Pharyngula

I usually like Cornelia Dean’s science reporting, but this recent collection of book reviews put me off from the opening paragraph. She begins with the tired old claim that “scientists have to be brave” to embrace religion. Malarkey. I’ve never heard a scientist bring up the subject of religion, pro or con, at a scientific conference or associated informal gathering. You can be as devout as you want to be with no risk to your professional career (you may even find yourself an icon for the compatibility of science and religion!), and as for your personal life, being religious in a country in which 90% of the residents self-identify as religious, and in which religiosity has become a defining character of our political leadership, is hard to characterize as boldly bucking a trend. The rest of the review is an exercise in credulity.

Dean briefly touches on Dawkins’ and Dennett’s recent books that are critical of religion—they are called “unsatisfying,” and she even uncritically accepts this absurd canard:

In any event, as Dr. Gingerich argues, in simultaneously defending evolution and insisting upon atheism, Dr. Dawkins probably “single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists.”

Yeah, right. The real danger is that Dawkins is converting fence-sitters to fervid Christianity, but Robertson and Falwell and Haggard and every small-town fundamentalist minister? They can preach anti-intellectual, anti-scientific nonsense all they want, and it’s OK, they’re ineffectual. Dennett’s tent-revival atheist-evolutionist ministry is converting people by the thousands, and Dawkins’ televangical broadcast network is raking in the millions. C’mon, Ms. Dean, think. Does that claim make any sense at all? The people who claim that Dawkins convinced them that evolution is false are poseurs who had their mind made up before—and are merely doing their bit to demonize an effective opponent.

Furthermore, if Dawkins and Dennett are “unsatisfying,” what about this?

In “God’s Universe,” Dr. Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, tells how he is “personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos.”

This absurd comment does not elicit so much as a raised eyebrow from Ms. Dean, it seems. I should like to see the evidence that Gingerich marshals to support this remarkable conclusion. I have a strong suspicion that if it were viewed by someone not predisposed to believe in gods by tradition, upbringing, indoctrination, and ignorance, it would be…unsatisfying.

As is the conclusion to the article.

This is where the scientific method comes in. If scientists are prepared to state their hypotheses, describe how they tested them, lay out their data, explain how they analyze their data and the conclusions they draw from their analyses — then it should not matter if they pray to Zeus, Jehovah, the Tooth Fairy, or nobody.

Their work will speak for itself.

Exactly. We do not trot out Zeus, Jehovah, or the Tooth Fairy to prop up scientific hypotheses. Science does not use the ideas of religion, period. Religion is a failed paradigm.

Here’s a simple thought experiment, though. If some prominent scientist came out with a book in which he claimed that his keen analytical mind and training in science had led him to support the idea of the existence of Zeus or the Tooth Fairy, how would book reviewers and scientists react?

I think the reviews would be very different than if they wrapped themselves in the mantle of conventional piety, as these scientists have done, and decreed that the heavens rejoice in the love of Christ. A scientist arguing for the existence of the Tooth Fairy would prompt concerns about his mental well-being, and much tut-tutting about a good mind lost to senility, and the book would be remaindered as a sad curiosity. Prop up a different mythical figure, one that is dunned into the populace’s communal brain day by day and hour by hour, though, and very few reviewers and readers will even pause to think, “this is nuts!”

The reviewers might even call the author “brave.”

Comments

  1. #1 Will E.
    July 25, 2006

    “Dr. Dawkins probably ‘single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists.'”

    When will the correlate be true–“Stop talking about God, or you’ll turn everyone into atheists!”?

  2. #2 Steve LaBonne
    July 25, 2006

    And Gingerich, being a scientist, can back up his claim about dawkins with evidence. Right?

    (Actually Gingerich hasn’t really been a scientist for very a long time, even before he retired. Even way back when I was an undergrad at Harvard he was pretty much strictly a historian.)

  3. #3 CrazyChemist
    July 25, 2006

    P.Z.: I disagree with your comment on how if the roles were reversed, religious people would be treated better than atheists are treated now. I think the only reason why atheism is generally a pretty moral philosophy for life is because most people who are atheists are also progressive, educated and intellectual, things that would likely make you a decent and kind person on their own. There’s no way you could maintain that sort of correlation if the majority of people did not believe in a god.

    I’m sure it’s not hard to find examples of atheists who are no more tolerant of religious people than religious people are of atheists. The only difference is that those sorts of atheists don’t belong to the sort of herd that religious people do, and so aren’t able to bring the sort of discrimination forward that they’d like to. Believe me, I’ve met a few people that make Dawkins and Dennet look like religious apologists.

  4. #4 Alexander Vargas
    July 25, 2006

    Dean says
    Dr. Dawkins probably “single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists.”

    And PZ says
    Yeah, right. The real danger is that Dawkins is converting fence-sitters to fervid Christianity, but Robertson and Falwell and Haggard and every small-town fundamentalist minister?

    PZ, she said converting them to ID, not to fundamentalist christianity.
    We are not talking here about the conversion of non believers or normal christians into fundametalists. No, we are talking mostly about people with religious feelings converting to ID.
    I agree with her. Dawkins has increased the number of people opposing evolution (of course, not as much as a Behe, mind you, but still so)
    And the way it works is very simple. Dawkins first makes some fallacies that are evident to any smart religious person, like equating religion to superstition. And he quite obviously wants to force people into a fallacious decision: It’s either science or religion.
    Since most people are religious, dawkins leaves them witht wo options: 1) Trust me on everything!! I am a SCIENTIST, reason itself incarnated!!!! Have faith in ME and abandon religion!!! or 2) the religious person may consider that Dawkins’s can be wrong and his evolution, just bad science. Which way do you think things will tilt if they realize that some of Dawkins arguments against ireligion are unfair?

