Pharyngula

Oh, come on, Shermer…

Ugh. John Pieret is right: this effort by Michael Shermer to reconcile evolution with conservative theology is hideous, on multiple levels. It takes a special kind of arrogance to think that Christians are going to consult Shermer, a godless hellbound skeptic, on how to interpret the fine details of the Bible. Either reject it or buy into it—but nobody is going to believe that Shermer accepts the religious premises of the book. He’s being a kind of concern troll on a grand scale.

It’s also nonsense.

Because the theory of evolution provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, it should be embraced.

Oh, really? Ask a Christian what his or her “core values” are, and they’ll probably spit up either doctrinal beliefs, such as the divinity of Jesus and the idea of salvation, or they’ll bring up a list of social concerns, such as abortion, homosexuality, or religiosity in government. Evolution either is irrelevant to those worries or contradicts them, and as I say over and over again, Christians aren’t necessarily stupid, and they know this.

I’m also not keen on someone using science to falsely bolster conservative ideology.

Comments

  1. #1 steve s
    September 19, 2006

    PZ: if you didn’t get any emails from me yesterday, check your spam filter.

  2. #2 David
    September 19, 2006

    Well, my fifteen-year-old son thought it was a hysterically funny send-up of fundie reasoning. I’ll tell myself that that was what Shermer had in mind.

  3. #3 Aerik
    September 19, 2006

    Is it really surprising Shermer can sink to the level of what I might call “reverse skeptical apologetics?” In his first books he did talk alot about how he bought into all the woo going around in his bicycle tours. Michael Shermer is certainly not a natural-born-skeptic as some people are; he has all the right child-hood and woo-woo experience to be readily backwards-compatible. This is why I like to refer to him as a skeptic success story rather than a skeptic idol.

  4. #4 Yuel
    September 19, 2006

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  5. #5 Phila
    September 19, 2006

    Shermer sure believes some weird things…

  6. #6 Joshua
    September 19, 2006

    Yeesh. I respect Shermer for his promotion of skepticism, but he’s way off base in this article.

    Evolution contradicts evangelical and conservative beliefs. Science in general contradicts young earth creationism. That is why we are where we are. We got into this culture war because conservative fundamentalist Christians feel threatened by science and reason. Telling them, “Oh, no, science really agrees with you!” isn’t going to help matters. At best, it’s patronising and an insult to the intelligence of conservative Christians. (Much as we make fun of them for being idiots, they do have some intelligence; more importantly in this case, they also have pride.)

    This is a well-intentioned but extremely stupid attempt on his part to reconcile science with fundamentalist theology.

  7. #7 Warren
    September 19, 2006

    There is absolutely no way fundamentalist Christianity can be compatible with a recognition of the fact of evolution, simply because an evidence-based outlook on life is totally incompatible with the silliness remanded of “believers” in order to maintain their “faith”.

    Even given Shermer’s history, this is really, really disappointing.

  8. #8 Warren
    September 19, 2006

    There is absolutely no way fundamentalist Christianity can be compatible with a recognition of the fact of evolution, simply because an evidence-based outlook on life is totally incompatible with the silliness remanded of “believers” in order to maintain their “faith”.

    Even given Shermer’s history, this is really, really disappointing.

  9. #9 andy
    September 19, 2006

    Ha ha ha ha, what a brilliant piece of April Fool’s Day parody that w…oh… September 19? Errr… hmmm.

    OK, I’m stumped.

  10. #10 plunge
    September 19, 2006

    I guess it sort of depends on who he thinks his audience is. There is a decently sized slice of conservatives who aren’t really evangelical Christians but claim to have respect for Christian traditional values. Those people might actually care. Evangelical conservatives themselves of course won’t in a blue moon find any of that convincing.

    That said, I think Shermer’s out on this is that his real audience is probably the subscribers to his magazine (atheists, skeptics and the like), not who he purports to be directing his comments at. I think a great deal of logical rebuttals are made not because you sincerely believe that your opponents will believe them, but because you think the “lurkers” are reading and thinking about the debate from the sidelines.

