Pharyngula

But he’s one of those appeasers!

Let this be a lesson to you: being a moderate will not spare you from the reactionary criticisms of the lunatic right. Chris Mooney is an unbeliever, but he’s also one of those softies who thinks atheists ought to be less vigorous in their assault on the public sphere (I recall arguing with him a few times about that). I confess to feeling a little schadenfreude that now the Discovery Institute pillories him for daring to be a secular humanist. The DI doesn’t like theistic evolutionists either, though, so it’s not like it’s a big surprise that they’d have the vapors over a secular humanist.

Also, it’s Casey Luskin, attack mouse, leading the charge. It’s hard to get too worked up over a squeak from that incompetent joke.

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    February 26, 2007

    Tell Mooney to review the story of the swan and the scorpion.

  2. #2 SteveF
    February 26, 2007

    Without wanting to re-open the whole debate again, I’d point out that that appeasers (or at least me) couldn’t give a flying toss what the DI or AiG etc think. The position is an attempt to avoid isolating potential allies and not about avoiding irritating jokers like Luskin.

  3. #3 Thony C.
    February 26, 2007

    This has probably been said a million times before but if as the Disco Institute claims intelligent design does not necessarily imply a god then it must logically lead to some sort of theory along the lines of Erik von Däniken and that is serious Woo of the first order and considerably worse than claiming proof for the existence of god!

  4. #4 David Wilford
    February 26, 2007

    Given how the Discovery Institute’s very own Wedge Document states that the DI wants “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”, it’s pretty silly for Luskin to be disparaging Mooney about having it in for theism.

    Unfortunately Luskin’s character sniping does serve to give an excuse for some to discount what Mooney has to say, which is why it is sometimes necessary for PZ and others to set the record straight about such things.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    February 26, 2007

    Do you only do the things you think are right if you expect to be praised for doing them? (Or, for that matter, only if you expect people to refrain from attacking you for doing them?)

    After many years of observing you, I know that’s not the case.

  6. #6 jbark
    February 26, 2007

    To echo the point above, I don’t think Mooney, or anyone on his “side”, takes their position in order to get folks like DI to be nice to them.

    Hell, being a Christian, conservative, Bush appointed judge isn’t even good enough for those guys.

    Tough crowd.

  7. #7 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2007

    I thought I was fairly clear: Luskin is inconsequential, his silly criticisms are meaningless and don’t need to be addressed, especially since no matter which way you jump, to gladhanding godder or firebreathing atheist, he’s going to find something to whine about.

  8. #8 carlman23
    February 26, 2007

    “This extreme example of small-scale evolution results in no new species and no net additions of novel biological information to the genome.’

    Maybe I haven’t been following the DI closely enough, but how is acquiring antibiotic resistance (through lateral gene transfer or modification of existing genes) not addition of new genomic information?

  9. #9 Stanton
    February 26, 2007

    Newly acquired antibiotic resistance is not addition of information solely because creationists say so.

  10. #10 jbark
    February 26, 2007

    Yes, but then it doesn’t follow that you should feel any shaudenfreude since Mooney didn’t think his position would spare him from the DI attacks in the first place.

  11. #11 Jason
    February 26, 2007

    Mooney wasn’t always an appeaser. He used to write pieces like this, pointing out the basic tension between evolution and theism.

  12. #12 Farb
    February 26, 2007

    ” . . . he’s going to find something to whine about.”
    Posted by: PZ Myers

    Perhaps a little more precise: ” . . . he’s going to be given something his handlers found for him to whine about.”

  13. #13 Glen Davidson
    February 26, 2007

    I doubt that some DI tripe is going to trouble Mooney’s stance, nor should it. If he has a reasoned basis for his position, the normal fact that the religious flakes find anyone even slightly reasonable to be egregiously biased is just more caterwauling.