    The religious person (which, as we know, is the majority of people all over the world) by only getting a wiff of Dawkins can sense a biased hostility towards religion and wonder whether his evolutionary beliefs are just a part of that, and not honest science.

  5. #5 Steve_C
    July 25, 2006

    I’m tired of the anti-dawkins crowd and their lamebrained theories.

    Hmmm. Who’s more believable… Dawkins or Robertson?

    If a fence sitter can’t see it… then they’re already a lost cause.

  6. #6 Scott Hatfield
    July 25, 2006

    PZ:

    Here’s a thought. I agree: few, if any readers are going to turn to religion because of their distaste for Dr. Dawkins. That’s because, no matter how odious some might find it, at the end of the day, it’s just an idea in a book. It’s not a manifesto for a religious or political movement.

    But I don’t think the same thing is true for a Pat Robertson or a Jerry Falwell! Why is the percentage of free thinkers in North America growing, as many posters here seem to indicate? I think, in part, as a negative reaction to the ideas of the fundamentalists and the manner in which their spin on ancient texts is being pushed in the schools, the courts, the legislature. They are pushy in a way that Dr. Dawkins could never be.

    So, I think there’s merit to the sort of argument that Gingerich uses. I just think he’s got the wrong target. I wish people like him would show more interest in the fundamentalists, who truly are in the business of ‘taking liberties’, rather than the strongly-held views of one particular scientist.

    Sincerely…Scott

  7. #7 GH
    July 25, 2006

    Dawkins has increased the number of people opposing evolution

    Evidence for this statement please? His books are so widely read I think the contrary is much more likely.

    evident to any smart religious person, like equating religion to superstition

    Shouldn’t any smart person be able to see that religions are superstitions with a structure built up around them. How is that offensive if it’s obvious? Whats wrong with pointing that out?

    Why can one simply not just see the overwhelming probability that the religion you practice is what was thrust upon you as a child and admit as such.

    oh and:

    ) Trust me on everything!! I am a SCIENTIST, reason itself incarnated!!!! Have faith in ME and abandon religion!!!

    Only an idiot sees that in what Dawkins writes given his oft repeated statements about evidence and the scietific method. He never asks or says anything that you are saying. Your building a strawman.

  8. #8 Alexander Vargas
    July 25, 2006

    Steve, not a social movement wearing a badge or anything formally organized, but just a noticeable set of opinions usually from an “intellectual” segment of the population

    “Dawkins has increased the number of people opposing evolution
    Evidence for this statement please? His books are so widely read I think the contrary is much more likely.”

    Dawkins is popular precisely because he exploits a simplistic notion lots of people can come up with: a dichotomy between religion and science, with religion being wrong and bad as a scientific conclusion. He sells lots of books, because he peddles an easy, unoriginal idea that people can latch onto to feel like true warrios of reason, fighting the good fight.

    And because he IS quite widely read, religious people cannot always ignore him or his fans. If Dawkins forces religious people into a decision, most of the times it will be that they will start rejecting evolution rather than abandon faith
    (in this I disagree a bit with Scott, though I agree with him that the pushiness and silly staments of the religous fundies is what is bringing them down… NOT Dawkins, NOT guys like PZ).

    “Shouldn’t any smart person be able to see that religions are superstitions with a structure built up around them. How is that offensive if it’s obvious? Whats wrong with pointing that out?”

    Well you are just rocking on your wooden horse here. If someone does not agree that religion is, in essence, superstition, he must not be smart, huh?
    Superstition is anecodtal and unprofound. Walking under the ladder or breaking the mirror are just not comparable with, for instance, moral and ethical reflections that were first produced within religion (not science) on humanistic tiopics like “do unto others” or the relation between destruction and creativty of the hindus, etc. Just equating relgion to superstition is simplistic and ignorant.

    “Why can one simply not just see the overwhelming probability that the religion you practice is what was thrust upon you as a child and admit as such.”

    Not that overwhelmingly. People can switch religious beliefs or abandom them, sometimes massively as documented by history.

    “Only an idiot sees that in what Dawkins writes given his oft repeated statements about evidence and the scietific method. He never asks or says anything that you are saying. Your building a strawman”

    I´m not saying that Dawkins says that explicitly, but thatbthis is the option relgious people feel that he is giving them, and I do think Dawkins feels he “represents reason”, but he has major, quite noticeable flops, both scientifically and in his ideas about religion.

  9. #9 George
    July 25, 2006

    Dawkins doesn’t ask people to have faith in Dawkins, he points to the science and points to the religion and makes perfectly valid points about the wackiness and danger of religion and the credibility of the scientific enterprise.

    Responding to Dawkins’ attacks by being even more pig-headedly pro-religion is just more proof of the religious person’s basic inability to critically examine their religious beliefs.

    Dawkins is a very effective proselytizer for science and atheism and more of his kind are sorely needed in a world swamped by kooky proselytizers for religion.

  10. #10 Mong H Tan, PhD
    July 25, 2006

    Greetings, Everybody, Mind, and Spirit! :) :) :)

    Specifically, Dr. PZ Myers: Contrary to your conclusion above, I think Ms Cornelia Dean has had presented a fairly good survey of the several new books on Science and Religion, to be (or have been) published by the prominent scientists in the US and the UK.

    And, her conclusion on the negative effects that Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have had brought upon to themselves, is especially critical and acute, from her global view of the affair–ie, Religionism vs. Scientism in general, and Neocreationism vs. Evolutionism in particular–an important debate that I have had also a chance of observing and commenting on, since after the publication of my own book Gods, Genes, Conscience in January 2006, online; and at a time which was coincidental to the 30th anniversary celebration of the British renowned atheist Dawkins’ bestseller The Selfish Gene (1976)!

