthropic Principle has achieved the status of scientific consensus. The last time I checked, the Weak Anthropic Principle was widely though not universally regarded as tautological and therefore useless, while the Strong Anthropic Principle was widely though not universally regarded as unfalsifiable and therefore useless.

    2) That the Australasian Journal of Philosophy article you reference supports your position. It appears to me, reading it in my ill-informed manner, that it actually postulates that the existence of a Big Bang negates the existence of God. In other words, the apparent point of the article is, to this ill-informed reader, orthogonal to your claim.

    3) The Big Bang was a Moment of Creation. I’ll grant that’s a semantic quibble, but your use of the phrase clearly implies a non-naturalistic explanantion.

    4) You still haven’t said anything to back up your initial claim about Plate Tectonics.

    But thanks for the point about Fred Hoyle. I’d forgotten that, and I applaud you. A person of lesser rhetorical ability might have hesitated before citing Hoyle in this venue, given his denial of chemical evolution as a means by which life originated, and his espousal of bugs from space as an alternative explanation, or for his invention of the “junkyard tornado building a 747” trope. Kudos to you for bravely invoking him nonetheless. Focusing on his foibles is unfair given his notable contributions, ranging as they do from the notion of stellar nucleosynthesis to his co-writing The Molecule Men and the Monster of Loch Ness.

  89. #89 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.

  90. #90 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2006

    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.

    Thank you for reiterating this point for the 1000th time.

    I know that some folks still won’t get it because their Number One Fear is pissing off creationists.

  91. #91 PaulC
    February 27, 2006

    GWW:

    I know that some folks still won’t get it because their Number One Fear is pissing off creationists.

    I think it’s interesting that you attribute to fear what could be explained by courtesy. There are plenty of people I can piss off by telling them the truth: maybe they’re kind of ugly, maybe they use a lot of malapropisms, maybe they’re so self-centered they don’t even notice it, maybe they need to look for a better deodorant, etc. I don’t feel the need to piss them off unless they’re doing sufficient harm to justify intervention. Creationists are doing that kind of harm when they take over school boards, so you might have to intervene–but pissing them off it more a side effect than the intent. In other cases, you just live with them, just like you live with all other fallible humans. Sometimes they’re useful; sometimes they’re annoying and instead of expecting total agreement, I just negotiate a compromise on the parts with the greatest impact.

  92. #92 alienward
    February 27, 2006

    Josh wrote:

    And this illustrates a valuable point. The point is that some atheists may have initially been skeptical of the Big Bang, the Anthropic Principle or Plate Tectonics, but the scientific evidence shifted their thinking. The same can and does happen for theists who worry about evolution. They find ways to integrate it into their theistic beliefs just as atheists could integrate a moment of creation into their metaphysics.

    I’m an atheist and I’m still skeptical about that Anthropic Principle. But that’s not because I believe “A Brief History of Time” is the word of an anti-god. But anyway, theists didn’t “integrate” evolution into their theistic beliefs, they changed their theistic beliefs because science had falsified their original beliefs. Unfortunately, there’s still millions and millions of theists who refuse to change their falsified religious beliefs and are trying to force their beliefs on the rest of us because they believe some book is the word of a god.

  93. #93 Pete
    February 27, 2006

    To all of those saying religion and science are “orthogonal” : I think what you mean is that you have put your particular religious beliefs more or less in line with science. But you don’t speak for the 90%+ majority of the people on the planet whose religious beliefs are clearly, obviously, uncontestably contradictory to science. You can’t just take your particular beliefs, define that as “religion”, and then say it doesn’t contradict science – this is equivocation.

    I also think that if you really examined your religious beliefs, you would tend to find that they either do potentially conflict with science (i.e., they make real claims about the world that can be shown either true or false) or else they are not religious beliefs (i.e., they are not anything an atheist would disagree with). Counterexamples are welcome, as always.

  94. #94 Madam Pomfrey
    February 27, 2006

    Josh: “Ask people why they reject the evidence of the World in favor of the evidence of the Word. If God did create the universe, the evidence that science gathers about the world cannot lie about God’s will (unless God is a malevolent liar, which they generally don’t want). Science can’t destroy God if God exists, so what’s to worry about?”

    Great line of reasoning; I’ve tried it myself, and it only penetrates people’s minds who are already fairly nondogmatic in their religious outlook. Megachurch-style fundamentalism is steadily encroaching on mainstream American churches and is shifting the default line to the political and theological right. They don’t worship God; they worship the Bible, and evidence from the world means zippo to them if they can’t spin and distort it to match the words they find therein. In fact the natural world doesn’t mean much to them compared to the old pie in the sky.

    When you hear that science and religion are “non-overlapping” and such, those are usually code words for giving assertions made in the name of faith a free pass from the scrutiny they would never survive under the scientific method.