    I’m not saying that Mooney’s right, of course, just that surely he has reasons that are better than pleasing the DI that he can produce. I wouldn’t be surprised if the motivations have more to do with pleasing more potential readers (one looks at demographics when one sells one’s articles) than the reasons he actually writes, but even that would be a far better reason than trying to please Berlinski, Luskin, and Dembski.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  14. #14 Great White Wonder
    February 26, 2007

    Little Lying Luskin! Anybody know what his salary is? It seems likely it is more than a third tier law school graduate and Ph.Didn’t of Luskin’s poor calibre would otherwise earn.

    I notice that Luskin has never agreed to debate anyone as to whether his employer — the Discovery Institute — is primarily a propagandist organization when it comes to evolutionary biology. Such offers have been presented to him more than once. I wonder what Luskin is afraid of?

    My prediction: in a short time, the curiously silent Hannah Maxson will be joining him to assist him in his anti-science peddling. Maybe he will have an affair with her. That would also not be surprising, given the behavior of most loudmouthed fundies.

  15. #15 386sx
    February 26, 2007

    This has probably been said a million times before but if as the Disco Institute claims intelligent design does not necessarily imply a god then it must logically lead to some sort of theory along the lines of Erik von Däniken and that is serious Woo of the first order and considerably worse than claiming proof for the existence of god!

    Very clever, but Erik von Däniken’s evidence implied space aliens, however intelligent design’s evidence doesn’t necessarily imply aliens. Von Däniken cared very much about what his evidence implied, however the intelligent design people could care less about what intelligent design implies about the designer, even though the intelligent design people are fundamentalist creationists. 🙂

  16. #16 Colugo
    February 26, 2007

    I followed Jason’s link, in which Mooney complains of “grandstanding in the [PBS Evolution] series by reconciliationists like Kenneth Miller and Stephen Jay Gould.”

    “Reconciliationist” sounds more respectable than “appeaser,” but I will admit to being an “appeaser” atheist.

    Some questions:

    1) Is it strategically unwise to wed the cause of anti-theism to science education, specifically evolution? Atheists on both sides of the “appeaser” fence have wrestled with this question and the consensus is in the affirmative. (Perhaps that’s why Mooney has changed his stance since 2001.)

    2) Are Ken Miller and other theistic evolutionists actually “stealth creationists” who are perhaps even more subversive of science than the IDists? Does their theism make them somehow deficient or inadequate as scientists, however legitimate their scientific output?

    3) Ought the nonexistence of a creator deity who is interested in humankind be part of standard science, a failed hypothesis in the same way that phlogiston has been scientifically ruled out? (Scientists on the ‘God hypothesis’: Laplace: unnecessary; Stenger: failed.) Or should atheism, deism, and theism just be personal philosophical choices with no implications for the teaching and practice of science?

  17. #17 Jason
    February 26, 2007

    Colugo,

    As I would use the terms, a “reconciliationist” is someone who genuinely believes science and religion can be reconciled, whereas an “appeaser” is someone who believes religion is false, but ignores, downplays or perhaps even denies that belief for particular political or social purposes, such as fighting the spread of creationism in public education. I think reconciliationism is untenable and that appeasement is dishonest and ultimately very harmful, even if it produces short-term benefits in specific contexts.

  18. #18 Colugo
    February 26, 2007

    I believe that the question “Is there a God?” is like the “Are we actually brains in jars?” question. My three mutually compatible answers to both: a) No, I don’t think so. (Which is why I am not agnostic about either.) b) There is no way to prove or disprove the proposition. c) For practical purposes it doesn’t make a difference anyway. In other words, the question is outside of science.

    Whether we think in terms of short-term or long-term strategy, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but theism is never going to go away. It will never be reduced to a marginal remnant nor universally watered down to the point of being indistinguishable from agnosticism. If I were to be sure of any prediction about the human future, it would be that one.

  19. #19 Jason
    February 26, 2007

    Colugo,

    Whether we think in terms of short-term or long-term strategy, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but theism is never going to go away. It will never be reduced to a marginal remnant nor universally watered down to the point of being indistinguishable from agnosticism.