    Recently (also as contrary to your arguemnets above) I discovered a new posting (May 18) that came after my (April 2) posting in the GuardianUK, in opposing to the idea of enlisting The Selfish Gene therein, as a science canon!

    For your convenience, let me present all these postings (including one that I responded on June 1) herein, with minor editings (as there are several US keystrokes are incompactable with the GuardianUK files); and I would like you all be the judge, scientific and religious, in this matter of importance and consequences–especially as far as Science education and integrity in the UK is concerned; let alone the now worldwide phenomenon, whereupon we are increasingly facing the rise of religious fundamentalism (Religionism and ID neocreationism) as well as Scientism and Evolutionism, as exemplified by the work of Dawkins’ above, and the US Tufts philosophy professor Dennett’s bestseller Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (February 2006), which I’ve had also characterized as an anti-Darwinism, Scientism, as well as anti-Religionism–wherein Dennett has had implied Religion as a parasitism, blindly in attempt to resurrect the faulty theory of meme (or myth that I would prefer to call), in the metaphysical wordplay that was initially conceived by Dawkins in his first book The Selfish Gene, over 30 years ago!

    ————————————————————

    To the Editor [Comment is free GuardianUK; April 2]:

    I read Ian McEwan’s article A Parallel Tradition with great interest (Guardian Unlimited, April 1); and couldn’t resist to post my relevant responses in this Sue Blackmore’s column The selfish gene’s birthday hereunder. Subject: Apologia for Scientism

    What an Apologia for the Richard Dawkins’ scientism propagated in The Selfish Gene, by equating Dawkins’ modern evolutionism to the tradition of good science literature! Didn’t McEwan realize that The Selfish Gene has had spawned a scientistic groupie of ibots–intellectual robots–who has had since lost their own critical and scientific thinkings? Obviously McEwan is one among them!

    What Dawkins has had created is a modern evolutionism, or a genetic determinism to be exact, that if Charles Darwin could have had found out, he would have had turned over in his grave!

    Darwinian biology is based on the traditional science of taxonomy and material empiricism; whereas genetic determinism is merely based on Dawkins’ metaphysical thinking and definition and wordplay that he misconceived over 30 years ago as a result of his training in ethology–the study of animal behaviorism–while later he decided to venture into modern biology and molecular genetics, instead.

    These academic misadventures have had created Dawkins a genetic determinist in his pure intellectual and literary pursuit, while without realizing that his blind (without any scientific basis or empiricism) pursuit of genetic determinism, has had been likened to his throwing out of the baby (evolutionary biology) with the bathwater (the scientific spirits of Charles Darwin or Darwinism)!

    Therefore, like the self-defeatist Intelligent Design neocreationism of today in the US, Genetic Determinism is anti-Darwinism! If McEwan could list The Selfish Gene as a traditional science canon, we might as well throw James Frey’s bestseller A Million Little Pieces into the mix of good English-language literature!

    Thank you for your kind attention and cooperation in this matter.

    Sincerely, Mong 4/2/6usct3:55p; author Gods, Genes, Conscience (iUniverse, January 2006) and http://www.GodsGenesConscience.blogspot.com (February 2006).

    ————————————————————

    Subject: Selfish Genes are killing science [Comment is free GuardianUK; May 18]

    Fearing a US-style revival of religion as an alternative to science, the Royal Society recently decided to oppose the teaching of Creationism and intelligent design in UK schools. Some of the same celebrity scientists backing this position are also speaking out against the closure of university science departments, despite evidence that there is an ongoing decline in the number of school leavers wanting to study their courses. It is time they saw the connection.

    A few years ago, a professor in a UK university contacted my research team to see whether we could help reform their increasingly unpopular physical science undergraduate degrees. We suggested what we felt were some common sense reforms making the relevance of the science to social and environmental problems explicit from the first lecture, and sacrificing some of the rote-learning of “basic” facts for a more problem-based synthetic approach.

    Our proposals were never acted on. We heard reports that les eminences grises had dismissed them as a step backwards. They would rather stick to the traditional approach, and hope the students eventually saw the light. This year their Vice-chancellor announced that recruitment had nose-dived further, and that their whole department was to be closed.

    Though the lack of attractive and well-paying careers may be one cause, the fall in demand for science courses is also linked to a sense among young people of a moral emptiness in traditional science.

    For much of the twentieth century new generations struggled, often against the odds, to have a career in science because they believed that more science would mean greater social progress. Today’s youth see a political system that seems unable to address rising poverty or runaway climate change. They rightly conclude that solving scientific puzzles or inventing new gadgets alone is unlikely to save the world. This is where religions such as Christianity and Islam, with their strong emphasis on social justice, are coming back to haunt the rationalists.

    The teaching of Biblical accounts of humanity’s origins as having an equal factual basis to biological evolution is, as Britain’s teachers voted this spring, nonsensical. Yet few of the sofa scientists acknowledge the need to understand the causes of the revival of Creationism, not merely condemn its consequences.

    The quasi-religious belief in the selfish gene by the political class in the UK also helped lay the ground for a return to Creationism. Richard Dawkins justifies unfettered free-market capitalism as if it naturally follows from the laws of nature; and despite New Labour’s tinkering, these ultra-Darwinists have helped create a culture that values the pursuit of individual gain above all else.