    That being said, one must take care to disengage the process of science from ANY “ism.” My problem with linking atheism to science isn’t that we’ll offend religious folks. I do indeed get sick of atheist/agnostic scientists hiding their views under a barrel while theist ones trumpet theirs with few negative consequences. The danger is that many people are ignorant of the scientific method and have bought into the postmodern idea (enthusiastically taken up by the fundies) that science is just another worldview or philosophy — so why not choose the one that you like best? A good part of the public thinks there is no real science, just “scientism.” That’s something we don’t want to encourage.

    The question here seems to be how to present science such as evolution to the public that we’re stuck with, in a realistic and humane way, so we don’t cause people to instinctively turn away before they begin to understand. That’s a toughie. We’re repelled by marketing ploys, and we don’t play politics well, so how do we reach a public that is largely swayed by exactly those?

    I like to tell people that science operates by the same skepticism and incredulity they use when buying a used car. Carl Sagan said something along these lines. Would they go onto the lot, passively absorb the salesman’s spiel, unquestioningly accept his assertions that the car is in great shape and fork over the full price? Or would they look at the engine, take it for a test drive, kick the tires, check the oil, maybe even call the previous owner and check its history online? That’s what science is all about, I tell them: finding out what’s real so you can make things work for people’s benefit, without nasty surprises like falling-down bridges, vaccines that don’t work or power stations that blow up…just like they check over that car carefully before they buy it, so it won’t fry a piston while they’re driving their kids around.

    They also tend to think that science is done by white-coated geeks in far-off labs, doing things that have little relevance to their everyday life (unlike the religious messages). So reminding them that science is grounded in the *real* is critical.

  95. #95 Steve LaBonne
    February 27, 2006

    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’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 to know that minds are a function of extremely complex and unbelievably highly organized physical objects- namely brains- and that there is no good reason at all to believe this function could be duplicated by some sort of spiritual ectoplasm or what have you. This well-founded induction in my opinion works just as well for “gods” as it does for “immortal souls”, “angels”, etc. YMMV but in that case you need something more scientific than tradition, scripture, etc. to justify your position.

  96. #96 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”

  97. #97 Hamilton Lovecraft
    February 27, 2006

    I also think that if you really examined your religious beliefs, you would tend to find that they either do potentially conflict with science (i.e., they make real claims about the world that can be shown either true or false) or else they are not religious beliefs (i.e., they are not anything an atheist would disagree with). Counterexamples are welcome, as always.

    Agnostic Deist and evolutionist here — I’ll bite.

    Here’s a framework for existence-of-God which is, I think, consistent with current scientific knowledge, and not provably absurd: Postulate an interested and involved God. This God has the ability to either perceive all of time, or the ability to rewind time after a modification to the state of the universe. God can modify the state of the universe by forcing quantum events to happen a certain way rather than through the usual apparently-random determination subject to not throwing off the statistical balance — so that if, say, God forces radioactive decay event X to happen 5 seconds early, God must also force some other radioactive decay event Y to happen late to keep the books balanced. Through manipulation of these events plus the butterfly-effect cascades thereof, God can achieve certain desired macroscopic outcomes. God’s criteria for when and how to conduct these interventions are too complex to have been noticed so far, or perhaps God prefers to intervene on behalf of the natives of Tau Ceti II rather than Sol III. If the average density of God’s interventions is low enough locally (if not universally), there is no amount of scientific observation which humanity can bring to bear to catch God in the act.

    So far this is a hypothesis, nothing more; the worst you can honestly say about it is that it holds Occam’s Razor in some contempt, but that can be said about a great many scientific theories.

    You can then, as an article of personal faith, tack onto this hypothetical God any number of traits which don’t conflict with the framework, from an inordinate fondness for beetles to a sophomoric appreciation for fart jokes to an active desire to confound atheists like Pete and PZ Myers.