    And you know this, how? What evidence supports it? The remarkably rapid decline in religiosity that has occurred in the wealthy democracies over the past several decades strongly suggests that you’re wrong. I doubt that theism, or religion more broadly, will ever completely disappear, but I see no reason to believe that its incidence and influence cannot continue to wither to the point at which it is largely irrelevant to human affairs.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    February 26, 2007

    What Jason said.

    Give it ten years. The neuroscientists and AI people will come out with better and better ways to medicate kids’ brains and mimic thoughts within computers. “Weak AI” will look stronger and stronger, and an ever-increasing number of specific “only humans can do that!” milestones will be met. Even if this never takes us to a Singularity (and I’m personally pretty doubtful on that score), it will imperil the doctrine of “ensoulment”.

    The potential of cognitive science to screw up all these attempts at reconciliation is, I believe, pretty big. It strikes at the most comforting and the most vain aspects of mainstream religious belief. I haven’t conducted a randomized, double-blinded clinical trial, but I suspect that lay Creationists are more perturbed by the statement “humans evolved from apes” than they are by “amphibians evolved from fish”. We ourselves are the ones made in God’s image, they say, and it is the loss of that homily which makes them uneasy.

    The cosmologists and the physicists have been beavering away at the Big Bang, pushing our understanding closer and closer to the Zero Moment. True, they’ve shrunk the God of the Gaps to a pretty small margin, and they’re not done yet, but can we really get riled by their progress? Up in arms about it? It’s all, well, removed from everyday experience: on the far side of the night sky and a curtain of equations. In contrast, understanding where our minds come from cuts directly at our notions of our own being.

    Jason said:

    I think reconciliationism is untenable and that appeasement is dishonest and ultimately very harmful, even if it produces short-term benefits in specific contexts.

    If all we’ve got to offer is the truth, as best as human minds can figure it out, I find it hard to advocate telling people anything less.

  21. #21 Jud
    February 26, 2007

    “Maybe I haven’t been following the DI closely enough, but how is acquiring antibiotic resistance (through lateral gene transfer or modification of existing genes) not addition of new genomic information?”

    Oh, because the antibiotic resistance was already “there,” either in the genome of those particular bacteria, or another strain that laterally transfers the antibiotic resistance capability/information to the strain that didn’t have it before. These phenomena are, I believe, loosely grouped together under the rubric “front loading.” Thus any changes beneficial to the organism/species are explained out of evolution (which cannot cause any gain in information, at least the “good” kind, which of course is “complex specified information”) and into the bailiwick of The Designer, who put all this good stuff there just waiting to be unveiled at the proper time.

  22. #22 AZe
    February 26, 2007

    In my experience moderates are VERY WELL AWARE they are not going to make friends among the extremists, whether of theistic or atheistic variety. There is no quicker way to makes enemies all ’round than to see both or many sides to an issue. Being on the receiving end of villification goes with the territory, but no matter. A moderate stance comes from a considerered weighing of all evidence and all sides – from integrity – not some misguided search for popularity.

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    February 26, 2007

    A fair number of “moderates” gain their laurels by selectively dismissing evidence where it conflicts with their preconceptions. Francis Collins’s blithe and blissful sidestepping of the mechanisms by which evolution can lead to altruism and morality springs to mind.

  24. #24 Jason
    February 26, 2007

    Aze,

    Your post is good example of the patently false assumption that given two strongly opposing views, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Are you also a “moderate” on astrology?

  25. #25 Raging Bee
    February 26, 2007

    Blake wrote:

    Give it ten years. The neuroscientists and AI people will come out with better and better ways to medicate kids’ brains and mimic thoughts within computers. “Weak AI” will look stronger and stronger, and an ever-increasing number of specific “only humans can do that!” milestones will be met. Even if this never takes us to a Singularity (and I’m personally pretty doubtful on that score), it will imperil the doctrine of “ensoulment”.