    So should young people believe that selfishness or solidarity is at the heart of humanity? In contrast to their prominence elsewhere, I didn’t see many selfish gene advocates taking a leading role in Make Poverty History last year. Like the then-editor of Science, Daniel Koshland, maybe they think poverty is “in the genes.” Economics used to be called the “dismal science,” but now it seems biology is in danger of joining it.

    Too many academic scientists who make a virtue of the amoral nature of scientific inquiry when appearing in the mass media. Yet most young people realise that science conducted without a valuing of the very un-selfish concept of universal human rights ultimately leads to programmes such as eugenics and the cold logic of Nazi gas chambers. All sciences will have to become less dismal, and more moral, if they are to inspire young people again.

    There are some exciting new initiatives that seem to be moving in this direction, such as the University of Plymouth’s Holistic Science degree, or the University of Strathclyde’s collaboration with the Centre for Human Ecology. Even the Hippocratic Oath for scientists recently launched by the Council on Science and Technology was a small step in the right direction.

    Some among a new generation of scientists give me hope about the future of our profession. They are modest about the certainty of their knowledge and open to including broader perspectives in their judgements than those that come out of the laboratory. But by living out the saying that “it is not new ideas that triumph, but old professors who pass away,” Britain’s celebrity spokespeople for science are holding us back. They are making the public think that nothing fundamental about the way we do science needs to change.

    Tom Wakeford is Director of Co-Inquiry at the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre, University of Newcastle. His latest book Liaisons of Life (Wiley) explores alternatives to ultra-Darwinism.

    ————————————————————

    Subject: Rescind Scientism and Evolutionism Now! [Comment is free GuardianUK; June 1]

    Thanks to Tom Wakeford, now, I know that I was not the only proverbial little boy, who could see that our Emperor in Darwinism actually has no clothes! (see my post above)

    Recently I tried to review the World of Richard Dawkins on his selfish robotic genetics and memetics, but to no avail. Apparently his web pages have had been delisted. Whereas in the Guardian archives, there are still 2 silly nilly statements, that may well become the proverbial nails to his mindless, emotionless, robo-genetic Determinism or Evolutionism coffin, so to speak, and quoted as follows:

    1) We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realize that we are apes; and
    2) Life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators.

    As I analyzed above, these lines of scientistic thinking ring hollow in the name of Science; and they certainly run counter to the scientific empiricism of Charles Darwin, or Darwinism, intellectually and spiritually. That is why the US Intelligent Design neocreationists love Dawkins Evolutionism turned anti-Darwinism as anti-Religionism!

    As such, I hereby request that both Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett rescind immediately their armchair Scientism–their misusing Darwinism as anti-Religionism–as they have had been propagating in their respective bestsellers The Selfish Gene (1976) and Breaking the Spell (February 2006). In fact, as any hands-on hard-working scientists and philosophers can attest, that Science–as a transparent means of truth knowledge seeking method–will not and should not quarrel with any Faiths of the world; only Scientism and Evolutionism as relentlessly and myopically pursued by Dawkins and Dennett, will!

    Furthermore, in order to move on and beyond these senseless Scientism vs. Religionism in general, and Evolutionism vs. Creationism in particular, I have just started a new forum/thread with the Physorg.com entitled Let’s begin the Dialogue and Reconciliation of Science and Religion Now! (also listed in my very simple blog http://www.GodsGenesConscience.blogspot.com), so as to stimulate ourselves to see if we can all evolve to be a better and wiser humanity worldwide–especially in the post 9/11/2001 world today and beyond.

    At your convenience, please feel free to comment on the above forum/thread. Thank you all for your kind attention and cooperation in this matter. Happy reading, thinking, and scrutinizing!

    Sincerely, Mong 6/1/6usct1:49a; author Gods, Genes, Conscience (iUniverse, January 2006) and http://www.GodsGenesConscience.blogspot.com (February 2006); a freelance philosopher of mind, whose work is based on current advances in interdisciplinary science and integrative psychology of Science and Religion worldwide; ethically, morally.

    ————————————————————

    Thank you all for your kind attention and cooperation in this matter. Happy reading, thinking, scrutinizing, and enlightening! :) :) :)

    Best wishes, Mong 7/25/6usct12:42p; author Gods, Genes, Conscience and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now; a cyberspace hermit-philosopher of Modern Mind, whose works are based on the current advances in interdisciplinary science and integrative psychology of Science and Religion worldwide; ethically, morally; metacognitively, and objectively.

  11. #11 Steve_C
    July 25, 2006

    I’m just saying your answer was a non-answer.

    You claim there’s a movement forcing people to ID. And you point to Dawkins as the apparent leader. Then you say you didn’t really mean a “movement” per se. And that Dawkins doesn’t actually SAY anything to force people to ID. It’s just his attitude.

  12. #12 Scott Hatfield
    July 25, 2006

    Dr. Mong:

    I’m afraid I must disagree rather strongly with your characterization of Dr. Dawkins. I myself am a believer, but in my reading of and personal dealings with the holder of the Simonyi Chair I find nothing that would indict him as a practicioner of ‘armchair scientism.’ The charge is ridiculous, as the way you claim to demonstrate this would indict my practice as a high school biology teacher.

    Evolution is a fact. My students deserve respect for their individual views, but they also deserve candor, and I do them no service if I pretend that evolution does not pose a challenge for organized religion. Teaching this in no way turns science into a religion, and Dr. Dawkins, in my estimation, provides believers an invaluable service by clearly demonstrating the problems that an evolutionary worldview presents for theodicy.

    Further, finding intellectual fulfillment in atheism, as Dawkins describes is manifestly not the same thing as having faith. Skepticism is a necessary condition for evaluating claims, not an item of dogma in a belief system. Nor would any careful reader of his work see his ideas as being proscriptive for doing science, nor yet as a manifesto for reform. One might as well indict David Hume.