  98. #98 john c. halasz
    February 27, 2006

    Without having gone through every last comment here, one thing I’d like to add is that religions are not all alike. I doubt you’d find many creationists in Japan, though I don’t think the proportion of crazies to the general population would be much different there than in any comparable society. And Judaism should not be confused with Christianity. It’s doctrinally porous, does not necessarily involve any belief in an afterlife and does not have a theology, except insofar as it is “infected” by surrounding Christian culture. It’s primarily an ethical religion defined through the “law” and is concerned with elaborating and reinterpreting an ethical “rationality” through Talmudic and post-Talmudic explication, which itself alters the meanings of the original Torah. Further, two adherents of the same religion can ostensibly hold the “same” beliefs, yet, even if the ostensible constative content of those beliefs is identical, those beliefs can be modally different; that is, both their understanding of and how they hold those beliefs can be different. So it just won’t do to overgeneralize about religion and fail to discriminate cases. Further, even if religion is a man-made elaboration, it won’t do to fail to recognize the human intelligence behind such elaborations and the sorts of questions, perhaps unanswerable, that motivate it. (You might consult Max Weber’s notion of rationalization, since it was primarily developed through a sociology of world religions.) So there are normative criticisms of rationality within religious traditions, as well as, outside of them. Part of the upshot here is that the problem is not so much religion as religious fundamentalism. And the irony is that, as a literalism that seeks above all an authoritarian-dogmatic self-enclosure, such fundamentalism is itself subject to a religious critique of idolatry,- (or a non-religious one). But the other part of the problem is that the creationist/ID movement, though partly indigenous, is also part of an organized political program aiming to launder and infiltrate rightwing phalangist motifs into the political “mainstream” via the “conservative movement” to be manipulated in the interests of maintaining the hold on power of oligololistic corporate interests. A criticism of ideology and of dysfunctional forms of functionality is in order there, which is not exactly the same as a criticism of religion. Science is a purely secular activity that has nothing to do per se with religion. But there is also a problematic relation of science to publicness, since, on the one hand, advanced scientific research is inaccessible to public understanding, while, on the other, science both depends on public support and promises public benefit through the dffusion of its understanding. But insisting on the cognitive norms of science as the sole and self-sufficient standard of rationality and expecting eo ipso the diffusion of such rationality thereby won’t do. For one thing, science is intricated with other extra-scientific domains and forms of activity and it is by no means obvious that scientific norms express the kinds of rationality immanent to those domains and activities, nor that they provide an adequate normative basis for forming rational decision-making criteria in those domains. And yet, any extra-scientific application of science is accountable to those other norms of rationality. Neither an ethical criticism of religion, nor a political criticism of ideology can be directly derived from scientific norms of explanatory rationality. I, for one, do not believe that beliefs, “deeply held”, as the cliche’ goes, can not, nor should not be subject to rational criticism, but discriminating care needs to be taken, if one is to do so effectively and one should be prepared for and aware of the conflictual nature of the process. So it’s not just a matter of freedom of personal expression.

  99. #99 Steve LaBonne
    February 27, 2006

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

  100. #100 The Commissar
    February 27, 2006

    PZMyers,

    You ask:

    “What are we supposed to do? Be specific! Are we supposed to hide our unbelief?”

    How about “Be a little more tactful?” Your anti-religious posts drip with condescension. “If any believing scientist, who is perversely unaware of his hypocritical contradictions, wants to help us in the narrow fight against Creationism, I’ll take it, en route to my longer battle against superstitution, which I unapologetically equate with religion.” Wow! Where do I sign up for that! Count me in!

    Seriously, I’m an atheist (or perhaps agnostic) myself. I dont want you to hide your unbelief. But, like Josh, I want to WIN the political battle. Re-read Josh’s comments here. They are spot on.

    You are correct when you comment that we’re all on the same side here, but disagree over tactics.

    As for specificity – use a little more tact.

  101. #101 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

  102. #102 Caledonian
    February 27, 2006

    It’s not about what, it’s about how. Someone might believe that all life developed through the mutation and selection of earlier, simpler forms of life and that they are members of a species that developed from other species… and if they believe that because some authority told them so and therefore it must be true, it’s a religious belief.

    If someone believed that they were specially created by an intelligent entity or entities and existed to fulfill a specific purpose… and they have testable, repeatable, verificable evidence indicating that this is indeed the case, it’s a scientific belief.

    If you want to “win” this public-relations struggle by abandoning science and embracing religion, then you can’t win. All you can do is replace a religion you’re opposed to with a religion that you prefer — you’re opposed to the scientific method and rational thought.

  103. #103 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. πŸ˜‰

    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.

  104. #104 Arun
    February 27, 2006

    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.

    Years ago, at IIT,Madras, an American astronaut came to give a talk. The auditorium was packed. When the astronaut however, started talking about how his experience in space led him to God, he was roundly booed, and most of the audience walked out.

    In any case, I don’t know of any scientific or technical forum other than the written word, where a religious scientist might not be told to tone it down.

  105. #105 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    Preferably before the DI wises up and comes after neurobiology next.

    Too late. Jeffrey Schwartz is a dualist who doesn’t believe mind is a product of the brain. Ditto for Paul Nelson, who somehow thinks will and volition are arguments for an immaterial spirit. I think neuroscience is definitely on their radar, let’s just hope they complete their self-immolation before they get that far, and that their febrile little fellows end up scattered to podunk bible colleges across this land.

  106. #106 wildlifer
    February 27, 2006

    In my defense, I did say “If atheists make their atheism an issue ….” Whether in fact any atheists do, is a separate matter. Do I need to make it clearer (given the context) that I’m saying that discussions of atheism in the context of evolutionary biology are problematic.