  11. #11 plunge
    September 19, 2006

    … continuing

    That’s certainly how I feel a lot of the time with creationists. I’m never going to convince them, because they don’t really care about the questions we are debating: they make arguments that purport to be scientific only so that they can sound surface plausible to the uninformed. But sometimes the uninformed are listening and watching. And if people read a collumn like Shermers and go “hey, conservatives really don’t have a rational excuse for rejecting evolution” that might well help convince them that their arguments against evolution are ill-founded.

    Unfortunately, in the end, I think Shermer probably really IS thinking that there are Christian conservatives out there who might be convinced by this. That’s probably pretty far fetched.

  12. #12 decrepitoldfool
    September 19, 2006

    I have an old friend from college who is pastor of a fundie church. His newsletter a few weeks ago went on at length about how too many Americans believe in ‘Evolutionary philosophy’. So when I saw Shermer’s article, I was initially excited – perhaps something I could xerox and send to my friend. But then I read the article.

    Still trying to figure out how to respond to my friend.

  13. #13 Will E.
    September 19, 2006

    I was just discussing this the other day with my girlfriend after we read his piece on the topic in the new Scientific American. I’m disappointed in Shermer, and have tried to deny that I’ve felt this way for awhile–he is far too conciliatory to fundamentalists, and needs to take them at their word when they say, “If the bible isn’t true in matters of biology, then how can I trust it in matters of theology?” They are absolutely right in their conviction about this. Sometimes it is an either/or proposition, and that’s why folks like Dawkins and Harris get so frustrated not by fundies any more–who basically are telling the “truth”–but by moderates in the religious world who know the bible is wrong not only in biology but pretty much everywhere else, but are afraid to face that fact.

  14. #14 lockean
    September 19, 2006

    Shermer’s comments are really worse than unconvincing and dissimulative.

    The Christian Right is not willing to withdraw from public life like the Amish and Mennonites and (to some degree) Jehovah’s Witnesses in order to live as they think they ought. They have set out instead to attack the laws, customs, and public institutions of our free republic in order to force free citizens who are not of their of their faith to abide by precepts contrary to our rights, our legal system, our constitution, and the best of our moral traditions. In their inhumanity, dishonesty and hubris they tell teachers how to teach, scientists how to do science, all of us whom we should sleep with, what we should care about, and what we should think concerning matters about which they have neither expertise nor real interest.

    If Shermer feels the Religious Right is harmful to him, science or his country, why doesn’t he say so? If he doesn’t feel they are harmful, what’s the point of the essay? Constructive criticism? Is he helping them understand their own religion better? Certainly, he has a right to free speech, and he is not infringing on anyone else’s freedom as the Religious Right is trying to do, but the arrogance and intellectual laziness are the same as any mega-church preacher blathering on about how scientists and school systems should take ID seriously.

  15. #15 xebecs
    September 19, 2006

    An odd, vowelless beast seems to have yowled something about evolutionists bashing each other.

    Have you seen any bashing? I haven’t. All I saw was a few scattered assertions that Shermer is wasting his time by trying to find a way to reason with Demented F*ckwits.

  16. #16 Sastra
    September 19, 2006

    I don’t quite see the same thing here that others are seeing.

    One of the big arguments against evolution is “evolution cannot account for empathy, altruism, pacifism, or why people are nice to each other.” A straw-man version of evolution equates it with Survival of the Fittest — meaning strong vs. weak. Look at how Dawkin’s idea of the selfish gene is constantly misunderstood as “our genes make us selfish.” He’s had to go to great lengths to say that’s NOT what the metaphor means, and it still doesn’t get through.

    It seems to me that Shermer isn’t saying that evolution actually *supports* conservative Christianity, but that IF you are going to reject evolution, you should not be doing it because you think it fails to explain or account for anything you consider a “good Christian value.”

    He writes “Because the theory of evolution provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, it should be embraced.” The science may not be supporting the TRUTH claims of religions, sure. But it’s not directly conflicting with any of its reasonable MORAL claims, those ethics which make just as much sense outside of the religion as in it.

    Which is I think what we’ve been saying all along. Shermer just seems to be trying to frame it inside a religion-friendly package.