    Sincerely,

    Scott

  13. #13 ctw
    July 25, 2006

    Ms dean’s review of dennett’s book calls into question whether she read it or just started with some preconceptions, found a statement or two supporting them, and moved on to the next book.

    “Dennett … refers again and again to the “brave” researchers (including himself) who challenge religion.”

    after two readings of the book, I don’t remember any significant number of instances, which is probably a commentary on my reading retention but is nonetheless suggestive that it wasn’t repetitive to the point of being noticable. and altho certainly the integrating theme of ms dean’s review, it wasn’t at all a theme of the book.

    “Dawkins and Dennett sound two major themes: a) the theory of evolution is correct, and creationism and its cousin, intelligent design, are wrong; and b) a field of research called evolutionary psychology can explain why religious belief seems to be universal among Homo sapiens. … these sermons, which the authors preach with what can fairly be described as religious fervor, are unsatisfying.”

    and a) is noteworthy because?? the converse theme would be, but this just establishes their rationality. and in the case of dennett, b) is flat out wrong. his discussion of EP (late in the book, so maybe ms dean did read it) is replete with caveats about the embryionic state of the field. ms dean is clearly trying to play on the “science is religion” ploy – not very impressive for a science writer.

    “which leads one to ask, who are these books for?”

    well, if ms dean had made it to the introduction of dennett’s book, she would have discovered the answer – see below.

    “… filled as they are with denunciation not just of their [religious people's] ideas but of themselves”

    this highlights a problem that all critics of religion face. dennett’s book is for the religious; he literally begs the religious reader to give him a fair hearing; he makes no dawkins-style inflammatory claims; but he necessarily has to confront some uncomfortable (for the religious) truths. and that, to the apparently hyper-sensitive ms dean, constitutes “denunciation”, a catch-22 theme prominent in the book. ie, she missed the whole point.

    that even a potentially supportive reviewer so misunderstands and/or misrepresents dennett’s book is reason to doubt that it – or any other so themed – can have the intended effect of opening a rational dialogue.

  14. #14 Koray
    July 25, 2006

    What the heck is an existential framework? If an existential framework exists, does it exist because there is yet another existential framework making it possible? You may your own answer more satisfying emotionally, but logically it is a fallacy.

    Re: Dr. Hawkins. I don’t think he’s doing any harm. On the contrary, he’s just marking the start of a new thread. There is no point for a scientist to be quietly secular. They are in fact going to be more and more aggressive. Put yourself in his position: would it not drive you mad to be surrounded by people that you consider delusional?

    Anybody who accepts ID just because Dawkins is an atheist is certainly letting his stereotypes do the thinking for him instead of looking at the actual evidence and argument. It’s just another form of belief.

  15. #15 Sastra
    July 25, 2006

    What both Dawkins and Dennett point out in their books is that evolution is a particularly clear example of what our scientific approach has revealed — that complex things come from simpler things, and there is no built-in heirarchy which sets humans and their values apart. Religion works on the opposite assumption. And the world looks different than we should expect if the complicated assumptions of religion were true.

    Evolution is bottom-up. It can only be “reconciled” with the top-down approach if you compartmentalize and poeticize, and get rather vague and slippery. God isn’t a science theory. Well, why not? Shouldn’t we take it seriously? Or do we put it in the same category as tastes, values, and personal forms of therapy, making bad metaphors all the way.

  16. #16 GH
    July 26, 2006

    Vargas your arguments are, well, not so good.

    I asked you for evidence that Dawkins is hurting the cause of evolution. You give none. A really weak retort but none. In his home country and throughout Europe evolution is widely accepted. It is not Dawkins who is the problem over here. We need more of him not less.

    Nonsense. You mean that black cats, broken mirrors and stuff like that will just condense into a religion in the future? No. Anything that is to develop into a full-blown religion must provide an existencial framework that fits into the needs of a society at a given historical moment.

    But that framework is based on the same mentality as other superstitions. One could create a religion out of black cats and broken mirrors also. How is saying a roseary or using a cross or any of the other endless religious rituals any different at all? Your just playing word games.

    Not that overwhelmingly. People can switch religious beliefs or abandom them, sometimes massively as documented by history.

    To abandon them is the greatest. But all statistics point to the fact that if your born Baptist your 98% likely to die Baptist. Your just wrong about these mass conversions. Except for the ‘forced’ ones at the end of a sword.

    And you still haven’t shown where Dawkins is even remotely wrong about religion. Just some ad hoc junk.

  17. #17 G. Tingey
    July 26, 2006

    “Dawkins first makes some fallacies that are evident to any smart religious person, like equating religion to superstition.”

    But – religion IS superstition – and blackmail …..

    And “Mong” is plainly off his head…..
    He puts up ANOTHER strw Man – the bogey of a supposed “scientism” being “pushed” by Dawkins and Dennett – who are merely (merely!) saying….
    PLEASE look clearly at the facts, nothing else.

    And this gets you called rude names by the believers, because they want beliefs, not facts.

  18. #18 Alexander Vargas
    July 26, 2006

    “I asked you for evidence that Dawkins is hurting the cause of evolution. You give none. A really weak retort but none. In his home country and throughout Europe evolution is widely accepted. It is not Dawkins who is the problem over here. We need more of him not less.”

    You want a statistic? Great, I want one for how he has reduced the amount of religious people. You will find he has done barely a scratch to that eternal, monolithic majority. But there is one ything we can all be certain: ID creationism is a biger problem than it once was. And Dawkins has been plainly unable to stop that, and as I say, by peddling caricaturized versions of both science and relgion, he feeds the problem.