    I agree if you are talking about discussions of atheism and evolutionary biology in the scientific journals. If not, I strongly disagree.
    The scientist is under no obligation to protect the feelings of the theist – and keep matters from being “problematic” for them – when the conversation turns to the evidence and philosophy.

    PZ said:

    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?

    Really! But that is the point isn’t it? Maybe the elephant in the room will go away.

  107. #107 Dstopak
    February 27, 2006

    On the question of how best to defend evolutionary theory against attack, the answer seems obvious. Use scientific facts and scientists of all persuasions to communicate those facts. But when the discussion veers off into the direction of the conflict between science and religion and whether evolution supports belief in a deity, it becomes murky at best and the evolution side loses.

    Just as theory has a different meaning in a scientific context so does the meaning of faith alter with context. Does past belief in the universal ether or phlogiston destroy my faith in science? The creationist/ID camp is guilty of this confusion when they think that the discovery of new evolutionary relationships or mechanisms disproves the theory. They fail to understand how the provisional nature of scientific understanding, which is at the heart of its power to explain, can accommodate new facts to deepen as well as reject theories.

    But to argue that faith in the scientific method excludes faith in God is merely the other side of the same confused coin. For me, evolution is one of the most breathtaking concepts ever conceived. But for those who find comfort in God’s love, why should I not recognize the power that can bring into their lives? Should that experience be labeled superstition because it cannot be proven by scientific method? Should atheism be vaulted to some higher plane, when in fact both arise from personal belief and experience? To propose that science can somehow sit in judgment between these two experiences is as misguided and repugnant as the Creationist/ID view. Yet it is a logical conclusion that I fear is perceived by many.

    At first I saw only one side of the controversy. The religious extremists using evolution as the scapegoat to advance their cramped point of view versus the biologists, as defenders of the true faith, teaching evolution and rightfully sticking only to science in biology class. But my perspective has shifted as I’ve focused on the public at large, who are watching with less attention to the controversy and have a perspective different than mine. They are hearing a different conversation and fear that science is attempting to disprove faith.

    In any conversation, respect for the other point of view is the most effective in the long run. Science loses if the only alternative evolutionary theory poses is a godless world. There is no scientific reason, only hubris prevents allaying these fears.

  108. #108 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2006

    PaulC

    I think it’s interesting that you attribute to fear what could be explained by courtesy.

    I think it’s interesting, PaulC, that you would attempt to parse statements like, “This plays right into the creationists’ hands,” as a matter of “courtesy.”

    Interesting. But not surprising.

  109. #109 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2006

    PaulC

    People follow all kinds of customs, religion included, that may be useful, useless, or harmful. Generally, people’s right to behave in a customary manner is part of a general right of self-determination. I would only make an exception when the customs pose substantial, tangible harm.

    How about our society’s custom of pretending that so-called “religious beliefs” are “special” and not subject to critical analysis?

    Is that a harmful custom?

    I think it is. It’s a custom that allows bullshit and bigotry to endure far longer than it otherwise would.

    I shit on this custom with the force of a billion garden hoses.

  110. #110 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2006

    Josh

    This doesn’t mean you stop talking about atheism, just don’t try to use evolution as a wedge to advance atheism. If you do that, you are as arrogant and wrong-headed as the IDolators, and for the same reason.

    Holy moses smell the roses! “For the same reason”??!!!

    The IDolators are attempting to promote a very specific and warped brand of fundamentalist crap: Jesus the Son of God was killed for “us” and resurrected and we know that because it says so in this book right here which some dude in a shit-stained tunic wrote, gosh, I dunno, a long time ago.

    Atheists are trying to promote the idea that the sort of fundamentalist crap pushed by the IDolators is what causes human beings to drop ten Hiroshima’s worth of bombs on some people in the Middle East without a fucking apparent reason, or causes human beings to fly planes into buildings, or causes human beings to cut their children in to little pieces (because that God dude I mentioned above “told them to do it”).

    Seems like two different ideas to me, Josh.

    Just a tad different.

  111. #111 Glen Davidson
    February 27, 2006

    Preferably before the DI wises up and comes after neurobiology next.

    Too late. Jeffrey Schwartz is a dualist who doesn’t believe mind is a product of the brain. Ditto for Paul Nelson, who somehow thinks will and volition are arguments for an immaterial spirit. I think neuroscience is definitely on their radar, let’s just hope they complete their self-immolation before they get that far, and that their febrile little fellows end up scattered to podunk bible colleges across this land.