  17. #17 Greg Peterson
    September 19, 2006

    When I ran into this stuff in Shermer’s “Why Darwin Matters,” I was initially put off, but I think what he is trying to do is co-opt religion, not reconcile with it. He’s trying to be tricky, I think, in the same way that Dennett was trying to tricky with “Breaking the Spell.” It doesn’t really work. To be fair, nothing really seems to work, but the tricksy, let’s-pretend-to-be-their-friends thing seems to fail AND insult religionists on a whole new level. It’s like saying, “Not only do we think you’re stupid, but we think that you’re too stupid to realize that we think you’re stupid.” It’s not honest and it’s not effective and it’s not even really ethical, this tactic, because it’s a form of lying. Having said that, though, I admire Shermer. He slips, rarely, but he’s done a great deal of good for the cause of rationality and science, and precisely because he has a religious background, he understands part of what he’s up against better than any “natural-born skeptic” (or whatever empty phrase that one poster used was again–I can’t be bothered to go back and look that one up).

  18. #18 Scott Hatfield
    September 19, 2006

    PZ: I respectfully suggest that the truth might be somewhere between Shermer’s glossy prose and your disgusted rejoinder.

    After all, as a believer, I hold you in no small regard even though we differ as to whether or not God exists. What you do is valuable to me, and largely positive. Since I feel that way, I’m pretty sure we do share a lot of core values, and I’m willing to build on that to advance the cause of science education. Peace….SH

  19. #19 quork
    September 19, 2006

    Shermer sure believes some weird things…

    I think the weirdest was his claim in Why People Believe Weird Things that a child receives 25% of his genes from each parent.

  20. #20 Steve_C
    September 19, 2006

    It might have something to do with Shermer being a Born Again early in college.
    Risidual sentimentality perhaps.

  21. #21 Steve_C
    September 19, 2006

    Residual damn it.

  22. #22 Warren
    September 19, 2006

    Appeasement seems to be the watchword of the day. John Kerry is the latest to drivel on with much sentiment about some religious event or other that he claims touched his life; and now we learn that not everyone who hears voices thinks it’s a bad experience. (That doesn’t, however, redeem the experience of hearing voices from being anything but a mental illness.)

    Quork:

    I think the weirdest was his claim in Why People Believe Weird Things that a child receives 25% of his genes from each parent.

    Strictly speaking, that’s correct. 25% is contained within 50%, after all. 😉

  23. #23 h
    September 19, 2006

    Evolution either is irrelevant to those worries or contradicts them, and as I say over and over again, Christians aren’t necessarily stupid, and they know this.

    horsefeathers, as usual. But you can keep to your position without thought -as always- so you can sleep the sleep of the relativistically righteous in condeming those “benighted Christians.”

    Speaking as a Catholic who has no problems with evolution in function -which is in keeping with my faith- allow me to bestow upon you yet another Raspberry for your relentlessly Dogmatic Thoughtlessness.

  24. #24 RedMolly
    September 19, 2006

    Well gol-lee, Mike, if I’d known you evilutionists were in favor of stonin’ adulterers and turnin’ government over to the good folks at Wal-Mart, I’d’a been with ya all along!

    Ya lost me with the “primitive anthropomorphic projection” bit, though. Guess I’ll just set down a spell and watch another episode of VeggieTales…

  25. #25 reason
    September 20, 2006

    “If the bible isn’t true in matters of biology, then how can I trust it in matters of theology?” They are absolutely right in their conviction about this.” – Will E.

    Will, this sounds like you know what theology means. Go on then explain it to me.

  26. #26 reason
    September 20, 2006

    I mean the word “theology” – just in case there is any confusion. I really do not understand what it is meant to mean.

  27. #27 OhioBrian
    September 20, 2006

    Many folks here predict the stony reception that fundies would offer Shermer’s thoughts, and I hate to say it, but they’re right.

    A buddy of mine married a girl who had enthusiastically converted to Southern Baptist before meeting him. While this puts her WAY outside the mainstream of our Left-leaning group, we still adore her. You would too if you knew her; she’s just one of those impossible-to-dislike people.

