That guy, Larry Moran…he seems to have been the final straw to tip a whole lot of people into twitterpated consternation. In particular, Ed Brayton, that sad panjandrum of the self-satisfied mean, medium, middle, moderate, and mediocre, has declared Moran (and all those who dare to profess their atheism without compromise) to be anathema, and John Lynch, Pat Hayes, and Nick Matzke have drawn up sides to put themselves clearly against wicked “evangelical atheists” like Dawkins and Moran and even PZ Maiieghrs.
What could have prompted such vociferous contempt? What awful thing could Moran have said, on top of the usual pile of criminal sins of overt atheists so numerous they don’t need explanation, that would justify calling us “disturbing and dangerous” and “appalling and vile”? You will be shocked. UCSD is requiring their biology majors to take a course in evolution to remediate the failings of their freshmen, and is making all of their incoming freshmen attend an anti-ID lecture. This infuriated the usual gang of IDists. Larry took it a step further.
I agree with the Dembski sycophants that UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place. Having made that mistake, it’s hopeless to expect that a single lecture—even one by a distinguished scholar like Robert Pennock—will have any effect. The University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education.
This led to charges of “authoritarian dogmatism” and the hysterical responses from the evolutionist side that this was the work of those evil atheists who are dooming our chances of improving science education. To which I can only say, “Are you nuts?”
Almost all universities have these little things called “admission requirements” and “standards”. For instance, we expect you to have graduated from high school before we let you in, or to have demonstrated equivalent competence. We look at your grades, and we may reject you if you don’t have a record of discipline and competence. We evaluate standardized test scores, which is a far crueler and more arbitrary mechanism for filtering our admissions. We have application essays, and at the more prestigious universities, admission interviews. I am not surprised that a clueless non-academic would be unaware that we already have many intellectual barriers (often, barriers that are too low) in place, but what is wrong with those academics who are aghast at Moran’s proposal?
I think it is entirely reasonable for a university to say, for instance, that you need to be able to read with a certain level of competency, or know the basics of algebra, before you will be admitted to the university. In fact, I think we should enforce higher standards across the board, because what happens all the time is that unqualified students come in, fork over tuition money for a year or two, and slowly discover that they are paying a lot of money to be handed a lot of work that they are incapable of doing, and they fail. Expecting incoming students to have some minimal understanding, of the kind that is mandated by most state high school science standards, is not onerous. Expecting biology majors at UCSD to know the basics of evolution, or flunking them out, is no more dogmatic or vile than expecting math majors to know what the binomial theorem is, and kicking them out of the program if they can’t do algebra.
In response to this demand for rigor, we get Ed Brayton dividing the world of the anti-creationists into two camps, one of which is “fighting to prevent ID creationism from weakening science education”…and after expressing horror at the idea of requiring better education in biology for incoming college students, places himself in that camp!
Are we on Bizarro Earth or something?
The other camp, the one he opposes, is fighting “to eliminate all religious belief of any kind” and believes that “religion itself, in any form, is to be attacked and destroyed by any means necessary.” This is Brayton’s rationalization for placing Moran in opposition to improving science education: because Brayton has erected this astonishingly black-and-white fantasy where there is this totalitarian group of atheists seeking world domination, and anyone he imagines being in this group is corrupting his attempts to improve science education by encouraging greater tolerance for stupid ideas.
Please note: Moran did not say that all Baptists should be flunked or refused admission. This was not a comment about religion, directly. It was a statement that the ignorant “40% of the freshman class [who] reject Darwinism” did not deserve admission. I suspect, though, that even Ed Brayton realized that the reason these 40% oppose basic evolutionary biology was almost certainly and entirely due to their religious upbringing, and that a policy like that would be a de facto barrier to practitioners of certain extremist religious sects. This religion, however, has to be treated delicately, with respect and love, so his side that wants to improve science education is going to do so by pandering to those who most devoutly oppose science education.
Don’t ask me to explain that logic. I’m not on “their team”.
Yes, the conflict has gotten that stark: according to Pat Hayes, We’re on Ed’s Team or we’re not.
Those, like Moran, who want to divide the movement to defend science education—and in the process hand ultra-right fundamentalists an undeserved victory—”simply are not on the same team and are not working [toward, RSR] the same goal,” says Brayton.
Parse that carefully, if you will. It’s not hard. He’s saying that those “who want to divide the movement” are handing victory to the fundamentalists in a post where he and Ed are explicitly dividing the movement into two opposing “teams”. It’s a single sentence, Pat, and you are plainly committing the sin you damn Moran for! And “damn” is a mild term for the scorn Ed and Pat pour onto those who are less sanguine about the destructive influence of religion on our culture.
I pointed out the hypocrisy of his statement in a comment, and now Pat has replied with a longer post compounding his error, and accusing us of being “Darwinian fundamentalists”, a term I’ve only heard from creationists before. As I’ve come to expect, we get to hear a lot of false motives assigned to us, more dogma and damnation, much of it coming straight from the weird brain of Ed Brayton.
If you are honest PZ—and I will not accuse you of being a hypocrite as you have accused me—you will admit that you too are willing to sacrifice the battle over teaching evolution in order to win your larger war against religion.