    David Berlinski’s also effectively a dualist. See his “On the Origins of the Mind”, Commentary Nov. 2004. He received a number of responses, but stuck with his dualistic position without dealing with the science we brought up. I couldn’t find a link to his article on the net, but our responses and his reply to us is here:

    http://tinyurl.com/p4b7h

    Actually, the claim that evolution “couldn’t produce the human mind” is fairly common with IDists, and almost certainly plays an even larger role in their belief systems (remember, the soul is their promise of an afterlife). As long as they have something they can believe is not subject to science, they think they can continue to hold to the promises of religion.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  112. #112 Great White Wonder
    February 27, 2006

    Dstopak

    They are hearing a different conversation and fear that science is attempting to disprove faith.

    Ah, the poor pitiful public. Who are they hearing this from, exactly?

    Answer: creationists and certain pussies who shall go unnamed.

    Science is not attempting to “disprove faith.” Science is merely one representation of a successful tool for achieving results that relies on ignoring deities.

    Did you hear that? Yes, you can accomplish things without praying to deities or sacrificing virgins to them.

    Imagine!

    And guess what — you are not going to go to hell if you don’t sacrifice virgins or pray every day.

    You can even put your penis into another person’s anus and — try to believe it! — when you die you’ll never know the difference.

    Yes, folks, it’s true!

    Have you ever noticed how kids in public school learn about all the “myths” of ancient cultures but they don’t learn that Hell is just another one of those myths?

    Why is that?

    Science doesn’t “disprove” the belief in Hell or Heaven. Science merely shows that Hell or Heaven are irrelevant if you want to accomplish ANYTHING useful with your life UNLESS you consider brainwashing people with fear and/or imaginary rewards “useful.”

    Yes, yes, I know. The rubes hate this kind of talk. It’s “offensive” to them to have to hear someone state incontrovertible facts about their “faith.”

    Of course, these same rubes leap at any opportunity to stick their shit in the faces of “sinners”, via the legislature whenever possible.

    So, uh, tell me again why I should be “courteous” to them?

    Because “some of them” are really really nice people who wouldn’t hurt a fly?

    Here’s a news flash: there are surely some really really nice racists out there who keep their racist shit all to themselves. They aren’t hurting a single person with their beliefs. They teach their kids to be really really nice racists who don’t hurt anybody either. It’s all just fine and dandy.

    Should we stop scorning racism, then, to avoid offending these nice people?

    That’s the argument that some people here seem to be making.

    Religion is religion is religion. When you participate in a religion, you give creedence to all religious people — including the millions of nutjobs who use RELIGION (usually one of two deities) to justify all sorts of sick ridiculous crap.

    My advice for all you religionists is straightforward: consider dumping your religion for another hobby — one that isn’t tainted with the behavior of vast legions of nutcases who worship the same deity that you do.

  113. #113 David Wilford
    February 27, 2006

    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.

    Spot on.

    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.

    I worked it out without benefit of either being raised up as an atheist or reacting to a theistic upbringing myself, which makes me a stone cold atheist but a nevertheless a kind one.

  114. #114 Steve LaBonne
    February 27, 2006

    Except possibly for adherents of some of the most austere forms of Buddhism, nearly all religionists, not just Christians, are dualists. They have to be. For most, it’s all about some form of personal immortality (that as far as I can tell is generally the core emotional appeal of religion), which is pretty darn difficult to envision without some flavor of substance dualism. But substance dualism is totally, radically incompatible with contemporary scientific knowledge. The conclusion, as to whether it’s really possible for science and religion to co-exist indefinitely in their supposedly separate spheres, is left as an exercise for the reader.

  115. #115 Arun
    February 28, 2006

    There is a different way at looking at this. Both religionists and atheists in this debate focus on what people believe; belief has a moral weight. Both sides seek to convert the other to the “true” belief, be it in Jesus or in science.

    But there are also traditions which say that what distinguishes a man is not his birth, his learning, his belief, but rather his conduct.

    From this point of view, belief in evolution or creation is irrelevant to the vast majority of people, because that belief has no bearing on their conduct. ID is not objectionable as a false belief, but because it is causative in its proponents to lie and to misstate.

    And as to the topic of this thread, obnoxious atheists remain obnoxious no matter how rational their beliefs.

    What I personally find amazing is that science is not about belief, it is about a way of learning things; but the atheists are doing their bloody level best to keep the argument to be about belief.

  116. #116 Steve LaBonne
    February 28, 2006

    Gettier notwithstanding, knowledge is best defined as justified true belief. So Arun’s is another of those attempts to evade the issue that cannot satisfy anyone who values intellectual consistency.

  117. #117 Keith Douglas
    February 28, 2006

    Josh: The idea that the big bang represents a moment of ultimate beginning, never mind a moment of creation is a distortion of the science.