    A group of us, including her, went to see an evening lecture at a local Episcopal church by a traveling minister who presented his case that the most important cosmic events of the universe are reflected, if only by metaphor, in Scripture. This therefore allowed him to say that science and evolution are real (well, thanks, I guess), but that the Bible is still inerrant. In other words, he was making every softball pitch to the Fundies that he could while still trying to keep at least one toe dipped into reality.

    When we left, she was livid from all of the (in her mind) heresies that she had just heard. I believe she was calling for him to be “horsewhipped in the street” (her words). I have never seen her so upset, and I hope I never do again.

    The Fundie Right ain’t buyin’, folks. No matter how nice or understanding we may try to be, our complete surrender to their “Truth” — preferably through legislation — is their only acceptable outcome. What saddens me is that I say this as a Christian, albeit a heretical, philosophical, non-magical Christian (a.k.a. a liberal Episcopalian).

  28. #28 False Prophet
    September 20, 2006

    Shermer makes at least one good point: Creationism is incompatible with good theology. Fundamentalists fail to explain why the two accounts of the Creation–the first two books of Genesis–contradict each other. This is what I always throw in the face of creationists–if the friggin’ Bible can’t agree with itself how it all took place, why the hell are you putting it forward as the authority on creation?

    You might find some apologists like this guy, but I find his argument unconvincing: Genesis 2 does not contain a listing of generations; you need to get to the end of Genesis 4 for anything resembling the later generational lists. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call stretching it. Other arguments (“Genesis 2 is about man’s personal relationship with God; Genesis 1 is about God’s relationship with creation”), notwithstanding the Jewish philosophy professor I had who demostrated interesting things about Genesis in the original Hebrew, don’t address the contradictions so much as sidestep them.

  29. #29 JimC
    September 20, 2006

    Fundamentalists fail to explain why the two accounts of the Creation–the first two books of Genesis–contradict each other. This is what I always throw in the face of creationists–if the friggin’ Bible can’t agree with itself how it all took place, why the hell are you putting it forward as the authority on creation?

    I’ve never really understood this argument. Creationism is consistent. Not with facts/reason/evidence but within itself.

    A religion like Catholism while seemingly embracing evolution is actually far less consistent due to the fact they pic and choose what they see as metaphor and what not. Now creationists do this as well in other areas. But the point is Shermer’s wrong as it is not creationists who have bad theology.

  30. #30 Keith
    September 20, 2006

    I have one core value: “Don’t fuck with people.” Can I get “faith-based initiative” funds?

  31. #31 Will E.
    September 20, 2006

    –“If the bible isn’t true in matters of biology, then how can I trust it in matters of theology?” They are absolutely right in their conviction about this.” – Will E.

    Will, this sounds like you know what theology means. Go on then explain it to me. – reason–

    Reason: As I was using it, theology means everything said about God in the bible–his nature, his desires, his actions, and how people should best follow his wishes. So the fundamentalist I feel is correct, and by that I mean logically consistent–as JimC put it, “Creationism is consistent. Not with facts/reason/evidence but within itself.” That’s why they will never reconcile scientific findings with their bible, and OhioBrian’s anecdote illustrates that point nicely.

  32. #32 Scott Hatfield
    September 20, 2006

    There may be a consistency in creationist thought, but it is a foolish consistency that comes at a high price, not the least of which is that it interprets scripture in a fashion which is neither orthodox nor based on good scholarship.

    I recognize that many here feel that theology is meaningless, but obviously believers don’t share that conviction. Purely as a tactical matter, in dealing with those who think that theology matters, the demonstration that the doctrine of inerrancy if fundamentally flawed is a revelation that can open many doors.

    When you show believers the scholarship that supports multiple sources for both the Creation myths and the Noachian flood found in Genesis, it becomes pretty clear pretty darn quick that a strict literal reading of Genesis is ruled out not by science, but by study of the Bible itself. This was a major topic of a seminar I offered at my church, and proved very effective. Quite a few eyes were opened!

    So, the argument I would make is this: the situation is *not* that “the Bible isn’t true in matters of biology, so I can’t trust it in matters of theology.” Rather, the reality is that “the strict Biblical literalist position on scripture is unreliable as theology, so why would anyone accept or promote the same as in any way relevant to doing science?”…Scott

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