Pharyngula

Shrill atheists barking at the moon

My sermon-skit was too clever by half and the point seems to have been missed by some — so maybe you’d prefer the simpler clarity of Revere’s Sunday Sermonette or the straight-ahead, full-throttle atheism of the latest Carnival of the Godless.

But be careful. Concentrated strident atheism might just repel you into changing your views on the Designated Hitter rule.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    September 30, 2007

    If Revere’s story about the young Mr. 8 happened two years ago, then the lil’ munchkin would be plenty old enough now to have seen The Prisoner. Maybe he’ll show up in one of these comment threads declaring, “I am not a number!”

  2. #2 Kamehameha the Great
    September 30, 2007

    What do you think of what Richard Dawkins is doing.

    I think Richard Dawkins is doing a lot of damage. I disagree very strongly with the way he’s going about it. I don’t deny his right to be an atheist, but I think he does a great deal of harm when he publicly says that in order to be a scientist, you have to be an atheist. That simply turns young people away from science. He’s convinced a lot of young people not to be scientists because they don’t want to be atheists. I’m strongly against him on that question. It’s simply not true what he’s saying, and it’s not only not true but also harmful. The fact is that many of my friends are much more religious than I am and are first-rate scientists. There’s absolutely nothing that stops you from being both.

    Dawkins calls religion a virus.

    I disagree totally. He has the arrogance to say that anyone who does not share his views is infected with a virus. No wonder he cannot coexist peacefully with them.

    You write about the importance of “heretical thoughts” in the scientific community. What do you mean?

    This is mostly about politics. In “A Many-Colored Glass” I came out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned. I believe global warming is grossly exaggerated as a problem. It’s a real problem, but it’s nothing like as serious as people are led to believe. The idea that global warming is the most important problem facing the world is total nonsense and is doing a lot of harm. It distracts people’s attention from much more serious problems. That’s an example. It’s not so much to do about science. It’s really a political question.

    Why did you choose to be heretical about climate change?

    I’m heretical because I was in the business of studying climate change at least 30 years ago before it became fashionable. I used to go to Oak Ridge National Laboratory [in Tennessee], which was then the leading place for studying it, and they had a very good group of people there. I went there regularly and wrote a paper, which was published, essentially about the connection between climate and vegetation. It was amazing how little we knew, and that’s still true. It’s just very interesting that, scientifically, almost all the statements that are made publicly are wrong.

    We have no reason to think that climate change is harmful if you look at the world as a whole. Most places, in fact, are better off being warmer than being colder. And historically, the really bad times for the environment and for people have been the cold periods rather than the warm periods. The fact that the climate is getting warmer doesn’t scare me at all. There’s no reason why one should be scared. The economic conditions in the world and the technology change much more rapidly than the climate, so I don’t see any reason for being in a hurry.

    There’s a huge movement among scientists and policymakers making the case that global warming is urgent. Have you publicly debated any of them?

    It’s not very helpful. True believers are not going to change their minds just because of me.

    Freeman Dyson
    http://salon.com/books/feature/2007/09/29/freeman_dyson/

  3. #3 Jay Andrew Allen
    September 30, 2007

    I don’t deny his right to be an atheist, but I think he does a great deal of harm when he publicly says that in order to be a scientist, you have to be an atheist.

    Has Dawkins actually said this? The closest I could find was this from THE DEVIL’S CHAPLAIN, which merely argues that religious scientists are *effectively* atheists:

    “Are science and religion converging? No. There are modern scientists whose words sound religious but whose beliefs, on close examination, turn out to be identical to those of other scientists who straightforwardly call themselves atheists.”

    Unfortunately, if Dyson is being over-emotional on this point and is misquoting Dawkins, then it calls into question the rest of the interview, including his anti-global warming missive. (Which, frankly, I’d love to believe. Summer vacation at the North Pole, y’all!!!)

  4. #4 windy
    September 30, 2007

    So… Freeman Dyson thinks that Dawkins is arrogant towards people he disagrees with (the religious). But what about Dyson’s language when he talks about the people he disagrees with? For example, Al Gore is the “chief propagandist” of the “religion” of climate change.

    More Dyson from that interview: “For me, religion is much more about a community of people than about belief. It’s fine literature and music. As far as I can tell, people who belong to my church don’t necessarily believe anything. Certainly we don’t talk about that much.”

    That’s all very nice, but why do you need God, then?

    “The Aristotelians wanted to keep the heavens separate from the earth so there would be room for God in the sky. Galileo said the moon was a world like the earth with mountains and seas. Translated into modern language, Galileo was saying that the size and shape of the universe are not telling us anything about God.”

    Call me crazy, but it sounds more like Galileo was talking about what he was seeing through his damn telescope?

    Translating Dyson into modern language, theological conclusions based on scientific findings are all right as long as they are in the right direction.

  5. #5 sailor
    September 30, 2007

    The interview with Freeman Dyson is interesting and quirky. Sometimes he just seems to get stuff wrong:
    take: “‘A polar bear sitting on a melting piece of ice. The poor bear is going to drown, and it’s a tear-jerker. But in fact, the bears are doing very well. The numbers of bears in the Arctic are increasing rather than decreasing. On the whole, they like it to be warm”. The reference he gives is a bit off the wall and certainly not like most. A typical one from Wiki: The polar bear is a vulnerable species at high risk of extinction. Scientists and climatologists believe that the projected decreases in the polar sea ice due to global warming will reduce their population by two thirds by mid-century.[4][1][5][6] Local long-term studies show that 7 out of 19 subpopulations are declining or already severely reduced.[7][8]
    “Dawkins calls religion a virus. I disagree totally. He has the arrogance to say that anyone who does not share his views is infected with a virus. No wonder he cannot coexist peacefully with them.” He seems to misunderstand here that to Dawkins all culturally transmitted ideas are akin to viruses (also called memes). There is not necessarily a negative connotation, after all science is a meme. But the concept does help us understand how people can be infected with bad ideas.
    But I imagine the book is worth reading…..

  6. #6 Anton Mates
    September 30, 2007

    Jay:

    I don’t deny his right to be an atheist, but I think he does a great deal of harm when he publicly says that in order to be a scientist, you have to be an atheist.

    Has Dawkins actually said this?

    I’m sure he hasn’t. He name-checked a number of “good scientists who are sincerely religious” in The God Delusion, and he’s said that his first choice for a pro-evolution book to give to a creationist would be Ken Miller’s, not least because the latter is a devout Christian.

    Dawkins has said that a lot of scientists often thought to be religious really aren’t, such as Einstein, and maybe Dyson is misremembering such statements. Or maybe he just made it up, I dunno.

  7. #7 jdb
    September 30, 2007

    Dawkins may be rivalling George Carlin, Dennis Miller, and Albert Einstein for “most falsely attributed quotations on the internet.”

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