    Steve LaBonne makes a point I’ve made for ages. Good for him. πŸ™‚

    There’s also the epistemological point I keep asking about … and the historical point. The Catholics, for example, used to hold as a matter of doctrine various beliefs about the composition of the nonliving universe. They have changed their mind. The fundamentalists see this rightly as letting the faith change. (They are hypocritical in this, of course, but correct to point it out.) So where does it end?

    But as for the conflict, my quarrel is not with religion per se, though it manifests itself most there. My problem is with unwarranted beliefs. I oppose racism, sexism, unproven health care treatments, bogus energy devices and many other things, too. And all (ideally) proportional to their ridiculousness or harm.

    Incidentally also, Judaism above is described as being rather open. It is true that many branches of Judaism these days are doctrinally tolerant when compared to fundamentalist Christianity or Islam. But (a) there are doctrinally strict versions of Judaism, and (b) this has not always been so, either. Think of what happened to Spinoza – he was “excommunicated” from Judaism.

  118. #118 Dave
    February 28, 2006

    I think it is hilarious that atheists like Josh and myers are blasting each other. IT likes Stalin and Trotsky fighting who was going to take over after Lenin.

    “The revolution eats its own children” Marat.
    Have at it. May the worst man win.

  119. #119 Steve LaBonne
    February 28, 2006

    Not only is the illiteracy of Dave’s comment amusing (“IT likes Stalin and Trotsky fighting who was going to take over after Lenin.” ???) but so is its content, with its priceless glimpse into how the religious mind (I use the term loosely) works.

  120. #120 john c. halasz
    February 28, 2006

    “Justified true belief” is a way of translating into analytic philosophy the Platonic logos/doxa distinction. But to believe and to know are two different words with many different uses. There is some overlap and interaction, but also divergences. As for “warranted belief”, though I appreciate the motive of filtering out bunkum, that implies that in order to hold a belief, one must first apply for a warrant. That goes neither to genesis, nor to function, nor to the ways in which beliefs are actually tested out in social interaction and “anchored” in interpersonal recognitions.

    There is a distinction to be made between theoretical and practical reason and the two are not necessarily all-of-a-piece or tightly bound. Some here don’t seem to “get” that, though I think Arun does. At any rate, ethical norms of rightness and justice do not derive from external states-of-affairs or prior functions and are not generated by scientific research. And just in case anyone does not have a use for the word “spiritual”, try this: the anxious uncertainty of the ethical.

    But the main point here is that there is not really a whole lot of difficulty in defending Darwinian evolutionary theory. All one has to do is explain its cannons of explanation, how they apply to specific phenomena and the massive accumulation of empirical evidence for that, and what the scope of its application is. Neither God, nor atheism need enter into that. But ID/creationism is just an obfuscatory hoax attached to a much broader ideological agenda, and one is not going to be able to explain evolution to white “identity” Christians, since that’s not really what they’re after, and it makes sense rather to expose and politically criticize their whole phalangist agenda, in which case many otherwise religiously inclined people would be on “our” side and receptive to an understanding of evolution and at least the pragmatic application of such a theory.

    Spinoza died of TB at the age of 44 and he was amongst friends. (Most of his work was published postumously by them). I don’t think that there’s any reason to view him as a martyr, nor that he would have taken kindly to that. But I think there is a residue of Judaism in his rather paradoxical philosophy as an ethics of autonomous freedom based on a complete metaphysical determinism. I don’t think he was propounding a Hobbesian nominalist determinism, but rather I think that he was doing an “Umfunktionierung”, a turning around, on Hobbes. His ethics, which primarily concerns the intergration of “affects”, doesn’t imply the Hobbesian behavioralism of Watson and Skinner, but rather, I think, something more like the quasi-behavioralism to be found in Wittgenstein or Merleau-Ponty. Christianity says something like, “have faith and you will be granted the grace to act rightly”, whereas Judaism says, ” act rightly, i.e. observe the law, and you will come to believe rightly.” I think that Jewish way of thinking is part of what he is trying to convey in his ethics. But certainly Judaism is just as much susceptible to fundamentalist reductions/distortions as any other religion. (Just consider the riots among the ultra-Orthodox in Israel over sabbath regulations, for example, though there are much worse abuses of religion over there.) But the point to be made about “official” Christianity is that it is focused on having a uniquely correct theological doctrine or dogma, which has led, not just to old men wearing dresses worrying about condoms, but to a long history of strife. You’d think Western political culture has long since learned from that history, but one can never be too sure.

  121. #121 Emanuel Goldstein
    March 1, 2006

    Stange how discussions of these subjects always get around to a criticism fo “the Jews”, the smallest of the major religions and Israel being one of the smallest religious states. (The Moslems of course having more than a dozen states, with total area and resources hundreds of times greater…but I digress.) And the atheists, if you count the dialectical materialist Chinese, THE largest state in the world.