    What does medicating kids’ brains have to do with the doctrine of ensoulment?

    Jason wrote:

    …an “appeaser” is someone who believes religion is false, but ignores, downplays or perhaps even denies that belief for particular political or social purposes, such as fighting the spread of creationism in public education.

    It’s also called “appealing to shared values to achieve common goals.” You should try it sometime. It’s how effective coalitions are built, how things get done, and how important battles are won. We Pagans are quite familiar with this concept: we uphold our rights by appealing to the decency and shared values of the Christian majority, not by hectoring them about doctrinal differences. If you’re not actually giving up any of your core values, then you’re not “appeasing.”

    Also, you really should not imply that “ignoring,” “downplaying,” and “denying” one’s beliefs are all the same action. If I choose not to argue doctrine with a Christian or atheist who shares my basic values, that may be “downplaying,” but it most certainly is not “ignoring” or “denying.”

  26. #26 Uhoh
    February 26, 2007

    Look out, its a Brayton appeaser!

  27. #27 Raging Bee
    February 26, 2007

    Jason: AZe assumed no such thing, and you know it.

  28. #28 Colugo
    February 26, 2007

    Jason: “The remarkably rapid decline in religiosity that has occurred in the wealthy democracies over the past several decades strongly suggests that you’re wrong.”

    That’s a good point. We should consider Europe. Yes, Christianity is on the wane there, and even the relatively small presence of Islam due to immigration may become watered down as these groups become assimilated. On the other hand, alternative medical beliefs like homeopathy (and other irrationalisms like anti-vaccination) are doing quite well and paranormalism is possibly healthier than Christianity. (Interestingly, scientific literacy is even lower in Europe than in the US. http://tinyurl.com/geaqx )

    While these developments are not theism, neither do they represent rationalism. Perhaps the human mind abhors a vacuum of faith-based irrationality (or more generously stated, narratives of cosmic meaning and certainty). Therefore, I wonder if the decline in Christianity in Europe heralds the end of theism, or if it is just an interlude prior to the rise of new faiths.

  29. #29 Thony C.
    February 26, 2007

    “Von Däniken cared very much about what his evidence implied”

    Not “cared” but cares! He’s still alive and still selling snake oil.

  30. #30 Blake Stacey
    February 26, 2007

    Colugo:

    I’m not sure we can jump from your description of Europe to the conclusion that “the human mind abhors a vacuum of faith-based irrationality”. It’s a conclusion worth keeping in mind, I think, but we should also consider the hypothesis that our education and socialization mechanisms have not provided critical thinking skills. Before saying we have a “need” for “faith-based irrationality,” we should consider whether our need for comfort and our desire to understand our place in the Cosmos simply makes us vulnerable.

    Hey, you might well be right. Certainly, the outcome you raise for contemplation — “an interlude prior to the rise of new faiths” — can happen whether we need faith or we need knowledge and thus open ourselves to deception.

  31. #31 Jason
    February 26, 2007

    Raging Bee,

    It’s also called “appealing to shared values to achieve common goals.”

    No, that’s not what appeasement is. I can appeal to the values I share with a religious moderate, or even a religious conservative, without pretending that I consider his religious beliefs consistent with science and reason.

    Jason: AZe assumed no such thing, and you know it.

    Brilliant. I guess the only response this deserves is: Raging Bee, you’re completely wrong, and you know it!

  32. #32 poke
    February 26, 2007

    There’s probably no lie more blatant or ridiculous to appear in comments here than that “moderation” and/or agnosticism are more difficult or requires greater integrity than vocal atheism. Even here in Britain the first response to atheism is proclaim that it’s “fundamentalist” and “just like religion.” I can’t count the number of times people have shrilly proclaimed that I’m an “idiot” because I’m not an agnostic. Atheism is a marginalised position in society; you’re not a hero for agreeing with mischaracterisations of “militant atheists” anymore than you are for making racist comments in the company of only white friends.