    Let me remind you, and have no doubt about it: Dawkins, who most fills his mouth about enlightending reason, as a scientist is BAD. His selfish gene stuff is totally unhinged. Little research by biologists uses anything similar to his framework, and when it does, guess: Its always “controversial”. Evo-devo, phylogenetics, paleontology, you know, TRUE reliable data, is what rocks.
    Dawkisn has sold lots of paperbacks but has made no unequivocal contribution to evolutionary biology. Contrast him with a great american: SJ Gould. Punctuated Equilibrium. His book ontogeny and phylogeny practically started off the renaissance of evo-devo. Exaptation. Constraints. He spearheaded a very much needed facelift for evolutionary biology.

    “One could create a religion out of black cats and broken mirrors also. How is saying a roseary or using a cross or any of the other endless religious rituals any different at all? Your just playing word games.”

    You distrust words, huh? No philosophical complications for the Dawkinoid who has everything already crystal clear. No muddles admitted!!

    The rituals you point out are charged with mysticism and are inserted as symbolizations, physical reminders of the general metaphysical framework. While you can argue that it is similar to superstition because objects are involved, the resemblance almost entirely stops there.

    “Your just wrong about these mass conversions. Except for the ‘forced’ ones at the end of a sword”

    Take Japan after WW2. They stopped believing in hirohito as an incarnated god, but they did not stop beliving in buddhism. Take the switch from catholicism to protestantism, Martin Luther. Take anglicanism.

    “And you still haven’t shown where Dawkins is even remotely wrong about religion. Just some ad hoc junk.”

    Hahaha Sure, GH. He isn’t “even remotely” wrong about religion hahaha its just, you know “the root of all evil”!!!!
    jeez, not another blind follower madly in love with Dawkins…

  19. #19 Steve_C
    July 26, 2006

    I don’t think anyone here said that Dawkins has spread atheism.

    I think that the argument can be made, and that it’s a strong one, that Religion and the fostering of ignorance and unquestioning devotion MAY be the root of all evil.

    If you recall… the title of his series has a question mark on the end.

    The QUESTION has to be made by someone. The argument is made consistently that satan loving Atheist are the cause of the worlds moral decline. Whether that decline even exists is a question. The religious have spent the last 2000 plus years killing each other. What decline? It’s the same bullshit over and over.

    I guess you would rather the question be phrased “Is religion the solution to the world’s problems?”

  20. #20 Steve_C
    July 26, 2006

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Root_of_All_Evil%3F

    And Dawkins himself thinks that the question itself is ridiculous.

    The BBC wanted to stir up controversy.

  21. #21 Steve_C
    July 26, 2006

    http://archive-a02m01.libsyn.com/aXdueJl2nHiTfpZ4anRvomurZHHH/podcasts/pointofinquiry/2-10-06.mp3

    Dawkins interviewed about the 2-part series in a “Point of Inquiry” Podcast.

  22. #22 George
    July 26, 2006

    Alexander, since you are a majoritarian (give the majority what they want), a permanentist (religion is a permanent feature of society so get used to it), and an egalitarian (everyone is entitled to their belief), do you see any reason to believe the world will become a more enlightened place one day or are we stuck with more than half the population living in the equivalent of the dark ages?

    Is it ever okay to challenge people on their superstitious and religious beliefs, and if so, when?

    I don’t understand why someone like Dawkins is supposed to stop harrassing religious people and religious people are just supposed to be allowed to spout their idiocy. That doesn’t seem fair.

  23. #23 Steve_C
    July 26, 2006

    Dawkins once wrote an article called Athiests for Jesus.

    He thought he was a good man, ahead of his time and one who should be emulated.

    “I think we owe Jesus the honor of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense that he inevitably espoused as a man of his time.”

  24. #24 Alexander Vargas
    July 26, 2006

    “Alexander, since you are a majoritarian (give the majority what they want)”

    I have pointed out a fact, without that meaning that I am apologetic about it. Truth is, even when majorities are wrong, they always determine social realities you have to deal with that are AS REAL as this screen and any object you find around you.

    “a permanentist (religion is a permanent feature of society so get used to it)”

    I think people will always be able to make up religions, there will always be people going through mystical ideas (and notice I do not say this is a necessarily bad thing. A religious movemnt could, for example, help overthrow an atheist tyranny)

    But please take note. religion, though always present can be more or less attractive to society and thus, more or less pervasive within it.

    “and an egalitarian (everyone is entitled to their belief)”

    Why not? It is a delusion to think that people are somehow NOT the complete owners of their beliefs. Even if you repress them; it makes no difference

    “do you see any reason to believe the world will become a more enlightened place one day or are we stuck with more than half the population living in the equivalent of the dark ages?”

    Sure, there have already been more enlightened times, and notice this: In these more enlightened times, a “secular” government, or a religious government may reign, but religion is not bent against science, nor is science bent against religion.

    Unfortunately times like that are usually kinda short…but lots of progress is made

    Take the golden age of islam, for instance, or the blossoming of philosophy within the church at the 14th century (however brief both of them were)

    “Is it ever okay to challenge people on their superstitious and religious beliefs, and if so, when?”

    It is ALWAYS OK, but try to understand people: if you don’t place yourself in the shoes of that person, he does not really exist for you as a person. You will simply “deny” him, for instance, through insults. That is, he/she is not a person, but an “idiot” or other “discardable” category.

    “I don’t understand why someone like Dawkins is supposed to stop harrassing religious people and religious people are just supposed to be allowed to spout their idiocy. That doesn’t seem fair.”

    It is not unfair, they are giving us the opportunity to take the higher ground.Lets not miss it. Idiocy harms those that uphold it. Nothing to imitate or envy. We should not want and much less demand to do the same.