Uh-oh, I must be dishonest then, because I must honestly express my opinion that that is not true (is this like those logic puzzles with Cretans?). There are two problems with Pat’s claim. First, I want better science teaching in the schools, and that is the mechanism I propose to defeat religion. Educated people tend to shed religious beliefs more readily, or adopt religious beliefs that do not conflict with reality. I really do not understand how someone can suggest that I would advocate letting people become more ignorant about the real world as part of my strategy for winning my “war on religion”.
Second, I’d really like to know how I’m supposed to be fighting this “war on religion”. Are there guns involved? Because I don’t like violence. Am I supposed to be pushing to legislate what people are allowed to believe? Because I don’t think that’s possible, and if it were, I’d oppose it even more strongly than violence. As near as I can tell, the way I’ve been fighting this “war” is to express my opinions as loudly and clearly as possible, and encourage other like-minded people to openly state their positions as well. I also insist that beliefs about religion should not be a litmus test used to discriminate against people (there is, of course, a great deal of self-interest there, since non-Christian beliefs are the ones discriminated against most). When people declare that they oppose my strategy in the “war against religion”, that’s what I hear them opposing.
Seriously. Tattoos and concentration camps and guillotines are not part of the plan. Quit acting like they are.
The difference between us is not what we think about God, miracles, or the after life. On all those issues we are in complete agreement. Our difference is this: I don’t believe theistic evolutionists — however much I might disagree with their religious beliefs — are eroding science education.
Yes, I agree that this is a difference between us, in part. One other difference: I’m right, you’re wrong.
One case in point, a familiar one to all of us now: Ken Miller. I agree entirely that he has been a net gain to the fight against creationism, he’s effective, he’s rhetorically powerful. Read his book, and it sails along strongly, making a solid case and building beautifully…and then wham, he introduces his religion, and it sails off the cliff into insipidity and chaos. Does religion erode science education? You bet it does, and that book demonstrates it vividly.
However, that doesn’t mean I make the blanket assumption that theistic evolutionists are bad for science education. Theistic evolution, yes, is a ghastly piece of work, little better than outright creationism, but the theistic evolutionists keep that out of the classroom, so it’s OK; however, you still need us shrill, strident atheistical evolutionists to point and make our alien scream if some well-meaning theistic evolutionist starts assuming that silence and the tacit support of Ed’s Team means he gets to start babbling about god lurking in quantum indeterminacy to his class.
(Oh, and in case you’re worried: that doesn’t mean we start preaching atheism in the classroom, either. I don’t, and would also point and scream at someone trying to do so.)
Defeating the religious right requires a winning strategy. PZ, as much as I admire your writing and your other important contributions to the movement to defend science, I believe the strategy you advocate will lead us to certain defeat.
Yes! We need a winning strategy! Now, what is this winning strategy that Ed’s Team is pushing? It seems to be more of the same, the stuff that we’ve been doing for 80 years, accommodating the watering down of science teaching to avoid conflict with religious superstition…the strategy that has led to a United States where a slim majority opposes the idea of evolution, and we’re left with nothing but a struggle in the courts to maintain the status quo.
I don’t know why this is so hard to understand. We are not winning. We are clinging to tactics that rely on legal fiat to keep nonsense out of the science classroom, while a rising tide of uninformed, idiotic anti-science opinion, tugged upwards by fundamentalist religious fervor, cripples science education. Treading water is not a winning strategy. I’m glad we’re not sinking, and I applaud the deserving legal efforts that have kept us afloat, but come on, people, this isn’t winning.
Since Pat is convinced my strategy is one that will lead to certain defeat, he must have a pretty good idea of what that strategy is. Nick Matzke thinks our goal is “to convert other academics to be evangelical atheists, so that eventually everyone in the U.S. will become evangelical atheists.” Really? I mean, it would certainly be nice if we were all atheists, I suppose, but wouldn’t the “evangelical” part be unnecessary then? I think we can safely say that Nick is Not On Our Team, and his knowledge of our goals dismissed.
Pat doesn’t seem to have any better understanding.
Your strategy is a loser because it isolates nonbelievers like ourselves. When you say that our religious allies in the fight to defend science education and preserve the separation of church and state are no different than the fundamentalists, you hand the religious right the very weapon they most desire to use against us.
So I take it that the Ed’s Team strategy is to simply blend in with the believers? I think we’ve found another difference.
My strategy is to stand up unashamed for rational ideas, to be proud to be an atheist, and to encourage others to join me. That doesn’t isolate us in the least. What does isolate us is religious bigotry and the need by even some infidels to wall off those who speak their mind, putting them on another “team” at which they can safely throw mud. That ignorant condemnation of other atheists and the false accusations (theistic evolutionists are no different than fundamentalists? Where have I said that? It does seem that some are ready to say that atheists are no different than religious fundamentalists though…another item for the irony file) are no doubt helpful camouflage in their attempts to blend in.
Oh, and it shouldn’t need saying, but apparently it does: being a proud atheist is not synonymous with planning to line church-going grandmas up against the wall to be shot. That’s just part of the unthinking prejudices of Ed’s Team.
I’m glad I’m not on it.