    Atheists have certainly had their own squables, as numerous twentieth century leaders who were fanatical atheists demonstrated, but I suppose one can argue that it wasn’t because of atheism. After all, I am told, atheism is simply a “lack of belief”. (Yes, but that is only one definition, and until recently probably the minority position.) Of course, over at Amnesty International they warned us, until recently, the the Chinese were forcing atheism on the Tibetans AS A MEANS of destroying the Tibetans cultural identity.

    But of course their atheism did not stop them from committing crimes as bad as, or worse, that any religious perpetrators.

    You will perhaps pardon me if I simply say that “I lack belief in your claims” to superiority.

  122. #122 Paul W.
    March 1, 2006

    Stange how discussions of these subjects always get around to a criticism fo “the Jews”, the smallest of the major religions and Israel being one of the smallest religious states.

    Are you suggesting that Jews and Judaism shouldn’t be on our radar, when discussing the religiosity or irreligiosity of scientists, or the ambient levels of respect for various religions in our culture? That would be perverse.

    Jews may be a small percentage of the general population, but they’re overrepresented in science, philosophy, and in academia generally. (And among atheists and agnostics, if you’re counting secular Jews.)

    Jews and “The Jews” are interesting and fairly important, in terms of their intellectual and political impact; of course we often get around to discussing them, eventually.

    I don’t see that indicating any specifically anti-Jewish sentiment. Do you?

  123. #123 Paul W.
    March 1, 2006

    Atheists have certainly had their own squables, as numerous twentieth century leaders who were fanatical atheists demonstrated, but I suppose one can argue that it wasn’t because of atheism.

    Certainly the 20th century taught us a lot of lessons. One is that powerful authoritarian systems are really, really scary, whether they’re religious or not.

    For atheists in the West, that’s generally led to a heightened appreciation of liberal democracy. For people still stuck in Communist systems, it’s rather different.

    For a lot of religious people, it’s led to the bizarre conclusion that the solution is more religion—and typically, their religion. (I guess stupidity got us into this, so stupidity’s going to have to get us out.)

    But of course their atheism did not stop them from committing crimes as bad as, or worse, that any religious perpetrators

    I’ll agree with the “as bad” part, but definitely not the “worse” part. If you adjust for technological inflation since the Bronze Age, I don’t think anything can beat Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land. Sheer, absolute genocide, at least if certain parts of the Hebrew scriptures are to believed. (Imagine what Joshua could have done if he’d had planes, tanks, nukes, and modern communications.)

    Now, of course, most Jews have learned a lot since then, and don’t approve of such things. But it’s not irrelevant that some still do, and think that Israel’s land claims hinge on exactly those scriptures. (As the song says, “This is my land; God gave it to me.”) And tens of millions of American fundamentalists Christians support them for that hare-brained reason; they think the Middle East is supposed to explode into an apocalyptic war.

    That’s a problem, as the secular and/or less-fundamentalists majority in Israel would tell you. Israel’s right to exist shouldn’t depend on that, any more than it should depend on what the Koran says about how to treat infidels—and if it does hinge on that, or even seems to, it’s asking for a holy war. Oops.

    Atheism doesn’t, in itself, make people good people. Bad people do bad things. You do have a point.

    But if you want to get good people to do bad things, or just confuse intractable issues so that progress is even harder, religion’s still your best bet.

  124. #124 Great White Wonder
    March 1, 2006

    Of course, over at Amnesty International they warned us, until recently, the the Chinese were forcing atheism on the Tibetans AS A MEANS of destroying the Tibetans cultural identity.

    But of course their atheism did not stop them from committing crimes as bad as, or worse, that any religious perpetrators.

    The “purpose” of atheism is not to prevent individual incorrigible assholes or power-obsessed morons from doing bad things so you’re point is lost on me.

    Religion, on the other hand, is designed to give people a reason to behave in a certain way: to please the deity, who will reward you if you behave properly and punish you if you don’t.

    And you can’t force atheism on people any more than you can force calculus on people. The Chinese are stupid to try.

    Let’s recap this discussion for the 1000th time: there is nothing “atheistic” about genocide or forcing change in cultures or oppressing people who hold different religious beliefs.

    On the other hand, religions throughout history have directly promoted such activities. Why? Because religious beliefs are fucking arbitrary and the holy books can be used to promote pretty much any goddamn thing that the priests/clerics whatever want them to promote.

    Only stupid or dishonest people deny these basic precepts about religion generally.

    In that regard, atheists have a leg up on religious people.

    Deal with it.

  125. #125 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 1, 2006

    “And the atheists, if you count the dialectical materialist Chinese, THE largest state in the world.”