  25. #25 George
    July 26, 2006

    A few points, Alexander:

    1) The level of antagonism between religion and science is only going to get worse as science continues to advance. Religion looks a lot more absurd today to more people than it did a hundred years ago. There’s nothing wrong with expressing that sense of absurdity.

    2) Past eras of peaceful religion/science co-existence can’t be compared to the situation today because the science today is on firmer foundations than it was in the past.

    3) Today in the U.S., the antagonism comes to the fore because religious people are spouting more extreme forms of their religion more publically. Mockery is called for! If they didn’t spout so loudly, Dawkins wouldn’t have to respond so forcefully.

  26. #26 Steve_C
    July 26, 2006

    I challenge anyone to listen to Dawkins’ interview in the podcast posted above and argue that Dawkins is an extremist. Dawkins is not an idiot. And he is not arrogant. He is however unflinching in his beliefs and is steadfast in challenging religion.

  27. #27 Gh
    July 26, 2006

    Great, I want one for how he has reduced the amount of religious people. You will find he has done barely a scratch to that eternal, monolithic majority. But there is one ything we can all be certain: ID creationism is a biger problem than it once was. And Dawkins has been plainly unable to stop that, and as I say, by peddling caricaturized versions of both science and relgion, he feeds the problem.

    I don’t know the effect he is having on the amount of religious people. BUT he has succeeded in getting people talking about his points. which i suspect has been his goal as a necessary first step.

    So basically you can’t answer the question so you just keep saying stuff like the above.

    No philosophical complications for the Dawkinoid who has everything already crystal clear. No muddles admitted!!

    Dawkinoid? You haven’t refuted a single thing the man says, you attack him personally and professionally and then call others Dawkinoids? Weak unfounded arguments you make and then you go to the name calling. Actually being in a camp with Richard is pretty good companty even when you disagree with him some as I do some.

    Take Japan after WW2. They stopped believing in hirohito as an incarnated god, but they did not stop beliving in buddhism. Take the switch from catholicism to protestantism, Martin Luther. Take anglicanism.

    These are quite accurately called exceptions with special circumstances. This has little to do with what this discussion is about. By statistic 98% of the people are born and die in the religion they are born with. And Catholic to Protestant is still Christian. They didn’t leave the religion but rather changed sects.

    He isn’t “even remotely” wrong about religion hahaha its just, you know “the root of all evil”!!!!
    jeez, not another blind follower madly in love with Dawkins

    Number 1 I don’t follow anyone. I look at their arguments and he makes far more valid points than he misses. I don’t think that religion is the ‘root of all evil’ but he makes a compelling case for faith being a big chunk of it. Religion is then the vehicle for this idea. It’s a compelling thought that is well documented in conflicts around the world. The question you need to ask is why are you so blind to this?

    And I’m in love with Dawkins because I happen to see his points as valid? You are quite bizarre.

  28. #28 Mechanophile
    July 26, 2006

    Ah, Vargas… Dan seems to be handling your religion/superstition line of arguments, so I’ll go over some of the others.

    Truth is, even when majorities are wrong, they always determine social realities you have to deal with that are AS REAL as this screen and any object you find around you.

    Well, obviously. I mean, just look at the US civil rights movement from the 60’s, or the suffragettes. It’s a good thing they accepted the social realities of their time, right? Oh wait…

    I think we all agree that discrimination and religion are social realities. Where we differ is in our responses to it, especially in this case: we want to change the status quo, while you, Vargas, seem to want to pander to the religious, because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’. I would point out that the same argument could have been made about racism in the 60’s, or women’s suffrage back in the day. If we accept things as social realities, then those things will always be social realities.

    “Is it ever okay to challenge people on their superstitious and religious beliefs, and if so, when?”

    It is ALWAYS OK, but try to understand people: if you don’t place yourself in the shoes of that person, he does not really exist for you as a person. You will simply “deny” him, for instance, through insults. That is, he/she is not a person, but an “idiot” or other “discardable” category.

    Someone can be both a person and an idiot, Vargas. It’s not an either/or proposition. And no matter how much I empathize with a fool, he’s still a fool.

    “I don’t understand why someone like Dawkins is supposed to stop harrassing religious people and religious people are just supposed to be allowed to spout their idiocy. That doesn’t seem fair.”

    It is not unfair, they are giving us the opportunity to take the higher ground.

    Oh yes, let’s not miss our opportunity to take the moral high ground, people! We can all be just like Neville Chamberlain!

  29. #29 Alexander Vargas
    July 26, 2006

    I heard the interviews. Dawkins lays his “evolution leads to atheism argument” by in fisrt place completely accepting a most silly and clasically creationist assumption: That we live surrounded by improbable things.

  30. #30 thwaite
    July 27, 2006

    What Vargas is implying, and what Dawkins had said explicitly, is that the *much* better metaphor than ‘blueprint’ for DNA’s role is that of a ‘recipe’. The cook for the recipe is the developmental process including its environmental perturbations; the resultant cake (organism) is dependent upon the recipe, the ingredients used, and some of the perturbations during growth.

    (Dawkin’s probably first wrote this in the EXTENDED PHENOTYPE – his little-read sequel to SELFISH GENE, a sequel which deserves a wider readership.)

  31. #31 thwaite
    July 27, 2006

    The blueprint/recipe distinction implies significant differences: not only does a blueprint imply a full preformationism, one should also be able to fully reconstruct a blueprint from the completed construct. A recipe implies neither of these – it is a different kind of instruction. And organisms do resemble their parents – some kind of instructions are inherited.