  33. #33 Jason
    February 26, 2007

    Colugo,

    I wouldn’t deny that the decline of traditional religions such as Christianity in Europe and the U.S. has been accompanied by the rise of non-traditional ones and of other, irrational but non-religious, belief systems. But the rise in those alternatives hasn’t been remotely sufficient to offset the decline in the incidence and influence of traditional religion. The sociologist Steve Bruce has written about this in his book God is Dead.

  34. #34 Raging Bee
    February 26, 2007

    Jason: you could have described a connection between AZe’s actual words (he mentioned “considerered weighing of all evidence and all sides”), and the “assumption that given two strongly opposing views, the truth lies somewhere in the middle” which you accuse him of making, apparently without a shred of supporting evidence or logic. Or is that too much “pathetic level of detail” for you?

  35. #35 Raging Bee
    February 26, 2007

    But the rise in those alternatives hasn’t been remotely sufficient to offset the decline in the incidence and influence of traditional religion.

    I remember reading about a similar “decline in the incidence and influence of traditional religion” during the apogee of the Roman Empire. Support it or oppose it, but don’t expect it to last.

  36. #36 Jason
    February 26, 2007

    Raging Bee,

    The decline of religion and the rise of secularism in the west over the past 100 years or so is, as far as I can tell, unprecedented in recorded human history. The factors that seem to be causing this include the relentless march of science into areas of life previously considered to be the province of religion (especially the scientific study of the mind), the rise of the values of pluralism and diversity, which undermine the traditional religious impulse to win new converts and bring in new members, and the effects of mass media and communications, which increasingly expose people to a marketplace of ideas that challenge their religious beliefs. I don’t see any sign of these trends slowing.

    I periodically see predictions of a “religious revival” or a “spiritual revival” in America and Europe by various religious leaders and their fellow travelers, and sometimes even claims that such a revival is already underway, but the statistics on religious belief and practise give the lie to these claims.

  37. #37 dkew
    February 26, 2007

    …And the superstitious chortle with glee at dissension among the infidels.

  38. #38 Damien
    February 26, 2007

    On religion decreasing among the young in the US, with us being 40 years behind Europe:
    http://duggmirror.com/politics/Atheists_in_America_Increasing/

    Good news. OTOH, the first six Presidents of the US didn’t include a single orthodox Christian (Unitarians were not orthodox, and the presidents weren’t necessarily even that), and the 1800 campaign apparently featured open accusations of Jefferson being an atheist.

  39. #39 Graculus
    February 26, 2007

    how is acquiring antibiotic resistance (through lateral gene transfer or modification of existing genes) not addition of new genomic information?

    becuase “information” is one of those loosey-goosey words that means whatever they want it to mean. Except when they are abusing Shannon Information, which cannot apply to evolution.

  40. #40 Thony C.
    February 27, 2007

    “Interestingly, scientific literacy is even lower in Europe than in the US.”

    Colugo

    The article you link to says the exact opposite!

  41. #41 Colugo
    February 28, 2007

    “The article you link to says the exact opposite!”

    Quote from the article: “As disgracefully low as the rate of adult scientific literacy in the United States may be, Miller found even lower rates in Canada, Europe, and Japan–a result he attributes primarily to lower university enrollments”.

    Yes, specific errors, like creationism, are lower in Europe. And our high school students perform more poorly than theirs. But adult science literacy is lower in those other countries because a smaller proportion of their citizens go to college.

    http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0040167

    I know that there is a powerful grass-is-greener narrative when it comes to the US vs. Europe (with Europe supposedly besting us in all areas), but it just doesn’t hold on a number of fronts: science literacy, property crime, percent with access to higher education, professional opportunities for women, abortion rights, sports-related violence etc.

  42. #42 Keith Douglas
    March 3, 2007

    Blake Stacey: I might add that there’s no reason to think that the Big Bang is the zero moment. It is merely the origin of the expansion of our local hubble volume.

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