    I will dissent somewhat from Paul and Great, and say that I think they technically belong to the faith of communism. The suppression of other religions, and probably atheists too, is a matter of course.

    “Atheists have certainly had their own squables, as numerous twentieth century leaders who were fanatical atheists demonstrated,”

    I dissent here too, since I have no idea of whom you speak of. Can you give some examples?

    “After all, I am told, atheism is simply a “lack of belief”. (Yes, but that is only one definition, and until recently probably the minority position.)”

    I think you are conflating atheists with people of diverse faiths, such as agnostics and communists.

    “You will perhaps pardon me if I simply say that “I lack belief in your claims” to superiority.””

    Sure, if you in turn grant us knowledge of said claims. πŸ˜‰

  126. #126 Emanuel Goldstein
    March 2, 2006

    Well Paul, like I said, it always get back to the Jews.

    Q.E.D.

    And I love your squib about the Jews being “overrepresented” in science, philosophy, etc.

    CONSPIRACY THEORY, anyone?

    But as to the death tolls from “religious” v. “secular” activities, The Black Book of Communism, published by Harvard University Press, puts the death toll from Communist “activities” at close to 100 million in the 20th century ALONE, exceeding by several times the death toll from all “relgious” conflicts in history.

    Now, you may say, thats the Commies not atheists acting, but then you have to face the fact that many “religous” actions had a political and economic motive.

    Besides, Communism, at least as expessed in the 20th century and so far in this century, is founded on dialectical MATERIALISM. Marx is famous for his squib about religion being the opium of the people, i.e. the drug of the masses. (Of course, now drugs, prescription and otherwise, are the religion of the masses.)

    (Hey Paul, I just thought of something…wasn’t Marx a Jew?)

  127. #127 Paul W.
    March 3, 2006

    And I love your squib about the Jews being “overrepresented” in science, philosophy, etc.

    You completely misunderstand what I said. I didn’t mean “overrepresented” in a value-judgement kind of way, just in the statistical/demographic sense. It’s just a fact that Jews are “overrepresented,” statistically speaking, in academia, among Nobel prize winners and comedians—and among my close friends, past girlfriends, etc. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; far from it. I think it says something good about modern Jewish culture and my taste in friends.

    (In particular, most Jews just don’t care if I’m an atheist, or think it disqualifies me from making a moral argument; that makes it easier to get along with a lot of Jews than a lot of Christians, without as much self-censorship.)

    If it comes down to that sort of anti-/pro- thing, I’m a notorious Jew-lover. I’ve been known to attend shuul, and be the only non-Jew in a couple of explicitly Jewish social groups–one of which held an actual vote as to whether they should make an exception for me, and they did, unanimously. For a goy, I’m really not so bad; just ask my rabbi. πŸ™‚

    Seriously, if you’re looking for an anti-semite, you’ve got the wrong guy.

    CONSPIRACY THEORY, anyone?

    Perhaps, but not on my part; maybe yours.

  128. #128 Steve LaBonne
    March 3, 2006

    Hey Emanuel Strawmanstein, Communism is a religion. Worshiping, depending on the formulation, History or Dialectical Materialism or the Proletariat or what have you, is just as stupid and just as soul-destroying as worshiping an invisible friend. It never had anything to do with genuine free-thinking.

  129. #129 Paul W.
    March 3, 2006

    BTW, a little googling suggests that our “Emanuel Goldstein” is not a sincerely offended Jew, but a virulently anti-atheist troll, a wee bit paranoid, and likely a Christian.

    You know the type—the ones who say that Hitler was an atheist, etc., so that they can blame atheism for Christians’ violence against Jews, that atheists are not fit to hold public office, etc.

    Bigtime loser.

    Now for a little story. One of the nice things about a lot of Jews and Quakers
    is that they’re very accepting of people with similar sensibilities, even if
    they have different beliefs. You can be a Jewish Quaker or a Quaker Jew,
    even. (I’ve known a couple, as well as a number of Jewish atheists.)

    Some Jews are not down with that, though, and complain. One guy went
    to his rabbi and ratted out a fellow Jew who he’d found out was attending
    a quaker meeting, too.

    The rabbi said “So what? Some of my best Jews are Friends.”

    *rimshot*

  130. #130 Emanueul Golstein
    March 4, 2006

    Its amusing to see “Paul” struggling with his remark about the Jews being “overrepresented” in science, philosophy, etc., and struggling to spin it.

    The very remark that Jews are “over”represented is a value judgment.

    Followed with the standard attacks on the poster.

    Q.E.D.

    I see no evidence that atheism, weak or strong definition, did anything to mitigate the atrocities of the 20th cenutury…without a doubt many of the perpetrators were fanatical atheists.

    Who ya kiddin?

    (Besides yourselves?)

  131. #131 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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