    (I found Dawkins did say this in EXTENDED PHENOTYPE – in 1982.)

  32. #32 thwaite
    July 27, 2006

    So you reject reductionism in analyzing DNA’s role in inheritance (offering instead a litany of unsupported holistic assertions), but you can reduce Dawkins’ EXTENDED PHENOTYPE to “nothing but a bad argument to collapse the organismal level that exists between gene and environment.” I thought “nothing-but” arguments were a bad thing, smelling intrinsically of reductionism?

    Why is the book a bad argument? Dawkins seems to think EXT.PHEN. is probably the most innovative thinking he did. It’s certainly a candidate for most nuanced and sophisticated of his expositions.

    This is of course a huge topic, so I’ll understand if you want to fry the other fish first.

  33. #33 Alexander Vargas
    July 27, 2006

    Steve, I avoid metaphors like they are the plague. There are always all to fundamental differences with the real thing. Never see physics relying for metaphors at the core of their schemes, huh?

    Thwaite

    The notion that inheritance means that the same things happen again: This is not equivalent to the concept of instruction.
    Please expand on this

    Very simple. Inheritance is conceivablel without the notion of instruction. A set of phenotypic traits is repeated generation after genration, implying the conditions that lead to their development are repeated. This is the unquestionable structural fact.
    Now what yiu are doing, is going beyond this fact and saying that this in this process consists in the the progeny “receiving” instructions from its parents, much like people may receive instructions on a note of paper.

    And this is false. Instruction means arbitrarily defined symbol and thus an intelligence that assigns them a meaning. If not that, what it actually is, the term “instruction” is used as a mushy concept applicable to any mechanism or structural correspondence. My key has the instruction to make the car run, the parts of the car contain the instructions that make it work, the surface of the sperm has the instructions to penetrate the egg. Loose definitions of “instruction” add up to pure crap.

    An simplistic idea like the extended phenotype is nothing but what it intends to be, quite different from saying a system is nothing but ione of its components. This kind of confaltion argumnet, is tedious and detestable. Don’t try to find my insconsistencies under whatever excuse. Think about biology, dammit.

    The points I made are not in the least “a litany of unsupported holistic assertions”. That is a stupid, facile assertion, Thwaite. “holism”? Like holistic medice, like the butterfly effect? No, Thwaite. Read them again. Think about them. It is just the way it is. Structural realities. Not like the false, useless and ideological simplicisms of Dawkins.

    If you are unfair and dismissive, I lose what little motivation I have to answer back.

  34. #34 Alexander Vargas
    July 27, 2006

    No Setve, its an aclaration: Metaphors are CRAP. Metaphor is no good answer. I will never strive to answer anything by metaphor: Its not an option. leave that to sloshy science and ideology. Like Dawkins, who relies heavily on a thousand stupid metaphors.

  35. #35 GH
    July 27, 2006

    . Not like the false, useless and ideological simplicisms of Dawkins.

    You keep saying this weak stuff, but what does he say that is false?

  36. #36 thwaite
    July 27, 2006

    Thanks PZ for the link to your earlier discussion – I confess I don’t read everything here! West-Eberhard is always provocative in useful ways. I note that in your first comment there on early developmentalists you also praise Bateson (William, I presume) ; his cousin’s grandson Patrick Bateson turns out to be the source of the ‘recipe’ metaphor as Dawkins acknowledges. Jeez, those British families of biologists… (and Dawkins’ PhD was under Niko Tinbergen, one of the half-dozen founders of ethology – it’s safe to say Dawkins knows his biology as well as his metaphors, and appreciates that a recipe metaphor implies DNA is not a program).
    A popularizer of Developmental Systems Theory I’ve found useful is John Dupre, Director of the carefully titled “Center for *Genomics* in Society” at U. Exeter – he avoids the word *genetics* here to emphasize the systemic focus. But even he is careful to accept studies that require DNA for protein production, though nothing more definite (p.29 of Dupre’s 2001 HUMAN NATURE AND THE LIMITS OF SCIENCE).

    There, there, vargas – I’m not intending to be dismissive. I AM interested, enough to explicitly request clarification. You’ve seen far harsher here, I’m sure – and I’m impressed with your tenaciousness. So I’ll omit further blog-ish rhetorical flourishes and thank you for your efforts .

    I need to go away for a while, and will also need time to peruse PZ’s thread. Perhaps more later.

  37. #37 Alexander Vargas
    July 27, 2006

    Uh, yeah, BTW you can get the same result form multiplying different matrixes, right? So its is more than the product of two componets, since it can be the product of sevral pairwise combinations of different matrixes.

    AH!!! Which bring me to the other implication of systems theory that you should be able to figure out…should I give you a chance??

    Aaaw, we’d just die of old age waiting.

    That two operationally identical systems, can be constructed from quite different parts.

    This is nicely documented in biological examples. Of course, the kind that Dawkins would naturally keep away from your fragile little eyes.

  38. #38 Alexander Vargas
    July 31, 2006

    I don’t think your intervention is very interesting, kavri, but I do want to make a point clear. I have not disparaged Dawkins nearly as much as Mr. Mong, for instance, who claims that Dawkins is ruining biology. Fortunately Dawkins has no such power. Within actual evolutionary biology his extremism, both ultradariwinian and reductionist, has been disparaged by people who have unquestionably made much more imortant contributions to the field, like Gould and Mayr. He is but a passing social phenomenon, a man that as a “scientist” has gone out of his way to say that evolution must lead to atheism. To disparage him is by no means comparable to people who want to disparage religion in general, but the adequate comparison is to the religious extremists who equate believing in god with rejecting evolution. Dawkins validates their logic. Both are closer than you may think.

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